By Max Feldman
The evaluation period of the 2021 NBA Draft is at it’s absolute peak right now as Selection Sunday is just around the corner. The G-League Ignite roster has concluded it’s debut campaign. International seasons vary in their current position in the season, but there is a strong sample size of close to 30 games for the top prospects on the radar. All signs point towards this class being a generational one, but the new breed is just around the corner. It’s never too early to skip ahead a few pages and peak at what’s to come. In the 2021 Draft class, we saw Chris Duarte, Charles Bassey, Corey Kispert and Ayo Dosunmu among many others, make a massive leap into the first round picture. I will breakdown 8 long-term NBA Draft prospects that I feel are on the brink of making a leap into the 2022 NBA Draft picture. All 8 are prospects who I see returning to their respective college programs next season.
A few notable prospects who have a much more difficult decision about returning to school and already are capturing the attention of scouts are JT Thor, Bennedict Mathurin, Terrence Clarke and Caleb Love. They will not be included as they are clear-cut NBA prospects because of their Prep body of work and flashes in their Freshman campaigns. Justin and Julian Champagnie have already broken out and are on the radar, and while I do think their return to their respective schools, they have the associations attention.
Purdue Freshman || 6-4 200 pounds
Jaden Ivey was slept on at the Prep level, ranking as a fringe top 100 prospect on platforms. Though, hindsight is 20:20, and about a year later after High School rankings were final, Ivey appears to be a top 30 player out of the 2020 recruiting cycle. A deadly 3-level scorer who can truly take over a game on the offensive end. His long-term fit is clearly as an off-ball guard, doing what he does best, stretching a defense out on the perimeter, getting to his spots in the mid-range and attacking the rack with a mature frame. It’s a similar story for many of the following prospects that will be discussed, but Ivey has had his bumps in his Freshman season. He has had cold streaks, inefficient outing that hurt the Boilermakers and repetitive defensive faults. On the season, Ivey is scoring 10 points per game in 22.5 minutes on 39% from the field, 22% from 3 and 74% from the free throw line. Over the last 7, he’s scoring over 14 points per game and has really pushed Purdue to the next level in the Big Ten. Keep an eye on Ivey in March Madness, as a big run could open some eyes towards eligibility in 2021, but his rather inefficient offensive outputs in addition to placing 28th percentile in overall defense more closely points to the Indiana native approaching stardom as a Sophomore. Purdue should be one of the countries top teams next season and Ivey already looks like a potential top 20 prospect if he can improve his decision making, defense and consistency.
Texas Tech Freshman || 6-7 215 pounds
It is beginning to seem like every draft cycle now that Texas Tech and Chris Beard bring forward an ultra-impressive two-way prospect who catches my eye in terms of fitting many of my key traits in evaluation. Those who kept up from the last cycle know my love for Jahmi’us Ramsey as a prospect and collegiate player. In 2021, Terrence Shannon Jr has quietly become one of the more slept on prospects, but has massively improved in the sought after swing areas of his game from his Freshman year and should wind up in my top 30 come draft night. Micah Peavy, former teammate of Ramsey, is next in line for the Red Raiders to expand their NBA alumnus. Peavy left Duncanville High School weighing just 172 pounds at 6-7. The Freshman weighed in at 215 when the season opened. In terms of physical development, that is as much as you could ask for in the transition from prep to college ball. While we’re talking physical traits, Peavy is a top tier prospect. An absolute pogo stick athlete who’s a legitimate vertical floor spacer each time down in transition. He has started nearly every game for Texas Tech and has played just over 20 minutes per game. Defensively, Peavy has the tools and has even shown the capability to guard 3-5 spots on the floor with his size, strength, jumping ability, lateral quickness and instincts. He places in the 95th percentile in overall defense, an absolutely ridiculously good output for a starting Freshman in the top 20 nationally while playing in the Big 12. Offensively, in addition to an athletic slashing ability, Peavy has a smooth go-to mid-range pull up off the dribble and off a spin. The bumps in the road all relate to a worrisome shooting stroke and touch, in addition to a handle that could use improvement. Peavy is 0-3 from 3 on the season, and usually free throw output provides optimism, but he is 44% from the line with limited volume. Shooting development is the clear-cut swing trait moving forward, as he already projects a highly versatile defender with a roaring motor and elite athleticism. I love his skillset already and with the way he has improved over the last few years, I wouldn’t count him out as a top 20 guy in 2022.
