A little more than a month away from March Madness, and it’s time to take a look at the draft stock for a number of prospects. Many teams have been handicapped by frequent COVID-19 interruptions, and the sample size for a number of players is rather small. Younger players have been especially affected by the shortened season, and teams heavily relying on multiple freshmen have mostly struggled, including the normally dominant squads of Kentucky and Duke. Even so, we are starting to get a fairly good grip on the 2021 NBA Draft class, and here are some of my thoughts.
Jalen Suggs (CG, Gonzaga)
Entering the college basketball season, Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham was seen as the top prospect of the 2021 NBA Draft. However, a few months in and that certainty has wavered — not because Cunningham has struggled, but because Jalen Suggs has been a standout on the top-ranked Gonzaga squad. Suggs, a 6-foot-4 combo guard, radiates confidence on both ends of the floor, running the No. 1 ranked offense in the nation while earning 1.2 defensive win shares — tied for first on the team. Through 16 games, all of which he’s started, Suggs is averaging 13.8 points (PPG), 5.5 rebounds (RPG) and 4.4 assists per game (APG) on .513/.357/.736 shooting splits. Without context, the numbers don’t pop, but knowing that Suggs plays alongside Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and Joel Ayayi makes the stats far more valuable. Sure, this could play to his advantage, but Suggs passes the eye test as a physical combo guard who can alter the game on both ends of the floor with his confidence, toughness and skill.
Sharife Cooper (PG, Auburn)
After not playing the first 11 games of the season due to eligibility issues, Sharife Cooper has stormed onto the scene in nine games with the Auburn Tigers. The 6-foot-1 point guard is averaging a team-high 20.3 PPG and 8.9 APG. Displaying an uncanny feel for the game and exceptional playmaking skills, his stock is on the rise — he now sits at 15th on the Hoops Prospects Draft Board. Cooper shines in the drive-and-dish game. He uses his quickness to beat his defender off the dribble and attract multiple defenders at the rim. Given his height, the freshman typically either dumps the ball to a nearby big or crafts an acrobatic layup. He’s not going to overpower you at this stage, but he will attack using his quick first step. The young point guard also makes eye-popping plays in transition, throwing accurate lobs with either hand while on the move. Cooper’s efficiency is a concern, however. He’s shooting just 39.3 percent from the field and a putrid 23.8 percent on 3-pointers. If he can find his comfort zone behind the arc, his dribble drives will become much more potent.
Roko Prkacin (PF, KK Cibona)
As the second youngest player in Hoops Prospects’ Top 200, Roko Prkacin has the potential to be a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft class. The 18-year-old is a 6-foot-9 power forward from Croatia playing for KK Cibona in Croatian (A-1 Liga) and Adriatic (Liga ABA) leagues. Despite his age, Prkacin has taken significant strides in his game over the course of the past year. He’s a heavy contributor in both leagues, starting 26 of the 28 games, averaging 13.8 PPG and 7.0 RPG in 27.6 minutes per game (MPG). Prkacin’s strengths are his ability to score at all levels and to aggressively rebound. He has a promising handle for a big man, flashing the ability to go end to end in transition and score off the bounce in the half-court. Shooting with consistency from the outside is key to developing an NBA game. He is currently shooting 34.7 percent from beyond the arc, and he can miss badly, even when unguarded. Turnovers and perimeter defense are also issues for the young Croatian. Nevertheless, his PPG average has increased more than four points since last season, and his combination of size and skill will be attractive to NBA teams looking to build young.
Filip Petrusev (C, KK Mega Bemax)
Following a great sophomore season at Gonzaga in which he was named WCC Player of the Year, Filip Petrusev was projected to be a second-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. However, he withdrew his name from the draft and took his talents overseas to play for KK Mega Bemax in the Adriatic League. It’s fair to say that the decision is working out for him so far. Petrusev, a 6-foot-11 center, is dominating competition, averaging 23.4 PPG and 7.8 RPG on .586/.417/.773 shooting splits. The most eye-popping statistic is the 3-point percentage. In two years at Gonzaga, Petrusev shot 26.8% from deep, going 11-of-41 in total. His ability to stretch the floor will make him a much more desirable player for NBA teams come draft night.
Alan Griffin (W, Syracuse)
Alan Griffin spent two seasons at Illinois, starting just two games of the 58 that he played. So, naturally, he decided to transfer schools, and became immediately eligible to play this season at Syracuse. It’s been a different story for Griffin in upstate New York. He’s started 15 of the 16 games that he’s played and is averaging 15.5 PPG and 6.9 RPG on .435/.347/.867 splits. The junior is truly a stat stuffer, also contributing 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. Griffin went from a bench player to the second leading scorer on a 10-6 Syracuse team. If he continues to score the ball at an efficient clip, he’s bound to get some attention as a potential second-round pick.
