These are players I want to love but there are some question marks that keep me from ranking them as high as consensus. With each of these 4 prospects I see the upside and I get why some scouts are high on them. It wouldn’t surprise me if all 4 become good to great NBA players. But there are elements to each player that give me doubt about their draft value and knock them a few spots down my big board
James Bouknight – Shooting Guard – UConn
Great iso scorer
Sweet pull-up game
Explosive first step and above the rim ability
Excellent FT shooter
Great off-ball movement
Less than ideal size
Doesn’t create for others, negative assist/turnover ratio in college
Poor 3pt shooting percentage (could be result of mid season elbow injury)
Bouknight is going to be able to score at the NBA level. But it remains to be seen if he can do so efficiently and in a way that leads to winning basketball. His lack of creation for others and passing feel will limit his role to that of a scoring guard who might be best suited for a bench-scoring role. His ceiling is high, in that he could be a certified bucket who gets you 20+ points per game and shreds defenses on the nightly. But there’s a chance he’s more of a score first, second and third player who lacks the other dimensions of guard play. In my book he’s a late lottery talent but the question marks in his game make it hard for me to rank him in the top 10 on my big board. On the other hand it feels kind of dangerous to bet against him. He flashes some Jamal Murray-like shot-making ability and could end up as a multi-time All Star. Like I said, I’m torn.
Franz Wagner – Combo Forward – Michigan
Fundamentally sound; good passer and shooter
Potential 50/40/90 guy
Excellent feel for the game
Defensive versatility and high blocks and steals rate
Young for his class, plenty of more room for development
Tweener; can he guard PFs in the paint? Does he have the speed to guard SF’s?
Projects as a role player, not a high level starter
Wagner looks the part of a role player, possibly a high-end role player. He doesn’t need a lot of shots to be effective and he impacts multiple aspects of the game. I’m not sold on his foot-speed and ability to guard NBA small forwards or switch onto guards. He’s unlikely to be a first or second scoring option. I think he’ll be a solid player in the league but I’d be much more comfortable drafting him mid to late first round than in the lottery.
Sharife Cooper – PG – Auburn
Lightening quick with the ball – might be the best penetrator in the draft
Elite passing ability – a pass first player
Has an IT factor and a feel for the game you can’t teach
Strong upper body
Very undersized – didn’t get measured at the combine, possibility under 6-foot with shoes off.
Inconsistent outside shot – doesn’t have great shooting form, fades back/or to the side on his jumper
Can he score in the lane against NBA size?
Will struggle guarding the bigger PGs in the league.
Cooper is a guy who has a big impact when he’s on the floor. As a lead ball-handler he’s the engine that makes his team run. He’s been a winner and an impact player throughout his career. But despite the positives there’s a short history of 6-foot or under players who have had a big impact in the NBA. Could Cooper be one of the rare few? Certainly. But in this deep and talented draft I’d rather spend a mid first round pick on a prospect who has fewer question marks and checks a few more boxes in terms of measurables and value/fit in today’s NBA. Cooper might be best suited as a spark plug off the bench who can come in and change the tempo of the game. A player like that has a lot of value and is potentially worth a first round pick but in the late teens/early twenties there could be better value on the board. On the plus side Cooper has somewhat of a high floor, in that he’s almost certain to be an impact player. He’s so dynamic with the ball and has such a good feel for penetrating and dishing that he’s sure to find a role in the league. His passing is special and he makes a lot of highlight reel plays like no-look passes and alley-oops. If the 3pt shot comes around his value will skyrocket. But that’s a big “if”.
Jalen Johnson – Combo Forward – Duke
A beast of an athlete with a strong frame and awesome mobility
Has great handles and passing feel for a 6-9 player
Excellent rebounder who can rip and run
Has versatility on D and good potential on that end of the court. Gets a lot of steals and blocks.
There have been some red flags popping up the past few years, with him leaving his high school program and then leaving Duke before the end of the season.
Doesn’t project as a high level 3pt shooter (shot a high percentage at Duke on low volume but hit only 63% from the FT line).
Played a lot of bully-ball in college, which won’t be as effective in the NBA.
Can be turnover prone
Jalen Johnson has a world of talent and looks the part of a perennial All Star. There’s just no doubt about his natural ability, physical attributes and basketball talent. The questions start to come around his willingness to sacrifice for the team and show up even when things are tough. I think it’s worth giving him the benefit of the doubt, considering he’s a teenager with plenty of time to mature and figure out the mental side of things but these issues at least will be on NBA team’s radars and they give me some hesitation with ranking Johnson in the top 10, where his talents suggest he should be ranked. Hopefully he has a smooth transition to professional life and dedicates himself to his craft and to whichever franchise drafts him. The basketball world will be better off having a fully engaged Jalen Johnson.