When is the NBA Draft 2021?
The 2021 NBA Draft is set for Thursday, July 29 at 8:00 p.m. ET at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. NBA CA2021 NBA Draft: Key prospects to know in the mid- to late-lottery range
20 July, 2021 - 01:30pm
University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible.
Isaiah Jackson will be in the building when his name is called at the 2021 NBA Draft. According to Jordan Schultz, the former Kentucky Wildcat received an invitation to the Green Room at the Barclays Center for next Thursday’s event, which will return to its usual pre-COVID format.
Twenty prospects will be in attendance. Jackson was not among the initial 15 prospects invited, per Jonathan Givony, but did make the secondary cut based on NBA team voting. The initial 15 to receive an invitation were Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Kuminga, Scottie Barnes, Davion Mitchell, James Bouknight, Keon Johnson, Franz Wagner, Josh Giddey, Jalen Johnson, Corey Kispert, Moses Moody, and Kai Jones. Jackson was one of nine players under consideration for five additional invitations along with Ziaire Williams, Cameron Thomas, Sharife Cooper, Usman Garuba, Alperen Sengun, Trey Murphy, Jared Butler, and Chris Duarte.
Jackson is currently projected to be a mid- to late first round pick, with Givony’s latest mock putting him right on the cusp of the lottery at No. 15 (Washington Wizards). Knicks beat reporter Jonathan Marcri is reporting this morning that Jackson is in New York today for a workout along with Virginia wing Trey Murphy III and Florida guard Tre Mann. The Knicks have the No. 19 and No. 21 picks. Previously, Jackson has worked out for the Indiana Pacers (pick No. 13) and the Charlotte Hornets (pick No. 11).
In his new mock draft this morning, Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo has Jackson going to New York at No. 21:
While Jackson is inarguably raw and not particularly skilled, his athletic tools have sparked first-round interest, the hope being that he’ll evolve into a viable rim-running, shot-blocking, end-to-end big. Jackson is a ways away from reaching that level—he’s extremely foul-prone and scores almost entirely within gameflow—and there’s been a bit of an ideological resurgence surrounding bigs with offensive skills, which makes his fit a bit more selective. New York is facing an extension decision on Mitchell Robinson next summer, and adding depth up front through the draft could be prudent, depending on what the Knicks decide to do with their two picks.
In one season at Kentucky, Jackson averaged 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. In the final seven games, he averaged 13.3 points and 6.9 rebounds and reached double-figure scoring in all but the last contest. He totaled 65 blocks, leading the SEC with 2.6 blocks per game, which ranked 15th nationally. He had eight blocks against No. 7/5 Kansas in the third game of the season, the most by a Wildcat in a single game since Willie Cauley-Stein’s nine vs. Boise State on Dec. 10, 2013, and the most ever by a UK player vs. an Associated Press top-10 opponent in program history.
The NBA Draft takes place next Thursday, July 29 at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch live on ESPN.
20 July, 2021 - 09:58am
Cade Cunningham profiles as the type of oversized lead creator that makes for an ideal franchise cornerstone in today’s NBA. A long-and-strong 6’8 wing, Cunningham turned himself into a point guard during his high school days at prep powerhouse Montverde Academy, and put all of his special talents on display during a brilliant freshman season at Oklahoma State. Cunningham’s bonafides can speak for themselves — he was the rare true freshman to be named consensus First Team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year — yet it’s how his skillset precisely scales to the highest levels of the game that makes him the obvious top choice even within a strong draft class.
Cunningham thrives as a pick-and-roll maestro who can get to the rim, rip pull-up threes, and read an opposing defense well enough to make almost every pass. While he doesn’t have the quickest first step, Cunningham is able to create his own scoring opportunities by using his strength to dislodge defenders in the paint or his footwork to get off a clean step-back three. His outside shooting was a question mark coming into the season, but now feels like one of the strongest parts of his game: he made 40 percent of the 155 three-pointers he attempted, with 57 percent of them being self-created opportunities that came without an assist. While he’s not Trae Young or Ja Morant as a passer, he impressed with his court awareness and ability to find open teammates. He should be even better on a spaced NBA floor surrounded by high-caliber shooters.
