At this time of year, majority of the country is watching March Madness and filling out brackets in the “perfect bracket challenge.” This is also the time for NBA scouts to go watch the tournament and watch future NBA stars in these games. This brings up the question as to whether we should judge future pro prospects based on March Madness.
There have been instances where players have dominated March Madness and gave us some spectacular moments, but in the pros, there have been mixed results.
Let’s take a look at Jimmer Fredette, for example. In his senior year, he averaged 28.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.3 assists on 45.2% from the field and 39.6% from three in 35.8 minutes per game. His rockstar senior year lead him to winning multiple awards including the 2011 National Player of the Year Award. In the second round of March Madness against Gonzaga, he had sold everyone as a future star in the NBA and went off for 34 points on 7/12 from three and dished out 6 assists in the win. That game made headlines and some would say he was a “March Madness legend.” This lead him to getting drafted 10th overall by the Sacramento Kings. He didn’t live up to his college hype and showed early on that he could shoot, but wasn’t quick enough to get to the lane and wasn’t able to create separation like he did in college. He has bounced around in the NBA and also played in China before just a couple days ago getting another shot in the NBA signing with the Phoenix Suns.
Let’s look back 11 years ago to Stephen Curry, a player with very similar strengths to what Jimmer had, but had very different results. He was able to string an amazing run for the small school in Davidson as a sophomore in 2007-08 and carried them all the way to the Elite 8, where he lost to Kansas in the final seconds. In the tournament, he averaged 32 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on 46.7% from the field and 44.2% from three in 38 minutes per game. In his final year of college, he showed that he could become a future star in the NBA and he averaged 28.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 45.4% from the field and 38.7% from three in 33.7 minutes per game.
Jimmer and Curry had very similar style of play but the approach was very different due to the fact that Steph was a more coachable player and was able to play off-ball more while Jimmer wasn’t able to do much without the ball in his hands. They both individually put on an amazing show and carried their teams deep into the tournament but at the next level, one player became an MVP and changed the game while the other is on a 10-day contract.
These players show us that even though they both had incredible runs in March Madness, Curry was able to get more exposure early on in his life and knew what it took to be an NBA player and a coachable athlete while Fredette had no idea he could be an NBA player until his huge senior year in college.
Let’s take one final example and look at Donte DiVincenzo. He was not really a well known player last year in college and came off the bench for Villanova. Throughout the tournament, he was a classic role player who was able to shoot well and played good defense throughout the tournament. He was nothing out of the ordinary and didn’t really stand out until the national championship game against Michigan. In that game, he poured in 31 points and made 5 threes on the way to the national championship. His performance garnered him the National Tourney Most Outstanding Player and NCAA All-Tourney first team. He was selected 10th overall by the Bucks, as their owner was high on him due to his performance in the tournament.
In the NBA, DiVincenzo hasn’t really done much in his rookie year and it shows that he could’ve easily benefitted from an extra year to develop in college and become a better player in the NBA. This also shows that the Bucks front office did a poor job scouting the players in last year’s draft.
Overall, this shows that despite the fact that everyone in the country watches March Madness, NBA teams cannot judge any prospect based on how they do in the tournament. NBA teams need to also see their overall body of work before making a decision to whether they want to draft him or not.