It seems as if almost no time has passed since the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery took place, with the Detroit Pistons claiming the ultimate prize of the No. 1 overall pick. In the ensuing weeks, the rumor mill began to churn with regard to what might take place at the top of the board but, with the draft itself set to arrive in fewer than two weeks, the buzz will only continue to build.
The top tier features Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Evan Mobley for most observers and players like Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Kuminga and/or Scottie Barnes for others. Still, there is a great deal of uncertainty with the order in which these prospects will fall, and that begins with at least a modicum of variability at No. 1 when including the potential for trade winds to blow.
At any rate, it is time for another round of mock draft projections, with the top spot mirroring previous editions and many changes from there. Let’s begin the draft with the Pistons and a familiar face.
1. Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham (G/F, Oklahoma State)
The Pistons are seemingly doing their due diligence at No. 1 overall, as they should. For me, Cunningham is the comfortable No. 1 pick and, when the time arrived, I’d take him without a preposterous trade offer. There seems to be at least a chance the Pistons do something else, though, from trading down (perhaps with Houston?) to simply taking Jalen Green. Only time will tell.
2. Houston Rockets – Jalen Green (G, G League Elite)
All indications are that the Rockets are more likely to take Green than Evan Mobley or Jalen Suggs if Cunningham is off the board. Green brings a sky-high ceiling as a tremendous athlete and shot creator, and there is a justifiable premium placed on his skill set and athletic profile.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley (C/F, USC)
Cleveland does have Jarrett Allen as a restricted free agent, but Mobley is the kind of talent where that can’t be the reason you pass. Ironically, he’d fit quite well with Kevin Love, but more importantly, Mobley’s defensive profile is scintillating and there is more than enough on offense to just pick him and figure out the roster later. He’s firmly a top-three guy for me and this would be an easy choice if the top two flows in this way.
4. Toronto Raptors – Jalen Suggs (G, Gonzaga)
Candidly, I’m more in the camp that Suggs does a lot of things well but nothing at an uber-elite level. As such, he might be more of a high-floor selection than a player with an All-NBA ceiling, but he’s still the No. 4 prospect and it would be tough for Toronto to pass. The Raptors have a lot of roster uncertainty, though, and this could also be a trade piece.
5. Orlando Magic – Scottie Barnes (F, Florida State)
Barnes seems to be creeping up draft boards and there is a lot to like. His defense is particularly impressive with length, communication and the ability to defend multiple positions. Offensively, he combines size with play-making chops and he could be an intriguing facilitator long-term. It is wild to take a player with Barnes’ shooting concerns this high but, more and more, there seems to be a belief that he could land as high as No. 5 overall — and he certainly fits the profile of Orlando’s recent draft history.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder – Jonathan Kuminga (F/G, G League Ignite)
The Thunder are, in some ways, the perfect Kuminga team. He is a project and, at No. 6, that can be a tough sell. However, Oklahoma City is essentially a blank canvas beyond Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Kuminga’s physical tools and athletic profile are impressive enough to justify this investment without a ton of safety.
7. Golden State Warriors (via Minnesota) – Josh Giddey (G/F, Adelaide 36ers)
Golden State will undoubtedly evaluate trades involving this pick, and they are in a bizarre position as a win-now team with two lottery selections and James Wiseman returning for his second campaign. In Giddey, they are betting on talent, but his passing, rebounding, ability to push in transition and free-flowing archetype would fit well in what the Warriors are trying to do. Don’t get me wrong, though, this pick could go in about seven different directions.
8. Orlando Magic (via Chicago) – Davion Mitchell (G, Baylor)
This is too high for Mitchell in my personal view, but Mitchell’s stock continues to be lofty within league circles. He is definitely a strong defender, even while acknowledging that placing an emphasis on guard defense can be a fool’s errand in the modern game. A lot of the evaluation comes down to whether you buy Mitchell’s shooting from the 2020-21 season, as he struggled before that and has ugly free throw numbers. It may not be Orlando, but somebody is likely to take Mitchell in the lottery.
