2020 NBA Draft: Five prospects who needed March Madness to boost their pro stock

The NCAA Tournament is a platform unlike any in sports. With millions of viewers over the span of multiple weeks, it’s where Cinderella stories are conceived (hello, George Mason!), where hidden gems in the coaching industry become well-known commodities (see: Brad Underwood and Chris Beard) and where college stars can appeal to onlooking NBA front offices and scouts as the draft approaches.

None of the above can happen this year. There will be no NCAA Tournament as the NCAA canceled the annual event amid the growing coronavirus threat. Thus, there will be no breakout coaches, no Cinderella’s, no star turns in March Madness — where stars are born. But if there was — and boy is it fun to imagine now — there are a handful of players who could have benefited from a strong NCAA Tournament with the draft around the corner. 

Here are the big names that could have boosted their stock with strong showings in the NCAA Tournament. 

1. Saddiq Bey, Villanova

Big Board rank: No. 21

Villanova stars have a way of surfacing to the top of the public sphere in March, and Bey was on the precipice of doing so in the same way Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo were able to do in year’s past. Of course, if he hadn’t already made his way on to your radar, that may be your fault. Here’s why:

  • He’s 6-foot-8.
  • He shot 45.1% from 3 this season on high volume.
  • He ranks in the 98th percentile (!) as a spot-up shooter (per Synergy).

So, to recap: Bey makes a tangible impact with or without the ball in his hands. He’s a plus defender, he shoots the lights out of the gym and he’s a prototypical 3-and-D wing ewith as high a floor as any in this draft class. Showcasing all of that at the NCAA Tournament level would have been a huge boon; doing so for the entirety of the season, however, guarantees he’s already considered a first-rounder by many in the industry. 

2. Nico Mannion, Arizona

Big Board rank: No. 13

After a pretty rocky start to February, Mannion finally picked up his play to end the month and was crashing into March with confidence. He had 14 points and four steals in a win over Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament. Two games prior, he dropped 23 points and seven assists in a win over Oregon State. He was on the uptick. 

It’s a bummer we won’t see that trend line continue upwards for him. Mannion plays with an elite feel for the game and sets up his teammates as well as any ball-handler in the Pac-12. But there are undeniably some questions — legitimate, too — about his defense and athleticism. Those won’t go away any time soon, but a strong showing in March and increased efficiency scoring could’ve bought him some more believers. 

3. Tyrell Terry, Stanford

Big Board rank: No. 39

When it comes time for stay-or-go season, Tyrell Terry has a fascinating decision. Stay at Stanford, improve the stock and aim to become a fringe lottery prospect next year? Or go pro, hope for a late-first round promise and likely fall no further than the 40s? It’s a tough spot. I love Terry’s game. He plays downhill, he’s active when the ball’s not in his hands and he’s got a smooth 3-point stroke. His game will translate. Had he been able to show all that on a big stage like March Madness, his upcoming draft decision may have been made for him.

4. Jordan Nwora, Louisville

Big Board rank: No. 31

Jordan Nwora shrunk in some of Louisville’s biggest games this season — sometimes struggling with efficiency, other times just fading from the moment as if he’s just another guy. That’s the bummer of the deal: he’s not. He’s 6-foot-7 with a reliable 3-point shot. Those two traits alone should allow him to stick like glue in the NBA for a decade. I’m firmly of the belief that, cast in a different role at the next level, he’ll develop into a great role player. But starring in his role as the clear-cut No. 1 for a contending Louisville team could’ve been a nice way to butter up scouts before this summer. He’ll be a fascinating player to watch in coming months. 

5. Malachi Flynn, San Diego State

Big Board rank: NR

It’s hard to believe the star of a 30-2 team could use more exposure, but that’s the case here for Flynn, who quietly was a top-10 college player all season. (No. 1 guard, if you ask new Iona coach Rick Pitino.) Now he’s on the draft radar, thanks to his ability to take and make tough shots. He gets to his spot quick and launches in a hurry. The way he can dance on his defender then contort and twist to his sweet spot is a delight to watch. 

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