Where Cunningham separates himself from the other primary creators to hit the draft in recent years is on the defensive end. He has the frame to provide resistance in the paint and the mobility to compete on the perimeter, all while showing sharp instincts as a help defender. Cunningham will have to pick up more scoring tricks around the basket to compensate for his lack of elite quickness, and continue to learn how to manipulate the opposing defense for easy passing angles, but his total package of skills feels like a tremendous fit for where the game is and where it’s going. If he isn’t exactly a Zion Williamson or Luka Doncic-level super prospect, he still feels like the sort of player who would be in contention to go No. 1 overall in most drafts. For all the talent available in this class, the first pick is an easy choice.
It’s easy to let the imagination run wild at first sight of Evan Mobley’s immense versatility for a modern big man. It’s immediately evident that this is no ordinary 7-footer just by watching the way he glides around the floor. Mobley’s rare movement ability is the foundational gift that helps him execute any pick-and-roll coverage on the defensive end. He can play drop coverage and still recover to contest shots with a 7’4 wingspan, or help trap ball handlers far away from the basket, or hold his own on switches. Mobley’s penchant for erasing plays before they happen makes him the top defensive prospect in this draft.
Mobley’s skill can be equally distinctive on the offensive end. He is a tantalizing passer for the position, always seeming to know where to find the open man as the defense adjusts to him. He should be an excellent release valve when his point guard gets trapped, both threatening the defense with his own scoring and being able to fire passes to all corners of the floor. Mobley also feels like he could turn into a real floor spacer despite only making 12-of-40 attempts (30 percent) from three-point range this season. There’s a version of him that can be equally deadly diving to the rim to catch a lob, popping out behind the arc to fire a three, or using his passing vision to find a cutter or shooter at the opportune time.
Mobley still badly needs to add strength, and it feels like it could unlock his entire game if and when it happens. He isn’t particularly wired to put up big scoring numbers, and he already struggled to score efficiently in the post at the college level. Mobley has to prove he can punish teams that try to put a smaller defender on him. While he’s still growing into his body, Mobley’s best possible outcomes feel like a cheat code in today’s game. If his full package of skills comes together, he has so many avenues to impact winning deep into the playoffs.
Green’s explosive leaping and takeover scoring ability has had him marked as a phenom since early in his high school career out of Fresno, CA. He could have been the biggest name in college basketball this season if he wanted to be, but Green instead chose to help pioneer the NBA’s new G League Ignite initiative so he could earn a nice paycheck while waiting to become draft eligible. His 15 games in the G League confirmed the hype that has been following him from a young age: this is a shooting guard prospect with rare athletic gifts and improving shot-making touch who should be a walking bucket from the moment he enters the league.
Green has no trouble blowing by the initial line of defense with a lightning-quick first step that can immediately put the opposition into rotation. His terrific burst helps him turn the corner against traps and rise up off one foot to attack the basket, where he has the body control and agility to finish above or around the rim. Green’s improved footwork was eye-opening with the Ignite, as he looked comfortable bouncing into step-backs and side-steps to get off his jump shot. He took 41.7 percent of his field goal attempts from three-point range, and made those shots at a 36.5 percent clip. He is the type of scoring guard who can get easy buckets by attacking the defense before it gets set, or hit tough shots in the halfcourt late in the shot clock.
For all of Green’s scoring talent, he’s not exactly the type of guard who should be handed the ball from day one and be expected to drive the offense. He will be best next to another lead playmaker early in his career as his decision-making in the pick-and-roll and on drives to the basket continues to improve. His defense is also a question mark at this stage. While Green isn’t flawless, he does offer huge scoring upside in almost any situation that helps give him both a high floor and high ceiling.
Suggs stepped into a perfect situation the minute he walked onto campus at Gonzaga. Surrounded by a team of proven veterans that already provided shot creation, shooting, and interior scoring, Suggs was able to serve as the accelerant that turned a very good college basketball team into a historic one. While the Zags’ bid for an undefeated season ultimately fell one game short in the national championship, the freshman guard still attained sports hero status in March Madness with his Final Four buzzer-beater from halfcourt to sink UCLA. Suggs simply aced every test he faced at the college level, and it makes his arrival into the NBA a fascinating case of how he he’ll adjust to playing on a team that requires more of him without such a clear talent advantage every night.
Suggs feels like the type of player who can have a positive impact in most team contexts as a strong and quick 6’4 combo guard without many glaring holes in his skill set. He’s at his best sparking transition offense as a stout on-ball defender who is always looking to ignite the break with an outlet pass. In the halfcourt, Suggs appears best suited for a complementary guard role that lets him pick his spots rather than being expected to drive offense as a primary creator. While he isn’t elite as a finisher, shooter, or passer, he is competent enough in each area when he gets an opportunity to attack. Suggs’ ceiling might rest on how he develops as a deep pull-up shooter, but he can already bank on his competitive nature and well-rounded skill set giving him a long and productive career in the league.
The younger brother of former Michigan star Moritz Wagner, Franz Wagner followed a similar path by coming to Ann Arbor from Germany and playing a key role in helping turn the Wolverines into one of the best teams in college basketball. That’s about where the similarities end. While the older Wagner entered the draft as a stretch big man, Franz is a 6’9 forward with good mobility on the perimeter and burgeoning ball skills. Wagner has a case as one of the better defensive prospects in this class. He’s able to stick with smaller ball handlers on the perimeter by showing impressive agility getting over screens and disrupting drivers and pull-up shooters with his length. He’s also big enough to defend a post-up or provide supplemental rim protection in the paint. He shows good awareness on when to rotate as a team defender.
Wagner’s offensive skill set is intriguing, but he’ll need to prove he’s a reliable shooter from behind the arc. While Wagner did hit 34.3 percent of his threes on 102 attempts this season, he often appeared reluctant to shoot from deep and could get in his own head if he missed his first few attempts. If he can make the opposing defense respect his outside shot, Wagner can attack close-outs with straight line drives and flashed some promising passing ability on the move.
The consensus in this draft ends after the top-four. We’ll go with Wagner over the other big forwards in this class at No. 5 because he’s arguably the best perimeter defender and has the most potential as a floor spacing-shooter in the half-court. His huge frame, developing driving ability, and defensive versatility gives him a chance to become a complementary wing who doesn’t need the ball to have a big impact.
Moody offers a clean translation into the modern NBA as a long, mobile wing who will bring defensive versatility and outside shooting to any lineup. A 6’6 swingman with a 7’1 wingspan, Moody is pesky both in guarding his man at the point of attack and as a team defender who makes sharp, instinctual rotations. His length comes into play in both areas, as he’s able to smoother smaller guards on the ball, or swoop in as a free safety-style help defender to force turnovers. Moody’s offense will come down to his jump shot, but it looked impressive during his one year at Arkansas: he finished in the 78th percentile of spot-up opportunities, and hit 36 percent of the 162 three-pointers he attempted on the season.
Moody isn’t going to create much with the ball in his hands, which limits his upside considerably. He struggles to get all the way to the rim on offense to this point in his career, but he’s shown an impressive mid-range game particularly when he attacks closeouts. While he’s not exactly an explosive downhill athlete, Moody is the type of off-ball player so many teams need because he’s able to space the floor on offense and cover ground with his length and quick feet on defense. He won’t be a high-usage takeover scorer, but Moody is the kind of two-way wing that allows each of his teammates to be the best version of themselves.
Barnes was ranked near the top of his class throughout an illustrious high school career that included three gold medals with USA Basketball and a critical role on an undefeated Montverde Academy team alongside Cade Cunningham. He’s long been noted for his intriguing combination of length, motor, switchable defense, passing, and flashes of shot creation, and he put it all on display during his freshman season at Florida State.
When Barnes entered the game off the bench for Leonard Hamilton’s team, he immediately raised the intensity on both ends of the floor as a 6’8 forward with a massive 7’3 wingspan. Defense will be Barnes’ calling card early in his career. He impressed as a perimeter defender who hounded smaller ball handlers at FSU while also having the size and strength to compete in the paint. Offensively, Barnes mostly played point guard for the Seminoles and showed an ability to set up his teammates for open shots despite not being the most flexible or advanced ball handler. His 31.7 percent assist rate is striking for a player his size, and he largely owes it to his ability to know where his teammates are on the floor at all times.
Barnes’ obvious weakness is as an outside shooter. While he’s not a complete zero on the level of Ben Simmons, Barnes is reluctant to fire from three and made only 11-of-40 attempts (27.5 percent) behind the arc during his lone season of college ball. Despite a near 40-inch max vertical at the combine, he isn’t a particularly explosive functional leaper around the basket, either, which limits his ability to wall up at the rim defensively and get easy put-backs offensively. Barnes has a fascinating array of skills for a player his size even with the apparent holes in his game. Ultimately, Barnes projects as an ace complementary piece who can influence winning at a high level in the right team context.
