Editor’s Note: Find more of Jonathan Wasserman’s coverage of the 2023 Draft on Bleacher Report or to read this article on BleacherReport.com, click here.
(B/R) — March is a key month for NBA prospects to move the needle on their stock before the 2023 NBA draft.
Bleacher Report asked scouts around the league who they felt was in the process of rising up and falling down draft boards. The answers included a mix of late-blooming and crashing freshmen, breakout sophomores and upperclassmen whom scouts have started taking more seriously.
Whether the logic makes sense or not, there is enough evidence to suggest that some NBA teams put more stock into postseason play.
Notes on NBA prospects who are gaining and losing fans heading into March https://t.co/eaV4vJFwRK
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) March 2, 2023
Rising: Julian Strawther (Gonzaga, SF, Junior)
While scouts acknowledge that Gonzaga guard Julian Strawther has his limitations, many also see translatable strengths that certain teams will value over traditional paths to upside.
Despite concerns about his defense and lack of playmaking and rim pressure, some scouts expect a team to target him in the 20s.
Strawther has an outstanding statistical profile and the right skill set for off-ball scoring in the NBA. Over the past month, he’s had games of 40 points vs. Portland, 26 points vs. BYU, 28 points vs. Loyola-Marymount and 28 points vs. Pepperdine. Only 23 of those 122 points were generated out of pick-and-rolls or isolation.
While that does highlight Strawther’s limited creation, it also shows his ability to score in volume without needing a ton of dribbles.
He grades in the 99th percentile out of spot-ups, demonstrating easy-to-buy rhythm hopping into catch-and-shoot threes. He’s hit 43.6 percent of his shots off screens and has an advanced comfort level getting himself open, gathering and rising off movement. Between his 6’7″ size and textbook shot prep for getting looks off with speed and balance, it’s easy to picture him developing into an NBA shooter.
While the floor-spacing and his three-ball (43.0 percent) will be his money-makers in the NBA, excellent touch off one foot will give him another way to score by capitalizing on hard closeouts or ball screens. Over the past two seasons, Strawther is an incredible 62-of-101 (61.4 percent) on floaters. He has an unteachable knack for slowing down after a few dribbles and softly dropping the ball above the front rim.
Throw in his body control for transition offense and his cutting efficiency, and scouts are starting to see a plug-and-play shot-maker and play-finisher within an NBA offense.
Falling: Maxwell Lewis (Pepperdine, SG/SF, Sophomore)
Maxwell Lewis’ draft-stock arrow has been seemingly rotating all season, but it’s headed in the wrong direction entering March.
Pepperdine has lost 15 of its last 17 games, which doesn’t reflect great on the 6’7″ sophomore whom some were considering a potential lottery pick.
If there was hesitation about Lewis early in the season, it was due to his athletic question marks for a wing and lackadaisical defense. You had to really buy his skill level. But he’s shooting only 32.6 percent and 17.6 percent over his last eight games while mostly facing opponents that scouts would expect a top-20 pick to score on more easily.
Looking at Lewis’ entire body of work for the season, he’s around average from three (34.9 percent) on limited volume (4.3 attempts in 31.4 minutes per game). He also has more turnovers (95) than assists (83) and a red-flag low 1.4 steal percentage, which underlines the questions about his quickness at both ends of the floor.
If Pepperdine’s season gets cut short early, which seems like a real possibility, there are bound to be other prospects who leapfrog Lewis on draft boards in March.
Rising: Brandin Podziemski (Santa Clara, SG, Sophomore)
Brandin Podziemski is one of the hotter names trending in the draft discussion. He suddenly has scouts willing to buy his production (19.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game) and game for the NBA. He’s entered the first-round picture and has a path to keep climbing throughout March.
Although Podziemski averaged only 4.3 minutes per game at Illinois last season, he entered college with offers from Kentucky and Kansas after playing with 2022 first-round pick Patrick Baldwin Jr. for Phenom-U Team Herro in AAU. Now at Santa Clara, the sophomore has flourished in a No. 1 option role that’s brought alive his creativity, shot-making skill and confidence for volume scoring and secondary playmaking.
Podziemski isn’t the most explosive athlete, so his shooting and passing are the comforting, translatable floor-raisers. He’s making 44.5 percent of his 5.8 threes per game and is converting 43.7 percent of his jumpers off the catch and 41.8 percent of his 134 pull-up attempts. His knack for launching off the dribble in transition, off pumps/escapes in closeout situations or with stop-and-pops as a pick-and-roll ball-handler suggest more shooting upside than your typical specialist.
With 43 runner/hook makes on 88 attempts, Podziemski has outstanding touch to help compensate for the fact he lacks blow-by burst and vertical explosiveness in the half court.
More concerns about his ability to separate in the NBA can be eased by his effectiveness using off-ball movement to gain steps on defenders, whether its with curls or handoffs. He’s active and has constant motivation to find an opportunity.
He doesn’t project as a primary point guard positionally, but his IQ and skill do lead to playmaking in creation situations, and his 11.8 turnover percentage remains low.
