NBA draft stock watch: 12 prospects who are skyrocketing after first weekend of March Madness

NBA draft stock watch: 12 prospects who are skyrocketing after first weekend of March Madness

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NBA draft stock watch: 12 prospects who are skyrocketing after first weekend of March Madness

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Every year during March Madness, there are players who are able to step up on the biggest stage and perform well under the brightest lights.

Evaluators rely on a much wider sample size than just the small amount of time players get to perform during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. However, playing well in high-pressure environments doesn’t hurt your odds of getting drafted.

With that in mind, we surveyed the field to get a sense of some players who have been able to use their time in the tournament to improve their NBA draft stock.

This is not the only way to get noticed and earn a spot on a professional roster, of course, but it can help make a case for why one player may be a more enticing fit than another.

1
Christian Koloko (Arizona)

(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

The star of the tournament thus far is arguably Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin. However, already graded out as a high lottery pick, it’s his teammates who have impressed.

During the first game of the tournament, Wildcats big man Christian Koloko recorded 17 points to go with 13 rebounds as well as 6 assists and 5 blocks.

He built on that with an even-more dominant performance in a win over TCU, recording 28 points while shooting 12-for-13 from the field. He was also able to add 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 steal. It was a line we had not seen from a player during tournament action since Blake Griffin did as much more than a decade ago.

Koloko reminded scouts why many believe he is the best rim protector in this class, showcasing back-to-back blocks on the same defensive possession.

When counting the Pac-12 conference championship, it was his third straight double-double. It was also the tenth double-double that Koloko had recorded during his junior campaign thus far. While he was already on draft radars, he showed exactly why during the first two rounds of the tournament.

As a defender, his presence yields staggering results. During minutes when Koloko is on the floor, Arizona allows 3.8 fewer field-goal attempts at the rim per 40 minutes relative to when he is off. That figure puts Koloko in the 98th percentile among all collegiate big men, per CBB Analytics.

On the season, during the minutes that he has logged, his team is holding opponents to 55.1 percent at the rim and 33.7 percent in the paint. Both figures rank in the 96th percentile or better among players at his position.

On the offensive side of the floor, Koloko was one of just four high-major players to record at least 80 dunks this season.

That has continued during the tournament, where he currently leads all players with ten dunks – including a putback to seal the deal for a win.

With the second-highest box plus-minus recorded among all players during the tournament thus far, Koloko has given evaluators plenty of reason to call his name in the first round of the 2022 NBA draft.

2
Malaki Branham (Ohio State)

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

He was already shooting up draft boards before March Madness, but Ohio State’s Malaki Branham sealed the deal for his one-and-done candidacy during the tournament.

The 6-foot-5 wing, who is still just 18 years old, finished his debut season shooting 41.6 percent on three-pointers. He had 14 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 steals during his tournament debut in a victory over Loyola Chicago. He then had 23 points, including three three-pointers, in a loss vs. Villanova.

Branham was born and raised in Akron and attended St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. After showcasing remarkable abilities beyond his years, especially as the ball handler in pick and roll sets, Branham was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

He is the type of player who can make an impact no matter whether he is shooting off the catch or off the dribble. Now that the season is done, he officially joins Lonzo Ball as the only high-major freshman in the last five years to shoot better than 70% at the rim and 40% on three-pointers (min: 70 FGA in each zone).

But perhaps the best part of his game is shot-making ability from midrange.

There is no guarantee that he decides to turn pro, but after a remarkable year in the NCAA concluded by a strong performance in the tournament, Branham could easily become a lottery pick in the 2022 NBA draft.

3
Tyrese Hunter (Iowa State)

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

While he may have flown a bit under the radar before the tournament began, Iowa State’s Tyrese Hunter has made his presence known loud and clear.

Hunter, the Big 12 Rookie of the Year, was widely seen as the type of player who would have benefited from more collegiate development. The Iowa State standout is an outstanding point-of-attack defender and a talented playmaker whose assist percentage ranked near the top of the rankings among all high-major freshmen.

Although he was an above-average defender and remarkable passer, he struggled with efficiency as a scorer during the regular season.

However, in the tournament, Hunter showed scouts what it looks like when his game comes together. He accomplished a feat that no player had since Stephen Curry.

He scored a career-high 23 points, connecting on a career-best seven three-pointers (before the game, his previous single-game best was just three). He also added 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5 steals while securing a win over LSU.

While his scoring wasn’t even close to as strong in the subsequent victory over Wisconsin, he made an impact in other ways by adding 6 rebounds as well as 5 assists and 3 steals.

Hunter is a bit undersized but he has made a positive impact as a defender during his time in college. He has contained opposing ball handlers in pick and roll sets and he has done an effective job guarding the perimeter as Iowa State has one of the lowest opposing field-goal percentages on three-pointers.

One personnel evaluator, who spoke to HoopsHype on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on behalf of their team, spoke highly of Hunter’s character as well.

If he is able to show that he is a locker room leader who is willing to work hard to get where he needs to go, he should have a bright future in the NBA.

4
Mark Williams (Duke)

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Although he was already widely seen as a first-round prospect, the Duke sophomore big man has looked fantastic during both of his tournament games thus far. He had 15 points and 5 blocks against Cal State Fullerton, then did exactly that yet again against a tough Michigan State opponent.

5
Kennedy Chandler (Tennessee)

Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Even though the Vols were not able to survive and advance into the Sweet 16, their freshman guard was outstanding during his time on the floor. Chandler reached a double-digital scoring total for the eleventh game in a row but was even more impressive as a playmaker, notching 9 assists against Michigan. If scouts can ignore potential size concerns, he may be the first point guard who will hear his name called on draft night.

6
Dalen Terry (Arizona)

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The sophomore had 16 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in the first game of the tournament. He then followed that up with 5 points, 5 assists, 5 steals, and 4 rebounds. His versatility, especially at his height, will not go unnoticed.

7
Jamaree Bouyea (San Francisco)

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Although his team did not make it past the first round of the tournament, the senior showed why he is one of the best shot creators in this class during an outstanding game against Murray State. He had 36 points in the performance and showed no moment was too big for him to reach.

8
Brady Manek (North Carolina)

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Oklahoma transfer was ejected from the game against Baylor, the 6-foot-9 senior had looked the part of an NBA stretch forward. He has hit at least four three-pointers in both of his tournament games thus far, shooting 50% from beyond the arc. Even with the ejection, he has also scored at least 26 points in both games as well.

9
Drew Timme (Gonzaga)

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Performing well on the biggest stages is nothing new for the Gonzaga junior. But even by his standards, he has had a remarkable few games during March Madness. He scored 32 points and 25 points in his first two appearances, also adding 13 rebounds and 14 rebounds in the wins.

10
Trevion Williams (Purdue)

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

If we are going to see Purdue make an appearance in the Final Four, we will need to see continued excellence from their senior big man. Although he is coming off the bench, he has made a massive impact on his team. He had 22 points in the win over Texas and when he has been on the floor during March Madness, he has recorded more than half of the assists for Purdue.

11
Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech)

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After previously testing the NBA draft waters, the junior wing showed why he firmly belongs on the radars for pro teams during March Madness. He had 20 points and 6 assists in the opening game against Montana State, then was able to help his team shut down Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley to earn a trip to the Sweet 16.

12
Arthur Kaluma (Creighton)

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe he isn’t quite a one-and-done prospect, but the Creighton freshman looked like one during March Madness. He played 44 minutes in a win over San Diego State and then another 40 against Kansas. While they couldn’t get past the Jayhawks, he notched a career-high 24 points, also connecting on a personal-best 4 three-pointers.

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