Tennessee forward Yves Pons hasn’t officially put his name into the pool of possible draftable players for the 2020 NBA Draft class yet. But after a breakout junior campaign this past season, the “Flying Frenchman” has caught the eyes of several analysts and scouts across the league.
Pons showed huge offensive growth as a junior for the Vols in the 2019-20 season, and his defense was elite, as he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Pons tied Tennessee’s school record for most blocks in a season with 73, and his 2.36 blocks per game finished as the second-most blocks per contest in a single season in school history.
With that performance, Pons has grabbed the attention of NBA draft analysts. One such analyst believes Pons is the top athlete and best defensive player among all draft eligible prospects in the 2020 class.
Rob Dauster of NBC Sports released his updated mock draft for the 2020 NBA Draft earlier this week, and Dauster listed Pons as the No. 32 overall prospect on the board, putting him right at the beginning of the second round.
Though Pons has not declared for the draft yet, he still has time to put his name into the pool of draftable players. The 2020 draft would normally take place in June, but with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the US, the draft date and format is up in the air currently.
If Pons does put his name into the field, Dauster thinks the Tennessee forward will be highly valued.
“Pons is the best athlete and the best defender in this entire 2020 NBA mock draft class,” Dauster wrote. “You often hear things like ‘he can guard all five positions’ which tends to be an exaggeration. Not for Pons. He can, quite literally, guard any point guard, any center and anyone in between. He can play the four, and at times even the five, in small-ball lineups in the NBA to great effect. What makes him even more intriguing is that he shot 42 percent on unguarded catch-and-shoot threes. I think this is the most important number when it comes to his three-point shooting, because these are the face-up, step-in threes that he’ll be shooting at the next level.”
Typically, an elite shot blocker is one of the tallest players on a team. Centers and true power forwards tend to be a team’s leading shot-blocker, and those players are usually the ones leading the way in blocked shots in college basketball.
That’s not the case with Yves Pons, though.
Pons measures in at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, making him an undersized forward in college or the NBA. But Pons’ athleticism and ability to leap out of the gym makes him an outlier. Pons was the Vols’ best rim protector this past season, and he cleaned up a lot of defensive misplays and swatted tons of shots that were headed for the basket.
During his first two years at Tennessee, Pons’ defensive ability helped him see the floor and carve out a role, especially as a sophomore. But moving him to the four instead of having him play on the wing as a three took his offensive game to the next level this past season.
“The thing about Pons is that he played the three as a sophomore,” Dauster wrote. “As a junior, he was Tennessee’s four, which meant that instead of coming off of screens to get a shot, he was stepping into them as a trailing big or catching and shooting as a floor-spacer. This is the role he would play in the league.
“Put it all together, and I’ll buy on a player that has an elite NBA skill with the potential to fill out his game to be effective in a role.”
Pons went from averaging just 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds while shooting 28 percent from three as a sophomore to 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds while making 34.9 percent of his threes as a junior. He finished third on the team in scoring, rebounding, and three-point shooting percentage.
Right now, the 2020 NBA Draft is scheduled for June 25th, but that timeframe is likely to change given the current environment. The 2019-20 NBA season itself hasn’t finished up, as it was postponed indefinitely in March amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
Pons can still put his name into the NBA Draft pool and test the waters this offseason. He can do that and still return to school for next season just like Admiral Schofield did after the 2017-18 season. Schofield went through the pre-draft process but didn’t hire an agent, which kept him eligible for his senior season of college. Ultimately, Schofield came back for his final year of school for the 2018-19 season and was voted a First Team All-SEC wing. Schofield was one of three Vols selected in the 2019 NBA Draft, going No. 42 overall in the second round.