1 Surprise 2021 NBA Draft Target for Every Lottery Team
The NBA draft doesn't usually go by the book or predictions made by media and fans. And this year, after the No. 1 overall pick, nothing is set in stone in terms of who's going where.
It's even worth thinking about whether the Detroit Pistons will take the obvious favorite at No. 1.
For every lottery pick, we highlighted a surprise target or perceived reach who deserves consideration for how their skills and game would fit.
Surprise option at No. 1 overall: Jalen Green (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)
Cade Cunningham has been the presumed No. 1 overall pick all season. And given the Detroit Pistons' need for more creation and offense, it's easy to picture general manager Troy Weaver wanting the 6'8" scorer and playmaker.
But there was also buzz out of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago about Detroit's rumored interest in Jalen Green. And Weaver's selections of Killian Hayes (No. 7) and Isaiah Stewart (No. 16) suggest he isn't influenced by outside noise or public expectations.
The Pistons should equally value Green's archetype while seeing similar No. 1 overall upside tied to his athleticism, self-creation and three-level shot-making skills. It's also worth questioning how the addition of Cunningham, a high-usage, pick-and-roll ball-handler, will affect the development and confidence of Hayes.
Surprise option at No. 2: Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)
With Christian Wood up front and Kevin Porter Jr. on the verge of blowing up, the Houston Rockets could think about drafting their point guard of the future.
Jalen Suggs will be an option at No. 2 or a trade-down target if Houston feels Jalen Green is redundant with Porter or that Evan Mobley and Wood lack physicality together.
In Phase 1 of a rebuild, the Rockets could take it slow with Suggs and let him learn behind John Wall. But Suggs also had experience playing a combo role at Gonzaga. The Rockets could go with a two-playmaker lineup until they're ready to hand Suggs the keys.
An athletic downhill driver, a sharp passer and pull-up threat, a pest defensively and a high-energy player, Suggs comes off as a low-risk, high-ceiling option anywhere after Cade Cunningham.
Surprise option at No. 3: Trade down for Scottie Barnes (Florida State, PF, Freshman)
If Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green are off the board by No. 3, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have an interesting decision. Projected center Evan Mobley is perceived as the best player available, but Cleveland also just traded for Jarrett Allen, a restricted free agent the Cavaliers will presumably want to keep.
To avoid the gut punch of losing Allen for nothing, which Cleveland would likely let happen if it drafted Mobley, a surprise option could be Scottie Barnes. Ideally, the Cavaliers would move down to get him, assuming the Toronto Raptors or Orlando Magic would be eager to swap and grab Mobley.
A Cleveland team with two score-first ball-handlers and a defense that ranked No. 25 should be drawn to Barnes, an excellent passer and the draft's most versatile defender.
Scouts are starting to acknowledge that Barnes may have outlier upside—the potential to be a star without traditional scoring or shooting skills. He can get there with unique playmaking, length and intangibles. And between Allen, Isaac Okoro and Scottie Barnes, the Cavaliers could start forming an identity around a standout defensive frontcourt.
Surprise option at No. 4 overall: Jonathan Kuminga (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2002)
It's widely believed that Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs will go top-four in some order. Jonathan Kuminga is the surprise prospect in play for the Toronto Raptors.
He isn't the cleanest fit for this particular lineup, but Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri will only think about taking the best player available after a 27-win season. Some scouts see more upside with Kuminga than Suggs, who didn't shoot many threes or flash the tightest handle for a lead guard.
Kuminga eased some concerns about his jumper during his pro day in Chicago. With an outstanding physical profile, speed and power plus the ball skills to create, the Raptors could picture a mismatch scoring weapon from the 3 or 4 positions.
Ujiri would worry about his fit later in the process. Coach Nick Nurse could even experiment with a Pascal Siakam-Kuminga-OG Anunoby frontcourt for occasional stretches.
Surprise option at No. 5: Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG/SF, Freshman)
The Orlando Magic need shot-making, and Moody is one of the draft's best. He also doesn't need ball-handling or isolation touches to score. Whereas Jonathan Kuminga is a one-on-one player with a questionable shot and feel, Moody can slide right into Orlando's lineup to provide off-ball offense and shooting off spot-ups, screens and pull-ups from either wing spot.
There is no questioning his fit; rather, whether Moody would be more desirable at No. 8. But with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden Warriors picking at No. 6 and No. 7, the Magic may think about reaching.
Surprise option at No. 8: Josh Giddey (Adelaide 36ers, PG, 2002)
The Magic have a trio of guards in Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton. But none are proven yet or anything like Giddey, who'd give Orlando a true facilitator with an identity built around passing.
It's tough to set any expectations for Fultz coming off an ACL tear and an unpredictable first four NBA seasons. Orlando could start Giddey with Anthony, who could focus more on his signature scoring.
Giddey checks the "makes teammates better" box using his vision and IQ. Players like Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke and Mohamed Bamba would surely benefit from playing with a true point guard who excels at creating quality looks for others.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Surprise option at No. 6 overall: James Bouknight (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)
Bouknight is perceived as one of a handful of late-lottery options. But there is a world where he could climb to No. 6 by assuring teams his jumper is a strength, not a question mark, during workouts.
The Oklahoma City Thunder don't have any specific needs after winning two games total in March and April. It seems safe to assume that the rebuilding Thunder will trade Kemba Walker, so he shouldn't factor into general manager Sam Presti's thought process on draft night.
