We are now three days away from the start of the 2021 NBA Draft. As we continue to get closer to draft day, a lot is beginning to take shape. Cade Cunningham is widely expected to be selected first overall, while the rest of the top five looks to be coming into focus.
Beyond that, things should get interesting. Multiple teams picking in the back end of the lottery and the middle of the first round have reportedly been very active in shopping their picks. The overall expectation is that there will be a greater amount of movement than usual come draft night.
With all of that in mind, let’s mock draft the first round with recent reporting and team needs taken into account:
1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham (G, Oklahoma State)
Per reports, the Pistons have been doing their due diligence in listening to offers for the top pick. But at this point it would be shocking for them to pass on Cunningham, who is far and away the best player in this draft class. At 6’8”, he’s the total package: a legit three-level scorer with the handles and playmaking chops to be a lead ball handler as well as the athleticism to guard multiple positions. He’ll be the centerpiece of a Pistons team with an already solid collection of young players in Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Isaiah Stewart, and not to mention a breakout performer in Jerami Grant.
2. Houston Rockets: Jalen Green (G, G League Ignite)
Unless the Rockets somehow manage to move up to the top spot, which they have reportedly been trying to do, all signs point to them selecting Jalen Green, who had an excellent season scoring the ball in the G League. He’s an electric athlete that can live above the rim and is a threat to score from anywhere on the court, both spotting up and off the dribble. Though he’ll need to improve as a playmaker and defender, he has the looks of a surefire go-to scorer that figures to be the focal point of the rebuilding Rockets moving forward.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley (F/C, USC)
Mobley’s two-way potential is considered the most intriguing of any player in the draft. A seven-footer with a 7’4” wingspan, he can protect the rim while also having the mobility to guard perimeter players. On offense, he can roll to the rim and throw down lobs, pop out for mid-range jumpers, or even take on his defender off the dribble. While he fits seamlessly next to Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, his fit in the frontcourt next to Jarrett Allen may be a little odd. But Mobley’s game should be more than dynamic enough to make it work.
4. Toronto Raptors: Jalen Suggs (G, Gonzaga)
Kyle Lowry is and always will be the face of the Raptors’ franchise, but he is 35-years-old and very likely to depart in free-agency. Whether or not he chooses to stay, the Raptors will need a succession plan at point guard, and Suggs could be the guy. A high-IQ player, he is the ultimate floor general, serving as an excellent playmaker with the ability to shoulder scoring responsibilities when needed while also providing tough defense. Adding Suggs to a core of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby would give Toronto a solid foundation as they transition into a new era.
5. Orlando Magic: Scottie Barnes (F, Florida State)
Reports seem to indicate that the Magic favor Barnes with this pick, and it’s hard to blame them. It’s easy to see the Draymond Green comparisons: he is an extremely versatile defender that can defend all positions and is equally adept at distributing the ball. Though his jumper needs refining, he’s a good interior scorer that uses his strong build to get to the hole. Pairing Barnes with Jonathan Isaac gives the Magic an intriguing defensive duo in the frontcourt.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jonathan Kuminga (F, G League Ignite)
The Thunder reportedly are very high on Scottie Barnes, but if he’s off the board, reports suggest that they may prefer taking UConn’s James Bouknight. However, the upside Kuminga presents for this rebuilding Thunder should be way too enticing. Kuminga, along with possessing top-notch athleticism for his size, already displays elite shot-creating abilities, though the results have been inconsistent. Given time to develop alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the two could form a formidable offensive duo in the future.
7. Golden State Warriors: James Bouknight (G, UConn)
No one should be surprised if this pick is moved, as the Warriors have reportedly been highly active in trade talks centered around both of their first-rounders. Should they end up using this pick, Bouknight makes a lot of sense. His combination of explosive athleticism, ability to finish at the rim, and craftiness handling the ball to create his own shot would be difficult for Golden State to pass over. He could serve as the microwave scorer they sorely lacked this past season and, most importantly, could be a bridge to the future.
8. Orlando Magic: Moses Moody (G/F, Arkansas)
Orlando has way too many holes in its roster to be picky about who to pick. But taking a low-usage player that can help address immediate needs shouldn’t be off the table. Moody is the quintessential three-and-D wing: a very good spot-up shooter possessing the length, quickness, and strength to guard a wide variety of players while also providing a steady dose of rebounding. Considering the Magic were near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive and defensive metric, Moody will immediately help in both respects.
