• Paul Innocenti

NBA Draft Prospects Shooting up Boards After March Madness

The NBA Draft is still 78 days away, but after the NCAA Tournament concluded Monday night with Villanova’s second title in 3 years, it’s time to take a look at what prospects helped themselves out the most during March Madness.

Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova

Why not start with the Champs? Donte DiVincenzo was the star during Villanova’s rout of Michigan in Monday night’s Championship Game, but Brunson was the catalyst for Jay Wright’s squad throughout the tournament. The AP Player of the Year continued to showcase his leadership ability and intangibles on the national stage in addition to posting a line of 16.2 PPG, 4.0 APG, and .375 3P% during March Madness. Brunson was pegged as a potential second round pick before his second championship run, but I don’t know how anyone could watch him over the last 3 weeks and not see a 1st round selection. The Wildcats used Brunson like the Cavs use LeBron James and the 76ers deploy Ben Simmons and let him run the offense from the low post for long stretches in March. Obviously, Brunson isn’t in the same stratosphere in terms of size, athleticism and talent as a Lebron or Simmons, but he has similar court vision and feel for the game. In the GIF below Brunson bullies his defender on the block in way that hasn’t been seen from a true point guard since Andre Miller. The Big East Player of the Year thrived against West Virginia’s full court press in the Sweet 16 and helped dismantle Kansas’s tight perimeter man-to-man defense in the Final Four, displaying his prowess in both transition and the half court set. Out of all 351 Division 1 programs, Villanova’s scheme most resembles an NBA offense with an emphasis on ball movement and 3-point shooting and Brunson would be a perfect fit for a team in win now mode like Golden State or Boston at the end of the 1st round.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

John Calipari’s most recent freshman phenom started his rise up draft boards during the end of January with a 30-point explosion against Vanderbilt. He then went on to finish the season with 13 double-digit scoring efforts in his final 15 games. However, Gilgeous Alexander still needed a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament to climb from just a first round selection to a projected lottery pick. Despite struggling from the field in 2 of his 3 tournament games, Gilgeous-Alexander delivered thanks to his ability to get to the free throw line and fill the stat sheet. During Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16, the freshman compiled a line of 20.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 6.0 APG and made 25 of his 29 free throw attempts. Due to his 6’6 frame, the freshman from Ontario is going to get a lot of comparisons to other long point guards like Shaun Livingston and Michael Carter-Williams, but Gilgeous-Alexander is a better scorer off the bounce than either of those players. His best attribute is his ability to either attack or create for others in the pick and roll and the GIF below is a perfect example of how his height helps him see over the defense. However, questions still remain about his ability to be an effective shooter from beyond the arc and Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t do much to dispel this qualms by only attempting 2 treys in March (though he did drill both of them). An announcement on his draft status was expected today, but Gilgeous-Alexander delayed his decision. I’m normally a fan of players returning to school, but not when they are one of the draft’s hottest prospects and a near lock to go in the latter half of the lottery.

Caleb and Cody Martin, G/F, Nevada

It just wouldn’t feel right to mention one Nevada’s identical twins without the other. Both Caleb and Cody transferred from NC State 2 years ago and both become stars after an overtime win over Texas and a historic comeback to knock off second seeded Cincinnati in the round of 32. Caleb was already on NBA radars after starting for NC State and winning Mountain West Player of the Year honors in his first season in Reno, but his 3 game run this March may be what helps him get drafted this June. Caleb hit 18 of his 46 attempts (39%) from deep during the tournament, which included a game tying fade away to cap off the Wolfpack’s 22 point comeback against Cincinnati. Caleb is also a gifted on-ball defender and solidified himself as a sleeper “3 and D” prospect.

His brother, Cody, on the other hand is not a threat from three-point land and went just 1 of 4 from beyond the arc in his 3 tournament games. However, Cody does everything else well and averaged 18.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 6.0 APG during March Madness in addition to chipping in 4 blocks vs. Texas and 4 steals against Loyola-Chicago. Unlike Caleb, Cody was not seen as a likely second round pick this June, but since etching his name in March lore against Cincinnati he has seen his name crop up in a few mock drafts. Both Caleb and Cody are 6’7’’. versatile and fit the current trend of positionless basketball taking over the NBA. In the clip below Caleb shows off his defensive discipline and athleticism as he swats at shot after switching onto a Loyola big. The Martin twins and their teammate, Jordan Caroline, have declared for the NBA draft, but none have hired an agent, so there’s a good chance they will return for their final year of eligibility, but their stock is at an all-time high thanks to their run last month.

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