2021 NBA Draft: Ranking the Forwards/Centers
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With the 2021 NBA Draft less than three weeks away, now is a good time to take a look at some of the top prospects in the class by position. The second installment focuses on the frontcourt, which boasts some serious potential. That being said, “upside” can either make an executive’s career…or break it. And with there not being many high-level centers in this class, they’re combined with the power forwards. The first installment, which focused on the guards, can be found here.
1. Jonathan Kuminga, G League Ignite
Kuminga’s athleticism and length are the two biggest reasons why he’s viewed as a lottery pick. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound wing has been able to use those attributes to his advantage, playing at either the three or the four depending upon the matchup. This can be especially beneficial on the defensive end of the floor, given Kuminga’s ability to defend on the perimeter and protect the rim in certain spots. That being said, he will need to be a more disciplined defender at the NBA level. While a player can take certain gambles as an amateur (or even playing in the G League), that approach can prove costly in the NBA. Offensively Kuminga is a good finisher, which comes as no surprise given his athleticism, but his overall skill set is in need of polish. Kuminga would be best served landing with a team that can exercise a considerable amount of patience, due in large part to the offensive skill set.
2. Scottie Barnes, Florida State
Barnes is an interesting player, in that he was used primarily at the point guard position during his lone season in college. Averaging 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks and 0.5 3-pointers per game, Barnes shot 50.3% from the field and 62.1% from the foul line. Offensively, while he is a capable playmaker, Barnes has to get better as a perimeter shooter. He made just 27.5% of his 3-point attempts, and below 40% in the mid-range. Measured at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, Barnes has good size for a wing and can defend multiple positions. Lengthy athletes who can get the job done defensively has been one of Florida State’s trademarks in recent years, and Barnes is next in line. While the early thinking was that this draft class has a clear top-5, the gap between Kuminga and Barnes may not be as wide as originally believed.
3. Franz Wagner, Michigan
While Kuminga and Barnes have received most of the attention with regard to the small forward position, an argument can be made that Wagner is the wing most likely to have an early impact in the NBA. The younger brother of Moritz Wagner, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound wing is also capable of defending multiple positions. A good athlete, Wagner’s defensive fundamentals ensured that he was in the proper position to make a play, be it a steal or blocked shot. This past season he averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers per game, while shooting 47.7% from the field and 83.5% from the foul line. Wagner was able to spend a little more time on the ball in a playmaking role as a sophomore, an experience that should serve him well at the next level. At this point in the draft process, Wagner appears to be well on his way to hearing his name called in the lottery.
4. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
There are some who have compared Kispert to Nets wing Joe Harris, and with good reason. This past season the 6-foot-7, 223-pound Gonzaga standout shot 44.0% from three, while averaging 18.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks and 2.8 3-pointers per game. And effective scorer on multiple levels, Kispert is also a solid defender who fits well within the team concept. Is he a “jump out of the gym” kind of player? No, but a little too much was made of his athleticism (or perceived lack of it) during the Bulldogs’ stretch run in the NCAA tournament. Kispert will likely slot into the back end of the lottery, falling just outside of that threshold at worse. That being said, it would not come as a surprise if he were to experience a draft night “jump” similar to that of current Suns wing Cameron Johnson, who wound up being a top-10 pick.
5. Jalen Johnson, Duke
We can call this the “wild card” portion of the position rankings, as Johnson represents a considerable gamble for whichever team selects him. The 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward appeared in just 13 games for the Blue Devils before leaving the program, but it’s important to keep in mind that he also missed time due to a foot injury. Johnson is healthy now, which is good news considering just how volatile his draft “stock” appears to be. Shooting 52.3% from the field and 63.2% from the foul line, Johnson averaged 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks and 0.6 3-pointers per game. The defensive versatility is one of the big selling points here, as Johnson’s combination of athleticism and length proved to be beneficial on that end of the floor. Offensively he’ll need to become a more consistent perimeter shooter, but there were times when Johnson displayed the ability to serve as a facilitator.
