Stock Up, Stock Down for NBA Prospects Ahead of the 2017 Final Four

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterMarch 27, 2017

Stock Up, Stock Down for NBA Prospects Ahead of the 2017 Final Four

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    The NCAA tournament is the lasting image for general managers and NBA scouts when it comes to the NBA draft.  

    Bleacher Report interviewed two scouts about the top eight prospects in the draft who played in the tournament to see if their play improved or hurt their stock. 

    Before getting to those scouting reports, it's important to understand how scouts view the tournament. 

    "It's hard to figure out exactly how strongly to let what happens in the NCAA tournament affect your opinion," one scout told B/R. "There are a lot of historical examples of guys who had really big tournaments, and it skewed how the NBA valued them and they went too high and end up being busts, but it still does matter.

    "This year's tournament especially, because there were so few upsets, there were so many good matchups—like Josh Jackson-Miles Bridges in the second round and Lonzo Ball-De'Aaron Fox. Those are matchups that matter."

    Those matchups seemed to carry more weight than overall performance. The opinions of the scouts in the ensuing slides were morphed together to form the "scout's take." I picked the best of each and edited for clarity.

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Stock: Up

    What he did: Miles Bridges only had a two-game sample size, but he was arguably the most consistent player of this group in the tournament.

    In the round of 64 against Miami, Bridges scored 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, pulled down nine rebounds, dished three assists and notched one block in Michigan State's 20-point win. He squared off against a possible top-three pick in Kansas forward Josh Jackson in the second round and finished with 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting, eight boards, two assists and a steal in a 20-point loss.

    Scout's take: "Michigan State didn't often play under a big spotlight during the year, so the tournament did draw a little bit more attention to him.

    "I think he did well. Teams like Tom Izzo guys, and he just seems like a through-and-through Izzo guy. The first game against Miami, the way they came back and him being a part of that was good for him. And then Josh Jackson was better than him in that game they played against each other, but he still did fairly well.

    "Shooting is still a concern for him, especially from deep. But I think he showed himself to be a player that's willing to compete."

Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Stock: Level

    What he did: Lauri Markkanen was one of the most efficient-scoring big men in the country all season, and that continued in the first weekend of the tournament. He averaged 18 points in the first two games on 61.1 percent shooting from the field and 92.9 percent shooting at the free-throw line.

    Xavier did a good job limiting Markkanen's touches in Arizona's Sweet 16 loss, though, as he finished with just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting.

    Scout's take: "I think he just sort of stayed the same. He doesn't play with a real point guard. He plays with a lot of selfish guards. Allonzo Trier just sort of hijacked that Xavier game the other day, and I think that when Markkanen is in the NBA and he has the opportunity to play in a system where he's going to be able to pick-and-pop or be outside for spot-ups, he's going to be a lot better. He wasn't great, but I don't think you blame it on him.

    "You did see more of his game at the basket as the season wore on and through the tournament. He showed progress in that area, and I think he still has defensive concerns. He's not soft, but he doesn't have plus strength. He's just a solid-sized forward. He definitely can't play the 5 for you. His quickness is just OK. But in terms of the NCAA tournament, I don't think anything happened that moved the needle either way."

De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Stock: Up

    What he did: De'Aaron Fox had one of the best-ever single-game performances by a freshman when he went off for 39 points against UCLA in the Sweet 16. He was Kentucky's most consistent player through the tournament, and while he had his worst outing of the tournament against North Carolina in what will likely be his final college game, he was still solid with 13 points, three assists and two steals.

    Scout's take: "If you weren't a De'Aaron Fox fan before, I think everyone left the tournament recognizing you may need to have a more serious conversation about him in the top five.

    "I think people are still really concerned by the fact that not only does he not shoot a lot of threes and isn't a high-percentage three-point shooter, but he'll have a chance to shoot a three in rhythm open and he'll dribble in to take that long two. He just seems like he's more comfortable with that. So that's a big concern that hasn't gone away.

    "But I think he solidified himself as a top-five guy. If you're sitting there and the choice is between him and Lonzo Ball—and again, he outplayed Lonzo twice and the second time emphatically—that matters. A lot of these decisions come down to 'would you take this guy over this guy,' and I think no one has helped their stock more than him."

Malik Monk, Kentucky

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Stock: Level

    What he did: Malik Monk did not score the last month of the season with the same consistency he had for much of his freshman campaign. His efficiency also dipped in the NCAA tournament. He averaged 14.8 points but shot just 37.5 percent from the field.

