Like last year, I’m back with my draft guide for this upcoming draft for the Thunder. The first player I listed last year was Aleksej Pokusevski, so I’m hoping to strike gold once again and guess correctly. This is just my list based on my opinions, and I’m sure most of the readers will have different thoughts but I try to explain my rationale as much as I can when making these rankings.
Nobody is going to agree on every ranking within the first round, but these are just what I think and what I would describe as a successful or “good” pick for the franchise. I will be listing targets and who to avoid at pick six, but after that, I will only be listing targets I like at that draft slot. I would not be a fan of drafting Isaiah Todd at 16 or 18, but these picks are such a wild card that I can’t predict what is going to happen. If we draft any of the players I list, I would be happy and I’m sure most fans will be as well.
Of course, I’m also not expecting the Thunder to come in with five to six rookies either. If I had to guess I would say at least one of 16/18 or 34/36 will be consolidated to move up a few spots, so some of these picks we might not even have. Still, if we stay around that range, at least one of these players will probably be available at these spots. I went over a majority of the popular mocks and listed the players in the 16/18 and 34/36 tiers by if they were available in a good chunk of them, so I wouldn’t consider any of these a complete pipe dream.
PSA: These players aren’t ranked within the tiers either, so I’m not saying I would prefer Scottie Barnes over Josh Giddey.
Let’s get into it.
Targets at Pick 6:
Moses Moody – Wing, Arkansas
My personal choice at pick six, Moses Moody has everything that you want in a high-level role player. He’s gone through many different contexts throughout his career, playing as a sidekick on arguably the greatest high school team of all time, to a primary creator in the EYBL, and then to the primary source of scoring for Arkansas last year. Moody is one of the best foul drawing wings I’ve seen recently, specifically on jump shots. He has the leg kick down pat as a freshman and drew fouls at an elite rate, accumulating six games with over 10 free throw attempts and a .482 free throw rate on the year.
Similar to Khris Middleton, Moody doesn’t take a lot of “easy” shots. He’s not proficient in consistently creating space for himself but he has plenty of ways to score despite the lack of an elite first-step and quickness. His long arms coupled with his shooting and high release point allow him to get his shot up over the top of most defenders. He shot 35.8 percent from three this past year on volume and was in the 78th percentile for spot-up shooting and 63rd percentile for C&S, despite being contested over 75 percent of the time. He has the versatility as a shooter as well, showing the ability to come off of screens and movement and hit jumpers at a consistent rate. The defense is good as well. Off the ball, Moody is almost always making the correct rotations and he’s able to close out and contest shots with his 7’0 wingspan. The passing is a work in progress, and he hasn’t flashed a ton of high-level reads, but he isn’t missing reads a ton either. It’s a growing aspect of his game that shouldn’t matter all that much if he plays a role similar to Mikal Bridges. I think there is underrated upside here as well, he might be able to become a lower-level all-star type player if everything clicks. He would fit in seamlessly on this Thunder team, and won’t always need to have the ball in his hands to be effective and will be able to work off the advantages that Shai creates extremely well.
Scottie Barnes – Big, Florida State
A 6’8 point guard in college, Scottie Barnes projects as a versatile chess piece at the NBA level. Barnes could theoretically guard all five positions, although in all likelihood he’ll be assigned to defend 3-5 in the NBA because he isn’t the greatest athlete in the world. The foot speed is maybe slightly above average for a player his size, and the vertical pop isn’t enough to be a team’s primary rim protector if they are hoping to go far in the playoffs. He’s a very smart and instinctual player on both ends of the floor however, he’s able to make quick rotations on defense and find the open man on offense even if he’s not much of an anticipation passer. The offense is a huge question mark outside of his passing. The jump shot is not there and it never has been, even dating back to high school, and the flexibility and handle aren’t there either to consistently create space to leverage his passing ability.
Another thing I do worry about with Barnes is that I think he’s more of a ceiling raiser rather than a floor raiser and may be better suited in terms of development on a good team than with a bad team. While the Thunder could totally be a good team in a couple of years with lottery luck and possibly a few lucky breaks in player development, I’m just not sure his skills will get maximized on a bad team. Luckily for the Thunder, they do have a certified franchise-level player which might be the only piece that Barnes needs to play off of, specifically in the short roll if Shai is blitzed or doubled and he can attack an already titled defense. I think he does just enough to where I wouldn’t be mad if he was the selection at six.