6. Ziaire Williams, Stanford
Williams’ lone season at Stanford certainly was an interesting one as, due to local restrictions, the Cardinal were not able to play home games. That may have factored into his lack of consistency, with the 6-foot-8, 185-pound wing showing flashes of his high-level potential but never really putting it all together. Shooting 37.4% from the field and 79.6% from the foul line, Williams averaged 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.2 3-pointers per game. He shot just over 29% from beyond the arc, and that’s an area where Williams will need to become more consistent if he’s to be an effective wing at the NBA level. Defensively he was solid but not spectacular, and Williams has some room to grow as far as his physicality is concerned.
7. Herbert Jones, Alabama
When it comes to the top defenders in this class, Jones certainly deserves to be mentioned. The 6-foot-8, 206-pound forward was a two-time SEC All-Defensive Team selection during his Alabama career, winning the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award as a senior. And this was his best all-around campaign, as Jones recorded a line of 11.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks and 0.6 3-pointers per game. And his percentages were solid, with Jones shooting 44.6% from the field and 71.3% from the foul line. As a senior he appeared to be much more comfortable playing on the perimeter, be it as a shooter or as a facilitator. Jones does have work to do when it comes to his shot, but the defensive versatility and athleticism make him a player worth keeping an eye on.
8. Kessler Edwards, Pepperdine
One of the best players in the WCC, the 6-foot-8, 215-pound Edwards could ultimately prove to be a steal in this draft. As a junior he averaged 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.7 3-pointers per game, while shooting 49.1% from the field and 87.6% from the foul line. Shooting 37.8% from three, Edwards was nearly a 40% shooter from beyond the arc during his Pepperdine career. The ability to guard multiple positions is another positive for Edwards, who blocked 127 shots during his college career. Even if he isn’t a first-round pick, Edwards shouldn’t have to wait too long to hear his name called.
9. Isaiah Livers, Michigan
The 6-foot-7, 232-pound Livers was in the midst of a good senior season when a foot injury put him on the sideline during Michigan’s run to the Elite Eight. In 23 games, he averaged 13.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.7 blocks and 2.2 3-pointers per, shooting 45.7% from the field and 87.0% from the foul line. Livers is a good shooter, as he made better than 43% of his 3-point attempts, serving as a valuable floor-spacer for the Wolverines. A capable defender, Livers has the potential to defend either forward position at the next level. Regardless of when he’s drafted, Livers’ ability to shoot the ball will get him a long look.
10. Joe Wieskamp, Iowa
Wieskamp went into the NBA Draft Combine as a bit of a question mark with regard to his status, as he had yet to decide if he would keep his name in the pool. After a good week in Chicago the 6-foot-6, 212-pound wing decided to forego his remaining eligibility, ending his Iowa career after three seasons. As a junior, Wieskamp averaged 14.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.4 3-pointers per game, while shooting 49.1% from the field and 67.7% from the foul line. The free throw percentage appears to be a bit of an anomaly, as Wieskamp shot 85.6% as a sophomore and 77.1% for his Hawkeye career. The perimeter shooting ability is what will likely get Wieskamp “in the door” as far as the NBA is concerned, but he’s a good offensive talent overall.
Some Other Names to Know
Matthew Hurt, Duke: The versatile sophomore, who can be used at either forward spot, was the ACC’s Most Improved Player this past season. Hurt shot 55.6% from the field and 44.4% from three while averaging 18.3 points per game.
Sam Hauser, Virginia: For his college career, which began at Marquette, Hauser was nearly a 50/40/90 player. While there are strides to be made from an athleticism standpoint, he’s one of the best shooters in this class.
Yves Pons, Tennessee: Pons is an elite athlete and defender, but there is still a lot of work for him to do offensively. Despite being listed at 6-foot-6, he averaged 1.8 blocks per game this past season.
Aaron Wiggins, Maryland: Wiggins showed flashes of his offensive potential during his time at Maryland, but consistency was a concern. The Big Ten’s top sixth man as a sophomore, Wiggins returned to school and averaged 14.5 points per game this season.
D.J. Stewart Jr., Mississippi State: With more opportunities to make plays offensively, Stewart nearly doubled his scoring and assist averages as a sophomore. He does need to improve his shooting mechanics, but Stewart is an intriguing prospect in this class.
