By Max Feldman
As much as I have preached on the wildly impressive depth in the 2021 Draft class, there is no denying that the top 5 prospects in the class have the signs of being a generational group. The 2017 Draft class is aging extremely well with high level depth while the top of the 2019 class carries special level star power. 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2020 all have 2-3 star level talents at the top but none jump off the page as generational at the moment. The 2021 Draft will be the most impressive class of the last decade because of the talent at the top. This group of 5 has stood strong for months now, and there is absolutely no reason that will change from now until Draft night. There are 5 legitimate top overall prospects in the same class.
6-8 210 pounds – G-League Ignite
Jonathan Kuminga kicked off my initial 2021 NBA Draft Big Board as the top overall prospect after he reclassified up into the 2020 recruiting class. Since then, he dipped down to the 5th slot, but since making his Ignite debut, he is squarely in my top overall prospect picture and currently carries a strong margin. As I previously mentioned, any of the 5 prospects could be considered the top overall, and when the time comes, it will come down to pure organizational preference as it is difficult to imagine any of the 5 truly setting themselves apart. For me, Kuminga is the preference. The Congolese wing is the youngest player in the entire draft field, as he just recently turned 18 years old. At 6-8 and closer to 220 pounds, he is physically mature and ready to contribute at the next level. The primary purpose of the Pat Williams comparison stems from the same ideals, as he was the 2nd youngest prospect in the 2020 Draft while carrying one of the most mature frames and high level athleticism. Kuminga is the essence of versatility in my eyes, as I can not poke a hole in a single area on either end of the floor in terms of his long term trajectory. Shot selection has been an early weakness, but the entire format and fit of the Ignite roster is obviously odd, as it is unprecedented to combine 18 year old future Lottery picks alongside NBA veterans. He has shown a far more impressive basketball IQ as a playmaker than I expected from his Prep film. Growing his feel for the game, finding great, not good, shots as well as finding more consistency with his long range shots will be the keys in early development, but he has shown enough progress in those areas for me to be extremely confident. Back in December, I pegged Kuminga as the top overall defender in the class and two-way stardom is extraordinarily rare, but when present, is usually is the formula for an NBA superstar. I will be on the lookout for higher levels of efficiency over this historic G-League season, but the 6-8 wing with a guard skillset and a 7-2 wingspan in addition to explosive athleticism is my favorite prospect in the class.
FOG NBA Comparisons: Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Williams
7-0 215 pounds – USC Trojans
Evan Mobley could very well end up as a First Team All-American in his lone collegiate season, and has been the head of the snake for a USC squad that has opened eyes as a top 15 team in the country. No Freshman in the country brings more production to winning basketball than the Murietta, California native, with 4.8 total win shares per outing. Entering the season, I expected Mobley to show plenty of flashes as a dominant two way prospect, but I did not expect this level of consistent dominance. A wiry 7 foot, 215 pound frame with legitimate, elite level touch extending out to the arc where he’s shooting 33%, but with an effective field goal percentage of 62% and a true shooting percentage of 65%. He has a very strong feel for the game, as the common struggle among players at this size are their ability to find space and get to their spots, but Mobley does with ease. He is in the 93rd percentile in overall offense, scoring nearly 1.1 PPP. His attack is extremely versatile, coming off high motor putbacks, high level footwork as a roll man or in isolation/spot up situations. A sky high 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes in addition to a 10% block rate makes him the most polished big man to come through the draft process in the last decade.
