The NBA Draft is here! You have already seen my brother’s big board and now it’s my turn to step into the fray with my own rankings. I would agree that this year’s draft is one of the deepest in recent memory but after the consensus top four, things get murky. One can order the prospects from pick five on however you like, although, I have (as always) implemented the best player available strategy. Without further ado:
My Top 5
I already see the look on your face – how the hell do I not have Cade Cunningham number one in a draft where he is the consensus top pick? My answer to that would be while Cade is certainly the safest player in the draft, he may not have the biggest star potential. This is not to say he doesn’t. After all, he is still number two on my board and will still be a star but I just believe that Jalen Green will be a bigger one. Cade is a tremendous prospect as you have probably heard and I am not overly concerned with his high turnover numbers or lack of athleticism. I can easily see him not as a Luka but a Paul George. There is nothing wrong with that. That being said, Green is the best athlete by far in this year’s draft and maybe in a generation. He is Vince Carter-esque in that regard. It is not just that. He can score EFFICIENTLY in his sleep and has at every level, high school on, and could lead the League in scoring one day. He shot from the NBA three point line in the G-League and had no problems. Work ethic is not an issue and he has good two-way potential despite his wingspan. There is good passing ability in him as well and he will have the perfect system for him in Houston if that is where he ends up, the same one that made James Harden MVP. Now to address your next question. Why do I hate Evan Mobley. I don’t. In fact, I do not have any objections to people saying he is the third best player in the draft. Where I differ is saying that he is the third best player in this draft by a wide margin. This is just not true. Mobley has more than enough tools to work with but he will still take development. Whether that happens or not in Cleveland is an open question but we will have to be patient. He is not ready to bang with centers like Nikola Jokic yet and that should come as he gains more weight. Right now, he may be better suited playing power forward until he does but he won’t be able to show off his unicorn skills there as much as he would at the five. He should become a candidate for DPOY one day and I do not have any comparison in mind for him which is a great sign because he might become a player the league has never seen but I think Jalen Suggs could also change his position in the NBA as we know it, too. And this is what it is really about. Suggs deserves to be in the conversation with Mobley and not brushed off because he doesn’t look like the ball dominant PG we see all over the place. The most underrated athlete in the draft, in my opinion, his football background is evident when he plays. His three point numbers are not pretty but I see a much shooter than he showed. His full court passes are incredible and he truly is a quarterback with the ball in his hands. Jalen Suggs is an aggressive defender when he does not have to be and plays with a passion I have rarely seen. He is absolutely perfect for the Raptors and they are perfect with him due to their amazing developmental program. He sometimes tries to get fancy with passes and his handles but assuming that happens less in the NBA, he’s a player that will always win as well as do what it takes and that has immense value, along with the fact that he has not really focused solely on basketball until recently. James Bouknight might also be a surprise to see at number five for some but I put a lot of stock into predictability and knowing what you are getting in a prospect. Bouknight is a bucket, terrific off the ball which he will get to show in the NBA when he is not constantly being hounded. At UConn, he was the engine of their offense and faced tougher matchups than most college basketball players. The game will open up for him since he won’t be a number one option for a NBA team from the start even though I expect him to get there or close. There is no hiding that the ball was stuck in his hand a lot in college and probably too much to not have assisted more but the New York native who embodies the city in his play style should receive more help with a good point guard next to him. Then, he can do what he does best, jump and drive to the basket with his quickness as well as have more energy for defense since he won’t be shouldering the entire offensive load. No one seems to be questioning his shot either after the Combine where he showed what he could do with a good elbow.
