NBA draft: Carsen Edwards, Jarrett Culver rise on strong NCAA Tournaments

With the NCAA season (almost) finished, NBA scouts can shift their attention to the pre-draft process.

While no NBA team makes their evaluation on only a handful of games, the NCAA Tournament provides a unique opportunity for players to prove they can perform on a big stage.

Here are the players who helped or hurt themselves most this March.

RISERS

Purdue G Carsen Edwards

Aside from surefire top-five picks Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, Edwards owned this tournament. He averaged nearly 35 points per game for the third-seeded Boilermakers.

Despite losing to Virginia in overtime, his 42-point effort in the Elite Eight garnered lots of attention, including comparisons to Steph Curry because of his range. His 28 made 3s in four games broke the all-time NCAA Tournament record and potentially earned him a spot in the first round and the guaranteed contract that comes with it.

His knocks are obvious: He’s listed at just 6-foot-1, which is undersized even for a point guard. He averaged just 2.9 assists, and didn’t have any against Virginia. His turnovers spiked to 3.1 per game, giving him a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.

Still, his tournament performance could be enough for teams to give him another look. Guards who can shoot 3s can make it in the NBA. Because of his limitations, don’t expect him to fly toward the lottery. But at the back end of the first round, Edwards could be a smart choice.

Texas Tech G Jarrett Culver

Culver is breaking new ground for Texas Tech. He led the Red Raiders to their first-ever Final Four with a masterful combination of scoring, playmaking and defense. Culver was brilliant all season, but stepped up when it mattered most. He’s averaging 21.5 points, 4.5 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game in the tournament — all above his season averages.

Before the tournament, Culver was projected to be a lottery pick. But at this stage, he’s lifted himself into the top tier of wings with RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter. It’s possible he could go in the top five depending on how the lottery shakes out.

His weakness this season was 3-point shooting (31.6 percent) but there’s optimism he could improve that number in the NBA. If Culver can convince teams his 3-point percentage will improve, he profiles as an excellent 3-and-D wing.

Gonzaga F Brandon Clarke

Clarke was among the most dominant players in the tournament until the Bulldogs ran into Texas Tech. His signature performance was a 36-point, five-block outburst against Baylor in the Round of 32. He averaged 20.3 points, 10 rebounds and 3.8 blocks in the tournament.

Prior to March Madness, draft experts had Clarke ranked below his teammate, Rui Hachimura. But Clarke’s athleticism and basketball IQ stood out more.

Clake’s weakness is his size. He’s played as a rim-protecting center. But at 6-foot-8, 215 pounds, he’d likely be relegated to power forward. His jump shot, albeit improved from his days at San Jose State, isn’t yet NBA-caliber. That will cast some doubt on whether he can play power forward.

He’ll need to find a team who believes his jump shot will improve, or a team that already has a center who can space the floor on offense. But after this tournament, he could move into the end of the lottery instead of the back end of the first round.

STATUS QUO

Duke F Zion Williamson

Williamson has been a fixture at No.1 in NBA mock drafts for months, and that’s not changing. He can’t qualify as a ‘riser,’ but his performance this March still bears mentioning.

There wasn’t a more dominant player in the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 26 points and 8.5 rebounds on 61.6 percent shooting. Williamson can score in the paint, but he also made 41.2 percent of his 3-point attempts in the tournament.

Murray State G Ja Morant

Morant was already the consensus No. 2 player on NBA big boards, but his performances solidified his place.

Morant’s game against Marquette was the highlight of the first weekend. He recorded a triple-double, amassing 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds in Murray State’s 12-5 upset. He showed off explosiveness and vision, but also proved he could perform in a big moment.

The Racers ran into a bad matchup in the Round of 32 against Florida State, but Morant still showed up. He scored 28 points and made five 3s in the loss.

It’s tough to see Morant going lower than No. 2 overall. Several teams expected to pick at the top of the draft could use an explosive point guard, including the Knicks, Bulls and Suns. If the Hawks or Cavaliers land the No. 2 pick, it will be interesting to see how impacts Morant, as both teams took point guards in the lottery last season.

FALLERS

Gonzaga F Rui Hachimura

Hachimura had an up-and-down tournament. His strength and scoring ability is exciting. But he doesn’t have much of a 3-point shot (only 36 attempts this season, including 0-for-4 in the tournament). And at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, he’s not big enough to guard centers or quick enough to guard wings in the NBA.

Hachimura is also 21 years old, and might not have the upside that teams typically covet in the lottery. He’s still a first-round pick and could be a home run for a team drafting in the 20s.

Duke G Tre Jones

Like Hachimura, Duke guard Tre Jones was inconsistent in the tournament. He splashed five 3-pointers vs. Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16, but scored just four points vs. Michigan State in the Elite Eight and nearly cost Duke the game against UCF, which dared him to shoot open 3s.

Jones doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s an excellent defender. But he’s not a great distributor in the half court and shot just 26.2 percent from deep. He ceded the playmaking role to Barrett and Williamson in key moments, giving NBA teams plenty of questions about his game. Jones’ defensive prowess and overall potential could make him a lottery pick someday, but he’s more likely to be a late first-rounder if he enters the draft now.

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