2021 NBA Draft: Analyzing the SEC's top prospects
The 2021 NBA Draft is 10 days away, so BasketballNews.com is breaking down the best prospects in each conference. Today, we’ll look at SEC players to keep an eye on.
STATS: 16.8 PTS, 5.7 REBS, 1.5 AST, 1.0 STL
Coming out of the high school powerhouse of Montverde Academy with fellow projected first-round picks Cade Cunnningham and Scottie Barnes, Moses Moody has slipped under the radar a bit as we get closer to the NBA Draft. Moody fits your prototypical NBA shooting guard mold, standing at 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and a smooth shooting stroke that led to a respectable 36% three-point clip this season. Offensively, Moody translates well as an effective off-ball, three-level scorer, as the majority of his shots and points come from catch-and-shoot or catch-and-drive situations. He’s at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and makes a quick and decisive move to score the ball on the perimeter, in the mid-range or via direct drives to the rim. What will round out his game on offense is improvement in scoring around the rim, as he struggles to finish in traffic. He also showed flashes of creating off the dribble, which would continue to raise his ceiling.
What adds to the future value of a team selecting Moody is his defensive potential. His long arms and lateral movement give him the tools to be able to defend quick guards and big wings. The organization that drafts Moody will be selecting a player with major upside as a two-way wing -- one of the most coveted archetypes around the league.
STATS: 11.3 PTS, 3.5 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.1 STL
This year’s NBA Draft has a handful of prospects who already possess the elite athleticism that matches some of the league’s best. The 2021 class is highlighted by this year’s NBA Draft Combine vertical leap leader (48-inches), Keon Johnson of Tennessee. Johnson is a 6-foot-4 super athlete with the tools to be a strong defender and a terror in transition, and both aspects will get him on an NBA floor early in his career. Because of his athleticism, he made some truly impressive highlight plays on both ends of the ball this season, which gave scouts a clear view of what his impact could be at the next level. Improvements as a ball-handler and a shooter would be welcomed, but optimism is apparent, as he did flash some off-the-dribble scoring and secondary playmaking.
What he lacks in skill, he makes up for with his high energy and a competitive edge to do what he can to win. If he sees steady skill development and his overall feel for the game can settle in on the next level, Johnson could be highly impactful.
STATS: 8.4 PTS, 6.6 REB, 0.7 AST, 2.6 BLK
Following one athlete to the next, Isaiah Jackson of Kentucky is a prospect who combines size and athleticism to display tremendous potential as a modern day NBA center. At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Jackson is an explosive leaper who runs the floor with ease and projects very well as a lob threat and rim protector on the next level. He has a quick jump with great timing, allowing him to unleash his long arms; he averaged an impressive 2.6 blocks a game. He also had great moments where he didn’t look out of place defending on the perimeter, which raises his value as a potentially switchable big. Offensively, his game doesn’t extend too far outside of the “rim-runner” role yet, but he had some promising moments attacking out a face-up with a mid-range jump shot or a drive to the rim.
Overall, Jackson’s measurements, athleticism and activity can land him an NBA role, but if a team is patient with him and expands his skill set, he’ll check off many boxes you’d like to see out of a starting-caliber NBA center.
STATS: 20.2 PTS, 4.3 REB, 8.1 AST, 1.0 STL
Although he wasn’t able to start the season because of eligibility issues, Sharife Cooper didn’t disappoint in his 12 games at Auburn. The 6-foot-1 point guard was an electric playmaker, as he averaged 20.2 points and 8.1 assists per game to give the Tigers another element to their offense. While undersized by current NBA point guard standards, Cooper was great at using his speed and shiftiness to attack downhill, whether finishing at the rim or drawing a foul, as he averaged 8.6 free throw attempts a game.
Although he shot 82.5% from the free-throw line, his jump shot is a work in progress, and that will be a major swing factor to reach his highest potential. He was also a solid defender in college, but scouts question if he’ll have the same impact on the next level. However, that won’t stop a team from buying into Cooper’s upside as an impressive passer.
STATS: 16.0 PTS, 5.6 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.4 STL
After a freshman season coming off the bench for the Florida Gators, Tre Mann returned as a sophomore a few inches taller and ready to display a dynamic offensive skill set that attracted NBA teams during the year. Mann is a 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-4 combo guard who is one of the better shot creators of this draft class, and can do damage with or without a screen. His handle is creative and shifty, which are key attributes for today’s best offensive stars in the NBA. After being the primary creator for Florida, it will be interesting to see Mann within an NBA lineup and playing off the weapons he has.