Ole Miss Freshman || 6-4 200 pounds
I will expose myself on this one, I saw Murrell as a one-and-done guy who was going to surprise plenty of folks in Oxford and on the NBA Draft front. The IMG product entered college with fantastic size at 6-4 and 200 pounds with a natural scoring ability off the hop and as a strong spot up threat. He has played just 16 minutes per game while starting 2 of the 25 games he has played in. Taking just 4 attempts from the field per game, I think Murrell’s success will come with opportunity. While both’s main strengths are 3-level off ball scoring, different than Ivey who can serve as a microwave scorer off the bench in more limited minutes, Murrell is more of a rhythm scorer who can stack up quiet high scoring outings by knocking down open perimeter shots, making timely cuts and creating his own shot while attacking closeouts. With Devontae Shuler on the brink of graduation and an extremely talented creator coming in, in Daeshun Ruffin to handle the ball, I expect a big jump from Murrell in terms of overall production. He has been better than I presumed defensively in his Freshman season, placing in the 86th percentile in overall defense. Ole Miss rarely attracts the eyes of NBA evaluators, but I think Murrell will provide top 30-level appeal as a Sophomore in Oxford.
Alabama Freshman || 6-6 190 pounds
As a former contributor to a Canadian basketball platform based in Toronto, I have had my eyes on Josh Primo since he began his high school career. After making the jump up a class and reclassifying into the 2020 class, Primo saw a massive jump in his stock, winding up near 5 star status. Many, including myself, touted Primo as a potential sleeper in the first round of 2021, and while that seems unlikely at this point, the departure of John Petty and Herb Jones opens up close to 20 field goal attempts per game. With an incredibly pure shooting stroke at 6-6, Primo fits the bill as an NBA off-guard to a tee. In SEC play, Primo’s role grew in minutes, and from there, he shot 41% from three on 4 attempts per game and 89% from the line. Defensively, Primo has taken his bumps mentally and certainly will improve with reps in addition to time working on his frame in the offseason. However, he did finish his Freshman regular season in the 78th percentile defensively. Expect Primo to swallow up over 10 attempts per game next season and become one of the more efficient scorers in the SEC. Maintaining premier efficiency with a heightened volume in his Sophomore season will be the key between Primo being a top 40 prospect or a lottery type of guy. My bets are laying closer to the ladder.
Oregon Junior || 6-5 180 pounds
If Will Richardson did not suffer a brutal thumb injury just 4 days prior to Oregon 2020-2021 season opener, I am confident he’d be in the first round picture in the 2021 NBA Draft. However, he made his return February 4th and has played in 12 games in his Junior campaign with the Ducks. A silky smooth lefty with great size was tasked with filling the void of Payton Pritchard, a four year started with a loaded trophy case of accolades in the PAC-12, and while Oregon is a wildly different team than the previous two, the wiry ball handler continues to solidify his role as a high IQ floor general. With Pritchard by his side last year, Richardson had one of the better individual shooting seasons in the nation, making 47% of his threes while scoring 11 points per game. A year later, Richardson is still ironing his playmaking tendencies, up to 3 assists per game thus far. His 39% from 3 remains one of the top outputs in the PAC-12 and continues to score with efficiency, shown by a 50% EFG rate and 53.4% true shooting percentage. Defensively, Richardson has always had a knack to grab steals since his days at Oak Hill Academy and relies heavily on instincts as well as a high IQ. At 6-5, Richardson should have an acute focus on adding to his 180 pound frame to grow into more of a primary on ball role as a facilitator and go-to threat. Oregon graduates three wings who lead them in production, but bring in one of the nation’s top recruiting class and a strong group of returners including the two mentioned in the following blurb. Richardson has faded off the radar a bit, but a full season next year should provide the opportunity to hop back into the first round picture in 2022.