Still, one of the more underrated selling points may be Podziemski’s 8.8 rebounds a game and occasional post-ups, which highlight his desire/fearlessness to play bigger than his size. The 6’5″ guard enters March averaging 13.8 boards over Santa Clara’s last four games.
That’s just another reason for scouts to bet on Podziemski making it work in the NBA even though he lacks standout physical tools or athletic traits.
Falling: Kel’el Ware (Oregon, C, Freshman)
Inevitable risers in March seem likely to push Kel’el Ware down draft boards.
Scouts have had difficulty assessing where the blame lies, whether it’s on the freshman’s toughness and polish, his role at Oregon or just poor timing joining a team with three older bigs in N’Faly Dante, Quincy Guerrier and Nate Bittle. Regardless, Ware hasn’t scored in Oregon’s past three games, and he hasn’t played more than 15 minutes in a game since December.
Ware is likely to enter the draft process as merely an idea without substance.
Scouts were excited about his shooting potential, but he’s 12-of-43 from deep this season, which makes it difficult to feel confident in his jumper being a surefire plus. There was hope about his potential to serve as an option to feed around the key, but he’s made only 39.0 percent of his post-ups. A 51.0 two-point shooting percentage and 13.9 rebounding percentage for a 7-footer raise questions about his physicality, too.
Ware still offers encouraging tools for picking up easy baskets and blocking shots. But if he can’t crack Oregon’s rotation, a presumed lengthy NBA-ready timetable will make him less attractive for many teams, particularly since he plays only one position that most teams are already set at.
Rising: Judah Mintz (Syracuse, PG/SG, Freshman)
The ACC tournament represents a key opportunity for Judah Mintz, who has scouts’ attention entering March after a strong February.
Albeit in a small sample size, Mintz has shot 8-of-10 from three over Syracuse’s last four games. That’s all some scouts need to see given how effective he’s been with mid-range pull-ups and free throws.
Mintz may ultimately possess enough ball-handling wiggle, two-point creation, shot-making skill and finishing craft/bounce to continue threatening NBA defenses without needing typical scoring-guard shooting range. He has a knack for using timing, fakes and elevation to separate around the key and convert short-range jumpers and leaners.
But scoring only represents a portion of the value he potentially offers in the NBA. He’s averaging 4.4 assists, showing enough manipulation and passing IQ to at least be used as a primary playmaker for some stretches of a game.
Although Syracuse’s zone defense may inflate Mintz’s 3.3 steal percentage, NBA teams should still detect defensive upside tied to his quickness, anticipation and aggression.
There are obvious questions about Mintz’s 6’3″, 172-pound frame and skill set for playing off the ball, both of which lower his ceiling. But his creativity, rim pressure, setup ability and defensive activity could still translate to the NBA in some capacity, most likely to an energizer/spark role for a second unit that could use some juice.
Rising: Jalen Hood-Schifino (Indiana, PG/SG, Freshman)
Scouts were already growing more confident in Indiana guard Jalen Hood-Schifino before his 35-point game against Purdue on Saturday. He might have done enough to earn consideration from lottery teams, though with Indiana expected to land top-five seed in the NCAA tournament, he should have more opportunities to strengthen his case even further.
Preseason questions about his athletic limitations are fading fast. With 6’6″ size for a ball-handler, Hood-Schifino effectively uses hesitations and change of speed to gain steps on defenders and keep them in jail. His pacing in pick-and-roll situations always stands out. Hood-Schifino has command of the play in ball-screen situations, showing patience and recognition for when/where to pass or pull up.
That mid-range pull-up is his signature shot right now, with the freshman making 43.3 percent of his two-point jumpers and 41.7 percent of his off-the-dribble jumpers. He effectively gets to his spots, squares his feet off the dribble and rises with stability and balance. Though analytics might not approve of that shot selection, he excels at making those looks inside the arc, and it’s an area on an NBA floor where he should continue to have the space to elevate into his dangerous shot.
Hood-Schifino takes only 3.4 threes per game, but a confident stroke (36.4 percent 3PT), 76.9 percent free-throw mark and the occasional outburst (six made threes vs. Ohio State, five vs. Northwestern and five vs. Iowa) point to an eventual three-level shot-making threat.
While his vertical pop for finishing isn’t ideal and a 53.8 percent conversion rate at the rim isn’t great, Hood-Schifino has pulled off some high-difficulty layups and adjustments. It wouldn’t be surprising if he shot better around the basket with more space in the NBA.
Scouts do worry about his turnovers, as he’s prone to making careless passes. His defense hasn’t been the most convincing, either. But scouts also sound willing to put more stock into his clever setups and physical tools.
Between his positional size, scoring craftiness and exciting flash, there will be plenty of first-round interest in Hood-Schifino, especially if he’s able to propel Indiana on a postseason run.
Rising: Kobe Bufkin (Michigan, SG, Sophomore)
Scouts have praised Kobe Bufkin’s game and efficiency throughout the season, raising the idea that he could eventually be someone to take seriously. That timeline has been moved up with his recent play, particularly with Jett Howard out of Michigan’s lineup.
