Will Morris’ 2021 NBA Draft Board

Given that draft day is finally here, now is a better time than any to give my final thoughts on the 2021 class.

Before I dive in, let’s get a few things out of the way:

#1: I provided a short blurb and clips for some of the players ranked, but I was unable to squeeze every thought I have about this class into one piece. If you have any questions about a prospect’s game or a specific ranking, feel free to shoot me a DM on Twitter @w_a_morris.

#2: My general ranking system isn’t far off from that of most people on Draft Twitter. When putting together this board, I considered what role each player projects to fill on a contending team. There isn’t necessarily one method that all front offices use in team-building, so I acknowledge that this philosophy is flawed. Still, there are basic traits and skills that are scalable across every context, like spot-up shooting for off-ball wings or ball-handling for lead guards.

#3: Players are organized into six different tiers, with each tier containing fewer players as you move towards the top. The further down the board, the less I believe rankings matter. Is there a difference between the #43 and #52 guys in a given draft class? Not really.

#4: This will be wrong. I am incapable of seeing into the future. If someone tells you they are, they’re probably pulling your leg. Of course, my goal here is to be as right as possible, but that’s not the way the draft works. Hopefully, I can look back on this in a few years and learn from some of my mistakes

There are players here who I am substantially lower on than the consensus. I want to make it clear that I hope each and every prospect accomplishes everything they seek. Today is a day where many people’s life-long dreams will come true, and as a fan of humanity above all else, I think that’s a beautiful thing. At the same time, I have to be objective, and if I’m lower on a player, it’s my job to explain why.

Tier 6

Honorable Mentions

A few guys that missed out on the top 60, but still belong in tier 6 and deserve some mention (listed alphabetically):

  • Mitch Ballock-Creighton
  • Chaundee Brown-Michigan
  • Justin Champagnie-Pittsburgh
  • Jalen Crutcher-Dayton
  • Jay Huff-Virginia
  • Scottie Lewis-Florida
  • Sandro Mamukeleshvili-Seton Hall
  • Yves Pons-Tennessee
  • Jason Preston-Ohio
  • Jericho Sims-Texas
  • DJ Steward-Duke

60. Matt Mitchell-San Diego State

Mitchell is a Free Throw rate tank with strong stock numbers, some handling capabilities, and a fairly versatile jumper. I worry about his ground coverage on defense at his current weight, and while 35.5% from three isn’t bad for his 4 years at SDSU, he’s probably going to need to shoot a higher percentage than that moving forward to be a plus-offensive player at the pro-level.

59. Jordan Schakel-San Diego State

58. Juhann Begarin-Paris Basketball

57. Aaron Wiggins-Maryland

56. Neemias Queta-Utah State

55. Josh Primo-Alabama

After impressing teams during the pre-draft process, Primo has propelled himself into the first-round conversation. I can see some of the appeal. He’s the youngest player in the draft, hit 38% of his 9 threes/100 possessions, and has the size and agility to be a solid on-ball defender with some added strength. Still, dubbing him a first-round pick is too much for me.

He’s flashed a smidge of shot-making off the dribble, but he’ll struggle to create separation at the next level without some pretty major ball-handling and athletic improvements. And, though he deserves some pass because of his youth, his defensive tape features plenty of on and off-ball lapses. Primo’s age and potential as an off-ball shooter make him a worthwhile second-round option, but I can’t go any higher than this.

54. Vrenz Bleijenbergh-Port of Antwerp Giants

53. Aamir Simms-Clemson

52. Dalano Banton-Nebraska

Banton is someone who I was quite high on early in early January, even noting that he could sneak his way into the first round. While I’ve cooled since then, it’s hard not to remain intrigued by his blend of size, passing, and foul drawing abilities.

The only 6’8”+ draft picks with higher assist rates than Banton are Ben Simmons, Royce White, and Kyle Anderson. The issue is that Banton, though a willing shooter, is already 21 years old and only shot 24.1% from three and 66.7% from the foul line. If he hits a high-end shooting outcome, he could serve as a helpful rotation player, but that’s a major if.

51. Daishen Nix-Ignite

50. Ayo Dosunmu-Illinois

49. Marcus Zegarowski-Creighton

Zegarowski is one of my favorite guards to watch. He’s a smooth ball-handler with great change-of-pace ability and a deadly jump shot. He’s crafty in pick-and-roll sets, snaking ball screens to get to his pull-up jumper, and his shooting range extends well beyond the college three-point line.

Zegarowski’s main issues stem from his lack of size and athleticism. His woes as a finisher, free-throw generator, and kick-out passer put a cap on his ceiling as a creator, and being an impact defender at 6’2” 180 lbs is a tall task. Still, he’s an interesting value play for teams in need of pull-up shooting off the bench.

