Biggest Boom-or-Bust Prospects in 2021 NBA Draft
Boom-or-bust NBA draft prospects have perceived high ceilings and low floors.
Best-case outcomes for the following five players could result in pricy multiyear contracts. But questions about their skill sets and weaknesses create worrisome worst-case scenarios relative to where they're projected to be selected.
The bar is naturally set higher for projected top picks, who can be labeled as busts even if they last 10 years as role players.
It's time to sort out the players who could make front-office executives look like geniuses or leave those decision-makers second-guessing themselves.
Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)
Greg Brown made highlight-reel plays and frustrating blunders as a freshman at Texas.
He skied over defenders, blew past them from behind the arc and drilled 30 threes as a 6'9" forward. He also shot 42.0 percent from the floor, missed seven dunks, totaled 60 turnovers to 10 assists and averaged three fouls in just 20.6 minutes per game.
There is obvious upside tied to an athletic big who can stretch the floor. Brown possesses pogo-stick bounce for finishing and making plays at the rim. He has the agility and some wiggle to attack off the catch. And he shares outrageous shot-making confidence, which has its pros and cons.
Brown's decision-making can be wild. He opted for contested dunks over floaters (0-of-6). He attempted ball-handling maneuvers in traffic he shouldn't have and quick-trigger threes before he or the offense could get set. And he struggled to avoid whistles on defense.
His poor feel for the game could make him difficult to trust, and it could negate the potential value that comes with his athleticism, shooting and defensive playmaking. But he'll be on steal watch—assuming he's picked outside the lottery or top 20—if the game starts to slow down for Brown and he gradually reduces the self-inflicted mistakes.
Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)
On one hand, Jalen Johnson is an athletic, 6'9", 220-pounder who played point-forward in high school and handles the ball in the open floor. On the other hand, he doesn't create his own shot well, work from the post or attempt many jumpers.
A best-case outcome would include Johnson thriving in a playmaking-4 role—initiating fast breaks, attacking closeouts and passing off ball screens while finishing, rebounding and defending multiple positions. He might even develop spot-up shooting ability based on his 8-of-18 shooting on three-pointers at Duke.
Worst-case, he is limited in the half court, hurts spacing and struggles with decision-making. He shot 1-of-10 off the dribble and registered a 20.6 turnover percentage before opting out of the season. Scouts already had questions about the fact he changed high schools three times and never suited up after arriving at IMG Academy.
The potential reward tied to his physical tools and two-way versatility feels worth the risk. But scouts have called Johnson a roller coaster, and there will surely be teams that aren't interested in taking the gamble.
Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)
Scouts had seen little of Jonathan Kuminga before the G League bubble, wherein he delivered star-caliber scoring highlights but shot an ugly 38.7 percent.
Is there substance behind the flash?
The 6'6", 210-pound Kuminga has an outstanding frame and athleticism for a forward who can create his own shot with drives, pull-ups or step-backs. The 18-year-old played through contact against pros and shook them with different dribble moves into layups and jumpers.
But inefficiency, caused by poor shot selection and shooting, cast a cloud over his 15.8 points per game. He attacked recklessly into traffic and made just 24.6 percent of his threes and 62.5 percent of his free throws. Kuminga also has a catch-and-hold game that isn't suited for an off-ball role, so whichever team drafts him will have to be confident in his one-on-one execution. Scouts question if he's the type of player who can make others better.
From a talent and skill perspective, he has a clear case to land in the top five. The big question is whether his physical ability, game and approach will translate to consistent offense, defense and winning basketball.
Kai Jones (Texas, PF/C, Sophomore)
A first-timer watching Kai Jones' highlights might see a top-five pick. The tape just wasn't very long.
Jones' flashes were eye-opening and persuasive, but they didn't consistently occur. A tremendous run-and-jump athlete for a 6'11" big, Jones also showed he can shoot from three and put the ball down and score with body-controlled drives and finishes. And he delivered some exciting rejections above the cylinder, hustling from off the ball.
Despite signs of shooting potential, self-creation and rim protection, however, he made only 13 threes in 26 games, scored over 15 points just once, totaled 16 assists and averaged 0.9 blocks.
How real are the flashes? Are they translatable? And does the defensive playmaking mean impact defense at the next level?
There is an argument that Jones would have been more productive in a lineup that didn't revolve around three veteran guards and a senior center in Jericho Sims. It's possible his role masked more skill, offensive potential and defensive ability.
But if his skills aren't sharpe enough to translate, his jumper and ball-handling don't improve and he isn't a difference-maker on defense, Jones figures to settle in as a less valuable rim runner and finisher.
Sharife Cooper (Auburn, PG, Freshman)
With just 12 games of Sharife Cooper film to evaluate, scouts saw one elite, translatable strength and multiple weaknesses that could neutralize the value tied to his signature skill.
He's the draft's top playmaker with his ball-handling, elusiveness, passing skills and vision. Had he qualified with enough games (at least 20), he would have been one of four players on record to register an assist rate over 50 percent.
But he also averaged 20.2 points by slicing through defenses and past ball screens and shaking defenders off the dribble. What happens if he adds a jumper? And what if he doesn't?
Cooper shot 22.8 percent from three, getting little elevation or separation on his shot. He shot just 25.6 percent on pull-ups. And at 6'1", a measurement scouts seem to think is generous, Cooper, a limited vertical leaper, shot just 47.9 percent around the basket.
His size and effort raised skepticism about his defense. And his freedom and time of possession suggest his assist numbers were inflated. Plus, he averaged 4.2 turnovers per game.
Just becoming an adequate shooter and defender could go a long way for Cooper, who should continue to excel at creating easy shots for teammates. We could be looking at a dynamic playmaker who can put constant pressure on defenses. Or Cooper could be an inefficient ball-dominator who struggles with decision-making, shooting, finishing and containing penetration.