Final 2021 NBA Mock Draft Before the New Year
Scouts sound pumped about a 2021 NBA draft class that appears on the verge of delivering multiple All-Stars to the league.
And that's with most evaluators still waiting to see the G League Ignite, who started scrimmaging a month ago.
Rebuilding teams may prioritize prospect development over meaningless wins earlier this season. While it's still unclear if depth will be a strength of this draft, there is a lot more optimism about the projected top five picks compared to this past November's.
The mock order is based on FanDuel's updated championship odds
1. New York Knicks: Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG, Freshman)
The No. 1 overall conversation suddenly includes more names than just Cade Cunningham. USC's Evan Mobley and Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs have made significant impressions on NBA scouts, to the point where evaluators seem open-minded about eventually considering them candidates to go first in the draft.
Cunningham still has an edge, looking even tougher as a scorer than advertised while routinely delivering high-level passes running the point at 6'8".
Averaging 19.4 points and 1.4 threes through eight games, he is creating his own offense with drives and dribble moves into jumpers. And though 3.6 assists per game isn't an exciting statistic, Oklahoma State's spot-up shooters are shooting just 29.6 percent off of his pick-and-roll passes, and the eye test detects obvious vision and skill.
The New York Knicks can't go wrong with Suggs, either, but Cunningham's positional size, takeover scoring ability, playmaking and defensive potential create too rare of a package.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)
Scouts were excited about Evan Mobley entering the season, and now they sound even more confident in his trajectory and NBA fit.
They're all talking about his modern skill set that includes transition ball-handling, face-up play, passing and shooting touch. Huge defensive upside, fueled by rim protection and the ability to switch out around the perimeter, has also helped Mobley build an easy top-three case.
USC hasn't played since December 8, but through five games, the 7-footer is averaging 17.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 3.0 blocks with four three-point makes.
The only question scouts have is about Mobley's toughness and passion. He has a relatively calm demeanor on the floor. But a laid-back approach won't negate Mobley's special mix of size, athleticism, inside-out scoring fluidity and defensive versatility.
3. Detroit Pistons: Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)
Scouts are talking about Jalen Suggs in the same breath as Cade Cunningham, the preseason heavy favorite to go No. 1 in 2021.
The hype started building after Suggs' debut against Kansas (24 points, eight assists), and then it reached another level over the weekend, when he went for 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists on 7-of-10 shooting from three versus No. 3 Iowa.
He's blowing scouts away with ball skills for creating, confident shot-making, athletic/physical finishing, passing IQ and intangibles that pop, specifically energy and toughness. Playing with mostly sophomores, juniors and seniors, the freshman Suggs has emerged as a leader and engine that makes the nation's No. 1-ranked team go.
Aside from turnovers and missed foul shots (12-of-20), it's been tough to find a notable flaw through six games, with Suggs averaging 16.3 points, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals on 61.0 percent shooting from two and 50.0 percent from three. His three-point mark is inflated from the hot-shooting Iowa game, and given his free throws, Suggs' jumper figures to cool off soon. But not to the point where it will turn scouts away.
Suggs is starting to look locked into the top five with a real shot to go top two.
4. Charlotte Hornets: Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)
After drafting a passer in LaMelo Ball, the Charlotte Hornets should value Jalen Green's explosive scoring potential.
Most scouts still haven't seen the G League Ignite team, but they expect the NBA will give them their opportunity soon. Still, there is enough available film on Green, whose elite athletic ability, developing handle/creativity and improving shooting point to star-caliber offense.
It's unlikely he answers shot selection and inefficiency questions by draft night, especially as a top option playing against former pros and draft picks. And that leaves his name vulnerable on draft boards with Cunningham, Mobley and Suggs each looking like No. 1 overall talents in settings that NBA teams are more familiar with and comfortable scouting.
But Green won't stray far from the top three, regardless of how much the top NCAA prospects continue to impress.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)
Jonathan Kuminga has been the top scorer for the G League Ignite through two December scrimmages, combining for 47 points.
Continuing to produce like he has (for whatever the remainder of the schedule looks like) should keep the combo forward locked into the top-five discussion, given how easily he pops under the NBA scouting lens at 6'8" and 18 years old.
A mismatch with three-point range, dribble-jumper moves and the ability to drive and finish with contact, Kuminga has three-level scoring potential, as well as encouraging defensive tools for guarding wings and bigs.
Scouts have been asking questions about his approach, professionalism and style of play. Many aren't as familiar with Kuminga, who never played FIBA and missed 2020's Basketball Without Borders. But talent and production alone should be enough for teams once Cunningham, Mobley and Suggs are gone.
6. Sacramento Kings: Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SF, Freshman)
The eye test on Ziaire Williams' perimeter skills is more convincing than the early numbers. Scouts have already bought into his shooting stroke and shot-making versatility, which we've seen on quick-release spot-up jumpers, balanced pull-ups and step-backs created by impressive separation footwork.
And the smoothness to his delivery pops for a 6'8" combo forward.
He's also shown promising passing flashes while handling in ball-screen situations, as well as some fluid finishes in transition.
