Biggest Red Flags for Projected 2021 NBA Draft Lottery Picks

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 7, 2021

Biggest Red Flags for Projected 2021 NBA Draft Lottery Picks

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Even when NBA front offices are high on a prospect, they'll make sure to address his biggest red flag.

    Each prospect has at least one weakness or flaw that should create some degree of fear from teams considering them in the lottery. 

    These are our projected top 14 picks in the 2021 NBA draft (listed alphabetically), and we laid out the potential problems that could cause each to struggle early or fail to meet the hype. 

Scottie Barnes (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Self-creation and shooting for scoring 

    How valuable can a forward be who can't create for himself or shoot? It's a reasonable question for teams who detect upside with Scottie Barnes and consider him a top-10 pick.

    Though he's an excellent passer and versatile defender, Barnes doesn't have many scoring skills. He shot 3-of-10 out of isolation, 3-of-6 out of the post and 4-of-19 on shots off the dribble. 

    He won't offer much in terms of shot-making of floor-spacing off the ball, either. Barnes was 11-of-40 on threes, while his 62.1 percent free-throw percentage indicates a clear lack of touch. 

    In the half court, he'll move the ball, drive through lanes and finish around the basket. But for Barnes to take off in the NBA, he'll need the right team fit alongside strong creators and shooters, gifts that helped optimize Draymond Green with the Golden State Warriors.

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

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    Jerry Larson/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Two-point scoring inefficiency

    Cade Cunningham's 46.1 two-point percentage was lower than that of every recent top-three pick (guard and wings) during their predraft seasons.

    He surprised by making 2.3 threes per game at a 40.0 percent clip. But he struggled to efficient score inside the arc, particularly around the foul line. Cunningham shot just 9-of-33 on runners and 11-of-41 on jumpers inside 17 feet, rushing shots or taking tough ones to avoid rim protection without the burst to explode through it.

    Cunningham, who is an elite one-on-one scorer around the perimeter, converted only 2-of-16 drives going right into pull-ups, floaters and layups.  

    It's worth noting that Cunningham did not have many teammates who could space the floor. None averaged at least one three-point make on over 35.0 percent shooting.

    Still, the bar is sky-high for a No. 1 overall pick in a draft that also has Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs. It's worth thinking about Cunningham's effectiveness separating and converting in congested areas against longer NBA defenders.

Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers, PG/SG, 2002)

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    Biggest red flag: Lack of quickness, shooting for point guard position

    Josh Giddey's production and triple-doubles in the NBL could earn him looks from teams in the draft lottery. But there is debate surrounding how his game will translate to the NBA.

    At 6'8", will his lack of blow-by speed allow him to operate as a point guard, which is the position he's wired to play based on his mindset and passing skills? And will he be able to defend quick NBA ball-handlers? 

    Giddey's playmaking IQ for finding teammates and racking up assists is legitimate, but his scoring and defensive potential are worth questioning. 

    Shooting could be his key swing skill, particularly if he needs to guard 2s and play alongside another ball-handler who could put more pressure on the rim. And while his jumper is looking better lately, he's still at 31.1 percent from three and 68.2 percent on free throws for the season.

Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)

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    Biggest red flag: Shot selection for questionable passer, defender

    For a guard who'll offer limited playmaking and questionable defensive consistency, there will be heavy pressure on Jalen Green to score at an elite level. And he often requires a lot of low-percentage attempts.

    Ideally, he'll develop his vision and decision-making as a passer. But realistically, Green is wired to shot-hunt and (attempt to) take over games with his one-on-one skills and shot-making. 

    Will he be able to convert his contested pull-ups and step-backs at an efficient enough rate for a top-two option on a winning team? He's made substantial progress with his creation and shooting over the years.

    But there is some fear tied to his reliance on hero jumpers, and he doesn't have Anthony Edwards' 225-pound frame for taking contact as a finisher at the rim. 

Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Self-creation, shooting for scoring

    Teams will want to learn more about Jalen Johnson's mindset when he opted out of the season midway through. But the bigger question concerns his jumper for a scorer who isn't an advanced self-creator. 

    The early scouting report will call for defenses to drop when Johnson catches around the perimeter, where he spent more time spotting up (21 percent of offense) than posting up (8.9 percent), rolling off screens (5.7 percent) and fighting for second-chance points (5.7 percent). 

