College basketball in March represents the culmination of countless hours spent by players throughout the season honing their craft.
The NCAA Tournament provides Cinderella stories, feel-good program “firsts,” and usually the postseason savvy of blue-blood programs looking to continue their dominance. When it is all said and done, however, only one team can be crowned champion.
For this reason, the Big Dance also serves as a platform for a handful of players to impress decision makers at the next level. A solid stretch of play on college basketball’s biggest stage can do wonders for a prospects NBA draft stock.
Throughout this season’s NCAA Tournament there hasn’t been any shortage of draft stock boosting. Here are the players who have helped themselves the most heading into draft season.
Despite not helping Kentucky advance to the Final Four, Fox’s play in the tournament has vaulted him from his already lottery-projected status into potential top-five pick territory. DraftExpress.com currently has Fox listed as the No. 6 pick.
The knock on the 6-foot-3 point guard this season was his inability to consistently knock down a jump shot. Over the last four games Fox played, he was able to shoot 50 percent from the field. In the process, he displayed decent shooting mechanics and that he could hit shots once he got into a groove.
Averaging 21.2 points per game in the tournament and being the catalyst behind Kentucky’s near Final Four appearance, Fox’s Sweet 16 matchup against Lonzo Ball will largely be considered the game that helped his draft stock the most.
Going head-to-head with Ball, the projected No. 2 pick in the draft, Fox was smothering defensively and imposed his will offensively. En route to a 86-75 Kentucky victory, Fox dominated Ball by scoring 39 points and committing just one turnover. Even more impressively, the pesky defender disrupted Ball all night, allowing him to only score 10 points and turn the ball over four times.
While Fox’s elevated play in the tournament is crucial to where he may land in the draft, teams will also be impressed with the level of commitment and heart Fox has to winning. After falling to North Carolina on buzzer-beating shot in the Elite Eight, Fox was filmed breaking down in the locker room over the outcome.
Very emotional Kentucky locker room as expected. pic.twitter.com/ksNn4iOGHW
— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) March 26, 2017
Devastation that pure certainly suggests a player that will work hard enough to make sure they don’t feel that way again.
The SEC Player of the Year and catalyst behind this year’s Cinderella story, Thornwell has turned heads during South Carolina’s run all the way to the Final Four.
Averaging 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game, Thornwell keeps impacting the game on both ends to the point where it may be hard to ignore the senior guard as a legitimate NBA prospect.
Age is always a factor in the NBA draft, and while Thornwell’s experience seems to be helping him in March, it may wind up hurting him in June. But after putting up 24 points, six rebounds, and five assists against a freshman-laden Duke team to propel South Carolina into their first ever Sweet 16, Thornwell showed signs that he could more than keep up with the heralded one-and-done picks.
Over the course of the season, Thornwell shot 39.7 percent from the beyond the arc. During the tournament, that figure has increased to 42.3 percent. At 6-foot-5 Thornwell brings decent size to an off-ball guard position. Coupled with his skill and high-level intensity on the defensive side of the ball, Thornwell could project nicely into the coveted “3-and-D” player in the NBA.
Currently projected the No. 49 pick on DraftExpress.com, Thornwell’s play this March should help him get consideration from drafting team’s well before that pick.
Another conference player of the year winner, Jackson is battling the similar age problem as Thornwell, despite being named the best player in the ACC this season.
At 6-foot-8, Jackson possesses the necessary size from an NBA wing player, but the fact that he is a junior at North Carolina may keep Jackson out of the lottery. However, if there is any way to sway an NBA front office that your age is an issue, it would be to keep winning. In the Final Four yet again, should Jackson deliver the Tar Heels a national championship he may surpass his current No. 12 projected selection by DraftExpress.
Throughout the tournament, Jackson has turned in impressive numbers. By averaging 19.8 points and 6.3 rebounds a game Jackson continues to show his consistency, but as the game’s importance continues to climb in the tournament, so does Jackson’s performance.
In North Carolina’s Sweet 16 matchup with Butler, Jackson poured in 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Against Kentucky in the Elite Eight, Jackson delivered 19, five and four in those same categories. But most importantly, in each game, the latter decided by just one possession, Jackson turned the ball over just one time.
