Biggest Risers and Fallers of Notable NBA Prospects in College Basketball

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterFebruary 24, 2021

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell
Baylor guard Davion MitchellEric Gay/Associated Press

The instability of this season's college basketball schedule is carrying over into the NBA draft process. With March around the corner and mock drafts heating up, plenty of volatility fills the market.

Sure, Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham is at the top of most boards, with Jonathan Kumiga, Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley and a handful of others consistently in the high-lottery mix. After that, things get hairier. Major gaps in practice and playing schedules, both at the team and individual levels, can have that effect.

These players have risen and fallen the most on these uncertain tides. In some cases, from the preseason to the present day, a prospect went from outside the rankings to inside the first round, or vice versa.

For this list, we're using the preseason and most recent mock drafts from B/R expert Jonathan Wasserman. 

Players are not listed in any particular order. 

            

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Stock Up: Franz Wagner, Michigan, SG/SF, Sophomore

Franz Wagner
Franz WagnerPaul Sancya/Associated Press

Preseason draft slot: Unranked

Current projection: 14

Wagner has capitalized on Michigan's runaway success. The team sits atop the Big Ten at 16-1, and Wagner is the Wolverine with the greatest chance to translate to the NBA (and yes, that includes big man Hunter Dickinson).

The German is shooting 51 percent from the field after overcoming a slow start—averaging just 9.5 points per game over the first six contests—to bring his average up to 12.4 points.

Wagner's true pro potential, though, is grounded in his defense, as his athletic, 6'9" frame lets him guard bigs and smalls alike. He's active and positionally sound no matter what position he's guarding. In the best conference in the country—one defined by defense—it's more than notable that Wagner leads the Big Ten with a 6.3 defensive box plus/minus.

His game isn't glamorous, but his all-around tools have elevated him to the edge of the lottery.

        

Stock Down: Brandon Boston Jr., Kentucky, SG, Freshman 

Brandon Boston
Brandon BostonRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Preseason draft slot: 8

Current projection: 19 

From a pure numbers standpoint, this isn't quite as precipitous a drop as that of some others. By the same token, when someone plays his way out of the NBA draft lottery, it's a dramatic development.

Boston has all the raw talent in the world, but his game isn't polished—a sentiment that could summarize this entire Kentucky Wildcats campaign. Several top pundits ranked Boston in the top five in late November, so his underperformance has been surprising. 

The simple fact is that Boston hasn't converted anything much beyond bunnies. His 36.2 shooting percentage and his 40.6 effective field-goal percentage are good for last on a roster that was expected to compete for an SEC title but sits seventh at 8-13 and is not within shouting distance of the bubble.

As his numbers have cratered, it appears Boston's confidence has dipped as well. And while he showed signs of life earlier in the month, he fell back again as February wore on. Most recently, he scored six points on 3-of-11 shooting, 0-of-4 from three and 0-of-1 from the free-throw line in a win Saturday over Tennessee.

               

Stock Up: Jaden Springer, Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman

Jaden Springer (right)
Jaden Springer (right)Randy Sartin/Associated Press

Preseason draft stock: 18

Current projection: 7

Springer's trajectory is the opposite of Boston's. The lead Volunteer is solidly in the lottery conversation as his team moves toward a high seed in next month's big tourney.

For a 6'4" guard, Springer has a solid if unspectacular all-around game. His full-steam charges toward the basket are downright LeBronesque, and his physical defense has helped make the Vols the nation's No. 5 team in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.

Springer's offensive output is high-quality (.590 true shooting percentage, 6.8 box plus-minus), but not always high-quantity. That's best illustrated beyond the arc, where he doesn't take a ton of threes—only 32 all season—but when he does, he converts at a 46.9 percent clip.

NBA teams will bank on the fact that Springer's consistency on both ends means he has the mental as well as physical chops to adapt to the pro game.

           

Stock Down: Day'Ron Sharpe, North Carolina, C, Freshman

Day'ron Sharpe (right)
Day'ron Sharpe (right)Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Preseason draft slot: 17

Current projection: 36

North Carolina was ranked No. 16 in the preseason AP Top 25. The Tar Heels are nowhere to be found in the latest poll, sitting at 14-7 and staring through the bubble at a tournament berth. At the same time, Sharpe has fallen in draft orders in large part because the 6'11" freshman hasn't developed the offensive repertoire expected of elite college bigs.

