2021 NBA Draft Buzz: Monitoring Big Decisions of Key Prospects Testing Waters
The majority of the 2021 NBA draft field is set. But scouts and executives are still waiting on a few key prospects who are testing the process.
They'll have until 10 days after the combine to withdraw. In the meantime, they're gathering feedback on their stock before workouts and interviews. So we checked in with teams regarding any rumors they've heard about who is keeping their name in, returning to school or on the verge of rising up boards.
We'll also report on some opinions and buzz surrounding a handful of other notable names.
Alabama's Joshua Primo Gaining Steam as Potential First-Rounder
Alabama's fifth-leading scorer at just 8.1 points per game, Joshua Primo is testing the NBA draft process. And despite the lack of production, there is belief among scouts that he could keep his name in and draw first-round interest.
We hadn't talked about Primo much this year, given his limited role and the perception that he wasn't a one-and-done prospect. But there is the interesting notion of predrafting—discussed here by PD Web—which means if a team thinks a player will be a first-rounder one year from now, it makes sense to buy low and early now, keep him in the organization's developmental system and remain patient for a year or two.
As a 6'6" shooter, Primo's archetype and potential trajectory are appealing. And he'll be the youngest player in the class, not turning 19 until next Christmas Eve.
He spent the season in the half court spotting up (77 possessions), receiving just 27 pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions and 14 out of isolation. But he was efficient in his simplified, off-ball role, ranking in the 93rd percentile out of spot-ups while converting nine of 10 cuts to the basket.
Primo shot 38.1 percent from three with a convincing stroke and rhythm stepping into jumpers.
But a good portion of the love for the Canadian guard comes from pre-college flashes that he wasn't able to showcase behind Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, John Petty Jr. and Herbert Jones. Primo was a standout at 2020 Basketball Without Borders, where he was given more chances to create and operate off the dribble in front of scouts.
Already envisioning a solid foundation based on Primo's size, shooting and age, NBA teams could see a low-risk gamble and bet that his low-usage role (17.6 percent) masked more scoring potential. He's looking like a strong candidate to trend and rise over the next two months, assuming he doesn't abruptly withdraw from the draft.
Auburn's JT Thor Viewed as Potential Draft Riser
Recently listed in our 2022 first-round mock draft, JT Thor is testing the 2021 process. Some scouts are anticipating him impressing enough to draw legitimate interest and sneak up boards right now.
There is a sense he'll bypass projected second-rounders during workouts with a jumper that looks better than the numbers at Auburn suggest.
Thor still finished the season strong, most notably going for 24 points on five threes against Kentucky and potential lottery pick Isaiah Jackson. After that, he blocked at least three shots in three of Auburn's final five games.
While buying into Thor requires an optimistic imagination, given his pedestrian 9.4 points and 5.0 boards per game on 29.7 percent shooting from three, he possesses a valuable mix of skills and defensive tools.
At 6'10", the lefty hit 22 threes with an effortless flick that's easy to buy long-term. Though he struggled shooting off the catch, Thor popped most after putting the ball down, having hit 10 of 23 pull-ups and converted 10 of 12 takes to the basket out of spot-ups.
He appeared switchable defensively with shot-blocking ability (1.4 in 23.0 minutes) near and away from the basket.
A projected power forward who can possibly stretch the floor, attack closeouts, guard around the perimeter and challenge at the rim, the 19-year-old may start looking more attractive than some of the older players projected in the 50s, 40s or even 30s. We've taken Thor off our 2022 board and moved him to No. 38 in 2021.
Arizona State's Marcus Bagley's Stock Shaky; Belief He Could Return
After a strong start to the season that earned Marcus Bagley mentions in the 2021 first-round discussion, he fell off with inconsistency and injuries. Scouts have lost confidence, and there are rumblings that Bagley could eventually withdraw and return for another college season.
Not everyone believes he's a must-draft prospect if he keeps his name in.
