2021 NBA Draft Prospects Scouts Can't Figure Out

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 25, 2021

2021 NBA Draft Prospects Scouts Can't Figure Out

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Scouts sound torn on some high-profile 2021 NBA draft prospects. 

    They see the appeal and upside to these five players, but they're also wary of potentially problematic stats or weaknesses that raise questions about their NBA fit and possible value. 

    Scouts are still trying to figure out who and what each of these freshmen will be in the league after they make the jump.

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

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Every scout and coach likes Scottie Barnes. They're having trouble deciding how much they love him, though. 

    There is a comfort level with his passing, defensive tools and intangibles, which include showing passion for teammates' success, unselfish play and plenty of effort. But to reach a star-caliber level in the NBA, he'll either need to dramatically improve offensively or be a Draymond Green-like outlier who impacts games without scoring after landing in a perfect situation that optimizes his versatility. 

    Some scouts question how much value can be tied to a forward who doesn't create for himself, shoot or rebound. Barnes finished 3-of-10 out of isolation, 4-of-19 on shots off the dribble and 11-of-40 from three while averaging 4.0 rebounds at 6'9" and 227 pounds.

    On the flip side, he was the only player his height or taller to record an assist percentage over 30.0 percent and a steal percentage over 2.5 percent. At his size, he can handle the ball in transition, play-make off ball screens and comfortably guard all five positions. 

    A playmaking 4 who can lock down around the perimeter, force turnovers, switch and occasionally make open jumpers sounds very appealing. But he won't be for every team, specifically ones that lack creators and shooters to surround him with. And if he can't improve his jumper, there will be a lot of pressure on his ability to make an impact with passes and defense.

Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SG/SF, Freshman)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Scouts don't know what to make of Brandon Boston Jr., who was viewed as a potential top-five pick last summer and now seems like a long shot to go in the first round. 

    What exactly happened this season? The 5-star recruit, equipped with 6'7" wing size and plenty of shot-making skill, hit only 35.5 percent of his field-goal attempts.

    Even with major high school scouting events canceled due to the pandemic, there was plenty of tape of Boston torching noteworthy opponents with an advanced scoring package of creation, shooting and transition offense. 

    Scouts are trying to decide if they just witnessed a lengthy cold streak that affected Boston mentally or if Kentucky's poor point guard play deserved some blame. He did start to show positive signs late in the season, having hit 42.0 percent of his three-point attempts over his final 10 games. Percentages aside, he still demonstrated an ability to connect with range off the catch or pull up after a few dribbles. 

    But when Boston wasn't hitting jumpers, he couldn't make an impact. And that happened often. Head coach John Calipari even pulled him during second halves over the final month.

    He struggled to create separation more than he did with Sierra Canyon. Was his ball-handling and shooting overrated?

    Some teams won't trust his feel for the game or ability to efficiently execute. Others may see a buy-low opportunity on another Kentucky prospect who may be a more effective pro than NCAA player. 

Josh Christopher (Arizona State, SG/SF, Freshman)

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Some scouts feel Josh Christopher wasn't in the best situation to efficiently showcase his game at Arizona State. Other scouts have questioned whether his game translates to winning team basketball. 

    On the surface, Christopher immediately pops as an NBA prospect with his 6'5", 215-pound frame, strong legs, explosive leaping and advanced creation and shot-making skills. He averaged 14.3 points on a decent 43.2 percent shooting, so he didn't have trouble producing as a freshman.

    But athleticism still fueled a good portion of his production, not skill, touch or IQ. Christopher ranked in the 91st percentile in transition and the 36th percentile in half-court offense.

    Despite the flashy moves into pull-ups and step-backs, he shot 5-of-22 in the mid-range and 30.5 percent from three. His assist rate was only 9.8 percent, which is a red flag for a guard. He struggled off the ball, a situation he'll find himself in early and often in the NBA, having shot 32.6 percent out of spot-ups. 

    But Christopher also had to adjust to a new off-ball role behind older shot-hunters Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge. He's the type of player who could use more freedom and space for his ball-handling creativity and streak-scoring ability. 

    Some teams will be uninterested in a non-passer with Christopher's shot selection. But others may see a Jordan Clarkson-type sixth man who can pick up easy fast-break points, get his own shot from three levels and catch fire once his confidence starts pumping. 

Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Some scouts are having trouble picturing who and what Jaden Springer is on an NBA floor. 

    Buyers see offensive versatility and strong defensive tools/fundamentals. Hesitant scouts question if he has enough burst for a lead guard or scoring ability as a 2. 

    The case for Springer revolves around his well-rounded skill set and ability to adapt in different situations. He wisely picks his spots when to attack and demonstrates encouraging vision and passing skills on the move. He doesn't often blow by, but he compensates by decelerating and maintaining body control/balance around the key. And he shot 43.5 percent from three and 81.0 percent from the free-throw line, promising numbers that highlight touch and the potential for him to improve his shot-making off the dribble (28.2 percent). 

    But Tennessee used Springer in only 25 pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions all season. He graded in the 16th percentile on those possessions as a scorer, mostly due to his weak pull-up game and trouble exploding to the rim. 

    The bigger concern focuses on his 3-of-17 mark out of isolation, which highlights his trouble creating separation, a worry for a ball-handler. It's also worth wondering about his jumper and limited attempts (46 three-point attempts in 25 games). 

    Even with the athletic question marks, Springer was effective in transition (84th percentile) and around the basket (59.3 percent). He demonstrated poise as a facilitator and knocked down the open shots that came to him. And he registered an impressive 2.7 steal percentage, often pressuring his man into mistakes or tight spots. 

    He's also one of the draft's youngest prospects, as he won't turn 19 years old until September. 

    It's tough to identity one translatable, above-average strength, especially offensively. However, Springer's  combo-guard versatility, defensive focus and age suggest he'll find a way to fit and contribute. De'Anthony Melton has become an interesting comparison to think about.  

Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Grouped into with projected lottery prospects before the season, Ziaire Williams now has scouts questioning how much stock to put into his 37.4 field-goal percentage through 20 NCAA games.

    The 6'8" wing came into college known for his skill level and smooth shooting. And the eye-test results confirm he still possesses both. He comfortably handled in ball-screen situations and easily got into his jumper off the dribble and catch. If you were to watch only his strong games, you'd see the same star-caliber prospect that shined at Sierra Canyon last season. 

    But the numbers don't match up with a traditional lottery pick's. Despite picturesque form, Williams shot 29.1 percent from three. And he was brutal inside the arc, making only 42.7 percent of his two-point attempts, with his struggles clearly tied to a lack of explosion and strength in traffic. 

    On the other hand, we saw his potential versatility come alive against Washington in January, when he went for a triple-double with two steals and two blocks.

    How much did college spacing affect his driving and finishing? Did inconsistent touches mess with his rhythm as a shooter? Was the sample size of inefficiency big enough to worry about his long-term outlook?

    Some teams may prefer to ignore one-and-done stats, like the Atlanta Hawks did with Cam Reddish or the Boston Celtics did with Jaylen Brown. Some teams may have trouble looking past his brutal percentages and lack of athleticism/muscle for the NBA level.

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports Reference.

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