Each and every year, I find myself as a draft obsessor going through the same process. I take my notes throughout the year and circle names that I want to make sure to take a closer look at. Usually, I'll find myself diving into a rabbit hole on Synergy towards the beginning of the year, trying to educate myself on the international crop of talent for the upcoming draft first. It's a process that I'm constantly adding to. Once the NCAA tournament finishes, the switch flips. I'll make myself a lengthy list of prospects to watch film of and go one by one, getting familiar with each and every player as I try to prepare myself for the anarchy that is putting a draft board together. It's something that I personally take a lot of pride in, and it's something that I've loved doing my entire life. Every draft class is special and unique in its own way. I find myself more fascinated when individuals will try to say that a certain class isn't as strong as others. Take for example the 2020 draft class, in which the common narrative was the "lack of star power." I didn't see that. Honestly, I saw a class that was rich with talent that could help NBA teams take the next step forward. Not to pat my own back, but so far that looks correct. But this year...we have something special on our hands, ladies and gentlemen.
THE TRIO OF HYPE
It's been hyped as one of the strongest draft classes in recent memory and the deeper you dive into this class, you see why it has the potential to be something special. If you've been paying attention to the incoming class, you should know the obvious. Cade Cunningham is the alpha, and he's legit folks. Don't be the person that is scared of the assist numbers and tries to overthink this one. Cade is #1 and it's a slam dunk for whichever team is lucky enough to win the lottery. At 6'8" with a terrifying potential to dominate both sides of the ball, Cunningham has been one of those prospects that simply does something every game in which you find yourself drooling over him to be inserted into an NBA lineup. Right after Cunningham, we have ourselves a clear #2 in Evan Mobley. The USC product stands at 7'0" but has the skill set that teams are giddy about for the modern-day NBA. The term "unicorn" will be thrown around often when discussing Mobley and it's for good reason. Mobley not only has the potential to be a floor-spacing threat who can score at multiple levels, but he's also a sensational threat on the defensive side of the ball with great rim protection potential. Although I'm not a person that does the "tier" rankings when it comes to NBA Draft prospects, you could make an argument that Mobley and Cunningham find themselves in a tier alone. We're talking about potential franchise superstars when it comes to both of those players. As of now, the next name on my list is Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs. There's a narrative going around that Suggs benefitted from playing with a powerhouse roster at Gonzaga, but we need to throw that out of the window right now. Look, I get it. The Zags put out a starting five that potentially can have as many as 4 players getting drafted in 2021. But Suggs has the talent to be a franchise floor general in the NBA. He's a three-level scoring threat with great size at 6'5" and his playmaking cannot be understated.
TWO MORE POTENTIAL STARS
After those three, some might argue that there are some question marks about the remaining players. But I'm actually going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe there are two other prospects that could become stars in this class. Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga have the upside to become stars. Kuminga and Green spent the year developing their game in the G-League, playing for the G-League Ignite team instead of deciding to spend a year playing college hoops. It was a risky move by both of the young studs, as they became the first wave of highly touted recruits to go directly into the G-League instead of spending a year as a potential one-and-done in the college ranks. When it comes to Jalen Green, the freakish athleticism is going to be the specific skill that allows him to have some potential early success in the NBA. Personally, I'm always a little skeptical of a wing prospect that comes in with the "high-flyer" tag. Mainly because you wonder if that player has dominated in the high school ranks just because he can out jump everyone. Usually, when those types of players get to the NBA, they are in for a rude awakening when the playing field has been leveled. But when you turn the tape on with Green...that's not the case. Green has the tools to be a star in this league. His offensive weaponry is a pleasant surprise, and you can see that he has some serious wiggle to his game which can make him a potential nightmare for opposing defenses. His teammate with the Ignite has the tools to be a franchise building block as well. Jonathan Kuminga looks as if he was built in a lab and someone designed the perfect prototype for a wing in the NBA today. ESPN has Kuminga listed at 6'8" 220 pounds. The Congo product looks to have a fantastic frame too that should put on some muscle in a hurry and make him an imposing threat early on. Kuminga still has plenty of untapped potential on the offensive side of the ball when it comes to scoring, but his playmaking and vision stood out on tape in a big way. Not to mention that Kuminga won't turn 19-years-old until October, the kid also has some scary potential as a defensive weapon.
