US Sports Veteran
Publish Date: 07/12/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
The 2021 NBA Draft is less than three weeks away. Sixty young men stand at the doorstep of achieving their childhood goals on a night that features plenty of cheers, trades, tears, and heartbreak every year. After a weak 2020 draft class, this year’s group could breathe some new life into the league and revitalize tanking organizations.
The Class of 2021 is far superior to its predecessor, but it isn’t a historically loaded group. The four best players are heads and shoulders above everyone else, but there’s talent throughout the first 30 selections. Let’s walk through this year’s first round and see how this class can shake up the league.
All measurements come from the 2021 NBA Combine if the listed prospect participated. I didn’t include any trade projections in this article but expect at least two or three significant ones on draft night.
A 6’4” Lithuanian guard, Jokubaitis is a solid playmaker with the potential to become a lethal three-point shooter. The 20-year-old made 38.8% of his threes for Zalgiris in the EuroLeague this past season. He could see early action in 2021 if Mike Conley leaves Utah in free agency.
At 6’1”, McBride is locked in as a point guard at the NBA level. His size might serve as a barrier to entering the first round, but the 20-year-old has a 6’8.75” wingspan, which ranked among the top-three for point guards at the combine. McBride is a do-it-all prospect with leadership skills and high-volume outside scoring.
McBride made 41.4% of his 111 three-point attempts in his second collegiate season while averaging 5.7 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per 40 minutes.
The Suns already have Cameron Payne as a backup point guard, but McBride could join the reigning Western Conference champs as a long-term heir to Chris Paul. If needed, Phoenix could experiment with McBride as a shooting guard.
Robinson-Earl is a 6’7.75” sophomore from Villanova. He’s willing to take three-point shots but can’t score from range with any consistency yet. Robinson-Earl already has the build to face NBA competition, but he’s quick enough to switch in many situations. The 76ers covet that type of defensive versatility.
Robinson-Earl made most of his money down low for the Wildcats. He’ll need to expand his range and develop into a better shot creator. Assuming Ben Simmons stays at point guard, Robinson-Earl can slot in as Tobias Harris’ backup.
The Nets have some issues at point guard. Spencer Dinwiddie is entering free agency, and James Harden and Kyrie Irving are coming off injury-shortened seasons. While Harden is usually healthy, Irving hasn’t played 70 or more games in a season since 2016. Drafting Butler gives Brooklyn some youth and flexibility.
Butler played 94 games during his three-year collegiate career. Over the past two seasons, he averaged 16.4 points and attempted 6.5 threes per game while knocking down 39.8% of his deep shots.
Murphy is a 6’7.5” wing from Virginia. He recently turned 21 years old, making him one of the older prospects we’ve covered so far. Murphy began his collegiate career with Rice in Conference USA before transferring into the ACC for his junior season. He remained an effective player despite jumping up a few levels.
Murphy isn’t ready for the pace and strength of the NBA, but it shouldn’t take long for him to catch on. Denver already has power forwards capable of shooting over 40.0% from three (Zeke Nnaji and Michael Porter Jr.), but Murphy is a slightly smaller sniper. He canned 40.1% of his 476 total collegiate three-point tries.
The Clippers say goodbye to Reggie Jackson this offseason, and next year marks the end of Patrick Beverley’s and Rajon Rondo’s time with the franchise. Springer gives Los Angeles a 6’3” combo guard capable of netting 43.5% of his three-point attempts. The freshman from Tennessee is far from a complete player, but he’s only 18 years old.
Springer isn’t the prototypical athletic guard or wing most NBA teams seek out, but he’s a fearless interior finisher and stingy defender. If teams believe Springer can expand his repertoire as a playmaker and hit more pull-up threes, he could go as high as 18.
John Wall isn’t one of the best point guards in the NBA anymore. He’s still capable of having an All-Star night, but a return to greatness seems unlikely. Cooper, who only played 12 games for Auburn last year, is far from a guaranteed replacement for Wall. If anything, the 20-year-old is a long-term project that should benefit from Wall’s tutelage.
