Numerous players have stood out in the chaos of March Madness. Here are a few the Knicks should be monitoring as the 2023 NBA Draft nears.
March has arrived and madness has ensued. This Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament has come equipped with all the fixings. Cinderella has arrived and a few other demi-Cinderellas followed suit, with New Jersey staking its claim as a basketball powerhouse. Blue Bloods from around the country have fallen short while upsets ran wild up and down the bracket. If your bracket wasn’t busted, you should probably be playing the lottery…
This was an intense weekend of highly dramatic and unnecessarily chaotic college basketball with everything you could hope for out of the best weekend college basketball has to offer. So, what does that mean for the NBA and the New York Knicks? It could mean everything when you look at how the front office has operated under Leon Rose, there are a variety of potential targets that could be available in June’s NBA draft.
The top-end talent is there. You can watch guys like Brandon Miller and Jarace Walker lead their respective one-seeds or you could look further down the draft boards for guys like Jordan Hawkins or any of the multitude of guys that I wrote about leading into the tournament as Knicks’ targets that did not make out of the first weekend. However, there are guys that could be best described as “winners” that are still helping their teams play deep into the tournament that may not be getting as much attention.
Leon Rose has been a wheeler and dealer in his time, moving up and down and out altogether to build up draft capital and get the guys that he wants. He has struck gold twice from the 25th pick of the first round with Quickley and Grimes as well as finding value in the second round out of players like Deuce McBride or Jericho Sims.
When we are looking at the guys making an impact on their team success this weekend, they may not have been the leading scorers but will be guys that can help at the next level. These are guys the Knicks can be targeting late in the first round or in the second round that can help contribute in a variety of ways.
Jordan Walsh, Arkansas
One of the surprising stories of the regular season in college basketball was Eric Musselman’s disappointing Arkansas Razorbacks team. The Razorbacks came in with serious expectations after last year’s team went to the elite 8 and brought in three top 25 recruits to build a top 10 preseason favorite.
However, this loaded Arkansas team struggled in conference play with a subpar 8-10 record in the SEC on their way to an 8 seed in the West region where they matched up with the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks. There the Razorbacks pulled off a miraculous comeback to upset the Bill Self-less Jayhawks. They did this with a bold move from Musselman who benched freshman star and probable lottery pick Nick Smith Jr for all but five minutes in the second half. The scoring load was managed by Devo Davis and Ricky Council IV but it was a defensive change that their shirtless coach made.
First-team All-American junior Jalen Wilson was killing the Razorbacks in the first half before Musselman put the freshman wing on him. What Jordan Walsh did in the second half was almost magical to watch as he made the 20 ppg scorer’s life a living hell for 20 minutes straight. The 6’7 freshman uses his insane 7’3 wingspan to disrupt things all over the court.
Jordan Walsh with the POA defense chops. Forces a tough shot from Jalen Wilson. pic.twitter.com/h69ZGkdbrR
— Drew Gooden's Suit (@drewgoodenssuit) March 18, 2023
Jalen Wilson finished at his average point total of 20 against Arkansas but he did not score when guarded by Walsh. Not only was he unable to score, but the above shot was literally the only shot attempt he got off when guarded by Walsh. What the Arkansas freshman did to one of the best players in college basketball was borderline illegal.
Walsh has elite defensive instincts and is an elite help and team defender who helps create turnovers, with steal and block percentages over two each. What he showed in this game is that he can be a potentially special defender at the next level with the ability to imprison a star player with high-level POA defense.
Walsh will likely be a defensive specialist at the next level, but it will be important for him to be able to hold his own offensively. That is never going to be his strength and will not be why he gets selected on draft night.
He is a good connective passer but struggles to score on his own, averaging 7.2 points per game on 43% from the field and 28% from beyond the arc. While he only scored 10 points on Sunday’s game, he did hit a massive three only a few possessions after passing up a wide-open look. That is important for his potential development as he needs to be respected by defenses at the NBA level.