SNEAKY LOTTERY OPTIONS
There are going to be some fascinating options all over this draft, and right now I want to shine a light on some of the names that could become interesting pieces throughout the lottery. Hopefully, you have figured out that Baylor guard Davion Mitchell has been one of the hottest names around the draft world as of late. Mitchell is a prospect who saw his stock soar during the second half of the NCAA season, especially with Baylor's run towards a national championship. Mitchell will intrigue teams as a potential demon on both sides of the ball, as he possesses rare quickness and is an absolute menace on the defensive side of the ball. Another player that you should keep an eye on is Gonzaga wing, Corey Kispert. You'll find a variety of opinions around the draft world when it comes to Kispert and his potential at the next level, but I personally am a big fan of his game. Kispert might not have the upside that most of these other wings will have, and that's okay. You know what you're getting when you draft a player like Kispert. A potential flamethrower from outside who can also score at multiple levels, Kispert could thrive if he falls into the right fit early on in his NBA career. UConn sophomore James Bouknight could have been a sneaky first-round option last year but he decided to return to the Huskies for another year of development. It was a wise decision, as Bouknight proved he deserves some serious recognition around the lottery. Bouknight is another name in which I've noticed a wide range of opinions about his overall stock, and it's surprised me quite a bit honestly. Personally, I'll most likely have Bouknight in higher regards than most others out there. I love his skillset as a potential scorer at multiple levels and I think he's just scratching the surface as a basketball player.
Duke forward Jalen Johnson is another talent that will entice plenty of teams picking in the lottery. Johnson has fantastic size for a playmaking wing at 6'9" and his vision is absurd at times. He's at his best in transition, where you are likely to hear plenty of comparisons to Philadelphia 76ers "forward" Ben Simmons when it comes to Johnson's combination of size and ability in the open floor. The final name worth mentioning here is a bit of a wildcard. The range on Auburn freshman guard Sharife Cooper is going to be wide and I completely understand the argument across the board. Although Cooper's frame will be a hot topic (6'1" 165 pounds), I'm more intrigued by the way that he plays. As a floor general, Cooper does two things at an extremely high level. He scores and throws gorgeous dimes. His vision and ability as a passer are sensational and I'm convinced some NBA team might fall in love with his game.
This is the section that most draft evaluators drool over when it comes to turning on the film. Let's call it "Scary Tools" which sounds like it should be a horror film series on Netflix (Sponsor us please). On a serious note, Scottie Barnes is going to be the name we need to talk about here. The Florida State product has all of the tools you look for in a versatile wing. He's a dangerous asset defensively as a wing with size who can guard multiple positions, and he possesses a fantastic basketball IQ on both sides of the floor. Barnes has the skills to become a playmaking point forward as well and will draw some comparisons to Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green. The only skill holding Barnes back from being a terrifying prospect is his outside shooting. If Barnes had his shot locked down on a consistent level, he'd be in the Top 5 discussion without a doubt. From there we insert Texas big man Kai Jones who simply has some moments on film where you wonder if what just happened was legal. Jones will have NBA scouts drooling over the type of big man he could become if all of the pieces of the puzzle come together. In the modern NBA, in which bigs are continuing to develop their outside game, Jones has the potential to space the floor, but he runs the floor like a bat out of hell. Jones is listed at 6'11" 218 pounds, but his speed and vertical explosion would potentially give opposing defenses nightmares.
Every draft class features a wing that is raw offensively but looks to translate early on as a potential demon defensively. Last year, it was Auburn product Isaac Okoro who was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. This year, Tennessee wing Keon Johnson looks to be that type of prospect moving forward. Johnson is one of those prospects that is still trying to figure out just how good he can be on the offensive side of the ball. The teases and flashes to scoring ability leave you giddy about his upside, but his next NBA team will need to stress some patience and allow their developmental staff to spend some serious time with him. Still, his quickness and raw explosiveness will create plenty of fans in NBA Front Offices. If you haven't found yourself with a seat on the Josh Giddey hype train, then you better get a ticket before it's standing room only. A 6'8" playmaking guard with incredible floor vision, Giddey should thrive as a passer at the NBA level, especially with additional spacing. Giddey has been playing in the NBL for the Adelaide 36ers and has filled up the box scores on a number of occasions throughout the year. The tools are there, and Giddey has some passes on tape that simply make you hit the rewind button over and over again. If Giddey can get the outside shot down on a consistent level, the sky is the limit. It also helps that Giddey won't turn 19-years-old until October. The last one on this list I want to point out might be a head-scratcher but let's get weird regardless. With so many prospects in this first round, teams will covet guys that can do something at a high level. LSU guard Cam Thomas can light it up from anywhere on the floor in a hurry. While some might want to see Thomas develop the rest of his game, ask Lou Williams how being a walking bucket worked out for his NBA career. I get the concerns with Thomas but I still think at the end of the day, some team is going to be thrilled at the idea of potentially adding a monster scorer like Thomas to their roster early on.
