50 Best Returning Prospects: 30-21
Turning the page to 2022, the pandemic still hangs over this crop of talent like a storm cloud. Last season's pandemic-shortened season stifled the results from many young players who were robbed of a traditional preseason process. Others took the opportunity to get an extra year of eligibility and open transfer rules to find an advantageous home that could more readily prepare them for professional waters.
The major theme either way: this is a fairly depleted class of returners when it comes to high-end pro talent. There were very few with first-round likelihood who came back to school. But that doesn't mean the ripple effects of the pandemic stop there. The incoming freshman class, for as highly touted as the elite talents are, remain underscouted by NBA teams due to the cancellation of their final AAU seasons en masse and the lack of in-person scouting as a result of COVID. For those who don't quite reach first round status as freshmen, many could be looking to return to school in 2022-23 to increase their stock.
What does that mean? Expect a decidedly older flavor to the second round next year. As we preview the best returning prospects in college basketball, the shortage of first-round alphas gives way to a field chocked full with second-round hopefuls. As we've always seen, preseason perceptions often get shattered and guys rise or fall with regularity.
We started by looking at an early 20 names on this list who are more fringe draft prospects than firm second-rounders. With this crop of names from 30-21 on our list, we have ten guys who possess pretty wide draft ranges. Some are college stalwarts who could play themselves into the "great college guy, not a great pro" tier. Others will wind up knocking on the door of the first round, if not cementing a spot there. These ten guys are all hard evaluations for me for one reason or another, making them guys who I put into this middle tier of returners.
30. Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
The Michigan Wolverines had a great season in large part due to the presence of freshman big man Hunter Dickinson. A really good back-to-basket scorer, Dickinson showed promise as a rim protector with really good mastery of angles. His head coach, Juwan Howard, has clear NBA ties and teaches the game in a way that should make Dickinson pro-ready.
That can be a blessing or a curse. It shows how he easily translates to the league, but it may not be as exciting for teams who believe that his natural tools are less than ideal since he already has a good deal of polish. Dickinson averaged 14 and 7, good numbers for a freshman. He's not a stretch-5 as he didn't make a trey and picked up 4 or more fouls in five games. Avoid foul trouble and add an element to his game and I think Dickinson is draftable. Right now, he's not a really exciting guy for me because bigs are a dime a dozen these days, and this is a draft class with a good amount of talent at the 5.
29. Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama
From a personal note, I am so happy to see Quinerly succeed at Alabama. He had a tough start at Villanova, but he comes from an awesome family and is the definition of a hooper. A really smart, high-IQ playmaker, Quinerly's numbers pop. He shot 43.3% from 3, drilled shots both from spot-up situations and off the bounce and proved he can run a team from the high PNR. It seems like his best role would be that of a backup facilitator at the next level.
My fears with Quinerly are on the defensive end, where his size and lack of great athleticism really hamper him. He isn't the volume shot-maker that many other smaller guards are to compensate for their lack of size. Instead he's a below-the-rim shot-creator for others who has really impressed shooting from range. Alabama's high-octane system allows them to outscore teams as much as worry about Quinerly guarding in the half-court, so his issues there aren't going to hamper his collegiate production. Another year of strong shooting and some positive strides on defense matter: Quinerly could be the latest guard to fall into the 0 BLK club coming out of college, a really strong indicator of guys who don't last in the NBA.
28. Andre Curbelo, Illinois
Seriously, how fun is this guy! Curbelo is a fantastic passer with a flair for the dramatic. He's excellent at finding the open guy in every way you want out of a pass-first point guard. On-time and on-target, timely passes when he gets downhill, very cerebral, good change of pace off the bounce, reads and manipulates defenses, lives in the lane. He's going to check a ton of boxes.
The one he doesn't check: shooting. Curbelo is a good finisher due to craft and some english, but man does he struggle to shoot it. Curbelo was 5-31 from 3 this year at Illinois. Yikes.
It's hard to know whether a system built around him and Cockburn, two non-shooters who will run a TON of pick-and-roll, is going to maximize the draft stock or show the warts from teams that want to go under time and time again. I think Curbelo is so smart and impactful of a passer that he can find ways around it, but it doesn't necessarily inspire a ton of confidence for his pro ability.
27. Taevion Kinsey, Marshall
The benefit of scouting multi-year college players is that you see their development curve before you invest in it. Kinsey has improved his frame and his physicality each year at Marshall, evolving from the skinny and lanky wing into a good all around athlete. Going into his senior year, Kinsey is looking to build off an incredibly impressive offseason season with the Thundering Herd: 19.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3 assists and only 1.9 turnovers while shooting 55% from 2 and 41% from 3.
Kinsey is much more a driver/ slasher than a shooter, but the development of his jumper was a really positive trend. He could wind up being a solid athlete and defensive wing who fits the mold of a Quentin Grimes, a guy who quietly does what's asked at the pro level but makes winning plays. He'll have all the opportunity to be the focal point for Marshall, but it'll be the efficiency with which he shoots and the caliber of his on-ball defense that dictates his draft ceiling. A name to know at the fringes of the first round.
26. Adam Miller, LSU
That's the Adam Miller way of life, and it hasn't failed him thus far. A transfer from Illinois to LSU, designed around the freedom that Will Wade gives his star scorers to create offense on his own, will fit Miller way better than the movement, PNR-based offense Brad Underwood has used in Champaign. Miller wasn't really efficient as a freshman and struggled knowing when to shoot it playing next to great talents like Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. But there's a ton of raw talent there.
