2021 NBA Draft: Our Expert's Way-Too-Soon Top 50 Big Board

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterDecember 17, 2020

2021 NBA Draft: Our Expert's Way-Too-Soon Top 50 Big Board

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    Jessica Hill/Associated Press

    The 2021 NBA draft board received an update with some teams now at least five games into the season. 

    A few schools and prospects haven't played at all due to either COVID-19 or eligibility concerns. But after three weeks, we have a better feel for the newcomers and whether the top returning names made improvements over the offseason. 

    While there is still a lot of uncertainty about the tiers and depth of this particular class, there is no doubt the top of the board looks more exciting than 2020's.

Nos. 50-41

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    50. Nah'Shon Hyland (VCU, SG, Sophomore)

    Coming off two 30-point efforts over VCU's last three games, Hyland should be moving up boards, impressing with his shot creation and ability to drill contested jumpers. Forget about his playmaking development, which needs work. Hyland's microwave-scoring potential is the draw. 

           

    49. David Duke (Providence, SG, Junior)

    Averaging 19.7 points and 3.5 assists, Duke has taken a big step with his creation and three-level scoring, and he could be on the verge of another season shooting above 40 percent from three.

             

    48. Isaiah Livers (Michigan, SF, Senior)

    Livers' improved touch from last year looks more legitimate after six games (43.4 three-point percentage, 94.1 free-throw percentage). Admirable decision-making, clutch play and reliable shooting bode well for his role-player potential at the next level. 

               

    47. Matthew Hurt (Duke, PF, Sophomore)

    Hurt looks far more confident and decisive as a sophomore, both with his shot creation and shooting. Limitations as a driver, defender and inside presence cap his ceiling. 

             

    46. Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana, PF/C, Sophomore)

    Though Jackson-Davis' game hasn't changed, his post footwork, body control and instincts suggest his inside scoring can translate. Eventual signs of shooting touch could propel the breakout sophomore into the first-round discussion. 

                        

    45. Davion Mitchell (Baylor, SG, Junior)

    Mitchell's combination of shooting, playmaking and defense should draw NBA interest, particularly with Baylor expected to be a Final Four contender. Through four appearances, he's looked more accurate from deep (8-of-14) and decisive with his playmaking (6.8 assists per game).

            

    44. Luka Garza (Iowa, C, Senior)

    There will be frequent debates about whether college basketball's most dominant player has an NBA future. As attractive as his 29.2 points per game are on 69.1 percent shooting, his three-point shooting (13-of-19) is leading scouts to take Garza seriously.

    43. Ariel Hukporti (Nevezis Kedainiai, C, 2002)

    Scouts are waiting for Hukporti to return from injury after he won MVP of the German U19 league and had some strong games over the summer in the German BBL. Now in Lithuania, he should continue to stand out with overpowering 7'0", 250-pound size and active athleticism at both ends.

              

    42. Sharife Cooper (Auburn, PG, Freshman)

    Who knows when or if scouts will get a chance to see Cooper (eligibility issues) before draft workouts. But he's deserving of looks. Teams will be drawn to his potential to create and generate offense with his elusiveness and scoring off the dribble.

              

    41. Rokas Jokubaitis (Zalgiris, PG, 2000)

    Playing 21.6 minutes per game in EuroLeague, 20-year-old Jokubaitis is shooting 53.5 percent from the field and 8-of-19 from three, showcasing skill and feel that should ease concerns over his lack of burst and playmaking upside. At 6'4", his craftiness off the dribble, jumper and IQ are sharp.

Nos. 40-31

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    40. Jared Butler (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)

    One of the big names to pull out of the 2020 draft, Butler seems to be focusing on NBA feedback that likely called for improved playmaking and consistent shooting. Already a draw for his ball-handling creativity and versatile shot-making, he's averaging 7.0 assists per 40 minutes (up from 4.1) and making 47.4 percent of his threes.

              

    39. Trendon Watford (LSU, PF, Sophomore)

    With more responsibility as a sophomore forward, Watford's playmaking skills have come alive. Through four games, he's averaging 4.5 assists and 9.0 free-throw attempts, having returned as a tougher off-the-dribble cover with 6'9" size and both scoring and passing skills on the move. Scouts will have their eye on his three-point shot (3-of-7) the rest of the way.

            

    38. Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine, SF, Junior)

    On the breakout radar entering the season, Edwards is delivering with efficient scoring versatility and shooting. The 6'8" forward is averaging 20.7 points on 15-of-33 shooting from three and an 8-of-13 performance in the post.

