March Madness is one of the most wonderful annual events of the sports year as teams across the country compete for the chance win a championship. That being said, while Houston Rockets fans may have their eyes in France or on the NBA G League, their eyes need to be on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Every year, player’s draft stocks experience major rises and falls as the national media gets a chance to see both known and unknown prospects on the biggest stage that they could reach prior to turning pro.
Here’s some perspective:
Last season, former Duke Blue Devils forward Paolo Banchero played so well that he outshined former Gonzaga Bulldogs center Chet Holmgren to become the first overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Banchero, a player that was once projected to join the Rockets, now is the face of the franchise for the Orlando Magic.
Just like the previous seasons, a number of prospects that are already on the map are going to be in the NCAA Tournament, showcasing their abilities.
Here are the four best NBA Draft prospects to watch in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
4 best NBA Draft prospects Rockets must watch in 2023 NCAA Tournament
Brandon Miller, Alabama Crimson Tide
Speaking purely about what he can do on the court, Alabama Crimson Tide forward Brandon Miller is more or less the ideal prospect for a team searching for a small forward.
A 3-level scorer with a true all-around game, Miller is averaging 19.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 33.1 minutes per game as a true freshman. He’s also shooting 40.1 percent from 3-point range on 7.6 attempts per game, with his 103 regular season 3-pointers ranking ninth overall in the NCAA this season.
Miller isn’t an outstanding athlete, and his frame is slight. However, as a player that understands how to get to their spots and is more of a perimeter-based scorer than downhill scorer, those issues aren’t expected to be major.
Unfortunately, Miller is a polarizing player because he found himself circumstantially involved in a tragic shooting. Although he hasn’t been found guilty of any wrongdoing or criminal intent from that incident, it does raise questions about whether Miller has the leadership qualities one would desire of a franchise cornerstone. For the Rockets in particular, this is important; they need a leader far more than they need a follower.
Anthony Black, Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas Razorbacks point guard Anthony Black could be the best fit for the Rockets due to his size, defensive upside, and passing ability.
An All-SEC All-Freshman selection, as well as a Second Team All-SEC selection in 2023, Black averaged 12.9 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.0 steals per game in 2022-23. He also impressed with 7.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.8 steals in 20.0 minutes per game in the 2022 U18 FIBA Americas Tournament.
At 6-foot-7, Black can either be a nominal point guard or point-forward, fitting easily beside Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green. Although it would mean the ball is in the hands of KPJ and Green less, it would be for the best, as Black more interested in making plays for others than himself. Not only could he get both Porter and Green easier scoring opportunities, but the trio could also play point guard-by-committee, making it more complicated for opposing teams to guard them.
On the defensive end, both Porter and Green have demonstrated their defensive potential.
Yet, Black’s length could also be the key to the Rockets being comfortable starting center Alperen Sengun. Though a skilled offensive player, Sengun’s pick-and-roll defense leave plenty to be desired. That could change by pairing the long-limbed Texas native with Sengun as a pick-and-roll defender.
The biggest question will be whether Black can become a reliable 3-point threat in the NBA, as he’s currently shooting 31.0 percent from deep.
Gradey Dick, Kansas Jayhawks
Gradey Dick is an elite 3-point threat whose ability as an off-ball threat could be perfect for team with a ball-dominant backcourt and playmaking big men. While discipline and effort often take the Rockets out of games, a tangible issue that often holds Houston back is a lack of 3-point threats.
The Rockets are shooting 32.9 percent from 3-point range, ranked 30th in the league. Only two of their rotation players — forwards Tari Eason and Usman Garuba — shoot above 36 percent from 3-point range. While the defensive prowess of Eason and Garuba routinely shine and will rightly keep them in the rotation, neither are as reliable as off-ball threats as the Big 12 All-Freshman selection.
Another reliable skill of the Jayhawks forward is his defensive awareness, namely his basketball IQ and team-first mentality. His ability to be a smart team defender will keep him on the floor, even if his shot isn’t falling.
Still, Dick is currently averaging 14.1 points per game while shooting 39.9 percent from 3. His perimeter gravity could be highly beneficial for the Rockets from Day 1, should Houston draft the Kansas native.
Jalen Wilson, Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas Jayhawks forward Jalen Wilson is the only senior on this list. However, while an older age and the decision to play all four years typically make a player less desirable for teams on NBA Draft night, it should be the opposite for the Houston Rockets during the 2023 NBA Draft.
Even without Rockets head coach Stephen Silas routinely making note of it, the intangibles for his young team often leave a lot to be desired. While they play with the fire one expects of a younger team, they also play with the lack of discipline that one expects from an inexperienced squad. Drafting a four-year player, three-year starter, and NCAA champion all but ensures they would be adding a player with both discipline and dedication.
That being said, looking at the 22-year-old Wilson can do in-between the lines alone is impressive. Stats alone show that he is a high-level rebounder that can produce double-doubles, as he averages 20.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Furthermore, Wilson is a matchup nightmare that’s too quick for a lot of forwards and too big for a lot of wings.
With their second first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft (via the Los Angeles Clippers), Wilson would be a very interesting pick.