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With the 2021 NBA Draft less than three weeks away, now is a good time to take a look at some of the top prospects in the class by position. The first installment focuses on the guards, a position group that is headlined by the player who’s expected by most to be the first overall pick on July 29. And there should also be good value found in the second round, especially at shooting guard.
1. Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Measuring out at 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, Cunningham bring a different look to the point guard position. A smooth playmaker who does a good job of maintaining his pace when running an offense, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.3 3-pointers per game during his lone season at Oklahoma State. And while the overall field goal percentage (43.8%) could use a boost, it’s worth noting that Cunningham shot 40% from three and 84.6% from the foul line. One area where he’ll need to get better as a pro is the turnover department, as he averaged 4.0 per game. He’s certainly capable of making those strides, and the combination of size and athleticism makes Cunningham a player that his next team can use in a variety of roles.
2. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Between now and the draft you’re going to hear a lot about Suggs being a highly-regarded high school quarterback, as the ability to make sound decisions at that position translated well to the basketball court. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound point guard averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.2 3-pointers per game in helping to lead Gonzaga to the national title game, shooting 50.3% from the field and 75.4% from the foul line. Suggs shot just 33.7% from three with an average of 3.5 attempts per game, and that’s an area where he’ll need to become a bit more consistent. The competitiveness, decision-making and athleticism are a couple of the attributes that make Suggs a candidate to hear his name called within the first five picks of this month’s draft.
3. Davion Mitchell, Baylor
There are some who believe that the 6-foot-1, 202-pound Mitchell is the best defender in this draft class, regardless of position. His work on that end of the floor has been a constant for the national champion, but Mitchell’s improvement as an offensive player is what vaulted him into lottery territory. After struggling as a perimeter shooter during his first two college seasons (2017-18 at Auburn and 2019-20 at Baylor), Mitchell made 44.7% of his 3-point attempts (4.7 per game) while shooting 51.1% from the field overall in 2020-21. He finished the season with averages of 14.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.1 3-pointers per game, showing off improved decision-making to go along with the perimeter shooting spike. The big question regarding Mitchell as a pro is whether or not that improvement is sustainable, especially when considering the fact that his free throw percentage (64.1% this past season) remained about the same throughout his college career.
4. Sharife Cooper, Auburn
Thanks to amateurism “concerns,” Cooper didn’t get to make his Auburn debut until early January. Add all he did in that loss to Alabama was post a line of 26 points, four rebounds, nine assists and three steals, shooting 8-of-19 from the field and 9-of-10 from the foul line. The explosive playmaking ability is a big reason why Cooper is a projected first-round pick, despite the fact that he only played in 12 games as a collegian. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Cooper averaged 20.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.1 3-pointers per game, while shooting 39.1% from the field and 82.5% from the foul line. Where he’ll need to improve is in the shot selection department, and he also made just 22.8% of his 3-point attempts. The lack of size was, at times, an issue on the defensive end of the floor, making that another area where Cooper will need to make strides in order to be an effective pro.
5. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
Dosunmu could have gone pro after his sophomore season, but he made the decision to return to Champaign for one last run. And while such decisions aren’t guaranteed to improve a player’s draft prospects, things have likely worked out for Dosunmu. In leading the Fighting Illini to 24 wins and the Big Ten tournament title, he averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 3-pointers per game, while shooting 48.8% from the field and 78.3% from the foul line. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Dosunmu has good size for a point guard, and can even be used off the ball in certain matchups. He also improved as a ball-handler and decision-maker during his time in college, developments that should serve Dosunmu well at the next level.
6. Jaden Springer, Tennessee
The 6-foot-4, 205 pound Springer had a good freshman season for the Volunteers, averaging 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 3-pointers per game, shooting 46.7% from the field and 81.0% from the foul line. He also made 43.5% of his 3-pointers, but that was with an average of less than two attempts per game. Springer defended his position well, with the combination of wingspan, athleticism and instincts all playing a part. Two areas where he’ll need to get better are with his pull-up jumper and in the decision-making department, as Springer would at times take challenged shots in the mid-range. That all being said, he’s expected by many to be a first-round pick at the end of this month.
7. Jared Butler, Baylor
Butler considered turning pro at the end of the 2019-20 season, but he ultimately decided to return to Baylor for one more season. And what a season it was, as he combined with the aforementioned Mitchell to help lead the Bears to their first national title. Shooting 47.1% from the field and 78.0% from the foul line, Butler averaged 16.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.6 3-pointers per game. An efficient scorer on all three levels, he was also an absolute handful defensively. So why wouldn’t he be ranked closer to his college teammate? Medical reasons. Butler was unable to take part in the combine due to his being referred to the league’s Fitness to Play panel by the NBA. If cleared, Butler should be a first-round pick due to what he brings to the table with regard to both talent and intangibles.
