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Taking stock of NBA draft prospects after the NCAA Tournament

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We’re looking at where the best of the best stand following the tournament.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Nashville Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The tournament has come and gone, but the draft work is just beginning. We were lucky to begin the tournament stacked with so much lottery talent, only to have it rather quickly ripped away in every region. The Final Four featured a single lottery prospect and a handful of second round hopefuls. But it was still a fun ride, as unexpected as ever.

Now we’re left to decompress and see what we learned about this group of future pros. Based on their performance in the tournament, let’s take a look at whose stock went down, whose went up, and who stayed the same.


Down

Jaren Jackson Jr.

2 games: 16.5 MPG, 4 pts (2/7 FG), 6 reb, 1 blk

No other prospect moved up the draft rankings this season as steadily as JJJ. He’s one of the youngest prospects in the class and has the highest next-level ceiling as a two-way big. But anyone watching the Spartans’ two tournament appearances in a vacuum probably wondered why Jackson was even a lottery prospect at all. He barely saw the floor and was rather ineffective when he did play. Some are finding that even the best of this class are still very raw and will require patience — even a player like Jackson, who might have the highest ceiling of anyone in the class.

Michael Porter Jr.

1 game: 28 mins, 16 pts (4/12 FG), 10 reb, 3 stl

MPJ made an admirable effort to return and help the Tigers in the tournament. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do enough, so we didn’t get to see more. He’s no doubt still on the road to recovery, and it’s unclear how much of pre-injury Porter Jr. we will get and when. But, though his performance was generally poor, MPJ still put up 16 points and 10 rebounds in his 28 minutes and showed plenty of heart in his exit from college ball. His pre-draft process will be the most interesting to follow.

DeAndre Ayton

1 game: 38 mins, 14 pts (6/13 FG), 13 rebs, 1 blk

Ayton is on the fence between down and neutral. For most analysts, DeAndre Ayton entered the tournament as the sole college recruit in the same tier as international phenom Luka Doncic. That notion didn’t change much after his early first round exit. But in his lone tournament match with Buffalo, Ayton showed all the flaws that fuel doubts about his potential at the next level. He’s the most physically gifted big man in this class, but at times checks out, and he doesn’t have the defensive instincts you’d want in your future center. Still, a lot would have to change for him to get bumped down from that top two perch.

Neutral

Marvin Bagley III

4 games: 37.5 MPG, 20.5 pts (31/45 FG), 8.3 reb, 0 blocks

MB3 was cruising along, dominating early tournament opponents like he has all season. And then Duke met Kansas in the Elite Eight. It was one of the top-three games of the whole tournament, two teams trading heavyweight blows. But Bagley could not do much late, and Duke fell. Bagley is a beast on the boards and is explosive on the block. But he was also bodied all night by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, a Jayhawk wing three inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter. He didn’t handle double teams well and was quiet all night by his standards. It’s still unclear what position he falls in to at the next level and what his defensive ability will be, though there’s little doubt of his capabilities on offense.

Trae Young

1 game: 39 mins, 28 pts (9/18 FG), 5 reb, 7 ast (6 TOs)

The undersized point guard with the long range bomber did the same thing he’s done all year: put the Sooners on his back when the team needed him most. What might have surprised those who hadn’t watched him much was that he did a lot of his damage off the dribble, driving to the basket. Yes, he has a crazy three ball, but Young is probably a little underrated as a ball handler and finisher at the rim. He still has his flaws, but is one of the major risk-reward picks of this group.

Wendell Carter Jr.

4 games: 24.5 MPG, 11.5 pts (16/30 FG), 7 reb, 1 blk, 1.3 stl

There’s a grown divide between Team Bagley and Team Carter. It’s not fair or even necessary, but it’s not unexpected when two dynamic teammates share a position and are both projected top-ten picks. Carter has a versatility and basketball IQ like no other big in this class. He may not be as dynamic as some of the names above him, but he shows polish and promise in a variety of ways. His tournament was pretty quiet, though, especially when Duke needed him most against Kansas (fouled out on a questionable call late). Still, it’s easy to see Carter having a long, fruitful NBA career.

Up

Mohamed Bamba

1 game: 31 mins, 13 pts (6/11 FG), 14 reb, 4 blk

Much like the other big men at the top of the class, if you were already a Bamba fan, nothing changed in his short-lived tournament appearance. Bamba had a solid game, displaying his insane wingspan on the boards and protecting the rim. He fouled out in a close one, so who knows if Texas would have advanced had he not. Just as there are questions about Ayton’s ability defensively, the same stands for Bamba’s offensive game, where there is clear potential but a long way to go.

Mikal Bridges

6 games: 28.5 mpg, 15.5 pts (30/64 fg), 4.5 reb, 1 steal

The Villanova Wildcats moved through the competition pretty easily over the last three weeks. For Bridges, he certainly had to carry less of a scoring load than most of the others on this list, but he’s also a major reason Jay Wright’s squad was so complete. His best game of the tourney was probably his second half against Alabama the first weekend (scoring 22 points after half). The junior wing finished up his breakout season Monday night with 19 points (7-of-12, 3-of-7), four rebounds, and his second college title. It can be hard to project a player that has such a high floor, but a lower ceiling than other lottery prospects — but there’s no doubt he will impress coaches and GMs over the next two months.

Look out for Part Two later this week, where we look at the other players at the top of this class.