The 2021 NBA draft is now behind us with yet another talented class heading into the NBA. The class was headlined by stars Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley. In this article I am going to highlight some early key names to keep an eye out for next year’s draft that will headline next year’s draft.
We start off with the best prospect in next year’s draft class, Chet Holmgren is the early favorite to go first overall in next year’s draft. Holmgren is the number one ranked freshman going into college basketball next season as a 7’0 center for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Holmgren is going to immediately come in an compete for player of the year in college basketball next season as a lanky seven-footer with tremendous skills on both sides of the ball. Holmgren is a force on the defensive side controlling the paint down low as a tremendous rim protector despite his fairy skinny frame. Over time, he will have to put more on to his frame when he is in the NBA to compete with much stronger big men. Although he is not as dominant on the other side of the ball, Holmgren allows whatever team he is on to space the floor. Holmgren shoot the three well after shooting an impressive 53.8% from the three-point line during the U-19 tournament where he led America to gold in the tournament. He even shot an impressive 77.8% from the foul line that most big men do not possess and is highly sought after. Holmgren, for now, is at the top of my big board for next year and is almost a lock to go top three next year and a very early favorite to be the first prospect taken off the board.
If you are a team in the top five of next year’s draft looking for a top tier guard, Jaden Hardy is going to be your man. Hardy is a 6’4 combo guard that will forego college and play in the G League for the Ignite next year, which is becoming a more popular option as he follows in the footsteps of a similar player in Jalen Green who was just taken by the Rockets second overall. Hardy is arguably the best offensive player in this class even with the late addition of Emoni Bates (who has yet to decide where he will be playing next year). Hardy is going to be a tremendous offensive player in the G League next year who can get a basket at any level on the court with his elite jump shot and his ability to take over games. Despite his elite shot making skills, Hardy can often become over ambitious on some of the highly contested shots that he takes which needs to be improved upon when he faces much stiffer competition. Look for Hardy to improve upon that this year in the G League where the rules and distance of three-point shooting is that of the NBA. Hardy will be an early pick in next year’s draft and likely be the first guard taken.
Paolo Banchero is going to also be among the favorites in college basketball for player of the year even as a freshman Banchero is going to likely make an immediate mark for Duke next season along with other touted freshman AJ Griffin in the Mike Kryzewski’s final recruiting class of his career. Banchero is an excellent low post scorer as a 6’10 combo forward who will likely primarily play power forward in college in what will likely be his only season of college barring an injury. Banchero is a solid athlete who will dominate down low as a very versatile big men that any NBA team would love to have playing for them. Banchero is a solid player as well, even without even needing to have the ball in his hand on the offense side. Banchero is going to need to improve his three-point shooting and jump shot as a whole before he transitions into the pro game to fit the mold of the modern NBA forward that can allow a team to stretch the floor. Banchero’s sometimes inconsistent jump shot will not be as much of an issue in college but will be a good opportunity for him to develop a better jumper which may hurt his NBA stock in the draft. Banchero, despite that, is a very strong contender for a top three pick in next year’s draft.
Jalen Duren is the last edition to the class of 2021 as he reclassified at the last second. He reclassified to the class of 2021 and committed to the University of Memphis. Jalen Duren was arguably the best rebounder in all of high school basketball last year at Montverde Academy. Duren is also arguably the best rim protector in the entire class who is an absolute force in the paint. Duren is a physically imposing player who is reminiscent of old school basketball with how he plays the game. His massive 7’5 wingspan will allow him to be an imposing defender at every level he plays on. Jalen Duren will compete with fellow freshman Chet Holmgren as arguably the top defender in college basketball next year and as the top center in the nation. His high motor is going to be something to watch that allows him to dominate the offensive and defensive glass. He is an above average shooter who can shoot well from the mid-range. He can also extend the floor from the three points as well but is somewhat inconsistent but has shown there is upside to his jump shot.
And last (but definitely not least) is Patrick Baldwin who is a 6’10 power forward who is a true modern stretch four big that any NBA team is going to want come next year’s draft. Just watching Baldwin his shot mechanic is almost perfect let alone for an 18-year-old kid who will be a freshman in college. He seems to always be in control with a smooth handle for someone at his size and never seems to rush whenever he has the ball. Baldwin doesn’t even need to have the ball in his hands to be effective which makes him even more effective for a team looking to upgrade offensively. His ability to board is solid for a 6’10 forward and while not bad can be worked on. Baldwin comes in next year though, in what is one of the more unique stories for any five-star top five prospect as he didn’t sign with a blue blood such as Duke, Kentucky and so on but signed with the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. Baldwin chose them because his father coaches the team, and instantly became the highest ranked recruit in the history of the Horizon League conference. Baldwin in any conference game will likely be the best player on the court freshman, so time will tell how NBA teams view his decision to play in such a low ranked conference. However, despite his understandable decision I still fully expect Baldwin to be a top 10 pick come the draft next year and be a very solid stretch four.