This year’s March Madness will be a vital piece of scouting for the 2024 NBA draft. The Knicks, with two first-round picks, will be paying attention.

Well, March is officially upon us and the Madness will soon follow. With how much this draft class is discussed in a negative manner, you may assume that this has been a bad year for college basketball. Especially considering the fact that there is a very real chance that the top three picks of the upcoming draft are all international prospects (much more on the international draft class at a later date), there is more than enough evidence of a weaker collegiate class when it comes to NBA talent. However, what that does mean is a more balanced and deeper field in the upcoming NCAA tournament with no clear-cut favorite. Depending on your book, you can find three different college teams as the Vegas favorite, none with overwhelmingly positive odds. 

So, when you combine a more even year of college basketball and a down year for the NBA draft, what do you get? You get an NCAA tournament littered with draft prospects down the board. Oftentimes, the best college basketball players do not necessarily align with the best NBA prospects, but this year they do. While Cody Williams finds himself squarely on the bubble in Colorado, many other prospects will be playing on contenders in the tournament. Dalton Knecht has risen up draft boards with consistent 30-point showings for Tennessee, as has Kentucky’s Reed Sheppard whose two-way appeal has him described as one of the highest floor players in the class. Top pre-season prospects Steph Castle and Ja’Kobe Walter will be on top-three seeds in March before being likely lottery picks in June. Looking through mock drafts at prominent platforms like The Athletic, ESPN, and The Ringer, none have more than three college basketball players in the first round who are not expected to be in the NCAA tournament. 

Okay, so that is enough waxing poetic about the competition in the NCAA tournament, you are probably wondering what that means for you as a Knicks fan. What it means, outside of a fun tournament, is a lot of scouting for you to do up and down the bracket. The Knicks have two picks in the first round, currently projected to be picks 20 and 21. We have seen Leon Rose at his most aggressive when armed with multiple first-round picks. He has traded up, then down, then up again, and is committed to getting his guys. While those guys were eventually used as trade chips, he did show the ability to take valuable rotation players such as Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley late in the first round.

So, while I do not necessarily think the Knicks will draft both of those picks where they land, it is very likely that they turn them into more picks and assets both in this class, as well as down the road. Whatever they do, we know that Leon Rose will get his guy, and has gone into drafts with very specific targets of who he wanted to draft regardless of draft order. Now, you may be asking who those targets may be? 

The logical question to follow up would be what do the Knicks need? Luckily, as this front office has built a competitive and competent team, there are fewer holes than there were in years past as Leon Rose was taking his shots in the draft. Your mileage may vary on the potential positional need and where you personally would target in the draft, but there are a couple of logical areas. 

One of the most common projections is for a big man, given the uncertainty of the frontcourt. Isaiah Hartenstein is a free agent and Precious Achiuwa is a restricted free agent in the summer, leaving only Mitchell Robinson and Jericho Sims (team option) under contract for the next year. 

While Deuce McBride has shored up the backup point guard role (not even going to tag any articles because I have written too many about the backup point guard), some may still want backcourt help. There has been a deficit of that second-unit scoring that Immanuel Quickley had facilitated and there may be a reason to look at that kind of scoring guard. 

Shooting is always necessary, especially in the modern NBA. The Knicks are currently middle-of-the-road in both three-point percentage and three-point attempts and could definitely use additional perimeter shooting. This has been a common trend in Leon Rose’s draft history and may be a good indicator of what he is looking for in a mid-to-late first-round draft pick. 

The other thing that has been true about the Leon Rose-helmed draft picks is that they have… almost… all been hard-nosed defenders. Obi Toppin aside, the late first and second-round picks he has made have all been tough defenders who fit the Thibs mold: hardnosed players who defend like their life is on the line with every possession. 

With that being said, let’s get into some of the prospects that may fit into some of those categories.

Donovan Clingan — UConn

The 7’2 sophomore anchors the defending champion UConn Husky’s defense as a likely one seed and contender to win it all and be the first team to go back to back since Florida in 2007. Clingan is one of the more interesting prospects in the class and was one of the biggest names coming into the season. He had some major draft buzz last year and could have entered after winning the title last season with Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson Jr, and Adama Sanogo. Instead of taking a chance in a loaded class, Clingan decided to bet on himself and come back in an attempt to raise his draft stock against a weaker prospect group. 

