As the game of basketball continues to move inexorably in the direction of the elite long-distance shooter, the next group of prospects wishing to be evaluated and drafted and paid at the NBA level arrives with little accomplishment in the area of 3-point shooting, the skill that made Stephen Curry, in 2020-21 a first-team All-NBA pick for the fourth time.
There is a truckload of highly regarded prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft who have elite athleticism or passing skill or positional size but haven’t shown substantial proficiency as 3-point shooters.
10. Davion Mitchell
Mitchell’s respect level as a prospect progressed nicely as the Bears progressed toward the NCAA championship, but it soared when he flat wrecked every guard Gonzaga put in front of him in the title game.
That included Suggs, who managed to score 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting while Mitchell denied him the opportunity to have any influence on actually winning the game.
Mitchell’s on-ball defense always had been respected and admired. He was second-team All-American largely for that reason.
But to do it against elite opposition with so much on the line, while also scoring 15 points and passing for 5 assists, made it clear he was a big-time prospect.
Mitchell improved from a 28.8 percent deep shooter as a freshman at Auburn to 32.4 percent in his first season after transferring to Baylor but then made a massive jump last season, to 44.7 percent. He can be a long-term starting point at the NBA level.
9. Jonathan Kuminga
Kuminga’s dynamism is at an A-plus level, perhaps not quite Andrew Wiggins-level but not far from it. But Wiggins has been viewed as a disappointment to date, even as he has averaged 19.5 points over seven seasons because his game has had so little variety. Kuminga is unlikely to be the first overall pick, so he won’t have to carry that burden. But can he grow into a complete offensive player? Kuminga can get by defenders, but he spent a lot of G League time trying to prove he’s a deep shooter, with more than a third of his field-goal attempts coming from deep even though he hit only 24.6 percent. NBA opponents might just back off and dare him to show he can make the leap to competence.
8. Keon Johnson
There are a lot of similarities between Kuminga and Johnson: coveted because of exceptional dynamism, questioned because of meager deep shooting numbers. The difference is that Kuminga is more explosive, whereas Johnson has elite-level ball skill that just hasn’t yet translated to long-distance shooting. Watch his form on mid-range shots, or even on some of his attack-the-rim finishes. His elbow is locked tight, the ball is held high, his eye never leaves the target. With these qualities, Johnson likely can grow into a better deep shooter than the fellow who was 13-of-48 at Tennessee. He may not be a great rookie, but by year three he could be an exceptional contributor.
7. Alperun Sengun
You try moving him. If the best bigs in Turkey’s Super League, one of the top pro leagues on the planet, cannot stop him from going where he wants to go, it’s easy to imagine him maturing into someone who is even more of a baseline terror in his 20s. At 18, he averaged 18 points and 8.9 rebounds. In a draft with many flawed players, he at least is a productive, physical, tenacious flawed player.
6. James Bouknight
Still another player whose value would soar if he were a more consistent shooter, Bouknight hit just 29.3 percent of his deep shots as a sophomore, down from 34.7 his first season. He’s such an electric player, though, capable of getting to wherever he wants on the floor – and above it. He converted well more than 50 percent of his twos. If he’s going to operate as a smaller shooting guard, he’ll have to improve his touch. If he’s going to be a point guard, he’ll need to improve his handle. But some guys are just players.
5. Scottie Barnes
Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton has done a wonderful job with the many pro prospects he has recruited to Tallahassee over the past decade, but one wonders what might have been possible for Barnes if Hamilton’s approach – spreading the minutes among 9-10 players, with no one averaging 30-plus – had been set aside. Barnes only played 24 minutes, averaged only 8 shots per game. The Seminoles might have been his team but never really were. He’s a powerful talent, though, with absurd size for a playmaking guard. He is another player who did not show himself to be a proficient deep shooter.
4. Moses Moody
One of the surprises of the 2020 recruiting class, Moody has ranked only the 46th-best prospect but quickly asserted himself as one of the best freshmen in college basketball. Arkansas’ light early schedule helped Moody to gain confidence – not only that he could excel, but also that he could feel comfortable as the Razorbacks’ No. 1 option. He took nearly two more shots per game than such veterans as Justin Smith and J.D. Notae, and that included 162 3-point attempts that were converted at a 35.8 percent rate.
3. Josh Giddey
Giddey chose to play in Australia’s NBL rather than accept one of his many Division I offers, and he was so successful in his first pro season he was named the league’s rookie of the year. Giddey averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 assists. What he did not do well – and this will shock you – is shoot the ball from a long distance. He was only 29-of-99 in 29 games for Adelaide. Giddey has an excellent form that should produce a proficient deep shooter in time. He excels at finding gaps in opposing defenses and exploiting those. His first instinct is to get the ball to the lane, and though he does not explode past defenders, he is great at getting them off-balance and in difficult positions to recover.
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2. Chris Duarte
His 24th birthday passed a week ago, which will lead some to devalue his potential to improve, no matter how many times we see NBA players make enormous leaps in their mid to late 20s. Duarte made an enormous leap himself as a college senior, from 12.9 points to 17.1 and All-America candidacy. He shot 42.4 percent from deep and 63.1 percent on 2s, more significant advances. Unlike many first-rounders who’ll be chosen in this group, Duarte is someone who won’t need to spend the next year or two in the G League to become worthwhile.
1. Roko Prkacin
His approach, which amounts to shoving the ball down the opposition’s throat as often as possible, leaps off his tape. He handles the ball with authority, well enough to advance it after grabbing a rebound or to attack a straight-line drive. He moves well in pick-and-roll offense, setting solid screens, cutting with authority, and finishing physically and authoritatively. He’s another player who has not proven himself as an effective deep shooter, but that’s not to say he’s a non-shooter.