2021 NBA Mock Draft: How 3 Trades Could Shake Up the Lottery
The basketball world will be talking trades throughout the 2021 NBA offseason.
Whether any major moves come to fruition is up to the various front offices, but with free agency light on both top-tier talent and big spenders, the market conditions are perfect for summer blockbusters.
That got us in the mood to fire up the trade machines and broker three big deals to shake up the lottery in our latest mock ahead of next week's draft.
1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State
Phone calls will continue rolling in about this pick, and the Pistons will keep picking up the phone. If someone wants to grossly overpay for the No. 1 spot, Detroit can let them.
More likely, though, the Pistons see the same thing as all the teams vying for this pick—Cade Cunningham is as good as it gets in this draft.
He has been perched atop this class for the last year and has an argument for possessing its highest floor and tallest ceiling. He's a nightmare matchup waiting to happen with all the versatility teams could want from a 19-year-old.
He also gives Detroit limitless options to build the roster around him, since he can function as both a primary playmaker and a No. 1 scorer. The Pistons have put together an intriguing young nucleus already, and Cunningham can slide right in the middle of it as the long-term centerpiece.
2. Houston Rockets: Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite
The Rockets need someone to lead their offense into the post-James Harden era, and Jalen Green looks like one of the best young scorers to enter the Association in recent years.
Houston shouldn't overthink this.
Even if there are front-office fans of Evan Mobley or Jalen Suggs, the voices backing Green should be the loudest in the room. His offensive bag already overflows with pull-ups, explosive finishes and an ability to create his shot from anywhere.
If you bet on anyone in this draft to eventually win a scoring title, Green would be the guy. He has superstar potential, and Houston could not ask for a better replacement for the Beard.
TRADE at 3. Orlando Magic (via Cavaliers): Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga
Orlando Magic receive: No. 3 and Taurean Prince
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: No. 5 and No. 8
If the Magic feel, as many do, there are four top-shelf prospects in this draft, they need to open an avenue into that draft range. If the Cavs don't see a massive gap between Mobley and restricted free agent Jarrett Allen and don't want to take the ball out of Darius Garland's hands to give it to Suggs, they might sign off on being Orlando's dance partner.
As the Magic trudge through the early stages of their rebuild, their need for an offensive focal point is glaring. Their highest returning scorer, Terrence Ross, averaged just 15.6 points per game and happens to be one of the offseason's most logical trade candidates.
Jalen Suggs can steer the ship. His combination of skills, strength and explosion could one day punch his All-Star ticket, and his willingness to take big shots could give this franchise some late-game direction.
A backcourt combo of Suggs and Markelle Fultz would be electric in the open court and could be dominant on defense, especially with a healthy Jonathan Isaac playing free safety behind them.
4. Toronto Raptors: Evan Mobley, C, USC
Toronto's good fortunes started at the lottery—when it cashed in an 8.5 percent chance to climb to No. 4—and keep rolling through this mock draft.
Evan Mobley might be the second-best prospect in this class. If he maximizes his offensive potential while growing into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate at the other end, he could have the best career of any of his classmates.
His defense should be tremendous. He protects the paint and handles perimeter switches with ease. Having him in the same frontcourt as Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby would give Toronto an absurd amount of length, athleticism and versatility, plus an identity to take this team into the post-Kyle Lowry era (which might be starting this summer).
Offensively, Mobley's soft hands and quick feet will help him wreak havoc as a pick-and-roll screener. He is already comfortable handling the basketball and finding open teammates, and his shooting range could extend past the three-point arc over time.
TRADE at 5. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Magic): Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State
More and more teams are falling for the uniquely skilled Scottie Barnes—the Raptors are reportedly considering him at No. 4, per The Athletic's Sam Vecenie—and if the Cavs are among them, they'll feel great about trading down two spots for an extra top-10 selection and an eight-figure trade exception.
Barnes looks like he was built for this era. Standing 6'8" with a 7'2" wingspan, he should comfortably move between all three frontcourt spots and can shift between all five positions on defense. Slotting him in between Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen would give Cleveland a potentially dominant defensive trio capable of cleaning up everything that slips past Darius Garland and Collin Sexton on the outside.
Offensively, Barnes has the handles, vision and selflessness to play point guard. He won't run that position, but those skills should make him super productive screening on high pick-and-rolls. Much like Draymond Green does in Golden State, Barnes could feast on the four-on-three opportunities those screens create.
Also like Green, though, there are questions about Barnes' shooting and scoring utility in the half court. But if Cleveland can coax a reliable jumper out of him, it could have its next All-Star.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Bouknight, G, Connecticut
The Thunder need scoring support for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They didn't have another player average even 15 points this past season, and while newcomer Kemba Walker cleared that mark, his stay in the Sooner State figures to be brief.
Enter James Bouknight, one of the most natural bucket-getters in this draft.
He pairs playground handles with powerful finishing and the fearlessness to pull up and fire at any time. He needs to find consistency with his jump shot and defense, but OKC's patience and developmental program could help bring out his best.
TRADE at 7. Detroit Pistons (via Warriors): Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite
Detroit Pistons receive: No. 7, James Wiseman and Kelly Oubre Jr. (sign-and-trade)
Golden State Warriors receive: Jerami Grant, Cory Joseph and No. 37 pick
The first six picks set the stage for the night's biggest blockbuster. The Warriors are already "highly active" in trade talks, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, and would have even more incentive to trade with James Bouknight off the board, especially if it meant adding Jerami Grant to the starting five and Cory Joseph to the second team.
Conversely, the Pistons might be ready to pounce if Jonathan Kuminga—regarded as a top-five prospect for much of the #MockDraftSZN—slips to this spot. He's a hyper-athletic 18-year-old with high-level flashes of shot-creation and elite physical tools for the defensive end. He needs time, but if handled properly he might one day provide three-level scoring, lock-down defending and highlight finishing on fast breaks.
While Detroit shouldn't be rushing to move on from Grant, the return here is too rich to pass up. The Pistons would walk away from this draft with one of the league's best young cores: Cade Cunningham, James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Kelly Oubre Jr., Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Josh Jackson and, if he's re-signed, Hamidou Diallo. That could be a playoff-ready nucleus faster than you think.
Because Oubre is a free agent, this deal couldn't go down on draft night and would instead need to be announced at the start of free agency.
TRADE at 8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Magic): Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor
As the Cavs look to construct a winning culture, an investment in Davion Mitchell might pay off on three fronts.
For starters, he's probably the best on-ball defender in this draft. It's critical the Cavaliers add a backcourt stopper regardless of their intentions with Collin Sexton, who needs an extension this offseason or a new deal in the next one. Mitchell would also be an offensive asset as a shooter, distributor and attacker. His work ethic and approach could be just as important as anything he does on the court.
Some will argue Cleveland is sacrificing upside to get all of the above, since Mitchell is 22 years old already and will be 23 before his rookie season tips. But his developmental curve points up at such an extreme angle—his scoring and shooting rates didn't spike until this campaign—that he should offer more growth potential than the typical player his age.
9. Sacramento Kings: Moses Moody, G/F, Arkansas
The Kings are reportedly shopping this pick for a win-now player, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. That seems premature when De'Aaron Fox is only 23 and Tyrese Haliburton just completed his first NBA season, although patience is probably hard to preach from the middle of a record-tying playoff drought.
Instead of moving this pick, Sacramento could spend it on a prospect who figures to help sooner than later. Moses Moody might be up to the challenge as a plug-and-play three-and-D wing.
He's long, strong and agile, which helps him handle a number of different defensive assignments. On offense, he can bury spot-up triples, and his limited shot-creation shouldn't be too concerning with Fox and Haliburton handling the bulk of those duties.
TRADE at 10. Memphis Grizzlies (via Pelicans): Keon Johnson, G/F, Tennessee
Memphis Grizzlies receive: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, No. 10 pick and 2023 first-round pick (top-seven protected)
New Orleans Pelicans receive: Jaren Jackson Jr.
The idea of a Jaren Jackson Jr. trade would have been jarring in the not-distant past, but his myriad injury problems and extension eligibility might change the conversation. The Grizzlies reportedly "aren't yet sold" on the big man, per Marc Berman of the New York Post, and if they aren't prepared to pay Jackson, maybe they'd flip him for a lottery pick, a future first and an intriguing 22-year-old guard in Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
If Memphis wanted to move Jackson, New Orleans should pounce. Zion Williamson might be getting antsy with the Pelicans, but he shouldn't need to be talked into playing alongside a big man with the shooting-and-shot-blocking combo that perfectly fits Williamson's skill set.
As for this pick, Memphis would bet big on Keon Johnson's incredible athleticism and two-way upside. If he can tighten his handle and expand his shooting range, he could be the difference-making wing this franchise failed to find during the grit-and-grind era.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Kai Jones, F/C, Texas
Bring Jones to Buzz City, and the Hornets might have solved their puzzle at center. Short term, he'd be a rim-crushing lob partner for LaMelo Ball and an interior anchor who can defend away from the basket. Long term, Jones could get interesting if he taps into his jump-shooting and off-the-dribble potential.
12. San Antonio Spurs: Josh Giddey, G, Adelaide 36ers
There might be safer prospects on the board, but the Spurs should be ready for a big swing to escape the NBA's middle class. Giddey stands 6'8" and is one of the best passers in this draft. His shot needs work, but if that light bulb clicks, he could become a primary creator down the line.
13. Indiana Pacers: Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga
The Pacers need more three-ballers, especially if Doug McDermott walks in free agency. Kispert is more than a shooting specialist, but his stroke is his strongest asset. He averaged better than two triples per night on 43 percent shooting both this season and last.
14. Golden State Warriors: Franz Wagner, F, Michigan
The Warriors are in the market for NBA-readiness, and Wagner offers plenty of it. He's a high-effort, high-IQ defender who cans open threes and keeps the ball moving at the other end.
15. Washington Wizards: Chris Duarte, G/F, Oregon
The Wizards need instant impact for what will be Bradley Beal's final season under contract. Chris Duarte can contribute right now as a 42.4 percent three-point sniper and All-Pac-12 defender.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Celtics): Alperen Sengun, C, Besiktas
Sengun's game is a little dated as an interior big with smooth moves in the post and limitations on his defense. But as an 18-year-old, his skill level is impressive, and he can really up his impact by improving his playmaking and expanding his range. OKC should see where his future heads.
17. Memphis Grizzlies: Trey Murphy III, F, Virginia
After swinging big on Keon Johnson, the Grizzlies can return to their model of snatching up polished upperclassmen. Murphy offers elite spot-up shooting and enough flexibility on defense to pester most forwards and some guards.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Heat): Jalen Johnson, F, Duke
Johnson might have top-10 talent if he is developed right. He needs to perk up his shooting and in-between scoring, but there aren't many players his size (6'9", 210 lbs) who can handle and pass like he does.
19. New York Knicks: Cameron Thomas, G, LSU
Thomas needs polish, but he packs a mighty scoring punch. He set the scoring record at Oak Hill Academy and then paced all freshmen with 23.0 points per game in 2020-21.
20. Atlanta Hawks: Jared Butler, G, Baylor
As Atlanta looks to build off its run to the Eastern Conference Finals, it could be drawn to Butler's experience and well-rounded skills. The fact that he can play on or off the ball and gets after it defensively means he could work alongside or behind Trae Young.
21. New York Knicks: Isaiah Jackson, C, Kentucky
If the Knicks don't want to cover the cost of Mitchell Robinson's next contract, Jackson can give them an out. He can handle rim-running duties right now, and he has shown enough flashes to think (or at least hope) he can become a reliable face-up scorer with shooting range.
22. Los Angeles Lakers: Sharife Cooper, PG, Auburn
The Lakers want more playmaking, per longtime NBA scribe Marc Stein, and Cooper is a natural running offense. How quickly he develops his outside shot could determine how significant a role he'll receive as a rookie.
23. Houston Rockets (via Trail Blazers): Usman Garuba, F/C, Real Madrid
Garuba has an argument as the draft's best defender. His offense is underdeveloped, but his motor is elite, his hands are quick and his feet are faster.
24. Houston Rockets (via Bucks): Jaden Springer, G, Tennessee
Springer's scoring outlook is murky, but the Rockets might have that covered with Jalen Green, Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. If they are, they should be drawn to Springer's smothering on-ball defense and penchant for passing.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Tre Mann, PG/SG, Florida
Mann is more scorer than table-setter, but the Clippers might have enough passers to make it work. He can play on or off the ball and is a knockdown shooter who can free himself and fire off the bounce.
26. Denver Nuggets: Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois
Dosunmu doesn't have a standout skill, but his do-it-all skills might work in a glue-guy role. In Denver, he could help run the offense while Jamal Murray works his way back from a torn ACL and then shift into a complementary role focused on finishing, defense, spot-up shooting and high-energy everything.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Ziaire Williams, F, Stanford
The Nets might feel good enough about their playoff rotation to swing for the fences here. Williams underwhelmed during a choppy season at Stanford, but he's still a big wing with featured scoring in his best-case-scenario future.
28. Philadelphia 76ers: Nah'Shon Hyland, G, VCU
The Sixers are on the search for perimeter shooting and scoring, and Hyland could help with both. His energy and confidence are always sky-high, and his off-the-dribble shooting can help increase the spacing.
29. Phoenix Suns: Joshua Primo, G, Alabama
Primo's jumper looks rotation-ready, and he seems like he could chip in with secondary distributing. He can help right now, but he's also a long-term investment with his 19th birthday not coming until December.
30. Utah Jazz: JT Thor, F, Auburn
Another 18-year-old (turns 19 in August), Thor helped himself during the predraft process with size, physical tools and encouraging shooting. The high end of his outlook shows both shot-blocking and floor-spacing.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.