Williams pads the scouting report with competitiveness and passion for teammates' success.
A lack of explosiveness and strength limit his ability to blow by or finish in crowds. But Williams checks too many other boxes with skills and intangibles likely to translate.
7. Chicago Bulls: Scottie Barnes (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)
Scouts are looking past Scottie Barnes' unconventional fit and limited scoring. There is a lot of excitement about his ability to impact games with his versatility at both ends, IQ and energy.
He won some scouts over against Florida after going for 17 points and highlight dunks that flashed surprising bounce. But the real draw to Barnes stems from his unique passing and defensive upside.
At 6'9", 227 pounds, he leads Florida State in assists (4.2) and steals (1.7), demonstrating the ability to play point-forward and guard ball-handlers, wings and bigs.
Concerns with shooting touch (4-of-15 3PT, 10-of-24 FT) and self-creation in the half court raise questions about his scoring potential. But teams are starting to view Barnes as a surefire, two-way player who won't need volume shots or points to influence games.
8. San Antonio Spurs: Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)
Scouts sound frustrated by the foot injury that's going to sideline Jalen Johnson for an indefinite amount of time. Most liked what they saw through four games, but they were hoping to get a better read on his shooting, an important swing skill for a 6'9", 220-pound forward.
With a powerful frame, athleticism and foot speed, a combination that's translated to a 61.5 two-point percentage, 8.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals (in 23.8 minutes), Johnson possesses a terrific physical foundation to build on. And he separates himself further with open-floor ball-handling and playmaking skills.
He has hit three three-pointers, but based on high school tape and his first 10 free throws (five makes), Johnson's outside touch will need work.
The ability to put pressure on the rim, find teammates and guard different spots is a major selling point. Coming back to show he's more of a scoring threat in the half court will be Johnson's priority.
9. Golden State Warriors (via Wolves): Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SG, Fr.)
It's been a tough start for Brandon Boston Jr., whom we projected top-five before the season. He's just not making shots. They figure to start falling eventually once he regains some rhythm and confidence. When he does, Boston should start to look more like the lottery pick most expected.
With 6'7" size for an NBA 2-guard or wing, Boston shows the ability to handle, create for himself and hit jumpers off the dribble or catch. Despite starting the season ice cold, he's still averaging 14.5 points, a tribute to his natural scoring ability.
It's too early to write off the freshman, given his pro tools, obvious skill and convincing play for years at Sierra Canyon. For a Kentucky team that needs offense, he'll have plenty of opportunities to build back confidence in his shot and catch a wave that leads to bigger, more consistent scoring outputs.
Still, the pressure is now on after the first six games in which Boston shot 37.9 percent with 14 turnovers to eight assists.
10. Orlando Magic: Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)
Moses Moody has delivered so far on the three-and-D projection from Montverde Academy, where he played off projected top picks Cunningham and Barnes.
With 6'6" size, it's easy to picture his shooting (41.7 percent 3PT) and defense carrying over. A spot-up player, Moody has been efficient (51.2 percent FG), converting catch-and-shoot threes, rhythm pull-ups and 12 of 16 finishes around the basket.
He hasn't showcased much creativity, and any he develops over time will be considered a bonus. NBA teams will be valuing Moody's shot-making, wing defense and efficient play.
11. Washington Wizards: Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG, Freshman)
Despite coming off Tennessee's bench, Johnson still looks capable of building a lottery case with his athleticism, energy at both ends, scoring/passing flashes and room to improve. He's posting an outstanding 5.5 steal percentage and 5.9 block percentage while flying past defenses in transition, attacking and moving the ball. Showing more signs of a jump shot, which looks capable, should be enough to earn Johnson top-10 looks.
12. Memphis Grizzlies: James Bouknight (Connecticut, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Scouts are calling Bouknight the real deal after a 40-point explosion Sunday against Creighton. He's delivering the breakout many were looking for, appearing sharper and more decisive with his shot-creation moves and three-level shot-making. He hasn't showcased as much playmaking, but scouts aren't alarmed, given his role as Connecticut's No. 1 option.
13. New Orleans Pelicans: Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)
After a rough start, Brown has gotten comfortable, showcasing more than just the explosive leaping that fueled so much hype out of high school. He's still on the raw side, but he isn't shy about shooting threes (10-of-38), and he uses his quickness to score by attacking closeouts, getting to offensive boards and elevating in the paint before defenses can contest.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Rockets): Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)
One of the youngest prospects in the country (turns 19 in September), Springer oozes maturity and poise. Playing on and off the ball, the 6'4" combo guard is averaging 12.0 points in 19.8 minutes on 60.0 percent shooting, getting to his spots, scoring/elevating with balance, making threes (6-of-7) and moving the ball while defending from a strong stance.
15. Indiana Pacers: Kai Jones (Texas, PF/C, Sophomore)
Jones could build a lottery case with just flashes. He won't need consistent production, with scouts acknowledging they are looking at a project. At 6'11", Jones' athleticism for finishing and shot-blocking, his lateral quickness and potential as a shooter could look highly enticing.
