2021 NBA Draft Big Board: Top 50 Players Post-NCAA Tournament
The completion of the 2021 men's NCAA tournament signals the start of the NBA predraft process.
Scouts got their money's worth during March Madness, especially with a championship game that featured multiple lottery picks, first-rounders and 2022 prospects to monitor.
Our top-50 board can still change as more information comes out after measurements, interviews and workouts. But here's where it stands following Baylor's 86-70 defeat of Gonzaga in the championship game.
50. Max Abmas (Oral Robert, SG, Sophomore)
49. David Duke (Providence, SG, Junior)
48. Johnny Juzang (UCLA, SF, Sophomore)
47. Isaiah Livers (Michigan, SF, Senior)
46. Nah'Shon Hyland (VCU, SG, Sophomore)
45. Austin Reaves (Oklahoma, SG, Senior)
44. Trey Murphy III (Virginia, PF, Junior)
43. Rokas Jokubaitis (Zalgiris, PG/SG, 2000)
42. Santi Aldama (Loyola, PF, Sophomore)
41. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova, PF, Sophomore)
Hard to keep ignoring Juzang
Before the NCAA tournament, Juzang hadn't been mentioned in any NBA draft discussion. There have also been enough cautionary tales of teams putting too much stock into March Madness performances.
I'm not ready to say Juzang deserves lottery or first-round attention after his 29-point Final Four effort. But he has a signature skill that could hold rotational value at the next level, and it's possible he's in the process of elevating that skill to NBA standards.
Juzang is a shot-maker, and his shot-making has been ridiculous over the past two weeks. He unleashed his jumper-heavy attack on Michigan and Gonzaga, defenses with future NBA pros. For the season, he's made 60 pull-ups on an outstanding 47.2 percent. And he's shooting 46.7 percent on 51 isolation possessions despite lacking blow-by explosiveness.
He might not offer anything as a passer or a defender. But in the second round for a team that needs offense, it suddenly seems like a worthwhile bet to see if Juzang's scoring eruption is real and translatable.
Late rise for Aldama
The 2019 U-18 European Championship MVP blew up this year at Loyola. Aldama only faced six teams in 2020-21, and they were all in the Patriot League. But I'm buying the skill level he flashed even if he spent the year executing it against limited competition.
He carried Loyola to the conference tournament final with 33 points on 5-of-6 shooting from three against Army. At 6'11", he has a smooth shooting stroke, which alone could be enough to justify second-round looks. But he could also put the ball down to pull up, attack closeouts or even handle in ball-screen situations, and he has sharp footwork and touch working in the post.
With a pick in the 30s, 40s or 50s, it's become worth betting on Aldama's skill level and offensive fit to help overcome obvious athletic limitations.
40. Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine, SF, Junior)
39. Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky, C, Junior)
38. Herbert Jones (Alabama, SF, Senior)
37. Terrence Shannon (Texas Tech, SG/SF, Sophomore)
36. Day'Ron Sharpe (North Carolina, C, Freshman)
35. Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois, PG/SG, Junior)
34. Isaiah Todd (G League Ignite, PF, 2001)
33. Joel Ayayi (Gonzaga, PG/SG, Junior)
32. Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SF, Freshman)
31. Roko Prkacin (Cibona, PF, 2002)
Right fit unlocks sleeper potential for Herbert Jones
For three years, Jones never made a B/R top-50 list. I'm still a bit hesitant about his scoring skills, but he has always been a unique defender, finishing this season with a 3.4 steal percentage and 4.0 block percentage. And now he's developed into a Swiss Army knife player on offense, even working as a point-wing at times.
He put up career highs of 20 total threes and 3.3 assists per game, which might not sound too exciting. But for a 6'8" athletic forward and valued defender, his passing and capable shot-making could be enough to help him carve out a role and NBA career.
He'll just need the right fit with creators and shooters to optimize his versatility from a glue-guy role.
Ayayi a value pick
Why can't Ayayi play the same role for an NBA team? At 6'5", he grades in the 98th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, shoots 68.3 percent inside the arc, connects at a 38.9 percent clip from three and averages a tremendous 6.9 rebounds.
He's not an exciting creator, but as an opportunistic secondary playmaker and reliable shot-maker with a unique nose for the ball, Ayayi feels like a second-round steal-in-waiting.
30. Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)
29. Miles McBride (West Virginia, PG/SG, Sophomore)
28. Marcus Bagley (Arizona State, SF/PF, Freshman)
27. Aaron Henry (Michigan State, SG/SG, Junior)
26. Cameron Thomas (LSU, SG, Freshman)
25. Chris Duarte (Oregon, SG, Senior)
24. Jared Butler (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)
23. James Bouknight (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)
22. Isaiah Jackson (Kentucky, C, Freshman)
21. Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, C, 2002)
I've moved Bouknight down the board after reviewing the last stretch of Connecticut games. There is no doubt he's a skilled shot-creator for himself, and he's able to tap into exciting athleticism for finishes around the basket. But he hasn't shown much passing vision once he's ready to make his move. He misses teammates.
Bouknight's 12.8 assist percentage is scary-low for a ball-handler or guard. Being relied on to score can't absorb all the blame for such a low assist rate.
And in off-ball situations, where he'll find himself early at the next level, he struggled to make shots without generating his own rhythm off the dribble. He finished in the 14th percentile out of spot-ups, shooting 21.6 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts.
I'm still optimistic about Bouknight's chance of carving out a scoring role. However, I've cooled on the idea of him developing into a team's top-three option.
I'm higher on McBride than most scouts I've spoken with. He was appealing last year for his speed and defense, and he hasn't lost either. But now he's one of the top pull-up shooters in the draft, a development I value. That dribble-jumper game was on full display during his 30-point outburst against Morehead State in the NCAA tournament, and numerous clutch shots late in games highlight an attractive fearlessness trait.
He has the ability to put pressure on opponents in different ways, and I'm picturing that translating in a spark role.
Garuba worth the patience
Despite his limited production, I've been patient with Garuba and kept him near the top 20 all year. Suddenly, he's starting to produce and make more offensive plays, a major development for such an advanced defender.
Defense will always be his moneymaker. At 6'8', his quick hands, anticipation and IQ are tough to beat. He processes and moves his body in ways that aren't typical. It translates to deflections, rotations and challenges that his steal and block rates don't reflect.
But now he's starting to find ways to score. He'll never be a featured option, but he's able to seek out opportunities around the basket off the ball. And though he's not a shooter, he's taking threes and occasionally making them.
20. Josh Christopher (Arizona State, SG/SF, Freshman)
19. Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)
18. Tre Mann (Florida, PG/SG, Sophomore)
17. Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)
16. Sharife Cooper (Auburn, PG, Freshman)
15. Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SF, Freshman)
14. Kai Jones (Texas, PF/C, Sophomore)
13. Alperen Sengun (Besiktas, C, 2002)
12. Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)
11. Davion Mitchell (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)
Mitchell's breakout real
Not many 22-year-old guards who are drafted approach star status. Devonte' Graham and Malcolm Brogdon feel like the closest in recent years, and Fred VanVleet (undrafted) is there, too. But Mitchell's breakout feels real.
Forget the stats. The eye test sees elite-level explosion, sharp dribble moves to separate and shooting skills off the catch or dribble. He makes true point guard passing reads, and there is no question about his defensive effectiveness and its potential to translate given his strong frame, quickness and intensity.
I'm not sold that Mitchell is the next Donovan Mitchell. But it's become too obvious that he's an NBA player with a valuable archetype as a three-and-D guard at baseline with upside to generate offense out of isolation and ball-screen situations. Mitchell is a legitimate can't-lose pick even if the upside never kicks in.
Three ball-handlers packed into one tier in the teens calls for a tough debate.
Of Cooper, Mann and Springer, Cooper has the most bankable skill we can feel confident will translate: his passing. And though he only played 12 games, he was on pace to become one of four players to finish with an assist percentage over 50.0.
At the least, he'll carve out a chance-of-pace role setting up teammates. But there are also concerns over his 6'1" frame when it comes to finishing and defending. And nothing about his jump shot is comforting. He gets little elevation on his three-ball (22.8 percent).
Mann is the most proven shot-maker with the ball-handling skills to create his own shot. But can he channel that creation ability to set up teammates? He's a dribbler. He needs the ball. Is he the player you want handling it for the offense? He'll finish at Florida averaging 3.5 assists to 2.8 turnovers this season.
Springer is the most versatile. And he's the youngest, not turning 19 until September. Unlike Cooper and Mann, however, he doesn't have one core strength to lean on. Scouts question his creation potential without much burst or wiggle. He only received 25 ball-screen possessions, and he struggled with his pull-up and didn't finish well.
I'm favoring Cooper by a hair for the high likelihood his playmaking carries over. He could be the most dangerous, especially in a lineup with enough shooting and defense.
