Johnson, despite playing in just 13 games for the Blue Devils in 2020-21, remains a viable Top 15 prospect in the 2021 NBA Draft. The powerful 6-foot-9 forward has a diverse game that includes enough range, strength and open floor capability. The former Phenom U AAU
product made stops at three different high schools before settling at the IMG Academy, where he never actually played. Nevertheless, Johnson -a former five-star recruit, earned a Jordan Brand Classic invitation.
In the 13 games in which Johnson did play for the team, he averaged over 11 points per game and snagged six rebounds per contest. Turnovers, however were an issue, as he posted six games with at least three.
His midseason departure has left many NBA scouts in disagreement on his final draft status. Will he continue the Blue Devils’ recent tradition of forwards going high in the first round or fall out of it altogether? We take a look back at Johnson during his AAU prep level playing days.
LSU’s Cam Thomas ended this past season as the nation’s fourth-leading scorer at 23 points per game. He has a game that combines savvy and footwork, which often ended up with him at the free throw line. Thomas shot 88-percent from the line in 2020-21 for the Tigers and that total ranked 19th nationally. Of the Top 20 players nationally in terms of free throw percentage, Thomas led the group with 220 attempts (7.58 per game) in 29 contests.
The former Oak Hill Academy (Va.) star transferred from Oscar F. Smith HS (Va.) and played for the Boo Williams AAU squad in the Nike EBYL. During his 2019 Offensive Player of the Year performance in the EBYL, he averaged nearly 30 points per game.
If you’re looking for someone to pull for in the 2021 NBA Draft, please stop at former NBA G League Ignite forward Isaiah Todd. His story is not one of redemption but it very well could be. Following a mother, Marlene Venable, who remarkably turned her life around, Todd has displayed a maturity well beyond his years.
Take this past season for instance, where despite starting just two games in the NBA’s G League (for the Ignite), he still managed to average over 12 points per game. The 6-foot-10-inch forward has a chance to develop into a legitimate contributor for the team and he will begin his journey this summer.
It would not have been a surprise to see Todd, who played with fourth overall pick Scottie Barnes on the Nightrydas Elite AAU squad back in 2019, also go in the first round of this year’s draft. He has an 8’11.5″ standing reach, runs the floor well and has potential as a long distance shooter. Despite just two starts for the NBA G League Ignite, he averaged over 12 points per game and shot an impressive 82.4% from the free throw line.
Texas forward Greg Brown III, once a five-star recruit from the same state, earned his keep during a one-year run at the school. A 24-game starter in 2020-21, Brown averaged over nine points and grabbed six rebounds per game. His high-flying antics date back to his time playing with Detroit Pistons 2021 number one overall draft pick Cade Cunningham as a member of the Texas Titans AAU squad in 2019.
Brown III actually has some wing capability and his movement complements rare explosiveness and bounce off the floor. The former Texas Gatorade Player of the Year went under 11 seconds (10.98) in the lane agility and posted a 33 1/2″ standing vertical jump at the 2021 NBA Combine.
Herbert Jones, a four-year contributor for the Crimson Tide, was one of the better defenders in the SEC over that time period. Jones slides his feet defensively, works through ball screens and consistently drew offensive fouls in school. The New Orleans Pelicans drafted him with hopes that he will continue to develop into at least a viable contributor offensively.
The SEC Player and Defensive Player of the Year uses his frame to frustrate guards or forwards on the wings. His shooting improved dramatically from beyond the arc this past season, but if there is a question mark regarding the left-hander’s game, it starts and stops on the offensive end of the court.
Mann, a former four-star recruit, took a huge leap from his freshman to sophomore season and earned first-team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches. He improved his field goal percentage by nearly 10 percentage points (.356-to-.459), his three-point percentage by nearly 13 percentage points (.275-to-.402) and averaged nearly 15 more minutes per contest.
Cunningham could become Oklahoma State’s first No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NBA Draft. The school has had just three Top 10 picks in the last 70 years (Joe Bradley-1950, Bryant Reeves-1995, Marcus Smart-2014) and the 2021 Big 12 Player of the Year is nearly a guarantee to become the fourth.
In his lone season on campus, Cunningham -a former AAU standout with the Texas Titans- averaged over 20 points per game, shot 40 percent from beyond the arc and pulled in six rebounds per contest. In addition, he shot a sparkling 85% from the free throw line. It all contributed to him being named the school’s first ever AP first-team All-American.
Kuminga, who was once ranked as the one of the top prospects in the 2021 recruiting cycle, reclassified to the 2020 class while at the prep level. After doing so, he turned down multiple collegiate offers and bypassed college altogether. The former five-star recruit signed with the NBA G League Ignite and averaged nearly 16 points per game in 2020-21 (15.8 PPG). Kuminga, a DR Congo native, has NBA and athletic bloodlines. Kuminga starred for the NY Rens in the Nike EBYL over a two-year period.
NBA Draft Prospect: N’Faly Dante C- Oregon, was one of the many athletes that the Ducks used.
Dante, a sophomore center for the Oregon Ducks, increased his production during his second season in Eugene. The NCAA cleared him late in the 2020 season after a knee injury. Dante’s minutes, points, steals, blocks and rebounds per game all increased in Year 2. A season ago (2019-20), the big man saw most of his offensive production come on lobs from Boston Celtics 2020 first round pick (26th overall) and Naismith Trophy award finalist Payton Pritchard. This year, Dante used his length and drop-step to average nine points per game on 65.6-percent shooting from the field.
Dante is a force defensively, averaging 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Most players at the Oregon center’s size (6’11, 230) aren’t nimble enough to get down in a defensive stance. But Dante sits in the chair and moves laterally on the perimeter in pick and roll situations.
Can he make it at the next level?
One question with modern bigs is can they do the little things to make it at the next level? Those include, but are not limited to: conditioning, defending without fouling and boxing out consistently. For example, look at how the Wizards use Daniel Gafford. These are some of the question marks NBA scouts will have when breaking down his game. His free throw inefficiency has also ranked as an area of concern. As well as his injury history.
Arizona State guard Josh Christopher’s ball handling continues to impress in the open court, and it has actually been an impressive part of his game since his days as a Las Vegas prepster. Early in the second half against Arizona (11-3, 5-3), Christopher used a crossover, kept his balance and then finished at the cup for a bucket while drawing the foul, eventually finishing for a three-point play (2nd Half/16:36, Arizona ’21). The former five-star recruit is averaging 16.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for a Sun Devils team that has largely disappointed in 2020-21.
Later, he ran the court and just missed an opportunity for a transition shot block due to a goal tend. On the team’s next possession he knocked down a corner three off the catch-and-shoot to tie the score at 48. If it wasn’t enough, he was seen hustling for a loose ball to try and save a ball going out of bounds in-between those sequences.
Christopher contests versus drives to the basket in transition defense without fouling, even when giving up baskets in these instances (2nd half, Arizona ’21). Fouls, however, have been an issue in his first 11 career contests, posting four or more in five games. Becoming a more efficient passer within half court sets is an area that he could also look to improve the rest of the season.
His activity has to be a factor in all phases because he isn’t efficient behind the three-point line (25%), yet shoots 45% from the field and is excellent from the free throw line (85%). As a unit, the Sun Devils have a tendency to play in spurts. After Christopher nailed a three-pointer at the 2:24 mark of the second half to put Arizona State (4-7, 1-4) up 82-77, the Wildcats ran off the last seven points of the game to close out an 84-82 victory.