March Madness: 2021 NBA draft prospects who improved stock in tournament

March Madness: 2021 NBA draft prospects who improved stock in tournament


March Madness: 2021 NBA draft prospects who improved stock in tournament

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There is no stage as important for NBA draft evaluation quite like March Madness, which means we have a better idea about tons of prospects.

Now that the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament is all said and done, we have a better idea of whose draft stock is in a better place now than it was before the games began in mid-March.

Upperclassmen like Baylor’s Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell were already on draft boards as projected first-rounders before the postseason began. Similarly, top prospects like Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs or USC’s Evan Mobley had big moments but that was expected for projected lottery picks.

Several others were able to make their case for why they should be picked earlier in the draft than many had previously expected.

Below are some of those prospects who shined the brightest under the big lights during the exciting stretch of March Madness that we just enjoyed.

We have also included a rough estimate of draft stock as it stands right now before the combine and interview process. Note that because all seniors are allowed to return to school for another year due to the pandemic, it is harder to predict who will be in this class than in a typical year.

Quentin Grimes

Houston Cougars guard Quentin Grimes (24) points after sinking a three-pointer against Syracuse during the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 27, 2021, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.

Albert Cesare/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports

Guard, 6-5, Houston (Junior)

Tournament stats: 17.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.8 spg, 38.3 3P% (5 games)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Top 30 / Undrafted

He may not have had a traditional path to get to where he is today but former McDonald’s All-American guard Quentin Grimes seems destined for the NBA.

Grimes, of course, has zigged where others have zagged during his journey thus far. Once thought of as a one-and-done candidate after committing to play for Bill Self at Kansas, things didn’t quite work out in Lawrence and Grimes transferred to Houston. After a solid sophomore campaign, his redemption story got even sweetener en route to the Final Four as a junior.

Still just 20 years old, Grimes put up 17.0 points per game during March Madness for Houston, which is almost identical to what he produced in the regular season (17.8 ppg) as well. He hit 18 three-pointers, which actually ranked as the highest total of any player in the postseason before the championship game was played on April 6.

In fact, when including his numbers from the tournament, he is one of just two D-I players in the nation to connect on at least 100 three-pointers in 2020-21.

He is a movement scorer who loves to spot up on the perimeter and he has also been efficient in transition with the ball in his hands. He may need to add more to his off-ball game to have a more well-rounded role in the NBA, but even until then, there is a lot of potential for Grimes.

Max Abmas

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 21: Max Abmas #3 of the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles celebrates with teammates after defeating the Florida Gators in the second round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Oral Roberts defeated Florida 81-78.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Guard, 6-1, Oral Roberts (Sophomore)

Tournament stats: 26.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.3 spg, 40.0 3P% (3 games)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Top 45 / Back to school

It may seem like Oral Roberts came out of nowhere for an improbable tournament run but with Max Abmas on the squad, they were a sleeping giant hiding in plain sight.

Abmas led the nation in scoring with 24.6 points per game as a sophomore in 2020-21. His massive games against Ohio State (29 points), Florida (26 points) and Arkansas (25 points) were by no means out of character.

He ranked second in the nation in terms of playing time and never even stepped off the floor during the tournament.

But for such a ball-dominant player, he is surprisingly efficient. The 6-foot-1 prospect wasn’t a 50-40-90 guy in the regular season but he hovered in the area, shooting 47.8 percent from the field, 43.3 percent from three and 89.0 percent from the charity stripe. He is lethal on the pull-up but he can make an impact when cutting to the basket, too.

On the flip side, there are critical concerns about his size and his defensive shortcomings and his size. The undersized guard can be exposed pretty easily if you attack him at the collegiate level, which means it will be even worse in the NBA.

Regardless, his abilities as a microwave scorer will make him worth a look. After such a solid showing in the tournament, if he is willing to accept some developmental time in the G League, he may want to strike while the iron is hot and try his luck in the draft.