Consistency equals credibility for Sengun
Still 18 years old, Sengun ranks top-three in the Turkish BSL in scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking. He's putting up numbers every game, most recently going for 20 points on nine shots against Turk Telekom, a club that features former NBA draft picks and pros like Johnny O'Bryant, Sam Dekker, Kyle Wiltjer and Nick Johnson.
At this point, Sengun looks like the real deal given how rare it's been for an opponent to keep him in check. From a scouting standpoint, the biggest criticism, other than the classic "lack of strength" note on a teenager's scouting report, is his older-school style of play. He's a post big, and it's tough to get too excited about that type of center in today's NBA.
But Sengun is extremely skilled and savvy operating in his office around the key. He has quick moves, footwork and touch. And he's a timely roller who catches and finishes well after screening.
He's just 4-of-22 from three, but there have been some flashes of shooting, and he's hitting 80.6 percent of his free throws, so it's not unrealistic to think his game can eventually evolve.
For a 6'10" 18-year-old, Sengun continues to strengthen his believability as an NBA prospect with his consistent effectiveness and production in a competitive pro setting.
10. Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF/PF, Sophomore)
9. Josh Giddey (Australia, PG/SG, 2002)
8. Scottie Barnes (Florida State, PF, Freshman)
7. Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)
6. Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG/SF, Freshman)
Rise of Giddey
There was hype over Giddey entering the season but also questions about how his game would translate to the NBA. Those concerns—mostly regarding his underdeveloped body, lack of explosion and jump shot—are quickly fading.
He's averaging 14.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 9.5 assists since March 1, shooting more comfortably from three while continuing to showcase his signature playmaking skills and IQ.
At 6'8", which I'm told he's measuring in with socks, Giddey uses his height advantage to see, pass and shoot over the top of defenses. It helps him compensate for a lack of burst or quickness, and we continue to see plus-sized NBA guards with a strong feel for the game (like Tyrese Haliburton and Lonzo Ball) excel without blow-by athleticism.
Giddey happens to be sharp off the dribble in terms of changing speed and direction. For an 18-year-old, his shooting isn't that concerning. In the meantime, it seems worth banking on his setup passing and knack for running offense.
Ugly finish doesn't change Wagner's outlook
Wagner's worst game of the season came when the audience was probably the biggest. But scouts aren't putting much stock into the 1-of-10 dud against UCLA. Still 19 years, Wagner spent the season developing into an attractive NBA prospect for his shot-making, passing and defense at 6'9".
His archetype should be valuable, assuming the 83.5 percent free-throw shooter becomes more consistent from behind the arc. Wagner appears on track to be a three-and-D combo forward who can handle in ball-screen situations and guard positions 2-4. His versatility and fit are easy to picture on an NBA floor.
What to do with Scottie Barnes
How much value does a 6'9" forward have when he can't shoot, create much or rebound? He totaled just 18 points and six rebounds through three NCAA tournament games.
Ranking Barnes in the lottery comes from the idea that he defies typical scouting traditions. Buying his stock means expecting he'll make an impact in his own unconventional way, similar to how Draymond Green makes things work for the Golden State Warriors without needing to score.
Barnes legitimately has the physical tools, feet and desire to guard all five positions. His passing is also a significant strength that's guaranteed to carry over.
Combine the defense and passing, throw in A-plus intangibles and ridiculous length for finishing plays around the key, and that should be enough for Barnes to establish himself as a unique, out-of-the-box role player. Improving his shooting to just average, which doesn't seem impossible based on the look of his 11 made threes, could get him to reach that top-shelf role-player level.
5. Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)
4. Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)
3. Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)
2. Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)
1. Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG/SG, Freshman)
Nothing about the top five changed during the NCAA tournament. Cunningham has been No. 1 since preseason, and I didn't see enough reasons to panic despite his 6-of-20 performance against Oregon State in the Round of 32.
Suggs was the talk of March Madness after his clutch play and buzzer-beater against UCLA, which highlighted the "it factor" we've talked about all season. He impacts winning and possesses the type of maturity, leadership and professionalism NBA teams want in a lead guard.
But the difference between Suggs, Mobley and Green on my board is minimal. If there is a concern with Suggs as the surefire No. 2 prospect, Baylor's defense exposed it a few times in the championship game. His handles aren't the tightest, which can affect his ability to create.
Suggs, Mobley and Green are all in the same tier, and depending on which team is on the clock, Mobley or Green may be the better option.
Mobley's massive defensive upside is an obvious draw, as is his promising shooting touch and the flashes of face-up play. And though Green's decision-making could use work, it's tough to identify a reason his volume scoring won't translate given his unbeatable athletic ability, sharp creation skills and improved shooting.