B/R Staff Makes Final 2021 NBA Draft Predictions
It feels like the NBA features as much parity as it has in decades. Reasonable arguments can be made for close to a dozen teams winning the championship in 2022. And with the talent spread out the way it is, even squads in the lottery of the 2021 NBA draft can realistically hope that success is right around the corner.
If Cade Cunningham is the well-rounded star he's projected to be, the Detroit Pistons could compete for a spot in the Eastern Conference's play-in tournament as early as next season. The Toronto Raptors could quickly reset around the No. 4 pick, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, can add two lottery talents to the core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
With a draft class that features multiple players, including Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Jalen Green, who might've been the top overall pick in most other years, there's reason for extreme optimism for those teams and more.
All this talent could breed unpredictably too. Teams could be clamoring to move up. Lottery picks might have more value now than in other summers. That makes it more difficult to predict what will happen, but that won't stop us from trying.
Knicks 'Consolidate' Picks, but at a Cost
The New York Knicks have a pair of first-round picks in Thursday's NBA Draft at Nos. 19 and 21. Look for the team to trade both to move up as high as it can get.
How far is the question. While the Knicks may have a decent shot to get into the top 14, they may struggle to climb the lottery without including another piece like Obi Toppin, Luca Vildoza or Mitchell Robinson.
Wild prediction: New York helps fill Sacramento's hole at center with Robinson (opting him into his final year) for the No. 9 pick (for Kai Jones?), with the Kings also getting the two later picks in return.
Sacramento may not have the means to pay Richaun Holmes.
New York may try to retain Nerlens Noel and use cap room to add depth at center in free agency.
Josh Giddey Is Drafted Before Jonathan Kuminga
It wasn't until recently that the bottom dropped out on Jonathan Kuminga's status as a top-five prospect in this draft. But the raw state of his skill set has upped the risk factor such that a draft-night slide to the back of the top 10 is a real possibility.
Josh Giddey is ready to step right into that vacated spot. His stock is trending the opposite direction, as win-now teams in that range grow more enamored with his combination of size (6'8”), passing and basketball IQ. The Warriors, who draft seventh, Kings, who draft ninth, and Grizzlies, who climbed to 10th, could all use his playmaking punch on the perimeter.
Kuminga has the higher ceiling with explosive athleticism, but his skills may never catch up to his tools. Giddey's passing can play right now, and his offensive value really gets going if he finds consistency as a shooter.
Lakers Lock in on Buddy Hield
The Los Angeles Lakers have a win-now mindset, suggesting the No. 22 pick isn't a priority. L.A. may offer it up to acquire a playoff-ready veteran.
Outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the only Lakers under significant contracts are Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell (assuming he opts into his final year).
Look for the Lakers to try to move up using a package deal with Kuzma and Harrell. Alternatively, the team could try to trade No. 22 to get out of Caldwell-Pope's contract, or even move back in the draft for multiple picks.
Wild Prediction: The Lakers try to lock in Buddy Hield from the Sacramento Kings for Kuzma and Harrell, with an offer to swap No. 22 with either the Kings' No. 9 (for Chris Duarte, Corey Kispert, Franz Wagner or Jones?), or Nos. 19 and 21 if the crazy Knicks prediction comes together.
Nuggets Trade into the Lottery
Rumors abound during draft week, and it's next to impossible to decipher what's real, what's smoke and what's full-fledged disinformation. The Denver Nuggets' reported interest in moving up from the No. 26 pick makes sense, though.
Contention is fleeting, even for a young core like Denver's. And finding someone who can help right away will be much easier in the lottery than it will be at No. 26. Pairing someone like Bol Bol or Zeke Nnaji with that pick and maybe some future pick swaps might be enough to entice a team in the late lottery.
Both bigs profile as potential floor spacers, and they've obviously shown more in the NBA (even if, in Bol's case, it's not much more) than any of the prospects in this class.
Trades, Trades and More Trades
The running theme through the 2021 NBA Draft will be movement.
The challenge will be keeping track of which team is picking where.
The main culprits will be the teams with multiple picks (beyond the typical first and second), including the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Knicks. The Thunder will likely make more moves than any other franchise.
Lottery picks will change hands with teams moving up and down. Beyond the draftees, veterans will be relocated as well, as the league looks to reshape itself. With the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks getting much farther than many expected and the playoff pool extended to 20 teams (via the play-in tournament), expect a hectic trading day.
Prediction: The trade count, including deals that need to wait until after the August moratorium, will reach 20.
Any Big Names on the Move?
Fans looking for a lot of big names to get traded on Thursday night will probably be disappointed.
The Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard situations just aren't at that point yet. Additionally, Daryl Morey isn't going to take a deal for Ben Simmons that doesn't meet his asking price just to get something done before the draft.
However, I think the Cavaliers' Collin Sexton dilemma will be resolved on Thursday. They don't want his extension situation to linger into free agency, when they have to pay Jarrett Allen and focus the rest of their roster-building efforts around the young core of Allen, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and whoever they take at No. 3.
They'll move Sexton this week.
Cavs Can't Resist Evan Mobley
Jumping up in the draft lottery to No. 3 overall was a blessing for a Cleveland Cavaliers team still searching for an All-Star to rally around in their rebuild. This spot guarantees them one of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green or Evan Mobley.
It's also a spot a lot of teams would like to move up to, per Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer. He noted that the Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies would all like to add Mobley, who's widely mocked to the Cavs at No. 3.
Despite the generous offers that may flood in, don't expect the Cavs to trade the pick. Cleveland has selected some nice players in the draft over the past three years in Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro, but this is the highest spot the team has picked at since beginning the current rebuild.
Getting a potential All-Star and two-way big man in Mobley is just too much to pass up, even if teams come with offers of future first-rounders and additional young talent.
Could Pistons Be Swayed by Trade Offer at No. 1?
According to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, Detroit has "finalized the decision" to draft Cade Cunningham No. 1 overall, assuming it retains the pick.
Wojnarowski reports "there's always the possibility that a [trade] proposal could blow the Pistons away." But Detroit will take Cunningham as expected, as in all likelihood, Detroit's asking price will be too high for anyone to meet.
Cunningham, the perceived top pick all year, gives Detroit exactly what it needs: an initiator who can set the table, take over games with scoring and just graded as one of the nation's most efficient isolation scorers despite defenses loading up.