NBA PM: How March Madness Affects Draft
The 2013 NCAA Tournament hasn’t been kind to top draft prospects. Many of the players who will hear their name called early in June’s draft have either been eliminated or been underwhelming during March Madness.
Marcus Smart, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett and Otto Porter were expected to be some of the stars of this tournament, but each played just one game after being upset in the opening round.
Smart struggled in No. 5 Oklahoma State’s upset loss to No. 12 Oregon, finishing with just 14 points on 5-13 shooting as well as five turnovers. Late in the game, Smart’s teammates were going away from him and trying to find offense elsewhere. The freshman guard carried the team for much of the season, but he couldn’t put points on the board in what will likely be the final game of his college career.
Muhammad had 20 points in No. 6 UCLA’s loss to No. 11 Minnesota, but that stat isn’t indicative of his performance. He was incredibly inefficient, shooting 6-18 from the field including 0-6 from three-point range. Muhammad went 0-7 in the first half and had most of his points once the game was decided.
Bennett couldn’t find a rhythm in No. 5 UNLV’s loss to No. 12 California, finishing with 15 points on 4-11 shooting from the field. He struggled early in the game and was very inconsistent. While he came on late for the Rebels, it was too little too late.
Porter could’ve really helped himself with an impressive tournament, but Georgetown became just the seventh No. 2 seed in history to lose during the opening round. Florida Gulf Coast, a No. 15 seed, made things very difficult for Porter and he had his worst shooting game of the season. He finished with just 13 points on 5-17 shooting from the field. While he grabbed 11 rebounds in the game, Porter was underwhelming offensively and couldn’t lead the Hoyas to victory over much lesser competition.
The top prospects that did advance to the second round, particularly Ben McLemore and Cody Zeller, haven’t been very impressive. They can still showcase their abilities because Kansas and Indiana are still playing, but thus far they’ve left a lot to be desired.
McLemore hasn’t been a difference maker during the tournament. The freshman shooting guard had just 11 points in Kansas’ opening win over Western Kentucky. In the second round against North Carolina, he had just two points on 0-9 shooting from the field including six missed three-pointers. Kansas advanced to the Sweet 16, but only because McLemore was bailed out by Jeff Withey (16 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks), Travis Releford (22 points, eight rebounds and three steals) and Kevin Young (10 points and nine rebounds). McLemore has been the tournament’s most disappointing player.
Zeller wasn’t terrible in Indiana’s first two games, but he wasn’t great either. In the Hoosiers’ opening round win over James Madison, Zeller had 11 points, four rebounds and four turnovers. Against Temple, he had 15 points, six rebounds and six turnovers. Victor Oladipo has arguably been the more impressive player for Indiana through two games. Zeller didn’t struggle quite like some of the players previously mentioned, but he hasn’t made his presence felt like a probable top five pick should in the tournament.
Even though these top prospects didn’t shine as expected, don’t expect their draft stock to take a significant hit. Several executives and scouts speaking to HOOPSWORLD on the condition of anonymity all said that a poor performance in the tournament rarely hurts a player’s draft stock.
There’s no question that a strong showing in the tournament can help a player climb draft boards. Dwyane Wade, Tyrus Thomas, Stephen Curry, Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker are perfect examples of what a terrific March can do for a prospect. However, teams generally don’t let one or two bad tournament games sway their opinion of a player.
“The tournament can definitely help you, but it doesn’t hurt you,” said one talent evaluator.
When teams are evaluating a player, they’re looking at that individual’s high school career, college career, combine results, interview grade and individual workout performance among other things. While poor play during the tournament does open a player to criticism and force that prospect to explain their postseason struggles during interviews, it’s just a small sliver of their body of work.
A Western Conference executive said that teams love when a player shines in March because it shows he can play “on the biggest stage versus the ‘best’ competition” and ultimately teams want to “be able to envision him doing the same in our league.” However, if a player struggles, it’s not the end of the world. Top prospects still have plenty of game film that shows what they can do and the player can still win teams over with impressive individual workouts.
One scout said that the only ways for a prospect to hurt their draft stock in the tournament is if the player struggles with the speed of the game or doesn’t seem to be playing with full effort. NBA teams will certainly take notice to those things. During March Madness, talent evaluators want to see players giving maximum effort and energy, particularly at the end of games. If a player isn’t going all out during tournament games – some of the biggest games of their life – that’s obviously a concern. That means the prospect may have a questionable motor and lack the passion and heart NBA teams want to see.
The scout, speaking about McLemore, Smart, Muhammad and Bennett specifically, said that it’s common for freshman to struggle in the tournament. Not only is it a bigger stage and stiffer competition than they’re used to, it’s also usually the largest arena they’ve ever played in so depth perception becomes an issue when shooting the ball. That could explain why the four freshmen combined to shoot 17 -56 from the field and 0-17 from three-point range. It also explains why some of the tournament’s top performers in recent years – Curry, Fredette, Walker, etc. – have been upperclassmen who had been to the big dance before.
Several executives and scouts pointed out another reason why the top players won’t slip on draft night despite lackluster tournament games: This is a very weak draft class. Who is going to leapfrog players like McLemore, Smart, Zeller, Muhammad, Bennett and Porter? Nerlens Noel may have solidified himself as the top overall pick since nobody has stepped up and stolen the spotlight and Victor Oladipo has certainly helped himself, but otherwise there isn’t much competition at the top of the draft.
At the end of the day, tournament struggles aren’t likely to affect the top prospects’ draft stock, especially if they perform well in other aspects of the pre-draft process. March Madness is just one part of the evaluation process, which is good news for players like McLemore, Smart, Zeller, Muhammad, Bennett and Porter.
Rashard Lewis Loving Life in Miami
When Rashard Lewis decided to sign with the Miami HEAT back in July, he had one thing in mind and that was winning a championship. Throughout the course of his 14-year career, he had accomplished a lot. He had plenty of individual success – signing a max contract and making an All-Star appearance – but he didn’t have an NBA title on his resume. The closest he came was making a Finals appearance with the Orlando Magic back in 2009, but then he was traded and spent the last two seasons on the rebuilding Washington Wizards. Lewis wanted to win again so he turned down larger offers to sign with Miami.
Now, eight months later, winning has come easily for the HEAT and it certainly seems like the 33-year-old made the right choice in free agency. Miami has strung together the second-longest winning streak in NBA history with 27 consecutive victories and Lewis couldn’t be happier in South Beach.
“It’s been great,” Lewis told HOOPSWORLD. “It’s been a fun season. We have a lot of veterans on this team and we have one goal in mind, and that’s to win the NBA championship. I have great teammates in LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh. They’re by far some of the best teammates I’ve ever had and it’s a great, first class organization. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Lewis has enjoyed being on such a star-studded team. He pointed out that he hasn’t been scrutinized at all this year, which is a welcome relief. Earlier in his career, he was often criticized, particularly after he signed a max contract and became one of the highest-paid players in the league. Now, he can be a role player that’s surrounded by superstars and compete for a title in peace.
“We’re real good, especially when chemistry is flowing,” Lewis said. “You’ve got obviously one of the best players in the game today in LeBron James as well as his side-comrade D-Wade as well as Chris Bosh. Then you’ve got a Hall of Famer that comes off of the bench and shoots threes in Ray Allen. And the chemistry is there. … It almost makes us unstoppable if we can go out there and play the right way.
“Obviously, we have a lot of talent. I think this is the most veteran team I’ve ever been on in my career. We have a lot of guys who know how to play the game of basketball and make the right plays. We all play the game to win, we don’t play for stats. Like I said, it’s a lot of fun, just like the time I played in Orlando when we made that great run for four years and made the Finals. When you have fun off of the court, it makes that much more fun when you’re playing on the court.”
Lewis would’ve had a bigger role had he signed with another team, but at this point in his career he’s fine with being a role player on the best team in the league. On some nights, he doesn’t play. On other nights, such as last night against Orlando, he plays as many as 15 minutes and contributes 11 points off of the bench. Lewis, like everyone in Miami’s locker room, is willing to make individual sacrifices for the good of the team.
“Coach is always talking about sacrifice,” Lewis said. “There are a lot of veteran guys on this team that could go start on other teams and get a lot of minutes. Some of the guys who aren’t playing could go get minutes elsewhere, but the main goal and focus is to win a championship. We don’t care too much about stats and minutes and playing time and being highlighted. Our main focus is winning a championship, getting that trophy and trying to make history. I think we’re doing a good job at it right now.”
When discussing the winning streak, Lewis says the same thing as his teammates. Miami didn’t set out the make history with the second-longest streak of all-time, it just sort of happened. Even now, it’s not something the team talks about, except when reporters bring up the subject.
“It’s not something we thought we’d be doing right now,” Lewis said. “We’re just trying to get better each month. When we started the season back in October and then in November, we got off to kind of a slow start. We just wanted to get better each month and, going into the playoffs, it seems like we finally hit that stride and have been playing well. We don’t even talk about the streak. We just talk about our next opponent, go out there, try to take care of business and get better going into the playoffs. The streak just happened to happened.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time. We know it’s getting close to playoff time, in the next month, so we’re trying to improve every night out. By trying to improve every night out, we’re going out and trying to win every game. It just so happens that we haven’t lost in a game in awhile. But our main focus is improving and getting ourselves ready for the playoffs and fortunately we’ve put this streak together.”
When asked if he’d want to finish his career in Miami, Lewis gives an honest answer.
“If we keep winning, yeah,” Lewis said with a laugh. “I don’t know. When you’re toward the end of your career, it’s kind of by a year-to-year basis. I signed a two-year deal so I’ll be here again next year and then after that, who knows what’s in store for me.”
Lewis isn’t thinking that far ahead. For now, all he’s focused on is winning a championship and given Miami’s recent success, his prospects of adding a ring to his trophy case are looking pretty good.
March Madness Coverage
Make sure you’re up to speed on all of the top NCAA teams and players by checking out HOOPSWORLD’s March Madness content.
We have previewed every single game and you can find all of the previews here. They have in-depth stats, players to watch and a poll so that you can vote on which team will win. Once it tips off, feel free to discuss the game in the comment section.
Are you an NBA fan who only watches the NCAA Tournament to get a look at this year’s draft prospects? Here is a look at 20 players to watch during March Madness.
We will continue to push out NCAA Tournament coverage over the next few weeks so be sure to check back regularly.