Two weeks before the NBA draft, I finally finished my first mock draft. The draft is considered to be much stronger than last year’s class, with the top 4 being in a tier of their own. Each of those 4 would be considered the top player in last years class. This class is full of special players from all-around studs, future scoring leaders, and defensive specialists. Without further ado, here is my first crack at the 2021 NBA draft.
- Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham, Guard, Oklahoma State
Over the past 12 months, Cunningham has been the crown jewel of the 2021 NBA draft. He is an offensive maestro, who shows a rare blend of size, IQ, and skill. Cunningham has a knack for making the right pass and has shown he plays well in big situations. Cunningham’s only weakness comes at the other end of the floor where he is not a plus defender. His lack of elite athleticism will make it hard to have a dynamic impact on the defensive end. Cunningham also needs to work on his shot selection to become a more efficient scorer. While he is not the flashiest player, Cunningham has the look of a perennial All-NBA player. He is an easy fit for any team and should have an instant impact on the Pistons.
2. Houston Rockets – Evan Mobley, Center, USC
Since March Madness Evan Mobley has pushed Cunningham for the number one spot on big boards. I personally have Mobley a tad higher than Cunningham but as it stands the Pistons seem to have already made their selection. Recency bias may push Mobley down the board as the last couple of high drafted big men have been outplayed by their guard counterparts but to me, Mobley is the prize of the draft. He is everything you want out of a modern big, he has all the tools to become an elite defender and has shown flashes of becoming a go-to scorer at the next level. Mobley has the speed to stay with smaller guards which will keep in on the floor at the end of games. His post-game and outside shooting need improvement for Mobley to make the jump at the next level, but Mobley has all the tools to be one of the league’s best players. I understand the Rockets already have Christian Wood, but Mobley has the look of a franchise player, passing on him because of the fit with Christian Wood would be a major mistake.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jalen Green, Guard, G-League
If there is one word to describe Green it is Buckets. The kid can score, plain and simple. Green spent the past year competing against NBA talent and showed he can score against anyone. He can shoot the three and is likely the best athlete in the class. Green’s highlight tape is a mix of contested 3’s and a plethora of moves that get him to the basket with ease. He is a great finisher around the rim and should only get better in the NBA. While Green is a great player he has some flaws, he needs to learn to play with pace. He plays at one speed and will need to learn to use pace to his advantage to be able to score with the NBA’s elite. Green also needs to work on his on-ball defense from both a technical and effort aspect. With all that said the Cavs are getting the best scorer they have had since Kyrie Irving, Green should immediately lead the rookie class in scoring.
4. Toronto Raptors – Jalen Suggs, Guard, Gonzaga
Jalen Suggs has the chance to come away as the best player from this class. Suggs’ performance against UCLA in the final four of March Madness was one of the best individual games I have watched all season. He is a special player with a high IQ, great defense, and a fantastic facilitator. He is clutch in big moments and has freaky athleticism. Suggs’ half-court offense could use a lot of work, as well as his shooting. Becoming a more efficient shooter will do wonders for his game. The Raptors sit at the end of tier 1 with the 4th pick and get a chance to take whoever falls. Suggs would be a great addition to a franchise that has shown time and time again they can develop players.
5. Orlando Magic – Jonathan Kuminga, Forward, G-League
Kuminga has all the makings of a future all-star, but that all depends on his development. Kuminga is raw as a prospect, he has shown flashes of being a great player but with little consistency. His best attribute is his ability to drive to the basket with an array of moves. He is another great athlete and will be one of the youngest players in the class as an 18-year-old. Kuminga needs to become more consistent in all aspects of the game but especially in his decision-making. He hesitates when making decisions that result in a bad pass or a bad shot that could have been avoided. Kuminga is a project and will require patience from whatever organization drafts him. The Magic have needs across the board, which should result in the best player available strategy.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder – Scottie Barnes, Forward, Florida State
I hesitate when I make this comparison but I can’t help it. Scottie Barnes has a lot of the same traits that make Draymond Green one of the league’s best glue guys. Barnes is a jack of all trades, currently master of none. He has shown elite defensive prowess but currently lacks the lateral quickness to keep up with every guard. He can handle the ball and has shown the ability to be a lead playmaker on a team. Barnes has good size, and the ability to attack the basket. His shot needs a lot of work, as well as his post-game. He is raw on the offensive end and is not likely to ever become a go-to scorer for a team, but Barnes has a chance to be one of the most impactful players in the league. He projects well next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the other 17 first rounds pick OKC has in the coming years.