Playing three seasons under head coach Roy Williams seems to have developed Jackson into a prospect with the ability to stay cool under mounting pressure. A quality like that can always find a home in the NBA.
Not only is Brooks battling the age question as a junior at Oregon, but he also doesn’t necessarily have a true position. At 6-foot-5, Brooks is slightly undersized to play the wing in the NBA and his athleticism isn’t really up to NBA standards either. A backcourt position is unlikely for Brooks as well, as he isn’t much of a playmaker. Paired with his below-average rebounding ability and previously mentioned lack of size, a stretch-four position seems out of the question as well.
Despite all of the knocks against Brooks, none of it has seemed to matter.
The junior has his team in the program’s first Final Four since 1939. Projected to be drafted No. 38 this June by DraftExpress, Brooks is dispelling the documented negatives against him by just going out there and playing basketball.
Averaging 16.5 points per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range in the tournament, Brooks has delivered in big spots for the Ducks when they have needed it the most. While trailing lower-seeded Rhode Island in the second half of their second round tournament matchup, Oregon turned to Brooks to help pull them back. The positionless upperclassmen delivered 19 points and seven rebounds to help Oregon live to see another day.
Against Kansas Brooks delivered once again, notching 17 points along with five rebounds and four assists to upend the No. 2-seed Jayhawks and send Oregon to the Final Four. Brooks doesn’t seem too worried about his clear lack of position on the basketball court, and with continued performances like those, it may be hard for an NBA team to worry about it too.
Few players in the tournament have proved as much as Bluiett did by dragging No. 11-seed Xavier all the way to the Elite Eight. After losing their starting point guard and projected NBA draft pick Edmond Sumner to a torn ACL, the outlook was bleak for the Xavier Musketeers. Then, in stepped Bluiett.
Averaging 21.3 points per game while shooting 41 percent from downtown during the tournament, Bluiett displayed his full offensive repertoire against higher-seeded opponents each night.
Scoring over 20 points in three of his four games, Bluiett produced two back-to-back dominant performances. He scored 29 and 25 points against Florida State and Arizona, respectively. Beating the No. 3-seed and No. 2-seed in consecutive games showed that Bluiett was up to the challenge going head to head with blue-chip prospects.
While not currently projected in DraftExpress’ 2017 or 2018 mock drafts, and with a year of eligibility remaining, it isn’t a guarantee Bluiett declares for the NBA. However, should he test the waters, the junior guard certainly has a beefed up resume to show teams after his performance this March.
The second player from South Carolina’s Cinderella squad, Dozier’s second fiddle role this March has shown the impact two-way player he can be at the next level.
Averaging 15.3 points and 1.5 steals a game during the Gamecocks’ tournament run, Dozier has delivered consistency alongside Thornwell’s dominance. Just a sophomore, the 6-foot-7 guard is currently projected No. 39 in the 2018 draft by DraftExpress.com.
In the game that started South Carolina’s run to the Final Four, a first round matchup with Marquette, Dozier scored 21 points while shooting 9-of-14 from the field. His shooting percentage from the two-point range this tournament sits at an impressive 66.7 percent. With his length advantage for his position, Dozier should be able to consistently do damage from the mid-range at the NBA level.
Whenever South Carolina’s improbable run comes to an end, Dozier should have a legitimate decision on his hands whether to declare for the NBA draft or not. With a few more impressive performances under his belt, Dozier could make waves in the 2017 draft class and skip another year of school altogether.
With all of the attention that winning the NCAA Tournament brings each March, it’s hard to see anybody else as a winner besides that final team left standing. But for those programs and players that don’t get to the hoist the trophy after the madness subsides, March is a great opportunity to audition for their next team.
David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled
David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.
A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.
He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.
He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.
“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”
Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.
He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.
“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”
Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.
He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.
“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”
The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.
“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”
NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next
The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.
The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.
They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.
In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.
Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.
But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.
Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.
In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.
Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.
“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”
Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.
Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.
A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.
All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.
Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.
Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.
Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.
Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.
Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.
“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”
Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.
“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”
NBA All-Star Friday Recap
Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.
NBA All-Star Celebrity Game
The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.
Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.
Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.
Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.
NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.
Quavo was named MVP.
BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game
There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.
Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.
However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.
It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.
All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.
The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.
Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.