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2023 NBA Draft sleepers: Five most underrated prospects in March Madness, from Jalen Wilson to Tucker DeVries

By Kyle Irving,

2023-03-15

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In this year's March Madness, the term "sleeper" has a different meaning than usual for NBA Draft prospects.

Typically, the sleeper label is reserved for players from schools you've never heard of or under-the-radar names who could creep into draft conversations with big performances on the NCAA's brightest stage.

This year, the NBA Draft sleepers are, for the most part, quite the opposite.

Four of the projected top 10 picks in the 2023 NBA Draft — Victor Wembanyama (France), Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite), Amen and Ausar Thompson (Overtime Elite) — did not play college basketball. Of the remaining 26 projected first-round picks in my latest Mock Draft , 16 of them are freshmen. Two others took an alternate path to the league.

As a result, that leaves just eight first-rounders who have played in the NCAA for longer than one season.

This year's list of sleepers is only labeled as such because of how they are currently projected at the NBA level. Most of these prospects were All-Americans or All-Conference and will be at the forefront of their school's March Madness run.

Which college standouts deserve more love from an NBA Draft perspective? The Sporting News takes a look below.

TSN's MARCH MADNESS HQ: Live NCAA bracket | TV schedule | Predictor tool

Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

Senior forward, 6-9, 245 lbs.

Jackson-Davis was a Sporting News and AP First Team All-American. He has been one of the most productive players in the country all season, averaging 20.8 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. The Indiana star recorded 16 double-doubles in 28 games , the fourth most in the NCAA by a high-major player. He had four 30-point games and three 20-rebound games.

Jackson-Davis drastically improved as a playmaker, more than doubling his assists per game average from last season. He showed the ability to make quick reads and impressive passes out of both the post and the short roll.

At 6-9, he projects as a versatile defender at the next level because of his quickness, athleticism and timely shot-blocking. And yet, he's hardly popping up in the first round of Mock Drafts. Why is that?

Jackson-Davis' age (23) is working against him, as he'd be the oldest player projected to go in the first round. He's also a non-shooter, attempting zero 3s this season and only three 3s in his four-year career.

It's understanding how those limitations can be a turn-off as a first-rounder, but his impact in other areas of the game are enough to receive consideration.

Jalen Wilson, Kansas

Redshirt junior forward, 6-8, 225 lbs.

Wilson is in a similar boat as Jackson-Davis. The Kansas standout was also a Sporting News and AP First-Team All-American. Despite being teammates with a potential lottery pick in Gradey Dick, if you turn on the Jayhawks, it will be Wilson's productivity, energy and effort that stand out the most.

MORE: How Gradey Dick's shooting is key to Kansas' March Madness repeat hopes

The senior forward averaged 20.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game this season. He had 13 double-doubles and went for over 30 points three times — twice in conference play. While he has a tendency to force things on offense at times, shooting 42.5 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from 3, he wouldn't be featured nearly as much at the next level.

The reigning national champion is willing to do whatever it takes to win games. You could make the case that he has the most relentless motor in all of college basketball.

With prototypical positional size, strength, agility and athleticism, it's hard to believe the 22-year-old isn't getting more first-round attention.

Adem Bona, UCLA

Freshman center, 6-10, 235 lbs.

Bona is a name to watch as UCLA tries to make a push for its first national championship since 1995. The freshman center was highly recruited, ranked as a five-star prospect and the No. 18 player in the Class of 2022 .

He only averaged 7.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in a limited offensive role on an experienced team, but he anchored the Bruins' defense all season. His 55 blocks ranked third in the conference , and he was rewarded with Pac-12 Rookie of the Year and All-Defensive Team honors for his efforts.

Bona suffered a shoulder injury in the Pac-12 Championship, but head coach Mick Cronin sounded optimistic about his chances to play in UCLA's first NCAA Tournament game.

He has a prime opportunity to increase his draft stock if he can help the Bruins go on a deep March Madness run.

Julian Strawther, Gonzaga

Junior forward, 6-7, 205 lbs.

Strawther has become a familiar name over three years of success at Gonzaga. His role has expanded each season and this year, the junior forward has taken a jump to become a legitimate NBA prospect as one of the Bulldogs' go-to guys.

Strawther averaged career-highs across the board at 15.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.9 steals per game. Perhaps the most important for his development as a future pro is he averaged 5.1 3-point attempts per game, converting them at a 42.6 percent clip.

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Strawther always had good positional size, length and athleticism as a 6-7 wing. He can defend multiple positions and projects as a 3-and-D player at the next level. He's always made an impact as a cutter, and he even showed flashes of being able to create his own shot off the dribble this season.

If Strawther can have a strong NCAA Tournament run with Gonzaga, he could flirt with late first-round potential.

Tucker DeVries, Drake

Sophomore wing, 6-7, 210 lbs.

DeVries is more of a traditional sleeper as a high-impact player from a mid-major school.

The Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year averaged 19.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game this season. He projects as a 3-point specialist at the next level, knocking down 38.7 percent of his 6.8 attempts per game.

DeVries has NBA size as a 6-7 wing and his 3-point stroke is worthy of draft consideration on its own. He has NBA range and proved he can shoot in any type of action or situation — coming off of screens or pin downs, off the catch, off the dribble or spotting up.

If DeVries can continue to play at the level he has been all season and make some noise for Drake in the NCAA Tournament, don't be surprised to see his name bubble up more consistently on Mock Draft boards.

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