Franz Wagner – Wing/Forward, Michigan
Much like Moody, Franz projects as an excellent role player in the NBA. He’s a 6’9 perimeter player with a (probable) 7’0 wingspan who’s a great and very versatile defender with a promising-looking outside shot. Wagner is coming off a year where he shot 34.3 percent from three on 102 attempts and 83.5 percent from the line. Previous to his time at Michigan, he shot 38.4 percent across the year in Europe. I lean towards him becoming an above-average shooter on volume, which can only boost his value in the NBA. One problem I do have is that Franz is not aggressive at all. He took 11.7 shots per 40, a mark which ranked 5th on his team by players who had 200+ minutes on the year. He passes up on shots fairly often, which is not something you want on an NBA floor. He just does everything else so well though that it’s hard to ignore. The defense is great, and he’s a very physical player who absorbs contact well and is a great weak side rim protector who is great at navigating screens as well. Finishing up on his offense, the passing is a plus skill for his size. He’s able to find open players on the exterior and the interior of the defense and has the ability to run some PnRs in the NBA. Might I mention that he’s quite young for a two-year college player, as he won’t turn 20 until a month after the draft.
Jaden Springer – Guard/Wing, Tennessee
Before I talk about Springer’s game, I want to quickly talk about his ranking. There is a zero percent chance Springer is taken here at 6, let alone in the top 10. I’ve never seen him mocked in the top 15 and I consistently see him in the 18-30 range of the draft. Barring a major shift in a team’s perspective, he’s likely an option for the Thunder’s later picks. Despite that, I still want to mention him in this category because he is a player that I wouldn’t hate if we took here, and that I would obviously love if taken later.
Springer is a bulky 6’4 202-pound guard with tremendous strength. He is one of the best perimeter defenders in the class and is stellar at the POA, with the ability to withstand physicality and contain ball-handlers with his feet and length on the perimeter. Springer isn’t the most vertically gifted player or has the most deceptive handle in the world, but he creates advantages with his strength. He regularly bullied players out of the way and absorbs contact in the lane in a way a lot of players his height simply can’t. The jumper is a little worrisome because I’m not sure how legit it was despite the results being good (43.5 percent on 46 attempts, 81 percent from the line). I think he’s more of an average shooter than a good one, but it has the indicators are pointing to it being pretty good down the line. The passing is also solid. He misses his fair share of reads on occasion but he’s really good at creating open looks for his teammates at the basket. There are also reports about Springer dealing with an ankle injury during the season that zapped his explosiveness at Tennessee (had only 5 dunks all year) and now because he’s healthy he’s been showing off his explosiveness in team workouts. He also won’t turn 19 until a month after the draft. Springer is in the mold of a Jrue Holiday or De’Anthony Melton type of player, and that’s a player that I really value, especially in the playoffs.
Josh Giddey – Guard, Adelaide 36ers
Josh Giddey is one of the best bets to become a primary creator in the NBA, and that’s why he’s right here in this tier of players. The starting point of being 6’8 with the ability to make every pass in the book is already a semi-valuable NBA player, and that’s what Giddey is. Giddey put up 7.5 assists in 32 minutes per game in the NBL last year and is an audacious passer, which is a good thing. He’s also one of the youngest players in the entire class, and won’t even turn 19 until a month and a half after the draft.
The defense is.. OK. He makes some pretty good defensive rotations which I think can be attributed to his incredible court mapping and vision on the offensive end. The POA defense isn’t up to par, however, but it’s not a lost cause. I worry a little bit about his flexibility in terms of consistently staying in front of ball-handlers, but he’s been improving his body and is still very young. He’s still growing into his body, and he’s gained over 20+ pounds in the past two years. He’s a pretty good finisher for not being a great athlete yet and is crafty near the rim. The jump shot is the ultimate swing skill, as it is with almost every prospect. It’s not a picture-perfect-looking shot, and it didn’t go in that often either. He converted 29.3 percent of his threes and 69.1 percent of his free throws this past season in the NBL. The combination of his height and passing excellence are too much to pass up here. True primary ball handlers are so incredibly valuable and hard to find that I think the potential reward outweighs the risk here at six overall. He’d be my choice after Moses Moody here.
Avoid at Pick 6:
Jonathan Kuminga – Foward, G-League Ignite
Long thought as one of the top players in this class, Kuminga has recently trailed off and is left off the list of the consensus top four players in this class, and this isn’t without reason. Kuminga was straight up not good for the G-League Ignite team this past season, putting up a .497 true shooting percentage, .257 free throw rate, shooting 24.6 percent from three on good volume, and fairly mediocre statistics besides the volume scoring.
I’ve seen a lot of people comment on the small sample size for Kuminga, especially concerning his shooting and the low percentages that he put up. This take makes no sense to me and confirms that many people don’t factor in these facts when evaluating these players. Kuminga was never a shooter, he put up bad percentages all across the EYBL and has never shown a consistent outside jumper. As a result, when he was thrust into a high-usage creator role for Ignite, he struggled immensely. The frame is definitely intriguing and he’s a very athletic and strong player, but that didn’t translate to any success in the G-League. On the other hand, Kuminga’s teammate Jalen Green was awesome throughout the season. He showed real growth in his outside jumper and his self-creation translated seamlessly across the higher competition. Kuminga is a massive, massive project and needs to undergo major skill development to reach his potential.
He has potential on defense and I feel like he’s been misconstrued as some great defender because he looks the part athletically, when he still has a ways to go on that end as well. I feel bad for constantly pointing out the negatives about him but when I see these people who can’t get off their priors with a player like Kuminga or even Wiseman last year, I have to give me two cents. This also isn’t to say that Kuminga is doomed as a player at all, he has avenues to becoming a good player by leveraging his strength into consistent advantage creation and using my physical attributes to become a strong POA and help defender, but that seems like a long way away from happening if it ever does. It’s an easy cop-out to say that a player you like has “high upside”, but what are the chances of that player reaching their 75th+ percentile outcome? Has there been anything that makes you think that Kuminga is on the path to reaching this? Jalen Green improved a lot in his time for the Ignite and I haven’t seen anything similar to that from Kuminga, but I completely acknowledge and get why you could be a big fan and maybe he does reach one of his higher outcomes and ends up returning top-five value in this class.
Alperen Sengun – Big, Beşiktaş
Before I get into this, I want to say that I wouldn’t hate Sengun at pick 16 or 18. Around the 16-25 range is a fine spot for him in my eyes, but I feel like six is a big reach for me. The underwhelming size and lack of elite verticality and overall player archetype make it hard for me to believe that he’s able to recoup the value of the sixth pick in the draft compared to some of the other players that can be had here.
I think the absolute best projection for Sengun is similar to a player like Nikola Vucevic or Domantas Sabonis, but Vucevic has developed into a pretty deadly shooter on volume (and underrated defender), and Sabonis is one of the best passing big men in the league. If he’s only around ~60 percent of these players, is he going to be able to play in the playoffs? It doesn’t appear that Sengun is going to be able to hold up as a center in the NBA because he’s not someone that you want as your last line of defense, a role similar to Sabonis in Indiana where he has Myles Turner behind him to protect the rim is what I envision him doing on the defensive end of the floor.
He’s a tremendously skilled post player and has good enough passing chops currently and shooting indicators to project that he’ll be able to become a reliable shooter one day. But post play is not something I’m targeting with the sixth pick. How many centers do you want to run a lot of offense through in the post? Jokic, Embiid, and maybe KAT are the only ones I can see and all of them have extreme outlier skills. Even as good as Bam Adebayo or Nikola Vucevic are offensively, you don’t want to run your offense through them, and neither of them looks to be a number two offensive option on a championship-level team either. The bar you have to clear as a post-oriented player is so so high. The Pacers were much better with Sabonis off the floor last year compared to when he was on. I wouldn’t want to take the ball out of Shai’s hands to feed it to Sengun in the post 20 times a game. You shouldn’t expect a franchise-level player at sixth overall, and I’d prefer a connecting piece like Barnes/Wagner/Moody than someone like Sengun who I have questions about how valuable his archetype is when it comes to competing deep in the playoffs.
James Bouknight – Guard, UConn
Another player who I wouldn’t hate at picks 16 or 18, taking Bouknight this high is once again just a bit too rich for my blood. Bouknight was a prolific scorer at UConn, putting up 18.7 points per game his sophomore year, including a 40 piece vs Creighton. Bouknight’s teammates were not very good during his time in college, and that resulted in a 31.6 percent usage rate his sophomore year, including a lot of unassisted baskets. The outside jumper can best be described as inconsistent.
- Freshman Year:
- 34.7 percent from three
- 89th percentile C&S
- Sophmore Year:
- 29.3 percent from three
- 11th percentile C&S
Of course, he took on a bigger self-creation burden his sophomore season and suffered an elbow injury, but the results are still not promising. Projecting him as a league-average shooter on good volume seems about right to me, despite how the percentages might appear on paper.
