The Minnesota Timberwolves may not have a first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, but that’s no reason to sit out of one of the best traditions available to NBA fans: Watching March Madness and forming conclusive opinions about prospects based on at best a few games.
Minnesota also doesn’t have its own second-round pick, but it is getting the Knicks’ second-rounder, currently slated to fall at No. 53 per Tankathon.com. With the best prospects obviously off the board, this will be a spot to either take a low-ceiling plug-and-play guy or swing for a higher-upside talent who needs more time to develop. Since our Tyler Metcalf covered the former yesterday, let’s examine some long-term projects playing in the NCAA Tournament who might be available at the end of the draft. Who knows, perhaps Tim Connelly will work his second-round magic again.
Amari Bailey and (maybe) Adem Bona, UCLA Bruins
Buying low on elite high school prospects after disappointing college seasons is a good approach for teams looking for a steal. Bailey, an athletic 6-foot-5 guard, fits the bill as a top-five player in the 2022 class per ESPN’s rankings.
Bailey is a strong mover and scorer off-ball after playing with an established crew in Westwood this year, and this is a skill that is an ideal fit next to Anthony Edwards as he continues to become more of an offensive hub. Bailey best displayed this strength at the Pac-12 Tournament, where he averaged 18 points per game, shot 55.9% from the floor and was UCLA’s best player in the wild final vs. Arizona.
Amari Bailey in a tough loss to Arizona:— B/R Hoops (@brhoops) March 12, 2023
- 19 PTS
- 8-14 FG
- 7 REB pic.twitter.com/7XxqusRZS6
The reason Bailey isn’t necessarily projected to even get drafted is inconsistency. A look at his game logs shows that he will disappear for whole games and even multiple games in a row. Bailey isn’t a natural playmaker and is a streaky shooter, two traits that make it harder to impact the game on a regular basis.
Hopefully we get to see his teammate Adem Bona, a big who missed the Arizona game with a shoulder injury and is questionable for UCLA’s first-round game against UNC Asheville. Bona was less heralded than Bailey entering the season but played a more crucial role for the Bruins as a major contributor to the defense, which is ranked No. 1 by KenPom. Bona’s motor and recovery traits make him a menace to opponents trying to score at the rim.
Bona plays his ass off whenever he’s on the court, which sets the table for his best offensive skill: fullcourt rim-running. He takes long, powerful strides to eat up space and beat opponents down the floor for easy buckets.
More Adem Bona explosive long strides. Has a great combo of power and flexibility.— Josh Christopher (@JoshScoutEm) January 7, 2023
Jaquez gets the initial cut-off while Bona comes over in two strides from the 3PT line for the block. Followed by his signature rim run, out-running opposing big. https://t.co/PrQONqEPg4 pic.twitter.com/GfbSyhsMMk
Outside of that, though, Bona’s offensive fit is a question. He has the skill level of a five (he should be limited to rim-running at this point) but is a bit small at 6-foot-10, 220 pounds. Bona is also foul-prone, committing 8.6 personals per 100 possessions per Sports-Reference. That number rose to 9.1 in conference play.
Andre Jackson, Connecticut Huskies
Jackson may be one of the most fun players to watch in the entire class. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound wing is a bonkers athlete capable of creating a highlight at any given moment.
Defense is where Jackson really shines, though. He almost always defends the best opposing perimeter player and uses his length and agility to smother his man.
Highlights of Andre Jackson's Defense vs Oklahoma St pic.twitter.com/nEhollVf9B— UConn Film Room (@UConnFilmRoom) December 2, 2022
Aside from some playmaking chops (six assists per 40 minutes according to Sports-Reference), though, Jackson is mostly a non-factor on offense. He shoots 41.6% from the field and 28.8% from three for his career, and nothing about any of it suggests he’ll be even a spot-up threat any time soon.
Dillon Mitchell, Texas Longhorns
Mitchell is the biggest unknown in this group, but he’s another bet on high school pedigree; he was the No. 4 player in ESPN’s 2022 recruiting rankings, one spot ahead of Bailey.
You can see why Mitchell was so highly thought of just from looking at him. At 6-foot-8 and with long arms, Mitchell is a great athlete who moves like an NBA player. Combine that with his high motor, and you have a player who scores well at the rim (62.6% on 2-pointers this year) and crashes the glass hard (he has the highest total rebound percentage on the team at 13.4%).
DILLON MITCHELL DUNKED EVERYTHING— B/R Hoops (@brhoops) November 17, 2022
TEXAS BLOWS OUT GONZAGA pic.twitter.com/ZXfYrX2a0o
However, despite starting in all 34 of his appearances, Mitchell just doesn’t play a major role for the Longhorns. He’s too raw to earn consistent big minutes for a team of Texas’ caliber; he may return to school for another year because of it.
On a related note, Mitchell doesn’t possess even the most rudimentary offensive game. He hasn’t taken a three this season, shoots 42.9% from the free throw line and doesn’t make plays with the ball in his hands. He has a lot of work to do before he’s ready for the NBA, but the potential is there.
Kobe Brown, Missouri Tigers
Brown is one of my favorite sleepers in this draft because of his efficient scoring and well-rounded offensive skill set. The Tigers forward has shooting splits of 55.2-44.7-80.2 entering the NCAA Tournament, and he’s plenty capable of handling the ball and slinging dimes. Of all these players, Brown is the only one with a good chance of being a plus on offense.
Huge game for projected second round pick Kobe Brown in front of a ton of NBA executives at the SEC Tournament today. 24 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and the win over Tennessee. The first-team All-SEC 4-man is one of the most skilled big men in the country. pic.twitter.com/RsCKOKyBXM— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 11, 2023
Listed at 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, Brown has that stout frame that more teams are looking for at forward given the success of guys like P.J. Tucker. He uses his strength to bully his way to the basket on offense and wall off opposing players on defense.
Brown’s iffy lateral quickness will likely reduce his defensive versatility at the next level unless he can add some agility by trimming down slightly. In addition, while I believe in the shooting, he took a major leap forward this year that brings his projection into question. After shooting no better than 25.3% from behind the arc his first three seasons, it’s fair to wonder if his deadeye marksmanship is a fluke.