NBA Draft prospects who increased their stock in March Madness

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With all eyes of the college basketball world peering down on March Madness, there is no better chance for a NBA Draft prospect to shine than the men’s NCAA Tournament. 

Many player evaluations are made during the regular season. It’s a good indicator of a player’s whole body of work rather than a two or three-game sample size. A chance for evaluators and scouts to also see how players react to adversity and are able to find different ways to have an impact over a potential hot streak. 

Scouts will often say that March Madness has a little impact on their overall draft board. An occasional performance can bump a player up (or down) a big board, but the general impact is very little. 

Still, there are opportunities for players to shine when the light is brightest. Here are the ones that greatly improved their draft stock from the 2021 NCAA Tournament. 

Drew Timme, Gonzaga, PF

Of all the players on this list, Drew Timme’s draft stock was probably the highest entering the tournament. A second-round prospect, being one of the prominent stars on the nation’s best team helped his cause. 

Anyone who’s watched the Bulldogs throughout the year has seen Timme as a flashy character. His unmistakable facial hair and boisterous celebrations make him easy to spot. But the biggest addition to Timme’s draft stock was his performance against one of the projected top three picks of the draft class. 

Timme scored 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and three steals against USC’s Evan Mobley in the Elite Eight. For his part, Mobley posted 17 points on 5-for-11 shooting also getting five rebounds and three assists. 

Timme was able to post-up on Mobley and basically chose his shots whenever he wanted. Defensively against Mobley, Timme held his own and kept Mobley away from the rim.

There’s no better way to project how a prospect will make the NBA jump than against highly-regarded future NBA players. The 6-foot-10 forward passed that test. 

What will keep Timme in the second round of the draft will be his range limitations and his defense. As a non-center — unless you are truly dominant at the position — there has to be an ability to his the three. On the season, he only attempted 21 3-pointers, only three in the NCAA Tournament. As good as he was for the Zags against Mobley, that was not replicated against Baylor or for many other games this year.

Davion Mitchell, Baylor, PG

Aside from Johnny Juzang (we’ll get to him in a moment), there may not be another player who had a better March Madness than Davion Mitchell. His quickness, defensive ability and scoring were on full display each and every game. 

In the title game, in particular, his defense completely helped sway the defensive dominance of the Bears. Mitchell was matched up against Jalen Suggs and made him uncomfortable on every possession. Suggs, a top-three pick who had an outstanding season and tournament, was completely taken out of the game early. 

From the perimeter, there may not be a better true 3-point defender in the draft. He can dictate the outcome of a game by shutting down a primary playmaker.

That’s also not mentioning his blazing fast speed and knack to be able to get to the rim on every position off hesitation dribbles and off screens. Mitchell finished the season as a 50/40 percent shooter (will need to improve his free-throw shooting) that has a great knack for understanding offensive discipline. He checks off a lot of boxes for point guards to make it to the NBA.

Many mock draft experts had him as a late first-round selection before the tournament. Now, he has lottery potential that could improve as we get closer to draft night. 

Johnny Juzang, UCLA, SF

Juzang is the perfect example of how March Madness could impact the upcoming NBA Draft. Much of the country had no faintest idea on who Juzang was and his scoring prowess. Now, he’s a household name that has professional options. 

The 6-foot-6 wing reached 20 points in four of the six NCAA Tournament games his team played. He was the most consistent scorer in UCLA coach Mick Cronin’s odd-tempo’d offense. And when he was called upon to score, he delivered and showed out more times than not. 

The most impressive moment of it all was going toe-to-toe, possession-to-possession back with No. 1-seed Gonzaga in the Final Four. Jalen Suggs had the heroics to win it all at the end, Juzang, though, hit the late OT shot to tie it all up. 

As a sophomore, Juzang is an intriguing prospect. With the Bruins, he primarily played at the three position, occasionally at the two. There’s no doubt he can score (as seen in the NCAAs), but his shooting numbers are less than ideal. Making the jump to the NBA, Juzang will likely have to play as an off-ball guard and that means he can’t have the off-percentage nights catch up to him. 

None of his ability, though, is a surprise to scouts. He is a former five-star recruit that transferred to UCLA from Kentucky before this year. Right now, Juzang is a mid-to-late second prospect. A hot-shooting Combine though might be the final act to convince teams to take a chance on him. 

Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse, SG

Buddy Boeheim wasn’t even on the radar for many draft projections. Going 13-for-23 from three in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament will drastically change that though.

Two monster performances pushed Syracuse into the Sweet Sixteen. A 30-point outing and a 25-point outing against two opponents that pride themselves on their defense (and coverage outside the arc) got all the attention. His first against San Diego State was the most impressive, going 11-for-15 from the field as a guard.

As an upset darling, Boeheim was the star. Rightfully so after those two outings.

For those familiar with Boeheim, that stretch isn’t anything too far outside of the realm of possibilities. Throughout the year, the coach’s son led the Orange in scoring with 17.8 points per game. Quite often, he’d blow up for an explosive performance to carry Syracuse to victory. But his inconsistencies are what has prevented him from being in draft consideration. 

That was seen in the loss to Houston in the Sweet Sixteen. Only mustering 12 points and stuck on 1-for-9 shooting kept the Orange from making a push against the Cougars. 

As with many Syracuse prospects, it’s always difficult to gauge the full quality of work. Boeheim has the length and shooting ability to be a three-and-D type player, but exclusively playing the 2-3 zone doesn’t carry forward into the NBA. But as was seen with Kevin Heurter, all it takes is to get hot in the right workout and that can carry you forward.

Chris Durate, Oregon, SG

Durate has been a hot name rising up draft boards even before the NCAA Tournament. 

However, this March was a culmination of his work coming together and displaying it on the national stage. 

The 6-foot-6 guard projects more than just a three-and-D prospect who became more of a facilitating playmaker in the tournament. In back-to-back contests against Iowa in the Second Round and USC in the Sweet 16, he posted to 20+ point outings with six-plus assists. More of his damage was actually done in the mid-range and closer to the basket than from behind the arc. 

Durate’s game film against Iowa will do him wonders at impressing scouts as a well-rounded prospect. Adding in his 3-point shooting figure from the season (42.4%), there’s a lot to like. 

His recent play warrants some late-first-round consideration. 

Quentin Grimes, Houston, SG

After losing Caleb Mills early in the season, a lot of the offensive load for the Cougars came from Quentin Grimes. Coming over from Kansas, Grimes was huge for Houston throughout the season and the tournament. 

While he waned off in his performances after the initial rounds of the tournament, Grimes still had strong outings. In the first two rounds against Cleveland State and Rutgers, the shooting guard averaged 20 points while shooting 46% from the field and 53% from deep making 4.5 threes per game. 

He’s been able to carve himself a strong role running the pick-and-roll element of Houston’s offense. It bodes well for him to have a good position as a role player on a complete team at the next level. 

The tournament was a big stage to show out that element and shot-making ability. Grimes projects to be a second-round pick, but had it not been for his scoring, he might even be on many teams’ radars.