              

    37. Ayo Dosunmu (Illiniois, PG, Junior)

    The arrow is pointing back up for Dosunmu after he struggled to show scouts enough improvement as a sophomore. It's still tough to fully buy into his shooting mechanics or ability to create at a high level, but for a 6'5" ball-handler, he's too effective scoring (22.7 points per game) and playmaking (5.1 assists per game) to nitpick.

              

    36. Tre Mann (Florida, PG, Sophomore)

    Mann had trouble with execution as a freshman, but he looks more comfortable this season, using his handles and shiftiness to create while making his early jump-shot attempts (7-of-15 from three). There is a path for him to rise higher if he's able to sustain this level of scoring efficiency (15.8 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting) and playmaking (4.8 assists per game). 

    35. Miles McBride (West Virginia, PG, Sophomore)

    McBride impacts games with his open-floor speed and pesky defense. But he’s returned with more skill and confidence for scoring and playmaking, averaging 14.6 points and 4.6 assists on 42.9 percent shooting from three through seven games.

                      

    34. Justin Powell (Auburn, PG/SG, Freshman)

    Sharife Cooper's absence has created an opportunity for Powell, who's capitalizing on an expanded role as the team's primary ball-handler. He lacks speed and burst, but at 6'6", he's proved a capable ball-handler, smart passer, crafty scorer and lethal shooter by making 17 of his first 34 three-point attempts.

    Powell won't be looked at as a lead guard at the next level, but teams are bound to show interest in his potential to play the wing based on his size, playmaking IQ and persuasive three-ball. 

    33. DJ Steward (Duke, SG, Freshman)

    Steward looks more like a 6'2" shot-maker than a lead ball-handler or combo guard, and that hurts his projection. It's still worth monitoring his smooth shooting stroke and shot-making versatility. 

             

    32. Aaron Henry (Michigan State, SF, Junior)

    Looking noticeably stronger and more confident, Henry is averaging 6.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks. He's still struggling to make shots, but as a 6'6" wing, his slashing, passing and defense should continue to buy him time to develop as a shooter.

             

    31. Alperen Sengun (Turkey, C, 2002)

    Having a breakout season and leading the Turkish BSL in scoring at 18 years old, Sengun has made himself easy to identify overseas. He doesn't possess any unicorn or modern skills, but the 6'9" big has been dominant offensively with advanced post moves and instincts scoring off rolls and putbacks.

Nos. 30-21

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    Jessica Hill/Associated Press

    30. Roko Prkacin (Cibona, PF, 2002)

    Prkacin has stood out over the years with his 6'9" size and face-up skills, and he's off to a productive start in the Croatian and Adriatic Leagues. It's worth questioning what his valuable, translatable strength is, but the idea of a power forward with shooting potential, slashing ability and defensive versatility is attractive in today's NBA.

            

    29. Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky, C, Junior)

    Bassey returns to the board after a year layoff recovering from a season-ending knee injury. He looks as active and bouncy as he did before, using his length on finishes, offensive rebounds, post-ups and blocks (4.0 per game). But scouts still want to see him make a jump as a shooter. 

             

    28. Marcus Bagley (Arizona State, SF, Freshman)

    Bagley's three-point stroke for a 6'8" forward has popped early. He hasn't flashed any creativity or playmaking at either end, but we continue to see NBA teams value shooting. In four games, he's hit 10 of 25 threes off spot-ups and screens, though his four assists, two steals and zero blocks highlight his limitations. 

             

    27. Isaiah Jackson (Kentucky, PF/C, Freshman)

    Offensive limitations and defensive lapses make it tough to get too high on Jackson. But he's demonstrated a special ability to use his athleticism and aggression for finishes, rebounds (22.3 total rebound percentage) and shot-blocking (12.5 block percentage).

             

    26. Scottie Lewis (Florida, SG/SF, Sophomore)

    Though it's only been four games, Lewis looks improved in key areas, hitting five of his first eight threes and nearly tripling his assist rate from 1.1 to 3.0 per 40 minutes. An explosive athlete and intense defender, he'll reenter the draft discussion with more consistent shooting and passing.

                

    25. Cameron Thomas (LSU, SG, Freshman)

    Oak Hill's all-time leading scorer, Thomas is averaging 21.6 points and 2.8 threes to start his career at LSU. He's a scoring 2, not a combo guard or playmaker, but it's tough to ignore his ability to create separation for himself and make tough jumpers from all over.

