2021-22' Big Ten Conference Preview
Our round table goes over the NBA prospects you should keep an eye on in the Big Ten conference.
1. Ignore “consensus” boards and Twitter group think. Who is the best NBA prospect in this conference?
Nathan Grubel: Jaden Ivey. Two-way scoring guard who needs to work on getting others involved and being consistent from three-point range, but I have zero questions that his motor and tenacity will translate to the NBA game from day one. Ivey is the backcourt leader teams are always looking for in the draft.
Evan Wheeler: I think some have cooled on him, but Caleb Houstan would still be the best prospect in the Big Ten for my money. His shooting stroke is one of the sweetest I've seen from a mechanical standpoint and his playmaking skills should flourish under Juwan Howard. If he can continue to take strides as a shot-maker and shot creator this season, he'll end up in the number one pick discussion for me.
Alex (Draft Film School): Caleb Houstan. This one was really close between Houstan and Ivey but ultimately went with the wing shooter who I think has some creation tools to unlock this season. We saw some of it during FIBA U19 this summer when he played for team Canada but needs some ironing out.
Tyler Metcalf: This is close for me, but I think I have to lean Caleb Houstan. His combination of size, shooting, and defense is incredibly enticing for the modern NBA. Houstan should fill the Franz Wagner role rather seamlessly but with more consistent and more confident shooting.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Jaden Ivey. The shot was a problem for him last year at Purdue (shooting just 25.8% from deep), but I'm willing to bet that his shooting numbers will look a lot better this year given that he was a solid shooter in high school. His performance at the recent FIBA U19 tournament was also a positive sign; he was named to the all-tournament team, and played a great all-around game. Even if the shooting dip from his freshman season was real, his ball-handling and crazy athletic tools will still be there.
Corey Tulaba: Caleb Houstan is that dude. I’m just a sucker for a silky smooth floor game with a buttery smooth jump shot. I love me a shot maker, but I REALLY love me a versatile shot maker. Houstan can get it going off the bounce, off the catch, and off movement. He may not put up Cam Thomas-esque point per game stats this year at Michigan, but dont get it twisted, dude is going to be a bucket in the league.
Tyler Rucker: Caleb Houstan. I have a weird feeling that Caleb Houstan is going to quietly have a really solid year in Michigan while checking a lot of boxes. If you want to become suddenly intrigued with the talented freshman, just jump down a rabbit hole and watch his play during the U19 this summer for Team Canada. There's some fire and grit to his game, as well as a gorgeous looking outside shot. While many are going to be talking about some hyped up prospects near the top of the Draft, Houstan should be someone that we all need to keep a close eye on. I'm a fan of the tools.
2. Admittedly, one of the most satisfying parts of analyzing the draft is being able to look back and say “psh about time you guys took notice of him. I’ve been hyping him up for ages.” Who is the prospect that you are irrationally high on?
Nathan Grubel: Hakim Hart. I'm cutting DEEP with this pick but physically he'll stand out to everyone who catches a few Maryland games this year. The Terps are a veteran squad with Fatts Russell, Eric Ayala and Donta Scott all in the mix to score, but none of them have the potential to score from all three levels on the wing. A 6'8" smooth operator on the perimeter, Hart will have plenty of open shot opportunities and I could see him being someone who emerges out of nowhere and pop onto the scene.
Evan Wheeler: Nebraska freshman Bryce McGowens is a prospect I think could be in the running for being the best in the conference and really buy into the lanky South Carolina product's upside, especially as a scorer. He's easily the best talent coach Fred Hoiberg has brought into the program in my opinion, and by season's end could find himself on NBA scout's radar as a surefire first-round pick.
Alex (Draft Film School): Max Christie. Another two-way wing shooter who can do some stuff off the dribble? Sign me up (again). The 6'7" freshman has excellent shot mechanics and should provide immediate value as a floor spacer but I am interested if Izzo trusts him enough to give him some creation duties.
Tyler Metcalf: I came away really impressed by A.J. Hoggard pretty much every time I watched him last season at Michigan State. Tom Izzo typically does an excellent job of developing point guards. At 6'4, Hoggard could easily run the show given his high-energy defense and ability to get to the rim. Hoggard needs to mentally slow the game down, but with more experience that shouldn't be an issue. It also wouldn't surprise me if his (likely) backup Jaden Akins is a breakout freshman.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Kofi Cockburn. He arguably generated more buzz last year for another player's shortcomings (hello, Jalen Johnson) than he generated from his own success, but Kofi is a skilled interior defender with a good back-to-the-basket game. He could turn out to be one of the traditional big men who is phased out of the modern NBA (which admittedly means that he's not the type of prospect that I'm usually high on), but I think that he could be an effective bench big man for 10-15 minutes a game and a steal in the late second round of the upcoming draft.
