IS CADE CUNNINGHAM A SLAM DUNK AS THE TOP PICK IN 2021?

After personally seeing Cade Cunningham dominate the 2019 FIBA Under 19 World Cup as a rising high school senior, I penciled him in as the top prospect in the 2021 NBA Draft 2 years before he was even draft eligible. We're now months away from the much anticipated 21 draft and Cunningham is the early favorite to hear his name called first by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

But is he a lock to be selected #1?

 

Gonzaga freshman point guard Jalen Suggs had an impressive start to his college career with a 24 point and 8 assist (with only 1 turnover) performance vs Kansas on Thanksgiving Day. Suggs suffered a scary lower leg injury in his 3rd game and Gonzaga has had 5 of their first 8 games cancelled due to COVID, but the 6'4" 205 pound Minnesota Mr. Basketball and Football has solidified himself as top 5 pick after and potential threat to overtake Cunningham as the top prospect. 

But some don't even believe he's the best Jalen in this draft class. Jalen Green was arguably the #1 high school player in 2020 and chose to bypass college to play in the NBA G-League. 

I have so many questions about the G-League path program, and in my opinion the league is going to do whatever they can to protect the draft stock of the players that elected to turn down college scholarships in favor of alternative route to the NBA.

Green is a 6'5" skilled high flyer that is known for scoring points in bunches and should compete with fellow California native USC freshman center Evan Mobley as a candidate to be the top pick. Mobley was once considered the top ranked college recruit in his class and dropped due to the emergence of Cunningham and Green due to concerns about his motor and toughness. So far this season, Mobley has displayed his upside as a rim protecting inside/outside presence with high level court vision and passing instincts. 

It's still very early in the season, so other names like Jonathan Kuminga (G-League) and Duke's Jalen Johnson could see their draft value increase but it will be a tough task to jump ahead of Cunningham, Suggs, Green and Mobley...

Rafael Barlowe - December 18, 2020

DAYS UNTIL 2020 NBA DRAFT 

NBA DRAFT JUNKIES PODCAST

Jalen Suggs - Gonzaga

Jalen Green - G-League

Evan Mobley - USC

TOP RETURNING PROSPECTS

LUKA GARZA  | 6'11" 265 LBS | CENTER | SENIOR | IOWA 

 

Garza's NBA fit may be questionable, but there's no denying his dominance on the college level. He lacks ideal athleticism and the mobility to be an effective defender, he could fine a role as a situational big similar to Boban Marjanović or Enes Kanter. He's a strong wide bodied throwback center with a high motor and improving shooting touch. As a junior he shot 35.8% from deep and made 39 three's in 31 games. I personally did not see Udoka Azubiuke as a 1st round pick and Utah selected him at 27 in the 2020 NBA Draft, so there's a chance Garza would sneak into first round or even go undrafted. 

DALANO BANTON  | 6'9" 205 LBS | POINT GUARD  | SOPHOMORE | NEBRASKA 

 

Dalano Banton was not on my list of NBA prospects heading into this season, but it only took a couple of game for him to be considered one of my top prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft. Banton is a 6'9'" point guard (yes, you read that correctly) that fills the stat sheet and is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Banton has the ball handling and aggressive mindset to attack slower bigs off the dribble, while also being able to post smaller guards and make plays for teammates passing out of double teams. I don't know if point guard is his long term position in the NBA, but his versatility fits the modern position less NBA and could become a playmaking 4. He'll need to improve as a shooter to unlock his full potential, but Banton has a unique blend of size and skills that should make him one of the most intriguing prospects in college basketball.

JAMES BOUKNIGHT  | 6'5" 190 LBS | SHOOTING GUARD  | SOPHOMORE | UCONN

 

Bouknight is one of the top returning prospects in college basketball after a promising freshman campaign where he averaged over 13 points per game on 46% shooting. Bouknight is a more of a scorer than a shooter and has a high upside as an shot creator. He has all the physical tools to excel on the next level with his athleticism, ball handling and offensive creativity. He occasionally flashes passing instincts but will need to cut down on his turnovers as he had more turnovers than assists as a freshman. 

JASON PRESTON  | 6'4" 190 LBS | POINT GUARD  | JUNIOR | OHIO

Jason Preston averaged 16.8 points 7.4 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game on 51.5 shooting while knocking down 40.7% of his 3's as a sophomore and very few people noticed his production. Preston's under the radar profile changed on November 27, 2020 when he posted a 31 point 8 assist 6 rebound and zero turnover game vs a nationally ranked Illinois team. Preston has an amazing story on how he went from unknown and unrecruited high schooler to NBA prospect in 4 years. He has good size at 6'4" and is argubably the best pick & roll passer in all of college basketball and plays a style of play similar to Lonzo and LaMelo Ball mixed with efficient shooting from deep. 

Through his first 6 games he's shooting a blistering 59% from the floor and 52% from deep, if he can keep up this production he'll see his name move up draft boards.

DREW TIMME  | 6'10" 235 LBS | CENTER  | SOPHOMORE | GONZAGA

I've been following Drew Timme since he was an 8th grader in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, Texas and now I'm writing about him as an NBA prospect. Timme had a solid but not spectacular freshman campaign where he averaged around 10 points and 5 rebounds on 62% shooting in a little over 20 minutes per game on a deep Gonzaga team. 

I had a chance to watch him play pick basketball a few times this summer and expected him to have a breakout sophomore season in Spokane. What I did not expect was him to morph into a young Kevin McHale in the Zags two early season victories over Kansas and Auburn. He displayed advanced footwork, soft touch and an arsenal of low post moves. Already a gifted passer out of the post, the next step for Timme is to become a consistent threat from deep to improve his draft stock.

Drew did not have a 1st round grade on most mock drafts coming into the season, but I expect him to rise up draft boards as the season progresses.

TERRENCE SHANNON, JR. | 6'6" 210 LBS | WING  | SOPHOMORE | TEXAS TECH

Texas Tech sophomore Terrence Shannon, Jr is a phenomenal athlete that fits the mold of the modern day NBA 3 & D wing. At this point in his development he's not a consistent shooter from deep, but his upside as a shooter is promising with his soft shooting touch and efficiency at the charity stripe. 

Shannon, Jr excels in the open floor where he can showcase his speed, athleticism and highlight reel dunks.

In my opinion he plays more like an undersized 4 than a traditional wing as he seems to prefer scoring around the rim and through contact. He has a nice pull up/mid range jumper and has the tools to become a really good slasher on straight line drives to the rim.

The main area for development is his 3 point shooting. He's shown flashes (4-7 from deep vs Kansas on 12/17/20) of becoming a threat from deep, but he's still too reluctant to pull the trigger in my opinion. 

Texas Tech has a nice run of producing NBA draft picks in the last 4 years and Terrence Shannon, Jr could be the next to hear his name called by Adam Silver on draft day.

RECENTLY ADDED PROFILES

LUKA GARZA  | SENIOR | CENTER | IOWA

DALANO BANTON | SOPH | POINT GUARD | NEBRASKA

JAMES BOUKNIGHT | SOPH | SHOOTING GUARD | UCONN

JASON PRESTON | JUNIOR | POINT GUARD | OHIO

DREW TIMME | SOPH | CENTER | GONZAGA

TERRENCE SHANNON, JR | SOPH | TEXAS TECH