On the heels of an interminable 2020 NBA Draft cycle, it may seem as if the 2021 NBA Draft is sneaking up on basketball observers. After all, there isn’t the kind of lengthy break between events this time around and, as such, there was a sense of relative normalcy as the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery unfolded on Tuesday, June 22. Much of the league is focused on the ongoing postseason but, for several clubs, the bouncing of ping-pong balls were of significant interest, and the Detroit Pistons landed the No. 1 overall pick.
While the top spot is always the grand prize, there were several interesting dynamics in play when things finally settled. The Houston Rockets will pick No. 2, avoiding a potential drop that would’ve resulted in an extra pick for the Oklahoma City Thunder. From there, the Golden State Warriors will pick twice in the Lottery and both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors hopped up the board.
As a disclaimer, this is a quick-fire mock draft and much will change in the future. Mock drafts are also different than big boards, which should be stressed at every turn.
1. Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham (G/F, Oklahoma State)
In the coming weeks, the Pistons may consider other candidates. Within seconds of the Lottery, however, Cunningham’s representation indicated he would visit only with Detroit and, at least in my view, he is the clear No. 1 prospect. The Draft should start at No. 2.
2. Houston Rockets – Evan Mobley (C/F, USC)
Mobley is my No. 2 overall player, but the Rockets could easily go in a different direction. For one, Christian Wood is currently the most valuable piece on Houston’s roster and he plays the same position. Then, there are plenty of folks who would prefer Jalen Green and/or Jalen Suggs to Mobley, regardless of fit. For now, we’ll still slot Mobley here, but with many caveats.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jalen Green (G, G League Elite)
The Cavs also have a strong incumbent at center with Jarrett Allen, which may come into play should Mobley slide. Here, Green is available and he brings a sky-high upside as a scorer and a big-time athlete. Cleveland has invested heavily in its backcourt, but Green can play with either Darius Garland or Collin Sexton, at least in theory.
4. Toronto Raptors – Jalen Suggs (G, Gonzaga)
Toronto may be in a transition phase with Kyle Lowry hitting free agency. The Raptors do have Fred VanVleet, of course, but Suggs has the size to play either guard spot and he is a cerebral, highly skilled player. Given where they were mid-season, the Raptors coming away with Suggs would feel like a grand slam.
5. Orlando Magic – Jonathan Kuminga (F/G, G League Ignite)
Depending on who you ask, there is a top-4 or a top-5. Kuminga is very often associated with the No. 5 spot in a big board setting, though, and the Magic end up here. Every team in the NBA could use a player with the traits Kuminga brings, even when acknowledging that he seems to be less “safe” than the other four guys.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder – Scottie Barnes (F, Florida State)
Oklahoma City could’ve landed a pair of top-5 picks. Instead, they only pick at No. 6 and asset accumulation mode continues. Barnes isn’t unanimously beloved as a prospect, but he has incredibly interesting tools with a 7’2 wingspan and versatility on both ends of the floor. The Thunder can afford to swing.
7. Golden State Warriors (via Minnesota) – Jalen Johnson (F, Duke)
Golden State has two picks and they can get creative, should they decide to keep them. Johnson’s market is seemingly split after a weird season at Duke, but he has size (6’9) and versatility that could fit snugly with the Warriors. His passing would seemingly pop in the offense Steve Kerr runs, and some of his issues as a half-court scorer could be mitigated while playing with Steph Curry.
8. Orlando Magic (via Chicago) – James Bouknight (G, UConn)
Bouknight is a bucket getter. The Magic did invest in Cole Anthony last year, but that was a non-Lottery pick and Orlando should be in best player available mode. That may not be Bouknight, but they have to continue searching for creation help and he brings it.
9. Sacramento Kings – Moses Moody (G/F, Arkansas)
The Kings nailed their pick last year with Tyrese Haliburton. That opens things up a bit, with Haliburton and De’Aaron Fox forming Sacramento’s perimeter core. Moody would fit anywhere, but he is a 3-and-D prospect that just turned 19 years old, and he projects to be a highly valuable piece.