7. Golden States Warriors – Davion Mitchell, Guard, Baylor
No one improved their stock more in March and April than Davion Mitchell. Coming into the year Mitchell was seen as a late second-round pick, one season later the BIG 12 defensive player of the year is looking at a top 10 spot. Mitchell is a hard-nosed defender who can disrupt an entire offensive game plan, if it weren’t for his smaller frame Mitchell would be heralded as a can’t miss prospect on that end. His offensive game improved greatly over the year, he raised his 3 point percentage from 31% in his first two seasons to 45% as a junior. He will be 22 at the time of the lottery, and while that may scare some teams away. The Warriors are in a great position to take a player like Mitchell who can contribute immediately, and not worry about his age.
8. Orlando Magic – James Bouknight, Guard, Connecticut
Bouknight can score from all 3 levels, he has a smaller frame at just 190 but is not afraid to drive and create contact. He is a better shooter than his numbers suggest and looked like a top 10 pick in the early part of the season before having elbow surgery. He is a nightmare in space and a good rebounder for his size. Once again defense and passing will need to improve to become a top player at his position. With The Magic’s second pick in the top 8, they select a dominant scoring guard to pair with Jonathan Kuminga and Jonathan Isaac.
9. Sacramento Kings – Keon Johnson, Guard/Forward, Tennesse
Keon Johnson would be a major upgrade for the defensively challenged Kings. Johnson is an extremely late bloomer who only started to play organized basketball in high school. He screams project as his offensive game needs some polish. Johnson is already a stud on the defensive end, as he can impact the game on or off the ball. His combination of speed and explosiveness creates plenty of highlight-worthy plays. His engagement to the defensive end from such a young age gives hope for his improvement at the next level. Sacramento needs all the help they can get and pairing Johnson with the Haliburton and Fox will help the King’s defense from day one.
10. New Orleans Pelicans – Franz Wagner, Forward, Michigan
Wagner is another great defensive prospect from this class. He can guard multiple positions on the floor, which should help the Pelicans and make life easier for Zion Williamson. Wagner is also a good 3-point shooter, which should help the spacing with Zion and Lonzo (if he is back). Wagner is a good facilitator and can be used from the elbow to help create offense. He has good vision and rarely turns the ball over, but he lacks isolation scoring moves that will allow him to be a go-to scorer. Wagner is a great fit for the Pelicans whether he starts or comes off of the bench.
11. Charlotte Hornets – Alperen Şengün, Forward/Center, Turkey
Şengün is an intriguing prospect, he reminds me of Domantas Sabonis. At just 18 years old, he dominated the Turkish league offensively. He already has elite footwork and shot 63% from the field. While most of those shots came from within 5 feet of the basket, he has very questionable shooting mechanics. His outside shooting will need to improve greatly. Şengün rebounds well and showed some nice passing ability. Şengün’s biggest issue is his lack of elite size or athleticism, at just 6’9 he will have trouble guarding some of the league’s bigs such as Jokic or Embiid. If he can’t become average on that end, then he will have trouble staying on the floor late in the game.
12. San Antonio Spurs – Kai Jones, Center, Texas
After making the playoffs in 22 consecutive seasons, the Spurs are in unfamiliar territory. They have missed the post-season 2 years in a row, and their roster is lackluster. I think there is a chance this pick is traded but for the time being the Spurs stay in state and take the Texas big man. Jones is your classic Rim-Runner, he plays above the rim and can dribble to get to the hole. He has no post-game whatsoever, he lacks any sort of skill with his back to the basket. Jones has shown signs of a jump shot but with little consistency. Jones’s best attribute may be his ability to keep up with smaller players on defense, he has shown an ability to switch onto any opposing player with no issues. Jones could give the spurs something completely different than they have from their bigs at the moment, and help the Spurs young guards on defense.
13. Indiana Pacers – Josh Giddey, Forward, Australia
Josh Giddey is a point guard stuck in a forwards body, at 6’8, 192 Giddey will need to put on some muscle to excel in the league. When watching tape of Giddey something immediately sticks out, as one of the NBL (Australia’s basketball league) announcers put it “something good always seems to happen when Giddey has the ball in his hands”. Giddey is a great passer, he has fantastic vision and he leads the NBL in assists at just 19. Giddey is at his best when he is running the offense as the lead facilitator. His defense leaves something to be desired, as a team defender he can help read passes to create turnovers and deflections. His on-ball defense isn’t pretty, he gets burned by faster players quite often and needs to focus more when guarding in one on one situations. Giddy would be a perfect playmaker in addition to Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdan giving the Pacers three fantastic facilitators.
14. Golden State Warriors – Moses Moody, Guard/ Forward, Arkansas
With the Warriors’ second pick in the lottery, they take Moses Moody. Moody has all the makings of a 3 and D starter for years to come. He is a great perimeter defender, with a 7’1 wingspan to swarm opposing players. He is a great off-ball defender and is always in a good position to impact the opposing offense. Moody is an excellent jump shooter and has a nice stroke that projects well for the NBA. His midrange is consistent and he can shoot the 3 ball as well. Moody struggles against better defenders, as his poor dribbling will limit him as a primary scorer. Moody projects nicely for the Warriors as secondary option and will benefit heavily from learning from Steph and Klay.
15. Washington Wizards – Jalen Johnson, Forward, Duke
Johnson would be a much-needed playmaking presence in the Wizards frontcourt if he becomes the player teams project him to be. He was highly touted coming into this season, as he was considered a top 5 prospect. Johnson’s time at Duke was rough, and there are questions regarding his character after he left Duke in the middle of the season. He did not play anywhere close to the player that was projected to come in, but the NBA loves a good project. Johnson is a skilled passer, with great court awareness. He is at his best pushing the ball down the floor and finding teammates for an open look. His half-court offense leaves much to be desired, and he is a poor shooter at this point in time. His mechanics look off, and all his percentages are not good. Some team will draft Johnson based on what he can become, but to me that seems unlikely.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder – Corey Kispert, Forward, Gonzaga
Kispert is widely regarded as the best shooter in the draft. He showed his range with elite efficiency in his time at Gonzaga. Kispert is also a good defender, as he puts the effort in and has good positioning. His limited athleticism will halt him from becoming a true number one scoring option. The Thunder can use all the help they can get after their continued dismantling of the roster, and Kispert can help by being a great outside threat to alleviate pressure on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
17. Memphis Grizzlies – Ziaire Williams, Forward, Stanford
Another highly touted prospect whose glow has lost some of its shine over the past year. Williams had a tough year at Stanford but showed some of the skills that gave him NBA looks since high school. His shooting mechanics need to be fixed but his high free throw percentage is a good indicator he can turn that around. He can create his own shot and has the look of a player who can handle the scoring load. Williams’s shooting form and finish around the rim need some polish. If he can fix those, he would be a great second option for Ja Morant and the Grizzlies who have had some great draft picks since GM Zach Kleiman took over.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder – Usman Garuba, Forward/Center, Real Madrid
The Thunder have multiple first-round picks in every NBA draft until 2027. With their third pick in the first round, the Thunder grad an undersized big man in Garuba. Garuba is a cerebral defender who always knows where the ball is and where it is going. His hyper-awareness combined with maximum effort makes him a defensive stud. Garuda is not a great shooter and struggles from the outside, and he is slightly vertically challenged big which hurts his shot blocking capability. While he can influence shots he will not be a true rim protector. This pick gives the Thunder two defensive studs to help carry the load.
19. New York Knicks – Sharife Cooper, Guard, Auburn
Cooper is a high-volume scorer who can distribute the ball. At Auburn, he averaged over 22 points and 8 assists per game. He is one of the best passers in the draft and initiates contact on every drive to the basket. While those numbers look great on paper, the majority of Cooper’s points came within a couple of feet of the basket. He struggles as a jump shooter, his 3 point shot uses almost no legs which causes him to spray his shots in all directions. He struggled on the defensive end as well, his small frame and bad positioning caused Auburn to adjust and hide him in certain sets. The Knicks need some ball-handling and facilitating from the point guard spot, and Elfrid Payton is clearly not the answer. Taking a swing at Cooper is a step in the right direction.
20. Atlanta Hawks – Jaden Springer, Guard, Tennessee
The Hawks surprised everyone on their way to losing in the conference finals. One of the surprising contributors is Lou Williams, who was considered one of the worst playoff players of the last decade. Williams got rid of those claims when he played a key role off of the bench for the young Hawks. While Jaden Springer plays a completely different game, having a nice ball-handler off of the bench should help Trae the same way Lou did. Springer is a hard-nosed player, who showed nice shooting touch in a small sample size. Springer is not an exceptional athlete and has a hard time beating defenders one on one. He can handle the ball nicely and has good passing prowess. Springer grinds on the defensive end, is a great communicator and helps teammates get in the right position. Springer would be a welcome change to Trae Young off of the bench and could help in 2 point guard sets as well.
21. New York Knicks – Chris Durate, Guard, Oregon
Durate is the “older” prospect in the class at 23 years old (24 by draft night). His time at Oregon showed an elite shooter who can fire from anywhere on the floor. He is at his best coming off of action to free him up for a spot-up shot. Durate can finish with both hands and shows an ability to get to the basket with average ball handling. He does not offer much else other than scoring as he is a below-average playmaker and not a very switchable defender. The Knicks could use shooting, and Durate has the look of a future 3 point specialist.
22. Los Angeles Lakers – Isaiah Jackson, Center, Kentucky
It is rare to see the first Kentucky player come off the board this late: since 2015 Kentucky has had multiple first-round players in each draft. Jackson is a high-energy big who best projects as a rim runner with elite defensive traits. He is a phenomenal athlete who has shown big-time rim protection. His highlights are full of blocks around the basket using his explosiveness. Jackson has a quick first step, which helps his front-facing game. Jackson is raw though, and he constantly fouls and is overly aggressive guarding other bigs. He will need to work on his hand placement at the next level to reach his defensive potential. Jackson can become the Lakers bench big and add a level of shot-blocking Montrezl Harrell does not possess.
23. Houston Rockets – Cameron Thomas, Guard, LSU
Cameron Thomas played two games during March Madness. In those games, he scored 27 and 30, the latter against a tough defensive team in Michigan. Thomas will come to the league and immediately be a microwave scorer. He would be a top 5 pick if he was drafted in the mid-2000s as his best scoring comes from isolation in the midrange. He can score in the paint and has good moves to get to the basket. Thomas is equally as dangerous without the ball in his hands as he makes hard cuts and knows when his defender is out of position. Thomas has the physical tools to be a solid defender but that will require a new mindset as he lacked any sort of commitment on that end of the floor. Houston has needs all over, and Thomas can come in day one and make a scoring impact off of the bench.
24. Houston Rockets – Tre Mann, Guard, Florida
Tre Mann is a late riser on draft boards. His March Madness performance combined with the fact he grew 2 inches over the past year have scouts pushing up his draft stock. Mann is a knockdown shooter who can create off the dribble. He lacks elite explosiveness and tends to avoid contact when driving the lane. Mann is a solid playmaker who can play either guard spot, and he has become a master of the pick and roll. Mann will need to become more technically sound on the defensive end to become anything more than a role player. John Wall’s future with Houston is in doubt so drafting multiple guards will help the turnover.
25. Los Angeles Clippers – Jared Butler, Guard, Baylor
The Most Outstanding Player at this year’s March Madness, Butler does a lot of things well. He can hurt a defense with or without the ball, is a good 3 point shooter, and can handle the ball. Butler is undersized for a modern point guard and lacks the necessary strength to be a dominant defender. Butler has all the makings of a late pick who turns into a starter for a long time. His medical history is a major reason he is falling down draft boards: he is ineligible to play until he is cleared by a medical committee from the NBA. Butler has the talent to go higher in the draft but his health concerns drop him to the Clippers. He would be a good replacement for Reggie Jackson who earned himself a major payday this postseason.
26. Denver Nuggets – Ayo Dosunmu, Guard, Illinois
Dosunmu won the Bob Cousy Award as the best point guard in the country this season. He improved in each of his past three seasons, becoming a true all-around player this year. Donsunmu is a great on-ball defender who has the size and speed to create havoc for opposing guards. He has a quick first step and is good at driving to the hoop. He plays well in transition and is an accurate passer on simple reads. He won’t blow anyone away with his IQ or awareness but he is a hustler who is always playing at 110%. The Nuggets could use another ball-handler in the backcourt if Murray continues to miss time recovering from his ACL injury.
27. Brooklyn Nets – Greg Brown, Forward, Texas
Brown has the traits of a lottery pick, his bad 3 point shooting is the one thing holding him back. Brown is as raw as they come, he is an athlete more than a basketball player at this point. His quick first step and vertical immediately jump out while watching tape. He looks the part of a mismatch on offense once he cleans up his handle as he is too casual with the ball. Brown will need a lot of work but he is a lottery ticket the Nets can afford to take.
28. Philadelphia 76ers – Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Forward, Villanova
This seems to be a popular pick amongst mock drafts, and the Sixers love kids from the area. Robinson-Earl comes out of college with a lot of the same questions as his Villanova predecessor’s Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. He is a high IQ player who does everything well but there are concerns regarding his size and athleticism. I expect the Sixers to make changes to the roster and take a “best player available” approach on draft night.
29. Phoenix Suns – Miles McBride, Guard, West Virginia
With Chris Paul inching towards the end of his career, Phoenix can take a project here and allow Paul to mentor a young guard. McBride is a two-way guard who impressed scouts in his final year. He has a solid jumper and is an athletic rangy defender. He needs to grow on both sides of the ball but has shown flashes of starter potential. Phoenix will have almost all of their depth guards hit free agency, McBride will be a welcome addition.
30. Utah Jazz – Day’Ron Sharpe, Center, North Carolina
The Jazz have multiple needs going into this offseason, but Mike Conley is 34 with a history of injuries so a potential replacement wouldn’t surprise me. For now though I have them going back to their strengths and grabbing another defender who hustles his butt off. Sharpe is another raw prospect who gives it his all, and he is a good rim protector with active hands in the paint. Sharpe was one of the best per-minute rebounders in college basketball. He should help take the load off of Gobert and Favours as a nice end-of-rotation piece for next season.