Following what was widely considered to be a lackluster draft class at the top end, rebuilding NBA teams could have a better opportunity to shape their futures in 2021.
The Athletic's Sam Vecenie published his first mock draft for next season Tuesday and wrote how "many around the league and those with public-facing jobs have called this one of the deepest drafts in recent memory."
Vecenie had Oklahoma State freshman guard Cade Cunningham come off the board at No. 1.
Cunningham averaged 13.9 points, 6.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game in 2019-20 at Montverde Academy, which was a prep stop for Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and D'Angelo Russell, among others.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman also listed Cunningham at No. 1 overall in his early 2021 rankings:
"Aside from his rare size and athleticism, Cunningham separates himself with special passing skills and basketball IQ. He might not play point guard full time as a freshman, but in the NBA, he projects as a Luka Doncic-like jumbo playmaker whom an offense runs through.
"Encouraging flashes of creation moves and perimeter shot-making hint at a tough scorer as well, and though scouts may question his lateral quickness, Cunningham still shows the potential to overwhelm defensively with his strength and length."
That assessment sounds far more encouraging than the discourse around Anthony Edwards, the No. 1 selection in the 2020 draft, who went to the Minnesota Timberwolves last week.
Whether Edwards is even passionate about basketball became a talking point after he told ESPN's Alex Scarborough earlier this month that he's "still not really into it." Wasserman also reported in September that "teams are worried about Edwards' drive and enthusiasm for winning."
While the 2021 draft is shaping up to be strong at the top, few teams appear to be tanking for the upcoming season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the only Western Conference franchise actively going backward, and the Houston Rockets could join them, depending on what happens with trade candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
The situation isn't much different in the Eastern Conference, where the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons seem content to focus on the long term. However, the Pistons signed Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, so maybe they're counting on a healthy Blake Griffin to get them into the top eight.
Racing to the bottom doesn't have the same advantages it once did after the NBA flattened the lottery odds in 2019. But the Cavaliers, Knicks and Thunder could be positioning themselves to make out well in next year's draft.