1. Evan Mobley, USC
Due to the partnership between he and his brother Isaiah, who decided to return to school, Evan was able to play a bit more on the perimeter than the average big man would last season. The 7-foot, 215-pound freshman averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.9 blocks per game, shooting 57.8% from the field and 69.4% from the charity stripe. Mobley did not look like a fish out of water when on the perimeter, either offensively or defensively, a good sign when considering how he’ll fit into a modern NBA rotation. He moves well laterally when forced to switch pick-and-roll actions, and the rim protection is high-level. While Cade Cunningham is expected by many to be the first player selected, either Mobley or shooting guard Jalen Green could be next in line. While Mobley will need to get stronger, that’s an area in which he should improve as his body continues to mature.
2. Alperen Sengun, Besiktas
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Sengun can be used at either the four or the five, depending upon the matchup. Due to turn 19 just before the draft, Sengun was his league’s most efficient scorer this past season, and ultimately won league MVP honors. He brings both size and physicality to the table and, while a gifted scorer in the post, Sengun is also a solid distributor who still has room to develop in that area. He isn’t considered to be an “elite” athlete, and the lateral quickness (or lack thereof) could be an issue for him defensively as he begins his NBA career. That being said, Sengun has solid instincts as a defender, which is critical when it comes to making up for that deficiency. A likely lottery pick, Sengun would be best served early on if he were a part of a frontcourt rotation that already has a defensive anchor.
3. Kai Jones, Texas
After averaging just 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as a freshman, Jones returned to school to win Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year honors this season. The 6-foot-10, 221-pound power forward accounted for 8.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.9 blocks and 0.5 3-pointers per game, while shooting 58.0% from the field and 68.9% from the foul line. Jones did shoot just over 38% from three, but that was with an average of 1.3 attempts per game, which isn’t a big enough sample size to label him a knockdown shooter. That being said, the potential is there for him to develop into a capable face-up four (or even five) at the next level. Jones, who focused on track before beginning to play basketball at age 15, run the floor extremely well and has the athleticism/length needed to be an impactful defender. Physical strength and decision-making are two areas when Jones will need to get better, but he is an intriguing talent who should hear his name called in the lottery.
4. Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky
The 6-foot-10, 205-pound Jackson had an immediate impact on the defensive end of the floor, while showing signs of growth offensively during his lone season at Kentucky. Shooting 54.0% from the field and 70.0% from the charity stripe, he averaged 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.6 blocks per game. Jackson moves well laterally, an important quality for a big man to have given the use of ball screens in the NBA, and his 7-foot, 2.5-inch wingspan serves as a deterrent when opposing players drive the lane. While Jackson can have an immediate impact defensively, whichever teams selects him will have to exercise some patience on offense. While an above-the-rim finisher, Jackson has a significant amount of work to do when it comes to one-on-one situations.
5. Usman Garuba, Real Madrid
Garuba is another frontcourt prospect who is further along defensively than offensively. The 6-foot-8, 229-pound forward proved himself to be capable of taking on a variety of defensive assignments, be it as a perimeter defender or as a small-ball center. Winner of the EuroLeague Rising Star award, Garuba is a well-rounded athlete who should have little trouble fitting in as a defender. But the concerns lie on the offensive end, as Garuba has a lot of work to do when it comes to his shot mechanics. A solid finisher around the basket, at present time Garuba is a bit limited with regard to what he can give an NBA team offensively. But if you can help a team get stops, that will go a long way towards getting him on the court.
6. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward was a key contributor for the Wildcats during his two seasons on the Main Line, earning a share of Big East Player of the Year honors as a sophomore. This past season Robinson-Earl averaged 15.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.9 3-pointers per game, shooting 49.7% from the field and 71.4% from the foul line. His perimeter shooting did tail off some with increased opportunities, with Robinson-Earl shooting 28.0% from beyond the arc, but that’s an area where he does have room to develop due to the offensive spacing that can be found in the NBA. Villanova’s willingness to give their forwards more opportunities to facilitate should serve Robinson-Earl well at the next level, and he is also a good positional defender. While his athletic numbers may not jump off the page, the overall skill set should be good enough to make Robinson-Earl a first-round pick.
