With the 2020-2021 NCAA men’s basketball season underway, we have nearly three weeks of data to use to examine the 2021 NBA draft class. Consider this an introduction to the top players in college basketball, as well as the players participating in the NBA G League Ignite, a new developmental team that plays exhibitions and is meant to be used as an alternative to college for some players. Of course, there are international prospects as well.
Due to COVID-19, some basketball seasons might be cut short due to exposure and cancellations. Some teams are already starting conference play after just three tune-up games. Even in a normal season, a mock draft in middle December is considered a hot take. Furthermore, it’s never too early to start thinking about who is sticking out. Here are the top 30 prospects that we could see in the first round of the draft in 2021.
No. 30: Ibou Badji, Barcelona II (Spain)
Bio: 18 years old, Center, 7-foot-0, 230 pounds, 5.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG 0.4 APG, 2.4 BPG
Starting with one of the rawest big men in the draft, Badji had an NBA ready frame with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan. During the 2019-2020 season, led all participants in the U19 World Cup with 22 blocks. During the tournament, Badji averaged 11.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 5.0 blocks. He has made just seven appearances and four starts this season. For teams in the latter part of the first round looking for a rim-protector, there is a lot to develop with the 18-year old.
No. 29: Greg Brown, Texas
Bio: Freshman forward, 6-foot-9, 205 pounds, 9.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.2 APG, 1.2 BPG
While the stats are not there, somebody will take a chance on the big man out of Texas. Coming into the college basketball season, Brown is one of the best pure athletes in the freshman class. Brown was rated as the No. 9 ranked player in the 2020 player rankings. While he has not hit his stride yet, look for him to elevate his game in the Big 12 Conference. He has a long highlight reel of dunks, while his athleticism ranks near the best in the class. He needs to develop a jump shot, as he is just shooting 20.8% from three-point range. In the end, he has the intangibles that makes him an intriguing risk.
No. 28: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
Bio: Sophomore forward, 6-foot-9, 245 pounds, 22.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.4 BPG
The Indiana star likely could have gone in the second round of the last NBA Draft but chose to return to the Hoosiers. Trayce-Jackson finished his freshman season with the fourth-best block rate (7.8%) and ranked top-10 in nearly all freshman categories. He finished the campaign with 16.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per contest. The offense at Indiana runs through their post player. With his defense, he is going to provide a team with off-the-bench support.
No. 27: Sharife Cooper, Auburn
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-0, 185 pounds, No current stats
Cooper was the highest-rated signee in Auburn history, but has yet to take the floor. Cooper is currently under investigation for his eligibility. Cooper was the No. 20 ranked prospect in the ESPN 10 and a five-star recruit. While Auburn was already going to miss the postseason, due to a self-imposed ban after the findings of corruption with former assistant coach Chuck Pearson, Cooper was supposed to be the shining light for the Tigers. In high school, Cooper became the first ever non-senior to win MaxPreps National Player of the Year honors when he led McEachern High to an undefeated state title in Georgia during the 2018-2019 season. On the AAU circuit, he was First-Team All-EYBL after he averaged 8.2 assists for the AOT Running Rebels. Even if Cooper doesn’t play this season, he is still a first-round talent.
No. 26: David Johnson, Louisville
Bio: Sophomore guard, 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, 12.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 0.5 BPG
Johnson broke onto the scene last season when he scored 19 points and added 7 assists off the bench in a win over Duke. He has proven to be a very versatile guard, excelling in three major categories. That included a 17-point, 6-rebound, and 8-assist performance in a win over Western Kentucky. We will likely see him flirting with a triple-double all season long for the Cardinals. When conference play begins in the ACC, we will likely see Johnson as a top performer each night.
No. 25: Jalen Johnson, Duke
Bio: Freshman forward, 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, 11.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 2.0 BPG
It doesn’t feel like a normal year for Duke, but Johnson is proving to be one of the better post players in the league. Johnson was the highest-rated player for the Duke recruiting class at No. 13 overall. Johnson is the former 2019 Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year. In his first collegiate game against Coppin State, he recorded a double-double of 19 points and 19 rebounds. He was perfect from the field and made all eight shots. He did finish that same game with 7 turnovers, so that was an eyesore. Against the tougher competition, he has not lived up to the hype. Against No. 8 ranked Michigan State, Johnson finished with 11 points and 4 rebounds. Then, he followed that up with 7 points and 7 rebounds against No. 6 ranked Illinois. He has plenty of variables that make him a first-round pick, but he needs other parts of his game to develop if he wants to rise higher on the board.
