NBA Draft: 5 teams to watch in NCAA Tournament for draft prospects

Scottie Barnes, Florida State Seminoles. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Scottie Barnes, Florida State Seminoles. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images /
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Keon Johnson, Tennessee Volunteers
NBA draft Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images /

NBA Draft Prospects: Tennessee Volunteers

The Tennessee Volunteers welcomed a top-5 recruiting class this season, an unusual occurrence in Knoxville. The headliner for the class is Keon Johnson, a 6’5″ wing who took a while to work his way into a consistent role. Now that he has done so he is showing off why most NBA teams have him as a top-10 prospect in this class. He is a world-class athlete who can leap out of the gym, and uniquely among many talented freshmen, he applies that athleticism on defense. He fights on every defensive possession, with the length and recovery speed to guard multiple positions and create turnovers.

Offensively Johnson is a work in progress. He is lethal in transition, but in the half-court, his thin frame can get knocked around near the basket. His jump shot is very inconsistent (26.1 percent from 3-point range) and the biggest hindrance to his draft stock. A dominant offensive showing in the tournament, especially if he can prove himself against an elite prospect such as Cade Cunningham in the second round, would do a lot to shore up his draft stock.

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Johnson’s fellow top prospect is Jaden Springer, an extremely young freshman guard who can generate offense off-the-dribble by attacking the rim, but hasn’t displayed high-level playmaking for others yet. The Volunteers are benefiting from his growth, especially as he became a more willing shooter as the season went on.

He’s also an aggressive and willing defender, one of the strongest players in this class despite being one of the youngest. He changes the complexion of Tennessee’s defense by locking opposing guards down at the point of attack. He will likely need to be an off-guard at the next level. If the Volunteers do face Oklahoma State in the second round of the tournament, he can show off his defensive skills against the larger Cade Cunningham.

The Volunteers have a couple of other prospects on the roster as well. Yves Ponds has NBA athleticism but hasn’t been able to make the leap to dominating the college game despite a four-year Tennessee career. He is likely too small to play center, but he also doesn’t have the outside game of playmaking to be useful at the forward positions. He needs to prove himself worthy of a look by an NBA team. Finally, Josiah-Jordan James is a sophomore wing who is likely going to return to Tennessee next season but could parlay a strong tournament into a late draft slot and two-way contract.

NBA Draft Prospects: Florida State Seminoles

A year after two players went in the lottery of the 2020 NBA Draft, the Florida State Seminoles are back in the mix, led by freshman Scottie Barnes. He is one of the most unique prospects in the country, a 6’8″ forward who plays like a point guard, but has the strength and 7’2″ to battle inside. He’s an elite defender, with a high motor and great basketball IQ. Offensively he is a willing and gifted playmaker, but in the half-court, he struggles to create his own shot, in part hampered by a downright bad outside shot at this point.

Barnes runs the point for the Seminoles and is most lethal in the open court. He will almost certainly go in the first ten picks of the draft, but how he plays in the tournament could push him to the top of the “next group” of prospects after the consensus top 5 of the 2021 draft.

How he plays could also boost the stock of RaiQuan Gray, a 6’8″ power forward who is strong and efficient inside but needs to prove he can be a modern NBA player. A good tournament could secure him a contract next year. MJ Walker is another forward-sized player in the Seminoles’ tall-as-trees rotation who has a chance to show himself off to NBA scouts this month, especially if he can continue to hit outside shots.