2021 NBA Draft: The 20 most valuable prospects among undrafted free agents

The 2021 NBA Draft is over, but there are plenty more contracts to be handed out to undrafted players.

Sixty players heard their name called over the several-hour event on Thursday, but many more were left on the board. The land of the undrafted is a difficult one to navigate, though this rocky path can occasionally lead to the ever-so-desired diamond in the rough.

Four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace went undrafted. As did three-time NBA champ Bruce Bowen…and 18-year veteran Udonis Haslem… and single-season free-throw percentage leader Jose Calderon… and “Linsanity”… and LeBron-stopper JJ Barea. Most recently, Fred VanVleet and Lu Dort have also made big impacts as undrafted players. The list goes on. 

The depth of basketball talent worldwide is as deep as it has ever been. There is still value after the top 60 picks, and it is up to front offices to figure out where that lies.

With this particular draft in mind, chaos ensued following the opening three picks. There were surprises throughout the night, beginning with Jalen Suggs falling to No. 5, continuing with Josh Primo jumping into the lottery, and then progressing into the second-round as Sharife Cooper dropped to No. 48.

With that in mind, several players that had been pegged as potential draft picks waited out the evening without hearing their names called at all. Whether by design (i.e., wanting to go undrafted in order to pick a specific destination) or not, these players found themselves in that land of the undrafted.

So now, as the NBA offseason truly kicks off, who are some of the top undrafted players that could crack a rotation?

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1. Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga

Guard | Signed with Los Angeles Lakers (Two-Way)

I ranked Joel Ayayi as a mid-second-round pick heading into the NBA Draft, and now he is my top undrafted prospect. While not an overwhelming performer by any stretch, he is extremely well-rounded with the ability to fill several different roles. Ayayi is a strong shooter off the catch, cuts very well off-ball, and really blossomed defensively over his college career. He is a fairly big guard at 6-4 and is a good athlete. He was not “the star” at Gonzaga and already understands how to be a part of something bigger. Ayayi is the type of player that can carve out a consistent reserve role in the NBA; that is extremely valuable as an undrafted prospect. He quickly signed a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Lakers at the conclusion of the draft.

2. Aaron Henry, Michigan State

Guard | Signed with Philadelphia 76ers (Two-Way)

Aaron Henry has a case to be the most impactful undrafted defender in this class. He brings legit size to the court at 6-foot-6 with a plus wingspan. As a result, he can switch onto multiple positions and projects as a legitimate stopper, particularly on-ball. Henry’s archetype is that of a 3-and-D player, but he needs to improve the former part of that if he is going to stick around. His mechanics need fine-tuning, and his 3-point percentage dropped in each of his collegiate seasons. Henry’s defense should give him a shot at playing real NBA minutes, though; we will have to wait and see if the offense catches up. 

3. McKinley Wright IV, Colorado

Guard | Signed with Minnesota Timberwolves (Two-Way)

McKinley Wright is a polished all-around player that oozes competitive drive and toughness. The knocks on him are that he is already nearly 23 years old and listed at just 6-0. Small guards always have arduous journeys to NBA minutes, and it doesn’t help that Wright was also a sub-par 3-point shooter in college. On the bright side, you are not going to find many players with more toughness and desire. Wright also boasts an elite-level floater, a shot that is rising in popularity and importance. He massively outrebounds his height and is a plus playmaker. Wright is also a superb on-ball defender with excellent strength, though he cannot switch onto bigger positions as effectively. Developing as a shooter will be crucial in determining if he can stick in the league; 84.4 percent free-throw shooting as a senior (career 80.3 percent) is encouraging evidence, though.  

4. Austin Reaves, Oklahoma

Guard | Signed with Los Angeles Lakers (Two-Way)

Austin Reaves improved with each of his college seasons, developing from a spot-up shooter at Wichita State into a go-to scorer at Oklahoma over the course of five years. He is an older prospect, given his lengthy college career, but is as savvy as they come. Reaves consistently gets to his spots offensively and showed the ability to be a tough shot-maker with the Sooners. He averaged 18.3 points as a senior, while also showing secondary playmaking ability with 4.6 assists per game. Reaves was a ball-dominant player with OU but will fill a much different role if he cracks the NBA; he has the skills that could lead to being a solid bench guard, particularly if his efficiency improved with cleaner looks.

5. Sam Hauser, Virginia

Forward | Signed with Boston Celtics (Two-Way)

Corey Kispert, Chris Duarte, and Trey Murphy all went in the Top 20 of the draft. That speaks to the value of big wings that can really stroke it from distance. Sam Hauser is not as skilled in other areas as those three, but he is 6-8 and one of the best snipers in the class. He not only brings great size but also has a high release and four seasons of 40+ percent shooting from three under his belt. His career shooting splits (.483/.439/.880) are a statistician’s dream. His track record as a shooter speaks for itself, and he also rebounded well in college. The big key for him will be developing into any sort of defender; if he can be even decent on that end, then he will crack the NBA. His shooting should be a lock to translate.

