2021 NBA Mock Draft: Predictions and High-Risk Prospects Who Will Be Taken Early
While there's no such thing as a sure thing in the NBA draft, Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham appears to be about as close as a team is going to find this year. The presumptive No. 1 overall pick is arguably the safest pick in the 2021 NBA draft class.
"There just aren't any true weaknesses with Cunningham's game," The Athletic's Sam Vecenie wrote.
Naturally, not every prospect is as clean as Cunningham, and not every top selection will come without risk. Teams regularly weigh upside over uncertainty and gamble on high-ceiling, low-floor prospects. As long as some of those gambles pay off—the undersized but offensively potent Trae Young is one recent example—teams will continue to take risks.
Here we'll examine three 2021 draft prospects who carry their fair share of boom-or-bust potential but who are still likely to go early in the draft. Before that, though, is a first-round mock.
2021 NBA Mock Draft, Round 1
1. Houston Rockets: Cade Cunningham, PG/SG, Oklahoma State
2. Detroit Pistons: Evan Mobley, C, USC
3. Orlando Magic: Jalen Green, SG, G League
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jalen Suggs, PG, Gonzaga
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jonathan Kuminga, SF, G League
6. Golden State Warriors (via Minnesota Timberwolves): James Bouknight, SG, UConn
7. Toronto Raptors: Davion Mitchell, PG, Baylor
8. Orlando Magic (via Chicago Bulls): Jalen Johnson, SF, Duke
9. Sacramento Kings: Moses Moody, SG, Arkansas
10. New Orleans Pelicans: Corey Kispert, SF, Gonzaga
11. Charlotte Hornets: Alperen Sengun, C, Besiktas
12. San Antonio Spurs: Franz Wagner, SF, Michigan
13. Indiana Pacers: Ziaire Williams, SG, Stanford
14. Golden State Warriors: Keon Johnson, SG, Tennessee
15. Washington Wizards: Scottie Barnes, SF, Florida State
16. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Boston): Josh Giddey, SG, Adelaide 36ers
17. Memphis Grizzlies: Kai Jones, PF, Texas
18. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Miami Heat): Isaiah Jackson, PF, Kentucky
19. New York Knicks: Sharife Cooper, PG, Auburn
20. Atlanta Hawks: Jaden Springer, PG, Tennessee
21. New York Knicks (via Dallas Mavericks): Usman Garuba, PF, Real Madrid
22. Los Angeles Lakers: Cameron Thomas, SG, LSU
23. Houston Rockets (via Portland Trail Blazers): Chris Duarte, SG, Oregon
24. Houston Rockets (via Milwaukee Bucks): Greg Brown, PF, Texas
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Tre Mann, PG, Florida
26. Denver Nuggets: Aaron Henry, SG, Michigan State
27. Brooklyn Nets: Ayo Dosunmu, SG, Illinois
28. Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Ayayi, SG, Gonzaga
29. Phoenix Suns: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, PF, Villanova
30. Utah Jazz: Jared Butler, PG, Baylor
Pre-lottery draft order via Tankathon.
Jonathan Kuminga, SF, G League
There's plenty to like about G League forward and potential top-five pick Jonathan Kuminga. The 6'7", 220-pound prospect is only 18 and has athletic upside to spare.
"He is very athletic with speed, strength and the ability to play above the rim," Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington wrote. "And though relatively raw, he has a well-rounded skillset for a team to develop. He shows potential off the dribble, with his shot mechanics, as a passer and on defense."
Yet Kuminga is far from a polished prospect and has exhibited some questionable decision-making.
"[His] shooting and awareness are worrisome," Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman wrote. "More background and intel should also come out over the next month on Kuminga and others who'll be trying to make a top-five case during workouts and interviews."
Even if Kuminga doesn't fare all that well during the pre-draft process, his upside will likely land him a spot near the top of Round 1. Any team that takes him, though, will have to understand that a development period will likely ensue.
Jalen Johnson, SF, Duke
Though perhaps not as prolific a prospect as Kuminga, Duke's Jalen Johnson is still likely to be an early first-round selection. He comes from a premier program—though he opted out of a portion of this past season—and he has the physical makeup of a future NBA standout.
However, as Wasserman recently noted in a piece highlighting boom-or-bust prospects, Johnson is relatively one-dimensional.
"On one hand, Jalen Johnson is an athletic, 6'9", 220-pounder who played point forward in high school and handles the ball in the open floor," Wasserman wrote. "On the other hand, he doesn't create his own shot well, work from the post or attempt many jumpers."
Johnson averaged a good-not-great 11.2 points in his 13 games in 2021. While he did shoot 52.3 percent from the floor, he simply wasn't a high-volume scorer. That could change at the next level with the proper coaching. However, it's fair to wonder how committed Johnson might be to a team's program.
As Wasserman pointed out, Johnson changed high schools three times, never played after joining IMG Academy and didn't finish things out with Duke this past season.
Alperen Sengun, C, Besiktas
Turkish prospect Alperen Sengun could be a fantastic offensive addition for a team if his skill set translates to the NBA. The European game is a bit different than the NBA version, and not every overseas prospect makes an easy transition.
Vecenie believes that Sengun could become a star in the NBA, though he does acknowledge that Sengun's lack of defense could be an issue.
"I'm a big believer in his offensive game standing out in the NBA due to his mobility, fluidity, strength and finishing," Vecenie wrote. "The defense? I have a real concern with."
Teams won't worry too much about Sengun's lack of defense if opponents have a difficult time defending him. However, if he isn't a high-end offensive player, Sengun could slide into role player territory.
This is the path that 2009 fifth overall pick Ricky Rubio has taken. While he's been a fine role player for more than a decade, he's also bounced between three franchises and has never quite developed into the star the Minnesota Timberwolves hoped he could become.
Sengun carries similar boom-bust potential.