Top 5 NBA prospects to watch in 2024 March Madness

NBC Sports Bay Area

NBA scouts have been monitoring these players for a long time, but now comes a different test.

The annual March Madness tournament will highlight how players deal with pressure on and off the court and if they can rise to the occasion.

It can also very well determine a players’ respective stock in the NBA draft. If they continue thriving, they’ll be more coveted. If not, then vice versa.

So, who are some of the top names to monitor in 2024? Let’s look at five players:

G Reed Sheppard, Kentucky

Sheppard hasn’t been stuffing the stat sheet, but he’s been flashing on both sides of the ball. The 6-foot-3 freshman guard is averaging 12.8 points, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals on a 54/53/85 shooting split.

He’s been a terrific individual defender despite his frame and small wingspan. And though his shooting percentages may not be sustainable at the highest level, it may suggest he can maintain robust numbers. He’ll likely have to be a full-time point guard to work out for an NBA team, but that development would take time given his high turnover rate.

If he could turn into a better shooting Austin Reaves prototype, that’s definitely a solid rotational player to have.

No. 3 Kentucky opens the tournament vs. No. 14 Oakland.

C Zach Edey, Purdue

Edey had a stellar 2023 campaign that turned heads, but the team’s shock early exit in the tournament quickly made things sour. Now a senior, the 7-foot-4 senior is averaging 24.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.1 assists on 62% shooting overall and 72% from the foul line.

Players with his size and limited floor-spacing abilities don’t always work out at the next level, but there’s potential for him to be a capable rotational center. Those profiles still have value in the league even though there’s not as common anymore. Edey has a chance to impress doubters after last season’s crumble.

No. 1 Purdue will play either No. 16 Montana State or Grambling State in the first round.

G Stephon Castle, UConn

A 6-foot-6 freshman guard, Castle has shown flashes of being something more in his first year at UConn. He’s not the focal point of the team but is averaging 10.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists on a 47/28/76 shooting split.

He’ll definitely need to improve his 3-point game at the next level. Currently being a low-volume low-percentage shooter won’t cut it, though his free-throw percentage offers some optimism. He has the size, athleticism and initiating skills to develop into a high-end role player.

No. 1 UConn will play No. 16 Stetson in the opening round.

C Kyle Filipowski, Duke

Filipowski, a 7-foot sophomore center, has one of the more intriguing profiles in the tournament due to potential, quality and production. He’s improved some of his statistics and is averaging 17.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.2 steals on a 51/35/66 shooting split.

He’s attempting 3.2 3-pointers a game, which is fewer than last season but he’s converting at a better rate. Whether his numbers can hold — especially his lower rebounding rates and defensive switchability — will determine whether he’s more of a 4 or 5 at the next level. How he fares against tougher defenses may answer that question.

No. 4 Duke will play No. 13 Vermont in the first round.

F Cody Williams, Colorado

Williams is a little different than the other prospects in that he might not even be able to compete in the real tournament. Colorado has to beat Boise State for the No. 10 seed in the South Region, where the Buffaloes would play No. 7 Florida.

But Williams is a 6-foot-8 forward who has shown flashes of being a quality 3-and-D player, the type of profile every team wants to stack up on. He’s shooting 42.1% from deep but only takes 1.8 3-pointers per game; he’s also converting 72.1% of his free throws on 3.2 attempts.

Williams will need to polish his offensive game and add more versatility while adding more muscle defensively if he is to be a legitimate threat at the next level.

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