9. Sacramento Kings – Moses Moody (G/F, Arkansas)
Moody is a personal favorite of mine. I would consider him as high as No. 5 overall, and the Kings can basically go anywhere with this pick with the exception of point guard. Moody is a best player available pick, but Sacramento also isn’t wedded long-term to anyone on the wing.
10. New Orleans Pelicans – Franz Wagner (F, Michigan)
The Pelicans have to find supporting pieces that can defend around Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Wagner is one of the best defenders in the draft, using his 6’9 frame with length, athleticism and high-end acumen. Scouts are mixed on the offensive end, but there were a ton of flashes at Michigan, and he is a lottery talent that fits snugly in New Orleans.
11. Charlotte Hornets – James Bouknight (G, UConn)
Bouknight could be gone by this point, as he seems to be a favorite of the mainstream right now. He can definitely score at a high level, and his Pro Day produced some helium, which is what any agent hopes will happen from that setting. On paper, Charlotte doesn’t have a glaring need in the backcourt with Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier flanking LaMelo Ball, but Graham is a restricted free agent who could get a big offer that the Hornets aren’t willing to match, and Bouknight would be interesting with Ball.
12. San Antonio Spurs – Alperen Sengun (C/F, Beskitas)
I’ve largely given up on trying to figure out what the Spurs are doing. With that out of the way, San Antonio does have a well-regarded scouting staff internationally, and they haven’t been afraid to take prospects with potential fit concerns if they are good at basketball. Sengun is insanely productive for his age at a high level in Europe, and some models are going to have him as a firm top-10 pick. This is a good compromise.
13. Indiana Pacers – Corey Kispert (G/F, Gonzaga)
Kispert definitely struggled near the end of the NCAA Tournament, taking some of the helium out of his draft balloon. After some time removed from the tourney, though, his stock seems to have settled in the mid-first range. Almost any team could benefit from a player with his shooting profile, and there is optimism that Kispert can defend enough to get by.
14. Golden State Warriors – Keon Johnson (G/F, Tennessee)
This might be the floor for Johnson. He is one of the best athletes in the draft (if not the single best) and his defensive chops are potentially devastating to the opposition. Offensively, most of the debate is whether he’ll be able to find a consistent jump shot. If a team believes in his shooting, he should go higher than this. Even if they don’t, he could return value as a mid-first rounder.
15. Washington Wizards – Kai Jones (C, Texas)
For two full draft cycles, the Wizards have been tied to a bunch of center prospects. They haven’t taken any, but after going back-to-back with Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura (and with their veteran bigs headed for free agency), it’s time. Jones has sky-high upside with his physical tools. He’s a late bloomer and, as a reminder, he was a two-year guy at Texas. However, this could be a chance for Jones to unleash his talents if things go well.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Boston) – Jalen Johnson (F, Duke)
Johnson is a tremendous passer and, if you catch him in the right environment, he looks every part of the top-eight prospect he was billed to be coming out of high school. On the flip side, he has been all over the place the last few years, his defense waxes and wanes, and he isn’t a comfortable shooter right now. Somebody’s going to take him in the top 20 on talent, and the Thunder can afford to take swings.
17. Memphis Grizzlies – Chris Duarte (G/F, Oregon)
The Grizzlies haven’t been shy about taking older prospects (see Clarke, Brandon and Bane, Desmond) in recent years. Duarte is very old in that he’ll be 24 as a rookie, but there is a ton to like about his skill set. If age wasn’t a concern, he’d be a lottery pick, and some still view him that way, noting that he took a long and winding road to the 2021 Draft after a delayed basketball start.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Miami) – Cam Thomas (G, LSU)
Thomas has his weaknesses, but he can flat-out shoot and score. Oklahoma City is just taking swings, but they don’t have anyone that can do what Thomas projects to do outside of the obvious gifts of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder could do just about anything with their three picks, including trade possibilities, but Thomas has a high ceiling with his shot creation.
19. New York Knicks – Sharife Cooper (G, Auburn)
New York’s long-term point guard needs are well-documented. Immanuel Quickley looks to be a very good pick from 2020, but Cooper is a different player. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands, one of the best passers in the draft and capable of running an offense. He might be gone by this point if a team believes he can shoot down the line, but this would be a very good value play for New York with tangible upside.
