Breaking down the college basketball transfers that will have the biggest impact during the 2021-22 season.
This offseason saw more college basketball transfers than any other in the sport’s history. The combination of the transfer portal, players receiving an extra year of eligibility, and the NCAA passing the one-time transfer rule created the perfect storm for unprecedented movement.
Many coaches took advantage just like the players did, finding ways to immediately upgrade their rosters. John Calipari and Chris Beard both loaded up at Kentucky and Texas, respectfully, and both programs are now projected to be in the preseason Top 10.
However, the transfers that have the biggest impact on the upcoming season won’t all play for Kentucky and Texas. Those programs and coaches — and we can throw others like Arkansas, Kansas, and Oregon into the mix as well — landed a number of the best college basketball transfers available, but best won’t necessarily coincide with impact.
Let’s use Kentucky as an example. Davidson transfer Kellan Grady was a huge addition for his experience, shooting, and steady decision-making. Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick was, too, as another knockdown shooter. The addition of both players elevate Kentucky as a whole yet limit the importance of each.
Let’s dive into it and break down my five most impactful college basketball transfers for the 2021-22 season:
5) Justin Powell, SG, Tennessee
2020-21 Stats (Auburn): 11.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.7 apg
Why not get started with a prime example of impactful college basketball transfers in Justin Powell?
The 6-6 sharpshooter was Auburn’s best player during the first 10 games of the season and ran the point before Sharife Cooper was ruled eligible. I raved about his play in my first Rauf Report of the 2021 calendar year, which is when Powell was really hitting his stride.
Unfortunately, it also happened to be right before his season-ending head injury, so it can get lost at just how well Powell was playing at the time.
He had back-to-back 26-point games against South Alabama and Memphis (who finished the season with the nation’s best defense, per KenPom), and then had a season-high nine assists in Auburn’s SEC opener against Arkansas.
Remember, this is a guy who wasn’t expected to have a large role and ended up running the team without Cooper. Inconsistency, bad decisions, and some struggles defensively came along with the flashes of brilliance he showed on the offensive end but keep in mind that he was playing out of position.
Tennessee will not burden Powell with as much responsibility. He will play his more natural position on the wing, where his scoring abilities can be fully utilized. That, and his three-point shooting (44.2 percent), will be welcomed additions to a Vols team that really struggled to score in the half court a season ago.
Tennessee ranked 85th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency — the second-lowest mark of the Rick Barnes era — because it lacked explosiveness, playmaking, and guys who could create their own shot. It didn’t help that the Vols ranked 201st in three-point percentage, either.
Enter Powell, who can do all of those things as he showed in that game against Memphis (again, the best defense in the nation).
Tennessee returns over half their minutes from last year’s team and welcomes in a Top 3 recruiting class headlined by five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler. But, even with all that talent, they don’t have anyone else that possess was Powell brings to the table.
The Vols will need Powell to play a fairly significant role if they’re going to avoid the very same issues that plagued them last season.
4) Myles Johnson, C, UCLA
2020-21 Stats (Rutgers): 8.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg
Johnson is another one of the college basketball transfers whose impact will go far beyond his transfer ranking. The 6-10, 255-pounder won’t be mistaken for a superstar, but he’s excellent on the interior. He’s one of the nation’s top rebounders and shot blockers, both areas that UCLA desperately needed to upgrade.
Johnson was 19th in the country in block rate and was 11th in the Big Ten in steal rate, an impressive feat for a big man. He also ranked in the top 50 in rebounding rate and was among the nation’s leaders in defensive rating.
The Bruins, on the other hand, ranked 203rd nationally in block rate and 300th in steal rate a year ago. They also allowed opponents to shoot over 50 percent from inside the arc (197th).
Interior defense is where Johnson’s presence will undoubtedly help. In UCLA’s 22 victories last season, they held opponents to 48.4-percent shooting from inside the arc. In their 10 losses, opponents shot 54.8 percent.
This is something Gonzaga made a point to exploit in their Final Four victory over the Bruins. They kept feeding the ball into Drew Timme and UCLA’s bigs either didn’t have the lateral quickness and length to defend his post moves or were too slow in their help defense.
Johnson has the length and motor the Bruins lacked a year ago along with natural defensive instincts that should make him UCLA’s anchor on that end of the court.
Johnson is not going to be a huge offensive force for UCLA. It’s not his strong suit and that’s not what the Bruins need, though he is effective as a lob catcher and has touch around the rim.
Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati teams were known for their defense and there is no doubt UCLA has to improve in this area if it’s going to fulfill their preseason expectations. Adding Johnson should significantly strengthen those weaknesses. He is about as good of a fit as the Bruins could possibly find.
3) Walker Kessler, C, Auburn
2020-21 Stats (UNC): 4.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.9 bpg
Kessler is not someone you’d expect to see on a list like this from a pure statistical standpoint. Then again, you don’t expect someone of his pedigree to be buried on the depth chart like he was at North Carolina a season ago.
A five-star prospect coming out of high school, the 7-1, 245-pounder took a chance at potentially being next in the long line of great big men that played for Roy Williams at UNC. Instead, Kessler found himself as the odd-man out of a four-man rotation that failed to keep any of the four happy (Garrison Brooks also transferred out).
However, despite his limited minutes, Kessler was incredibly effective when he was on the court. He would have ranked in the top 20 nationally in offensive rebounding rate (first), offensive rating (sixth), and block rate (20th) had he played enough to qualify.
Kessler only played more than 20 minutes on two occasions with his most work coming against Florida State’s massive front line. And guess what? It was also his best game of the season.
The Georgia native went for 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds and four blocks.
It’s also worth noting that in the other game (vs. Notre Dame) in which Kessler played over 20 minutes, he had 16 points, 12 rebounds, and eight blocks.
Kessler was excellent whenever he was on the court; he was just buried behind a first-round pick (Day’Ron Sharpe), a team captain and the ACC Preseason Player of the Year (Brooks), and another former five-star recruit (Armando Bacot).
Kessler is not going to be the only big man in Auburn’s rotation, as he is expected to start alongside five-star freshman Jabari Smith in the frontcourt. But he will have one of the largest roles on the team as Bruce Pearl plans to feature him prominently.
If he can be as dominant inside as he was when he actually played at UNC, and Auburn’s backcourt continues making the number of 3s we’ve come to expect from them under Pearl, the Tigers might have something special.
2) DeVante Jones, PG, Michigan
2020-21 Stats (Coastal): 19.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.8 spg
Michigan will enter the 2021-22 season as the favorite to repeat as Big Ten champs and is in the elite tier of national championship favorites that figure to be at the top of preseason polls. In fact, it will be a shock if the Wolverines aren’t ranked in the Top 5 when the season gets underway.
Head coach Juwan Howard returns a star big man and likely preseason All-American in Hunter Dickinson and Eli Brooks, a versatile fifth-year senior who’s incredibly smart and efficient. Michigan also brings in the nation’s top recruiting class, headlined by a Top 10 player in Caleb Houstan and five-star forward Moussa Diabate.
That said, Mike Smith‘s departure left a major question mark at the point guard spot, so Howard went out and landed one of the best transfers available in Jones.
The reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year was a dynamic force for Coastal Carolina and can do a bit of everything on the court. He played off the ball last season and saw his scoring numbers jump after playing point guard for the Chanticleers in 2019-20, when he averaged 5.7 assists per game.
Michigan does not have many players who can create their own shot, and Smith was often the guy with the ball in his hands in clutch moments last season because of his abilities. Jones has no problem creating his own shot, something he put on full display in the G League Elite Camp this offseason.
Smith was a high-profile scorer in his time at Columbia before transferring to Michigan and accepting a pass-first, playmaker role. Jones will be asked to do something similar and has the ability to excel doing so. When he last played the point in 2019-20, Jones was the Sun Belt’s most efficient player and led the conference in assists while not completely sacrificing his scoring.
So, don’t worry about him being a guy who only looks for his own shot, and don’t worry about his ability on the defensive end, either. ESPN NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony reported that Jones was one of the best defenders at the G League Elite Camp, which Jones attended while testing NBA Draft waters.
“During this entire NBA process, I believe I showcased my ability to defend at a high-level,” Jones told Givony. “I showed teams I belong with the ‘high-major’ players; I’m hungry and willing to do whatever it takes to win and become the best player I can.
“I’m looking forward to proving to NBA teams that I can lead a team, control an offense and that my three ball is consistent and reliable. Showing them I’m able to compete at a high level on both ends of the court every single night and that I’m a team guy first and foremost. I know if my team wins then I’ll win as well.”
1) Marcus Carr, PG, Texas
2020-21 Stats (Minnesota): 19.4 ppg, 4.9 apg, 4.0 rpg
Carr was immediately heralded as one of the best college basketball transfers available when he announced he was leaving Minnesota, and just about every school with a scholarship available inquired about his services. He ultimately chose Texas and will be the face of the Longhorns in Chris Beard’s first season.
It was no surprise he garnered that level of interest. The 6-2, 195-pounder averaged 19.4 points, 4.9 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game last season after averaging 15.4 points, 6.5 assists, and 5.3 rebounds during his first season with Minnesota. He was an All-Big Ten selection both seasons and will likely be on one of the Preseason All-America teams.
Along with being the best transfer of the offseason, Carr is going to be in position to be the most impactful, too.
Like Jones, Carr can both fill it up or make plays for others and is willing to skew his game based on who’s around him. His scoring average jumped in 2020-21 when he was Minnesota’s only consistently legitimate scoring option. When he had scoring help in 2019-20, in the form of current Memphis Grizzlies center Daniel Oturu, Carr’s passing and playmaking was much more of his focus.
Texas doesn’t need another player to come in and chuck it 15-20 times per game without contributing anything else offensively given the amount of talented it amassed in the transfer market this offseason. Carr can certainly score effectively when he needed, but he won’t force it.
The Longhorns didn’t have any point guard options of this tier until Carr showed up. Kentucky transfer Devin Askew has promise but struggled mightily in his one year in Lexington. Andrew Jones isn’t a point guard, and Courtney Ramey hasn’t been an efficient scorer or playmaker. This group needed a do-it-all point guard to tie everything together, and Carr embraces that role.
There’s also his fit in Beard’s offense, which is heavy in pick-and-rolls and isolation sets – especially late in games. That style suits Carr perfectly, which I broke down in depth here.
Most of what Texas does is going to be through Carr as the primary decision maker, and he’ll have more talent around him than he ever has. Don’t be surprised if Carr becomes one of the sport’s biggest superstars in Austin.