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Why Jett Howard, Kobe Bufkin are projected to be first round picks in new mock draft

The pair of Wolverines could be off to the NBA after this season.

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NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines have a few talented young playmakers, and NBA scouts and writers have started to take notice.

Jett Howard’s name has been in mock drafts all season long and with the drastic improvements he’s made his sophomore season, NBA scouts have kept their eyes on Kobe Bufkin as well.

In his latest mock draft for The Athletic, Sam Vecenie projected both to be picked in the first round, with Howard going to the Atlanta Hawks at No. 15 and Bufkin going to the Houston Rockets at No. 28.

After watching every Michigan game this season, it’s clear both guys possess NBA traits. Here’s why each of them could have lengthy pro careers ahead of them.

Jett Howard

Counting stats: 31 minutes. 14.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game; 42.1% from field, 37.8% from three, 80.3% from free throw line.

The NBA appeal of Howard is obvious: there’s always going to be a place in the NBA for tall wings who can knock down the three.

What’s impressive about him is he’s not merely a catch-and-shoot guy. A lot of his threes come off the dribble, with him coming off a screen and using moves like this to give himself just enough space to get a shot up.

Howard is much more than just a three-point marksmen. He does a great job scoring in the mid-range and getting to the basket. I love how he finishes through contact on drives and uses his length to his advantage.

He’s also gotten much better as a facilitator as the season has gone along. He could develop into the kind of guy that could score in a hurry and perhaps carry an NBA second unit on offense, like how we see guys like Norman Powell be used by the Los Angeles Clippers.

Howard doesn’t rebound well — and he has all the tools to be a good defender with his size and wingspan — but that’s probably the biggest weakness of his game. He’s certainly gotten a little better as a team defender, but he’s not going to make the flashy plays we saw Moussa Diabate make last year. Quick NBA wings will blow by him if he doesn’t improve his foot speed on that end of the floor.

Granted, he is only a freshman, but it’s a little concerning he hasn’t helped Michigan’s late game offense. He also has a tendency to go off for a half, like he did in the Iowa overtime game, but doesn’t stay hot for an entire game.

With his potential as a three-level scorer alone, I’d be surprised if Howard doesn’t go in the top 15 if he enters the draft. It helps his case he comes from an NBA family; lots of sons of NBA players made it to the pros, including Jalen Rose, Glen Rice Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Kobe Bufkin

Counting stats: 32.4 minutes, 12.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists per game; 47.4% from field, 32.9% from three, 82.5% from free throw line

Michigan’s most improved player has earned the attention of NBA scouts recently thanks to his scoring ability and on-ball defense.

It’s crazy to see the transformation in Bufkin’s game, as he went from playing off the bench his freshman year to being one of the most reliable scorers for the Wolverines this year.

His three-point stroke has gotten a lot better, but there’s still room to grow. He might be Michigan’s best player when it comes to driving to the basket thanks to his use of shot fakes, his ability to read the defense and his quick first-step. He’s also a crafty finisher, a willing passer and has a very high IQ on both ends of the floor.

On the defensive end, he’s Michigan’s leader, talking at the top of the defense and oftentimes guarding the other teams’ best guard. He’s a very hard worker and you can see he takes pride in his defense. He does a great job moving his feet and using his quick hands to corral steals (leads all Wolverines with 33 steals this season, 1.3 per game.)

The Athletic’s John Hollinger, who worked with the Memphis Grizzlies for seven seasons and had stints at ESPN and Sports Illustrated, was very complementary of Bufkin in a recent scouting report.

“Positionally, Bufkin profiles as a combo guard, but some point guard instincts have come out at times. While not nominally the Michigan point guard, he made some sharp hit-ahead passes on Sunday (referring to the win against Ohio State) and showed the ability to push in transition. If he can play point guard full-time at 6-4, that’s obviously a big edge.

Overall, Bufkin looked every bit of a first-rounder. The shot is still a concern, and teams will want to see him sustain this burst of success over the final month of the season, but Bufkin seems to be playing himself off “sleeper” lists and onto the main board.”

I’d be shocked if Bufkin doesn’t at least test the waters and get an evaluation on what he needs to improve on. If he stays in the draft, I would guess he’d go towards the end of the first round and would be a good pick for a playoff team that needs more guard depth like the Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks or Philadelphia 76ers.