Every 2021 NBA Lottery Pick's Biggest Weakness
There are high expectations for the 2021 NBA draft class, but even the top rookies have weaknesses to monitor.
Some prospects' issues are more easily improvable, like shooting. Strengthening one's athletic ability, awareness or creation skills could be more difficult or take longer.
We pinpointed each lottery pick's most worrisome flaw and broke down how it could affect them at the NBA level.
Cade Cunningham (Detroit Pistons, PG/SG)
Biggest weakness: Paint scoring efficiency
For a top pick, Cade Cunningham ran into trouble finishing inside the arc at Oklahoma State (46.1 percent 2PT) and Las Vegas Summer League (34.8 percent).
A heavy self-creation workload led to tough shots, and the spacing wasn't always there. But Cunningham's lack of burst and choice of shot attempts around the key could lead to many contested shots and denials off drives.
Without that extra gear of explosion, he's unable to regularly get himself easy buckets at the rim. In 956 minutes as a freshman, he only had seven dunks.
Regardless of how much burst and strength he's able to add over time, he'll want to improve his decision-making as a scorer after getting into the second level and paint area. Cunningham has a tendency to take the wrong path or step. He'll attack traffic instead of navigate toward the side of the rim with more room. He converted just 9-of-33 runners in college, and he's vulnerable to getting his shot blocked.
Playing with a center like Kelly Olynyk could create some extra finishing space for Cunningham. But converting in crowds near the foul line figures to be his biggest challenge as a rookie.
Jalen Green (Houston Rockets, SG)
Biggest weakness: Defense
Though Jalen Green looks like the best bet to lead all rookies in scoring, he figures to have some difficulty adjusting on defense.
Some of his issues will be tied to his physicality, while others are due to awareness problems.
At 6'6", 186 pounds, a big can easily take him out of a play with a ball screen. But Green also makes it easy by struggling with contact or making his first move backward to avoid it. Opponents in the G League bubble made him pay for going underneath with pull-up shooting. He'll have to do a better job of anticipating screens, getting skinny to avoid them and staying attached to the primary ball-handler.
In one-on-one situations, opposing scorers have been able to drive through him. Even if Green remains on his man's hip, the driver has still been able to rise up relatively unchallenged for a finish. At his current weight, 2-guards will look to target him on downhill slashes rather than allow him to use his quickness and length to contest jumpers.
Off the ball, Green doesn't always see what's about to happen until it's too late. He's shown admirable competitiveness in the G League and summer league, but he'll need time to build up his defensive IQ.
Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers, C)
Biggest weaknesses: Lack of strength/playing through contact
"Needs to add strength" is written on practically every predraft scouting report. But it's a weakness that will affect Evan Mobley more than most early on.
His 215-pound frame doesn't handle contact well. He struggled as a post scorer at USC (29th percentile), often having a tough time moving defending bigs backward, resulting in tough-angled shots with his momentum falling away from the basket.
Mobley only shot 34.9 percent in summer league, looking comfortable in space or with room to load up. But in tight spaces with a defender on his back, he had difficulty dealing with physicality and cleanly separating with the right balance or force.
His rebounding percentages have also been relatively low for a 7'0" top-three pick (14.6 percent NCAA, 12.0 summer league).
Using Mobley as a forward (next to Jarrett Allen) could allow the rookie to showcase his defensive versatility and avoid matching up with stronger NBA anchors. His ball-handling and shooting aren't reliable enough for him to regularly make opponents pay from the perimeter. But at the 4, Mobley should still flash glimpses of face-up play and touch that scream mismatch and long-term upside.
Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors, SF/PF)
Biggest weakness: Shooting
Scottie Barnes appeared to have improved his shot-creation skills in the summer league. His ball-handling, length and touch around the key should translate to modest scoring, but he's still not too threatening as a shooter.
After converting 11-of-40 threes in 24 college games, Barnes shot 3-of-11 in Las Vegas. And despite often being used as a playmaker, the inability to shoot off the dribble (4-of-19 at FSU) limits him as a one-on-one scorer.
By defending, passing, attacking bigs and bringing energy, he does enough to make an impact without a consistent jumper. Improving it will help the Toronto Raptors' spacing and give Barnes another needed weapon for his half-court offense.
Jalen Suggs (Orlando Magic, PG/SG)
Biggest weakness: Mix of half-court creation and spot-up shooting
The Orlando Magic drafted Jalen Suggs to join Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz and R.J. Hampton. Coach Jamahl Mosley isn't likely to label each—all four figure to split ball-handling duties, meaning Suggs could spend more time than he should off the ball. And last year, he shot just 11-of-37 (29.7 percent) on catch-and-shoot jumpers in 30 games.
He'd turn down open spot-up looks for contested drives. Catch-and-shoot is Suggs' biggest weakness, but he could also stand to improve his handle for half-court creation.
He looked stiff attacking one-on-one and was prone to losing the ball in traffic or picking up player control fouls off drives (19.5 turnover percentage).
Though an outstanding transition passer, Suggs recorded two total assists on 17 isolation possessions at Gonzaga. Fultz may still be Orlando's best bet for playmaking and setting up teammates in the half court.
Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder, PG/SG)
Biggest weakness: Half-court scoring
With enough minutes, Josh Giddey could lead all rookies in assists, as he just led the NBL at 18 years old. But scoring in the half court will be a challenge for Giddey, who lacks advanced handles, blow-by burst, explosiveness at the rim and a pull-up game.
Some scouts aren't sold he's a lead ball-handler in the NBA, with questions about his ability to beat smaller defenders off the dribble. He plays straight up and down for a lead guard, doesn't have that extra gear or shiftiness, and rarely got to the free-throw line in Australia. And it's unlikely he'll be able to lean on his three-ball after he hit just 29 in 28 games at a 29.3 percent clip.
Giddey also has a slow release on his pull-up. It's easy to contest, despite his 6'8" height.
His value to the Oklahoma City Thunder will revolve around standout passing IQ, which he uses to get teammates' easy opportunities in transition and open shots off pick-and-rolls. The Thunder just shouldn't count on many 20-point efforts from their No. 6 pick.
Jonathan Kuminga (Golden State Warriors, SF/PF)
Biggest weakness: Shooting in off-ball role and decision-making
Jonathan Kuminga shot under 30 percent from three and 70 percent from the free-throw line both the G League and summer league. He could struggle with scoring efficiency in the half court until his shooting becomes more reliable.
And with the Golden State Warriors, he'll play more off the ball than he's used to, so being an erratic spot-up shooter could hurt even more earlier in his career. He could have trouble in a role that forces him to do more standing around the arc.
Kuminga should still receive some opportunities to operate off the dribble as a second-unit scorer. But poor decision-making seems likely to become a talking point when assessing shot selection. Kuminga often settles for low-percentage looks or barrels into traffic due to predetermining shots, failing to recognize when to counter and tunnel vision.
Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic, SF/PF)
Biggest weakness: Skill set for consistent scoring
Defense and versatility will drive Franz Wagner's value, but he'll have a tough time scoring consistently without self-creation skills or a reliable jumper.
He'll be used mostly as a spot-up player for the Orlando Magic, just like he was in summer league, where he only took 29 shots in four games.
He's not advanced enough on the ball for the Magic to feature him when they have Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz and R.J. Hampton. Wagner only converted four isolation baskets and 11 pull-ups at Michigan. To score, he'll rely on open driving lanes, cuts and transition, as well as catch-and-shoot looks, though his three-ball has been shaky.
Wagner finished 2-of-13 from deep in Las Vegas after shooting 34.3 percent on limited volume (3.6 attempts per game) as a sophomore.
Assuming he doesn't offer much as a self-creator, and his three-ball remains erratic, Orlando's second 2021 lottery pick could have trouble reaching double figures in scoring on a regular basis.
Davion Mitchell (Sacramento Kings, PG)
Biggest weakness: Decision-making/processing in the lane
Davion Mitchell's burst off hesitations makes it easy for him to beat defenders and enter the lane. After his initial move, though, his decision-making leads to too many tough finishing attempts and turnovers.
With his elite explosion, Mitchell should have been able to average more than 2.4 free-throw attempts in 32.7 minutes per game in two years with Baylor. He took seven foul shots total in 124 summer league minutes as lead guard.
Mitchell doesn't always show the quickest processing or greatest feel for what angle or shot to take off a drive, leading to out-of-control layup attempts. He leaves himself vulnerable to offensive fouls, and he's prone to forcing a bad pass due to wrong reads of the defense and teammates.
Mitchell may need his shooting to carry his field-goal percentage early until the game slows down for him off those explosive drives.
Ziaire Williams (Memphis Grizzlies, SG/SF)
Biggest weakness: Lack of burst/strength for getting downhill and finishing
Ziaire Williams needs to become a more consistent shooter, but the mechanics and shot-making skills remain promising. The bigger concern focuses on how his lack of burst and strength prevents him from getting downhill, playing through contact and finishing in traffic.
At Stanford, on 85 possessions as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, only once did Williams successfully record a drive to the basket for a score. As a spot-up player, he scored once on a take to the rim. And of players at the NBA combine who measured at least 6'7" in socks (Williams was 6'8¼"), Williams was the only one to weigh under 200 pounds (188.4 pounds).
Even in space, he often appears to predetermine a step-back or pull-up jumper rather than make an attempt at attacking an open lane.
Given his difficulty earning himself easy baskets in the half court, plus the erratic shooting, Williams figures to struggle from the field this upcoming season.
James Bouknight (Charlotte Hornets, SG)
Biggest weakness: Shot selection/making teammates better
James Bouknight's identity is built around scoring. However, he can do a better job of making quicker decisions with the ball, not letting it stick and using his dribble to set up teammates.
He tends to dance too long before getting into his move or shot. He'll also lose the ball after driving into multiple defenders or trying to force it through a tight window.
Bouknight has strong shot-making skills and confidence, but it often leads to low percentage, off-balance, two-point jumpers. As a sophomore, he made just 12-of-38 jumpers inside the arc and shot poorly from three (29.3 percent).
He looked more willing to pass in Las Vegas, but as Connecticut's lead guard, he averaged 1.8 assists to 2.8 turnovers. He'll develop tunnel vision and miss teammates, appearing too focused on his one-on-one execution. For a guard who struggles with spot-up shooting and likes the ball in his hands, Bouknight has to become a sharper playmaker by capitalizing on his gravity.
Josh Primo (San Antonio Spurs, SG)
Biggest weakness: Off-the-dribble execution
Josh Primo spent 60.4 percent of his possessions at Alabama spotting up and playing in transition. He graded in the 16th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and 8th percentile out of isolation (on limited volume).
In summer league, where he was featured far more heavily (30.5 percent usage) compared to college (17.6 percent usage), Primo unsurprisingly struggled from the field (36.2 percent).
Not turning 19 until Christmas Eve, the league's youngest player isn't ready physically or fundamentally to start executing off the dribble against NBA defenders. He flashed more creation in Las Vegas than he did at Alabama, and his shot-making/shooting was the major draw for the San Antonio Spurs. For the time being, though, he's going to have trouble separating and hitting contested jumpers or challenged attempts around the rim.
When San Antonio is ready to give Primo minutes, he'll be used mostly as a catch-and-shoot or spot-up weapon. But to take him at No. 12, the Spurs clearly saw more upside to unlock from his creation potential for scoring and playmaking. They'll just have to wait until the backend of his rookie contract to see results.
Chris Duarte (Indiana Pacers, SG)
Biggest weakness: Lack of explosion
Skill-wise, Chris Duarte doesn't have a glaring weakness. He will have trouble blowing by defenders, however.
Only one of his 18 isolation buckets at Oregon was a take to the basket. He'll make his NBA money with shot-making and shooting. And he's flashed sharp enough footwork to create space for himself into jumpers around the perimeter. But he lacks explosiveness off the dribble, which makes it tough to get himself uncontested layups.
Though he excels at adjusting on finishes, his defender is still often between him and the rim on his attempts, requiring Duarte to use strength, extra hang time or improvisation.
Moses Moody (Golden State Warriors, SG/SF)
Biggest weakness: Athleticism for finishing
Moses Moody could stand to improve his creation skills, but he'll still find ways to score by shot-making off the ball in the Golden State Warriors' offense. It's his physical and athletic limitations, though, that could make it difficult for him to beat defenders and finish in traffic around the basket.
At Arkansas, he graded in the 34th percentile in transition, the 25th percentile in dribble-handoff situations and the 45th percentile finishing at the rim. Moody recorded one successful isolation drive to the hoop all season, as he lacks pop from his lower body and buckles against contact.
Moody's jumper and shooting versatility should suit him well in Golden State's offense, but he'll have a tougher time putting pressure on defenses off the bounce or converting against NBA rim protection.