Andrew Jones (G, Texas)
Three years ago, Andrew Jones, as a sophomore, ranked in the top 40 on the HP Draft Board. Sadly and suddenly, his basketball career was in jeopardy, as he was diagnosed with leukemia in January of 2018. Fast forward three years, the senior is making a huge comeback, and is working his way into draft consideration. Jones returned to the team in the 2019-20 season and played all 31 games, averaging 11.5 PPG in 26.5 MPG. Now, he’s upped those minutes to 30.8 per game and increased his PPG average to 15.2. He’s scored in double figures in 11 straight games, including four 20-plus-point efforts. He has been a bit streaky from deep (3P% of 32.0), shooting a flat ball at times. Even so, it is extremely impressive how far Jones has come given his circumstances. He’s established himself as a solid college basketball player on a ranked Texas squad, while improving his draft stock and chances at becoming an NBA player.
Others rising: Justin Champagnie (Pittsburgh), De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma), Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona), Davion Mitchell (Baylor), Alperen Sengun (Besiktas Sompo), and Isaiah Wong (Miami, FL).
Brandon Boston Jr. (W, Kentucky)
After coming into the season as a projected top-five pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Brandon Boston has not only failed to meet expectations, but his draft stock has taken a significant hit. Through 17 games, Boston is averaging 11.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 1.2 APG on .357/.200/.796 shooting splits. His 3-point percentage is tied for fifth worst among active shooters with at least 50 attempted 3-point attempts. Additionally, his assist-to-turnover ratio is 0.78, and he has an offensive rating of 94.7 despite having a usage rate of 24.6. He also has struggled mightily to finish around the basket in the half court, making just 46 percent of his shots and ranking at the 24th percentile for points per possession (PPP) from that range. Overall, he currently ranks at the 10th percentile for PPP. In short, Boston’s offensive output doesn’t match his touches, thus causing his draft stock to plummet.
Marcus Bagley (F, Arizona State)
The Sun Devils are in the midst of a disappointing season, which has featured a number of interruptions due to COVID-19. With Marcus Bagley teaming up with fellow touted freshman Josh Christopher and dynamic veteran guards Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge, ASU figured to challenge for a PAC-12 title, but the team currently sits in ninth place within the conference (out of 12) with a 3-5 record. Scoring has not really been an issue, but the Sun Devils rank 10th in the conference for defensive efficiency. Martin’s ball-dominant style has made it difficult for both talented freshmen to develop a consistent offensive rhythm, which has been especially true for Bagley, who has scored more than 12 points only once in eight conference games.
Bagley, the younger brother of former Duke and current Sacramento Kings big Marvin Bagley III, did not come to ASU with his older brother’s expectations, but following in his footsteps certainly put some pressure on him. His bloodline and combination of skill and size has led some to project Bagley as a potential lottery pick. Through 11 games, all of which he’s started, the freshman is averaging 11.8 PPG and 6.1 RPG on just 39.8% from the field. His 36.2% clip on 3-pointers is encouraging, especially since he shoots 6.3 per game, but he has yet to prove to be anything more than a catch-and-shoot specialist (takes just 3.1 two-pointers per game). Additionally, the 6-foot-8 forward has shown very little as a playmaker, posting a “negative” assist-turnover ratio (0.81), and has not made many impact plays on defense, averaging only 1.3 combine steals and blocks per game.
Romeo Weems (W, DePaul)
After a very encouraging freshman season, especially as a defender, Romeo Weems was expected to make a significant jump forward and was projected to be no worse than a second-round pick in 2021. If anything, the exact opposite has happened, as his numbers have either stayed the same or decreased. Through ten games, Weems is averaging just eight points and five boards, with disappointing shooting splits (.407/.355/.429) and a horrid assist-turnover ratio (0.32). Ten games is a small sample, and the entire Blue Demon squad has been slowed by COVID-19 interruptions, but nevertheless, Weems is in danger of not being draft relevant this year if his production does not significantly improve.
Others falling: Carlos Alocen (Real Madrid), Moussa Cisse (Memphis), Marcus Garrett (Kansas), Aaron Henry (Michigan State), Wendell Moore (Duke), and Olivier Sarr (Kentucky).
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.