2021 NBA Mock Draft: Lottery Simulation and 1st-Round Predictions
The 2021 NBA draft field is becoming clearer as prospects continue to announce their decisions to stay or go pro.
There have not been any major surprises so far. The lottery on June 22, which will take place as the NBA combine kicks off, will be the next event that helps paint a clearer picture of how the draft could play out.
Until then, we'll be using Tankathon to simulate the draft order.
1. Houston Rockets: Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG/SG, Freshman)
Banking on building through the draft, the Houston Rockets could use some luck in the 2021 lottery. It would bring them Cade Cunningham, a potential long-term centerpiece who'd also fit short term with John Wall in the backcourt.
The offense would eventually run through Cunningham's high-level creation and passing skills from a 6'8" playmaker. In the meantime, he'd work just fine alongside Wall, particularly after proving himself as a scorer and shooter at Oklahoma State.
But the Rockets won't be thinking about fit in their decision, considering how far away the roster is. They'll be looking to add the draft's best player, and Cunningham still appears to have an edge over Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Jalen Green in that conversation among scouts.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)
Any of the top options on the board would fit with what the Oklahoma City Thunder are building. But they'll have the toughest time passing on the chance to add a defensive anchor in Evan Mobley.
Between Mobley and the emergence of Luguentz Dort, the Thunder could really start to strengthen their defensive foundation and identity. USC's big man popped this year for his quickness and length in rim protection, switching and guarding in space.
And there is still exciting offensive upside to unlock from his ball-handling, face-up moves, shooting touch and passing skills.
It might take longer to see results from Mobley compared to Jalen Suggs or Jalen Green. But the Thunder shouldn't be in any rush. Long term, an Aleksej Pokusevski-Mobley pairing would be fun to develop.
3. Orlando Magic: Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)
Cade Cunningham or Evan Mobley jump out as ideal targets for the Orlando Magic. Jalen Green still works well for them at No. 3, where they'll also be thinking about Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Kuminga.
Green gives Orlando another needed jolt of athleticism, creation and scoring to pair with Cole Anthony. There may be too much overlap with lead ball-handlers Suggs, Anthony and Markelle Fultz. And though Orlando could use Kuminga's offense for its frontcourt, he doesn't feel like the same caliber prospect as Green.
Green's ball-handling and shooting looked improved and easy to buy in the G League bubble, where he was the Ignite's most consistent weapon and a problem for former/current pros and recent draft picks. For Green, there's a believable path toward the upper tier of the NBA's scoring leaderboard.
4. Golden State Warriors (via Timberwolves): Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)
A dream scenario plays out here for the Golden State Warriors. They steal the Minnesota Timberwolves' top-three protected pick and watch the Orlando Magic take Jalen Green over Jalen Suggs.
Assuming Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley are locked into the top three, a range the Warriors can't pick in, Suggs could be their most desirable target entering the draft. He'd give them a second ball-handler to take pressure off Stephen Curry, as well as a competitive defender known for making plays on the ball and forcing turnovers.
Suggs managed just fine sharing a ball with other guards (Joel Ayayi, Andrew Nembhard) at Gonzaga. His cutting, capable shot-making and low-maintenance approach should serve him well when used off the ball. But he'd still get plenty of on-ball opportunities to use his vision and athleticism downhill, particularly given how dangerous Curry also is shooting off spot-ups and movement.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)
The Cleveland Cavaliers figure to see the most favorable mix of upside and fit with Jonathan Kuminga.
If Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen are long-term starters, Cleveland could use a scoring forward in between. Kuminga, 6'8", 220 pounds, would give them one with speed, power and athleticism. He got his shot off in a variety of ways in the G League bubble, flashing impressive creation fluidity off the dribble and shot-making ability out to the arc.
At No. 5, the Cavaliers could also be thinking trade, ideally for an established veteran to help expedite Cleveland's rebuild. Moving down for a shooting specialist like Corey Kispert is also worth thinking about for the NBA's 29th ranked team in three-point percentage.
6. Detroit Pistons: Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG/SF, Freshman)
The Detroit Pistons need to upgrade at 2-guard and Keon Johnson would be in the best-player-available discussion (for many teams) at No. 6.
His identity revolves around explosiveness and defensive energy. But over the course of his one season at Tennessee, he made noticeable improvements to his creation skills and shot-making versatility from the mid-range and post.
At baseline early in his career, he'll give Detroit an athletic slasher, secondary playmaking threat and competitive defender. The upside could kick in a few years from now if he continues to make strides with his ball-handling and shooting.
7. Sacramento Kings: Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)
Too physically gifted and versatile to dismiss based on stats or a decision to leave Duke early, Jalen Johnson still figures to have suitors on the top 10.
The Sacramento Kings could be one of them, given Marvin Bagley's durability issues and the team's backourt now set with De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. The Kings should be able to count on Johnson for grab-and-go transition offense, paint scoring, extra passing and defensive activity right away.
He projects as a playmaking 4 with his 6'9", 220-pound frame, ball-handling and athleticism. His shot is the biggest question mark, but Johnson looked capable when set in limited action at Duke, and he should be effective enough in the open floor and inside the arc to hurt opponents without needing a three-ball.
8.Orlando Magic: Scottie Barnes (Florida State, PF, Freshman)
The Orlando Magic have a recent history of valuing two-way forwards and frontcourt length. They'd see Scottie Barnes as too unique and a surefire positive addition for his passing and defensive versatility/upside.
The idea of a Barnes-Jonathan Isaac duo smothering opponents' wings and forwards also sounds enticing.
Though he's missing the scoring and shooting skills that traditionally hint at upside, Barnes' two-way versatility and reputable intangibles create star role-player potential. He's the type of out-of-the-box, team-first prospect who'll have executives willing to look past his flaws.
9. Toronto Raptors: Davion Mitchell (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)
Interest in Davion Mitchell is rising to the point where it could cost a top-10 pick to get him.
Enough lottery teams recently have shown a willingness to overlook age. Like Fred VanVleet was, Mitchell will similarly be a 23-year-old rookie. And the Toronto Raptors figure to believe they'd be getting a tough defender right away. But he's risen into the lottery discussion with his explosive driving and improved creation flashes, shooting versatility and playmaking skills.
While it's unclear what Toronto's plan is regarding Kyle Lowry's impending free agency, the Raptors could view Mitchell as both a best player available and insurance in case they lose their franchise point guard.
10. New Orleans Pelicans: Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)
The New Orleans Pelicans could add off-ball scoring and shooting with Moses Moody.
Despite being used sparingly in ball-screen and isolation situations, his 16.8 points per game ranked fourth among freshmen. He's demonstrated a comfort level capitalizing from a spot-up role with his three-ball and pull-up game. And at 6'6", it's easy to picture his shot-making translating.
Flashes of slashing and self-creation hint at more offensive upside down the road. Regardless, New Orleans should see and value a three-and-D 2-guard who'd fit alongside go-to players Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
11. Washington Wizards: Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)
Once all the perceived high-upside freshmen are off the board, Kispert will get looks for his elite shooting and the high likelihood it carries over. Aside from his advanced shot-making accuracy and versatility, he was also an elite transition finisher and efficient pick-and-roll ball-handler.
12. Indiana Pacers: Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF/PF, Sophomore)
Two-way versatility helps paint Wagner as an NBA fit for any lineup. He's missing one signature skill, but a shoot-dribble-pass skill set and standout defensive mobility/instincts theoretically create a high floor and valuable role-player potential.
13. San Antonio Spurs: Alperen Sengun (Besiktas, C, 2002)
Coming off another game with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, Sengun is producing unlike any other international draft-eligible prospect. Though more offensive-minded than effective defensively, his scoring skills, timing and instincts around the basket are razor sharp and easy to picture carrying over.
14. Golden State Warriors: Kai Jones (Texas, PF, Sophomore)
Jones will earn minutes early in his career for his athleticism, mobility and motor that translates to rim running, finishing and defensive versatility. But teams will be tempted to reach on him (despite limited production at Texas) due to flashes of shooting, self-creation and fluid slashing from behind the arc.
15. Charlotte Hornets: Isaiah Jackson (Kentucky, PF/C, Freshman)
A shot-blocking machine at Kentucky, Jackson possesses standout bounce and quickness for rim protection and finishing. He was also in the midst of his best offensive stretch when Kentucky's season came to an end, and there is hope that Jackson has more face-up skill and touch to unlock down the road.
16. Memphis Grizzlies: Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers, PG/SG, 2002)
Giddey leads the NBL in assists, and at 6'8" with shooting potential that's starting to come alive, he should offer the versatility to play either backcourt position. Still, he'll earn his NBA minutes and money for his passing instincts and offensive IQ.
17. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Heat): Ziaire Williams (Stanford, SF, Freshman)
Closer to the mid-first round, it becomes worth putting more stock into Williams' shooting stroke over his percentages from a 20-game sample size. But flashes of self-creation, pick-and-roll ball-handling and defense highlight more potential versatility. The Thunder have shown a willingness to buy valuable skill sets and remain patient with their development.
18. Boston Celtics: Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, C, 2002)
Garuba is starting to hit threes for Real Madrid, a potential huge development for a prospect who's been earning Euroleague and Spanish ACB minutes mainly for his defense and passing. Regardless, the Celtics figure to value his ability to impact games with his energy, hustle, toughness and IQ at both ends of the floor.
19. Houston Rockets (via Blazers): Cameron Thomas (LSU, SG, Freshman)
Building from the ground up, the Rockets can start by adding the nation's leading freshman scorer. Thomas needs to work on using his vision, but his knack for creation separation and making tough shots could be highly valuable in the right role.
20. Atlanta Hawks: Jared Butler (Baylor, PG/SG, Junior)
Butler could be targeted to immediately contribute as a second-unit ball-handler or off-ball floor spacer. The Hawks need depth behind Trae Young, but Butler's versatility should allow the Hawks to use him in different situations and lineups.
21. New York Knicks (via Mavericks): Tre Mann (Florida, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Mann always had the ball-handling skills and shiftiness to create, but he made a significant jump this year with his execution as a shooter and playmaker. He's still more of a scoring point guard, but his pull-up game and passing flashes became pretty convincing as the season progressed.
22. New York Knicks (via Mavericks): Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky, SF, Freshman)
Between the Knicks' Kentucky connections and a history of Wildcats' performing better as pros, Boston figures to be in play for the Knicks with their second first-round pick. He's still a threatening three-level shot-maker and smooth slasher with 6'7" wing size.
23. Los Angeles Lakers: James Bouknight (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)
Bouknight could draw looks from lottery teams for his three-level scoring skills and athleticism around the rim. Teams have to accept he isn't a point guard, but his creation, shot-making and finishing looks capable of translating.
24. Houston Rockets (via Milwaukee Bucks): Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois, PG, Freshman)
It took three seasons, but Dosunmu looks ready for the next level after elevating his shooting and playmaking skills. Though he still has room to improve both, at 6'5", he's become a strong-enough pull-up threat and passer to alleviate scouts' concerns about his first two seasons of inconsistency.
25. Denver Nuggets: Sharife Cooper (Auburn, PG, Freshman)
Cooper will make a living by creating open shots for teammates off transition and penetration with his speed and passing. How much he can improve as a shooter and defender will determine how high he climbs the NBA's point guard ladder.
26. Philadelphia 76ers: Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)
Teams aren't sold on Springer's upside, but he's still 18 years old and versatile with secondary playmaking skills, catch-and-shoot ability and the tools/technique to defend both backcourt positions.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Aaron Henry (Michigan State, SG/SF, Junior)
Defense will earn Henry minutes, with a strong 6'6" frame for guarding one-on-one and quick anticipation off the ball. His offense was always the question mark, but he was making encouraging progress over the past two months of the season with his shot, and he still delivered plenty of flashes throughout his career of slashing, floaters and passing.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Josh Christopher (USC, SG, Freshman)
Strong and explosive with advanced creation and shot-making skills for scoring, Christopher has clear pro potential. At this stage, he's far more efficient in the open floor than the half court, where he'll need to improve his decision-making and shooting consistency.
29. Phoenix Suns: Chris Duarte (Oregon, SG, Senior)
Turning 24 years old before the draft, Duarte should still draw first-round interest for his shooting and defense. If older age didn't traditionally suggest a lower ceiling, his improved pick-and-roll scoring and isolation creation would say there is more upside than just three-and-D role player.
30. Utah Jazz: Miles McBride (West Virginia, PG, Sophomore)
McBride caught scouts attention during his transformation from two-way energizer into a lead scorer and playmaker. Realistically, he projects as a change-of-pace guard who can put pressure on opponents with his pull-up game and defense.