9. Sacramento Kings: Franz Wagner (F, Michigan)
There are apparently rumblings that Wagner has been given a promise by the Kings, and it would make a lot of sense if that happens to be the case. The opportunity to pair Wagner’s plus shooting, playmaking abilities, and versatile defense with a backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton is hard to pass up. Wagner could very well turn out to be Sacramento’s long-term answer in the frontcourt should they be ready to part ways with Marvin Bagley III.
10. New Orleans Pelicans: Corey Kispert (G/F, Gonzaga)
The Pelicans have reportedly been shopping this pick, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team that’s not the Pelicans on the clock here. Should they end up making this selection, floor spacing will be a top priority. Kispert is arguably the best shooter in this draft, able to spot up and shoot off the dribble, and is also a very capable defender. He would fit nicely alongside Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram as a complimentary piece and would be able to contribute immediately.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Kai Jones (F/C, Texas)
Charlotte has a long-term need at center, which they could very well choose to address at the start at free agency. But the potential fit of Jones next to LaMelo Ball could be way too attractive for the Hornets to pass up. A constant lob threat possessing elite athleticism, Jones has also shown flashes of being able to space the floor and create for himself from the perimeter to go along with being a very mobile defender. He could potentially be the perfect frontcourt partner for Ball going forward.
12. San Antonio Spurs: Jalen Johnson (F, Duke)
With DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay likely departing in free-agency, the Spurs will have holes to fill in the frontcourt. Johnson has lingering character concerns after opting out of his freshman season at Duke and leaving IMG Academy during his senior year of high school. But he is a very good playmaker and a force in the open court thanks to his size and athleticism, though his jump shot will need refinement. He’s an ideal fit for the Spurs, who are moving ahead with their youth movement of Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, and Keldon Johnson.
13. Indiana Pacers: Davion Mitchell (G, Baylor)
In all likelihood, the Pacers will be looking for immediate contributors that can help them get back to the playoffs next season. Fresh off a run that ended with a national championship, Mitchell played exceptional two-way ball. He showed off the quickness and ball handling that makes him a very good shot creator while he also took a huge leap as a shooter. On top of that, he won the Defensive Player of the Year award, playing tough, heady defense in spite of his smaller stature. Indiana should be able to plug him into the rotation right away and be rewarded for it.
14. Golden State Warriors: Josh Giddey (G/F, Adelaide 36ers)
As noted earlier, this pick is likely to be on the move. If the Warriors stand pat, Giddey would be an interesting acquisition for them if he falls this far. He’s a very good ball-handler and even better passer who always finds an open teammate whether it be in transition or in half court sets. He’ll have to answer questions about his defense and shooting, but his playmaking alone should have teams excited about his upside.
15. Washington Wizards: Chris Duarte (G/F, Oregon)
Barring a major blockbuster deal that puts them in rebuild mode, which apparently seems more likely by the day, the Wizards should target NBA-ready players to plug-in alongside Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. Duarte, the oldest player in this draft class, certainly fits the bill. He’s an elite shooter that can spot up and shoot off movement and is a plus defender. He will surely be able to join the Wizards’ rotation right out of the gate as a floor spacer.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder: Keon Johnson (G/F, Tennessee)
It certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for the Thunder to package one of, if not both, of their mid-first round picks to move up a couple spots. Should they make this selection, why not take a swing on a high-upside player. Johnson already possesses elite athleticism and driving ability to go along with his top-notch defense. But there are a lot of lingering concerns about his shaky, inconsistent jumper. Still, he could become an effective go-to scorer given the proper development.
17. Memphis Grizzlies: Ziaire Williams (G/F, Stanford)
Memphis boasts very solid depth at every position. But go-to scoring at the wing was one of the Grizzlies’ main weaknesses this past season. Williams has shown the ability to be an effective shot creator at 6’8” even if the results were inconsistent this past season. Given time to develop and hone in on those skills, he could become a reliable scoring outlet at the wing for Memphis.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Alperen Sengun (C, Besiktas)
Sengun would be a great value pick at this point in the draft, and the kind of player the Thunder should take a swing on. He was named MVP of the Turkish League this past season at just 18-year-old. He’s an adept scorer in the post, a good screener that finishes well rolling to the rim, and can facilitate from the elbow or free-throw line. In Sengun, Oklahoma City would likely have their center of the future.
19. New York Knicks: Trey Murphy (F, Virginia)
The Knicks could look to trade their first round picks to either acquire veteran contributors or move up in the draft. But with a roster full of soon-to-be free agents, acquiring cheap, young talent through the draft might be their best option. Murphy is an excellent spot-up shooter and a very versatile defender that has the size and agility to guard multiple positions. He’ll be able to contribute in an NBA rotation right away.
