In a month usually filled with madness, buzzer beaters, upsets, and heart breaks, 2017’s NCAA Tournament definitely did not disappoint. Especially with teams like the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Xavier Musketeers making it farther than anyone could have expected. Not only did certain teams out measure expectations, but also some players who will be getting ready for the NBA draft. Big tournament performances during deep runs in the dance is a great way to inflate draft stock while disappointing exits are an easy way to hurt it, even if it goes against a players season-long data. But who are the players that helped themselves the most this March and helped raise their stock for draft night?
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Thornwell has played his way into the discussion as a potential first round pick by leading South Carolina as a seven seed to the Final Four for the first time in school history. Thornwell was a highly prized recruit coming out of Oak Hill Academy in 2013, and his March Madness play has fans wondering how his skills will translate to the next level. He has the physical tools to be an excellent defender in the NBA, but it’s his shot masking ability that is the game-changer for him.
Thornwell shot 39.4 percent from three on the season and hit 43.2 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament, which will make him an interesting 3-and-D candidate come draft night. NBADraft.net has Thornwell as the number 32 pick in this year’s upcoming draft making him an early second rounder, but he could easily slip into the first round with his outstanding efforts in the tournament. Thornwell had a terrific senior season by averaging 21.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game, and not to mention receiving the award for SEC Player of the Year with the likes of stud freshman Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox in the same conference.
Watch out for Thornwell on draft night as he could be a sneaky pick at the end of first round, but his off the court issues including an arrest in December 2016 for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license could hamper that and drop him into the second round.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
With his stellar performance in the NCAA tournament, Fox solidified his standing as a potential top five pick in this years NBA draft. The shifty 6’3 point guard has good size and length for his position, can score from multiple spots on the floor, and has explosive athleticism and a high skill level. The red flags are still there as Fox can be a streaky shooter and the question remains can he make threes in the NBA?
But Fox is a big game player as shown to what he did to his future NBA counterpart Lonzo Ball. Scoring 39 against him in the Sweet 16 and also being a game-changing defender which is why Fox should be drafted this high. Fox also has a terrific intermediate game, because once those floaters start falling it is impossible to keep Fox out of the lane. That’s a skill that will translate with or without a jumper in the next level, especially if he is finishing at the rim. Yes, this draft is absolutely loaded at the point guard position, but any team drafting in the top five would be lucky to have him. Sports Illustrated NBA Mock Draft has Fox going at number six to the New York Knicks.
If the Knicks could land Fox in this upcoming draft, seeing that they are desperate for a young and athletic point guard, it would be a pleasure for all Knicks fans I am sure to see him and Kristaps Porzingis play together for the next 5-10 years.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
After a devastating Tournament Final loss to the Villanova Wildcats on a buzzer beating shot, Jackson did something rare for NBA prospects, he opted to come back to school to improve his draft stock. And boy did he EVER… The 6’8 210 pound Junior from Tomball, Texas wanted to revenge that loss and that he did by leading his Tar Heels over the Gonzaga Bulldogs to win the title. Oregon had no answer for the former McDonald’s All American in the Final Four pilling in 22 points on 6-13 shooting from deep.
Jackson used his tremendous size, length, and much improved shooting stroke to squeeze by the Ducks. But he couldn’t connect in the National Title Game and more importantly struggled to create his own shot… This one night won’t negate a breakout year that saw Jackson average 18.3 points band knock down 105 three-pointers. Jackson is projected to go in the middle of the first round, and would be a nice addition to any NBA team drafting in that range.
Zach Collins, Gonzaga
Here’s another great freshman in college basketball that helped his draft stock the most in the NCAA Tournament. Collins had the misfortune of backing up Przemek Karnowski all year but he certainly did not play like a back-up, and displayed it in the Big Dance. The 7-footer has a very versatile inside-outside game, a soft touch, an ability to protect the rim, and tremendous agility for a player of his size. The freshman from Gonzaga is an NBA-center size and flashed promising touch on his mid-range jumper and free throws (74.3 percent).
Collins also had a very strong game in the Final Four against South Carolina. He finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 blocks in the winning effort to advance to the title game. NBA draft net has Collins going 11th overall in the upcoming draft making him a solid mid first rounder… that is if Collins even declares for the NBA draft. The freshman is still up in the air on whether he will opt for the draft, but if he does anyone drafting in the 10-15 range with a need for size should look to add Collins.
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
There’s one thing that Dorsey, a 6’4″ sophomore from Los Angeles is, and that’s a shot-maker. It’s what he brings to the table offensively. He can score. Dorsey showed that by going for at least 20 points in all seven tournaments games, Pac-12 and NCAA. He isn’t big or explosive, but he’s shifty off the dribble and consistent from downtown, where he’s shooting above 40 percent for the second straight season. Plus Dorsey couldn’t be any hotter with his game-winner against Rhode Island in the second round and a pair of absolute daggers against Kansas. The sophomore out of Oregon won’t wow you with his explosive athleticism, and won’t be drafted in the lottery but he has proved that he belongs in the NBA. He will go somewhere in the second round come draft night and improved his stock greatly over the last month.
With the NBA Draft not too far down the road basketball fans have been casually alluding to how STACKED this year’s class is. While the tournament gave us a few clear winners (De’Aaron Fox, Zach Collins), there just weren’t that many losers. And after a month in the spotlight, the 2017 Draft Class now looks deeper and more intriguing than ever.