Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs had a tremendous NCAA Tournament for the top-seeded Bulldogs, flashing No. 1 pick potential with his athleticism, competitiveness, decision-making and ability to affect the game on both ends. USC 7-footer Evan Mobley led the Trojans to their first Elite Eight in two decades, generating intense buzz in the scouting community while averaging 11.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. But when it comes to the race for the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, one scout recently told me that despite a very strong tier of prospects inside the top five that includes those two future stars, there … really is no race at all.
"Don't make this complicated. Cade [Cunningham] is special," said the scout. "His IQ, playmaking, vision, positional size, three-level scoring ability, efficiency, consistency and crafty creativity is what separates him. ... He is what you want in a No. 1 pick."
So I'm not going to overcomplicate this and feed you with a surprise No. 1 in my latest mock draft. Cade Cunningham comes in here again at No. 1 for 3.0 of my projections. With a 6-foot-8 frame, high IQ, projectable two-way game and the ability to craft his way to production with ease, his game -- which helped him lead the Big 12 in scoring -- should project seamlessly to the NBA with better spacing and better teammates. At this point, teams should be thrilled there is even a debate about the No. 1 prospect in this class, which raises the likelihood -- even if it's small -- that he may drop a spot or two.
"Cade is a home run," the scout told me. "I've seen all I've needed to see."
So have I.
This new mock draft projection will reflect the latest changes on the draft front with an up-to-date check on the landscape. Because the NBA season is still incomplete, and therefore the draft order (set by recent SportsLine projected win totals) remains unsettled, the following mock draft does not significantly factor in team needs because so much can change between now and the draft. Rather, this will serve as an informative projection highlighting what each prospect brings to the table while providing a sense of general ranges in which those prospects are currently expected to land, a slight deviation from the CBS Sports Big Board, which is my own ranking of each prospect.
Let's get to it.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Oklahoma State • Fr • 6'7" / 220 lbs
The size, the skill, the craft and the easily projectable nature of Cunningham's game make him the obvious pick here for Houston at No. 1. Players with his size who can create are at a premium in the NBA, and he has already shown he can star in a feature role in college. Scouts have some questions about his athleticism and burst and how that might affect his impact in the NBA, but they are more nitpicks than true concerns for the most well-rounded prospect in this draft.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Southern California • Fr • 6'11" / 215 lbs
There are only a handful of true difference-making bigs in the NBA, but Mobley projects in time to be one of the select few. The 7-foot USC product is a fluid athlete who can defend post to perimeter and has natural abilities around the rim as a shot-swatter, lob threat and generally disruptive, impactful two-way presence. I don't typically rate bigs very high out of principle because it is often a position you can skimp on when building a team, but Mobley is a rare exception who is squarely in the running to unseat Cunningham as the top pick.
Round 1- Pick 3
Gonzaga • Fr • 6'5" / 205 lbs
Tough, competitive two-way force from Gonzaga who projects as a lead guard at the next level, Suggs could be a franchise-caliber prospect to add to Minnesota's burgeoning core. Didn't put up huge numbers on a loaded Zags team, but a true game-changer who affects the game at every level and showed enough as a shot-maker (33.7% from 3) to warrant top-three consideration.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Not only did Jalen Green not look out of place in his season with the G League Ignite team, but he was a star. He averaged 18 points per game and made 36.5% of his 3s, showcasing the shot-making and defensive prowess that's locked him in as a surefire top five pick in this class.
Round 1 - Pick 5
There are some obvious flaws in Kuminga's game that bubbled to the surface while playing for the G League Ignite team -- his 3-point shooting dipping below 25% for the season and his general shot-making still lagging being the most obvious -- but there's also a lot to like here, too. The 18-year-old has a strong frame, a good defensive baseline and some nice skills to build off that could in time make him a superstar in the league.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Baylor • Fr • 6'1" / 202 lbs
Massive jump for Davion Mitchell, one of the true breakout stars of the NCAA Tournament. He's a bit older -- he'll turn 23 later this year -- but this draft really drops off after the first five so this is a fine range for him. With his impact as a lockdown defender, basket-maker with burst and overall creator with the ball, I bid you good luck finding someone who is more sound on both ends as a guard at this spot.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Connecticut • Fr • 6'4" / 190 lbs
An in-season elbow injury and subsequent surgery derailed Bouknight's big season momentarily, but he returned for UConn and continued to showcase his lottery talent with his shot-making and shot-creation skills. Bouknight is a bucket. Don't love his sub-30% 3-point shooting, but I am a believer in the shot, the athleticism and the Lou Williams-like swagger of his game as an offensive weapon.
