Jamal Murray, what were you thinking?
The 2021 NBA draft is already being hyped up as one of the best classes in recent years.
The COVID-19 shutdown strengthened this. Several college athletes uncertain about the future of sports decided to play it safe, returning for another year. Therefore means the 2021 draft will not only be strong at the top, but have tremendous depth. A lot will change prior to the actual draft, but here are early projections for the 2021 lottery.
1. Cade Cunningham: PG, Oklahoma State
The Montverde Academy Eagles went undefeated this season with a 25-0 record. Oklahoma State commit Cade Cunningham was a huge reason why. He orchestrated the team on both sides of the ball, taking over their games which weren’t blowout victories.
His season averages of 14 points, 6.5 assists, and 4 rebounds do not jump off the page. However, the Eagles did have several ranked players who he had to share the floor with. And with most of their games being blowout victories, Cunningham often found himself on the bench for the second half. His ability to do everything on the court well is why he is so highly regarded. He has great size as a 6’7 point guard with exceptional court vision.
Cunningham’s jumper has taken massive strides, shooting an impressive 47.5 per cent from three this year. This season will be a huge telling point for the Texas native on a weak Cowboys roster. There are slight question marks about his finishing ability, but overall, Cunningham is the clear top dog in 2021.
2. Jalen Green: SG, G-League Select
Jalen Green has been one of the most entertaining high school players over the past few years. He is primarily known for his high flying dunks and acrobatic layups. Athleticism will be his greatest strength moving forward, especially when using his quick first step to blow by defenders. He also uses this athleticism to draw a lot of fouls from drives around the rim.
Shooting was a concern in the past, but we saw rapid improvement in that department this season at Prolific Prep. Green is the best scorer in this class, with the ability to score from anywhere on the court. The G League commit averaged 31.5 points per game in his senior year. His defence has also improved drastically and has the ability to guard three positions.
Green needs to work in his passing, despite averaging five assists a contest this year. His turnover rate is high compared to his assist rate, and he often ignores open shooters. Shot selection is questionable, often settling for contested deep range looks instead of attacking. Jalen Green became the first top prospect to commit to the G-League Select team this April.
While Cunningham is the clear top pick right now, top-tier performances against professionals could lead to Green snagging that spot.
3. Jonathan Kuminga: SF, G-League Select
Jonathan Kuminga is a polarizing prospect to have at pick three. He decided to reclassify to the class of 2020 to join Jalen Green on the G-League Select team. There are still questions surrounding his skillset, as he missed much of this season with an injury. However, his raw talent is undeniable, with his physical profile setting him apart in high school.
Not only is he extremely quick and bouncy, but his combination of athleticism and strength makes him a nightmare in transition. Kuminga has also displayed playmaking skills, opening up a possibility of seeing him play as a point forward. He has all the tools to be an elite defender and has shown flashes of being one so far. The jump shot is what his development fully depends on.
Kuminga has shown improvements in this area but will need to make it even more consistent to succeed in the NBA.
4. Evan Mobley: C, USC
Evan Mobley may be the safest selection in this draft. The centre is extremely skilled for his size, with the ability to handle and distribute well. He has soft touch and can score in a variety of ways around the rim. His jump shot has improved promisingly, but it remains an aspect of his game that he should look to improve on. Defensively, Mobley does an excellent job of protecting the rim and guarding pick and rolls. Most shots around the rim were affected by Mobley, who blocked 2.2 of these attempts per contest.
He does have a glaring weakness, however, with his size. Despite standing at 211 cm, Mobley is just 93 kg. 211 cm is the average height for an NBA centre, but Mobley is 20 kg away from being average weight. His lack of strength will lead to an inability to guard in the post, and extreme difficulty scoring in the paint. While the future USC Trojan promises to be a high-impact NBA player, his success will depend on whether he can bulk up.
5. Jalen Johnson: SF, Duke
Jalen Johnson is a wing player with a unique combination of skills and athletic ability. At 203 cm and 97 kg, his defensive versatility is impressive. Johnson has the speed and size to guard positions 1-4, and maybe even centres if he bulks up a bit. He also has impressive passing vision for his size, averaging nearly six assists per game this year. He is most dangerous on transition, where he can find teammates with outlets or go all the way himself.
