The NCAA Tournament creates more stars than almost any other sporting event. As we saw with Stephen Curry and comparable players in recent years, it can leverage players into extra success in the NBA draft.
While the SEC is a high-profile conference, the Big Dance is a far bigger stage for players to show off their skill set. Whether it’s surprising scoring games or playing against better competition, March Madness is a significant opportunity.
Here are five SEC basketball players who could improve their NBA stock with strong NCAA Tournament performances.
NOTE: All projections are from Draft Express.
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Projection: No. 8
Granted, Monk is already considered a consensus top-10 draft pick, if not in the top 5. However, scoring guards benefit more than any other group in the tourney, and Monk is the perhaps the best one in the conference.
Kentucky has a tough draw that could include Wichita State, UCLA and North Carolina before the Final Four. To win games against that many teams, it likely will take a wild card. Monk perfectly fits that role. Monk scored at least 20 points 18 times this season, and had 30 points four times. His highlight was a wildly efficient 47 points on 28 shots against North Carolina in a win in December. A performance like that could push him into the top 5.
Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
Projection: No. 27
Adebayo enrolled at Kentucky as a 5-star prospect and a consensus top 10 NBA draft prospect. Unfortunately, he hasn’t showed the development many hoped to see. Adebeyo is listed as an athletic 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds, so a team will take a chance on him. But with an undeveloped skill set, many teams are looking closer to the end of the first round than the lottery.
However, Kentucky should have opportunities in the tournament for Adebayo to shift that image. The Wildcats are scheduled for a date with future NBA power forward T.J. Leaf and the UCLA Bruins in the Sweet Sixteen. If UK wins, it’s North Carolina in the Elite Eight with big man Kennedy Meeks. If Adebayo can show success and more refined offense, it changes things significantly.
Devin Robinson, Florida
Projection: No. 41
Since he’s just a junior, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Robinson will leave for the draft this year. He might take another year to refine his skills. However, his physical skill set is impressive enough that he is a surefire NBA draft pick if he decides to leave this year. Listed at 6-foot-8 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, he’s the exact kind of defensive wing NBA teams crave in 2017.
The questions come with his offensive skill set, which is still inconsistent. For an NBA draft prospect, Robinson scored 20 points only twice this season. Both instances came against sub par opponents. However, Robinson’s 3-point stroke improved to 38.9 percent in 2016-17 on three attempts per game. Getting hot in a couple of games and showing improved technique on his jump shot could shoot him into the first round.
Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt
Projection: No. 57
Kornet had a massive growth spurt late in his life, and it’s easy to tell by watching his game. Now listed at 7-foot-1 and 250 pounds, Kornet hit 148 3-pointers in his college career. Leading the Commodores to the tournament in back-to-back years is a great look too.
The biggest worry for NBA teams is that Kornet’s efficiency numbers were drastically better as a sophomore than any other year. He shot 49.5 percent from the field and 40 percent from three that season. If he can find that stroke again on the biggest stage, there will always be a place in the NBA for a 7-footer who can shoot.
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Thornwell was rated the No. 32 player in the class of 2013 coming out of high school after a great career at Oak Hill Academy. After a suspension interrupted the early part of his season, there might not be a player who has improved more this season.
His shooting is up from 38 percent to 44 percent, including 38.8 percent from beyond the arc. He also gets to the free throw line 8.2 times per game and led the SEC in scoring with 21.0 points per game. With a 6-5 frame as a shooting guard, NBA teams would like to see a more consistent shooting stroke. Should he get hot from beyond the arc and continue to play good defense, pro teams will take notice.