8. Tre Mann, Florida
At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Mann has the size and athleticism needed to fill a void at either guard position. And it wasn’t until Andrew Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga that he was able to truly display what he brings to the table as a playmaker. Last season, Mann averaged 16.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.9 3-pointers per game, while shooting 45.9% from the field and 83.1% from the foul line. With the ball in his hands more, Mann was more active and accurate as a scoring option, and he was also a far more efficient player. There is room for Mann to grow as an on-ball defender, especially when it comes to strength, but his size allows for him to affect passing lanes.
9. Miles McBride, West Virginia
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound McBride made the most of his move into the starting lineup last season, earning second team all-Big 12 honors. As a sophomore he averaged 15.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.6 3-pointers per game, shooting 43.1% from the field and 81.3% from the foul line. While McBride was a proficient perimeter shooter, making 41.4% of his 3-point attempts, he’ll need to get better in the mid-range game. Nearly 49% of his field goal attempts were 2-point jumpers, and he shot those at a 37.1% clip according to hoop-math.com. As has been the case with Bob Huggins-coached guards for quite some time, McBride is a very tough guard who more than holds his own on the defensive end of the floor. As a result, he’s got a shot at landing in the first round.
10. Nah’Shon Hyland, VCU
The man known as “Bones” was one of the most improved players in college basketball last season, as he raised his scoring average by more than ten points per game. Hyland posted a line of 19.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.9 3-pointers per, shooting 44.7% from the field, 37.1% from three and 86.2% from the foul line. The Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, Hyland has good size for a point guard at 6-foot-3, and his length was a reason why he managed to be an impactful perimeter defender for the Rams. Very good at changing pace in the half-court, Hyland was an even tougher guard in transition. He will need to add some strength to his frame, but Hyland has the potential to be an “instant offense” guard at the next level.
Some Other Names to Know
Jason Preston, Ohio: Barely on the radar as a high school recruit, Preston could be the best pick-and-roll point guard in this draft class. He averaged 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.6 3-pointers per game as a junior while shooting 51.4% from the field.
Rokas Jokubaitis, Zalgiris: The 6-foot-4 southpaw has been on the draft radar for some time now, as he was MVP of the Basketball Without Borders camp in Israel back in 2017. Jokubaitis shoots the ball well on multiple levels, and also does a good job of setting up his teammates.
Daishen Nix, G-League Ignite: Formerly a UCLA commit, Nix went the G-League route with an eye towards preparing for the professional ranks. The 6-foot-5, 226-pound point guard is strong on the ball, and improved as a decision-maker throughout his time in the Orlando bubble.
Carlik Jones, Louisville: Jones played well enough at the G-League Elite Camp to earn a spot at the combine, which came as no surprise to those who watched him at the college level. After three seasons at Radford, Jones spent the 2020-21 campaign at Louisville, averaging 16.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 3-pointers per game.
Carlos Alocen, Real Madrid: Alocen, who made his ACB debut at 15 years, 10 months (youngest player in league history), makes good decisions with the ball in his hands and is also a solid perimeter shooter.
1. Jalen Green, G League Ignite
The 6-foot-6, 178-pound Green has a strong case to be the best scorer in this class, as he boasts the combination of size, skill and athleticism needed to get wherever he wants on the court. Playing in the G League bubble in Orlando, he averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Green was at his best offensively when allowed to play in transition and, in the half-court, when put in spots where he could be decisive in his approach. Where Green will need to improve is as a defender, and with regard to his physical strength. One could argue that these issues go hand-in-hand, and shouldn’t be all that surprising when considering the fact the Green is only 19 years old. He’ll be a high-lottery selection, and asked to be a key contributor for a rebuilding franchise.
2. James Bouknight, UConn
Bouknight is coming off of an excellent sophomore season at UConn, as he averaged 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 3-pointers per game. While his percentages from the field (44.7%) and from three (29.3%) were a bit underwhelming, there are two factors to take into consideration here. First and foremost was the elbow injury that kept Bouknight sidelined for eight games, and there was some rust to work off upon his return. Second, he was the key cog in an offense that, on many occasions, boiled down to his being able to make a play late in the shot clock. At times, that impacted Bouknight’s shot selection. The feeling of many is that, in an offense with more established weapons, he’ll be in a better position to make plays with the ball in his hands. Where Bouknight, who defends well on the ball, lands in the lottery seems to be up to some debate. But the general consensus is that he’ll be off the board within those first 14 picks.
3. Keon Johnson, Tennessee
Johnson has been hailed as the best athlete in this class, which is understandable due to his recording a combine-record 48-inch vertical. The athleticism and competitiveness are two reasons why the 6-foot-4, 184-pound guard is considered by many to be a lock for the lottery. The tools that Johnson brings to the table were most evident on the defensive end of the floor, as he was effective defending multiple positions on the perimeter while also bringing some rim protection to the table. Offensively his game is still in need of some polish, especially as a perimeter shooter (27.1% from three). While he continues to develop on that end of the floor, Johnson’s defensive versatility and athleticism will be his calling cards. Johnson averaged 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game in his lone season at Tennessee.
