We’re nearly two months into the college basketball season, and most teams — outside of DePaul and a handful of other major conference programs that have been derailed by COVID-19 hurdles — have played a large-enough sample of games to allow us time to form early opinions about the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft Class. So today, we’re introducing our first prospect rankings for the 2021 draft with a look of our Top 50 Big Board.
In our debut of the Big Board, Oklahoma State freshman point guard Cade Cunningham is No. 1, edging out Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs. Cunningham leads the Big 12 this season in points per game, yet it’s his elite court vision, positional size advantage and ability to impact both ends of the court that makes him our clear-cut top prospect. Cunningham has very few warts in his game, and though he’s been turnover-prone and struggled with foul trouble of late, he projects as a potential franchise-altering addition for one franchise looking to add a modern-day playmaker. As one scout told me months ago in the lead-up to the 2020 NBA Draft, he’d likely have been the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft had he been eligible. He’s long been on the draft radar and there’s endless optimism that the solid start to his college career bodes well for his NBA prospects with a better supporting cast.
Suggs comes in at No. 2 after a red-hot start to his season that’s seen his draft stock surge. A 6-foot-4 combo guard, he has every tool in his bag you want from a top prospect — from playmaking, to scoring, to a competitive spirit that oozes out of his game. He has always been seen as a difference-maker because of his physicality and ability to make things happen off the bounce, but his shot-making skills on top it all have elevated him into the top tier of prospects. He’s hitting 40.6% of his 3-point attempts this season and rates in the 96th percentile as a producer in the pick-and-roll, per Synergy data, making him a perfectly projectable lead guard for the next level and deserving of being included in the same top tier as Cunningham at this juncture of the season.
Below is our full Top 50 rankings, but first, an expansive look at 1-10 on our rankings.
1. Cade Cunningham | 6-8, 220 | PG | Fr. | Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State is 3-3 in Big 12 play and with a win over No. 6 Kansas on its resume after an upset on Tuesday keyed by Cade Cunningham. He had a team-high 18 points in the win to go with seven rebounds and three assists, but it was his defense and IQ late — in which he blocked a potential go-ahead jumper, saved the pass flying out of bounds then delivered a pass that lead to a transition bucket — that really altered the final outcome.
Cunningham entered the season as the No. 1 prospect with a bullet, and while I think there will — and probably should — be some skepticism crowning him as the consensus No. 1 this early, I feel comfortable for now having him here. His assist numbers aren’t great and his turnover numbers are alarming, but he makes incredible one-handed whip passes and reads defenses before they know what hit them — and sometimes before his teammates are aware of what’s happening. When he has the benefit of NBA spacing and NBA-caliber teammates the concern about his passing chops will quickly wane.
2. Jalen Suggs | 6-5, 205 | PG | Fr. | Gonzaga
On a star-studded, experienced Gonzaga team, freshman Jalen Suggs isn’t required to be a super-producer every night. And yet he’s still averaging 13.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists for the Bulldogs this season, with a PER pushing 30.
There were very few questions about Suggs entering this season because of his ability to create offense and his next-level competitiveness, and yet he’s still managed to earn believers and rise up team’s big boards along the way because of how convincingly he’s played. The shot looks very real and sustainable, which was one question mark, and his passing this season has been nothing short of spectacular. Sure, his assist numbers may be inflated a bit — he’s on a team with the No. 1 offense in America — but the vision and feel he’s displayed has been sensational. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the college season to date.
3. Jalen Green | 6-5, 172 | SG | G League Ignite
We’ve yet to see Jalen Green this season, as the G League Ignite team he’s on has yet to start its season and practices to this point have been held exclusively in private settings. But what we know about Green is enough for now to keep him at No. 3 on our board ahead of Evan Mobley. He’s an athletic marvel and shot-hunter whose talent at every level he’s played at — including on the Olympic circuit — have been validated. He was the MVP of the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup, in which he led USA in scoring despite being the youngest player on the team. And, as a senior, he averaged 31.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game for Prolific Prep.
4. Evan Mobley | 7-0, 215 | C | Fr. | USC
I tend to downgrade big men because of their diminishing value in the NBA, but I can do no such thing with Evan Mobley. That’s because he’s not a big man — at least not exclusively; he’s an alien who does big man things with the skill and fluidity of a wing. He’s a walking double-double whose length is terrorizing on defense and whose skill set as a shot-creator and general offensive weapon is only just scratching the surface of his full potential. He’s put together three consecutive double-doubles for the Trojans over the last three games, all three of which were wins. And he’s now posted consecutive six-block outings during that span, too.