Corey Tulaba: I’m a big Andre Curbelo guy. Maybe it’s the Long Island bias in me, but Curbelo is just a joy to watch on the floor. Dude is so slick and crafty with the ball in his hands. There aren’t many point guards that run a more fun P&R. The big question is will the shooting come around for him? He’s ways away, but if he gets the jumper right, Curbelo can turn himself into a Fred VanVleet type NBA guard.
Tyler Rucker: Jaden Ivey. There's an argument to be had that Ivey could become one of the best prospects in this conference. After struggling during the first half of his freshman year, Ivey exploded and started to look like a different player during the second half of the season for Purdue. There's some shifty offensive firepower to his game and if he can develop some consistency from outside, he could rise up Draft boards in a hurry.
3. Unfortunately, there are two sides to that coin, and they do not have equal probabilities. Which prospect do you like but think has the most likely chance of failing to meet expectations?
Nathan Grubel: Andre Curbelo. The Illini guard is expected to have a breakout year and burst onto the draft scene, but call me a little skeptical. I know he can score, but how efficient of a shooter will he be this year? Can he impact the game off the ball? And can he get others involved while limiting turnovers? Bottom line: will Curbelo excel at handling more responsibility and volume?
Evan Wheeler: I think Iowa's Keegan Murray will be a darling of Draft Twitter and justifiably so given his two-way potential as a 6'8" wing. I'm a believer in his talent and a fan of his game, I just wonder if he breaks out in the way many expect to him this season for the Hawkeyes.
Alex (Draft Film School): Hunter Dickinson. I think he is a typical case of really really productive college big who I just don't see making it in the NBA (at least not after this season). There is no denying he had an excellent freshman season, I just have real concerns with how it translates. He's a little slow footed on the defensive end and don't think he's dynamic enough on offense. Is he a poor man Enes Kanter maybe?
Tyler Metcalf: Trayce Jackson-Davis. Unfortunately, I just don't see "NBA player" with him. It feels like TJD is 30 years too late as he is an excellent rebounder, plays hard, and has great footwork in the post. Unfortunately, he isn't a floor spacer, he is inconsistent finishing around the rim, and his defensive awareness comes and goes. If he proves he has found a shot this will change, but I expect him to frustrate Hoosier fans.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Bryce McGowens. He could make this pick look exceptionally stupid pretty quickly, but I don't think that McGowens is ready to live up to first-round pick expectations just yet. His shot selection is questionable at best, and his shooting from beyond the arc is very inconsistent. I think that McGowens has clear first-round talent; I just think that he won't show it until his sophomore season.
Corey Tulaba: Hunter Dickinson just doesn’t get my juices flowing. He’s going to have a very good college career, but his game isn’t a great fit for the modern NBA. Luka Garza would be kind of a best case scenario for him, and even Garza had to modernize his game in a big way. NBA big men just have too much responsibility and I don’t think Dickinson is ever going to defend well enough out to the perimeter to be a viable NBA prospect.
Tyler Rucker: Hunter Dickinson. I just simply cannot get on board with the Dickinson hype train. He's got great size at 7'1" 255, and he's going to be an absolute force in the paint for Michigan. But he's unfortunately a big that's meant for the NBA in the 80s. As Corey stated above, Luka Garza is a perfect example of this and Dickinson doesn't have the floor spacing upside that Garza has.
4. The shiny new thing is always the most enticing to go after, but there is always a ton of value in older prospects. Based on their previous college seasons, which returning player are you most excited to watch and has the best NBA potential?
Nathan Grubel: Keegan Murray. Quietly may have a case as the second best prospect in the Big Ten, Murray has legitimate buzz in the draft circle. A 6'8" efficient scorer and two-way forward, if he can build upon his shooting where he was slightly under 30% during his freshman campaign, we could be looking at one of the best bets for breakout prospect in all of college basketball.