6. Chaundee Brown, Michigan

Wing | Signed with Los Angeles Lakers (Exhibit 10)

Chaundee Brown only averaged 8.0 points per game as a senior at Michigan, but he stood out in other ways as a key role player. The 6-6 wing connected on 41.9 percent of his 3-pointers, easily his career-best rate, and showed plus ability defensively. If that 3-point shooting translates to the next level, then there is a decent chance that he can fill out a minor bench role as a 3-and-D player. He is, quite simply, a catch-and-shoot guy that can defend well. Those are two crucial skills for role players trying to catch in today’s league. Brown just spent a college season as a supplementary player on a top team, so he should be a guy that understands and embraces his role at the next level.

7. Carlik Jones, Louisville

Guard | Signed with Dallas Mavericks (Contract TBA)

Carlik Jones transferred from the Big South to the ACC for his final collegiate season…and he showed out in a big way. He averaged 16.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game to lead Louisville. He simply produced at a high level throughout his college career and is deadly in the pick-and-roll. I am a believer in his style translating to the NBA as a spark-plug scoring bench guard. His size (6-1) sets him back a bit, but he proved capable of making the leap into high-major basketball a year ago. Will he prove more people wrong by emerging in the NBA?

8. Justin Champagnie, Pittsburgh

Forward | Signed with Toronto Raptors (Two-Way)

Justin Champagnie is a well-built 6-7 forward coming off a breakout sophomore season. He raised his averages across the board for Pittsburgh, posting 18.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, as well as shooting better from the floor. He was remarkably productive in a high-major league and is still only 19 years old. That is worth taking a shot on. He is an outstanding rebounder for his position and defends at a high level as well. On the flip side, the Pitt star only shot 31.1 percent from three and 71.7 percent at the foul line this past season. Champagnie must improve as a 3-point shooter in order to stick. With his age and production, though, he is someone to monitor.

9. Matthew Hurt, Duke

Forward | Unsigned

It’s not often that a Duke player flies under the radar, yet that might be the case with Matthew Hurt, who led a struggling Blue Devils group in scoring this past season. Hurt averaged 18.3 points per game on the year while shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three. He has always been recognized as a highly capable stretch forward that can light it up from deep at 6-foot-9. The problem is that shooting is his only truly valuable skill at this point. He needs to improve as a defender in a big way, and he also needs to show more as a rebounder and playmaker. Hurt was a highly-rated recruit out of high school and has proven his shooting reputation is well-deserved. Does a team take a shot at developing the other areas in his game? It’s at least worth a try. 

10. Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech

Guard | Signed with New Orleans Pelicans (Two-Way)

Jose Alvarado absolutely oozes toughness. He is a hard-working player that improved with each collegiate season, including a major breakout senior season. He was at his best this past year while posting 15.2 points, 4.1 assists, and 2.8 steals per game on .504/.390/.838 shooting splits. His 4.5 percent steal rate ranked 12th in the country. Alvarado’s defensive playmaking is worth noting as a key skill, however, his offensive game needs to develop a little bit more. He is also only 6-0 and will need to overcome being undersized. This isn’t the type of player that I would want to bet against, though.

11. Yves Pons, Tennessee

Forward | Signed with Memphis Grizzlies (Contract TBA)

Yves Pons is a tad undersized for his position at 6-foot-6. He is only “small” in terms of height, though. Pons is incredibly strong and boasts elite-level athleticism. The physical gifts are one thing, but he also puts them to good work defensively. A shot-blocking dynamo and multi-positional cover, Pons fits the mold of a small-big big. There should be no questions about his defensive ability translating. He does need to impact the game more offensively, though, as he is mainly a finisher at this point. He shot 78.9 percent from the free-throw line as a senior, however, so perhaps that is a sign of being a potential stretch with time. With his defensive floor, he is the type of guy that is 100 percent worth developing and seeing what happens.

12. JaQuori McLaughlin, UCSB

Guard | Signed with Golden State Warriors (Contract TBA)

JaQuori McLaughlin is one of the most interesting mid-major prospects in the undrafted class. While he is already 23-years-old, he has a unique game that could translate to the next level. Most notably, McLaughlin is an elite pull-up jump-shooter — a key skill in the NBA — and brings legit guard size at 6-4. He is a solid defender as well. McLaughlin averaged 16.0 points and 5.2 assists per game as a senior at UCSB; he shot over 40 percent from three in each of his last two seasons. He feels like the type of guy that could potentially fill a reserve role to run an offense for stretches.

13. EJ Onu, Shawnee State

Forward | Training camp deal with Dallas Mavericks

The lone non-D1 player on this list, EJ Onu is a bit of a mystery man. He dominated at Shawnee State this past season, posting video-game-like numbers as an NAIA All-American: 16.9 points (.573/.400/.748), 8.1 rebounds, and a ridiculous 4.5 blocks per game. On top of those statistics, he brings an NBA-caliber body at 6-11 with superb length. Will his game translate to a much higher level of play? That is the question, but his production and size make him very intriguing. Although he is already 22-years-old (on July 31), he needs to develop a bit more but has some impressive flashes. His shot-blocking is a major plus skill. (Remember earlier when I noted that former DPOY Ben Wallace was undrafted? He, too, came from outside of D1 basketball. So, there is a precedent for a star turn here.)