Bouknight could have a case over Keon Johnson, Jalen Johnson, Scottie Barnes and Franz Wagner, who aren't nearly as skilled in the half court. Moses Moody put up better shooting numbers, but he lacks Bouknight's wiggle off the dribble and explosion around the rim.
It's a strong fit for both the player and team, with Bouknight walking into immediate reps and freedom to create, and Oklahoma City adding a valued shot-creator to a lineup that relies heavily on 22-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Golden State Warriors
Surprise option at No. 7: Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF/PF, Sophomore)
It's understandable to think the Golden State Warriors may eye Davion Mitchell, who at 22 years old is perceived as NBA-ready for a playoff run. But Wagner could also help next season while fitting Golden State's positionless offense and providing defensive value.
He's also three years younger with a case as the superior long-term prospect. At 6'9", he can be used to space the floor as a shooter, slash past closeouts, pass as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and guard wings. Wagner doesn't possess the scoring ability of a James Bouknight or Moses Moody, but the Warriors could value Wagner's two-way versatility, which creates star role-player potential, similar to Nicolas Batum in his prime.
Surprise option at No. 14: Tre Mann (Florida, PG/SG, Sophomore)
The Warriors could pass on Mitchell at No. 7, knowing Mann will likely be there at No. 14. Golden State's rotation could use another creator, and Mann's handle, shiftiness and 6'5" size suggest his creativity at Florida will translate.
But he's also an excellent shooter with a pull-up game and floater suited for off-the-dribble scoring in the NBA. Golden State could use Mann for second-unit offense or as a pick-and-roll ball-handler with the starters who can take pressure off Stephen Curry.
Surprise option at No. 9 overall: Jalen Johnson (Duke, PF, Freshman)
At this point, Marvin Bagley III's presence in the lineup shouldn't prevent the Sacramento Kings from targeting other power forwards. Jalen Johnson has a best-player-available case at No. 9, and Bagley has shown no signs of durability.
Johnson possesses intriguing upside fueled by ball-handling and passing skills for a 6'9", 220-pound plus-athlete. He's tough to slow down in space or stop from scoring around the basket. He also possesses the tools and mobility to guard bigs or wings.
The Kings could think about drafting Johnson and shopping Bagley in hopes of adding more defense or future picks. Or, Sacramento could play Johnson with Bagley and create problems with two quicker, face-up big men.
New Orleans Pelicans
Surprise option at No. 10: Usman Garuba (Real Madrid, PF/C, 2002)
With an offense ranked No. 11 and a defense at No. 23, the New Orleans Pelicans could think about reaching for Garuba. He's been earning minutes in EuroLeague since he was 17 years old, mostly for his unique defensive IQ and mobility to force turnovers, make reads and contest shots.
In the short term, the Pelicans can use him as a specialist for switching and making life uncomfortable for specific bigs. But he also continues to show signs of a budding jumper that could multiply his value on the floor.
If the Pelicans coaching staff can help unlock Garuba's shooting potential, he could be used as a small-ball 5 in a lineup with Zion Williamson.
Surprise option at No. 11: Kai Jones (Texas, PF/C, Sophomore)
Alperen Sengun and Isaiah Jackson are considered more natural centers, but after Jones measured 6'11½" in shoes with a 9'2½" standing reach, the Hornets could think about drafting him for their frontcourt.
Defensively, he reminds of Jonathan Isaac with his size and foot speed for switching, while Sengun remains limited guarding away from the basket. Offensively, Jones would give LaMelo Ball an athletic rim runner and lob target, but also a big with a developing jumper who can attack closeouts. He offers potentially special defensive versatility and more scoring upside than Jackson.
Whoever Charlotte drafts will presumably come off the bench next year, assuming the roster doesn't look too different. Even without consistent shooting yet, Jones should be suited for energizer minutes as a rookie with his motor at both ends.
San Antonio Spurs
Surprise option at No. 12: Isaiah Jackson (Kentucky, C, Freshman)
It wouldn't be a mind-blowing surprise for the San Antonio Spurs to take Jackson, but No. 12 may seem early for a player who averaged 8.4 points and 3.0 fouls with twice as many turnovers than assists.
Drafting Jackson in the lottery means betting on hidden perimeter skills that went masked by Kentucky's offense. Scouts see a high floor thanks to translatable finishing and shot-blocking ability fueled by quickness, bounce and motor. But in flashes, we saw mid-range shooting and face-up play from the elbows.
Regardless, Jackson would give San Antonio's frontcourt extra pop with this lively athleticism and energy.
Surprise option at No. 13: Sharife Cooper (Auburn, PG, Freshman)
The Indiana Pacers could think about adding Cooper's playmaking and moving Malcolm Brogdon to more of a scoring role.
Brogdon has had trouble staying healthy. Indiana has run more offense through Domantas Sabonis, but Cooper's speed and creation could give the lineup a different look. He creates easy scoring opportunities for teammates with his uptempo pace, elusiveness off the dribble and passing craft.
Though he only played 12 games, Cooper was on pace to become the fifth college player (minimum 20 games) to register a 50.0 assist percentage, per Sports Reference. His 8.1 assists per game would have ranked second in Division I if he had enough games to qualify.
Indiana could also think about drafting Cooper, playing Caris LeVert at the 2 and shopping Brogdon for a wing.