    Johnson made only eight threes in 13 games, shot 1-of-11 on pull-ups and hit 63.2 percent of his free throws. Numbers aside, the eye test clearly shows a lack of touch and arc on his release. 

    To score, he relies mostly on transition, quick face-up moves into drives and cuts. But he isn't advanced creating one-on-one, and without a jumper, he could have trouble scoring in the half court. 

Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG, Freshman)

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    Randy Sartin/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Skill level for a wing

    Taking Keon Johnson in the top 10 means banking on substantial skill development over the next few seasons. 

    Athleticism, quickness and footwork for slashing and defense give Johnson a high floor. But he will need to improve his off-the-dribble game and shooting to offer upside from the wing position. 

    He did show encouraging signs of progress over the final two months with his self-creation and shot-making. And he's a good passer on the move. 

    Still, having made only 13 threes in 27 games, shooting is an obvious weakness and concern. His touch isn't great. Johnson shot 3-of-8 on runners, 17-of-47 on short jumpers (inside 17 feet) and 70.3 percent from the free-throw line.

    But Johnson also isn't the sharpest ball-handler, grading in 21st percentile in ball-screen situations and finishing with a 19.4 turnover percentage.

Kai Jones (Texas, C, Sophomore)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Small sample size of skill flashes

    For a 6'11" big, Kai Jones' flashes of fluid drives, three-point shooting and highlight blocks hint at upside. Those flashes just didn't happen that often. In 26 games, Jones scored more than 15 points only once, hit 13 threes and blocked 24 shots.

    Buying Jones' upside requires an imagination and a lot of belief in his potential to turn glimpses into regular occurrences.

    On the other hand, it's easy to picture his rim-running, finishing and defensive versatility translating to the NBA. They give him a high floor, and there's a strong likelihood that he can continue racking up dunks.

    But teams will have to weigh whether it's worth spending a lottery pick on a player who has a limited post game (4-of-6), an unproven jumper, a 5.4 assist percentage and 4.2 block percentage. 

Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Trouble versus athleticism, unjustified draft-stock spike

    There wasn't much NBA interest in Corey Kispert at this time last year even though he shot 43.8 percent from three as a junior. Now at 22 years old, he's a projected lottery pick? Did Kispert expand his game that much? 

    He did raise his scoring average, but not by improving his shot creation or off-the-dribble game. He hit only 13 pull-ups all season, and he didn't flash any real playmaking (9.0 assist percentage). The scouting report will clearly direct defenses to close out hard and force Kispert to put the ball down. 

    The biggest red flags showed in the NCAA tournament, when he shot a combined 17-of-44 against USC, UCLA and Baylor, teams with far better athletes than the ones he faced in the West Coast Conference. 

    There is no questioning Kispert's shooting after he hit 44.0 percent of his threes this season. But he isn't elusive or explosive with the ball, and it's worth wondering how easily he'll get separation or good looks outside of catch-and-shoot and fast-break chances.

    Playoff teams looking for a shot-making specialist could reasonably target Kispert. But rebuilding lottery franchises may want to think about swinging bigger. 

Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF, 2002)

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    Biggest red flag: Shooting/decision-making for a scorer

    There are questions about Jonathan Kuminga's tunnel vision, decision-making and defensive intensity, but he could still reach star status with those weaknesses. He has no chance if he doesn't improve his perimeter game, though.

    Kuminga's identity revolves around scoring, but for a projected top-five pick, his unproven shooting gives him bust potential if he's taken in the top five. He shot 24.6 percent from three and 62.5 percent from the free-throw line in the G League bubble.

    His size, strength, athleticism and shake to drive, spin off defenders and finish drives (and even shorter jumpers) highlight a strong foundation for an NBA scorer. But a limited playmaker who tends to catch-and-hold or take tough shots will have little margin for error with his shot-making. 

    You can argue that improving his shot selection will be equally important and tied to his efficiency. Kuminga settles for highlight attempts or recklessly attacks without balance.

Davion Mitchell (Baylor, G, Junior)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Age/late-breakout legitimacy

    Davion Michell swayed NBA scouts with a breakout year and NCAA tournament—at 22 years old. He'll be 23 to start his rookie season. 

    At 21, he wasn't much of a scoring threat, shooter or playmaker. And history warns about buying breakouts this late into college careers. There have also been too many prospects overdrafted after teams put extra stock into March Madness performances.