Johnson was supposed to be next in a long line of superstar one-and-done forwards at Duke, but his freshman season proved to be rocky for both himself and the team. He eventually left the Blue Devils in February to focus on the draft, leaving plenty of questions about how his skill set translates to the next level. Johnson looks like a no-doubt blue chip prospect from the moment he walks into the gym as a 6’9 forward with good length, a strong base, and explosive leaping ability in the open floor. He prefers to play with the ball in his hands, and he’s particularly good at pushing the break in transition after grabbing a rebound. While he’s an impressive passer for his size, Johnson lacks shiftiness and flexibility as a ball handler to beat a set defense in the halfcourt. When pushed off the ball in the halfcourt, Johnson struggles to space the floor as a reluctant outside shooter whose mechanics on his jumper are often all over the place. He will also be a question mark from the free throw line after hitting only 63 percent of his attempts.
Johnson’s defense tends to get overlooked compared to his offense, but his tools and instincts can spark some highlight reel plays on that end. While Johnson will occasionally get caught ball watching, he also has impressive recovery time and good closing speed that helps him get to the ball to force turnovers. His six percent block rate and 3.1 percent steal rate show his big play ability defensively when he’s locked in, and his size and speed should allow him to hold up against switches. A coach will have to get creative with Johnson on the offensive end to overcome his shortcomings as a shooter, but there aren’t many players in this class who are clearly more talented. As an upside swing, Johnson is worth a bet outside of the top five in the lottery.
The first thing you notice about Sharife Cooper is that he’s almost always the smallest player on the floor. The second thing you notice is that he typically does whatever he wants with the ball in his hands regardless of his size limitations.
Cooper had a late start at Auburn because of eligibility issues, but his special gifts as a creator were obvious from the moment he debuted in February. Cooper sliced apart the first line of SEC defenses off the dribble every night without a problem, and then had them at his mercy either as a playmaker or foul drawer. Cooper is a brilliant facilitator who can throw every pass with precision: slingshots to shooters in the corner, lobs to the big man above the rim, and bounce passes on the break that lead his man perfectly. It is no fluke that his assist rate of 51.5 percent would have led DI if he played enough games. As a scorer himself, Cooper’s best avenue is mastering the dark arts of foul drawing and getting to the line. He shot at least 10 free throws in half his games, and even hit 18-of-21 shots from the foul line against Missouri in late January.
Cooper’s size will lead to obvious question marks on the defensive end and as a finisher near the basket when he can’t trick the defense into a foul. His other notable weakness is his outside shooting ability. Cooper has never needed to settle for jumpers to beat opposing defenses to this point in his career, but he’ll need a reliable jump shot to succeed in the NBA after hitting 13-of-57 attempts (22.8 percent) from three at Auburn. It’s difficult for players of Cooper’s size to succeed in the league, but his tremendous shot creation ability offers major upside outside of the top-10.
No one in this class raised their draft stock more than Giddey this past season. The 6’8 Australian guard was largely off NBA radars before an impressive debut season in the NBL, where he packed box scores on a nightly basis and was regularly running off triple-doubles by the end of the year. Giddey is one of the best facilitators in the class, showing a rare ability to make passes with either hand on the move and often finding creative angles to get the ball to his finishers in the paint. Giddey is also a quick ball mover in the halfcourt who could be especially dangerous as a floor spacer if his outside shot comes around. For now, Giddey’s three-point shot is a work in progress, but he did close the year hitting 36 percent of his triples after a 2-for-20 start.
While Giddey’s size will play at any level, he will have to overcome limitations in terms of his strength and explosiveness. He’s likely to have trouble blowing by the first line of defense with his standstill burst, and will be best suited playing next to another guard who can consistently get to the rim. Giddey has already put up strong numbers against grown men at 18 years old, and his size and passing is worth betting on.
Springer is a powerful 6’4 guard who is just scratching the surface of his long-term upside as the youngest college player in this draft. Springer’s defense was immediately impactful with the Vols, as he swallowed up opposing guards at the point of attack and ripped ball handlers with hard digs as a help defender. His offense was a little less polished on a cramped floor for a Tennessee team without much shooting, but he was still able to bulldoze his way to the basket to create some good looks at the rim.