While you cannot bet on Walsh’s offense, you can bet on his effort. He completely changed the makeup of this game, not only with his defense but his hustle. There were multiple possessions that he was able to extend whether it was by pulling down an offensive rebound or just disrupting a play to make good things happen because that is the kind of player Walsh is. This came to fruition when he was able to get his hand on a ball and get his man out of position for Ricky Council IV to get a rebound off his own free throw to help seal the game for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas has its work cut out for them in the West region with a fierce matchup with the UConn Huskies only to be met with the winner of a very tough Gonzaga/UCLA matchup in the Elite 8 if they win. If Musselman is going to keep taking his shirt off, Jordan Walsh will continue to shine defensively and impact the game in a plethora of ways.
Julian Phillips, Tennessee
Julian Phillips is an interesting “riser” because he has 5 points in 33 minutes in the tournament for the Volunteers. He also scores 8.6 points per game and is only shooting 25% from deep this year. That is a tough profile for a potential 3-and-D player in the draft.
However, the Tennessee freshman did draw attention from the draft world with a couple of spectacular plays against Duke along with the high level of defense that he has shown all year. The 6’8 freshman is a spectacular athlete and was able to impact the game without scoring.
— Caleb (@VolsAndDraft) March 18, 2023
The athleticism that Phillips put on display made a big difference in a game where the Volunteers overpowered a Duke team with 4 potential first-round picks. Phillips made a couple of key plays where he was not able to use his athleticism but be in the right place at the right time. That is a sign of a smart player that can impact the game in a variety of ways.
One of the biggest strengths that Phillips has shown this year is his defensive aptitude and that was on display in a big way against Duke on Sunday. Another potential Knicks target is Dariq Whitehead, who hit a couple of shots early and looked like he was primed for a big showing in the second round before Tennessee figuratively and almost literally punched the Blue Devils in the face.
A big part of that defensive scheme was Julian Phillips, who guarded Whitehead on the perimeter and mucked it up on the inside. The patented style of physicality that the Vols play has allowed Phillips to create a defensive identity using strength and physicality.
His POA defense is something but Phillips’ defensive strengths come from his defensive instincts and help defense. As a versatile wing defender, he can switch and guard multiple positions and fits a very important archetype for the modern NBA. The game may not be as much of a rock fight as it is in Knoxville but his defense will be able to help teams at the next level.
— Caleb (@VolsAndDraft) January 14, 2023
If he is able to develop his perimeter game offensively, he could be a really valuable contributor to an NBA team. The freshman wing is a really talented finisher and can finish comfortably with both hands. His athleticism allows him to finish above the rim and make some spectacular highlight plays.
Getting out in transition is another strength that was on display for Phillips against Jon Scheyer’s disappointing Dukies. His finishing ability and athleticism allow him to get out and create easy opportunities for himself or others. He is a good enough playmaker to make the right reads in transition but his best role is as a play finisher catching lobs and finishing at the rim.
OK JULIAN PHILLIPS CLIMBED THE LADDER pic.twitter.com/zSRy7px61V
— The Amateur NBA Analyst (@droppingdimes20) March 18, 2023
Julian Phillips will have opportunities to show himself and what he can do in the wide-open East region. Tennessee is favored against the Owls of Florida Atlantic but Phillips contributing offensively can make a big difference to the Volunteers’ postseason hopes. Do not be surprised whatsoever if he starts to blow up after a few big plays given his physical profile creating a very high baseline for the 19-year-old wing.
Colby Jones, Xavier
Colby is one of the guys that I wrote about before the season started and he has not disappointed. Very few players in college basketball stuff a stat sheet like the Xavier combo guard. The Musketeer junior averaged 15 points, nearly six rebounds, and close to five assists. Throughout this season for Sean Miller’s Musketeers, when Colby Jones is good, they have been nearly unbeatable.
That was certainly the case in the second round against his head coach’s alma mater. In case you did not know, Sean Miller played at Pittsburgh. That is right, the coach of Xavier played at Pittsburgh and those two schools matched up in the second round of the tournament. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it because it was not mentioned at all during the game, so in case you forgot, Sean Miller played at Pitt.
So in that game against Pitt where Sean Miller played, Xavier was just clicking on all cylinders. It was a beautiful offense that allowed Adam Kunkel to hit 5 threes and Jack Nunge to score 18 points for the Musketeers. However, even though Colby Jones was their 6th leading score, he was arguably their best and most important player. As he does; Jones filled out his box score adding 14 rebounds and seven assists to his 10 points.
