Stock Up, Stock Down for Top NBA Draft Prospects After NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterMarch 29, 2014

Stock Up, Stock Down for Top NBA Draft Prospects After NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

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    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    Though the top dogs have been eliminated, there is still some impressive NBA talent left in the NCAA tournament.

    It's also the time of year when the international names start heating up. 

    Get to know them—some of the guys who are playing abroad just might become household names before you know it. 

    Even so, with Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State and Arizona still alive, there is plenty of reason for NBA scouts to continue tuning into the Big Dance. 

20. T.J. Warren, North Carolina State, 6'8", SF, Sophomore

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Stock Report: ↑

    It looks like T.J. Warren will be declaring for the NBA draft, per ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman, after one of the most productive yet unorthodox individual seasons we've seen in recent memory. 

    He averaged more than 24 points per game this year. In fact, only four times all season did he fail to notch 20 points. 

    But as a small forward, only 31 of his 342 made field goals came from behind the arc. Warren has sensational offensive instincts and the size to make it work—but as a 3 in the NBA, he'll have to prove he can stretch the floor and knock down shots with range.

19. Adreian Payne, Michigan State, 6'10", PF, Senior

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Stock Report: ↔

    Adreian Payne did his thing against Virginia in the Sweet 16, finishing with 16 points and a couple of threes, including a big one to take the lead with just more than a minute-and-a-half left. 

    At this point, his post game is irrelevant. It's just not going to be his calling in the pros. NBA teams won't be targeting him for his back-to-the-basket presence or upside. 

    Payne has a beautiful outside stroke to go with a body built for the NBA paint—and that's what will attract attention at the next level. 

    He's 23 years old, so the lottery might be tough to crack, but he just might be one of the most NBA-ready bodies in this class.

18. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State, 6'8", SF, Senior

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    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    Stock Report: ↑

    Scouts have been waiting all year to see how Cleanthony Early would fare against powerhouse competition. He got his chance against Kentucky in the round of 32, and despite the loss, he aced his audition. 

    He went for 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting, looking every bit like an NBA-level wing. He nailed four three-pointers with sharpshooting mechanics and his 6'8" size, which allows him to release right over the defense. 

    Early was also unstoppable in the open floor, where he finished a number of plays on the move with both his right and left hands.

    In between, he worked the pull-up game and beat his man off the bounce a few times before getting to the rack. 

    He has flashed next-level talent over the past few years, but it looks a lot better when it comes against an NBA-caliber front line like Kentucky's.

17. Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia, 6'11", C, 1994

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    Stock Report: ↔

    Since February 1, Jusuf Nurkic has scored 109 points in 138 minutes and leads the Adriatic League in player efficiency rating, per Draft Express.

    At 6'11", 280 pounds with excellent touch and footwork in the paint, he is an absolute handful in the post that nobody seems to have an answer for.

    Given his massive production and terrific efficiency overseas, along with a body that resembles Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic, Nurkic has emerged as one of the highest rising international prospects. 

    Look for the buzz surrounding him to strengthen as we get closer to April and May.

16. Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'5", PG/SG, Freshman

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Stock Report: ↓

    After scoring just eight points total in three NCAA tournament games and 11 points total over his last five, Zach LaVine announced he'll be declaring for the 2014 draft, per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News.

    Usually guys like to strike when the iron is hot, not cold. 

    But LaVine will be entering the draft, hoping a team out there will be willing to chase his upside, which happens to be high. 

    He's one of the most explosive athletes in the country with 2-guard size, an outside stroke and a tight handle.

    I imagine he'll turn heads at the combine and during predraft workouts, but given the years of maintenance his game is likely to require, a team might feel hesitant to hand him lottery dollars.

    LaVine will be on the must-watch list moving forward, as he just might have the widest draft range of anyone in the field. He could probably go anywhere from the lottery to the late-first round. 

15. Mario Hezonja, Croatia, 6'6", SG/SF, 1995

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    Stock Report: ↑

    Mario Hezonja has been regarded for years now as one of the most talented prospects abroad, but his minutes just haven't been there while playing on Barcelona's senior team this season. 

    That's changed a bit over his last three games in Spain, where he's gotten 20 minutes in each. 

    And against La Bruixa d'Or, Hezonja went off. He dropped 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting in what was an eye-opening showcase of obvious NBA potential.

    From effortless reverse layups in traffic to confident pull-ups from 20 feet out, Hezonja's offensive game is straight up special.

    He has terrific instincts, skills and athleticism to go with his 6'6" size for the 2-guard position or wing.

    It's tough to say whether or not he will declare this year or next, but if we're talking about the best NBA prospects worldwide, he has to be in the conversation.  

    You can check out his highlights from his 26-point outburst above. 

14. Doug McDermott, Creighton, 6'8", SF, Senior

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Stock Report: ↔

    Though he probably didn't expect his career to end after the round of 32, Doug McDermott did everything he could this year to maximize his 2014 draft stock. 