Springer’s shooting numbers were impressive (43.5 percent from three, 81 percent from the foul line), but the lack of volume from three (only 46 attempts) is concerning. The hope for Springer is that he can grow into a more dynamic offensive player given his size and power for a guard, his young age, and the takeover scoring ability he showed in leading IMG Academy to a national championship as a junior. For a player who is a full year younger than Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley and four years younger than Davion Mitchell, Springer feels perfectly suited as a complementary guard next to a bigger initiator who can make his living on defense early in his career while his offensive skill set continues to develop.
Kuminga came to the United States from the Republic of Congo at the start of his high school career, and quickly established himself as the top player in his class. He was supposed to have one final year of high school ball left, but he decided to reclassify and join Jalen Green on the inaugural G League Ignite team. His 13 games in the G League were a mixed bag that displayed his impressive physical tools while also showcasing how far he has to go skill-wise.
A 6’8 wing with a sturdy frame, Kuminga projects as an aggressive downhill driver and spot-up shooter who has the quickness and strength to defend multiple positions. While it sounds like an appealing archetype, Kuminga still needs significant skill refinement to unlock each part of his game. He struggled to score efficiently with the Ignite, hitting less than 40 percent of his field goal attempts, less than 25 percent of his three-point attempts, and less the 65 percent from the foul line. He needs to tighten his handle to be more dynamic as a driver, and often lacked awareness as a passer. Kuminga is still big and strong and explosive enough to compete at the NBA level as his skill level improves over time. As one of the youngest prospects in the draft, Kuminga will need to find a team with a patient approach, but he could eventually be the type of oversized, two-way wing highly in demand in today’s NBA.
Şengün burst onto draft radars this season by winning MVP in the Turkish Super League at just 18 years old. The 6’9 big man averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game on 68 percent shooting from the floor and 81.2 percent shooting from the foul line. It was a remarkably productive season for such a young player going against grown men, but how Şengün’s game translates into the NBA is still very much up for debate.
Şengün is a throwback big man who does his best work as an interior scorer and offensive rebounder. Those aspects of the game don’t project to be as effective in the NBA because he’s a bit undersized for a center. The bigger issue for Şengün is his lack of lateral quickness that will be a big liability defending the pick-and-roll in space. Şengün is a terrific passer and is starting to develop as a shooter, but his middling tools in terms of size and speed would seem to put a cap on his NBA ceiling. Regardless, Şengün has level of production that is remarkably impressive and makes him worth consideration in the middle of the first round.
Williams was a consensus top-10 recruit out of Sierra Canyon High School with a reputation as a tall wing who could splash shots from all over the floor. While he flashed his diverse shooting ability at times as a freshman, his year at Stanford showed how far he still needs to go physically to reach his long-term ceiling. A skinny 6’10 wing, Williams struggled to play through contact at both ends of the floor and largely reliable on his pull-up shooting offensively. His shaky handle and lack of burst rarely put him in position to get easy buckets, but when Williams was on it was easy to see his future path to success in the league.
Williams is a much better shooter than his numbers indicated (29 percent from three on 79 attempts), showing impressive shot-making ability both off the bounce and on spot-ups. A little physical and skill development would go a long way for him right now. He may not be ready to contribute at the NBA level immediately, but his size and shooting give him a tantalizing ceiling if he can put everything together.
Jones came to the United States from the Bahamas as an aspiring track star until a rapid growth spurt compelled him to pick up basketball at 15 years old. Given his late start in the game, his development arc since entering Texas has been remarkable. The game comes easy for Jones because of his physical tools. A bouncy 6’11 big man, Jones runs the floor well and finishes plays above the rim easily on both ends of the floor. While he started only four games and averaged just under 9 points during his sophomore year this season, Jones captured the imagination of NBA scouts with some ridiculous highlight reel plays in every aspect of the game: in transition, as a shot-blocker, as a finisher, and as a shooter.
The shooting development Jones showed (13-of-34 from three for 38.2 percent) is tantalizing and could eventually make him a big man who threatens the defense on both drives to the rim and pop outs to the arc. For as impressive as Jones’ raw talent level is, he’s still learning the nuances of the game and often looked a step slow in realizing where he was supposed to be. Jones feels like a boom-or-bust prospect at this stage, but a patient franchise could eventually find themselves with a winning lottery ticket if he hits.
