2021 First Round
1. Detroit – Cade Cunningham
Detroit would be making a monumental mistake choosing anyone but Cunningham here. This is about as straightforward of a pick as it gets. Cunningham is a 6-foot-8 playmaker who can create for others in a Doncic-like way. Detroit needs playmakers, and securing the first overall pick is a big step towards any type of future relevancy.
2. Houston – Evan Mobley
Mobley projects as an elite shot-blocker, with great switchability and an impressive offensive skill set for someone that is incredibly long. Meanwhile, Houston is in rebuild mode after sending James Harden off to Brooklyn and ruining a Caris Levert trade. Houston does have a few positives going on right now with its franchise, though, with the emergence of Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood. In addition, the Rockets also have veterans Eric Gordon and John Wall. In terms of fit, Mobley would pair exceptionally well with Wood in the frontcourt.
3. Cleveland – Jalen Green
For Cleveland, this is a no-brainer. There have already been talks about moving Collin Sexton on, or ahead of, draft night. Green is an elite athlete with superb vertical bounce. His game is much more advanced than his age, and Green proved his limitless ceiling with an eyebrow-raising G-League season, which saw him averaging almost 18 points per game. Jalen can co-exist with Darius Garland in the backcourt, and it will be exciting to see him improve exponentially in the next few years.
4. Toronto – Jalen Suggs
Toronto is staring down the impending departure of Kyle Lowry, and who better to fill that void immediately than Jalen Suggs. Suggs has a level of maturity and IQ that is unparalleled at his age. In his freshman season at Gonzaga, he proved that he’s a top four or five pick in this draft with no questions asked.
5. Orlando – Jonathan Kuminga
Sometimes, a close fit is less important than the best available player, and that’s what we see here. Kuminga is an absolute freak, and Orlando has to be so excited to snag him at number five. There’s just no way to pass him up in this position, as the drop-off after Kuminga is significant.
6. Oklahoma City – Scottie Barnes
Oklahoma City recently made a significant move, trading Al Horford over to the Celtics and getting Kemba Walker in return. Walker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander make an interesting back-court. Lu Dort is an elite defender and will hopefully be a valuable piece to OKC moving forward. Adding Scottie Barnes to this group of players is nothing to scoff at, and not to mention the plethora of draft picks that GM Sam Presti has lined up.
7. Golden State (from Minnesota) – Davion Mitchell
Mitchell’s speed is lethal. He’s by far the fastest and quickest player in this draft. This feels like a match made in Heaven for both parties, and I can’t wait to see Klay and Steph spotting up in transition while Mitchell sprints down the court, with the ball, at Olympic speed.
8. Orlando (from Chicago) – Franz Wagner
Wagner goes off the board quite a bit early, in my opinion, here to a team that desperately needs some wings/front-court players. Orlando already has Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Markelle Fultz, Terrence Ross, and Gary Harris in its backcourt, so I just don’t see them going for a guard here, and there aren’t any other big men that justify a Top-10 pick. Orlando will likely see Wagner as a solid wing complement to Jonathan Isaac.
9. Sacramento – Keon Johnson
Sacramento needs defense in the worst way. It finished dead last in team defensive efficiency last year, and any perimeter help on that end is greatly needed. In short, Johnson would make a massive addition to a backcourt that already features De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, and Buddy Hield.
10. New Orleans – Moses Moody
The 2021-22 Pelicans team could look quite a bit different. Lonzo Ball may be gone. Steven Adams may be gone. Stan Van Gundy is gone. Zion Williamson’s family wants to be gone. However, that certainly won’t happen. Regardless, the Pelicans will need some more talent to surround Brandon Ingram and Zion. Arguably, the most talented player with the highest ceiling left on the board is Moses Moody.
11. Charlotte – Isaiah Jackson
Charlotte already has its point guard of the future in LaMelo Ball and some depth at the guard position with Devante Graham and Terry Rozier. The Hornets also have Gordon Hayward, who had a solid year for them, budding star Miles Bridges, and muscular power forward P.J. Washington. That leaves Charlotte with an apparent void in only one position: center. Charlotte has scorers and playmakers already, but it doesn’t have anyone that has long-term potential at the five. Jackson’s freakish athleticism will mesh well with LaMelo Ball, especially also being alongside ladder-climbing Miles Bridges. This team could get very interesting in a hurry.
