As we get closer to the 2021 NBA Draft, there seems to be a growing belief in basketball circles that Cade Cunningham will likely be the No. 1 overall pick regardless of which franchise wins the lottery.
The consensus national freshman of the year is a 6-foot-8, 220-pound 19-year-old point guard who averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists in his one season at Oklahoma State. He shot 43.8% from the field on 14.8 shots per game, 40.0% from 3-point range on 5.7 attempts per game, and 84.6% from the free-throw line on 5.8 attempts per game. So he got his points in a variety of ways. And what should make him an attractive option for literally every franchise is his ability to flourish on or off the ball and guard multiple positions. If you need him to initiate offense as a lead guard, he can. If you need him to play beside a smaller guard, he can. And when it's time to take over games, he's built to do it — evidence being that Cunningham led the nation in clutch points this past season.
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Simply put, there's a lot to love and very little reason to believe Cunningham will be anything other than a high-level NBA player for more than a decade. And that's why, barring a surprise, his name will be called first when NBA commissioner Adam Silver stands on the stage July 29.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Oklahoma State • Fr • 6'7" / 220 lbs
The Rockets, after trading James Harden to Brooklyn, clearly need another centerpiece — and Cade Cunningham would have to be the pick if Houston indeed selects first. He's a point guard with size who can shot-create, play-make and just generally take over games when the situation requires it, which he showed time and again in his one season in the Big 12.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Jalen Suggs PG
Gonzaga • Fr • 6'5" / 205 lbs
Detroit spent last year's first-round pick on a point guard — but that shouldn't prevent the Pistons from taking the top prospect available regardless of position, and, in my opinion, Jalen Suggs is that guy. He's a great competitor and top-shelf athlete who could easily play with Killian Hayes and provide Detroit with multiple players who can initiate offense.
Round 1- Pick 3
USC • Fr • 6'11" / 215 lbs
The Magic have some interesting young guards in Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz and R.J. Hampton, so adding an elite frontcourt prospect would make sense. The best available is USC's Evan Mobley, a one-and-done center who is perfectly suited for the modern NBA given that he's a true rim-protector who is capable, on the offensive end, of making plays off the bounce or shooting jumpers from the perimeter.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Jalen Green is an elite scorer with good size for his position who could quickly establish himself as one of the main building blocks in Oklahoma City. His decision to skip college and play for the G League Ignite did nothing to damage his draft status in any meaningful way.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Most believe there's a clear top-five in this draft with Jonathan Kuminga being the fifth of those five prospects. So assuming he's available here, the Cavaliers would be wise to select him and add an offensively gifted athletic wing to a young core of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Isaac Okoro.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Florida State • Fr • 6'7" / 225 lbs
There's a strong belief that the Warriors will try to package this pick and move it for a veteran who is better equipped to help a core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green compete for another title next season. But if they can't get that done, Scottie Barnes, Florida State's latest one-and-done lottery pick, would make sense considering he could provide depth and versatility at multiple positions.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Baylor • Fr • 6'1" / 202 lbs
With Kyle Lowry entering free agency, it might be wise for Toronto to add a guard who can play with, or behind, Fred VanVleet. The best available is Davion Mitchell, a tenacious on-ball defender whose playmaking ability (and shotmaking ability) helped Baylor win its first national title in history.
From Chicago Bulls
Round 1 - Pick 8
Moses Moody SG
Arkansas • Fr • 6'5" / 211 lbs
If the Magic add Mobley with the third pick, they might look to go with a wing prospect here. Moses Moody was the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder for Arkansas -- and one of the biggest reasons the Razorbacks made the Elite Eight for the first time since 1995.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Keon Johnson SG
Tennessee • Fr • 6'4" / 185 lbs
The Kings finished with the worst defensive rating in the NBA this season, which suggests they could use a prospect who adds something on that end of the court. Keon Johnson was a terrific on-ball defender in his one season at Tennessee and projects as a nice two-way player in the NBA for many years to come.
Round 1 - Pick 10
Tre Mann PG
Florida • Fr • 6'3" / 178 lbs
The Pelicans still need to surround Zion Williamson with shooting, and adding Tre Mann would accomplish that goal. He shot 40.2% on 4.7 3-point attempts in his final season at Florida, where he also played and guarded multiple positions.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Gordon Hayward has missed 48 regular-season games the past two seasons, which is among the reasons the Hornets need to add depth on the wing. The selection of Josh Giddey would do just that and give Charlotte a perimeter player with size who has already proven himself against professionals in the same league where Charlotte star LaMelo Ball also played before coming to the NBA.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Kentucky • Fr • 6'9" / 205 lbs
The midseason buyout of LaMarcus Aldridge left San Antonio with zero great options in the frontcourt. So using this pick on a big like Isaiah Jackson — whose block percentage of 12.7 ranked eighth nationally (according to KenPom) in his one year at Kentucky — could possibly help the Spurs find their next special rim-wrecking athlete.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Franz Wagner SF
Michigan • Fr • 6'10" / 220 lbs
The Pacers need to add depth on the wing, which makes Franz Wagner an obvious option. His 3-point shot must improve for him to meet expectations, but the fact that he shot 83.3% from the free-throw line this past season at Michigan suggests he's capable of being an above-average perimeter shooter in time.
