By Max Feldman
As we inch towards the postseason of a college basketball season like no other, it is time to fully stake my claim on prospects that are building the most enticing stock to this point. The top end of this draft class is extremely special, but the middle tiers all the way down to the early 40’s are what I see pushing this class to the next level. In the 2020 Draft, FOG put an early stamp on LaMelo Ball, Jahmi’us Ramsey, Deni Avdija, Tyrese Haliburton and a few others. An extremely different class, but nonetheless, these are FOG’s favorite prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft class with more likely to come into the fold.
Within the top five group of Suggs, Mobley, Cunningham, Green and Kuminga, there is plenty to love about each of them. None will be included because they are unanimously recognized as top ten picks. Of the bunch, Suggs, Mobley and Kuminga are the three who most closely fit the style prospect I seek out.
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I have not been shy about my fandom for Moses Moody’s game. After seeing the majority of Montverde’s outings last season before the closure of the season to COVID, Moses Moody was the more under the radar prospect on one of the best high school rosters of all time. Home to Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Day’Ron Sharpe along with multiple elite 2021 recruits, Moody primarily showed flashes as a prep player. I was intrigued to see how he’d fill the massive shot creating void left by Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, but I did not expect this. At 6-6 and 205, Moody has become the go-to scorer putting up nearly 17 points a game. Scoring Freshman come and go, but here are the two factors that have Moses Moody squarely in my top 6 picture. Of my top 12 prospects on the updated February Big Board, Moses Moody has the lowest usage rate at just 22.1%, yet he still is eclipsing 20 points per 40 minutes on a fantastic 52% EFG. Second point being, he is contributing to winning basketball although he is not a dominant playmaker. The 2.1 offensive win shares is the second highest in my top 50 listed prospects (Ayo Dosunmu – 2.4 Off WS), while the total of 3.0 win shares is the second highest of any Freshman prospect on my board (Evan Mobley – 3.4 WS). Arkansas lost a lot, but remain at the #26 slot in the KenPom rankings because of how Moses Moody has fit into Eric Musselman’s system in Fayetteville.
The level of polish from not just a Freshman, but my second youngest prospect listed outside of Jonathan Kuminga, has created one of the more appealing draft stocks I have ever evaluated. I can not foresee Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley or Cade Cunningham sliding out of my top 3, and I am very bullish on Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green as most others are, but if these trends remain steady or improve, I will have a hard time keeping Moses Moody out of my top 5 prospects in the long run.
Another prospect I have been all over recently, Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland will be in my top 30 moving forward. The 20 year old has taken a big jump after returning to VCU for a Sophomore campaign, more than doubling his point and steal per game output while seeing his usage rate boost to a monstrous 31%. He carries the load for a top 60 team in the nation, taking 26% of their total field goals. Although he remains a pure scorer with non-natural playmaking skills, his offensive analytics are sky high. Bones leads VCU in offensive, defensive and total win shares and has a strong 4.8 offensive box plus/minus.
The Immanuel Quickley comparison has spread rather quickly, and in the past mainstream comparisons often lead draft media consumers in the wrong directions, but this one makes sense. Bones is heavily reliant on his elite level touch from the rim all the way to 30 feet. A 55% EFG and 58% true shooting rate is extremely impressive in addition to a worldly 92nd percentile in spot up offensive situations, via Synergy Sports. Simply put, Bones is one of the more impressive offensive prospects in the 2021 class with a clear cut role as an off ball scorer at the next level. Fitting into a Terry Rozier role offensively seems like a strong bet as well. Quickley has been awesome early on and entered the NBA at the same age that Bones will, so the blueprint of defending with a high motor and long arms should provide additional optimism. Bones’ defense has been an issue at times because of his mighty narrow frame at just over 170 pounds. He’s currently in 35th percentile in overall defense, but there are two points that relieve my nerves about his defensive outlook, which have been the catalyst for Bones moving into my top 25. Bones Hyland’s wingspan has not been measured, but it is certainly plus ‘4, and those tools have accounted for a strong 4.0% steal rate and 2.8 steals per 40 minutes. Secondly, he’s in the 79th percentile in guarding Pick & Roll ball handlers. He understands how to guard, but has work to do in growing his motor, maturing his body and defending with more consistency.
I have had some ups and downs in evaluating this international class in 2021 with Usman Garuba, Ariel Hukporti and Roko Prkacin fluctuating from my top 20 down to 45. As international slowly gets going, prospects will move on to and off the radar as playing time is hard to come by in a lot of these leagues for 18 and 19 year olds.
While I do see those three in addition to Alperen Sengun fitting into the final 35 come draft night, Josh Giddey’s early performances with the Adelaide 36er’s have my eyes far closer on the NBL. Giddey is an Australian guard, who just recently turned 18 years old. At 6-8 and 205 pounds, Giddey carries that rare feel for the game that we’ve seen from two of the most appealing prospects of the last few drafts. Whether if it is his natural style of play in combination with his size or just a developmental coincidence, Giddey shows a ton of the same raw tools and traits as LaMelo Ball and Luka Doncic. NBL Rising Star’s rarely provide notable statistics due to a high level of mature competition, but Giddey’s 9 points, 5 assists (with a 1.92 assist to turnover ratio) and 8 boards are very impressive. Through 5 games, Giddey is placing in the 72nd percentile in overall defense, another impressive statistic for a wiry 18 year old. As the evaluation period heats up post-NCAA season, expect a massive boost from the mainstream draft media on Josh Giddey as heads turn towards international play. The manner in which the youngster digests the PnR, makes the right pass to keep the ball moving and contributes in a variety of winning basketball areas is beyond his years. As of today, Josh Giddey is my 15th ranked prospect. Doncic and Ball were anomalies of talents, but I have not been shy about my enthusiasm for both, and Giddey is showing a ton of the same early signals.
Wagner has been a riser for most evaluators as Michigan has stormed to a 13-1 record and a top 3 ranking in the nation. No player in country has impressed me more defensively than Franz Wagner, as he’s taken a massive jump in his Sophomore season on that end. Gaining mass has certainly helped, now at 6-9 and 220 pounds. In debatably the toughest conference in college basketball, Franz Wagner leads the B10 in defensive rating at 87.0, in defensive win shares at 1.1 and defensive box plus/minus (by a very large margin) at 7.1. Wagner fits in at the next level as a four or five man becuase of his defensive versatility while being a decent shot blocker with a 2.4 block per 40 minute clip and a 4.1% block percentage. In addition, he is in the 80th percentile in overall defense, 86th percentile defending the PnR and 73rd percentile defending spot up shooters. Wagner makes up for a shorter wingspan with the quickest feet on a big in the country and elite, unprecedented defensive instincts.
Offensively, Wagner has always had the tools. He has become more aggressive as a driver, shooting 1.8 2PT FG per game while getting to the line more often, a key swing trait that many fans were hungry to see. He is a phenomenal passer considering his size and low usage rate, with an 18% assist rate and 4.2 assists per 40 minutes on a 19.5% usage rate. The standout offensive skill has always been as a shooter, and that has not changed. He is lights out from the free throw line at 86% and while the 3 PT percentage is just 32% to this point, it should only rise as Hunter Dickinson draws more attention inside. Wagner is squarely in the top 12 picture for the 2021 NBA Draft, with numerous intangibles that do not come along much.
Kai Jones, Texas Sophomore, comes off the bench for one of the best teams in the nation. At 6-11 and 220, the former Brewster Academy stud has been a late riser but is certainly opening eyes of NBA scouts as a 20 year old. There is no official wingspan measurements, but reports rumor it to be near 7-5 and that passes the eye test. He plays just 22.5 minutes per game, but when he’s in, Texas is a better team. Jones leads the Longhorns in offensive rating at 125.4 with a gargantuan 65% EFG and 66% true shooting percentage. Jones should see a smooth transition to the NBA and while his top end stardom might not be as promising as others in his territory, his athleticism, energy and overall motor, toughness and unique touch make him the prototypical big man in the modern NBA. A lights out 42% from 3 point range make him the ultra-rare vertical and horizontal floor spacer. The Bahamanian-born high flyer will not leave my top 15 in the long run.
I’ve outlined his sky high analytics time after time, listed below in my recent tweet.
Heads are beginning to turn on the Sharife Cooper front just 8 games into his collegiate career at Auburn after a turbulent start. To be completely transparent, I was not bullish on Cooper’s NBA Draft stock prior to the season, as he simply is not my type of prospect to stamp my name on. Yet, a few weeks later, I believe I currently have Cooper pegged the highest of any 2021 NBA Draft Big Board currently available. Not only is Auburn a completely different team with Cooper in the fold, Sharife is proving to be even better than many believed after an esteemed career at McEachern in Powder Springs, Georgia. Cooper has been lights out as a playmaker with a 52.4% assist rate, currently on pace to break Ja Morant’s record for assist percentage in a season which was 51.7%. Playing in one of the more physical, athletic conferences in the country, Cooper’s aggression and tendency to get to the line 10 times per game certainly shows the attitude he is bringing in addition to how much he’s grown in the offseason. Each and every there has come around a player where one idea jumps off the screen to me, this guy has just played far more basketball in his life than anyone else on the court. In 2018, it was Trae Young. In 2019, it was Darius Garland, while he was healthy. And last year, it was LaMelo Ball. Sharife Cooper is that guy for me this year. His ability to make plays for others is heads and shoulders above any other prospect in this class. As I preached on with Cole Anthony last season, I trust playmakers who can make plays for themselves with ease over those who rack up high assist numbers on high usage with low scoring outputs. Cooper creates space naturally using a polished ball handling skillset, a phenomenal ability to change speeds and a lightning quick first step attacking closeouts. Shooting has been a low point thus far, at just 20% from 3 point range, yet I do not have any long-term concerns due to a strong 81% from the free throw line in addition to and even more importantly, a standout floater game from all throughout the mid-range area. I can not foresee Sharife Cooper falling lower than 8th spot on my board.
