We cover four more prospects we didn’t get to ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft tonight—Isaiah Jackson, Trey Murphy III, Jaden Springer, and Ziaire Williams.
It’s NBA Draft Day!
The New York Knicks have four picks: nos. 19, 21, 32, and 58. Here’s the rundown on four more prospects worth keeping an eye on and how they may potentially fit.
The skinny: Although it was a lackluster and uncharacteristic year for the Kentucky Wildcats, the draft buzz remains around Isaiah Jackson, who’s projected to be a late-first to second-round pick after his lone season in Lexington. A consensus top-40 prospect in his class, Jackson went on to average 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game, while shooting 54.0% overall, through 25 contests this past season. He earned spots on the SEC All-Freshman and All-Defensive teams.
Strengths: He stands 6-foot-10, 205 pounds, and is extremely mobile. Jackson is an incredible and instinctual athlete. He’s able to cover plenty of ground on the court and is a stifling player defensively. His shot-blocking and ability to protect the rim is what most stands out, but he’s also able to comfortably cover assignments out to the perimeter and can defend a variety of players. He is a great on-ball defender but also knows when to provide help or put himself in good defensive positioning. He has tremendous length to go along with his build, boasting a 7-foot-5 wingspan. The 19-year-old forward has great leaping ability and can compete for rebounds or block shots. Jackson’s quick on his feet on both ends of the court. Combine that with a motor that never stops or a tenacious attitude on the court, and he can be a tough player to go up against.
Weaknesses: While he’s a tremendous athlete, Jackson will be a big project for his future NBA team. Although he has a quick step to get some separation in the post and score, he doesn’t provide much of a scoring punch. He was the sixth-highest scorer on a Kentucky team that just struggled offensively this past season. To his credit, he seemed to improve as a scorer towards the end of the season, eclipsing the double-digit mark in each of the last six regular-season games. However, he needs to develop more post moves and a face-up game. Most of his scoring output came from putbacks, dunks, or alley-oops. Jackson also needs to be more disciplined on the court and not get into foul trouble. He averaged 3.1 fouls per game. He also fouled out or was one foul away from fouling out in 10 of 25 contests last season. In addition to the developmental changes he needs to make offensively, he also needs to bulk up and add muscle mass.
Outlook: There’s a solid crowd of Kentucky fans who believe Jackson left a bit too early and that another year of college would have befitted him. I’d have to agree with them. However, there will also be a crowd that will be wowed by his athleticism and explosiveness. Although he’s a work-in-progress offensively, there will be teams ready to work with him and be patient. It might not be the Knicks, but he’s projected to go somewhere in the late-first to mid-second round. He’ll look to cash that check and get to work and develop with pro-level coaches. He’s only 19, so maybe we’ll be on the lookout for him in a few years.
Trey Murphy III
The skinny: Add Murphy to the ever-growing “rankings aren’t everything” case file. Murphy was almost an unknown coming out of high school. He had a couple of offers, but he stood 6-foot-4 and 165 pounds and didn’t have a star to his name according to recruiting services like 247Sports and ESPN. He decided to commit to Rice. Fast forward three years later, after a massive growth spurt and a breakout year at Virginia, Murphy is a sleeper that’s quickly turned into a stock riser for the 2021 NBA Draft. He now stands 6-foot-9 and 205 pounds and is one of the top shooters in the 2021 NBA Draft class. He averaged 11.3 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 50.3% overall and 43.3% from deep after transferring into Virginia this past season.
Strengths: It seems like Murphy has the tools and recipe to become a solid 3-and-D player. His shot is without a doubt his best asset, but he’s also blessed with a seven-foot wingspan. He can develop into a solid player on the wing, one that will punish opponents in a variety of ways from the three-point line or be a contributor defensively. He’s most comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations, but he is also adept at moving off the ball and getting in the right positions to set himself up for a shot. He had a 50/40/90 season with the Cavaliers and his journey to get to where he is now isn’t only attributed to his growth spurt, but also a solid work ethic and team-first mentality. While he does have a rather limited skill set and arsenal to work with, he is smart and doesn’t try to do too much. He only turned the ball over 19 times through 25 games and is smart with his shot selection.
Weaknesses: Murphy lacks explosiveness and elite athleticism. He’s not going to blow by his opponent and he’s an O.K., but not great, finisher. Also, despite his size, he wasn’t really a big contributor on the glass at Virginia. He only averaged 3.4 boards this past season, a step down from his 5.5 rebounds per game during his sophomore year at Rice. While he might be able to keep up and defend smaller or similar-sized guards and forwards, will he be able to avoid getting overpowered inside by a 4 or a bruising 3? Lastly, he doesn’t offer much shot creation or playmaking ability.
Outlook: Despite his limitations, it’s very possible Murphy crafts a nice path and carves a nice niche for himself in the NBA as a 3-and-D guy. Over time, he’ll grow more confident and comfortable in his fairly new frame and body. His shooting ability and size will attract attention, and he’ll be a safe pick in the late first round. Not quite sure that he’ll be worth being picked at no. 19, possibly at no. 21, but most definitely if he happens to slip to 32.
The skinny: He’s young, but he plays at a level that seems to be well beyond his years—skill-wise and mentally. Springer is only 18 years old and does not turn 19 until September. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard is the latest IMG Academy product that made the jump to Division I college and is now looking to make another leap for the NBA. Springer was a consensus top-20, five-star recruit coming out of high school. He attended Tennessee for his lone season of college, averaging a team-high 12.5 points per game and 43.5% clip from long range. Springer also averaged 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.2 steals per game and shot 46.7% overall. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.
Strengths: Springer seems to fit the mold of combo guards that Tom Thibodeau loves. He can shoot, slash, score, and most importantly, play defense. At Tennessee, he proved to be a disruptive defender, one that’s a pest on the ball, but still very engaged and active away from the ball. He has a relentless attitude defensively and is also instinctual when it comes to intercepting passing lanes. Offensively, his shooting ability will catch your eye, but he can also lower his shoulder and go downhill to attack the basket. He’s a smart shot-taker. Springer doesn’t need the ball all the time and can play with others, but he can knock it down when called upon. He’s the opposite of a volume scorer and his efficiency should be well-noted. His True Shooting percentage was a touch below 60%, which was better than 80% of all college players last season.
Weaknesses: While he might be listed as a combo guard, he will need to tighten up his playmaking and ball handling. Although Springer played solid minutes in his first nine games, once he became a full-time starter for the last 16 games, there were times he struggled with turnovers. He has a loose handle and that resulted in an average of 3.1 giveaways per game over the last 16 contests of the season. He has the potential to become a secondary playmaking option, but he will need to be better in the pick-and-roll and facilitating for others. Also, he will need to expand his bag and develop a way to score off the bounce or improve as a shot creator. Lastly, although Springer has solid shot mechanics, the release is on the slower side of things. He will need to speed things up a bit for the NBA.
Outlook: Springer is a bit raw, but the promise is there. He’s projected to go at some point in the late first round, or even slide into the second. Thibodeau seems to latch onto certain molds of players, and Springer appears to be one of those combo-guard types that are also scrappy and tough defensively. He did work out with the Knicks, so they got a good up-and-close look at him. There’s a good chance he’s there at no. 19 or 21. He might not be on the very top of NBA draft boards for those picks, but definitely worth a mention.
The skinny: Williams garnered buzz on the west coast as a consensus top-10 and five-star recruit in his class. He transferred to play for a highly hyped Sierra Canyon team for his senior year, teaming up with the likes of Bronny James, Zaire Wade, fellow five-star prospect Brandon “BJ” Boston, and numerous nationally acclaimed high school stars. Williams was a McDonald’s All-American and also selected to play in the Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoops Summit. He chose to play at Stanford for his lone collegiate season, becoming the highest-ranked recruit in program history. He averaged 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists while shooting 37.4% overall and 29.1% from beyond the arc. Williams was a Pac-12 honorable mention and one of 10 semi-finalists for the 2021 Julius Erving Award, an accolade given to the nation’s top small forward.
Strengths: Williams oozes with potential and can be refined in a bona fide player if in the right system. He measured a fraction under 6-foot-10 at the NBA Draft Combine, after entering college at 6-foot-8, so he appears to still be growing. He projects as a big wing that provides great energy on the defense and his length and athleticism will give teams multiple ways to use him. His versatility will reflect on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. He has solid handles and some elements of being a playmaker and shot creator. If he can reach his ceiling or develop into the elite player that many thought he could be, he’ll be a force with that unique frame.
Weaknesses: Although his body and potential versatility may appeal to some teams, it’s very clear that Williams is a raw work-in-progress. You can even argue that he’s simply living off the hype he generated in high school, where he earned every bit of it, but once he came to the collegiate level, he wasn’t that dominant game-changer. He struggled with consistency at Stanford, scoring in single digits in eight of 20 games played. There were some flashes of greatness, like Stanford’s first triple-double in 14 years during a 91-75 victory over Washington on January 7th. However, it was evident throughout the season that his jump shot is not there yet, and he struggles from the perimeter. He’s an O.K. finisher, but not the greatest, and he’ll need to step that up in an even higher level of gameplay in the NBA.
Outlook: Williams will need the right system to flourish, but more importantly, he’ll need a patient team. He’s projected to go anywhere between the mid-to-late first-round range. There’s a good chance that he’ll be on the board for pick nos. 19 and 21. According to the New York Post, it appears Williams and the Knicks had mutually positive feelings for one another during his pre-draft workout with the team. Despite reports, do the Knicks really want to take on a project? As evidenced last season, Tom Thibodeau seems to prefer to keep a tighter leash on his first-year players. Maybe under Thibodeau the patience pays off? Maybe it’s a new time and the Knicks will actually be patient with rookies for once?