48. Isaiah Todd-Ignite

47. Greg Brown-Texas

46. Santi Aldama-Loyola

In 2019, Aldama won MVP of the Fiba U18’s in Greece, a tournament that included Aleksej Pokusevski, Franz Wagner, Usman Garuba, and Alperen Sengun. After his success in Europe, Aldama opted to join Loyola in the Patriot League, a conference in which he was far and away the best player. Aldama did it all for Loyola on offense, operating in dribble hand-off sets, running pick-and-rolls as an initiator, and getting a steady diet of low-post and face-up touches.

He isn’t the most consistent shooter yet, but the fact that he got up 8.5 threes per 100 this year is an encouraging sign moving forward. What holds Aldama back from round 1 territory for me is his defense. Despite being a smart team defender, Aldama doesn’t have the length, strength, or vertical pop to play the 5, but also lacks the foot speed to keep up with most perimeter players. Hiding a big in his mold will be difficult on defense, but I’d be willing to take a chance on his offensive skill set at this point in the draft.

45. Herb Jones-Alabama

I’ll never forget in 2020 when Herb Jones suited up against LSU with a broken wrist, a match-up in which he grabbed 17 rebounds and iced the game with a pair of free throws with his off-hand. His toughness is unteachable. Jones is a terrorizing defensive player who covers ground as well as any prospect in this class, and has been a stocks machine during his Bama career. What keeps him in the second round for me is his offense. He could provide value with his passing, cutting, and offensive rebounding, but his shooting leaves a lot to be desired. He made just 7 threes during his first three seasons and has always had questionable touch on shots inside the arc. This season was his best shooting year (20/57) from three, but his overall shooting profile leaves me skeptical.

44. Quentin Grimes-Houston

A 5-star recruit in High School, Grimes was someone discussed as a potential lottery pick in 2019, but his stock plummeted after a rough stint at Kansas. He transferred to Houston, where he has spent the last two years climbing his way back up draft boards. Grimes shot 40% from three this year on 15.4 attempts/100, with a fair share of his attempts coming off step-backs and side-steps. But, he shot just 29% on long 2’s, only stuck 32.6% and 34.0% of his threes in each of his first two seasons, and is barely over 70% on free throws for his career. While I’m skeptical of Grimes being a true sniper, he’s still worth a shot in the top 50 as a well-built 6’5” guy that could be able to defend at an NBA level and hit catch-and-shoot J’s.

43. Joe Wieskamp-Iowa

42. Raiquan Gray-Florida State

At 6’8” 260 lbs, Gray played as a lead guard for stretches on FSU’s wonky roster. No NBA team will insert Gray into a lead initiator role, but it’s possible he carves out a career for himself as a skilled Forward who exploits mismatches, gets to the foul line, makes good decisions against a tilted D, and crushes souls in transition. Defensively, Gray profiles as someone who can hang with wings on the perimeter, while being super active disrupting drives with digs and walling up in help-side. I have concerns about his ground coverage at his weight, and despite pulling off crazy stuff like this sometimes…

…Gray is still only a career 26.2% three-point shooter. If his touch on floaters and mid-range jumpers (43.2% on non-rim 2-pointers) are indicative of some untapped shooting upside, this ranking could end up looking foolish.

41. Brandon Boston Jr.-Kentucky

Tier 5

40. Day’Ron Sharpe-North Carolina

Sharpe isn’t the flashiest player. He played less than 20 minutes per game in a crowded UNC frontcourt, averaged 10 points a night, and missed both of his two 3-point attempts. Sharpe’s handling and passing abilities are advanced for a player at his size, and I’m hoping an NBA team can utilize his vision in more ways than just simple high-low actions. He’s also a hard competitor on the boards, leading the entire NCAA in offensive rebounding rate. There are real questions here that keep him at the bottom of tier 5, particularly regarding how he scores against NBA players. But at this point in the draft, I’m willing to bet on his strength, motor, passing chops, and youth.

39. Austin Reaves-Oklahoma

38. Tre Mann-Florida

If I were ranking players solely on aesthetics, Mann would be in the lottery. He’s a silky ball-handler whose outlier ankle flexibility allows him to get low on his crosses and create space for himself. Mann is one of the best off-the-dribble shooters in this class, making more pull-up threes/40 minutes than any other 2021 guard prospect and slotting in behind only Cam Thomas and McKinley Wright IV in unassisted long 2’s/40.

My general concern with Mann is that he’ll have to carry a heavy bulk of usage to make his off-the-dribble shot-making worthwhile, and given his woes as a decision-maker and inability to get downhill, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable putting him in that kind of role. There just haven’t been many guys this overly reliant on pull-up shooting that have stuck around as anything more than bench combo-guards.

37. Isaiah Livers-Michigan

36. Rokas Jokubaitis-Žalgiris

Jokubaitis is a sturdy, left-handed guard who already has over 750 minutes of Euroleague action to his name. At Zalgiris, he picked up valuable experience playing both on and off the ball. Lacking in burst, Rokas wins off the dribble with his craftiness, hitting defenders with half-spins and head fakes. He’s a solid passer in pick-and-roll situations, capable of hitting the roll man for pocket passes, mostly with his dominant hand.