Evan Wheeler: Purdue sophomore Jaden Ivey will be one of the must-see players in college basketball this season. He's a two-way dynamo of a guard who has above-the-rim finishing ability that jumps off of the screen and tremendous fire as a competitor. As long as he continues to progress as a shooter, Ivey should be a lock for the lottery in 2022.
Alex (Draft Film School): Jaden Ivey. The #2 prospect in the Big 10 in my opinion. Really dynamic with the ball in his hands and I buy the jumper. Seemed to really hit his stride late in the season and during FIBA U19 over the summer. Excited to see him in his sophomore season. Should be a lottery lock.
Tyler Metcalf: Jaden Ivey could have been my answer to #1, but I wanted to talk about both him and Houstan so this is where Ivey goes. Ivey is a near lottery lock for me at this point and I would've been tempted to have a top-25 grade on him in last years draft. He is an incredibly fun ball-handler and will be a HUGE reason that Purdue lives up to their preseason hype. Don't be surprised if Ivey has a James Bouknight-esque Sophomore season.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Keegan Murray. He's got wing size at 6'8" and he has solid two-way potential; his scoring game is well-rounded (barring one major hole) and his defense is stout. His shooting from beyond the arc as a freshman was a bit concerning, but that also comes with sample size concerns—he made 16 of 54 triples (29.6%) but shot above 60% on 2-pointers and above 75% from the free throw line. I think that his shooting from deep will look better this year, and that coupled with the rest of his game should be enough for him to go in the first round.
Corey Tulaba: I really wrestled with whether Jaden Ivey was actually the best prospect in the conference. The dude just had himself a fantastic USA tournament run this summer and I think it’s going to carry over for him. He’s a stupid good athlete and if he can figure out the pace that the best NBA scorers play with in the half-court, he can cement himself into the top 7 conversation.
Tyler Rucker: Devante Jones. It's been my mission to always give some love to the "upperclassmen" of college hoops and Devante Jones is going to be my absolute WILDCARD here that deserves some attention. Jones transferred to Michigan after playing three years at Coastal Carolina. He's a bit stocky for a floor general at 6'1" 200 pounds, but I do believe there's potential for him to become an intriguing "super sleeper" in this class. He averaged 19.3 PPG and 7.2 REB last year, but I think he could become an intriguing floor general for this Michigan team.
5. Whether it’s Anthony Edwards dropping 37 points against Michigan State or Austin Rivers ripping the heart out of UNC fans or De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball, fans are provided with mesmerizing matchups and performances every season. Which matchup, whether team vs. team, player vs. player, or player vs. team, are you most looking forward to?
Nathan Grubel: I'm anxious to see Purdue and Michigan battle it out for the Big Ten crown. Coach Juwan Howard has his Wolverines in a great place with newcomer Caleb Houstan and returning big man Hunter Dickinson are as much of a dual threat as Ivey and Zach Edey at Purdue. The better of these two teams will likely champion the conference and could be on the one line in the NCAA Tournament. Either way, there's draft prospects all over when these two teams eventually collide.
Evan Wheeler: Selfishly, I'm really looking forward to Michigan and Nebraska's first meeting on December 7 to get a look at two of the best freshman in the country in Houstan and McGowens going head to head in their first duel.
Alex (Draft Film School): Michigan vs Purdue: The top two teams in the conference with the top two prospects in the conference. Should be fun matchups.
Tyler Metcalf: Michigan vs Ohio State. This was one of the best matchups last season and is primed to repeat. I expect Michigan to win the Big Ten this season and be legitimate title contenders. With all biases aside... GO BLUE!
Nick Agar-Johnson: Michigan vs. Purdue: I'm firmly in the Jaden Ivey believers camp, and this game will pit him against another lottery-level prospect in Caleb Houstan. Those games should tell us a lot about those two prospects, and they should be really fun battles as well.
Corey Tulaba: It comes down to Michigan vs Purdue for me. I'm a sucker for box office and these games may have huge draft implications. Two potential top ten picks in Houstan and Ivey in a lottery off. Mark this one on the calendar.
Tyler Rucker: Michigan vs Purdue. There's just no doubt that this could be one of the biggest games on the slate when it comes to the Big Ten. Plenty will be watching Caleb Houstan and the talented Michigan Wolverines squad, but this could be a game in which Jaden Ivey makes his presence felt as a serious NBA Draft prospect. Circle this one on the calendar ladies and gentlemen.