The Most Underrated 2021 NBA Draft Prospects

Roughly four weeks into the 2020-21 college basketball season, lots of film has been digested and many prospects have been analyzed. I’ve yet to construct a full board for this class, though I have a general idea of where I’d rank many guys, but certain prospects whom I consider to be underrated have popped on tape.

ESPN recently updated its top 100 prospects for this class and absent were a few players who should certainly be included. While I can’t advocate for where I’d specifically rank these three guys, I know they are among my top 100, if my board confidently ran that deep at this point. Even then, I’ll provide a general range of where I might slot each player included as to clarify how I feel about them.

Brandon Newman, Purdue redshirt freshman
– 6’5″, 190 pounds
– DOB: Jan. 15, 2001
– Raw stats: 9.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists (1.1 turnovers), 1.0 steals
– Shooting stats: 43.1% on 2s (15 of 35), 43.2% on 3s (16 of 37), 85.7% at the line (6 of 7)
– Advanced stats: 55.8% true shooting, .514 3-point rate, 2.3% steal rate, 5.6 BPM

Newman first entered my radar because Max Carlin of the Prep2Pro NBA Draft podcast had mentioned him a few times. I trust Max’s eye for scouting, and figured Newman was worth a look.

From my first game watching him a few weeks back, I’ve been a fan. He’s someone I’d strongly consider a top-50ish prospect, with the chance for moving higher if he can discern passing reads quicker and show more on-ball ability.

His 3-point numbers, both in efficiency and volume, are sparkling, yet neither convey the versatility of his jumper. Newman is a good relocation shooter and has flashed the ability to hoist off of movement, quickly setting his feet and squaring his body toward the rim to launch. At 6-foot-5 and just 19 years old, it’s a highly impressive skill to display:

Part of what makes Newman a useful prospect offensively is he’s hinted at attacking off the catch, owning some vigor to scoot past defenders if run off the line and has shown ambidextrous finishing craft. Headlined by burst and strength, Newman might have the athletic profile to be an effective closeout attacker, though I’d like to see a larger sample to comfortably project him excelling in these scenarios.

Versatile shooting and potential attacking off the catch in a complementary collegiate role would not suffice for Newman to be a legitimately draftable prospect. And they do not, because he is a very good perimeter defender, both on and off the ball.

On the ball, he moves quite well laterally and is strong enough to curb drives or induce challenging shots short of the rim.

Newman hasn’t been afforded a ton of chances to showcase his on-ball aptitude. But he’s thrived off the ball as someone who executes necessary decisions (such as tagging rollers or rotating to deter 3s from poppers), is consistently well-positioned to tackle his responsibilities and is also a capable playmaker.

Right now, with Newman’s decision-making and passing vision less developed than you’d like, and his lack of on-ball creation, he’s pretty strictly a 3-and-D prospect. The defense, while good, is not elite by my estimation, so unless he takes step forwards in at least one or two of those areas, he’ll remain a top-50 guy rather than a high-end 3-and-D wing deserving of significant first-round buzz.

To an extent, I worry I could be overvaluing the archetype rather than analyzing the actual player, but Newman is good and brings valuable skills on both ends. He can space the floor, guard multiple positions and soundly fulfill team defense duties. That’s good enough for the mid-second round.

Dre Davis, Louisville freshman
– 6’5″, 220 pounds
– DOB: Aug. 23, 2001
– Raw stats: 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists (1.8 turnovers)
– Shooting stats: 63.6% on 2s (14 of 22), 27.8% on 3s (5 of 18), 73.7% at the line (14 of 19)
– Advanced stats: 58.1% true shooting, .450 3-point rate, 2.4 BPM

Aside from Saturday’s implosion at Wisconsin (sans star guard Carlik Jones), Louisville has been one of my favorite teams to watch this season. I maintain the Cardinal are a top-25 squad and Davis’ two-way play is a prominent contributor to that status.

Upon my first watch last month, his defense, both on and off the ball, but initially on the ball, resonated. Given his frame, Davis is an exceptional lateral mover, can swiftly flip his hips to change directions and is strong-chested. He repeatedly gave opponents problems on the ball and that’s what first captured my attention. The dude is a menace at the point of attack, mirroring ball-handlers and covering ground with ease.

The intersection of strength and lateral mobility Davis possesses should, in most cases, enable him to defender both wing spots, as well as hold his own against other positions occasionally, at the next level. He’s going to give a lot of assignments issues with his quickness and physicality.

And yet, on-ball defense is only half of the allure for him in this realm. He has incredibly strong hands, which manifests in stunt-and-recover situations, Navigating screens, despite his bulky frame, is rarely an issue. He is well-positioned off the ball and has already drawn a few (at least two) charges this year.