His pull-up three ball needs a fair amount of work, and his inability to consistently get two feet in the paint limits his ceiling as a creator, but Rokas can still excel in a more off-ball-oriented role with his cutting, spot-up shooting, and closeout attacking.

Defensively, I think that Rokas is much better than he gets credit for. He gets knocked out of plays by screens too often, but he competes hard, is rarely out of place off-ball, and could offer some switchability with his strength. Rokas likely won’t ever be an NBA starter, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up working his way into a rotation at some point, especially if he hits a high-end shooting outcome.

35. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl-Villanova

34. Joel Ayayi-Gonzaga

33. Cameron Thomas-LSU

32. Aaron Henry-Michigan State

Henry spent his first two seasons at MSU as a low usage complimentary wing. But, with the departures of both Xavier Tilman and Cassius Winston, Henry was forced to become the focal point of the Spartan’s offense. Still, Henry projects more as a 5th scoring option in most line-ups at the next level. Henry needs to shoot to be a viable offensive player, and I’m not fully confident that he’ll be able to do so. His volume and efficiency from range dipped to 29.6% on around 5 attempts/100 this year. If the shooting comes around, Henry could provide some value with his closeout attacking. He’s a solid lay-down passer and possesses a weirdly proficient floater game.

The real go-to skill here is his on-ball defense. He always gets down in a stance, and his combination of strength and hip fluidity is Josh Green-esque. He makes too many preventable mistakes away from the ball, which is concerning for someone his age, but it was nice to see him make some strides as a playmaker. He racked up strong steal and block rates of 2.4% and 4.1%.

There are players ranked below Henry who I’m more confident in to find a place in a rotation, but I always like betting on wings with NBA size and his kind of defensive ability.

31. Chris Duarte-Oregon

30. Ziaire Williams-Stanford

29. Davion Mitchell-Baylor

Baylor’s huge March Madness run has put Mitchell in the lottery conversation. Though undersized at 6’1” in shoes, Mitchell is a fantastic point-of-attack defender whose motor never runs cold. His height obviously prevents him from manning up on larger perimeter players, but he should be a guy that opposing guards hate to play against.

The offensive end is where most of my questions lie. Mitchell’s standstill burst makes him difficult for defenders to contain, and his ability to quickly decelerate allows him to create space for his step-back jumper. His 44.7% three-point percentage pops off the stat sheet, but he shot 31.2% from three cumulatively before this year, and he’s always been a poor free-throw shooter.

There’s nothing mechanically that leads me to believe that Mitchell won’t shoot, but his numbers suggest he’s more likely to be a solid/good shooter than a good/great shooter. I worry more about other things, like his tendency to play too sped up, consistently high turnover numbers, and inability to finish against larger rim protectors with his lack of vertical athleticism, size, and length.

28. Miles McBride-West Virginia

Like Davion Mitchell, McBride is another small Big 12 guard that can bring value as a perimeter defender. McBride, listed at 6’2.5” in shoes, is a bit taller and is blessed with a significantly longer wingspan (6’9”). He’s an excellent lateral mover that gets over screens efficiently. His hands are incredibly strong and active.

McBride’s strength, length, and extra few inches in height give him more potential as someone who can switch onto bigger offensive players. McBride’s off-ball defense isn’t perfect. His over aggression on denials leads to a lot of back cuts. His instincts and ground coverage are impressive, however, and he flashes the ability to anticipate passes before they happen.

McBride displayed an interesting pull-up game as a Freshman, but in a higher usage role this year, he developed into a volume mid-range scorer. The issue is that the vast majority of McBride’s buckets come on tough jumpers. This inability to generate easy looks inside, along with his lack of vision and ambition as a passer, leads me to believe that McBride will be better served as an off-guard at the next level- someone who ideally slots in next to a larger initiator.

27. David Johnson-Louisville

26. Trey Murphy III-Virginia

After spending his first two seasons at Rice, Murphy III transferred to Virginia, where he quickly established himself as a legitimate NBA prospect. At 6’9”, his shooting numbers are excellent. He’s a career 40.5% three-point bomber and 82.3% free throw shooter. Just this year, he shot a remarkable 43.3% from three and 92.7% from the line. What makes me hesitant to put Murphy III in the top tier of sharpshooters in this class is his lack of versatility. Murphy is exclusively a stationary shooter, taking very few threes off of either movement or the bounce. Offensively, he’ll most likely be limited to spot-up threes and cuts.

Defensively, Murphy is an exceptionally fluid mover for someone of his size. He covers ground and navigates screens well, and could be able to contain smaller players on-the-ball. However, at just 206 lbs., Murphy’s lack of functional strength is a major issue, as he gets bumped off his spots way too frequently.

