NBA Draft 2014: Prospects Who Will Boost Stock in NCAA Tournament

Alex EspinozaCorrespondent IIIMarch 20, 2014

LEXINGTON, KY - MARCH 04:  Julius Randle #30 of the Kentucky Wildcats dunks the ball during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Rupp Arena on March 4, 2014 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It's a small sample, but the NCAA tournament can surely help out your NBA Draft stock.

Just ask Tyrus Thomas, who dunked his way to the 2006 Final Four with LSU before shooting up the draft boards and becoming the No. 4 overall pick. Same for Dwyane Wade, who led Marquette to the 2003 Final Four and became the fifth overall selection a few months later.

While Wade is on his way to becoming a Hall of Famer, Thomas is still just a bench player at the next level, but the impact of their respective NCAA tourney pushes are undeniable.

Looking at this year's crop of top NBA prospects, there are still several players who will be looking to improve their stock as teams start to shape their final draft boards. Here's a look at three players in a position to help their teams and their individual careers.


Doug McDermott, Creighton

Creighton's sharpshooter got the Sports Illustrated cover boy treatment earlier this week, so you know his profile is on the rise.

When you're in a picture that's an homage to Larry Bird, you know you're doing something right. While no one is expecting McDermott to be Larry Legend, a solid showing against top competition would do wonders for his draft profile.

He enters the tournament with a nation-best average of 26.9 points per game, coming on an impressive 52.5 percent shooting. McDermott also converts 2.8 three-pointers per game while shooting 45.4 percent from behind the arc, and he grabs seven rebounds per game.

McDermott, listed at 6'8", 225 pounds, is known for being a deadly shooter, but needs to use this arena to show he can hang with elite athletes.

Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post noted how McDemott is in something of NBA draft limbo heading into the tournament.

But for all his individual success, the 6-foot-8 McDermott is considered a tweener by some NBA executives — too small to play power forward and too slow to guard small forwards. And McDermott can’t help but wonder if a run through the postseason might force them to reconsider. He couldn’t get Creighton out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament the past two years.

“I think the grind of the regular season speaks for itself,” McDermott said earlier this month, before the Bluejays earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. “I don’t think you can evaluate a player on two or three good games. I think you’ve got to look over the course of the season. On the other hand, people play their best basketball in March. The lights are brighter and everybody’s watching you.”

McDermott's shooting and size have most expecting him to be a late lottery pick. But guiding No. 3-seeded Creighton to a deep tournament run can perhaps convince teams he's ready for more than just an NBA bench role, pushing him up the boards.


Julius Randle, Kentucky 

The touted freshman is widely regarded worthy of a top-5 pick but he needs to solidify his stock after a shaky string of performances in the SEC tournament.

He was a big reason why the team was pegged as the preseason No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, but like the Wildcats, Randle was inconsistent throughout the year. Still, you can't argue with his season-long averages of 15 points, 10.5 rebounds and 50.2 field goal percentage.

Ari Wasserman of the Cleveland Plain Dealer explained why Randle has so much upside for a 19-year-old.

Perhaps the most athletic power forward in college basketball, Randle is a projected top-10 NBA pick because he is so advanced on the offensive end. A 6-9, 250-pounder, Randle has a great first step, fantastic ball-handling skills and can score with his back to the basket or facing up. Kentucky hasn’t had the season most predicted, but Randle has been a double-double machine during the last 15 games. Randle is a constant mismatch for opponents because of his athleticism offensively inside and his natural ability to grab rebounds on both ends of the floor.

It's no secret that the 6'9", 250-pound forward struggled mightily in the SEC Tournament, lowlighted by his four-point (1-of-7 from the field), seven-rebound performance against Florida in a 61-60 loss in the title game. That's hardly the last impression Randle wants to leave if he becomes coach John Calipari's latest high-profile one-and-done player, as expected.

Kentucky is one of the most formidable No. 8 seeds in recent memory and figures to stand a great chance to get to the Sweet 16, which would mean a likely victory over Midwest No. 1 seed Wichita State.

The Wildcats certainly have the talent to make a deep tournament run, and Randle needs to help extend the showcase as long as possible. 


T.J. Warren, North Carolina State

After leading the league in scoring (24.1 PPG) and field goal percentage (53.2) while pulling down 7.1 rebounds per game, T.J. Warren was named ACC Player of the Year. In the process, he garnered nearly double the votes (48) of Duke freshman Jabari Parker (23), who is in the running to be selected No. 1 overall in the upcoming NBA Draft.

After knocking off Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, N.C. State sneaked into the field of 68 on Selection Sunday. On Tuesday, Warren put the team on his back, scoring 16 of his 25 points in the second half to guide the Wolfpack to a 74-59 win over Xavier in the First Four matchup.

With more performances like that, don't be surprised if Warren creeps up the draft boards. For now, most mock drafts peg Warren as mid-to-late first-round pick. According to Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated, Warren has a bright NBA future if he decides to declare after this season.

The sophomore scores in a blur so often, it’s almost unfair. Seeing him in person only enhances the experience. You can’t rewind to ask yourself did he just do that? You don’t have the luxury of being able to Vine a deep three or a steal and a dunk from the stands. But that tenacity and his ability to go from cold-cold-cold to just plain on — that’s a rare gift.

So even if it’s a minor annoyance to not be able to see a replay on demand, you were there to experience it firsthand. You’ll talk about it on the drive home. And you’ll watch the highlights after. There are only a handful of players at this level who possess that, and even fewer who you can picture doing it in the NBA.

TJ Warren is one of them.

There always tend to be No. 12 teams upsetting No. 5 seeds in The Big Dance, and N.C. State has become a popular pick to beat the reeling No. 5 St. Louis Billikens. Fran Fraschilla of ESPN recently tweeted that he thinks Warren can carry N.C. State to a couple more victories.

He has the numbers and he has the body (6'8", 215 pounds), now he can show NBA teams his stuff on college basketball's biggest stage.