2021 NBA Draft's Best Kept Secrets
While every NBA team wants a star in the draft, most are focused on trying to find value in the second round or undrafted pool.
One of Bleacher Report's best kept secrets from last year, Naji Marshall just signed a multiyear deal with the New Orleans Pelicans after nobody picked him.
These are prospects who are being overlooked for different reasons by various media and scouts Bleacher Report has spoken to.
Day'Ron Sharpe (North Carolina, C, Freshman)
Projected draft range: Nos. 31-45
Going from Montverde Academy to North Carolina, Day'Ron Sharpe is hardly a secret by name. But it doesn't sound like there is a ton of excitement regarding his pro potential.
Credit traditional scouting logic that says non-creators or shooters lack upside, as well as senior Garrison Brooks and sophomore Armando Bacot for taking the freshman's minutes. They helped mask sneaky potential tied to Sharpe's rare mix of strengths.
At 19 years old, he finished the year as the only player on record to register at least an 18.0 offensive rebounding percentage and 15.0 assist percentage through 20 games. At 6'11, 265 pounds, his physicality, power and nose for the ball should continue translating to second-chance opportunities. And it's still Sharpe's passing that separates him at the position.
Though not a shooter or threat to use the dribble, Sharpe hurt defenses from outside the paint with his outstanding passing skills. He processes extremely quickly. He knows where to feed the ball before he catches it himself, whether it's at the top of the key or with his back to the basket.
His assist rate would have been even higher had teammates shot better than 33.3 percent off his post-up passes, or North Carolina ranked better than No. 263 (tied) in the nation in three-point percentage.
Scouts and coaches who've been around Sharpe also believe he has more shooting touch than he was able to show. Even without it, he was awfully productive when on the floor, having put up per-40 minute averages of 19.8 points and 15.8 boards.
Defensively, there is room for improvement in terms of making reads and positioning. But NBA coaches will have plenty of natural ability to work with, as Sharpe registered an impressive 2.3 steal rate using his foot speed and reactions. In comparison, 2020 No. 16 pick Isaiah Stewart, who's similarly built at 6'9", 250 pounds, had a 0.9 steal percentage last season at Washington.
Sharpe seems likely to slip past teams who don't see a thrilling trajectory for a 5 man who won't stretch the floor, create or block shots at a high clip. One general manager is going to look good in a few years after drafting an impact energizer and passer with a second-round pick.
Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine, SF, Junior)
Projected range: Second round
Hiding out in the West Coast Conference, Kessler Edwards is flying too far under the radar for a 6'8" 20-year-old who's shot 39.5 percent from three since 2018.
Already a proven shot-maker, he raised his free-throw mark to 87.6 percent this year, another promising indicator for his shooting potential.
Edwards has also developed into a well-rounded scorer for a wing or combo forward, having averaged 17.2 points playing different spots on the floor. He graded in the 95th percentile out of the post, where he showcased impressive creation and fluidity on spin moves and fallaways. Off the ball, he moved well and timed cuts (86th percentile) to pick up easy opportunities around the basket.
Edwards, who went for 37 points in January against Pacific, closed the year with at least 20 points in four-of-five games.
He projects favorably on defense as well with his size and lateral quickness for closing out and turning his hips.
For a pick in the 40s or later, Edwards does too many things the NBA values well while checking out physically. It feels like the only concern is the competition he's faced.
Max Abmas (Oral Roberts, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Projected draft range: Second round
The nation's leading scorer shouldn't be considered a secret, but Max Abmas didn't start receiving national attention until the NCAA tournament. Whether the extra eyeballs translates to first-round interest remains to be seen. But Abmas seems like a value pick wherever he'll wind up going, assuming it's outside the top 20.
He possesses an elite skill the NBA covets. Abmas led the nation in both spot-up and pull-up shooting points per possession. He drilled 101 threes in 28 games at a 43.3 percent clip while making 89.0 percent of his 5.5 free-throw attempts per game.
Abmas is one of those ball-handlers who becomes a threat the second he crosses the half court for his ability to shoot with range off the dribble.
Even if his 6'1" size for separating, finishing and defense keep his scoring and college star power from translating, at his height, his shot-making is dangerous enough to carry over. He didn't have much trouble producing as the college competition rose, with Abmas having put up 36 points against Oklahoma State and 20 points on 7-of-13 versus Oklahoma before finishing with at least 25 points in each NCAA tournament game versus Ohio State, Florida and Arkansas.
He'll be used mostly as a shot-making specialist at the next level, but he has enough scoring craft, particularly with his floater game (16-of-34), to pose a threat when defenses close out hard or a lane opens up.
Simply put, Abmas is too skilled and proven offensively to overlook in the draft because of physical and athletic limitations.
Santi Aldama (Loyola Maryland, C, Sophomore)
Projected range: Nos. 45-60/undrafted
Santi Aldama won't be a first-round pick in 2021, but some NBA teams may be hoping he keeps his name in the draft. Questions about Loyola Maryland's strength of schedule and the 6'11" big man's athleticism create value-pick potential in the 40s and 50s.
Though Aldama only played six teams this season, all in the Patriot League, his scouting profile dates back years. MVP of the 2019 U18 European Championships, he outplayed projected 2021 lottery pick Alperen Sengun in a matchup with Turkey. And he was dominant this season, albeit against low-level competition, having averaged 21.2 points and 10.1 rebounds while leading Loyola Maryland to the conference tournament final.
The obvious initial draw to Aldama stems from his outside touch for a 6'11" forward. He hit 32 threes (36.8 percent) in 17 games with a highly believable shooting motion. Aside from being able to stretch floor, defenses have to respect his ability to attack closeouts and score on the move (8-of-12 spot-up drives), where he shows impressive skill, balance and body control.
He was even effective handling in ball-screen situations, thanks to his pull-up jumper (37.5 percent) and passing skills (2.3 assists).
Aldama obviously won't be able to get away with some of his moves or defense at the NBA level, given his lack of speed, explosion and strength. But lower the bar for a projected late pick. In a simplified role, Aldama could thrive as a floor-spacer while also adding bonus playmaking and post work when an opportunity opens.
Yoan Makoundou (France, 6'9", PF, 2000)
Projected range: Undrafted
Recently named Basketball Champions League Best Young Player, Yoan Makoundou has emerged as an enticing second-round flier for the 2021 draft.
Low production and fluctuating minutes in the Jeep Elite league (France's top division) have limited Makoundou's exposure and draft buzz. And some NBA teams may be happy about it.
Arguably the dunk of the year—regardless of league or continent—highlighted Makoundou's outrageous bounce and length. Shooting a combined 61.1 percent this season, he's a tremendous finishing weapon who earns easy-basket opportunities with his motor.
At this point he's mostly a rim runner, dunker and shot-blocking threat. Occasional signs of post footwork and touch from the mid-range and foul line (70.4 percent FT in Jeep Elite) create some hope around his potential to add a little skill.
He's too raw right for NBA teams to expect any results in the near future. But the 20-year-old Makoundou, who'll likely be available in the Nos. 46-60 range, could be a secret gem worth waiting on to develop.