Austin Reaves

Oklahoma's Austin Reaves (12) dribbles during the first half of a first-round game against Missouri in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Saturday, March 20, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Guard, 6-5, Oklahoma (Senior)

Tournament stats: 25.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 51.5 FG% (2 games)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Top 45 / Undrafted

During his time at Wichita State, Austin Reaves was roommates with a future NBA player in Landry Shamet. After two seasons, he transferred to Oklahoma, where he became a force to be reckoned with for the Sooners.

Reaves, who once scored 73 points in a high school game and eclipsed 56-point performances fairly often, has never struggled to get the ball in the bucket. Just last season, he embarrassed an absurd 41 points in a game against TCU.

But as a senior, Reaves also made significant strides as a playmaker, improving his assist percentage from 18.8 percent to 27.0 percent.

Most notably, though, he held his own against Gonzaga’s defense, which ranked top-ten in the nation. He scored 27 points on just 17 attempts, showing off his skills as a slasher who can beat his man at the basket, especially when operating as the ball handler in pick and roll sets.

In fact, via Synergy, no one averaged more points per game coming out of ball screens during tournament action.

Reaves shot just 27.7 percent from long distance during his two seasons as an upperclassman for the Sooners. Standing at 6-foot-5, he will need to improve that number so he doesn’t clog the floor in the NBA. But the scoring he has shown thus far is no joke and something scouts are assuredly taking seriously.

Johnny Juzang

Mar 30, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Johnny Juzang (3) celebrates after advancing to the Final Four following their win in the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Tournament against the Michigan Wolverines at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Wing, 6-6, UCLA (Sophomore)

Tournament stats: 22.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.8 spg, 37.5 3P% (6 games)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Top 45 / Back to school

If officials called a block instead of a charge against UCLA’s Johnny Juzang at the end of regulation last Saturday, the Bruins would be playing for a spot in the national title.

Even though the call went the other way on Juzang, scouts will remember how Juzang was able to lead his team from a play-in game to nearly taking down an undefeated Gonzaga team on the biggest stage. He was able to rise to the moment, recording 28 points during the Elite Eight in a crucial come-from-behind win over Michigan and then 29 points in the Final Four.

Juzang, a former top-35 recruit who transferred from Kentucky to his hometown school at UCLA, is more than just someone who was able to get hot at the right moment. He is a trusted scorer who averaged 19.0 points per game since Jan. 23 and his free throw percentage (87.7 percent) ranked near the best among high-major underclassmen.

The sophomore wing is a high-volume player who can create for himself off the bounce and he used that to his advantage, simply torching his defender time after time while leading all players in one-on-one scoring and total points from dribble jumpers during the tournament, per Synergy.

Overall, with solid positional size, it seems reasonable to project a pro future even though very little of what he does at the NBA level happens within the confines of a team offense. As of right now, the question is mostly whether he plans to leave UCLA now or prefers to give it another go with Bruins head coach Mick Cronin.

Jaime Jaquez

UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (4) in action during a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 20, 2021.

(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Wing, 6-6, UCLA (Sophomore)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Top 45 / Back to school

Tournament stats: 15.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 spg, 45.0 3P% (6 games)

UCLA was able to stay competitive for so long due to players like Jaime Jaquez Jr., who made a crucial impact towards their successes on both sides of the ball. His presence made them a more competitive team every time he steps on the floor.

He averaged 15.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 45.0 percent from beyond the arc. The wing led all collegiate postseason players in defensive win shares, proving that he is able to provide value in a variety of ways.

Jaquez is a former big man converted to the wing who has exceptional footwork and an excellent feel for the game. He is a hard-nosed, tenacious defender who has made notable improvements as a shooter as well.

Even if he plans to return for another season in the Pac-12, he is now firmly planted on the radar for teams whether he turns pro this year or sometime down the road.

Isaiah Mobley

Mar 28, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; USC Trojans forward Isaiah Mobley (3) shoots the ball against Oregon Ducks guard Will Richardson (0) during the second half in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Big, 6-10, USC (Sophomore)

Tournament stats: 16.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.8 bpg, 54.5 3P% (6 games)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Top 45 / Back to school

While younger brother Evan Mobley came into the tournament as one of the most hyped prospects in the class, 6-foot-10 sophomore big Isaiah Mobley was far more under-the-radar.