Mann displayed a strong showing as a scorer from all three levels during this season, but at his pro day in Chicago, he also displayed his smooth athleticism and deep range, as he hit multiple threes from a few feet behind the arc. Right now, Mann isn’t the strongest defender; both physically and technically, he could improve. There is optimism, however, as he's had very good flashes on defense -- and his rapid growth offensively over recent years could be a sign of his work ethic.
STATS: 12.5 PTS, 3.5 REB, 2.9 AST, 1.2 STL
This season, the Tennessee Volunteers had a team full of athletes. Along with the previously mentioned Keon Johnson, his fellow freshman backcourt mate was no different. Jaden Springer is a 6-foot-4 combo guard with strong defensive tools and potential as a playmaker and scorer on the next level. Defensively, he has the size and strength to compete on the NBA level, and could be a problem for opposing backcourts early in his career. Springer’s offensive game is based around putting pressure on the rim and making good decisions based on what he sees. He does a good job finishing around the rim or finding cutters, dump offs or kick-outs for open looks and easy baskets.
At a glance, his shooting percentages look good; however, his jump shot was inconsistent this season, and could use some smoothing out. A positive note is that he did flash some mid-range pull-up ability, and when his release was consistent, his jump shot from long range looked promising. An ultimate outcome is tough to project, as he’s one of the youngest players in the draft. But the attributes he possesses at this age are very intriguing to scouts.
STATS: 23.0 PTS, 3.4 REB, 1.4 AST
Cam Thomas got to LSU’s campus last fall with an impressive bullet point on his resume as the all-time leading scorer in Oak Hill Academy history. The five-star recruit continued displaying his scoring prowess at the college level, including two 30-point games and some big moments during the season. Thomas immediately projects as a microwave scorer that any team could employ for instant offense, and has a deep bag of moves that helps him get to advantageous spots. A knock to his scoring ability is his propensity to become too trigger-happy and take difficult pull-ups and out-of-control drives. However, assuming Thomas is selected by a veteran-led team, his shot selection will be reined in; as a result, percentages will project to rise, as he shot 88% from the free-throw line on high volume.
Thomas does have a lot to prove to teams in other facets of the game, as scoring appeared to be a major focus for him this season. He’s got good size and strength that he could utilize more to finish around the rim and on the defensive end. Overall, the NBA may be the next stage for Thomas to fill it up.
STATS: 9.4 PTS, 5.0 REB, 0.9 AST, 1.4 BLK
Another young athlete coming out of the SEC, JT Thor of the Auburn Tigers began getting draft buzz later on in the season and has shot up to first-round conversations. Thor is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, projecting best as an NBA 4-man, but has the versatility to defend on the perimeter or play as a small-ball 5 once he’s added more size and strength. While his stats may not jump off the page, his measurements -- along with his fluid athleticism -- make him an intriguing prospect to select this year and should allow him to develop within an organization’s system.
While he shouldn’t be expected to make major impacts right away, the flashes will be there. He defends multiple positions, has good potential as a shooter and will have highlight plays at the rim on offense and defense. By his second NBA contract, Thor could be highly impactful.
STATS: 11.5 PTS, 4.5 REB, 1.6 AST, 1.3 STL
At one point, Brandon Boston Jr. was projected as a top-5 pick after an impressive senior season at Sierra Canyon. Unfortunately, this season at Kentucky didn’t play out as expected, and his draft stock took a hit as a result. Boston is a 6-foot-6 wing with smooth shot mechanics and potential as a scorer in the NBA. He had some scoring slumps over the course of the season, but still flashed moments of sharpshooting and dynamic off-the-dribble scoring that slotted him at the top of the draft in the preseason. Boston was also very strong in transition, as he was able to show some crafty finishing skills and an ability to find open spots on the perimeter for threes on the break.
While his slight frame was expected to be an issue in college, the scoring was expected to maintain his draft stock. Scoring slumps over the course of the season didn’t balance out the troubles he had with the physicality of the college level, but his length and scoring potential still gives him an intriguing upside.
STATS: 8.1 PTS, 3.4 REB, 0.8 AST
Rounding out the SEC prospects
in our projected top-60 is Josh Primo. Primo is a guy similar to JT
Thor that came along later in the draft process that teams want to
get their hands on. He’s a 6-foot-4 guard/wing who was the youngest
player in college basketball, but didn’t look like it over the
course of the season. He shot 38% from beyond the arc in his
freshman season, knocking down good percentages when open or
contested. Primo also projects well as a multi-tool scorer, as he
showed flashes as a cutter and off the dribble.
The Alabama freshman did have many moments where his youth showed, but teams are confident they can help work through those issues to round out his game. To this point, Primo has gained the reputation of working like a pro and took his approach to the game very seriously, which showed by the end of the season.