In retrospect, this might end up being too low. Murphy has a pretty clear path to being a solid player on both ends of the floor. I don’t know if he has the upside to be much more than that, however, barring some unexpected strength gains or movement shooting improvements.

Tier 4

25. Bones Hyland-VCU

Bones is a world-class shooter. Double step-backs, side-steps, coming off pin-downs, pulling it from 30+ feet, you name it, Bones will happily take it. Getting up 15.1 attempts/100 possessions over his two years at VCU is absurd, and drilling 39.9% of those shots when factoring in the degree of difficulty on his average shot is equally as impressive. Bones also improved tremendously as a slasher and finisher this year. As a freshman, he averaged just 1.57 unassisted rim makes/40, finishing at a 54.5% clip. This year, he finished 65.3% of his rim attempts and averaged 2.25 unassisted rim makes/40.

His free throw rate also lept from .104  to a much more respectable .321. He doesn’t overwhelm defenders with his burst, but instead relies on his shifty handle and herky-jerky movement skills to get inside. His ground-bound play style and his lack of strength make me wary of projecting him as a high-level finisher, but his blend of length and body control gives me hope that he’ll be better than other small guards in that regard.

Bones has plenty of flaws as a creator. He struggles with maintaining ball control and keeping his head up when faced with traps and double teams, and his passing has never popped for me. Still, I think he has a bit more ball-in-hand equity than the Tre Mann’s of the world given his slashing improvements and potential as a +++shooter. Defensively, Bones does a good job using his 6’9” wingspan to be disruptive in the passing lanes (3.3 steal rate), but his focus waxes and wanes, and it’s tough to expect someone at his height and weight to be anything other than a negative.

24. Sam Hauser-Virginia

I’m stealing this from my Hauser piece from back in March, but here I present the 500+ 3PA, 40+ 3P%, 80+ FT% club, sans the few undersized college guards who couldn’t muster up defensive BPM’s over 1.0 and steal and block rates greater 0.5%:

Name Height Weight BPM OBPM DBPM 3PA 3P% 3PA/100 FTA FT% STL% BLK%
Stephen Curry 6’3″ 185 15.4 11.3 4.0 688 41.3 17.2 390 88.5 3.7 1.0
Sam Hauser 6’8″ 218 7.8 6.4 1.4 704 43.9 10.4 217 88.0 1.4 1.7
Ryan Broekhoff 6’7″ 215 7.7 6.4 1.3 591 41.1 10.1 373 81.5 2.2 2.8
Cameron Johnson 6’9″ 210 7.1 5.4 1.7 628 40.4 10.5 271 81.5 1.7 1.1
Sam Merrill 6’5″ 205 6.6 5.3 1.2 748 41.7 10.1 494 88.9 1.7 0.6
Corey Kispert 6’7″ 220 6.4 4.9 1.5 602 41.0 9.5 233 82.4 1.4 1.4
Jon Diebler 6’6″ 205 6.3 4.4 1.8 900 41.6 11.9 263 82.1 1.9 0.6
Desmond Bane 6’6″ 215 6.1 4.3 1.8 563 43.2 7.8 268 80.2 1.8 1.3
Langston Galloway 6’2″ 202 5.8 4.8 1.0 806 42.6 10.5 407 82.1 2.2 1.5
Dakota Mathias 6’4″ 197 5.8 3.3 2.5 597 41.9 9.7 149 80.5 1.7 0.5
Duncan Robinson 6’8″ 190 5.4 3.9 1.5 555 42.0 12.1 140 86.4 1.4 1.3
Justinian Jessup 6’7″ 202 5.4 3.6 1.8 773 40.4 11.4 200 84.0 2.1 1.7
Scott Wood 6’6″ 169 4.8 3.7 1.1 809 41.3 10.9 265 88.3 1.3 1.8
Jacobi Boykins 6’6″ 160 4.3 3.1 1.2 655 40.2 12.0 270 80.0 2.4 1.6
Matt Thomas 6’5″ 195 3.9 2.8 1.1 634 40.1 10.2 157 81.5 1.5 0.6

*Courtesy of Barttorvik

He leads the list, which consists mostly of NBA players, in 3P% and ranks second in BPM.

Hauser is the best off-ball shooter in this class. He can drill shots with momentum going left, right, or backward. He lets it fly off the pop or in transition. Hauser sprints off screens, contorts his body, and self-organizes in mid-air, and his high release point allows him to get his shot off over most any contest. He’s as intelligent an off-ball relocator as you’ll find, and he takes full advantage of his gravity to create easy looks for his teammates.

Sam will bleed value on the defensive end – the question is how much. He’s a smart team defender who generally knows where to be, but he doesn’t cover ground efficiently and severely lacks strength. Even with those concerns, I can’t rank someone with his size and truly special shooting ability any lower than this.