7. JT Thor, Auburn
The 6-foot-9, 203-pound Thor was one of the standouts at the Combine, as he displayed a much-improved perimeter shot during workouts. That was a noteworthy development, as he shot just 29.7% from three as a freshman. Thor posted averages of 9.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.4 blocks and 0.8 3-pointers per game, shooting 44.0% from the field and 74.1% from the line. Thor’s combination of length (7-foot, 3 1/4-inch wingspan) and athleticism was most noticeable on the defensive end, as he moved well on the perimeter and was also a solid rim protector. He will need to add some muscle in order to deal with the more physical pro game, but the combination of upside and his performance in Chicago may have vaulted Thor into the first round. If not, he shouldn’t be on the board too long in the second.
8. Day’Ron Sharpe, North Carolina
Sharpe, listed at 6-foot-11, 265 pounds, is a more traditional big man in that he does the majority of his damage around the basketball. Shooting 51.9% from the field, he averaged 9.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.9 blocks per game as a freshman. Sharpe was particularly impactful on the offensive glass, as he averaged 3.3 rebounds per on that end. The lack of lateral quickness could be an issue at the NBA level if opposing teams make it a habit to involve Sharpe in the two-man game, as his being more comfortable in the paint is evident defensively as well. While North Carolina did have two big men on the court at the same time on a consistent basis, Sharpe shouldn’t have to deal that (and the mismatches that it can cause) in the NBA.
9. Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky
At one point in time, Bassey was considered to be a one-and-done candidate. But he ultimately spent three seasons at WKU, which likely has him better prepared to have an impact at the next level. Last season he posted averages of 17.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, shooting 59.0% from the field and 75.9% from the foul line. Bassey displayed signs of growth as a perimeter shooter during his time in college so, while there is still room for growth, it isn’t as if he’ll be starting from square one. The 6-foot-11, 235-pound center has a wingspan that was measured at 7-feet, 3 1/2 inches, which was a factor in his ability to protect the rim. Similar to the aforementioned Sharpe, Bassey is more comfortable operating in the paint on the defensive end of the floor. That being said, he’s the further along of the two when it comes to the skill set.
10. Luka Garza, Iowa
Garza had an outstanding final season at Iowa, winning virtually every major Player of the Year award. Capable of scoring from anywhere on the court, he averaged 24.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 3-pointers per game, while shooting 55.3% from the field and 70.9% from the line as a senior. But Garza did have some questions to answer, most notably the lateral quickness issue. While Iowa was able to scheme around that defensively, the different rules of the NBA will require more from the national Player of the Year. To Garza’s credit, he has slimmed down considerably since the end of the season, weighing in at 243 pounds in Chicago (down 22 pounds from his listed weight at Iowa). There’s still work to be done mobility-wise, but the progress that Garza has made to this point can’t be ignored. How effective he is as a pro will largely depend upon the defensive scheme that he lands in.
Some Other Names to Know
Filip Petrusev, Mega Bemax: Petrusev, who has range out beyond the 3-point line, spent two seasons at Gonzaga before joining Mega Bemax. While a solid positional defender, he doesn’t offer much as far as rim protection is concerned.
Sandro Mamukelashvili, Seton Hall: The versatile Mamukelashvili filled both supplementary and primary roles during his time in South Orange, which should serve him well as a pro. Averaged 17.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.6 3-pointers per game as a senior.
Neemias Queta, Utah State: Queta was a hot name in draft circles after his freshman year, and the 7-footer’s numbers only got better with more experience. One of the best rim protectors in the class, Queta averaged 3.3 blocks and 1.1 steals per game as a junior.
Isaiah Todd, G League Ignite: The 6-foot-10, 219-pound Todd showed signs of improvement as a perimeter shooter during his lone season in the G League. While a good finisher in transition, he will need to get better when it comes to dealing with contact around the basket.
Jericho Sims, Texas: Sims hitting his face (at eye level) on the rim during Klutch’s Pro Day certainly drew attention on social media. An elite athlete who runs the floor extremely well, Sims averaged 9.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game as a senior.