NBA Mock Draft: Finding Perfect Fits for Top 2021 Prospects
Narratives are starting to shift for certain NBA prospects as they get more games in before the 2021 draft.
Some have begun to answer early question marks. Consistency is helping certain players strengthen their credibility. Meanwhile, a larger sample size of poor execution has resulted in one prospect falling from the top five into the back end of the first round.
Surprising starts for NBA teams have also shaken up the projected draft order, relative to preseason predictions.
The order is based on the standings heading into Wednesday, January 13.
1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG/SG, Freshman)
The Detroit Pistons were active this offseason, adding three first-round rookies and a new No. 1 scorer in Jerami Grant. But Cade Cunningham would really help jump-start Detroit's rebuild and change the franchise's trajectory.
The Pistons can't pass up the draft's top prospect, no matter how they feel about Killian Hayes, who'll miss over a month because of a hip injury. With special passing and basketball IQ, Cunningham could work as a lead guard and decision-maker. But the 6'8", 220-pounder can also operate as a go-to scorer from any position 1-4, as he's demonstrated while averaging 18.0 points and 1.6 threes for Oklahoma State.
While Hayes projects as a dangerous pick-and-roll weapon, Cunningham is the superior creator and shot-maker. The Pistons should be drawn to the idea of operating with multiple playmakers on the floor at once.
2. Toronto Raptors: Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)
Are the Toronto Raptors just off to a cold start, or is their early record a sign that they need to retool? They've lost eight of their first 10 games, and while they figure to bounce back eventually, this could be a big year for their scouting department.
Although scouts still haven't seen much of the G League Ignite, Evan Mobley has begun to separate himself at No. 2 behind Cunningham. He's building a strong case around his defensive upside and offensive versatility suited for today's NBA.
An obvious fit for Toronto's center position, Mobley would give the Raptors a rim protector who can switch and guard away from the basket, as well as a grab-and-go threat in transition, half-court scoring option and developing shooter (6-of-15 3PT).
3. Washington Wizards: Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2000)
The Washington Wizards will have a tough call to make if they doesn't improve with Russell Westbrook and a point guard like Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs is available.
They could also have trouble resisting the upside of Jonathan Kuminga, a more dangerous scorer than recent Wizards lottery picks Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura.
Assuming Kuminga's role in next month's G League bubble remains the same from the Ignite's two scrimmages, he should have a good opportunity to produce in volume against former draft picks and fringe pros.
At 6'8" and 220 pounds, his body will immediately stand out for an 18-year-old. But Kuminga's skill set to create and shot-make from three levels and his physical tools could help him build a top-three case.
4. Golden State Warriors (via Timberwolves): Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)
Jalen Suggs has been quieter lately, but he already won scouts over during the first month of the season. And though his production has been down since his 27-point game against Iowa, he continues to play with poise and efficiency while consistently causing problems on defense.
A large sample size of games will likely expose shooting question marks, but Suggs adds too much value with his downhill attacking and two-point scoring, passing skills, defensive activity and winning intangibles to fall in the draft. A consistent jump shot would help elevate Suggs into potential superstar territory.
The Golden State Warriors get the Minnesota Timberwolves' pick if it lands outside the top three. After passing on LaMelo Ball in November's draft, they could use another ball-handler to take pressure off Stephen Curry.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder: (via Rockets): Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)
Loaded with current and future draft picks, the Oklahoma City Thunder could use the Houston Rockets' top-four-protected pick on Jalen Green.
The 6'5" 2-guard's ball skills and shooting are catching up to the explosiveness and quickness that have always separated him. His athleticism should consistently draw attention next month in the G League bubble. But he'll approach the 20-point mark game after game thanks to his improved ball-handling for creation and tough shot-making out to the arc.
Questions about inefficiency, playmaking and defense could cause Green to fall behind Cunningham, Mobley, Kuminga and Suggs, but he won't drop much further. His scoring upside is as high as anyone's in the draft.
6. Chicago Bulls: Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SF/PF, Freshman)
Scouts didn't panic after Ziaire Williams' cold start, and we saw why as he put up a triple-double against Washington last Thursday.
At 6'8", he possesses the skill set of a wing with ball-handling, creation and a shooting stroke that looks more convincing than the early numbers suggest. He's been used to run 43 pick-and-rolls and stretch the floor in 42 spot-up possessions, a split that highlights his on/off-ball versatility.
More than anything else, Williams' ability to separate off the dribble into balanced jumpers helps raise his ceiling as a scorer. His defensive tools and passion also point to a future two-way player.
Struggles with contact and exploding to the rim just may make it tough for Williams to crack the top five.
7. Memphis Grizzlies: Scottie Barnes (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)
Scottie Barnes' two-way versatility is unique and intriguing enough for scouts to feel OK looking past his scoring and shooting questions.