12. San Antonio – Alperen Sengun
It’s no surprise that the Spurs love drafting and coaching up foreign players. Coach Pop loves fundamentals. Sengun provides a potential low-post anchor for many years to come. He still needs to be developed to play in the NBA, but at 18 years old, he has incredible balance, post patience, and footwork at 6-foot-10. This is a prototypical Spurs pick here.
13. Indiana – Josh Giddey
The Pacers have Doug McDermott already, so despite their instinct to draft Kispert, I can see them picking Giddey. Giddey’s IQ is exceptionally high, and he isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of player. He can be used off the ball or in a primary ball-handling role in the P&R. Essentially, Indiana will find a way to get him on the floor. Many changes will happen with the Pacers, and Giddey could be a skillful NBA player to build within their roster.
14. Golden State – Corey Kispert
Golden State got its athleticism and speed with Davion Mitchell at the number seven slot, and now it may go for yet another shooter. The Warriors may just shoot the NBA into oblivion. The impending return of Klay Thompson stares down the rest of the NBA, and with it also comes Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and James Wiseman with plenty of rest and fully healthy. Adding Davion Mitchell to get Curry off the ball and adding Corey Kispert, a lethal shooter, would prove the Warriors still have a “win-now” mentality. This could find the Warriors right back in the Western Conference mix.
15. Washington – Jalen Johnson
Washington would be a good fit for Jalen Johnson. At pick fifteen, the Wizards know it won’t get much better than this. Despite any questions of Johnson quitting on his team at Duke or whatever narrative people want to make, this opportunity is too good to pass up. The Wizards have Westbrook, Beal, Deni Avdija, Thomas Bryant, and Rui Hachimura. Adding another extremely talented frontcourt player in Johnson will put them one step closer to relevance. Westbrook has still proved to be extraordinarily effective, and Beal is a bonafide star. If the Wizards can find a way to keep Beal happy, this team will be interesting.
16. Oklahoma City (from Boston) – Kai Jones
The addition of Kemba Walker means that OKC won’t be looking for a guard in this spot. The Thunder gave up Horford and Moses Brown, so they need a frontcourt player as much as any team I have ever seen. Kai Jones will be the pick if Johnson, Jackson, and Sengun are already off the board.
17. Memphis – James Bouknight
Bouknight is a value pick here. The Grizzlies could use more consistent perimeter shooting and bench scoring. Some mock drafts like Jaden Springer, Kai Jones, or Chris Duarte going here, while other mocks have players that simply won’t be left on the board by the 17th pick. I think Memphis understands that it still lacks immense scoring talent in the backcourt next to Ja Morant. That’s where Bouknight will fit in.
18. Oklahoma City (from Miami) – Jaden Springer
Springer is one of the younger players in the NBA draft and his freshman season at Tennessee was impressive enough to make scouts consider him a first-round talent. OKC doesn’t necessarily need another guard, and I could see the Thunder going with another big man here, but getting a young point guard who can learn from Kemba wouldn’t hurt.
19. New York – Usman Garuba
Previously, I stated, begrudgingly, that Garuba and the Knicks wouldn’t be a good fit because of how many frontcourt players the Knicks have. I retract that statement. Garuba will find a way to see the floor. His defensive IQ and motor will find their way right into Coach Thibodeau’s heart and will thus fit right in. Besides, New York has another first-rounder that can get it some perimeter help.
20. Atlanta – Chris Duarte
Regardless of what ends up happening with Atlanta’s season, the Hawks have proven they are in “win now” mode with only a few other select teams. Atlanta could use another lengthy wing player to shoot at a high level, and Duarte is one of the best in the whole draft at doing just that.
21. New York (from Dallas) – Miles McBride
New York may take a leap of faith and pick McBride a bit earlier than most expect. Despite New York’s relatively poor playoff performance, the Knicks proved they are the real deal. Coach Tom Thibodeau has established an identity and culture in New York very quickly, and McBride fits that to a tee. He plays in-your-face defense and has scoring potential at the next level, which New York desperately needs. I can’t “un-think” this fit; it just works.
