NBA

NBA Draft 2021: Giannis and Jokic show value of choosing wisely, so who are the potential gems?

By Sports Desk July 27, 2021

Giannis Antetokounmpo bucked the trend of exclusively high draft picks winning NBA MVP before Nikola Jokic took it to an entirely different level this past season.

As the 41st overall selection in 2014, Jokic became by far the lowest draft pick ever to win the award, surpassing Antetokoumpo and Steve Nash, who were both chosen 15th overall. Prior to Jokic and Antetokoumpo, the previous 10 MVPs were won by players picked between first overall (LeBron James, Derrick Rose) and seventh (Stephen Curry).

Jokic's MVP serves to further illustrate that big-time NBA talent can be found lower in the draft, and while most second round and undrafted players may not win any MVPs, they can still become regulars that make major contributions in the right situations.

This year's draft class has an elite first tier with the likes of Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs, yet it also boasts some solid depth, with potential gems lurking into the second round or later.

Here's a look at five players that could outperform pre-draft expectations:

KESSLER EDWARDS - Pepperdine

One look at Edwards' statistics during his three seasons at Pepperdine and improvement and versatility jump off the page. After averaging 10 points and 5.6 rebounds in his 2018-19 freshman season, Edwards went up to 13.8 with 7.5 boards the following year, followed by a breakout campaign with 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and a career-best 49.1 field-goal percentage in 2020-21. That also included an 87.6 free-throw percentage that ranked among the best in the nation.

He earned first-team all-WCC honours and was named CBI Tournament MVP after Pepperdine defeated Coastal Carolina for the title. Edwards was one of six Division I players this past season to average at least 17 points and 6.5 rebounds while also making 45 three-pointers.

Edwards proved to be consistent from deep with a 38.7 percentage (148-for-378) during his time with the Waves, and any 6ft 8" player that can score, rebound and connect from long range will draw the interest of NBA teams. Add in Edwards' length and high-level defence and a first-round pick would seem to be a guarantee, but he's expected to drop into the second round or possibly go undrafted, mainly because he didn't play at a Power Six school and the long-held belief is that facing lesser competition in college is a detriment at the next level.

One of the knocks on Edwards is a funky hitch in his shot that makes him look as if he's almost shot-putting the ball toward the basket. Maybe a team could alter his shooting style at some point but that should not prevent him from being drafted.

Even if his offensive game fails to develop - and that seems unlikely - Edwards shouldn't have a problem guarding multiple positions in the NBA. He is quick enough to stick with smaller guards and forwards and is lanky enough to cope with bigger post players as well.

 A minimal contributor off the bench would likely be where Edwards finds himself early in his NBA career, but he has enough upside as an on-ball defender with a developing perimeter game to potentially excel as a starter or regular rotation player in time.

JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL - Villanova

Robinson-Earl only spent two seasons at Villanova but received plenty of accolades in his brief tenure with the Wildcats. He was named Big East Freshman of the Year in 2019-20 and captured co-Big East Player of the Year honours this past season, leading the team with 15.7 points and 8.5 rebounds.

Jay Wright's program has produced a considerable amount of pro talent lately in Josh Hart, Saddiq Bey, Eric Paschall, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, with Robinson-Earl having an excellent opportunity to continue the Wildcats' success in the NBA.

While he does not project as a future All-Star due to average athletic ability, Robinson-Earl can do a lot of different things well and is a smart player with intangibles that NBA teams love to have on their roster. There may be other players with higher upsides that get drafted in the second round, but Robinson-Earl can score, rebound, guard multiple positions and plays with a relentless motor.

A more refined offensive game and the ability to shoot from long range more consistently would make Robinson-Earl a more appealing prospect, but he does have a soft touch and a smooth release from mid-range. He is comfortable playing low in the post, does not shy away from the physical side of the game and has great court vision with a knack for making the right play.

Much in the way that Draymond Green - a second-round pick himself - is utilised by the Warriors, Robinson-Earl could eventually fill a similar role for a team that has stars occupying other positions on the court.

JOE WIESKAMP - Iowa

Every year there are a few players that get a huge boost from the draft combine and chief among that group this season is Wieskamp. Before an impressive showing in Chicago, the Iowa sharpshooter was facing the possibility of going undrafted despite a stellar college career.

He averaged 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds this past season and led all players in three-point accuracy, making 49.5 percent (51-for-103) of his attempts in Big Ten play in earning all-conference second team honours. Wieskamp was the only Division I player in the nation to total at least 400 points, 200 rebounds 70 three-pointers and 25 steals. He also made five three-pointers in six games in 2020-21, second most of any player from a major conference.

More than ever, teams are putting a premium on perimeter shooting and Wieskamp is among the best available in that department, as evidenced by his 41.2 percentage (184-for-447) from deep during his time at Iowa. At 6ft 7", he can use his size to take advantage of smaller defenders that get switched onto him and his mechanics are near flawless with a high release.

One knock on Wieskamp is his relative inability to create his own shot but as a good athlete with surprising jumping ability, he should be able to overcome that with experience at the next level.

