NBA Draft: Sleepers & Enigmas

The 2021 NBA Draft (July 29) is rapidly approaching and as all the draft day scenarios begin to play out, we wanted to take a look at six prospects we feel are going to be steals in this year’s draft and six we feel will are the biggest risk-reward players. Will they pan out?

This year’s NBA Draft is supposed to field one of the deepest crop of impact players in recent memory. Which teams will make the right decisions in the lottery? Make sure to check out our special NBA Draft “In The Paint” podcast , Devin Ugland’s NBA Draft Board watch our second annual Ballislife NBA Draft Party on July 29 at 6:15 pm ET/3:15 PT to get our insight before the draft and as the top picks unfold.

RELATED: NBA Draft podcast | Ballislife NBA Draft Board | Ballislife Podcast Network

Devin Ugland’s NBA Draft Day Steals

Jared Butler, Baylor (Junior), 6-3 PG (Age 20)
Projected Pick: No. 30
Butler proved that not only could he improve individually over the course of his college career, but that he also impacts winning in high level games as he led the Bears to the 2021 NCAA Tournament title. Butler is a heady and smart lead guard who can play both on or off the ball. In his final season at Baylor, Butler shot 41.6 percent from three-point range and just over 47 percent from the field overall. Guys like Butler. who are drafted to a good team late in the first round, usually end up in a good situation where they can ease into the NBA game in a back-up style role.  I’m confident Butler has the intangibles, leadership and shot making ability to be a long-term NBA guard.

Quentin Grimes, Houston (Junior), 6-5 CG (Age 21)
Projected Pick: No. 32
Though we have Grimes slotted as an early second round pick, I can see a few teams picking in the late first round who could use his services. Grimes got off to a bit of a rocky start to his college career at Kansas before transferring to Houston where he put up numbers consistent with his Top 10 ranking coming out of high school. I like Grimes to be a draft steal because he has an NBA body, showed poise in big game situations and shooting and playmaking at his size should translate well to the pro game. Something else that stands out about Grimes is the success he had after leaving Kansas with some labeling his a “bust.”

Kessler Edwards, Pepperdine (Junior), 6-8 SF (Age 21)
Projected Pick: No. 44
Edwards is one of the more unheralded prospects in this draft – both when he was coming out of high school and now coming out of college. The 6-foot-8 swingman has a ton of versatility to his game due to his combination of length, fluid athleticism and lateral mobility on the defensive end of the floor. Edwards averaged 17.2 points per game as a junior on 55.3 percent from the field, 37.8 percent from three and hit 87.6 percent of his free throws. Those are solid percentages for an inside-out type of scorer who prefers to operate in the mid-range area of the floor. NBA teams might have to be patient with his three-point shooting stroke as he gets used to the deeper line.

Ronnie Flores’ NBA Draft Day Steals

Cam Thomas, LSU (Freshman), 6-4 SG (Age 19)
Projected Pick: No. 16 

This former Oak Hill Academy (VA) standout is one of the most accomplished scorers in the draft at any pick.  Any questions about being a shoot-first, volume player at his draft position will quickly be quelled by his talent level and ability to adjust and find the right role that will maximize his potential. LSU had bouts of selfishness across the board and I think he’ll excel down the line because of his innate ability to score and draw fouls.

Miles McBride, West Virginia (Sophomore), 6-2 PG (Age 20)
Projected Pick: No. 29

I like winners and tough guards and “Deuce” foots the bill. He was way better in HS than the recruiting evaluators gave him credit for coming out of Moeller (Cincinnati, Ohio), where he was a key cog on a FAB 50 ranked team. He led teams that won back-to-back D1 states titles, had a 49-game winning streak and went 29-0 his senior year. That type of production (not to mention defense) from a team standpoint translates. In two college seasons, McBride became a viable NBA prospect by improving his shooting (shot .414 from 3-point range in 2020-21) and increasing his play-making while his turnover count remained low. Obviously size will come into play for some teams with regards to where he lands, but whom ever needs a quality back up better take a long, hard look because he makes up for his lack of size with terrific on-ball defense, athleticism, instincts and a winner’s mentality.

John Petty Jr., Alabama (Senior), 6-5 SF (Age 22)
Projected Pick: No. 58

If Petty can display solid enough ball-handling, I think he can stick in the NBA. He’s always been a good shooter (.370 3-point) and can get the ball up against good defenders. He has the ability to get hot and played with other talented scorers on a balanced Alabama team and should have no trouble being productive in what would be limited minutes if he makes a roster down the line. If Petty improves on the nuances of the game, he can be a complete steal late in this draft. I like reliability in the range he’s may get drafted at instead of taking a big gamble on a project.