Jones is likely a connective secondary passer at the next level but shows high-level passing flashes at the college level. He is not a primary facilitator but when the Xavier offense is thriving, it is typically running through Jones. That was the case against Pitt and he could not have looked much better.
If you were basing your draft board purely on games over the weekend, I would not fault anybody for putting Jones in the lottery. The upside flashes are all there for a 38% three-point shooting guard with good size and creative passing and scoring at multiple levels.
Not only can he help facilitate in the half-court but he is a really strong rebounder. That allows him to go up and grab rebounds, which he did 14 times against Pitt and push the tempo and create opportunities in the transition. Getting out and pushing the tempo has been a staple of Xavier this year and Jones is a big part of that.
He has a good claim to be one of the better passers in this class and does it in unique ways that are used as a fulcrum for one of the best offenses in college basketball.
Not only was his passing on display in his near triple-double performance but he was 2-3 from beyond the arc. This performance really showed the full gambit of what Colby Jones will offer teams at the next level. As cliche as it may be, he is sure to be loved by whatever team gets to him due to all the little things that he does. Josh Hart is somebody that he is compared to and as Knicks fans have seen, that kind of complete player can make a big difference.
Xavier is heating up and the bench is loving it 🔥 pic.twitter.com/oGqBI0iIBr
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 19, 2023
The first couple of players on this list were freshmen that came into the year as bigger recruits on big programs, but that is not the case for the Junior at Xavier. The Junior guard will be 21 by draft night and on the older side of the draft but that comes with growth and development that should allow him to contribute next year.
The high IQ that he plays with makes it clear he knows how to play and will find ways to contribute at the next level. He has been playing some of his best basketball and that is very good news for Sean Miller.
Andre Jackson, UConn
Jackson has similarities to Jones if you downplay his scoring and exponentially increased his athleticism. He is one of the most explosive athletes in the draft and is probably the most ferocious dunker in the class whose last name isn’t Thompson. He is an extremely complete player and that was on display this weekend. In the first two matchups for the Huskies; Jackson had 16 points, 14 assists, and 13 rebounds.
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 17, 2023
Jackson’s athleticism allows him to be noticeable on all sides of the ball but he is almost always running. Whether it is from a turnover or a rebound, there are few players in college basketball better at grabbing and going than Jackson Jr. He is another player that just makes good things happen.
He is a willing and capable passer who can create easy opportunities for teammates in transition, specifically with kick-outs to shooters. This is a skill that would immediately translate to the next level as he is able to get downhill due to his athleticism and create advantages for his teammates.
UConn coach Danny Hurley gives Jackson Jr credit for the team coming together to have the year that they did. Hurley recently called him the “ultimate unifier” about how he brought everybody together and got them to play within their role in an article about Jackson Jr returning home to Albany for the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Jackson Jr is often considered the ultimate glue guy and already shows that role at the college level. He is not somebody that you would expect to be a star at the next level, but he is a guy with leadership qualities that embraces his role and works really really hard. There are worse things to ask of a player than to be willing to embrace a role, run all over the court and chase down every loose ball, and make opposing ball handlers’ lives a living hell. It also doesn’t hurt when you have all of that in a 6’5 body with freak athleticism.
Offensively, Jackson Jr does not contribute a ton in the half-court but he has shown the ability to knock down open shots. His three-point shot is down from his sophomore year but when teams like Iona guard him like he is Ben Simmons, he is able to hit a couple. He shot 2-5 on his way to 10 points against Rick Pitino’s Gaels.
The Junior guard stuffs a stat sheet but more than that, when you watch him, he almost always pops. On both sides of the ball, the athleticism is on display as well as the effort. That kind of noticeability is part of the appeal. Andre Jackson Jr is not going to be a star, but he is going to work hard and make his team better.
The Huskies are matched up with the more talented Arkansas Razorbacks with long athletic defenders like Ant Black and Jordan Walsh to chase down Jordan Hawkins and the rest of the offensive firepower for UConn. That is going to put more emphasis on Jackson Jr to help create something out of nothing, which is what he does best.
Mike Miles Jr., TCU
This article was originally going to be exclusively for guys that got to the Sweet 16. However, that changed when TCU got eliminated by the Gonzaga Bulldogs with a Herculean effort from Mike Miles Jr. It is worth noting that Drew Timme in his 65th year of college basketball was absolutely dominant and warranted at least mention in this article.