Although Sharpe has given fans reason to worry, he's shown signs of turning things around. The Heels are 6-2 over their last eight games, a stretch during which Sharpe is 43-of-73 (58.9 percent) from the floor for 11.9 points per game, both of which are substantial improvements over his season averages (53.6, 10.3).

Whenever you can attach 6'11" to your basketball resume, there's a good chance someone out there will peruse it.

          

Stock Up: Davion Mitchell, Baylor, PG, Junior

Davion Mitchell
Davion MitchellEric Gay/Associated Press

Preseason draft slot: 45

Current projection: 20

As with other guards on this list, Mitchell is best known for defense. But his offense has caught up, and his draft status has exploded. 

Along with running mate Jared Butler, Mitchell is part of arguably the best backcourt in college basketball, with Mitchell distinguishing himself for elite on-ball defense and handle. His shooting is falling into line as well. Lo and behold, we have a complete player.

Whereas last season Mitchell hit 32.4 percent from three, this season he is cruising at 49.4 percent. He leads the Big 12 in true shooting percentage (67.6), assists per game (5.8), offensive rating (128.2) and effective field-goal percentage (66.6). 

If things continue like this, it will be a fun draft-night subnarrative to see which Baylor guard goes first.

           

Stock Down: David Johnson, Louisville, PG/SG, Sophomore

David Johnson
David JohnsonGerry Broome/Associated Press

Preseason draft stock: 13

Current projection: 27

This isn't so much a function of underperformance as it is a lack of performance. Thanks to ongoing problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cardinals have only stepped under the ropes twice this February.

The two efforts Johnson put up in those contests could not have been more different.

On February 1, he scored 24 points on 9-of-20 shooting (6-of-11 from three) to key the Cardinals to a 74-58 win over Georgia Tech.

On February 20, Johnson scored six points on 3-of-13 shooting (0-of-3 from three) in a putrid 99-54 loss to North Carolina.

He was a preseason Wooden Award watch-lister, so, if given the chance, he can still put up solid numbers. But as he idles on the sidelines, his inconsistent stats are increasingly talking for him.

          

Stock Up: Sharife Cooper, Auburn, PG, Freshman

Sharife Cooper (with ball)
Sharife Cooper (with ball)Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

Preseason draft stock: 42

Current projection: 16

Cooper didn't start playing until January 9 because of eligibility issues. But he has certainly made up for lost time, averaging 20.2 points and an eye-popping 8.1 helpers per contest in 12 games for the Tigers.

Cooper is an outstanding, exciting playmaker for himself and his teammates. Despite the late start, he sits second in the SEC with 97 assists. Shooting is a soft spot, as evidenced by his rotation-worst 42.7 effective field-goal percentage and a quite bad 22.8 percent success rate from three.

It's an open question as to when or whether Cooper can continue to grow his game, or whether he'll have the creativity and raw skills to mystify pro defenders. The strides he's taking and moves he's making have made him must-see TV in the SEC, and sometimes that's half the battle.

       

Stock Down: Terrence Clarke, Kentucky, PG/SG, Freshman

Terrence Clarke (left)
Terrence Clarke (left)Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Preseason draft stock: 22 

Current projection: Unranked

College hoopheads are well aware of the Clarke narrative.

Earlier this month, an ankle injury effectively sidelined Clarke, who hadn't played since December 26, for the rest of the season.

With the draft being the fickle beast that it is, the bottom has since fallen out of his NBA stock.

Evaluating Clarke is a bit like evaluating Boston. Clarke is a 5-star athlete, but when you're only making 47.1 percent of your free throws and 22.7 percent of your threes, something isn't working. Adding insult to injury, Clarke will not have the rest of the college season to work out the kinks and log key minutes in big games.

If he's firing on all cylinders, the 6'7" freshman is formidable on both ends. But that's a big "if" for the foreseeable future.

            

All stats courtesy of the NCAA or Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Recruit ratings via 247Sports.