With the draft just moments away, I have evaluated the prospects who will hear their names tonight but in a different way than I am used to. Instead of making a big board, which doesn’t always show how you truly feel about a player, I will be using a tiered system to show how I regard each group of players. Also, the order is not an indication of how I rank them and instead alphabetical. I have included a risk meter as well to provide for more information on each of them. So much of the NBA is fit related. Players succeed in good situations and fail in bad ones. This doesn’t mean that many can’t become great. Just as teams don’t automatically pick the first option at the top of their big boards, adding more items of consideration help them with decisions and my view of players. Without further ado, enjoy my comparisons as usual and share your thoughts!
Tier One – likely All Stars
The youngest Ball brother is also the most talented and controversial. There is no doubt LaMelo possesses serious skills and gifts. His game, however, will need to become more polished and less impromptu, although his feel at times can be amazing. He makes passes no one else in this class can, does not seem like the same goofy and shy kid on the court as he is off it. A must watch, showtime player, LaMelo often becomes the whole show, leading to more losses than he would want. If he can try to play defense, get stronger so he can drive to the lane better, fix up his jump shot and continue to add offensive moves to his bag like his signature floater, the sky is the limit for him. His teammates will also love playing with him as most of them have to this point.
Comp: Penny Hardaway
Edwards, similar to LaMelo, is a charming teenager always with a smile on his face and has more than his fair share of doubters as well. He loves to do one thing and that is score, usage and efficiency be damned. He is an explosive athlete who does not always make the best decisions in that regard. His burst should allow him to get easy points inside and draw even more fouls but he’s fallen in love with the Harden step back jumper. You won’t confuse him for a point guard but he has untapped potential as a distributor. Unlike LaMelo, he has significant potential on the defensive side of the ball, yet he does not utilize this ability nearly as often as he should and needs to become a team defender. Attacking the rim more frequently and ferociously will take him to the next step.
Comp: Victor Oladipo
Mr. Smooth, also like LaMelo, is a maestro with the basketball in his hands. He has become ambidextrous and reads the floor extremely well for someone his age. Fans and analysts have gotten behind the Frenchman as a future stud in the NBA but the league does not seem to be as sure. Why? I don’t understand. The biggest limiting factor for Hayes is a lack of athleticism but as we’ve seen in recent years, being an excellent athlete is not the end all be all we think it is. What he can do is weave throughout the court since he is a nightmare to cover. Hayes also is stronger and more physical than he looks, all he needs is a little space. He has a mid-range and a three-point game and hits his free-throws. He is a better team defender than on-ball and can play off the ball offensively.
Comp: Goran Dragic
My first surprise. I am much higher on Nesmith than the industry consensus is and think it would be a mistake for him to fall to the backhalf of the first round. Shooting has never been more valuable and always comes at a premium as the impending paydays for Joe Harris and Duncan Robinson will likely show. That said, Nesmith is more than a shooter. Coach Jerry Stackhouse used him in a variety of ways to get buckets, off screens and off the dribble, and he looked like a natural. Had Nesmith not gotten injured, he may have opened more eyes – although you’d think his stats (even with its small sample size) would do that. Nesmith is as confident as any player in the draft and wants to show he can do more than catch and shoot, as someone who will only get better with spacing.
Comp: Klay Thompson
Obi may be the best offensive player in the draft and one of the draft’s worst defensive players too. He does not move as well laterally as he does vertically but I think he can be hidden at center like he was at Dayton and run into his fair share of blocks. He is an OK shooter for someone his size and has an inside, outside game. There was no bigger story in college basketball than his emergence seemingly out of nowhere and one has to wonder if not for his age, would he have been as talked about like Zion was more than a year ago? The Naismith (Nesmith?) player of the year should not slip far and could win Rookie of the Year the same way he can won the Wooden Award – with acrobatic dunks and his high maturity level. No one would’ve benefited more from March.
Comp: Blake Griffin
No other center in the draft has Wiseman’s size or length. His wingspan and reach are huge so he is a perfect big for teams like the Warriors missing a post presence, who also run the floor. He can catch lobs and protect the rim at a high level, along with pick and roll. Wiseman, who compares himself to Chris Bosh, wants to expand his range and routinely took tough turnaround shots from just outside the paint area. He hasn’t played in an organized game in a year because of his suspension but character wise, he’s as good as they come. Wiseman was a #1 recruit and would easily have been the #1 pick if he played more games for Memphis last season. Still, he performed in the games he played and looked like Wilt against college kids. James is a new kind of center.
Comp: Orlando Dwight Howard if he has more of a defensive role early on.
Tier Two – Well above average starters and borderline All Stars
Saddiq is popular among fans and executives alike but interestingly, the vast majority appear to be very wrong about the type of player he is. Perhaps this is due to the archetype people have drawn up of Villanova players to see them as mere 3 amd D guys has something to do with this but make no mistake. The ceiling for Bey is much higher than many are anticipating despite his speed. He is a tough shot maker and good defender, not elite like some expect him to be. This is more than fine since his offensive game is blooming. What the public is right about is that he does play bully ball. Saddiq speaks like a coach and has the size teams are looking for with intangibles. I’m excited to watch him exceed the modest expectations teams have of him and who ends up stealing him.
