2021 NBA Draft Prospect Watch Vol. I
With the college basketball season underway, players in each conference have separated themselves as potential prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft.
The season has been extremely tough to navigate so far as various games and matchups have either been canceled or postponed due to health and safety protocols. Each week, I will highlight draft prospects who have had strong starts to the season or have shown noticeable improvements to their game from the prior season.
Three Under-the-Radar 2021 NBA Draft Prospects
This draft class seems to have more star power at the top compared to the 2020 draft in prospects such as Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, and Evan Mobley, as well as more depth from top to bottom for potential rotation players. Three players who have caught my eye as making noticeable improvements to their game and putting themselves on the 2021 NBA Draft radar are Iverson Molinar, Sandro Mamukelashvili, and David Duke.
Iverson Molinar, PG, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last season, Iverson Molinar played in a reserve role as a complementary player. Reggie Perry and Robert Woodard, now playing for the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings, respectively, were the two featured players on Mississippi State’s roster. This season, Molinar has stepped into a featured role, playing 32 minutes a game as being the primary focus of opposing defenses, and has excelled thus far.
Molinar has taken quite a leap in all facets of the game, increasing his scoring per game from 5.9 to 19.2, his rebounds per game from 1.0 to 4.4, and his assists per game from 1.3 to 3.3. The sophomore has already scored 20 or more five times this season. The team is also 7-2 when he is in the lineup.
The 6’3 guard is shooting a scorching 51.6% from 3 on 3.4 attempts per game, more than doubling his average attempts from last year, when he averaged 37% on 1.1 attempts per game.
The additions to Molinar’s game are noticeable. The ability to knock down pull up 3s out of the pick and roll or in isolation has become an extremely important attribute in regards to how teams guard offenses. In this clip, Molinar sees the defender going under the pick-and-roll not once, but twice, so he decides to rise up and make the three-pointer.
In the next clip, on the very next possession, by making that pull up three-pointer, Molinar effectively changed how Georgia would guard him in the pick-and-roll. The defender decides to go over the screen, and Molinar is able to use his quickness and change of pace to get downhill and finish at the rim. According to barttorvik.com, Molinar is currently shooting an astonishing 72.7% at the rim on 33 attempts.
With Molinar’s improved passing, decision-making, dynamic ability to get downhill in transition and in the pick-and-roll, and a consistent three-point shot, a first-round selection should not be out of the question. Molinar projects to be just a one or two position defender in the league due to his size, but shows great ability in one-on-one defense.
A role as a backup point guard at the NBA level looks attainable, and Molinar is only getting better.
David Duke, Guard, Providence Friars
The first inkling I had that David Duke could be a potential NBA player was in the summer of 2019. The Big East selected an All-Star team to play in the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru. Although that squad only won a bronze medal, David Duke displayed the makings of a player with a ton of untapped potential, competing to the level of professional hoopers, most notably Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo.
Since then, the Providence guard has made improvements across the board. Duke’s defense has always been ahead of his offensive output, but this season he’s levelled up. Through 11 games, Duke is averaging 19.3 point, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, all improved numbers from last season. Duke is also connecting on 41% of his three-pointers. Along with being tasked with defending the team’s primary offensive option, now Duke is displaying his value on both sides of the ball.
Two-way players of Duke’s kind, especially at point guard, are extremely sought after in the NBA landscape. Duke has the potential to play on or off the ball, as well as potentially being able to defend multiple positions due to his 6’5 height.
The question coming into this season was whether Duke would be able to improve as a playmaker and decision-maker. He’s proved himself in both ways so far, displayinh composure and maturity, especially in his reads in the pick-and-roll, where he shoots 52.1% at the rim on 71 attempts.
In this clip, Duke runs a pick and roll, sees the defender in drop coverage below the three-point arc, and knocks down the pull-up three-pointer. Like I mentioned earlier, the pull-up three is one of the more important attributes a guard can have in their repertoire.
In the next clip, running a side pick and roll, Duke is able to display and leverage his improved ball-handling, getting the defender out of position by being too high in the pick and roll, then firing a timely pass to his teammate for the dunk.
Duke has shown three-level scoring, explosive athleticism, improved decision-making, and the capability to defend each team’s main offensive option. With these skills, I can see a path where Duke ends up as a near lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Sandro Mamukelashvili, Forward, Seton Hall
Sandro Mamukelashvili has been the number-two option at Seton Hall for the duration of his career due to the outstanding play of Myles Powell. With Powell’s departure to the NBA this season, Mamukelashvili has taken on the role of the go-to player for the Pirates and has excelled in doing so. The senior has taken noticeable steps in every area of his game, averaging 18.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game, more than doubling his assists per game compared to last season.
Mamu is shooting a mere 31.7% on three-pointers this season compared to 43% last season, but that can be due to almost a double in attempts in a more featured role. He’s shown the ability to be an inside-outside threat, as well as becoming a playmaker.
Playmaking bigs who are 6’11 are an extremely rare archetype, but Sandro has shown the capability to make reads in the pick-and-roll as both the ball handler and the screener. Coach Kevin Willard has done an unbelievable job tailoring the offense to revolve around Mamukelashvili’s strengths as a facilitator, offensive hub, and post option.
In the first clip, Mamukelashvili, at 6’11, is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll. He rejects the screen and beats the defender to finish at the rim, as the help defender is too late to contest the shot. Bigs who can handle the ball and make reads in the pick and roll are extremely rare.
In the final clip, Mamukelashvili back-cuts on his defender, takes one dribble, and then hits the cutter in Myles Cale for a dunk.
Bigs who can dribble, pass, and shoot are usually able to carve out roles for themselves as NBA contributors. Mamukelashvili is an extremely versatile and fluid offensive player that would fit into many NBA offenses. Defensively, guarding in space can be an area of improvement, but he already displays capable positional defense and weakside shot-blocking potential. Sandro has the profile of a player worthy of first-round consideration.