Wieskamp has the skills and ability to provide instant offense off the bench and is the perfect floor spacer for today's game. His pure shooting stroke, combined with rebounding and defensive ability should make him a valuable contributor in the NBA for years to come.

JOSH CHRISTOPHER - Arizona State

Christopher is the classic story of a player whose stock drops due to an injury. Limited to just 15 games in his only season for Arizona State in 2020-21, the 6-foot 5, 215-pound guard is a high-risk, high-reward pick that has NBA athleticism with the ability to excel at both ends of the court.

A likely first-round selection before injuries and COVID protocols ended his season in February, Christopher's value took a hit, and he could fall into the middle part of the second round. That range is often the perfect time to take a gamble on an athletic player with skills that match well in the NBA, even if other parts of his game need work.

Christopher had a few exceptional games in his one college season, including a 28-point, 11-for-17 performance against then-No. 3 Villanova on November 26 in the championship game of the Empire Classic. That 28-point display was tied for the most points allowed by the Wildcats all season. Christopher ended up averaging 14.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals, and while he only shot 30.5 percent (18-for-59) from 3-point range, he did connect on 12-of-27 over his final seven games.

Guards with size that can get to the basket are always in demand and that's what Christopher does best. He is quick with excellent jumping ability and doesn't have a problem finishing through contact. Whether in transition or a half-court offense, Christopher is always a threat to soar to the hoop and create space for himself and his teammates. His defence may not be NBA-ready just yet, but his quickness and athleticism should in time make him a very good on-ball defender.

It's difficult to be a starting guard in today's pro game unless the 3-point shot is a big part of your arsenal and Christopher would need to work on that aspect of his game from the start. His mid-range shot is solid, but NBA defenders are far more difficult to overcome than those in college. He will also need to improve his shot selection and decision-making but that comes with experience and maturity.

AARON HENRY - Michigan State

Henry is arguably the best defender available in this class with his 6-foot 10 wingspan, instincts and versatility. His ability at that end of the court alone could make him a valuable piece, but he has the necessary skills to contribute on the offensive end as well.

Henry was named to the All-Big Ten third team after averaging 15.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks as a junior. He was the first Michigan State player to lead a team in points, rebounds and assists since assists were first recorded in 1975.

As the focal point, Henry basically dragged the Spartans into their 23rd straight NCAA Tournament with limited help from his team-mates this past season. Henry is excellent in the mid-range and his 3-point shot is better than he gets credit for. After shooting 9-for-43 (20 percent) from long range in the first 14 game of the 2020-21 season, Henry knocked down 39.5 percent (15-for-38) over the last 14 games.

While he is unlikely to wow anyone with his physical skills and is not yet a polished offensive player, Henry is more than capable of holding his own against NBA competition. His ball-handling, passing and shot creation are very good and his mid-range output compares favorably to current NBA players Khris Middleton and Jamal Murray when they were coming out of college.

A smart and unselfish player, Henry is an excellent value pick in the second round and projects as a rotation player in the NBA.

Related items

  • Stafford 'playing lights out' for unbeaten Rams after outduelling Brady Stafford 'playing lights out' for unbeaten Rams after outduelling Brady

    Matthew Stafford is "playing lights out" for the undefeated Los Angeles Rams as Aaron Donald hailed the quarterback following his performance against Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Stafford outduelled superstar Brady as the Rams beat NFL Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers 34-24 in Los Angeles on Sunday.

    In a blockbuster Week 3 showdown, Stafford stole the show with four touchdowns to condemn the Buccaneers to their first loss of the season.

    With his haul of four TDs, Stafford improved his season tally to nine – matching Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (1999) for the most by a Rams quarterback in the first three games of a season.

    Stafford, who arrived from the Detroit Lions via a trade in the offseason, finished 27 of 38 for 343 yards and no interceptions as he earned praise from team-mate Donald.

    "He's playing lights out," Rams defensive linseman Donald said. "That's why he's here, we expect that from him and I know he's going to continue doing what he's doing and even at a higher level."

    "It's only three games, still got a long season, but obviously that's the ultimate goal [a Super Bowl], that's what we're chasing," said Donald. "That's the only thing I'm chasing."

    Stafford – a Pro Bowler in 2014 – was also lauded by Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians post-game.

    "He pushes it down the field so easily," Arians said. "You're right up in his face one time, he finds a guy wide-open down the field and gets it to him.

    "A lot of guys, they see it but they can't get it to him. He's a special player."

    Stafford, who threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the third quarter to give the Rams a 21-7 lead, added: "I was the new guy coming in and they've embraced me, which was awesome.

    "I'm just trying to be myself every single day, bring my best every single day and see where that takes us."

  • Yankees flip Wild Card race with Red Sox sweep, Brewers clinch second title in four years Yankees flip Wild Card race with Red Sox sweep, Brewers clinch second title in four years

    The New York Yankees are in pole position in the American League (AL) Wild Card race thanks to a sweep of rivals the Boston Red Sox on Sunday.

    An eighth-inning rally fuelled the Yankees to a 6-3 victory over the Red Sox and a sixth consecutive win in MLB.

