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Draft Preview

2021 NBA Draft: Ranking the Forwards/Centers

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: July 14, 2021, 10:52 am ET

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With the 2021 NBA Draft less than three weeks away, now is a good time to take a look at some of the top prospects in the class by position. The second installment focuses on the frontcourt, which boasts some serious potential. That being said, "upside" can either make an executive's career...or break it. And with there not being many high-level centers in this class, they're combined with the power forwards. The first installment, which focused on the guards, can be found here. 

Small Forwards

1. Jonathan Kuminga, G League Ignite

Kuminga's athleticism and length are the two biggest reasons why he's viewed as a lottery pick. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound wing has been able to use those attributes to his advantage, playing at either the three or the four depending upon the matchup. This can be especially beneficial on the defensive end of the floor, given Kuminga's ability to defend on the perimeter and protect the rim in certain spots. That being said, he will need to be a more disciplined defender at the NBA level. While a player can take certain gambles as an amateur (or even playing in the G League), that approach can prove costly in the NBA. Offensively Kuminga is a good finisher, which comes as no surprise given his athleticism, but his overall skill set is in need of polish. Kuminga would be best served landing with a team that can exercise a considerable amount of patience, due in large part to the offensive skill set. 

2. Scottie Barnes, Florida State

Barnes is an interesting player, in that he was used primarily at the point guard position during his lone season in college. Averaging 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks and 0.5 3-pointers per game, Barnes shot 50.3% from the field and 62.1% from the foul line. Offensively, while he is a capable playmaker, Barnes has to get better as a perimeter shooter. He made just 27.5% of his 3-point attempts, and below 40% in the mid-range. Measured at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, Barnes has good size for a wing and can defend multiple positions. Lengthy athletes who can get the job done defensively has been one of Florida State's trademarks in recent years, and Barnes is next in line. While the early thinking was that this draft class has a clear top-5, the gap between Kuminga and Barnes may not be as wide as originally believed. 
 
3. Franz Wagner, Michigan

While Kuminga and Barnes have received most of the attention with regard to the small forward position, an argument can be made that Wagner is the wing most likely to have an early impact in the NBA. The younger brother of Moritz Wagner, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound wing is also capable of defending multiple positions. A good athlete, Wagner's defensive fundamentals ensured that he was in the proper position to make a play, be it a steal or blocked shot. This past season he averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers per game, while shooting 47.7% from the field and 83.5% from the foul line. Wagner was able to spend a little more time on the ball in a playmaking role as a sophomore, an experience that should serve him well at the next level. At this point in the draft process, Wagner appears to be well on his way to hearing his name called in the lottery. 

4. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga

There are some who have compared Kispert to Nets wing Joe Harris, and with good reason. This past season the 6-foot-7, 223-pound Gonzaga standout shot 44.0% from three, while averaging 18.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks and 2.8 3-pointers per game. And effective scorer on multiple levels, Kispert is also a solid defender who fits well within the team concept. Is he a "jump out of the gym" kind of player? No, but a little too much was made of his athleticism (or perceived lack of it) during the Bulldogs' stretch run in the NCAA tournament. Kispert will likely slot into the back end of the lottery, falling just outside of that threshold at worse. That being said, it would not come as a surprise if he were to experience a draft night "jump" similar to that of current Suns wing Cameron Johnson, who wound up being a top-10 pick. 
 
5. Jalen Johnson, Duke

We can call this the "wild card" portion of the position rankings, as Johnson represents a considerable gamble for whichever team selects him. The 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward appeared in just 13 games for the Blue Devils before leaving the program, but it's important to keep in mind that he also missed time due to a foot injury. Johnson is healthy now, which is good news considering just how volatile his draft "stock" appears to be. Shooting 52.3% from the field and 63.2% from the foul line, Johnson averaged 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks and 0.6 3-pointers per game. The defensive versatility is one of the big selling points here, as Johnson's combination of athleticism and length proved to be beneficial on that end of the floor. Offensively he'll need to become a more consistent perimeter shooter, but there were times when Johnson displayed the ability to serve as a facilitator. 

