The lights get brighter when March hits. NBA scouts and executives tend to zoom in with their microscopes—each performance, whether it's for better or worse, has the ability to move the needle in one direction or the other.
And a few prospects will enter the madness with some momentum. The goal from here is to carry it with them into predraft festivities. On the other hand, we've got a few prospects who've hit a wall. And they'll need a big-time final month to re-establish their NBA credibility.
All stats are current as of Thursday, February 27.
You can just feel Andrew Wiggins' confidence building.
He's now gone for at least 14 points in 10 of his last 12 games. We're starting to see Wiggins assert himself as a consistent threat to the defense, and it's awesome to watch.
When Wiggins enters that offensive zone—the one where scorers feel like they're unstoppable—there's just nothing a defense can do to contain him. His first step is simply too quick, while his leaping ability is just too explosive.
He's shot more than 54 percent from the floor in three of his last four games, as he's getting himself easy buckets above the rim off drives, tip-ins and lobs. But the important thing here, and the one that scouts have wanted to see, is that Wiggins has been active and aggressive.
It also doesn't hurt when his three-ball is falling—he knocked down three of five against Texas, where he showcased the complete two-way arsenal and his towering NBA upside.
If Wiggins can keep his foot on the gas, and ultimately help power Kansas through March, he'll be right there with Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker in the No. 1 overall conversation.
He's put up some monster scoring games, but Jahii Carson's point guard play has suffered, as has his overall consistency.
Carson recently got smothered in a head-to-head battle with Delon Wright and Utah, where he finished with eight points and four assists on 3-of-13 shooting. This was four days after he racked up five turnovers to just one assist (along with 18 points on 15 shots) in a loss to Colorado.
He had his best day of the year as a facilitator against Oregon—Carson dished out 12 dimes, but finished just 2-of-10 shooting from the floor.
He's been great at times and underwhelming at others, but the bottom line is that he hasn't put it all together yet.
As a sophomore, we've seen his field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and assist rate all fall, while his turnovers have jumped to 3.6 a game.
There's very little margin for error for sub-6'0" NBA guards. Carson shoots just 53.2 percent at the rim, per Hoop-Math, and for a scorer, it's not going to get any easier in the pros.
He could really use another year at Arizona State to improve his floor game and consistency.
K.J. McDaniels is having some kind of year at Clemson, where he's averaging close to 17 points and a conference-leading 2.8 blocks per game.
He's evolved into a legitimate two-way weapon fueled by explosive athleticism. McDaniels plays the game above the rim at both ends of the floor, where he's consistently making things happen as a rim protector, finisher and putback machine.
His in-between game is much improved from a year ago—McDaniels can put it on the floor and attack or separate in the mid-range for an 18-foot jumper. And it's the polish he added this summer that's resulted in roughly a six-point boost to his scoring average.
McDaniels has had his fair share of standout games so far—he went for 24 points and 10 boards in a win over Duke earlier in the year, though his signature game came in a recent double-overtime loss to Notre Dame, when he added 30 points, 13 boards and six blocks in eye-opening fashion.
His shooting range and consistency could both use work, but between the progression he's shown and his off-the-ball playmaking ability, McDaniels has officially entered the picture.
It just hasn't happened yet for Glenn Robinson III. After a promising freshman season, he's struggled to take that next step as a sophomore, and given the strength and depth of the projected 2014 field, his lack of progression has damaged his stock.
Robinson has the tools but not the ability to consistently apply them. He looks great when the pull-up jumper is working, or when he's active off the ball finishing lobs and backdoor cuts. Only he hasn't been the every-game threat you'd expect one of your key returning players to be.
Robinson has scored in single digits in five of his last eight games, while his rebounding rate, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage are all down significantly from a season ago.
One of Robinson's most glaring weaknesses is his inability to win the one-on-one battle. Rarely do you see him take his man off the bounce and get all the way to the hole—he's averaging just 3.3 free-throw attempts per game, while 68.4 percent of his shots at the rim have been assisted, per Hoop-Math.
