NBA Mock Draft 2021: Latest Projections and Comparisons for Underrated Prospects

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IJuly 1, 2021

NBA Mock Draft 2021: Latest Projections and Comparisons for Underrated Prospects

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Everybody knows the big names in the 2021 NBA draft class. Cade Cunningham. Evan Mobley. Jalen Green. Jalen Suggs. These are the players who are likely to come off the board immediately on draft night.

    However, that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to have the best NBA careers of the players in this class. It's possible they will, as they definitely have the talent to do so. But there may be some sleepers who get selected much later who end up turning into stars at the next level.

    It's hard to know exactly who will be the top steals at this point, considering the draft is set for July 29 and it could take years to properly evaluate the class. Still, there are some underrated players who may emerge as breakout stars.

    Here's a look at a first-round mock draft, followed by more on several underrated prospects in the class.  

1st-Round Mock Draft

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, PG/SG, Oklahoma State

    2. Houston Rockets: Evan Mobley, C, USC

    3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jalen Suggs, PG, Gonzaga

    4. Toronto Raptors: Jalen Green, SG, G League

    5. Orlando Magic: Jonathan Kuminga, SF, G League

    6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Davion Mitchell, PG, Baylor

    7. Golden State Warriors (via Minnesota Timberwolves): James Bouknight, SG, UConn 

    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: Scottie Barnes, SF, Florida State

    12. San Antonio Spurs: Franz Wagner, SF, Michigan

    13. Indiana Pacers: Keon Johnson, SG, Tennessee

    14. Golden State Warriors: Ziaire Williams, SG, Stanford

    15. Washington Wizards: Alperen Sengun, C, Besiktas

    16. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Boston Celtics): Josh Giddey, SG, Adelaide 36ers

    17. Memphis Grizzlies: Kai Jones, PF, Texas

    18. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Miami Heat): Usman Garuba, PF, Real Madrid

    19. New York Knicks: Sharife Cooper, PG, Auburn

    20. Atlanta Hawks: Cameron Thomas, SG, LSU

    21. New York Knicks (via Dallas Mavericks): Isaiah Jackson, PF, Kentucky

    22. Los Angeles Lakers: Chris Duarte, SG, Oregon

    23. Houston Rockets (via Portland Trail Blazers): Jaden Springer, PG, Tennessee

    24. Houston Rockets (via Milwaukee Bucks): Greg Brown, PF, Texas

    25. Los Angeles Clippers: Ayo Dosunmu, SG, Illinois

    26. Denver Nuggets: Aaron Henry, SG, Michigan State

    27. Brooklyn Nets: Tre Mann, PG, Florida

    28. Philadelphia 76ers: Jared Butler, PG, Baylor

    29. Phoenix Suns: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, PF, Villanova

    30. Utah Jazz: Joel Ayayi, SG, Gonzaga  

Ayo Dosunmu, SG, Illinois

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Dosunmu was a solid player throughout his three-year career at Illinois, but he took his game to another level as a junior in 2020-21. The 6'5" guard averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 28 games, helping the Fighting Illini win the Big Ten tournament.

    However, Dosunmu isn't ranked as high as his stats may suggest, as he's the No. 32 overall prospect in the class per ESPN. It's possible he could get drafted late in the first round, but he could also fall to the second round.

    ESPN's Jonathan Givony projects Dosunmu's NBA role as a "versatile two-way bench scorer." However, if Dosunmu begins to score at the rate he did in his final college season, when he was named a consensus first-team All-American, perhaps he exceeds those expectations and carves out a bigger role with a team.

    With Dosunmu's size and skill set, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor calls him a "jumbo Jrue Holiday," while also comparing him to Delon Wright and Elfrid Payton. Dosunmu is already a strong scorer, but he could put up even more points by improving his jump shot.

    Dosunmu could easily blow past these projections and expectations, though, as he's shown development in recent years that may continue once he's on his new team.  

Aaron Henry, SG, Michigan State

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    Right now, Henry is facing some adversity during the lead-up to the draft. Givony tweeted on Wednesday that Henry suffered a quad strain at last week's NBA draft combine, although he's "expected to resume workouts within a week." And that may just lead to the Michigan State guard flying more under the radar.

    Henry has a ton of potential, even if he's ESPN's No. 51-ranked player in the draft class. Over his three college seasons, he showed continued improvement. This past season, he averaged 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in 28 games for the Spartans.

    As Asher Low of Rookie Wire recently noted, Henry has a high ceiling, along with the athleticism and physicality to make an impact in the NBA sooner rather than later. Even if he falls into the second round and doesn't get drafted until late.

    "The overall story on Henry is a player with athleticism that can’t be taught, defensive versatility and offensive holes that can be improved in the league," Low wrote. "Expect the underrated Michigan State product to make some noise in an NBA rotation."

    Because of his strong defense and athletic ability, Henry has some similarities to a young Khris Middleton. While Henry doesn't shoot from long range as well and is a long way from reaching the level that Middleton is at now, the potential is there for Henry to keep growing and to turn into a solid NBA player.  

Joel Ayayi, SG, Gonzaga

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Ayayi isn't going to get drafted as high as some of his former Gonzaga teammates, such as Suggs and Corey Kispert, who both have the potential to get picked in the top 10. But that will just allow Ayayi to go a bit under the radar and later emerge as a draft steal.

    As the No. 50 draft prospect in ESPN's rankings, Ayayi may not hear his name called until late on draft night, potentially even into the second round if he starts to fall. But he's an experienced player, having spent three seasons at Gonzaga and developing into a solid prospect over that time.

    This past season, Ayayi averaged 12.0 points and 6.9 rebounds in 32 games for the Bulldogs. He has quite a few offensive skills that suggest he could become a contributor in an NBA rotation in the near future.

    Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman recently put Ayayi as the No. 5 secondary combo guard in the class, a category with players that compare to Fred VanVleet, De'Anthony Melton and Terry Rozier. Wasserman added that Ayayi "looks like a plug-and-play reserve who can add backcourt depth on a rookie contract."

    Of course, that's only in the short term. If Ayayi keeps improving and builds off the skills he showed while at Gonzaga, there's the potential for him to work his way up into a larger role.