This year’s small forward position has some real star power with upside guys like Jonathan Kuminga and Josh Giddey. And there are 3 others (Williams, Johnson and Murphy) with a shot to be taken in the lottery. The depth is solid with a couple second round Europeans and some solid experience as well with guys like Isaiah Livers and Herb Jones.
1. Jonathan Kuminga, 6-7 220 G-League Ignite, 18.8
There are very few prospects with more potential than the Congolese forward. The 6’7, 210-pound Kuminga has a pro-ready body and game. Already adept at creating his own shot, the 18-year-old oozes upside. He can attack with the ball in his hands, is a comfortable finisher through traffic, and can be a nightmare in transition. Kuminga also flashed some nice post moves and has a wide variety of ways to score at such a young age. Even with all his offensive skill, his best ability is his versatile and disruptive defense. The former five-star recruit has the lateral quickness, defensive intensity, and strength to guard positions 1-4 at the NBA level. With his long arms, he can get his hands in passing lanes, and can quickly become one of the best defenders in the NBA. Kuminga can be used to slow down elite scorers or used to switch everything on screens. His athleticism, build, offensive skill and defensive versatility are all major selling points for the Ignite star. One piece of his game that needs improvement is shooting. After hitting under 25% of his three-point attempts and 63% of his free throws, it is evident that Kuminga needs to keep developing his shot. Without the ability to knock down threes, Kuminga will have a challenging time staying on the court.
2. Josh Giddey, 6-8 205 Adelaide 36ers, 18.8
A pass-first point guard in a small forward body, the 6’7 Australian has been tearing up the National Basketball League. Averaging 7.5 assists per game, the Melbourne native makes incredible passes, hitting teammates who don’t even realize they are open yet. With the ball in his hands, it seems as though the game just comes easily for Giddey. He can penetrate the lane with ease, using behind-the-back dribbles, crossovers, spin moves and more. Giddey always keeps his head up and seems to know immediately who has sprung open at any part of the court and at any given time. He also is a strong finisher at and around the rim, displaying a variety of layups, floaters and even the occasional post move. He is not a freak athlete, but he does have good speed and knows how to change pace well to create space for himself. Giddey is also a capable defender and should be able to defend various positions in the NBA. Much like Kuminga, Giddey does not have a strong three-point percentage, hitting just 29.3% of his threes. However, Australia’s best young star showcased his range by hitting pull-up threes and step-back shots. Giddey has the form and ability to take and make threes at the NBA level, he just needs to do so with more consistency, especially if he plays in a guard spot. Besides shooting, the biggest question surrounding the 18-year-old phenom is what position he will play. While he may be a point guard in Australia, it remains to be seen if he will trule be used as a full time point at the NBA level. We project him as more of a wing/point forward.
3. Ziaire Williams, 6-9 190 Stanford, 19.9
Williams, one of the most highly touted recruits of the 2020 class, heads to the NBA after one season with the Stanford Cardinal. He averaged 10.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, hitting 37% of his shots and 29% of his threes. While he was inefficient for the Cardinal, he did make plenty of NBA level shots. Williams is confident in his shot and loves to take a step in from the three-point line before pulling up for a jump shot. The appeal for a team taking the 6’8 forward is that he can develop into an all-star level scorer. He is very athletic, can make difficult shots, and his free throw percentage hovering around 80% speaks to a potential increase in his field goal percentage. To become more than an athletic threat, Williams will need to become a reliable three-point shooter, as well as learn when to distribute. The shots that he often makes look so effortless, are also shots that are not very good looks. Learning when to shoot could be the key for Wiliams to unlock his scoring potential.
4. Jalen Johnson, 6-9 210 Duke, 19.6
Johnson raised more than a few eyebrows after leaving Duke mid-way through the season to focus on the NBA draft. While teams could raise some flags about his commitment to his team, there are almost no red flags around his game. The 6’9 forward can play either forward spot, and has a smooth offensive game. Capable of shooting from deep with a 44.4% clip, Johnson can stretch the floor well. While defenders worry about his three-point looks, he can bully his way to the rim. Comfortable with the ball, Johnson displays some guard ability with how well he can handle, especially if he grabs a rebound and pushes in transition. Weighing 220 pounds, the former Blue Devil often looked too strong against collegiate defenders, in particular if he got the ball on the low block. He can overpower small forwards in the NBA, and will likely be too quick for power forwards to stop him. Despite all his talent and efficiency, he did not actually score that often, hitting just over 11 points per game. To live up to a lottery pick, Johnson needs to call his own number more often. A talented defender, Johnson averaged 1.2 steals and blocks per game. One issue for Johnson is turnovers, as he averaged 2.5 turnovers to 2.2 assists this season.