14. Chandler Vaudrin, Winthrop

Guard | Signed with Cleveland Cavaliers (Exhibit 10)

Big playmakers are very intriguing and tend to be worth taking a flyer on. Chandler Vaudrin is definitely one of those guys, standing at 6-7 and coming off playing point guard for Winthrop. An elite passer with creative vision, he averaged 12.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game for an NCAA Tournament team. The big key for him will be improving as a shooter and defender; he is only a career 35.5 percent 3-point shooter (121 attempts) and 58.7 percent free-throw shooter. If he can take that next step as a shooter, his size and playmaking will look even better. I wonder if he can carve out a career similar to that of Tomas Satoranksy, who has averaged 23.2 minutes per game over the last five seasons. Vaudrin is already 24 years old.

15. David Duke, Providence

Guard | Signed with Brooklyn Nets (Contract TBA)

David Duke took a big leap during this past season with Providence while emerging as a legitimate two-way star. He brings an NBA-caliber body to the floor at 6-5, can shoot it from distance, and massively improved as a playmaker. His lack of efficiency inside the arc is a major question mark; he finished on only 45.5 percent of his at-the-rim attempts and was 33-for-109 (30.3 percent) from mid-range. Improving in those areas and proving that he can be more than just a standstill shooter will be critical. His defense and size make him intriguing as a two-way guy. Can he adapt to not being a high-usage offensive player?

16. Moses Wright, Georgia Tech

Forward | Summer League deal with Toronto Raptors

Moses Wright was the ACC Player of the Year this past season. While collegiate accolades do not mean anything with regard to NBA potential, it is hard to overlook that. He averaged 17.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game on the campaign. Additionally, he flashed a more versatile game; he shot 12-for-29 (41.4 percent) from three after shooting 14-for-84 (16.7 percent) over the prior three years. Low volume? Sure, but also a sizable improvement, and his free-throw shooting did the same. Wright is a plus athlete with pretty good size at 6-9. He’s a frontcourt tweener but his two-way production and developing shooting warrants consideration.

17. Matt Mitchell, San Diego State

Guard | Summer League deal with San Antonio Spurs

Matt Mitchell flew under the radar in 2019-20 due to playing alongside Malachi Flynn. As a senior, though, he became the Mountain West Player of the Year behind efficient shooting and quality rebounding. He brings a well-built 6-6 frame to the court and is a winner. Mitchell is a really good pull-up shooter and projects as someone that can defend 2-through-4 at the next level. Perhaps the biggest key for him will be proving capable of being a catch-and-shoot guy. He’ll play more off-ball in the NBA (if he gets there) and will need to be more 3-and-D than ball-commanding. He fits very well within the right system — the Spurs could be exactly that for him. 

18. Chris Smith, UCLA

Forward | Signed with Detroit Pistons (Two-Way)

Chris Smith’s measurables are very impressive, coming in at 6-9 with a lengthy wingspan. His ideal position at the next level is to sit on the wing, which makes his size very intriguing. He was not a great shooter at the college level, but his form is rock-solid. It is worth believing in him becoming a good shooter with time. There is potential with his defense, but it is more flashes and archetype belief than reality at this point. He had a sub-1 assist-to-turner ratio in each of his four collegiate seasons and really needs to clean up that part of his game. Smith is still fairly young at 21 years old; the right developmental program can maximize his versatile game.

19. John Petty, Alabama

Guard | Summer League deal with Detroit Pistons

Inconsistency has been a major problem for John Petty. There are some nights where he is an absolute flamethrower (39 in a game as a junior) and others where the shot is completely missing. If he develops that consistency, though, he has the potential to be an undrafted steal of a scorer. Petty is a dangerous 3-point shooter with good size at 6-foot-5. He moves without the ball well, has deep range, and is unafraid of letting it fly. Defensively, he is better on-ball than away from it but showed improvement over his last two seasons in Tuscaloosa. He more than doubled his steal rate, going from 1.0 percent as a sophomore to 2.2 percent as a senior. His NBA future will be determined by if he makes the jump from “good” to “elite” in either 3-point shooting or defense.

20. Aamir Simms, Clemson

Forward | Signed with New York Knicks (Contract TBA)

Aamir Simms is big (6-8, 245 lbs), physical, and boasts a soft touch as a shooter. His senior shooting splits of .532/.400/.825 are very impressive for his position and he is also a pretty solid passer for a forward. Defensively, his fit in the NBA is a question mark, as he is not big enough or the type of vertical athlete to guard 5s and he isn’t quite quick enough to stick on the perimeter. His offensive skills are intriguing, though, particularly with his catch-and-shoot ability following screens. He fits well in the small-ball, stretch-the-floor era. 



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