    There are recent success stories of 22-year-old ball-handlers out of college, including Devonte' Graham, Fred VanVleet, Malcolm Brogdon and Jordan Clarkson. But there are more cautionary tales.

    Otherwise, the most worrisome stat in terms of translatable offense focuses on consecutive seasons below 65.0 percent on free throws, which makes you wonder about the legitimacy of his out-of-nowhere shooting outburst.

    It seems fine to believe Mitchell will be a useful NBA contributor and valued member of a rotation. But how early is too early to draft him?

Evan Mobley (USC, PF/C, Freshman)

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Physicality

    A 7'0" power forward or center, Evan Mobley checks in at 210 pounds, not far off from freshman point guard Jalen Suggs (205 lbs). 

    With a thin waist, skinny legs and slender frame, he has some trouble banging or gaining position inside. Mobley's 14.5 rebounding percentage is lower than those of recent lottery bigs in their predraft college seasons. It's tied for the lowest with Obi Toppin's out of Dayton, and we've seen Toppin struggle against contact early in his pro career. Deandre Ayton, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Karl-Anthony Towns each finished with rebounding percentages above 18.0 percent during their one-and-one seasons. 

    Mobley also shot only 17-of-43 out of the post (29th percentile) despite regularly having a size and length advantage in the Pac-12. Mohamed Bamba, who also had questions about his lack of strength and physicality, similarly struggled in the post at Texas (31st percentile) and got off to a slow NBA start.

    Offensively, there could be a lot of pressure on Mobley's perimeter skill development as a driver and shooter. 

Moses Moody (Arkansas, G, Freshman)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Creation for on-ball, explosiveness for off-ball

    Red flags could be thrown at Moses Moody's struggles against quality competition. He had a terrific freshman season, finishing top five in scoring among freshmen, but he shot a combined 6-of-30 in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 and Elite Eight after shooting 12-of-42 against ranked opponents during the regular season. 

    In terms of specific weaknesses that raise questions about his transition to the pros, Moody looked limited creating off the dribble. He shot 6-of-19 out of isolation and averaged only 1.6 assists in 33.8 minutes. Seventy-seven percent of his offense came from spot-ups, transition, cuts, offensive rebounds and off-screen actions. And that's fine, considering his jump-shot-making versatility for an off-ball NBA role.

    But as a guard or wing, limited creation lowers his ceiling. And a lack of explosiveness did restrict him in non-isolation or ball-screen situations, with Moody having ranked in the 34th percentile in transition, the 30th percentile on cuts and the 25th percentile on dribble hand-offs.

Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, G, Freshman)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Handles/creation for lead guard

    Jalen Suggs' ball-handling skill and wiggle don't always resemble a lead NBA point guard's. He used transition to score more than any other action. In the half court, he was dependent on ball-screens, cuts, handoffs and drives past closeouts. 

    Against a set defense, will he be able to create at a high enough level for an offense's initiator and top-five pick? Or will he be used more as a combo guard like Tyrese Haliburton has been with the Sacramento Kings?

    The problem with having to put Suggs off the ball concerns his 29.7 percent catch-and-shoot percentage and low-volume three-point makes/attempts (35-of-104). Spot-up shooting has helped Haliburton thrive while sharing the ball with De'Aaron Fox. 

    Suggs totaled only two assists out of isolation all season. He registered a high 19.5 turnover percentage (to only 23.7 assist percentage) despite facing mostly mid-major competition on a talented team that didn't require him to frequently force the issue. 

Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF, Sophomore)

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Biggest red flag: Missing signature skill

    Franz Wagner's versatility is his selling point, but does it create enough upside? 

    Flashes of passing, slashing, shot-making and defensive range paint Wagner as one of the most well-rounded prospects in the draft. However, he isn't a realistic playmaker (given his lack of ball-handling wiggle), consistent shooter or one-on-one scorer, and he wasn't always the toughest to beat. 

    He's a projected lottery pick who averaged 12.5 points and 3.0 assists in 31.7 minutes while shooting 34.3 percent from three (1.3 3PTM) during his second college season. 

    Wagner is missing a bankable skill that his future team can value game after game. He's more likely to develop into a reliable shooter than creator, but he didn't make a ton of improvement from his freshman to sophomore season, finishing with fewer made threes while making only 11-of-32 pull-ups.


    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, Sports Reference


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