2021 NBA Draft: Planting My Flag

By Max Feldman

As the evaluation period rolls on, the following is the group of prospects I have consistently gravitated towards and am drastically higher on than the consensus. The July Edition Big Board remains weeks away from being cemented, but I’ve listed the range they will land in come July 1st. While risk comes along with “planting your flag” on any prospect outside the top 5 this year and most others, these 7 prospects are those I am exceedingly confident in. 

Tre Mann

Board range = 6-8

The half-court creation, pull-up game, floater prominence and development from year one to year two highlight why I am incredibly high on the Florida Sophomore. His elite level feel offensively makes up for average athleticism with a deadly change of pace & a versatile scoring ability from all three levels. He landed in the 88th percentile as a Pick and Roll ball handler, coming out to 0.97 PPP. At 6-5 and 190 pounds, Mann had the 6th most points off the dribble in the NCAA, shot 40% from 3 point land, 83% from the line and 46.5% on his floaters. Defensively, an area Mann has been punished by many analysts, he landed in 90th percentile and showed strong development on that end following his physical growth from the Freshman campaign. Creation, IQ and feel is a rare combination in prospects with Mann’s level of production, but is a mainstay in many of the repertoire in many of the NBA’s top lead guards. Mann is just a few months older than many of the one-and-done prospects. He has firmly put himself in a tier alongside Jalen Suggs for me. Continuing to fill out his frame will go a long way for Mann, but his 21% assist rate while playing with on a roster omitting consistent perimeter threats outside of Noah Locke lends plenty of optimism as a playmaker long-term. As I mentioned time and time again and highlighted with Cole Anthony last cycle, I pour plenty of additional stock into prospects who can create for themselves when evaluating long-term playmaking upside, even if the production is not outstanding thus far, fitting my projection for Tre Mann this year. 

Joshua Primo

Board Range = 11-14

The Alabama Freshman is the youngest prospect in the field and widely regarded as a potential major stock riser if he were to return to the Crimson Tide. Often hidden by the variety of shot makers on Nate Oats’ roster, Primo has elite size on the wing and a smooth, fluid perimeter stroke. Defensively, Primo landed in the 82nd percentile overall and 93rd percentile in spot up offense. A premier two-way wing prospect with length and flashes of creation. The Canadian-born wing reclassified up a year in order to join the Tide and filled a support role immediately while being the youngest active player in the entire NCAA. On just a 17% usage rate playing 22 minutes per game, Primo put up 8 points per game shooting 38% from 3 and 75% from the free throw stripe. The spot up shooting prominence was clearly illustrated, but what stands out is a very natural feel to slide to space, cut to the basket and make himself a threat without the ball in his hands. While playing alongside volume perimeter shooters in Petty, Shackelford, Quinerly and others, Primo had the odds against him in terms of making his presence felt with high volume output, but he made his proficient shooting teammates even better due to his feel to space the floor. 

Josh Christopher

Board Range = 12-16

Context matters. Among the many poor fits for top prospects in the 2019 recruiting class, Josh Christopher was the worst. Arizona State was the 232nd most efficient offense inside the arc and the 189th from three in the nation last season. Remy Martin had a usage rate of 29.1% while Alonzo Verge had a usage rate of 27.8%. Both Martin and Verge landed in the top 200 in the nation in percentage of shots taken and the Sun Devils were the only program in the PAC-12 with two players among the top 8 in usage rate. Point being, when Christopher got the ball offensively, he essentially had to force the issue if he wanted to bring production. Contextually, the numbers align, as Christopher relied on transition (91st percentile, 26.1% of his total possessions) to get his attempts up versus playing off playmakers in a spot up role, as the Sun Devils only produced 13 assists per game, just 178th in the nation. In addition, he only played in 15 games due to a leg injury. In terms of Christopher moving forward, playing in space and pace might provide him more benefit than any other prospect in the class. An explosive, violent athlete with extreme lower body strength. A mature, chiseled 6-5 and 215 pound frame allows him to attack the rim through the chest of bigger defenders. For such an Uber-impressive vertical athlete, Christopher plays low to the ground as a handler with a strong feel to get to his spots in the lane or his pull-up. Christopher drew 4.3 fouls per 40 minutes and was second on the roster in terms win shares per 40 minutes. Playing alongside two low assist percentage to usage rate ball handlers at Guard U was a struggle for Christopher, as he displays high level flashes as a spot up scorer attacking closeouts and knocking down open shots (30% from 3 and 80% from the FT line). Defensively, Christopher was strong and in my eyes has the tools to be the best perimeter defender in this class long-term. Speed, lateral quickness, high level instincts, toughness and a strong motor resulted in allowing just 0.75 PPP, best on the ASU roster with that volume. In addition, he was relatively elite defending spot ups, landing in the 86th percentile. Christopher is not a strong playmaker for others and has to smoothen out his shot IQ, but the context has fogged his outlook far too much in my eyes. A premium off-ball option in the top 15 of the field, higher for me than prospects like Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer and James Bouknight, who most prefer. 