DON'T SLEEP ON INTERNATIONAL CLASS
There's no secret that this year's international class isn't going to have the "hype" that last year's class had. But, don't let that scare you away from the international crop of talent. Personally, I'm actually extremely fascinated by this year's class. I think there's some serious value and some players that can contribute earlier than expected if they land with the right fit. One of my personal favorites from this class, and one that I might be a bit higher on than others, is Turkish big man Alperen Sengun. If you've been following us, you'll remember that we did an in-depth Film Room on Sengun earlier this year, and his play has continued to impress throughout the year overseas. When an international prospect is putting up numbers that are too impressive to ignore, you pour yourself another cup of coffee and dive deeper and deeper into the film. Sengun continues to impress me with his veteran feel for the game and fantastic footwork. He won't wow anyone when it comes to athleticism, but Sengun beats you with his mind like a savvy chess player, reading the defense and trying to be one step ahead. So far this year, the 18-year-old is averaging 19.0 PTS, 9.4 REB, and 1.6 BLK while shooting 62.7% from the field and 80.7% from the line. Usman Garuba is another prospect that will be in high demand by NBA teams thanks to his potential to be a dynamic threat on the defensive side of the ball. Garuba is still an unfinished product on the offensive side of the ball but has shown some flashes of floor spacing ability from outside. Garbua will be an upside pick, as he's spent the majority of the year with Real Madrid earning his minutes on a talented EuroLeague roster. At 6'8" with a reported 7'2" wingspan, Garuba has the measurables to have NBA organizations drooling about his ability to come in and make a defensive impact.
Buy yourself some Roko Prkacin stock while you can. The 18-year-old Croatian product has great size for a forward at 6'9" and has some serious tools that should project for a promising upside at the NBA level. Prkacin won't turn 19 until November, but he isn't afraid to get downhill in a hurry and shows some intriguing playmaking ability. It will be fascinating to see where NBA teams have Prkacin on their boards, but he has the raw tools to be in the discussion as a potential late first-round selection. Rokas Jokubaitis is another name we took a look at in the Film Room earlier this year. The crafty left-handed guard projects to be a dynamic threat at the next level when it comes to his ability in the P&R game. Although Rokas hasn't put up eye-opening numbers in the EuroLeague, the 20-year-old should be an intriguing second-round option for teams looking to develop a young international talent with upside. Do not sleep on Filip Petrusev. I repeat, do NOT sleep on Filip Petrusev. Mark this one down as a potential value addition for a team somewhere in the second round. If the name looks familiar, Petrusev spent the 2019-20 season playing with Gonzaga before deciding to head back overseas to play with Serbian powerhouse Mega Bemax (Soccerbet now for sponsoring purposes). At 6'11" 235 pounds, Petrusev fits the mold for a prototypical NBA big man. He has the ability to stretch the floor from outside and has put up some big numbers this year, averaging 23.6 PTS, 7.6 REB, and 1.1 BLK while shooting 57.9% from the field and 41.9% from 3.
LEARN TO LOVE UPPERCLASSMEN
I don't care how long it takes me, I am going to always go to war for the upperclassmen in EVERY draft class. If the 2020 class taught us anything, it's that upperclassmen can come in and contribute immediately for NBA teams. Take for example Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (26th overall) or Toronto Raptors guard Malachi Flynn (29th). Even guys like Desmond Bane (30th) have gone on to become sensational additions for their clubs. The 2021 draft class is going to feature a number of upperclassmen that should get plenty of love, but as is tradition, it won't surprise me if they fall down some draft boards on draft night. Oregon guard Chris Duarte is a name that has been sizzling in draft circles as of late. A 6'6" wing with tremendous shot-making ability, Duarte should have playoff teams foaming at the mouth towards the end of the first round. He's a potential plug-and-play asset for a rotation early on and he could creep up some boards with a strong pre-draft process. I don't care how much Isaiah Livers stock is out there, I will personally buy as much as I can get my hands on. It's no secret that Livers will have plenty of question marks about how he transitions at the NBA level. But at the point of the draft in which Livers is most likely to be selected (late 1st/early 2nd), you have to look at what he can bring to the table. That is a gritty two-way player who can shoot the living crap out of the ball at a high rate. Livers will be a guy that playoff teams dream about adding to their rotation due to his basketball IQ and intangibles. See what happened with the Memphis Grizzlies adding a floor-spacing threat like Desmond Bane this year and imagine a team thinking they can find a similar impact from Livers. Although Livers missed the entire tournament with a stress fracture, I think he would have been a prime candidate to jump up draft boards with a deep tournament run from Michigan.
Jared Butler is a player that made a phenomenal decision to return to Baylor for another year of development. NBA teams wanted to see if Butler could become a more dynamic threat from outside and boy did he show that in a big way. After shooting 38.1% from 3 during his sophomore year, Butler finished his junior year with a 41.6 3P%. Butler also saw his assists per game jump from 3.1 to 4.8 this year. The gritty combo guard will entice teams looking for a potential weapon on both sides of the floor. Although his teammate Davion Mitchell has gotten plenty of praise in draft circles as of late, don't forget that Butler can be a monster on the defensive side of the ball as well. Butler averaged 2.0 STL for the Bears this year. After that, I'm still convinced that Ayo Dosunmu has a spot as a starting guard at the NBA level. Dosunmu has seen his stock experience a bit of a rollercoaster throughout his college career, which resulted in Dosunmu returning to Illinois for his junior year. Scouts and executives wanted to see Dosunmu develop his shot-making arsenal, especially from deep this year. Dosunmu saw his 3P% jump from 29.6% in 2019-20 to 39.0% this year despite an increase of 2.2 attempts per game. The 6'5" floor general has great measurables for a modern-day NBA guard and he should be an intriguing developmental option for an NBA organization.
GUYS THAT "GET IT"
I love this category personally. Nothing flashy about these prospects, just guys that project to simply be gamers and help an NBA team no matter where they are drafted. I'm not looking at guys that are projecting to be superstars here, but more of young individuals that could simply help a team take the next step forward in becoming a stronger roster. One of "my guys" this year is Villanova forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Personally, I've been on the JRE bandwagon early on and I was thrilled when he decided to return to Nova for another year of development. I don't think that Robinson-Earl will be one of the sexiest selections in this year's class, but I think there's potential for him to be an absolute highway robbery of a selection somewhere in the second round. Robinson-Earl is the type of player that just understands the game of basketball. He's intelligent, has great size, and understands how to play within a system. The 6'9" swiss-army-knife forward won't turn 21-years-old until November and still has his best basketball ahead of him. From there, Miles McBride is another name that should entice NBA teams looking for a tone-setting type of presence in their rotation. McBride has said that he will test draft waters, and it wouldn't surprise me if he returns to West Virginia for another year...but he's still a name to watch out for. Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland will be a favorite in draft circles and you can bet your money that I'm buying the stock of a gritty two-way player with the nickname "Bones." Hyland turned some heads throughout the year with his play in the A-10 conference for VCU, and he's one of the more intriguing sleeper options in this year's class. He gets after it on both sides of the floor with great energy. Hyland averaged 19.5 PPG this year while shooting 37.1% from 3 and 86.2% from the line.
It wouldn't be a draft article if we didn't take a trip to Sleeper City and this year's class has some intriguing options. This part of this article can feature a long list of names, especially in this class, but allow me to throw a couple of names your way to keep an eye on. Santi Aldama is a name you need to get familiar with. The former Spanish product has been playing for Loyola (MD) in the Patriot League the last two years, and his skillset caught the attention of scouts in a hurry. It's one of those famous sayings where if you're good, they will find you. Aldama has a veteran-like game already at only 20-years-old and put up an eye-opening year finishing with 21.2 PTS, 10.1 REB, and 1.7 BLK while shooting 51.3% from the field and 36.8% from 3. At 6'11 215 pounds, he's an intriguing second-round option to keep an eye on. Louisville athletic guard David Johnson is a player that has personally been on my radar during the last couple of years and I think he's one of those prospects that could see the light come on once he gets with a developmental staff at the NBA level. Johnson has some serious flashes to his game when it comes to his shiftiness and scoring upside.
Pepperdine forward Kessler Edwards will have plenty of fans as a potential sleeper thanks to an impressive year. The 6'8" forward did a bit of everything for his team during his junior campaign, averaging 17.2 PTS, 6.8 REB, and 1.2 BLK. Edwards was one of those players that simply got better each and every year, and don't think that NBA teams won't take serious note of that. The last name that deserves some love here is Charles Bassey. If you don't remember, Bassey was one of the top recruits out of high school before announcing he would play his college ball at Western Kentucky. After an impressive freshman campaign, Bassey decided to return to WKU for additional development before suffering a season-ending injury. Scouts wondered how Bassey would come back and he didn't disappoint, showing up in great shape and often imposing his will against defenses with his combination of raw power and explosiveness. Bassey has a ways to go when it comes to rounding out his offensive game, but at 6'11" with serious shot-blocking ability, he could become a sensational developmental piece as a raw athletic big man.
At the end of the day, every draft class is going to have its fair share of hits and misses. It's the harsh reality of the NBA, not every prospect works out like some hope they might. But this class is starting to feel like it could be the start of something special. Time will tell us if it's really going to end up being worth all of the hype that will build up over these next couple of months. The potential for multiple stars looks to be strong, but the overall fit will always be the component of the draft that changes everything. For now, get excited basketball fans. It looks on paper as we could be witnessing the start of a beautiful class in the near future.