While some people projected that he could be a top-five pick with a bigger role on a UConn team that lost its championship core. instead, he has found himself with a wider draft range and a similar projection from where he was at last year. You may wonder what has happened for Clingan’s stock to have stagnated. Assuredly he must have had a rough year, right? Or at least not been able to handle a bigger role on a team that is trying to rebuild on the fly? Maybe the team isn’t having success? Well, none of that is true, Donovan Clingan is one of the most dominant players in college basketball and is a major reason that UConn is a clear-cut favorite to defend their title. 

The giant big man has a remarkable 7’7 wingspan with defensive instincts that are sure to translate to the next level. The physical presence alone is a starting point for a good post defender, let alone when you consider his fluid movement and precise timing on weakside defense. Clingan is a prospect who seems like he was designed in a lab to be a drop coverage big. His best skill defensively within the elite rim protection he brings, is that he has the agility to turn ball handlers away from the basket because of smart angles and the quickness for his size. Watching UConn games, it is sometimes hard to see the impact that he has defensively because teams won’t even attempt scoring in the paint around him. He changes the dynamics of how college offenses try to function around him. 

Offensively, there are more questions about what that would be like at the next level. He does not have a deep post bag, and will likely not be able to create shots for himself. What he does that would translate is finish at the rim. Clingan is an elite dunker, play-finisher, and lob threat. That is something that teams will be able to utilize immediately; UConn has designed sets for him to receive lobs, but at the next level, it will likely be more rolling and rim-running. 

Donovan Clingan is a great rebounder, has good hands, and is a good passer for his size. He has a lot of intangibles that you would look for in a big man, he is reliable on offense and fills out his role well. So, what are the downsides of the 7’2 behemoth who moves well and has a high IQ? In his freshman year, he put up unbelievable advanced stats and on/off numbers but only did it in 13 minutes a game. The bigger role that he has stepped into this year still only accounts for 21 minutes a game. That is without even getting to the injury history and the foot injury that bothered him early in the year. 

So, while Clingan’s game is a sure thing, the questions that have been unanswered throughout this year have let him potentially slip into deeper range. That is something that every team that passes on Clingan will have to consider these variables. Are those risks of staying healthy playing substantial minutes worth it? Or will Clingan end up having to be a spot big off the bench that can only play limited minutes? 

Tyler Kolek — Marquette

The Marquette guard has been one of the most fun stories, and most fun players in college basketball throughout the season. The fourth-year player took a leap last season and has continued to make improvements this year that have turned him into a real NBA prospect. The biggest improvement made was the three-point shooting. 

Starting his career at George Mason, Kolek had a very green light, taking nearly seven threes a game and hitting a respectable 35.8% on that shot diet. After transferring to Marquette, Kolek shot only 28% from three on three attempts a game in his sophomore season. That season now looks like an outlier as he shot 39.8% in his junior season and is shooting 40% from 3 on 3.9 attempts per game as I currently type this. 

If Tyler Kolek was a three-point specialist, we would be having a very different conversation, however, that is not the case. The 6’3 guard is one the most traditional point guard prospects we have seen in some years. For the second straight year, Kolek is averaging over seven assists a game, and creating in every way. He is a high-level passer and a smart player, he can play within the offense but can also create plays out of nothing. 

For a fairly unathletic prospect, Tyler Kolek is an elite prospect when it comes to fast breaks. He is an absolute nightmare for defenses after a steal, or upon grabbing a rebound and going. White he won’t beat defenses downcourt or throw down a thunderous jam, he will look for hit-ahead passes or break down a defense and find an open man for a layup. It is a skill to be able to play fast, but even more so to be able to play fast and under control. That is one of Kolek’s great strengths, is always being in control. 

This was never more clear than when he set the Marquette single-game record with 18 assists against Depaul. Marquette has been playing their best basketball of the season and it has been in large part due to the play of Tyler Kolek. He has been masterful in running Shaka Smart’s offense and has made the Golden Eagles a very dangerous team come the NCAA tournament. 

Shooting 40/48/88, Kolek is just shy of the 40-50-90 club, but that is hardly less impressive given the usage he has at Marquette. You may wonder how a smaller less athletic guard can be so efficient? Well, the word you will hear Kolek described as the most, will be crafty. I know it is shocking to hear a white guard be called crafty but you will have to get used to it for at least this one time. 