Going back to the self-creation bit, that’s what he was tasked to do at UConn. He was a great shot-creator in college and was able to drive by a lot of defenders and finish efficiently in the lane, something he’s quite good at because of being a crafty and impressive vertical athlete. I’m worried about how his creation will translate to the NBA against better athletes because of his lack of an elite handle and not *elite* athleticism.
I think Bouknight can have a lot of success as an off-ball scorer in the NBA (probably his main avenue to success), cutting in open lanes and moving without the basketball. He was in the 98th percentile on cuts this year according to Synergy and is really adept at finding every open crease in the defense and tilting defenses this way, even if it wasn’t his primary scoring method in college. The defense is better than most players of the “bucket getters” archetypes are. He’ll likely be limited in who he’ll defend at the next level but his effort is impressive and I’d consider a net neutral on defense, at least at the collegiate level.
I’m not a fan of the passing. He has some occasional impressive reads but far too often is he missing open players and just not making the correct read. If you aren’t going to be a primary at the next level, I like players who are versatile and can be two-way type players in this range of the draft. Bouknight isn’t a special shot-creator and maker like Jalen Green is, and that’s why I can’t bring myself to take him sixth overall.
Targets at Pick 16/18:
Sharife Cooper – Guard, Auburn
The best passer and possibly best ball handler in this class, Sharife Cooper will bring excitement and flair to the Thunder roster. He’s a very small guard, coming in at about 5’11-6’0, and was a terrible shooter from three in his one year at Auburn, shooting 22.8 percent on 57 attempts. Despite all of this, I’m still a huge fan of Cooper and believe he can be an outlier.
Cooper got into the paint at will during his time at Auburn and that resulted in an outstanding .560 free throw rate for the season. He’s physical and strong for his size and did his absolute best in creating advantages for himself going downhill. He shot 82.5 percent from the line on 103 attempts in 12 games played and used his speed, change of pace, and craft to draw these fouls at the rim. The passing is seriously spectacular. He’s on par with Trae Young for the best college passer in the draft in recent memory and he throws some of the best lobs I’ve ever seen. He makes ambidextrous passes all the time and finds open shooters as good as anyone.
The jump shot is really bad and the form was less than ideal, but it seems like he’s made a slight improvement when looking at his jumper during the drills at the NBA Combine. Think Trae Young without a (current) outside jumper, or a shorter, way less vertical Ja Morant. The size can never be improved upon with Cooper, but with even a slight improvement to his outside shot, we’re looking at a very dynamic offensive player at the next level. There are only a handful of players in this class who have the chance to be a primary creator at the next level, and Cooper is one of them.
JT Thor – Forward, Auburn
JT Thor is an elite physical specimen with a bunch of perimeter flashes that make him such a high ceiling prospect. Coming in at 6’9 with a 7’3 wingspan and a 9’2 standing reach, Thor has the movement skills of a smaller player and has legit vertical pop when going up for those lobs thrown by Sharife Cooper. He has the ability to switch and defend multiple positions due to his quick feet and extreme length when contesting shots. The rim protection flashes are real, and I think as he grows more and puts on weight he can be a legit rim protector consistently.
The outside jumper didn’t have great numbers this year (29.7 percent, 74.1 percent from the line) but he shot 33 percent from three when Sharife Cooper joined the team and the mechanics look good. He’s confident in the shot and has no problem taking pull-up jumpers and has moments OTD as well. The passing is straight up bad right now, and I’m unsure if he’ll ever be good at it. Even still, the shooting potential, the size, and the versatility make him a near lottery prospect for me, similar to the vain of Aleksej Pokusevski last year. Thor was also considered to be 19 years old this entire draft process, until he recently came out and stated that he’s only 18 years old, making him one of the youngest players in the class.
Usman Garuba – Big/Wing, Real Madrid
Garuba has been on the prospect radar for a few years now, as he’s been in Real Madrid’s system since 2013. He is a 6’8 229-pound big man who profiles as a wing defender and versatile big at the next level. I said this previously, but he’s built almost exactly like OG Anunoby which is one of the reasons why I think he can play on the wing at the next level, at least defensively. He is an elite defensive prospect and has handled his own in the Euroleague since he was 18 years old. And while he’s certainly fairly undersized for a center, I think he will be able to handle it in spurts due to his high motor, 7’2 wingspan, and incredible defense instincts.