20. Atlanta Hawks: Jared Butler (G, Baylor)
Depth is far from being a major concern for the Hawks at the moment. However, with Lou Williams hitting the open market, Atlanta may look to bring in another scoring-oriented guard in the event Williams departs. Butler is just that, as can let it go from deep either off the dribble or spotting up. He also showed himself to be a solid playmaker and serviceable defender, potentially serving as a nice option off the bench.
21. New York Knicks: Usman Garuba (F, Real Madrid)
Defense was the Knicks’ calling card this past season, and Garuba is one of this draft’s better defenders. He has the size and strength to guard bigger players while also having the length and quickness to hang with perimeter players. Offensively, he can distribute the ball but is mostly limited on that end at the moment. This would be more of an upside selection than anything, but one the Knicks could be rewarded for.
22. Los Angeles Lakers: Cameron Thomas (G, LSU)
Like the Knicks, the Lakers also have a slew of free agents to sort out. Along with evaluating their options in the frontcourt, finding a consistent source of offense off the bench is something they should focus on. Thomas was arguably the best high-volume scorer in college basketball this past season thanks to his elite shot-creation abilities. He would be able to step in right away and contribute off the bench in Los Angeles.
23. Houston Rockets: Sharife Cooper (G, Auburn)
Cooper is widely considered to be one of the better ball handlers in this draft. His burst, vision, and feel for the game makes him a major threat in the pick-and-roll. However, his defense and shooting ability leave a lot to be desired and will need some serious development. Given the current state of the Rockets, and the fact that John Wall looks to be sticking around next season, taking a chance on Cooper’s long-term upside is worth the risk.
24. Houston Rockets: Isaiah Jackson (F/C, Kentucky)
Jackson, in the same vein as Cooper, would be another flier worth taking. An explosive athlete at 6’10”, he has more than enough size, length, motor, and leaping ability to be an effective rim-running and rim-protecting big. He’s still very raw overall and will need his fair share of time to develop. At the very least, he’ll provide Houston some frontcourt depth behind Christian Wood.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Jaden Springer (G, Tennessee)
Reggie Jackson earned himself a hefty payday in the playoffs, so the Clippers could be on the market for another guard. Springer, one of the youngest players in the draft, has shown himself to be a tough defender, an effective playmaker, and a capable scorer when needed. He should be able to contribute off the bench right away in spite of his youth and could present some future upside.
26. Denver Nuggets: Tre Mann (G, Florida)
Jamal Murray’s torn ACL is likely to keep him out for the majority of next season, so it shouldn’t be surprising to see the Nuggets decide to fortify their guard depth. Mann shot the lights out from deep this past season, able to spot up or shoot off the dribble. He’s fluid handling the ball and would provide a steady pick-and-roll presence for Denver in Murray’s absence.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Day’Ron Sharpe (C, North Carolina)
The Nets might need to fortify their frontcourt depth with the likes of Blake Griffin and Jeff Green hitting the open market. Sharpe is a physical interior presence that can rack up rebounds, act as a solid roll man for ball handlers, and has the strength to go up against more physical big men. He could carve out a bigger role if he can find a way to be a more effective floor spacer.
28. Philadelphia 76ers: Quentin Grimes (G/F, Houston)
Going off of recent reports and looking back at Daryl Morey’s past history, there’s a good chance the Sixers trade this pick. If they choose to stand pat, stocking up on shooting will likely be their priority. Grimes had an excellent season from long range as one of the leaders of a very good Houston Cougars team. He has shown some ability to create off the dribble and is a strong defender as well. He’s the type of player who will be able to provide contributions right out of the gate.
29. Phoenix Suns: Ayo Dosunmu (G, Illinois)
Much like Reggie Jackson, Cameron Payne might be in for a nice pay raise after breaking out in the playoffs, which would also put the Suns in the market for a guard. Dosunmu was the leader of a very good Illinois team this past season, showcasing solid ball-handling, playmaking, and defensive abilities as a lead guard. He would be more than a solid addition for Phoenix.
30. Utah Jazz: Nah’Shon Hyland (G, VCU)
After posting the league’s best regular season record only to fall short in the playoffs, the Jazz might look to shore up their backcourt depth. “Bones” Hyland was a major scoring threat this past season, able to either spot up or pull up from well beyond the three-point line and can take defenders off the dribble to create space closer to the basket. He could act as a spark plug scorer off the bench for Utah.