No. 24: Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton
Bio: Junior guard, 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, 13.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 6.3 APG, 0.3 BPG
Last season, Creighton had the third-best offense in all of Division I. Now with Ty-Shon Alexander in the NBA, he is getting more opportunities as the main ball handler. He has the capability to create his own offense and even shot 41.9% from the three-point range. He is the younger brother of former NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams. This season, his three-point percentage is down by nearly 8%, but he is being more used as a point guard. He has his highest-point total (16) in a near upset over No. 5 ranked Kansas.
No. 23: Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky
Bio: Freshman forward, 6-foot-10, 210 pounds, 7.8 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 3.3 BPG
Jackson was a former top-30 recruit coming out of high school and owns a 7-foot wingspan. He is a natural-born rim protector that averaged 7.7 blocks per game during his senior season at Waterford Mott High School in Michigan. In just his third game of his college season, he finished with 8 blocks. While he would need to put on some weight to compete in the post in the NBA, make no mistake about Jackson’s potential.
No. 22: Terrence Clarke, Kentucky
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-7, 194 pounds, 13.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.3 BPG
The NBA Draft is all about finding the right prospect. Clarke fits the literal definition of the prospect. There are not too many 6-foot-7 guards out there, which is why he was gaining consideration to be the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2021 before he reclassified to 2020. In high school, he led Brewster Academy to a 34-3 record before the postseason was canceled. While his three-point shot needs developing (26.4% when he played AAU ball), his ability to score at any given moment and defensive tenacity makes him an interesting prospect in the late first round.
No. 21: Keyontae Johnson, Florida
Bio: Junior forward, 6-foot-5, 229 pounds, 19.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.0 BPG
There could be something special to Johnson, who continues to just rise every year. In 2018, he was the No. 70 ranked prospect in the player rankings. Each year, his numbers go up, including a 5-point increase offensively. Before he ever stepped foot on campus, he had a 41.5-inch vertical and a 7-foot-2 wingspan. His sophomore season featured averages of 14.0 points and 7.1 rebounds. If he continues to get stronger every year, he could provide an NBA team a solid forward off the bench.
No. 20: Daisen Nix, G-League
Bio: Guard, 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, No current stats
Nix was rated as the No. 21 recruit in the Class of 2020 but elected to go with the G-League instead of going through with his initial selection with UCLA. The 6-foot-5 point guard is currently teaming up with Jalen Green, a potential top-3 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Nix is a solid athlete that has great ball-handling skills and moves well in transition. As a junior, he won the National Christian School Athletic Association Player of the Year Award. He averaged 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. As a senior, he and Green won Co-MVPs of The Grind Session, which is a winter circuit for elite high school basketball events. With a limited sample size, Nix will fall to the bottom part of the first round.
No. 19: Aaron Henry, Michigan State
Bio: Junior forward, 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, 11.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.0 BPG
Whoever gets Henry will get a steal. It seems that Michigan State is pretty great at providing an under-the-radar player that will produce at a high level. We have seen Draymond Green in the past. This year, Xavier Tillman will be the steal of the draft for the Memphis Grizzlies. Don’t sleep on the junior forward that can do just about everything. From offense to rebounding to passing, Henry is the glue of the Spartans. Henry tested the waters for the 2020 NBA Draft but elected to return after Cassius Winston and Tillman left for the NBA. As a defender, Henry can be lethal. His 4 blocks over Notre Dame, as well as 3 blocks and 3 steals against Detroit Mercy, helped the Spartans win two close games.
No. 18: Roko Prkacin, Croatia (KK Cibona)
Bio: 18 years old, Center, 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, 11.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.2 BPG
Described as a combo forward, Prkacin is an aggressive scorer that can also run the floor in transition. He has played professional basketball since the 2017-2018 season. At the U16 Euro Championships, Prkacin led Croatia to the gold medal and won the tournament MVP award. He averaged 22.8 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. In 2019, he won the MVP at the Adriatic Junior Liga ABA Youth Tournament. While his 65% free throw shooting is suspect, finding a quality big man that has handles is hard to come by these days.
No. 17: Josh Christopher, Arizona State
Bio: Freshman forward, 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, 17.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.0 BPG
Christopher has the potential to climb in these rankings as the year progresses. He is a natural scorer that averaged 29.4 points per game in high school, which was the best among all seniors in the nation according to MaxPreps. Against a tough-nosed Villanova squad, Christopher went off for 28 points and shot 3 of 5 from three-point range. We haven’t even seen him play against the conference yet. Before the season, Christopher was a stretch first-rounder. Now, he is a middle first-rounder. What will he be in March?