16. Atlanta Hawks: Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)
Averaging 20.8 points on 77.8 percent shooting inside the arc, 45.9 percent from three and 90.0 percent on free throws, Kispert is off to a historic start. NBA teams continue to covet shooters, and Kispert looks like the best in the class at 6'7" and 220 pounds, with the ability to also finish plays and play disciplined defense.
17. Portland Trail Blazers: Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, PF/C, 2002)
Known for defensive instincts, passing IQ and motor, Garuba has now made his last six three-point attempts for Real Madrid. Limited scoring skills could keep him from drawing serious interest from lottery teams, but he'll have plenty of suitors if he can keep making open shots.
18. Phoenix Suns: David Johnson (Louisville, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Johnson's shooting is still a question mark (7-of-21 3PT), but a jumper could go a long way for a 6'5", 210-pound guard with strong two-point scoring abilities, passing skills and defensive tools. Optimism is slowly building around his shot, with Johnson making seven threes through six games after hitting only five total as a freshman.
19. Utah Jazz: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova, PF, Sophomore)
Coming off a 25-point game with seven boards, six assists and two threes against St. Joseph's, Robinson-Earl continues to look like a first-round pick. Though he isn't an exciting athlete, he's gotten quicker facing up and operating around the post, and his shooting touch and passing skills remain easy to buy.
20. Golden State Warriors: Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech, SG, Sophomore)
Improved shooting should propel Shannon into the first round, and he combined to make 6-of-11 threes with at least 20 points in Texas Tech's first two conference games against Kansas and Oklahoma. His athleticism and quickness translate to slashing, mid-range scoring and perimeter defense, but a threatening three-ball unlocks offensive potential that makes Shannon a more legitimate first-round option.
21. Toronto Raptors: Day'Ron Sharpe (North Carolina, C, Freshman)
With both new- and old-school traits for a big, Sharpe has stood out with his inside activity and passing. His role remains limited, but he's caught scouts' attention by averaging 16.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.8 blocks and 2.2 steals per 40 minutes.
22. Philadelphia 76ers: Josh Christopher (Arizona State, SG, Freshman)
Scouts have compared Christopher to Jordan Clarkson for his one-on-one shot-creation, streak scoring and tough shot selection. He's been electric in transition and effective burying contested two-point jumpers, but his long-range shooting (6-of-26 3PT) and playmaking (eight total assists) are worth monitoring.
23. New York Knicks (via Mavericks): Marcus Bagley (Arizona State, SF, Freshman)
A calf injury halted Bagley's hot start, but he's expected back soon to continue building an NBA case around shooting and shot-making versatility for a 6'8" forward. He's limited elsewhere, but his effortless, convincing jumper may be persuasive enough to a team in the 20s.
24. Boston Celtics: Isaiah Jackson (Kentucky, PF/C, Freshman)
Scouts have been talking about Jackson's athleticism and activity around the basket while acknowledging an obvious lack of polish. They'll want to see more offensive skill and defensive discipline as the season progresses, but there is interest in how his bounce and timing have translated to easy buckets, 15.4 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per 40 minutes.
25. Houston Rockets (via Heat): Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois, PG, Junior)
Scouts sound encouraged by Dosunmu's breakout and improved shooting mechanics. And while they're still hesitant to fully buy his scoring and playmaking seamlessly carrying over to the NBA, for a 6'5" guard averaging 22.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 38.3 percent from three, he's been too effective with his change of speed, footwork off the dribble, floaters and shot-making versatility to nitpick at athletic and decision-making concerns.
26. Denver Nuggets: Alperen Sengun (Besiktas, C, 2002)
At 18 years old, Sengun has emerged as the leading scorer of a Turkish BSL squad that features former NBA talent, draft picks and quality European pros. His game doesn't quite check the modern-day center box, but Sengun has been dominant inside 15 feet with his craftiness, footwork and touch.
27. Los Angeles Clippers: Terrence Clarke (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
Clarke's limited playmaking IQ and decision-making (21 turnovers, 13 assists) have been exposed playing out of position as an initiator at Kentucky. But for a 6'7" wing, he could still draw first-round interest in his driving, floater game and shooting potential.
28. Brooklyn Nets: Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky, C, Junior)
Averaging 17.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocks, Bassey has bounced back from last year's leg injury to look spry and active around the basket. Scouts are still hoping for shooting improvement, but he's shown enough offensive skill and potential in rim protection to draw late-first-round looks.
29. Milwaukee Bucks: Cameron Thomas (LSU, SG, Freshman)
Averaging 21.6 points, Thomas has flashed the shot creation and shot-making that helped him become Oak Hill's all-time leading scorer. He isn't a playmaker, but Thomas' ability to generate offense and shoot could look appealing in the late 20s.
30. Los Angeles Lakers: Daishen Nix (G League Ignite, PG, 2002)
The first two Ignite scrimmages told us that Nix's playmaking and floor game are far ahead of his scoring and shooting. There should be interest in his ability to pass in transition, facilitate in the half court and run offense with 6'5" size at the point guard position.