FOG NBA Comparisons: Anthony Davis and a Right-Handed Chris Bosh
6-8 220 pounds – Oklahoma State Cowboys
Cade Cunningham has impressed in his lone NCAA basketball season, but it has not been exactly what many expected. Regardless of how this season went, it was Cade Cunningham that was the most difficult to imagine falling out of the top 5 among this bunch. The level of safety that Cunningham provides as a 6-8 lead guard makes him the top overall prospect for many, and a lock top 3 prospect for me. While the low assist output and rate are a minor concern for me, the shooting numbers actually give me more of an assurance than anything else he has done in 18 games. I originally broke down the idea in a Cole Anthony spotlight piece, but the reasoning applies here, as I did have some fear prior to the season about Cade’s ability to create for himself with consistency against athletic, well-built defenders. Ball handlers can not create for others (be high level playmakers), if they can not create for themselves. Drawing defenders, collapsing the lane, spacing the floor and being a threat to score everytime you touch the ball is a mainstay for the premier playmakers in the NBA today, so Cade’s shooting numbers of 45% from 3 and 84% from the line, both on high clips, give me the upmost confidence. No one should be worried about Cade Cunningham’s ability to make plays for others, and he has the most clear-cut resume for a first overall pick at the moment. I do think he can be a premier defender down the line, an area of development I will be watching for.
FOG NBA Comparisons: Grant Hill and Luka Doncic
6-4 205 pounds – Gonzaga Bulldogs
Jalen Suggs has forced his way into this conversation as a top overall prospect because of his impact on winning basketball on the nation’s best team through 18 games. Although I do not have the data to put it to a test, I would be beyond surprised if there was a Freshman guard in the last decade or two who placed in the 77th percentile or better on offense AND defense (86th currently) while starting every game and playing at least 25 MPG. Compared to the other four prospects, Suggs might have one of the lower star level trajectories, but once again, this group is special, and Suggs would be the top pick in the majority of NBA Drafts over the last decade. A lock up defender with a sturdy build, high level IQ, elite lateral quickness and head-above-the-rim athleticism. An impressive 3.2 steals per game displays how strong of an on-ball backcourt defender and team defender he will be at the next level. Offensively, just 10.1 field goal attempts per game is the lowest of the bunch, but his three level scoring instincts and talent has been shown relatively clearly. He is shooting 59% from 2 point range, 37% from 3 and 75% from the line while making plays for others with high production and efficiency. Suggs is putting up 6.5 assists per 40 compared to 3.9 turnovers on a 24% assist rate. Mark Few has had plenty of special teams, but this is undeniably one of, if not the most talented, so handing Jalen Suggs a 27% usage rate straight out of High School shows an extreme level of confidence that should rub off on NBA execs. He will be in my top 4 for the long run.
FOG NBA Comparisons: Gilbert Arenas and Jrue Holiday
6-5 180 pounds – G-League Ignite
Jalen Green is beginning to come into this own with Ignite, scoring 18 PPG in 30 MPG over the first 5 games. I had the pleasure of evaluating Jalen Green at the Prep Level at the Chambana Classic in November of 2019, and since then I have come away with a differing opinion than most others. Green is undeniably the most athletic prospect in the class and one of the most athletic prospects to enter the NBA in recent years, but he is already more than that, a special combination for a 19 year old. Being one of the best athletes in the country allows most prospects to rely on dominating with speed, verticality and strength, but Jalen Green is more polished than any scorer in this class. Those who followed close in 2020 are aware of how I was marginally lower on Anthony Edwards than any other evaluator, so moving on to Green this year is somewhat difficult, as his role of shifting from a black-hole scorer into a system fit at the Prep level, into a score first off-ball weapon at the professional level deserves a buffering time. Jalen Green’s IQ is the reason I will be higher on him than Edwards, although the Timberwolves guard has an edge physically. I do not feel confident projecting Jalen Green to ever be a prominent playmaker, as he more closely projects as a negative assist to turnover ratio guy. On the defensive end is where I think Green has real tools to be a strong on ball defender due to his IQ and feel. Long strides, quick feet and a plus wingspan provide him the tools, but being in the right spot, knowing his personnel and continuing to focus on his motor, which has shown signs of improvement early on with Ignite, are what would boost his value in my eyes as a two-way prospect. With all of the generational level scoring ability off of pull ups, in transition and as a deadly deep range shooter, he will fall at the bottom end of this top 5 for the duration of the evaluation period because I believe he has the lowest impact on Championship-level, winning basketball. However, I would not hesitate to project Jalen Green as a near 30 point per game scorer at his peak.
FOG NBA Comparisons: Zach LaVine and Jason Richardson