For fun, watch him erase this potentially deep post catch with strength, physicality and technique:

That is 6-foot-11, 235-pound Nate Reuvers, a Wisconsin senior and 2019-20 All-Big Ten honoree. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Davis dominated the possession. He plays larger than he is, which will serve him quite well moving forward, allowing him to guard up and fluster bigger guys in a pinch.

Davis is a heady off-ball and opportunistic scorer — shout out Ross Homan of The Stepien for that term. He relocates around the arc as a willing shooter and times cuts well to score inside, where he’s strong, patient and savvy.

While I don’t anticipate him developing into some elite off-ball bomber, I’m a firm believer in the jumper becoming good enough for him to both space the floor and allow him to attack closeouts, where he can leverage his athletic package to do stuff like this:

Davis will never be some heavy on-ball creator in the NBA, but his strength, flexibility, relatively functional burst and knack for using his frame to shield the ball. compensating for a mundane handle, will give him equity in these sorts of scenarios.

The key is Davis reaching volume and success thresholds from deep to warrant closeouts or pressure. Based on his long-standing willingness (shot 81 triples in 19 EYBL games, .279 3-point rate), free-throw numbers (73.7% this year, 84.4% in EYBL on 90 attempts) and workable form, I believe he will. If he does, that’s a valuable rotation wing, especially given his wide-ranging defensive prowess, and someone I’d consider in the 25-40 range.

Mike Miles, TCU freshman
– 6’1″, 195 pounds
– DOB: Aug. 24, 2002
– Raw stats: 14.9 points, 3.2 assists (2.8 turnovers), 2.4 rebounds
– Shooting stats: 54.1% on 2s (33 of 61), 48.6% on 3s (17 of 35), 77.3% at the line (17 of 22)
– Advanced stats: 62.9% true shooting, .365 3-point rate, 22.0% assist rate, 1.9 BPM

Last week, I was catching up on Cade Cunningham’s most recent game, one against TCU. Midway through, Miles caught my eye. He made a skip pass out of a trap, then drilled a deep spot-up 3. I kept watching, perused his stats and fired up a few more TCU games. Miles rocks. It’s official.

He’s 6-foot-1 — at best — but the guy can absolutely play. The size is undoubtedly a limiting factor for him and even so, he deserves buzz as a top-100 prospect. I’d consider him in the early to mid-second round. He boasts deep range, seamless shooting mechanics, is comfortable shooting with a hand in his face and knows when to relocate.

What I discovered upon watching more film is his ancillary skills are quite good, too. The worry is he’s not athletic enough to compensate for the size hindrances, but Miles can pass, has some tantalizing off-the-bounce juice and is a highly impressive finisher, fueled by ambidexterity and guile.

I wouldn’t consider him a dynamite athlete, especially relative to the requisite threshold at his height, but he has some burst, is a zippy change-of-direction guard and gains leverage as a driver by getting low while maintaining forward momentum. His handle helps forge advantages (in and outs, crossovers, spin moves, between the legs) and Miles is adept at funky-footed, off-beat finishes.

He ranks in the 73rd percentile at the rim in the half-court (12-of-19 shooting) and while it’s early, the film reinforces his effectiveness.

Miles is yet to knock down any pull-up 3s, though he’s shown some off-the-dribble game from mid-range, weaponizing his handle and tough shot-making for scores. Unless he becomes some crazy dynamic space creator, most of his pull-up looks will be contested, something he’d bust out as a complementary initiator in pick-and-rolls rather than on a frequent basis if he projected as a lead creator.

It would be foolish to expect voluminous pull-up reps in the NBA for Miles, but having that skill is always beneficial, even if to varying degrees for prospects. So far, he’s 11 of 26 off the dribble in the half-court, slotting him in the 57th percentile. And those 11 makes include some impressive baskets:

Miles’ passing domain seems suited for spread pick-and-rolls. He’s capable spraying kick-outs on the move to shooters or skip passes to the corner, though his processing can be a bit delayed and creative, impromptu reads haven’t surfaced much yet. But ask him to create in ball-screen actions and he will fulfill your request more often than not.

Standing 6-foot-1 is always going to restrict Miles’ defensive prowess and assuredly relegates him to a one-position defender. Working in his favor is awareness to make necessary rotations as a team defender and the strength + lateral quickness blend to quell drives. Of course, most guys will still be able to shoot over the top without much interference, even if he’s in the proper spots.

I want to see more off-movement shooting attempts from Miles and where his 3-point clip lands by year’s end will be worthwhile to track. From the early film I’ve seen, he’s a legitimate prospect who can shoot, drive/finish, pass and knows how to play defense. The size cannot be overlooked, but the skill and athletic profile make him a worthwhile bet somewhere in 35-50 range.

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