Devin’s Draft Day Enigmas

Corey Kispert, Gonzaga (Senior), 6-7 G/F (Age 22)
Projected Pick: No. 11
It’s always risky when you take a specialist-type prospect with a lottery pick and Kispert is absolutely one of the best shooters in the draft. The questions with Kispert are: what else does he do well that translates to the NBA? Can he guard and rebound his position well enough to see extended minutes? At age 22 with four years of college under his belt, what type of upside is there for him? I think Kispert is valued so highly because NBA teams are putting an emphasis on players who can spread the floor with limited dribbles, and while I think Kispert would be a safe pick in the mid to late first round range, taking him in the middle to the end of the lottery could be a risky decision.

Sharife Cooper, Auburn (Freshman), 6-0 PG (Age 20)
Projected Pick: No. 19
Cooper is an enigma in two different ways: I think there’s a chance he could out-play his draft position (if selected around this projected range) or a guy who doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of a first round selection. Cooper is an extremely talented ball handler who has great feel for the game and possesses the passing instincts necessary to play the PG spot in the NBA. There are, however, questions about his size, burst in transition and with his first step, and his lackluster three-point shooting percentage from the college line (22.8 percent) in 12 games. I don’t see Cooper slipping out of the first round, but there are some shortcomings that could make NBA front offices second guess picking him.

Ziaire Williams, Stanford (Freshman), 6-8 SF (Age 19)
Projected Pick: No. 20
Williams has shown flashes of having all the tools to become a solid NBA wing, but his up-and-down season at Stanford cooled his draft stock after many believed he was a surefire lottery pick heading into the 2020-21 college basketball season. The 6-foot-8 wing averaged just 10.7 points per game in 20 games for the Cardinal and shot 37.4 percent from the field and 29.1 percent from 3-point range. In addition to those poor shooting numbers, Williams had a streak to close the season where he scored in single digits in five of his last seven games, a stretch where Stanford went 2-5.

Ronnie’s Draft Day Enigmas

Jonathan Kuminga, G League Ignite (1st Year Pro), 6-8 SF (Age 18)
Projected Pick: No. 6

Evaluating some of the G League Ignite games, Kuminga’s skill and production level simply didn’t indicate a top 4-5 pick to me. Does he have loads of potential? Absolutely, plus he’s a bit younger than a majority of the other prospects at the top of this draft. He also has the frame and explosiveness many NBA GMs cost. However, he shoots a low percentage (38.7 FG, 24.6 3-point, 62.5 FT), needs tons of work on what to do without the ball and his decision making left alot to be desired in those G League games. He does have plenty of potential, but not much experience even dominating at the high school level. Will that potential blossom? There’s would be a lot less pressure for him going at No. 6 through 8 than No. 3 or No. 4. The lower he goes, the more I like his chances for long-term success.

Scottie Barnes, Florida St. (Freshman), 6-9 SF (Age 19)
Projected Pick: No. 5

How do you pass on a guy who does so much well? And how do you NOT pass on a guy that simply can’t shoot it well enough for his on court and draft position (27.5 3-point, 62.1 FT)? You do because he can improve his shooting and the other things he excels at (leading, defense, play-making) most of the other draftees simply are not as capable and likely won’t ever be, no mater how much they work on it. I feel Barnes will be a good pro, but if he doesn’t pan out at the production level of the pick where he’s expected to go (No. 4-5), a GM will be kicking himself in the foot for overlooking the obvious.

Jalen Johnson, Duke (Freshman), 6-9 PF (Age 19)
Projected Pick: No. 14

Will he buy in and be committed to the team that drafts him, or will he excel only in a situation for a team that covets his talents and will be patient with his development? We ask that because he Johnson has one of the biggest draft ranges of any eligible prospect. To me, he has lottery type talent and the make-up of a starting caliber NBA forward, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him drop to the slot Dev currently has him listed at. There is alot of talent to work with, but not a big body of work. He didn’t have a complete senior high school season (he abruptly left IMG Academy early in the 2019-20 season) nor a complete college season (as he exited the program in a highly-publicized manner). Why is that? What will NBA teams find out when they dig deep on those incidents? Players have to be more talented than their perceived problems and it only takes one team with the right fit to unlock the best version of a talented prospect.

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