23. Jonathan Kuminga-Ignite

22. Jalen Johnson-Duke

Kuminga and Johnson are two blue-chip Forward prospects that I’m a bit lower on than most. From a physical standpoint, Kuminga is about as far along as you want for a teenager. He’s 6’6” 210 lbs., boats solid explosive for someone his size, and is a great vertical athlete in space. The issue is that Kuminga is extremely raw from a skills perspective, to the point where it’s difficult to pinpoint the one thing that he’ll bring to an NBA floor from day 1.

I think his best trait is probably his slashing. He put his physical tools to use in the G-League attacking closeouts, drawing contact and getting to the foul line. It’s worth questioning how functional this skill will be moving forward, however, given that he may not be a good enough shooter to draw closeouts. On a limited sample size, Kuminga shot 24.6% from three and 62.5% from the foul line this year, and his efficiency on close-range shots (38.6% on non-dunk attempts within 14 feet of the basket) makes me question his natural touch.

He has his moments on the defensive end, using his strength to body opposing wings at the point of attack, or rotating from the weak side to swat shots at the rim. But for the most part, his defensive film is pretty rough. He frequently falls asleep away from the ball and allows dribble penetration far too often for someone with his physical tools.

Like Kuminga, Johnson is a well-built Forward who is comfortable handling the ball and has work to do as a shooter. Johnson has less creation equity, rarely even taking dribble jumpers, and his stiffness prevents him from creating separation, even when faced up against bigs. He also doesn’t get to the free-throw line like Kuminga, often settling for awkward learners rather than using his strength and embracing contact.

There are a few factors that give Johnson the ever-so-slight edge for me in a vacuum. Johnson is a fantastic passer for someone his size, delivering accurate well-timed kick-out passes, identifying double teams from the post, or finding cutters from the top of the key. I think there are outcomes where Johnson can leverage his passing and handling abilities in short-roll situations like a big.

Furthermore, Johnson is a pretty smart off-ball mover who has the potential to be one of the more effective cutters in this class. That said, this is still a project whose woes as a team defender and shooter make him a tough projection.

21. Kessler Edwards-Pepperdine

Kessler Edwards is an objectively great team defender at 6’8” with excellent lateral agility, and he drilled 39% of his 374 career three-point attempts in college. It’s puzzling to me that most major media sites have him ranked as a second-rounder.

I think most people’s hesitancy with Kessler comes from his unorthodox shooting form. To me, you can’t argue with the results. Edwards shot 88.7% from the foul line this year, displays good touch on his mid-range fadeaways, and can shoot off of semi-movement. The defense will be his calling card. Edwards is nimble for someone his size, and should be able to effectively guard many 2’s on an island. From a team defense perspective, Edwards is a true savant. He covers ground like a madman and is rarely out of place.

Edwards looked strong functionally against WCC players, but I worry some about how he’ll hold up against NBA bigs given that he’s only 203 lbs. It’s also a bit concerning that there haven’t been many old, low usage, mid-major draftees who have stuck in the NBA. Still, Kessler’s defense and buyable jumper make him an obvious first-round guy for me.

20. Alperen Sengun-Besiktas

19. Kai Jones-Texas

I wouldn’t question anyone for having Kai way higher or lower than this. He runs the floor like a gazelle at 6’11”, and his length + leaping ability will allow him to provide instant vertical spacing. Jones picked up boatloads of easy baskets at Texas on baseline cuts and offensive rebounds, and like teammate Greg Brown, he will try to dunk everything. What really makes Kai Jones such an intriguing prospect, is his ever-growing offensive skill set. Jones has flashed some off the dribble shooting, and he loves using jab steps to create space for his jumper. His highs on the defensive end are ridiculously high. Kai is coordinated enough to sit down in a stance and slide with smaller wings on the perimeter and has the length and vertical pop to deter shots from help-side.

It’s all just so inconsistent. He’s mistake-prone, sometimes missing point-blank layups, dropping easy passes, and simply throwing the ball away. 39% from three this year is nice, but he only did it on 33 attempts. Kai has shot in the 60’s from the foul line over the last two years and only went 24/58 on non-dunk two-pointers this season. And, while his highs on the defensive end are high, the lows are low. He’s incredibly jumpy, suffers lapses all the time off-ball, and gets bullied inside and on the glass against stronger bigs.

Kai is on a unique development trajectory. He grew up training to be a long jumper but switched to basketball when he was 15 years old. So, while Kai isn’t that young by prospect standards, he’s still new to the game. Does that mean he’s on some unprecedented growth curve and is destined for greatness, or does it make it even scarier that someone this raw could be playing against the world’s best competition as soon as next year? I have no idea.

What I do know is that there’s a real chance that Kai isn’t ever a rotation player. But, at some point, you just have to bet on the flashes.

18. Josh Christopher-Arizona St.

17. James Bouknight-UConn

16. JT Thor-Auburn

One of the youngest players in this class, Thor offers some intriguing high-end outcomes because of his physical tools and potential shooting versatility. Thor only shot 29.1% from three this year, but it’s rare for a 6’9” 18-year old to take over 6 three-point attempts per 100, drill 74% of his FT attempts, show a willingness to fire off of screens, and hit pull-ups and turnaround jumpers from mid-range, and shoot off the pop.