6. Ziaire Williams, Stanford

Williams' lone season at Stanford certainly was an interesting one as, due to local restrictions, the Cardinal were not able to play home games. That may have factored into his lack of consistency, with the 6-foot-8, 185-pound wing showing flashes of his high-level potential but never really putting it all together. Shooting 37.4% from the field and 79.6% from the foul line, Williams averaged 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.2 3-pointers per game. He shot just over 29% from beyond the arc, and that's an area where Williams will need to become more consistent if he's to be an effective wing at the NBA level. Defensively he was solid but not spectacular, and Williams has some room to grow as far as his physicality is concerned. 

7. Herbert Jones, Alabama

When it comes to the top defenders in this class, Jones certainly deserves to be mentioned. The 6-foot-8, 206-pound forward was a two-time SEC All-Defensive Team selection during his Alabama career, winning the league's Defensive Player of the Year award as a senior. And this was his best all-around campaign, as Jones recorded a line of 11.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks and 0.6 3-pointers per game. And his percentages were solid, with Jones shooting 44.6% from the field and 71.3% from the foul line. As a senior he appeared to be much more comfortable playing on the perimeter, be it as a shooter or as a facilitator. Jones does have work to do when it comes to his shot, but the defensive versatility and athleticism make him a player worth keeping an eye on. 

8. Kessler Edwards, Pepperdine

One of the best players in the WCC, the 6-foot-8, 215-pound Edwards could ultimately prove to be a steal in this draft. As a junior he averaged 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.7 3-pointers per game, while shooting 49.1% from the field and 87.6% from the foul line. Shooting 37.8% from three, Edwards was nearly a 40% shooter from beyond the arc during his Pepperdine career. The ability to guard multiple positions is another positive for Edwards, who blocked 127 shots during his college career. Even if he isn't a first-round pick, Edwards shouldn't have to wait too long to hear his name called. 

9. Isaiah Livers, Michigan

The 6-foot-7, 232-pound Livers was in the midst of a good senior season when a foot injury put him on the sideline during Michigan's run to the Elite Eight. In 23 games, he averaged 13.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.7 blocks and 2.2 3-pointers per, shooting 45.7% from the field and 87.0% from the foul line. Livers is a good shooter, as he made better than 43% of his 3-point attempts, serving as a valuable floor-spacer for the Wolverines. A capable defender, Livers has the potential to defend either forward position at the next level. Regardless of when he's drafted, Livers' ability to shoot the ball will get him a long look. 

10. Joe Wieskamp, Iowa

Wieskamp went into the NBA Draft Combine as a bit of a question mark with regard to his status, as he had yet to decide if he would keep his name in the pool. After a good week in Chicago the 6-foot-6, 212-pound wing decided to forego his remaining eligibility, ending his Iowa career after three seasons. As a junior, Wieskamp averaged 14.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.4 3-pointers per game, while shooting 49.1% from the field and 67.7% from the foul line. The free throw percentage appears to be a bit of an anomaly, as Wieskamp shot 85.6% as a sophomore and 77.1% for his Hawkeye career. The perimeter shooting ability is what will likely get Wieskamp "in the door" as far as the NBA is concerned, but he's a good offensive talent overall. 

Some Other Names to Know

Matthew Hurt, Duke: The versatile sophomore, who can be used at either forward spot, was the ACC's Most Improved Player this past season. Hurt shot 55.6% from the field and 44.4% from three while averaging 18.3 points per game. 

Sam Hauser, Virginia: For his college career, which began at Marquette, Hauser was nearly a 50/40/90 player. While there are strides to be made from an athleticism standpoint, he's one of the best shooters in this class. 

Yves Pons, Tennessee: Pons is an elite athlete and defender, but there is still a lot of work for him to do offensively. Despite being listed at 6-foot-6, he averaged 1.8 blocks per game this past season. 

Aaron Wiggins, Maryland: Wiggins showed flashes of his offensive potential during his time at Maryland, but consistency was a concern. The Big Ten's top sixth man as a sophomore, Wiggins returned to school and averaged 14.5 points per game this season. 

D.J. Stewart Jr., Mississippi State: With more opportunities to make plays offensively, Stewart nearly doubled his scoring and assist averages as a sophomore. He does need to improve his shooting mechanics, but Stewart is an intriguing prospect in this class. 

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.