Next level: 10 best NBA prospects still playing

By Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange
Missouri Tigers K.J. Walton (L) and Kentucky Wildcats Malik Monk battle for control in the first half at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri on February 21, 2017. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Missouri Tigers K.J. Walton (L) and Kentucky Wildcats Malik Monk battle for control in the first half at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri on February 21, 2017. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

More often than not, the team that wins the NCAA title has at least a couple of pros-in-waiting on their roster.

So it goes with this year's Sweet 16, which has its share of potentially ready-made NBA players, some of whom seem assured of stardom. There are also guys left in the field who appear to have 10-year role player written all over them, and there's nothing wrong with that, either.


Here's our list of the top 10 NBA prospects from teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament:

1. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Some might be weary of his father's seemingly non-stop palaver, but it's hard to get tired of watching his son's game. Ball averages 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds per contest, turning the Bruins from a losing team into a potential national champion. Ball averages more than three assists for every turnover and his effective shooting percentage on 3-pointers is better than 64 percent. The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Ball has the handle of a smaller man and the vision to make anyone a scoring threat. Buy his rookie card ASAP.


2. Josh Jackson, Kansas: The 6-8 Jackson turned in a highlight-film play for the ages Sunday against Michigan State, appearing from out of nowhere to reject a TumTum Nairn layup early in the Jayhawks' 20-point win over the Spartans. Jackson hit for 16.6 points and hauled in 7.1 rebounds, helping Kansas win its 13th straight Big 12 regular-season title. He will need to improve his foul shooting (only 56 percent) and tends to be a bit loose with the ball. There's also off-court baggage to consider, but he's a guaranteed lottery pick.

3. De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky: A classic point guard, the 6-4 Fox is at his best in the open floor, creating for himself or others. Fox tallied 16.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds as the Wildcats notched Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament titles. Fox shot almost 52 percent from the field, largely because few defenders could stay in front of him. At the next level, he'll have to improve his jumper, as he has converted only 23.4 percent of 3-point attempts this year. But he appears to be a top 10 pick in the lottery.

4. Malik Monk, Kentucky: Fox's backcourt running mate is the perfect complement to him, as he's a true scorer. Monk averaged 20 points per game, displaying the ability to knock down 3-pointers at almost 40 percent while also creating highlights around the rim with his leaping ability. Foul him and you will see him convert at the line to the tune of 83 percent. Monk is billed as a combo guard at the next level, but might not be a good enough passer to act as a lead guard in the NBA. But he can sure score, and is a cinch lottery pick.


5. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: You noticed a trend yet? Markkanen's the fifth straight freshman on this list. Here's what makes him the outlier here: Height. At 7-0, Markkanen plays more like a stretch four because of his shooting, canning 43.3 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Markkanen has put the Wildcats on his back at time this season, helping them win the Pac-12 Tournament. He might need to add weight in the NBA as he weighs only 225 pounds, but he'll likely go in the top 10.

6. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: It seems like the Tar Heels have one guy every year that blossoms into a star. This was Jackson's year to do so, as he went from inconsistent role player into team leader, scoring 18.2 points and grabbing 4.8 rebounds per game. Jackson is an above-average shooter, canning 50 percent from the field and 38.6 percent on 3s. He's also a decent passer, registering nearly three assists per game, and is capable of playing good defense. He might not be a lottery pick, but he's a first-rounder.

7. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Of all the statistics one can recite about this guy, one sticks out above all the rest -- his outrageous 7-3 1/2 wingspan that allows him to play bigger than 6-9 and 230 pounds. Motley led the Bears to the Sweet 16 by averaging 17.2 points and 9.9 rebounds while sinking 54 percent from the field. Motley attacks the offensive boards as though they were a buffet line, pulling in nearly four per game. While he tends to be loose with the ball, turning it over nearly three times per game, he has a bright future in the pro game.


8. T.J. Leaf, UCLA: While the 6-10 Leaf obviously benefits from playing with Ball, he does enough other things well on his own that he has a shot at building a good pro career. Leaf sinks 64.5 percent from the field and is also a solid rebounder, averaging 8.2 per game. He tallied 16.2 points per contest and also proved to be a willing passer, doling out 2.5 assists per game. Like Markkanen, Leaf (220 pounds) will have to add heft to his body to succeed in the NBA. But there's no reason why he can't have a good career.

9. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: The likely Wooden Award winner isn't getting the love from the pro scouts, some of whom don't even have him as a first-rounder this summer. But Swanigan sure passes the eye test at 6-9 and 247 pounds with a 7-3 1/2 wingspan. What's more, he averages 18.5 points per game, 12.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He's expanded his shooting range to the 3-point line, but will have to cut down on turnovers. Still, anyone who saw him take over the Iowa State game Saturday night must conclude there's an NBA future for him.


10. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: He isn't a lottery pick yet and there's a decent chance the 6-10 sophomore might stay in school, but we're telling you right now he's going to be in the league for 10 years. Happ is extremely active on both ends of the floor, combining back-to-the-basket scoring with the effort and footwork to be a Big 10 leader in steals and blocked shots. Although his overall numbers are modest, one must remember that with a quicker pace, Happ would post more impressive stats. Regardless, he will play for pay for a long time.

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