Johnson’s ball-handling ability has improved drastically. Due to improvement in that department, his shot creation ability is significantly better. He still has some work to do offensively, particularly with his jumper. Even without a great jumper, he still managed to get 21 points per game. Playing alongside point guard Jeremy Roach at Duke this year should improve his ability to move without the ball. Off-ball movement is an area that is vital for his development, as it is unlikely that he will be running an NBA offence.
6. Greg Brown III: SF/PF, Texas
Greg Brown has to be given a lot of credit for his improvement in the last season. Over the last 12 months, he has developed his skill set tremendously. The Texas native now has refined technique to go alongside his superhuman athleticism.
Throughout high school, Brown was renowned for posterising dunks and monster blocks, but never stood out in terms of skills. This season he has shown his drastic improvement by having the ball in his hand a lot more. Brown dominated using his physicality by grabbing over 12 boards to go alongside his 25 points per game. His handle looks more controlled, and he is confident dribbling the ball. His jump shot continues to develop, and he has added scoring moves off the dribble to his arsenal.
Standing at 206 cm with his elite athleticism, he may be able to guard against all five positions moving forward. His defensive stats were a brilliant 3.5 blocks and 1.1 steals per contest. If Brown continues to hone his skills, NBA teams will find it difficult to pass on him in the top ten or even top five.
7. Brandon Boston: SG/SF, Kentucky
BJ Boston was one of the nation’s most electrifying offensive talents this year. The 198 cm wing is a pure scorer, with the ability to hurt his opponents from anywhere on the floor. 19.7 points per game on a stacked prep school is a great achievement. This season at Sierra Canyon, he displayed his ability to extend his range and make difficult contested shots.
He is also active defensively, always cutting passing lanes. He does struggle to make the right pass sometimes, not a good sign for a primary option. He often passes up an open man, instead taking highly challenging shots off the dribble.
If he wants to be more of a primary shot creator rather than someone off the ball, he needs to improve his playmaking. At just 79 kg, he needs to add some more muscle at Kentucky in the coming season.
8. Mojave King: SG/SF, Cairns Taipans
Mojave King may not be too well-known in the United States, but he is one of the most talked-about youngsters in Australia. He is a 196 cm scoring wing with a smooth jumper and elite athleticism. He first jumped into lottery pick contention at the 2019 Australian Under-18 championships. Here, he averaged 26.6 points, 5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.6 steals, while shooting 44.6 per cent from the field.
King then played against tougher competition at the 2019 NBA Global Academy games in Atlanta. Here, he averaged 19 points a game, making exactly 50 per cent of his threes. Apart from the obvious scoring talent, King was praised by draft scouts Mike Schmitz and Jonathan Givony for his basketball IQ and overall feel for the game. He will be playing his basketball for the Cairns Taipans in the NBL next season.
He is joining as part of the league’s next stars program, which LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton were a part of last year. King still has a long way to go, but if he takes his game to the next level in Cairns, he could be a lottery lock.
9. Scottie Barnes: PF, Florida State
Scottie Barnes is unique compared to most top high school prospects. Playing his senior season with Cade Cunningham and several other ranked players, Barnes was not asked to score the ball. He was asked to do everything else on the floor, a role in which he excelled.
He is a very hardworking defender, and has the physical tools and the IQ to be an incredible NBA defensive player. He runs the floor hard, rebounds, playmakers, and sets good screens. The comparisons to Draymond Green are obvious but make perfect sense. A high energy player like him will be an ideal glue guy on any NBA team in the future. His only real weakness is his jumper, but that has shown signs of improvement.
Even without taking many jumpers, 57.6 per cent from the field is a big improvement on his part. Barnes’ defence, playmaking ability and overall energy will make him a coveted player for the next two decades.
