Happy New Year to all! We hope you got some time with loved ones and to relax. If you did the holiday week correctly, you mixed in some hoops with time off. We watched for you so that you didn't have to and can catch some info on big prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft.
âIf you're looking to play catch up, here's a bit of what you missed.
Texas Longhorns: Must-See Scouting TV
With their 25-point thumping of Kansas on the road, the Texas Longhorns opened the eyes of the nation to what this team is capable. Shaka Smart, who many thought had a job in jeopardy, has resuscitated his program. They combine athleticism, shot-making and veteran presences. The logjam I foresaw in the frontcourt has been solved since both Greg Brown and Kai Jones can shoot. Assistant coach Nevada Smith, former G-League head coach that uses an up-tempo ball screen style, has his fingerprints all around their offensive successes.
From a scouting perspective, it's rare to see anyone go into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and smack the Jayhawks in the face. To be capable of that means there are some NBA-caliber guys on the floor. For Texas, both belong in the frontcourt: the aforementioned Brown and Jones. The freshman Brown and sophomore Jones coexist with Jericho Sims up front in a loaded Texas frontcourt. Both are making the case to be first-round prospects.
âIt's a lot to digest. Two first-round prospect big men who share the floor, playing under former press-heavy coach Shaka Smart, in the year 2021? Who would've thought...
Jones has really come out of nowhere to be a prospect. He was a toolsy, intriguing piece as a freshman at Texas, though didn't seem to capture much attention. Through nine games coming off the bench, Jones is averaging 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds, shooting 50% from 3 (7-14) and over 70% inside the arc. He looks solid on defense and can likely play either the 4 or the 5.
At Kansas, he put the shooting and ability to attack closeouts on display. His ability to be a mobile big who shoots it, then rips past his man when they play the shot, is highly tantalizing, especially considering he'll only turn 20 later this month:
Right now, Brown is the better prospect. He's a freak athlete who has glimpses of tantalizing upside. Freakish athleticism plays, wild self-creation rarely seen by guys of his size, fluidity in transition. The 6'9" freshman has the body and athleticism of Patrick Williams but is more physically imposing on defense and has a smoother jumper.
He didn't do too much against Kansas, but the few plays that he made deserve real attention for the upside they show:
While I physically like the Patrick Williams comparison, the two play nothing like each other on offense. Williams was a gifted passer who can facilitate as an NBA 4-man.
Brown... not so much. He rarely looks to pass, is a black hole and currently sports some of the lowest assist rate metrics in Division I. It's something that worries me a bit, even if there's time to redeem himself.
I'm telling you... Texas are real contenders because of their shot-making, depth and experience in the backcourt. If Brown and Jones continue to pop off the screens athletically and overwhelm other big men in the Big Twelve, scouts will be drooling about their potential.
The other stretch big in the Texas-Kansas Game
We can't celebrate all that Texas has done without mentioning the collapse of the Kansas Jayhawks. While Kentucky's struggles take the front page headlines, the Jayhawks should be on Page A1 in the top section. Kansas doesn't have the same experienced size in their frontcourt and lost Devon Dotson, their best guard a season ago.
It's a different experiment for Bill Self, trying multiple wings with Ochai Agbaji and Bryce Thompson as expected focal points. Thompson was out against Texas, but that's not a reason they lost. They don't seem to have a major prospect in this class, which is so rare for them.
Enter Jalen Wilson, a sophomore stretch-4 who has emerged as their most legitimate guy. He's their leading scorer and rebounder, plays inside and out, is a competent playmaker and shows up in big moments. I like him as a second-round guy who has a lot to like:
Kansas isn't in trouble. They're 8-2 and still a top-ten team in the nation. But from a scouting perspective, it's an odd year where really no guys who were expected to pop off the screen have been as advertised. Wilson is the lone bright spot rising in the opportunity as their best player and best prospect. Time will tell if that says more about Wilson or about guys like Thompson and Agbaji.
How legit is Dickinson?
Big men are difficult to scout. Much of what they're asked to do in college is vastly different than their professional roles. College teams still run a ton of post-ups. They emphasize offensive rebounding. They trot out unique defenses like zones, or pick-and-roll coverage that doesn't fly in the NBA. The list goes on and on.
With such difficulty, modern, NBA schemes are usually the easiest to tell how someone translates. So when a freshman big man is playing well in Juwan Howard's scheme at Michigan, I'm going to pay really close attention to it.
Hunter Dickinson, the freshman from DeMatha, had his coming-out party against Maryland this week. Perhaps there was some hometown "fuck you" going on there, but Dickinson was out of his mind. He put up 26 points and 11 boards against the Terps, showing great patience and touch scoring down low:
The shooting range isn't there yet, but there's a lot of evidence that Dickinson has great feel and is a superb passer from the high post. Those skills translate towards short roll playmaking, facilitating atop the key in common NBA Delay offenses and overall comfort when being outside the lane. The touch and ability to score down low is nice, though.
Pons the Freak Show
I've always wondered if Yves Pons is able to scrape his knees on the backboard.