At 6'9" and 227 pounds, he leads Florida State in assists (4.3 per game), playmaking against bigs with his ball-handling, passing skills and IQ. He's also defending wings and guards with convincing effectiveness.
It's worth questioning whether Barnes projects as more of a non-star role player, given his lack of self creation and touch (42.3 percent FT). But he's also the type of player who's capable of making a star-caliber impact without needing shots, much like Draymond Green.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)
A foot injury cost Jalen Johnson the last month, but he made a four-minute cameo Tuesday against Virginia Tech, and it looks like teams will have more opportunities to scout him.
Scouts mention Johnson whenever talking about the draft's top prospects. His 6'9", 220-pound frame and face-up offense have been a draw for years, as Johnson is able to use his strength, athleticism and quickness for inside scoring, rebounding and defense, and his handles to attack or play-make.
Scouts still want answers about his shooting touch, which could greatly affect his scoring ability since he isn't an advanced post or isolation player.
9. New Orleans Pelicans: Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)
Moses Moody is building the three-and-D profile that always hints at a high NBA floor, especially given his 6'6", 205-pound frame.
But along with the 40.0 percent shooting from deep, he's also averaging 16.78 points, finding ways to score from off the ball by cutting and crashing the offensive glass. He's coming off a 25-point game against Georgia in which he converted 7-of-9 attempts inside the arc.
Lottery teams continue to show interest in shooters who can defend like Mikal Bridges, De'Andre Hunter and Devin Vassell. Moody, who's flashed more offensive upside as a freshman than those three did, figures to be the next one in line for the 2021 draft.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Heat): Kai Jones (Texas, C, Sophomore)
A prospect doesn't always need to have stuffed the stat sheet in college if teams buy his trajectory. And in Kai Jones' case, the flashes of special athleticism and three-pointers for a 6'11" big could point to an enticing stretch-5, explosive finisher and defensive playmaker.
The improvement he made since last year only helps convince teams he's capable of getting better.
Playing to his strengths in a simplified role, Jones has been efficient (62.7 percent FG), earning himself easy baskets by running the floor (94th percentile in transition) and capitalizing as shooter and line-driver spotting up (99th percentile on spot-ups).
He's still raw, and Texas' lineup is both stacked and crowded up front, so the inconsistent scoring should be expected. For scouts, the highlight plays—above the rim and behind the arc—should outweigh the limited production and some quiet performances.
11. Sacramento Kings: Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG, Freshman)
Teams will see past Johnson's 8.5 points per game. Though he's unrefined offensively, he'll build a lottery case with flashes that paint the picture of a relentless slashing wing and defensive menace who has some passing and scoring skills to unlock down the road.
12. New York Knicks: James Bouknight (Connecticut, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Averaging 20.3 points, Bouknight has added to his offensive repertoire with advanced creation moves and pro shot-making. He's already put together a handful of athletic highlights as well on tough finishes and dunks from high above the rim. Bouknight hasn't shown much playmaking, though scouts don't seem concerned given his role and potential projection as a three-level scorer.
13. Denver Nuggets: Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF, Sophomore)
At 6'9", Wagner's mix of offensive versatility and defensive IQ/playmaking is looking more attractive by the week. Over Michigan's last five games, he's averaging 16.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 41.7 percent from three. Playing the entire season at 19 years old, Wagner is closer in age to freshmen. Teams will be buying his shot and shooting trajectory by draft night.
14. Houston Rockets (via Thunder): Sharife Cooper (Auburn, PG, Freshman)
Finally ruled eligible, Cooper debuted with 26 points and nine assists against Alabama on Saturday, showcasing his value as a shot-creator and playmaker. Auburn teammates were looking at open shots all day thanks to Cooper's ability to break down the defense and find shooters and lob targets off the dribble. His shooting and decision-making looked shaky, but they can improve. There isn't any teaching Cooper's knack for consistently creating high-percentage looks, either for himself or others.
15. Brooklyn Nets: Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)
Brown's mix of 6'9" size, bounce, shooting skill and defensive tools seem to pop every game. So does his lack of feel, which shows on rushed jumpers and a stat line that features 26 turnovers to one assist. But his future NBA team won't put him in positions to make decisions. Instead, it'll try to maximize the potential tied to his quick first step for slashing, three-point range and defensive playmaking.
16. Atlanta Hawks: Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)
There won't be much debate about the draft's top shooter. Kispert is hitting 2.9 threes per game on 47.9 percent, but at 6'7" and 220 pounds, he's also making 72.5 percent of his twos, using his body, footwork and feel to score with spectacular efficiency inside the arc.
17. Orlando Magic: Cameron Thomas (LSU, SG, Freshman)
Averaging 22.3 points, Thomas leads all freshmen in scoring with his advanced creation moves and confident shot-making. He's a non-playmaking threat who relies on hitting low-percentage shots, but NBA teams should still see an instant-offense threat for their rotation.
18. Golden State Warriors: Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SG/SF, Freshman)
Support for Boston is fading after another dud in a Tuesday night loss to Alabama. He still has time to salvage the season, while his 6'7" size, smooth slashing ability and shooting range should buy him time with scouts. His trouble creating easy looks for himself is the most worrisome development. However, continuing to slot Boston in the first round means believing his jumper is sharper than the brutal 16.7 three-point percentage suggests, a number that should rise once his confidence returns.
19. San Antonio Spurs: Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)
Scouts sound divided on Springer, who's been productive and sharp for Tennessee but lacks convincing creation ability under the NBA scouting lens. Regardless, he should have a first-round case based on his tools (6'4"), age (18) and effectiveness (10.0 points on 54.5 percent shooting in 20.0 minutes) capitalizing on what the defense gives up with his shooting (8-of-13 3PT) and driving (9-of-14 at rim). He's also grading in the 97th percentile as a pick-and-roll passer.
20. Charlotte Hornets: Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, C, 2002)
Despite limited scoring production, Garuba's defensive IQ, passing and unique Euroleague experience (since 17 years old) should draw first-round interest. Over the past month, his jump shot has also started to come alive, which could dramatically improve his NBA value if it holds.
21. New York Knicks (via Mavericks): David Johnson (Louisville, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Last year, the radar picked up Johnson's positional tools and skill versatility. Now shooting 45.7 percent from three and 78.6 percent on free throws, he's improved his touch as well as his self-creation for scoring. Showing more as a playmaker should help Johnson convince teams he possesses lead-guard potential.
22. Houston Rockets (via Trail Blazers): Roko Prkacin (Cibona, PF, 2002)
MVP of the U16 European Championships in 2018, Prkacin is now putting up numbers in the Croatian and Adriatic Leagues as an 18-year-old pro, producing with offensive versatility NBA teams should covet in power forwards. At 6'9", he possesses an appealing dribble-shoot-pass skill package.
23. Phoenix Suns: Alperen Sengun (Besiktas, C, 2002)
At only 18 years old, Sengun has emerged as the leading scorer in the Turkish BSL, a league that boasts established international pros and former NBA draft picks/NCAA stars. He's more of an old-school, inside big man, but Sengun appears too skilled and productive to ignore, with 6'9" size, quick feet, sharp footwork, impressive touch and obvious instincts.
24. Indiana Pacers: Jared Butler (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)
Shooting 43.1 percent from three while averaging 5.4 assists and 2.4 steals, Butler is answering questions scouts had last year. An improved jumper, playmaking and defense are making it easier to look past his lack of explosiveness and defined guard role/position for the next level.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Day'Ron Sharpe (North Carolina, C, Freshman)
Sharpe might not offer enough scoring, shooting or versatility to generate interest from lottery teams. But teams in the Nos. 15-30 range should feel they can count on his physical presence translating to finishes, rebounds and blocks, while standout passing IQ helps set him apart from other replaceable inside specialists.
26. Milwaukee Bucks: Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky, C, Junior)
Scouts watching Western Kentucky's back-to-back with Louisiana Tech on Friday and Saturday had to come away impressed by Bassey. Along with a combined 30 rebounds and seven blocks—typical stats for the 6'11", 235-pound center—Bassey also hit three three-pointers, a shot that represents the key to his stock and long-term upside.
27. Utah Jazz: Marcus Bagley (Arizona State, SF/PF, Freshman)
After missing a month because of a leg injury, Bagley returned to continue showcasing his enticing shooting stroke for a 6'8" forward. He's totaled six assists in six games and offers limited creativity, but teams should be able to envision a stretch-4 who can slash, rebound and defend his position.
28. Philadelphia 76ers: Josh Christopher (Arizona State, SG, Freshman)
Scouts have compared Christopher's one-on-one scoring ability to Jordan Clarkson's. The freshman has struggled when forced to generate offense off the ball (20th percentile on spot-ups), but at 6'5" with strong, athletic legs, his advanced creation and shot-making skills should carry over to the NBA. He'll just need a few years of improving his shot selection and three-ball to reach an efficient enough level.
29. Boston Celtics: Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech, SG, Sophomore)
At 6'6" and 210 pounds with an explosive step and defensive quickness, Shannon could afford to be a slowly developing creator and shooter. He's making strides, with nine threes over his last six games and six assists against Iowa State on Saturday.
30. Los Angeles Lakers: Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois, PG/SG, Junior)
Dosunmu has fallen back to earth in 2021, but he's still averaging 22.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists, generating offense in different ways with his slashing, pull-up game and pick-and-roll passing. Scouts question his athleticism, shot mechanics and whether his playmaking is good enough for him to work as a lead guard.