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2021-22' Mid-Majors Preview
Our round table goes over the Mid-Majors NBA prospects you should keep an eye on.
1. Ignore “consensus” boards and Twitter group think. Who is the best NBA prospect in this conference?
Nathan Grubel: Jalen Duren. "Baby Shaq" is what I've dubbed this 6'10" chiseled big, and for good reason. Penny Hardaway has a stud manning his defense and cleaning the glass on both ends of the floor. Duren's footwork and touch in the paint will offer the Tigers a go-to weapon in the halfcourt, and his motor as a rim runner will punish teams who don't prioritize defending in transition. This center prospect is already in the mix as a top pick in the 2022 draft, and the best mid-major prospect outside of Chet Holmgren.
Alex (Draft Film School): Excluding Gonzaga from the Mid-major category.
I am going to go with Patrick Baldwin Jr. (PBJ as I like to call him because I'm lazy and it's a great sandwich). He is not your typical mid-major freshman prospect (5-star, top 10 recruit) but luckily for UW-Milwaukee, his dad is the coach. PBJ is exactly what the NBA is looking for, a modern 6'9" wing/forward who can get buckets. He is one of the best shooters in the draft and should put up monster numbers this season (albeit playing against sub-par competition). I have no problem with him going top 5 in the 2022 draft.
Tyler Metcalf: Chet Holmgren is the answer here but including Gonzaga as a mid-major feels like cheating so I'm going to do my best to steer in a different direction. Patrick Baldwin Jr. is the epitome of an NBA wing. At 6'9 and a beautiful shooting stroke, I struggle to see Baldwin not being a top pick. Unfortunately, Baldwin won't be facing the highest level of competition as he decided to stay home at Milwaukee to play for his dad. However, we will likely see Baldwin essentially run the show which will give us a great indication of if primary initiator is a potential future role for him.
Nico Agar-Johnson: Jalen Duren. Ignoring the philosophical question of whether or not Gonzaga is a mid-major (in which case the pick here would be Chet Holmgren), Duren is the best mid-major prospect in my mind. He's got an NBA-ready frame and elite length, and will be ready to contribute on defense pretty much right away. His offensive game needs a bit more polish, but he's already a solid passer for his position. He's also a year and a half younger than Holmgren, which is important to keep in mind when comparing their NBA readiness.
Evan Wheeler: Since we're not including Gonzaga in this discussion, I've got to agree with the consensus here and go with Memphis freshman Jalen Duren. He's one of the most physically impressive prospects I've personally ever evaluated coming out of high school. Duren already has an NBA body and has the kind of athleticism where he makes something as simple as a rebound look impressive. I'll be interested to see if he can extend his offensive skillset out to the three-point line, but Nathan's nickname of "Baby Shaq" is very fitting for the incoming freshman star.
Tyler Rucker: I still can't believe that Gonzaga is considered a Mid-Major. Heck no I'm not going down that route. Memphis big man Jalen Duren is going to potentially have a hype train derailed multiple times throughout the year. At the Memphis pro day his leaked measurements seemed like they were a misprint. He measured at 6'11", 250-pounds with a 7'5.25" wingspan. Watching Duren in high school is like watching Dwight Howard play against middle school kids. He dunks everything in the world and just overpowers people with his freakish strength. If he can hit the ground running, Duren is going to be scorching in Draft circles.
Garbage Time Ghim: PBJ is awesome. There's always a handful of prospects every year that you tab as guys that you just won't waver on. I think PBJ is that guy for me this year. The more I think about it, the more I love the unique situation he's in. I think playing for his dad and watching how his dad handles him this year is going to be really interesting. I also love the fact that he's the clear-cut number one option on that team and I'm excited to see how he faces that challenge. I don't know if he'll ever be a true number one option on the next level but I'd like to see him try in college and see what comes of it. Baptism by fire is spicy.
