2021-22' PAC 12 Conference Preview
Our round table goes over the NBA prospects you should keep an eye on in the PAC 12 conference.
1. Ignore “consensus” boards and Twitter group think. Who is the best NBA prospect in this conference?
Nathan Grubel: Peyton Watson. The UCLA wing may not make a ton of noise in the scoring department over the course of his freshman year, but if he does that only adds to his appeal as a prospect. The 6'9" possesses the size, length and defensive ability to shake up the conference and give the Bruins a weapon they haven't had in years. He'll have some highlight blocks and transition finishes to help his stock rise.
Evan Wheeler: I'm going to go with Arizona big man Azuolas Tubelis, as I'm just a huge buyer on his potential as a hybrid big at the next level given his shooting and playmaking ability. He should average a double-double fairly easily this year while contending for the PAC 12 Player of the Year. He reminds me a ton of Indiana Pacers All-Star and fellow Lithuanian, Domantas Sabonis, which I think will display itself over the course of the year.
Tyler Metcalf: Peyton Watson is fascinating and I think is the right answer here (the other option I'll mention shortly). Watson has a ton of upside but I'm hesitant on how to rate him. His jumper is all over the place. When it goes in, it looks flawless. However, when he misses, which he does a lot, they are really bad misses. They aren't your typical in-and-out. They miss badly. Putting the shot to the side, though, Watson is a great athlete, competitive defender, and high-level passer. I expect him to thrive at UCLA and be a top-ten pick.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Peyton Watson. His shot is concerning and comes and goes, but the rest of the package with Watson is elite—excellent defense, really good passing vision, and absurd athleticism. Watson is pretty clearly a top ten prospect in this class for me, and a bit more consistency with his jump shot would boost him up even further.
Tyler Rucker: Peyton Watson. I don't know if I'm as anxious to watch one prospect as I am with Peyton Watson at UCLA. Now I should warn everyone, don't expect monster numbers from Watson. He's going to be playing alongside a stacked Bruins team that will have plenty of mouths to feed. But Watson has some serious tools in his shed as a playmaking forward with vision. This could be a type of prospect where you want to focus on the upside compared to the production right away.
Corey Tulaba: I guess I’m gonna have to stray from the path here (great band BTW) because I’m taking Arizona’s Benedict Mathurin. Although Mathurin will be a sophomore this college season he’ll be just three months older than Peyton Watson come draft night. Now don’t get me wrong, I get the intrigue with Watson. Long, rangy, athletic, skilled; but the NBA is a shooters league and Mathurin is one of the best and most efficient shooters in the class. I think Mathurin has more off the bounce game than he showed as a freshmen. We saw some of it during his big FIBA u19 tournament which included multiple thirty point games. The kid plays with such great patience and poise. He’s a good athlete with a quick first step that he leverages to attack the rim when defenders hard close on him. I’m buying in early. Mathurin is gonna be a big time riser throughout this draft process.
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: Marcus Bagley. I was up and down on Bagley last year as a prospect for the 2021 draft, but another year under his belt should do him some good, especially if he performs up to expectations. Shooting versatility, rebounding and defensive effort give him a solid floor to build on in the NBA, but if he can become more of a willing passer and continue to finish well around the basket there may be more to tap into. He's a candidate for me to break into the top 20 consensus prospects for 2022.
Evan Wheeler: UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. I believe will be a polarizing prospect in draft discussions this season, and ultimately probably will be overshadowed by incoming freshman Peyton Watson. I'm a believer in Jaquez Jr. though and think his creative shot-making ability combined with improvements hopefully being made on the defensive end, should improve his draft stock throughout the year.
