Ranking the SEC’s top 25 men’s basketball players for 2020-21 season
The SEC just led all conferences with 12 players selected in the 2020 NBA Draft — 6 in the first round, 6 in the second.
Heading into the 2020-21 season, there are plenty of guys battling for their spot in the loaded 2021 NBA Draft. Across the board, every SEC team has talent.
Who are the best of the best? Here are our rankings of the SEC’s 25 best players:
Honorable mentions: Jeremiah Tilmon, C, Mizzou; Keyshawn Bryant, F, South Carolina; Jermaine Couisnard, G, South Carolina; Keon Johnson, G, Tennessee; Kevin Marfo, F/C, Texas A&M; Jordan Bruner, F, Alabama
25. Darius Days, F, LSU
Days is a solid guy to have in your starting lineup. He averaged 11.1 points and 6.8 rebounds as a starter last year. Can he do more now that LSU needs to replace the production of Emmitt Williams and Skylar Mays? We’ll see. But I expect him to at least match the numbers from last year.
24. Noah Locke, G, Florida
Locke was one of the few Gators to actually take a step forward last year. He averaged 10.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per contest. But, if he’s going to be even better this year, he’ll have to improve his all-around game in Florida’s faster style of play.
23. Tre Mann, G, Florida
Speaking of the Gators wanting to play faster, Mann stands to benefit hugely from that schematic shift. He’ll spend time at different spots if he comes off the bench, but his game should translate to the speedy style of play. Expect him to average a lot more than the 5.3 points and 1.9 rebounds he averaged last year.
22. Savion Flagg, G, Texas A&M
Flagg was the 2nd-leading scorer on a balanced A&M squad last year. This year, without Wendell Mitchell and Josh Nebo in the starting lineup alongside him, he’ll need to step up. He’s a 37% 3-point shooter, so I expect him to get more looks from long range this season.
21. Desi Sills, G, Arkansas
Sills is going to have a lot of work to do for the Razorbacks this year. Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe and Jimmy Whitt are all gone, so much more of the scoring load is going to fall on Sills. He averaged 10.6 points per game last year, but he’s going to have to do a lot more with much more defensive attention on him this season.
20. AJ Lawson, G, South Carolina
Lawson has been remarkably consistent in his 2 years in Columbia, but there’s a case to be made he took a tiny step back last season. Here’s how his stats compare:
- 2018-19: 29.9 minutes, 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 35.8% 3-pointers
- 2019-20: 29.1 minutes, 13.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 33.9% 3-pointers
If the Gamecocks are going to continue to be a tough out in SEC play, Lawson is going to need to improve this year. He has the talent, as evidenced by this incredible putback dunk:
He was a preseason All-SEC honoree. We’ll see if he can live up to that.
19. Dru Smith, G, Mizzou
Smith leads a Mizzou squad that returns a ton of experienced players. He was also a second-team All-SEC preseason honoree. Smith isn’t a 3-point threat, but he is a menace in other ways. He scored 12.7 points per game and averaged 2.1 steals last season:
Mistakes made around Smith turn into easy buckets on the other end of the floor.
18. Devontae Shuler, G, Ole Miss
Shuler has been a solid scorer alongside Breein Tyree the past 2 seasons, but he’ll take on a bigger role in 2020-21. He’ll need to be more of a ball-handler, which means we could see him improve not only on his 11.7 points per game from last year, but also his 3.3 assists per contest.
17. Xavier Pinson, G, Mizzou
After getting off to a slow start last season, Pinson finished as perhaps Mizzou’s best player. He averaged 11.1 points, but he was doing much better later in the season. His athleticism is off the charts, and he plays fearlessly:
Yes, the Tigers have plenty of experience returning this year, but not much star power. Pinson is the best bet to make the leap into stardom.
16. Jaden Shackelford, G, Alabama
Shackelford made the SEC’s All-Freshman team last season, but it still felt like he was a bit overlooked. That’ll happen when you play alongside guys like Kira Lewis Jr., John Petty Jr. and Herb Jones. But, fun fact, Shackelford is actually the SEC’s leading returning scorer, having averaged 15 points per game last year:
Jaden Shackelford is currently the TOP returning scorer in the SEC, pending the decision of Isaiah Joe (ARK)
We know what Jaden can do offensively, the main questions surround his consistency on defense – nonetheless I currently project him as an All-SEC performer in 2020-21. pic.twitter.com/FdZPneRpi4
— Hunter Cruse (@HunterCruse14) July 21, 2020
Shackelford and Petty (more on him later) should be a really fun duo to watch this year.
15. Romello White, F, Ole Miss
The Rebels landed White, a Georgia native who spent the first 3 years of his career at Arizona State, as a graduate transfer this offseason. He gives Ole Miss its best post threat in years, having averaged 10.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last season. He has a nose for the bucket and is a strong finisher at the rim:
Romello White has been a good barometer for ASU's success this season, as the Sun Devils have been at their best when they include White in the offense.
After a slow start today, he has really come alive in the second half with 6 points including this thunderous slam. pic.twitter.com/P6Z1VcjN68
— Jacob Rosenfarb (@jacobrosenfarb) March 8, 2020
He and Shuler should have a lot of fun in the pick-and-roll game this year.
14. Scotty Pippen Jr., G, Vanderbilt
Pippen has a great feel for the game, which I guess is something that happens when your dad is Scottie Pippen. The younger Pippen needs to be more careful with the ball, as he averaged 2.7 turnovers per game last year. But he did a lot of good, too, averaging 12.0 points and 3.6 assists. He’s very creative on the floor, as evidenced by this sneaky play:
Sneaky play by Scotty Pippen Jr. pic.twitter.com/osl2tuG3Zl
— Brandon Zimmerman (@BZSEC) February 29, 2020
If nothing else, he’ll ensure that Vanderbilt is entertaining to watch this year.
13. Jaden Springer, G, Tennessee
Springer and fellow 5-star 2020 Tennessee signee Keon Johnson are going to be an exciting duo to watch this season. Springer is everything you want in a guard — great ball-handler, decent shooter, aggressive defender and a guy who can finish at the rim:
He’ll be in the mix to be a Day 1 starter in the Vols’ loaded lineup.
12. Sharife Cooper, G, Auburn
Cooper wasn’t as highly rated as Springer coming out of high school, but he’s still a 5-star guy. And, I have him 1 spot higher than Springer simply because he’s going to be counted on to do a lot more for Auburn. He already has NBA-level speed and is an excellent finisher in the lane:
Sharife Cooper gets to the basket at will and his finishing at the rim is so awesome to watch
His acceleration is ridiculous, but I really appreciate his footwork and how he sets up his defenders when attacking. Can watch it all day pic.twitter.com/kHztplkTF1
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) November 20, 2020
He’s decisive and quick. And, he should put up big numbers because he’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot.
11. Javonte Smart, G, LSU
With no Skylar Mays to lead the way, Smart will have to become even more of a playmaker. He took a moderate step forward last year, averaging 12.5 points, 4.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. I thought he should have been even better, but that just goes to show the potential he has. He’ll be a focal point of the LSU offense this season.
10. Herb Jones, F, Alabama
Jones is one of the top defenders in the SEC, even when he only has 1 healthy hand. Oh, and who could forget when he stepped to the line and knocked down a 1-handed free throw last year (with his non-dominant right hand)?
— Alabama Men’s Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) February 17, 2020
He only averaged 7.9 points last year, but with all the talented scorers on Alabama’s roster, that was plenty. He’s on the team to average 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals a night. He’s also an underrated passer, having averaged 2.3 assists per game in 2019-20. If he can even take a tiny step forward as a scorer, he’s well worth the No. 10 spot on this list.
9. Scottie Lewis, G, Florida
Lewis was frustratingly inconsistent last season. But, then, so were the Gators as a whole. A man with this much athleticism and speed should average more than 8.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 29.1 minutes per game:
This is just a ridiculous chasedown block by Scottie Lewis pic.twitter.com/1PjvAijdKb
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) November 20, 2020
Yes, he’s active on defense, averaging 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks, but he needs more touches on offense. He’ll get those in the up-tempo pace coach Mike White wants to play this year. Now, he’ll just have to make the most of them. He shot 36.1% from 3-point range, so he should let it fly from beyond the arc more, too.
8. Olivier Sarr, F, Kentucky
Transfer big men haven’t had the major impact we’ve expected in recent years at Kentucky. Reid Travis and Nate Sestina were both solid players, but they didn’t become stars. I expect that to change this year with Sarr, who transferred to Kentucky from Wake Forest.
Sarr’s not necessarily the best above-the-rim player, but he has some incredible classic post moves. Just look at what he did to Duke last season with his back to the basket:
If Sarr can improve upon his average of 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks from last year, Kentucky will be a Final Four contender.
7. Terrence Clarke, G/F, Kentucky
Clarke and fellow 5-star freshman BJ Boston will get a lot of well-deserved hype coming into this season. Clarke is slightly bigger than Boston, so he will probably get a lot of time at the 3 spot. He’s perhaps the more athletic of the 2 freshman wings, and has jump-out-of-the-gym ability:
There should be plenty of lobs thrown his way this season.
6. John Petty Jr., G, Alabama
Petty is probably the best pure shooter in the SEC. He shot 44% from 3-point range in 2019-20. I’ll say that again. He shot 44% from 3-point range last year.
And it’s not like he only took 2 per game. No, he shot 6.7 long-range bombs per game, making 2.9 of them. He thrived in Nate Oats’ run-and-gun style. Yes, Kira Lewis is gone, but Petty should continue to put up numbers alongside new point guard Jahvon Quinerly.
5. John Fulkerson, F, Tennessee
Fulkerson became a star last year, going from 3.1 points per game to 13.7. He’s not going to stun you with his athleticism, but he is always in the right spot and is a great finisher around the rim and in the mid-range game.
He’ll continue doing what he does best. Now that Tennessee will surround him with more talent, it’ll lead to even more opportunities for Fulkerson to make plays.
4. Trendon Watford, F, LSU
Watford definitely made the right decision returning to school for his sophomore season. He’s active on both ends of the court, averaging 13.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game as a true freshman:
Depending on how much Will Wade wants to play him, Watford could end the season as a 15-point, 10-rebound guy, which would have him solidly in the mix for the SEC Player of the Year award.
3. BJ Boston, G, Kentucky
Boston is the highest-rated freshman in Kentucky’s top-rated recruiting class, so he’ll be under a lot of pressure to live up to the hype. Fortunately for John Calipari and the Wildcats, Boston shows every indication of being an elite player.
This highlight video shows an athletic wing who can shoot at a high level, distribute the ball when needed and put it on the floor to get to the rim:
The BJ Boston Montage. Displays high-level pull-up shooting, a supremely functional handle, downhill slashing and defensive playmaking: pic.twitter.com/xvCJgVwnlt
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 16, 2020
He looks like Kentucky’s next 1-and-done, and could be a top-5 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
2. Keyontae Johnson, F, Florida
The SEC’s Preseason Player of the Year only checks in at No. 2 on my list, but that’s no slight to him. After averaging 14.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals last season, he’s poised to be even better in 2020-21.
At only 6-5, Johnson is shorter than most forwards, but he uses his strength to position himself well for rebounds. He can also put the ball on the floor better than most forwards, so close out on him on the perimeter at your own risk:
It’s tough to find a weakness in Johnson’s game. If his Florida teammates can elevate their performances this year, it could be a special year for Johnson.
1. Yves Pons, G/F, Tennessee
Pons is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and for good reason. It’s tough to find a guy who is more instinctual on that end of the floor. He can position his body, knows where to be when it comes to help defense and can leap out of the gym:
Yves Pons is amazing and I will continue to buy stock because all he needs is to shoot and he will be an impact player. His defense is so damn good. Love the rotation, burst to the ball, meeting Mays at the peak, and the clean block pic.twitter.com/UcFhpEp7cV
— Spencer (@SKPearlman) July 12, 2020
He also improved as a 3-point shooter last year, knocking down 34.9% of his long-range attempts. His form isn’t the prettiest, but it was effective enough:
If Yves Pons can fix his shot, his super-utility-man role becomes more and more realistic. Similar to Emmitt Williams, he's incredibly versatile and valuable on defense. Offensive development is huge for Pons. He's worth a gamble in the 2nd pic.twitter.com/PobcRB8Sj0
— Mavs Draft (@MavsDraft) July 12, 2020
Pons is more than just a dunker and defender. He’s an elite athlete and one of the smartest players on the floor. If his shooting continues to improve, he’ll be a first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.