Corey Tulaba: It seems as though my teammates have made some kind of blood oath rule to avoid counting Gonzaga on this list. Completely understandable. If I was a square I’d follow said rule, but I’m not so I won’t. Chet is the best mid major prospect and I want to talk about him. I started out a bit cautious to hop on the Chet train, but it’s been moving full steam ahead and it ran me over. His offensive skills are kind of mind numbing. I mean what even is he? Big wing? Stretch big? Can we get PJ Carlesimo in here to give him a position? He’s unbelievably scheme versatile defensively. Sure, he’ll get pushed around down low a bit, but the dude isn’t backing down from contact. He’s tough as shit. I can’t believe we get Evan Mobley and Chet Holmgren in back to back drafts.
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: Patrick Baldwin Jr. Pat's game screams NBA ready because of his shooting stroke combined with his improving handle and 6'9" frame. Baldwin's shooting form and efficiency from range at his size truly remind me of Michael Porter Jr. even if he isn't the same level of complete scorer, at least not yet. Either way, I'll have my eyes on his entire body of work not just Milwaukee's prime games against Florida and Colorado.
Alex (Draft Film School): Hyunjung Lee. He is probably the best pure shooter in the class with good size at 6'7" (the only other 50/40/90 guy last year alongside TM3). He is also a severely underrated passer/playmaker. With Kellan Grady gone I am hoping for more on ball reps and him to take a step as a creator. A-10 POY type season is in play for this kid.
Ryan Rollins would have been my pick here but think he's more of a 2023 prospect.
Tyler Metcalf: I love the Hyungjung Lee shout, and I'm going to similarly go deep with Tyler Burton from Richmond. Burton has an NBA body and athleticism. He showed meaningful improvement as an outside shooter as his three-point percentage jumped by 10% on nearly triple the number of attempts. If Burton shows another shooting improvement and more consistency, the NBA should be in his future.
Nico Agar-Johnson: Patrick Baldwin Jr. He's 6'9" and has an argument for being the best pure shooter in this draft class. Baldwin's already got an inherent knowledge of how to move off-ball and curl around screens, and he's comfortable with taking shots off the dribble already. Baldwin should be a clear-cut top ten pick in this class despite playing at an off-the-radar school in UW-Milwaukee.
Evan Wheeler: I might just be a sucker for VCU guards as I was an enormous fan of Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland in last year's class, and also just have a huge amount of respect for how Mike Rhoades’ crew plays the game. I think senior KeShawn Curry is going to pick up right where Hyland left off and improve drastically in a more featured role this season.
Tyler Rucker: Patrick Baldwin Jr. I've been fascinated about the talent of Patrick Baldwin Jr. and I think there's a chance he could blossom throughout the collegiate season. There's a chance that PBJ (best nickname ever?) could be considered the best shooter in the upcoming NBA Draft class. If he can demonstrate some versatility as a creator offensively, he should be locked in as a potential Top-10 selection...if not higher.
Garbage Time Ghim: Hyun Jung Lee. I know being Korean myself makes this answer wildly biased but I love him. He's well known in Korea for attending Steph's alma mater and for shooting 50/40/90 last year. I love him because he's Korean and I think he might actually have a real chance at being good on the next level. He's rail thin and it annoys me, but his shooting stroke is pure and his IQ on the floor is really high. The dude is a willing/able passer and he'll have a good opportunity to show it off some more this season. I'm excited to see how he develops with more of the offensive burden being placed on his shoulders. Defensively I think the sleight frame hurts him but I don't think he's some turnstile either, the effort is there.
Corey Tulaba: Add another one to the list of Patrick Baldwin Jr. truthers. I’m an absolute sucker for those smooth offensive games that just look effortless on the court. I love Baldwin’s size and ability to play either wing spot. His off ball movement shooting gives me butterflies. He really reminds me of a jumbo Tyler Herro. I’m glad that he went somewhere where he’s the dude, because I want to see if he has any of Herro’s fuck you attitude in him. If that comes out at all this season…phew, watch out!
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: Andrew Nembhard. I seem to be one of the only scouts out there who thinks he's an NBA prospect, and given that I'm already one of the few and the proud, that means he has yet to put a legitimate draft case together for the consensus. He's now on the wrong side of 20 for a first-round draft prospect, and while older guys like Chris Duarte and Corey Kispert had excellent years and were drafted on the high side last year, Nembhard hasn't proven he's a pro caliber PG. I still think there's something left to tap into at Gonzaga this year, but he has the potential to end up overseas immediately once his college days are over and not even sniff the league.