During his limited stint at Auburn, Cooper averaged 20.2 points and 8.1 assists per game. However, he only made 39.1% of his total shots and 22.8% of his threes. Cooper also went down as a statistical negative on defense. At roughly 6’1” and just above 180 lbs., Cooper must improve as a shooter to stick in the NBA.
The Rockets hold back-to-back picks, which they use to address the backcourt in this mock draft. Thomas was sensational during his sole season at LSU, scoring 23 points per game while playing 34 minutes per outing. He only made 32.5% of his three-pointers but still attempted 7.2 of them per game.
Thomas is the exact opposite of Cooper on offense. He’s an isolation player with a shooter’s touch and limited passing vision. Unfortunately, Cooper also suffers from lackluster play on defense. The 6’4” shooting guard has a better chance of developing into a solid player on that end of the court than Cooper.
Houston is halfway into a strange rebuild. The organization already has Jae’Sean Tate and Christian Wood in house, but adding Cooper and Thomas could set the foundation for a quick recovery.
The Lakers would love to get their hands on Chris Duarte or Tre Mann, but those prospects go a little higher in this mock draft. That’s not a knock against Dosunmu. The 6’3.5” shooting guard made his mark on Illinois’ program during his three-year stint with the Fighting Illini. Dosunmu developed from an outstanding freshman into a legitimate NBA prospect.
Dosunmu was a Consensus All-American this past season and a Wooden Award Finalist. He knocked down 39.0% of his threes while averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. The Big Ten Tournament MVP needs to cut down on his turnovers, but he’ll presumably play off the ball more with the Lakers than he did in college.
Dosunmu is a quality defender who showed the willingness to adapt and learn throughout his college career. Those assets should serve him well in the NBA.
Jackson is a lean 19-year-old coming off his freshman season at Kentucky. The Knicks wouldn’t ordinarily take a risk on a prospect like Jackson, but they have the 19th overall pick to add a more established player. Jackson is a developmental, athletic hybrid that thrives on defense and can create some shots for himself in the post.
Standing 6’10” and weighing in at roughly 210 lbs., Jackson must add more weight to maximize his post game capabilities in the NBA. The big man is a traditional back-to-the-basket scorer on offense but possesses elite rim protection capabilities in this class. He blocked 2.6 shots per game with the Wildcats.
The Knicks could lose Nerlens Noel in free agency. The former lottery pick played a huge role in New York’s return to the playoffs, especially after Mitchell Robinson went down. Perhaps the Knicks pass on taking a rim protector since Robinson is getting healthier, but they can’t completely ignore Noel’s absence.
Jackson is a long-term projection that might not fit New York’s timeline.
Mann doesn’t bring much to the table on defense, but he gives Atlanta another lethal scoring threat at guard. The Hawks already have defensive centerpieces in Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish, which frees up the team to chase a player that could eventually replace Lou Williams as the backup point guard.
Mann dazzled in his second season at Florida, making 40.2% of his threes and dramatically driving up the team’s offensive rating when he played. After a horrible freshman season, the 6’3.25” guard is in a good place. Mann’s floater is NBA ready, and his handles are heading in the right direction.
There’s room for Mann to grow as a playmaker, and the Hawks must do something with his defensive game. Although, Atlanta is used to accepting poor defense from point guards in return for explosive offensive performances.
Selecting Obi Toppin with the eighth overall pick hasn’t worked out for the Knicks yet. There’s still time for the Dayton product to turn his career around, but New York can’t walk out of the 2021 NBA Draft without a near-guaranteed hit. Duarte is already 24 years old, but there are ways for him to contribute immediately.
During his final season at Oregon, Duarte nailed 42.4% of his threes despite attempting 5.5 per game. The Dominican Republic product averaged 17.1 points per game along with 1.9 steals and only 2.3 turnovers. Duarte isn’t a game-changing playmaker, but his shooting should translate to the NBA.
New York risks losing Reggie Bullock, Alec Burks, Elfrid Payton, and Derrick Rose this summer. Those were four of the team’s eight most active three-point shooters this season. Someone must fill the void.