20. Atlanta Hawks – Jaden Springer (G, Tennessee)
By the time the draft gets here, Springer could end up in the lottery. Mainstream observers are seemingly catching up to what Draft Twitter has been saying for a while in that Springer checks a lot of intriguing boxes. In Atlanta, he could unleash his high-end defensive projection alongside Trae Young while helping with the secondary creation load and not having to do too much in his first year or two.
21. New York Knicks (via Dallas) – Trey Murphy (F, Virginia)
With Cooper at No. 19, the Knicks go the opposite direction here. Murphy isn’t going to be a star, but he profiles as a potentially valuable role player. He’s been rising through the draft process, and Murphy has size and three-point shooting to go along with a frame that should lead to acceptable defense as a combo forward. That sounds like a player every team wants.
22. Los Angeles Lakers – Ayo Dosunmu (G, Illinois)
The Lakers are certainly in win-now mode and they might approach this pick through that lens. Dosunmu has his detractors, but he was tremendous this season at Illinois and he has a polish that could lead to the ability to contribute quickly. If you believe in his three-point shooting uptick from 2020-21, it is easy to see him as a first-round pick, and the Lakers could use another creator.
23. Houston Rockets (via Portland) – Ziaire Williams (F/G, Stanford)
It is tough to pin down Williams’ stock after a brutal year at Stanford. It would be mind-blowing to see him fall out of the first round, though, as Williams is a 6’9 forward with great length and the potential to shoot it at a very high level in the NBA. The Rockets, with three first-round selections and a lengthy rebuild coming, can easily afford to take a swing.
24. Houston Rockets (via Milwaukee) – Tre Mann (G, Florida)
As noted above, Houston has three picks. They may not use them all, but Mann would be an interesting upside bet as an on-ball player with good size and creativity. The Rockets don’t have that kind of prospect right now, and a potential lead guard has to be appealing on some level.
25. Los Angeles Clippers – Usman Garuba (F/C, Real Madrid)
Remember the way the Clippers were playing during their playoff run, using small ball to flummox opponents? Garuba would be an awesome fit in that kind of scheme as a small-ball center with high-end defensive impact. His offensive game is a bit of a mixed bag, but Garuba is one of the better defenders in the draft and he should be a first-rounder.
26. Denver Nuggets – Josh Christopher (G/F, Arizona State)
Christopher may not be a perfect fit for the Nuggets, as his primary appeal comes with his scoring. Denver has plenty of that with Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray (when healthy), but the Nuggets would be buying in a “best player available” way with Christopher. Some view him as a lottery-level talent and, if you buy his perimeter shooting, the intrigue grows.
27. Brooklyn Nets – Kessler Edwards (F, Pepperdine)
The Nets might move this pick for win-now help. That’s certainly notable. If they keep it, an investment in a two-way forward would be a good idea, both for the short- and long-term. Edwards has a bit of a strange shooting motion, but he made threes at an impressive clip at Pepperdine. He’s also a wonderful team defender, and contending teams should be taking a look at him in this range.
28. Philadelphia 76ers – Miles McBride (G, West Virginia)
Philadelphia can certainly use another perimeter option and McBride checks a lot of boxes. In fact, there is an argument he should go higher than this, particularly if observers believe in his shooting (a trend in this draft, as you can see). He’s a tremendous point-of-attack defender with some on-ball creativity, and McBride also measured with a wingspan north of 6’8 despite his combo guard size.
29. Phoenix Suns – Isaiah Jackson (C, Kentucky)
Phoenix did take a big in the lottery last year with Jalen Smith but he never emerged into the rotation. As such, they still may not have a backup center and this would help to plug that hole. Jackson may go considerably higher than this, but it can also be tough to find a landing spot for him. Scouts do like what he can bring to the table, though, and this would be a very good value for the Suns.
30. Utah Jazz – Nah’Shon Hyland (G, VCU)
Hyland has been an internet favorite for a long time and he is now getting mainstream attention. His combine performance drew rave reviews, and the Jazz could use another creator, particularly if they are unable to come to an agreement to keep Mike Conley. Moreover, Hyland should be a first round pick somewhere, so this provides the soft landing spot at the end of the road.