Kolek is a terror in the pick and roll, with his shooting ability prohibiting teams from going under screens. If you come out on him, he loves to get downhill and probe inside the offense. He can get to the rim and attack and does so with efficiency. He is a good finisher at the rim and that opens up the interior passing which is a major part of his arsenal. 

Offensively, he is equal parts smart and complete, his feel for the game and processing speed is incredibly high. Those are the kinds of skillsets we have seen translate to the NBA immediately on older prospects like Jaime Jaquez and Brandin Podziemski. When you combine that with a super high motor and effort level, you have an intriguing prospect in the nearly 23-year-old senior. 

Defensively, there are some question marks. As you would expect with a smaller, less athletic guard, he is not insanely switchable and will be targeted for his size. However, he is a competent defender, smart, and usually in the right position. That processing speed helps make up for some physical deficits as well as quick hands that have given him a nearly 3% steal rate for both of the last two years.  

If you are ranking the white guard/wing prospects defensively, he is somewhere in between Reed Sheppard and Dalton Knecht. I do not imagine he will ever be a high-level defender, and he will definitely be targeted but should be able to hold his own on that side of the ball. He will be in the right place and make good decisions, he won’t take a lot of risks and that is okay. 

So, the Kolek question is this: do you want to draft a 23-year-old guard with a theoretically lower ceiling to contribute immediately? This has paid off in recent years, and we have seen a trend of fewer freshmen making up the draft class. Especially in a weaker class, a player like Kolek must have some appeal as a safer high-floor prospect as a consummate backup point guard. That interest will only go up if he has one of these remarkable high-assist games on the biggest stage. 

Yves Missi — Baylor

If I said Donovan Clingan was built in a lap for drop coverage, Yves Missi just looks like he was built in a lab. If I were to say to close your eyes and think about what the body of an NBA big man looks like, you would be thinking of Yves Missi. At seven feet tall and 235 pounds, the Cameroonian prospect is ready for the NBA physically. 

However, he is more of a project than some of these other guys, and part of that is he is newer to the game of basketball. Being a late-to-start basketball player has paid off for other players who have a more rapid growth trajectory because they started later. While that is not necessarily a projection for Missi, it is certainly an important context for his development as a prospect. 

You can not teach body and you cannot teach instincts. Those are two things that Yves Missi has in spades, and the reason that NBA teams will talk themselves into him as a first-round pick. Defensively, Yves Missi needs some cleaning up, but could truly be a special interior defender. While other big-man prospects in this class require current specific schemes or styles to be successful, there is nothing you can draw up defensively that Missi would not be a good fit for. He is far more switchable than his peers and more equipped to guard on the perimeter. He has lateral quickness for his size which is a massive advantage when looking at his defensive skillset. 

His frame combined with a 7’5 wingspan make him very dangerous on the defensive side of the ball. He is a smart positional defender who tries to send every shot around the rim into the crowd. He does need to be smarter defensively to limit his fouling as he has a tendency to be a little block-happy and jump at every pump fake around the basket. However, his help-side rim protection is something that looks like it should translate to the next level. 

Offensively, he is a project in more ways than one. He does not have a lot of skill to hang his hat on offensively. He is a sub-par passer, with truly no ability to make jump shots. Heck, he doesn’t even take jumpers, he exclusively finishes around the rim — you can probably count on one hand how many shots he has taken outside of the paint this year. There is a reason he is shooting 66% from the field even as a 59% free throw shooter, and that is because he knows his role. This is not necessarily a bad thing for a big man to fill that role, just to say that the expectation offensively is for a rim-running big man and nothing more. 

However, those are the skills that he does have offensively. He is a downright mean screener and a very smart and impactful one at that. Once he rolls to the basket, he is truly a lethal lob threat. His finishing around the rim is impressive, and even moreso is his finishing above the rim. 

So, what is the value of a one-dimensional big man who fills a specific role on offense with a nearly limitless ceiling of potential defensively? That is the question that teams will be asking themselves this summer, but I believe his stock will only rise between now and June. 

Johnny Furphy-Kansas

The rise and fall of draft prospects is not new, it happens every year and will continue to happen from now until June. However, it doesn’t always happen so fast. Johnny Furphy is an Australian wing that reclassified to join Kansas this year. It took some time for the 6’9 wing to find his place, but boy when he did, it happened quickly. It took him 16 games to play more than 20 minutes in a game, but since that switch happened, he has played at least 30 in every game since. 