Keep an eye on Oregon big men, N’Faly Dante and Franck Kepnang for the 2021 Draft. Both skilled, athletic big men with fantastic size. Dante, the former 5 star recruit, suffered a torn ACL and played just 6 games in Sophomore season after showing massive improvement just a 12 game Freshman season. Kepnang enrolled early at Oregon from Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania and has played just 13 games.
Washington State Freshman || 6-10 225 pounds
Abogidi flew on to the scene after being relatively unknown through the recruiting process as part of the NBA Global Academy. The Nigerian-born, Australian native, arrived in Pullman with an NBA ready frame and a subtle, impressive ability to shoot the ball and score with power or touch. Abogidi should be an All-PAC 12 performer as a Sophomore after starting every game as a Freshman, leading in rebounding and blocks while scoring 8.9 points per game. Impressive footwork, explosive athleticism and a massive wingspan make him a versatile rim-runner with what appears to be room for much more. A 4.7% block rate was one of the tops in the PAC-12, illustrating a prominent rim protecting instincts as just a Freshman. An 82% rate at the free throw line in addition to making 15 threes provide extreme optimism as a horizontal floor stretcher. 2021 is a bit too early for Abogidi, but he should be a top 20 prospect in 2022 from the minute my board debuts.
Louisville Redshirt Freshman || 6-8 230 pounds
Withers, out of Cleveland, Ohio, went relatively under the radar as well as a high school prospect, falling around the 120 range, but after a Redshirt campaign with the Cards, has burst on to the scene in the ACC. The 6-8 and 230 forward has started every game for Louisville this season, playing a supporting role, where he makes his presence felt on the glass and scoring around the basket. IQ and feel can be hard to come by at times for young forwards but Withers is a phenomenal decision maker who attacks lanes with purpose, carrying an EFG percentage of 59.1% and a 60.8% true shooting rate. Both his offensive (13.5%) and defensive (22.8%) rebounding rates are among the top 6 in the ACC, lending plenty of evidence towards his rampant two-way motor. Withers places in the 91st percentile in overall offense and leads Louisville in offensive rating at 119.6. The Cardinals are led by 3 wing scorers and 2 of which will be gone after this season, meaning Withers should take on a heavier load as a Redshirt Sophomore. His supplemental production has been incredibly impressive, but what will determine how high his stock rises is whether he can improve defensively (currently in the 41st PCTL), laterally and in the PnR in addition to pumping up the offensive production with more opportunity. Withers, the cousin of All-Pro CB Jaire Alexander, very well might be on the same trajectory to being a first round selection out of Louisville.
Virginia Freshman || 6-7 214 pounds
Of the 8 prospects listed, Abdur-Rahim might be the deepest dive in terms of projecting a leap. The 6-7 wing missed the majority of his Senior campaign at Blair Academy and has played in just 8 games in his Freshman season at UVA. Rather than analyzing how his numbers shape up thus far, balancing strong and weak points in addition to evaluating roster status, my projection more closely relies on Tony Bennett’s body of work with prospects of similar builds in addition to Abdur-Rahim’s skillset from the Prep level. Jabri departed High School at 185 pounds and is now listed at 214 pounds. A talented driver with natural touch, a heady playmaking ability and a solid perimeter game. Jabri’s defensive versatility and focus bring together his two-way skillset on the wing, potentially the most sought after build by NBA rosters. Mikal Bridges arrived at Virginia with wildly similar tendencies and measurements, and Abdur-Rahim might even be more skilled as a ball handler. Whether it is in 2022 or 2023, it is just a matter of time before Jabri Abdur-Rahim progresses into a top 40 NBA Draft pick.
Additional Names To Keep An Eye On:
Dawson Garcia (Marquette)
Allen Flanigan (Auburn)
Mwani Wilkinson (LSU)
Adam Miller (Illinois)
Isiaih Mosley (Missouri State)
Santi Aldama (Loyola MA)
Antoine Davis (Detroit-Mercy)