Defensively, Thor is a bit erratic, but he’s further along than someone like Kai Jones. I think that his vertical and lateral athleticism are both slightly overblown. He’s still a fluid mover, but he doesn’t get off the ground as quickly or move his feet quite as well as some of the other defensive freaks in this class. Thor’s appeal lies in his ground coverage, where his long strides and 7’3” wingspan allow him to neutralize advantages.

There’s no guarantee that Thor will ever be a high-level shooter, and his play-to-play impact on defense may never improve, but there are attainable pathways for him to become a valuable two-way Forward.

15. Corey Kispert-Gonzaga

14. Jared Butler-Baylor

This might seem high for a combo-guard that doesn’t put much pressure on the rim, but Butler is just too good a basketball player not to be taken top 20. He can pull-up from way beyond the college three-point line, use his silky handle to get to his mid-range floater, and sprint into threes off of pin-downs.

He’s a smart decision-maker in PnR, hitting the roll man with well-placed lobs and dishing skip passes. He’s even a fantastic defender for someone his size, with great awareness and a knack for forcing turnovers (3.7% steal rate). Butler screams 10-year pro.

13. Isaiah Jackson-Kentucky

Jackson is someone who I’m considerably higher on than most of Draft Twitter, but I understand some of the skepticism. Most of his appeal lies on the defensive end, where Jackson is the best rim protector in this class without the initials EM. There are possessions where his awareness lags behind, but his ground coverage, length, and vertical athleticism are special enough that he still posted a 12.8% block rate.

Jackson makes his fair share of mistakes in PnR defense, but his mobility could allow him to one day be able to hedge-and-recover and survive on late switches. He straight up doesn’t have an off-switch on defense. His energy and jumpiness get him into foul trouble a lot, but he attacks the glass hard and gives everything he has whenever he’s on the floor.

Jackson was on a short leash at Kentucky, limited mostly to lobs and put-backs, but I think he may have a more expansive skill set than he showed in college. He has a pretty reliable jumper from 15-20 feet, and he made 70% of his free throws.

He has an overwhelming first step for a big, capable of ripping his way to the basket on face-ups. His playmaking flashes are also intriguing. He turns the ball over a lot, but Jackson has shown some quick decision-making on short-rolls. Is there a world where he can put the ball on the deck and make passes off of movement? Jackson might just be an erratic bench big, but you never know with Kentucky.

12. Keon Johnson-Tennessee

Tier 3

11. Scottie Barnes-Florida St.

10. Usman Garuba-Real Madrid

Usman Garuba is one of the more accomplished players in this class. He signed with Real Madrid at just 12 years old and played a key role on many of the club’s dominant youth teams. In Fiba competition, Garuba won MVP of the 2016 under-16’s as a 14-year old and helped lead Spain to victory in the 2019 under 18’s. Garuba even surpassed the great Luka Doncic as the youngest player to make an appearance for Real Madrid’s senior team.

At just 19 years old, Garuba already has over 120 appearances in both the EuroLeague and Liga ACB play. That alone is an impressive feat. What makes Garuba even more special is the fact that he’s been a legitimately high-impact defender against some of the best competition in the world. What stands out is his versatility.

He’s technically one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in his class, with good enough movement skills to switch onto guards. Heck, Real Madrid would sometimes assign him to pick up the opposing team’s point guard full court. He probably doesn’t have the size or pop off of two feet to play the 5 for long stretches, but his 7’2” wingspan, strength, and incredible play recognition should allow him to thrive as a help-side rim protector.

Garuba’s offensive projection is a bit murkier. Most of his half-court usage this year came from spot-ups, where he showed some progression as a catch-and-shooter. He finished the year at 31.6% on 133 total three-point attempts, and 65.9% from the foul line. These obviously aren’t incredible numbers, but considering his unwillingness to shoot from range in the past, I’m much more confident about him as a viable floor spacer than I was last year.

Aside from shooting, Garuba should be someone who provides value in the little things – setting strong screens, competing on the offensive glass, and making sound decisions as a passer. It’s also worth tracking developments to his short roll and dribble-hand-off game moving forward. Garuba movement passing has improved immensely since last season, and with a little bit of work as a ball-handler, Garuba could have real utility as a short roller.

9. Jaden Springer-Tennessee

8. Josh Giddey-Adelaide

Giddey put up an eye-popping stat line of 10.9 points, 7.5 assists, and 7.4 boards per game on 43-29-69 shooting splits in the NBL, the same league that LaMelo Ball played in before last year’s draft. At 6’8”, Giddey is a fantastic passer who uses his size to see over defenses and has a keen understanding of angles. He throws audacious darts with either hand, frequently trying to squeeze passes into tiny windows. In spite of his experimental tendencies, he still maintained a 2.25 assist to turnover ratio.

