2021 NBA Mock Draft: Can Jalen Suggs Prove He's a Top-5 Pick in NCAA Tourney?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 11, 2021

2021 NBA Mock Draft: Can Jalen Suggs Prove He's a Top-5 Pick in NCAA Tourney?

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    The 2021 NBA draft picture is clearing up with the G League Ignite done and college basketball's regular season complete. 

    However, scouts still remain split on many of the top prospects. And it's starting to seem like the lottery order and team fits will play a key role in how the draft shakes out, starting at No. 2 overall. 

    Scouts now prepare for conference tournaments and March Madness, which history tells us represent key opportunities for prospects to move the needle.

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

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    With the NBA's worst record, the Minnesota Timberwolves must continue to draft for talent over needs. They'll take Cade Cunningham, the consensus top prospect, and worry about his fit and the team's roster construction later. 

    And that may mean having to explore moving core pieces to accommodate and build with the 6'8" ball-handler. 

    Aside from the impressive numbers—19.7 points, 3.5 assists, 42.5 percent from three—Cunningham has Oklahoma State winning games. They'll wrap up Big 12 conference play with victories over Texas Tech, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. 

    Ranking in the 91st percentile out of isolation, Cunningham has been cooking defenders with advanced shot-creation and shot-making. And he's shooting 42.4 percent off the catch, a number that highlights his potential versatility to score on and off the ball. 

    For Minnesota, drafting him raises the question about whether to shop D'Angelo Russell. But Cunningham should appear interchangeable enough to be used at any position 1 through 4.

2. Detroit Pistons: Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)

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    Once Cade Cunningham is off the board, needs and fit could come into play with no consensus top prospect between Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Suggs. 

    And given the Detroit Pistons' backcourt situation, which has them starting Wayne Ellington and banking heavily on Killian Hayes' development, a scorer like Green could be too difficult to pass on. 

    He leaves the G League bubble averaging 18.7 points (15 regular-season games, one playoff game) after going off for 30 during the Ignite's finale. Unmatchable quickness and explosive leaping set him apart, but Green has clearly improved off the dribble, having showcased advanced creation moves and three-point shooting (34 3PTM in 16 games) off the catch and dribble.

    He'll go through rookie lapses with decision-making and defense, but the Pistons could draft Green and feel confident they're getting a routine 20-point weapon by his sophomore season.

3. Houston Rockets: Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    With Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green off the board, the Houston Rockets will be looking at USC's Evan Mobley, Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs and the G League Ignite's Jonathan Kuminga.

    Ranked top-10 in the nation in defensive box plus-minusMobley could have the edge with an ability to change the Rockets' defensive identity. But he's also delivered enticing flashes of open-floor ball-handling, face-up scoring in the half court and outside shooting. He's the new-school center teams want—a 7-footer who can work off the dribble, use the jumper, protect the rim and switch.

    Mobley didn't face many NBA-caliber bigs in the Pac-12, so scouts will be locked into USC's NCAA tournament games. His skill and fluidity are off the charts for a player his size, but his underwhelming 14.3 rebounding percentage and slender 210-pound frame shouldn't be overlooked.

4. Orlando Magic: Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG/SG, Freshman)

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    The Orlando Magic have never been known to take needs into account when drafting. Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony won't deter them from targeting Jalen Suggs, who's running the nation's No. 1 team.

    Between his athleticism to get downhill or cut, pull-up shooting (94th percentile) for scoring, court vision when playmaking and special defensive instincts, Suggs' strengths all appear translatable. And as obvious and convincing as his talent and skills have become, scouts love his intangibles, specifically his effort, toughness and maturity.

    The Magic could go with Jonathan Kuminga if they're ready to move on from Aaron Gordon, but Suggs has become too much of a sure thing and a player who clearly impacts winning.

5. Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)

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    In need of a scoring upgrade from the wing, the Sacramento Kings have likely already been doing extensive homework on Jonathan Kuminga. Although, so has every other team, given how little information and scouting notes most had on him before the G League bubble. 

    Despite sitting out the Ignite's last three games with knee soreness, he'd already flashed enticing skill (while averaging 15.8 points) for a player his size (6'8") and age (18) to justify top-five consideration. 

    Between his first step, finishes through contact, handles to maneuver and shot-making potential with the jumper, Kuminga should pose as a three-level mismatch. The Kings coaching staff would just need to remain patient with his three-point shooting inconsistency and feel for the game in terms of shot selection and decision-making.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    There's a sense of disappointment from scouts in Jalen Johnson's decision to leave Duke early. But it shouldn't affect his draft stock. His physical profile and positional skill set should be too persuasive once Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Suggs are off the board. 

    Fit and needs could factor into the equation for the Cleveland Cavaliers, assuming they remain invested in a young core featuring Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro. Johnson played the 4 and 5 for Duke, and Cleveland could similarly view him as an interchangeable big who can create problems with his ball-handling and use that 220-pound frame and athleticism on defense. 

    Shooting represents an obvious wing skill, but even without it, he remains dangerous because of his unique playmaking and off-ball scoring by cutting, offensive rebounding, rolling and finishing.

7. Washington Wizards: Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG/SF, Freshman)

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    Caitie McMekin/Associated Press

    Keon Johnson's offense is starting to catch up with his athleticism and motor. And though he's still visibly raw in terms of skill, the improvement he's shown since November creates optimism about his potential to keep developing. 

    Averaging 14.4 points over Tennessee's last eight games, Johnson is starting to look more aggressive and confident with his scoring and shot-making. He isn't viewed as a playmaker, but he regularly delivers smart passes that highlight setup ability. 

    At a minimum, the Washington Wizards should see a transition weapon, slasher and physical, pressure defender. The combination of a high floor, room to grow and signs of Johnson already improving should lead to interest from every team in the Nos. 6-10 range.

8. New Orleans Pelicans: Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    Coming off consecutive 28-point games to start March, Moses Moody continues to strengthen his top-10 case.

    He's up to 38.6 percent from three and 42.5 percent on pull-ups. For a 6'6" guard/wing, his jumper and shot-making versatility drive his production and overall appeal as an easy-fit NBA prospect. Almost all of his half-court offense comes out of off-ball situations, where he capitalizes as a spot-up shooter, timely driver, cutter and offensive rebounder.

    While we haven't seen as much on-ball creation from Moody, he should be able to earn full-time minutes as a rookie, providing complementary scoring in a three-and-D role. And early playing time and reps will allow for more opportunities to grow over his first few seasons.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Bouknight (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)

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    David Butler II/Associated Press

    The Oklahoma City Thunder could set their backcourt of the future by drafting James Bouknight to join Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

    No projected lottery pick is scoring more than Connecticut's 6'5" sophomore. Averaging 20.2 points, he's creating off tough ball-handling maneuvers and change of pace, and he's making shots with dribble jumpers and athletic finishes. 

    Bouknight also just hit five threes against Georgetown on Saturday, an encouraging sign for those questioning his 33.9 percent mark on the season.

10. Atlanta Hawks: Scottie Barnes (Florida State, PF, Freshman)

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    With defense still a weakness for the Atlanta Hawks, they could target Scottie Barnes for their offensive-oriented core.

    He'll earn his NBA money by guarding different positions and disrupting with a standout mix of size, length, foot speed and focus. But he'll also add value as a playmaking 4, handling the ball in transition and passing in the half court. Barnes is the only player in the country 6'9" or taller with an assist percentage over 30 percent (minimum 15 games). 

    Trae Young and the Hawks could help mask some of Barnes' scoring limitations. They should be after his secondary playmaking and defensive upside/versatility.

Late Lottery

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    11. Indiana Pacers: Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)

    Teams have shown a willingness to reach on shooters earlier, even if they don't offer any creation. At 44.4 percent from three, converting over 40 percent of his jumpers off the catch and dribble, Kispert should follow Aaron Nesmith and Cameron Johnson as the next shot-making specialist to go in the lottery.


    12. Chicago Bulls: Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF, Sophomore)

    For a 6'9" 19-year-old forward, Wagner checks a valuable mix of boxes with his shooting, passing and defensive versatility. He's sporting a 61.2 true shooting percentage while leading the country in box defensive plus-minus.


    13. Memphis Grizzlies: Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SF, Freshman)

    Teams figure to trust the eye test over the numbers for Williams, whose flashes of creation and shooting remain more convincing than the stats. The appeal to Williams has definitely faded, but assuming his jumper will be fine, his archetype—a 6'8" three-and-D wing who can handle in ball-screen situations—will remain attractive.


    14. Golden State Warriors: Kai Jones (Texas, PF, Sophomore)

    Jones' production has been up and down, but flash plays of special athleticism, shooting and driving will draw interest from teams in the late lottery. Playing just 22.5 minutes per game, he's racked up 42 dunks (11th in country) while picking his spots to showcase a jumper and ability to blow by closeouts.

Nos. 15-20

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    15. Toronto Raptors: Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)

    Age (18), versatility and defense should help Springer earn first-round looks, despite scouts' wavering confidence in his upside as a scorer or playmaker. He should be able to provide enough of both with his shooting and passing skills, and he also has impressive tools, technique and quick hands guarding the perimeter.


    16. Charlotte Hornets: Alperen Sengun (Besiktas, C, 2002)

    The Turkish BSL's second-leading scorer at 18 years old, Sengun has produced his way into the first-round discussion. He should be moving further up boards with translatable offense, including footwork for post creation and athleticism to finish off rolls and face-up moves. 


    17. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Heat): Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, C, 2002)

    Teams willing to overlook offense for defensive upside could be interested in Garuba, who's been earning Euroleague minutes since he was 17 years old. He'll build his NBA identity and value around the ability to optimize his physical tools and IQ for rim protection, switching and team defense.


    18. New York Knicks: Davion Mitchell (Baylor, PG, Junior)

    Turning 23 in September, age could hurt Mitchell's case for certain teams. But the Knicks are suddenly back trying to compete. And Mitchell's breakout should interest them, given his 47.2 three-point percentage, 5.7 assists and reputable defense. Opposing players are turning the ball over a ridiculous 27.6 percent of the time when guarded by Mitchell. 


    19. Boston Celtics: Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois, PG/SG, Junior)

    Dosunmu improved enough as a shooter (40.0 percent 3PT), playmaker (5.2 assists) and impact player (Illinois is No. 3 in the nation) for questions about his athleticism or natural position to raise red flags. Scouts now see a first-round pick with a solid physical profile, a well-rounded skill set and monster production (20.9 points) to back it all up.


    20. New York Knicks (via Mavericks): Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SF, Freshman)

    Boston is up to 37.3 percent shooting from three in conference play. And given the long line of Kentucky players who've outperformed their draft spot after unconvincing college seasons, the Knicks could look past the freshman's overall inefficiency thanks to the long-term potential tied to his 6'7" size, shot-making skill and slashing. 

Nos. 21-30

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    Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

    21. San Antonio Spurs: Isaiah Jackson (Kentucky, C, Freshman)

    With Jackson's bounce and consistent activity, NBA teams will see a guaranteed finishing/lob target and shot-blocker to use in an energizer role. But now he's starting to assert himself more on offense, averaging 14.3 points over Kentucky's last six games while making a promising 75.0 percent of his free throws.


    22. Denver Nuggets: Sharife Cooper (Auburn, PG, Freshman)

    Between Cooper's 8.1 assists per game, speed with the ball, flashy handles and advanced passing skills, scouts feel confident in his playmaking translating to the NBA. The big questions concern his shooting and limited size/athleticism for finishing and defending. 


    23. Houston Rockets (via Trail Blazers): Josh Christopher (Arizona State, SG/SF, Freshman)    

    Christopher's physical profile (6'5", 215 pounds, explosive), creation skills and shot-making ability make it easier to look past his uneven execution and decision-making. He figures to struggle with inefficiency early on as a pro, but a patient team should feel confident in his long-term outlook as a scoring option.


    24. Milwaukee Bucks: Cameron Thomas (LSU, SG, Freshman)

    Thomas is scoring at a historic rate. He's on pace to join Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Michael Beasley and Markelle Fultz as the only major-conference freshmen to average at least 23 points. He relies on a high usage (32.4 percent) and difficult shot selection, but he has the creation and shot-making skills and confidence of an instant-offense specialist.


    25. Los Angeles Clippers: Jared Butler (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)

    An improved playmaker averaging 5.0 assists, Butler has also developed into one of the draft's most complete shooters. He's converting 55.6 percent of his shots out of spot-ups, 44.4 percent off screens and 38.5 percent off the dribble. 


    26. Los Angeles Lakers: Marcus Bagley (Arizona State, SF/PF, Freshman)

    Bagley's stat profile doesn't scream first-round prospect, but NBA teams should buy his shooting stroke and the value of a 6'8" forward who can stretch the floor, hit jumpers off screens, finish at the rim and defend his position. 


    27. Brooklyn Nets: Aaron Henry (Michigan State, SF, Junior)

    Since they're already loaded with scorers, the Nets could target Henry for his physical defense and ability to check ball-handers, wings and forwards. He should be moving up the board due to his offensive development, as he's averaging 18.2 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 38.7 percent from three during February and March.


    28. Philadelphia 76ers: Greg Brown (Texas, PF, Freshman)

    Brown's lack of feel and polish have become more evident over the last month, but there is still enticing upside tied to his bouncy athleticism and confident shooting.


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

    Giddey is starting to answer questions about his shooting with 10 three-pointers over his last seven NBL games. A first-round team should figure it's worth betting on his jump-shot development, given what it could do for a jumbo playmaker (5.6 assists) who's flashed some encouraging defensive instincts.


    30. Utah Jazz: Isaiah Todd (G League Ignite, PF, 2001)

    Todd surprised a lot of scouts in the G League bubble, particularly with a persuasive shooting stroke. Interest is building, with value seen in a 6'10" shot-maker who's defensively active and switchable. 

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports Reference.


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