However, I didn’t want to write about Drew Timme, enough people have done that and will continue to do that. What hasn’t happened enough, are people talking about Mike Miles Jr. While these other players that we have talked about do the little things to make their teams better, the TCU junior guard does the big things.
It is not just about the defensive and connective passing with Miles, the 6-foot-1 free-throw merchant is an isolation shot-creator at the highest level who can get his own shot at three levels and score in a multitude of different ways. He put that all on display in a big big way over the first tournament weekend scoring 50 points in the two games for the Horned Frogs.
While these other guys contribute in a variety of ways outside of scoring, the TCU guard contributes in a variety of ways by scoring. He is basically the “dawg in him” meme personified with how hard he plays and the effort he puts in. He is one of the most fun players to watch in college basketball and has been all year long. He has been on an extremely fun-to-watch and underappreciated TCU team that took Gonzaga down to the wire in the second round.
It is nearly impossible to watch Miles and not love him and it is safe to say that any NBA team that drafts him would not feel the same way. He is a lightning-in-a-bottle type of scorer but can do it in a fun and exciting way that is still efficient and within the offense. He is likely not going to be a lead guard at the NBA level but his scoring pop can help teams off the bench.
The isolation self-creation ability is a big part of the appeal with a vast bag that allows him to create space and get his shots off. He can create space and score with very little of it, he also has great body control and the ability to draw fouls after getting his defender off balance. Few players have shown such a great propensity for the four-point play, a Mike Miles Jr staple.
Mike Miles Jr pound dribble into the step-back 3!!!
Impossible to not love watching this kid play pic.twitter.com/ePxPC0XgD9
— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) March 20, 2023
Outside of his self-creation ability, he can score off-ball and again with very little space. He shot a respectable 36% from beyond the arc this year on 4 attempts per game and it felt like every time TCU needed a bucket, Mike Miles Jr was there. That was true in both games which were hard-fought intense tournament games that felt more like heavyweight bouts. The junior guard was delivering haymaker after haymaker to keep his team in games with big runs and momentum swings.
Not only can Mike Miles Jr score but he can defend as well. He is not only a really functional athlete, but a fearless one at that. He is a really explosive dunker that attacks with reckless abandon and brings the same intensity on the defensive end. He showed both of those attributes in his 26-point showing against Arizona St in the first round.
The effort which he plays with highlights his athleticism as there’s a ferocity and a pop to his jumping ability on both sides of the ball. There is something truly enamoring about his tenacity and play style and it is something that is going to make a fanbase fall in love in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Gutsy and efficient 26pt outing for Mike Miles Jr. I expect him to test well at the combine and these two plays are one of many indicators of why. Not only does he remain an underrated athlete, but his athleticism is also functional on both ends, which is ultimately what matters pic.twitter.com/UlzBXC0re8
— Jam Hines (@jamontheboards) March 18, 2023
Miles’ is a legitimate three-level scorer with playmaking chops. He is a smart player with a high-level feel for the game that shows on both sides of the ball. Even though he is a junior, he will only be 20 on draft night and has shone brightest on the biggest stage both of the last two years in the tournament.
Unfortunately, TCU’s tournament hopes ended in the second round but Mike Miles Jr did the most when the eyes were on him. It was fun to watch and for the people that have been enjoying him all year, it was an additional pleasure to watch people fall in love with him over Friday and Sunday’s games.
Some things can’t be taught and Mike Miles Jr has that in a big way. At only 6′ 1″, he is not the biggest guard but he does so much well and works so hard that you should not be surprised to see him continue to rise up boards. He is a prime candidate for a big combine showing and a guy that will be able to contribute next year.
There are a lot of candidates for the Knicks to look at this year and Leon Rose has shown a good track record when he is willing to use his draft picks. There are guys that can help in multiple ways as well as players who should be able to contribute sooner rather than later. These players should all be available late in the first and into the second round and that is where Leon and Co have done their best work on draft night.
The value you can find in that range can be too good to pass up. We will see what the next weekend brings for these young players chasing their dreams but they can only go up now that they have laid the foundation for the biggest games of their blossoming careers.