2021 NBA Mock Draft: Could Evan Mobley Challenge Cade Cunningham for No. 1 Pick?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 23, 2021

2021 NBA Mock Draft: Could Evan Mobley Challenge Cade Cunningham for No. 1 Pick?

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    NBA scouts are getting a more complete picture of the 2021 draft field with the G League Ignite now eight games into the G League season. 

    As we inch closer to the All-Star break, the lottery odds for teams at the bottom of the standings are also becoming clearer.

    Otherwise, the big storylines of the past week involve a projected top-10 pick opting out of the season and a breakout lottery prospect returning from injury.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG/SG, Freshman)

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    Mitch Alcala/Associated Press

    D'Angelo Russell is hurt, head coach Ryan Saunders is out, and the Minnesota Timberwolves have the league's worst record three months after making the No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 draft. 

    Another disappointing season and some more lottery luck would help turn things around. The Wolves could add Cade Cunningham, who offers more passing and versatility compared to last November's top pick, Anthony Edwards. 

    With Russell, Edwards and Malik Beasley, the Wolves may want to explore making some roster moves to accommodate Cunningham, who's most effective on the ball. A high-level creator and shot-maker, he ranks in the 95th percentile out of isolation while also shooting 44.6 percent from three.

    Based on the current roster, new head coach Chris Finch could use Cunningham and Russell in the backcourt with either Edwards or Beasley at the 3 (and the other off the bench). Or, he could try using Cunningham as a playmaking 4 alongside Karl-Anthony Towns to fit the team's most dangerous players on the floor.

2. Detroit Pistons: Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    While Cunningham is still the draft's projected top prospect, some scouts also see Evan Mobley as another No. 1 overall talent. And he figures to be high on the Detroit Pistons' wish list. 

    Consistent all season, Mobley has taken his game to another level this month, averaging 21.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 4.3 blocks and 2.0 steals over his last three games. Aside from finishing above the rim, he's producing in ways most 7-footers don't: facing up and attacking closeouts (9-of-13 on spot-up drives), tossing in floaters (10-of-18) and hitting pull-ups (9-of-17).

    Rare scoring versatility and fluidity set him apart from others at the position, but Mobley's defensive impact—protecting the rim and challenging around the perimeter—should help seal the deal for Detroit at No 2.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)

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    Needs shouldn't matter to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who should be chasing star potential. And Jalen Green's continues to look more enticing by the game in the G League bubble, especially after he hit five of six three-pointers Monday afternoon.

    He's now averaging 17.6 points on 50.5 percent shooting, efficiently producing with his elite quickness and explosiveness, as well as budding scoring skills for creation and shot-making. 

    He's also extinguishing pre-bubble concerns with some encouraging glimpses of passing and defensive activity.

    Taking Green just means the Cavaliers may have to think about playing Isaac Okoro more at the 4 or bringing one of their starting guards off the bench. 

4. Washington Wizards: Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)

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    Averaging 16.6 points through eight G League games, Jonathan Kuminga has delivered on the hype, producing with 6'8" size and flashy moves that make it easy to picture an NBA scoring forward. 

    Some scouts have moved him ahead of Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs based on the upside tied to his positional tools and creation, effectiveness around the basket and shot-making out to the arc. One-on-one, he looks like the toughest cover left on the board, versatile enough to play and guard the 3 or 4.

    The Washington Wizards recently drafted Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura, but neither have a ceiling as high as Kuminga's.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Rockets): Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    With multiple first-round picks, the Oklahoma City Thunder will continue to stockpile talent. They should feel confident about their rebuild and future if they're able to pair Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with Jalen Suggs, another interchangeable backcourt piece who adds more downhill speed, plus extra playmaking and defensive pressure. 

    He's been one of the nation's top pick-and-roll ball-handlers (78th percentile) and pull-up shooters (92nd percentile) while rebounding well for his position (5.4 per game) and registering an outstanding 3.9 steal percentage.

    Suggs lacks one elite skill or strength, which may make him tougher for teams to take in the top three. But it's hard to identify any alarming hole or concern in his scouting report.

6. Sacramento Kings: Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG, Freshman)

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    Keon Johnson began the season in the lottery discussion just based on his physical profile (6'5", 186 lbs), athleticism and motor for slashing and defending. But now he's starting to score and pass with flashes of evolving offensive skill, and he's still putting pressure on opponents by attacking and creating havoc.

    Coming off consecutive five-assist games after going for 27 points against Kentucky earlier in February, Johnson is showcasing more vision and shot-making this month.

    Early on, the Sacramento Kings would just want his energy and aggression at both ends. But long-term, there is a high level of upside if he continues to make strides with his handle, jumper and secondary playmaking.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder: Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SF, Freshman)

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    Pete Caster/Associated Press

    The Oklahoma City Thunder and other teams will look past Ziaire Williams' percentages and buy the eye test instead. 

    COVID-19 protocols recently forced him to miss games and disrupted one of his better stretches of the season. At 6'8", Williams has a smooth shooting stroke off the catch and dribble, as well as the ball-handling skills to create separation or play-make. 

    The game tape from his triple-double (plus two steals and two blocks) versus Washington showed it all.

    Between his shot-making, passing and defensive tools, he's an obvious fit for the NBA, assuming he starts hitting jumpers at a better rate. It's a gamble worth taking for a Thunder team using its second lottery pick.

8. Orlando Magic: Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    Committed to Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony, the Orlando Magic could lock in on Moses Moody for his off-ball scoring, shooting and defensive potential. 

    He's consistently produced at Arkansas despite the offense rarely running through him. Out of spot-ups, he's hitting 46.3 percent of his non-dribble jumpers and 46.2 percent of his pull-ups. The Magic would use him to stretch the floor, but he's also flashed glimpses of ball-screen offense, generating 1.38 points per possession (99th percentile) on 16 pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions.

    There is some untapped creation potential with Moody, who's already averaging 16.2 points without receiving many opportunities to put the ball down and make plays. 

9. Atlanta Hawks: James Bouknight (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    After passing on Tyrese Haliburton in November, the Atlanta Hawks could look at guards in the 2021 draft. James Bouknight has emerged as an attractive option who'd take pressure off Trae Young. 

    He's back from an elbow injury and looking similar to how he looked before it when he averaged 20.3 points through his first six games. Bouknight is shifty off the dribble, capable of shaking defenders and scoring with an advanced layup package and tough shot-making from three levels.  

    We haven't seen as much playmaking from the 6'5" combo, but the Hawks would value his extra creation and firepower with Young capable of carrying the load as the team's setup man.

10. Houston Rockets (via Heat): Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Jalen Johnson won't play again for Duke, and that decision has turned some scouts off. But as he falls down the board, one team figures to see a buy-low opportunity in a versatile forward who opted out to protect his worth after he returned from a foot injury.

    At 6'9", 220 pounds, Johnson has a standout physical profile for finishing, rebounding and defending. But it's the ability to handle the ball at his size that sets him apart and creates enticing playmaking-4 potential. 

    Shooting represents a key swing skill that could elevate Johnson's game to a star-caliber level. He's still an appealing prospect in the short term for his two-way versatility and effectiveness around the basket.

Late Lottery

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    11. New Orleans Pelicans: Scottie Barnes (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)

    Ranked No. 29 in defense, the Pelicans should be drawn to Barnes' stopper potential and ability to guard bigs, wings and ball-handlers. His unselfish offense and jumbo-sized playmaking could also be useful even if he doesn't pose a dangerous scoring threat. 

         

    12. Chicago Bulls: Sharife Cooper (Auburn, PG, Freshman)

    Chicago would be an attractive landing spot for Cooper, who could play to his strengths as a setup passer. The Bulls could value Coby White's scoring off the bench and Cooper's playmaking for the starting lineup.

         

    13. New York Knicks (via Dallas Mavericks): Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)

    There may be other prospects with higher perceived ceilings, but the Knicks need shooting badly enough to target Kispert, who's at 45.7 percent from three and 87.7 percent on free throws. Though the senior lacks on-ball creativity and defensive upside, head coach Tom Thibodeau would appreciate his general offensive efficiency and team-defense IQ. 

           

    14. Memphis Grizzlies: Kai Jones (Texas, C, Sophomore)

    Jones' production doesn't scream lottery pick, but the flashes do. And in a Texas lineup with veteran guards and Jericho Sims at center, he doesn't receive consistent touches or freedom. The Grizzlies should see through the pedestrian numbers and roll the dice on Jones' shooting, slashing and defensive movement for a 6'11" big. 

Nos. 15-20

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    15. Charlotte Hornets: Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)

    Patience could pay off with Brown, who has 60 fouls, 42 turnovers and five assists but offers a unique mix of athleticism and shooting potential for a 6'9" forward. Between his finishing and three-ball, he comes off as an enticing fit alongside LaMelo Ball. 

        

    16. New York Knicks: Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)

    Though Springer skeptics question his athleticism and playmaking, his scoring efficiency (49.0 field-goal percentage), shooting (15-of-32 on three-pointers), passing IQ, defense and age (18) should be enough for a mid-first-round team to look past his limited transition offense and assist numbers.

        

    17. Boston Celtics: Davion Mitchell (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)

    Known for his defensive toughness entering the season, Mitchell has morphed into a first-round prospect by making significant leaps as a shooter (49.4 three-point percentage) and playmaker (5.8 assists per game). He's 22 years old, but age should look more worrisome to rebuilding teams, not ones picking this late and trying to contend.

        

    18. Golden State Warriors: Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF, Sophomore)

    As he's a 6'9" forward, a valuable mix of shooting, passing and defensive versatility should help Wagner earn NBA interest even though he's Michigan's third-leading scorer. Turning 20 in August, he's the age of most freshmen, providing NBA-friendly versatility and two-way impact for college basketball's third-ranked team.

         

    19. Toronto Raptors: Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, C, 2002)

    A high defensive floor and ceiling are the selling points for Garuba, who's been effective in EuroLeague at 18 years old and possesses the physical tools, movement, IQ and motor to develop into a defensive difference-maker at the NBA level. The lack of obvious, translatable offensive skills could afford the Raptors a chance to draft him this late. 

        

    20. Indiana Pacers: Jared Butler (Baylor, PG, Junior)

    Butler looks improved as a playmaker, and scouts now sound more confident in his NBA fit to play on and off the ball. He'll serve as a combo for a second unit, splitting time running pick-and-rolls and spot-up shooting. 

Nos. 21-30

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    21. Denver Nuggets: Alperen Sengun (Beskitas, C, 2002)

    The Turkish BSL's leading scorer, Sengun just went for 24 points against Sweden to help Turkey qualify for 2022 FIBA EuroBasket. Despite playing more of an old-school post game, his consistent effectiveness with his footwork and touch against pros (at 18 years old) have become too meaningful to overlook. 

        

    22. Milwaukee Bucks: Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois, PG, Junior)

    Scouts are buying into Dosunmu's improvement, which has launched him straight into the National Player of the Year discussion. Even if it's tough to picture a 6'5" knockdown shooter or high-assist playmaker, his skill set has become well-rounded enough for the NBA in terms of driving and finishing, passing and shot-making versatility.

        

    23. San Antonio Spurs: Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky, C, Junior)

    Bassey's 3.2 blocks and 11.7 boards per game are the main draws, but he's also averaging 18.0 points, showcasing soft touch inside and improving shooting range (11 threes). 

        

    24. Houston Rockets (via Portland Trail Blazers): Josh Christopher (Arizona State, SG, Freshman)

    Christopher's athleticism on drives and shot-creation regularly pop under the NBA scouting lens. It just may take a few years for his shot-making execution to catch up, though his game and mentality point to a future scoring specialist in the mold of Jordan Clarkson.

        

    25. Brooklyn Nets: Isaiah Jackson (Kentucky, C, Freshman)

    After scoring in double digits twice through 18 games, Jackson has now gone for at least 15 points in three straight. Athleticism and shot-blocking are still his main selling points, but showing teams he can convert shots around the key is improving his first-round case.

         

    26. Philadelphia 76ers: Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SF, Freshman)

    Boston had a pair of strong games against Arkansas and Auburn earlier in the month, but they won't be enough to salvage his disappointing season. He's poised to fall to a team willing to buy low and bet on his shooting being better than this year's numbers suggest. 

        

    27. Phoenix Suns: Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers, PG/SG, 2002)

    Giddey's passing has carried over from the NBA Global Academy to the NBL, where the 18-year-old ball-handler is averaging 5.7 assists. His shot hasn't fallen, but a team in the 20s should deem his jumper worth waiting for and gambling on given what it could do for a 6'7" playmaker.

         

    28. Los Angeles Clippers: Cameron Thomas (LSU, SG, Freshman)

    A 40.6 field-goal percentage, 33.3 percent usage rate and 9.2 assist percentage cast a cloud over Thomas' 22.8 points per game. But he's still worth considering in the first round as a scoring specialist with translatable shot-creation moves and shot-making skills.

         

    29. Los Angeles Lakers: Daishen Nix (G League Elite, PG, 2002)

    Nix hasn't come off as an exciting scoring prospect in the G League bubble, but he's averaging 6.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists, using his strong frame in the lane and passing instincts to make plays. Convincing scouts he can be a capable shooter (5-of-20 on three-pointers) will help Nix earn a guaranteed rookie contract on draft night.

         

    30. Utah Jazz: Roko Prkacin (Cibona, PF, 2002)

    A recent 5-of-5 three-point performance in the Croatian League highlighted Prkacin's shooting potential. Given his 6'9" frame and ability to handle in the open floor, slash and compete inside, a consistent jumper could unlock first-round-worthy scoring versatility.

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, Sports-Reference.com