How much should March Madness impact NBA Draft projections

Mock drafts are being produced long before March Madness tips off. There are days of film and reams of data to guide draft projections before the high-profile tournament, but that doesn’t mean the pressurized games are overlooked.

College basketball lines attract the most interest during the March Madness frenzy. It’s when the college game takes center stage, during a relative lull in the NBA regular season, and weeks after the Super Bowl.

In 2021, we saw Davion Mitchell star in the tournament, enhancing his draft stock. Only time will tell if Mitchell was worth the ninth overall pick the Kings spent on him. In 2022, the evaluation of several players changed. The biggest name to shine in March was Paolo Banchero, who went from probable top-four selection to a potential first overall pick.

Jabari Smith, in contrast, ultimately disappointed in March. Smith, though, remains the betting favorite to be selected first overall following the Orlando Magic’s lottery win.

The amount of weighting to March Madness performances depends on the draft analysts. Just how some experts overly prioritize clutch performance, some prospect evaluators will place over-the-top significance on how players fare in the tournament. After all, it’s a chance to test themselves against the best players and teams in the country in something similar to NBA pressure.

Of course, a prospect who cannot deal with the bright lights of March Madness might crumble under the expectation of being a lottery selection. What comes with being an NBA player could prove overwhelming, and maybe the transition to the pros will not be smooth. One, two or three games in the tournament should not make an overriding judgement on a young player, though.

It’s not only a small sample. It is an environment that some might not have experienced before, and these are still extremely young athletes with a lot of development to do on and off the court. A supposed lottery pick flopping in March Madness looks bad. Yet, if they have lottery-level talent, should a tournament disappointment really harm their draft stock?

Producing against the nation’s best has to be worth something. Banchero was dominant, proving how NBA-ready his game is. Mitchell was a two-way force in the 2021 tournament, and while his offense remains a project, the defense immediately translated to the NBA. Showing your best performances in March Madness can be an indicator of how quickly a player will adapt to the pros.

Naturally, front offices will approach this question differently. Some will be lured in by the tournament showings. Others will have their big board all but locked in before college basketball’s showpiece even gets underway.

There is no clear right answer. Buying into a prospect purely off March Madness is a step too far given the small sample size, but there’s clearly a reasonable range that a player can improve or harm their draft stock during the tournament. That’s while still considering all the other factors, including teammates, lingering injury issues and opponents.

Ultimately, this should be approached on a case-by-case basis. If already unsure on a player, perhaps a March Madness masterpiece can have a meaningful impact. It also depends on what they show in the tournament. If a new skill has been exhibited, perhaps that alters their floor and ceiling in the pros. Someone just getting hot from three, in contrast, doesn’t tell us very much. 

 

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