Detroit Pistons fans: 8 NBA draft prospects you should watch in Sweet 16 of March Madness

Detroit Free Press

March Madness resumes Thursday evening, when No. 7 Michigan State kicks off the Sweet 16 against No. 3 Kansas State. For Detroit Pistons fans, this weekend will be an opportunity to get a closer look at some of the top prospects in June’s 2023 NBA draft — at least one of whom could become a Piston this summer.

The Pistons own the NBA’s worst record at 16-57, and are essentially guaranteed a top-seven pick with nine games remaining on the schedule. If they finish last in the league, they’ll automatically have a top-five pick.

As we saw last year with Jalen Duren and in 2020 with Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, general manager Troy Weaver, won’t hesitate to make a trade for an additional first-round pick if there’s a prospect he covets. (And the Pistons currently have the first pick in Round 2 to use as a trade chip.)

Here are eight potential first-round picks Pistons fans should watch this weekend.

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Brandon Miller, 6-foot-9 F, No. 1 Alabama

Stats: 19.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 44.1% overall, 39.5% from 3 (7.4 attempts).

Draft range: 2-3.

Sweet 16 game: Friday vs. San Diego State, 6:30 p.m.

Miller is the most complete scorer in the draft — a knockdown outside shooter who can put the ball on the floor and is a better passer than his assist rate suggests. He has the size to line up at either forward position. His floor is high. The only question is if he’s drafted immediately after Victor Wembanyama goes No. 1, or if G League Ignite lead guard Scoot Henderson maintains his position as the second-best prospect.

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Nick Smith Jr., 6-5 G, No. 8 Arkansas

Stats: 12.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 37.3% overall, 32.4% from 3 (4.3 attempts).

Draft range: Mid-late lottery.

Sweet 16 game: Thursday vs. UConn, 7:15 p.m.

A consensus five-star prospect in high school, Smith’s freshman season has been marred by a knee injury that limited him to 16 games leading into the tournament. His shooting percentages suggest he’s an inefficient chucker, but he’s a strong ball-handler with good shooting mechanics and soft touch from midrange and at the rim.

Smith is a strong cutter and competes on defense. He has the tools to be an ideal off-guard in the NBA and is still widely considered a lottery talent, but has scored just six points through two NCAA tournament games. A strong showing this weekend would boost his draft stock.

Anthony Black, 6-7 G/F, No. 8 Arkansas

Stats: 12.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 45.4% overall, 30% from 3 (2.6 attempts).

Draft range: Mid-late lottery.

Sweet 16 game: Thursday vs. UConn, 7:15 p.m.

Black’s all-around game speaks to why he is a near-lottery lock, despite being a poor shooter. He has prototypical wing size, reads the game quickly on both ends, and has functioned as Arkansas’ de facto point guard this season while also thriving as one of the sport’s best defenders. He’s adept at getting downhill and averaged 5.1 free throws per game during the regular season. Teams will be concerned about his shooting, but there’s little to nitpick about the rest of his game.

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Jarace Walker, 6-8 F, No. 1 Houston

Stats: 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1 steal, 47.5% overall, 34.7% from 3 (2.7 attempts).

Draft range: Mid-lottery.

Sweet 16 game: Friday vs. Miami, 7:15 p.m.

Outside of Wembanyama, few players in this draft have better defensive tools than Walker. He has the perfect frame to be an elite, multi-positional defender and has thrived on that end for a championship favorite. Offensively, he’s a sharp passer with good touch around the rim, but will have to prove he can take and make more 3s. He shot 24.2% from 3 on 4.1 attempts in his eight games leading up to the NCAA tournament, and is 1-for-2 from 3 through two tournament games. He’s a popular pick to go fifth overall, after Overtime Elite guard Amen Thompson.

Jordan Hawkins, 6-5 G, No. 4 UConn

Stats: 15.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 40.5% overall, 38.3% from 3 (7.5 attempts).

Draft range: Mid-late 1st.

Sweet 16 game: Thursday vs. Arkansas, 7:15 p.m.

Hawkins is an elite shooter who has a chance to make teams wonder why he wasn’t considered a lottery pick. He’s one of the best shooters in this draft class, as he has a quick release and thrives working off screens. There’s a clear role for him in the NBA.

Noah Clowney, 6-10 F/C, No. 1 Alabama

Stats: 10 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1 block, 49.4% overall, 29.1% from 3 (3.3 attempts).

Draft range: Late 1st-early 2nd.

Sweet 16 game: Friday vs. San Diego State, 6:30 p.m.

One of the youngest players in the draft — he doesn’t turn 19 until July — Clowney is a bouncy and mobile big who could defend up-and-down lineups at the next level. He has flashed some shooting, though he’ll have to keep improving his mechanics and touch to make an impact. A good combine showing could lead to him rapidly moving up draft boards, because he’s talented and could thrive as a 3-and-D big after polishing his game.

Julian Phillips, 6-8 F, No. 4 Tennessee

Stats: 8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 41.6% overall, 25% from 3.

Draft range: Late 1st.

Sweet 16 game: Thursday vs. Florida Atlantic, 9 p.m.

Phillips has thrived as a long, versatile defender on one of the best defensive teams in college basketball. He has struggled from outside, but his 82.2% clip at the foul line implies he may have more upside as a shooter than his 3-point percentage suggests.

Colby Jones, 6-6 G/F, No. 3 Xavier

Stats: 15 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 51% overall, 38.3% from 3 (3.3 attempts).

Draft range: Late 1st.

Sweet 16 game: Friday vs. Texas, 9:45 p.m.

What can’t Jones do? The junior wing is a reliable scorer, defender and playmaker who approaches the game the right way. He’s a safe pick and will be 21 on draft night. His well-roundedness and strong efficiency will keep him in the discussion as a first-round pick.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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