Bouknight was a breakout freshman at UConn who decided to come back for his sophomore season and quickly turned himself into a projected lottery pick. He dropped 40 points on a talented Creighton team in his fourth game of the season to set the stage for his draft hype. The 6’5 guard is one of the best pure scorers in this class thanks to a tireless attacking mindset off the ball. Bouknight zipped around screens to put pressure on opposing defenses all season, showcasing tremendous burst attacking the basket and the body control to finish around the rim. His ability to provide instant offense without needing to pound the ball makes him a nice fit in almost any movement-based offense.
For all of Bouknight’s scoring talent, his efficiency was not particularly impressive this season. He finished with middling 54.6 percent true shooting, and made only 29.3 percent of his threes on 75 attempts. His passing and decision-making with the ball in his hands could also stand to improve, and it’s hard to project him as a plus defender. As long as his outside shot comes around, though, Bouknight is one of the better bets in this class to get buckets in the league for a long time.
Johnson was already considered arguably the most impressive athlete in this draft class even before he set a record with a 48-inch max vertical jump at the combine. The skinny 6’5 guard has incredible natural explosiveness that showed up at both ends floor during his freshman season at Tennessee. Offensively, Johnson has a lightning-quick first step to burn the initial line of defense, and extreme bounce around the rim for finishes and put-backs. He’s also a menace defensively who showcased elite closing speed in the passing lanes and getting out to contest shooters. He was a key cog in a Vols’ defense that finished the year No. 5 in efficiency.
While Johnson’s physical gifts are tempting, he’ll have to continue to refine his dribble-pass-shoot skill set to make good on his likely top-10 status. Johnson’s half court creation ability is limited by his shaky handle, and it’s hard to project him as a floor spacer right now after he hit only 27 percent of his three-pointers on 48 attempts. Johnson also wasn’t as effective in transition as you’d think given his raw athletic traits, finishing in only the 17th percentile on those opportunities, per Synergy Sports. For a former baseball player who only started focusing full-time on basketball during high school, Johnson’s development arc suggests his skills could quickly improve. He’ll likely be best for a team with a patient approach that can add strength to his body while working on his perimeter skill set.
Garuba debuted for Real Madrid as a 16-year-old and has been on the fast track to international basketball stardom ever since. The 6’8 big man combines long arms (7’3 wingspan) with a strong chest and quick feet to help him play much bigger than his listed size. It feels like Garuba was tailor-made to defend the spread pick-and-roll in the modern game with a non-stop motor and sharp awareness. His offensive development has stagnated recently, but there are reasons to be optimistic despite underwhelming numbers on that end this season. Garuba is a fine passer on the short roll, and has shown some improvement as a shooter over the last two years, hitting 31.6 percent of his threes on low volume this year. Garuba will be an energy big with notable versatility early in his career, but there’s potential here for him to eventually grow into something more.
Kispert has a proven track record as one of the most dynamic three-point shooters in this draft class. He’s made 44 percent of his three-pointers over the last two seasons at Gonzaga on 385 attempts. He showed some ability to shoot off movement, in addition to being an ace on spot-ups opportunities (95th percentile, per Synergy Sports). With nice size at 6’7, it’s easy to imagine him stepping into a floor spacing role early in his career.
Kispert is one of the few seniors expected to be drafted at all. While he did show improved defensive instincts and a stronger frame in his final year at Gonzaga, he’ll have to prove he can defend enough at the NBA level to avoid being targeted by opposing offenses. Kispert certainly has an elite NBA skill, but his advanced age and lack of versatility makes lottery projections feel a little too optimistic.
All Butler did during his junior season was earn First Team All-American honors, lead Baylor to the national championship, and be named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. The 6’3 guard isn’t overwhelmingly big, or strong, or explosive, but he’s one of the most skilled players in this draft class. Butler’s NBA appeal starts with his shooting ability both on catch-and-shoot opportunities and off the dribble. He finished in the 98th percentile on spot-ups, which took up 24 percent of his possessions, per Synergy Sports. Butler is also a skilled shooter off the dribble who can burn an opposing defense when they don’t fight over the top of a screen.
Butler’s ball handling ability ranks near the top of the class, too. He’s a master at changing pace and keeping his defenders off balance with quick crossovers. Unfortunately, Butler has not yet been cleared to play by the NBA because of a heart condition. Here’s hoping he’s healthy enough to get back on the floor and remind everyone how good he is.