Listed by Auburn at 6-1 and 180 pounds, Cooper has impressed me with his defense, an area I feared would hold him out of lottery discussions. There is plenty of room to grow mentally and physically on the defensive end, but placing in the 78th percentile in spot up defense is a good sign.
I was on the Ayo Dosunmu NBA Draft-boat last season, and since announcing his return to Champaign, he has been on my top 20 radar for the 2021 NBA Draft. For many returnees, scouts may just be seeking higher levels of production to provide more evidence to hold stock, but for Dosunmu there a few specifics area of needed improvement. 17 games in, Dosunmu has proved to be one of the most improved players in the entire country in my eyes. Formerly, Dosunmu was largely regarded by evaluators as an off ball guard at the next level, but he has taken big steps as a distributor. A 27% assist rate with 5.4 helpers per 40 minutes should answer plenty of those questions. A dominant driver off of the PnR, using change of pace to find lanes with ease. A smooth mid-range jumper has been a go-to throughout his career, where he makes a living rising over defenders in soft spots to catch heat quickly. Questions regarding his jump shot release have been answered by strong numbers, shooting 41% from 3 and 83% from the line, as well as the eye test, as he spent the offseason working on mechanics to elevate his release.
In addition, a major standout development has been Ayo’s defense. Dosunmu arrived to Illinois at 6-5 and 170 pounds and told media, that he could barely dunk. Now, Dosunmu is 6-5 and close to 210 pounds while relying on his verticality on finishes somewhat heavily. Long arms, a broader frame and consistently improving defensive instincts have made him not just a passable defender, but a legitimately strong defensive piece with the versatility to guard the 1-3. While he is not a huge steal guy, at just 0.8 per game, he uses a 6-9 wingspan to guard bigger wings due to the Illini playing 4 guards at the same time. Dosunmu is currently in the 82nd percentile in overall defense, 73rd percentile in spot up defense and 68th percentile in PnR ball handler defense. Now as a 21 year old, Ayo Dosunmu has put together the puzzle pieces to be tagged as a top 20 prospect. The growing trend of taking prospects who are already good, rather than trusting that they will get there down the line, will only help Dosunmu. All-around two way versatility with toughness and cemented maturation, physically & mentally.
BJ Boston was my top overall prospect in the preseason and while I will take the heat on his struggles, I still love the Kentucky Freshman’s skillset and talent. At 6-7 and 190 pounds, Boston has shown flashes of being a go-to offensive option, but thus far it’s only been flashes. Kentucky’s spacing issues and overall lack of talent has hurt Boston’s stock, and as I’ve mentioned earlier this season, Calipari has not had a wing or player like BJ Boston in his 12 years at Kentucky. Among all the 5 stars he’s brought in and put in the NBA, the large majority are backcourt scorers, big men and lead guards. Wiry, scoring wings with less quickness is more of a 5 star build that opts for Duke or North Carolina, so while there are no excuses for Boston’s clear struggles, he would have been better fit in draft stock terms at a different program or even in the G-League.
In terms of talent, Boston’s skillset can not just be discounted because of one turbulent season on one of the worst teams in major conference college basketball. He has taken a step in the last few games and the improvement is fantastic see, although I do see Olivier Sarr’s minutes being scaled back and Terrence Clarke’s sidelining being major reasons. Kentucky, and Boston in specific, have been worse with Sarr and Clarke on the court. Moving forward, I expect Boston to turn a lot of those flashes into tendencies. I have seen BJ Boston have too many dominant offensive performances with a fluid jumper and a deep finishing package as well as legitimate defensive moments using his long arms to cut passing lanes and guard multiple positions, prior to his days at Kentucky to all the sudden drop him into the 20-30 range. No matter where Boston is pegged in my eventual Mock Drafts, Boston should be a staple in my top 15.
Analytics via Synergy Sports & Sports Reference