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Hawks: NBA draft prospects to watch in NCAA tournament


The Hawks were officially eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday, thus assuring that they will be part of the draft lottery. They also will receive Houston’s top-three protected pick after the Rockets clinched a playoff spot on Sunday. The Hawks will own Minnesota’s first-round pick if the Timberwolves make the playoffs. 

The NCAA tournament provides the Hawks a chance to see some of the best NBA prospects on the big stage. Here’s a look at the best future NBA players in the bracket. 

SOUTH REGION 

The South Region is loaded with potential top-10 draft picks. Tops among them is DeAndre Ayton, a 7-foot freshman for No. 4 seed Arizona. Ayton already has said he will declare for the draft and many experts project that he will be the No. 1 pick. 

(Click here for my recent report on Ayton from Tucson, Ariz.) 

If the seeds hold, Arizona will advance to play No. 5 Kentucky in the second round. The Wildcats have as many as three players who could be drafted in the first round. Versatile forward Kevin Knox and 6-6 point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander both are candidates to be selected in the top 10. 

The lower half of the South bracket features No. 10 Texas and center Mohamed Bamba, a dominant defensive player with a 7-9 wingspan and 9-6 standing reach. Bamba is expected to be a top-five pick and his teammate Kerwin Roach II, a super-athletic wing, also could be selected in the first round 

(Here is my report on Bamba from Austin, Tex. and here is my report on Roach). 

Also on the bottom side of the bracket is No. 6 seed Miami. The Hurricanes are led by freshman wing Lonnie Walker IV. He’s played better lately after a slow start to the season related to injuries. 

(Click here for my report on Walker from his game at Georgia Tech) 

WEST REGION 

Seventh-seeded Missouri is buoyed by the unexpected return of top prospect Michael Porter Jr. Porter was projected to be a top-three draft pick before the season. Then he suffered a back injury during his first game for the Tigers and sat out following surgery. 

Porter returned to play in the SEC tournament last week and had 12 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes during a loss to Georgia. Now Porter, a 6-10 forward, will face a tough test in a first-round matchup against Florida State. The Seminoles boast one of the tallest frontcourts in the nation with two 7-footers in the rotation. 

The Tigers also have another NBA prospect in Jontay Porter, Michael’s older brother. He reclassified to the 2017 recruiting class so he could play this season with Michael and he also could be selected late in the first round if he declares for the draft. 

The West region has one other interesting NBA prospect: Texas A&M’s Robert Williams, a 6-9 sophomore forward. He unexpectedly became a first-round prospect as a freshman but decided to return to College Station. But Williams has been inconsistent during his second season and now gets a chance to shine in the spotlight, with a second-round game against No. 2 seed North Carolina possible. 

EAST REGION 

The East region’s NBA hopefuls are headlined by Alabama freshman point guard Collin Sexton, the former five-star recruit from Pebblebrook. He’s been inconsistent this season, in part because of injuries, but his strong close to the season included a highlight-heavy week at the SEC tournament 

If ninth-seeded Alabama advances past Virginia Tech, Sexton likely would be matched up with Jalen Brunson, top-seeded Villanova’s excellent point guard. Brunson is projected to be a second-round pick and his teammate, junior swingman Mikal Bridges, is expected to be selected in the first round if he declares for the draft. 

That half of the East also features No. 4 seed Wichita State, led by sophomore Landry Shamet. The combo guard projects as a first-round pick. 

In the bottom half of the East region bracket, Arkansas big man Daniel Gafford is the best NBA prospect. He’s got a shot to be drafted in the lottery if he declares for the draft. 

UCLA junior point guard Aaron Holiday rounds out the potential first-round picks in the East region. The Bruins face St. Bonaventure in one of the Tuesday play-in games. 

MIDWEST 

The Midwest region features as many as five lottery picks. 

Duke, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region, is a one-stop shop for future NBA players. The Blue Devils could have as many as five players selected in the first round, with Marvin Bagley III considered a top-five prospect. 

(Click here for my report on Bagley from New York.)

Wendell Carter Jr., the former Pace Academy star, also is projected to be a lottery pick if he declares for the draft. 

(Click here for my report on Carter from New York.)

The other Duke players with NBA futures are Gary Trent Jr, Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. Trent could be selected in the lottery and Allen and Duval could go later in the first round. 

(Click here for my report on Allen from New York.) 

Duke’s half of the East bracket also includes No. 3 seed Michigan State and its star big man, Jaren Jackson Jr., who could be a top-five pick. If the seeds hold then Jackson Jr. would face Bagley and Carter in the Sweet 16. 

Also headlining that half of the East bracket is Oklahoma freshman point guard Trae Young, the Division I leader in points (27.4) and assists (8.8) per game. Young’s performance faded in the latter part of the season but he’s still expected to be a lottery pick. 

(Click here for my report on Young from Norman, Okla.)


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About the Author

Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.