Giddey falls somewhere on the scale of linker and initiator. Is he someone who you can run an offense through, or is he a complimentary player who adds value with his size, passing, and spot-up shooting? There are definitely scenarios where Giddey tightens his handle up a little bit and makes a pull-up shooting leap. Maybe he improves his burst and gains the strength necessary to finish through contact.

I think I’m a little bit more in the linker camp, as projecting substantial athletic and handling gains seems like a bit of a stretch, but someone with his size and smarts is undoubtedly worth taking this high.

7. Sharife Cooper-Auburn

Sharife has a polarizing set of strengths and weaknesses. His 22.8% 3-point percentage and 49.5% rim field goal percentage have been cited to death by detractors. The concerns are real: Sharife doesn’t have picture-esque shooting mechanics and it’s impossible to be an efficient finisher or effective defender at his size.

At the same time, Sharife’s strengths are unignorable. His abilities to get two feet in the paint and create advantages with his handle are unmatched by anyone in this class. He’s a masterful pick-and-roll ball-operator who loves snaking to his spots and has a habit of making drop bigs look silly with his in-and-out dribble. And then there’s the passing. Cooper is a true proactive passer who excels in manipulating defenders with his eyes. His immense rim gravity allows him to create easy kick-out and dump-off opportunities, and he’s capable of making precise live-dribble skip and lob passes with either hand.

The two big offensive swing skills for Cooper are his 3-point jumper and his in-between game. Auburn basically told Cooper to get downhill at all costs. This is part of the reason why his finishing percentage is so low and his free throw rate is so high. Cooper’s NBA staff should encourage him to find a balance between his floater and driving into the trees.

Cooper has some positive shooting indicators: he put up 7.8 threes/100 this year and shot 82.5% from the foul line. This is not an Elfrid Payton-type shooting profile. And besides, some of the league’s pull-up maestros were actually poor shooters as freshmen.

I understand why someone would rank him lower than this. Sharife’s floor is probably a back-of-the-rotation guard whose lack of shooting and defense make him hard to put on the floor in playoff settings. But, if you believe in the shot enough, there’s an argument for picking him even higher than 7.

6. Moses Moody-Arkansas

5. Franz Wagner-Michigan

Franz is on such an interesting development curve. Before arriving in Ann Arbor, Wagner was a rotation player for Alba Berlin in both the German BBL and Eurocup. What was he known for back then? Shooting. Franz had a .472 three-point attempt rate, drilling 38.4% of his threes and 89.2% of his free throws across all competitions. Wagner’s percentages and volume dipped at Michigan, and he’s rightfully criticized for passing up open shots. But man, there’s so much low-hanging fruit here. Getting a guy with his pre-college shooting history to let it fly more often should be easier than most are making it out to be.

Wagner might not be a star on offense, but his skill-set is one of the more scalable in this entire class. He’s an excellent cutter and heady off-ball passer. He’s capable of getting inside against closeouts (though I’d like to see him embrace contact at the rim more often) and he’s developed into a real scoring threat from the in-between areas. He’s a smart playmaker who has a chance to receive second-side PnR reps if he gets defenders to consistently go over his screens.

The most underrated thing about Wagner is just how massive he is. He stands somewhere between 6’9” and 6’11” with endless arms, and while he’s not Yves Pons, he certainly isn’t thin. He’s omnipresent on defense, always lurking to step up and contest a pull-up, come out of nowhere to jump a passing lane or alter a shot attempt with his weak-side rim protection.

Finding 19-year old two-way wings who are this impactful isn’t easy. Franz is someone I can’t bet against.

Tier 2

4. Jalen Suggs-Gonzaga

The love for Suggs has died down a considerable amount since the beginning of the season. Many have pointed to his context at Gonzaga as a reason to halt the hype train. Gonzaga’s offense certainly masked some of his offensive warts, and it is worth asking what Suggs would have looked like carrying 28%+ usage in a context like Cade had at Oklahoma State.

To me, the “franchise-changing lead-guard” outcomes for Suggs are unrealistic. He doesn’t have the best handle, struggling to deal with heavy pressure and even just randomly losing control of the ball at times. I think his finishing leaves plenty to be desired as well. A two-footed leaper, Suggs isn’t a great vertical athlete in tight spaces, nor does he have the craft necessary to compensate.

That being said, Suggs is still a helluva prospect. He’s a fantastic off-ball defender, rarely out of position and able to take full advantage of his explosiveness and preternatural instincts to jump passing lanes and protect the rim from the weak side. Suggs is a sturdy on-ball defender against guards, and his strength gives him some potential switchability onto larger players.

Suggs isn’t someone who bends a defense by himself, but he’s going to thrive in an offense with multiple creators. Against a tilted floor, Suggs’ passing vision, pull-up shot-making, and driving should all stand out. I also love the way he plays in transition, pushing downhill on the break and throwing full court outlet passes. Suggs might not have the franchise-changing potential of this year’s top prizes, but #3 guy on a serious contender? That seems very reasonable.

