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7 players who improved their NBA draft stock in the NCAA tournament

Krysten Peek
·7-min read

Each NCAA tournament, we see a few players rise up draft boards while playing on the biggest stage in college basketball. Players like Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver and Virginia’s De'Andre Hunter elevated their draft stock in 2019 after both teams made a Final Four run. Hunter was drafted No. 4 overall and now plays for the Atlanta Hawks, and Culver went No. 6 and plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“The NCAA tournament is a great test for some of these guys,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “The turnaround for the early games is similar to the NBA, so it’s nice to see who rises to the occasion and plays well under pressure.”

There have been some ridiculous upsets this year and a few players have stepped up big, catching the eye of NBA scouts. Here are seven players who have elevated their draft stock in this year’s NCAA tournament.

Davion Mitchell, Baylor

Junior
Ht./Wt: 6-2, 205
14 ppg, 5.3 apg

Mitchell went from a projected late first-round draft pick early in the season to a potential lottery pick after what he’s done for Baylor in the tournament. He is the best on-ball defender in the country and gave all sorts of trouble to both the Villanova and Arkansas backcourt. Scott Drew told reporters before the Arkansas game that Mitchell’s nickname is “off-night” because “every player that goes against him is going to have an off-night on the court.” Some have said Mitchell is the most indispensable player in the NCAA tournament and is the motor to a tough Baylor team that is making its first Final Four appearance since 1950.

Mitchell is averaging 13.5 points, 4.8 assists and two steals per game in the tournament so far. Mitchell has great speed in the open court, can knock down 3-pointers (he had seven in a win over Kansas State this season) and has shown leadership playing on and off the ball on offense. He also wears No. 45. Sound like another Mitchell we all know?

“His upside in the league is definitely a Donovan Mitchell-type of player who plays way better defense,” one NBA scout said after seeing Davion Mitchell play the last three games.

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Chris Duarte, Oregon

Senior
Ht./Wt: 6-6, 190
17.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.7 apg

Oregon didn’t get a chance to play in the first round due to COVID-19 issues on the VCU team. In the two games Oregon did play, Duarte was incredible. He had 23 points in a win over No. 2 Iowa and 21 points in the loss to USC. What was most impressive about Duarte was his playmaking ability, dishing out 13 assists in two games.

“I’m just trusting my teammates and they’re trusting me in making good plays for them. They do a great job shooting the ball so well,” Duarte said after the Iowa win.

Duarte’s game will translate well to the NBA. He has great length at 6-foot-6 and he can handle the ball well, averaging only 2.3 turnovers a game this year. Duarte has the quickness to defend all three positions on the perimeter and even had three steals in his last game against USC. In an NBA draft filled with young, one-and-done talent, Duarte is a safer pick because of his experience at the college level. He’s a player NBA teams can plug in right away at the next level and could end up being a great pickup in the first round.

Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse

Junior
Ht./Wt: 6-6, 195
17.8 ppg, 2.6 apg

The NBA is a shooter’s league and Boeheim can shoot. He had 13 3-pointers in the first two games of the tournament and shot 58% from 3-point range in the first two rounds. His streak went cold when Syracuse faced a tough defensive Houston team and he shot 1-for-9 from deep. Boeheim made 77 3-pointers this season and shot 38% from deep.

“I have a chip on my shoulder every day,” Boeheim said after the West Virginia win. “Coming into the tournament, no matter what happens, I’m going to keep playing. Once I got hot I was letting my teammates know, ‘I’m here now. Let’s get this going.'”

Boeheim went from appearing on zero mock drafts during the season to now getting second-round looks from NBA teams.

Syracuse's Buddy Boeheim drives with the ball against West Virginia's Emmitt Matthews Jr. in a second-round game of the 2021 NCAA men's tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Syracuse's Buddy Boeheim drives with the ball against West Virginia's Emmitt Matthews Jr. in a second-round game of the 2021 NCAA men's tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Quentin Grimes, Houston

Junior
Ht./Wt: 6-5, 205
18 ppg, 5.8 rpg

Grimes was a five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school so he’s been on NBA scouts' radar for a few years. He originally committed to Kansas and spent his freshman season in Lawrence before transferring to Houston. Grimes looks more confident on the court and isn’t second-guessing his shot selection. He’s averaging 18 points, 4.8 rebounds and three assists in the tournament so far. Grimes is the glue to this Houston offense and is commanding second looks from NBA scouts that might have written him off when he transferred to Houston two years ago.

Johnny Juzang, UCLA

Sophomore
Ht./Wt: 6-6, 210
15.5 ppg, 4 rpg

UCLA punched a ticket to the Final Four thanks to the incredible shooting of Juzang, who finished with 28 points (11-for-19) against Michigan. Juzang is a Southern California native but played his freshman year at Kentucky before transferring back home to UCLA. He was a little bit of a streaky shooter at the beginning of the year, but he has found his stride late in the season, averaging 20 points per game in postseason play. His change of speed is what gives opponents the biggest issue. Juzang ranks in the 95th percentile in shots made when cutting, averaging 1.6 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. Whether Juzang comes out this year and tests the NBA waters or returns to UCLA next year, he’s definitely on NBA scouts' radar after this tournament run.

Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

Sophomore
Ht./Wt: 6-1, 165
24.5 ppg, 3.8 apg

Abmas was the leading scorer in all of college basketball this year, putting up 20 or more points in 20 games this season. He is the first player with three 25-point games for a double digit-seeded team since Stephen Curry in 2008. If that’s not impressive enough, Abmas is only the fourth player to score 25 or more points in three consecutive NCAA tournament games since 1985. He has such great speed and body control in the lane, it’s hard to defend his shot. As a playmaker, he’s just as deadly. Abmas has dished out seven or more assists in five games this season and is only averaging 2.3 turnovers per game as the primary ball handler.

Jaden Ivey, Purdue

Freshman
Ht./Wt: 6-4, 200
11.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg

Ivey might have only played in one tournament game, but it was enough to get the attention of every scout that was in Lucas Oil Stadium. Ivey is the son of Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Niele Ivey, who was previously an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies. The 6-foot-4 guard scored 26 points in the overtime loss to North Texas. It was the most points scored in the NCAA tournament by any Big Ten freshman. Ivey might test the NBA waters this year. If he returns to Purdue and continues to build on what scouts saw at the end of the season, Ivey could be a lottery pick next year.

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