10. Jalen Suggs: PG/SG, Gonzaga
Jalen Suggs is one of the best dual athletes in recent years. As well as being a five-star recruit for basketball, he was named Mr Football for the state of Minnesota. Suggs decided to focus on basketball, committing to Gonzaga University. He can play either guard spot due to his mix of playmaking, scoring, and athleticism. His shot still needs some work from beyond the arc but has shown promising signs this season.
Defensively, he has all the tools needed to become an elite defender but tends to bite on fakes and go for risky steals too much. This occasionally pays off, averaging nearly three steals per game. Suggs is a fairly safe lottery selection, as you will get someone who can do everything required from a combo guard. How much he develops technically will determine how successful he can be in the NBA.
11. Usman Garuba: PF/C, Real Madrid
Usman Garuba has leapt up draft boards in recent months. Starting off this season as a 17-year-old in the second-best basketball league in the world, Garuba impressed in his 15 minutes per game. He averaged 13 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 67.5 per cent from the field.
The Spaniard was projected to play an undersized centre role in the future due to his inability to shoot. However, he has made 6/19 attempts from deep this season, a promising sign. Standing at 6’8, his physical profile and skill set is very similar to that of future draftee Onyeka Okongwu. Garuba is a good rebounder, shot-blocker and plays with extremely high energy.
And due to his physicality, he is able to protect the rim and switch out onto the perimetre if needed. Other than the occasional three-pointer, he is a lob threat and runs the floor hard in transition. He will get increased minutes this season, so it will be intriguing to see how much he can improve on offence.
12. Terrence Clarke: SG/SF, Kentucky
Terrence Clarke is a wild-card prospect. There were times this season where he looked like a top-five talent, and others where he barely looked like a first-rounder. The future Wildcat has a very streaky jumper, highlighted by shooting 29 per cent from three at the 2019 NBPA top 100. However, his smooth form suggests that he will get it sorted at the next level.
A menace on the break, Clarke is unstoppable when attacking the rim. He has solid defensive fundamentals, but often has lapses of focus guarding a man without the ball. At Brewster Academy, he was the main option and had the ball in his hands a lot. Where he is drafted is going to depend on what he shows off the ball this season at Kentucky. If Clarke can work well with Brandon Boston, sharing the scoring load, then he could be a top-ten pick easily.
13. Ziaire Williams: SF, Stanford
For someone 203 cm and nearly 90 kg, Ziaire Williams’ technical ability is second to none. His mix of handling and playmaking make him someone trusted with the ball in his hand. The future Cardinal possesses a jumper which is usually quite consistent, and his form is fluid.
At the 2019 FIBA Under-19 World Cup, Williams shot 54.2 per cent from the field. He isn’t the best defender in isolation situations, often getting beaten off the dribble. Off the ball he is a far better defender, especially when playing help on interior post-ups.
He is trusted in clutch situations, evident by a game-winner in the Southern Regional championship for Sierra Canyon. Williams’ only real weakness is his physical profile. He is not an explosive athlete, and upper body stiffness means he struggles to score around the rim. Next season at Stanford, his development physically will be instrumental.
14. Caleb Love: PG, North Carolina
Caleb Love has been one of the biggest risers over the past few weeks. He will step right into the starting point guard role at UNC with Cole Anthony’s departure. Love has everything that NBA teams are looking for in a modern floor general. His jumper is clean, and he shoots it at an efficient clip. In his senior year, he averaged a sensational 26.3 ppg, scoring from everywhere on the court.
Decision making with the ball in his hands can be sometimes questionable, but he is still a great passer. The 3.1 assists that he averaged this year will increase at UNC due to his teammates being much better. He plays hard and is a threat on the break with his lightning speed.
He is active on the perimetre defensively, as shown by his 2.6 steals per game. A more refined handle would allow him to create more space for himself and his teammates. This would also produce more opportunities to make quick one-handed reads off the dribble.
Honourable mentions for the lottery
Ibou Dianko Badji: C, FC Barcelona B
Moussa Cisse: C, Memphis
Jaden Springer: SG, Tennessee
Daishen Nix: PG, G League Select
Josh Giddey: SF, Adelaide 36ers
Josh Christopher: SG, Arizona State