NBA Draft 2021 : Five Potential Second Round Steals

By Joe Gendelman   June 10, 2021 

NBA Draft 2021 : Five Potential Second Round Steals

With the NBA Playoffs in full swing, a few teams aren’t focused on the NBA Draft just yet. But the NBA completed a compressed regular season and the offseason will also be jam-packed as the league looks to return to a more normal non-pandemic impacted season next season.

The Draft Lottery will be held on June 22 at 8:30 p.m. That will establish the draft order, with teams selecting on July 29. Cade Cunningham seems to be the consensus prize for winning the lottery, with Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green, and Jonathan Kuminga all highly regarded prospects at the top of the draft.

But increasingly, finding talent in the second round has become vital. Teams need young, fresh legs and, more importantly, affordable contracts to fill out their rosters in the salary cap era. Memphis got good contributions from 2020 second round pick Xavier Tillman in their playoff run this season, former second round pick Draymond Green is a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, and with former second round players like Nikola Jokic, Monte Morris, Jae Crowder, Marc Gasol, Khris MIddleton, and many others all making impacts on playoff teams, finding talent late in the draft is key to building a contender.

With the NBA announcing that 353 players have filed as early-entry candidates for the draft, here is a look at five second round prospects who could be impact players.

Aaron Henry : Michigan State University

Michigan State has produced some lottery talent of late in players like Jaren Jackson Jr and Miles Bridges, but the Spartans have made a much bigger impact outside of the first round. Green was picked in the second round and became an all-time great for the Warriors in short order. Tillman carved out a role quickly on a playoff team in Memphis. Bryn Forbes, who was undrafted, is making meaningful contributions for the Milwaukee Bucks in their playoff run.

Henry is hurt a bit by playing on a Michigan State team that underachieved this season, but he was their clear go-to player. He has good size for an NBA wing, he’s a good shooter, solid defender, and an excellent playmaker – he was an excellent passer this past season for Michigan State. He may not be as ready for an NBA role as Tillman was in year one, but his high basketball IQ and experience as the top player in a major program could combine with some G-League experience to make him a future versatile reserve who can play more than one position offensively and defend multiple spots defensively. He’ll have to improve his ball-handling at the NBA level, but he could have a good career ahead of him.

Isaiah Livers : University of Michigan

Livers was never necessarily the best player on his team at Michigan, but he was vital to all facets of the game. His height (he’s 6-foot-7) combined with his elite shooting make him an intriguing prospect in the second round. He hit more than 40 percent of his threes the last two seasons and his size and athleticism could make him a good defensive player at the next level.

They play different positions, but in terms of NBA-readiness, compare Livers to Tillman. Tillman entered the league as and older prospect and so will Livers, but that physical maturity should help him find a nice immediately even if his ceiling might not be as high as other prospects.

Feb 27, 2021; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Isaiah Livers (2) shoots the ball while Indiana Hoosiers forward Race Thompson (25) defends in the second half at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl : Villanova

Villanova regularly produces good NBA talent outside of the lottery. Last season, Saddiq Bey was plucked by the Pistons late in the first round and had a good rookie season. Players like Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, and Josh Hart have also carved out solid NBA careers.

Robinson-Earl has good size and athleticism for a frontcourt player at 6-foot-9, and he is comfortable shooting from the perimeter, although he does have to improve out there after making just 28 percent of his threes last season. Robinson-Earl was a very good rebounder in college, and that’s a skill that usually projects well from college to the NBA level.

Joel Ayayi : Gonzaga

Gonzaga nearly won a national championship this season on the strength of several NBA prospects, led by Suggs. But his backcourt-mate Ayayi could also be a helpful NBA player. Ayayi, who Sports Illustrated called Gonzaga’s “unsung hero,” was often overlooked on a Gonzaga team full of scorers.

He averaged 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field. He also made 39 percent of his three-pointers this season. At 6-foot-5, he has good size for a guard and the tools to become a good defensive player. If he can keep improving his shot, he could be a good three-and-D prospect at the next level.

Jericho Sims : Texas

As a program, Texas regularly underachieves despite recruiting elite talent. Sims’ numbers over the last two seasons have been underwhelming – he’s averaged 9 points and just under 8 rebounds per game under that stretch. He’s also old by prospect standards after playing four years for the Longhorns.

But he also possibly has untapped potential. He already has NBA size, a good work ethic, and is a solid rebounder and defensive player. He’s not a three-point threat, which hurts him in the NBA style of play where all five players typically need to shoot well, but it’s not inconceivable he could learn. The Pistons worked with rookie big man Isaiah Stewart to expand his range this season, so if Sims can put in similar work, he could also add an at least passable shot from the perimeter.

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