The Most Disappointing 2021 NBA Draft Prospects so Far
While scouts sound excited about the 2021 NBA draft, not every prospect has lived up to the preseason hype.
A handful have disappointed, including a few who were initially projected to go in the lottery. Now, they might need to spend the rest of the season convincing scouts they're first-round material.
Prospects can't always control expectations, and in some cases, those hopes may have been unfairly high. Still, these five players have failed to pop under the NBA scouting lens.
Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SG/SF, Freshman)
No prospect has been more disappointing than Brandon Boston Jr., initially No. 2 on my preseason board.
Coach John Calipari had to bench him for the final few minutes of Kentucky's tight win over Vanderbilt last Tuesday. While shooting 36.0 percent from the floor and demonstrating no playmaking skills (11 assists, 17 turnovers), Boston hasn't been useful except for when a driving lane opens or transition opportunity presents itself.
His shot creation and jump shot came off as a major selling points out of Sierra Canyon High School. But so far, he's 6-of-30 on catch-and-shoot attempts (0-of-10 contested), 5-of-33 from three and 5-of-28 on pull-ups. As a scorer, he's a combined 2-of-24 off screens, whether it's from off the ball or in pick-and-roll ball-handling situations.
Too many missed shots seem to have drained Boston's confidence. It should return at some point, as should the shooting we saw in high school. But the bigger concern has been his struggles with creating separation and taking contact. His delivery getting into his shot on pull-ups can look slow and choppy, and he's shown poor feel for when to rise up and shoot off the dribble.
We're still only talking about nine games, and it's all about a long-term projection that values his positional size at 6'7", stroke and slashing. But the eye so far test sees a different player against college defenses compared to the one we saw in high school.
Caleb Love (North Carolina, PG, Freshman)
In less than a month, Caleb Love went from North Carolina's starting point guard and a potential lottery pick to a bench player and off my draft board.
He was an appealing prospect out of St. Louis with a strong, 6'4" frame and three-level scoring ability. Now, it's just physical tools that stand out under the NBA scouting lens.
The skills he flashed in high school haven't translated, with Love shooting 27.6 percent from the floor while averaging 3.5 assists and 3.2 turnovers per game.
Despite advantageous physical and athletic traits, he's been brutal finishing around the basket, both in the half court (5-of-16) and transition (13th percentile).
The bigger issue has been Love's jumper. He's missed 37 of 45 three-point attempts and struggled badly off the ball (5-of-27 catch-and-shoot, 6th percentile spot-ups) alongside RJ Davis.
Love looks relatively better pulling up (7-of-30), and his 84.4 free-throw percentage highlights enough touch to create some degree of optimism for his jump shot down the road. But 11 games in, it's tough to pinpoint any skill that appears on track to develop into an NBA-caliber strength.
DJ Steward (Duke, SG, Freshman)
Viewed as a potential first-round pick to start the season, DJ Steward is losing steam in the draft discussion.
His shot looks fine, with the freshman making 1.8 threes per game at a respectable 36.7 percent clip. But at 6'2", 163 pounds—numbers that make it difficult to picture Steward facing off against NBA 2-guards—he doesn't appear threatening enough off the dribble to be used as an offensive initiator.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski is barely using him to create, with Steward logging 37.5 percent of his possessions spotting up and just eight total possessions running pick-and-roll.
His shot-making versatility hasn't been there, either, as he's 3-of-8 on pull-ups and 0-of-4 off screens. Steward's also 6-of-22 when releasing off the catch in the half court.
Without much size and athleticism, he needs to either flash more playmaking ability (2.5 assists per game) or advanced scoring skills the way Tyrese Maxey did last season at Kentucky. It's tough to picture a path to upside at this stage of his development.
Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia, C, Sophomore)
A 2019 McDonald's All-American, Oscar Tshiebwe didn't make a strong enough impression on scouts as a freshman at West Virginia. Now midway through his sophomore year, he's transferring to Kentucky, ending his season with averages of 8.5 points and 7.8 boards.
It's not a great look from an NBA scout's point of view.
We just saw Isaiah Stewart go No. 16 in the draft, so there is still clearly interest in physical inside players who finish and rebound, even if they aren't ball-handling or shooting threats. And at 6'9", 260 pounds, Tshiebwe has the overpowering tools, mobility and motor that hint at NBA energizer potential.
But Tshiebwe, who missed eight of nine jump shots this season, hadn't shown anything new since requesting NBA feedback during last year's predraft process. And now he won't be eligible to play again until at least next season.
After finishing 1-of-5 against Kansas on December 22, he played one more game and left the team before West Virginia faced projected No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State, a contest that surely had dozens of NBA eyes on it.
It's possible a better fit with Kentucky will help jump-start the Tshiebwe's game, but he's further off the radar despite the preseason hope for a bounce-back 2020-21.
Terrence Clarke (Kentucky, G, Freshman)
Terrence Clarke hasn't played poorly. An ankle injury has also cost him games and may have even affected him when active. But it's important to make the distinction between producing in college and looking like a player whose game will translate to the NBA. And Clarke's game and movement just haven't stood out to scouts.
To his credit, he was also playing out of position, working as Kentucky's initiator because of Kentucky's poor point guard play. But in this role, glaring weaknesses have been exposed, specifically Clarke's playmaking IQ and decision-making.
With a sky-high 20.8 turnover percentage, Clarke ranks in the 10th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, showing poor feel for how to manipulate defenses or set up teammates.
Off the ball, he's struggled to make shots, having missed 16 of 22 catch-and-shoot chances. He's 5-of-22 from three and 8-of-17 from the line—troubling early numbers for a prospect whose selling point was scoring and shot-making out of high school.
Clarke has played well at times and had strong performances against Georgia Tech (22 points) and Notre Dame (14 points), which happened to be the only games he made threes in. Though he's shooting 22.7 percent from deep, he figures to make more and finish closer to 30 percent than 20 percent.
But I may have overestimated Clarke's shooting coming in, and I don't see a creative enough player with the ball to buy the scoring upside.
Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports