With the 2021 NBA Draft less than a few days away, teams will begin to finalize their draft boards in search of their next franchise cornerstone. Here are scouting reports and respective team fits for three of the drafts' top prospects.
Alperen Şengün, C, Beşiktaş
With every draft cycle comes the European prospect that the general public doesn't really have a gauge on because he didn't play on national television every day. Şengün fits that bill, but teams have raved about him, and he is steadily rising up big boards as the draft approaches.
Şengün is your traditional back to the basket center, and he is really good at it. He dominated the Turkish league with his silky footwork in the post. His constant pivots and pirouettes seem unnecessary at times, yet they normally generate easy high percentage shots. Watch him back down the opposing center, keep his composure and create space with a simple pump fake.
Another example, Şengün appears stuck when the opposing big man stifles his initial drive. Şengün does a great job of using his pivot foot to move the defender around before finding the angle for the easy layup. This type of intricate footwork made Şengün one of the most effective post scorers in Europe this past season.
His finishing in and around the rim also translates into second-chance points. Şengün converted on over 83% of his offensive rebound putbacks this season, an outstanding mark. For such a young player, he does a remarkable job of not getting tunnel vision with the ball. He consistently made impressive pocket passes to teammates when teams doubled him in the post. His reads off the dribble or out of the post to open shooters is remarkable.
The two prominent concerns at this point are his shooting and defense. Şengün shot just 4-21 from beyond the arc this past season for a dismal 19.7%. An awful mark, but there is reason to be optimistic. Unlike the NBA, European basketball is traditionally played inside the arc. So while it may look like Şengün was never good enough to attempt a lot of threes, the bigger factor was that the team never demanded that from him. With that in mind, it is important to note that Şengün shot 81% from the line this season. Teams should be confident about his ability to develop a shot years after being drafted.
His defense leaves something to be desired, as he tends to be slow-footed when isolated on the perimeter. He also is not a phenomenal shot-blocker, partly due to his lack of athleticism. Will he ever be a Rudy Gobert or Myles Turner defensively? No, and that's okay because his instincts mean he won't ever be a significant liability.
Team Fit: Sacramento Kings
The Kings brass is probably getting bad deja vu seeing a European prospect high on people's board before the draft. The last time that happened, the team ended up with Marvin Bagley Jr. and not Luka Doncic. Bagley is not on Doncics' superstar trajectory, to put it kindly.
Pairing Şengün with star guard De'Aaron Fox could be the key move to ending the Kings playoff drought that has stretched 15 seasons now. The Kings ranked 4th in points in the paint last season. They also ranked 20th in three-pointers attempted per game. Whether it was Fox driving or Richaun Holmes working in the post, the Kings loved taking the ball to the rack instead of settling for an outside shot. This fits Şengün's playstyle perfectly, as he will get steady volume in the post.
Şengün also gives the team a secondary, low-volume creator. Fox and rookie guard Tyrese Haliburton accounted for nearly 40% of the teams' assists this past season. Şengüns' creation for others as the PNR roll man or out of the post would open up the game for Fox and others. TheKings's first-round pick sits at ninth overall, roughly where Şengüns' projected range is for the upcoming draft.
Şengün's situation is eerily reminiscent of another European big man named Nikola Jokic. Primarily a post scorer with underrated passing instincts, questions about Jokics' defensive mobility and shooting caused him to fall to the second round in the draft. Six years later, the league reigning MVP is the one laughing now. In no way is that to suggest Şengün will come even close to Jokics' level of success; he has a long way to go before that. However, teams should be wary of writing off Şengün as an NBA-level big man.
Usman Garuba, F/C, Real Madrid
Another international prospect, the read on Garuba, is more clear than his European counterpart in Sengun. After three solid seasons in La Liga and the Euroleague, Garuba has almost certainly solidified himself as a top-20 pick in the upcoming draft.
Looking at his stats from the previously mentioned three seasons, it's hard to understand why Garuba is even protected in the first round at all. In his best season overall, he averaged just 5.6 points per game and 1.1 assists. He shot under five shots per game and was a meager 33.8% from beyond the arc. However, his first-round projection comes from his success on the defensive end.
Garubas' NBA Player Comp
A lot of analysts like to compare Garubas' contributions to that of the Warriors Draymond Green. The offensive stats are underwhelming, but his contributions on the defensive end are immeasurable. Garuba loves to get into passing lanes and disrupt drives to the basket. He was primarily used at the center spot on Real Madrid, meaning he got a lot of reps against the pick and roll. The results were fantastic, as Garuba demonstrated great feel and active hands, creating many highlight-reel moments defensively.
There are countless other highlights just like this throughout Garubas' tape. His high motor, smart rotations, and overall defensive movement are remarkable for a 19-year-old playing in one of the world's top leagues. He has even had good moments against some of the NBA's biggest stars. Garuba held his own defensively against the likes of Jerami Grant in an exhibition game between the USA and Spain.
Standing at 6'8, Garuba projects more as a wing in the NBA. While the transition from Euroleague center to NBA wing would be difficult for most players, there is no reason to think Garuba will have any issue. His lateral quickness and strong frame mean he will have no issue keeping up with a small forward at the next level.
Garuba's Struggles, Shooting Potential
The only real hesitation with Garuba is his offense, more specifically, his perimeter shooting. His best year from beyond the arc was in La Liga last season. He shot just 33.8% on only 2 attempts per game. His shot has some mechanical issues, with his arms often way too close together when he reaches the release point. With that being said, there is reason to believe he can become a consistent shooter from beyond the arc, which would be a huge plus given his already known upside on the defensive end. His catch and shoot clips from the past season should inspire confidence in teams.
Team Fit: New York Knicks
You have to feel good for the New York Knicks. After years in the Eastern Conference cellar, the team finally put it all together to make the playoffs for the first time in 8 years. While a first-round exit indicates work to be done, the Knicks should feel good about the team's trajectory. Head coach Tom Thibodeau loves nothing more than hard-nosed, scrappy defenders who work tirelessly on the defensive end, making Garuba a great fit.
At 6'8, Garuba can come in and compete at the small forward position for the Knicks. Former first-round pick Kevin Knox has struggled in his first few years with the Knicks. This would leave the door open for Garuba to earn quality minutes early on. His improving shooting would be great offensive spacing alongside star forward Julius Randle. The Spanish big man's versatility and high IQ movement on defense would continue to contribute to a Knicks team that ranked 4th in defensive rating last season. Garubas' current draft projection of the 15-20 range puts him in the perfect position for the Knicks to select him with one of their two first-round picks.
Herbert Jones, F, Alabama
With two top prospects covered, it's time for a diamond in the rough. Like Garuba, Alabamas' Herb Jones is a defensive savant who hasn't put it all together offensively yet.
Jones's current skill set is reminiscent of current Sixers forward Matisse Thybulle. Coming out of Washington, scouts raved about Thybulles' defensive IQ and instincts. His relentless harassment of ball-handlers has translated seamlessly to the NBA as he is now one of the best on-ball defenders in the league.
Scouts Take on Jones
Scouts have had similar praise of Jones after four years with the Crimson Tide. The Athletics' John Hollinger ranked Jones as his 23rd overall prospect in his most recent big board. He ranked Jones as one of the top perimeter defenders in the entire draft this season.
"At 6-foot-8 with good feet, piliferous hands, and a knack for drawing charges, Jones might be the best perimeter defender in this draft aside from [Florida State forward Scottie] Barnes. As with Barnes, [Jones] size and dexterity make him a true defensive chameleon. Jones is capable of checking the other team’s point guard but also line up as a small-ball five in the right matchup."
The tape backs up Hollingers' analysis. Jones dominated the SEC this season, constantly stonewalling defenders when they drove to the lane. His active hands constantly disrupted the opposing team's offense and his long wingspan forced opponents into tough shots around the hoop.
With the stellar defense comes the downside, however. Like Thybulle, Jones struggles offensively. While his 11.2 points per game are solid for a low usage forward, his perimeter shooting is a concern. He shot just 35% last year from three on a measly 1.7 attempts per game. In a league where the three-ball is of increasing importance, that mark is concerning. The good news: Jones made more threes last season (20) than he did in his first three seasons combined (14). The bad news: 20 threes is extremely little to go off of when gauging his offensive ceiling. His shot is what scouts like to call "buyable" at the next level, but his lack of production is a legit concern.
Team Fit: Portland Trailblazers
A team that has been in no-mans-land for so long, the Blazers need more players like Jones in order to push them over the top. Portlands' issue has never been the offense. The defense always fails them in the playoffs, as the backcourt of McCollum and Lillard is too much of a liability for the rest of the team to compensate for.
Hollinger's breakdown of Jones's defensive prowess should be music to the Blazers' ears. While Jones is more than capable of sliding into a wing spot, when the game goes small in the playoffs, Portland can turn to an athletic and active option as opposed to Enes Kanter.
The Blazers don't currently have a pick in the draft. However, Jones's current projection in the second round means Portland could easily make a move back into the draft to grab the defensive stalwart.