NBA Draft Prospects Who Would've Benefited Most from March Madness
The cancellation of March Madness will hurt a number of prospects who still had something to prove before the 2020 NBA draft.
Over the years, we've seen enough players improve their stock after strong NCAA tournaments, including DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Chuma Okeke and Mfiondu Kabengele in 2019.
Scouts sound like they are on the fence about the following prospects, either as first-rounders or future NBA pros in general. Big March performances could have helped these players move the needle.
Aaron Henry (Michigan State, SG/SF, Sophomore)
On breakout watch entering the season after a strong 2019 NCAA tournament, Aaron Henry didn't take off as a sophomore, finishing with averages of 10.0 points, 2.9 assists and 1.0 threes per game. He's still worth thinking about for NBA teams, though, given the boxes he has the potential to check with his 6'6" size, a capable jumper, passing skills and defensive anticipation.
March Madness would have given Henry one last stretch to make a pro case for himself. He just hadn't been convincing throughout the year, despite flashes of versatility. Is he a better shooter than his 34.4 percent three-point mark suggests? Can he be useful in ball-screen situations (22nd percentile)? Is there any creativity in his game waiting to be unlocked (3-of-15 isolation)?
Scouts should still wonder what his bankable skill is, or whether he can offer a little of everything in terms of shot-making, slashing, passing and defense.
But his impact always felt greater than the stats would seem to indicate. And that might have been easier for Henry to show in a tournament setting.
Ashton Hagans (Kentucky, PG, Sophomore)
Defense has always been Ashton Hagans' signature strength, but scouts wanted to see more scoring ability. And for a while, it looked like he was turning a corner. Then February arrived.
During the month's nine games, Hagans averaged 7.9 points and 3.7 turnovers on 33.8 percent shooting and went 4-of-21 from three. March Madness would have presented him an opportunity to get back on track and help scouts forget about his ugly final stretch.
He did make a notable jump this season with his playmaking, raising his assist average to 6.4 per game. And between his improved ability to set up teammates and exceptionally quick hands and instincts on defense, a capable jumper may have been enough for NBA teams.
But he finished his second season at Kentucky just 16-of-62 from three and 16-of-48 on pull-ups.
Devon Dotson (Kansas, PG, Sophomore)
Scouts have been torn on Devon Dotson and where he's worth drafting. Fringe first-rounder seems to be the consensus thought.
Dotson returned to Kansas as a sophomore and led the Big 12 with 18.1 points per game in 2019-20. But at 6'2" with limited explosiveness and a 30.9 percent three-ball, Dotson doesn't look like his scoring will carry over. And he only averaged 4.0 assists per game as a sophomore, so it's not like teams can bank on guaranteed playmaking.
The more realistic projection for him envisions a change-of-pace backup who's valued for his speed, penetration and pressure defense. If that's his ceiling, teams may be reluctant to gamble with a first-round pick.
He would have been able to strengthen his case during March Madness by carrying a No. 1 seed far, particularly if his jump shot were to come alive. Dotson ranks in the 30s on our latest board. A big March could have pushed him into the 20s the way it once did for Shabazz Napier, a similarly limited athlete who strengthened his case by impacting wins during Connecticut's 2014 championship run.
Malachi Flynn (San Diego State, PG, Junior)
Malachi Flynn wasn't on NBA radars to start the year after he transferred from Washington State and sat out 2018-19. Now scouts are deciding how seriously to take his breakout that was likely about to help San Diego State earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
A huge March Madness could have helped validate Flynn's season (17.6 points and 5.1 assists per game) because he didn't face many noteworthy opponents in the Mountain West. His most convincing nonconference performance came in a win over Iowa (28 points on 16 shots), but that was in November.
The NBA eye test doesn't love Flynn's skinny 6'1" frame or limited bounce. He had one dunk all year, per Funalytics.
But Flynn was one of the nation's most effective ball-screen guards, having ranked in the 96th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. And he demonstrated both deep range and shooting versatility, finishing the year at 43.1 percent on spot-up jumpers, 40.0 percent off screens and 38.6 percent on pull-ups.
Last month, he exploded for 36 points, five assists and five boards at Nevada to close the regular season. He seemed on the verge of making a first-round case by proving himself versus stiffer competition in the NCAA tournament. The Coronavirus eliminated a major opportunity for Flynn.
Payton Pritchard (Oregon, PG, Senior)
Payton Pritchard had a monster senior year, but his carrying Oregon deep into the NCAA tournament could have had a stronger effect on NBA teams.
At 6'2" without standout length or athleticism, Pritchard leaves scouts trying to decide how well his game will translate to the pros. He had some trouble in nonconference matchups earlier in the season, having shot 4-of-11 against Memphis and 7-of-23 against Gonzaga.
Pritchard finished the year averaging 20.5 points and 5.5 assists per game with a 60.1 true shooting percentage. He graded in the 89th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, the 93rd percentile out of spot-ups and the 90th percentile off screens. Sharp skills, shooting versatility and basketball IQ help Pritchard compensate for limited tools and burst.
But it seems like a long shot that a team would take the 22-year-old in the first round.
Scottie Lewis (Florida, SG/SF, Freshman)
Scouts were looking forward to watching Scottie Lewis at Florida. But he appeared limited offensively (8.5 PPG) as a freshman, which is a problem when trying to project a 6'5" wing. In 30 games, he totaled 22 threes and 23 assists.
Athleticism, defensive quickness and positive energy always seemingly bought him time when it came to his skill and decision-making development. A few big March Madness games could have helped Lewis persuade scouts.
He finished with a season-high 19 points against Kentucky during Florida's final game, a week-and-a-half after an 18-point, four-assist line against LSU. Lewis was just starting to build momentum with more flashes of slashing and rhythm jumpers.
His NBA value is still tied to his lateral quickness for defending guards and wings. His offensive role will call for line-driving, cutting, crashing the glass and making open threes. Lewis' development may have just been easier to buy if he were to continue to show signs of shooting improvement and scoring creativity through March.
Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports.