Auburn will have back-to-back first round picks when Isaac Okoro is (likely) drafted in the first round of this year’s draft, but it might be up to a freshman to make it three drafts in a row.
Next year’s draft looks like it will be loaded, but Auburn has two players with one-and-done potential in Sharife Cooper and JT Thor.
I think it’s too early to make an accurate guess about whether Cooper or Thor will be a one-and-done—due to both needing to make big strides this off season—but if there are “busts” in front of them and both improve, I think one or both could find their way(s) into the late first round and early second round in some mock drafts.
For Cooper, that’s already happening.
Cooper and Thor have NBA skill sets, but they are seen as two-year players by most. Cooper is a fast point guard with great control and scoring ability who became the first junior in MaxPreps history to win their player of the year award. Thor is a versatile forward on both ends of the court who was ranked as high as No. 9 in the country before reclassifying to 2020.
Both seem like perfect fits for Auburn’s system, so Bruce Pearl’s recent success with versatile forwards and small guards makes me wonder if Cooper and Thor will progress quicker than expected.
Cooper and Thor both have knocks against their draft stock based on size. Thor’s could be fixed with a year in Auburn’s strength program. With Cooper already adding muscle, his size/height knock might not be as fixable and not a big factor in his decision.
However, the strength of the 2021 draft could give Cooper and Thor second thoughts about leaving after their first year with the 2022 draft being (potentially) weaker.
Like with Jared Harper foregoing his senior season, I don’t think Cooper is likely to spend extra years in college hoping to grow taller. If he has as good of a freshman season as his skill level and high school career suggest, I could see Cooper being drafted towards the end of the first round.
Cooper will also have to spend time in the weight room and work on his shot to make that happen, but his work ethic and words from his head coach at McEachern high school suggest he can do that.
According to barttorvick.com, Cooper is projected to lead all incoming freshmen in assists per game (with 3.9) and rank fifth among the same group in points per game (with 14.7). With his size, a college career similar to Aaron Holiday’s or Tremont Waters’ makes sense. But, Cooper is coming in as a much higher ranked player thanks to his skill level and proven big-game ability.
Not to say Cooper will have a freshman season like Trae Young’s, but somewhere in the middle might garner him more late first round interest.
Like Cooper, Thor needs to spend time in the weight room to be ready to compete in the SEC in a way that showcases his pro potential, but Thor has a lot of the other size attributes—such as height, wingspan and other measurables that the NBA craves—that could make his path easier.
Thor has more areas to work on compared to Cooper—such as tightening up his handle and shot, rebounding and other minor spots—but I think he’ll show a lot of potential if he adds the strength necessary to play a big role at a high level.
According to barttorvick.com, Thor is projected to be the country’s eighth highest scoring freshman (with 13.1) and fifth in projected rebounds per game among freshmen (with 6.9).
However, Cooper and Thor will have more difficulties playing themselves into sure-fire one-and-done range in next year’s draft, compared to how Okoro rose through the 2020 mocks.
One or both could have an impact comparable to Okoro’s and still find themselves without an ideal draft promise.
I think the success of similar players ranked ahead of Cooper and Thor is as important to their one-and-done potential as them having draft worthy seasons, because Cooper and Thor could be one of the best sophomore duos in the country playing their way into a potentially weaker draft if they return.