    After he averaged 23 points as a junior, it seemed like the chances of a draft-stock spike would be slim as a senior. But he took his chances and returned to average nearly 27 points per game in 2013-14, adding to an already polished and advanced scoring repertoire. 

    He also finished his career at Creighton by shooting above 40 percent from downtown in each season, which is significant, given his three-ball is likely to be his bread and butter in the pros. 

    Though limited defensively (only five blocks and eight steals all year), someone will target his NBA-ready shot-making ability somewhere in the mid-first round. 

13. Rodney Hood, Duke, 6'8", SF, Sophomore

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    Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Stock Report: ↓

    Rodney Hood saved his worst for last, as he shot just 2-of-10 from the floor in the loss to Mercer in the round of 64 after shooting 4-of-12 in Duke's loss to Virginia in the ACC tournament. 

    He's actually been fairly consistent throughout the year, never getting too hot or cold at any given point. 

    The problem with Hood is that he's overly reliant on his jumper. And without that standout quickness or athleticism for a wing, he's forced into taking some tough shots inside the arc yet away from the rim.

    With defensive limitations as well, Hood's upside might be held in check, but there's no denying his offensive versatility and shot-making ability. 

    He seems like a safe bet to go between 10 and 20.

12. Nik Stauskas, Michigan, 6'6", SG, Sophomore

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    Jeffrey Phelps

    Stock Report: ↔

    It's been awhile since Nik Stauskas erupted, but he's done his job so far this postseason as Michigan's go-to offensive option. 

    He went for 14 points in Michigan's Sweet 16 win over Tennessee and 17 points over Texas in the round of 32.

    Stauskas continues to shoot it lights out from downtown, having now made 17 of his last 36 three-point attempts. And that outside stroke will ultimately act as a life jacket for him in the pros. Whether his scoring game translates or not, he'll always have that range and jumper to go with his 6'6" size and deceptive athleticism. 

11. Gary Harris, Michigan State, 6'4", SG, Sophomore

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    Young Kwak

    Stock Report: ↓

    Michigan State's Gary Harris spent the Sweet 16 in foul trouble, as he only finished with six points on five shots in a win over Virginia. 

    Still, it's clear what he brings to the NBA table—a disciplined, opportunistic scorer who gets himself buckets by moving without the ball and positioning himself for quality scoring opportunities. 

    His glowing strength is his ability to complement what's around him. He makes shots off curls, spot-ups and cuts.

    Don't let his underwhelming NCAA tournament stats turn you off. Harris is going to last a long time in the league as a complementary scorer and two-way 2-guard. 

10. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Sophomore

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    Dave Martin

    Stock Report: 

    Willie Cauley-Stein left with an ankle injury in the first half against Louisville, so hopefully he'll be good to go against Michigan in the Elite Eight. 

    Either way, I can think of a dozen NBA teams that could use his athleticism, size and activity level on the interior. At 7'0" with the athleticism of an NFL wide receiver, Cauley-Stein is all about finishing, rebounding and rim protection. 

    Other than Kansas' Joel Embiid, there aren't any other viable 7-footers worth a first-round pick. And I'm expecting Cauley-Stein to reap the benefits. 

9. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, 6'2", PG, Freshman

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Stock Report: ↔

    Either Tyler Ennis got some positive feedback or just felt it was time. He announced he'll be declaring for the 2014 NBA draft, despite a disappointing finish to his freshman year at Syracuse. 

    “I’d like to thank Coach Boeheim, the coaching staff, my teammates and the amazing fans of Syracuse for the opportunity to play at a great university like Syracuse,” Ennis said, via SNY.tv. “I feel this experience has helped prepare me to fulfill my lifelong dreamto play in the NBA.”

    He was terrific for the Orange all year, finishing top 10 in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio and No. 1 in the ACC in assists and steals. He also came up big a number of times in clutch situations while demonstrating a natural feel for the point guard position as a pass-first facilitator. 

    Whether he's ready for the pros or not, I'm willing to bet that some point guard-needy team will be looking to reach up and grab him.

8. Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9", SF/PF, Freshman

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Stock Report: ↑

    Aaron Gordon is making a strong case for himself late in the year. He's been Arizona's rock this postseason, going for 16 points, eight boards and five blocks against Weber State and 18 points, six boards, six assists and four steals against Gonzaga.

    He wasn't too shabby in Arizona's Sweet 16 win over San Diego State, either, finishing with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

    Though not the most skilled or polished offensive player, he knows how to make plays within an offense, whether he's timing his cuts, attacking an open lane or making the right pass that leads to a bucket.

    Defensively, his versatility has been invaluable. He has the foot speed and length to defend the perimeter and the size and IQ to man the post. 

    The arrow is pointing up right now for Gordon, who's probably going to make even bigger waves at this year's NBA combine. 

7. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4", PG/SG, Sophomore

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Stock Report: ↑

    Marcus Smart played about as well as he could have following his return from suspension back in February. 

