Admittedly, I’m not much of a big board guy. It’s too tough to sort out all the different team philosophies or at least, sort out players best players available from best to worst, with so many different developmental contexts.
I’ll start with players that I may project as high as lottery and haven’t mentioned too much before. In other mock drafts, they may be projected mid-1st round and later.
Lottery to 1st-Round Types
Jalen Johnson - Here’s a 6’9”+ combo wing with a foundation of ball-handling, passing, and defensive ability. If he had a clearer path to scoring in the halfcourt, I’d likely have him Top-10. He’s not a shot creator, but can create advantages in the halfcourt through his passing ability, or extend advantages. It’s just tough to do without any real perimeter scoring gravity or as a drive threat. But, I’ll always like wing-sized players that can dribble and pass.
Ziaire Williams - Ziaire is a Los Angeles local wing that’s capable in the two most critical ways at the NBA level, pull up jump-shooting and defensive ability in terms of forcing turnovers. I may think he has a longer road in terms of building strength overall, core strength into his shot, and expanding upon his playmaking, but because he’s in the process of one of the most vital NBA skills in pull up jump shooting off the dribble, the upside is easier to project.
Sharife Cooper - I can’t help but shake that he’s a 2021 Rod Strickland. If the Lakers didn’t have such an obvious weakness as a team in terms of overall shooting, he’d likely be my best player available next to Jaden Springer, both guys I have as lottery talents. He has a certain craft in terms of his ball-handling, and especially with passing off-the-dribble, that earns him a ton of opportunities just getting into the paint and attracting the defense. Imagine, a 6’ player, that isn’t exactly giant, with a .560 free throw rate and a 52% assist rate. If he could unlock any real baseline of shooting with consistent mechanics, like Jaden Springer and Jalen Johnson, he’d also easily be Top 10, if not Top 6.
Rokas Jokubaitis - Admittedly, I can’t shake the Goran Dragic vibes, and not just because they’re lefty playmakers. Jokubaitis has a high motor out of pick-and-roll situations that tends to leave defenses guessing, and adds craft in terms of head fakes and ball-handling ability to get to the rim. Touch around the rim? He’s got that. He’s a capable advanced passer out of the pick-and-roll setting, while also being a three level threat. I actually appreciate the fact that he’s comfortable pulling up from mid-range. I just wish he could play defense at a higher level.
Late 1st Round into 2nd Round Types
Herbert Jones - It feels like every year, there’s at least one defensive specialist that I’ll take a liking too, despite a lack of skill on offense. But when a player is 6’6” w/o shoes with a 7’ wingspan and an 8’10” standing reach with defensive ability, it’ll make me like him as a prospect that much more. Herbert Jones is a guy that looks perfectly comfortable switching from point guards to power forwards defensively. He’s got the standing reach of a power forward, a lower center gravity than most wings, and uses his verticality well in terms of being in position on the floor, as well as protecting the rim. This is the kind of guy you want to throw in pick-and-roll situations defensively and have no issues switching, hard hedging, breaking even with the level of the screen, or even drop coverage. Did I mention he has an NCAA career steal rate of 3% and block rate of 3.2%? I like impactful players that can facilitate to scoring types in the league, and don’t need a ton of usage. He’s one of those players.
Austin Reaves - Man, I enjoy watching him play. Austin Reaves is a guy that goes hard on offense. As a 6’4.5” (w/o shoes) initiator, he seeks out every opportunity to punch a hole through the defense and get to the rim. I think he’s a potential steal pick here, even at his age at 23. He took more spot up 3-point shots at Wichita State and had a True Shooting Percentage over 62% through two years, then changed his archetype into a lead initiator for Oklahoma, into a dive bomber that looks like he wants to lead the league in drives per game. Initially, he doesn’t look athletic, but he uses every bit of his size, ball-handling ability, and athleticism to get .46 and .54 free throw rates, which are excellent markers for NCAA guards. He may not have a great steal rate or block rate, and I think he’s fine defensively, maybe a bit underrated, but if you told me there’s a player that changed his archetype, his attack style, had increased responsibilities on offense, and finished with a 58% True Shooting percentage on the other side, I’m definitely paying attention. There are even reasons to be optimistic with his shooting with 47% field goal shooting at all other 2-point ranges outside of the rim, and consistent 84.4% free throw shooting throughout his collegiate career. I just wish he had more craft finishing around the paint.
Joel Ayayi - I wish he handled screen coverages more physically. Ayayi is one of the kings of off-ball movement, if not, “The King.” This past season, he upped his 3-point shooting ability to 39%. He punishes opponents for going behind on screens as well. This ability, combined with his off-ball movement, gives him the kind of gravity that is almost strangely Stephen Curry-like at the NCAA level. While that may sound like an exaggeration, 4th or 5th option type players shouldn’t be able to draw that kind of defensive attention, but he actually does. How good is Ayayi off-the-ball?
Here’s a series of stat lines:
Even when he was more of a primary initiator in the ‘19-’20 season for Gonzaga, he still had 39% of his total shots at the rim.
The guy just plays without the basketball well, gets a ton of defensive rebounds for a guard, doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, and completes simple decisions well. All of those qualities are just so important for a role player, but especially next to prime-time initiators like LeBron James.
More Late 1st-Round to Mid 2nd-Round Types
Jericho Sims - Sims was covered before and recently signed with Klutch Sports. I just wanted to mention him again, only because pick-and-roll bigs that have a modicum of ability to switch defensively, rebound well, and have an idea about protecting the rim, while being able to out-leap everyone on the NBA floor, should have a ton more value. Just because his role is simple in terms of decision-making, doesn’t mean he can’t do that particular role very well. A ton of his value hinges on his ability to do the small things in terms of dribble hand-off situations, screen well, and box-out without drawing fouls. If he’s able to do those things, chances are, he can stay on the floor at the NBA level.
Aaron Henry - He’s a right handed player, that shoots left-handed, but has the form of a right-handed player. He doesn’t have the shoulder-lean like most left-handed players do, and his shoulders are always square to the hoop evenly when he’s in a catch-and-shoot situation. Henry shoots 56.1% at the rim, which isn’t great, especially when he shows great dexterity with finishing with either hand. What is worth noting though, is his 45.1% 2-point field goal shooting at all other areas inside the arc. That is a very high mark, even if 41.8% of those shots are assisted. He’s a prototypical 3-and-D wing type, that for whatever reason, isn’t seen to have a wealth of upside, but at the same time, he does things on both ends of the floor that all teams would covet. He’s got a great motor defensively, takes good shots, attacks closeouts, and has a solid 6’4.5” (w/o shoes) height with a 6’10.75” wingspan and a standing reach of 8’7.5”, which seems to be the definitive standard size of modern NBA shooting guards. Did I mention that last season he averaged a 25.2% assist rate, 2.4% steal rate, and a 4.1% block rate?
Sam Hauser - At some point, I’m just looking for that one NBA skill. Sam Hauser has that. He can shoot.
68.4% finishing at the rim/34.6% assisted
56.3% all other 2-point ranges/32.8% assisted
41.7% 3-point shooting/51.7% of total shots are 3-point shots
89.6% free throw shooting
We’re not looking for upside or the ability to create. We’re just looking at a player that can shoot, and maybe, just has enough size to compete defensively without being an absolute liability on the floor.
But Wait, There’s More
Derrick Alston Jr. - Boise State player is wing sized, confident in his 3-point shot, and solid ball-handling ability. While he doesn’t have a ton of defensive “stock” rates, several things stand out to me.
26.5% USG through four years at Boise State
73.5% field goal shooting at the rim, 60.5% assisted
50.3% of his total shot attempts are from 3-point range
81% free throw shooting through four years at Boise State
14.3% assist rate through four years at Boise State
15.3% turnover rate through four years at Boise State
So, in terms of interpreting just these statistics alone, it’s a bit puzzling to see a guy with that kind of usage rate, yet still having that many assisted shots at the rim and converting at a high level. There are also initial indicators with his ascending 3-point accuracy and proven shooting ability from the free throw line. Then, 15.3% turnover rate isn’t outrageously good or bad, despite being an initiator and an off-ball player as well. This is the kind of player that I’d love to see play for the South Bay Lakers, gain some strength, and then be the ultimate plug-and-play type of power forward offensively with 3-point shooting gravity and off-ball gravity as well.
EJ Onu - It’s possible he gets drafted into the second round, but EJ Onu is a player with interesting tools. How can you ignore these player measurements in a guy that shot 40% behind the arc last season for Shawnee State?
He’s 21 years old, protects the rim, and is a major lob target. He may be a late bloomer to basketball, but he would be super fun to watch on a South Bay Lakers team. He’s mostly a two-footed jumper, shows some explosiveness, and could use a more incremental development curve considering he played at lower level competition at the NCAA level. I can’t help but shake the idea that if he gains strength, isn’t a turnover prone player, and just sticks too rim protection, lob finishing, and continues to develop his perimeter shooting, he has a shot of sticking in the league.
The Lakers have been successful in finding gems. Alex Caruso is the most notable name, but even players like Jemerrio Jones (who I absolutely feel should be in the league), Devontae Cacok, even down to Travis Wear getting some useful minutes at the NBA level, all got quality experience at the G-League level. The hardest part really, is finding a guy that’ll accelerate the learning curve at the G-League level, develop their bodies into NBA level strength, and have the upside to make the league.
In the end, it’s just so tough to make the NBA. I like all of these players for a variety of reasons, and really, I’d love to see all draft eligible players find their way to find successful careers in basketball, whether it’s the NBA, NBL, or other places internationally. Every player works so hard just to get to this level in the first place. I’d love to see them all be rewarded for it.
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