5. Trey Murphy III, 6-9 205 Virginia, 21.1
One of the late risers of the class, Murphy has been rocketing up draft boards. Armed with a lights-out three-point shot (43.3%), athleticism, and a strong handle, the junior is a solid offensive player. He shot a phenomenal 69.5% at the rim, had an efg% of almost 64, and hit 92.7% of his free-throws this season. Murphy has an extremely high-floor thanks to his elite shooting, paired with the size at 6’9, 206-pounds, to be a strong defender in the NBA. Murphy would have a higher ceiling if he was able to initiate offense for himself and others, but he averaged just one assist per game last season, while over 90% of his threes and 70% of his shots at the rim came on assists. He is a plug and play prospect and should be immediately able to contribute to winning basketball, especially since he is so smart about when to cut without the basketball. Murphy is a great prospect for a team in the late first round who wants to add a sniper, defender, and competitor to their front court.
6. BJ Boston Jr. 6-7 185 Kentucky, 19.7
Seen as a guaranteed lottery pick coming out of high school, nobody had a more disastrous season than Boston. Regarded as a consensus five-star, Boston was expected to light up the scoreboard for the Wildcats. The former Sierra Canyon star has all the tools to be a gifted and dangerous scorer, but instead averaged 11.5 points per game with a horrid 35.5% on his field goals. He just never seemed to find a groove at Kentucky and struggled to be effective with or without the ball in his hands. Boston is not much of a passer, averaging just 1.6 per game. The athleticism, 6’7 size, and scoring ability from high school are still evident in Boston. Yet, after a dreadful freshman season, teams will have to roll the dice to see if they get the scoring star, or the college let down.
7. Herbert Jones, 6-7 205 Alabama, 22.8
After winning both the SEC Player of the Year Award and SEC Defensive player of the year, Jones has the attention of NBA teams. The senior blossomed in his final year in Tuscaloosa, averaging 11.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He is one of the most accomplished and disruptive defenders in the draft, capable of locking down both on and off the ball. He also has the length, strength and size to man the power forward position, where he would be a more effective shot blocker. After shooting just 7.1% from deep his junior year, Jones raised his average to 35% this year. If he can stick in the mid 30’s range, he has a clear role as a sturdy defender, rebounder, and shooter. With the 3.3 assists per game, Jones also highlighted that he has good vision, and understands when to share the ball with teammates. Despite the accolades, stats and success, Jones has a lower ceiling because of his age at 22, turnovers with almost three per game, and not a clear fit to a position or standout offensive skill.
8. Isaiah Livers, 6-7 230 Michigan, 22.0
The former Mr. Basketball of Michigan, Livers showed up for his hometown school. Livers, a powerful and fluid athlete, finished his senior season with 13.1 points, six rebounds, two assists, all while hitting 43% of his threes. Livers was the heart and soul of the Wolverine squad and did all the little things in addition to throwing down emphatic dunks and hitting threes. He will not be a lockdown defender in the NBA but should be capable of defender both small and power forwards, in addition to shooting guards. Livers can create off the dribble, rebounds well, is an elite free throw shooter, and knocks down threes. With his older age at 22, and likely not being more than a ten point per game scorer in the NBA hurt his draft stock. Teams that are searching for a do it all, locker room leader, energizer and shot maker, should look seriously into the Michigan forward.
9. Vrenz Bleijenbergh, 6-9 190 Antwerp Giants, 20.8
Despite scoring under ten points per game in the Pro Basketball League, the 6’10 Belgian is a tantalizing prospect. Capable of knocking down threes, handling the ball and attacking the rim, Bleijenbergh has a small forward game with a center’s body. He has an advanced offensive game despite being 20-years-old and should continue growing and developing his talents under NBA coaching. The sky’s the limit for a player who can be so impactful on both ends of the court. Despite his positive qualities, Bleijenbergh still comes with risks. He only shot 53% on free throws, averaged less than four rebounds and under one block per game. He has all the physical tools and ability, but for a player who was unable to be a consistent high-level scorer or shot blocker in Belgium, it will take time for those skills to be fully realized.
10. Juhann Begarin, 6-6 215 Paris Basketball, 19.0
The 18-year-old French national has been fantastic for Paris Basketball. He scored 11.9 points per game, on 46% shooting and adding over three assists per contest. The 6’5 forward seemed to overwhelm his defensive counterparts with his amazing athleticism. He was constantly driving past defenders and then dunking with ferocious authority. Begarin complements his inside scoring with a decent 34% from deep. For his youth, Begarin plays with a mature steadiness, and has a great understanding of hunting his own look versus getting the ball to an open teammate. At 6’5, 185-pounds, he might stick as a shooting guard more than a forward. Just like with any international prospect, one of the main concerns with Begarin is if he can excel as the competition raises dramatically. As the athletes get bigger, stronger, and faster, Begarin may have to continue building his handle and shot to find scoring opportunities.