Maybe it's the offense or that Robinson just misses a point guard like Trey Burke. Either way, he hasn't broken out the way many had hoped he would.
Jabari Brown expanded his game to the point where he's scoring 20 on the regular.
At 6'5", Brown has a strong frame with solid NBA 2-guard size to match a blazing three-point shooting stroke. He's hitting 2.6 per game at a lights-out 44.4 percent clip.
But he's not just all jumper—Brown gets to the line nearly seven times a game, where he shoots 80 percent. He's got terrific offensive instincts, which helps neutralize a lack of standout athletic ability. Brown just has a natural feel for picking up buckets, which Missouri lets him do now as its No. 1 scoring option.
He's also been ridiculously consistent, as he's recorded at least 20 points in 10 of his last 12 games, finishing only three of them with a field-goal percentage less than 46 percent.
Brown doesn't offer much defensive resistance, but his reliable shot-making ability appears NBA worthy.
Zach LaVine hasn't made much of an impact for UCLA over the past month—he's scored in single digits in seven of his last eight games, while racking up just eight assists during the stretch.
With a crowded backcourt in front of him, LaVine is rarely in playmaking position, and it has affected his shot selection. He can go long stretches without getting a touch, which results in some forced shots from time to time when he starts to get a little anxious.
LaVine has flashed some appetizing upside this season, thanks to some effortless athleticism and a lethal outside stroke. But given how little he's used on the ball, along with his lanky 180-pound frame, LaVine would probably be best off returning to increase his NBA-readiness.
Elfrid Payton broke out as a sophomore, which eventually earned him a place on USA's FIBA World Championship team this summer. But he's playing on a whole other level as a junior, averaging 19.5 points, 5.8 assists, six assists and 2.4 steals a game.
And scouts have taken notice.
“I had several scouts that came in my room, in the coaches’ room, before we played at UT Arlington and at Texas State, and visited with all those guys,” Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin told Tim Buckley of the Theadvertiser.com. “And there’s a chance Elfrid could go in the first round. We’ll see. It fluctuates daily, and it depends who you ask.”
Payton immediately stands out thanks to his size, length and athleticism at the point guard position. He's smooth out there with the ball—Payton gets to his spots and does a terrific job of finishing in the paint and around the rim.
He's also tough to contain off the dribble, which leads to plenty of assists off breakdown penetration as a drive-and-disher.
Payton is in the zone—he's shooting 63.6 percent over his last four games, racking up at least six assists in each of them.
The big area of concern with Payton centers around his shooting stroke—he's made only eight three-pointers all year, and despite an uncanny ability to get to the line (9.1 attempts per game), he's shooting just 63.7 percent.
Still, few have been able to produce in more bulk than Payton, and with NBA-caliber physical tools, he'll certainly get looks with conference-tournament play approaching.
The shoving incident was just a bad look. And now Marcus Smart has work to do in terms of rebuilding his image and status as a can't-miss NBA prospect.
But Smart's stock had been down even before the suspension. Oklahoma State had lost five of its previous six games, and Smart's consistency and decision-making had both been erratic.
At this point, he's averaging just 4.5 assists to 2.7 turnovers, and he's shooting below 30 percent from downtown for the second-consecutive year.
Smart's intangibles as a leader have always allowed us to overlook these statistical blemishes. But those intangibles no longer appear to offer that same layer of draft-stock protection.
Smart will enter March under the microscope, with both his game and character expected to be thoroughly examined and analyzed.
Clint Capela has been on the back end of radars for the last two summers, but this year, the 19-year-old's moved closer to the center.
He's earned himself a major role for Chalon in France, as he's been getting 20-plus minutes of regular action as of late.
His appeal stems directly from his monstrous size and length, which he uses to overwhelm on the interior as a finisher, rebounder and shot-blocker.
Capela is fresh off a 10-point, 17-rebound line win over Gravelines, just two weeks after his signature game of the season, when he finished with 21 points, nine boards, seven assists and six blocks in a win over Roanne.
He's an offensive project, but Capela's glowing physical tools and production overseas have triggered some draft buzz with March approaching.