With 2021 coming to an end, we’ve already seen a lot of players beginning to make strong cases for why they should be selected in the 2022 NBA Draft. Whether it’s college basketball, the G League Ignite, Overtime Elite or just international ball, we’re starting to get a really good feel for what most prospects have to offer at this point.
With that said, there will be some players that begin to make more noise in the second half of the season, and it can be a fun exercise to try to find some players that might have slipped through the cracks a bit. Keep reading for three players that you’ll want to remember heading into the New Year:
Julian Strawther, Gonzaga (Forward, 6-7, Sophomore)
There’s a pretty good chance that Strawther ends up being more of a 2023 NBA Draft prospect, but he’d be wise to feel out the draft process after this season. The 19-year-old is averaging 13.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game as a junior for Gonzaga this year. In the Zags’ loss to the Duke Blue Devils earlier in the season, the forward looked like the best player on the floor for the Bulldogs. That’s saying something considering how loaded Mark Few’s team is this year, but Strawther had 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the floor in that game. He was also 3 for 7 from three and chipped in 10 rebounds in that
Strawther’s jumper was something of a question mark coming into this season, but he reworked his mechanics and the results have been there thus far — check out his stroke in the clip above. The sophomore is shooting 37.9% from the outside this season, and he’s been “very good” in spot-up situations this year, according to Synergy Sports. He’s scoring 1.102 points per possession on those plays, which puts him in the 76th percentile in college basketball. When you break it down even further, Strawther has been “excellent” in unguarded catch-and-shoot situations in the half court, scoring 1.5 points per possession on those looks. Overall, this isn’t all that surprising of a development, as Strawther has great touch from everywhere on the floor. One of his most impressive shots is his push floater from anywhere below the free throw line.
With Strawther now sporting a better shot, it’s hard to imagine him not eventually being a guy that NBA teams will covet. With good size and length, the former four-star recruit has what it takes to be a very good scorer at the next level. Strawther still has some work to do in order to turn himself into a more complete player, but I view him as one of the top-40 prospects in this class. If he comes out earlier than expected, it wouldn’t be shocking if teams fell in love with his smooth offensive game.
John Butler, Florida State (Forward, 7-1, Freshman)
Butler could be next in line on the long list of underutilized Seminoles that NBA scouts drool over. The freshman is averaging just 5.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in 15.3 minutes per game this season, but he’s a seven-footer with legitimate wing skills. No matter how little you actually produce, those traits are enough to get you some looks.
Butler moves extremely well for a player at his height, and he has a nice jumper when his feet are set — he’s at 40% from three on the season, but he has only taken 25 shots from deep. The 19-year-old also has a decent handle for a player that size, and he looks comfortable shooting one-dribble pull ups. On the other end of the floor, Butler works hard to move his feet and has good timing as a shot blocker.
The issue with Butler is that he just hasn’t played many minutes this season, and he’s going to need to play more to feel out his game. Referring to him as a raw prospect would be a massive understatement, but that shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. With Florida State struggling a bit this season, head coach Leonard Hamilton will likely look to get him on the floor a bit more in the second half of the year. If Butler starts to put up some better numbers, people will take notice. Regardless, there’s enough there to warrant a team with good player development taking a chance on him. You can’t leave a player with his tools on the board for too long.
Allen Flanigan, Auburn (Guard, 6-6, Junior)
Last season, Flanigan averaged 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game on 45.5% shooting from the field and 33.8% shooting from three-point land. This year, the junior has only played in two games for the Tigers, as he just worked his way back from an Achilles procedure. Still, Flanigan has put enough on tape to make him a legitimate NBA prospect. And for my money, the southpaw deserves to be drafted at some point in the first round.
Flanigan has great size for a shooting guard, as he’s tall and has a body that can absorb contact. Last season, according to Synergy Sports, Flanigan’s 1.517 points per possession at the basket put him in the 96th percentile in the nation. The Auburn guard knows how to get himself to the cup off the dribble, and he’s a very good finisher at the rim. It sure doesn’t hurt that he’s an explosive athlete.
Flanigan was also in the 94th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations in the half court as a sophomore, and it’ll be interesting to see how he ends up shooting from deep as a junior. Flanigan shot only 33.8% from three last season, but one would think that number will go up as he begins to get more comfortable this year. Flanigan’s jumper has never been much of a red flag, and it should only get better considering the amount of time he likely spent shooting stand-still shots as he recovered from his Achilles injury.
Overall, Flanigan has the potential to be a microwave scorer at the next level. His shot selection could stand to improve, but players with his ability don’t grow on trees. With Jabari Smith in the conversation to be the top pick in the draft, Flanigan should have plenty of chances to show out in front of NBA decision makers. I expect him to really improve his draft stock by the time the draft rolls around.
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