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Trio of Vols Make Early 2021 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

Tennessee isn’t likely to have any players drafted in the 2020 NBA Draft later this summer a year removed from having three players drafted, one of which — Grant Williams — was drafted in the first round.

Rick Barnes’ basketball program won’t have to wait long for its next batch of players to be drafted, however. At least according to ESPN’s latest 2021 NBA mock draft.

Vol signee and incoming freshman Keon Johnson would be the 13th overall selection according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony in his latest mock draft for next year’s NBA Draft. Fellow incoming freshman Jaden Springer would go No. 28 overall at the end of the first round. In addition to Tennessee’s pair of incoming five-star guards, Givony has rising sophomore guard Josiah-Jordan James being drafted 52nd overall at the end of the second round.

Rising-senior forward Yves Pons is not listed as a draft pick. Pons declared for the 2020 NBA Draft over the week in an effort to receive feedback on his game from the league. He is expected to return for his senior season, though.

“NBA scouts were significantly more excited about next year’s draft than this June’s class even before the coronavirus pandemic brought enough uncertainty to cause several prospects to decline entering their names in the 2020 draft,” Givony writes. “Headlined by two potential franchise players in Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green, who both would have likely been top picks in this year’s draft, the 2021 draft has considerable star power.

“It also has more depth than usual, as several players who would have been candidates to hear their names called on draft night this year decided to withdraw due to the uncertainty around what the pre-draft process will look like.”

Givony previously mocked Johnson as the No. 13 overall pick to the New Orleans Pelicans in his initial 2021 mock draft back in October.

“Johnson had the biggest breakout performance in Colorado Springs, earmarking himself as a potential lottery prospect despite being ranked in the Nos. 20-35 range by recruiting services,” Givony wrote at the time. “Despite his relative lack of experience, he looked extremely comfortable playing against the best prospects, appearing nearly unstoppable in the open court, making a major impact defensively and showing glimpses of potential as a half-court creator and passer.

“Johnson had a strong case to be considered the best athlete here, as his ability to accelerate from a standstill and elevate off the floor in the blink of an eye for exhilarating finishes resulted in a number of highlight dunks and blocks. The aggressiveness and competitiveness he displays on both ends of the floor allows him to utilize this freakish explosiveness consistently.”

According to Givony, in order for Johnson to live up to the lofty expectation, he’ll have to continue to develop as a perimeter shooter — something Barnes has had experience developing. Tennessee’s fifth-year head coach has helped players such Kevin Punter, Jordan Bone, and Admiral Schofield improve their shooting mechanics in their UT careers.

“His shooting mechanics aren’t conventional, with a one-handed release that gets good rotation but tends to fall apart when he’s asked to shoot off the dribble,” Givony said. “In eight games in the Adidas Gauntlet this spring and summer, Johnson shot just 10-for-32 (24%) from 3 and 32-for-55 (58%) from the free throw line.”

Though Givony thinks higher of Johnson, Springer arrives in Knoxville as the higher-rated recruit. Springer is ranked as the No. 17 overall player in the country according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, whereas Johnson is ranked No. 22 overall.

James arrived in Knoxville last fall as a five-star himself. During his freshman campaign, he was fifth on the team in points (7.5), third in rebounds (5.5), and second in assists (2.9). James developed into a much more reliable shooter as the season progressed. He shot a team-best 37 percent (29-79) from three.

James started 26 times in 27 games, averaging 29.9 minutes. He was the backup point guard until Lamonte Turner announced he was done for season. James then moved off the ball once Santiago Vescovi arrived in the middle of the season. Nagging injuries hampered James all season, and he missed a total of four games after re-aggravating a hip/groin injury in February.

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