2021 NBA Mock Draft: Checking In Before The Madness

After the seemingly endless cycle of the 2020 NBA Draft, it almost feels as if the 2021 class may be short-changed. After all, the 2021 NBA Draft is at least expected to take place over the summer (albeit at a still undetermined point on the calendar), and the college basketball season featured fewer games than a typical campaign would. However, the top of the 2021 Draft is widely seen as superior to its predecessor, including a top-five that seems to be separating from the pack.

Only three members of that quintet will be taking part in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, with Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga skipping college in favor of a mini-season with the G League Ignite. Still, many more casual observers will spend extended time watching college basketball in the next few weeks, and it is a great time to dive into the prospect world as a result.

Here is a look at the 2021 class in mock draft form, knowing full well that movement, both in the team order and for the prospects themselves, is likely in the coming days.

Note: Draft order determined by FiveThirtyEight projections as of March 15.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves – Cade Cunningham (G/F, Oklahoma State)

Cunningham entered the season as the No. 1 prospect and that hasn’t changed. As often, it was popular to anoint contenders for the crown along the way but, with his stretch run in Stillwater, Cunningham left no doubt, at least in my mind. Minnesota may not end up in the top spot but, if they do, he’s the choice.

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

This is where things get tricky. From a big board standpoint, Evan Mobley is a comfortable No. 2 for me at the moment, but the Rockets have exactly one major investment on the roster and it is Christian Wood. I don’t think Mobley is a cross-off for Houston because Wood is there, but they have to at least think about it. Green has pros and cons, but his upside is sky-high as a lead scorer, and many were impressed by his performance in the G League bubble. It also has to be said that the gap between 1 and 2 may be larger than the gap between 2 and 5, so this could go a number of ways.

3. Detroit Pistons – Evan Mobley (C/F, USC)

Mobley is very, very good. He’s a statistical monster, with the projection as a potential game-changer on the defensive end. There are real questions about his rebounding, but as a modern rim protector, there is a lot to love. That was the preseason pitch as well but, for me, Mobley was even better than expected on the offensive end. Is he going to be a No. 1 scorer in the NBA? Maybe not, but he won’t need to be with everything else he can do.

4. Orlando Magic – Jalen Suggs (G, Gonzaga)

Gonzaga was the absolute perfect situation for Suggs, making this a slightly more difficult evaluation, but he’s been tremendous. His feel is fantastic, his skill level is sky-high, and he should defend at a high level. There are at least mild concerns about him as a primary scorer/initiator, but Suggs is going to be a quality NBA guard that can do a lot of things well, with plenty of upside beyond that. He also has the chance to really shine on the biggest stage if Gonzaga makes the deep NCAA Tournament run many expect.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jonathan Kuminga (F, G League Ignite)

The G League Ignite had two top-five prospects, and Kuminga made the stronger impression at the outset. As things progressed, though, Green came on and Kuminga faded a bit, largely due to questions about his jump shot. He can (and will) be a very productive NBA player even if he can’t shoot at a high level, and it helps that Kuminga has fantastic physical traits. It’s hard to be that confident about the shooting, however, and that pushes him down a bit for now.

6. Washington Wizards – Keon Johnson (G, Tennessee)

Well, here is the second start of the Draft. While that is an overstatement on some level, there is a consensus top five. If that holds, the No. 6 spot is very difficult to evaluate and project. In this case, the Wizards swing for upside. Johnson hasn’t been consistent at Tennessee, but he’s a nuclear athlete with every theoretical skill you would want.

7. Sacramento Kings – Moses Moody (G/F, Arkansas)

Moody is tremendous. He is enjoying a bit of a late-season offensive breakout, pouring water on some of the fears about his upside, and he already makes shots and defends. This feels like a sweet spot for him, and I could see him going as high as No. 6.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder – Jalen Johnson (F, Duke)

After his now-infamous exit from Duke, there was a narrative that Johnson could tumble, but that doesn’t seem to be playing out in the scouting community. There are concerns about the way it ended in Durham, and Johnson still can’t shoot, but he is big, physically gifted, and skilled with the ball in a way that is appealing. His range may be pretty wide, but I don’t think he’ll fall too far. The Thunder also love to take swings and this would be one.

9. Chicago Bulls – Sharife Cooper (G, Auburn)

Cooper is one of the more difficult players to peg in this class, simply because there is no consensus right now. Some absolutely love his upside as a premium passer and creator with quickness and upside. Others are terrified of his size, shooting questions, and defensive issues. The Bulls are in need of an elite passer to make others better, and Coby White could be heading for a sixth man role as a result.

10. New Orleans Pelicans – Scottie Barnes (F, Florida State)

There are a bunch of fascinating prospects in this class, and Barnes is one of them. He plays with fantastic feel on both ends and projects to be a high-end, versatile defender. He’s also an excellent ball mover for his size, but he can’t shoot. Like, at all. The last part wouldn’t be great in New Orleans, but everything else would be.

11. New York Knicks – James Bouknight (G, UConn)

This could be near Bouknight’s floor after the way scouts and observers have been discussing him. He had a multi-week injury absence that coincided with UConn’s team-wide downturn, but Bouknight has been awesome since returning. He’s certainly more of a scorer than anything else right now, but there is polish and athleticism to go along with his skill package.

12. Charlotte Hornets – Corey Kispert (G/F, Gonzaga)

There is buzz that Kispert could be taken before this, and I understand it. He’s been incredible this season and, beyond the top-five, it’s not totally unreasonable. He is quite old at 22, though, and he more or less is what he is as a player. Kispert can shoot the heck out of the ball and he’s big enough and athletic enough to hold up on defense. It is not hard to see someone falling in love and taking him before this.

13. Memphis Grizzlies – Ziaire Williams (G/F, Stanford)

Williams was pretty bad this season in the Pac-12, and that has to be acknowledged. It was a weird campaign, though, and his pre-college sample should be a big factor. At this point in the late lottery, it is worth the risk for a 6’8 wing with a lofty ceiling, and the Grizzlies seem like a team that would be willing to fire away on his traits.

14. San Antonio Spurs – Kai Jones (C/F, Texas)

There is a split on Jones’ evaluation that tracks with many players in this class. He is incredibly toolsy and, when it looks good, it looks very, very good. In contrast, Jones is a two-year college player that looks very raw a lot of the time, and if you catch him on the wrong night, the word overmatched may come to mind. The Spurs would be a good developmental spot for him, and San Antonio could look to bolster its frontcourt with this pick.

15. Indiana Pacers – Franz Wagner (F, Michigan)

Wagner’s defense turned a lot of heads this season, and he has the opportunity to keep raising his profile in March on a good Michigan team. As a legitimate 6’9 forward that can check a lot of boxes, he would fit almost anywhere. Obviously, the Pacers could use a two-way forward with some tangible upside, a good jumper, and few warts.

16. Atlanta Hawks – Jaden Springer (G, Tennessee)

It was an up and down season for Springer at Tennessee, and that makes more sense when you realize he won’t turn 19 until September. Springer and Keon Johnson also came into a veteran team with weird expectations for what they should contribute. Admittedly, Springer is a divisive prospect, but his supporters would tell you he is a top-10 consideration. The Hawks are potentially in the market for another perimeter option, and Springer brings lottery upside at a reasonable price.

17. Golden State Warriors – Jared Butler (G, Baylor)

This is a little bit high for Butler, and he makes more sense with the Warriors than other teams in this range. He is more of a combo guard, but Butler can really shoot and he will hold up defensively. Moreover, he should be able to contribute relatively quickly, and the Warriors are in a win-now mode that most teams in the mid-first round aren’t in.

18. Toronto Raptors – Isaiah Jackson (C/F, Kentucky)

Jackson is a big-time athlete with good traits and a high-end motor. It is tough, at least for me, to see lottery upside, but there are some even more bullish than this. Toronto still doesn’t have a big man of the future, and this would be a solid buy point on Jackson.

19. Houston Rockets (via Portland) – Greg Brown (F, Texas)

The Rockets are a blank canvas, and Brown is an intriguing upside play at this point in the draft. He has some flaws, including an exceptionally poor assist-to-turnover ratio and some skill-based questions, but he is a remarkable athlete at the power forward position. Some view him as a lottery pick because of the tools.

20. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Miami) – Josh Christopher (G, Arizona State)

Candidly, Christopher wasn’t very good this season. That does matter on some level, but he has pretty spectacular tools as a scorer if he can improve his perimeter shooting. It seems like a team will see what he can do, rather than what he can’t, and pounce in the first round.

21. Boston Celtics – Usman Garuba (F/C, Real Madrid)

There isn’t much to worry about with Garuba’s defense, and he might be a tremendously impactful player on that end of the floor. Trying to figure out what Boston will do in the frontcourt long-term is probably a fool’s errand, but if a team can figure out what to do with Garuba on offense, he’s a definite first-rounder. His defense is that good.

22. New York Knicks (via Dallas) – Bennedict Mathurin (G/F, Arizona)

It would’ve been wild to see Mathurin in a first-round mock a few months ago, but he’s a fast-rising prospect. The biggest appeals with Mathurin are shooting (41.8 percent from three) and age (18), but he’s definitely more of a long-term play. He may return to school but, if he enters the Draft, there’s plenty of potential here.

23. Los Angeles Lakers – Cam Thomas (G, LSU)

Thomas is an interesting evaluation, because he can clearly score. He is putting up almost 23 points per game in a power conference, and you can’t really fake that. As such, evaluators that value bucket-getting are going to love him. I’m not sure what else he can do, but at this point in the Draft, finding a score-first third guard wouldn’t be a bad result.

24. Denver Nuggets – Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (F, Villanova)

This is probably a bit high for Robinson-Earl, but I’m predisposed to liking his game. I think he profiles quite well as a supporting piece at the NBA level, with the ability to shoot enough, defend and check a lot of boxes on both ends. He’d be a snug fit in Denver, particularly if they end up losing Paul Millsap and/or JaMychal Green after this season.

25. L.A. Clippers – Rokas Jokubaitis (G, Zalgiris)

Jokubaitis isn’t on the radar for most people, but some scouts see him as a potential first-rounder. He was in the 2020 mix for a long time as well, and there is a lot to like in his craft. The Clippers are a perfect team to potentially try to stash someone, and Jokubaitis could also come over and potentially contribute in short order.

26. Milwaukee Bucks – Ayo Dosunmu (G, Illinois)

If you buy Dosunmu’s perimeter shooting, you probably think he’s a first-rounder. I’m less confident, but he has been steadily rising during a fantastic college season. The Bucks also use another offensive creator that can get their own shot, and Dosunmu can do that.

27. Philadelphia 76ers – BJ Boston (G/F, Kentucky)

It’s been a harsh fall for Boston, who was widely projected as a top-five pick before the season. He didn’t do much well at Kentucky and, honestly, he could fall into the second round. Still, there is room for him to find a soft landing spot, particularly if you put more weight on pre-college sample. The 76ers like to take swings, and they can afford the mild gamble here.

28. Phoenix Suns – Josh Giddey (G/F, Adelaide 36ers)

Giddey may not be a point guard in the NBA, but he basically plays the position in the NBL and functions at a high level. For an 18-year-old that stands at 6’8, what he is doing is impressive and his feel is intriguing. Perhaps the Suns would be a good landing spot, especially because it may take him a while to find his level in the NBA.

29. Brooklyn Nets – Alperen Sengun (F/C, Besiktas)

Sengun has some fans in league circles, and he’s been very good as a young age in Turkey. Finding a landing spot for what is likely a stash can be difficult this far in advance, but Brooklyn is, quite obviously, in win-now mode. Perhaps they’d find the idea of a long-term choice appealing, especially if it didn’t add to their luxury tax bill.

30. Utah Jazz – Chris Duarte (G/F, Oregon)

The knock on Duarte is age, and 23-year-olds have a mixed track record in the recent history of the Draft. He also seems to be an awesome role player prospect, with a 40+ percent three-point shooting clip and the ability to defend at a solid-or-better rate. Utah needs long-term wing help, and he may even be able to help them right away as a rookie.