2021 NBA Draft Big Board: Top 50 Prospects Ahead of Tuesday's Lottery
The NBA draft process is moving along with the G League Elite camp, NBA combine and lottery set to take place.
I'll be in Chicago to get a closer look at the prospects through drilling, testing and scrimmaging.
This is ultimately a key week for both lottery and playoff teams as they prepare their boards for July 29.
50. Luka Garza (Iowa, C, Senior)
49. Rokas Jokubaitis (Zalgiris, PG/SG, 2000)
48. RaiQuan Gray (Florida State, SF/PF, Junior)
47. Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois, PG/SG, Junior)
46. Isaiah Livers (Michigan, SF, Senior)
45. Isaiah Todd (G League Ignite, PF, 2002)
44. Josh Primo (Alabama, SG, Freshman)
43. Ariel Hukporti (Nevezis Kedainiai, C, 2002)
42. Joel Ayayi (Gonzaga, PG/SG, Junior)
41. Nah'Shon Hyland (VCU, SG, Sophomore)
More second-rounders to watch
There isn't a big difference between the late 40s and Nos. 50-70 range. The next group of prospects who I'd grade as a mid-to-late second-rounders—and who'll have a chance to move up at the NBA combine—include: Seton Hall's Sandro Mamukelashvili, Baylor's Matthew Mayer, G League Ignite's Daishen Nix, Louisville's David Johnson, St. John's Julian Champagnie, Pittsburgh's Justin Champagnie, Duke's DJ Steward, LSU's Trendon Watford, Houston's Quentin Grimes, Providence's David Duke, Utah State's Neemias Queta, Florida's Scottie Lewis.
My favorite sleepers at the G League Elite Camp: Georgia Tech's Jose Alvarado, Maryland's Aaron Wiggins, Santa Barbara's JaQuori McLaughlin, San Diego State's Matt Mitchell, France's Juhann Begarin. The top performers will at this camp will be asked to move on and participate at the NBA combine from June 22-25.
40. Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SF, Freshman)
39. Marcus Bagley (Arizona State, SF/PF, Freshman)
38. Herbert Jones (Alabama, SF, Senior)
37. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova, PF, Sophomore)
36. Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech, SG/SF, Sophomore)
35. Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky, C, Junior)
34. JT Thor (Auburn, PF, Freshman)
33. Roko Prkacin (Cibona, PF, 2002)
32. Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SG/SF, Freshman)
31. Trey Murphy (Virginia, PF, Junior)
Murphy seems like one of the draft's best value picks. For a 6'9" forward, his 43.3 percent three-ball and 92.7 free-throw percentage scream high floor. It would be tough to criticize a general manager if he wanted a sure-thing role player in the 20s.
There may not be any creativity to his game, but one NBA team figures to start next season with a low-cost, stretch-4 specialist in Murphy.
Key scouting opportunity on Prkacin at the NBA combine
Most executives only watched Prkacin on film from the Croatian and Adriatic Leagues. He should be one of the main draws at the NBA combine after a productive season flashing scoring versatility suited for the NBA's power forward position. At 6'9" with three-point range, athletic finishing ability and handles to attack, the 18-year-old looks like a fit in today's league.
Teams—and I—will be hoping he scrimmages. His comfort level and performance against projected second-rounders could sway opinions on where he deserves to finish on draft boards.
30. Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine, SF/PF, Junior)
29. Cameron Thomas (LSU, SG, Freshman)
28. Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, PF/C, 2002)
27. Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)
26. Miles McBride (West Virginia, PG/SG, Sophomore)
25. Day'Ron Sharpe (North Carolina, C, Freshman)
24. Tre Mann (Florida, PG, Sophomore)
23. Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)
22. Chris Duarte (Oregon, SG, Senior)
21. Josh Christopher (Arizona State, SG/SF, Freshman)
Trouble assessing Christopher
Between Christopher's inconsistency, a small sample size of 15 games and a variety of differing opinions from scouts, it's been tough to confidently nail down where he belongs on the board. The eye test sees a pro with his solid physical profile, quickness, explosion and skill level creating for himself and shot-making.
I've been leaning toward slotting him top-20, which means buying the obvious talent and skill package, and hoping after a few seasons he learns to pick his spots better within the flow of a team offense.
Risk with Brown overstated?
It took a while for Brown to announce he'll be staying in the draft. He's similar to Christopher in that he's a clear NBA talent with suspect intangibles that scouts have to weigh and decide if they are worrisome enough to negate his physical gifts and skills. At 6'9", he's one of the draft's top leapers with a motor and outrageous confidence to fire from three or attack from the arc. He also totaled 60 turnovers to 10 assists and averaged 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes. Is it overthinking to write Brown off at 19 years due to his bad judgement?
It will be important for his future coaching staff to connect with Brown and effectively communicate where he regularly makes decision-making errors. Because between his athleticism, energy and the likelihood his shot-making continues to improve, just cutting down a little on the bad shots, forced drives and careless fouls could go a long way for his value.
20. Aaron Henry (Michigan State, SG/SF, Junior)
19. Alperen Sengun (Turkey, C, 2002)
18. Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)
17. Jared Butler (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)
16. Kai Jones (Texas, PF, Sophomore)
15. Davion Mitchell (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)
14. Isaiah Jackson (Kentucky, PF/C, Freshman)
13. Sharife Cooper (Auburn, PG, Freshman)
12. James Bouknight (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)
11. Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG/SF, Freshman)
Bouknight vs. Moody
Bouknight versus Moody is a good debate in the late-lottery discussion. Bouknight is more creative off the dribble and athletic around the rim. Moody looks bigger and longer and shot much better as a freshman than Bouknight did as a sophomore.
I'm not as worried about Bouknight's jumper, though I'm having a tough time picturing a fringe-star, given the small margin for error for a scoring 2-guard who doesn't provide playmaking or defensive value. It seems more realistic to project a best-case outcome resulting in a Jordan Clarkson-type.
He also has a lower floor due to the possibility of his three-point game plateauing, a shot selection that leaves him vulnerable to inefficiency, and minimal impact as a passer or defender.
There is less variability when it comes to imagining Moody outcomes. But even his floor represents a valued archetype as an off-ball shot-maker with defensive tools to guard 2s and 3s. Moody comes off as an easier fit with a more bankable signature skill and still plenty of room for growth with his self-creation.
Cooper: Star or change-of-pace specialist?
Passing translates, and Cooper has the speed and elusiveness to continue putting himself in playmaking position to pass at the next level. Just five NCAA freshmen have averaged at least eight assists, including Trae Young and T.J. Ford, and Cooper was on pace to become the sixth if he played a whole season.
But despite averaging 20.2 points, he shot 47.9 percent at the rim and 22.8 percent from three. Aside from lacking explosion at the basket, he made poor rim reads, often going up for contested layups. Too frequently, he chose to elevate off two feet, hurting his ability to separate. As for his jumper, his release is slow and he gets little elevation from his legs.
I'm still banking on the high assist rate carrying over. But what about his scoring? Will more space in the NBA lead to easier finishes and larger layup windows? And is his 82.5 free-throw percentage an encouraging indicator for his shooting development?
Given how effective he projects to be at creating open looks for teammates, he shouldn't need to average 20 points to make a star or quality-starter impact. But he'll be difficult to play full-time minutes as a ball-dominant, turnover-prone, inefficient scorer, limited shooter and negative defender.
10. Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers, PG/SG, 2002)
9. Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG/SF, Freshman)
8. Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF/PF, Sophomore)
7. Scottie Barnes (Florida State, PF, Freshman)
6. Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)
Team fit plays a key role in the order for prospects No. 6-10. I may lean toward Wagner from this group if it's for the Golden State Warriors or Keon Johnson if the Orlando Magic fall back to No. 6. Wagner's two-way versatility and shooting potential would fit too well in Golden State, while Johnson would receive early, needed minutes in Orlando and an eventual opportunity to start on the wing.
In a vacuum, I did move him back a few spots, however, based on how far away he seemed as a creator and shooter at Tennessee. The athleticism, passing and defense suggest a high floor, but he'll require significant skill improvement to hit a ceiling that reflects a top-option scorer.
Jalen Johnson still intrigues me most from this group with his open-floor handle, passing on the move and face-up agility for a 6'9", 220-pound strong athlete. I still believe he'll find enough ways to score and make plays without a jumper just by initiating fast breaks, driving past bigs, cutting, finishing and finding teammates.
5. Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)
4. Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)
3. Evan Mobley (USC, PF/C, Freshman)
2. Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)
1. Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG/SG, Freshman)
Jalen Green and Evan Mobley remain interchangeable at No. 2 and No. 3.
The only way my top five looks different by draft night is if I move down Jonathan Kuminga, whose shooting and awareness are worrisome. More background and intel should also come out over the next month on Kuminga and others who'll be trying to make a top-five case during workouts and interviews.
Otherwise, Cunningham is locked into the top spot and Suggs is a hair behind Green and Mobley, based on Suggs' weaker handle for creation and low-volume three-point numbers.