2021 NBA Draft: Strengths and Weaknesses for Every Projected Lottery Pick
NBA front offices are going through scouting reports that identity strengths and weaknesses, but they're also assessing what will translate to the next level and what won't.
Scouts sound optimistic about this year's top prospects.
We broke down the major pros and cons of the names that lottery teams will be targeting in July.
Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG/SG, Freshman)
Creation skills for a 6'8" ball-handler help separate Cade Cunningham, who ranked in the 87th percentile out of isolation despite every defense knowing who it must stop. Playing at his own pace without much explosion, he unleashed pro-level moves for separating into dribble jumpers. Using both hands, he also shot 16-of-31 out of the post, an area he'll definitely operate from at the next level. And with his height and ball skill, Cunningham is a triple-threat ball-screen weapon as a driver, pull-up shooter and playmaker.
The eye test shows a special passer (especially dating back to Montverde Academy), even if his 3.5 assists per game seem pedestrian. His vision and delivery skill, coupled with his creativity, suggest he can occupy the same high-usage initiator role that Luka Doncic does for the Dallas Mavericks.
Finishing at 40.0 percent from three (5.7 attempts per game) and 84.6 percent from the line, Cunningham put up impressive shooting numbers with a convincing stroke. He hit 49 dribble jumpers in 27 games while also showing his catch-and-shoot ability (43.9 percent), a promising sign if he's drafted to a team that already has a point guard.
Cunningham showed strong awareness and anticipation, particularly off the ball in terms of making reads and rotations and putting himself in the right spots. Some quicker offensive guards may have an advantage at the point of attack, but Cunningham flashed signs of a solid team defender.
Though Cunningham played 35.4 minutes per game with a 29.1 percent usage rate, his 18.7 turnover percentage still highlighted a casual approach. He has a tendency to seemingly want to show how composed he is and how effortlessly the game comes to him.
Finishing in Traffic
The biggest concern stat-wise is his 46.1 two-point percentage. Spacing and special attention from defenses played a role in Cunningham's inefficiency inside the arc. Still, he lacks burst and vertical explosion. His 9-of-33 mark on runners was one of the worst among first-round prospects.
Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)
The team that drafts Evan Mobley will be drawn most to how he'll impact and change the team's defensive identity. He'll protect the rim with his 7'0" size, quick feet, 7'4" wingspan and timing. USC lost Onyeka Okongwu and went from No. 18 in the nation to No. 6 in defensive efficiency with Mobley, per KenPom.com. He blocked 2.9 shots a game but also collected 26 steals and showed the lateral mobility and foot speed to switch onto guards and contest jumpers. Defensive versatility should allow Mobley to play both frontcourt spots, important for a thin, 210-pound big who might be physically outmatched by some NBA centers.
Mobley shot 69.1 percent at the rim and finished third in the nation with 63 total dunks. Quick off the ground and long, he should be an easy-basket target off lobs and a putback machine off misses.
More effective facing the basket than with his back to it, Mobley has developed a modernized skill set for today's NBA. He made nine threes and 28 of 56 of two-point jumpers. He shot 15-of-32 on pull-ups, a standout number for a player his size. His ability to attack closeouts and score with body control and coordination on the move was unique. A capable ball-handler, Mobley converted 11 of 17 spot-up drives to the basket and 12 of 22 runners.
Mobley averaged 2.4 assists per game, a strong number that highlights his knack for using size to see over defenses and an ability to pass off dribbles or post-ups.
All the question marks concerning Mobley focus on his lack of physicality and the different ways it can limit him.
He only shot 39.5 percent on post-ups (29th percentile), having to lean more on touch and tough-angled shots due to his inability to gain strong position. He only converted 42 of 74 rolls to the basket, while his 14.5 rebounding percentage was relatively low for a big projected to go top three in the draft.
There will be extra pressure on Mobley's perimeter development if opponents are able to contain him when he catches around the key.
Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)
In terms of quickness, explosiveness and coordination, it's tough to imagine a better package of athletic traits than Jalen Green's. His speed in transition, first step off the bounce, explosive leaping ability and hang time for adjusting midair are incredibly advantageous for creating and converting easy scoring chances at the rim.
Green has made gradual progress with his ball skill level and footwork over the years. In the G League bubble, where he averaged 17.9 points on 46.1 percent shooting before putting up 30 points in the Ignite's one playoff game, the 19-year-old wowed with advanced ball-handling and creation moves. He hit pro defenders with various step-backs, side-steps and backward hops to cleanly separate into balanced dribble jumpers.
Green made 31 threes in 15 games at a respectable 36.5 percent rate. Though more familiar and comfortable with shooting off the dribble, he looked threatening shot-making off spot-ups and screens as well, even if the shot didn't drop. His creation, jump-shot skill and confidence hint at streak-scoring outbursts.
Green entered the bubble with a reputation for lacking a defensive motor or plus awareness. But he made more good plays than mistakes, and for the most part, he was engaged. Outstanding recovery quickness is huge for Green. And he has quick hands for forcing turnovers and making plays on the ball. Between his positional length, movement and potential to focus, there is no reason why Green can't be a useful NBA defender.
The ability to create so easily around the perimeter is a gift and curse, as it makes Green vulnerable to taking low-percentage shots. He relies on tough jumpers, and without a great deal of muscle compared to someone like 2020 No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards, Green might not finish as well through contact in the paint.
It's a stretch to call Green a combo guard. Though a capable playmaker who did deliver some quality passes on the move in the bubble, his NBA team won't be able to use Green as a primary ball-handler. He'll need to play alongside a more natural point guard who can run offense.
Opponents were able to finish through Green on drives. He could be easy to eliminate with a ball screen, and once his man is able to get downhill, Green lacks the strength to push back.
Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)
Gonzaga optimized Jalen Suggs' athleticism by getting him out in transition and feeding him handoffs. At 6'4", 205 pounds, he's tough to stop once downhill with his speed and strength, whether it's in the open floor or turning the corner off a ball screen.
Suggs only averaged 4.5 assists, but he also shared the ball with guards Andrew Nembhard and Joel Ayayi. He flashed strong passing skills in terms of accuracy and timing, both in transition and the pick-and-roll game.
Wisely picking his spots to pull up or use the floater, Suggs shot 39.7 percent on dribble jumpers and 9-of-13 on runners. He's a smooth, rhythmic shooter off the dribble, which he mostly did from behind the arc. And he's able to slow himself down in the lane to make it easy to activate touch on his one-handers off of one foot.
Suggs registered a massive 3.5 steal percentage, demonstrating a disruptive mix of anticipation and quick hands. He forced turnovers with pressure and jumped passing lanes off the ball. Between his competitiveness, defensive playmaking and ability to guard both backcourt spots, Suggs looks like a guaranteed two-way asset.
For a lead guard, Suggs' handle isn't the tightest. He was prone to fumbling the ball in pressure or dribbling it off his foot when his man attacked on drives. There weren't many instances of Suggs' isolating his man and creating something out of nothing.
Suggs finished at 33.7 percent from three on only 3.5 attempts per game. He shot 29.7 percent off the catch. His release and fluidity looked smooth, and his 75.4 free-throw percentage was promising. But the lack of shooting volume and accuracy from distance suggests he may have some trouble from NBA range early in his career.
Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)
Listed anywhere from 6'6", 210 pounds to 6'8", 220 pounds, Jonathan Kuminga packs a physical punch of strength, athleticism and speed. It comes to life in transition but also against smaller wings and slower bigs in the half court, whether it's on slashes or cuts.
Though not the most advanced ball-handler, Kuminga creates his own shot in different ways, often by changing direction while attacking downhill with hesitations and spin moves. Sometimes, he just uses his first step and power to line drive through lanes and finish through contact. But he can also create his own jumpers out of the post or off face-up moves into pull-ups, step-backs and runners.
