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2021 NBA Draft Coverage: Late 2nd Rounders and Undrafted Prospects

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Welcome to our take on prospects with UPSIDE and POTENTIAL

Tennessee v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Jazz like making moves in the second round of the NBA draft, either by trading for future 2nds or buying or selling them straight up (even if some of these moves are head-scratchers in hindsight). In the Dennis Lindsey era, we saw him, on draft night:

  • acquire the 47th pick of the 2013 draft (Raul Neto) via a 2015 2nd
  • trade away 2014 #35 pick for a 2016 2nd that unfortunately ended up being #52 (Joel Bolomboy) [yes, Nikola Jokic was pick #41 in 2014]
  • trade away 2015 #54 (Dani Diez) for cash
  • trade down 2016 #42 (Isaiah Whitehead) for #55 (Marcus Paige) and cash
  • trade up 2017 #30 (Josh Hart) and #42 (Thomas Bryant) for #28 (Tony Bradley)
  • trade 2018 #52 (Vincent Edwards) for cash
  • the 2019 trades of 2021 2nd rounder (ended up being #60) and cash for #50 (Jarrell Brantley) and cash for #58 (Miye Oni)
  • and acquire last year’s #39 (Elijah Hughes) for a future 2nd and cash

That’s a minimum of one trade a year on draft day! And this year is going to be a great time buying back into the second round - there’s so many teams with an excess of second rounders that there’s almost certainly going to be multiple opportunities to do so:

  • Hornets: #56, #57
  • Nets: #44, #49, #59
  • Pacers: #54, #60
  • Pistons: #37, #42, #52
  • Pelicans: #35, #40, #43, #53
  • Raptors: #46, #47
  • Thunder: #34, #36, #55

Additionally, the Jazz scouting department has given the team significant players who were originally undrafted, from fan favorites Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale to occasional contributors like Trent Forrest, Juwan Morgan, Chris Johnson, Elijah Millsap, and Ian Clark (that’s a throwback name!). Now under the leadership of Justin Zanik, who helped oversee many of these decisions, we will likely see the Jazz continue this trend, hopefully with positive results.

With SLC Dunk having already covered prospects like Trendon Watford, Greg Brown and Joe Wieskamp in detail, let us take a look at a few other prospects who stood out that may be a good fit for the Jazz, either as potential late 2nd round picks, two-way players, or Exhibit 10 contracts for the Salt Lake City Stars.


Yves Pons

Current draft prediction: Undrafted

While other defensive menaces such as Aaron Henry or Neemias Queta almost certainly will see their name called in the 2nd round, Yves Pons (Pr: Eeve Ponz) is almost certainly not going to be. Despite being the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 and a two-time All-Defensive Team as well as an all-around athletic freak (42.5” vertical at the combine), Yves Pons’ warts on offense have prevented him from rising very high on draft boards. The Haitian-born French forward reminds me very much of the Houston Rockets’ Jae’Sean Tate, playing an undersized 4 or even the 5 on one of the stingiest defenses in the NCAA last year.

Stats

  • Per game: 8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.8 blocks, 46.6% FG, 27.4% 3PT, 78.9% FT
  • Advanced: 53.8% True Shooting, 5.5 BPM (1.5 offensive, 4.0 defensive), 0.147 win shares per 40
  • Physical: 22 years old (turns 23 next May), 6’7” with a 7’1” wingspan and 8’8” standing reach, 215 pounds

Jazz Fit

Yves’ numbers were arguably better his junior season (10.8p/5.4r/1.1a/2.4b with 48.9 FG% and 34.9% 3PT (2.8 attempts), despite a FT% of 63.8%), but he was asked to do less offensively his senior year with the presences of 2021 predicted first round picks Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer. Jae’Sean Tate’s best season by comparison was 14.3p/6.4r/2.0a/1.1s/0.5b on 54.7 FG% and 22% from three (also his junior year), though the year previous Tate shot 35% from three on low volume.

I think Yves has the potential to make it as an amazing 3&D, smallball rim protector if he can get his shot fixed, which is no small task as an older prospect. While he may take be able to inspiration from Royce O’Neale (6’6” in shoes with 6’10” wingspan), Royce was a 43%+ 3 point shooter in college at Baylor. I think Yves is more athletic than Royce and could do a better job on large 4s and smallball 5s with his bigger size, while still maintaining enough quickness for fast 2s. His body fat percentage at the combine was the lowest out of all prospects at an astoundingly low 4%, so the guy is clearly a hard worker and “gym rat”.

With a very good performance in the NBA combine, especially in shooting drills, Yves’ future is bright. A year or so developing like Tate in Australia, Europe, or the G-League will likely help him make the step into a NBA-level contributor.

Additional reading: All for Tennessee


Vrenz Bleijenbergh

Current draft prediction: Late 2nd to Undrafted

Vrenz Bleijenbergh (“Vrenz/Fvhrenz Blaei-yen-bearh”) is yet another European unicorn, coming out of Belgium after three years playing the point in Belgium’s top league, having turned down college offers from Arizona, Texas Tech, Ketucky, and UCLA, among others. His height and raw-ness may remind some of last year’s first round pick Aleksej Pokusevski out of Olympiacos’ B team, but Bleijenbergh was able to contribute more at arguably a higher level of competition, while actually playing as a near-full time point guard. Despite not shooting super well from a percentage point of view, his mechanics are excellent, with multiple makes from deep NBA 3 point range. (I would point out that his landing mechanics are a bit odd.) Though not the quickest or strongest player, he’s able to leverage his length to passably defend players both smaller and bigger than him.

Stats

  • Per game (per RealGM): 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 37.9% FG, 33.5% 3PT, 67.5% FT
  • Advanced: 50.9% True Shooting
  • Physical: 20 years old (turns 21 this October), 6’10” with a 7’1” wingspan and XX standing reach, 215 pounds

Jazz Fit

Vrenz may be putting a lot of teams off by insisting that he play point guard despite his massive height and frame, which has come up in several interviews (especially with some European sources). That said, this might work for the Jazz. There is a long-term fit with Don at the 1 defensively and offensively at the 2, with Vrenz defending 3s or 4s (assuming he gets stronger). Vrenz’s ability to pass out of the pick and roll, especially lobs for rolling bigs, makes me enamored with the potential to finally feed Rudy going down the block. But ultimately his success in the NBA depends on his defense, his shooting, and willingness to fight through contact. A lot of this will come with growing into his body and getting stronger, so there’s a lot of upside and risk with Vrenz.


Isaiah Livers

Current draft prediction: Very late 2nd to Undrafted

Isaiah Livers was known as Michigan’s most offensively-minded starter, with a clearly defined role: catch and shoot threes on the wings and corners. (He basically replaced Duncan Robinson’s role at Michigan.) He was great on set shots, off a hop, backpedaling, or curling around a screen, all the way out to way beyond NBA 3 point range. His on-ball defense was quite good, showing decent ability to defend in the post but also move laterally and stick with smaller players despite non-ideal athleticism. Outside of being a catch-and-shoot specialist, though, Livers’ bad handle (especially left hand) and lack of explosiveness made it hard for him to drive and finish at the rim, limiting his offensive effectiveness. Furthermore, when asked to create or shoot off the dribble, Livers suffered. These things can be worked on, of course, and so Livers could end up contributing a la a Steve Novak or even Georges Niang role in the NBA.

Stats

  • Per game: 13.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.7 blocks, 45.7% FG, 43.1% 3PT, 87.0% FT
  • Advanced: 60.5% True Shooting, 10.4 BPM (6.7 offensive, 3.6 defensive), 0.196 win shares per 40
  • Physical: 22 years old (turns 23 on July 28th of this year), 6’7” with a 6’9” wingspan and 8’9” standing reach, 232 pounds

Jazz Fit

Livers could immediately step into Georges Niang’s role in a limited capacity and be a threat from the corners while not giving up too much defensively against bench units. If Niang ends up taking a payday and leaving the Jazz, they will need depth with a bigger shooting forward in their current scheme, so Livers could fill that role (perhaps behind Juwan Morgan). I would not use a second round pick to pick Livers, but he would be a useful addition to the Stars and Jazz system as an immediate contributor with limited upside.


Jose Alvarado

Current draft prediction: Undrafted

Georgia Tech’s Brooklyn-born and raised Jose Alvarado is known as one of the toughest, most competitive players in America. Despite being barely 6 feet tall in shoes and lacking NBA-insane athleticism, Alvarado notched the top steal percentage among all prospects in this draft and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year his senior year. Combining this with excellent shooting ability, underrated court vision, and very shifty quickness, Alvarado could potentially be a decent backup point guard in the NBA.

Stats

  • Per game: 15.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.8 steals, 0.0 blocks, 50.4% FG, 39.0% 3PT, 83.8% FT
  • Advanced: 62.1% True Shooting, 8.1 BPM (4.7 offensive, 3.4 defensive), 0.179 win shares per 40
  • Physical: 21 years old (turns 22 this November), 6’0” with a 6’1” wingspan and 7’10” standing reach, 175 pounds

Jazz Fit

Alvarado is all heart. In the ACC Championship, he powered the Yellow Jackets to the win over Florida State and Scottie Barnes with 13 points, 3 assists, and 5 steals, despite their massive size (and, to be frank, talent) advantage. I see Alvarado as potentially Trent Forrest with more shooting capability, with the potential to develop into NBA top backup point gurads Jevon Carter and TJ McConnell with lower assist numbers (and smaller size). Is he worth a pick? Definitely not. Is he worth bringing in as an undrafted free agent? Absolutely. With all professional sports, to make it into the league, it’s sometimes not about the talent or the natural gifts but more about the passion and willingness to work, which Alvarado has in spades.


Dalano Banton

Current draft prediction: Undrafted

Dalano Banton made a few waves after the G-League Elite Camp Combine, where he was able to show off his insane versatility on the court. Despite being the size of a prototypical large NBA forward, Banton made passes like a guard and defended all over the floor. He might be one of those players whose strengths translate over better to the NBA rather than in college hoops, because despite his highlight reel, it didn’t translate over very well to actual wins for a bad Nebraska team (6-20 last season). A lot of this is because, despite his talent for playmaking and decent looking mechanics, Banton was a very bad shooter. I would attribute this to two things - a lack of strength leading to inability to absorb contact and shoot at the rim, and lack of elite bounce or athleticism, only allowing him to get off shots when not heavily contested, even with his superior length.

Stats

  • Per game: 9.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks, 41.1% FG, 24.7% 3PT, 65.9% FT
  • Advanced: 49.5% True Shooting, 4.7 BPM (1.6 offensive, 3.0 defensive), 0.093 win shares per 40
  • Physical: 21 years old (turns 22 this November), 6’9” with a 6’10” wingspan and 9’0” standing reach, 194 pounds

Jazz Fit

I’ve only included Banton here because of the Jazz’s need for defending 3’s and 4’s with playmaking upside. I’m not convinced his good shooting showing at the G-League Elite Camp and his pro day will necessarily translate over to NBA-speed offense, but he may be worth a flyer Exhibit 10 contract for developing on the Stars. I would take Vrenz over him, despite his more proven playmaking abilities, given Banton’s shooting warts and slightly older age, but Banton may be able to contribute at an NBA level with development.


EJ Onu

Current draft prediction: Very late 2nd to Undrafted

EJ Onu is my favorite prospect out of all of those listed here. He checks all of the boxes for a modern NBA center, and was late to organized basketball, showing immense potential for development. Initially nowhere near an NBA draft board, his great showing in the G-League Elite Camp pushed him up into several 2nd round mocks.

EJ’s upside lies with his insane size combined with an excellent shooting touch. He stands at just about 7 feet with a 7’8.5” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, but also shot 40% from three on 4 attempts per game his senior season. He plays with an intense fire, blocking and dunking shots with abandon, looking incredibly fluid running up and down the court. So what’s the downside?

Onu played at Shawnee State, a NAIA DI school equivalent to a DII or maybe even a larger DIII NCAA school. So the question becomes, did Onu just dominate weak competition or will it actually translate to the NBA?

2021 NBA G League Elite Camp Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

Scouts seem to think that his performance at the G-League Elite camp showed his skills could potentially translate. I think Onu is just getting started - he was only between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 as a freshman and played at a small high school outside of Cleveland, not participating in AAU tournaments or exposure events, and was only recruited to nearby Shawnee State – in high school, he was mostly a sprinter. In high school, he grew at least six inches, and another few inches in college to his present height, so his development path has been skewed by how late he started. A few big prospects that similarly started so late and but developed through their NBA-level athleticism and/or size are Mark Eaton, Joel Embiid, Tim Duncan, and Dikembe Mutombo.

It’s believed that Onu’s 529 career blocks is one of the highest totals of all time across all levels of collegiate basketball. That’s more blocks than all-time collegians and NBA defensive stalwarts David Robinson (516), Tim Duncan (481), Ralph Sampson (462), and Alonzo Mourning (453). And, his shooting stroke was consistent, averaging 72.0% from the free throw line over four years. With his smooth-looking shot and incredible release point, I think his shooting can definitely translate.

Stats

  • Per game: 16.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 4.6 blocks, 57.3% FG, 40.0% 3PT (4 attempts per game), 74.8% FT
  • Physical: 21 years old (turns 22 on July 31st of this year), 6’11 with a 7’8.5” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, 232 pounds

Jazz Fit

EJ Onu’s measurables and defense scream Rudy Gobert 2.0, but with a shot and some post moves. If only the Jazz didn’t spend so many resources trying to figure out their backup center position over the last seven years.

So the question for the Jazz is - can he defend in space? Like I mentioned before, Onu was a high school track star, qualifying for the Ohio High School Track and Field State Championships in the 400-meter dash with a time of 50 seconds flat (he has since apparently ran sub-48 seconds in college - at his current height!). For comparison, the men’s world record is 43.03 seconds, and the high school record is 45.19 seconds. Check out this compilation of his mobility:

While these are NAIA guards, I feel confident projecting Onu’s ability to defend at the highest level. Even though his speed might be best felt in the open court rather than laterally, he still posted decent numbers in the G-League Elite camp (best being 34 court sprint, worst being the back-and-forth lane shuttle).

So where are the downsides? Well, he’s still super raw, and EJ didn’t play against the highest competition. But we should keep in mind that perpetual Jazz enemy Scottie Pippen started his career at NAIA DI University of Central Arkansas before growing 7 inches in college and absolutely dominating. Onu did not dominate to that degree, but he did lead his team to the NAIA championship playing a modern (non-ball dominant) center role. I wouldn’t be shocked for a team in the early 2nd to pull the trigger, even if he’s not been mocked anywhere near that. Onu learning from Rudy would be the best mentor possible in the NBA for him. If the Jazz can get their hands on him without trading away too many assets and getting rid of their center glut, I would love Onu on the Jazz.

Check out this fantastic article to learn more on Onu.


Other honourable mentions:

Aaron Henry: a slightly better Yves Pons (Projected around 45th pick) whose shooting regressed through three years at Michigan State

Amar Sylla: an even rawer JT Thor playing in the top Belgian league after a stint at Real Madrid B, discovered in Senegal in 2015 at a camp hosted by Gorgui Dieng

Sam Hauser: a less athletic Joe Wieskamp out of Virginia, the main offensive threat for the team that Trey Murphy benefited greatly from

Aamir Simms: a sweet-shooting big Clemson forward (235 lbs) that the Athletic really likes. Honestly not sure why he’s not getting more hype, as he checks all of the physical and statistical boxes.

Do you have any underrated second round/potentially undrafted prospects that catch your eye? Start a discussion in the comments below.