             

    24. Romeo Weems (DePaul, SF, Sophomore)

    COVID-19 concerns have kept DePaul from playing a game, so we're still waiting to get eyes on Weems after a freshman season filled with both highs and quiet stretches. The appeal stems from his 6'7" size, athleticism, shooting potential and defensive upside. To crack the first round, he'll have to look more confident and polished with his ball-handling and jump shot.

                  

    23. Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)

    Kispert has backed up last year's 43.8 three-point percentage by hitting nine of his first 20 attempts. At 6'7", 220 pounds, his positional size, convincing stroke, improved scoring skills and consistent efficiency should be enough to draw first-round interest.

                

    22. Terrence Clarke (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)

    Kentucky's point guards have struggled, so head coach John Calipari has used Clarke to initiate offense. The role has exposed some questionable decision-making (17 turnovers, 13 assists), but he's also playing out of position.

    Clarke has been an efficient scorer off the ball with his spot-up shooting and ability to convert on drives and floaters attacking closeouts. The fact he's being forced to develop some playmaking skills can only help round out his game.

               

    21. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova, PF, Sophomore)

    Robinson-Earl appears lighter on his feet, and though his shooting numbers (4-of-16 on three-pointers) aren't impressive, his jumper looks smooth and confident. He'll need it given his athletic limitations, but between his inside skill, rebounding, IQ and touch, he comes off as a high-floor role player and potential late first-rounder.

Nos. 20-11

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    20. Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)

    Through six games, it's been easy to detect Brown's dangerous athletic abilities and lack of polish. His quickness and bounce pop on first steps past closeouts and high-flying finishes. On the other hand, he's a limited ball-handler and scorer in traffic. Brown's three-point shot will be a major swing skill, and he clearly has confidence in it, averaging 4.0 attempts while shooting 5-of-24.

             

    19. Josh Christopher (Arizona State, SG, Freshman)

    Christopher looks as advertised early with his advanced self-creation skills, confident scoring and tough shot selection. It's hard to believe he'll sustain his current 60.0 two-point percentage considering he's struggled early from three (6-of-22) and hasn't showcased any playmaking (seven total assists). But his mix of athleticism, ability to get his own shot and three-level shot-making potential remains appealing.

               

    18. Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)

    Coming off the bench, Springer has been efficient through three games, capitalizing on what the defense gives up without making bad decisions. We're still in wait-and-see mode on his ability to create separation and play-make at a high level. But for a 6'4", 18-year-old guard, his handle and command, combo-guard skills and defensive technique are sharp enough to draw first-round looks.

               

    17. Day'Ron Sharpe (North Carolina, C, Freshman)

    Though he lacks the ball-handling and perimeter skills that earn centers bonus points with scouts, Sharpe has emerged as a lottery prospect with constant activity and strong instincts for passing and defending. Per 40 minutes, he's averaging 4.0 assists, 3.3 blocks and 2.6 steals.

               

    16. James Bouknight (Connecticut, PG/SG, Sophomore)

    If the results from three games are legitimate, Bouknight's breakout is underway. He's a 6'5" scoring combo guard with a full package of driving, floater and shooting skills, and he's even looked like a plus defensively with his anticipation and activity. He'll maximize his stock by continuing to hit threes and flashing more playmaking ability for teammates as a lead guard. 

    15. Kai Jones (Texas, PF/C, Sophomore)

    No returning prospect has made a stronger early impression than Jones, who's 18-of-21 inside the arc and 4-of-6 from three in six games. Even with a 16.8 percent usage rate, he's producing, tapping into his athleticism off transition and drives while connecting on jumpers. He'll cool off, but for a 6'11" forward, his shooting, movement and activity have been too persuasive.

                

    14. Daishen Nix (G League Ignite, PG, 2002)

    Nix dished out nine assists in his first scrimmage with the Ignite, and his feel for passing and facilitating will drive his value as a point guard prospect. Whether he can move up the board from here will be determined by how much promise he's able to show as a self-creator for scoring and how comfortable and threatening he appears as a shooter.

                       

    13. David Johnson (Louisville, PG/SG, Sophomore)

    After coming off the bench for most of his freshman season, Johnson has taken over at lead guard and flashed his passing skills and tools for attacking and finishing. The whole scouting community will be monitoring his jump shot (4-of-13 on three-pointers) and how much his scoring skills and decision-making have improved.