22. Los Angeles Lakers – Cameron Thomas
Injuries plagued the Lakers’ season this year as they took a very early playoff exit, thanks to the Phoenix Suns. LeBron needs perimeter help badly. Dennis Schroder was bound to be long gone well before he started asking for over $100 million. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope lacks the consistency required to be a permanent fix. Kuzma will likely be traded, but his value won’t be significant enough to get a substantial impact player in return. Talen Horton-Tucker is still incredibly young but needs to continue developing. Alex Caruso is rock solid but doesn’t provide enough scoring help on the perimeter. Cameron Thomas is a “professional scorer” that can give the Lakers some immediate relief.
23. Houston (from Portland) – Ziaire Williams
Despite the Levert for Oladipo trade that was head-scratching, to say the least, considering Oladipo has stated several times he wanted to go to Miami, Houston has handled its difficult situation with Harden reasonably well. The Rockets now have Christian Wood, who exploded this year, John Wall, Eric Gordon, and Kevin Porter Jr., who just oozes potential at 21 years old. With three first-round picks, including the number two overall pick, Houston can quickly climb back up the Western Conference ladder. Ziaire Williams is a substantial selection here because of his long-term potential. Houston has solid guards already, and there aren’t any big men left on the board to match Williams’ ceiling.
24. Houston (from Milwaukee) – Tre Mann
Combo guard Tre Mann will be a steal here for Houston, and the Rockets will go home feeling pretty well about this draft. Mann gives the Rockets another prospect that could turn into an excellent NBA product. Mann can shoot off-the-dribble in isolations at a high level, including Harden-Esque effectiveness on step-backs. Mann will be a solid addition to a young core.
25. LA Clippers – Ayo Dosunmu
Ayo Dosunmu might be the biggest sleeper in the draft. Dosunmu is a 6-foot-5 guard out of Illinois that led the Fighting Illini to one of their most successful seasons before getting upset by Loyola Chicago in the NCAA tournament. The Clippers have PG and Kawhi Leonard already on the perimeter but could use some more primary ball-handling guards. Dosunmu has too much potential for the Clippers to pass up here.
26. Denver – Aaron Henry
Denver is set at point guard with Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, and Facundo Campazzo. In its frontcourt, it has the MVP Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon. The Nuggets’ wing players include Will Barton and Michael Porter Jr. Honestly, the Nuggets could use a solid shooting guard/small forward that can come in and play defense at a high level. Cue the “Aaron Henry to Denver” conversation. Henry can guard multiple positions very well, giving him immediate floor time for a “win now” team that could use the defense.
27. Brooklyn – Jared Butler
Brooklyn will probably go with Jared Butler at number 27 here. Butler is a proven winner with a high IQ, and he can back up Kyrie Irving next year on a team that has an incredibly high likelihood to win the championship if everyone remains healthy. Butler shoots at a high clip and can facilitate well. He would be a perfect addition to an already elite team.
28. Philadelphia – Roko Prkačin
Roko is a pick for the future. Philadelphia could afford to take a late-round flier on a 6-foot-9, mobile forward in the hopes that he hits his high ceiling. Roko will not play immediately; rather, the Sixers will wait for him to develop a bit more.
29. Phoenix – Greg Brown
Greg Brown going to Phoenix makes all kinds of sense. Deandre Ayton needs a long-term backup, and Greg Brown provides a level of energy and athleticism that could help Ayton. This is certainly a roll of the dice, but at pick number 29, Phoenix can’t do much better than this. The Suns need frontcourt depth badly.
30. Utah – J.T. Thor
Utah had one weakness this year, and it had to match up against one of the only offenses that could expose it. The Jazz needed someone to come in for Rudy Gobert against the small-ball lineup that the Clippers were putting out. Unfortunately, the Jazz did not have that this year, but Thor provides a tall and lengthy athletic defender who can better guard the perimeter in unique cases where Gobert will need to be benched.