Comp: Marcus Morris
Tyrese Haliburton is another player the media has seemingly capped in terms of his ceiling. He is a true two-way player and winner who has elite court vision. He will pickpocket you if you’re not careful and is engaged on the floor at all times. He’s a player who will try to gain any advantage possible for his team, the epitome of a winning player. So why is he underrated? Well, to put it simply, he’s unorthodox and doesn’t make flashy plays some others do – although he has a serious pull-up game, again if players aren’t careful. He’s not going to wow on a highlight reel although the points he can create count the same. In a draft as uncertain as this, you can do worse than picking its safest player. The analytics are right about Ty and the team that hands him their keys will be too.
Comp: Malcolm Brogdon
Hampton is the other player with Haliburton who has grown on me through this process. I buy his improving shot and the work he has put in with Mike Miller. who has raved about him. Few players have his kind of upside but few players also have his risk. For where he likely be drafted and the type of talent he is, I am more than comfortable biting the bullet. He can slash easily to get to the basket and is not a fun cover with his premium athleticism. He has a nice handle and can probably fake it at point guard if that is where he is developed. If his shot starts falling like I think it will with his new stroke, his game will open up and become so much easier for him – a sight that I’ve seen in flashes. I thought he performed better than some give him credit for in New Zealand too.
Comp: Malik Beasley
Kira Lewis Jr.
There is no one faster in this year’s draft than Kira. He is always on the attack, pushing the pace for his team. He is who decides the tempo and is a more than capable point guard, Kira is also not a bad shooter and can spot up pretty well. His assist numbers don’t represent his potential passing the rock and he is no slouch on defense. It’s hard to find many weaknesses in his game, aside from him being “only” 6’3. No one is drafting him for his height. They’re drafting him because they know he won’t cause issues and will blend into the background. There is no high-maintenance needed with him as generally seems to be the case with star point guards. He can become that one day but work is needed, like him becoming a better finisher which should come with time (and weight.)
Comp: Shai-Gilgeous Alexander
The hardest working prospect in the draft with his 5 AM runs, Maxey is just a great kid that you root for and want to bet on. We have heard the criticisms: the he can’t shoot and he’s too small to be a 2 since he doesn’t pass like a 1 but I would disregard almost all of that. His shot has nothing wrong with it and has gotten better during the predraft process as well. He takes as much pride in his defense as he does his offense, which is impressive since few players like to shoot like he does. A bulldog with a big heart and perfect Kentucky player, he is able to reign himself in and do what is best for his team. He wants to get better for them and not himself. This is a kid who won’t carry a chip on his shoulder to prove others wrong but prove him right. He also has a De’Aaron Fox personality.
Comp: Lou Williams
Speaking of kids you just want to root for, Onyeka is one of them with his story. He’s not the tallest big man I’ve ever seen or the most dominant but there is comfort knowing who and what you’re getting, although this is muddied with talk of an injury today. You feel horribly for that to come out on his big day, however, he fits almost any team so team fit won’t be as much of a problem. A great switch defender who racks up blocks and take baby jumpers, Okongwu is used to being overlooked as a former teammate of LaMelo Ball despite being responsible for the winning but he has always produced and run hard. I want to see him develop more as a post passer as he has the capability to do so. Double O will bring his hard hat and lunch pail to every game and outplay you.
Comp: Bam Adebayo
Isaac Okoro and Patrick Williams
I want to discuss Okoro and Williams together because in many ways, they are the same players. Physically, they are already intimidating, no one will want to bang bodies with. They look like they should be maxed out physically but aren’t as super young freshman and the two best wing defenders in the entire class with a knack for being at the right place at the right time. Okoro got buzz many months to a year ago for his performance at Auburn while Patrick has been the biggest riser in the last several weeks, which is great because he’s the best player on a Florida State and hasn’t even scratched the surface as someone that came off the bench. Both are working hard to have even a serviceable three point shot, with Williams more along so far. I think Okoro can eventually end up as the better offensive player though, with PWill being more versatile. The two are fantastic teammates willing to do all the dirty work to get the win.
Comp: Andre Igoudala and Draymond Green, respectively.
A late addition to this tier, Ramsey is someone I came across late and bumped up to the chagrin of some players I will be describing later on. He can join Okoro and William’s physically imposing club because he is built like a tank. Also, like them, he doesn’t talk all that much but becomes a killer on the court and the word that comes to mind when you watch him is power. He only plays at one speed and one way: like his hair is on fire and he’s trying it put it out. Jahmi’us knows his game like the back of his hand and sometimes he will try to do too much since he is not talked about in the same way as other one and dones, causing him to make bad decisions passing and running with the basketball. He more than half his own in his first year of college ball and shot really well from three for him to not be spoken about. Maybe it’s Texas Tech?
