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Revisiting The 2021 NBA Draft: One-and-Dones

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 fare back in 2020 in relation to where college freshmen were ultimately selected this summer.

2021 NBA Draft Photo by Melanie Fidler/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. For the HS class of 2020, there were 508 entries. Here are the Top-25 players in the class:

I have highlighted in green those selected in this year’s draft, including the team that picked them in light gray next to their position in the Composite Ranks (the late Terrence Clark, no. 8 prospect, left us way soon, so keep that in mind while reading the next of this piece). Out of 25 prospects, 17 were selected, which yields an astonishing 68% hit rate.

Looking at those selected, the positions they occupy are really not surprising and could have been expected to a certain extent. After all, the best-ranked recruits should be those selected atop the draft. That is mostly the case here, as the seven-best players were all selected and that would have been up to the first nine had Clarke been available. Only one top-10 player wasn’t drafted (remained in college, though).

If we dig deeper, though, these are the full results combining the kids’ rank and their draft position:

There are this summer’s 21 overall draft picks from the 2020 HS Class of hoopers. As already introduced, 17 were part of the Top-25 of the class, while the other four fell short of the cream of the crop—though not by much. As it usually happens with these things, the chart looks like a shotgun wildly fired toward a couple of axes.

If scouts were to be fully trusted, the trend line would go from the top-left corner to the bottom-right one. Turns out, they’re not. But it’s not that things can’t look much better considering the volatile nature of scouting.

Of the 21 picks, only five heard their name in the second round of the draft, with only one player (BJ Boston) falling below the top-50 selections in the 2021 event. That’s an absolutely stunning success rate, even more considering the fact that 16 freshmen were drafted in the first round—with the 17th kicking off the second round, too.

The colleges—or not—that provided the most drafted freshmen to the draft are perhaps the defining trait of the 2021 class of draftees. You are seeing it correctly in the image, folks: the G-League, a fully-formed professional league made out of borderline-NBA-caliber players, pumped out three kids that were drafted with the second-, seventh-, and 31st-overall picks in late July. Those selections and players can’t be considered true prep-to-pros cases, obviously, but they’re the closest to it we’ve gotten so far—barring international talents—and now a proved and tested way to make it to the Association without going to college.

It’s also interesting seeing the likes of Tennessee and Auburn battling perennial powerhouses like Kentucky or the 2021-loser Duke at the top of the board. Tennessee nurtured to players selected in the 20s with Auburn boasting a couple of second-rounders. Kentucky, by the way, could only get a first- and a second-rounder drafted this past draft.

Last but not least, we can take a quick look at the 21 freshmen picks of the 2021 draft to compare their position in the 2020 HS class in relation to the slot they were selected at. Although not perfect, it is a quick proxy to how much value those players can provide the teams that picked them, supposing that highly-ranked prospects picked late in the draft are primed to turn into steals.

In order to get an objective number, I divided the player’s 247Sports Rank by his draft slot. I called this simply “Rk/Pk” or “Risk”, and the lower its value is, the bigger the supposed “steal”. Here is how things turned out this year:

The top-3 picks in this past draft yielded no risk for their new teams. They all were drafted in the position the high school ranks had them at a year ago, and that’s is rather surprising to find holing, even more considering that two of those three players went the average route (NCAA) while the other one opted to turn pro (G League).

The biggest “steal” of the draft, combining prospect rankings and draft picks, should be the freshest Memphis Grizzlies draftee Brandon “BJ” Boston. He was the no. 5 prospect graduating in 2020 and spent a year in Kentucky, no less. Greg Brown (New Orleans Pelicans) follows him in the second position, with both Josh Christopher and Sharife Cooper (both top-25 recruits) tied for the third spot.

On the other side of the coin, everybody seemed to agree in arguing the San Antonio Spurs reached a lot in drafting Josh Primo with their top-12, lottery pick. Primo was “only” the 58th-best prospect of the 2020 class yet he was drafted ahead of 13 of his classmates. Outside of Moses Moody, who this quick calculation sees as another gamble, nobody went even close to those “reaching” extents, and the third-biggest “gamble” Jalen Suggs is far from that and was even considered a steal-pick by the Orlando Magic given his fall to the fifth slot on draft day.

And with all that, the 2021 draft saw 21 one-and-dones enter the history books by being selected by an NBA franchise. That’s a bump up from the 2020 draft, which included 17 NCAA freshmen and two more if you factor both LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton in—they played overseas in Australia and New Zealand respectively for a year.

How all of these kids will fare in the NBA is still up in the air. The good thing for us, and for them, is that the Summer League is already rolling so they won’t have to wait a lot to face their first professional basketball test.