According to the 2021 NBA Combine’s results, Jones is 6’10” with a 9’2.5” standing reach. For context, NBA rims are ten feet in the air, and Jones glides to that height with ease. The sophomore developed a reputation as one of college basketball’s best rim protectors at Texas. That shot-erasing mobility and explosiveness should translate to the NBA.
Jones only attempted 1.3 three-point shots per game last season, but he made 38.2% of them. That’s a dramatic increase from his rookie season, so analysts should approach that efficiency with caution.
Aside from his agility and defensive versatility, Jones doesn’t have many traits to stand on. He got outmuscled in college, and that’ll happen early and often in the NBA. Jones also didn’t attempt many shots in college (only 219 total), and he didn’t flash any semblance of a polished post game.
The Thunder have three selections in this year’s draft. Jones is their final pick, and he has a chance to see time immediately at power forward or center. Oklahoma City is at the beginning of a long-term rebuild. Maybe Jones will have a well-rounded game by the time it’s done.
Garuba is roughly 6’8”, 229 lbs. The 19-year-old forward spent plenty of years working with Real Madrid, playing for the club’s U18 team as early as 2017. Garuba averaged over ten points per game in the U18 ranks, but he hasn’t come close to that mark since. He’s a poor free throw shooter and doesn’t shoot the three with any consistency.
Memphis brings Garuba in because of the Spaniard’s defensive prowess. He has the intensity and versatility to earn comparisons to OG Anunoby and Draymond Green. Those are the peak outcomes for Garuba, but there’s also a chance he never develops beyond his current game.
Garuba’s lack of an offensive foundation drops him outside of the lottery. Memphis could add him to a growing stable of young forwards or look for better scoring options like Duarte or Mann.
Standing 6’8.25”, Williams is tall enough to play small forward or shooting guard in the NBA. The freshman struggled with turnovers during his only season at Stanford. His lackluster three-point shooting didn’t help, and Williams finished with negative offensive win shares and a -1.2 offensive box plus/minus.
Williams has enough length and defensive training to serve as a positive player on that end of the court. Williams fired off four three-pointers per game despite only making an abysmal 29.1% of those attempts in 2020. There’s a reasonable amount of hope that the young wing can turn the corner from range once he enters the NBA.
The Thunder don’t have many offensively orientated players outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kemba Walker, who might not even play a game in OKC. Williams can step into that role in a few years.
Washington recently parted ways with head coach Scott Brooks, and the franchise largely remains directionless. Bradley Beal could enter free agency next summer while Russell Westbrook is in the middle of a massive contract. The Wizards aren’t even close to competing for an NBA title.
Adding players like Johnson gives the Wizards some hope for a long-term future. The 6’7.75” forward only played 13 games with Duke this past season before leaving the team to prepare for the draft. While Johnson showed flashes of potential with the Blue Devils, he didn’t post a lot of tape and experienced mixed results.
Johnson is a springy player with good vision and rebounding skills for his size. The 19-year-old recorded more turnovers than assists in 2020, which could raise some concerns. He also made 44.4% of his threes at Duke but only attempted 18 throughout the year.
Johnson deserves a spot in the lottery, but his potential remains too shrouded in mystery.
The Warriors have a process, one they moved away from by drafting James Wiseman second overall last year. Rumors already claim Golden State is shopping the 20-year-old and picks for experienced options. Kispert is a 6’7” wing who spent four seasons at Gonzaga. He’s as experienced as any draft pick in this year’s class and has a lethal outside shot.
Kispert knocked down 44.0% of his threes during Gonzaga’s 32 games this past college season. In his 137 appearances with the Bulldogs, the 22-year-old buried 40.8% of his 662 threes. Solid defensive fundamentals and high percentage inside scoring make Kispert an ideal addition to Golden State’s talented locker room.
Kispert’s poor performances in his final three games of the 2021 NCAA Tournament could hurt his value. The Naismith Award Finalist only converted on 38.6% of his total shots and 28.0% of his threes combined against Baylor, UCLA, and USC.