Round 1 - Pick 14
With our without James Wiseman in Golden State's plans, the Warriors are pretty light in the frontcourt. Adding Alperen Sengun, a throwback center who has been a professional in Turkey since 2018, would qualify as a sensible move and give Steve Kerr someone who is already very comfortable catching the ball at the elbow and using a face-up game to score and draw fouls.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Connecticut • Fr • 6'4" / 190 lbs
Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal combined this season to give Washington one of the NBA's best starting backcourts, but there's very little quality or creativity on the bench. James Bouknight could provide the Wizards with an extra guard who was offensively overwhelming for defenses in spurts in his final season at UConn.
Round 1 - Pick 16
Kai Jones PF
Texas • Fr • 6'11" / 221 lbs
The Celtics badly need more talent and youth in the frontcourt, which makes taking a big swing on Kai Jones a reasonable plan. It's a bet on his upside, sure, but the two-year product from Texas has a chance to be a stretch-big at the next level considering he made 13 of the 34 3-pointers he attempted this past season.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Chris Duarte SG
Oregon • Fr • 6'5" / 190 lbs
The Grizzlies ranked 20th in 3-point field goal percentage this season and thus need to add shooting, which is something Chris Duarte could provide. The former National Junior College Player of the Year made better than 42% of the 5.5 3-pointers he attempted per contest this past season at Oregon, and there's little doubt he has a game that'll translate to the NBA.
From Miami Heat
Round 1 - Pick 18
Stanford • Fr • 6'9" / 185 lbs
The Thunder are in a total rebuild and should be focused on trying to add prospects who have a chance to be special. Ziaire Williams fits that description given that he's a one-and-done wing with athleticism who was a consensus top-10 prospect coming out of high school.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Greg Brown PF
Texas • Fr • 6'7" / 206 lbs
Greg Brown is such a bouncy athlete that he's worthy of first-round looks based on potential alone. If his 3-point shot continues to improve to the point where he's a legitimate big who can stretch the floor, he could solve some longterm issues for the Knicks.
Round 1 - Pick 20
LSU • Fr • 6'3" / 210 lbs
Cameron Thomas is a big-time scorer who led the SEC in points per game in his one season at LSU. The efficiency numbers weren't great, but that's largely because he was responsible for creating an unusually high percentage of the Tigers' offense, which obviously wouldn't be the case in Atlanta because of the presence of Trae Young.
From Dallas Mavericks
Round 1 - Pick 21
Duke • Fr • 6'8" / 219 lbs
It's unclear if the Knicks will want to keep both of their first-round picks given the depth currently on the roster, but, if they do, adding a prospect like Jalen Johnson could be a great longterm play. He's a former five-star prospect who shot above 44% from 3-point range over a span of 13 games before quitting Duke's team midseason.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Gonzaga • Fr • 6'6" / 224 lbs
The Lakers are always looking to add shooting around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Corey Kispert, who made 44.0% of the 6.5 3-pointers he attempted per game this past season at Gonzaga, is arguably the best shooter in this draft.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Auburn • Fr • 6'1" / 180 lbs
Sharife Cooper is a little on the small side, which will likely be the thing that prevents him from being seriously considered for the top 10. But he's such a gifted passer and playmaker that he would be a reasonable option here for a Houston franchise in a multiyear rebuild.
From Milwaukee Bucks
Round 1 - Pick 24
Villanova • Fr • 6'8" / 242 lbs
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was the leading scorer and rebounder for a Villanova team that won the Big East by multiple games. He's not the best athlete, but his understanding of how to play, and his ability to be a pick-and-pop 4, could allow him to become a core piece for the Rockets, who are still probably years away from competing for a postseason spot.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Jared Butler PG
Baylor • Fr • 6'3" / 195 lbs
Jared Butler, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the Final Four after scoring 22 points in the title-clinching win over Gonzaga, will enter the NBA with lead-guard skills and as one of the most accomplished shooters in this rookie class. He's the type of guard who could help the Clippers from Day One.
Round 1 - Pick 26
Ayo Dosunmu SG
Illinois • Fr • 6'5" / 200 lbs
Ayo Dosunmu improved enough as a shooter in his third season at Illinois to lock up a spot in the first round. The regularity with which he took over games in the Big Ten suggests he can be a big-scoring guard who could provide depth in Denver's backcourt and help the Nuggets win immediately.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Matthew Hurt PF
Duke • 6'9" / 235 lbs
A team with starpower like Brooklyn is always looking to add shooting to create more space. Matthew Hurt could do that given that he's a wing with size who made 44.4% of the 5.3 3-pointers he attempted per game this past season at Duke.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Virginia • Fr • 6'8" / 206 lbs
Trey Murphy had no problem adjusting to the ACC after spending his first two years of college at Rice. He's proven over the span of three seasons to be a consistent high-level shooter, one who could be a nice addition to a Philadelphia franchise headlined by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Tennessee • Fr • 6'4" / 202 lbs
Jaden Springer made above 43% of his 3-point attempts in his one season of college, which is an encouraging stat even if it was on limited attempts. Among the youngest players in this draft, he could develop into an important backcourt piece who quickly improves the Suns defensively.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Arizona State • Fr • 6'4" / 215 lbs
The Jazz are at a point with their roster where they can afford to take a gamble on an intriguing prospect like Josh Christopher. He's a guard with size who, in a limited number of games, showed a real ability to shot-create and score in ways that translate to the NBA.