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2021 NBA Mock Draft 1.0: Cade Cunningham Goes No. 1 Overall

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

The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled to happen on July 29. Following the 2021 NCAA Tournament, there have been a few players who dramatically improved their draft stock and are now receiving first-round consideration. The draft order reflected in this 2021 NBA Mock Draft is based on the NBA standings at the time the draft was created, and the order is thus subject to change. For the sake of simplicity, potential draft night trades are not included. Here are my projections for how the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft will shake out:

1. Minnesota Timberwolves – Cade Cunningham, 6-8 Guard, Oklahoma State

This is one pick that I don’t really see changing depending on who drafts here. Cade Cunningham should be the No. 1 overall pick and I said as much in my scouting report a few weeks ago. In his phenomenal freshman season at Oklahoma State, Cunningham showed next-level talent as an isolation scorer and facilitator. At 6-8, he brings a lot of versatility on both offense and defense. His game doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses that can’t be ironed out with a year or two of NBA experience. Whatever team drafts Cunningham will see noticeable improvements to their offensive output. If that ends up being Minnesota, putting him alongside D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards would certainly pay dividends. But again, the OSU product is arguably the most complete prospect in the draft, so it’s likely his name is called first regardless of who makes the selection.

2. Houston Rockets – Evan Mobley, 7-0 Center, USC

Mobley has all the tools necessary to become a transcendent big man, which seems crazy to say given how much the NBA has moved away from the paint game over the last few years. Here’s what to love about Evan Mobley: he’s a freak athlete, he can run in transition, he has handles rare in someone his size, and he’s an excellent defensive player. The USC product is also great on the offensive glass and is a good enough shooter to space the floor a little bit. The one knock on Mobley is that he lacks a strong frame. He’ll likely put on some weight with NBA trainers, but I don’t think Mobley needs to be an Embiid-esque paint presence to be successful given how skillful he is. He’s a lock for the top five, most likely the top three.

3. Detroit Pistons – Jalen Suggs, 6-4 Guard, Gonzaga

Jalen Suggs solidified himself as a top-five pick with his play in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. While I would put Jalen Green above Suggs in terms of a prospect ranking, Detroit’s desperate need for a solid point guard is simply too glaring for them not to take the Second Team All-American. Killian Hayes is a huge wild card, and I was never high on him going into the 2020 draft. Suggs is a true floor general who is one of the best passers in the draft. He has a high motor and puts forth impactful effort on defense. He needs to get better at shooting from long distances, but his overall shooting is definitely a plus. Suggs is excellent at controlling the pace of play and has the athleticism to be an dangerous transition player. There’s a lot to like here.

4. Orlando Magic – Jalen Green, 6-6 Guard, G League Ignite

The G League pathway ended up being the perfect opportunity for Jalen Green to showcase how much of a force he is. Not only is he a phenomenal athlete with both bounce and burst, he’s also a really good shooter with elite scoring ability. At 6-6, he has size and length which help him finish in traffic and play serviceable defense. Green plays well off-ball as a slasher, but he also has some ability as a primary ball-handler. The 19-year-old is another really complete prospect who will only keep getting better with his shot-making and defense. Expect Jalen Green to develop into an elite talent.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder – Jonathan Kuminga, 6-8 Forward, G League Ignite

Jonathan Kuminga is not going to be drafted in the top five for the player he is right now, but for the player he could be in five years. In a sense, that’s true of every draft pick, but it’s even more true of Kuminga, who is an extremely raw prospect with potentially the highest ceiling of anyone in the draft class. He has a lot of tools that NBA teams will love. He has the ideal size and frame for an NBA forward, and his athleticism is off the charts. Kuminga is already really good at using his strength and speed to drive to the rim, but his shooting currently leaves a lot to be desired.

Kuminga’s development into an elite NBA player will be contingent on whether he increases his game awareness, adds a respectable outside shot, and makes improvements to his ball-handling. He’s more of a project than most people realize, but it’s probably not a bad gamble to believe he will improve considering he’ll be just 18 years old on draft night. Kuminga would be a good investment for the Thunder to make with one of the million draft picks they have over the next few years.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers – Moses Moody, 6-6 Guard, Arkansas

Other than Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers don’t have a ton of reliable options at guard. Moody is a solid option who can fit well alongside Sexton or run the offense on his own. He provides a lot of value as both a shooter and a defender who can score at all levels and defend the 1-3 spots. At Arkansas, he was able to show off his passing ability as well as his willingness to fit into a team system. The Cavs have the opportunity to fill a few needs by adding Moody’s combination of three-point shooting, defense, and team play.

7. Washington Wizards – Scottie Barnes, 6-9 Forward, Florida State

If there’s one thing to recommend Scottie Barnes, it’s his pure athleticism. He has an intriguing combination of strength, size, speed, and hustle mentality. He can guard virtually any position on defense and is useful on offense in transition or as a lob threat. Barnes is a pretty good passer as well, with a similar feel for the game as a lead guard. His biggest weakness is his lack of an outside shot, but Barnes is already a really good player without that particular skill. The Wizards should give him a look for his ceiling alone.

8. Toronto Raptors – Jalen Johnson, 6-9 Forward, Duke

Although he left before season’s end, Jalen Johnson did enough at Duke to cement himself as a lottery pick. Johnson is a promising two-way prospect who excels as a rebounder. He thrives in the transition game with his speed and passing ability. The former five-star prospect is also extremely versatile as a defender thanks to his length. Like Scottie Barnes, Johnson would do well to develop his shot, but he has a respectable midrange game as it is.

9. Sacramento Kings – Kai Jones, 6-10 Forward, Texas

It took me a while to figure out what the Kings could do with this pick. The path to Sacramento becoming a competitive team is pretty unclear, which extends over to their draft strategy. Ultimately, I think taking a forward like Kai Jones would be the best course of action because De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton make for a pretty solid backcourt while the frontcourt still leaves a lot to be desired. Marvin Bagley hasn’t become the elite player many expected him to be, and bolstering the forward rotation would be a good move at this point. Kai Jones is scary good in transition and has really good defensive instincts. His shot steadily improved during his time at Texas, which is another facet of his offensive upside. Overall, Jones is a project, but he’s definitely worth a look in the lottery.

10. Orlando Magic (via Chicago Bulls) – Franz Wagner, 6-9 Forward, Michigan

NBA scouts love Franz Wagner for his length, versatility, and basketball IQ. Despite not being the greatest athlete, his 6’9″ frame makes him relatively decent at defending multiple positions on the floor. Wagner will likely earn his place in the NBA as a shooter, but his skillful passing and high-IQ play will keep him there. Orlando just held a fire sale to kickstart their rebuild. Franz Wagner is a great piece for a rebuild because of his perimeter shooting and all-around solid play.

11. New Orleans Pelicans – Davion Mitchell, 6-2 Guard, Baylor

There are two things the Pelicans are really bad at: defense and three-point shooting. There are also two things Davion Mitchell is very good at: defense and three-point shooting. Overall, this would be a match made in heaven as the Pels attempt to surround Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson with complementary pieces. Mitchell likely played his way into the lottery with his high-level NCAA Tournament performance. His 44.7% mark from three this past season really jumps off the page and also speaks to Mitchell’s commitment to improving subpar aspects of his game.

12. Indiana Pacers – Corey Kispert, 6-7 Forward, Gonzaga

Kispert’s shooting alone has likely made him a lottery pick, or at least close to it. Indiana could use some perimeter shooting, and the First Team All-American shot 52.9% from the field and 44% from deep. The main issue with Kispert as a prospect is that his shooting ability is pretty much his only elite trait. He has good size at 6-7, but his limited athleticism will likely become apparent when he’s asked to guard NBA 3s and 4s. Kispert won’t be totally useless on defense, but he might be in trouble if he gets thrown into isolation situations or if a quick guard switches onto him. However, shooting runs the NBA, and Kispert has enough of that to be a worthy selection in the late lottery.

13. San Antonio Spurs – Ziaire Williams, 6-8 Forward, Stanford

The Spurs are such a weird middle-ground team right now. It would probably benefit them to use their pick to select whichever remaining player has the highest ceiling. In this case, that’s former five-star prospect Ziaire Williams. Although Williams’ freshman year at Stanford wasn’t exactly impressive, he definitely has the tools to become a good NBA player. He’s a very good athlete who can really run in transition. His length and anticipation make him a very good defender and he puts forth excellent effort on that end. Although Williams’ three-point shot was pretty bad this year (29.1%, yuck), there’s a lot of optimism that his fluid mechanics will keep his shot from being that errant in the future. A long, versatile shot-creating forward would fit well in San Antonio with their current roster.

14. Golden State Warriors – Sharife Cooper, 6-1 Guard, Auburn

Rounding out the 2021 NBA Draft lottery picks, I like Sharife Cooper to the Golden State Warriors. The window for continuing the dynasty is rapidly closing despite Steph Curry’s best efforts. Curry has carried the Dubs this season, but he might not have to carry as much if there was someone else who could reliably run the offense. Cooper averaged 20.2 points and an impressive 8.1 assists for Auburn this past season. He is extremely quick and would be a good fit for a space-and-pace system. Cooper’s biggest problem right now is his inconsistent three-point shot. It doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence when a guy attempts almost five threes a game and makes just one of them. However, Cooper’s high-level free throw shooting indicates his shot isn’t completely broken and his perimeter shot might not be too difficult of a fix.

15. Charlotte Hornets – Keon Johnson, 6-5 Guard, Tennessee

I’ll just get it out of the way and say I’m not high on Keon Johnson at all. A lot of mocks put him in the top 10, some even as high as No. 6 overall. I really don’t get what people are seeing here. Johnson is a high-level athlete who plays physical defense, but that’s about where the positives stop for me. For one, he’s a shooting guard who can’t really shoot. A slash line of 44.9%/27.1%/70.3% doesn’t scream top 10 pick to me at all. I don’t see a ton of playmaking upside here either, considering Johnson averaged more turnovers than assists last season. Charlotte is in a pretty good spot with their young core right now, so they can afford to take a flier on Keon Johnson’s development. At the very least, he’ll help their perimeter defense.

16. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Miami Heat) – James Bouknight, 6-5 Guard, UConn

Bouknight is a really nice offensive piece that could potentially contribute right away, especially on a rebuilding team like Oklahoma City. He can really score at all three levels, averaging 18.1 points per game in his sophomore season at UConn. Bouknight is also a good rebounder for his position, pulling in 5.7 per game this past season. While his playmaking chops and passing need to develop, he can likely be a scorer off the bench that gets significant minutes in his first couple years. Bouknight’s ability to get himself open shots is a huge asset. Once he fills out his frame and learns how to create for others a little better, he’ll be a promising piece.

17. Memphis Grizzlies – Cameron Thomas, 6-4 Guard, LSU

The Memphis Grizzlies will be a scary team in a few years once all their young players have developed and grown into their potential. That being said, their offense right now is way too dependent on Ja Morant’s playmaking. Cameron Thomas is a one-man offense who provides nothing but buckets. And I mean literally nothing. Thomas does not pass, he does not rebound, and he does not defend. All he does is get buckets. Thomas averaged 23 points per game as a freshman at LSU, and he scored 25 or more in 16 of the 29 games he played. The Grizzlies should draft him solely because he wouldn’t make them nearly as dependent on Ja Morant. Thomas won’t create for others, but he’ll definitely get his shots and maybe there’s a chance he develops some playmaking chops down the line.

18. New York Knicks – Ayo Dosunmu, 6-4 Guard, Illinois

Dosunmu is super fun to watch and has a ton of upside at the NBA level as a playmaker. There’s a lot of things he does well – scoring, passing, rebounding, and defense. His jumper has become more consistent during his time at Illinois and he is an exceptional finisher at the rim. Ayo has good anticipation on defense and has the length to guard multiple positions. Anyone who watched him in college knows he can run an offense. At times he plays a little erratically, which isn’t great for ball security, but Dosunmu has a high floor and a ton of skills to build on at the next level. It may take him some time to get a feel for the NBA game, but he’s someone who could be really good after a year or two. The Knicks have a good thing going this season, but some added guard depth could probably help them out.

19. Boston Celtics – Isaiah Jackson, 6-11 Forward, Kentucky

I don’t feel that secure in the Celtics’ big man options, and I think their first-round pick should be used addressing that weakness. Jackson is an athletic power forward/center hybrid who has a very high ceiling. His primary value lies in his elite rim protection and rebounding, which are two things Boston doesn’t really have a lot of from their frontcourt right now. Jackson needs to develop a stronger offensive skillset, but he’s already a lob threat and decent finisher at the rim. There’s already a ton of value here for Boston in Jackson’s defensive traits, and the Kentucky product could be one of the steals of the draft if his offense evolves to match.

20. Atlanta Hawks – Alperen Sengun, 6-9 Center, Turkey

Sengun has really produced in the Turkish BSL as a scorer and rebounder at just 18 years old. He also has been a good shot-blocker despite his smaller size for a center. He is relatively slow and doesn’t really play above the rim, but he’s got a good feel for the game and seems to understand his role in a given offensive scheme. The Hawks have a ton of young pieces that have yet to develop, so I like Alperen Sengun as a draft-and-stash option that gives Atlanta more time to assess the progress of the guys they already have on their roster.

21. New York Knicks (via Dallas Mavericks) – Jared Butler, 6-3 Guard, Baylor

Jared Butler was one of the nation’s best college players as a senior for Baylor, and he capped off an excellent season with a National Championship. There is so much Butler does well. He is a high-level shooter who finished the year at 41.6% from deep. He is also an excellent perimeter defender. Butler also flashed some skills as a passer this year, but he likely wouldn’t need to worry about being a primary facilitator in the NBA. Overall, he has a lot of skills that contribute to winning basketball. At 22 years old, some might be concerned about his relatively older draft age, but the maturity and consistency he brings to the game should help alleviate those concerns. The Knicks could really benefit from Butler’s leadership and perimeter shooting.

22. Houston Rockets (via Portland Trail Blazers) – Tre Mann, 6-5 Guard, Florida

Outside of John Wall and maybe DJ Augustin, the Rockets don’t have a ton of guard talent or anyone who can effectively run an offense. Tre Mann is likely the best point guard prospect left on the board at this point, and he might be the most underrated guard in the entire draft class. As a sophomore at Florida, Mann averaged 16.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while shooting 45.9% from the field and 40.2% from deep. He’s quick, has a good jump shot, and has proven he can facilitate at a high level. I think his game will translate well to the NBA and he could wind up being a major steal for a Houston team that needs talented guards.

23. Los Angeles Lakers – Josh Giddey, 6-8 Guard, Australia

Josh Giddey is a big wild card in the 2021 NBA Draft, but oversized guards are the next big thing, and the 18-year-old has shown off some real ability down in Australia. Giddey is exceptionally crafty and has really good court vision. He isn’t uber-athletic, but he moves well in space and is still able to get into the lane for drives and floaters. A major development over his last few NBL games has been Giddey’s developing outside shot. His handle and defensive IQ are two aspects of his game that could stand to improve, but Giddey’s size and skill should translate well to the NBA. The Lakers could stand to draft a playmaker to make their offense more dynamic, and Josh Giddey could definitely be that guy.

24. Houston Rockets (via Milwaukee Bucks) – Usman Garuba, 6-8 Forward, Spain

Garuba’s primary value is in his defense. He’s probably one of the better defensive prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft. For a while, his offensive game was pretty limited to driving for dunks and layups. However, Garuba has seen his stock increase recently because he’s apparently developed a promising three-point shot. Overall, he’s a smart basketball player, he’s young, he’s good defender and rebounder, and there’s at least some indication that his offensive skills are improving. Some have put Garuba in the lottery, but I’m not totally sold on that possibility as of right now. The Rockets are essentially starting from scratch, so picking up a promising young player for the frontcourt is a good idea here.

25. Denver Nuggets – Greg Brown, 6-9 Forward, Texas

Greg Brown is a prospect with a ton of upside for whichever team drafts him. He has the athleticism and skill to play small forward and power forward, or even center in some small-ball setups. Brown is a big-time lob threat who presents major problems for opposing defenses in transition with his speed and bounce. He’s pretty raw in terms of his offensive skillset – he needs to develop a consistent jumper to be able to run the small forward effectively in the NBA. The Nuggets would be a good destination for Brown because of their experience with players of his type. He projects as an Aaron Gordon with the potential to develop some small forward skills like Michael Porter Jr.

26. Brooklyn Nets – Day’Ron Sharpe, 6-11 Center, North Carolina

It’s hard to really pinpoint a position of need on a team that has Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. Like, what could that team possibly need? Well, a dynamic center would be really good for this team. DeAndre Jordan is past his prime and Nicolas Claxton is still relatively unproven. Day’Ron Sharpe does pretty much everything you could ask for on the court. He’s a great interior scorer, he passes well, he rebounds, he defends the perimeter, and he runs in transition. The only real knocks on his game are that he lacks an outside shot, but the Nets wouldn’t need that out of him right away or really at all. Sometimes his interior defense isn’t incredible, but Sharpe still has the tools to be a presence inside who can block shots. I like the fit here for the Nets because Sharpe would make their offense even more dynamic than it already is.

27. Los Angeles Clippers – Jaden Springer, 6-4 Guard, Tennessee

I have no idea what to make of Jaden Springer. I’ve seen some evaluate him as a lottery pick, and others as a late first-rounder. It ultimately comes down to whether a team buys into Springer’s ability to run an NBA offense. He’s a wild card for me. His shooting numbers were pretty impressive, but his scoring output didn’t necessarily reflect that. Springer is a pretty solid facilitator, but whether or not his level of playmaking will translate to the NBA is a big question mark. However, he’s pretty young, so maybe he starts to round out his offensive game a little more once he’s drafted. The 18-year-old has athleticism and a high motor going for him, and he’s also a pretty solid defender. The key is whether his skills will level up as he acclimates to the league.

28. Philadelpha 76ers – Charles Bassey, 6-11 Center, Western Kentucky

I think a big need for the 76ers is a backup center for after this season. Dwight Howard likely won’t be back after his one-year veteran’s minimum contract, and the rotation behind him is sparse to say the least. Having Bassey off the bench behind Joel Embiid would add depth to this roster in a very important way, plus it gives them an option at center for the games where Embiid is out with injury. Bassey has a good basis for future success. He’s a phenomenal rebounder and rim protector who plays with intensity and fluid movement for his size. While the junior has shown some ability to stretch the floor, this will need to become a more reliable facet of his game for him to hit his potential. He could also benefit from developing more post moves and finesse around the rim. There’s at least an argument to be made that Charles Bassey is the second-best true center in the draft behind Evan Mobley, and he would be an excellent fit on the Sixers.

29. Phoenix Suns – Brandon Boston Jr., 6-7 Guard, Kentucky

I’ve written in the past how this season likely tanked Brandon Boston’s 2021 NBA Draft stock. He was generally regarded as a potential lottery pick, but an absolutely abysmal year at Kentucky put an end to those evaluations. Hailed for his shooting ability prior to college, Boston proceeded to post a 35.5% field goal percentage and shot 30% from beyond the arc. Not great. Although staying in college another year to figure some things out might have benefited him, the freshman chose to forego his college eligibility and turn pro. It’s clear from watching Boston that his shot mechanics and overall talent are there. The issue is that he didn’t capitalize on those things at all while at Kentucky. Some team will certainly buy into his development in the late first or early second round, but Boston has a lot to figure out before his potential will be realized.

30. Utah Jazz – Marcus Bagley, 6-8 Forward, Arizona State

Bagley has the raw skillset to be a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. There’s a lot of things he does well: shooting, rebounding, defending, running in transition. He’s got good length and understands how to space the floor effectively. While his three-point shot has yet to fall with great consistency, that’s probably the most projectable aspect of his game to the NBA level. Of the players still on the board, Bagley arguably has the highest ceiling as a do-it-all wing player. The Jazz are a deep team, but their forward rotation is a bit shaky right now. Adding Bagley would give them more depth in the frontcourt.

2021 NBA Draft First Round Bubble: Josh Christopher (Arizona State), Daishen Nix (G League Ignite), Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech), Roko Prkacin (Croatia), Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona), Nah’Shon Hyland (VCU)


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