3. Jalen Green-Ignite

Green’s scoring upside is immense. The 6’5” 2-guard is an elite finisher in spite of a skinny frame, relying on his special vertical athleticism and in-air body control. Green’s limitations hold him back a little bit as a slasher, as he currently lacks the strength to be a free throw magnet and his relatively loose handle prevents him from getting two feet in the paint at will.

Still, Green will likely put lots of pressure on the rim in the NBA, and he does a good job countering it with a budding off-the-dribble jumper. Green’s deceleration allows him to create space for his shot with incredible ease. And, his off-ball scoring may even be just as impressive as his on-ball shot-making. He’s a deadly cutter who has shown promise as a movement shooter.

Coming into the year, I worried about Green’s general decision-making on both ends of the floor. I have to say, his G-League sample really impressed me. Green isn’t a ball-stopper, and he actually showed some proficiency making pocket passes in PnR and using his rim gravity to create easy dump-offs and kick-out passes. Defensively, he showed a level of rotational awareness that I did not expect.

Still, Green probably is more bucket-getter than lead ball-handler – mind my cliche comparison, but think Zach LaVine. On a serious contender, he’ll be best served as a player that slots in alongside another lead decision-maker in the half-court rather than “the guy.”

Tier 1

2. Evan Mobley-USC

This class has a 6’8” wing initiator on an insane development curve as a pull-up shooter…but I still can’t put him in a tier of his own. Evan Mobley is that good.

From a statistical standpoint, I’m not sure that Mobley’s Freshman year could have gone any better. He posted block and steal rates of 8.7% and 1.4%, finished 78.5% of his shots at the rim, and led the whole nation in BPM.

It’s hard to find holes in Mobley’s defensive game. He has perfect technique when playing in drop, but also has the mobility to defend above the level of screens. He’s the closest thing to a switch big I’ve ever evaluated (in my relatively short time), with the hip fluidity to defend shiftier ball-handlers on the perimeter. Mobley is an incredible rim protector whose quick leaping and length allow him to deter whatever comes his way. Mobley manages to patrol the paint without getting into foul trouble, only getting called for 2.1 fouls per 40 minutes. His most impressive trait is probably his ground coverage. Mobley’s massive stride lengths allow him to eat up space on closeouts and make rim rotations that few NBA bigs can make. His only real defensive flaw is his rebounding. Mobley is only 220 lbs., so establishing position against the bruisers of the league will be a challenge.

At the very least, Mobley is a high-end play finisher and short-roll passer on offense, but his ceiling is something much greater than that. He only shot 30% from three this year, but he’s confident enough to shoot when open, and his coordination and touch inside the arc give me a lot of hope for his jumper moving forward. Mobley takes a lot of self-created two-point jumpers, comfortable getting to his spots for hook shots and pull-ups.

He drilled 45.9% of his mid-range attempts this year, with over half of his made field goals from these areas being unassisted. Mobley’s passing is also impressive, making quick decisions in short-rolls, identifying double teams, throwing full-court outlet passes, and dropping live dribble dimes with either hand. He’s set to join Greg Monroe as the only 6’11”+ draftee to record an assist rate above 12% as a Freshman.

I’ll leave it at this: I feel pretty damn good about the player who I have ranked at number 1, but Evan Mobley at least makes it a conversation. I think that there are realistic, albeit somewhat unlikely, scenarios where Mobley is initiating pick-and-rolls and shooting dribble-jumpers at 7-feet, all while being an All-Defense level big.

1. Cade Cunningham-Oklahoma St.

I’m not straying from the consensus here: Cade Cunningham is the top prospect in this class. The 6’8” wing initiator has starred against every competition level he’s faced up to this point in his career, and the NBA should be no different. Cade isn’t the world’s most explosive athlete, but he wins with pace, flexibility, sharp change-of-direction ability, and strength as a slasher. Despite what the assist numbers at Oklahoma St. may show, Cade is an exceptional playmaker capable of throwing live dribble passes with either hand and making every pick-and-roll read in the book.

It’s crazy to think that Cade’s jumper was considered a swing skill coming into the season. 40% from three on nearly 9 attempts/100 possessions is…yeah. Cade is comfortable creating space for jumper using side-steps and step-backs, and over half of his made threes, this year were unassisted. The only real offensive concerns I have are with his handle. Cade has trouble maintaining ball control at times, which probably makes Luka Doncic or James Harden-type outcomes on offense unlikely.

Cade’s intelligence translates to the other end of the floor, where he should be a plus-team defender from day one. He’s a big, strong, 6’8” guy who can slide with most wings and protect the rim from the weak side.

Detroit is getting a good one.

7 thousand plus words from the madman himself, Will Morris on this banger of a big board.

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Happy Draft Day, everyone!

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