2021 NBA Mock Draft: Way-Too-Soon 1st-Round Predictions

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 22, 2020

2021 NBA Mock Draft: Way-Too-Soon 1st-Round Predictions

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    With the NBA expected to push back the 2020 draft amid the coronavirus pandemic, the current quiet period opens the door to scout more for 2021. 

    Though NBA teams are still focused on the current group of eligible prospects, they've expressed plenty of interest in the following group, which should have more star power and quality options to go No. 1 overall.

    Aside from the current high school players projected to be one-and-done prospects, this mock draft includes NCAA prospects we anticipate returning to college, even if they're currently testing the 2020 draft process. 

    We excluded teams from this mock since it’s far too early to know how the 2020-21 standings will shake out. Prospects are listed by the projected order they could get selected in, regardless of team. 

1. Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Cade Cunningham separates himself from the pack at No. 1 with special passing and basketball IQ for a 6'7", 215-pound point guard. 

    Aside from the triple-doubles his size and skill set are built to rack up, he'll be defined by his ability to make the game easier for teammates. Comparisons to Luka Doncic are coming, particularly based on his ability to control and take over games without needing ultra-athleticism or speed. 

    Building flashes of dribble jumpers and floaters also point to plenty of scoring upside, and though he's not the quickest player, there have been enough promising instances of opposing ball-handlers appearing overwhelmed by Cunningham's defensive strength and length. 

    Improving his three-point shooting will be a priority that could unlock All-Star starter potential in the NBA. 

2. Jalen Green (G League Select, SG, 2002)

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    New experiences lie ahead for both Jalen Green and NBA scouts. The explosive guard will pass on college to play in the G League, where evaluators haven't previously needed to look in order to evaluate top potential draft picks. 

    Regardless of how the level of play or competition looks, Green's talent should still pop. He might not shoot a high percentage, but for an 18-year-old athlete of his caliber, he's made persuasive progress as a shot-creator, shot-maker and playmaker.

    Even if the polish doesn't show, he's still going to generate offense and highlights off transition and drives into coordinated finishes. 

    Enough flashes of dribble jumpers and setup passing should keep Green locked into the top five throughout his entire season in the G League. 

3. Jonathan Kuminga (The Patrick School, SF/PF, 2002)

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    Though still a high school junior, Jonathan Kuminga set the odds of reclassifying at 50-50. Given his obvious talent level and the presumption he'll want to receive his first NBA paycheck a year earlier, it's worth betting on him becoming eligible for the 2021 draft.

    Athletic, 6'8" (at least) and 210 pounds, he's the full package of physical tools and scoring skills for a combo forward. A versatile threat to drive in both directions, separate into jumpers or catch and shoot, Kuminga has continued to show development around the perimeter. 

    And he still possesses the strength and bounce to play through and above contract at the rim. 

    He has the tendency to settle or look bored since the game comes so easy to him. But that's why another year in high school would be a waste for Kuminga, who could probably go No. 1 in this upcoming 2020 draft.

4. Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)

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    After USC loses Onyeka Okongwu to the 2020 lottery, it will re-up with Evan Mobley, another mobile and skilled 7-footer. 

    For a player his size, he's exceptionally fluid, both with the ball and without it. He'll work as an easy-bucket target around the basket, but his ball-handling and touch fuel excitement about his offensive development and upside.

    His defensive potential also remains appealing, between his shot-blocking tools and foot speed away from the hoop. 

    At 205 pounds, Mobley will just need to add muscle since he's still far away from earning a stretch-5 or hybrid-center label.  

5. Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)

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    NBA teams should be drawn to Jalen Suggs' leadership and toughness at point guard, intangibles that make it easy to see why he's also experienced success as a high school quarterback. 

    Arm strength also happens to show on easy full-court passes in transition to teammates streaking down the floor. But Suggs should move up draft boards with a full-package skill set to drive, facilitate and shoot off the dribble or catch.

    And though he might not explode for highlight dunks, he's strong enough to play through and finish after contact. 

    Suggs did have trouble the last time scouts were able to see him live at the U19 World Cup. And he might not shoot a high percentage from three this season. He may actually benefit from Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi (testing the draft process) returning to take pressure off him during his freshman campaign. 

6. Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, PF/C, 2002)

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    NBA scouts should already be familiar with Usman Garuba, an effective role player for Real Madrid in Euroleague and the Spanish ACB as a 17-year-old.

    He just turned 18 in March and figures to make an even greater impact during his first draft-eligible season. 

    Though not a highly skilled scorer, Garuba's value shows on finishes, off-ball activity, passes, defensive reads and energy plays. He doesn't need featured touches or many shots to leave his fingerprints on quarters or games. 

    Garuba already looks like one of the 2021 draft's safest prospects. But occasionally last year, he flashed signs of outside touch (six made threes), and another step forward as a shooter could unlock a whole new level of upside. 

7. BJ Boston (Kentucky, SG/SF, Freshman)

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    A pure scoring guard/wing, BJ Boston should serve as Kentucky's top option with his ability to create and make shots from all over the floor. 

    His 6'7" size and skill level make for a tough combination offensively. Loaded with pull-ups, step-backs and NBA shooting range, Boston is highly advanced with the confidence to carry a lineup and take over games. 

    He should be fully prepared for the spotlight he'll receive at Kentucky after generating rowdy crowds and rockstar attention playing for Sierra Canyon and alongside teammate Bronny James. 

    Shooting a high-enough percentage from the floor should ultimately help Boston hold off concerns about his skinny frame, arms and legs.

8. Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG, Freshman)

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    While opinions vary on Jaden Springer's NBA upside, his fundamentals and two-way impact at Tennessee should earn enough support. 

    He's well-rounded, capable of scoring off drives and jumpers while keeping teammates involved. And though not an explosive leaper, Springer operates with impressive balance and coordination for creating separation and finishing.

    He's competed in a number of different settings over the years—USA Minicamp, SC30 Select Camp, Adidas Nations, NBPA Top 100 Camp, AAU, GEICO Nationals—and he'll play his entire freshman season at 18 years old. Along with his skills and production, Springer's maturity and competitiveness should help win over scouts.

9. Jalen Johnson (Duke, SF/PF Freshman)

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    Jalen Johnson figures to create shots, highlights and draft buzz with his unique mix of 6'8" size, athleticism and playmaking skills. 

    Duke will add incoming point guard Jeremy Roach, but Johnson will get his fair share of opportunities to bring the ball up or handle it in transition. He's an effective live-dribble passer, as well as a slasher who can put pressure on the rim and finish at tough angles around the basket.

    We've seen Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski put bigger wings and forwards (RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson) in ball-screen situations, and he's likely to do the same with Johnson, whose height, IQ, vision and driving ability will be advantageous when turning the corner. 

    His jump shot and outside touch are the weaknesses that raise questions about his scoring and fit off the ball. 

10. Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    A 6'7" forward, Ziaire Williams screams NBA with size and perimeter skills. 

    At his height, he stands out with the ability to handle, create separation and shoot off the dribble out to the arc. While it may be a few years before his scoring attack and execution come together, the flashes of pull-ups and face-up moves look special for an 18-year-old. 

    Williams is lacking in the muscle department and figures to have trouble putting up rebounding numbers or finishing through contact. But teams will be thinking a few years down the road, and at that point, one could wind up with a versatile combo forward it can feature or use to stretch the floor. 

Late Lottery

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    11. Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)

    Arkansas is still waiting to hear if it'll get back Isaiah Joe or Mason Jones. Both leaving would lead to a substantial freshman role for Moody, one of the class' top shot-makers. Though a limited playmaker, the 6'5" 2-guard with three-and-D skill figures to generate interest with his perimeter scoring and fit within an NBA off-ball role. 


    12. Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG, Freshman)

    Johnson plays with an aggressive mix of quickness, bounce and energy to put pressure on opponents at both ends. As a baseline, he's a transition weapon and slasher through defenses with flexible finishing ability. And though still not overly polished, Johnson's shooting and passing skills are on the rise.


    13. Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)

    An explosive leaper, Brown figures to finish among the freshmen leaders in dunks. He'll make his mark by flying in transition, crashing the glass, cutting and bringing defensive energy. But he's too raw and limited to be used on the ball, and his shooting will need time.


    14. Terrence Clarke (Kentucky, SF, Freshman)

    Clarke stands out physically with 6'7" size as a perimeter scorer, but his skill level pops, as well, particularly on jump shots and slashes. He can get in the habit of settling, but he's capable of both creating and hitting the tough shots that opposing wings won't have answers for on his good days.

Nos. 15-20

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    15. Caleb Love (North Carolina, PG, Freshman)

    With strong shoulders and plus athleticism, Love stands out for his physical traits and scoring ability off drives and dribble jumpers. How comfortable and savvy he looks running an offense, making decisions and involving teammates could determine whether teams view him as a lottery point guard or a combo guard worth taking in the Nos. 15-30 range. 


    16. Scottie Barnes (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)

    With Florida State losing Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams to the 2020 draft, Barnes could have a sizable freshman workload to show off his ball-handling and creation skills. Scouts will want to see how much his jump shot has developed, but there is enough potential tied to his face-up game, finishing package and defensive versatility to expect first-round interest regardless of his three-point numbers.


