The NBA Draft is three months away, but the NCAA Tournament represents the last chance for prospects to show their wares in a true competitive game format. Therefore with March Madness in mind and recognizing the combine plus numerous workouts remain, a look at some risers and fallers.
Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma, Sr.
Teams tend to side with potential over productivity in the draft. The dynamic perimeter threat could change that angle this year. Hield shot 46.5 percent on 3-pointers during the season and then did even a little better over his first four games in the tournament, sinking 19 of 40 (47.5%) from deep while averaging 29.2 points. It's not just the stats that intrigue, but the vibe. Hield takes on the challenge of defensive focusing on him above all and he doesn't blink. Lottery teams aren't looking at just the upcoming season, but there's little doubt the 6-foot-4 guard is the best bet for immediate help among the projected lottery picks. Outside of first round projections before the season started and the lottery a couple of months back, Hield could now crash the top 5.
Brice Johnson, F, North Carolina, Sr.
When I put together my initial NBA mock lottery, I was surprised North Carolina big man wasn't considered anywhere near that range. The 6-foot-9 forward won't be even 22 by the time we reach the June 23 draft, but Johnson should be in the first round after his latest wave of impressive work. Including the ACC Championship, Johnson shot 33 of 54 (61.1%) from the field over the last five games. In wins over Providence, Indiana and Notre Dame, he recorded double-doubles while scoring at least 20 points. Not the biggest of bigs, but playoffs teams needing a frontcourt boost will be cool with what Johnson offers.
Ben Simmons, F, LSU, Fr.
Of course the Aussie forward didn't actually play in the NCAA Tournament so any change in stock is more about what others did or didn't do. By others we essentially mean Duke's Brandon Ingram. The 6-foot-10 freshman forward with long arms capable of touching the both ends of the National Mall simultaneously impressed during the tournament with three straight games of at least 20 points. He also disappeared for long stretches in Duke's round of 16 blowout loss to Oregon and generally lacks the same game-impacting spark Simmons offers, not to mention tremendous court vision. Assuming Simmons sharpens up his perimeter shot before pre-draft workouts and can display leadership qualities to organizations, he remains the best bet as the No. 1 overall pick.
Others: F Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga), G Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame), G Tyler Ulis (Kentucky), F DeAndre Bembry (Saint Joseph's), F Jake Layman (Maryland)
Malcolm Brogdon, G, Virginia, Sr.
The immediate devastation for Brogdon lies in the Cavaliers blowing a large second half and falling to Syracuse Sunday with a Final Four berth at stake. What consecutive brutal shooting performances do to his draft remains uncertain, but no way they helped and the ordinary athlete needed a boost. From ESPN's Chad Ford (Insider):
Brogdon, along with fellow seniors such as Denzel Valentine, have been making the push up the Big Board all season. His play won him ACC Player of the Year and he was slowly getting scouts to concede he might be a late first-round draft prospect. Brogdon's play in the tournament hasn't helped him much, though.
In his past two games against Iowa State and Syracuse, he shot just 6-for-27 from the field and 1-for-8 from 3. He did display the versatility of his game, averaging six assists in those two contests, but I think his lack of elite athleticism really showed, especially in the Syracuse game.
He's still a possible first-round pick, but the draft keeps getting more and more crowded.
Jaylen Brown, F, California, Fr.
Maryland ended up facing upstart Hawaii in part because the heralded freshman for the fourth-seeded Bears had a brutal four points and seven turnovers in the first round. Currently the fourth overall prospect in 2016 according to Draft Express, Brown had a chance to secure a top 5 status with an impressive performance especially since Cal played multiple top options. Instead the 6-foot-7 wing looked far more raw than polished and without a clear feel for the game. Fortunately for Brown, the draft is loaded with plenty of uncertain which his boom-or-bust candidacy won't be as scary compared to other years.
Diamond Stone, F, Maryland, Fr.
In fairness, I should create a "Flat" category for draft value, but since that didn't happen, Stone takes a hit because of another underwhelming round of games. The 6-foot-11 center made shots (9 of 15) during the tournament, when he wasn't plagued by foul trouble. Picking up too many whistles is rather common for young big men, but Stone's limited grasp of defense generally works against him. Considered a possible lottery pick before arriving in College Park, Stone dropped to 23 on Draft Express's board. Most observers believe he'll enter the draft regardless. There's lot to like about his polished offensive game, but hopefully the team drafting Stone has a D-League team in place, not to mention patience.
Others: C Jakob Poeltl (Utah), G Melo Trimble (Maryland), G Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall)