March Madness takes on added importance for the Heat during rare years such as this one — when Miami has a chance to be in the NBA Draft lottery (should it fail to make the playoffs) and also owns rights to its first-round pick after trading several picks in recent years.
We recently explored Miami’s lottery odds and the players at the top of the draft — Duke stars Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish and Murray State point guard Ja Morant. But the Heat would land any of those four only if it gets real lucky in the lottery.
And here’s a problem: ESPN’s Jay Williams says after the top few picks, this “is not” a good draft.
“After 1 and 2 [Williamson and Barrett], there are a lot of question marks,” Williams said
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Here’s a look at wing players (guards and natural small forwards) projected from the mid-lottery through the teens — players that Heat fans should be eying closely in NCAA postseason:
▪ Indiana 6-6 shooting guard/small forward Romeo Langford (16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 45.2 percent shooting and 26.3 percent on threes):
ESPN’s Williams: “I watch a lot of Indiana games, and Langford has the same kind of ability as a Cam Reddish, but there are times you don’t recognize he’s on the court. And how many times can you say that about a top draft pick?”
One concern is the poor three-point shooting; he’s just 30 for 114.
He’s considered much better on the ball than off the ball, and the Heat has already a lot of ball-handlers.
ESPN draftnik Jonathan Givnoy had him fifth in his first mock draft last month.
But if the Heat doesn’t get a top-four pick in the lottery drawing, he could end up going before Miami’s pick.
▪ Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland: The 6-2 point guard underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in November and withdrew from school on Jan. 22 to prepare for the draft.
He played in five games this season but averaged 16.2 points, 2.6 assists and shot 47.8 percent on threes.
“Gifted playmaker and shooter who has consistently gotten the most out of ostensibly average athletic tools,” wrote SI.com’s Jeremy Woo. “There is some concern over how his thin, smallish build will hold up, but his quickness and feel for scoring, passing and playing off the bounce all make sense as a whole.”
Givnoy had him sixth in his initial mock draft.
▪ North Carolina small forward Nassir Little (9.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 47.6 percent shooting and 25.6 percent on threes):
Woo wrote that Little, who stands 6-6, is “a better player than he’s shown at North Carolina, but has had some of his weaknesses exposed over the first couple months” and that he has an “average handle.” Also, the three-point shooting (11 for 43) is a concern.
Givnoy had him seventh in his mock draft. If the Heat doesn’t get a top-four pick in the lottery drawing, he could end up going before Miami’s pick.
▪ Texas Tech 6-6 shooting guard Jarrett Culver (17.9 points per game, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 48.1 percent shooting overall and 32.8 percent on three-pointers):
He shot 5 for 39 on threes during an 11-game stretch in the Big 12 and is just 38 for 116 overall on threes, but Givnoy — who places Culver eighth in his February mock draft — said: “Culver has still contributed as a passer, defender and slasher, which is why his draft stock hasn’t taken too much of a hit.”
▪ Kentucky 6-9 small forward/shooting guard Keldon Johnson (13.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 46.5 percent shooting overall and 38.1 percent on three-pointers):
Givnoy – who had him going 12th to Miami in his initial mock draft — said Washington “compares physically to Rudy Gay, Jerami Grant, and Kawhi Leonard. Taking into account his athletic testing results brings up the name Noah Vonleh as his top [comparison].”
▪ Virginia Tech 6-6 swingman Nickeil Alexander-Walker (16.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 48.6 percent shooting overall and 38.6 percent on three-pointers):
The Toronto-born shooting guard/small forward, rated 16th by Givnoy, will be on display in the University of Miami’s game Friday night at the Hokies (7 p.m., ESPN2).
Woo, who ranks him 18th, says: “Alexander-Walker has bounced back nicely from his uneven freshman season and seems ticketed for a selection somewhere in the middle of the first round. Although he’s not exactly an alpha scorer, he’s been more aggressive overall and is shooting especially well from outside. He can still be mistake-prone with the ball, and his assist-to-turnover ratio leaves something to be desired. He is likely going to have to play the two [shooting guard] as his primary position going forward.”
▪ Southern Cal 6-6 shooting guard Kevin Porter Jr. (9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 45.3 percent shooting in 18 games, including four starts):
USC suspended him indefinitely for a personal conduct issue on Jan. 13, but he resumed playing Jan. 24. He also has missed time with a quadriceps injury.
SI.com’s Jeremy Woo ranks him eighth overall — much higher than Givnoy’s 20th — and says: “There’s a significant risk profile attached to Porter, but scouts who have evaluated him in person remain bullish on his talent level. He’s been injured and suspended as the Trojans have struggled, but based upon his sheer ability with the ball in his hands, Porter can only be allowed to slip so far.”
The Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, formerly of ESPN, quoted an NBA executive as saying: “He’s immature and undisciplined in every way — on and off the floor. But I still think he winds up going somewhere from five to 15 in June.”
▪ North Carolina 6-5 shooting guard Coby White (16.4 ppg, 38.4 percent on threes): Originally projected for early 20s but could end up going late in lottery or shortly after. “Has a chance to be a high level perimeter threat as he matures,” Woo said.
One thing to keep in mind: The draft lottery determines the first four picks. So if Miami misses the playoffs but doesn’t get lucky in the lottery, several aforementioned players — such as Langford and Little — could end up going before the Heat’s pick, which should be in the early to mid teens otherwise.
Coming later this week: A look at power forwards, centers and swing forwards that Heat fans should keep an eye on in postseason college basketball tournaments.
▪ Point guard Goran Dragic did not travel with the Heat to Charlotte, N.C., for Wednesday’s game against the Hornets. He is listed as out for the contest with a left calf strain.
Dragic, who returned from right knee surgery last month, has already missed Miami’s past two games with the calf injury. Justise Winslow has continued to start in his place.
“Some of it is to be expected,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Dragic’s status before Monday’s win over the Hawks. “And we’re being probably, as we should be, very cautious with it. It’s muscle calf tightness, and we just want to make sure that’s taken care of.”
Miami Herald sports writer Anthony Chiang contributed to this report.