Here is where it gets tricky. Does Jonathan Kuminga deserve to go sixth based on his G-League performance? No. Should he? I think so. My biggest reason for this, admittedly, has to do with fear that he eventually realizes his potential that had him ranked of the Class of 2021’s top recruit before reclassifying a year early. For some time, it appeared like he made the right decision when he started off in the G-Leagues hot. He could not sustain his play and actually got worse as the season progressed. This worries me, which is why I would not take him in the top 5 but I would jump at 6. When he is right, he can do everything well. When Kuminga is not, it seems like he can’t do anything well other than have the body and frame that he does. I won’t lie. He makes me nervous but the upside is too good to pass up for too long. What you are getting here is a human lottery ticket. If you can get him to take smarter shots and not be so reactive with how he is playing, Kuminga can right the ship. It was easy to see the moments when he got discouraged and turned his motor off but he is very young. But remember that he should be getting ready for his first year of college right now, not getting ready for the draft and can easily follow a Jerami Grant type trajectory. The opposite of Kuminga is probably Alperen Sengun. He performed better than anyone has at his young age in Turkey and had a MVP season with no hiccups at all. Sengun has a better post game than any I have seen in some time. People will say that style no longer plays in the NBA but the team that takes him has to let him go to work. He does not stop your offense when he is in the post with the ball in his hands, rather, he has extraordinary vision and basketball IQ for someone his size. He is capable of making plays, rebounding over others and running pick and roll all the same. His work ethic is proven with how he has gotten himself into shape after he used to be larger. His jumper is being developed and not ready yet but he already does so much well. I am a huge Moses Moody fan and don’t understand why many talk about him like he is not 19. He is your traditional scorer from three and shooting free throws, and has long arms that can tip shots almost by accident. He put up solid numbers on not that many shots. His AAU coach was none other than Bradley Beal and I see a lot of Beal in his game. Moody seems like a leader and talks like one too, eager to just get better and pick anyone’s brain who he thinks can help him. These are all good. The knock on Moody is that he supposedly is not athletic. Respectfully, I don’t know what some are talking about. Yes, he did not show his hops in games but during the pre-draft workout season, he was leaping as high as any player that I have seen. Perhaps this can be unlocked and implemented in his game. He needs to get a little stronger as well and should when he hits NBA weight rooms. Moody may be the most overlooked player in the draft and will continue to improve past most of the expectations for him. Davion Mitchell knows a little about surpassing expectations and is an absolute dog. Immediately, he becomes the hardest working player on most NBA rosters and trust me when I say that his effort is contagious like it was at Baylor this year. He wants to lockdown whoever he is going up against in Marcus Smart fashion and you don’t have to wait years for this jump shot to translate. I have heard skepticism that his numbers from three were a fluke or not sustainable and there certainly are those who don’t buy his improvement from last year. But I do. It is not impossible for a 21 or 22 year old to improve to this way. Look at the other Mitchell with the number 45. While I am not calling him Donovan, his shot and runs to the rim will play. Do not let the FT% scare you. Even if he does not improve, this is a plug and play starter on many teams. Now to Scottie Barnes. I am not a hater, I promise. I just have some questions. Let us say that he IS Draymond Green. Is Draymond Green Draymond Green on a bad team? Or is he Draymond Green because he played for the dynasty Golden State Warriors? Would a Draymond on a lottery team do anything really that special? It did not look like it this year. I get the intrigue of Barnes on the Magic. Pairing him with a kind of clone in Jonathan Isaac would be special but who is going to do the scoring? Barnes’ shot is not good, to say the least. He cannot it threes or free throws and needs an overhaul. He has a freaky physique but is it an NBA body suitable at the four or five? How many non-shooters can Orlando have on their floor? These are just questions. His personality is excellent and he is a great teammate but his defense is a tad overrated as is his rebounding. The passing at his size certainly isn’t but he is a project, make no mistake about it. I do not love taking him fifth but would here at 10.
Trey Murphy III
A note on the first five prospects before diving in. I had all of them in the back end of my top ten at different points during this process so it is obvious I see a lot of talent. Starting with Kai Jones, the first piece of information you should know is he has not played basketball until he was well in his teens. As a track athlete, he shows off his graceful running when he moves across the court. I envision his role on a team to be like that of Deandre Ayton this season in Phoenix, with whom he shares roots in the Bahamas . He will catch lobs, make easy baskets and even shoot at times from three. His Texas team was the single most athletic college basketball team I have seen with Greg Brown and Jericho Sims able to do some crazy stuff vertically as well. They took playing time away from each other and are all interesting prospects in their own right. What separates Kai from them is his range as mentioned and an ability to play switch defense pretty well. This bodes well for his minutes at the NBA level, if he can get his fouls under control; a problem for most big men. When Jones fills out, he will do better at grabbing boards and take advantage of smaller defenders if they are on him. You may have to be patient with him as he is learning the intricacies of the game but he has qualities you can’t teach. He is made for the new NBA, especially if he shoots. Charlotte with LaMelo Ball would be his perfect landing spot and allow him to grow. Speaking of Ball, this year’s NBL Rookie of the Year, Josh Giddey, put up a very similar season to his last year. They are different players despite the common measurements but Giddey, like Jones, does things you can’t teach. He processes what he sees on the court with blazing quickness and makes the right pass a majority of the time, making him a nightmare to defend even with a less than average shot. He likes doing the dirty work too on the glass and going on the run in transition after. The biggest issue with him is that while he can find shots for his teammates, he has not begun to do so for himself, garnering him Ricky Rubio comparisons that undersell him and his talents. He has perceived weaknesses that are likely to relegate him to secondary ball handler duties and that is unfortunate. Good teams probably see him in that role and I wish he goes to a club that will let him do his thing and run their offense the way he wants. He is definitely screen reliant and will need bigs that get him some but his size is special. There is a toughness to Giddey that comes from competing with grown men overseas. Giddey comes in second for best passer in his class and Sharife Cooper has him beat by a wide margin anyway. Cooper is the biggest risk, high reward proposition in this draft but if you are afraid to miss in drafts, you will not be drafting the best players. Like Giddey, his reads are impeccable, that of a maestro, and has that same toughness. The difference, sadly is his height. Cooper is one of the best guards at getting to the line and almost impossible to not foul. This already makes him effective in the NBA. The handle is well above average and he plays with a confidence you have to admire. He, also like Giddey, can’t shoot from deep or play great defense to put it lightly. Unlike Giddey, teams will pick on him defensively because of his size and he has to do better there to see the playing time he needs to mesmerize us with his passes. There is some CP3 in his game and gives me hope he can be successful. He won’t be as stocky as Chris but if he can get stockier and preserve the speed, he has more than a shot to be one of the best playmakers in basketball. I would not bet against him as he has a killer instinct in his eye that will serve him well and it is hard to debate his production, albeit a small sample size. Even so, I don’t think you put up the numbers he did and not be good. Let the record show I want him on my New York Knicks. Trey Murphy III is the other player who would fit like a glove on the Knicks and give them something they have been searching for years in a “3 and D” wing. My last lottery talent, Murphy can be better than that label and had a phenomenal season at Virginia. Obviously a smart guy for going there and transferring from Rice, Trey can shoot the three ball. Seeing the type of threes he hits, I see him being able to expand his offense a good amount. Firstly, he has been showcasing his bounce and ability to defend one to three at the very least. If he continues his physical progression and gets stronger as I suspect he will, this is someone you might be able to put on smaller power forwards as well. Murphy expects to be good and carries himself with a swagger you wouldn’t expect. There is no doubt this is a late bloomer type who the league has taken notice of. At number 15 comes Keon Johnson, the young man who set the record for highest vertical. This ability is not wasted or not valuable to Keon. He uses his athletic ability to defend at a high level and will be his calling card early on in his career. You wish he were a little taller and bulkier but Keon has strengths that outweigh his weaknesses, mainly shooting from three. His mid-range game is actually decent and can be developed further, and it isn’t hard to imagine him extending his shooting distance from there. There is a little Norman Powell to him if you can untap it by getting him to drive more and I wonder if this can happen if he could play more point than the two. Regardless, Johnson is an intelligent kid who used to play baseball and looks like it. This ranking is on the higher end as teams somehow have seemed to sour on him and I might have him too low, even with him being in the first half of the first round. Of all the players outside the lottery, he just might make you and me look the silliest.
Jared Butler is the player the league screwed the most as I see it. He is easily a late lottery talent himself and the best player in the back half of the first round but medical flags put a damper on his draft stock. This may be the nicest and most professional young man in his class and it is a shame to see what has happened to him after things were looking up following his championship win. There were times that I watched him this season and thought he was better than his co-star Davion. If you leave Butler open, he will make you pay from really deep. This is a ten year NBA veteran with Jrue Holiday potential if his health permits and I have no reason to think that it won’t. If anything, I dropped him a smidge due to knee concerns and not his cardiac problems. Whoever drafts him should laugh all the way to the bank. Cameron Johnson is another of my personal favorites as a freshman who can score with the best of them. I am convinced he has never seen a shot he didn’t like a la Kobe Bryant and it is no wonder he wears 24 for LSU whose jerseys look like LA’s. After all, it is Cam who leads Oak Hill Academy in points and not Carmelo or KD. Like the best scorers, he is prolific at drawing fouls and knows his spots on the floor. He takes shots that challenge him and are hard to make which isn’t always great. The biggest knock on him, though, is that he is pretty much a ball hog. He does not distribute and might piss off older teammates. Cam insists like no one I have seen that he has passing in his game but we have not seen that his whole amateur career. Anyhow, he is one of the most intriguing propositions in the draft for me and I would have him considerably higher if he ever did show point guard ability. He can easily become Jordan Clarkson and make himself valuable to certain playoff teams now. Eighteenth on my board is 18 year old Jaden Springer. He has gone almost unseen the last several months when it comes to draft discourse and this is a big mistake. He is one of the more unique players to come out this year as he is the rare teen who is physically mature. Mentally, he is exceptional and is unselfish. His percentages from the field are something to behold and he is advanced in many different areas. He won’t be Devin Booker but there are times when he looks like college D-Book. So why is he so low? Springer does the little things that are not appreciated as much and at least to me seems tentative at times when it comes to shooting. Tre Mann has the best step back in the draft. He can manuever around the court and score in a lot of creative ways. Defensively, he has a long way to go with engagement. My twentieth prospect, ironically, is a player everyone is hyping up in Franz Wagner. Like Springer, he does not shoot much despite being more than capable of doing so. If rumors of him growing to 6’11 are to be believed, he becomes more interesting. Wagner seems more unsure of himself than Springer and that is why he is lower. Defense will get him on the floor but he is going to have to take the game as it comes and become less easy to guard since he has tendencies in his game like going right. He needs to take risks on offense when he has the ball since he doesn’t turn it over.
A top recruit, Jalen Johnson should have gone a lot higher than he probably will. Some of it is his own doing since he left Duke on multiple occasions and blamed on him being a teenager but the talent is undeniable. On defense, he can get after it and rack up steals and blocks. He sees plays before they happen on both ends and you want him in transition if you’re his team. This is when he is at his best but you cannot be in transition all the time. He does not do well off-ball and disappears when this happens. If this sounds familiar, it is probably because it is. He reminds me of Ben Simmons, as far as his stat line is concerned anyway. He is a horrendous free throw shooter but has a decent jumper that he is almost afraid to use. You need not look further than his pro day when he literally did nothing but dunks over showing skill. Chris Duarte has managed to make every GM forget that he is 24 so kudos to him. Teams are looking at him more from a financial aspect, thinking about what contract he would have gotten in the market if he were a free agent. That is one way to go about drafting but what he is a shooter than can launch it from the catch and driver. I am not sold on the passing ability although he absolutely is convinced he has it in his bag. He is not afraid to throw it down either and is very solid on help defense. Corey Kispert is a tad below Duarte but can be just as useful to teams for, you guessed it, shooting. He is exactly like Joe Harris, at least Joe in the regular season. He can get open to shoot and around defenses, not to mention he can finish as well. The concern for me is on defense. He will give his all but he just isn’t fast enough. There are ways you can hide him, I’m sure, and you know what you are getting here. Deuce McBride is like Kispert in that he will be beloved by coaches for effort level. He does not take plays off and is great if you are trying to build a culture based on getting up and down the floor mixed with defense, the two things he specializes in. McBride needs to act like more like a point guard in going downhill as he doesn’t do that currently. He prefers shooting over attacking and can be inserted in and out of lineups without his game or mentality changing much, another coaches’ dream. Deuce is a fantastic name but Bones Hyland has him beat in that category and the pull up game as well. He is Immanuel Quickley like and is quite literally bones too. There are reckless elements to his play and he does not always make right decisions. Despite this, it is hard to take your eyes off him and he is a delight to watch individually over orchestrating a team as the jury is out on his overall playmaking.
Usman Garuba, meanwhile, is hard to take your eyes off defensively. Without a doubt the best defender in the draft, Garuba causes complete havock on that end. This is a Tom Thibodeau player if I have ever seen one and the shot is not broken in the limited amount of three point attempts he has taken, at least from the corner. Watching him interview, he is extremely critical of himself and that is always good. Day’Ron Sharpe is one of my favorites and he has really helped himself in workouts. I like his character and top of the scale rebounding ability. Add in a three and you have something potentially here. Value wise, him at 26 may be better than Kai at 11. JT Thor is another player showcasing new offensive skills he didn’t in college. Like Sharpe, this is a nice kid who has not scratched the surface yet and knows that too. Josh Christopher is another charismatic individual who wants to get better as well. He is engaged on defense and learning to play without the ball in his hand. If he weren’t figuring it out, he would not be available and taken before this. At 30 is Joshua Primo who, yes, is also impressive in how he carries himself as the youngest player in the draft. The Canadian has a silky jumper and likes to get others involved.
Second rounders to watch, in no particular order: