Grading Every First Round Pick From The 2021 NBA Draft

Grading Every First Round Pick From The 2021 NBA Draft

The first round of the 2021 NBA Draft has come and gone, and while the first three picks went according to the script, from there the Draft was anything but predictable with some surprises (both risers and fallers) and a number of trades as teams moved up and down the board to find their preferred prospects.

The biggest of the Draft night trades saw Russell Westbrook sent off to L.A. for Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and the No. 22 pick, but that was far from the last deal of the night (and wasn’t the last time the 22nd pick got traded). As the night rolled on we graded each pick live, going team by team, but here you can find each grade all together as we looked at who got great value, who filled a solid need, and who may have reached based on the players still available.

1. Detroit Pistons — Cade Cunningham, Grade: A

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The Pistons took the best player in the draft at No. 1 overall, and that is how it is supposed to work. Some wavered on whether Cunningham was clearly superior to Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and/or Jalen Suggs, but he is a tremendous prospect. Cunningham faced a relatively difficult situation at Oklahoma State, playing with very little spacing and suboptimal supporting talent, and he displayed high-end scoring chops and answered a significant pre-college question with his shooting. He has size, feel and an off-the-charts skill level, and Cunningham projects as a franchise-changing piece for the Pistons.

2. Houston Rockets — Jalen Green, Grade: B

Jalen Green is certainly a worthwhile pick at No. 2 overall. Evan Mobley was the other potential option, but Green brings dynamism as a scorer and shot creator. He is also a high-end athlete that can get where he wants on the floor, using his burst responsibly and effectively, and Green impressed with his efficiency and effectiveness against professionals in the G League as an 18-year-old. He immediately gives Houston a player to build around as they continue a rebuild.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers — Evan Mobley, Grade: A

Evan Mobley is a talent that is line with some recent No. 1 overall picks. Grabbing him at No. 3 overall is a coup when viewed through that lens. The Cavs still have a lot of work to do with their roster, including a big decision with Jarrett Allen, but Mobley is a potentially fantastic two-way player. He’ll need to prove he can play center regularly to maximize his defensive upside, but Mobley brings an intriguing and varied offensive skill set, and should help Cleveland fix some of the defensive issues that have recently plagued the franchise.

4. Toronto Raptors — Scottie Barnes, Grade: C-

Barnes is an interesting pick. The consensus pointed to Jalen Suggs, who I also had ranked ahead of Barnes on my personal board. At the same time, it isn’t as if Suggs is considered an absolute superstar, and Barnes does have intrigue as a versatile defender. Offensively, he is already an established high-end passer, which is rare at his size. The big question mark is that Barnes is virtually a non-shooter at this point, and that could limit his ceiling, even with potentially fantastic defense. It’s a bit higher than I think he should go, but Barnes is a talented player.

5. Orlando Magic — Jalen Suggs, Grade: A

Suggs would’ve been my pick at No. 4 overall and the Magic benefit from his (small) drop. Orlando does have a few interesting pieces in the backcourt with Markelle Fultz, RJ Hampton and Cole Anthony, but Suggs is a better prospect than any member of that trio. Moreover, this is a “best player available” pick that also fits a need, as Orlando still doesn’t have a primary creator that they can feel good about at this stage. Suggs may not have a sky-high ceiling, but he projects to be a very good player for a long time.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder — Josh Giddey, Grade: B-

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This was certainly a surprising pick but, after the top tier, an argument could be made that things flatten considerably. Giddey has questions, particularly with shooting and defense, but he is an exceptionally gifted passer. On top of that, Oklahoma City is (still) virtually a blank slate, and it is easy to see the upside that Giddey could possess as a 6’8 initiator if he can find a reliable offering as a shooter.

7. Golden State Warriors — Jonathan Kuminga, Grade: B

This is a tough evaluation. On raw talent, Kuminga is a very solid pick at No. 7 overall. In fact, it would be easy to argue that he has top-five upside (or higher) if things come together. On the flip side, Kuminga has a lot of work to do to reach that ceiling and Golden State is in win-now mode like no other team in the lottery. It’s hard to imagine him helping them during the 2021-22 season, but this is clearly a long-term bet.

8. Orlando Magic — Franz Wagner, Grade: A-

The Magic emerge with fantastic value at No. 5 and No. 8. Suggs brings a more dynamic element on the perimeter with two-way ability at the point of attack. Wagner is more of an on-brand choice for Orlando, as he makes his money defensively. There is a lot to like about Wagner’s offense, though, especially as a cutter, ball-mover and decision-maker. His offensive game will likely swing on his aggression and jump-shooting, but Wagner is one of the better team defenders in the draft and he is highly versatile.

9. Sacramento Kings — Davion Mitchell, Grade: D

I promise this isn’t an instance of bashing Davion Mitchell. He is a real prospect that was tremendous in leading Baylor to a national title, and Mitchell should have a long, fruitful career. With that said, I don’t understand this pick. Sacramento’s best player (De’Aaron Fox) and best prospect (Tyrese Haliburton) are both guards, and Mitchell would fall behind each of them. Haliburton does have some size, but it’s hard to see all three playing together with regularity, as Mitchell is point guard-sized and an unproven shooter outside of a breakout junior season. Mitchell can help them defensively, to be sure, but this is a lofty price to pay for the role Mitchell projects to have on this team.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (via New Orleans Pelicans) — Ziaire Williams, Grade: C+

Williams is a fascinating prospect. He endured a brutal season in myriad ways and, if you simply scouted Williams from his time at Stanford, this pick would seem quite aggressive. At the same time, he has the length and shooting potential to return value here. If anything, I’m probably higher on Williams than some, but the knock on this pick would be that players like Moses Moody were still available.

11. Charlotte Hornets — James Bouknight, Grade: B+

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Admittedly, I’m not as high on Bouknight as some, but it is (much) easier to endorse him at No. 11 overall. Charlotte does have a lot of firepower allotted to the backcourt, but Bouknight is a bucket getter of the highest order. Long-term, the thought seems to be that he would fit with LaMelo Ball’s distribution and creativity. The swing for Bouknight could be whether his three-pointer goes in the basket but, considering his stroke, that seems like a reasonable bet and he should return value here. With Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk both restricted free agents, Charlotte gets a touch of scoring insurance in the backcourt.

12. San Antonio Spurs: Josh Primo, Grade: C-

The Spurs stay the Spurs in that no one ever knows what they’re doing. Primo was seen as a second round guy in some circles just a few weeks ago. There’s been some helium for him recently, but it was still a stunner when he went in the lottery. The thinking would be that Primo is clearly quite talented and, if he returned in a larger role at Alabama, it’s possible he could’ve been a consensus lottery pick in 2022. Make no mistake, I firmly believe this is far too high (and Moses Moody was still on the board, making things uglier), but Primo does have upside.

13. Indiana Pacers — Chris Duarte, Grade: B-

In a vacuum, I’m open to Duarte late in the lottery. He’s not for everyone, largely because he’s already 24 years old, but the Oregon standout came to basketball late and he could have some more development coming. The Pacers are perpetually trying to compete, and Duarte can help them do that. I did knock them down by a half-grade because Moses Moody is the superior prospect, and they could’ve taken him.

14. Golden State Warriors — Moses Moody, Grade: A

This is a heist of the highest order. I truly believe that. The Warriors clearly went for the future at No. 7 with Kuminga and, at No. 14, they get a player in Moody that I evaluated in the same tier. Moody’s ultimate ceiling may not be quite as high at the 100th percentile outcome, but he is a safer bet to contribute early and often. He was knocked for an uneven showing in the NCAA Tournament at Arkansas, but he’ll slide in beautifully to a smaller role with the Warriors.

15. Washington Wizards: Corey Kispert, Grade: B

This is totally reasonable, even if unsexy. Kispert is a knockdown shooter and he has enough size and athleticism to eventually hold up at a reasonable level defensively. There isn’t a ton of upside, but Washington was void of shooting for much of last season aside from Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. Kispert should fix that as a prospect capable of playing rotation minutes quickly.

16. Houston Rockets (via OKC Thunder) — Alperen Sengun, Grade: B+

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Sengun is a wildly interesting prospect. Statistical translations absolutely love him, to the point where he was as high as No. 1 (!) on respected boards that prioritize analytics. That’s how good he was at a young age overseas. On the flip side, he is a very limited athlete and defender, prompting all kinds of question marks about his impact on the modern game. The Rockets are betting on the stats telling the story and, if nothing else, he could have a role as a creative, scoring big man that drives second units and brings value with a mid-first round investment. Houston traded two future firsts to get 16 from OKC to select Sengun, illustrating their belief in him.

17. New Orleans Pelicans (via Memphis Grizzlies) — Trey Murphy, Grade: B

The Pelicans are clearly setting up for some win-now maneuvering after their pre-draft trade with the Grizzlies. Murphy aligns with that while also providing New Orleans with shooting and defense they need for the future. The former Virginia forward is limited in terms of upside, but the shooting is very real and the Pels want to surround Zion with spacing and players who don’t need the ball to operate successfully. Value-wise, it’s perfectly fine in this range, and that makes this a solid “B” move.

18. Oklahoma City Thunder — Tre Mann (No. 18 Overall), Grade: B-

This may be a little high for Mann compared to pre-draft expectations. The Thunder don’t have to care about that, though, as they have an impossible number of current and future picks to unload. With Mann, OKC is getting a potential lead creator with an impressive level of craft in the pick-and-roll. He isn’t an elite athlete, but he has more than enough size to offset that at point guard, and Mann should be able to run an offense effectively, even if he doesn’t become a fully entrenched starter.

19. Charlotte Hornets (via New York Knicks) — Kai Jones, Grade: B+

Charlotte was rumored to be interested in Jones at No. 11. Instead, he slips to No. 19 and they pounce in a trade to get him, sending the Knicks a future first to jump back into the first round. Honestly, this makes a lot of sense for a team that doesn’t have a center of the future. Jones is definitely a project at this stage, but his tools are genuinely outstanding. His feel and polish aren’t quite there, but as a bet in the back half of the first round, this is a very good value.

20. Atlanta Hawks — Jalen Johnson, Grade: B+

This is simply a bet on talent. Johnson was a consensus top-10 high school prospect and, despite a weird (and short) journey at Duke, he still brings considerable ability to the table. He has a 7’0 wingspan with defensive potential, sees the floor as a high-level passer and doesn’t need to be thrust into duty quickly in Atlanta. No player selected at No. 20 was going to be a huge part of the Hawks’ rotation as a rookie, and this is a quality value through that lens.

21. L.A. Clippers (via New York Knicks) — Keon Johnson, Grade: B

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The Clippers are in a win-now mindset and Keon Johnson might not be ready to help them this season. However, Johnson is a very nice value at this stage of the draft. He is a nuclear athlete and should be a high-end defender as he uses that athleticism and burst to his advantage. The questions come offensively, particularly with his shooting, but Los Angeles can take it slow with him. He is the kind of talent that isn’t always available at this stage of the draft, and that makes this a positive selection, particularly only costing a second rounder to move up four spots to nab him.

22. Indiana Pacers (via Wizards, via Lakers): Isaiah Jackson, Grade: C+

In general, bigs with Jackson’s skill set are relatively replaceable. Still, this is the point of the draft where it starts to be defensible to take Jackson, and he is an intriguing athlete that could be a starting-caliber center in the future. The Pacers have something of a log-jam in the frontcourt with Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and 2019 first-round pick Goga Bitadze, but they might pivot away from Bitadze and/or execute a trade in the near future. Jackson wouldn’t have been my pick, but it’s generally fine. Trading away Aaron Holiday and No. 31 overall isn’t nothing to get to 22, as Indiana clearly has high hopes for Jackson.

23. Houston Rockets — Usman Garuba, Grade: B

I really like Garuba. It’s also fascinating to put him on a team with Sengun. At any rate, Garuba is a tremendous defensive player, to the point where he might be the second-best defender in the class behind Evan Mobley. That’s how good he is. On the offensive end, it’s more of an adventure, with Garuba having a long way to go to find his footing. At this stage of the draft, the Rockets can take a shot and hope he figures it out.

24. Houston Rockets — Josh Christopher, Grade: C+

The Rockets like their bucket-getters. Jalen Green is on board, Kevin Porter Jr. is in the same mold, and that is Josh Christopher’s calling card. Christopher needs to figure out the rest of his game, including his three-point shooting, but the natural scoring ability is tantalizing. This wouldn’t have been my pick, but the talent level is real.

25. New York Knicks (via L.A. Clippers) — Quentin Grimes, Grade: C

Grimes is a perfectly solid prospect. He doesn’t take much off the table and should be credited for remaking his game at Houston after a weird stint at Kansas. He is a very solid role player in the making but, if New York wanted that archetype, I would’ve preferred Jared Butler. It’s clear, though, that the Knicks weren’t aiming for ceiling here, and that’s okay.

26. Denver Nuggets — Bones Hyland, Grade: B-

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Hyland should be a lot of fun with Nikola Jokic. For starters, he’s a heck of a shooter, with the ability to score at every level and fire with deep range. That is his calling card, but he’s really creative and should be an entertaining scorer overall. Hyland absolutely needs to get bigger, and that will be his challenge defensively and when attacking the rim. If he can do that, he’ll have a long career and this pick will be strong.

27. Brooklyn Nets — Cam Thomas, Grade: C+

This is a fascinating choice. Thomas is a perfectly fine value at No. 27 overall. He may even be under-drafted, depending on who you ask. The landing spot makes it interesting, though, in that the primary value of Thomas is in his scoring. In fact, that’s really his only established trait right now when you factor in his tough shot-making and easy range. The Nets don’t really “need” that aspect given their firepower, so it’s essentially a best player available bet on talent.

28. Philadelphia 76ers — Jaden Springer, Grade: A-

Admittedly, I am higher on Springer than the consensus. Through that lens, this is a fantastic pick for Philadelphia. He does overlap a bit with Tyrese Maxey, who the Sixers nabbed in another value selection last year, but Springer’s defense should fit right in with Philadelphia and he’s an underrated shot creator. It was an odd season at Tennessee, but Springer falling this far is a bit strange, and the Sixers found themselves a strong prospect without having to trade up to do it.
29. Brooklyn Nets (via Phoenix Suns) — Day’Ron Sharpe, Grade: B-

The Nets were rumored to be interested in Sharpe throughout the process, and this isn’t a surprise. He plays very, very hard and is an exceptional rebounder that doesn’t need the ball. That will fit in well with Brooklyn, but there are questions about his touch and lack of overall length and burst. Value-wise, this is totally fine, and it could perhaps signal (even further than already assumed) that the Nets could move on from De’Andre Jordan in favor of Nic Claxton, small-ball options and Sharpe as a developmental piece.

30. Memphis Grizzlies (via Utah Jazz) — Santi Aldama, Grade: C

This one came from well off the radar, but Aldama is not an unreasonable pick at No. 30 overall. He played at a small school (Loyola) but dominated the competition and he has NBA skills. That is particularly true of his shooting as a 6’11 combo big, and if he can weaponize that floor spacing, there is an NBA future here. He needs to get stronger, and that could trigger some more athletic burst, but the skill level is real.