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NBA Draft Preview: Franz Wagner leads quartet of Wolverine draft hopefuls

Four Wolverines hope to hear their names called tonight.

Maryland v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Coming off an outright Big Ten championship, NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed and Elite Eight berth, the Michigan men’s basketball team sent four players into the 2021 NBA Draft. As names are announced by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver tonight, Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers, Chaundee Brown and Mike Smith will learn their professional fates.

Maize n Brew has you covered with everything you need to know about where each prospect stands, including the opinion of an anonymous Western Conference NBA scout.

Franz Wagner

Projected range: Lottery

Wagner’s game developed rapidly in college following a stint with Alba Berlin in his home country of Germany. And after a dominant sophomore season in Ann Arbor, Franz Wagner could hear his name called in the top 10 tonight. He’s been linked to lottery teams like the Warriors (Nos. 7 and 14) and Kings (No. 9) over the last few weeks.

Wagner averaged 12.5 points on 48% shooting and 6.5 rebounds this past season while showing growth across the board. He tripled his freshman year assists average and displayed the ability to play the role of a ball-screen guard. At the other end of the floor, his length and athleticism allowed him to disrupt opposing offenses by way of steals, blocks and deflections. By the end of the season, he established himself as one of the nation’s best two-way players.

Scout’s take on Wagner: “In two years at Michigan, he got a lot better in year two. Way more competitive, got to see him impact the game defensively. I think he’s a smart player, and I think he’s got a high ceiling, too. There’s still a lot of potential, and at 6-9, he moves really well. I think the jump shot will keep getting better and better, getting more consistent. That’s probably a big piece for him to stay in the league. He’s got a lot of tools athletically and skill-wise and I like his ability to defend multiple positions. He’s versatile and I think he’s going to be a player who can do a lot of things with and without the ball as he gets older.”

Isaiah Livers

Projected range: Mid-to-late second round

When healthy, Isaiah Livers proved himself as one of the Big Ten’s deadliest shooters. He shot better than 40% from beyond the arc in each of his last three seasons and made 86% of his career free throw attempts.

That alone is enough to pique NBA teams’ interest, but he battled major injuries throughout his career. Most recently, he missed the entire 2021 NCAA Tournament due to a foot stress injury. He has since made a full recovery, according to his agent, and he should hear his name called in tonight’s NBA Draft.

Scout’s take on Livers: “If he can be a catch-and-shoot player and make perimeter shots and stretch the floor, he’s got a chance. He’s in this conversation as a player who might not be overly explosive, but he’s a smart player and he’s gotten tougher. Not that he wasn’t a tough player under Beilein, but Juwan Howard really challenged him. You kind of saw that quite a bit even just watching the game. I do like that part of him. Defensively, he can do some things. He might struggle a bit laterally, but there are some things he does. He’s got good size, he’s strong, he’s physical.”

Chaundee Brown

Projected range: Late second round or undrafted

After three losing seasons at Wake Forest, Chaundee Brown emerged as a major spark off the bench for Michigan this past season. He averaged 8.0 points on 49% shooting (42% 3PT) and 3.1 rebounds. Brown’s production was on display during the NCAA Tournament when he knocked down seven of his 12 shots from beyond the arc and contributed suffocating on-ball defense.

If Brown shows he can contribute in that way at the next level, that’ll be enough to carve out an NBA role off the bench, though it remains unclear whether he’ll hear his name called tonight.

Scout’s take on Brown: “He’s your prototypical (NBA) 3-and-D player. Chaundee is really an interesting type of player because he’s a defensive-minded guy. Good build, good body, he’s strong, he’s athletic. I think that bodes well for him. The biggest thing is showing he can do more as a shot-maker and put the ball on the floor. There are areas of his game he needs to grow in, but he’s definitely someone that I think is very much a guy to keep on radars. Probably a G League type of guy.”

Mike Smith

Projected range: Undrafted

Mike Smith transformed his game as much as any point guard in America from 2019-20 to 2020-21. He was the NCAA’s sixth-leading scorer during the 2019-20 season on a Columbia team that finished last in the Ivy League before leading the Big Ten in assists for the first-place Wolverines this past season.

Despite Smith’s productive graduate transfer year, evaluators at the next level remain skeptical of his 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame. It’s unlikely he gets drafted tonight, but Smith is the type of player who can prove himself in the summer league in hopes of receiving a training camp invitation this fall.

Scout’s take on Smith: “I think he’s a good decision-maker, I think he’s an underrated passer and I think he brought leadership, which is most important. It’s tough when you’re 5-11 as an undersized guard. He’s going to have to prove himself on some level. I don’t know if a team will give him a shot, maybe summer league could be a good opportunity for him. There are things to like, but it’s tough when you’re at his size with what you’re asked to do at his position at the next level. That’s tough. When you’re his size, you’ve got to be an elite, elite scorer.”