But the lengthy 21-year-old used the increased spotlight to his advantage, helping lead USC towards a spot in the Elite Eight. Mobley averaged 16.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, notching at least 13 points and 5 rebounds in all four of his tournament appearances. He also added a block or a steal in each game as well.

After never hitting more than two three-pointers in a single game during either of his first two seasons, the big man was somehow able to connect on four of his five attempts from beyond the arc against Kansas. He was 54.5 percent on three-pointers over the course of these games, which will earn him serious consideration at the next level as a viable option off the catch.

He showed off some ball-handling skills, running the full length of the court to score against Oregon. In the tournament’s entirety, during the four games, he also recorded eleven assists to just two turnovers. That is especially impressive considering his career assist-to-turnover ratio through two collegiate regular seasons thus far was less than one.

With consistent defensive playmaking and an ability to both score and pass out of the post, he is a name worth monitoring as he continues his development process. But if he can shoot the ball anything like how he did against Kansas in the Round of 32, he can easily make his way into an NBA rotation sooner rather than later.

MaCio Teague

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - APRIL 05: MaCio Teague #31 of the Baylor Bears reacts against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 05, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Guard, 6-3, Baylor (Senior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Late second / Undrafted

Baylor’s MaCio Teague is one of those players who may not have to hear his name called on draft night to eventually have a solid NBA career. Teague was an instrumental force in the cultural shift that led Baylor, according to Sports Illustrated‘s Jeremy Woo.

But he was a difference-maker on the floor for his team as well, recording 22 points against Arkansas in the Elite Eight and 19 points against Gonzaga in the national championship. He was able to make his presence known on the boards, on defense and as a distributor as well.

Teague will be 24 years old by the 2021 NBA draft but is easily someone worth targeting for a roster spot next season.

Neemias Queta

(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Big, 6-11, Utah St. (Junior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Top 45 / Undrafted

We only got one game from Utah State’s Neemias Queta but my goodness was it special, recording a stat line that almost sounds made up. The versatile big man had 11 points, 13 rebounds, 7 blocks and 6 assists against Texas Tech.

RaiQuan Gray

Mar 20, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Florida State Seminoles forward RaiQuan Gray (1) dribbles the ball against the UNCG Spartans during the second half in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Big, 6-8, Florida St. (Junior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Top 45 / Undrafted

RaiQuan Gray was the heart and soul of his team during their tournament run and he developed some fans in their first game, putting up 17 points with 7 rebounds, 3 assists and a block against UNC Greensboro.

Gray is a swiss-army-knife who can do a little bit of everything on the floor. There are always players worth buying stock in and getting them into your system and Gray is one of those guys.

Jericho Sims

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Big, 6-9, Texas (Senior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Late second / Undrafted

Texas had a rough showing in the tournament but one of their bright spots was senior big man Jericho Sims. He pulled down 11 rebounds while also recording 3 blocks and 2 steals. Sims was also perfect from the field and the free-throw line during the loss.

As someone who scores well near the rim on offense and is switchable on defense, he has earned some NBA looks.

Buddy Boeheim

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Wing, 6-6, Syracuse (Junior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Draft sleeper / Back to school

Anyone who is 6-foot-6 and can shoot like Buddy Boeheim is going to be intriguing for front offices and executives.

He put 30 points in Syracuse’s tournament opener against San Diego State, shooting 7-for-10 on his three-pointers. Boeheim was then 6-for-13 from deep with 25 points against West Virginia. While he had an incredibly rough game in the elimination against Houston, eyes are opening to Boeheim.

Jabari Walker

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 22: Jabari Walker #12 of the Colorado Buffaloes reacts during the second half against the Florida State Seminoles in the second round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on March 22, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Wing, 6-8, Colorado (Freshman)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Draft sleeper / Back to school

6-foot-8 freshman Jabari Walker, the son of longtime NBA big man Samaki Walker, stole the show during Colorado’s round one win.