4. Moses Moody, Arkansas
The 6-foot-5, 211-pound Moody was named the SEC’s top rookie, and with good reason. In 32 starts, he averaged 16.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.8 3-pointers per game, shooting 42.7% from the field and 81.2% from the foul line. His wingspan measured out at 7-foot-1 and that, combined with his athleticism, makes Moody a very good wing prospect as far as his build is concerned. Moody is capable of playing on the ball at times, but a significant amount of his work was done either in catch-and-shoot or one-dribble situations. Add to this Moody’s effectiveness as an on-ball defender, and it would come as no surprise if he were to hear his name called in the lottery. Where he’ll need to get better is as a playmaker with the ball in his hands.
5. Josh Giddey, Adelaide 36ers
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Giddey displayed an ability to affect the game in a variety of ways in the NBL. As a rookie he averaged 10.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game this past season, displaying a good feel for the game and the ability to dictate the pace of play. Giddey’s jump shot will need work, especially when it comes to the consistency of his mechanics, but his ability in pick-and-roll actions helped cover for that. Defensively he’s a very good rebounder for his position, and can also affect passing lanes due to his size. Expected to be a first-round pick, how successful Giddey is in the NBA will likely hinge on the progress that he can make as a shooter.
6. Chris Duarte, Oregon
The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Duarte is an incredibly versatile guard who’s capable of playing either on or off the ball. Last season he averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.3 3-pointers per game, while shooting 53.2% from the field, 42.4% from three and 81.0% from the foul line. A good athlete, Duarte was able to both create his own shot off the dribble and set up teammates for quality scoring opportunities. He was also a member of the Pac-12’s All-Defensive Team, displaying the ability to both handle his own assignment and make plays in passing lanes. A projected first-round pick, Duarte would be a good fit for a playoff team looking to strengthen its rotation on the wings.
7. Cameron Thomas, LSU
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Thomas took the SEC by storm in his lone season at LSU, leading the conference with an average of 23.0 points per game. The primary option in the Tigers’ offensive attack, he proved capable of scoring on all three levels, be it in the half-court or in transition. Having the green light likely impacted Thomas’ percentages, as he shot 40.6% from the field and 32.5% from three, but he has the potential to get better in that regard at the next level. While Thomas wasn’t a liability defensively, he will need to become more consistent on that end of the floor. His greatest selling point right now is the scoring ability, which may be good enough to lock down a spot in the first round.
8. Quentin Grimes, Houston
Grimes began his college career at Kansas, where he had a mediocre freshman season. A change in scenery did wonders for the 6-foot-5, 205-pound shooting guard, as in two seasons at Houston he became a 40% shooter from three while averaging 17.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 3.3 3-pointers per game. Also of note was Grimes’ development as a defender, which should come as no surprise given how much is demanded of Houston on that end of the floor. He did struggle some in the mid-range, but there’s some 3-and-D potential here. Grimes performed well at the combine, which certainly helped his case as far as the draft is concerned. Whether or not he can sneak into the back end of the first round will depend upon what he does on the workout “circuit.”
9. Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Ayayi got better by the year during his three seasons in Spokane, with the 2020-21 campaign being his best. Capable of serving as a supplementary playmaker on the offensive end, he averaged 12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.2 3-pointers per game, shooting 57.5% from the field, 38.9% from three and 78.1% from the foul line. He has good length as a two-guard, rebounds the position very well and is a versatile contributor on both ends of the floor. Ayayi improved considerably as a perimeter shooter throughout his time in Spokane, a development that should serve him well at the next level.
10. Joshua Primo, Alabama
The 6-foot-6, 180-pound Primo is an athletic guard who also shot 38.1% from three, with a lot of that work being done in catch-and-shoot situations. That being said, his status as a potential first-round pick says more about Primo’s perceived “upside” than his current résumé. In his lone season at Alabama, he averaged 8.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.4 3-pointers per game, while shooting 43.1% from the field and 75.0% from the foul line. The size and athleticism were a factor on the defensive end, as he was able to take on a variety of perimeter assignments within the Alabama system. Primo has a shot at hearing his name called in the first round, but whichever team selects him will have to be patient.
Some Other Names to Know
David Johnson, Louisville: The 6-foot-5, 203-pounds Johnson has the ability to play multiple positions on both ends of the floor, and he improved considerably as a perimeter shooter during his sophomore season.
Aaron Henry, Michigan State: The tough, versatile wing is an excellent defender who raised his scoring by more than five points as a junior. Henry will need to improve as a perimeter shooter however, as his 3-point percentage decreased in each of his three seasons at MSU.
Josh Christopher, Arizona State: The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Christopher has good size and athleticism for an off-guard but, like Henry, he has work to do as a perimeter shooter. Christopher made just over 30% of his 3-point attempts during his lone season at Arizona State.
David Duke, Providence: Duke improved as an offensive weapon throughout his time at Providence, averaging 16.8 points and 4.8 assists per game as a junior. The 6-foot-5, 204-pound guard also shot nearly 39% from three on five attempts per.
Terrence Shannon Jr., Texas Tech: Even though some believe that Shannon had a “down” sophomore year, his 3-point percentage improved by ten points (from 25.7 to 35.7 percent). He’s a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions, and continuing to improve the shooting would go a long way towards solidifying his status as a pro.