In April, a veteran-laden group at Baylor overwhelmed Gonzaga, the top team in the country all year, to win the men’s national title in convincing fashion, 86–70.
Next season, as the world reopens amid improving COVID-19 pandemic numbers and teams get back to campus on a more normal schedule, the expectation is that freshmen will go back to driving the successes of many of the country’s top teams.
To that end, we took a look at the top 10 players in the final SI99 boys basketball recruiting rankings for 2021 and analyzed what type of impact each player could have on their team next season.
1. PF/C Chet Holmgren / Minneapolis (Minnehaha Academy)—Gonzaga
How he’ll help the Bulldogs: Holmgren is listed as a power forward/center—and he can totally be that—but if you need him to be a point guard, he can be that, too. Need him to knock down three-pointers like a marksman? He’s got you covered. Slash his way from the perimeter to the basket for a momentum-changing dunk? Done.
Suffice to say, Holmgren, the SI All-American Player of the Year, is the most versatile player Mark Few has ever had on campus, evident from his nickname of “unicorn.” Still, perhaps his most dominant skill is blocking and altering shots. Holmgren is a master at timing on his blocks and is as, if not more, dominant on the defensive end.
How he’ll help the Blue Devils: Banchero is the most important player to Duke’s goal of sending Mike Krzyzewski off with a national title in his final season. At 6′ 11″, Banchero is a three-level scorer who can create off the dribble from the wing, and that specific skill set will open up the floodgates offensively for a young and talented Blue Devils squad. Expect Banchero to be the most popular player on the court for Duke, which should give Trevor Keels, Jaylen Blakes, Jeremy Roach and Joey Baker better looks from the perimeter.
3. SG Jaden Hardy / Henderson, Nev. (Coronado)—G League Ignite
How he’ll help Ignite: Hardy is a dead-eye marksman with range that extends well past the NBA three-point line. At 6′ 4″, Hardy was the most lethal backcourt scorer in high school basketball last year because of his limitless and efficient range, quick release, strength and athleticism. Just a few steps past the half-court line and he’s in range, a devastating reality for defenders because of his elite versatility as a three-level scorer.
4. PF Michael Foster / Phoenix (Hillcrest Prep)—G League Ignite
How he’ll help Ignite: Foster opted for the pro route because his game is more suited for a pro style. The 6′ 9″ Foster scores efficiently at all three levels and is adept at using his brute strength to finish through contact efficiently. Foster thrives in the pick-and-pop, pick-and-slip and pick-and-roll while also doubling as a gifted rebounder with a relentless motor.
5. SF Patrick Baldwin Jr. / Sussex, Wis. (Hamilton)—UW-Milwaukee
How he’ll help the Panthers: Milwaukee, coached by Baldwin’s father Patrick Sr., struggled from the perimeter (32%) last season, but that number should spike through inserting Baldwin into the lineup. Baldwin has NBA range from deep with great size (6′ 8″) and a high basketball IQ. His playmaking ability will give the Panthers multiple looks offensively, and his ability to guard all five positions should cut down on the 76.3 points per game Milwaukee gave up last season.
How he’ll help the Vols: As talented as Jaden Springer was at the point last season for Rick Barnes, Chandler will be an upgrade. He’s that rare combination of a leader who does it both vocally and by example. Chandler combines elite athleticism, superior vision, three-level scoring ability and a high basketball IQ with a supreme confidence that is unrelenting. His personality and leadership are infectious and demand elevation over the course of the game.
7. PF Jabari Smith Jr. / Tyrone, Ga. (Sandy Creek)—Auburn
How he’ll help the Tigers: Smith will be the most versatile player in Bruce Pearl’s lineup next season. The 6′ 10″ big man is a capable rebounder and rim protector and dominates the paint with his back to the basket, but he is even more of a threat facing up. Still, his ability to efficiently knock down threes is what separates him and what will ultimately make Auburn a scary out in the SEC next season.
How he’ll help the Wolverines: Iowa narrowly edged the Wolverines as the top three-point shooting team in the Big Ten last season, but with Houstan in the lineup, Juwan Howard’s team has a shot at the top spot from deep. Houstan, the star of Howard’s No. 1 recruiting haul for 2021, has the size (6′ 8″) and efficiency from the perimeter to replace Isaiah Livers’s 43% clip from three last season.
9. PF Moussa Diabaté / Bradenton, Fla. (IMG Academy)—Michigan
How he’ll help the Wolverines: Diabaté is a 6′ 10″ workhorse in the paint with a 7′ 3″ wingspan and a motor that remains in overdrive. His rebounding prowess and his ability as a rim protector are where his presence will be most felt next season as Howard & Co. wait to see if Hunter Dickinson returns to Ann Arbor.
How he’ll help the Crimson Tide: Davison has a special blend of speed, shiftiness and athleticism that devastates opposing guards and makes him tailor-made for Nate Oats’s system, which is built around quick scoring opportunities and guards playing off their instincts. Davison scores in bunches on all three levels and should jell nicely with Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly and Nimari Burnett. That foursome will be the deepest, most lethal guard quartet in college basketball next season.
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