Alex (Draft Film School): Taevion Kinsey. Really explosive guard with good size who puts up impressive numbers. I think he will get some first round buzz because he will have the highlights and box score stats, but I fear he might struggle at the next level when playing against other elite athletes. He is not a great shooter and can get bogged down in the half court. He is a beast in transition though.
Tyler Metcalf: He's a ton of fun and will probably score in bunches, but I struggle to see Max Abmas in making a case to be an NBA guard. Setting his size limitations aside, Abmas isn't a great playmaker and is a liability on defense. I struggle to see a situation where he convinces NBA teams that his scoring can outweigh the negatives in the NBA.
Nico Agar-Johnson: Emoni Bates. This feels a bit mean given his recent tumbles down draft rankings, and it's always upsetting when someone gets a ton of hype at a young age followed by a ton of media backlash when they fall even slightly short of the expectations that other people have set for them. That being said, Bates' inefficient scoring and negative wingspan are big red flags for me, and ones that I hope that he can make irrelevant with a spectacular freshman season.
Evan Wheeler: I'm going to say UW-Milwaukee freshman Patrick Baldwin Jr. which might surprise some and I by no means am a doubter of his talents. PBJ is an extremely versatile and crafty offensive force already, who has arguably become the main crush of Draft Twitter, but I just wonder if he will still be in the number one pick discussion by the end of the season.
Tyler Rucker: Max Abmas. I know...everyone is going to be lighting their pitchforks with this answer, I'm sorry guys. I think Abmas is a terrific collegiate talent and he's going to be a sure bet to put up some terrifyingly fun numbers as a scorer this year. My problem is I'm struggling to see the fit at the next level. Hopefully Abmas can prove me wrong and show that he can become a more consistent asset defensively, but I still have questions about his NBA fit.
Garbage Time Ghim: I 100% agree with Rucker on Abmas. I've never been a huge fan of smaller guards and Abmas is really small. I know they list him at 6'1", but he looks way smaller to me. The dude is a really fun player to watch but I just don't see how an NBA coach will look at him and not be terrified of what other teams will do to him when he's playing defense. I love being wrong but I just don't see it with him.
Corey Tulaba: The holy trinity has spoken. Gonna go with Abmas as well. It’s hard to see his draft stock ever being higher than it was after his brilliant sophomore season. He was already insanely efficient offensively. I think he’d have to start looking like Trae Young as a playmaker while maintaining his shooting splits to work his way back into the conversation. But honestly what it comes down to is can he just straight up guard at an NBA level? I’m team heart over height but it’s hard to carry that kind of offensive load and get after it defensively. I hope he does it, but I have my doubts.
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: Max Abmas. The Oral Roberts star dazzled fans last year not only with his shooting ability but willingness to put the ball on the deck and score any way he had to in order to carry his team. Comparisons to CJ McCollum have been made for Abmas and while his college numbers were off the charts and even better than CJ's, he doesn't project as the same caliber of prospect as the near NBA All-Star. Could he get himself back in the late first/early second conversation in 2022's draft? Possibly, but it would take one hell of a big year to do so. Count me in for watching closely.
Alex (Draft Film School): Jordan Hall. Not sure if he counts because he's still 19 but he is a Sophomore so technically a returner! I'm semi-obsessed with the "jumbo initiator" architype and Hall fits right in with the guard skills he possesses at 6'8". I am really intrigued to watch him play another year at St. Joes, and hope he takes another step forward as a scorer too.
Tyler Metcalf: Marcus Sasser will have the opportunity to shine for Houston this season. With the departure of a few older guards ahead of him in the rotation, this should be Sasser's team. Sasser can be a lights out shooter and if he shows improvement with his passing and defense, he could have a monster season.
Nico Agar-Johnson: Max Abmas. I have a serious problem with massively overrating small guards who can score a ton (eternal shoutout to Isaiah Thomas here), so I'm really hoping that Abmas stays on the NBA radar. If he can figure out literally anything on the defensive end, there's a role for him as a 10-15 minute per game microwave scorer. I really hope that it pans out for him like that.