Round 1 - Pick 8
Texas • Fr • 6'11" / 221 lbs
Lots to like about Jones' game, from his freakish athletic ability, shooting chops and overall upside given his 6-foot-11 frame and body control. But he remains something of a project. In this draft he's a big unknown. Though talent evaluators love his potential, they know he's a developmental play with the hopes he hits long term.
From Chicago Bulls
Round 1 - Pick 9
Tennessee • Fr • 6'4" / 185 lbs
A springy forward with freakish athleticism who can make plays above the rim, Keon Johnson is a marvelous talent whose potential is obvious. He was impactful as a freshman for a top 20 Tennessee team and should be considered a legitimate top 10 talent in this draft class if the shot starts to fall. It's a bit of a gamble on raw potential, but the defense and handles give him a sturdy foundation to keep building on.
Round 1 - Pick 10
Florida State • Fr • 6'7" / 225 lbs
There is very real concern about how good Barnes is -- and will be -- as a player on offense in the NBA. Outside of his handles and passing, there's a lot of work left for him to reach his ceiling. But he's 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan who can defend at a high level and has the physical tools to be a lottery pick. So I expect this range for him is about right.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Arkansas • Fr • 6'5" / 211 lbs
The numbers for Moody in the NCAA Tournament were respectable -- 12.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game -- but Moody's stock is on the downslope. He did not perform well in March Madness. He combined to shoot 6 of 30 in two games and went 0 for 7 from 3-point range. Tough end to the season for a 3-and-D wing, though the body of work this season is going to keep him in lottery range.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Tennessee • Fr • 6'4" / 202 lbs
Some serious moxie to Jaden Springer's game accompanied by some real skill he showed at Tennessee as a scorer and facilitator. I like the wiggle I've seen from him with the ball in his hands, too. He plays with so much confidence and poise it's hard not to buy in to what his NBA role can be as a two-way guard who can do a little of everything.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Tre Mann G
Florida • Fr • 6'3" / 178 lbs
Florida turned the keys over to Tre Mann to cook over the final stretch of the season. The result of that was gigantic for his draft stock, as he averaged 18.1 points per game over his last seven and added a 30-burger to his resume against Tennessee and its stacked backcourt in that stretch. He really grew over the course of the season as a shot-maker and is oozing with NBA talent as a creator from the guard spot, even if it's not likely as a lead guard.
Round 1 - Pick 14
LSU • Fr • 6'3" / 210 lbs
Thomas led all SEC players as a freshman in scoring (23.0 PPG) this season, and while his efficiency was just OK (32.5% from 3, 30.6% from FG), he definitely showed NBA-caliber shot-making. He took a massive volume of LSU's shots and a lot of those had a high degree of difficulty as teams keyed in on him. He's been a scorer at every level as a prospect and should fit into a similar role in the NBA.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Michigan • Fr • 6'10" / 220 lbs
Probably not a future All-Star, almost certainly a high-level role player -- that's the selling point for Franz Wagner. At Michigan as a sophomore this season he did a bit of everything, from hitting 3-pointers to creating to playing top-shelf defense. He does so many different things at a high level it's easy to see why teams would like him in this range. There's an obvious role for a 6-9 forward who can do all of those things -- and well -- at the NBA level.
Round 1 - Pick 16
Oregon • Fr • 6'5" / 190 lbs
He's 23 years old (and will turn 24 in June) but Duarte's ability to defend at a high level and shoot the 3 has him in first-round territory after a strong senior season. He averaged 22 points, 6.5 assists and 4.0 boards in two NCAA Tournament games and shot a career-best 42.4% from 3 on the year. A 3-and-D type player who can really shoot it -- and make it -- in myriad ways.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Illinois • Fr • 6'5" / 200 lbs
I have no problem admitting that I have been, am and likely always will be the high guy on Dosunmu. He came back as a junior and improved significantly as a 3-point shooter and answered the only real question lingering about his NBA prospects, which was his ability to shoot it. Whether he's a starting point guard or one of several rotation guards is irrelevant to me; he can add value as a shooter and is electric with the ball in his hands.
From Miami Heat
Round 1 - Pick 18
Kentucky • Fr • 6'9" / 205 lbs
Modern-day big man from Kentucky who swatted 2.6 shots per game last season. Not a real threat as a creator or on offense, but can finish lobs, plays great defense, has good mobility and can make things happen around the rim.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Duke • Fr • 6'8" / 219 lbs
There's a lot of mixed reviews on Johnson's prospects -- he underwhelmed at Duke and opted out late in the season, after which the Blue Devils immediately went on a four-game winning streak -- but he's a former blue-chip recruit who still has good size, good playmaking ability in transition and above-average passing skills for a player his size. He won't slip out of the first round, but he likely won't be the top 10 pick most expected he'd become either.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Gonzaga • Fr • 6'6" / 224 lbs
No way to sugarcoat this: Kispert really struggled in the NCAA Tournament. Best known for his shooting and spot-up skills, he went 9 of 28 from 3 in his final four games and really had a hard time in the title game with Baylor's length and athleticism. He finished the season hitting 44% of his 3s and should level out as a first-rounder because of his quick shot and consistency as a scorer, but his stock has dropped from surefire lottery pick to being drafted closer to the 14-24 range.
From Dallas Mavericks
Round 1 - Pick 21
Stanford • Fr • 6'9" / 185 lbs
There were some really good moments for Ziaire Williams as a shot-maker, but his production at Stanford this season was inconsistent and inefficient, dropping him from the lottery to mid-to-late first territory. Still, he has the talent as a scorer to be a nice buy-low candidate for a team hoping that his one-and-done season can be built upon and that his slender frame can stand to add some muscle. Improving on both could return lottery value late in the first round.
Round 1 - Pick 22
One of the fastest rising international prospects in this draft, Giddey is breaking out in the NBL Australia for Adelaide as a modern-day guard/wing who can create, score and rebound. Reminds me a bit of what was so appealing about Deni Avdija as a prospect last draft because of the size and handles. Can do a little of everything on offense and the shot appears to be improving.
Round 1 - Pick 23
UCLA • 6'6" / 209 lbs
A month ago, Johnny Juzang was barely on the NBA Draft radar. But his shot-making in the NCAA Tournament requires us to take him seriously. What he did for UCLA -- averaging 22.8 points on 51% shooting as the Bruins went to the Final Four as an 11 seed -- cannot be ignored. Teams will want to see him do it more consistently, so the pre-draft process for him will be fascinating if he declares. But he made tough shot after tough shot in the tourney. What he sustained over the course of the last month of the season is no fluke.
From Milwaukee Bucks
Round 1 - Pick 24
Undersized big at 6-8, but a big game to back up first-round credentials. Garuba's long been considered an elite defensive prospect who is raw on the other end, and that remains true of him. Still, what he can do on defense defending almost any position is going to be of immense value in this range of the draft even knowing his flaws on offense.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Baylor • Fr • 6'3" / 195 lbs
Really did not perform particularly well in the NCAA Tournament ... until it mattered. Butler finished Baylor's run off strong, accounting for 39 points on 8-of-13 shooting from 3-point land in the Final Four and title game combined en route to winning MOP honors. He's going to be an intriguing late-first flier because of his high ceiling; he can shoot the rock at a high rate from anywhere and is a capable creator and passer.
Round 1 - Pick 26
Auburn • Fr • 6'1" / 180 lbs
Not a perfect prospect, but a fit I really like with Cooper to L.A. He has the best and most creative passing package among guards in this draft and it'd be a nice add for the Clippers, who have all the weapons capable of capitalizing on that skill set. If not for his tiny frame and struggling shot from distance, Cooper would be a top-10 talent in this class.
Round 1 - Pick 27
North Carolina • Fr • 6'9" / 265 lbs
Sharpe is more of a traditional big man than modern-day big. He doesn't shoot 3s and is pretty limited offensively overall. But in bursts he made nice reads as a passer and has a limitless motor that will allow him to excel on the boards in the NBA. There's a lot of untapped potential here, with his skill set fitting a need for Philly as Joel Embiid's backup.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Texas • Fr • 6'7" / 206 lbs
The athleticism for Brown is off the charts. And he very much caught the eyes of scouts with some flashes he showed as a shot-creator and scorer. But, he's something of a black hole on offense; if he gets the ball the shot is going up. First-round prospect on talent alone, but still most definitely a developmental player who could use some refinement. One of the more fascinating stay-or-go decisions to monitor.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Arizona State • Fr • 6'4" / 215 lbs
This is a draft loaded with wing depth, which doesn't help Christopher's case. And Christopher himself didn't help his own case last season. He shot 30.5% from 3 and posted an inefficient 43.2% mark from the floor for a very disappointing Arizona State team. Still, solid size for a scoring wing who has the ability to create and score. That's probably enough to keep him in the top 35 or so of this draft.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Kentucky • Fr • 6'6" / 188 lbs
Started the season as a potential No. 1 pick contender, but Boston's stock slipped after a really rough start to the season. He improved as the season went on though. Played with more confidence as a scorer and didn't look out of place, with some nice games blended in. It'd make a ton of sense for a team like Utah to gamble on his potential here in hopes that his production becomes more consistent. Hard to find a 6-foot-7 wing with this kind of upside in the back half of the first round.