Comp: UCLA Russell Westbrook?
Tier Three – Above Average Starters
I am convinced Achiuwa is a center missing a few inches and I think there’s a lot more here than we have seen, judging off his high school tape. With Wiseman out, he had to play a different role and style than he probably anticipated when he practiced developing his shot before the season. He’s been pretty under the radar even though he held Memphis together. The New Yorker is great defensively and can move around better than many would think. The same goes for his passing for a big man. His free throw shooting needs serious improvement but it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen and I think he could definitely develop a jumper in time if he is allowed to play that way in the NBA instead of his usual bruising style that can get down the floor really quickly too.
Comp: Montrezl Harrell
No one likes to talk as much as Cole Anthony. It’s probably the New Yorker in him but I respect the mentality and haven’t jumped off the Cole train just yet after a rough season at Carolina. The program was never a good fit for him, with the complete lack of talent on his team, which goes to show how important picking programs can be. There’s no doubt expectations were high this year but he got injured early on and took upon himself to put the team on his back (it didn’t work). At the same time, his stats were decently well-rounded and the overall shooting numbers were affected because he was the only real offensive threat. He excels off the dribble and sometimes likes to make shots harder than they should be. A good defender, He is motivated to show who he is and why 2020 was an aberration. A reality check could be what he needed.
Comp: Jamal Murray
Deni is a basketball junkie and easy to fall in love with as a person. He is humble and always in the gym. He certainly has made fans all over the world. I started off extremely high on him and had him as one of my top picks like he is projected to go. Still, it’s hard to reconcile his difficulty shooting the basketball from three and the free throw line. He should not be hitting so few of them for someone who practices like he does. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his form but it just hasn’t worked. Will his mechanics need to be changed a whole lot and if so, how is that going to affect him as a player and will it even work? I ask these questions because I don’t quite know the answers myself. Assuming that he figures it out, he can be a special passer/player in transition.
Comp: Detlef Schrempf
The senior Bane is a pure shooter who makes difficult shots and is all muscle. You wouldn’t teach his shot but it works for him extremely well and has range. His special trait otherwise has to be passing as he can dish it at a high level. He can attract defenders onto him and usually makes the right decision with his experience. The concern is his wingspan and lack of real foot speed but neither has really hindered him in college. If he isn’t a starter, a big time role player fits.
Comp: Clipper Eric Gordon
During draft workouts, Malachi worked on his passing and was impressive. He’s advanced and has an NBA game but the obvious concern is his smaller frame. Flynn isn’t going to beat many point guards in a a race but he can get the ball in the basket as well as most of them. Defensively, he is far from a slouch either as the reigning DPOY in his conference and playing for San Diego State. Flynn is one of those guys who will surprise with how good at everything he just is.
Comp: Mike Bibby
Tre definitely has the bloodlines to succeed in the NBA and is a different player from his brother, Tyus. He can do what a team needs him to do like with Duke but he can also create for himself in need be. The biggest pre-draft surprise with how well he tested, Tre has significant athletic ability that he can use. He’s a smart player a team will trust to immediately to lead its second unit but he figures to get a shot as a starter, hopefully with former teammate RJ Barrett.
Comp: Fred VanVleet
Jaden has a brother in the league too and is also far more talented than him; however, he does not come with as much polish as Tre does. He could be the most talented wing in the draft and still is going to fall a bit because of the projection that is required with him. One thing is for sure and that’s he can get the ball in the basket and that will always play, even with concerns on defense. A NBA team that can get him stronger and more physical will reap the rewards.
Comp: Duke Brandon Ingram
Jalen is one of the safer offensive prospects who likely won’t go in the lottery. He can shoot it and is going to be a weapon but needs to get better on defense despite the shot blocking ability. The defensive tape probably worse than it was because he was asked to play center for Maryland and did so without hesitant. In the NBA, he may have to fare as a stretch four and no longer play out of position. His coach absolutely loved his attitude and a NBA team should too.
Comp: Myles Turner
The Stanford product has jumped up draft boards after allegedly growing a couple inches and putting on some pounds. While it should help, his three point shot is what was always going to make him a rich young man. He can score in a multitude of ways and has received a lot of Trae Young comparisons, which I disagree with, and Landry Shamet, one that is low on his ultimate ceiling. Because almost no shot is a bad shot, he reminds me a lot of the player below.
NBA Comp: Tyler Herro
Vassell, a likely Knick, is firmly a top ten prospect in this draft because of his stellar defense next to PWill. He also has flashed some offensive game and moves like fade away jumpers that suggest good things to come. Personally, I’m a little lower on him than most since he doesn’t have an NBA body right now but this is a player who has had to prove himself and usually did. He’s better than Mikal Bridges, another former future Knick, but the question is how much.
Comp: Jonathan Isaac
Second rounders to watch: