Since the start of March Madness, the tournament has seen many impressive performances from some of the nation’s top players. With good play comes a rising draft stock, as teams at the top of the draft will take longer looks at these players and potentially make them their next franchise cornerstone. Here are 5 performances from NBA Draft prospects since the start of March Madness.
Cam Thomas, SG, LSU
Tournament Averages: 28.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Tournament Shooting Splits: 41.5% FG, 41.7% 3PFG, 90% FT
While it was a short-lived run in March Madness for the LSU Tigers, Thomas made fans and scouts alike remember his name with two electric performances in LSU’s only two games.
LSU faced off against St. Bonaventure in the first round of the tournament, a game in which Thomas finished with 27 points. While it wasn’t his strongest game from beyond the arc, Thomas still showed great poise and finishing in and around the basket. While he typically generates most of his shots off jump shots, Thomas demonstrated the ability to finish through contact. Check the tough and-one finishes inside against St. Bonnaventures big men.
Thomas has above average explosion that allows him to blow by guards and create space in the paint. At 6’4, 210 pounds, he shows great body control, initiating contact with the big man and finishing calmly for the three-point play. His aggressive playstyle going towards the basket also generated a lot of opportunities from the line for Thomas. Thomas finished 11-13 from the line against St. Bonaventure.
Thomas Perimeter Shooting
Despite the loss to Michigan in the second round, Thomas did not go down without a fight. The Virginia native finished with 30 points while shooting 60% from beyond the arc. His shot-making ability was second to none on the night, hitting deep threes over the helpless Michigan defenders on multiple occasions. Thomas’s elite shooting was a constant throughout the season and especially in the two tournament games.
Thomas is by no means a defensive savant. However, with 25 steals and 6 blocks this season, he has shown that he is no pushover on the defensive end and competes with opposing teams’ guards. While Thomas’s perimeter shooting numbers are underwhelming (32.5%), his numbers should improve in the NBA. With improved spacing and better teammates, Thomas will get more quality looks that he will be able to knock down on a regular basis. Thomas currently projects in the mid to late first round of the upcoming draft.
Buddy Boeheim, SG, Syracuse
Tournament Averages: 22.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists
Tournament Shooting Splits: 48.9% FG, 43.8% 3PFG, 75% FT
While Thomas was lights out from beyond the arc, Boeheim was an absolute sniper through each of his tournament games. Even though his last game against Houston was a struggle, his strong performances against San Diego State and top-ranked West Virginia were enough to get the attention of scouts around the league.
The son of legendary coach Jim Boeheim, Boeheim is one of the nation’s best three-point shooters. In addition to shooting at an extremely high volume, he was incredibly efficient as well. Boeheim finished the season averaging 8 three-point attempts per game. That volume ranked in the 99th percentile amongst all players in the ACC. His three-point percentage on the season (38.3%) ranked in the 78th percentile.
Boeheim thrives on shooting coming off of screens. The majority of Syracuses’ offense consisted of the point guard standing at the top of the key waiting for Boeheim to run off a pin-down screen. Even with such a predictable offense, Boeheim used his quick release to constantly punish defenders for being half a step behind. He requires little separation to get off his shot.
Boeheim will never be the primary ball-handler on a team or a savvy shot creator out of the pick and roll. Out of Boeheims’ 201 three-point attempts this past season, over 85% of them were assisted. As mentioned above and demonstrated in the video clip, Boeheim is mainly finding his open looks from off-ball screens, not off the dribble.
Boeheims’ Role in the NBA
Despite his lack of shot-making ability, he can still find a role in today’s NBA. Boeheim projects as a J.J Reddick or Seth Curry on an NBA team. Obviously, he has a lot of work ahead of him to reach the levels of Reddick and Curry, two of the game’s premier off-screen shooters. However, his skill set would be best maximized by using him how the Mavericks and Sixers currently deploy their top shooters.
Boeheim likely won’t be a first-round pick come July despite his strong performance in the tournament. His lack of athleticism makes him a weak point on the defensive end. This also hinders his potential of any shot creation ability at the next level. However, an early second-round selection is not out of the realm of possibility for one of the draft’s best shooters.
Joel Ayayi, G, Gonzaga
Tournament Averages: 13.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Tournament Shooting Splits: 54.5% FG, 36.4% 3PFG, 78.6% FT
Ayayi is the forgotten child of the star-studded Gonzaga team. However, the shifty combo guard made some noise in Gonzaga despite the hype surrounding his teammates.
Ayayi can do a little bit of everything for a team. His ball-handling and distribution are among the best in the country. This past season, Ayayi graded in the 98th percentile as a pick and roll ball handler. He also had the 7th highest assist to turnover ratio in the country (minimum 32 games played).