Mitchell was the big winner of March Madness this season, rising from a projected mid-to-late first round pick into a possible top-10 selection after helping lead Baylor to the national championship. The 6’2 guard is defined by his tremendous standstill burst that allows him to blow by the initial line of defense. He made incredible strides as a shooter this season, going from a 32.4 percent three-point shooter in 2020 (on 105 attempts) to a 44.7 percent shooter in 2021 (on 141 attempts). On the defensive end, Mitchell earned rave reviews from NBA scouts for his point of attack ball hounding on opposing point guards.
There are reasons to be a bit skeptical of Mitchell’s late rise up draft boards. He’ll turn 23 years old before his rookie year starts, which makes him one of the oldest projected first rounders. He’s also one of the smallest projected first rounders in terms of size. While his shooting improvement this season was great, he only hit 64.1 percent of his free throws, so it’s possible his three-point accuracy was a bit of a fluke. There are enough red flags here to think twice about taking him in the lottery even though he’s still an impressive prospect in certain regards.
Hyland is a super skilled individual scorer who has a deep bag of tricks to get off a good look on his jump shot. The VCU guard was an elite shooter during his two years in college basketball, hitting 39 percent of his threes on a high volume of attempts largely coming off the dribble. For as good as Hyland is with the ball in his hands, he also showed knockdown ability off catch-and-shoot opportunities, finishing in the 96th percentile on spot-ups this season, according to Synergy Sports.
For all of Hyland’s skill as a scorer, his thin 6’3, 175 pound frame will present problems defensively for him at the NBA level. He also needs to get better at leveraging his own scoring ability to better set up teammates. He finished this season with 74 turnovers to 50 assists. Hyland was robbed of a chance to shoot up draft boards in March Madness when a positive Covid test knocked VCU out of the tournament before they played a game. Hyland showed scouts what he could do during a standout scrimmage performance at the combine, and should be appealing in the late first round for teams looking for instant offense off the bench.
McBride is a ferocious on-ball defender who plays bigger than his 6’2 frame due to a huge wingspan that measured a quarter-inch away from 6’9 at the draft combine. The West Virginia sophomore has a deft ability to get over screens, and combined for an impressive three percent steal rate across his two years in college. He made enormous strides as an outside shooter this past season, improving from a 30.4 percent threat (on 79 attempts) from deep to 41.4 percent on 111 attempts.
McBride isn’t particularly potent attacking off the dribble and lacks advanced craft in his passing reads. He’d ideally fit next to a wing initiator where he can spot up off the ball and harass small ball handlers with his length on defense.
Mann was a McDonald’s All-American who had an underwhelming freshman year at Florida before re-establishing himself as a first round NBA prospect with a terrific sophomore season. Mann reportedly grew nearly two inches from his freshman to sophomore year, and noticeably added muscle to his frame. Now a 6’5 lead guard, Mann’s appeal at the NBA level is his combination of slippery ball handling ability with pull-up shooting. Mann lacks elite burst but can get his man off balance with crossovers to get into his pull-up. He hit 40.2 percent of his threes on 112 attempts this season, with many being difficult looks off the bounce. His shot didn’t translate as well to catch-and-shoot situations, where he ranked only in the 50th percentile on spot-ups.
Mann’s biggest area of improvement right now is as a passer. He’s able to make rudimentary reads but lacks advanced vision and craft. His height, shooting, and handling gives him intriguing upside for a mid-to-late first rounder.
Thor is a huge 6’10 forward with tantalizing upside due to his combination of athleticism and developing perimeter skill. Thor is a fluid athlete at his size who runs the floor well and impressed in transition during his freshman season at Auburn. He projects as an energy big early in his career who could grow into a more diverse scorer if his dribble-pass-shoot skill set continues to improve. There were moments when Thor looked dangerous as a shooter, like when he went 5-of-6 from three-point range in a February game against Kentucky. He also had some exciting flashes attacking closeouts with one or two dribble drives. Thor feels like a boom-or-bust prospect, but his impressive physicality and glimpses of skill are worth betting on late in the first.