Bagley's effectiveness this year was limited, as he played just 12 games, shot 38.7 percent, 34.7 percent from three and totaled 14 assists. Nothing about his statistical profile or impact suggests he's ready or worthy of serious draft looks.
The eye-test results were more persuasive, however. At 6'8", Bagley has a smooth shooting stroke and an ability to connect off movement. And there is NBA value tied to his projected archetype—a stretch forward who can shot-make around screens, attack closeouts and guard wings or certain 4s.
But in a small sample size of action, Bagley wasn't convincing enough with his bread-and-butter off-ball skills for a non-creator. The steam he gained early has faded, and now it sounds like it's possible he'll head back to Arizona State to strengthen his case for 2022.
UCLA's Johnny Juzang Earned Fans After March Madness
Scouts could see Johnny Juzang's breakout NCAA tournament pushing him up draft boards. Some believe he can potentially sneak into the first round.
The NBA values shot-making, and Juzang, a 6'6" wing, was a shot-making machine in March Madness against elite NCAA competition. He combined for 57 points against No. 1 seeds Michigan and Gonzaga.
The big question is whether March Madness changed NBA teams' opinions. He'd seemingly generated no buzz from his arrival at Kentucky in 2019 until February 2021. I hadn't heard his name mentioned once by scouts during the season, and he didn't appear on any of our boards all year.
There are plenty of cautionary tales warning not to put extra stock in NCAA tournament performances. But Juzang did have an impressive bounce-back year to average 16.0 points and 2.0 threes per game.
Arguably his most impressive skill was shooting off the dribble (47.2 percent), which is used to score off ball screens (96th percentile) and isolation (86th percentile). He shot 50.0 percent on short jumpers and 53.1 percent from 17 feet to the arc.
But he leaned heavily on his pull-up, rarely getting to the hoop as a one-on-one or pick-and-roll scorer. His lack of quickness, burst and explosion always seemed like a roadblock to NBA success—unless he can really be an elite shot-maker. And it's possible he is. Juzang's 87.7 free-throw percentage highlights outstanding touch for a forward.
In his first mock-draft appearance, we've moved him all the way up to No. 35, based on reportedly willing buyers and a history of teams biting on March magic.
- After Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham, Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs and Baylor's Davion Mitchell, who's sounding more like a lottery lock, there isn't a consensus ranking of the next group of NCAA point guards or ball-handlers. From what we're hearing, Florida's Tre Mann has definitely risen, and there seems to be more confidence in Baylor's Jared Butler than there is in Auburn's Sharife Cooper and Tennessee's Jaden Springer. Questions about Cooper's ball-dominance, shooting and defense have turned some scouts off, while others don't buy Springer as a true initiator guard. In our latest mock, we have Mann and Butler going top-20 before Springer and Cooper.
- There has been some good debate when breaking down Texas' Kai Jones versus Kentucky's Isaiah Jackson. Jones is perceived to have the higher ceiling because of his physical advantage, shooting and face-up flashes, while scouts see Jackson with the higher floor based on bounce and quickness for finishing and special shot-blocking. There is more variability with Jackson's stock, while most see Jones as a pick in the late-lottery range.
- All it takes is one team to look past Brandon Boston Jr.'s inefficient year at Kentucky and put more stock in high school tape and long-term potential. But he'll need that one team to be there in the 20s. It's sounding more likely that Boston will slip into the second round, having lost a lot of support this past season with his inconsistency and low impact.
- Though I've cooled on Connecticut's James Bouknight, there are still scouts who remain high on his scoring potential. I wouldn't be surprised if he went in the late lottery to a team that saw upside tied to his creation, three-level shot-making and athletic finishing. He just has to improve his tunnel vision, three-point shooting and off-ball play.
- Scouts expect Texas Tech's Terrence Shannon Jr. to stay in the draft, especially after his coach, Chris Beard, left for the Texas job. There is some optimism out there about his shooting, a key swing skill for an explosive athlete and quick defender. I'm not sure he'll go in the 20s, but Shannon shouldn't last on the board too long once the second round starts.
Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports