Five Players Whose NBA Draft Stock Improved at the NCAA Tournament
The first two weekends of the 2023 NCAA Tournament are behind us, and college basketball has never been crazier. A number of top teams failed to reach the Sweet 16 and major upsets dominated headlines. A number of top prospects for the 2023 NBA Draft have also been eliminated, giving them less chance to show off for scouts. Still, a lot of players helped themselves over the weekend.
The NCAA Tournament is a last chance for draft prospects to show what they can do against their peers before all workouts head behind the scenes. Here's a look at five players who improved their stock in the tournament's first two rounds.
Jarace Walker, Houston
Walker's stock continues to rise as he continues to display elite defensive ability. The 6-foot-7 wing had six blocks against Auburn on Sunday as Houston came back from down 10 at the half against Auburn to earn a spot in the Sweet 16. While his offense is still developing, the freshman is the best defender in this class and can fill up the box score.
In an opening round win over Northern Kentucky, he scored 16 points, grabbed six boards, had one assist and two blocks. Against Auburn he finished with seven points, 10 rebounds, two assists and six blocks. He's a huge upside play in the draft. If a team can develop his offense he has All-Star potential.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
No player has improved his stock more this season than Jackson-Davis, and his storied career came to an end Sunday night as Indiana lost to Miami. But don't blame him for his team's shortcomings, Jackson-Davis was on fire in the tournament. In an opening round win over Kent State, the senior forward finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and five blocks without committing a foul. He became the first player in NCAA Tournament history to record a 20-10-5-5 game. He followed that up against Miami by scoring 23 points, grabbing eight rebounds, blocking five shots and dishing out an assist.
Jackson-Davis has his limitations. He's a 6-foot-9 post player without a jump shot. That doesn't work in the NBA. But this season he has vastly improved his ball-handling and passing and added a ton of moves to his post arsenal. If he can add a 15-foot jumper he'd be an effective bench piece on a contender.
Jordan Hawkins, UConn
Hawkins opened both tournament games slowly for UConn before getting hot in the second half of both contests. He was scoreless in the opening 20 minutes against Iona and St. Mary's but combined to score 25 points in 26 minutes after the break in those games. He went 7-of-8 from 3-point range combined in those games as well.
Hawkins is jump shooter who can get to his shot in a number of ways. While his ball-handling and defense both need work, if he's hot he can go nuclear quickly.
Amari Bailey, UCLA
Bailey was top-five recruit but has struggled to find consistency as a freshman and had fallen out of first-round consideration. His stock got some helium after a great first weekend of the tournament. In UCLA's opener against UNC-Asheville, Bailey had 17 points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals. In Saturday's second-round win over Northwestern, he had 14 points, four rebounds, six assists and a steal. Northwestern had an excellent group of senior guards and Bailey went toe-to-toe with them.
Over his last five games, Bailey is averaging 17.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists and looking like a consistent guard. There are questions about his shooting mechanics, but there is a lot to like here. He's got excellent size and a great feel for the game, plus his ball-handling has improved. He's definitely done himself a favor so far. Given that he's a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, he'll have to consistently make shots to entice teams. He has some work to do in the Sweet 16 against Arkansas, but what he's shown so far should bolster his stock. He looked like a fringe first-rounder, and now appears solidly in the top 25.
Carson Wallace, Kentucky
While Kentucky bowed out in the second round against Kansas State, Wallace was excellent during his brief tournament run. The freshman point guard was everything the Wildcats needed him to be, scoring 21 points (on 9-of-11 shooting), grabbing nine boards, dishing out four assists and adding two steals. That made up for a pedestrian performance in an opening-round win over Providence where his shot wasn't falling (2-of-11) and he only had seven points. Still, in that game he had four rebounds, five assists, two steals and only turned the ball over once. But again K-State's tough guards, he was excellent, including going 7-for-7 in the second half.
Wallace is 6-foot-3 and profiles as a scoring point guard at the next level. His showing in the tournament likely bumped him into the top 10, though his draft position could be determined by workouts and measurements at the NBA combine. He's an outstanding defender who is developing as a playmaker and shot creator. He made a lot of strides late in the season and there's a ton of promise here.