2021 NBA Draft: Seven players who were underutilized in college but could be picked in the first round

Gone are the times when your faculty manufacturing is commensurate along with your professional prospects. Nationwide participant of the 12 months Luka Garza, as an example, is not amongst our top-60 prospects coming into this month’s draft. Or take the nationwide scoring chief from final season, Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas — he introduced final week that he is withdrawing from the draft and returning to highschool after his inventory settled nicely exterior first-round vary. Scouting for the professionals now’s as a lot about projection, athleticism and physique kind than what a participant has confirmed in faculty.

This 12 months is nearly as good an instance as any. Take Texas’ Kai Jones for instance: He was the Longhorns’ sixth-leading scorer final season however may very well be drafted inside the highest 10 later this month. Or take Michigan’s Franz Wagner: he wasn’t the most efficient participant on his crew — he was the third-leading scorer for the Wolverines — however is monitoring in the direction of changing into a probable lottery choose. The identical is true of Tennessee’s Keon Johnson, who put some athletic flashes on tape however lacked consistency. Johnson may very well be a lottery choose after setting a vertical leap document eventually month’s NBA Draft Mix.

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In some instances, manufacturing and professional prospects align. Luka Doncic was a celebrity in Europe earlier than changing into a top-five choose. Zion Williamson was nationwide participant of the 12 months at Duke earlier than changing into the No. 1 general choose in 2019. However more and more, placing up huge numbers shouldn’t be solely now not a prerequisite to lottery consideration — it’s in lots of instances the exception.

Listed here are those that match that profile on this 12 months’s draft. All of them save for one — Texas’ Kai Jones — are of the one-and-done selection.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is making a behavior of manufacturing lottery expertise who as a rule come off the bench as freshmen. Final 12 months it was Patrick Williams, who went No. 4 general to the Chicago Bulls after making zero (zero!) begins. This 12 months it is fast-rising ahead Scottie Barnes, who made simply seven begins in 24 appearances final season. Barnes’ counting stats do not soar at you — he got here off the bench for a loaded FSU crew — however the function was there all season. He led the Seminoles in assists and completed the season with the next help price than presumptive No. 1 choose Cade Cunningham and sure top-five choose Jalen Suggs, illustrating simply how dynamic Barnes is on offense — to say nothing of his versatile defensive instruments.

In 10 of Keon Johnson’s first 15 video games final season he failed to achieve double figures in scoring — however he closed on a tear down the stretch. The advance coincided with Vols coach Rick Barnes trusting him with extra taking part in time and in a bigger function. It additionally got here as his draft inventory soared into first-round territory. And whereas he is a uncooked offensive participant nonetheless — he shot 27.1% from 3-point vary and lacks polish with the handles, which is able to unlock his sport if he can discover some seasoning — his athletic profile and flashes of talent proven in faculty will likely be sufficient to get him probably drafted on this 12 months’s lottery. One of many true boom-or-bust abilities of the draft. 

Kai Jones performed simply over 22 minutes per sport as a sophomore for Texas final season. He completed the season sixth on the crew in scoring, third in rebounding and third in blocks — regardless of being the Longhorns’ tallest participant at 6-foot-11. However at that top, the physique management, taking pictures and talent off the bounce are the stuff of unicorn-caliber prospects. Gamers his dimension doing stuff like this do not normally final too far in drafts.

There is no doubt some ironing out in his sport that should happen — he must get stronger, develop into a greater rebounder, study the sport and develop on offense — however he has all of the constructing blocks to be one of many draft’s largest stars if he hits. And when you think about that he solely started taking part in basketball at 15 years previous, it is laborious to not speak your self into this child’s vibrant future regardless of lackluster manufacturing at Texas. 

The uncommon high-usage, small-sample prospect, Jalen Johnson was a key cog for Duke in 13 video games, averaging 11.2 factors, 6.1 rebounds and sometimes initiating offense on fastbreaks. However Johnson left Duke earlier than the season ended to prep for the draft after a whole lot of his weaknesses as a prospect got here to mild. Johnson’s inventory within the aftermath of that call fluctuated a bit — and definitely was nicely beneath preseason expectations as a top-10 expertise — and it has but to actually settle. His draft vary is huge. He may go inside the highest 10 or drop to the 20s. Large image, it is extra prone to be nearer to the previous — 6-9 forwards with big-guard expertise are prospects groups will soar on the probability to spend money on. Even when what we noticed from him at Duke left us with a whole lot of questions on a few of his offensive limitations within the halfcourt and on protection.


A robust displaying on the NBA draft mix left Joshua Primo, the youngest prospect on this 12 months’s class, with no alternative however to remain within the draft. He, greater than arguably anybody else, boosted his inventory most whereas in Chicago. Guards who’re 6-5 and are knockdown shooters like him are undoubtedly value first-round appears to be like however he showed some pizazz on the ball at the combine besides. That baseline talent set mixed with the youth and long-term role-playing potential may get him to lottery vary simply months after ending because the fifth-leading scorer for SEC-winning Alabama. 

JT Thor


PF •


6-9, 203




Utilization price20.4%

Draft vary: 20-30

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Auburn flew below the radar final season greater than it deserved contemplating its expertise degree — due largely to its self-imposed postseason ban — and JT Thor was the hidden gem of the Tigers’ roster. He was sixth on the crew in scoring and seventh in minutes performed, but he’s now monitoring in the direction of comparable first-round vary as teammate Sharife Cooper. He has a 7-3 wingspan, a easy, left-handed jumper that appears prefer it’ll observe and the all-around sport that might in time make him a harmful floor-spacing huge within the NBA.

Stanford had a tricky season residing out of resorts for a lot of the 12 months to fight COVID. And within the meantime, accidents and attrition to key gamers had been a mainstay. The roster was hardly ever constant. Ziaire Williams’ manufacturing was fittingly unreliable. He had huge moments — even a number of huge video games — however he by no means hit a groove such as you sometimes see from a one-and-done prospect his caliber, as he had flashes however simply as usually fizzled. His function was kind of regular all year long because the crew’s No. 3 possibility however he stays one of many more difficult evaluations due to how he floated out and in of video games and by no means asserted himself forcefully into the lottery dialogue. Nonetheless, measuring practically 6-10 on the mix with an 8-11 standing attain helped his case, and there is going to be believers in his talent within the early-to-mid-teens. | 2021 NBA Draft: Seven gamers who had been underutilized in faculty however may very well be picked within the first spherical


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