Ayayi is also a presence when grabbing rebounds despite being just 6’5. His 5.4 defensive rebounds per game ranked in the 96th percentile of all WCC players last season. He had 5 games in which he grabbed 10 or more rebounds, including an 18 rebound performance versus Iowa earlier in the season.
While he doesn’t get to the line as much as one may like, Ayayi finishes well in and around the basket. He finished the season shooting a fantastic 76.6% at the rim and 56.4% in the paint. His finishing around the rim is a testament to his effectiveness when operating out of the pick and roll.
While he is a career 36% three-point shooter, Ayayi demonstrated significant progress and improvement during his three years with Gonzaga. He also has the ability to hit a variety of shots from the outside. Out of the pick and roll, he forces bigs to step out of the paint to defend him. He can also be a weapon in catch and shoot opportunities.
His current projection for the draft still sits in the second round. His defensive production in the form of steals and blocks leaves a lot to be desired. Also, given his usage rate in college, Ayayi projects as a secondary ball-handler in the NBA as opposed to playing a lead guard role. While his shortcomings on defense are not something to overlook, teams will be willing to take a risk in the second round on Ayayi for his shooting and secondary playmaking ability.
Max Abmas, PG, Oral Roberts
Tournament Averages: 26.7 points, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals
Tournament Shooting Splits: 42.1% FG, 43.8% 3PFG, 84.6% FT
After the unlikely run of 15th seed Oral Roberts, star guard Max Abmas is gaining some attention from NBA scouts. While the main knock against him has been his lack of strong competition, his performance in the tournament quickly eliminated any doubts.
Abmas is one of the best offensive players in the draft. His range on the perimeter is limitless, hitting long-range three-pointers throughout the tournament. In March Madness alone, Abmas shot an insane 43.8% from beyond the arc on over 10 attempts per game. His shot-making ability comes both off the dribble and in catch and shoot opportunities.
Abmas’s shooting from the outside also creates opportunities for him as a passer. When Abmas can get the opposing big man out of the paint, he can use his explosiveness to get into the lane and kick out to shooters on the outside. Check this dime in a game against Oklahoma State.
Abmas Defensive Outlook and Projection
Despite being at 6’1 on official records, Abmas looks more 5’10 on film. He is definitely undersized on the defensive end, but the hustle and energy are still there. He is willing to put his body on the line for the team and moves his feet well on the perimeter. While he will never be a fantastic on-ball defender, his energy and hustle are commendable.
Abmas currently projects in the late second round of the draft. He should remind people a lot of Isaiah Thomas, who was the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. This is a positive player comp for Abmas, as Thomas was one of the league’s best point guards not too long ago. Given the success of smaller guards in the league today (Jalen Brunson, Thomas, Payton Pritchard), Abmas is worth the risk for a team in the late second round.
Tre Mann, PG, Florida
Tournament Averages: 16.5 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists
Tournament Shooting Splits: 52% FG, 42.9% 3PFG, 33.3% FT
Like Cam Thomas, Mann’s time in the tournament was short-lived. However, it was enough time to show scouts what they needed to see before the draft in July. Mann reaffirmed his status as a volume scorer and secondary distributor with a solid shot from the outside.
After struggling production-wise during his freshman season, Mann exploded and became one of the Gators’ best players. His biggest leaps were in three-point percentage (27.5 to 40.2) and assists (0.7 to 3.5). As the Gators continued to rely on Mann more and more, he continued to produce for the team.
Mann is an elite scorer at all three levels. Like Abmas, his range beyond the arc is second-to-none. Time and time again, Mann will catch opposing big men sinking too low under screens and will punish them with a deep three. Mann feasted on Oral Roberts slow-footed big men during their matchup in the second round of the tournament.
Mann’s assist percentage of 21.6 ranked in the 90th percentile this season amongst all players in the SEC. While his playmaking ability wasn’t the focal point of his tournament performance, he generally made smart decisions with the ball when he needed to. Here he comes around the screen and slips a nice pass inside to the big man for the easy finish.
Mann’s Concerns and Projection
While Mann’s offensive prowess is enticing, his defense and decision-making with the ball overall are big concerns. Mann tends to overcommit when closing out defenders on the perimeter. This means that he either ends up getting blown by or takes a silly foul for his trouble. His five blocks in two years at Florida is also concerning.
Bleacher Reports Jonathan Wasserman has Mann listed as his 18th overall prospect following the tournament. While he also acknowledged Mann’s unmatched shot creation ability, the turnovers and lack of turnovers were a concern for him as well. Mann will likely be selected sometime in the late first-round come July.