    Giancarlo Stanton hit a two-run homer, while Aaron Judge doubled home two runs as the Yankees seized control from the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card chase.

    Stanton became the first Yankees player with 10-plus RBI in a three-game series at Fenway Park, according to Stats Perform. The previous record for a Yankee was held by Joe DiMaggio and Hideki Matsui (nine).

    With the three-game sweep, the Yankees (89-67) now lead the Red Sox (88-68) by one game for the top AL Wild Card berth with six games remaining, while the Toronto Blue Jays (87-69) are two games adrift following their 5-2 success against the Minnesota Twins.

     

    Brewers crowned NL Central champs

    The Milwaukee Brewers secured their second National League (NL) Central title in four years following an 8-4 win at home to the New York Mets. Willy Adames led the way with a two-run homer and three RBI.

    Shohei Ohtani boosted his MVP credentials with a dominant display, despite the Los Angeles Angels losing 5-1 to the Seattle Mariners. After two triples on Saturday, two-way star Ohtani struck out 10 batters, while giving up just one run and five hits in seven innings without a walk. He is the first player to combine for multiple triples and 10-plus strikeouts in back-to-back team games since Chief Bender in 1905, per Stats Perform.

    The St Louis Cardinals celebrated their 16th straight win by topping the Chicago Cubs 4-2. St Louis' franchise-record streak is the longest in MLB since the Cleveland Indians won 22 games in a row in 2017. The Cardinals are the first NL team to win 16 successive games since the New York Giants in 1951.

    World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers have won 100 games in a season for the eighth time in franchise history. The Dodgers blanked the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-0.

     

    Phillies' streak ends

    The Philadelphia Phillies had their five-game winning streak snapped in a 6-0 shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In a blow to their playoff hopes, Phillies starter Hans Crouse gave up a home run on his first major league pitch. The 23-year-old allowed two hits and walked four batters in three innings.

     

    A's walk it off

    Mark Canha's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning saw the Oakland Athletics edge the AL West-leading Houston Astros 4-3 in a walk-off success.

     

    Sunday's results

    Kansas City Royals 2-1 Detroit Tigers
    Pittsburgh Pirates 6-0 Philadelphia Phillies
    Texas Rangers 7-4 Baltimore Orioles
    Chicago White Sox 5-2 Cleveland Indians
    Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 Miami Marlins
    Cincinnati Reds 9-2 Washington Nationals
    Milwaukee Brewers 8-4 New York Mets
    Toronto Blue Jays 5-2 Minnesota Twins
    St Louis Cardinals 4-2 Chicago Cubs
    San Francisco Giants 6-2 Colorado Rockies
    Oakland Athletics 4-3 Houston Astros
    Seattle Mariners 5-1 Los Angeles Angels
    Atlanta Braves 4-3 San Diego Padres
    Los Angeles Dodgers 3-0 Arizona Diamondbacks
    New York Yankees 6-3 Boston Red Sox

     

    Athletics at Mariners

    Monday is a battle between two teams still chasing a Wild Card spot in the AL. The Mariners (86-70) are two games behind the Red Sox, who occupy the second and final berth, while the Athletics (85-71) are three games off the pace. Chris Flexen will toe the mound for the Mariners, with A's pitcher Cole Irvin set to start.

  • Crosby calls game with walk-off field goal as Rodgers' Packers sink 49ers Crosby calls game with walk-off field goal as Rodgers' Packers sink 49ers

    Aaron Rodgers showcased flashes of his MVP form after leading the Green Bay Packers to a thrilling 30-28 victory at the previously unbeaten San Francisco 49ers.

    The Packers were facing their second defeat of the season after Jimmy Garoppolo's 12-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Juszczyk gave the 49ers a 28-27 lead with 37 seconds remaining on Sunday.

    But some last-drive heroics from Green Bay superstar Rodgers – without a timeout left – lifted the Packers (2-1) as Mason Crosby's game-ending 51-yard field goal condemned the 49ers (2-1) to their first loss of the season.

    Rodgers finished 23-of-33 passing for 261 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, while team-mate Devante Adams also starred with 132 yards and a TD on 12 receptions.

    Three-time MVP Rodgers also surpassed Hall of Famer Dan Marino (51,741) for the fourth most passing yards in a player's first 200 games in NFL history. Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning are the only players with more passing yards through 200 appearances.

    In eight regular-season games versus the Niners heading into this matchup, Rodgers had thrown 18 touchdowns to only two interceptions, and owned a passer rating of 106.9 – the highest against San Francisco in the Super Bowl era (minimum 100 attempts).

    The 49ers rallied at home to the Packers, overcoming early 10-0 and 17-0 deficits before falling behind 24-14 at the start of the final quarter.

    Trey Sermon's one-yard run and the Juszczyk-Garoppolo combination during the closing stages had the 49ers on the cusp of a third straight win and a completed comeback, however, the Packers still had enough time to snatch a last-gasp victory.

    Garoppolo finished 25-for-40 passing with 257 yards, a pair of touchdowns, one interception and four sacks.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.