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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 first installment focuses on the guards, a position group that is headlined by the player who's expected by most to be the first overall pick on July 29. And there should also be good value found in the second round, especially at shooting guard.
1. Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Measuring out at 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, Cunningham bring a different look to the point guard position. A smooth playmaker who does a good job of maintaining his pace when running an offense, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.3 3-pointers per game during his lone season at Oklahoma State. And while the overall field goal percentage (43.8%) could use a boost, it's worth noting that Cunningham shot 40% from three and 84.6% from the foul line. One area where he'll need to get better as a pro is the turnover department, as he averaged 4.0 per game. He's certainly capable of making those strides, and the combination of size and athleticism makes Cunningham a player that his next team can use in a variety of roles.
2. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Between now and the draft you're going to hear a lot about Suggs being a highly-regarded high school quarterback, as the ability to make sound decisions at that position translated well to the basketball court. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound point guard averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.2 3-pointers per game in helping to lead Gonzaga to the national title game, shooting 50.3% from the field and 75.4% from the foul line. Suggs shot just 33.7% from three with an average of 3.5 attempts per game, and that's an area where he'll need to become a bit more consistent. The competitiveness, decision-making and athleticism are a couple of the attributes that make Suggs a candidate to hear his name called within the first five picks of this month's draft.
3. Davion Mitchell, Baylor
There are some who believe that the 6-foot-1, 202-pound Mitchell is the best defender in this draft class, regardless of position. His work on that end of the floor has been a constant for the national champion, but Mitchell's improvement as an offensive player is what vaulted him into lottery territory. After struggling as a perimeter shooter during his first two college seasons (2017-18 at Auburn and 2019-20 at Baylor), Mitchell made 44.7% of his 3-point attempts (4.7 per game) while shooting 51.1% from the field overall in 2020-21. He finished the season with averages of 14.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.1 3-pointers per game, showing off improved decision-making to go along with the perimeter shooting spike. The big question regarding Mitchell as a pro is whether or not that improvement is sustainable, especially when considering the fact that his free throw percentage (64.1% this past season) remained about the same throughout his college career.
4. Sharife Cooper, Auburn
Thanks to amateurism "concerns," Cooper didn't get to make his Auburn debut until early January. Add all he did in that loss to Alabama was post a line of 26 points, four rebounds, nine assists and three steals, shooting 8-of-19 from the field and 9-of-10 from the foul line. The explosive playmaking ability is a big reason why Cooper is a projected first-round pick, despite the fact that he only played in 12 games as a collegian. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Cooper averaged 20.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.1 3-pointers per game, while shooting 39.1% from the field and 82.5% from the foul line. Where he'll need to improve is in the shot selection department, and he also made just 22.8% of his 3-point attempts. The lack of size was, at times, an issue on the defensive end of the floor, making that another area where Cooper will need to make strides in order to be an effective pro.
5. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
Dosunmu could have gone pro after his sophomore season, but he made the decision to return to Champaign for one last run. And while such decisions aren't guaranteed to improve a player's draft prospects, things have likely worked out for Dosunmu. In leading the Fighting Illini to 24 wins and the Big Ten tournament title, he averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 3-pointers per game, while shooting 48.8% from the field and 78.3% from the foul line. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Dosunmu has good size for a point guard, and can even be used off the ball in certain matchups. He also improved as a ball-handler and decision-maker during his time in college, developments that should serve Dosunmu well at the next level.
6. Jaden Springer, Tennessee
The 6-foot-4, 205 pound Springer had a good freshman season for the Volunteers, averaging 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 3-pointers per game, shooting 46.7% from the field and 81.0% from the foul line. He also made 43.5% of his 3-pointers, but that was with an average of less than two attempts per game. Springer defended his position well, with the combination of wingspan, athleticism and instincts all playing a part. Two areas where he'll need to get better are with his pull-up jumper and in the decision-making department, as Springer would at times take challenged shots in the mid-range. That all being said, he's expected by many to be a first-round pick at the end of this month.
7. Jared Butler, Baylor
Butler considered turning pro at the end of the 2019-20 season, but he ultimately decided to return to Baylor for one more season. And what a season it was, as he combined with the aforementioned Mitchell to help lead the Bears to their first national title. Shooting 47.1% from the field and 78.0% from the foul line, Butler averaged 16.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.6 3-pointers per game. An efficient scorer on all three levels, he was also an absolute handful defensively. So why wouldn't he be ranked closer to his college teammate? Medical reasons. Butler was unable to take part in the combine due to his being referred to the league's Fitness to Play panel by the NBA. If cleared, Butler should be a first-round pick due to what he brings to the table with regard to both talent and intangibles.
8. Tre Mann, Florida
At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Mann has the size and athleticism needed to fill a void at either guard position. And it wasn't until Andrew Nembhard transferred to Gonzaga that he was able to truly display what he brings to the table as a playmaker. Last season, Mann averaged 16.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.9 3-pointers per game, while shooting 45.9% from the field and 83.1% from the foul line. With the ball in his hands more, Mann was more active and accurate as a scoring option, and he was also a far more efficient player. There is room for Mann to grow as an on-ball defender, especially when it comes to strength, but his size allows for him to affect passing lanes.
9. Miles McBride, West Virginia
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound McBride made the most of his move into the starting lineup last season, earning second team all-Big 12 honors. As a sophomore he averaged 15.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.6 3-pointers per game, shooting 43.1% from the field and 81.3% from the foul line. While McBride was a proficient perimeter shooter, making 41.4% of his 3-point attempts, he'll need to get better in the mid-range game. Nearly 49% of his field goal attempts were 2-point jumpers, and he shot those at a 37.1% clip according to hoop-math.com. As has been the case with Bob Huggins-coached guards for quite some time, McBride is a very tough guard who more than holds his own on the defensive end of the floor. As a result, he's got a shot at landing in the first round.
10. Nah'Shon Hyland, VCU
The man known as "Bones" was one of the most improved players in college basketball last season, as he raised his scoring average by more than ten points per game. Hyland posted a line of 19.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.9 3-pointers per, shooting 44.7% from the field, 37.1% from three and 86.2% from the foul line. The Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, Hyland has good size for a point guard at 6-foot-3, and his length was a reason why he managed to be an impactful perimeter defender for the Rams. Very good at changing pace in the half-court, Hyland was an even tougher guard in transition. He will need to add some strength to his frame, but Hyland has the potential to be an "instant offense" guard at the next level.
Some Other Names to Know
Jason Preston, Ohio: Barely on the radar as a high school recruit, Preston could be the best pick-and-roll point guard in this draft class. He averaged 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.6 3-pointers per game as a junior while shooting 51.4% from the field.
Rokas Jokubaitis, Zalgiris: The 6-foot-4 southpaw has been on the draft radar for some time now, as he was MVP of the Basketball Without Borders camp in Israel back in 2017. Jokubaitis shoots the ball well on multiple levels, and also does a good job of setting up his teammates.
Daishen Nix, G-League Ignite: Formerly a UCLA commit, Nix went the G-League route with an eye towards preparing for the professional ranks. The 6-foot-5, 226-pound point guard is strong on the ball, and improved as a decision-maker throughout his time in the Orlando bubble.
Carlik Jones, Louisville: Jones played well enough at the G-League Elite Camp to earn a spot at the combine, which came as no surprise to those who watched him at the college level. After three seasons at Radford, Jones spent the 2020-21 campaign at Louisville, averaging 16.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 3-pointers per game.
Carlos Alocen, Real Madrid: Alocen, who made his ACB debut at 15 years, 10 months (youngest player in league history), makes good decisions with the ball in his hands and is also a solid perimeter shooter.