Tyler Metcalf: Efe Abogidi from Washington State is a guy to keep an eye on. I was impressed by his physical presence last season as a freshman and could make a splash in the PAC-12 this season. Abogidi was really raw last season, but if he shows some improvement and slows the game down mentally, he could be in draft conversation in a few months.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Marcus Bagley. He missed a ton of time with injury last season (a trait that unfortunately seems to run in the family), but I'm a big believer in Bagley's size, athleticism, and shooting touch on the wing. A good season for Arizona State could vault Bagley into the middle of the first round, and I'm looking forward to seeing him take on a bigger role with Josh Christopher moving on to the NBA.
Tyler Rucker: You Want to Get Nuts? I GOT A CRAZY ONE FOR YOU. Arizona big man Christian Koloko is a guy I've been incredibly intrigued with since his freshman year. I think this could be a guy that comes out of nowhere and finds some fans in the Draft world. The 7'1" 225-pound big man came to Tucson as an extremely raw product but he's gotten better each year. This could be the season that Koloko could become a problem in the Pac-12. You've been warned.
Corey Tulaba: Oh you think you’re going nuts here huh Rucker? You want to get crazy? LET’S GET CRAZY! I’m taking the Estonian sharpshooter Kerr Kriisa. Kriisa was in a really weird situation last season having to sit most of it out due to one of the NCAA’s dumb ass rules, but the point guard spot is all his this season and he’ll be there from the jump. The kid has one of the most pure strokes you’ll come across, and shit he has to, because the kid is literally named after Steve Kerr. If we’re out here being irrational, I’m gonna get my money’s worth.
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: Johnny Juzang. Another UCLA wing, except Juzang's outstanding run last year in the NCAA Tournament doesn't necessarily mean he's a top prospect to be monitored in the 2022 draft. At last year's combine, Juzang looked physically and athletically overwhelmed against tougher competition and struggled to create his own shot or make plays for others. Unless he has a massive year, his stock may stay where it's at currently or continue to drop even further.
Evan Wheeler: I wasn't huge on Arizona State Marcus Bagley's pro upside going into the 2021 Draft and I'm not sure much has changed in my mind heading into the 2022 Draft. I think he could fall reasonably short of the first-round label that has been placed upon him.
Tyler Metcalf: Johnny Juzang almost seems too easy of an answer, but no one has higher expectations that will be nearly impossible to meet. Juzang had an incredible tournament, but unfortunately, I think that's all it was. I don't see Juzang as a high-end NBA prospect unless he proves to be a reliable outside shooter and not a complete black hole. Juzang was a highly inconsistent shooter and relied on a ton of contested mid-range jumpers. Juzang may be a fun college player and may even reignite that magical tournament run, but I don't see it in terms of the NBA.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Johnny Juzang. I was genuinely stunned that he did not declare for the draft after his magical tournament run with UCLA, and quite frankly I think that him not declaring was a mistake. I highly doubt that his stock will ever be higher than it was after the tournament; while I love being wrong on these kinds of evaluations and hope that Juzang makes me look foolish, I just don't think that he has the skillset to be more than an inefficient chucker at the next level.
Tyler Rucker: Johnny Juzang. I know this is a popular answer here, but I simply cannot ignore it. Juzang tried to parlay an impressive NCAA tournament run into an invite to the NBA Combine but he struggled and decided to return to UCLA. Unfortunately, I just don't know if I see another level of his game waiting to be unlocked. I'm sure he's going to put up some big numbers for the Bruins this year, but I don't know if that's going to translate to an effective NBA player.
Corey Tulaba: Is there an echo in here? It’s got to be Juzang. I actually think he’s going to come back to school and have a good season, but casual draft fans are going to probably have the impression that Juzang should be mocked way higher than he is. When I did an appearance on the legend Jody Mac’s CBS radio show last cycle, he asked me about Juzang and his tournament run and had him rated higher than his first round contemporaries. Casuals ya know? Those are the kind of expectations that come with the tourney run he had. Nowhere to go but down.
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: Bennedict Mathurin. I would imagine this is the popular answer to this question amongst my peers, but he could overtake Watson atop my PAC-12 prospect projections. A "3-and-D" level NBA floor with upside as a shot creator off the bounce, it wouldn't shock me if at some point evaluators start comparing Mathurin to someone on the level of Mikal Bridges who just got a pretty nice pay day from the Phoenix Suns. That caliber of wing is always welcome in the NBA, and a big reason why he has so many fans in the draft community.
Evan Wheeler: I was very surprised that USC forward Isaiah Mobley withdrew his name from the draft last year and thought he was a top 40 player in the class. Now with his younger brother Evan leading the Cleveland Cavaliers' latest rebuild, the older Mobley brother should slot in as the new top option in the Trojans offense. I think this could be a sneaky Final Four team in 2022 and a lot of that has to do with Mobley's return. I could see him having the kind of season that puts him in the top 20 conversations in this year's draft.
Tyler Metcalf: Benedict Mathurin. I was shocked when he decided to come back, but I think Mathurin is essentially a lock to be at least a lottery pick. Mathurin is a deadeye shooter, very good on-ball defender, and excellent athlete. My only hesitation with Mathurin's game is his lack of on-ball creation. Mathurin was a below-average ball-handler, not a good passer, and struggled to create space. Those limitations are significant for a shooting guard slotted for the top-10, but if he even shows flashes of improvements there, I'm all-in on him being a long-term NBA starter.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Benedict Mathurin. His shooting touch, athleticism, and defense at shooting guard make him a lottery-level talent. If he can show more with the ball in his hands this season at Arizona, he could make a case for going in the top half of the lottery.
Tyler Rucker: So everyone here is giving you the obvious answer, which is Bennedict Mathurin, and I get it. But I'll treat the fans to something different. I'm pumped to see what Jabari Walker can do at Colorado in his second year. He's the son of former NBA veteran Samaki Walker and he showed some nice flashes in limited time as a freshman. There's plenty of buzz building around Walker as a potential breakout candidate, so we will see if he can deliver. There's an intriguing mixture of tools in his arsenal, but I want to see if anything can become his "elite" skill.
Corey Tulaba: I already went to bat for Mathurin, so I’m gonna go with Isaiah Mobley. Isaiah isn’t nearly the NBA prospect that his wunderkind brother is, but I think he’s skilled enough to potentially be a fun NBA role player. Mobley’s got good footwork on the block and he looked more comfortable stretching the floor last season. With a 7’3” wingspan you’d like to see him be a more dangerous rim protector and he needs to knock down his FTs, but I think that there’s a path to the league for Mobley.
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 want to see Watson go head-to-head against Mathurin this year. Which one of these two gets the defensive edge? Who ends up shooting better from the perimeter? Does either muster up a SportsCenter highlight against one another? That matchup should ultimately determine who is the best long-term prospect in the conference, not to mention UCLA and Arizona generally is a fantastic late night showdown to pay attention to.
Evan Wheeler: Going to be hard to beat that Final Four rematch between UCLA and Gonzaga on November 23. Should be one of the biggest and best games in college basketball this season.
Tyler Metcalf: UCLA vs Arizona has so much talent. It feels impossible that those games won't be awesome with the combination of Mathurin, Tubelis, Watson, Juzang, and Jacquez.
Nick Agar-Johnson: UCLA vs. Arizona will be the games to watch in the PAC 12 this season. With last year's semi-Cinderella UCLA squad mostly returning and adding Peyton Watson, UCLA will be a fun watch all season. When you throw in Bennedict Mathurin and Azuolas Tubelis on the Arizona side, this matchup turns up to 11 on the prospect scale.
Tyler Rucker: UCLA vs Zona. Going to be plenty of firepower on both sides of the floor and do NOT sleep on the Arizona Wildcats this year. New head coach Tommy Lloyd has some intriguing talent on that roster, and the Wildcats could be a tough opponent for anyone. This should be a PAC-12 street brawl.
Corey Tulaba: UCLA vs Arizona for me too. A few high end first rounders with a few potential second rounders as well. Should make for a great scouting opportunity.