Giddey is an 18-year-old, 6’8” guard from Melbourne, Australia. He’s still extremely rough around the edges. Per Basketball Reference, Giddey averaged 10.9 points, 7.5 assists, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.3 turnovers per game during his recent season with Adelaide. The teenage star only made 42.7% of his total shots, 29.3% of his threes, and 69.1% of his free throws.
Giddey’s shooting mechanics and lack of touch dampen his NBA projections. He could go as high as ninth in the draft, but a lack of shooting fundamentals and below-average defense hurt his prospects. Giddey could look great in Charlotte if he learned to co-exist with LaMelo Ball, but I don’t see the Hornets adding another facilitator.
If Giddey had average shooting splits, he’d be a guaranteed top-ten pick. Unfortunately, the Melbourne product isn’t well-rounded enough to inspire that level of confidence. At least he has some of the best playmaking skills in this year’s class.
The Pacers have enough veteran guards to draft a project player. The Hornets, Kings, and Spurs already have enough young pieces at those spots.
According to Basketball Reference, Şengün averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game during his 2020 season with Beşiktaş. Oh, and he was the Turkish league’s MVP at only 18 years old. The 6’10” big man turns 19 later this month.
The Spurs under head coach Gregg Popovich don’t hesitate to take chances on foreign prospects. Şengün likely isn’t NBA ready yet, but he’s already close to 240 lbs. and showed undeniable talent in Turkey. Nearly half of Şengün’s rebounds this past season came on the offensive glass, and he’s a low post technician.
Şengün’s size and lack of foot speed on defense make it unclear if he’s better suited to play center or power forward. Popovich has a history of getting the best out of players. I’m choosing to trust him and his staff with a supremely talented foreign prospect in this case.
Johnson led the 2021 NBA Combine in standing vertical leap (41.5 inches) and max vertical leap (48 inches). He’s an extremely explosive athlete and could hear his name called toward the back end of the top-ten selections. The 6’3.5” guard only scored 11.3 points per game during his freshman season at Tennessee and lacks polish.
Some teams probably view Johnson as a mid-lottery pick, but the 19-year-old is purely an athletic projection. He’s not a consistent three-point shooter and only made 70.3% of his free throws last season. Johnson offers endless hustle on both ends of the court, but he’s several years away from making meaningful contributions on offense.
The Hornets drafted several explosive college players in recent years. The young crop is well on its way to getting Charlotte back into the playoffs. Adding Johnson to the mix shouldn’t pose a problem, as long as the front office is comfortable with how LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, and P.J. Washington are developing.
Bouknight’s official height at the combine came back at 6’3.5”, well below his 6’5” classification at UConn. Height never slowed down Bouknight in college, but it might alter how teams view his projections as a two-guard. The 20-year-old flashed potential during his first season with the Huskies, but he broke out in 2020.
During a disappointing campaign for UConn, Bouknight averaged 18.7 points per game. His per 40 numbers don’t look much different from his freshman to sophomore seasons except for a noticeable decline in shooting efficiency. Perhaps Bouknight attempted too many threes (five per game) despite only making 29.3% of them over the year.
Bouknight looked like an NBA prospect at UConn, but he must continue developing as a playmaker and defender to make a significant impact for New Orleans. Right now, Bouknight has excellent handles and knows how to carve up defenses for acrobatic finishes.
This predicted selection depends heavily on what the Pelicans do with Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe this offseason.
Marvin Bagley III hasn’t worked out in Sacramento, but the Kings have a chance to pair De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield with another talented forward. Wagner is a 6’9” and weighs around 220 lbs. according to Michigan. The 19-year-old flashed a well-rounded skill set during his two seasons with the Wolverines. He turns 20 in August.
Wagner is one of the most defensively advanced players in this year’s draft. He’s agile enough to break down pick-and-roll offenses and is always looking to make plays as an off-ball defender. The Michigan star doesn’t grab many offensive boards, but he sucked up 19.6% of the available defensive rebounds while he was on the court last year.
Wagner does the little things well on offense. He creates space, keeps the ball moving, doesn’t commit turnovers, and took an impressive leap as a facilitator this past year. The German only made 34.3% of his threes in 2020, but there’s hope for improvement in that area. Defenses must respect his outside shot, and that creates space inside.
