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James Bouknight and the 2021 NBA Draft field: How he sizes up against other top-10 hopefuls

Taking a closer look at some of Bouknight’s scout profiles, as well how he stacks up against this class’ other top picks.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

James Bouknight’s sights are squarely set on the upcoming NBA draft, potentially eyeing a top 10 and even top-five selection. As a late first round talent coming into the beginning of last season, Bouknight has taken an astronomical leap into a legitimate superstar prospect. This major bump is thanks in part to his complete scoring package, athleticism, and natural instincts for the game that he showcased last season, as well as his stellar combine performance. Many scouting reports around the league have been released and here we’ll take a look at what the experts are saying about Bouk, before we compare him to some of his similar counterparts.

Let’s start with words from the Carpenter himself, head coach Dan Hurley.

“I can see James having a CJ McCollum type of career, even though he’s not the same type of player,” Hurley said. “He has all-star potential. He’s explosive, he can score at all three levels, a dynamic 1v1 player, and makes incredibly difficult shots. That’s what the NBA is about; winning matchups and 1v1s.”

“He’s moved up in the lottery with not just because of his Pro Day, but when teams meet him. They watch how hard he gets after it on the practice floor, and then you spend time around him, he’s very charismatic,” Hurley said. “He’s very engaging, has that star type of quality, that “it” factor. You take his shooting numbers with a grain of salt. Smart basketball people will take a look at his mechanics and free throw percentages and know he’s going to make threes at the NBA level.”

Hurley also elaborated on what Bouknight has improved on most since getting to Storrs.

“His ability to do more things with the basketball. He came in that would only handle the ball in short bursts. He played more shooting guard in prep school and AAU. His usage rate increased significantly here,” Hurley said. “We put the ball in his hands in so many different ways; ball screens, staggers, flares, off-sets. It put a lot of stress on his game to develop.”

Speaking of smart people, lets see what some of the more well-regarded scouts have to say.

Per ESPN’s Jonathon Givony, “Bouknight has helped himself as much as any prospect in the pre-draft process, shooting the lights out at his pro day in Chicago, measuring well, and proceeding to continue his strong momentum in private workouts.”

Rob Dauster, NBC Sports: Dauster offers up the Jordan Clarkson, the reigning 6th Man of the Year, as a comparison for Bouknight. At first that’s balk-worthy, but after listening to the breakdown, it makes sense as a floor. He gives All-Star Zach LaVine as a comparison for Bouknight’s ceiling.

Here are Dauster’s pros: He can create in isolation with changes of speeds and directions bred on Brooklyn playgrounds. Shifty is a word to describe him. Combine that with an explosive first step and crafty finishing around the basket, you have instant offense. He shot 63% around the rim, ranked in 86th percentile nationally.

Cons: He struggled in catch-and-shoot situations, coming in the 11th percentile nationally. However, shooting 29% from three can be explained away by the degree of shot difficulty, the elbow surgery, and no other UConn creators.

Dauster concludes by noting his ceiling is capped (for now) because Bouknight needs to learn how to create for others, because he requires the ball in his hands to be effective at the moment. But the ability to score early in his career will him on the court quickly, which is partly why he’s rocketing up draft boards. But Bouk’s long-term projection depends on developing some playmaking ability — something that can be developed in the film room. If not, he still has career in the making off being instant offense off the bench and torching second units.

Hardwood Herald: In transition, Bouknight is adept at slowing down on the break and finishing with a floater, either hand. That’s seen in the halfcourt too. With the right team construct, Bouknight can thrive playing off the ball next to a playmaker (cough Steph Curry). That means better shot selection, running through screens, and less defenders ready to help. His cutting and reads scream easy buckets.

On-ball defending is up to par. Off the ball he’s prone to floating and making overzealous plays. But, way better to be overzealous than giving no effort. Case in point: he closed out every player on the perimeter once vs. Villanova. The video above also points out the way he put consensus top five pick Evan Mobley on skates last December. So even for mobile bigs that are adept at switching onto guards, Bouknight can get his shot off. That is huge in today’s game.

The Athletic ran an incredibly in-depth guide on all picks. Here’s some snippets of what they said about Bouk: Elite body control means an effective floater that can absorb and finish through contact. They knocked his shot selection but as anyone that watched UConn play this year can supply that grain of salt. Elevation on the jumper was also flagged. Passing and reading defenses will be the biggest hurdle.

Summary: Once playmaking is tightened up, the rest of the game’s spacing opens up for him. His strengths are a premium in the NBA, which means his floor is a microwave bench scorer. If he hones his defense and can achieve three-levels of scoring while improving passing, the Athletic predicted Bouknight “will be an NBA starter with 20-point-pergame upside.”

That’s some very high praise for the sophomore from Brooklyn, but he is surrounded by similar high-level prospects who are also worth taking a look at.

Jalen Green - SG, NBA G-League Ignite

Mock Draft Projections

ESPN.com: 2nd overall to Houston

The Athletic: 2nd overall to Houston

CBSsports.com: 2nd overall to Houston

NBAdraft.net: 2nd overall to Houston

While ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has said the Detroit Pistons are not locked into Cade Cunningham for the first overall pick and are still considering Green and forward Evan Mobley, the general consensus based on almost every credible mock and report out there is that Green will be taken at the No. 2 spot. The former No. 1 overall recruit per ESPN100 rankings last year, Green opted to turn pro right after high school, joining the Ignite team of the NBA G league, which is mainly a developmental team for NBA prospects. Green, 6-foot-6, led Ignite in scoring with 17.9 points, adding 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He shot 46.1 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3.

What makes Green so special is his freakish athletic ability combined with an explosiveness that comes around once every couple of years or so. He may not have as natural a feel and smoothness that Bouknight possesses, but he makes up for that with an uncanny ability to blow by tough defenders and explode to the rim. Bouncy is one word that immediately comes to mind when watching Green, who has pogo-stick type bounce and athleticism. Not only this, but he can score at all three levels with relative ease.

He mainly relies on his pure athleticism and handle to score at this point, which means knocking down the three with more consistency is something he can improve on. This aspect of his game will likely be under a microscope the minute he steps onto the court in the NBA, as he had a tendency to go cold from three on team Ignite sometimes. While his long range game isn’t quite complete yet, he is able to create space from his defender in isolation and off-ball situations, so getting open looks shouldn’t be a problem.

Where Green is lacking the most is in his frame. A slight 178 lbs, Green is definitely going to need to put on some more muscle in order to survive the more physical NBA game. This also limits his potential defensively. He’s shown to have good instincts on this end and his long wiry arms help him disrupt other teams’ offensive rhythm, but there’s been a slight tendency for stronger players to have their way with him. If he can bulk up a bit more and improve his outside shot, we may be looking at the next Zach Lavine.

Green’s on paper scouting report seems eerily similar to Bouknight’s, and they do similar things on the court. Both players are at their best creating in space for themselves and others, utilizing their deep bag of moves to embarrass defenders. However, they don’t look similar on the court whatsoever. Bouk has a much more fluid, old school, pickup type game to him, whereas Green is a part of the bouncy new-age high-octane scoring guards that can jump out of the gym. Both can be extremely effective, but at this point it’s a matter of who has the higher ceiling and Green definitely gets the nod there. Just watch some of the ridiculous plays he made against professional players.

Jalen Suggs - PG/SG, Fresh, Gonzaga

Mock Draft Projections

ESPN.com: 4th overall to Toronto

The Athletic: 4th overall to Toronto

CBSsports.com: 4th overall to Toronto

NBAdraft.net: 4th overall to Toronto

Another prospect named Jalen, and another 4/4 on the same mock picks, this time sending Suggs to the Toronto Raptors at No. 4 overall pick. Suggs is a completely different prospect than Bouknight, but is by no means a pure point guard. He almost squarely falls into that combo-guard mold, which is becoming more and more attractive as the NBA continues to transition to a virtually position-less league.

A dynamic and fierce competitor who sees the game one step ahead, Suggs didn’t light up the scoreboard in massive droves during his once season at Gonzaga, but he simply didn’t need to. Surrounded by a plethora of talent which included two All-Americans, Suggs played his role to perfection, putting up nightly averages of 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. He was consistently relied upon to run Gonzaga’s offense and did it uber-efficiently. Suggs was also a four star quarterback prospect and it really shows on the court. He’s an exceptional passer and is at his best in transition, exhibiting incredible body control and vision in the open floor. He also exudes natural leadership abilities as well, which is a obviously attractive trait for a franchise looking to select their next lead guard. Suggs isn’t an elite shooter, hitting long range shots at a 34% clip, but hit some timely outside shots in clutch moments, which showed that he wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game.

Defensively, Suggs is basically the full package. He’s built for the physicality of the next level. A great on ball defender, he reads his man extremely well and rarely gets caught out of position even on ball screens.

Overall, Bouknight’s offensive game is more polished than Suggs’. He can score more effortlessly, especially in isolation, as well within the confines of an offensive set. Bouk always draws the comparisons to a classic New York City blacktop player, and Suggs is definitely not that. He is more calculated in his decision making and seems to have a bit less instinct, especially on the offensive end, which could actually hurt his effectiveness in the modern NBA. Overall, these are two different guards that bring very unique, but highly-sought after skills to any franchise that selects them. Like Green, though, Suggs ceiling is likely too high to justify taking Bouknight over him. With his combination of size, skill, leadership qualities, his versatility in both guard positions, he’s just too attractive to pass on.

Moses Moody - Fresh, SG, Arkansas

Mock Projections

ESPN.com: 12th to San Antonio

The Athletic: 8th overall to Orlando

CBSsports.com: 8th overall to Toronto

NBAdraft.net: 8th overall to Houston

It’s not often you see this many mocks agree on top ten pick selections, but the majority of ones out there have pegged freshman phenom Moses Moody to the Orlando Magic at No. 8. What Moody brings to the table right away are some of the biggest things Bouknight needs improvement on: outside shooting and defense. Bouknight has shown flashes in each of these categories, but the reason he is not a bonafide top-five or top-three pick is mostly due to the lapses in the aforementioned areas. Moody is built exactly like a prototypical two guard in today’s NBA at 6-foot-6, 210 lbs, with a 7-1 wingspan. Just based on those numbers alone it makes sense why scouts drool over him. He actually didn’t shoot an eye-popping percentage from three at 36% last season, but his beautiful release and ability to create space from his defender are what keeps these concerns at bay.

Moody can really get to his spots and use his frame to get shots off when he’s matched up with a pesky defender. You can never have too much shooting ability on an NBA team and Moody would definitely upgrade this area for any franchise.

He’s also an exceptional defender himself. Moody seldom came across a player that could match his size and length at the position, and he used this to his full advantage, making life miserable for opposing ball handlers.

Moody is seen as a much safer prospect rather than an upside pick, which is also where he and Bouk differ. In no way is Bouk seen as high-risk, many scouts believe his crafty scoring will translate to the NBA and could be more dynamic given the freedom allowed and pace of play, but with the intangibles that Moody has with his outside shot release and defensive prowess, it’s tough to argue that Bouk would be a safer pick. Still, it would be a bit surprising if Moody was selected before Bouk, but crazier things have happened.