2014 NBA Draft Prospects Who Boosted Stock During NCAA Tournament
The platform of March Madness is an opportunity for NBA draft hopefuls to boost their stock, and a handful of 2014 prospects did just that during the NCAA tournament.
College hoops' playoffs are a chance for players to showcase their skills in pressure-packed situations against the country's top athletes. There's something about the intensity of the Big Dance that brings out the best in a select few prospects.
Key members of Final Four squads upped their draft value, but some players proved that you don't have to make a deep run to make a big impression. All it takes is a strong performance against the right opponent.
Which 2014 draft prospects boosted their stock during the coast-to-coast craziness?
Article includes potential 2014 draft picks, and it excludes players who will return to school or are projected to be drafted in future drafts.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky G (6'6" Freshman)
Fox Sports Radio host Ben Maller half-joked that Kentucky's Aaron Harrison has made more clutch shots in this NCAA tournament than LeBron James did in his first seven NBA seasons.
He's not far from the truth.
Three straight game-winning shots and a trip to the national title game turned a lot of heads for the 6'6" freshman, and after a rocky regular season, he's back in the 2014 draft discussion.
He transferred the momentum from a strong SEC tournament to the national tournament, scoring 15-plus in each of Kentucky's first three Big Dance contests. While his stats came back to earth in the Elite Eight and Final Four, he continued to supply clutch shooting and solid defense for the 'Cats.
Although he's not yet ready to be an efficient cog on an NBA squad, we've seen glimpses of NBA-type polish. Euro-step moves, layups with either hand and smooth shooting indicate a bright future, even if he doesn't become a star.
Andrew Harrison, Kentucky G (6'6" Freshman)
His brother hit the big shots and grabbed the headlines, but assisting Aaron on most of those plays was Andrew Harrison.
As the quarterback of Kentucky's exhilarating run to the Final Four, Harrison exhibited his ability to break down opponents and score or facilitate. His regular season was wildly inconsistent, and he's still turnover-prone, but his postseason reminded us why he was highly praised entering college.
His size, speed and ball-handling ability allow him to go around and through most backcourt opponents. When he gets momentum toward the rim, he can score off the glass or wrap a pass around converging defenders.
Harrison still has a bunch to learn when it comes to running a team, but the tournament has given scouts a little more to think about. His stock didn't skyrocket, but one scout told SNY.tv's Adam Zagoria that Harrison should go "first round, 25-30."
Jordan Adams, UCLA SG (6'5" Sophomore)
Jordan Adams didn't enhance his draft stock by doing anything spectacular. Rather, he did a lot of little things really well, and he delivered solid all-around performances in each of UCLA's three tournament tilts.
He made only four three-pointers during the trio of games, but he still made a huge impact every night. Adams averaged 19.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals during the Bruins' Sweet 16 run, substantiating the notion that he can do a lot more than shoot triples.
The 6'5" sophomore has fluctuated on mock drafts and big boards all year, ranging from the late first round all the way to the late second round. His superb play in March may be enough to scoot him up to the first round.
It seems like he's confident in his stock, as Neal Nieves of 247sports.com recently reported Adams will "test NBA waters" in the 2014 draft.
He could go as high as the low 20s, and if he falls to the high 30s, the team that picks him should consider it a steal.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut G (6'1" Senior)
In scoring 19 or more in five of UConn's six tournament games and leading his Huskies back to the promised land, Shabazz Napier gave himself a nice draft boost to finish his college career.
The Most Outstanding Player of the 2014 NCAA tournament probably won't be outstanding in the NBA, but he demonstrated the playmaking ingenuity, shot-making ability and intensity that coaches love to have on their rosters.
As ESPN's Dick Vitale said, "His skills (and) toughness will make him a solid pro."
Napier stands 6'1" and doesn't possess incredible athleticism, so he will need to use every ounce of craftiness, skill and toughness he possesses in order to earn substantial minutes at the next level.
If you haven't bought into him as a high-level NBA backup point guard yet, I don't know which Shabazz Napier you've been watching. He can do so many things with the ball, and he has the shooting range to compete against anyone.
Adreian Payne, Michigan State PF (6'10" Senior)
If there were any doubts about Adreian Payne's stretch 4 potential at the next level, he erased them during the NCAA tournament.
He shot the ball confidently in all four of Michigan State's tourney contests, leading to a solid 10-of-23 mark (44 percent) from the three-point line. In addition, he showcased his athleticism and court awareness while helping the Spartans make a deep run in the East Region.
One NBA scout talked to Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv about how Payne's versatility in March buoyed his draft stock: "He is outstanding, plays both ends. Long, runs, plays inside-out. Move him to middle first."
He's not going to torch anyone in the paint with immense power or advanced post moves, but he has enough finishing ability and physical tools to compete with NBA power forwards. Factor in his mid-range turnaround and transition skills, and you're getting great value in the mid to late first round.
DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut PF (6'9" Junior)
DeAndre Daniels' inside-out productivity was an invaluable factor in UConn's championship run, and it also demonstrated his considerable NBA value.
With a 7'0.5" wingspan and ample athleticism, he's been able to corral rebounds, thrive in transition and finish emphatically throughout the tournament. In addition, he served as a terrific weapon in pick-and-pop scenarios, drilling triples over the course of the tourney.
He didn't have a big night in the title game, but his body of work for the past three weeks has been phenomenal.
He's always had high potential, but it wasn't until the tournament that we got to see big doses of it. Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg explains:
Whether Daniels had the talent to be an impact player for UConn was never an issue. From the moment he set foot on campus, he had the size of a power forward and the quickness, outside shooting and ball handling of a wing. The question was whether Daniels would ever be able to harness those skills sufficiently to become a reliable threat.
After seeing his foot speed, scoring instincts and shooting ability in March, plenty of NBA general managers would love to add him to their roster. It's clear that he has first-round talent.
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State F (6'8" Senior)
Not many players can significantly change their draft position in a two-game span, but that's pretty much what happened for Wichita State's Cleanthony Early.
We saw him contribute to the Shockers' Final Four run last season but weren't completely convinced he had the skills to hang with top-tier athletes.
He didn't move the needle much while dominating the mid-major scene this winter, but against Kentucky in the NCAA round of 32, he turned a lot of heads.
Early's squad fell to the Wildcats, but he shined against one of the country's most physically imposing teams. He scored in transition, shot 4-of-6 from three-point range and finished with a blend of strength and finesse around the rim.
He recently spoke to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders about what he needed to do to earn NBA love, saying, "I just believed that I had to get so good that they can’t ignore you, you know what I mean?"
Mission accomplished. The eye test and numbers showed that he has a future in the Association.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR