2021 NBA Draft Buzz: G League's Jonathan Kuminga Becoming a Top-5 Pick?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 22, 2021

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell (45) and guard Jared Butler (12) react late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball championship game against Villanova at the Myrtle Beach Invitational in Conway, S.C., Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Baylor won 87-78. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

By now, most have watched video of the NBA G League's Ignite team's two December scrimmages. Jonathan Kuminga, the team's leading scorer in both games, seems to have made the strongest impression of his peers on the roster, particularly given how little scouts have seen of him, while Jalen Green had been far more visible in the past with USA Basketball.

It sounds like Kuminga has the best chance to help himself draft-stock-wise, especially if the creation and shot-making he flashed against the G League veteran team carry over to the season/tournament.

Paul George comparisons have been used by scouts, while one was reminded of Kawhi Leonard in terms of their physical profiles and skill sets.

At 6'8", 220 pounds, Kuminga has a strong frame with a surprisingly quick first step for attacking. How sharp he is around the perimeter is a question scouts will hope to answer by draft night, but the 18-year-old combo forward looks comfortable and fluid getting into his jumper and connecting with range. 

Defensive upside pops as well, based on strength and length for one-on-one coverage and versatility. 

But aside from assessing Kuminga's level of polish, scouts want to know more about his basketball IQ, killer instinct, professionalism, motor and other intangibles that could help optimize his obvious talent. There are some questions about his shot selection and general approach, but it's difficult to determine how valid they are from high school and AAU tape.

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The stakes are higher now, and scouts feel like they should be able to get a better read on Kuminga over the next few months. They believe that if he looks like he did during scrimmages and no red flags emerge at Disney over his style of play or intangibles, Kuminga should be a top-five lock for the 2021 draft.


Scouts high on Tier 2 prospects Duke's Jalen Johnson, Stanford's Ziaire Williams

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Star power among projected top-five picks represents the perceived strength of the 2021 draft. But scouts are also high on the next tier of prospects, specifically Duke's Jalen Johnson and Stanford's Ziaire Williams. 

Some didn't think Johnson would play again after suffering a foot injury over a month ago. Tuesday night, he played his first full game since December 8 (he played four minutes January 12) and racked up 24 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and two steals against Pittsburgh. 

At 6'9", 220 pounds, Johnson separates himself from other power forwards with his ball-handling and passing, either from standstill position or off the dribble. Those are his skill specialities. Off the ball, he's active running the floor, cutting for buckets and going after rebounds, while strong instincts allow Johnson to maximize his physical tools as a rebounder and defensive playmaker. 

His self-creation as a half-court scorer and shooting are the question marks that may keep the freshman outside Tier 1, which includes Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and likely Kuminga and Green. So far, he's converted one isolation field goal and one post-up through six games, and despite making four of his 10 three-point attempts, the eye test doesn't quite buy his slow-releasing, line-drive stroke. 

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

On the other hand, the eye test loves Williams' jumper, even though he's only hit 32.1 percent of his threes. Scouts didn't sound worried weeks ago before he went 6-of-13 from deep over his last two games. 

At 6'8", Williams elevates with noticeable balance and rhythm on his shot. He looks even better shooting off the bounce, rare for a player his size. Already with 19 made pull-ups through 13 games, Williams also demonstrates the handle and footwork to create significant separation on his step-back. 

In Williams' case, the combination of height, shot-making versatility and three-point range—plus defensive mobility and IQ scouts believe in—creates a high floor and easy NBA fit. He's in Tier 2 due to a lack of burst and strength, with Williams having converted only 10 shots at the basket (on 21 attempts) and struggled with physicality inside the arc.


Scouts: Baylor's Jared Butler answering NBA's questions

Justin Rex/Associated Press

Scouts sound satisfied by the improvements Butler has made since he withdrew from last year's draft.

The leading scorer for undefeated No. 2-ranked Baylor, Butler has also raised his assist rate to 32.6 percent from 22.9 percent, his three-point mark to 45.9 percent from 38.1 percent and his steal rate to 4.7 percent from 3.2 percent. 

"He's shown what he's needed to show if you ask me," one scout told Bleacher Report. "Athleticism and length will be talked about, but he's such a winner and so skilled."

Taking his shooting, playmaking and defense to higher levels, Butler is now firmly on the first-round radar. He bolstered his case another notch on Monday after exploding for 30 on 14 shots (with eight assists) in a win over Kansas.

Still 20 years old with 6'3" size and broad shoulders, Butler compensates for limited explosion with advanced ball-handling skills to shake free and body-controlled finishes. And with a balanced catch-and-shoot jumper (45.1 percent this year, 40.0 percent last season), he's scoring off the ball as well alongside Davion Mitchell, who's also generating interest from NBA scouts. 

Scouts are becoming more comfortable with Butler's NBA fit, now that he's showing growth as a lead playmaker and defender while continuing to prove he's comfortable spotting up alongside another point guard.


Scouts unsure what to think about Auburn's Sharife Cooper

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Evaluators sound unsure about whether to buy Cooper's stats and exciting highlights from an NBA scouting standpoint. 

He's averaging 22.5 points and 8.3 assists, a number that would lead the nation if he qualified with enough games. But is there substance behind the flash?

His enormous 37.3 percent usage, 3-of-22 start from three and 4.5 turnovers per game have made some question the legitimacy of Cooper's production (in terms of translating to the NBA), especially given his 6'1" size, slight frame, limited explosion, set-shot mechanics and heavy ball-dominance. 

Multiple scouts have expressed some hesitation. One scout said he viewed Cooper at the next level as more of a key reserve than full-time lead decision-maker. 

But everyone acknowledges his combination of tight ball-handling, vision and unselfishness for setting up teammates. On Wednesday night, Arkansas started trapping Cooper before he crossed half court, forcing him to pass it off due to how dangerous he'd been zigging and zagging through the Razorbacks defense. 

Scoring efficiency aside, Cooper's ability to create open looks for others is highly valuable at every level, and with an elite mix of speed, change of direction and passing skills, it's easy to buy the playmaking. Whether he can convince scouts on the likelihood of his finishing and shooting improving will determine whether he's a lottery point guard or one worth taking in the late teens/20s.


Other notes

Australia's Josh Giddey appears on the verge of flying up draft boards. Questions about how much his limited athletic ability will hold him back don't seem as alarming after two NBL games. The 6'7", 18-year-old point guard just went for 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a double-overtime win, making key plays late at both ends while impressing with his ball skills and IQ throughout. We'll dive deeper into Giddey once scouts have more chances to see him. 

- With Baylor a spotlight team and eyes focused on Butler, Davion Mitchell is generating interest with  improved shooting and playmaking to go with his signature defensive toughness. We always see draft risers during the NCAA tournament, and with the Bears looking like a Final Four favorite, Mitchell comes off as a prospect who could use March Madness to move into the first-round mix. 

- Long-term potential has given Kentucky's Brandon Boston Jr. a pass early on. But that pass is expiring. Confidence in Boston continues to fall with each Kentucky loss and poor effort at both ends from the freshman wing. He's trending downward toward the 20s on my board after starting at No. 2. 

- There is an expectation that Gonzaga's Corey Kispert will end up going early in the draft, with the idea that one team will put all of its stock into his elite shooting. Even if his 70.1 two-point percentage seems fluky, and a poor strength of schedule puts an asterisk over his 20.9 points per game, there is a high level of certainty and interest tied to his 48.9 percent three-ball and basketball IQ.


Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports