If March Madness is an annual barrage of busted brackets and office trash talk for fans, equally important is the final glimpse of top-tier talent it provides NBA decision-makers. Which under-the-radar player excelled under the bright lights? Which blue chipper couldn’t make a jump shot if his life depended on it? These are the questions that will be asked as the basketball world descends into the madness.
We have seen the tournament catapult players who had no business being catapulted — remember Tyrus Thomas, Marvin Williams, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves and Ed O’Bannon? — and we’ve seen it help players who otherwise may have slid in the draft (Stephen Curry). How much stock do teams put into good players who struggle in March and are perceived lose draft momentum?
“I think it’s the entire body of work,” an NBA executive told Yahoo Sports. “The tournament matters, but a lot of guys have gotten hot in March and used that steam to be drafted higher than they should have been. … But it really is the whole picture, and that includes [individual] workouts and the combine. … You look at everything.”
One former executive added: “I liked seeing how guys handled pressure. … I liked watching how the high-level bigs battled for position and how soft their touch was. What kind of footwork did they have?”
And the guards?
“The guards are controlling the game, so I would be watching to see where players picked up [defensively],” the former executive said. “How long do they stay in their stance? Do they fight through ball screens and screens off the ball? … Offensively, can they manipulate a defense? Can they find the holes and finish? … Can they break a defense down?”
Size always plays a factor when it comes to guards, and as you’d expect, evaluators have strong opinions about that as well.
“To make it as an undersized guard in our league, you have to be a great 3-point shooter,” one GM said. “Not good, but great. … You have to be really tough, too.”
Despite the difficult criteria, UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and North Carolina’s Joel Berry, a pair of undersized guards, may find spots in the NBA.
“I like Aaron. He’s a good player who can score,” one GM said. Another said: “I think Berry can make it as a third guard, but he has to shoot the ball really well.”
Trae Young is another undersized guard whose numbers have suffered down the stretch. In fact, the superstar freshman point guard is just 19-of-75 (25 percent) on 3-pointers and 47-of-141 (33 percent) from the floor in his past eight games, six of which Oklahoma has lost.
“He got tired,” the former executive said. “But he’s a really good player who could help himself [draft-wise] in the tournament.”
Of course, it’s not all skill, length, hand size and advanced metrics. Effort matters as well, because it translates to maturity and confidence. Do you maintain your effort even in the face of adversity? Do you still compete defensively? Do you make sharp cuts and winning plays? These are the types of things front offices will be looking for during the Big Dance, perhaps even more so in the marquee prospects.
“It’s easy to play defense and be a good teammate when you’re winning,” the former executive said. “I liked to watch and see what happened when things were not going well. That is a true leader to me.”
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports.
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