LSU guard Cameron Thomas drives against Michigan during the NCAA Tournament

Five-minute draft guide: SEC-heavy Round 1

Pelicans Draft 2021 presented by HUB
by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

The Southeastern Conference routinely dominates the top of the NFL draft, but this year the NCAA’s premier football league took that to a new level, when six of the first 10 picks were used on SEC players, including fifth overall choice Ja’Marr Chase of LSU. The NBA’s upcoming draft won’t feature that level of influence within its top 10, but the SEC is poised to have numerous players selected in the first round. According to mock drafts across the Internet, it’s possible that seven SEC products will be announced among the first roughly 25 selections, including a pair of players from Tennessee, as well as one apiece representing Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, LSU and Kentucky.

Here’s an overview look at the seven SEC players consistently showing up in Round 1 projections on mock drafts (listed in the general order of where each appears in those predictions):

Keon Johnson, Tennessee freshman guard

“Potential” appears to be the operative word for this high-flyer, who has zoomed into the top 10 of mock drafts based on many analysts’ belief that he can refine his game, particularly his outside shooting. Compared to most other highly-touted prospects, Johnson has a thin college resume, but possesses NBA athleticism and size at his position.

Key stats: averaged 11.3 points, 1.1 steals

Mock draft projections: The vast majority of websites have him being selected between seventh (pick belongs to Golden State) and 10th (New Orleans).

Moses Moody, Arkansas freshman guard

Draft pundits seem to use very similar language while describing the Razorbacks’ top scorer and second-leading rebounder. In praising him for having intriguing pro potential on both ends of the court, ESPN.com called him “an ideal 3-and-D prospect,” while The Athletic wrote that Moody is a “terrific 3-and-D wing option.”

Key stats: averaged 16.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, shot 81 percent on free throws

Mock draft projections: Among nine sites featured in NBA.com’s consensus mock draft, four of them predict Moody going between the 11th and 13th picks. His best projection was eighth by CBSSports.com.

Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky freshman center

Compared to Brooklyn rookie Nic Claxton by NBADraft.net, Jackson’s college highlight reel is reminiscent of New York’s Mitchell Robinson, an agile shot-blocker who plays above the rim and runs the floor well. The Athletic calls him “the prototypical run-and-jump, play-finishing, shot-swatting center prospect… low-usage as a gravity lob threat on offense.”

Key stats: averaged 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, shot 54 percent from field

Mock draft projections: Generally late teens or early 20s. ESPN.com has a bit of an outlier prediction, placing Jackson at No. 11, selected by Charlotte.

Sharife Cooper, Auburn freshman guard

A 6-foot-1, 180-pound floor general, Cooper is a highly talented ballhandler, passer and driver, but question marks arise from analysts about his perimeter shooting. The Athletic wrote that Cooper “isn’t Trae Young, but there are some stylistic similarities in the way they handle the ball close to the ground and buzz in and out of the paint while throwing high-wire live-dribble passes.”

Key stats: averaged 20.2 points, 8.1 assists, shot 83 percent on free throws

Mock draft projections: Most frequently tabbed to be picked in the late teens or early 20s. SI.com has Cooper as Round 1’s penultimate choice at No. 29.

Cameron Thomas, LSU freshman guard

While coming up with pro comparisons for Thomas, NBADraft.net seemed to enjoy making local connections, listing former Pelicans guards E’Twaun Moore and JJ Redick. Thomas stands out for his scoring and deep-shooting prowess, described by NBADraft.net as having “in the gym range.” Pre-draft analysis of Thomas nearly always begins with his shot.

Key stats: averaged 23.0 points, shot 88 percent on free throws

Mock draft projections: Many sites have him getting picked in the 20s, which could potentially set him up for a role on a contending team that needs shooting.

Tre Mann, Florida sophomore guard

Scores a chunk of his points from off-the-dribble moves, a creative driver described by The Athletic as “a pull-up shooting savant… can separate from defenders by changing gears with ease.” Shot 40 percent from three-point range in 2020-21 and was credited with one of college basketball’s better floaters when he gets into the paint.

Key stats: averaged 16.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, shot 83 percent on free throws

Mock draft projections: Consistently projected for the early 20s being picked no later than Houston at the 24th pick.

Jaden Springer, Tennessee freshman guard

As is the case with several guards/forwards currently projected to be picked ahead of him in Round 1, Springer’s defense is highlighted in draft analysis. A sturdy 6-foot-4, 204 pounds, the Charlotte native is described by ESPN.com as “one of (this draft’s) best perimeter defenders. He is a strong, instinctual scorer… ability to get out in transition with a powerful first step.”

Key stats: averaged 12.9 points, shot 44 percent on three-pointers, 81 percent on free throws

Mock draft projections: Seems to have a bit wider range than most other Round 1 prospects. For example, Yahoo! Sports lists him 16th, while ESPN has him at No. 29.

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