    Monk did have several big moments the last two weeks. He hit a late three against Wichita State and blocked a Markus McDuffie jumper that helped seal the game for the Wildcats. He also made what would have been one of the shots of the tournament, a late game-tying three against North Carolina that almost forced overtime, but it'll live on as a footnote to the game-winner UNC's Luke Maye hit seconds later.

    Scout's take: "He lacks size, but the NBA has become more of a league where a small 2-guard can flourish, or at least have a chance to flourish. He just continues to show the ability to make shots with a hand in his face.

    "But he is reliant on other people right now to get him his shots. When De'Aaron Fox is giving him the ball, he stands out, and when he's not, he's not. I think Monk's defense is a little up and down. His defensive play at the end of the Wichita State game will stand out to people. That was against a bigger player. In a crucial situation like that, to be able to get up there and block a guy's shot—and McDuffie has four or five inches on him—that was big.

    "I don't think he necessarily helped himself. I don't think he killed himself either."

Jonathan Isaac, Florida State

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Stock: Level

    What he did: Jonathan Isaac would look like an All-American one night and barely show up in the box score the next during the season. That held true in the NCAA tournament.

    Isaac opened the tourney with 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals in a win over Florida Gulf Coast. During Florida State's blowout loss to Xavier in the round of 32, however, Isaac scored just eight points and fouled out in 33 minutes.

    Scout's take: "He continued to show his inconsistency. I think after that first game, everyone was real encouraged. The second game, you saw some of the same inconsistencies that plagued him all season.

    "People are on two sides with him. Some people look at him and see Giannis Antetokounmpo. Other people see a role player. And the people who see Giannis think it's going to happen down the line, and you're banking on those physical tools. People who see a role player, I don't think there was much he could have done during the tournament unless he completely went off, so I think he just sort of stayed the same."

Jayson Tatum, Duke

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    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Stock: Level

    What he did: Jayson Tatum started the tournament with one of his best all-around performances. He put up a line of 18 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and four steals in Duke's first-round win over Troy.

    But in the Blue Devils' second-round loss to South Carolina, Tatum struggled with the physicality of the Gamecocks. He still got his points (15), but he also had five turnovers and fouled out in 34 minutes.

    Scout's take: "He just didn't have a very good game against South Carolina. They only played two games, so it's almost like he really wasn't there. He was so good in the ACC tournament. It's not like he hasn't been tested. I don't think he helped himself in the tournament, but he didn't hurt himself."

Josh Jackson, Kansas

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Stock: Down

    What he did: Josh Jackson was great through three rounds of the tournament, averaging 18.3 points and helping Kansas to three impressive blowout wins.

    But in the Elite Eight against Oregon, Jackson picked up his second foul just 2:37 into the game and was never himself after. He scored 10 points, all of which came after halftime, but he had five critical turnovers. 

    Scout's take: "We saw what we saw all season for three games. He's a tough two-way player. He's done it all season on a big stage, and he was great in the matchup against Miles Bridges. His shooting has improved, which is probably the one thing that shows up from the stretch run.

    "But the way he went out was concerning. People are worried about the off-the-court stuff, and that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to affect him on the court, but he looked really frustrated against Oregon. He was jawing with guys. He's just letting the adversity get to him, and I think that hurt him.

    "It reminds me a lot of the Draymond Green issue. It's the thing that makes him great, but it's also the thing that is the greatest concern."

Lonzo Ball, UCLA

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Stock: Down

    What he did: Lonzo Ball was one of the stars of the tournament through the first weekend, nearly putting up a triple-double (18 points, seven rebounds and nine assists) in a second-round win over Cincinnati. But Ball's stock took a hit in the Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky. His line wasn't terrible—10 points, eight assists and four turnovers—but Wildcats point guard De'Aaron Fox, who scored 39 points, severely outplayed him.

    Scout's take: "There's no question the tournament hurt him. There was so much hype behind him, and to just get totally outclassed by a guy at the same position, it really exposed his weaknesses.

    "People were talking about him as the No. 1 pick. He had so much momentum, so much wind at his back, and he just completely got outclassed by Fox. There's no way that doesn't give you pause, and it should give you pause. They're playing the same position. They're both in a pressure situation. They've played each other before, and the first one wasn't as dramatic, but that's two times now that Fox has totally outplayed Ball. That has to matter.

    "The best guards in the NBA today are really good pick-and-roll scorers and scorers in general. Ball just seems like a guy who is really good in drive-and-kick, really sees the floor, really good pushing in transition, but he can't score at the level the top guys in the NBA do. And that's really the thing when you compare him to a guy like Markelle Fultz, that's the thing that gives Fultz the edge."

    C.J. Moore covers college basketball and football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @CJMooreBR.  

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