5. Jonathan Kuminga | 6-8, 205 | SF | G League Ignite
Like Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga is also on the G League Ignite team. Which means, like Green, we’ve yet to see Kuminga in a competitive setting this year and practices thus far have been held exclusively in private settings. But Kuminga’s pedigree — again, like Green! — is keeping him afloat here. He’s a 6-foot-8, big-bodied wing who projects as a two-way weapon at the next level. He can create off the bounce and has the frame and skill to warrant this placement. He could rise higher dependent upon how the shot looks when the G League season starts next month, how hot his motor looks and what type of playmaking chops — if any — he’s able to put on display.
6. Greg Brown | 6-9, 205 | F | Fr. | Texas
There’s been some inconsistency in Brown’s start to his freshman season, but the flashes he’s already shown as a creator, driver and shot-maker combined with his athleticism has me giddy about what’s ahead when he starts putting things together on a consistent basis. What he did against Oklahoma State — dropping 24 points, 14 points and going 3-of-7 from 3-point range while showing some craft with his handle — is what he could become on a nightly basis. He’s still a work in progress, to be sure; for instance, he has just one assist all season to 26 turnovers. But at some point in this draft teams are going to want to bet on upside and Brown, at 6-9 with a wing skill set, fits the bill.
7. Jalen Johnson | 6-9, 220 | SF | Fr. | Duke
It’s been a bummer-of-a-season for Jalen Johnson, Duke’s top NBA prospect thus far. He started the season on a high note, scoring 19 points, grabbing 19 boards and dropping five dimes in a season-opener against Coppin State. But his production tailed off as nonconference play wore on, then a foot injury cost him a full month. I’m still slotting him in the top 10 for now despite him being out of the spotlight of late, though, just because his playmaking chops as a big wing are special. When he gets out in transition and runs the break is when he really shines.
8. Moses Moody | 6-6, 205 | SG | Fr. | Arkansas
Coming off a career-high 25 points against Georgia, Moses Moody this season at Arkansas has proven to be precisely the prospect many expected: A sharpshooting wing who can knock down 3-pointers at a high clip and defends with tenacity. He’s converting at a 40% clip from 3-point range and making 38% in catch-and-shoot situations in the halfcourt overall. On defense, he’s one of only three freshmen this season — along with DJ Steward and Kadary Richmond — who is averaging at least 1.3 steals and 0.6 blocks per game.
9. James Bouknight | 6-5, 190 | SF | Soph. | UConn
A 6-5 shooting guard/wing, James Bouknight has been one of college basketball’s biggest sophomore star turns. He’s averaging 20.3 points and 5.3 boards per game for UConn and emerged as a very legitimate lottery prospect. He’s long had NBA athleticism to bolster his next-level prospects but his shot making has been elevated to a new level, and his efficiency this season has basically stayed static despite now taking much more attempts — many of which are now tougher as he operates as UConn’s No. 1 option. He’s a very easily projectable wing with good length and an immediately valuable skill as a creator, particularly off the ball.
10. David Johnson | 6-5, 210 | PG | Soph. | Louisville
I had David Johnson No. 10 in my way-too-early mock draft last summer. I’ve always been a bit high on him because of his lead guard abilities, good size, feel, and defensive chops. His overall vision as a passer has been quite good this season, too. He needs to cut down on the turnovers to really validate him — it’s hard to pitch Johnson as a lead guard if he’s committing as many turnovers as he is assists — but I’m buying basically everything else about his game, including what looks like an improved outside shot, which was one of the big question marks entering his sophomore season. He’s making 45.7% from 3-point range a season removed from hitting just 21.7% from distance.
2021 NBA Draft Big Board
|1||Cade Cunningham||Oklahoma State||PG||FR||6-8||220|
|3||Jalen Green||G League||SG||G League||6-5||172|
|5||Jonathan Kuminga||G League||SF||G League||6-8||205|
|11||Scottie Barnes||Florida State||SF||FR||6-9||227|
|13||Daishen Nix||G League||PG||G League||6-5||205|
|15||Brandon Boston Jr.||Kentucky||SG||FR||6-7||185|
|17||Terrence Shannon Jr.||Texas Tech||SG||SOPH||6-6||210|
|18||Josh Christopher||Arizona State||SG||FR||6-5||215|
|23||Miles McBride||West Virginia||PG||SOPH||6-2||200|
|25||Day’Ron Sharpe||North Carolina||C||FR||6-11||265|
|26||Marcus Bagley||Arizona State||SF||FR||6-8||215|
|29||Usman Garuba||Real Madrid||PF||6-8||229|
|31||Jalen Wilson||Kansas||SF||RS FR||6-8||215|
|42||Aaron Henry||Michigan State||SF||JR||6-6||210|
|43||Charles Bassey||Western Kentucky||C||JR||6-11||235|
|46||Ron Harper Jr.||Rutgers||SF||JR||6-6||245|
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