Garuba just came off an exhibition game against Team USA where he dropped 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists in 12 minutes and played his usual good defense. He was tasked with guarding KD and stonewalled Jerami Grant on a drive to the basket forcing him into a turnover. The shooting and overall offense is a major concern, and the three-point & FT percentages haven’t been great, but at least he is willing to take the open shot. In addition to that, he’s also shot respectfully from the corners, which might be all he needs to be a consistent rotation player in more important games. The passing is also not bad at all for Garuba, and he’s pretty adept at finding cutters from the post, but he’ll need to develop more of an offensive game for that to be fully maximized at the next level. I think of a player like Jaden McDaniels when projecting Garuba to the NBA. McDaniels had immediate success as a defender in the NBA, now just imagine a more talented and physically gifted version of him. I’m not comparing the two players either, but the success of a player like McDaniels who struggled on offense but succeeded on defense immediately is something I see Garuba being, at least in his rookie year.
Ziaire Williams – Wing, Stanford
Ziaire had one of the hardest situations to endure during his time at Stanford this past season. There were injuries to go along with two deaths in his family and according to Brian Hamilton of The Athletic, Stanford had to “live out of hotels for weeks on end” due to the pandemic. This isn’t a complete excuse for his performance this past season, but I’d have to assume it played a part.
Williams is a 6’10 wing with a 6’10 wingspan and a bunch of other ancillary skills to go along with an intriguing outside jumper. He’s a great mover for his size and moves on the perimeter extremely well. The defense is quite good when defending guards and other lanky forwards out on the perimeter. He slides his feet extremely well and is just a very fluid player on the move. He’s only 188 pounds though, and is just extremely skinny and currently lacks the strength that is needed to be a high level player in the NBA. He can’t quite play through contact offensively and struggles against more physical players on defense.
At the moment his jumper is more aesthetically pleasing rather than effective, and there are flashes of high-level jumping shooting, but 29.1 percent from three on decent volume and a 47.3 percent true shooting is still a worry. He ranked in the 15th percentile on spot-up attempts this past season and really struggled when he wasn’t pulling up. The passing is very effective for his role and you can tell he loves finding open teammates for looks. In the film session with Mike Schmitz, he said he would “take an assist over a bucket any day of the week” and I believe it. All the tools to be a high-level wing are there, he’ll just have to put it together.
Bones Hyland – Guard, VCU
Bones Hyland is one of my favorite players to watch in this class, and he’s just an incredibly fun player. He shoots from beyond NBA range consistently and makes them at a good clip. Over his two years at VCU, he shot 39.9 percent on 240 attempts while taking a bunch of incredibly difficult shots. He is one of the best shooters in the class and is an elite pull-up threat and space creator with the ball in his hands. You can see the influence of growing up playing street ball had on his game, he’s a very flashy player with a nice handle and a variety of dribble moves. His growth physically before the start of the season helped out a ton this past year, as the finishing and free throw rate took a huge jump. Despite this, the NBA is a different level physically, and the finishing likely won’t come around until/if he bulks up.
- FG% at Rim: 54.5 percent
- FTR: .104
- FG% at Rim: 65.3 percent
- FTR: .321
Despite being incredibly skinny, Bones is an alright defender as well. He has solid awareness off the ball but will likely struggle at the POA simply due to his lack of strength. If Immanuel Quickley can come into the NBA and have the success he had, there’s no reason why Bones can’t do the same thing. He’s a better version of a relatively similar archetype.
Jalen Johnson – Wing/Big, Duke
If you like Scottie Barnes, and especially at pick six, then there are no reasons why you wouldn’t be happy with Jalen Johnson at this spot. Johnson is a 6’9 210-pound point forward who put up a 20.5 assist rate, 3.1 percent steal rate, and 6.0 block rate in 13 games for Duke. He’s a terror in transition, with the ability to handle the ball in the open floor and punish defenses out on the break. The jump shot is a work in progress. He shot 44.4 percent from three on low volume and looked a bit hesitant to take threes when given the opportunity. The free throw percentage of 63.2 percent is not a good indicator for future success. The switchability as a defender is there, especially with weak-side rim protection, as evident by his 6.0 block rate. He’s a good athlete in the open floor, but he really lacks flexibility in general. He’s very stiff out on the floor and has problems bending when taking players off the dribble. The offensive role could be a question, but there are ways you can maximize his talents in a point-forward type of role and utilize his strength to create advantages.