Joe Wieskamp

board range 30-38

I’ve become rather dumbfounded with the lack of acknowledgement of Joe Wieskamp as one of the top floor spacers in the 2021 Draft class. With a strong feel for the game, efficient, smooth footwork coming off of screens and setting up on spot ups, Wieskamp has a concrete role at the next level as a secondary, wing rebounder and wing shooter. Iowa owned the third best offense in the nation using adjusted offensive efficiency via KenPom, and Wieskamp’s ability to knock down open looks as well as when being closed out on (1.403 PPP when guarded) was a major catalyst. Defensively, Wieskamp displayed flashes of strong wing defense with high-level anticipation and measured out to be a proficient PnR defender (66th percentile.) The term sleeper is often overused, but in a draft that has garnered extreme attention from top to bottom and has been widely regarded as extraordinarily deep, Joe Wieskamp stands out as one of the most undervalued prospects as the pre-draft process heats up. Spacing the floor is at an all-time premium after the most efficient NBA season offensively in NBA history. Infusing contributors to an efficient offense is at the top of every organization’s checklist heading into the Draft, and Wieskamp is a premier option with sustained proof of success. Joe Wieskamp serves a clear-cut role at the next level and has required my attention as a top 35 prospect in the 2021 field. Being able to get a first-hand look at Joe Wieskamp day after day has heightened my optimism that he belongs in a much higher tier than the consensus values him at. Here is more on Wieskamp.

JT Thor

board range 12-18

My longest tenured “plant your flag prospect”, JT Thor has been the prospect I’ve pushed all season long. The excitement about Thor’s game was far from just the statistical output. At 6-10 and 212 pounds, the ability to defend multiple positions, switch in the pick and roll and defend the rim has an increasingly large importance with the growing prevalence of switch schemes and pick and roll sets around the league. Thor’s combination of rim protection and long term shooting promise is incredibly rare for any prospect, let alone an 18-year-old, one and done. There are raw aspects of Thor’s skillset, more than some others at his age, but he truly oozes upside with his quickness, better than advertised handle and projected fit in the modern NBA. A fluid athlete with a smooth southpaw stroke, a relentless motor, an improving handle, shot making upside and a sky high defensive ceiling. Thor has a clear cut case as a top 15 guy for me. While many bring up how prospects such as Thor or Bennedict Mathurin may have stock to gain by coming back another year, forward-thinking executives and scouts should continue to push the idea that if one sees him at that caliber a year from now, take him when his value is lower and provide the prospect a year with NBA staffs with world class developers. His skillset is extraordinarily rare and is worth the risk of investment due to the long-term upside.

Terrence Shannon JR

Board Range 18-24

Among all the two way wings in the 2021 Draft field, analyzing the perception of Terrence Shannon Jr over the course of the last 10 months or so has peaked my curiosity. I dont necessarily understand why the Chicago native is not peaking more interest as a premier prospect in the class, due to the numbers and the eye test. Shannon is second to just Jalen Green in terms of pure athleticism in this class in my eyes and carries a physically mature 6-6 and 210 pound frame. I have had my eyes on Shannon since his days at IMG when his upside became obvious and the development has come quicker than I expect. In more than three times the volume, Shannon Jr converted 36% of his three point attempts as a sophomore versus just 26% as a freshman. Evaluating his progression as a ball handler was a focus of mine over the years and while there is plenty of work remaining, drawing 5.2 fouls per 40 minutes (top 5 in the Big 12) and .86 PPP as a pick and roll ball handler (75th percentile). In terms of two way production, Shannon landed in the 74th percentile offensively and 76th percentile defensively. The 20 year has clear areas to smoothen out moving forward, becoming a consistent perimeter threat and sharpening his feel for the game. An immediate contributor to winning basketball as a rotational, two way wing combined with timeline of development lend plenty of positivity for Terrence Shannon Jr as a top 25 prospect.

Franz Wagner

Board Range 6-8

I’ve given Franz Wagner plenty of props for his elite defensive skillset, but his offensive versatility is truly the most unique aspect of his game. At 6-9, he’s a legitimate creator on the wing and as a ball handler. The German-born wing landed 99th PCTL post derived offense, 97th PCTL hitting the roll man and had 3.8 assists per 40 minutes. Defensively, Wagner is extremely strong both on ball and as a team defender. Keeps his feet moving, beats drivers to their spots, cuts passing lanes and has active hands in gaps. Wagner’s overall versatility on both ends, efficiency & fit in the PnR heavy NBA carries top 8 weight. Wagner had a team-low 92.3 defensive rating and a team-high 121.5 offensive rating for the Wolverines. I have repeatedly voiced how I am not projecting Wagner as a cornerstone star, but firmly believe he returns strong value as a top 8 prospect due to his Swiss Army Knife impact on either end. He is a puzzle piece that can be shaped and shifted in a variety of roles that contribute to winning basketball on either end, specifically the ultra-important facet of aligning an efficient offense.  

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