Kuminga isn't a shooter, but he's a versatile shot-maker. He connected from all over the floor in the G League bubble, where he averaged 15.8 points and scored from three levels, hitting various floaters, pull-ups and fallaways.
He didn't fully apply his defensive tools, but they're advantageous and can make opponents' shots tougher. With his strength, mobility and length, he showed he can keep ball-handlers from turning the corner and contest around the basket.
Kuminga took too many low-percentage shots. He developed tunnel vision on drives, occasionally attacking recklessly into traffic without a plan. He doesn't anticipate what's waiting for him inside the arc after his move.
A 24.6 percent three-point shooter who shot 62.5 percent from the free-throw line, Kuminga has a ways to go with his shot and touch.
Defensively, Kuminga looked slow to react to opponents' moves or screens. His feet could appear heavy in space, and he guessed wrong on gambles a handful of times. Off the ball, he got caught ball-watching and left shooters with too much space.
Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG, Freshman)
Most of Keon Johnson's highlights illuminated his athleticism in transition, on finishes or defensive plays. An explosive leaper with quick feet and hands, he also played more physical than his 186-pound frame suggests he can.
The physical and mental ingredients are there for Johnson to cause problems on defense right away. On the ball, he got low and pestered opposing ball-handlers and wings. Off the ball, he covered ground fast to collect steals and blocks, some of which came high above the rim. A high-energy motor, speed, quickness and leaping ability helped fuel his defensive impact.
Johnson's offensive skill came to life later in the season. Though his final numbers weren't great and he's not viewed as a shooter, he hit enough mid-range jumpers off pull-ups and fallaways with fluidity to feel confident in his potential to keep improving. Johnson flashed some scoring ability on ball screens, but he was most effective separating in the post, elevating high off the ground or pivoting to create angles.
Johnson showed he can be a useful secondary playmaker based on his vision on the move. Even though his handle isn't advanced, he registered a solid 20.7 assist percentage by finding teammates off the dribble.
Creating shots isn't a strength of Johnson's. He's more of an off-ball scorer off cuts and curls. Despite some thunderous dunks, he wasn't the most nuanced finisher in the lane, having hit just three floaters all season. A lack of skill level and pacing as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (6-of-23) was evident. It's tough to picture Johnson scoring a lot early in his career.
In 27 games, Johnson hit 13 threes on 27.1 percent. He doesn't have range on his jumper right now, and drafting him in the top 10 means banking on significant shooting development over the next few seasons.
Scottie Barnes (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)
Scottie Barnes' unique offensive game has stirred up debate, but nobody questions his defensive outlook. At 6'9", 227 pounds, he has a terrific physical profile for a power forward. But it's the ability sit in a stance and guard ball-handlers with his foot speed and length that separates him. He was used to pick up and pressure full court.
Barnes finished with a 31.6 assist percentage, higher than every projected NCAA lottery pick and other presumed first-round point guards Tre Mann (Florida), Jared Butler (Baylor) and Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois). He projects as a playmaking 4 who can handle in transition and pick-and-roll sets. Passing will be his signature NBA skill.
It looked like Barnes was able to hit an extension button on his arms while attempting some of his dunks. He uses his length effectively on his finishes. Without a jump shot or post game, he averaged 10.3 points, either by dribbling past slower bigs or separating just by reaching above them for short shots around the lane.
Scouts have shown a willingness to look past Barnes' flaws and focus more on his strengths and the intangibles that can make him a great role player and teammate. He shows enthusiasm for others' success, and he doesn't appear to have an individual agenda. Teams that covet Barnes will believe he's the type of player who can impact games without needing to score.
Barnes required a lot of space to create shots for himself. He was rarely used in the post and shot 4-of-19 on shots off the dribble.
Just 11-of-40 from three, 7-of-23 on runners and 62.1 percent from the free-throw line, Barnes lacks touch. Scoring in the half court may require him to be in the right place at the right time or knock down the occasional catch-and-shoot three.
Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)
At 6'6", 205 pounds, Moses Moody has textbook size for an NBA 2-guard or interchangeable wing. And he uses it to shoot over defenders and get clean looks without needing any fancy moves to create separation.
The obvious draw to Moody stems from his jumper and ability to connect in different ways. He ranked fourth in scoring among freshmen despite isolation and ball-screen possessions (combined) accounting for just 10.2 percent of his offense. An off-ball scorer who didn't need many dribbles, Moody hit 1.8 threes per game on 35.8 percent shooting. He looked decisive and fluid getting into his jump shot, which he also hit off screens (16 makes) and pull-ups (38.7 percent). He comes off as an easy plug-and-play prospect due to his shot-making versatility within the flow of an offense.
Moody has an unusually good nose for the ball for a wing. He used the offensive glass for scoring opportunities, having averaged 2.0 offensive boards per game and totaled 26 putbacks (91st percentile).
Moody's measurements, anticipation and coordination bode well for his defensive outlook. Bigger, explosive wings can give him trouble, but he did a nice job of using his length to contest and guessing his man's move.
NBA teams shouldn't count on Moody creating his own shot or playmaking (8.2 assist percentage). There were flashes of fallaway jumpers and high-IQ passes, but he still isn't a major threat to take his man off the bounce, hit him with a move and separate one-on-one.
Finishing and Explosion
Lacking explosiveness, Moody only graded in the 34th percentile as a transition scorer. He was often forced into tough finishes below the rim though the interior defense. And he didn't have an advanced floater game to compensate, having missed 14 of his 19 total runner attempts.
Davion Mitchell (Baylor, PG, Junior)
Explosiveness for Driving/Finishing
An explosive driver, Davion Mitchell blew by defenders all season with burst off his hesitation. Out of isolation, he scored 31 times on drives to the basket, where he shot 60.5 percent and finished with a wide-ranging array of scoops and layups.
Improved Creation and Shot-Making
A limited scorer as a 21-year-old sophomore, Mitchell looked significantly sharper this season, creating his own shot around the perimeter. Aside from just separating with various pull-up, side-step and step-back moves, Mitchell also knocked down shots at a significantly higher rate. He shot 43.6 percent off the dribble, 43.5 percent off the catch and 44.7 percent from three.
Teammates shot 53.3 percent off Mitchell's pick-and-roll passes. He demonstrated more command and decisiveness in a setup passing role (5.5 assists per game).
Some scouts view Mitchell (3.3 steal percentage) as the draft's top perimeter defender based on his quickness, strength, tenaciousness and ball pressure. His lateral foot speed is special. Opponents turned the ball over an estimated 29.6 percent of the time when Mitchell was the primary defender in man-to-man coverage.
Free-Throw Rate/Accuracy Indicator
Despite the explosive burst, Mitchell inexplicably averaged just 2.1 free-throw attempts in 33.0 minutes per game. He didn't always pick his spots well in terms of knowing when to pull up or take advantage of a vulnerable defender or space. But he also shot just 64.1 percent from the line, the third season he's been below 68.0 percent. Considering he shot just 28.8 percent from three as a freshman and 32.4 percent last year, it's reasonable to question if this season's hot three-point shooting was somewhat fluky.
Control/Shot Selection in the Lane
Mitchell attempted some wild shots on his drives, showing suspect awareness and decision-making in traffic. He rushed finishes, attempted the wrong kind of shots and only converted five of 16 floaters all season.
Though Mitchell improved his playmaking, the turnovers and mistakes still highlighted decision-making that could be tough to trust in a lead guard role.
Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)
At 6'9", 220 pounds, Jalen Johnson immediately pops with size, broad shoulders and exciting mobility. In his limited time at Duke, he shot 65.3 percent at the basket and converted 14 of 17 cuts. Johnson should be able to continue using his tools and athleticism to pick up easy buckets around the rim by running the floor, moving without the ball and crashing the offensive glass.
Johnson often played point forward in high school, and though that won't be his NBA role, he still flashed playmaking 4 potential with his handle and passing on the move. A threat to grab and go in transition, Johnson initiated fast breaks and beat defenses down the floor. His 20.5 assist percentage, which is strong for a big, highlighted an ability to find teammates and dish off the dribble. Even without a reliable jumper, he can still pose a threat around the perimeter with his face-up skills.
Johnson could possibly play some small-ball 5 based on his solid frame and defensive playmaking around the basket. Regardless, he showed he can guard every frontcourt position physically.
A threat to initiate transition scoring opportunities, Johnson isn't as sharp creating in the half court, particularly for himself. He didn't show any translatable isolation, pick-and-roll ball-handling or post game through 13 games at Duke.
Johnson did hit 8-of-18 threes, but high school tape, a 63.2 free-throw percentage and 1-of-11 mark on pull-ups suggests defenses won't need to worry about his jumper.
If he struggles to create and shoot, how will that limit his offensive impact? Johnson was starting to lose minutes before he abruptly opted out of the season.
Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF, Sophomore)
Franz Wagner's versatility should create an easy fit for him with practically every lottery team's roster. At 6'9", he left Michigan a threat to shoot, drive and pass. During the 2020-21 season, he made 35 threes in 28 games, shot 56.3 percent inside the arc, converted 14 of 19 takes to the basket off the catch and averaged 3.0 assists as a forward. He ranked in the 70th percentile or better as a spot-up player, pick-and-roll ball-handler, transition finisher, cutter, post player, offensive rebounder and off-screen scorer. Wagner could operate from either the 3 or 4 with his ability to space the floor, slash through lanes and play-make or drive in ball-screen situations.
Third in the nation in defensive box plus-minus, Wagner made an impact at both ends of the floor. He optimizes his height and mobility defensively with excellent anticipation. He'll guard multiple positions at the NBA level, but he'll be most valuable sticking with wings and contesting around the perimeter.
Wagner checks a lot of boxes, but none in bold. Offensively, he isn't a creative one-on-one scorer or playmaker, which makes it difficult to picture anything other than a role-player ceiling. Despite playing mostly around the perimeter, he hit 11 of 32 jump shots off the dribble.
Wagner was still erratic from three, converting just 34.3 percent of his attempts. Given his limited creation and off-the-dribble scoring, drafting him in the lottery likely means banking on getting a shooter. However, he is still 19 years old, and he shot over 83.0 percent from the free-throw line in consecutive seasons.
Alperen Sengun (Besiktas, C, 2002)
As MVP of the Turkish BSL, Alperen Sengun averaged 18.6 points on 62.6 percent shooting by consistently working pro big men in the paint at 18. He flashed a high skill level from the foul line to baseline, finding ways to create open looks in tight windows with spin moves, up-and-unders and other types of footwork. He also has excellent hands and a nose for the rim, so every shot he attempted was controlled and high-percentage. Sengun also demonstrated terrific timing rolling to the hoop off ball screens. And though not known for his explosiveness, he did show some pop on dunk attempts with both hands when loading up with momentum.
Budding Forward Skills
Sengun looked more like an NBA center than a European one over the last two months of the season. We saw more transition ball-handling, face-up moves and passing. He created highlights by taking defensive rebounds coast to coast, losing defenders with in-and-out dribbles from the perimeter and dishing on the move. Shooting isn't a strength, but he did hit 81.2 percent of his 6.1 free-throw attempts per game, while his seven made three-pointers looked comfortable and promising for the long term.
Though he doesn't possess unbelievable size or length for a center, he was effective in certain spots, showing shot-blocking timing and awareness in pick-and-roll situations. He made good reads in terms of when to step up or drop to the roller. And he moved well enough to stick with ball-handlers turning the corner.
Lack of Quickness/Explosion
While Sengun relied on craft, skill and patience, he wasn't able to beat defenders with quick-twitch moves that would serve him well in the NBA. It's worth questioning how easily he'll be able to separate against more athletic, longer frontcourts.
The team that drafts Sengun will be hoping he continues to build on the budding flashes of transition and perimeter play. He lacks versatility in the half court, used mostly as a post player or roll man. And defensively, he's limited to guarding inside bigs. Opponents will likely target him in ball screens to bring him away from the basket, where ball-handlers could attack him.
James Bouknight (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)
James Bouknight caught scouts' attention with his 18.7 points per game and persuasive creation skills for generating offense. His ball-handling and shiftiness allowed him to shake defenders and separate. And at 6'5", he should continue to have success creating space.
Bouknight's percentages don't match up with the eye-test results from his made jumpers. He only played 15 games this past season, so it's tough to put too much stock into the numbers. Ball-handling skills and change of pace allow him to get into his pull-up, which looked mechanically clean without moving parts. He converted enough jumpers for scouts to feel confident in his shot-making potential and the likelihood his execution improves in the short term.
Bouknight shot 62.7 percent around the basket, with the bounce to play above rim protection. He has a good feel for what layup shots to use and the dexterity and coordination to pull off tough adjustments midair.
Despite dominating the ball with a 31.6 percent usage rate, Bouknight averaged just 1.8 assists in 31.7 minutes. He missed teammates after making his initial move and rarely earned an assist off a ball screen (24th percentile pick-and-roll passing).
Bouknight shot an ugly 21.6 percent off the catch and didn't record any field goals all season on drives to the basket out of spot-ups. Not a natural enough playmaker to log minutes at point guard, Bouknight also struggled off the ball, a potential concern for a projected 2-guard.
Bouknight could stand to improve his defensive intensity fighting through screens and providing resistance. He made some nice plays on the ball, but NBA coaches will want to see more effort and energy.
Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers, PG/SG, 2002)
A 6'8" ball-handler, Josh Giddey uses his height to see and make plays over the defense. It's an important advantage for a guard who lacks physical and athletic traits.
The NBL's assist leader, Giddey built a lottery case around running offense and making the game easier for teammates. His unselfishness showed in transition, where he often threw hit-ahead passes to streaking teammates instead of trying to dribble through defenses. In the half court, his IQ shined on simple reads to give shooters looks in rhythm, post players the ball with position and finishers uncontested attempts. His timing and patience are excellent. He has a natural feel for the game and the right ball skills to optimize it for playmaking.
Despite lacking bounce, Giddey converted advanced finishes with a knack for finding the right angles. He takes the right steps and finds open air space on his drives. And at his height, he's able to release layups right near the rim without needing explosion. He has good control and command of the ball when going up, and he can convert with either hand.
There is debate about whether Giddey will be able to beat NBA guards off the dribble. He plays upright and doesn't possess much burst, though there were instances of his getting by with a nifty ball-handling maneuver. Giddey may be better suited as a playmaking 2, depending on his effectiveness shaking his man and penetrating.
Giddey shot 29.3 percent from three and 69.1 percent on free throws in 28 games. Shooting will be a key swing skill for his scoring potential given the trouble he may face creating his own shot inside the arc. Giddey did have a promising stretch from three during the season, and his high release point is difficult for guards and wings to contest. But he is a little slow getting into his pull-up, and he doesn't appear ready to be relied on for consistently threatening shot-making.
Staying in front of quicker, smaller ball-handlers was a challenge for Giddey, and it won't get any easier in the NBA. His team may have to find ways to mask him defensively, though he does have good hands for making plays on the ball. Giddey's questionable defensive outlook against point guards is another reason why his coach may feel more comfortable playing him at the 2.