    17. Keyontae Johnson (Florida, SG/SF, Junior)

    Strong and athletic, Johnson made a notable jump skill-wise last season, finishing at 38.0 percent from three with a 62.1 true shooting percentage. Along with terrific tools for defending, rebounding and finishing, Johnson appears on track to develop enough outside touch and scoring ability.


    18. Roko Prkacin (Croatia, PF, 2002)

    Coveted since winning MVP of the 2018 U16 European championship, Prkacin had a strong year for Cibona, standing out for his scoring versatility and IQ. The 6'9" forward shot 18-of-49 from three in the Croatian league, also showing the ability to attack closeouts and finish or pass on the move. He'll look like a fit for NBA teams as long as his perimeter skills continue to improve.


    19. Ibou Dianko Badji (Barcelona II, C, 2002)

    At 7'1" with a 7'8" wingspan and a 9'10" standing reach, Badji is too special physically to overlook despite his game being almost entirely dependent on tools and athleticism. He blocked 20 shots in 92 minutes at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament and registered a 12.7 block percentage in the LEB Silver League. He combined to shoot 42.9 percent from the free-throw line with 10 assists in 29 games, numbers that reflect his skill level. But prospects with his size, length and mobility don't come around very often.


    20. DJ Steward (Duke, SG, Freshman)

    Though undersized for a scoring guard (6'3", 165 lbs), Steward is a versatile shot-maker who'll immediately give opponents buckets by knocking down jumpers off spot-ups, screens and dribbles. Showing enough secondary playmaking should help ease some likely concerns about his measurements and explosiveness. 

Nos. 21-30

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    21. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova, PF, Sophomore)

    Robinson-Earl would likely have generated some interest for this upcoming draft, but he'll have the chance to maximize his stock during a second season at Villanova. Despite lacking athletic ability, he's skilled around the basket with developing outside touch and IQ that pops at both ends of the floor.


    22. Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech, SG, Sophomore)

    With scouts tuned in for Jahmi'us Ramsey, some came away talking about Shannon's athleticism and flashes of one-on-one scoring. As a top option in 2020-21, he'll look to make a jump with his creation for playmaking and three-point shooting.


    23. Romeo Weems (DePaul, SF, Sophomore)

    Weems wasn't consistent enough as a freshman to be taken seriously as a 2020 prospect. However, he's on the radar with standout physical tools (6'7", 210 lbs), athleticism, defensive potential and a capable jumper. A more polished offensive player, both as a creator and shot-maker, should generate 2021 first-round interest.


    24. Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF, Sophomore)

    More shooting consistency should help Wagner draw NBA looks in 2021. The eye test, his previous numbers in Germany and last year's 83.3 free-throw percentage suggest his three-ball should make a jump from 31.1 percent. Otherwise, Wagner, a 6'8" wing who's still 18, has shown he can score in different ways with transition, pick-and-roll ball-handling and cutting skill. 


    25. David Johnson (Louisville, PG, Sophomore)

    Johnson's 19-point, seven-assist game against Duke brought more attention to his positional tools and athleticism. He's a playmaker, but meeting breakout expectations will mean making a big jump as a shooter after he hit just 21.7 percent of his threes and 60.0 percent of his free throws.


    26. Josh Christopher (Arizona State, SG, Freshman)

    Christopher plays an exciting style of offense given his explosiveness and difficult shot-making skills. Likely questions about his shot selection and efficiency suggest it's more reasonable to project a mid-to-late first-rounder rather than a lottery pick.


    27. Scottie Lewis (Florida, SG/SF, Sophomore)

    Lewis' offense looked too far behind to generate first-round interest in 2020. His elite quickness and athleticism still translated to defensive pressure and slashes. Enough improvement to his jumper could revitalize his stock, but he won't have much margin for error, assuming he can only add so much as a creator (23 assists, 30 games).


    28. Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana, C, Sophomore)

    Jackson-Davis played bigger than 6'9" in terms of finishing, rebounding and shot-blocking around the basket. Flashes of slick post moves, dunks off rolls and quick reactions in rim protection opened eyes during his freshman year. He'll need to show more one-on-one polish and shooting touch as a sophomore to move onto 2021 first-round boards.


    29. Wendell Moore Jr. (Duke, SF, Sophomore)

    It's too early to quit on Moore, who won't turn 19 until September. At 6'6", 213 pounds, he still offers plenty to like about his attacking and defensive potential. But he'll have to make significant improvement as a finisher and shooter to resurface as a first-round prospect.


    30. Will Richardson (Oregon, PG/SG, Junior)

    Richardson has overcome strength and athletic limitations with skill and IQ to shoot 47.9 percent from the floor and 46.9 percent from three. A smart passer and defender (2.7 steal percentage), he appears one step away as a scorer from generating NBA draft buzz. He'll have his chance with Payton Pritchard graduating. 


    Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, RealGM.com


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