No. 16: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, 22.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 0.2 BPG
Dosunmu is on pace to be the first Illinois basketball player taken in the first round since Meyers Leonard in 2012. The Preseason All-American has shown that he has the potential to be a top-10 pick. In two of his biggest games this season, Dosunmu finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists in a loss to No. 2 ranked Baylor. He followed that up by leading Illinois with 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists in a win over No. 10 ranked Duke. Once the Big 10 Conference games begin, we will get our final answer on if Ayo is a top-10 or top-20 player in the draft.
No. 15: Jared Butler, Baylor
Bio: Junior guard, 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, 15.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 0.8 BPG
Butler has a sensational sophomore season that put him on the All-American team radar. Butler averaged 16.0 points and 3.1 assists. He had the Bears poised to make a deep run in the playoffs until COVID-19 wiped away March Madness. This season, Baylor is No. 2 in the nation, and his assists have shot up by over one per game. He has also made real strides as an outside shooter, shooting 47.3% from the three-point range. He is also a great defender by averaging 2.3 steals per game.
No. 14: Moses Moody, Arkansas
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-6, 205 pounds, 16.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.4 BPG
Moody could be the best 3-and-D wing in the draft. At Montverde Academy, the No. 1 ranked high school team in the country by Maxpreps last season, he finished with a steal percentage of 3.1%, which was ranked fourth-best among all Nike EYBL players. Moody shoots 40% from the three-point range and 47.1% inside the arc. It may be early in the season, but Moody is raved for his defense. He could provide teams a player in comparison to Avery Bradley, who has been a serviceable player in the NBA for many years.
No. 13: Ziare Williams, Stanford
Bio: Freshman forward, 6-foot-8, 185 pounds, 9.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.8 BPG
Some believe that Williams is the best shooter in the nation, but he is off to a slow start producing that. On the AAU circuit, Williams averaged 28.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. That success has not transpired over to Stanford just yet, but the No. 8 overall recruit in the ESPN 100 has times to shine. He is not shy about pulling up from three-point range, but the 26.3% shooting clip has to improve if NBA teams are going to take him seriously. Williams could be a product of the slow start due to the pandemic. If he heats up during the cold months, his ceiling is as high as a top-10 pick in the draft.
No. 12: Luka Garza, Iowa
Bio: Senior center, 6-foot-11, 255 pounds, 29.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 3.0 BPG
Many mock drafts peg Garza as a second-round pick or borderline first-round pick. Not here. Garza is a sure-fire first-round pick and is definitely one of the top-15 basketball players in this draft. How can a center that is nearly averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds each night not be in the conversation. Granted, these numbers are inflated for now because of non-conference play. However, Garza showed he is a top player in the nation after a 16-point, 14-rebound effort in No. 3 Iowa’s win over No. 14 North Carolina. Also, despite a limited sample size, Garza is shooting over 55% from three-point range. Former NCAA Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough was taken No. 13 when he came out. With similar skills, Garza will be around these parts in the draft.
No. 11: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
Bio: Senior guard, 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, 22.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.3 BPG
Kispert is one of the best three-point shooters in the country. He is shooting 45% from three-point range and has proven that he can play against the best competition in the nation. Against No. 6 ranked Kansas, Kispert finished with 23 points and then added 19 points and 5 rebounds against No. 11 ranked West Virginia. He is one of the best shooters off the dribble handoff, as well as when he comes off screens. He could be this year’s version of Duncan Robinson.
No. 10: Usman Garuba, Spain (Real Madrid)
Bio: 18 years old, Forward/Center, 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, 3.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.8 BPG
Before you start screaming at the computer because you looked at the lackluster offensive numbers, just keep reading. Garuba was playing high-quality minutes in the Euroleague at the age of 17. In 2018-2019, Garuba averaged 20.3 points, 16.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes. While that may have been in just two games, there is still no denying the potential that is there. However, it’s his defense that scouts love about him. In the U18 Tournament, he boasted the second-best defensive rating (70.0) among participants in the tournament. The numbers are not flashy, but the raw potential is what makes him an option in the top-10.
No. 9: Jaden Springer, Tennessee
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-4, 204 pounds, 6.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.0 APG, 0.0 BPH
Springer has played just one game this season against Colorado. Rick Barnes is easing Springer into the rotation. On the AAU circuit, Springer averaged 24.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. That led him to being the No. 17 rated prospect in the ESPN 100. In high school, he led the IMG Academy to win the Geico High School National Championship in 2019 during his junior season. While he may not be making an immediate impact right now, keep an eye out for this name. Springer will be in the conversation for being in the top-10.
No. 8: Cam Thomas, LSU
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, 22.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.0 BPG
Thomas shot 40% from three-point range and started the season with three straight 20-point games. His past shows that he can be one of the best pure shooters in the country. In AAU, he averaged 30.7 points and 5.1 rebounds. In high school, he was the leading scorer at 26 points per game for Oak Hill that also included 2020 first-rounder Cole Anthony. During his senior year, he averaged 31.5 points per game. In 2019, he led the entire AAU circuit with 29.1 points per game and was the EYBL Offensive Player of the Year. Teams love a guard that can shoot. As long as Thomas keeps this up in the SEC, his stock could grow even higher.
