NBA Draft weekend lookahead: Keep your eyes on Dennis Smith’s redemption shot

Another weekend chock full of the next generation of NBA players is set to tip off, and there are plenty of prospects to keep your eye on. Here are the games and players you should be watching as evaluations slowly build toward draft night.

All times are EST.

Saturday, Noon: Texas A&M vs. Florida — So Robert Williams, he of the reported 7-foot-4 wingspan, is a clear NBA defender right now. But his season high in points, in his first 17 contests, was 15 — so it has been notable to see him clear that in three of the past six contests, while staying out of foul trouble. The big question: Can he do it against the 18th-ranked defense in the country and on a hostile Gainesville environment?

Saturday, Noon: NC State at Wake Forest — Last time these two played, Dennis Smith Jr. was limited to just 15 points in a Wake Forest win. The key in that matchup was Deamon Deacons point guard Bryant Crawford, and above-average defender quietly building his NBA case as well. Seeing how each of them can adjust in a second meeting will be fascinating. Can Crawford keep Smith from getting to the basket at will once again? Few have managed to lately.

Saturday, 1 PM: Clemson at Duke — In addition to all the Duke prospects, Jaron Blossomgame, who managed to get the best of Jonathan Isaac in what was otherwise a lost day for the Tigers against Florida State last week, possesses a defensive versatility should land him opposing Jayson Tatum. While it will be fascinating to watch Tatum’s rapidly expanding offensive repertoire, another shutdown performance by Blossomgame will elevate him on draft boards across the league.

Saturday, 2 PM: Ohio State at Maryland — A chance at redemption in a big spot for Ohio State point guard JaQuan Lyle, who was quietly benched two games ago by Thad Matta, and hasn’t made a shot from the field in either game since. Matta revealed Lyle is battling an ankle injury, so there are multiple reasons he needs to show that he’s put the recent dip in form behind him.

Saturday, 6 PM: Iowa at Michigan State — There’s lots of love, and justifiably so, for Miles Bridges of the Spartans. He’s a dynamic scorer, but perhaps an even better defender. So this is a chance for Peter Jok, who is quietly putting together an all-Big Ten season for Iowa, to prove to NBA scouts he can handle facing an elite three, and follow up the 28 points he posted this week against Minnesota.

Saturday, 6 PM: Connecticut at Central Florida — If you like throwback center matchups, this one’s for you. Tacko Fall continues to score at hyper-efficient rates, making 75 percent of his shots. But Amida Brimah has quietly begun to play at the level most assumed he’d reach this year for a Connecticut team that’s won four of five after an awful start. Getting to see Fall against a legit seven-footer in Brimah, who is among the nation’s leaders in block percentage, will go a long way toward telling us what Fall can do against them nightly at the next level. And I’d like to see whether handling that matchup creates a problem for Brimah staying on the floor and out of foul trouble, a chronic ailment of his.

Saturday, 8:15 PM: Gonzaga at St. Mary’s — Put aside the implications here on the WCC race or Gonzaga’s undefeated record. This is another chance to determine whether Jock Landale, the Gaels’ center, is simply feasting on opponents who can’t handle his 255-pound frame, or if he’s a real NBA prospect. He’ll show it against Zach Collins, who is the rare one-and-done prospect for the Bulldogs. First time around, Landale struggled with foul trouble — when Collins is in the game, Landale needs to show me that his .994 points per possession on post-ups, per Synergy, is not going to disappear at the next level. If so, he’s already performing like a crossover stretch-five in transition.


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