Tre Mann – Guard, Florida
Shot creation is Tre Mann’s selling point. Mann was hyped as a potential one-and-done prospect before his freshman season and struggled mightily. He was able to grow physically during the offseason and came into the year and showed us why he was once considered that. He shot 39.8 percent from three this past season despite only being assisted on 31.9 percent of his makes. And on “other” two-point shots as categorized by Bart Torvik, he shot 42.3 percent despite only being assisted on 4.3 percent of his makes. The space creation that Mann possesses is ridiculous and he’s just an incredibly shifty player with a creative handle. He ranked in the 88th percentile as a PnR ball-handler this season boosted his assist rate from 7.4 percent to 21.9 percent. The passing definitely took a step forward and his height for a guard (6’4) allows him a little more wiggle room when reading the defense. Don’t think he can be a lead ball-handler however and may be able to run secondary pick and rolls. The length is a little worrisome (6’4 wingspan) and the lack of almost any vertical explosion and rim pressure. The finishing isn’t really there and that’s what separates him from a player like James Bouknight in my opinion. The length and athleticism could hinder him on the defensive end, but the offense and shot-creation are rare and worthy of the pick here.
Jared Butler – Guard, Baylor
One of the best players in college basketball the best two years, Jared Butler was the best player on this year’s national championship team despite what everyone is saying about Davion Mitchell. Butler is an excellent shooter, shooting 38.4 percent from three throughout his career on 500+ attempts. He has all the shot versatility you can ask for in a guard. The pull-up is deadly and he’s an excellent mover off the ball and shooting off of movement. He ranked in the 98th percentile in spot-up shooting this past season. He’s able to create separation with his handle despite the lack of high-level athleticism and burst. He’s 6’3 with a 6’4 wingspan and that’s going to limit him at the rim and on defense because of the better athletes in the NBA, but he has the craft and skill to mitigate some of these issues regardless. The passing is good as well. Once again I don’t think he’ll be a primary, but the ability to provide ball-handling and quick decision-making next to Shai or with a bench unit is a valuable skill. There aren’t many better offensive players in the class right now, and Butler’s combination of two way skills gives him a high floor as a prospect.
Isaiah Jackson – Big, Kentucky
One of the best defensive prospects in the draft, Isaiah Jackson, is someone I can see providing some immediate value in the NBA. Jackson is a high motor, hyper-athletic big who was an elite-level shot blocker in his lone season at Kentucky, putting up an elite 12.7 percent block rate and 2.6 blocks in 21 minutes per game. He is a gazelle in an open floor and has an extremely quick load time and gets up off the ground in an instant to protect the rim and go for lobs. He’s a little small for the typical center, coming at 6’10 210 pounds and will need to add on weight, but I’m not all that considered considering he’s still only 19 years old. I worry about the overall value if he doesn’t expand his offensive game because this archetype just isn’t that valuable in the NBA (Nerlens Noel keeps getting minimum level deals) but I’ll put some faith in his jump shot developing and being able to use his athleticism to his advantage to finish plays at the rim. Out of all the players listed Jackson would be my least favorite, but the Thunder are desperately lacking rim protection and I think he has enough to offer everywhere else to justify this pick.
Targets at Pick 34/36:
Kessler Edwards – Wing, Pepperdine
A low ceiling high floor prospect, Kessler Edwards is the prototypical wing role player in the modern NBA. Standing at 6’8 with a 6’11 wingspan, Edwards has great size and length for the position and is a good athlete as well. He can slide his feet on the perimeter and stay in front of athletic wing players. Off the ball, Edwards is a tremendous defender. The instincts are elite on that end of the floor and he put up a very good 4.8 percent block rate throughout his career. He absorbs contact well and can deter shots with ease and eats up space with his length.
The outside jumper looks funky, but it goes in. Edwards is a career 39.5 percent shooter from three on 380 attempts across three seasons, and this past year he increased his FT percentage to a career-high 87.6 percent. He doesn’t do much self-creation behind the arc and is almost primarily a C&S player at this point, occasionally having some flashes of movement shooting and OTD shooting. The flashes are intriguing enough to project that more shooting versatility could be in Edwards’s future, and that’s a very valuable skill set that he can bring to an NBA team.
Aaron Henry – Wing, Michigan State
One of the best POA defenders in the class, Aaron Henry has shown improvement in three straight years at Michigan State. He was more of a role player his previous two seasons before having to take over as the lead usage guy on the team. The three-point percentages dipped, but the FT percentage increased by six percent and the shot looks good. If he was back in his off-ball role, which he will be in the NBA, I expect that three-point percentage to climb once again. The passing is pretty solid for his role and could be a valuable asset to his offensive game which lacks much of anything else. He has a little self-creation ability and a decent handle, but the vertical explosion at the rim is just okay and he only shot 54.8 percent there this past season. Once again, the defense is great. He’s 6’6 210 pounds and is very physical on that end of the floor. He had a 2.4 percent steal rate and 4.1 percent block rate this past season and really carried Michigan State through a rather mediocre season.
Miles McBride – Guard, West Virginia
A terrorizing defender on the ball, Miles McBride is a 6’2.5″ guard with great length and a near 6’9 wingspan. He is constantly in the offensive player’s space and gives them no room to breathe when they have the ball in their hands. The motor is always running on the ball but can waver off the ball. Despite the length, the height and weight are concerning when you aren’t as built as someone like Davion Mitchell. He shot 41.4 percent from three on significant volume and 81.3 percent from the line and ranked in the 82nd percentile in spot-up shooting. 55.9 percent at the rim this year is tough considering he’s only going to be going up against bigger and better athletes at the next level. The passing is good enough and isn’t a negative, but once again at that size, it’s still going to be tough to make certain passes. All the tools to be a high-level backup point guard are there, and I think he has a pretty translatable game to the NBA.
Josh Christopher – Guard, Arizona State
Josh Christopher is a pretty polarizing prospect within this draft. I’ve seen him listed anywhere from about 18-45 on big boards and I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. He has really good flashes of high-level scoring and shot-making. The athleticism is pretty good for a player of his size, and he is a bulky guard. He is 6’4 215 pounds with a 6’9 wingspan and can absorb a lot of contact when driving to the basket. Christopher had a .529 true shooting percentage this past season to go along with a .313 free throw rate. The decision making for Christopher is alarming. He has pretty terrible shot selection and isn’t much of a passer at all, his role at Arizona State was to simply get buckets. The defense isn’t bad at all. He gives effort on that end of the floor and had a really nice 2.7 percent steal rate and 1.9 percent steal rate this season. He won’t be a plus on that end, but I question if he’s going to be a negative if he can iron out some of the kinks he has. The potential is clear with Christopher. He’s going to need a lot of things simplified early on in his career, but Arizona State was a pretty terrible context for him and is a team filled with a lot of ball stoppers. He moves well without the basketball and is a great cutter as well. With Shai, he won’t have the ball in his hands a lot and won’t be expected to. It might take some time to cut these bad habits out of his game, but I can see a pathway to being a pretty valuable scorer off the bench. I also really enjoyed his film session with Mike Schmitz, which you can check out here.
Vrenz Bleijenbergh – Guard/Wing, Antwerp
A fan favorite amongst people on Twitter, Vrenz Bleijenberg follows the route of last year’s first-round pick Aleksej Pokusevski, as in he’s a 6’10 forward with the skills of a perimeter player. I don’t think he’s nearly as good as Pokusevski was, but he’s an intriguing player with tools that could hopefully one day turn into something valuable on an NBA floor. Another disclaimer: while I don’t think I would take him quite this early, I don’t think he’ll be around at 55 either. The chances of finding a successful player in the second round are very slim, and he’s just intriguing enough to where I can buy into the thought process of taking him in the early second.
This year Bleijenberg improved his shooting despite his very worrisome percentages from the free-throw line. He’s not as versatile shooting as Poku was coming out of the draft, as he’s been limited to almost strictly C&S shots, but he improved his volume greatly and shot 37.5 percent from three during Eurocup. The transition ball-handling is a plus skill for his size and he’s shown the ability to use both hands when making passes, despite not being as creative as Poku was. The scoring in the half-court is a worry. His upper body is weak and he has issues playing through contact and finishing at the rim. He doesn’t have quite the length in terms of wingspan or standing reach that Poku had, or the counters Poku has shown in the NBA with his fakes and up-and-unders. Vrenz is a project and is likely a few years away from contributing in the NBA, but that’s what these later picks are for.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl – Forward, Villanova
A tweener forward, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has been a consistent and reliable college player for the past two seasons at Villanova. He’s a very fundamentally sound player, lacking elite athleticism and a real position in the NBA. He can switch out on the perimeter and stay with many wings and other forwards, and at 6’9 240 pounds, he can hang with smaller centers defensively. Despite the jumper looking good mechanically, he’s struggled from beyond the three point line in his career, coming off of a 28 percent season from three and 71.4 percent from the line. The post scoring is there with Robinson-Earl and he’s a solid passer for a player of his archetype, posting a 13.5 assist rate this past season. There’s definitely a lower ceiling and I feel less confident about projecting him at the next level compared to Kessler Edwards, but the skills of an NBA rotation player are there.
Targets at Pick 55:
Juhann Bégarin – Wing, Paris Basketball
One of the best draft-and-stash options in this class, Juhann Bégarin is a very athletic 6’5 wing with a lot of tools. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft (will turn 19 a week after) and has a 7’0 wingspan to go along with his 215-pound frame. He shot 34.2 percent from three this past season but the shot is still very much a work in progress, as he shot 61.3 percent from the line. The overall feel for the game is lacking for Bégarin, but with the combination of the physical gifts he has, the flashes he has shown, and his young age, he makes for possibly the best stash option in this draft and a great player to roll the dice on at the end of the draft and hope that your development system can turn him into a useful player down the line.
Sam Hauser – Wing, Virginia
Quite possibly the best shooter in the draft, Hauser is historically great for his size. At 6’8, he is a career 43.9 percent shooter from three on 704 attempts and an 88 percent shooter from the line on 217 attempts. Per Synergy, he was in the 89th percentile on spot-ups, 81st percentile off screens, and 96th percentile on post-ups. The shooting is absolutely elite and it’s going to translate to the NBA, not to mention that he isn’t relegated to just spot-ups but is elite off movement as well. The defense and all the other ancillary skills are a big question, but Hausers one skill at his size is special and even in his lower percentile outcome on defense he might still be a useful player in the regular season because of it.
Neemias Queta – Big, Utah State
Neemias Queta is a solid, defensive big man out of Utah State. He is a giant of a man, coming in at 7’0.5″ 248 pounds with a 7’4 wingspan and 9’4 standing reach. He anchored one of the top defenses in college basketball for the past three seasons and put together a 10.8 percent block rate for his career. The run and jump athleticism is there for Queta and he’s a pretty good mover in transition, and the passing, especially when he gets the chance to read the floor, is pretty good. He’s not much of a floor spacer at all yet and the defense will strictly be effective near the basket. He’s too much of a lumberer on the perimeter to ever be able to switch and guard out there, so he might strictly be a regular-season player. Even still, despite the old-school archetype and him already being 22 years old, I think there is some legit value with Queta if he slides this far.
Joel Ayayi – Guard, Gonzaga
I wasn’t going to list Ayayi here, but after looking at a few rankings/mock drafts and seeing him around this range, I had to throw him in here. I would have Ayayi at the top of the second round and think he would be a major steal if he fell this far. He is a 6’5 French combo guard with a 6’7 wingspan and a versatile and modern NBA game. He shot 38.9 percent from three this past season only nearly 100 attempts and ranked in the 78th percentile in spot-ups according to Synergy. Ayayi is a threat as an off-ball scorer thanks to his shooting and his tremendous cutting ability. He was in the 82nd percentile in cutting on Synergy and is always moving without the basketball and filling open lanes for easy baskets. He’s not going to be a lead ball-handler at the next level and only had two isolation possessions all season for Gonzaga, but he’s going to fill his role as a versatile off-ball player on offense and play neutral defense at the very least. Similar to a role that Terance Mann played for the Clippers.
Rokas Jokubaitis – Guard, Zalgiris
Another draft and stash player, Rokas Jokubaitis is a very fun and crafty guard out of Lithuania. As a combo-guard with size, Jokubaitis is an excellent decision-maker and passer and excels in running the PnR. He shot 35 percent from three this past season on 140 attempts and looks to be at least an average shooter on good enough volume to be a threat from the outside at the next level. The athleticism is a huge concern in general, and he lacks the consistent space/advantage creation to use his passing to the fullest extent. You’ll have to set a screen for him a lot of the time but you can’t expect a perfect prospect all the way down here at the end of the draft. And despite the lack of athleticism, he’s a pretty good finisher at the basket. Rokas has the frame and the tools to end up as a solid 3rd/4th guard on a team if everything clicks for him, and would be a good stash candidate for the team.
Herbert Jones – Wing, Alabama
Great POA defender with good size on the wing, Jones is 6’7 with a 7’0 wingspan. He took a big jump shooting this year, hitting 35.1 percent from three on limited volume, but increased his free throw percentage by over eight percent. The assist percentage was 21.7 percent this past year compared to only a 22.7 usage rate. He’s a little older as a prospect and will be 23 years old by the time the season starts, but at pick 55 there’s a clear avenue to providing value on an NBA floor in some capacity, and that’s a hit here.