Thursday, May 26, 2022

March Madness 2022: NBA Draft prospects who helped or hurt their stock during the NCAA Tournament

The first two weekends of the 2022 NCAA Tournament shined a spotlight on some of the brightest stars on the biggest stage in the sport with very real implications for this year’s NBA Draft. Fair or not, how players perform in March Madness can often significantly boost — or torpedo — prospects’ draft stock, and this year was no exception.

Some of the players helped themselves only marginally in terms of upward mobility — in part because there’s very little room to move up. Duke star Paolo Banchero is a great example of this. Already a lock to go top-five, his strong tourney showing has thrust him back into the conversation to potentially go No. 1 because of his passing, scoring and overall polish. Perhaps he played his way up a draft slot or two. Same goes for teammate Mark Williams, who already had lottery buzz but could potentially have played himself into the top-10 conversation.

Others saw their stock swing wildly one way or another. Tennessee guard Kennedy Chandler may have acquitted himself well enough to potentially be a top-20 prospect, a range that did not seem certain pre-tourney because of his smaller frame. Then there were players like Andrew Nembhard, the Gonzaga guard, who really struggled in Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 loss and may have seen his stock go the other way.

To break it all, we’ve got an updated stock watch on some key risers and fallers who helped and hurt their prospects in the first two weekends leading into the Final Four:

Helped their stock

Paolo Banchero, Duke

CBS Sports Big Board: 4

At the start of the season, Banchero asserted himself early as the frontrunner to go No. 1 in this year’s draft. Now, after months of being considered more as a top two or three prospect, his stock seems to have come full circle thanks to a star-studded showing in this year’s tournament. Against Texas Tech and Arkansas in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively — two of the top defenses in college hoops — he totaled a combined 38 points and 11 rebounds while adding 3.5 assists per contest.

Banchero’s ability to create his own shot has always been his biggest asset, but his experience growing up as a guard shows itself more and more with each game, as his passing and creation ability for a 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward is one of his most underrated traits. I don’t quite see him at the next level as a point forward, a la Ben Simmons, but he’s undeniably capable of grabbing and going in transition and should be a plus-playmaker in the league. How he’s played under the bright lights the last two weeks should realistically put him in the conversation alongside Jaden Ivey, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith to go No. 1.

Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee

CBS Sports Big Board: 25

Tennessee’s stunning second-round ejection from the tournament was a huge disappointment for a team that surged to the finish down the stretch of the season. But don’t blame Chandler. His best game unfortunately came as the Vols were eliminated, as he totaled 19 points and nine  assists while controlling the game as the lead guard against a really talented and athletic Michigan team. He got to the cup when he wanted, used his speed and pacing brilliantly and generally looked like a borderline lottery talent. 

Chandler’s size at 6-feet will likely continue to loom over his draft prospects but his bulldog defensive instincts and production on offense should give teams a lot to like for someone who is still only 19 years old. He doesn’t profile to me as someone who can be a starting-level guard in the league but he has a lot of tools that could still allow him to affect games at the NBA level.

Jeremy Sochan, Baylor

CBS Sports Big Board: 18

Baylor lost two key pieces during the season including leading scorer LJ Cryer, but it still earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and nearly defeated red-hot North Carolina thanks in no small part to the late-season blossoming of Sochan.

His versatility on both ends of the court allowed Baylor to play a variety of lineups. He can defend on the perimeter against wings but also loves — and I mean loves — to bang inside and create havoc. Nearly every time there’s havoc being wreaked, Sochan is involved.

Projecting his NBA prospects forward is where things get fun. He’s a 6-foot-9 … wing? Power forward? Center? He doesn’t necessarily fit a mold. That’s not because he’s not good at any position — it’s because realistically he could be a difference-maker everywhere. 

Sochan’s game is energy, defense and versatility, but his passing and playmaking allowed Baylor to at times run its offense through him. Through that lens, because teams are always looking for the next Draymond Green, Sochan could have worked his way from mid-to-late first-round territory into the mid-to-late lottery.

Others who helped their stock

  • Mark Williams, Duke: Williams has solidified his standing for me as a lottery talent and his defense has been on full display this tournament. He’s already turning in gaudy shot-blocking numbers but the number of shots he affects combined with his rebounding chops has made him one of Duke’s MVPs. 
  • Malaki BranhamOhio State:  The Buckeyes were bounced by Nova in the second round but he poured in 23 points, stating his case for why he could be an interesting late-first round flyer for teams looking to add wing depth and a scorer. 

jaden-ivey.jpg

Purdue’s Jaden Ivey struggled with only nine points in loss to Saint Peter’s  USATSI

Hurt their stock

Jaden Ivey, Purdue

CBS Sports Big Board: 1

The most electric player in college basketball shorted out for Purdue against No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s. Ivey had nine points against the Peacocks and a costly six turnovers while shooting 4 of 12 from the field. It was a brutal showing from a potential No. 1 pick.

Yes, Ivey’s supporting cast could absolutely be better, and yes, driving into clogged lanes in Purdue’s clunky system was always going to be a slog for him. But not being able to overcome that against Saint Peter’s was pretty discouraging nonetheless. I maintain I’d take him No. 1 but on a stage where he could have dragged Purdue deep into the tourney, he and the Boilermakers instead fizzled early.

Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona

CBS Sports Big Board: 10

Mathurin’s stock endured some whiplash after dropping 30 points on TCU in a heroic second-round performance and then scoring only 15 points vs. Houston while shooting 4 of 14 from the field. Truth is, his stock should be somewhere in between when he looked like a top-five pick and a late-first talent. He’s an excellent shooter who absolutely has a role in the NBA, but he’s not likely a No. 1 option, so his stock should settle somewhere between the lottery — my guess in the early teens. Solid role player, not likely a superstar.

Andrew Nembhard, Gonzaga

CBS Sports Big Board: Outside top 60

No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga exited stage right far too early in the tourney in part because of Nembhard’s struggles against Arkansas and its elite defense. The Razorbacks did a great job affecting him and getting him out of rhythm — he had seven points on 2 of 11 shooting along with five turnovers, his second-most in a game all season — which trickled down to the entire Zags’ offense. 

Nembhard’s still got the size of an NBA guard and, generally, I remain a believer in him having an NBA role, especially if his improved 3-point shot is here to stay. But it was already hard to make a case for him as a first-rounder and even moreso that is the case now. 

Others who hurt their stock

Walker Kessler, Auburn: Kessler’s ability to swat shots like flies all season was a difference-making ability that helped lead Auburn to No. 1 in the rankings and a No. 2 seed in the tournament. But his struggles against Miami in the second round were …. not great. He missed all six of his shot attempts, had just two rebounds and played only 13 minutes while the Hurricanes essentially played him off the floor. It was an equally disappointing showing from his teammate, 

Jabari Smith Jr., Auburn:  Smith had momentum earlier this season to potentially be the No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft. Smith had 10 points in the loss to Miami but missed 13 of his 16 shot attempts before playing his way to foul trouble. I’m not overreacting to either here — Smith could still go No. 1 and Kessler has the talent to be a first-rounder — but both could have worked their way up boards in March and missed a good opportunity.

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