The guy is one freak athlete. He doesn't really know how to use his combination of fluidity and power on offense, but defensively he's got it figured out. He's switchable and strong, guards multiple spots and flies around to protect the rim.
That was on full display in Tennessee's game against Alabama over the weekend:
I really like that he has other interests, as shown in the thumbnail. I love the instinctual reads as a help defender, too. He's the perfect role guy, a high-character prospect brought up in the Rick Barnes system that creates solid pros like Grant Williams, PJ Tucker and more.
As for Pons on draft night, he's still a senior. That drives down his stock a bit, as does the wildly erratic perimeter shooting touch. He's a defensive weapon only great in the right systems. I have a real vested interest in which team drafts or signs him. Otherwise it might feel like a waste of talent and a major risk to his offensive development without the right support system and skill training for a specific role.
A Chink in the Armor for Mobley?
USC big man Evan Mobley is indeed a top-five prospect. Nothing I am about to say is meant to challenge that or claim otherwise.
When USC played Colorado on Thursday, Mobley he had 0 assists and 5 turnovers. Mobley is long-considered a transcendently fluid big man who can shoot, facilitate and protect the rim. He's already proven to be the best rim protector in this class; that much isn't really up for debate.
But Colorado played Mobley really well as a playmaker, both in the post and atop the key. They instructed their help defenders to read his eyes and anticipate kickouts, knowing he lacked the strength to score one-on-one and is so concerned about making the right read that he won't force any shots.
âThe result was a lot of turnovers on kickouts:
What I want to know is whether teams will adjust to play Mobley like this, or if he'll adjust proactively. USC struggles with spacing, so many of his rolls are crowded and shadow-doubling him becomes easier. But Mobley is really, really struggling these last two games against them and Utah. Let's hope it's just a rough patch.
Isaiah Jackson Rising
While Kentucky struggles, big man Isaiah Jackson is rising up boards and could be a first-round guy. He's a really good shot blocker, moves well and has tantalizing upside. He struggles to finish, but NBA teams are looking for late-first round bigs to develop in this class; there aren't many.
If you're asking me to choose between Jackson and Trayce Jackson-Davis at Indiana, I'm taking Isaiah every time. His upside is higher, there's more bloom on the rose and he's a much more impactful defender, which is the baseline for a role-playing big.
Kentucky's spacing on offense is rough, which might be impacting his low finishing numbers. If there's one guy who gets a pass for their struggles, it's Jackson. He's a finisher who is dependent on others to create around him, doesn't provide 3-point threats to space around others and isn't in a role where he's a disappointment as a result. I'd expect teams to talk themselves into him during the draft process; there's always a front office or two tantalized by a 19-year-old pogo stick.
Mid-Major Watch: Neemias Queta
Utah State center Neemias Queta is massive. He's a true seven-footer who looks gargantuan going against mid-major guys.
In our discussion earlier about role and translation to the NBA, Queta has both a blessing and a curse. The curse: the Aggies throw it to him on the block a ton, and that won't continue in the NBA where his comparative size advantage dissappears.
The blessing: Queta is the focal point and commands double teams or extra attention on every catch. Because of that, he gets to show off the deft passing touch and IQ that make him a legitimate prospect.
A seven-footer who doesn't jump out of the gym or knock down shots better be a good finisher and passer. Queta has the passing down well, and he found a ton of cutters against Air Force over the weekend in ways that translate to NBA playmaking:
He's still a second-round guy and potentially an undrafted signing somewhere. Queta is really, really good in the Mountain West, though. He'll put up great numbers (especially assist numbers) to the point where the sample size should allow scouts to figure out who he is. He'll be a fairly known quantity by the end of the year.
Carolina, Crashing the Glass
The Roy Williams Tar Heels seem unwavering in their commitment to fuck up spacing and crash the offensive glass with multiple guys on every possession. It kills point guards, lowers first-attempt field goal percentage and is an eyesore hard to ignore.
On the other hand, frontcourt guys who are superb athletes get to inflate their own stats with second-chance opportunities. That's where Day'Ron Sharpe is living right now. He's carved out a role as an explosive rebounder and a tough guy on the boards. He single-handedly kept the Tar Heels offense moving with his motor on the glass Saturday against Notre Dame:
This is a really vulnerable Carolina team, and I'm still not sure how I feel about Sharpe as a prospect yet. He's good at what he does and has a motor that is enviable. But it does feel a little outdated watching him thrive in this style, while being risky for predicting his future successes without the green light for relentless offensive rebounding.
A Sleeper in Clemson
Remember the name Aamir Simms. The preseason first-team All-ACC is putting up numbers for the Clemson Tigers. Beyond the statistical impact, Simms flashes a nice combination of power, rim protection, face-up ability and motor. Some of Sharpe's best traits can be found here, as well as some facilitating away from the basket.
He had a monster stat line against Miami Saturday and helped put the game out of reach late with a face-up drive and floater.
With his age, lack of shooting and being a tad undersized, Simms isn't a slam dunk prospect. He's helped the Tigers get to an 8-1 start though, and is one of the most dependable bigs in a major conference. His name will stay in conversations throughout the year with performances like this.