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2021 NBA Draft: LIVE First Round Grades and Analysis

2021 NBA Draft

(Courtney Bay/Oklahoma State University Athletics)

2021 NBA Draft
(Courtney Bay/Oklahoma State University Athletics)

The 2021 NBA Draft is here! Follow along as I track all the picks, providing live draft grades and analysis for each player selected.

2021 NBA Draft: First Round Grades

1) Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham (Guard, Oklahoma State)

This was the pick Detroit was supposed to make, so good on them for not overthinking it. Cade is such a fun player to watch and his combination of playmaking and scoring ability could completely revitalize Detroit basketball. Going back to last year, Detroit made some good picks, but this is the one that can tie them all together into a respectable basketball team.

Grade: A+

2) Houston Rockets – Jalen Green (Guard, G League Ignite)

I’m a big fan of Jalen Green, and I think the Rockets made an awesome decision picking him. The kid is an incredible scorer and athlete. He should contribute to Houston very soon.

Grade: A+

3) Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley (Center, USC)

This is another pick we kind of expected beforehand. If Evan Mobley is as good as some are billing him to be, this should turn out great. The Cavs have a lot to figure out in terms of who they will commit to building around for the future, but this is a great start.

Grade: A

4) Toronto Raptors – Scottie Barnes (Forward, Florida State)

I’m a little confused on the fit here. The Raptors already have a bevy of forwards to give out minutes to. I guess they want Barnes to play small forward? Not taking a guard suggests they want to keep Lowry and Fred VanVleet around, so I guess we’ll see. Just not sure how this pick makes the Raptors better than if they had selected Jalen Suggs. Barnes is very versatile, so that’s cool and all, but I’m still not sold on him.

Grade: B

5) Orlando Magic – Jalen Suggs (Guard, Gonzaga)

The Magic selecting Suggs is a dream scenario for them. He should seriously help their unsteady guard rotation and has the potential to be a superstar in the league. He has an excellent feel for the game and gives great effort on both ends. His shooting and transition play should be of immediate benefit to Orlando.

Grade: A

6) Oklahoma City Thunder – Josh Giddey (Guard, Australia)

This was the first real surprise of the 2021 NBA Draft. Giddey is considered by some to be the best playmaker in the draft. He has professional experience in the NBL and that should help him acclimate to the NBA. The Thunder have needs all over, so the fit isn’t really a question. Giddey needs to round out his game on both ends of the floor a little more and he might be a bit more of a project than most realize, but can’t fault this pick.

Grade: B-

7) Golden State Warriors – Jonathan Kuminga (Forward, G League Ignite)

I had this one picked correctly in Mock Draft 3.0, so I’ve already written a bit about how I feel on this one. Kuminga should have an immediate impact defensively, and hopefully Golden State’s offensive system helps him out a good deal on that end. If he develops a consistent jump shot and approaches his ceiling, this will be remembered as an incredible pick.

Grade: B+

8) Orlando Magic – Franz Wagner (Forward, Michigan)

The fit here is good, because the Magic need forward depth pretty bad. Wagner is versatile on both ends of the floor and can create for himself. Having him alongside Jonathan Isaac should be a really solid defensive tandem. I’m not totally sold on Wagner hitting his ceiling, but I get this selection.

Grade: B

9) Sacramento Kings – Davion Mitchell (Guard, Baylor)

Not going to lie, I’ve come around on Mitchell as a player, but this fit is so questionable. With Fox and Haliburton already doing their thing, where is Mitchell going to get any minutes? Not saying he has to start right away, but Sacramento already has a backcourt they appear to be committed to. Good player, weird pick.

Grade: C+

10) Memphis Grizzlies – Ziaire Williams (Forward, Stanford)

I’ve said Williams was underrated for a while now, but I don’t know that I’m as confident in him now seeing him go so high. He’s a very good athlete who has a ton of potential, but I think Memphis could have used less of a project. They have enough to worry about with their young core without also having to worry about Williams’ development. Pick 10 is a little questionable, so we’ll see what kind of return they get.

Grade: C+

11) Charlotte Hornets – James Bouknight (Guard, UConn)

A backcourt of LaMelo Ball and James Bouknight is going to be so much fun. The Hornets will seriously benefit from the combination of scoring and playmaking those two provide. This is such a good scenario for their future. Look out for the Hornets in a couple years.

Grade: A

12) San Antonio Spurs – Josh Primo (Guard, Alabama)

There’s no way the Spurs are serious. RIGHT? They desperately need a wing player, and they took a guard that I can assure you was not the best guard available. This is so ridiculously confusing to me. I graded Josh Primo as being a first-round bubble player, as did most other evaluators. The Spurs must have found out that he can walk on air or something, because this is inexplicable.

Grade: F

13) Indiana Pacers – Chris Duarte (Guard, Oregon)

I figured there was a chance that Duarte snuck into the lottery. That being said, I don’t love the pick by the Pacers just because guys like Moses Moody and Corey Kispert are still on the board. Duarte is a respectable player with some good talent. He’s a well-rounded player and a good shooter, which the Pacers can really use.

Grade: B-

14) Golden State Warriors – Moses Moody (Guard, Arkansas)

This is the steal of the 2021 NBA Draft so far. The Warriors are probably very surprised to have gotten him with their second lottery pick. At 19 years old, Moody is already a very well-polished player who can score the ball and play versatile defense. He’ll need some time, but learning from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson should do wonders for his game. Love the pick.

Grade: A

15) Washington Wizards – Corey Kispert (Forward, Gonzaga)

With the way the board had fallen thus far, Kispert to the Wizards was pretty predictable. He’s one of the best shooters in the whole draft and apparently had some good pre-draft workouts. He’ll be great guy to have in the locker room too. The future in Washington is super uncertain, but getting a wing shooter is always nice, right?

Grade: B+

16) Houston Rockets – Alperen Sengun (Center, Turkey)

With where the Rockets are right now, I like taking a flier on Sengun at this point in the 2021 NBA Draft. He’s got a very nice game and should slot in well alongside Christian Wood in the low post. Despite his professional experience, I still think he’s a little more of a project at the point. Still a solid selection.

Grade: B+

17) New Orleans Pelicans – Trey Murphy III (Guard, Virginia)

I called this pick in the Twitch stream, so I’m pretty happy with it. The fit is excellent. New Orleans needed a wing, and they got a knockdown shooter who defends his position well. At 6-9, Murphy has the size to do a lot of things well. In terms of adding depth to the roster, great job by the Pelicans.

Grade: A-

18) Oklahoma City Thunder – Tre Mann (Guard, Florida)

I’m high on Tre Mann. He’s just such a smooth player who really understands how to score. This almost seems like a hedge for if the Giddey pick completely backfires. It’s hard to say who sticks around with all the draft picks OKC has over the next few years, but I think the value here is really good.

Grade: A-

19) Charlotte Hornets – Kai Jones (Forward, Texas)

Charlotte did well with this pick. I had Jones mocked to Charlotte at No. 11 overall, so the value here is really good. Giving LaMelo Ball another lob threat will be an immediate benefit, and Kai Jones has an underrated ceiling as a wing threat.

Grade: A

20) Atlanta Hawks – Jalen Johnson (Forward, Duke)

I don’t really know where Jalen Johnson fits in on this team. Even if the Hawks move Cam Reddish and replace him with another Duke forward, the wing rotation in Atlanta is extremely crowded. That doesn’t sit well when you throw in uncertainty on Johnson’s ceiling following his early exit from Duke.

Grade: C

21) Los Angeles Clippers – Keon Johnson (Guard, Tennessee)

Details are still sketchy on who exactly gets Keon Johnson because of trades and all that. I will say he went lower than even I thought he would. Looks like NBA teams wised up on what he actually brings to the table. He’s a freak athlete and a good defender with an extremely limited offensive skillset. I feel like the value here isn’t as bad as it could have been, but I still don’t totally buy in on Keon Johnson.

Grade: C+

22) Indiana Pacers – Isaiah Jackson (Forward, Kentucky)

The Pacers have a ton of forwards (Warren, Sabonis, Turner, etc.), so the fit is weird. The value is about accurate though. Jackson is a good rebounding forward with solid defensive instincts. It’s a fine pick. Not awesome, but still fine.

Grade: B-

23) Houston Rockets – Usman Garuba (Forward, Spain)

Garuba is one of the best defenders in the 2021 NBA Draft. He has professional experience coming into the NBA, so that’s a plus. Offensively, he’s still a massive project, but this is a respectable pick for a rebuilding Rockets team. Garuba can get some run right away and hopefully develop a better shooting touch.

Grade: B-

24) Houston Rockets – Josh Christopher (Guard, Arizona State)

This is interesting to say the least. Clearly the Rockets believe in the potential Christopher showed coming out of high school. He wasn’t overwhelmingly impressive in his season with the Sun Devils and there were probably a few players I would have trusted more with this pick. For what it’s worth, the highest I ever mocked Josh Christopher was as an early second-round pick.

Grade: C-

25) New York Knicks – Quentin Grimes (Guard, Houston)

I thought there was a chance Grimes would sneak his way into the first round. He’s basically this draft’s version of Desmond Bane. He plays quality defense, hits shots, and does the little things. He’ll fit in well with the young core in New York. This isn’t a bad pick, but it’s definitely unexpected and maybe a little early for Grimes to come off the board.

Grade: B-

26) Denver Nuggets – Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland (Guard, VCU)

Hyland is one of the most underrated players in the 2021 NBA Draft. He’s a phenomenal shooter with awesome potential. Plus, his nickname is sick. The Nuggets got a great guy to put behind Jamal Murray. Good job Denver.

Grade: A-

27) Brooklyn Nets – Cameron Thomas (Guard, LSU)

With this pick, the Nets are basically saying, “We’re going to score a billion points a game and the rest of you can eat our dust.” Cameron Thomas does nothing except score the ball. Not going to lie, I think they should have picked a big here. Given Kyrie’s injury history, getting a microwave scorer like Thomas is not a bad thing. They still have a pick at No. 29 to address the big man issue.

Grade: B+

28) Philadelphia 76ers – Jaden Springer (Guard, Tennessee)

I had Springer at No. 29 in Mock Draft 3.0, so this is about right. The 76ers need playmakers, especially if Ben Simmons ends up being moved this offseason. Springer won’t be ready to go right away, not by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s a really good 3-and-D prospect. The potential is high enough at the end of the first round for this to be a solid selection. Springer is one of the youngest players in this draft class, so he has a big window to figure things out.

Grade: B+

29) Brooklyn Nets – Day’Ron Sharpe (Center, North Carolina)

Finally. I had Sharpe to the Nets in every single mock draft I did this year. It might have been the only pick where I didn’t change it at any point. Brooklyn’s need for a big man is so glaringly obvious. Sharpe has a really nice offensive skillset with good footwork and a respectable post game. Really good pick by the Nets based on their team needs.

Grade: A-

30) Memphis Grizzlies – Santi Aldama (Forward, Loyola MD)

So, uh, that just happened. This pick is mostly a problem because the Grizzlies haven’t addressed the need for a secondary playmaker at all yet. Ziaire Williams can do that a little bit, but drafting consecutive frontcourt players when they need a guard is a weird move by Memphis. Aldama is a young forward who can space the floor and hit shots (37% from three last season). A year after getting the steal of the draft in Desmond Bane, Memphis tried to pull the same No. 30 pick play. This isn’t as good as last year. Definitely a surprising pick considering that most mocks had Aldama as a late second-rounder or undrafted player. He’s not bad, but the draft grade takes a hit because I have no clue what need this fills for the Grizzlies.

Grade: D+


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