He had 24 points off the bench on just ten attempts in the win over Georgetown, coached by Patrick Ewing, hitting four three-pointers and missing just one shot in the game. He was nowhere to be found in the second round but even the small showing he had was enough to turn some heads.

DeJon Jarreau

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - APRIL 03: DeJon Jarreau #3 of the Houston Cougars reacts in the first half against the Baylor Bears during the 2021 NCAA Final Four semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 03, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Wing, 6-5, Houston (Senior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Late second / Undrafted

Houston senior wing DeJon Jarreau was the Defensive Player of the Year in his conference and it showed every time that he stepped on the floor.

His best scoring performance was 17 points in a win over Rutgers. Jarreau then nearly recorded triple-doubles in both the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight, reaching at least 8 points with 8 rebounds and 8 assists during victories against Syracuse and Oregon State.

Eugene Omoruyi

Mar 28, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Oregon Ducks forward Eugene Omoruyi (2) dunks the ball during the first half against the USC Trojans in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Big, 6-6, Oregon (Senior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Late second / Undrafted

Oregon had a ridiculously strong showing against Iowa, slowing Luka Garza and one of the best offenses in the country.  Eugene Omoruyi was all over the place and had 17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He was also the team’s best player against USC, notching 28 points with 10 rebounds despite the loss.

He might be undersized for his position but he plays with a ton of heart and carries himself like a team leader.

Ethan Thompson

Oregon State guard Ethan Thompson celebrates during the second half of a Sweet 16 game against Loyola Chicago in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Wing, 6-5, Oregon St. (Senior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Late second / Undrafted

Oregon State’s presence in the Sweet Sixteen was surprising but there was nothing shocking about senior Ethan Thompson performing well.

The wing averaged 18.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during the tournament. He scored 26 points against projected 2021 NBA draft No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham, nailing an absurd 15 free throws.

He may be someone who works his way up through the G League to get to the NBA. But he showed that he is able to play well under the spotlight and that matters.

Osun Osunniyi

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA - MARCH 20: Osun Osunniyi #21 of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies shoots over Cameron Thomas #24 of the LSU Tigers in the first round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Assembly Hall on March 20, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Big, 6-10, St. Bonaventure (Junior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Late second / Back to school

St. Bonaventure junior big man Osun Osunniyi had an underrated regular season, averaging 10.7 points and 9.4 rebounds with 2.9 blocks per game.

Osunniyi only got one opportunity to show it during March Madness but he used it to his advantage, scoring 15 points on just seven attempts while grabbing 9 rebounds and recording 3 blocks against LSU. There is a lot to like about this guy as a long-term prospect.

Jahvon Quinerly

Mar 22, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Jahvon Quinerly (13) shoots against Maryland Terrapins guard Aaron Wiggins (2) in the second half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Guard, 6-1, Alabama (Sophomore)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Draft sleeper / Back to school

After transferring from Villanova and redshirting last season, guard Jahvon Quinerly started the 2020-21 season with Alabama in the starting lineup.

While he has since moved into the second unit, Quinerly showed that he could move like a pro during March Madness, averaging 15.0 points and 5.3 assists for Alabama.

He may be too keen on a flashy dime but with a good handle on the ball and a jumper just as effective off the catch as off the dribble, it may be time to start including Quinerly in NBA conversations.

Chaundee Brown

Mar 22, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Chaundee Brown (15) celebrates after the game in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament against the Louisiana State Tigers at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Wing, 6-7, Michigan (Senior)

Current draft projection (best/worst): Late second / Undrafted

There was something magical about Michigan senior transfer Chaundee Brown, who scored a combined 33 points coming off the bench against LSU and Florida State.

Brown averaged 1.91 points per possession when shooting off the catch in March Madness. Among all players who had at least 10 catch-and-shoot jump shots during the tournament, per Synergy, only one player was more efficient.

This is someone who can be a star within his role and sometimes that’s all you need.

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