by Jeffrey Gordon
With just over a week until the 2021 NBA draft, NBA teams are starting to finalize their draft boards. Draft combines and pro-days have concluded and Green Room invites have been sent out to the players. I believe this draft class to be one of the deepest in many years with a few players who can become cornerstones for NBA franchises. While many players went through this pre-draft action, this article will focus on a few winners and losers from this process who are not necessarily top 10 picks.
The first player I want to take a look at in terms of winners is Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland from VCU. A 20-year-old guard from Wilmington, Delaware, “Bones” was a 4-star recruit who played two seasons at VCU where he earned numerous accolades. Those include the Atlantic-10 Player of the year, the All-A-10 and the All-A-10 tourney team during the 2020-21 season. Hyland averaged just under 32 minutes a game and averaged 19.5 PPG this season on 44.7% from the field and 37% from behind the arc. Unfortunately, VCU experienced COVID-19 issues and was unable to play in their first-round NCAA tournament matchup against Oregon. That could have served as “Bones” coming out party to the national audience and helped his draft stock before entering the 2021 draft. He flew a little under the radar as a guy who NBA teams mocked as a second-round talent. However, after his performance at the NBA combine a few weeks ago, Hyland has risen up the draft boards. He only played in one NBA combine game which was all he needed to do to improve his stock. In 23 minutes, he posted 17 points on 63.6% from the floor while knocking down three three-pointers on five attempts. He showcased his ability to score on all three levels and in isolation situations. Whenever a bigger defender was switched onto him he was able to beat them off the dribble. He also did a great job changing his pace to get the defender on his back. When a guy his size was guarding him, he showed why he is an elite perimeter scorer, highlighted by a jab step back three-pointer to generate space from Carlik Jones, the former Louisville guard. Hyland also had a couple of nice defensive plays, especially on a good closeout, blocking Johnny Juzang’s three-point attempt and then a pull-up 3 on the other end. He also had a very nice left-handed pass to Moses Wright in transition displaying his passing ability. In my opinion, “Bones” is someone who should be picked near the end of the first round to a contender who could use bench scoring. He reminds me of Immanuel Quickley.
My first loser of the pre-draft workouts is Greg Brown III from Texas. A former top-10 recruit in the class of 2020, Brown was regarded as a first-round pick coming into the recent college basketball season. I admit, I was a big fan of Brown’s game before the start of the season and believe he can still develop into a nice NBA player. At 19, GB3 has a long frame with a 7-foot wingspan and freaky athleticism. He was on a good Texas team this year that was able to win the Big 12 tournament and earned a 3 seed in March. Surrounded by two other potential pros in Kai Jones and Jericho Sims in the frontcourt, Brown played just over 20 minutes per game. He averaged 9.3 PPG to go along with 6.2 RPG and was selected to the Big 12 All-Freshman team. In my opinion, the strongest aspect of Brown’s game is his rebounding on both the offense and defensive end. He does a great job using his athleticism and length to high point the ball and is always a candidate for a putback slam. However, there are many things Brown could work on, which is part of why I believe he could have benefited from playing another college season. There are questions about his shooting ability and if you watched enough Texas this season, you know that Brown’s only move is to drive to his left. He is a good defender and can guard multiple positions when needed. There were certainly flashes throughout the season but one moment stands out above the rest. In the semi-final game of the Big 12 Tournament against Texas Tech, Brown had an emotional meltdown when he was taken out of the game and left the bench to go to the tunnel to collect himself. After that, he was taken out of the rotation and saw his playing time be replaced by Brock Cunningham. I am sure NBA teams addressed that situation in pre-draft interviews and he has matured more throughout this stretch but that was a low point for Brown. Brown did not play so well in the combine and at times just did not seem like he wanted to be there. He did not get back on defense on a couple of possessions and one led to a wide-open McKinely Wright three. He could show himself running up and down the floor and showcasing his athleticism but did not take the opportunity. Once regarded as a first-round guy, Brown is now considered a fringe first-rounder and will probably be selected in the second. The assets are there for Greg Brown to succeed in the NBA and there is still time to do so considering he is only 19. However, he was not able to take advantage of the pre-draft process and thus has seen his stock go down. I would compare him to Precious Achiuwa given their similar build and athletic ability.
Another guy who I consider a winner during this pre-draft time is Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp. A player who was a little overshadowed in college because he was teammates with Luka Garza, Wieskamp has been able to showcase his abilities. Wieskamp was already regarded as one of the better shooters in this draft class but he has displayed much more than that. At Iowa, he earned All-Big Ten honors twice and was part of the Big Ten All-Freshman team. During the 2020-21 season, Wieskamp averaged just under 15 PPG and 7 RPG. He was invited to the draft combine and took full advantage of the opportunity. Not only did he play well in the scrimmages but he also measured out very well. Wieskamp measured in at 6’7 with a standing reach of 8’7 and a 6’11 wingspan. In the strength and agility drills, he was fourth-best in lane agility time (10.70 seconds) which shows his potential as a defender on rotations. The stat that stood out to NBA teams was his 42-inch max vertical leap. In my opinion, this revealed that Wieskamp is much more than a shooter. Due to his lethal shot, defenders will have to close out hard and Wieskamp can get to the rim and finish above it. In terms of the scrimmages, Wieskamp scored 34 points in two games which were highlighted by a 26 point performance in the third scrimmage of four at the combine. In that game, he shot 10/14 from the floor and 6/7 behind the arc. As mentioned before, Wieskamp utilized his shot fake nicely on bad closeouts and hit mid-range jumpers. Some notes I had from the game include that he is always ready to shoot and squares himself up nicely to the basket. Wieskpamp also does a nice job curling off of screens, losing his defender, and is ready to shoot, pass, or drive off the catch. In terms of defense, he is a long defender who will be able to guard multiple positions and rotates well. There was not a lot of bad in terms of that evaluation and NBA teams had to have rearranged their draft boards. I believe a good comp would be a more athletic Duncan Robinson.
The other loser of the pre-draft process was DJ Steward. A 19-year-old guard from Chicago, Illinois, Steward was a five-star out of college and elected to play his college ball at Duke. In just one season, Steward averaged 13 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game this past season. I thought he was one of the bright spots from this Duke season that saw them miss the NCAA tournament, failing to live up to their usual high standards. He earned ACC All-Freshman honors and appeared in 24 games starting in 22 of those. He elected to forgo his remaining eligibility and put his name into the 2021 draft following this season. In my opinion, I believed that Steward would come back and improve his draft stock and try to bring a national championship with Duke. He did receive an invite to the NBA combine where he did not have the best showing. In two games, Steward was 4-17 from the field and had an assist to turnover ratio of 4 to 7. While watching the games, I did not notice many eye-popping plays whenever he was on the floor and he came in weighing only 162 pounds. NBA teams unanimously agreed that Steward should withdraw his name from the draft and we will see if his name is called on draft night.
To be clear, I wish nothing but the best for these players and this is based on my evaluation and opinion. The 2021 NBA draft class is one of the deepest we have seen in years and has several potential number one picks in any other year. I believe this class will go down as one of the best all-time.
Other winners and losers
Winners: Quentin Grimes, Jericho Sims, Moses Moody, Ziaire Williams, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Kessler Edwards, Josh Primo, McKinley Wright IV, Jason Preston, Josh Christopher
Losers: Marcus Zegarowski, Matthew Hurt, Trendon Watford, Scottie Lewis