While Wagner might never become an NBA All-Star, he should develop into a consistent contributor and have a lengthy career.
The Magic have plenty of young players. Unfortunately, most of those prospects haven’t developed into viable NBA starters. Moody has a chance to turn the tide for Orlando and become a core piece of the puzzle alongside Cole Anthony, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., Markelle Fultz, R.J. Hampton, and Jonathan Isaac.
Moody is 6’4.5” and already has the strength to battle with NBA competition. He’s an above-average defender that snagged a surprising number of rebounds during his one season at Arkansas. While Moody isn’t a knockdown three-point shooter, he attempted 5.1 of them per game and connected on 35.8% of those tries.
Better handles could transform Moody from a secondary scoring option into an offensive engine. For now, he should slot in well alongside Orlando’s facilitators.
Stephen Curry missed most of the 2019 season and didn’t play in nine games for Golden State this year. The perennial All-Star is already 33 years old and hasn’t appeared in at least 70 games since 2016. It’s time for the Warriors to add an insurance plan behind their all-time leading scorer.
Mitchell is an excellent two-way player. He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season and earned back-to-back Big 12 All-Defensive selections. Mitchell’s defensive prowess contributed heavily to a Baylor squad that allowed fewer than 65 points in four of their six 2021 NCAA Tournament matchups.
While he’s far less proven on offense, Mitchell made 44.7% of his three-point attempts in 2020 (63 out of 141 attempts). That marked a significant jump from 32.4% the previous year. Teams should approach his breakout shooting campaign with some caution. Mitchell is only a career 65.7% free throw shooter.
Mitchell came in at 6’0” flat at the NBA Combine, which could damage his draft stock. Baylor listed the 22-year-old at roughly 6’2”. Mitchell has the speed and handles to play small and still finish around the rim, but a lack of size limits his offensive potential against better defensive teams.
The Thunder have a long-term rebuild in place that could last four or five years. That gives OKC plenty of time to develop young, athletic prospects into refined NBA players. Kuminga doesn’t turn 19 until early October, and he’s a ball of raw potential. The 6’8” forward flashed a fluid playing style in his 13 games with G League Ignite, but he’s far from a polished product.
Kuminga possesses the ball-handling and athleticism to create shots for himself and his teammates. However, he only provided mixed returns last season. Kuminga had nearly as many turnovers (34) as assists (35) and attempted five three-pointers per game despite only making 24.6% of them. Kuminga grabbed an impressive 7.2 rebounds per game, but he only made 38.7% of his total shots and 62.5% of his free throws.
Kuminga is a frustrating prospect because he has the athletic potential to perform as a high-level two-way player. The Thunder must determine if they can fix his shooting woes before drafting him at sixth overall.
Barnes is a 19-year-old forward with an excellent defensive ceiling. He’s 6’7” and weighs 225 lbs. but has the agility and speed to guard multiple positions. Barnes could develop into a defensive wrecking ball capable of dismantling offenses and locking down guards if he continues improving.
Barnes averaged an impressive 4.1 assists per game to go along with his NBA ready defense. However, the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year didn’t take or create many of his own shots. Barnes only attempted 40 three-pointers, and he made 27.5% of them. The former Seminole also shot a measly 62.1% from the free throw line.
The Magic must plan for Barnes’ offensive development if they draft the forward. Maybe that involves putting together an elite post game, or perhaps it focuses more on retooling Barnes’ shot and extending his range. Either way, the young NBA prospect has a long way to go.
The top four selections in this year’s draft feel pretty secure. Suggs and the next three selections are a cut above the other prospects.
Suggs hit several shots in the NCAA Tournament that captivated basketball fans and NBA personnel alike. However, now that we’re no longer captivated by the moment, we can put together a fair analysis of Suggs’ game.
The 6’4” guard is a two-way player capable of locking in against opposing teams’ best guards. His agility and speed with the ball create natural openings and led to Suggs becoming a playmaker at Gonzaga. However, his activity on defense and as a facilitator sometimes led to reckless fouls and turnovers.