10. New Orleans Pelicans – Josh Giddey (G/F, Adelaide 36ers)
Giddey’s stock is exploding as a top-10 perch would’ve seemed wild a few months ago. The Pelicans could go in a number of directions, but Giddey is an impressive playmaker and ball-mover, and his creativity would fit nicely in what New Orleans found with “Point Zion” last season. They would need to buy his shooting to take him here, but that isn’t too much of a stretch.
11. Charlotte Hornets – Kai Jones (C/F, Texas)
Jones is kind of in his own category in this Draft. He flashes an absurd ceiling with some of the plays he can make offensively, and he’s a tremendous athlete at 6’11, with fluidity and explosiveness. If you see him on the wrong night, though, you will wonder why he’s a potential Lottery pick. The Hornets still don’t have their center of the future and, outside the top-10, it would be hard to find a player with higher upside.
12. San Antonio Spurs – Alperen Sengun (C/F, Beskitas)
Sengun is very Spurs-y. There are questions about his defense and athleticism at the NBA level, but he has been dominant force in the Turkish league. His skill level is really impressive for a player his size, and the buzz is that Sengun is trendy toward lottery lock status.
13. Indiana Pacers – Davion Mitchell (G, Baylor)
Mitchell is a fascinating evaluation and there is a defined split in his evaluation. Some see him as a potential top-7 pick, banking on the intangibles he showed in leading Baylor to a national title and appreciating his on-ball defensive aptitude. Others are very skeptical, referring to his middling free throw shooting, one-season uptick beyond the arc, and lack of height (6’0 in socks) as clear red flags. Mitchell will also be 23 years old when training camp begins. It will be fascinating to see where he lands.
14. Golden State Warriors – Keon Johnson (G/F, Tennessee)
The Warriors end up with both Lottery picks with the last name of Johnson. While Jalen’s skill set is nuanced, Keon’s primary appeal, at least right now, is his explosive athleticism. He does flash some intrigue as a passer, but Johnson will need to shoot it better to justify this slot.
15. Washington Wizards – Usman Garuba (C/F, Real Madrid)
Thomas Bryant is under contract and Robin Lopez had a strong year for the Wizards. However, neither is a long-term answer on both ends, and Garuba is a malleable piece that projects to be an impact defender in the NBA. Washington could go just about anywhere, though, even after taking a pair of combo forwards in the last two years.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Boston) – Jaden Springer (G, Tennessee)
Oklahoma City has an impossibly deep war chest of picks and they can afford to swing as a result. Springer has his pros and cons, but he may have the highest ceiling of any remaining player on the board. In addition, his projected skill set, particularly defensively, would fit well next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
17. Memphis Grizzlies – Franz Wagner (F, Michigan)
The Grizzlies tried to fill their need for a big, defensive-minded wing when they acquired Justise Winslow. That didn’t work out and, even with the emergence of Kyle Anderson, Memphis could still be in the market for a do-it-all role player. Wagner does have some questions with his jump shot, but his defensive instincts are strong and he projects as a long-time role player that should contribute to winning.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Miami) – Ziaire Williams (F/G, Stanford)
It was a weird year for Williams and he may fall below this as a result. At the same time, he is a Lottery-level talent at 6’7 with the ability to space the floor and check a lot of boxes as a modern wing. As noted above, Oklahoma City can keep taking swings, and he was a consensus top-10 pick out of high school for a reason.
19. New York Knicks – Sharife Cooper (G, Auburn)
Cooper is a tricky evaluation. He is absolutely electric as a passer and ball-handler, and he is remarkably quick with the ball in his hands. Cooper is also small with defensive questions and a jumper that is, at best, unproven. He is one of the players most difficult to pin down in terms of a range, with some observers talking Lottery and others not seeing it all.
20. Atlanta Hawks – Corey Kispert (G/F, Gonzaga)
Kispert’s perceived value took a hit in the championship game against Baylor, but he remains a tremendous shooting prospect. That is certainly his calling card, although Kispert, at 6’6 and 224 pounds, has enough size to potentially hold up defensively.
21. New York Knicks (via Dallas) – Isaiah Jackson (C, Kentucky)
Jackson may go higher than this, as he has fans across the league. The Knicks don’t have a glaring need at center if Mitchell Robinson sticks around long-term, but Jackson’s Kentucky connection might come in handy with the current pipeline from Lexington to New York City.
22. Los Angeles Lakers – Chris Duarte (G/F, Oregon)
The Lakers are clearly in win-now mode, so the fact that Duarte is 23 years old (and will be 24 soon) isn’t as much of an issue. Beyond that, Duarte is one of the best bets to be an early contributor in a positive way, as he can shoot, handle the ball enough, and defend his position.
23. Houston Rockets (via Portland) – Josh Christopher (G, Arizona State)
It feels like someone will take Christopher in the top 35 picks or so. He comes with high-end prep pedigree and clearly has a knack as a scorer. He also had an uneven season at Arizona State but, in general, scoring is rarely undervalued. Christopher will fill it up, and the Rockets have three picks, meaning they can take a swing or two.
24. Houston Rockets (via Milwaukee) – Trey Murphy (F, Virginia)
Murphy is the opposite of Christopher in a lot of ways. He is an elite-level shooter, at least at the college level, and there are tools for him defensively at 6’8 or 6’9. He wasn’t necessarily on the radar for most observers this season, but the buzz is strong on Murphy as a potential long-time rotation player.
25. Los Angeles Clippers – Tre Mann (G, Florida)
Reggie Jackson found a groove in the playoffs but, prior to that, it was no secret that the Clippers need a lead guard. Mann is more of a scoring/shooting threat than a distributor, but he’s 6’5 with the ability to pull up and a high-level feel for the game.
26. Denver Nuggets – Roko Prkacin (F, Cibona)
Prkacin is kind of a mystery, but the Nuggets can be patient. His statistical profile is intriguing, and Prkacin is the youngest player in the Draft — he’s 18 and won’t turn 19 until November. He wouldn’t help them right away, but Denver has the luxury of being able to stash him in a way that some other teams may not.
27. Brooklyn Nets – Miles McBride (G, West Virginia)
Brooklyn doesn’t need another guard, particularly if Spencer Dinwiddie returns. With that said, Dinwiddie could leave in free agency, and McBride is more of a two-way option that can change games defensively. He can shoot off the dribble, make enough plays, and bother the opposition in a change-up role next to Brooklyn’s stars.
28. Philadelphia 76ers – Cam Thomas (G, LSU)
It would be fair to say that Thomas isn’t known for his well-rounded game. In fact, one might say he was one-dimensional, or at least close to it, at LSU. Thomas can really score, though, and his profile as a shot creator is very intriguing at this point in the draft. Philadelphia does have other options in the backcourt after drafting Tyrese Maxey and giving Seth Curry a marquee role in the postseason, but Thomas would give them more options on the perimeter, something the team desperately needs.
29. Phoenix Suns – Ayo Dosunmu (G, Illinois)
Phoenix doesn’t need a ton right now, as evidenced by their trip to the Western Conference Finals. In the future, though, another shot creator in the backcourt wouldn’t hurt, particularly as Chris Paul ages and Cam Payne hits free agency. Dosunmu has fans around the league, and he really improved as a shot-maker during his college career.
30. Utah Jazz – Aaron Henry (G/F, Michigan State)
The Jazz really need another big wing defender. That is hard to find at this point in the Draft, but Henry might be able to deliver defensive value while fitting in Utah’s offensive scheme. He’s an underrated ball mover and, if he makes enough threes, he can stick as a low-usage role player who defends and makes the right plays.