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2021 NBA Draft Buzz: Is Cade Cunningham Definitely Going No. 1?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJune 30, 2021

Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham (2) drives the ball against Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)
Jerry Larson/Associated Press

Gossip exchanged at the NBA Draft Combine included the Detroit Pistons and their No. 1 overall pick, presumed to be Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham. But some rival teams brought up the Pistons' possible interest in G League Ignite star Jalen Green.

But we can only write what we know: Sources tell Bleacher Report that certain staff around general manager Troy Weaver were initially informed about Detroit's plan to take Cunningham.

Cunningham, the perceived No. 1 overall favorite all season, isn't expected to work out or visit with anyone other than the lottery-winning Pistons. It's unknown yet if Detroit will attempt to bring in Green, USC's Evan Mobley or Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs.

Of course, another question is circulating: What would it take for the Pistons to trade down, especially if their rumored interest in Green is legitimate? Some scouts believe Detroit value Green more at No. 2, citing a smaller gap between him and Cunningham compared to what the media has painted. Previous unconventional draft picks and signings make it easier to picture Weaver ignoring outside expectations. 

Could the Detroit Pistons spurn conventional thinking and take G League Ignite's Jalen Green first overall in the 2021 draft?
Could the Detroit Pistons spurn conventional thinking and take G League Ignite's Jalen Green first overall in the 2021 draft?Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

But imaginations tend to run wild the weeks before the draft. Cunningham's elite playmaking and shooting make him a tough pass. At this stage, the Pistons can't bank on Killian Hayes managing a full workload as the Pistons' lone initiator. 

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Green doesn't offer the same playmaking ability as Cunningham. Detroit can still use Hayes in ball-screen situations and slide Cunningham off the ball, where he shot 43.9 percent as a catch-and-shoot threat, per Synergy Sports. But even Hayes has experience playing 2-guard, where he logged 44.0 percent of his possessions as a rookie.

Green possesses No. 1-option scoring potential, but Cunningham generated 1.06 points per possession out of isolation, per Synergy Sports, the highest of any recent NCAA lottery pick (minimum 50 possessions). There are differences in Cunningham's movement compared to Luka Doncic's, but his archetype is the same.

Like every team that picks first overall, Detroit will presumably listen to offers. The Rockets could propose No. 2, plus future picks from the James Harden trade and Kevin Porter Jr. Or the Cleveland Cavaliers could offer No. 3, a future first-rounder and Collin Sexton. 

Conversations will take place. New gossip will continue to circulate. In all likelihood, more smoke about the Pistons' interest in Green and Mobley will surface during rumor season until it circles back to Cunningham. 

       

13 Other 2021 NBA Combine Rumors

1. Most scouts have Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs behind Cunningham, Green and Mobley. One told me had had Suggs in a separate, lower tier, even behind Jonathan Kuminga. It will be interesting to see what the Toronto Raptors do at No. 4, given Kyle Lowry's free agency, Kuminga's perceived upside and the likability factor with Scottie Barnes, who some also believe could crack the top five. 

2. Scouts expect VCU's Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland to wind up in the first round after he showcased his instant-offense scoring during Thursday's scrimmage. There is a thought that Immanuel Quickley's success as a 6'3" non-point guard makes it easier to picture Hyland succeeding.

3. Auburn's JT Thor is set to work out for the New Orleans Pelicans, Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers, and all indications are he's locked into the first round and climbing.

4. Tennessee's Keon Johnson had everyone talking after his 48" max vertical. But it's starting to sound more like No. 8 is the highest he goes. One scout talked about how Johnson had all this athleticism and energy but doesn't quite know how to optimize it. Assuming the Golden State Warriors (if they stick at No. 7) are looking for a rookie contributor, it's tough to picture Johnson going before the Orlando Magic's second pick. 

5. I heard contrasting opinions on Jalen Johnson, who left Duke midseason. One scout noted that he's just too talented to downgrade, assuming any red flags detected are mostly tied to immaturity. Another scout didn't have Johnson in the first round, noting both unsatisfying background checks and questions about his ability to beat defenders in the half court. 

6. Baylor's Davion Mitchell "isn't who everyone thinks he is," said a scout who believes the 6'1" guard's defensive upside is overhyped. The scout still expects Mitchell to go in the lottery, but it's worth noting that not everyone has bought in. Another scout I spoke to does have Mitchell in the late-lottery range.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - APRIL 05: Davion Mitchell #45 and Mark Vital #11 of the Baylor Bears celebrate their win against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 05,
Brett Wilhelm/Getty Images

7. A scout agreed on a taller Ricky Rubio as a solid comparison for Australia's Josh Giddey. He's also believed to go in the lottery with too strong of a feel/passing IQ for his shortcomings as a scorer to turn teams away.

8. Iowa's Joe Wieskamp helped himself tremendously after measuring a 6'11" wingspan, jumping a 42" max vertical and scoring 26 points in the second scrimmage without being exposed physically. One scout said he wouldn't be surprised if he went early second round. 

9. De'Anthony Melton has become a popular comparison for Tennessee's Jaden Springer. Scouts don't see a lead guard—rather, a complementary offensive player and disruptor. He's likely to go in the 20s or early 30s.

10. There is an idea that LSU's Cameron Thomas will develop bad habits and struggle with inefficiency if he goes to a rebuilding team. But if he lands with a playoff team, he could quickly earn value and become a useful, impactful young player with his confident shot-making skills.

11. Scouts aren't sure Florida's Tre Mann is a point guard. One asked how different he is from Anfernee Simons. Mann does have more ball-screen playmaking ability, but not all teams are picturing a lead guard.

12. Houston's Quentin Grimes has improved his stock the most of any prospect. Projected in the 50s of our previous mock draft, he's now being talked about as a first-round pick after lighting up both scrimmages with his shooting and general command of each game.

13. Expect to see Texas' Jericho Sims on the next mock draft. Between his 44'½" max vertical and finishing activity at the basket during scrimmages, scouts expect one second-round team to grab him for an energy role.

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