2021 NBA Draft Prospects: March's Biggest Risers

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 30, 2021

2021 NBA Draft Prospects: March's Biggest Risers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    March Madness represents one last opportunity for NBA prospects to make an impression before the predraft process.

    It's also the final chance for scouts to make in-game observations. And with COVID-19 limiting travel this year, scouts saw some prospects live for the first time during the NCAA tournament.

    One prospect, though, is actually creating waves from outside the United States. 

    Look for the following names to be projected higher in Bleacher Report's next mock draft on Friday.

Chris Duarte (Oregon, SG, Senior)

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    Andy Nelson/Associated Press

    Chris Duarte strengthened his draft case every month.

    By February, the narrative painted the former junior college Player of the Year as a potential first-round pick. We're now officially projecting a top-30 prospect after his 21 points, six assists and three steals during Oregon's Sweet 16 loss to USC.

    The initial three-and-D label earlier in the season suddenly feels limiting. While Duarte will finish the year at 42.4 percent from three and with 1.9 steals per game, he flashed enough creation skill and advanced shot-making for scouts to detect scoring and playmaking potential.

    Duarte shot 44-of-99 on dribble jumpers and 43.9 percent out of isolation, demonstrating patience and sharp footwork separating into pull-ups and step-backs. He's tough playing through contact downhill and finished 62.7 percent of his attempts around the basket. 

    Even if the on-ball scoring doesn't fully translate, he shot 50.0 percent on spot-up jumpers and 45.2 percent off screens. And at 6'6" with solid defensive instincts, he doesn't generate concern about his ability to guard. 

    Age is the most discussed drawback to Duarte, who'll turn 24 in June before the draft. But there are bound to be win-now teams in the 20s that see an immediate contributor and value pick on a rookie contract.

Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers, PG/SG, 2002)

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    Not all risers in March have used the NCAA tournament to strengthen their draft case. Josh Giddey has improved his stock from overseas as he seemed to have turned a corner with his shooting before suffering a recent ankle injury.

    He's averaging 14.4 points, 9.8 assists and 7.4 rebounds this month. But making nine threes in five games (plus more mid-range shooting) is helping him answer scouts' questions about his jump shot. He'll need one to score in the NBA given his lack of strength and explosiveness. He doesn't elevate high off the ground on his release, but he also doesn't need to at 6'8" while often matched up against guards.

    Otherwise, Giddey continues to show off his unique creativity and passing IQ for an oversized ball-handler. His change of speed and direction throws defenders off, and he makes simple, smart reads while facilitating over the top.

    For an 18-year-old in a physical NBL, he's demonstrated a convincing comfort level running offense while handling himself admirably on defense. Scouts are now starting to look at Giddey as the draft's top international prospect and a potential target in the late-lottery range. 

Quentin Grimes (Houston, SG, Junior)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Interest in Quentin Grimes is starting to build back up. It faded after a rough start at Kansas, but two years later, he now has Houston in the Final Four while averaging 18.0 points in the NCAA tournament.

    He's hit at least four threes in seven consecutive games, giving him more makes this season than he hit as a freshman and sophomore combined. The former McDonald's All-American was known as a jack-of-all-trades without a signature strength to start college, but his shot-making development has propelled him back into the draft discussion. 

    Houston has also used him in 76 pick-and-roll possessions, and he's been a weapon in them (88th percentile) due to his pull-up game. 

    A lack of creativity, playmaking and athleticism likely limits him to mostly second-round looks. But the shooting versatility, rebounding and defensive tools could be enough for Grimes to stick in the right supporting role. 

Tre Mann (Florida, PG/SG, Sophomore)

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    Matt Stamey/Associated Press

    Tre Mann began to improve his standing among scouts earlier in the year. But March wound up being his most convincing month of the season as he averaged 21.2 points on 55.2 percent shooting through five games.

    He's been persuasive with his ball-handling creativity and shooting off the dribble, including pull-ups (40.2 percent) and floaters (46.5 percent). He easily gets to his spots using change of speed and direction, and he has the size (6'5"), shiftiness and touch for on-ball scoring at the next level. 

    While shot-making represents Mann's signature strength and eventual money-maker, he's made some acrobatic finishes, timely transition passes and good reads passing off penetration over the past few weeks. And he's consistently been a plus rebounder at the position, averaging 5.6 boards for the season. 

    There is some hesitation about calling Mann a lead point guard at the next level as he's more decisive and advanced as a scorer than playmaker. But teammates shot 57.0 percent off his ball-screen passes (87th percentile pick-and-roll ball-handling passer), and he's developed into a complete enough player to overlook questions about his label or projected role.

Miles McBride (West Virginia, PG, Sophomore)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Miles McBride's 30-point explosion to open the NCAA tournament caught the attention of NBA scouts. Some had arrived in Indianapolis with him on their watch lists, so he'll benefit from the timing of his outburst.

    He unleashed his signature pull-up game against Morehead State, creating separation by rising abruptly into balanced jumpers. McBride finished the season as one of the most productive pull-up shooters among draft prospects with 54 makes in 29 games. 

    The Morehead State game should have helped scouts better picture a two-way spark who's capable of catching fire as a shot-maker and applying pressure with transition offense and pesky defense. 

    But in March, he also strengthened his reputation as a playmaker and lead guard, averaging 6.0 assists in six games. McBride's speed with the ball and low turnover rate (career 11.6 turnover percentage) remain promising signs for his ability to run offense and work as a setup man at the next level. 

    His 43.7 two-point percentage does raise some questions, particularly given his slender 6'2" frame. However, between his on- and off-ball shooting (46.2 percent catch-and-shoot), improving passing and 3.1 percent steal rate, there is enough going for him to warrant first-round consideration. 

Davion Mitchell (Baylor, PG, Junior)

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Scouts had already started labeling Davion Mitchell as the draft's top perimeter defender before the Big 12 tournament. Over the past month, he's raised their confidence level in his offense and eased their worries about his age (22). 

    His shooting and comfort level off the ball (92nd percentile on spot-ups) have been on display all season. He's helped himself in March with more flashes of blow-by burst and shot creation around the perimeter by using his pull-up and step-back jumper.

    Given his ability to explode off hesitation and a strong frame that absorbs contact, it's become easy to picture him continuing to put pressure on NBA defenses as a driver. And he's hitting 42.0 percent of his dribble jumpers, creating a pick-your-poison situation for defenders.

    He also happens to be one of the rare guard prospects NBA teams can immediately expect to add defensive value with his pressure and toughness. 

    We've had Mitchell going top-20 since February. But after his play during Baylor's Final Four run, it wouldn't be shocking to see him move further up and into the lottery.

Austin Reaves (Oklahoma, SG, Senior)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Off the NBA radar entering the season, Austin Reaves began to gain steam and attention around January. Since then, he's converted the attention to interest, especially after his 27 points against Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament.

    He executed a handful of high-level finishes and tough dribble jumpers. Though somewhat old-school with a preference to score in the second level, Reaves happens to excel in that mid-range area, finishing the season shooting 47.8 percent on two-point jump shots.

    Limited athleticism and a 30.5 percent three-ball have been the main concerns for the 22-year-old. He's also spent little time off the ball.

    But between his pull-up game (49 makes in 25 games) and 86.5 free-throw percentage, he clearly has touch for NBA shooting coaches to work with. And despite lacking speed and bounce, he's proved he can create with crafty dribble moves and change of speed, and he's capable of pulling off tricky layups and floaters to compensate for his lack of explosiveness. 

    Scouts and agents seem to be taking Reaves more seriously after the conference and NCAA tournaments. 


    All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Sports Reference and Synergy Sports.