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March 31, 2009
Stock Watching
The Impact of March Madness

by Bradford Doolittle


Stephen Curry of little-known and little-seen Davidson burst upon the national scene last March with a 40-point performance in a first-round upset of Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament. He followed that with great outings in upsets over Georgetown and Wisconsin before Davidson was finally eliminated by eventual national champion Kansas.

As we all know, Curry's star-making turn sent his draft stock through the ceiling. He entered the tournament pretty much as a non-factor in mock drafts, despite his strong under-the-radar numbers through the season. DraftExpress.com didn't have Curry on its board entering last year's tournament, but had him as a late lottery pick by the time his run was finished. Still firing away at the college level, Curry is now considered a likely top-ten pick when he decides to turn pro.

It's probable that Curry's excellence would have caught the attention of NBA scouts sooner or later, but there is little doubt that his performance in the NCAA tournament put him on the map. However, tournament excellence is not a sure path to NBA riches. Consider Miami Heat rookie Mario Chalmers, who made the game-tying shot that led to Kansas' national title last season and who was named as the Most Outstanding Player of the 2008 NCAA tournament. DraftExpress.com had Chalmers slotted at 25th overall when last season began. Even after his tournament heroics, the mock drafts still had Chalmers at 25. As it turned out, Chalmers would have been thrilled to go that high--he ultimately slid down to becoming the fourth pick of the second round.

What do these anecdotes tell us about the effect of tournament performance on a player's draft stock? Not much, really. In fact, if you look at the players from the last two All-Tournament teams, consider their pre-tournament standing at DraftExpress.com and where they ultimately went in the draft, it seems clear that teams aren't easily swayed by a shiny tournament performance.

  • Joakim Noah: Noah is an interesting case; he made All-Tournament team in 2006 when the Gators won their first national title, but not in 2007, when they won their second. Nevertheless, playing a key role in back-to-back national champions could have only helped Noah's draft stock. His mock draft standing vacillated from third in February 2007, up to seventh in late June; he was actually selected ninth. Noah's play in the tournament appears to have had little effect on his draft stock. In fact, even though he contributed to so much success at the college level, you could argue that the lack of offensive polish that was on full display before so many millions of viewers may have greased his minor slide on draft day.

  • Corey Brewer: Brewer was All-Tournament on both versions of the Gators' national championship squads. In 2007, the year he was drafted, he went into the NCAA Tournament projected as the tenth or 11th pick, but by the time Florida was polishing off Ohio State for a national title, he'd risen to the seventh slot, and come draft day, he was indeed taken with the seventh pick. Brewer was never an overwhelming statistical player, but he did put up 19 points on just seven field-goal attempts in a national semifinal win over UCLA. He already had a reputation as a great defender by that point, so perhaps his shooting display against the Bruins boosted his stock a smidge. Still, when you're talking about, at most, a three-spot jump, it's impossible to separate Brewer's tournament performance from any number of other factors.

  • Taurean Green: Green was always projected as a mid-second rounder, and despite earning All-Tournament honors in 2006 and All-Regional honors in 2007, his mock draft projection never wavered from that. His stock rose in the weeks leading up to the draft, likely due to favorable workouts, but he ended up going 52nd overall, a good 20 spots below even the pessimistic end of his range of projections. Green's tournament heroics did nothing to aid his draft stock.

  • Lee Humphrey: Despite earning back-to-back All-Tournament honors on a two-time national champ, Humphrey was never considered much of an NBA prospect. He was primarily a three-point shooting specialist, and he did set the NCAA tournament record for career three-pointers made (55). Teams always need shooters, but that wasn't enough to get Humphrey, a 6'2" shooting guard, anywhere close to the draft. He's currently burning the nets in Greece.

  • Al Horford: Big Al was always was projected as a top 10 pick, and that's exactly where he went.

  • Mike Conley: A classic case of a player who made a lot of money by starring in the NCAA tournament. Heading into the 2007 tourney, Conley's pro prospects seemed to have flat-lined; he'd been off the board in most mock drafts, and didn't seem to be a likely candidate to become even a one-and-done player. Then Conley put together his best five-game stretch from the second round of the tournament through the national championship game, topping 15 points in all five games after reaching that figure just five times all season prior to the tournament. By the second round of the tournament, he was in the mocks, projecting all the way up to the middle of the first round. By the time his Ohio State squad lost to Florida in the 2007 NCAA finals, he was a top-ten pick. He ended up as the fourth player picked in 2007 draft.

  • Greg Oden: Not a good case study; as the neo-Bill Russell, Oden was always projected to go at the top of the draft, with the only question being whether it would be he or Kevin Durant who would actually go number one overall. Oden's performance in the 2007 national title loss to Florida was memorable, but your stock can't rise any higher than going first.

  • Darrell Arthur: Arthur wasn't really having a great tournament last season until he broke out with 20 points and 10 rebounds in Kansas' overtime title-game win over Memphis. A year earlier, mock drafts had Arthur as a top-ten pick, but by the time the tournament rolled around last March, Arthur's projection had dropped to borderline lottery status. As he struggled in the early rounds, failing to reach double-digit scoring from the second round through the national semifinals, his stock continued to fall. He was pegged to go in the lower third of the first round by the time of the Memphis game and, even afterwards, was stuck in that range. Then, on draft night, he became the guy you don't want to be--the player that shows up at the NBA draft and has to writhe in front of the cameras as pick after pick rolls by without his name being called. Finally, New Orleans rescued Arthur with the 27th pick, and he was subsequently traded twice within a few hours. It's unlikely that Arthur dropped because of his tournament performance; after all, he starred on the biggest stage of all. More likely, he had been previously overrated.

  • Brandon Rush: All through his junior season, Rush was pegged as a solid first-rounder, with an actual slot in the lower third of the first round. He ended up going at 13th overall. That's not an outlandish jump, and Indiana's Larry Bird, who ended up with Rush after a draft-day trade with Portland, was never really forthcoming as to why he liked Rush so much. Rush's solid tournament was highlighted by a 25-point outburst on 11-of-17 shooting in the semifinals against North Carolina. That couldn't have hurt.

  • Chris Douglas-Roberts: He bounced around in the mocks, ranging from a late-lottery pick early in 2008 to a late first-rounder after pre-draft workouts. He had a tremendous NCAA Tournament, averaging 25 points a game from the Sweet 16 through the national championship game. During that span, his standing in the mock drafts held steady in the 18-21 range. Then, on draft day, he dropped like a stone, going with the 10th pick of the second round. It's pretty clear that Douglas-Roberts' solid play in the tournament had no positive effect on his draft stock.

  • Derrick Rose: Like Oden, he's not a good case study. Rose was projected as a top-two pick for nearly his entire freshman year and, of course, ended up as the top overall selection. Rose had a tremendous tournament, and if Memphis had been able to hold onto the lead in the championship game, he would have likely been named as Most Outstanding Player. However, like Oden, there is nowhere to go from being the very first pick except down.

There are a lot of reasons why players slide up and down the draft board. A good or bad NCAA Tournament can probably influence teams one way or another. We know this because we've seen it with players like Michael Conley. At the same time, when you look at the fortunes of Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, and Chris Douglas-Roberts, who all starred on the biggest stages that the college game has to offer, it seems clear that there are other factors that outweigh a player's ultimate draft slot. A great run in the tournament may open the eyes of a pro scout, but it doesn't guarantee a prospect anything.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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His Rightful Place (03/30)
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Marginal Dollars Per M... (04/01)

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