He went from not being on draft boards at all as a bench player playing about 12 minutes a game and averaging five points a game, to averaging 30 minutes and nearly 14 points a game, as well as seven rebounds. The production has improved, but so have the efficiency numbers. Since that January 16th game against Oklahoma State where he broke through the rotation, Furphy is shooting 38.8% from beyond the arc. 

Johnny Furphy checks a lot of boxes of what teams are looking for in a modern wing. He is a big athletic wing who can put a lot of pressure on the rim, loves to get out and run in transition, and can really shoot it. So, while he is a project in nature because the production there is such a small sample size, the idea of Johnny Furphy is a tantalizing one. Offensively, he is a smart player that generally knows where to be. He is a good off-ball mover, cuts well, and positions himself well for offensive rebounds. He re-locates well and does a nice job of finding space within the offense to create openings for himself. 

Furphy is in the 81st percentile for catch-and-shoot threes, which is remarkably impressive given his size and frame. There is a reason that Furphy has begun to jump up draft boards, and is continuing to rise every day, with some people discussing him as a potential lottery pick.

He may come back for his sophomore season. However, if his stock continues to rise, he may not have much of a choice but to declare for the draft. This is a draft class that is not filled with tons of high-ceiling prospects with limitless potential, which makes Furphy even more fascinating. He is going to take some time to develop and whoever drafts him will have to show patience, but that might pay dividends down the road. 

Jared McCain — Duke

While Duke is waging a full-on war on court storms, there are still games to be played for John Scheyer’s team. I have not heard about any basketball happening in Durham in a week, they still have important basketball left to play and two if not three players who could be drafted in the first round. 

Jared McCain may have been too busy making TikTok videos to contribute early into his freshman year. However, at some point in December, something clicked and he is back to looking like a one-and-done prospect and has only been raising his draft stock as the season has progressed. 

The Jared McCain story is fairly simple as a prospect, he is a small guard that can really shoot the rock. One of the better shooters in the class, he is shooting nearly 42% from deep on a healthy 5.6 attempts per game. 

For a smaller guard, one of the struggles for McCain is that he is not a pure point guard. He is a good passer and a competent pick-and-roll ball handler, but not necessarily a tight enough ball handler to run your offense. He works better as a secondary playmaker where he can make quick reads from advantageous situations. 

In college, he is a player who makes his team better. He is a good rebounder for his size, but there are questions on if that will translate to the NBA. There is very little margin for error at his size, and the rebounding and defense are both good enough right now but are swing skills for his NBA future. 

Defensively, he works hard and is a smart defender. However, physically, he has some disadvantages he has to make up for. On both sides of the ball, his lack of quickness creates some issues for him. He is not a player equipped physically to take guys off the dribble or stay in front of quicker guards laterally. 

There are a lot of questions about McCain, purely based on his size and physicality alone. However, in a class that is not filled with elite skills, his shooting is elite. It is really hard to project what will translate to the NBA and what won’t, however, it is safe to say that the Duke freshman will be able to put the ball through the hoop from deep at the next level given the opportunity

Other Guys To Watch

These are players who may not be on contenders or teams equipped to make runs deep into the tournament, however, they are absolute dogs and some of my favorite players in this class. They will certainly get some attention in the tournament if they are given the right matchups, even if they just get one game to play. 

Devin Carter – Providence

Former NBA player Anthony Carter’s son has been a tour de force this season in college basketball. The 22-year-old guard for Providence transferred from South Carolina three years ago and has gotten better and better each year. 

You would be hard-pressed to find a more complete player in college basketball than the 6’3 guard playing in Providence. He was a national Defensive Player of the Year semi-finalist last year and that hasn’t changed this year. His defensive counting stats have gone down a bit, but his usage has taken a significant jump this year, so that is to be expected. 

Devin Carter is arguably the best defensive guard in this class, a hard-working smart point-of-attack defender who gets after it and fights like hell to harass ball handlers and fight through screens. His defensive footwork is truly elite and the numbers reflect it, he does not get beat off the dribble for scores. 

The on/off numbers for Providence’s defensive ratings are truly astounding. With Devin Carter on the court, they are a 5th-percentile defensive team, with him off they are an 81st-percentile defensive team. That number speaks to the true value that he brings defensively. 

His stats reflect that defensive mastery as well, with never having had less than a 2.6% steal percentage as well as a block percentage of 2.8 or greater in the last two years. He is an elite defensive guard that can switch to guard bigs, and pester every ball handler he guards. 

