2021 NBA Draft: Pro Comparisons for Top Prospects in NCAA Tournament

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 18, 2021

2021 NBA Draft: Pro Comparisons for Top Prospects in NCAA Tournament

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The 2021 men's NCAA tournament will feature over a dozen future pros and a handful of NBA draft lottery prospects.

    Scouts love to create comparisons for each so they can explain to their general manager what type of player they would be getting. 

    For each of our top-10 prospects (and more) participating in March Madness, we came up with a former or current pro comparison based on physical tools and athleticism, skill sets and projected roles/outcomes.

Scottie Barnes (Florida State, PF, Freshman)

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Draymond Green

    There aren't many valid comparisons for a 6'9" playmaker and perimeter defender. Scottie Barnes is out of the box. NBA scouts have used Scottie Pippen to describe Florida State's point-forward, but Draymond Green seems more appropriate in 2021. 

    Barnes and Green excel as frontcourt passers. Neither needs to score to impact games, which also has to do with their defensive impact. Barnes' physical tools, mentality and IQ are similarly effective for on-ball defense and switchability. 

    He's guarded every position in the ACC, picking up guards full-court and bodying bigs closer to the basket. 

    Like Green, Barnes still figures to be capable of reaching double figures in points by picking his spots to drive, cut and hit open jumpers. Still, just as Green's fit alongside shooters and scorers helps optimize his versatility, Barnes will need the right situation to maximize his strengths and purpose. 

James Bouknight (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)

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    David Butler II/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Derrick White 

    James Bouknight's breakout has caught the attention of scouts who suddenly see an NBA scorer. The flashes of self-creation and shot-making remind them of Derrick White, who can similarly get his own shot with balance from each level.

    Both have to improve their three-point consistency, but their jumpers are still weapons. And like White, Bouknight can operate as a combo with some secondary playmaking, though neither is considered a point guard.

    Injuries have disrupted White's rise, but he and Bouknight both seem poised to emerge as NBA starters who can create, take over stretches and ultimately provide half-court scoring throughout games.

Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG/SG, Freshman)

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    Jerry Larson/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Luka Doncic

    Scouts have used former All-Star Grant Hill to paint a picture of Cade Cunningham, but Luka Doncic is the most popular comparison. 

    There is no sense in labeling either. They're both jumbo-sized playmakers and excellent passers who also use advanced shot-creation moves, dribble jumpers and floaters for high-level scoring. 

    Cunningham is entering the NCAA tournament ranked in the 92nd percentile out of isolation. He and Doncic can be No. 1 options or their lineup's most effective facilitator. Cunningham figures to similarly approach triple-doubles on the regular. 

    Plus, neither is remarkably athletic. Like Doncic, Cunningham operates at his own pace, using skill and IQ over blow-by burst or explosiveness at the rim.

Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG, Freshman)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Latrell Sprewell 

    A Keon Johnson comparison requires a time machine to the late 1990s and early 2000s, back when Latrell Sprewell was a force at both ends of the floor.

    Johnson's identity is similarly built around his explosiveness and aggression attacking the rim, as well as his high intensity on defense. But Sprewell was also a feared scorer, particularly in the mid-range with his jumper and post game. 

    Johnson has flashed the same ability to separate in the second level with a pull-up and back-to-the-basket moves.

    Sprewell did wind up extending his range out to the arc, however. Johnson isn't there yet, but he's delivered enough shot-making glimpses to feel optimistic about the 19-year-old's potential to eventually pose a threat from behind the arc.

Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Joe Harris 

    Elite shooting drives the Corey Kispert-Joe Harris comparison. Both possess similar measurements and special shot-making skills off a variety of actions. 

    Along with a 44.4 percent three-point mark, Kispert is shooting 46.5 percent out of spot-ups, 40.0 percent off screens and 41.7 percent on dribble jumpers. 

    Aside from their perimeter games, they also possess strong basketball IQs and are useful in complementary scoring and supporting roles. Kispert's decision-making and team defense should allow him to play full-time minutes, just as Harris has in the NBA.

Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Pau Gasol/Chris Bosh

    There aren't many 7-footers who can score, move and defend like Evan Mobley. He's not a perimeter shot-creator like Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis or a half-court ball-handler like Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he isn't the physical force Joel Embiid has become. 

    He's closer to a young Pau Gasol or Chris Bosh in terms of his skill level, polish and graceful delivery. Mobley scores around the key with similar finesse, touch and craft, and he's become a threatening mid-range shooter. 

    Mobley offers more defensive versatility in terms of sliding his feet away from the basket, but his shot-blocking and rim protection are similar to Gasol's. 

Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Khris Middleton

    The nation's third-leading freshman scorer, Moses Moody has emerged as a potential top-10 pick thanks to shot-making skills that resemble Khris Middleton's. 

    Neither relies on isolation or pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions to get his shots. They find ways to score within the flow of their teams' offenses by spot-up shooting, curling over screens and picking when to rise or attack.

    Moody and Middleton are go-to scorers but not ball-dominators, which suggests they can fit in anywhere. 

    Arkansas' 6'6" wing will enter the NCAA tournament with three 28-point efforts in his last four games. To reach Middleton's NBA value, he'll need to keep building his passing and defense.

Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Malcolm Brogdon/Nickeil Alexander-Walker

    There is variability with Jaden Springer's long-term projection considering he won't turn 19 years old until September and still has a lot of room for growth in different areas. 

    Best case, he's another Malcolm Brogdon with the ability to score or distribute from either backcourt spot. Like Brogdon, he lacks explosiveness, and his playmaking isn't as dangerous as his shot-making. But he's strong and plays through contact, shows passing IQ and should be a plus shooter based on his current 44.4 percent three-ball. 

    Springer can also be highly effective on defense when low in his stance with quick hands and feet. 

    Depending on his development, Springer could look more like Alexander-Walker, another combo whose ceiling is lower. But even a worst-case outcome should result in him being a useful, versatile guard who can play on and off the ball.

Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Jrue Holiday

    Rarely do point guards make as big a two-way impact as Jalen Suggs. Any comparison needs to add value defensively, and Jrue Holiday has throughout his career. 

    They're also both interchangeable at the guard positions, capable of running offense, facilitating or scoring with the drive or pull-up. And neither is a volume three-point shooter.

    They wisely pick their spots offensively while causing problems on defense with their on-ball pressure and off-ball IQ. 

    Suggs does possess more plus athletic traits than Holiday, which could help propel his scoring upside and ceiling a notch higher.

Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF, Sophomore)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    NBA comparison: Nicolas Batum

    Picturing Franz Wagner as prime Nicolas Batum may require a look back at old film. The comparison stems from their unique mix of size and skill versatility.

    Wagner has a chance to emerge as an elite role player the way Batum did. Neither are go-to scorers. However, at 6'9", Wagner offers a similar blend of shooting, passing and defense, likely from the small forward spot. 

    He's at 38.4 percent from three entering the NCAA tournament, averaging 2.9 assists from the frontcourt while ranking second in the country in defensive box plus/minus. Ideally, he goes to an NBA team with enough creators who can optimize his versatility, just as Batum's was with the Portland Trail Blazers early in his career.

More Comparisons

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)

    NBA comparison: Chris Boucher

    A bouncy athlete, Brown should be able to deliver Boucher-like flashes of finishing and shot-blocking. But his budding shooting ability helps strengthen the comparison. 


    Jared Butler (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)

    NBA comparison: George Hill 

    While Butler lacks burst off the dribble and explosiveness at the rim, he compensates with skill versatility and IQ just as Hill does. He's also made noticeable progress as a defender to improve his chances of emerging as a full-time starter in the right situation. 


    Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois, PG/SG, Junior)

    NBA comparison: Reggie Jackson

    A 6'5" combo, Dosunmu should be able to bring Jackson's score-first skill set and capable playmaking to an NBA bench. He's become an accurate shooter from deep, but he won't attempt too many long-range tries.


    Kai Jones (Texas, PF/C, Sophomore)

    NBA comparison: Pascal Siakam 

    Reaching Siakam status will require a lot more development for Jones, but he shares similar tools, athletic ability, motor and scoring skills. There is upside if he can turn the flashes of shooting and driving into regular occurrences, just as Siakam did after a few years in the league.


    Tre Mann (Florida, PG/SG, Sophomore)

    NBA comparison: Darius Garland

    Like Garland, Mann plays below the rim with nifty ball-handling moves, changes of speeds, off-the-dribble shooting and floater touch. He's similarly working on his feel for the game as a playmaker and passer.


    Davion Mitchell (Baylor, PG, Junior)

    NBA comparison: Patrick Beverley

    Mitchell will earn money with on-ball defense like Beverley, who's also developed into a reliable three-point shooter. Baylor's point guard made significant strides with his jumper and playmaking skills this year.


    Cameron Thomas (LSU, SG, Freshman)

    NBA comparison: Malik Monk

    Though Thomas has a green light at LSU, an NBA team will use him as more of a scoring or shot-making specialist given how difficult it will be for him to stay efficient with his hero-jumper-heavy shot selection. He won't have a long leash, but he should still be able to score in bunches when he's hot.


    Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.comSynergy Sports