               

    12. Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, PF/C, 2002)

    Garuba had been struggling offensively before hitting three three-pointers last weekend against Unicaja Malaga. He's still just 18 years old and seeing regular minutes in the Spanish ACB and EuroLeague. He'll never be valued for scoring, but for a 6'8", 220-pound big, he sets himself apart with his passing and defensive IQ.

    Enough flashes of spot-up shooting and drives past closeouts should keep NBA interest alive regardless of how few points he averages.

                

    11. Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)

    Johnson struggled against Illinois (3-of-10) before it was announced he'd be out of action with a foot injury. The injury doesn't help, but questions about his ability to create in the half court and shoot are the bigger reasons behind his fall to No. 11.

    Still, NBA defenses could have trouble containing Johnson's 6'9", 220-pound frame when he's handling the ball in transition and attacking the rim. He also won't need sharp skills to continue finishing, rebounding, blocking shots, creating turnovers and guarding multiple positions.

10. Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Ziaire Williams' strengths and weaknesses have been easy to detect early with his perimeter skill and fluidity on display and his lack of burst and physicality limiting his game.

    The pros still outweigh the cons.

    Williams, a 6'8" combo forward, clearly has three-point range and the ability to create separation into pull-up and step-back jumpers. Regardless of what the percentages say by draft night, his shooting and shot-making versatility seem convincing.

    His defensive projection is a selling point, as well. Williams possesses an appealing mix of size, foot speed, length and IQ for making reads off the ball.

    On the downside, his lack of strength and explosion prevent him from getting to the rim or drawing fouls (six free-throw attempts in five games). He's had trouble with contact, and if his outside shot isn't falling, he may have trouble scoring in volume.

9. Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Moses Moody has settled in after a tough debut, now looking like the lottery pick we projected before the season began. 

    A three-and-D starter at Montverde Academy, the 6'6" 2-guard has made 40.7 percent of his threes with a shooting stroke that's easy to buy. 

    Though not a flashy shot-creator, Moody is averaging 16.0 points on 48.4 percent shooting from the field, generating his offense within the flow by making rhythm jumpers, attacking open lanes and scoring in transition. 

    With a similar archetype as Devin Vassell, the 2020 NBA draft's No. 11 pick, Moody should earn plenty of fans at the next level with his jumper, defensive tools and efficient shot selection.

8. Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    It's been a choppy start for Brandon Boston Jr., whose shot hasn't fallen. A 38.4 field-goal percentage (5-of-26 on three-pointers) is amplified by Kentucky's 1-4 record.

    Panicking would be premature. Tyler Herro was shooting 27.3 percent on threes through nine games at Kentucky. Eventually, Boston's jumper figures to start dropping once he's able to get more comfortable in the offense and confident with the ball.  

    He's still an advanced shot-creator and three-level shot-maker with 6'7" size for a wing. In spite of the poor percentages, he's averaging 14.4 points.

    However, I may have overrated his shooting mechanics and accuracy entering the year, so he'll drop from the first tier of lottery prospects into the second in December's update.

7. Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG, Freshman)

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    Keon Johnson will build a lottery case this year around flashes of potential over production, similar to what No. 4 pick Patrick Williams did last month.

    Though Johnson clearly lacks polish offensively, he is a weapon at the baseline with his athleticism, aggressive defense and capable shooting off the dribble. 

    Between his 6'5" size, quickness and burst, it's easy to picture his attacking and intense ball pressure translating. But Johnson's flashes of pull-ups, creative drives and tough finishes will hint at upside worth reaching for in the draft.

6. Scottie Barnes (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Flaws are evident in Scottie Barnes' offense, but his physical strengths and specific skills are unique and translatable, and his impact goes beyond the stat sheet.

    He already has a game-winner on his resume, creating a transition opportunity with his ball-handling in the closing seconds of overtime and converting a floater to sink Indiana.

    At 6'9", 227 pounds, he has the body of a 4 or 5, plus the ability to face up and dribble, pass or finish on the move. He leads Florida State in assists (4.3) and steals (1.8) per game, and while it's usually hyperbole to say a player can guard every position, he legitimately can with his size, length, foot speed and hounding pressure. 

    There will be scouts who aren't as sold on his NBA fit considering he lacks self-creation ability for scoring and shooting touch. But Barnes looks like a different version of Draymond Green, and the right NBA role and supporting cast could optimize his versatility. 

5. Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)

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    The scouting community has been anxious to get eyes on Jonathan Kuminga, who never played in FIBA competition and didn't participate at Basketball Without Borders, the only other event at which NBA teams could have seen him live in 2020.

    And it's still uncertain how visible he'll be with the G League Ignite, who'll start scrimmaging this week. He went for 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting in his first action against the alums.

    Tape from high school and AAU can be awfully enticing with Kuminga popping off the screen for his 6'8" size, perimeter skills and flashes of defensive upside.

    He doesn't always take good shots or look fully locked in, but in terms of physical talent and skill set, Kuminga's body and three-level scoring scream NBA. He'll still have some convincing to do since scouts are interested to learn whether it's worth worrying about the occasional lazy shot selection and limited intensity.

4. Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    While prospects in college continue to gain exposure and build their draft cases, Jalen Green still hasn't played for scouts. 

    Depending on how the G League experiment goes—whether the Ignite will play enough meaningful games—Green could be left vulnerable to being leapfrogged on boards by NCAA standouts. 

    Scouts will get their first chance to see him (on film) this week against former draft picks and overseas pros. He scored 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting in the first scrimmage. There is still plenty of high school tape on Green, an explosive athlete who made significant strides with his ball-handling for creation and shot-making as a Prolific Prep senior.

    Among the guards, he's easily the quickest and bounciest, and his skill level for scoring and playmaking continues to catch up.

    Shot selection, decision-making and efficiency are concerns on the scouting report, and it will be interesting to see if he's able to ease them in this unfamiliar setting and role.

3. Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The No. 7 player on my preseason board, Jalen Suggs moved up to No. 3 following matchups with Kansas and Auburn, then a gutsy effort versus West Virginia in which he showed his competitiveness, returning mid-game from what looked like a devastating first-half leg injury.

    Physically and athletically, Suggs is a standout with downhill speed and power, bounce to finish above the rim and the coordination and strength to convert below it through contact at tough angles.

    He may be labeled a combo guard by some, but I see a lead ball-handler with enough playmaking and facilitating instincts. Though the sample size is limited, he ranks in the 93rd percentile as a pick-and-roll scorer and the 96th percentile as a passer.

    Suggs has also flashed exciting defensive potential with his ball pressure, toughness and ability to blow up plays, and he'll earn A-plus grades for his intangibles: IQ, effort, leadership and impact. 

    His shooting is the biggest question mark, but not to the point at which it's overly alarming. Suggs' pull-up game looks fluid and capable from distance early, and unless he experiences major slumping and cold streaks throughout the season, he should finish with one of the most complete, well-rounded draft cases in the class.

2. Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)

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    Jessica Hill/Associated Press

    It's not a stretch to say Evan Mobley has already solidified himself as the draft's best true big and a top-five lock.

    Stats aside (17.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 3.0 blocks per game with a 61.1 field-goal percentage), he aces the eye test with 7'0" size and eye-popping fluidity, both in terms of his coordination and skill execution. 

    In five games, he's checked every box teams value for modern-day centers: transition ball-handling, face-up playmaking ability from the wings or elbows, spot-up shooting (4-of-9 on three-pointers) and rim protection with the foot speed to guard the perimeter.

    Mobley isn't as physically strong as 2020's No. 2 pick, James Wiseman, but he's far more versatile and polished with his shot creation, touch and range, passing and switchability.   

1. Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG, Freshman)

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    Mitch Alcala/Associated Press

    Cade Cunningham's grip on the No. 1 spot is just as tight as it was over the summer. In some regards, he's looked more impressive than expected, particularly as a self creator, scorer and shooter.

    Averaging 18.8 points, Cunningham is generating offense by capitalizing on his 6'8" size for a ball-handler, but also with advanced dribble moves to separate and tough shot-making off his jumper. There were some questions about how efficient he'd be around the arc, but so far, he's 10-of-21 from three and 5-of-8 out of isolation, where he's flashed pull-up and step-back moves, including some to put away opponents late in games. 

    Special passing skill and vision have also been evident even if they haven't translated to assists. He's averaging 3.8 per game, and that's with teammates shooting just 34.5 percent off of his pick-and-roll passes.

    Defensively, Cunningham has moved well and anticipated off the ball, another perk of his high basketball IQ. 

    There is still plenty of ball left to play. But at this stage, it's difficult to pinpoint any worrisome weakness or reason why Cunningham won't be the No. 1 pick.

              

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, Sports-Reference.com

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