Allow me to reel us all back into the Baylor Men’s Basketball topic for a few minutes. In the height of college football anticipation, there is one last chapter before we completely close the book on the 2021-2022 college hoops season; the 2022 NBA Draft.
As we are all well aware, the NBA season has come to a screeching halt with the Warriors being crowned NBA Champions. That hurt to write more than anyone could imagine because right next to the Drew Crew in my basketball heart are the Boston Celtics…moving on.
At one point the Bears had five players from last year’s team exploring draft options; Jeremy Sochan, Kendall Brown, James Akinjo, Matthew Mayer, and Adam Flagler. Flagler has returned to Baylor (lead us to the promised land again young king), and Mayer has transferred to Illinois for his final year of eligibility. Which leaves Sochan, Brown, and Akinjo as the three Bears hoping to hear their names called in this year’s NBA Draft.
The Draft starts Thursday June 23rd at 7PM CT, and to get geared up let’s unpack the draft stock for each of the Baylor hoopers who are seeking to join an NBA roster. We will cover four things: strengths, weaknesses, potential draft position, and NBA player comparisons if each guy hits their ceiling (because that is what teams are drafting for).
Let’s get to it.
I think it’s appropriate for me to sing Sochan’s praises one last time. I was not mentally prepared to only watch Sochan for a single season. Coming into last year Sochan was a wild card in the recruiting class, a great piece but nobody knew how good he would really be. Buddy did he impress.
Sochan’s draft stock SKY ROCKETED after his minutes increased following Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s injury. Sochan stepped into a key role for the Bear’s playing a true stretch four position to perfection as the Bears repeated as Big 12 Regular Season champions.
Sochan’s season was marked by flashes of brilliance on both ends of the ball, as well as head scratching moments that reminded us this dude is 18 years old. The ceiling and skillset are incredible, but we all already know this.
The first strength in Sochan’s game that has scouts drooling at the NBA level is his versatility. Sochan showed all last year his ability to guard any position, anywhere on the floor. As the NBA continues to evolve into a positionless league this is the primary attribute that makes Sochan so desirable.
In addition to being a tremendous on ball defender, Sochan has also shown the ability to be an elite weak side rim protector. With his quickness and basketball instincts Sochan is able to eliminate shots at the rim when helping off his man.
Offensively Sochan’s time playing and developing in Europe shines bright. He has good ball skills and can be trusted to create for himself or others in transition or the half court. Sochan’s solid mid-range game makes him a matchup nightmare in the NBA where defenses are primarily focused on shutting down shots beyond the arc and at the rim.
Perhaps one of the ways Sochan most impacted the game at the college level was his elite rebounding. His timing, quick first jump, length, nose for the basketball, and high motor will translate in the NBA.
Sochan’s 3FG% and FT% numbers at Baylor weren’t great. Sochan shot 29.6% from deep and 58.9% from the stripe; which is an obvious concern for NBA scouts. The odd thing about Sochan’s inefficient shooting is that he has a great shooting form. Scouts are no doubt hoping that with increased reps the shooting form will translate to solid shooting numbers.
Another area of improvement for Sochan is staying out of foul trouble. We just discussed his ability to be an elite rim protector, but there were stretches where Sochan would not go straight up or would get caught out of position leading to a high volume of fouls committed. If Sochan cleans up the fouls, he will stay on the floor longer and continue to impact the game.
Sochan Draft Position
As we mentioned, Sochan’s draft stock blew up as NBA team’s fell in love with the potential Sochan could bring to an organization. Most mock drafts are showing Sochan as a late lottery pick, anywhere from 10-14. Some mock drafts have Sochan slated to go as high as 8.
It seems very likely that Sochan will be a lottery pick, which is an incredible story considering the expectations he came in with to enter the season. If Sochan does go in the lottery, it will be back to back seasons of a Baylor Bear being picked in the lottery for the first time in program history.
Sochan got a green room invitation to be in attendance at the NBA draft and if there’s anything that we can know for certain the fit is gonna go crazy and will be appointment television.
Sochan Player Comparison
This player comp was the most difficult to put my finger on. In an interview that the NBA posted on their instagram, Sochan compared himself to Draymond Green. I personally think Sochan has more to offer a team than that. Sochan rebounds like Dennis Rodman, slightly exaggerating, but he does so much more to impact games.
There are a bunch of names thrown around when discussing what Sochan could become, Shane Battier, Nicolas Batum, to name a few. I think these are very safe player comparisons. If we are reaching for Sochan’s absolute ceiling, I think he could grow into a player like Aaron Gordon.
Sic ‘Em Lotto So.
Kendall Brown stepped foot onto Baylor’s campus and was an instant starter. Brown was a 5-star, McDonald’s All American, 17th ranked overall prospect in the 2021 class. The expectations were high for KB as a result of some jaw dropping tape, high school production, and loud praise from both high school coaches and teammates.
Brown showed moments of greatness in his only season with the Bears. There were highlight reel plays on both sides of the ball, with rim rocking dunks and emphatic blocks. Unfortunately, Brown also showed some growing pains and weaknesses in his game that opposing college coaches could capitalize on.
The obvious strength when watching Kendall Brown play is his God-given athletic ability. It is unlikely that you will find someone as quick or with as much bounce as Brown. He has a unique ability to finish through traffic and get open when he is decisive on the offensive end of the floor.
Brown is a decent ball handler and has good court vision. He is able to use his quick first step to get around his defender and can get to the rim with ease. When Brown gets swallowed up and teams collapse on him, he is a willing passer and able to quickly identify where the ball needs to rotate.
Brown was a decent shooter from three point range this season, shooting 38.9% from deep. This was on rather low volume, and typically open looks because of how well Baylor spaced the ball, but the potential is there.
When and if Brown decides to lock in on defense he has the ability to be a suffocating defender. His length causes issues both on and off the ball for opposing teams. Brown’s quick feet also make him a nightmare for ball handlers, and his speed makes him a great asset when chasing his man around screens.
All of Brown’s physical gifts make him an electric player with the ability to be a difference maker the moment he steps on the floor. There may not be a more exciting and mysterious prospect in this year’s draft.
We just raved about Brown’s potential on defense, and that is why we said “when and if”, because much too often Brown checks out on defense. There were times for the Bears where Brown really hurt the team defensively. He would get beat back door and not play fundamentally sound defense; relying too much on athleticism and speed to make up for mistakes.
Offensively, Brown would get caught ball watching. There were moments where Brown could have helped create space for himself and others to operate by simply moving off the ball more often.
In ESPN’s “Our Time” there was a scene when Baylor’s coaches were imploring Brown to be louder on the floor. Brown needs to improve as a communicator on both sides of the ball. This potentially boils down to confidence and decisiveness with his decision making.
In the final game of Baylor’s season Brown was sat for the majority of the second half and overtime against UNC. This could have been due to the illness he was battling through, but in other big games Brown seemingly took a back seat in some of the larger moments.
Brown Draft Position
In early season NBA Mock Drafts, Brown was a projected high to middle first round pick. NBA scouts were incredibly high on his upside with hopes he would grow and develop at Baylor into the player that could make an impact right away on an NBA team.
Unfortunately, Brown’s draft stock fell as the season progressed. Most mock drafts have Brown going in the late first to early second round in the draft, ranging from picks 28-40. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a team “reach” on Brown to see if the ball skills can catch up with the athleticism, turning Brown into a perennial all star.
Brown Player Comparison
Kendall Brown poses a difficult player comparison as well. As his game stands today, there is a lot of Grant Williams in his game. High level athlete, capable shooter, impact defender at his best, but a bit inconsistent overall.
I think Brown’s ceiling is prime Gerald Green. Incredible athlete, best jumper in the NBA, efficient three point shooter, and an impact defender. He could have the upside to average 15/7/4 per game. If Brown can improve on all of the intangibles he will take great strides to becoming a staple on an NBA Roster.
Fly High KB.
James Akinjo has had an interesting college career path. Akinjo spent his first two college seasons at Georgetown, then transferred to Arizona, before heading to Baylor for his final college season. There is one thing that stayed consistent no matter where Akinjo played, his production. James Akinjo averaged 14 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.7 RPG, and 1.6 SPG in 33 MPG through his four college seasons.
Akinjo came out of the gates looking like a lock to be on an All-American roster playing lights out early in Baylor’s schedule. Unfortunately, early in conference play Akinjo sustained an injury and the level of play trended down. By no means was Akinjo a bad point guard for the Bears, but he wasn’t performing at that top tier level.
Akinjo remained a staple for Baylor as the primary ball handler and leader. In games he missed it was obvious how impactful a player James Akinjo can be.
One thing that is undeniable about James Akinjo is his toughness. He battled through injury for much of the season and showed his will to win. This is something that cannot be taught or coached into a player, they either have heart or they don’t.
Akinjo has a solid ability to finish at the rim. He has a lightning quick first step and beats his man off the dribble more often than not. For a smaller guard Akinjo battles through traffic and is strong with the ball in the lane.
Akinjo is a decent three point shooter off the dribble and on catch and shoot looks. He shot 42% from three prior to his injury, and when healthy is a serious threat from deep. His 3FG% dipped as the season progressed finishing the year shooting 30% from behind the arc.
Akinjo’s passing ability has some incredible flair. Many times throughout this last season, Akinjo created looks for teammates by seeing and finding passing lanes that lesser guards wouldn’t see. Time and time again Akinjo would create highlight plays, dropping dimes to teammates.
Lastly, Akinjo is an elite free throw shooter. He knocks down 82% of his shots at the charity stripe.
Akinjo’s size is a glaring question mark in his game, he is listed at 6’1” and 190 lbs. He has a filled out frame at 6’ 1”, but Akinjo struggled when matched up with bigger players.
Although Akinjo is a capable scorer, he doesn’t convert looks as efficiently as NBA scouts are looking for. Akinjo only shot 38.3% from the field last year with the Bears. This low shooting percentage resulted from a combination of size, shot selection, and the tendency to try and do it all on his own.
There are moments where Akinjo hunts the perfect play or opportunity, and tends to over dribble instead of starting the offense. Akinjo can be hesitant to give up the ball and trust his teammates to create on their own. Instead Akinjo would rely on isolation and beating his man one on one. This is problematic because when defenses collapsed on him, Akinjo struggled to find the open man.
Defensively Akinjo can get picked on when opponents hunt him on switches. Akinjo struggled to stay with guards as fast as him, and couldn’t be disruptive on players bigger than him.
Akinjo Draft Position
Mock drafts do not have Akinjo getting drafted. Most player rankings have Akinjo ranked in the 80-100 ranked prospects in this year’s draft. Akinjo will likely not hear his name called Thursday.
That being said, Akinjo had a great showing at the G League Elite Camp in May. He was invited to a few team workouts, and there is strong interest in Akinjo to be a signee as an undrafted free agent. This was the route taken by MaCio Teague last year.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Akinjo playing on a team in the Summer League, and ultimately making a G League roster hoping for a two way contract. There is just too much to love in his game, and it starts with his heart.
Akinjo Player Comparison
Akinjo to me reminds me a bit of a Shane Larkin or Trey Burke type of a player. Undersized, but an excellent scorer when at his best and a questionable decision maker when things aren’t going his way.
But like we said, we are reaching for the stars on these player comparisons. Akinjo is still a bit raw, despite being one of the older prospects in the draft. I think with the right coaching and development Akinjo could stretch into a two way guard like Mike Conley.
Big game James.
Thursday is going to be exciting for Baylor Nation. We will be rooting to hear Sochan drafted in the lottery, Brown drafted in the first round, and Akinjo essentially a lock to get signed if not drafted in the second round.
This year’s draft has the potential to be a huge night for Baylor Men’s Basketball. These three men can fulfill their life long dream of joining an NBA roster and we get to root them along.
To look ahead, this is a huge night for Scott Drew and his coaching staff. This could be the second year in a row that three Bears solidify themselves on an NBA roster. A massive step in the right direction for the program and a selling point for incoming recruits. Plan and simple, Baylor gets you ready for the NBA.