LSU will be a wildly fun team to watch this year... not necessarily from an aesthetic standpoint but with how they work to fit all their pieces together. Growth from Miller as a playmaker from others would be huge for not just his development but how he projects as an NBA prospect. At 6'3", he's got the potential to be drowned between an off-ball scorer that's too small and a lead guard who doesn't involve others. Talent and upside typically win out, but his draft range will be really impacted by whether he can proactively get a sense for his need to improve his passing.
25. Isaiah Wong, Miami (FL)
No sophomore went more under the radar than Wong last year. In the ACC, he quietly put up 17.1 points per game. He's a tremendous athlete with solid size for a point guard at 6'2". Some lump him into the same category as Miller: a tad undersized to be a 2-guard. I think Wong will translate well to lead guard duties: he had a positive A:TO in a large usage role at Miami, and while A:TO is inherently flawed, a low turnover rate at that high a usage is a positive indicator for me.
Wong is a really aggressive player who competes for 40 minutes and doesn't back down from a challenge. His 3-point range comes and goes, but he's safely above 34% for his career and projects as a good shooter. Keep an eye on Wong. He could really explode.
24. Earl Timberlake, Memphis
There's an NBA player in here somewhere. Timberlake struggled quite a bit at Miami, even though his natural athleticism and playmaking combinations in the frontcourt make him a unique prospect. I've always thought he would turn into a point forward at the NBA level, either as a PNR creator or a secondary slasher who is a good passer in the open floor.
The transfer to Memphis was originally a really good idea, but the potential landing of Jalen Duren could change the spacing and offensive reps for Earl. He's a DeMatha guy who I believe in more than Dickinson due to the modernity of his game. But Timberlake needs on-ball reps to pop. The more he plays third or fourth fiddle on his own team, the harder it will be for him to convince scouts his game is pro-ready. Timberlake is far from being a consistent shooter from deep, but a do-it-all defender with toolsy slashing/ playmaking on offense isn't out of the question.
23. Jaime Jaquez, UCLA
On UCLA's run to the top this March, it was Johnny Juzang who got a lot of love, but Jaime Jaquez was quietly the more impactful player. An old-school 6'6" wing, Jaquez can hit shots from the perimeter at a high clip, back down smaller guys to operate inside and play with a ton of polished footwork. He's a tremendous finisher around the basket, my favorite trait of his. He's quietly really good on defense, too and has a competitive streak to him.
Jaquez oozes skill, so much so that it's hard to deny that he should be a pro prospect. Still, he isn't the most athletic or quickest 6'6" guy, and it's hard to think of many guys with his size and athletic profile that become stalwart NBA players. He's a really good player and I tend to bet on skill guys to overachieve. Jaquez, like Dickinson and Quinerly above him, may end up being simply really good college guys. Of the three, Jaquez is the most skilled, best scorer and most translatable to the pros, so he stands out a bit more than them.
22. Johnny Juzang, UCLA
Over the last few years, Juzang has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows. he was run out of Kentucky as a bust after a poor showing with the Wildcats before finding refuge at UCLA. This year, the Bruins vaulted from a 11-seed to a Final Four team who were a Jalen Suggs buzzer-beater away from being in the title game. Much of that had to do with Juzang's shot-making and hot scoring during the tourney.
âIn reality, his draft stock is neither as high as his tourney run made it seem nor as low as his preseason perceptions were last year. Juzang is a solid shooting prospect. He fills it up, scores in different ways and can be solid off the catch. But a full look at his scouting report reveals how much he has left to improve to be a solid pro in my eyes.
The defensive concerns are real with Juzang, and UCLA's deployment of multiple zones and switching schemes help blanket his shortcomings. At 6'6", you can be hid effectively in college. To me, Juzang is a specialty shooter who spaces the floor and comes off screens, with some upside to drill them off the bounce. When he puts it on the floor, he over-dribbles and has a poor first step. The lack of separation needs to be improved upon if he fancies himself a pro, let alone a first-round pick.
21. Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona
â16.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game in only 29 minutes... pretty impressive stuff. Factor in that these stats were earned on the FIBA U19 stage and they stand out even more.
Arizona big man Azuolas Tubelis put up this stat line for the Lithuanian U19 team this summer, anchoring their frontcourt and serving as their best player. Tubelis is a highly skilled lefty with underrated mobility and ball skills. He showed a little bit of everything in the FIBA games, which makes him an exciting yet unorthodox prospect:
âThere are factors working for and against Tubelis. Let's start with what's for him. New coach at Arizona Tommy Lloyd comes from Gonzaga, a hyperefficient offensive program that maximizes the output of bigs who aren't elite rim protectors or athletes. It's the perfect scenario for his skills to pop after averaging 12 and 7 as a freshman. There's a huge opportunity for him to blossom. Combine that with more minutes after big man Jordan Brown transferred out of Arizona and the stars are aligning for a big year.
The downside: Tubelis needs to prove he's a consistent stretch-5. He shot 31% last year on fairly low volume, and while the shot has flashes of looking really good, the international stats don't measure up to being an elite big. He was 25.5% from 3 in 85 international professional games in both 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. He's also only 12-59 (20.3%) in FIBA events for his career. Combine those shooting concerns with the fact he's a big man in a class chocked full of talented bigs (a position with a likely limit on how many teams would pull for one in the first round) and it becomes harder to imagine him sneaking into the first round.
If he shoots it effectively, there's enough overall talent to see Tubelis knock on the door of the first. I'm banking on his overall skill not just showing in Arizona's modernized scheme but scouts valuing the production in international settings from this summer to propel him higher on draft boards.
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Adam Spinella - Head Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD)