2021 NBA Draft: Risers Through May

By Max Feldman

As we inch towards June, about 2 months away from the 2021 NBA Draft, the top 5 continues to strengthen it’s margin above the rest of the field. The ranges of the prospects outside the top 5 continues to grow larger as prospects like Keon Johnson, Kai Jones, Moses Moody, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Johnson have arising counter arguments or worries that make their formerly unanimously agreed upon stock much more cloudy. As evaluation heats up, six 2021 prospects headline my group of risers as their longterm appeal has grown.

Tre Mann

Cornerstone Numbers

  • 6-5 and 190 pounds
  • 90th PCTL in overall defense and 2.8% steal rate
  • 58% true shooting
  • 88th Percentile as a Pick and Roll ball handler (0.97 PPP)

Tre Mann hovered around my 15-25 range for the duration of the draft evaluation period, but is on the verge of a massive bump. Whether it is his lack of vertical athleticism or him not being a one-and-done prospect which many uses to slide him down the board, his skillset, size, massive progression from his Freshman campaign and translatable traits make him one of the cleanest prospects in the field with an undervalued upside. In his Senior year of High School at The Villages, Mann measured in at 6-3 and 165 pounds. Mann came to Gainesville at 6-4 & 172 pounds. The physical progression on it’s own was most notable on the defensive end, where Mann was able to be a more prominent lateral defender, use his instincts to poke away more steals and guard more than just the opponents smallest backcourt weapon. The defense is not flawless, as he can take unnecessary risks and being out of positions at times. In no manner am I arguing that Mann is one of the best defenders in the class, but his analytics and film suggest he may be a plus defender in the NBA and if not, at least average. In my eyes, being a passable defender is enough to give Mann legitimate lottery looks, and he’ll slot in much higher for me in June. Offensively, besides burst around the rim, there is little to none to knit-pick with Mann. The Sophomore shot 40% from three point range, 83% from the line, got to the line 3.7 times per game, dished out 3.5 assists per game (0.7 as a Freshman) with a 22% assist rate and displayed clear-cut NBA tools as a creator landing in the 88th percentile as the pick and roll ball handler and the 70th percentile in overall offense (.95 PPP). Mann has elite level feel offensively and makes up for average athleticism with a deadly change of pace, a lightning quick first step and a versatile scoring ability from deep and in the mid-range. At 6-5, Mann has displayed the ability to rebound at a high volume from the backcourt, grabbing 5.6 rebounds per game. Tre Mann has long been a polished ball handler and a gifted scorer with impressive touch, but the development as a playmaker, progression as a defender and physical growth make him a legitimate top 8 prospect for me with high level upside as an all-around creator at the next level. In addition, Mann is just 3-4 months older than one-and-done prospects, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes and Sharife Cooper.

The “Bargain Deals”

Entering June, JT Thor and Josh Primo are at the head of the snake when we talk risers. I’ve discussed the topic multiple times, but the conversation of “If he comes back, he will be a lottery pick next year” largely omits the logic of investing in the future of a franchise. For Thor, Primo and even Mathurin and Ivey to an extent, if executives see legitimate, foreseeable progress as potential lottery picks a year from now, the proactive investment would be to pour additional stock in selecting a prospect of this caliber in the 20-40 range, as it will be the lowest their stock lays. Outside of the top 10 range, the field remains extremely open to debate. Thor and Primo are prime prospects I’m willing to swing on higher than most project, as their ceiling is widely sought after and difficult to argue against. 

JT Thor

Cornerstone Numbers

  • 18 years old
  • 7-1 wingspan
  • 30% from 3 and 74% FT
  • 5.9% block rate

Thor has long been a prospect I have highly touted within the class. While he told me just 3 weeks ago that he remains “50/50” on whether he’ll keep his name in the draft, it is becoming clear there is legitimate intrigue in the first round of 2021. The Alaska native has incredibly rare skillset at 6-10 and 212 pounds. An able ball handler, a threat from deep with a smooth southpaw stroke and prominent rim defending tools and instincts. As a driver off spot up situations, Thor landed in the 99th percentile offensively. When driving right, Thor, a natural lefty, landed in the 98th percentile. There is high upside for Thor as a roll man or as a guy who can run in transition and be highly productive in the dunkers spot, as he drew 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes. Defensively, rim defense and versatility are the name of the game. Thor had the 6th highest block rate in the SEC and used his length and athleticism to swat 2.4 shots per 40 minutes. Strong lateral movement and a base to add weight, Thor can provide Nic Claxton-esque switchability in the right scheme. As conversations about coming back to Auburn for one more season come up, getting Thor in an NBA strength program a year early and solidifying the perimeter shooting skillset seems worthwhile as a longterm investment. There are plenty of raw aspects to Thor’s current skillset but has one of the more obvious cases of upside. I had a chance to speak with Thor recently, here is more.

Josh Primo

Cornerstone Numbers

  • 6-6 and 190 pounds
  • 18.3 years old
  • 93rd percentile spot up offense
  • 82nd percentile overall defense

Primo has been gaining steam over the last month as a legitimate prospect in 2021 and is one I would project as the biggest riser from now until draft night. The Canadian-born 18 year old reclassified up a year to come to Tuscaloosa, so essentially should summing up his prep career right now. The premonition behind Primo coming back to Alabama was largely because he had been playing behind John Petty, Jahvon Quinerly and multiple other high volume offensive weapons in addition to missing some time due to injury. Yet, the Crimson Tide are reloading with JD Davison and Nimari Burnett, maintaining Quinerly and Shackelford and bringing in a variety of other premier talent. Primo carries all the traits of a high level 3-and-D prospect, but there is some evidence that he has some creation tools that Nate Oats was not able to put on display. Although the Freshman started 19 out of the 30 games and played 22 minutes per game, he had the 10th highest usage rate on the roster at just 17.6%. A fluid handle and low turnover rates suggest there is more to Primo’s game than knocking down perimeter shots and attacking closeouts. Primo produced a sky high output of 1.22 PPP in spot up situations and netted 38% of his long range opportunities, in addition to be a phenomenal, timely cutter off ball. Defensively, length, quickness and athleticism provide high level optimism for Primo as a wing defender. Adding muscle to his wiry frame will be an early, but as previously mentioned with JT Thor, there is no rush to get the youngest player available on the court in year one when he technically should just be beginning his collegiate career. I mentioned Primo as a breakout candidate in the 2022 NBA Draft, but he’s trending towards my top 20 in 2021 and should have plenty of interest this year.

Jared Butler

Cornerstone Numbers

  • 98th percentile spot up offense
  • 29% assist rate
  • 86th percentile pick and roll defense
  • 4.2% steal rate

Butler has been one I have been relatively late to the party with in terms of how his skillset will translate and how he compares to the rest of the class. In as simple terms as possible, Butler is extremely good at a high volume of traits that will be important to how he translates. A near 120 offensive rating in combination with just allowing .72 PPP on defense makes him one of the more complete prospects in the field, while maintaining a solid draft age. Butler’s progression as a playmaker through his college career was notable and has displayed the ability to play both on and off the ball at the next level while being able to defend both guard spots. The argument of trajectory and high ceiling prospects is always present, but I’ve joined the boat in the thinking that who Jared Butler is now and how he has developed through three years at Baylor wind up to be already at a higher level than many other prospects in the field. He’s a rotation player right away and should be a starting level backcourt piece for many years to come. Difficult to imagine he slips outside the top 16-20.

Jonathan Kuminga

For many, if there is anyone slipping outside the top 5 picture, it is Jonathan Kuminga. The 18 year old began the season atop my board and I remain extremely bullish on his outlook. The shooting outlook and efficiency are certainly reasonable concerns, but he remains one of the youngest prospects in the field and along with Josh Primo, should technically be finishing up his prep career right now. Kuminga’s season with Ignite came with mixed reviews after starting the campaign scorching hot. What stood out was Kuminga’s feel to make plays for others and how he has become far more versatile as a creator. Strong footwork, a mature 6-8 and 220 pound base, powerful athleticism and a developing feel on both ends provides enough optimism for me to push him up to the 3rd overall slot. Critics of Kuminga will mention how he his defensive IQ was disappointing and suffered from poor shot selection, but his physical tools and projected high end value outweighs all but Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley for me. I am buying his eventual defensive versatility, mid-post playmaking and wing creation skills.

Matthew Mayer

  • 40% from 3
  • 88th Percentile as a pick and roll ball handler
  • 6-9 and 225 pounds
  • 70th percentile isolation defense

Matthew Mayer may not wind up keeping his name in the 2021 NBA Draft, but I have growing optimism regarding his role at the next level as a high feel stretch wing. At 6-9 and 225 pounds, Mayer is a highly productive rebounder, grabbing 9.5 rebounds per 40 minutes as a Junior. The national championship winning Baylor Bears owned one of the best defensive units in the nation, namely with Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital and Jared Butler as well as a plethora of other strong defenders. Contrary to popular belief, Matt Mayer owned the best defensive rating on the roster at just 88.2. Mayer has a very strong feel for the game, constantly making the right pass with swing passes and playing effective help defense. A lack of playtime (Just 15 MPG) may not give Mayer enough juice to be a sure-fire first round guy, but his combination of ball handling, fluid shot making ability from deep and versatility make him one of the better bets to stick around in the 30-50 range.

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