    His team just didn't have it, but Oklahoma State's disappointing finish isn't likely to reflect poorly on Smart, who went for 23 points, 13 boards, seven assists and six steals in a loss to Gonzaga in the round of 64. 

    With a three-point percentage below 30 percent for the second straight year, he just didn't do enough to jump into that elite tier of prospects. 

    He doesn't have the upside of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or even guard Dante Exum, but given his 220-pound frame, relentless attack game, terrific passing instincts and disruptive defense, there might not be a safer option outside the top three.

6. Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'9", PF, Freshman

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    Jeff Roberson

    Stock Report: ↔

    Julius Randle double-doubled in Kentucky's Sweet 16 win over Louisville, finishing with 15 points and 12 boards in what was a signature performance.

    He's just too strong and talented to be kept quiet—even if the defense packs the paint and takes away his post game. 

    He still has improvements and adjustments to make—with short arms and under-the-rim explosiveness in the half court, he'll have to diversify his offensive game and become more of a threat away from the hoop. 

    Regardless, with Kentucky moving onto the Elite Eight, there's only room for Randle's draft stock to improve.

5. Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 6'10", PF, Freshman

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    Stock Report: ↔

    It didn't take long for Noah Vonleh to decide where he wants to play basketball in 2014-15. With Indiana excluded from postseason play, he was quick to announce, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, that he'd be declaring for the NBA draft. 

    And he should. 

    Vonleh wasn't getting the touches or opportunities to showcase his game or improve it. 

    Based on his immaculate physical tools—6'10", 240 pounds, 7'4" wingspan—and his versatile offensive skill set consisting of a post game and sharpshooting stroke, his NBA potential is just tremendous. 

    He even led the Big Ten in rebounding this year while playing less than 27 minutes per night.

    There's just not much to question about him except for his NBA-ready timetable. But I think the wait will be worth the reward.

4. Dante Exum, Australia, 6'6", PG/SG, 1995

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    Graham Denholm/Getty Images

    Stock Report: ↔

    With unconvincing finishes from Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid's back a potential concern, Dante Exum just might have become that much more intriguing to NBA general managers.

    His upside justifies a pick in the top five or even the top three. At 6'6", he's a sick athlete who can handle the ball at the point or take over a game as a scorer.

    He also has the tools to completely overwhelm opposing ball-handlers, along with the versatility to guard a few positions on the floor.

    The teams to watch with Exum will be the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers—two organizations that are looking for future franchise floor generals.

3. Jabari Parker, Duke, 6'8", SF, Freshman

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Stock Report: ↓

    Jabari Parker got exposed a bit in Duke's loss to Mercer in the round of 64. He finished 4-of-14 shooting after struggling to connect on the perimeter or find ways to score within the zone defense he was facing.

    Still, it wasn't his offensive troubles that raised eyebrows. Parker offered such little defensive resistance that coach Mike Krzyzewski felt obligated to pull him for defensive possessions down the stretch. 

    It just wasn't a good look. Parker lacks that explosive lateral quickness to secure the perimeter, while his post defense and awareness are both underwhelming. 

    If he doesn't go No. 1 or No. 2, feel free to blame his defensive limitations.

2. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8", SF, Freshman

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Stock Report: ↔

    Andrew Wiggins didn't go out with a bang after taking just six shots in 34 minutes in a loss to Stanford in the round of 32. 

    Scouts probably would have rather seen him shoot 3-of-18 than 1-of-6, but credit Stanford's zone defense, which took away Wiggins' offensive looks and strengths.

    He had been awesome prior to the Stanford loss, averaging more than 28 points over his previous four games.

    He's made significant strides as a scorer from Day 1. We've seen the mid-range game, his three-point range and his unstoppable attack game. Defensively, he's flashed All-NBA defensive potential, while his biggest draft-day challenger, Jabari Parker, might actually pose as a defensive liability. 

    Wiggins has as good of a shot at going No. 1 as anyone else in the field, with each team that is projected to pick at the top needing a scoring forward or wing.

    Don't let that one game against Stanford cloud your long-term projection of Wiggins. He averaged 17 points per game this year without many refined skills. Just imagine what he'll look like when he polishes them up.

1. Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0", C, Freshman

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Stock Report: ↔

    Scouts and executives are in wait-and-see mode with Joel Embiid, whose physical and medical testing results could determine whether he's the first pick or the fifth. 

    He missed Kansas' last six games with a stress fracture in his back, an injury that's expected to only have short-term effects and a recovery period measured in weeks. 

    Still, there's always fear when it comes to back injuries, and general managers will want to be sure this is an isolated incident. 

    The good news is that nobody stole the show during his absence. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker both failed to capitalize and take their teams on a run in the NCAA tournament. 

    The No. 1 pick is likely to come down to which NBA team gets it, as some clubs just have different needs depending on their roster and rebuilding plans. 

    But based on his whole body of work, his towering two-way upside and the visible progress he's made since Day 1 at Kansas, Embiid is the guy I'd build around if I was starting a team from scratch—assuming his back checks out prior to the 2014 draft.