Re-Drafting Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes and the 2021 NBA Draft
Today's media landscape demands instant analysis of the NBA draft, but it takes time to have a clear idea of how every team did.
For the 2021 draft class, we now have a full season from which to draw some takes. If teams knew then what they know, the first round would've gone much differently.
With that extra information in hand, we'll re-draft the first 30 picks from 2021, but the order won't be entirely based on rookie production.
These players are all still in their early to mid-20s, comfortably pre-prime. So, there's a lot of subjectivity in play as well. Sorting through everyone requires a lot of judgment calls.
More general evolutions in the game itself have to considered, too. The idea of positionless basketball (and by extension, the importance of wings) continues to gain steam.
With all of the above tossed into something of an analytical cocktail, this is how the first round should shake out if it were re-drafted today (assuming an order of 30 generic teams, not the original order from 2021).
30. Jalen Johnson (Originally Picked 20th)
Jalen Johnson is clinging to the first round in the re-draft on little more than upside. In theory, he possessed the combination of size (6'9") and jump-shooting ability critical for today's game, which is why he was the 11th-ranked recruit coming out of high school.
He played just 120 minutes and attempted only 13 threes as a rookie, though. An underwhelming 13 games at Duke and a growing injury history are concerning, but there's still potential to be unearthed here.
29. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Originally Picked 32nd)
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl may not have flashed a ton of upside as a 21-year-old rookie, but what he did show was enough to suggest he can be a floor-spacing big off the bench who can shake things up for teams deploying a more traditional 5 with the starters.
Last season, over half his shots came from three, and he connected on 35.2 percent of those attempts.
28. Day'Ron Sharpe (Originally Picked 29th)
Another first-rounder who didn't get to play much as a rookie, Day'Ron Sharpe was quite productive in his limited minutes.
He averaged 6.2 points and 5.0 rebounds in just 12.2 minutes, and the Brooklyn Nets' net rating was significantly better when he was on the floor.
27. Jared Butler (Originally Picked 40th)
Jared Butler spent his rookie campaign with a team that fancied itself as a title contender. That's always a tough spot for a second-rounder.
In five games with the Utah Jazz's G League affiliate, though, he averaged 21.4 points, 6.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in 30.6 minutes.
26. Joshua Primo (Originally Picked 12th)
Another player who's here almost entirely on upside, Joshua Primo shot 37.4 percent from the field as a rookie for the San Antonio Spurs.
Grand takeaways from a teenager's first season generally aren't very telling, though. The on-court reps he got should be helpful in the long run, and it's way too early to give up on his three-point shooting (he hit 38.1 percent of his attempts as a freshman at Alabama).
25. Josh Christopher (Originally Picked 24th)
Josh Christopher showed plenty of upside as a potential scoring wing last season. He dropped 20-plus points five times (including a 30-point outburst).
In the 31 games in which he eclipsed 20 minutes, he averaged 13.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 threes while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from three.
24. Tre Mann (Originally Picked 18th)
Reading too much into a rebuilding team's end-of-season games can be dangerous, but Tre Mann looked like a shifty combo guard in his last 17 appearances with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Over that stretch, he put up 17.0 points, 2.9 assists and 2.5 threes while shooting 37.1 percent from deep.
23. Cam Thomas (Originally Picked 27th)
Cam Thomas entered the NBA as a score-first guard on a team with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. And even with all that star talent around him, score is exactly what he aimed to do.
For someone who struggled to hit shots both in college (where he had a 47.4 effective field-goal percentage) and in the pros (48.0), that's an awful lot of confidence. But his 10 performances of at least 20 points in 2021-22 show that he has the potential to bring a Jordan Clarkson-like scoring punch off the bench.
22. Austin Reaves (Originally Undrafted)
The Los Angeles Lakers were plus-1.1 points per 100 possessions when Austin Reaves was on the floor and minus-6.1 when he was off.
He isn't likely to develop into a star, but that kind of impact can't be ignored. It's the product of a gap-filling game that any team with heavy-usage stars could use.
As a rookie, he gave as much effort as any Laker on defense. He's a decent passer, and it's not difficult to imagine an above-average three-point shot developing.
21. Moses Moody (Originally Picked 14th)
Moses Moody was in a situation similar to Jared Butler's, but he too had an opportunity to show his upside in five G League games.
In those contests, Moody averaged 24.0 points and 2.8 threes in 29.4 minutes.
With his size (6'5") and scoring ability, Moody has a chance to be a rotation wing for years to come.
20. Corey Kispert (Originally Picked 15th)
At 23, Corey Kispert is older than most of the other players profiled here. That could certainly impact his ceiling, but he's already shown a lot of what could make him a plus player for years.
In his last 25 games with the Washington Wizards, Kispert averaged 11.6 points and 2.3 threes while shooting 39.7 percent from three.
The kind of shooting and off-ball movement he showed in that stretch could help any team.
19. Ziaire Williams (Originally Picked 10th)
A top-10 recruit coming out of high school, Ziaire Williams now has two seasons under his belt (one with Stanford and one with the Memphis Grizzlies) in which he struggled to make a significant impact on offense.
He still possesses a lot of upside as a 6'8" switchable defender who showed flashes of point forward ability in college. Add an above-average three-point shot (well within the bounds of reality), and he's a legitimate three-and-D option.
18. Trey Murphy III (Originally Picked 17th)
Like Kispert, 22-year-old Trey Murphy III is a bit older than much of the rest of his class, but he already looks like a bona fide three-and-D combo forward.
Despite playing just 13.9 minutes, Murphy got 3.0 threes up per game, and he hit 38.2 percent of those attempts. That and his willingness to take on various defensive assignments made him an easy call for the re-draft's first round.
17. Jose Alvarado (Originally Undrafted)
Murphy's teammate with the New Orleans Pelicans, Jose Alvarado took the league by storm with one specific signature move: the sneaky backcourt steal.
If he can pull his three-point percentage closer to the 39.0 he posted as a senior at Georgia Tech, he could be one of the best reserve guards in the NBA.
16. Ayo Dosunmu (Originally Picked 38th)
On a team with as much veteran talent as the Chicago Bulls, second-round pick Ayo Dosunmu wasn't expected to play or contribute much. He wound up posting one of this group's more intriguing stat lines.
In 77 games (including 40 starts), the 6'5" Dosunmu put up a well-rounded 8.8 points, 3.3 assists, 0.9 threes and 0.8 steals in 27.4 minutes while shooting 37.6 percent from deep.
15. Isaiah Jackson (Originally Picked 22nd)
Playmaking 5s like Nikola Jokic and, to a lesser extent, Joel Embiid are going to force teams to look for more versatile centers, but there will almost certainly always be a place for rim protectors.
And Isaiah Jackson, who led the NBA in block percentage last season, is that and potentially more.
In addition to his 3.5 blocks per 75 possessions, Jackson also went for 1.7 steals per 75 possessions and even dabbled in three-point shooting (he was 5-of-16 overall). Consistency on that last front could make him a high-end three-and-D option.
14. Quentin Grimes (Originally Picked 25th)
In some ways, this felt like the summer of Quentin Grimes. His name was a staple of the Donovan Mitchell trade rumors, and the fact that he's still a New York Knick feels like a pretty significant bet on his future.
All of that attention for someone who averaged 6.0 points as a rookie may have been surprising to some, but Grimes did show exactly the kind of multi-positional game that's in high demand all over the NBA.
The 6'5" wing played with solid pace and feel and hit 38.1 percent of his three-point attempts. And in the 15 games in which he played at least 20 minutes, he averaged 12.1 points, 3.1 threes, 2.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists while shooting 44.7 percent from deep.
13. Davion Mitchell (Originally Picked 9th)
His overall shooting numbers weren't great (41.8 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three), but Davion Mitchell showed lead-playmaker upside down the stretch in 2021-22.
Over his last 10 games, Mitchell averaged 19.5 points, 10.0 assists and 1.4 threes. And those numbers aren't even his best selling point.
Despite standing just 6'2", Mitchell already looks like a potentially game-changing perimeter defender. He attacks each individual matchup with an intensity that rookies don't typically show, and Dunks & Threes' estimated plus-minus already pegs him as above average on that end.
12. Chris Duarte (Originally Picked 13th)
Chris Duarte is already 25. He may not develop much more than he already has. He might even be done developing.
