Ranking the Top 5 NBA Draft Prospects Still Standing in the Elite 8

Ranking the Top 5 NBA Draft Prospects Still Standing in the Elite 8

Jonathan WassermanMarch 25, 2023


Ranking the Top 5 NBA Draft Prospects Still Standing in the Elite 8

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    Jordan Hawkins, Connecticut

    Jordan Hawkins, ConnecticutCarmen Mandato/Getty Images

    Nearly a dozen potential first-rounders for the 2023 NBA draft are still going strong heading into the NCAA tournament’s Elite 8.

    Some have even moved up boards after the last few rounds. We just saw some memorable, possibly needle-moving performances in the Sweet 16, and they’ve raised the level of anticipation for this weekend’s next slate of games.

    The Elite 8 will also feature a pair of potential top-five picks who should bring out the highest-ranking executives from projected lottery teams.

5. Drew Timme, Gonzaga PF/C Senior

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    Drew Timme, Gonzaga

    Drew Timme, Gonzaga Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    NCAA tournament: 28.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, 2-of-2 3PT

    At some point in the draft, an NBA team will decide it’s worth betting on Drew Timme’s skill and IQ and forgetting about athleticism or fit.

    In a 36-point dominant effort against UCLA, he consistently won one-on-one battles in the post, freezing defenders with patience and countering their contests with footwork. But it was still the ball-handling and body-controlled drives, on-the-move finishes in traffic and the three-ball that were especially noteworthy to scouts. The face-up offense clearly makes it easier for them to picture an NBA big.

    Despite lacking any hint of explosiveness, he compensates with quick-release touch and use of angles.

    The passing only adds to his NBA pitch and highlights IQ that also works for other areas of the game.

    An Elite 8 matchup against 245-pound Adama Sanogo represents a key test and another needle-moving opportunity for Timme, who’ll want to show scouts that he can still score against NBA-style strength and length.

4. Keyontae Johnson, Kansas State SF/PF Senior

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    Keyontae Johnson, Kansas State

    Keyontae Johnson, Kansas StateAl Bello/Getty Images

    NCAA tournament: 17.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2-of-10 3PT

    The late backdoor cut into a reverse ally-oop against Michigan State epitomized Keyontae Johnson’s off-ball impact.

    He makes plays without needing the ball in his hands often, mostly by reading his lead playmaker and understanding spacing and timing to position himself for easy catch-and-finish opportunities.

    Ranked top 20 in the NCAA in cutting, mostly behind bigs, Johnson scored 16 of his 22 points off the catch in the Sweet 16. Three of them came from behind the arc, where he’s been accurate (40.5 percent) all season.

    The lack of ball-handling wiggle and burst limits his creation and offensive upside. But Johnson has the tools and skill set for efficient, complementary scoring at the next level, between his 44.0 percent spot-up shooting, play-finishing and shot-making from the post. And he’s flashed enough passing IQ and quick processing to add value as a ball-mover.

    At 6’6″, 230 pounds, NBA coaches will presumably see a physical profile built to defend both forward positions.

3. Andre Jackson Jr., Connecticut SG/SF Junior

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    Andre Jackson Jr., Connecticut

    Andre Jackson Jr., Connecticut Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

    NCAA tournament: 7.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 3-of-8 3PT

    Andre Jackson Jr. capitalized on the attention paid to the Sweet 16 and key tests against Arkansas’ dangerous backcourt.

    The seven-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist, three-steal stat line was a pretty typical one for the 6’6″ junior. Watching him impact the game with pace, athletic plays, breakdown ball-handling and passing, it’s not difficult to think an NBA team can picture Jackson thriving off those same strengths in his own niche role at the next level.

    It just may require one’s imagination to buy outlier results in a third-year guard or wing who averages 6.8 points, isn’t much of a shooting threat and has a sky-high 23.4 turnover percentage, per Sports Reference. All season, Jackson has left his fingerprints on Connecticut wins by generating easy baskets, second-chance opportunities, open shots for teammates and defensive playmaking.

    Shooting would obviously unlock a whole new level of upside. Jackson has hit at least one three in six of Connecticut’s last eight games, and between the 25 makes on the season, including 10 off the dribble, there may be some hope for his low-release push shot to work just enough when left open.

2. Julian Strawther, Gonzaga SF Junior

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    Julian Strawther, Gonzaga

    Julian Strawther, GonzagaCarmen Mandato/Getty Images

    NCAA tournament: 18.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 8-of-21 3PT

    With NBA teams eyeing Julian Strawther’s shot-making, he delivered one of the biggest shots of the tournament trailing into a logo three that buried UCLA.

    It was his eighth in three games to put him at 42.1 percent from deep for the year. From a scouting perspective, his shot prep and footwork to generate rhythm continue to pop and help Strawther’s shooting feel more real for the NBA.

    He’s spent the tournament and most of the season knocking down catch-and-shoot threes and floaters off dribble handoffs, curls and drives. NBA teams have started to picture those modes for off-ball scoring carrying over, given Strawther’s comfort level shooting off screens (48.9 percent) and using touch shots (56.5 percent runners) at 6’7″.

    The lack of creation ability is accepted by now, and his defense remains a question mark for scouts. The latter feels more improvable at this point. Connecticut’s duo of wing athletes Andre Jackson Jr. and Jordan Hawkins should give Strawther a big test and opportunity with scouts ready to lock in.

1. Jordan Hawkins, Connecticut SG Sophomore

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    Jordan Hawkins, Connecticut

    Jordan Hawkins, ConnecticutRob Carr/Getty Images

    NCAA tournament: 16.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 10-of-21 3PT

    Playing against potential lottery pick Anthony Black and an outstanding wing defender in Jordan Walsh in a Sweet 16 victory over Arkansas, Jordan Hawkins scored 24 points and helped sell scouts on the idea that he can offer more than just catch-and-shoot offense.

    He also hit three three-pointers, giving him 98 makes for the year. Hawkins will finish as one of the most productive off-screen shooters in the nation, a label that gives him an extra edge, considering his creation limitations.

    But he did execute a pretty step-back jumper out of isolation. And he got to the free-throw line nine times (making all nine), using both movement to keep defenders from setting and long, bursty strides attacking in straight lines.

    NBA teams will ultimately covet Hawkins’ off-ball scoring and shot-making for a role alongside established playmakers and top options.

    He’ll have another opportunity to strengthen his draft case in the Elite Eight against Gonzaga.

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, Sports-Reference.com

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