Not only does he defend well, but he also brings down 8.2 rebounds per game including a mightily impressive 22% defensive rebound percentage. He is the best rebounding guard in college basketball and it might not be close. So, we are looking at arguably the best defensive guard in college basketball, and the best rebounding guard in basketball, that sounds like a decent place to start for a prospect. 

Your expectation this far into the Devin Carter section may be that he will be a defensive specialist who will likely not be able to match the production offensively that he has produced defensively. However, he is averaging 19 points per game on a very impressive 47.8% and 39.9% shooting with fantastic shooting splits. 

While some experts think the shooting may be an anomaly since it’s a far cry from the 26% and 29% from deep that he shot in his first two seasons in college basketball, I am willing to take a chance on the shooting because of the volume. Over his first two seasons, he was taking 2.0 and 3.5 attempts per game respectively. Now in his junior year, his volume has increased significantly to 6.5 attempts per game. I believe in the volume of that shot, and while it is not the prettiest jumper, it has been wildly effective this year. 

If you are thinking of a current  6’3 hard-nosed defensive guard with a shooting swing skill, it is for good reason. Devin Carter’s numbers look very similar to Deuce McBride’s numbers in his sophomore season at West Virginia. Carter’s a better rebounder and scores a little more but both defensive-focused players had significant jumps on their shooting efficiency numbers on high volume from one season to the next. In the same way I was willing to bet on Deuce McBride because of the effort and energy he brought, I would say the same thing for Devin Carter. He likely projects to be some version of a 3-and-D guard, but that is not a bad thing. 

Ryan Dunn-Virginia

I have said in this article as well as others, that there is a dearth of elite skills in this class. You can talk about that in the micro sense or a macro sense, but either way, there are not a lot of players that have one thing at an ultra-high level. Ryan Dunn may be the exception to that statement. 

Ryan Dunn is without a doubt one of the best defensive wing prospects I have ever watched. He is in the Herb Jones/Tari Eason tier of defensive prospects, and I honestly can’t say that he isn’t better than them at this age. He is truly a special defensive prospect with legitimate All-Defense upside. I might even go as far as to say that I would be surprised if he did not end up being considered for an All-Defense team if he is given an opportunity to play real minutes at the next level. Let’s be clear about that; defensively, he will be ready to play next year. 

I cannot overstate the impact that he has defensively on the basketball court. He is a near-perfect defensive wing for the offensive game. He is capable of playing in any defensive scheme and I have not yet seen an offense that he could not figure out. It is truly a joy to watch how disruptive he can be on that side of the ball. He can switch and guard any position, he is strong and quick with good hands. There are ten players in modern college basketball that have had a block percentage of over 10 and a steal percentage of over 3, Ryan Dunn is one of them. 

While versatile will probably be the word to describe his defense the most, it is not the only word. He is versatile in the complexity of ways he can defend, but more than that he can do those things at a high level. He is an elite shot blocker for a wing with unbelievable rim protection from the weak side due to great timing and defensive instincts. At 6’8, he has good size for a wing which allows him to switch and play multiple positions, and that should translate to the next level as well. 

Offensively, he has a lot of limitations, to put it nicely. He shows truly zero signs of being a good shooter, shooting an abysmal 20% from three this year on low volume, and an equally abysmal 53% from the charity stripe. I do not think he needs to get to a point where he is a good three-point shooter, or even a consistent one, but he does have to make teams at least respect that he can shoot from outside. That is not currently happening in college and that will only be worse at the NBA level. 

Not only can he not shoot, but he cannot create his own shots either. However, he does play within the confines of the offense and knows his role. He keeps the ball moving and typically makes the right pass. That is a good skill to have and a better alternative than him thinking he should shoot every possession. However, it is still a major question for the school district. 

His strength offensively is his finishing, as his athleticism allows him to hang in the air or dunk on somebody. The best way for him to be utilized offensively is to get to a finishing place by cutting off the ball. He has good situational awareness and will cut into the space to be ready to finish at the rim. 

Ryan Dunn probably has one of the biggest variances in this draft class. Some people would argue that his defense is too dominant to avoid and that it will get him on the court regardless. Others might say that his offense is so bad that he will not be playable at the next level. That is a really tough question that front offices will be asking themselves, and while I do not have an answer, I do believe that he is worth the risk given that defensive impact and true All-Defense ceiling.  

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