But we already know he's a 6'6", three-level scorer who can average double figures and create a bit for others.
The 13.1 points, 2.1 assists, 1.7 threes and 1.0 steals in 28.0 minutes he put up as a rookie aren't a given for many guys behind him here. And it feels like there's potential for improvement on his already-solid 36.9 three-point percentage.
11. Jalen Suggs (Originally Picked 5th)
This is a pretty significant slide for a top-five pick after one season, but Jalen Suggs was arguably the worst rookie in the league on the offensive end.
With his size (6'4"), athleticism and feel, there's still a chance he's a long-term starter.
10. Alperen Şengün (Originally Picked 16th)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $46.2 million
Alperen Şengün looks like exactly the kind of versatile, playmaking 5 that Nikola Jokic has inspired teams to watch for.
His upside may be a bit closer to that of Boris Diaw than it is to the two-time reigning MVP, but that should be more than fine for the Houston Rockets.
Among rookies who logged at least 1,000 minutes, Şengün was seventh in box plus/minus with well-rounded averages of 16.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 steals per 75 possessions.
And beyond the numbers, Şengün flashed the post footwork of a 10-year veteran on more than one occasion. He passed with a confidence and flair that few centers across history have shown.
At FIBA's EuroBasket tournament, he's dominating with that varied skill set. And his role in 2022-23, now that Christian Wood is a Dallas Maverick, should look more like what he's doing for Turkey.
9. Herbert Jones (Originally Picked 35th)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $100.1 million
Herbert Jones is already one of the best defensive forwards in the NBA. And despite originally being picked in the second round, he started 69 of 78 games.
It's not hard to see why New Orleans Pelicans coach Willie Green trusted him so much.
Jones ably defended a number of different positions throughout the season. His 7'0" wingspan made him a terror in passing lanes and typically allowed him to recover on the rare possessions in which he was initially beaten.
His wide-ranging contributions on that end helped New Orleans outscore opponents by 1.5 points per 100 possessions when Jones played. The Pelicans were minus-8.1 when he wasn't out there.
If he can get his three-point percentage closer to or above average (he hit 33.7 percent of his attempts as a rookie), Jones could be one of the game's best three-and-D players.
8. Bones Hyland (Originally Picked 26th)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $80.4 million
Bones Hyland spent his rookie campaign on a veteran-laden roster led by a two-time MVP who's among the most electrifying playmakers of all time.
And yet, on more than one occasion, Bones stole the show.
He had 13 games in which he hit at least four threes. And despite playing only 19.0 minutes per game, he was 11th in the NBA in threes made from 28 feet and out (the above-the-break three-point line is 23'9" from the center of the hoop).
It wasn't just the bombs from the outside that captivated crowds, though. Bones has a shifty handle and a knack for knowing when to change speeds.
All told, Bones was third among rookies with 1,000-plus minutes in box plus/minus and averaged 19.6 points, 5.4 assists and 3.7 threes per 75 possessions.
7. Jonathan Kuminga (Originally Picked 7th)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $38.5 million
Advanced stats didn't love Jonathan Kuminga's rookie campaign (hence the lower projection from FiveThirtyEight), but he checks a number of boxes that numbers simply can't.
Kuminga doesn't turn 20 until October. He has the frame of a prototypical, multi-positional wing (6'8" with a 6'11" wingspan). And his top-tier athleticism makes him a viable small-ball 5 option.
Few players in the league go from ground to bucket as quickly and explosively as Kuminga. Some of his finishes are prime Amar'e Stoudemire-esque.
As he begins to incorporate those big-man skills with growing capabilities as a wing, Kuminga has a chance to be one of the game's most dynamic and versatile forwards.
6. Jalen Green (Originally Picked 2nd)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $49.1 million
A slide for Jalen Green from second to sixth has more to do with the players in front of him than it does with the explosive scoring guard himself.
Over the last 25 games of his rookie season, he put up 22.0 points, 3.2 threes and 3.1 assists while shooting 39.3 percent from deep.
With his smooth jump shot alone, he looked every bit the part of a No. 1 option in the mold of some of basketball history's high-end 2-guards.
But that's not all Green brings to the game. He's also shown plenty of upside as a slasher, and his highlight reel of dunks features some absurdly explosive finishes.
Over the course of the next few years, if Green adds a bit more creation for others and consistency on defense, he has a strong chance to make this placement look silly.
5. Josh Giddey (Originally Picked 6th)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $90.3 million
Josh Giddey may never match Jalen Green's rookie scoring average of 17.3 points. His 26.3 three-point percentage has to raise some eyebrows. And he only had four more points than shot attempts last season.
Giddey still gets the slight edge over Green in this exercise thanks to everything else he brings to the equation.
First of all, he's 6'8". That alone is a huge advantage for a playmaker, and it was clear why in 2021-22. With his elevated vantage point and the ability to survey the entire floor on almost any given possession, Giddey found teammates with an effectiveness and consistency that few veterans possess.
Despite being a teenager, he's already showcased an "A+" grade in Basketball Index's Playmaking Talent metric.
4. Franz Wagner (Originally Picked 8th)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $129.0 million
Franz Wagner may not have been great at any one skill as a rookie, but he was solid at just about everything. And that versatility makes him one of the most intriguing members of this class.
Wagner averaged 17.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks per 75 possessions. Among rookies who logged at least 1,000 minutes, only 12 in league history matched or exceeded all five of those marks (including Bones Hyland and one more member of this class coming in a few slides).
That kind of production and ability out of a 6'9" forward is incredibly valuable in today's NBA.
Wagner can score, hit threes, defend multiple positions and even create a bit. Last season, he used 3.9 possessions per game as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and scored at an above-average rate in that play type.
Having a player (or players) who checks that many boxes makes it exponentially easier to put truly positionless lineups on the floor.
3. Evan Mobley (Originally Picked 3rd)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $109.5 million
Evan Mobley looked like the leader for much of one of the most competitive Rookie of the Year races in recent memory.
His Defensive Player of the Year-level upside was often on display. And it didn't just come in the form of blocks and defensive rebounds (though his averages of 1.7 and 6.2 there were solid).
Part of why the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to play Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen together was Mobley's ability to survive against smaller matchups (whether that's where he started or he was there as a result of a switch).
Better passing ability than most rim-runners and rim protectors is another key to Mobley's upside. Being able to operate 4-5 or inverted pick-and-rolls probably isn't too far down the line.
If he becomes a solid jump-shooter (he only made 25.0 percent of his threes last season), Mobley has a chance to be a perennial All-NBA player.
2. Scottie Barnes (Originally Picked 4th)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $207.7 million
Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes led this rookie class in minutes played and wins over replacement player. No one in the group has a projection from FiveThirtyEight that comes anywhere near Barnes' $207.7 million.
There's a very real argument for him to be bumped up to No. 1. And, like several others already analyzed here, his argument is based largely on versatility.
Barnes averaged 16.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.8 blocks per 75 possessions. Only seven players in league history (including Alperen Şengün) matched or exceeded all five marks during their rookie seasons.
And Barnes should have considerably more to give as a playmaker. In college, he was essentially a point guard and averaged 7.1 assists per 75 possessions.
That kind of creation out of a 6'9" forward who can defend all over the floor and score inside will make life considerably easier for all of his teammates.
And if he eventually adds a reliable three-point shot to tie everything together, Barnes will be a superstar.
1. Cade Cunningham (Originally Picked 1st)
FiveThirtyEight's Five-Year Market Value: $131.0 million
Even with the projection system heavily favoring Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham hangs on to the top spot largely because of the responsibility he shouldered in 2021-22.
Cunningham started every game he played at point guard. Among rookies with at least 1,000 minutes, he led in usage percentage and trailed only Josh Giddey in assist percentage.
It should come as little surprise, then, that Cunningham's scoring efficiency was weighed down and didn't quite live up to the gaudy shooting numbers he produced in college.
Still, over his last 20 games of the season, Cunningham averaged 21.1 points, 6.5 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 threes. His three-point percentage over that stretch (27.5) was still way below average, but it became clear that Cunningham has All-NBA upside.
Despite the dominance of bigs like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, positionless basketball is still coming. And wing-sized playmakers like the 6'6" Cunningham are integral to unlocking it.
Recruiting rankings courtesy of RSCI.