March Madness: 6 Players Who Boosted Their NBA Draft Stock

Thornwell fired up on the court
(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

And just like that, it’s all over. No more Madness; no more Cinderella stories; no more crying Jordan … Ya, you’re right, the latter is immortal. The North Carolina Tar Heels finally realized their ceiling is the roof and celebrated their sixth National Championship after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs, 71-65, last night.

But no NBA scouts really care, and that’s what matters most now for these exploited young adults … I mean, “student-athletes.”

 

The top of the 2017 NBA Draft board (June 22) hasn’t changed much due to the tournament, as Markelle Fultz, whose Washington Huskies didn’t even make the field, is still the projected first-overall pick. But there were a handful of players who did boost their draft stock in the tournament.

Here are the six players who did the most for their future NBA prospects during the big dance.

6. Tyler Dorsey, SG (Oregon)

“Mr. March” was spectacular for Oregon throughout the tourney. Dorsey averaged 23.8 PPG, and once again displayed his lust for late-game heroics, most notably against Rhode Island in the second round, when he nailed game-tying and game-winning triples with defenders in his face.

The sophomore shot a ridiculous 60.6-percent from behind the arc, only failing to shoot at least 50-percent in Oregon’s Final Four matchup with UNC (3/7). But we can’t blame Dorsey for that; the game was played in April.

Entering the tournament, you couldn’t find Dorsey in any mock drafts. After the show he put on in Oregon’s five games, the Duck may fly into the late second round, should he choose to declare. It’s more likely, however, that he will return to Oregon for one more year and continue boosting his draft stock.

Odds to be drafted in 2017: 3/2

5. Frank Mason III, PG (Kansas)

This may be a surprise to some, since the Jayhawks bowed out a little earlier than expected, but the blame cannot be put on Mason. Mason was the only Kansas player to show up in the team’s loss to Oregon (21 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), and Bill Self couldn’t figure out a way to breakdown the Ducks’ matchup-zone.

Mason was the best player in the country throughout the regular season, evident by the Naismith Trophy now sitting on his shelf. The Jayhawks leaned on him all year, including the tournament. The senior was unstoppable against Purdue in the Sweet 16, scoring 26 points on 9/11 shooting (4/5 from three-point range) and adding seven assists.

His 5’11” stature is to blame for the lack of draft buzz, but the senior guard proved that he can get to the basket at will, create his own shot, and distribute. Mason is a true floor-general who used the tournament to cap off his NBA résumé. At some point in the second round, a team will overlook his size and take a chance on the best basketball player available.

Odds to be drafted in 2017: 2/3

4. Trevon Bluiett, G (Xavier)

No one was willing to give the no. 11 Xavier Musketeers a chance this March. Edmond Sumner tore his ACL in January, and Xavier wasn’t doing anything well without him. But then junior guard Trevon Bluiett put the Musketeers on his back and willed them to the Elite Eight.

Bluiett averaged 25 PPG on 52.1-percent shooting from the field in his first three games of the tournament, as Xavier upset no. 6 Maryland, no. 3 Florida State, and no. 2 Arizona. Unfortunately, the junior cooled off against a tough Gonzaga defense, shooting just 3/14. But that doesn’t tarnish his first three performances, which shouldered X to its annual Sweet 16 run.

Prior to the Madness, the chances of Bluiett being selected in the 2017 NBA Draft were rather slim. After his strong showing in March, the guard will begin appearing late in the second round of many mock drafts.

Odds to be drafted in 2017: 1/2

3. Jordan Bell, F (Oregon)

Everyone in the Oregon locker room knew Jordan Bell was a talented player from the time he entered the program in 2014. But no one foresaw what the junior would do once Chris Boucher went down in the Pac-12 tournament.

The 6’9″ forward averaged 12.6 PPG in the big dance, recording double-digit totals in four of Oregon’s five games. Bell was extremely efficient on the offensive end, shooting 72.9-percent from the field. But his biggest impact was felt on the glass and under his own rim.

Bell averaged 13.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. In Oregon’s final two games, against Kansas and UNC, he pulled down a combined 29 rebounds and swatted 12 shots. Though many will remember him giving up those two offensive rebounds on UNC’s missed foul shots, NBA scouts won’t forget the rest of the tournament. He may slip out of the first round, but he won’t be on the board long afterwards.

Odds to be drafted in the first round in 2017: 7/3

2. Zach Collins, F (Gonzaga)

In his freshman season, Collins found himself as Przemek Karnowski’s backup. The seven-footer impressed in limited floor time, showcasing his athleticism against weaker WCC competition. But he was largely seen as a second-rounder whose raw talent may boost him into the late first round if he came out this year. That is no longer the case.

When Karnowski went down with an eye injury in the first half of Gonzaga’s Final Four matchup with South Carolina, Collins came in and dominated. The freshman recorded 14 points on 6/10 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds, and blocked six shots in just 23 minutes on the floor.

The one remaining concern with Collins is his inability to stay out of foul trouble. The 19-year-old plays a very aggressive game on both ends, and will need to build some discipline to survive in the whistle-heavy NBA. Expect Collins to still go in the lottery picks, though, if he does decide to leave school.

Odds to be drafted in the lottery picks in 2017: 1/3

1. Sindarius Thornwell, SG (South Carolina)

Unless you’re a big college hoops fan, you likely had no idea who Sindarius Thornwell was before the tournament. (This is especially funny because he did win the SEC Player of the Year.) Now, anyone who picked the Gamecocks to pull a couple upsets in their bracket is probably ready to name their first-born “Sindarius”. The senior guard took no. 7 South Carolina on an improbable run, defeating no. 2 Duke, no. 3 Baylor, and no. 4 Florida, before falling to Gonzaga in a thrilling Final Four.

Before playing through an illness in the national semifinals, Thornwell was averaging 27.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals per game. But the box score doesn’t do justice to his true value. The senior played tremendous defense throughout the tournament and made plays, at both ends of the court, when the Gamecocks needed him most.

Without this tournament run, Thornwell may have gone undrafted. After proving his value on both ends and displaying his leadership, the 6’5″ guard will be a hot target late in the first round. Look for the Spurs or Jazz to take a swing.

Odds to be drafted in the first round in 2017: 9/10