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Revisiting The 2021 NBA Draft: From Seniors to Freshmen

With the 2021 NBA Draft in the rear-view mirror, it is time to get a look at the 247Sports Composite Rankings to see how scouts and talent finders fared during the past few years in relation to where prospects were ultimately selected this summer.

2021 NBA Draft Photo by Ashlee Espinal/NBAE via Getty Images

If you are an avid reader of Ridiculous Upside, you probably know what the 247Sports Composite Rankings are and how they have been more or less reliable in order to predict where players are picked in the different NBA drafts and how they have performed over their careers.

As no player from this year’s draft has played his first game yet, we can only look back to where they were ranked, and which position they were drafted at.

First things first. Each season, there usually are more than 400 players making the year’s 247 Composite ranks of that class. Considering players normally spend one to four years in college, the 2021 draft should have been comprised exclusively of players from the 2017 to 2020 HS classes, which was actually the case.

All in all, these are the 34 players to be included in their HS class Top-75 per 247Sports Composite Rankings) that were drafted in this past draft:

Before getting into details, it is worth it to get a broad idea of how the past four classes did in terms of producing NBA draft picks.

Keeping in mind 400+ players are ranked each year, and that we have four classes, that gives us a field of 1,600 players to pick from. Of that vast field of players, and considering some were drafted in earlier years, 51 of them were selected in the most recent NBA draft.

Unsurprisingly, there is a clear relation between HS class, rank, and number of draftees. We live in the one-and-done era, whether we like it or not. And if you don’t like this approach to drafting players, well, I don’t think you’d be rooting for the soon-to-come-back prep-to-pros trend.

That is not much of an insight, though. Prospects that are great exiting HS tend to play less college basketball than those still raw that need to build their reputation and improve their game. That shows in the chart above.

The average ranking of one-and-dones (players from the 2020 HS class drafted in 2021) is around 18th. It goes down to 80th, 81st, and 135th in the prior years, following a clear downward trend. Something similar happens with the number of players from each of the past four classes drafting this year: from 21 freshmen to 11 sophomores, 10 juniors, and just nine seniors.

Every year, each draft brings busts and gems. We may not know who turns into what until a few years from the moment players are drafted, but we can assign a starting value to how much a player can be deemed a “steal” from the get-go. In order to do that, I just calculated a simple, objective value based on both the spot the player was drafted and how high he was ranked among his HS class peers.

I called this value “Rk/Pk” and that is the actual calculation of it. Just divide his 247-rank by his draft slot, and the lower the value the greater the chance he turns into a steal, and the greatest the value the team drafting him extracted from the pick as he should have been gone earlier in the draft. In order to account for the player experience, I finally divided the Rk/Pk value by the number of years the prospect spent at the NCAA-level (or among pros, in the case of the G Leaguers), so younger players have more upside.

Here is how the 2021 draft looks like, player-by-player. The size of the circles mark the player experience (smaller for freshmen, bigger for seniors), and the color varies from green (lower Rk/Pk - more upside/less risk) to red (higher Rk/Pk - less upside/more risk):

The only top-5 pick carrying some risk with him is Jalen Suggs, though that’s not really concerning. In fact, Suggs’ pick was seen as one of the “steals” to an extent thanks to him falling to the no. 5 slot while expected to be a top-4 draftee. The supposed risk of that pick comes from the fact that Suggs was “only” the 11th-best prospect as scouts saw him, which seems more like a failure from them than anything else, as Suggs is a consensus top-tier player after one year of college ball.

Davion Mitchell is the only top-10 player drafted this offseason with more than three years of experience at the NCAA level of play. He was the no. 59 prospect in the 2017 HS class. Following him in the draft and part of his same class were two more players: Chris Duarte and Corey Kispert. It is rather interesting that Duarte went off the board with a lottery pick considering he was the (very low) 237th-best prospect as scouts evaluated him back in 2017.

The truth is, though, that Franz Wagner is seen as the biggest reach of this year’s draft considering the prospect ranks, draft position, and pre-NBA experience. Wagner was part of the 2019 HS class of seniors and ranked outside of the top 100 (114th-best), spent two years in the NCAA playing for the Michigan Wolverines, and was finally drafted by Orlando with a top-10 pick this past July. Josh Primo is seen as the “riskiest” player among freshmen, picked inside the lottery of the 2021 draft by the San Antonio Spurs.

On the other side of the coin, there were three clear “steals” in the last draft, all of them bunched in the bottom-right part of the chart above:

  • The first one and carrier of the highest upside is Charles Bassey, no. 6 of the 2018 HS class. Bassey spent three years playing college ball at Western Kentucky and racking up accolades until becoming the Philadelphia 76ers 53rd-overall pick. That’s quite a drop if compared to his prospect rank, which was as high as the 6th-best player among his peers. Injuries and low-level opposition might have affected Bassey’s draft capital, though, as he missed a big part of his sophomore season after an excellent freshman campaign.
  • Scottie Lewis, he of Florida Gators lore, was the no. 7 player of the 2019 class of HS seniors. Born in The Bronx and named to the ‘19 MCDAAG roster, Lewis didn’t become the college star that most expected him to be but he still played to good levels helping his stock and earning him a call with the 56th-overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets. An interesting what-if: what if Lewis had declared at the end of the 2020 season—for last year’s draft—coming off a selection for the SEC All-Freshman Team?
  • Finally, Brandon “BJ” Boston is seen as another potential steal, this time by the Los Angeles Clippers after the Hollywood-based franchise snatched him with a low 51st-overall pick. Boston committed to Kentucky as the fifth-best prospect in his HS class a year ago, so watching him fall 46 positions compared to his ranking on draft day was mindboggling. That is, going by the pure ranks and draft capital. The truth is that he was rather disappointing in his lone season playing for the Wildcats, which didn’t help his stock in any good way considering the hype he carried from his HS days.

Finally, a quick look at where prospects came from. And yes, that you’re seeing up there is the biggest talent producer this past draft: the G League took the Association by storm and got three of the top-tier prospects they put in last summer’s bubble in the top-31 of this draft class—including the no. 2 Jalen Green and no. 7 Jonathan Kuminga. Not bad for a start.

Back to the casual NCAA-to-NBA pipeline, all of Gonzaga, Florida State, and Texas led the pack with three draftees each. Gonzaga was the school with the highest-drafted players on average, having three guys picked into the top-50 with two lottery or borderline-lottery picks (no. 5 Jalen Suggs and no. 15 Corey Kispert).

Our beloved super-blue-bloods of Kentucky and Duke could only see two and one players taken off the board this past July respectively—though if we’re honest, it should have been three for the Wildcats had Terrence Clark not left us earlier this year.

Shouts out to Alabama too, as the Crimson Tide were able to get a couple of kids drafted with the highest average among two-prospect schools, including “expected-bust” Josh Primo (given his rank coming out of HS, that is) and 35th-overall pick Herb Jones.