No. 7: BJ Boston, Kentucky
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-7, 185 pounds, 14.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.0 BPG
Despite possessing at 16.7% three-point shooting percentage through the first four games of the season, teams will still love Boston. For starters, he is an above-average rebounder for a skinny guard. Once he is able to put on a few more pounds of muscle, he could be the complete package. Before this season, he was one of the best perimeter shooters, which is what led him to being ranked No. 7 overall in the ESPN 100. While his jump shot has gotten off to a slow start, make no mistake that Boston is a top-10 pick. For a slender frame, Boston averaged nearly 25 points and 9 rebounds on the AAU circuit. He has star potential.
No. 6: Scottie Barnes, Florida State
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-9, 227 pounds, 8.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 0.0 BPG
Do not let the stats sway you away from the play of Barnes. The No. 5 overall recruit in the 2020 ESPN 100 is a complete package. For many of the same reasons Patrick Williams went No. 4 overall in this year’s draft, Barnes should be close to a top-5 pick this year. He has played in just two games, but he is going to flirt with a triple-double every night. The numbers are not going to be flashy because the CSU system is by committee. When Barnes is on the floor, he is going to produce numbers like Draymond Green in the NBA. If Barnes is allowed to play the full contest, his AAU numbers speak for themselves. He averaged 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists.
No. 5: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, 13.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.3 APG, 0.7 BPG
Suggs is another example of someone who could be much higher in this list when it hits springtime. For starters, he was one of the best high school players coming out of 2020. He finished high school as a three-time state champion and it probably would have been four times if COVID-19 didn’t stop the playoffs. Suggs was the No. 6 rated recruit in the ESPN 100 for good reason. In the U17 Under Armour Association, he recorded the highest assist-percentage (38.6%) out of anyone that played. He already owns a 24 points, 8 assists performance against No. 5 ranked Kansas this year. His offense is not consistent and it goes back and forth in the teens. If Suggs wants to rise, he has to consistently put borderline 20-point games together. He has the potential, so keep an eye out for his box scores.
No. 4: Jonathan Kuminga, G-League
Bio: 18 years old, Forward, 6-foot-8, 209 pounds, no current stats
The No. 4 overall recruit in the 2020 Class decided to forego his senior season of high school and turned pro. He possesses the skill, size, and athleticism that will gain him top-5 attention. In AAU, he averaged 26.5 points per game. He has grown his game to the three-point shot and is a quality defender. Kuminga probably could help an NBA team right now, but instead he gets to learn under former Laker and Nuggets coach Brian Shaw.
No. 3: Jalen Green, G-League
Bio: 18 years old, Guard, 6-foot-5, 180 pounds, no current stats
Green was the No. 1 rated recruit in 2020 and elected to sign with the G-League. Even though the G-League’s season is up in the air, there is plenty of talent to support that Green could play on an NBA team right now. Green is a three-time FIBA Junior Team gold medalist. He won Tournament MVP at the U17 World Cup in 2018. Green is one of the best overall slashers with a flawless shooting touch. Last season at Prolific Prep in Napa, California, he averaged 31.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and led the team to a 31-3 overall record. Prolific Prep won the Grind Session World Championship, and Green set the school’s single-season scoring record with 1,008 points. Some kids dream of scoring their 1,000th career point. Green needed just one season.
No. 2: Evan Mobley, USC
Bio: Freshman forward, 7-foot-0, 210 pounds, 17.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.2 APG, 3.0 BPG
Mobley was the No. 3 rated recruit in the Class of 2020 and has the potential to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The stat that is left off the board is his 44% shooting clip from three-point range. Mobley is the complete package and will contribute with an NBA team right away. How many seven-footers do you see consistently nail the perimeter shot? With a 7-foot-5 wingspan, 40-inch vertical, and a plethora of raw talent still waiting to be unleashed, one lucky NBA team is going to be happy with this player.
No. 1: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Bio: Freshman guard, 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, 20.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.0 BPG
Cunningham is simply incredible. From his high school stats to his AAU averages, he is just the best player in the country. Cunningham won Naismith Prep Player of the Year and MaxPreps National Player of the Year last season. In high school, opponents were beaten by an average of 40 points per game. In AAU, he averaged 29.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and was named Nike EYBL MVP. He helped lead Team USA to a gold medal at the U19 World Cup in 2019. This is a one and done scenario at OSU. How far can Cunningham carry this team?