Duarte will start his rookie season as a 24-year-old who took an unlikely path to become a possible first round pick. A native of the Dominican Republic, Duarte moved to New York for his final years of high school ball and ended up playing two seasons at the JUCO level. When he transferred into Oregon, Duarte quickly showed off his skill as a three-point shooter and perimeter defender in the body of a 6’6 wing. Duarte showed good awareness as a rotational defender that helped produce a 3.2 steal rate that is one of the highest in this draft class. He hit 42.4 percent of his threes on 144 attempts this season, and also made 81 percent of his free throws.
It’s easy to project Duarte into an off-ball role in the NBA as someone who can spot-up along the arc for catch-and-shoot jumpers while defending well in a team context. He doesn’t have much creation ability on the ball which limits his ceiling, and also has a thin frame that hinders him against bigger forwards, but he feels like a solid bet for a rotational wing role player at the end of the first round.
Murphy is a knockdown spot-up shooter who put himself on the map as a potential 3-and-D forward after a breakout season as a transfer at Virginia. Murphy stood 6’4 when he committed to Rice out of high school, but shot up to 6’7 by the time he joined the program. After two productive seasons with the Owls, Murphy made his move to Charlottesville, where he grew another two inches to measure just over 6’9 in shoes with a 7-foot wingspan at the draft combine. Murphy’s rapid growth spurt has accentuated the shooting talent he’s always had. He hit 43.3 percent of his 120 attempts from three-point range this season, with more than half of his offensive possessions coming on spot-ups. His 67 percent true shooting ranked top-20 in America.
The knock on Murphy is that he’s pretty much exclusively a catch-and-shoot threat on offense. He’s not able to create for himself, and only took 12 shots off the dribble all season. Murphy isn’t a particularly powerful or explosive athlete, and his rebounding numbers were disappointing for someone his size. Still, his length will play at any level and a year of defensive tutoring under Tony Bennett should help him execute team schemes. One of the older prospects projected to go in the first round at 21 years old, Murphy enters the draft as a high-floor wing shooter with great size whose ceiling is limited by his lack of speed and offensive versatility.
Ayayi was the most overqualified fourth option in the country on a Gonzaga team that finished 31-1 with its only loss coming in the national title game. On a ‘Zags team with a pro-style offense, Ayayi earned a crash course in how to be an impactful complementary guard. He graded out in the 96th percentile in half-court efficiency by turning into a solid spot-up shooter (39 percent from three on 95 attempts) and showing a great sense for how to pick his spots on cuts to the basket. While Ayayi wasn’t asked to create much with the ball in his hands, he did finish in the 99th percentile of pick-and-roll ball handling efficiency on plays that took up 18.5 percent of his possessions.
The 6’5 French guard lacks an elite NBA skill, but could become a solid rotational guard as a jack-of-all-trades type who already knows how to play as a role player on a talented team.
Christopher is an aggressive scoring wing with a strong frame who enters the draft one year after being the highest-rated recruit in Arizona State history (No. 10 overall). The 6’5 guard has a quick first step and thrives attacking the rim. He’s strong enough to play through contact in the paint, and also has impressive body control around the basket. Christopher will need to improve from three-point range with a high-arcing rainbow shot that only went in at a 30.5 percent clip on 59 attempts this season. He has the physicality to be a good NBA defender and posted an impressive 2.7 percent steal rate this season, but needs to continue to refine his form and awareness on that end.
Christopher’s biggest area of improvement is reading the floor. He finished with more turnovers than assists, and often feels like he’s playing one-on-five with the ball in his hands. His scoring instincts and frame will allow him to compete at the NBA level, but his ultimate ceiling will be determined by how he can fit into a team contexts as well as how he develops his perimeter shot.
Jackson is a bouncy 6’10 forward who went from catching lobs from LaMelo Ball at Ohio’s Spire Academy to playing in a much more crowded halfcourt setting at Kentucky. His explosion around the rim gives him a clear role as an energy big man who can pick up some easy buckets on put-backs offensively while providing supplemental rim protection on defense. Jackson showed some promise defending the pick-and-roll at the level of the screen, but needs to fine-tune his defensive awareness and add strength to absorb contact at the rim. His ability to play above the rim at both ends of the floor as a rebounder, finisher, and rim protector will be intriguing to teams throughout the middle and end of the first round, but his limited ball skills and lack of shooting ability ultimately hinders his ceiling without significant muscle to his frame.
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Frank Bi · Ricky O'Donnell · Sydney Umeri
20 July, 2021 - 09:00am