Evan Wheeler: This answer has to be Wichita State senior and reigning AAC Co-Player of the Year, Tyson Etienne for me. He was a prospect I was surprised to see return to school as I thought he was a surefire second-round talent in the 2021 draft. However, I think he's going to play with a massive chip on his shoulder this season and I think that's only going to fuel a player who already doesn't need any extra motivation to work harder. I'm expecting another big year for Etienne and him to push to be in the first-round conversations in 2022.
Tyler Rucker: Taevion Kinsey. I'm still a bit of a believer in the athletic wing out of Marshall. He's a freak of nature who makes you hold your breath every time he has a clear lane towards the basket. At 6'5" with some serious hops, I think Kinsey has potential to create some buzz with another strong year. He's gotten better every year, including a sizeable jump in three-point shooting from his sophomore campaign. If Kinsey can take another step forward, he's going to be a "sleeper" first-round pick.
Garbage Time Ghim: Jordan Hall is the tall kid in pick-up that can do so much with the ball in his hands and looks for every excuse in the world to avoid getting in the post. The dude is an awesome playmaker and plays with that awkward old guy energy and tempo. It feels like he's always in control and choosing to mix up speeds to keep the defense guessing. I don''t love how his jump shot looks but it works, he shot 35% on threes last year on almost 5 attempts per game. Not awesome but it's enough.
Corey Tulaba: Gonna agree with Evan on this one and go with Tyson Etienne. I’m big on basketball kinesthetics and I think Etienne is the perfect example of a guy who just moves like an NBA basketball player moves. He’s also an absolute flame thrower off the bounce. His pull up game is insanely fun to watch and dreadful to guard. However, it is absolutely imperative that he gets the rest of those percentages up. He has to prove that he can mix it up inside. Flashes of playmaking wouldn’t hurt either. I don’t know if he’ll get there, but I think Etienne has some serious potential. There’s a lot of guys I’m excited to scout this season but Etienne is on the VERY excited short list.
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: Gonzaga/Duke has to be the choice here, even if it's not a matchup of TWO mid-major powers. Paolo Banchero against Chet Holmgren is must-see TV not just for scouts and draft enthusiasts but for fans of the game. Can Banchero overpower Chet around the basket, or will Holmgren's rare blend of length and anticipation lead to plenty of blocks on Paolo and the rest of the Blue Devils? Will young guards Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman make some noise against the rest of the Blue Devils? Las Vegas is the only stage for a contest such as this.
Alex (Draft Film School): Patrick Baldwin Jr. vs Jabari Walker. PBJ will not play against elite competition given UW-Milwaukee's conference, but he will play two high major teams (Florida & Colorado). I will have my eyes on how PBJ performs going up against another 2022 draft prospect in Jabari Walker.
Tyler Metcalf: Patrick Baldwin Jr vs Jabari Walker for me as well. Any PBJ matchup against high-level competition will be a must watch as there won't be many of them.
Nico Agar-Johnson: UW-Milwaukee vs. Colorado. I'm not as high on Jabari Walker as some people are, but this will be Patrick Baldwin Jr.'s best chance to show what he can do against higher-level competition.
Evan Wheeler: Wichita State vs. Memphis on New Year's Day is a matchup I'm really excited for. Tyson Etienne battling the freshman duo of Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates is primetime viewing.
Tyler Rucker: UW-Milwaukee vs Colorado. This is going to be the game that EVERY scout and NBA personnel are going to circle on their calendars. Patrick Baldwin Jr heading to Colorado to take on a tough opponent. If PBJ can have a strong showing in this one, then his stock could start sizzling in a hurry.
Garbage Time Ghim: I'm excited to see PBJ go up against Florida. It's a nice test for him early in the season and I'm really excited to see how he reacts. I love the kid and I think he's going to be awesome but he's taking on a big challenge as the lead guy. If he has an awesome game against Florida it might give him some good momentum the rest of the way.
Corey Tulaba: I’m most looking forward to Memphis vs Virginia Tech at the NIT Tip-Off tournament on Thanksgiving Eve at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn. Nathan and I will be scouting the game in person and I can’t wait to see what Duren and Bates look like up close. The game will be great no doubt, but the star of the night will be the Nene’s Taqueria install that went up this year at the arena. I’m going to eat all the birria tacos. All of them.