Suggs has a good-looking jumper, but he’s better at slashing to the rim and finishing through contact. He got used to exploding toward the basket and going airborne, but that could become problematic against NBA frontcourts.
Suggs made 33.7% of his 104 three-pointers last year. There’s room for improvement there, and he could hit 40.0% by as soon as his third or fourth NBA season.
Drafting Suggs gives Toronto a backup plan when the organization eventually splits with Kyle Lowry. The 35-year-old is a free agent this offseason, and the Raptors seem determined to get younger as they prepare for their next phase under head coach Nick Nurse.
USC listed Mobley at 7’0”, 215 lbs. Even if the Trojans exaggerated, like most colleges do, and Mobley is only 6’10”, he’s still got the size and length to play center in the NBA. The 20-year-old brought home a boatload of awards in 2020, including the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award, a Consensus All-American selection (2nd Team), and the Pac-12 Rookie of the Year award.
During his lone season with the Trojans, Mobley blocked 2.9 shots per game and hauled in 8.7 rebounds each night. He’s a talented interior and mid-range scorer with plenty of ways to fill the cup. Mobley only attempted 40 three-pointers in 2020, but he made 30.0% of them. That’s good enough to give defenses some hesitation about leaving him alone beyond the arc.
Mobley’s defensive IQ is his greatest asset as an NBA prospect. He’s not an above-average outside scorer or high/low-post facilitator yet, but there’s plenty of potential for growth in those areas. Unfortunately, Mobley’s body could become a defensive liability this coming season.
To put Mobley’s weight in perspective, Barnes is about ten pounds heavier despite being five inches shorter. Even the thinner centers in today’s NBA weigh around 240 lbs. God forbid Mobley runs into a 280 lb. behemoth like Joel Embiid. The USC product can look forward to many days lifting weights and building muscle.
This pick could change to Suggs if the Cavaliers find a trade partner for Collin Sexton and re-sign Jarrett Allen in free agency.
The Rockets could pair Mobley with Christian Wood, but adding Green at second overall before selecting Cooper and Thomas completely overhauls Houston’s backcourt. Throw in Jae’Sean Tate at small forward, and Houston has one of the best young cores in the NBA.
Green didn’t weigh in at the combine, but he’s currently listed at 6’5”, 165 lbs. That’s extraordinarily thin for a 19-year-old prospect coming off a 15-game stint with G League Ignite. Green has the frame to add more weight, and the Rockets can probably get him up to 185 lbs. by early December. Until then, Green’s frame remains a limiting factor.
Green is one of this draft’s best scoring options. He averaged 17.9 points per game and 20.2 points per 36 minutes this past season. The former top recruit from the Class of 2020 made 36.5% of his 85 threes and wrapped up the abbreviated campaign with a field goal percentage (46.1%) slightly below this year’s NBA average (46.6%).
Green made 82.9% of his free throws and canned some deep twos during his time in the G League, which forecasts his improvement as a three-point shooter. The young guard has outstanding handles, but he’s still developing as a playmaker.
Green’s defense isn’t spectacular. He’s progressing but remains a neutral impact player on that side of the ball.
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Cunningham only plans on working out with the Pistons ahead of the draft.[mytwitter url=”https://twitter.com/wojespn/status/1407506352742617090″]
This pick is set in stone. Cunningham, a 6’8” guard with a soft outside touch, was a Consensus All-American and a Wooden Award Finalist during his freshman season at Oklahoma St. The 19-year-old scored over 20 points per game while connecting on 40.0% of his 155 three-point attempts.
Cunningham doesn’t have the handles and vision to serve as a primary playmaker yet, but there’s immense potential for growth in those areas. Cunningham is already a positive on defense and should give the Pistons an immediate offensive boost.
While Cunningham could match LaMelo Ball’s impact during his rookie season, the Oklahoma St. prospect won’t immediately reach the same heights Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, and Trae Young hit during their first NBA seasons.
Brandon Boston Jr., SG Kentucky
Greg Brown, PF Texas
Josh Christopher, SG/SF Arizona St.
Nah’Shon Hyland, SG VCU
Day’Ron Sharpe, C UNC
Isaiah Todd, PF G League Ignite