Who is No. 1 in the class of 2021? We make a case for the top five
As long as I’ve been in the grassroots basketball industry, I ask myself this question each and every day - do I have the right player at the top of my player rankings?
Who the top overall basketball prospect is something that I’ve chased for two decades. I love the question. I love the conversations. I love the debates. Some years it is an easy call. Some years it’s a battle of options. Some years you almost wish you didn’t have to answer the question.
For the class of 2021, this is a fun one. We have, by my count, five players worthy of such a space.
In alphabetical order:
THE CASE FOR PATRICK BALDWIN
- I need to be clear right out of the gate, of the five guys on this list I’ve seen him the least. And in the year of limited in person views, I’ve not seen him at all in comparison to the rest of this group. I want to be as transparent as possible in such a debate of talent at the top.
- At 6-foot-9, he’s an elite shooter. It is so hard to guard him out to the wing. He can switch between the three and four and two.
- From a thinking the game standpoint, Baldwin has as good of a feel as anyone in the class.
- Think he is somewhere between Michael Porter, Jr. and Klay Thompson.
THE CASE FOR PAOLO BANCHERO
- Game in and game out, you know what you are going to get with the big man from Seattle. He produces each and every time out and he makes the game look easy.
- In an era where big men must shine on the glass all the while step out and shoot, Banchero’s game has the right kind of foundation to transfer to the pro level.
- I think he’s one of the best rebounders in the entire class.
- Defensively, he’s mobile enough to guard guys like Jabari Smith out to the wing.
- When I see Banchero play, I see shades of Domantas Sabonis.
THE CASE FOR JADEN HARDY
- I’ve made my case for him already for the No. 1 space in the class of 2021 and I enjoyed getting into this head space after seeing him dominate the Border League. We saw him shine there.
- In a game situation, I want the ball to be in Hardy’s hands. I think he’s the best go-get-a-bucket guy there is in the class. Talk to anyone in the NBA and this value is the most coveted. Hardy is that guy in this class.
- He’s cut from the mold of D’Angelo Russell meets Devin Booker.
- Hardy’s known for his scoring, and he should be. He’s the best in the class. But he’s also an excellent passer. Elite, really.
THE CASE FOR CHET HOLMGREN
- He’s incredibly unique. I’ve racked my brain to think of two things:
A. Who does he remind me of from year’s past?
B. Who does he compare to at the next level.
A. I have no idea.
B. i have no idea.
- He changes the way players attack the basket. As I wrote in my Superlatives case, there were only two baskets scored against Holmgren in two games. Both were afterthought scores.
- What he does is undeniable. From three as a shooter? Undeniable. You can’t guard him as a shooter. From an end to end transition scorer? He’s fast and crafty near the rim. As a passer? He’s so, so good as a visionary guy.
- I’ve seen a handful of truly unique guys in prep hoops - Dwight Howard, Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson - and Holmgren is in this category when it comes to being on their own level of physical advantages.
THE CASE FOR JABARI SMITH
- He’s consistent. That’s a value that I continue to lock into with this class. I think we see the same level of star player from Smith each time he steps onto the floor.
- He mixes current production against likeminded players well with transferrable upside.
- He defends at a high-level, guarding both inside and out. His defense is about elite footwork, timing and athletic ability paired with his great length.
- He’s as good of an inside-out player there is in the country. Smith can stretch the floor with a shot that is NBA-worthy.
- His game is understated and there isn’t a machine behind it. His work does the talking.
- He keeps getting better and better. From his sophomore year to now, you could make an argument that his trajectory is the highest of the entire bunch.
Who would you place No. 1? Why? How would you stack this quintet out? It’s a fun bunch, no doubt. We will release our updated 2021 national rankings on Wednesday morning.