There is still a case for Bufkin to return to school next season and maximize his stock for a weaker 2024 draft. But based on the versatility, improvement, impact and projected fit he’s been showcasing lately, it wouldn’t be surprising if NBA teams try to convince him to declare after his sophomore season. Michigan may be on the NCAA tournament bubble, so failing to make the field of 68 could also factor into Bufkin’s decision.
Assuming he continues to make strides as a shooter, scouts admire his on and off-ball skill set for a connector role at the least. The eye test on his 1.2 made threes per game, 83.8 free-throw percentage and 47.4 percent mark on long twos has been more persuasive than his 34.7 three-point percentage on 3.5 attempts per game.
He adds secondary-playmaking value as well, demonstrating vision and smart reads on the move, plus quick recognition as a stationary ball-mover.
There have also been enticing flashes of scoring upside that point to a higher ceiling than a connector. Shifty ball-handling, change of speed/direction, fakes and footwork get defenders leaning the wrong way. It works well for getting downhill in ball-screen situations or separating into pull-ups/step-backs.
Finishing may be his most advantageous microskill right now, as he uses his body and both hands to create easier layup angles. Bufkin is shooting 72.0 percent around the basket on 107 attempts, grading in the 93rd percentile. Despite lacking explosiveness, he’s a highly effective attacker in ball-screen situations and transition.
Though his 6’4″, 195-pound frame doesn’t scream defensive potential, Bufkin has had some very encouraging sequences, creating turnovers with quick hands, efficiently navigating through screens and swatting 20 shots.
Bufkin checks a valued mix of boxes, both skill and intangible-wise, for NBA teams to deem him worth investing in, even if another season at Michigan would give him valuable experience as a lead guard and creator.
Rising: Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana, PF/C, Senior)
Throughout most of Trayce Jackson-Davis’ four-year career at Indiana, the NBA love hasn’t followed his production. Scouts now think he’s on the verge of finally getting taken seriously despite an offensive repertoire that’s still post-up heavy.
Jackson-Davis’ improved passing and defense have helped drive new interest toward his NBA outlook. He’s on pace to become the only NCAA player on record to average 20 points with an assist percentage over 20.0 percent and a block percentage over 9.0 percent.
Reading the game quicker and smarter, he’s started to bait and anticipate double-teams, including which defender is coming to help and who he’d leave open. His actual passing skill also pops, as he’s delivered one-handed bullets from some angles.
His defensive movement remains encouraging, and it’s helped fuel a career-best 2.8 blocks per game. Opponents have shot a combined 15-of-54 against him in spot-up and isolation situations, a tribute to Jackson-Davis’ mobility in space.
Offensively, while there’s a negative stigma tied to post scorers projecting to the NBA, there are still highly effective ones with prominent roles. The 23-year-old has outstanding footwork, instincts and the ability to use either hand. Even when his man sags off, knowing he won’t attempt a jumper, Jackson-Davis still finds ways to counter and freeze his him with various pivots and shoulder shakes.
Though he’s shown no real progress as a shooter, he has become a short-range face-up threat with a quick first step and coordination finishing on the move. The idea that defenders will be able to just force him to make outside shots doesn’t fully hold up.
Along with the interior self-creation, finishing and passing, scouts can bank on Jackson-Davis adding offensive value with putbacks and great hands as roll man.
While he doesn’t offer the versatility that screams modern-day NBA big, he’s been dominant playing to his strengths. And scouts are starting to buy the old and new strengths as both valuable and translatable.
With an opportunity to carry Indiana deep into March against quality opponents and other NBA prospects, Jackson-Davis can move needle and change some minds that initially nitpicked his projected fit and ceiling.
Falling: GG Jackson II (South Carolina, PF, Freshman)
Unlikely to play in the NCAA tournament, GG Jackson II will presumably finish his freshman season with questions that his exciting highlights can’t confidently answer.
There will always be an asterisk over the weaknesses that points to his age, as Jackson will be the NBA’s youngest player in 2023-24. Still, scouts have concerns about his trajectory, and he’s unlikely to ease them in the final month.
Despite his 6’9″ size and athleticism around the rim, Jackson is shooting only 37.9 percent from the floor and a scary-low 41.1 percent inside the arc. His preference for taking tough jumpers has been problematic, and he doesn’t show good recognition for when to attack or use his gravity to find the open man. Converting only 47.9 percent of his layup attempts reflects both bad decision-making and the ability to counter rim protection.
Jackson’s mindset seems to be more focused on trying to be wing than a big. His 32.7 three-point mark, 64.5 free-throw percentage, 76 turnovers and 24 assists suggest he’s a long way away from being able to execute in that role.
Flashes of ball-handling, step-back jumpers and microwave threes make Jackson seem tempting. It’s just difficult to picture him consistently converting his particular shot selection, and he doesn’t offer the ancillary strengths like passing IQ, rebounding or tough defense to make up for the expected up-and-down scoring.
Jackson ultimately feels like a vulnerable name on draft boards heading into the postseason.
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Jonathan Wasserman is the lead scout and NBA Draft analyst for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter.
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