After two years of deprivation, March Madness has returned. One of the countries biggest sporting events, the annual tournament, was canceled last year due to the global pandemic. After a painful year of waiting, the tournament has returned in all its glory. While the crowds will not be what they normally are, the tournament is still an opportunity for college players to prove to NBA teams that they are worthy of one of the top picks in the upcoming draft. With that in mind, here are three players who may see their stock rise during the March Madness tournament.
NOTE: All stats accurate as of March 13th
Franz Wagner, F, Michigan
Measurables: 6’9, 220 lbs, 19 years old
Stats (2020-21): 13 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals
Shooting Splits: 50.7% FG, 39.2% 3PFG, 83.6% FT
To kick off the list, we start with Wagner, who is enjoying a strong sophomore season with the Wolverines. A familiar name, Franz is the younger brother of current Wizards forward Moritz Wagner, who the Lakers drafted in the 2018 draft. While also sharing a last name, Franz and Mortiz have many similarities in how they play.
Wagner is the prototypical three and D wing that is so coveted by teams in today’s NBA. He can stretch the floor with his shooting and is dangerous in catch and shoot opportunities as well as off the dribble. He is currently shooting 39% from three, a significant improvement from his freshman year mark of 31%.
Wagners’ displayed playmaking ability gives teams encouraging signs that he could be a secondary playmaker on the next level. He has solid ball-handling skills for his size and is patient and deliberate with his drives, picking the right moment to dish it to the big man for the slam.
Wagner uses the defender’s own big man to seal off a potential contest at the pass point. Once he gets the opposing big man in the air, he calmy dishes to his center for the easy bucket. While he won’t be the primary distributor on a team, he is more than capable of creating for others with limited volume.
Wagners’ Defensive Outlook and Concerns
Given his 6’9, 220 pounds frame and lanky arms, Wagner projects as a plus defender on the next level. While his frame is on the more slender side currently, he moves his feet decently well on the perimeter. He is scrappy and plays with energy, constantly poking and swiping at opposing players with the ball. While energy and effort alone don’t make a great defender, it is something he can build on once he gets to work with NBA coaches. He is no pushover in the paint either, demonstrating his shot-blocking ability on this play against Maryland.
Currently, scouts project Wagner in the 15-20s range of the upcoming draft. He will never wow anyone with his athletic ability, and his overall strength and physical stature leave a lot to be desired. These two factors are mostly what is holding him back from being a higher pick. However, if Wagner can push Michigan deep into the tournament and have strong performances against top-tier opponents, Wagner could see his draft stock rise into potentially the lottery.
Kai Jones, C, Texas
Measurables: 6’11, 218 lbs, 20 years old
Stats (2020-21): 8.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.9 blocks
Shooting Splits: 56.9% FG, 38.7% 3PFG, 69.7% FT
An athletic freak, Jones has all of the tools to be a productive center at the next level. He just hasn’t figured out how to put it all together just yet, part of the reason why most projections have him in the 20-30 range of the draft.
Jones’s real impact and potential should not be measured by traditional stats. His points and rebounding numbers are average at best. However, he has a lot of other traits that should intrigue teams about his long-term potential. Jones plays with energy and passion and is engaged in every possession. His athleticism will be a mismatch in the NBA, as he is capable of drawing opposing centers out of the paint and using his solid ball-handling skills to beat them off the dribble.
While he doesn’t have a perfect shot, nearly a quarter of Jones’ field goal attempts are coming from the perimeter, and he is converting on a pretty high clip. His shot is versatile as well, demonstrating the ability to convert on pick and pop shots and the occasional isolation possession against a less mobile center.
Jones’ Defensive Outlook and Player Comp
Defensively, Jones is aggressive and has good instincts when defending in the post and on the weakside. His top-tier athleticism means he has true shot-blocking potential and is capable of keeping up with smaller guards. Teams will love him as a rim runner, as he is like a freight train down the middle of the floor in transition.
Jones’ should remind people a lot of current Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes, also a Texas product. Hayes’s athleticism and sky-high potential were enough for the Pelicans to take a chance on him at eighth overall in 2018. His development in the league is what may give scouts reason to pause about selecting Jones. Hayes has regressed since his rookie season, averaging fewer points and rebounds this year. He has not had the impact the Pelicans were hoping he would have when they selected him at eighth overall.
While Hayes’s play does not directly impact how Jones projects at the next level, Jones is definitely going to be a project. He tends to get a little too comfortable when handling the ball at times, and his array of post finishes is limited. Jones will hope to use the tournament as a chance to show scouts good decision-making with the ball and overall maturity. A strong run from Texas backed by good play from Jones could find the Longhorn sophomore selected in the lottery.
Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor
Measurables: 6’2, 205 lbs, 22 years old
Stats (2020-21): 14.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2 steals
Shooting Splits: 51.5% FG, 46.2% 3PFG, 69.1% FT
Another Big 12 product, Mitchell has the potential to make the biggest jump out of the three prospects. After a rollercoaster of a college career, Mitchell has finally found his groove for Baylor and is looking like a surefire first-round pick.
Mitchell started his collegiate career at Auburn. After an underwhelming season in which he averaged just 3.7 points per game, he transferred to Baylor. In doing this, he lost his sophomore year season. He came back strong in his junior year and has made great strides as a senior this year.
Mitchell is a competitor on both ends of the floor. His offensive game is well-developed, with strong finishing in and around the hoop as well as elite shot-making ability. Mitchells’ change of direction and explosiveness with the ball in his hands is second-to-none. Check the blow-by and finish on Texas senior guard Matt Coleman.
Mitchells’ shooting has improved drastically since his junior year. He went from a subpar 32% perimeter shooter his junior season to a proficient 46.2% on 5 attempts per game. He has shown he can hit any shot, creating out of the pick and roll as well as in isolation. Mitchell gets to his spot with regularity and can hit shots in rhythm.
Mitchells’ Playmaking and Defensive Outlook
Mitchell has shown lead guard potential with his creation for others this season. His 2.1 assist to turnover ratio ranks third in the Big 12 conference. On the defensive end, Mitchell is an active and physical defender. At 205 pounds, he moves exceptionally well, and his frame makes him stout in the paint on opposing guard’s drives. His 3.4 steals per 100 possessions are encouraging numbers and project Mitchell as a strong two-way guard at the next level.
Baylor projects to be one of the No. 1 seeds in the tournament. With Mitchell currently projected late first round, he has the potential to turn a lot of heads with a strong performance during March.