The Whiteboard: NBA Draft prospects who have impressed during March Madness

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images /

The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.

The NCAA Tournament shouldn’t factor into evaluations of draft prospects more than what each player has done across the rest of their season. But we all know the bright lights of March Madness have a way of inflating or deflating the stock of the next crop of NBA rookies.

A strong performance in the NCAA Tournament can leave NBA decision-makers with a positive last impression against real competition and help build momentum heading into pre-draft workouts and the NBA Draft Combine.

Which NBA Draft prospects have been the most impressive so far in March Madness?

5. Mark Williams, Center, Duke and Christian Koloko, Center, Arizona

There are several athletic, rim-running, shot-blocking bigs available in this class and both Williams and Koloko fit that mold. Mock drafts and big boards differ but both players could be first-round picks with Williams possibly pushing for the lottery (he went No. 21 to the Bulls in our last mock). for players in this role, you’d like to see them be able to leverage their athletic advantages against the sometimes smaller, slower bigs they’ll see in early tournament matchups, which is exactly what Williams and Koloko have done.

In two games (against Cal. State Fullerton and Michigan State), Williams has totaled 30 points, 15 rebounds, 10 blocks, 5 assists and 3 steals, shooting 13-of-16 from the field. His ability to make passing reads out of the post and off the short roll are extremely important to unlocking his ceiling and so seeing 5 assists, even if they all came against Cal. State, is encouraging. In his two games, Koloko has piled up 45 points, 25 rebounds, 8 assists and 8 blocks, shooting 19-of-23 from the field.

They may never be All-Stars but both players look ready to block shots, finish plays around the rim and make a difference around the glass.

4. Jaden Ivey, Guard, Purdue

Jaden Ivey’s initial appeal as a prospect is all about his power and explosiveness as a guard and he’s certainly reinforced that in his first two games of the tournament. No one on either Yale or Texas has been able to keep him out of the lane and he’s put up a total of 40 points and 18 free-throw attempts so far.

The questions about Ivey are what else he’ll be able to provide besides dribble penetration and scoring. A total of seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in two games isn’t going to answer any of those questions but Ivey has hit 5-of-10 from beyond the arc including some impressive pull-ups.

Ivey has hit just 36.4 percent of his 3-pointers on the season but if he’s consistently hitting off the dribble it’s a lot easier to imagine him as a viable primary creator and scorer at the next level.

3. Chet Holmgren, Big, Gonzaga

Holmgren’s stock can’t get much higher, he’s almost certainly going to be one of the top three picks no matter what happens in the tournament. But these first two games have been a perfect reminder of just how versatile he is and how impactful he can be even when he’s struggling in one area. Holmgren dominated Gonzaga’s first matchup, putting up 19 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and blocking pretty much everything in sight.

The physicality and strength of Jalen Duren gave him some problems in the second matchup and he missed all three of his 3-pointers but he still finished with 9 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 4 blocks. Even when he’s knocked off his rhythm offensively, he can still be a disruptive monster on defense with his length, quickness and awareness.

2. Paolo Banchero

Like Holmgren, Banchero is unlikely to fall out of the top four or five picks, even if he had struggled in the tournament or Duke had made an early exit. But Banchero hasn’t struggled at all, putting up 36 points, 17 rebounds and 8 assists in three games, shooting 15-of-28 from the field and 4-of-9 from beyond the arc so far.

It would be nice to see Banchero getting a bit more around the basket — he’s attempted just 10 shots in the paint and just four free throws across two games. But he repeatedly went to the basket in the second half when they were struggling with Michigan State and being able to consistently hit outside jumpers and make plays from the elbows will be a much bigger factor in him reaching his star potential. He has certainly looked the part of a star so far.

1. Bennedict Mathurin, Wing, Arizona

Mathurin has been the star of the tournament so far, putting up 18 points against Wright State in the first round and then 30 in Arizona’s overtime win over TCU. A hyper-athletic wing with a smooth jumper, Mathurin was already a likely lottery pick and went No. 6 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in our last mock draft. He’s already made highlights with his explosive leaping ability …

… and his fearlessness as a jumpershooter.

From an efficiency standpoint, Mathurin’s numbers haven’t been quite as impressive as his raw scoring totals. He’s shooting just 40.5 percent from the field across the two tournament games, and 7-of-21 from beyond the arc. But he’s doing work as a creator and got himself to the line 13 times against TCU. That may not be indicative of his likely ceiling and role at the next level (where he may be more of a supercharged 3-and-D wing than a secondary creator) but it could be enough to move his draft position up a slot or two.

SUBSCRIBE. Get The Whiteboard delivered daily to your email inbox. light

Other NBA stories:

Dejounte Murray has been having a career season and his budding pick-and-roll chemistry with Jakob Poeltl is a big reason why.

Chet Holmgren is one of the most talented and unique NBA Draft prospects we’ve seen in years. Where would he fit best?

Looking for more good stuff to read? Sign-up for email newsletter service The Sample. You set your interests (sports, politics, science and more) and every day they’ll send you one edition of a new email newsletter to try. If you like it, subscribe with a single click. If you don’t, delete and you’ll never see that one again. Best of all, for every person who tries the sample through the referral link above, The Sample will help a new subscriber find their way to The Whiteboard.