Five players who hurt their NBA draft stock most during March Madness
March Madness is an opportunity to see how college basketball's best players perform when the lights shine brightest. Stars are made, memories created, and for some, their status as NBA prospects gets a boost as recency bias shoots them up draft boards.
For others, however, March Madness can be anticlimactic or worse, trigger concerns about their viability at the next level. With the tournament concluded, let’s look at five big names that likely wish they could go back in time a month and re-write the script.
Franz Wagner (Michigan)
Going into postseason play Frantz Wagner seemed to have a decent shot of being a lottery pick, but in a disastrous outing against UCLA, Wagner displayed all the weaknesses that may prevent him from being one.
Wagner was 1-10 from the field and 0-4 from deep, including a critical miss in the closing seconds. Wagner has a size advantage against most guards, but if he can’t be a consistent three-point shooter he might not be worthy of a top pick.
Cameron Thomas (LSU)
Cameron Thomas is an electric playmaker that has good size for a college guard, but has developed a reputation for taking bad shots. He has been a fringe lottery prospect throughout the last year, but after an early departure from the tournament Thomas is likely to fall to later in the first round as guards like Baylor’s Davion Mitchell excel and rise up draft boards.
Thomas could have used a few more tournament games to prove he can run an offense in a half-court offense efficiently. At the next level he is likely too undersized to be a shooting guard, and will need to prove he can be a smart decision-maker as a primary ball-handler.
Day’Ron Sharpe (North Carolina)
North Carolina was a short favorite in its first-round matchup against Wisconsin, but was blown off the court in a game that saw the more talented Tar Heels looking lost. Former five-star recruit Day’Ron Sharpe didn’t play a major role in either the regular season or the tournament, but is now leaving for the NBA after just one year on campus.
Averaging less than than 20 minutes per game and starting just four, Sharpe saw his draft stock decline over the course of his freshman season, and while his paper credentials make him an appealing prospect, there are enough other options out there that it will be surprising if a team takes a chance on this unproven young big man with a lottery pick.
Jalen Johnson (Duke)
Star freshman Jalen Johnson was expected to come into Duke and lead the Blue Devils as a multi-tool player able to do whatever his team needed to win. He was considered a very likely lottery pick, but Duke’s season went off the rails and Johnson opted out in mid-February to declare for the NBA Draft.
Johnson spent March Madness in the same place most of us did, watching from his couch. While others shined on the court, he missed out on the opportunity to conjure up comparisons to so many other Duke alumni in the NBA.
Johnson can’t really be faulted for the fact the Blue Devils missed the tournament, but the fact remains that Duke’s failed season has likely cost Johnson money.
Luka Garza (Iowa)
Luke Garza will be the Wooden Award winner as college basketball’s best player. He led the country in points per game, and was a steady presence for four years at the University of Iowa. Garza has good size and obviously prolific scoring ability, but he doesn’t project well at the next level due to a lack of athleticism.
With Iowa crashing out in just its second game against Oregon, further doubts about Garza’s ability to play defense against skilled scorers began creeping in. The 22-year-old pivot may not even hear his name called on draft night despite being the college basketball’s best player.