The 2021 NBA Draft is less than a month away, the lottery balls have worked their magic and the Draft Combine is complete, which means we've entered the most reliable and predictable pre-draft phase: smokescreen season.
They've already started, but expect reports to come flying in hot and heavy over the next few weeks mentioning how certain teams are higher than others on certain players, and vice versa. Make sure you take all of them with a grain of salt, as there are countless motivations for teams to send out false signals to somehow make their position more advantageous. Remember last year when the Golden State Warriors reportedly weren't blown away by James Wiseman? They ended up taking him No. 2 overall.
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So when you hear that the Houston Rockets, who hold the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, reportedly favor Jalen Green over Evan Mobley, it would behoove you to keep a somewhat skeptical eye on the situation. One thing remains steadfast, however, and that is the belief that Cade Cunningham will in fact be the No. 1 pick in the draft. There could always be a curveball trade, but as the lottery currently stands, that means he'll be suiting up for the Detroit Pistons.
After that it's much murkier, with an incredible amount of talent loaded at the top, and a few dark horses who are making their way up draft boards, thanks to strong combine performances and workouts. With that in mind, here is my latest mock draft, with some significant changes from my pre-lottery edition completed a few weeks ago.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Oklahoma State • Fr • 6'8" / 220 lbs
Despite the Pistons insisting they'll explore all options, there's almost a 100 percent chance that Cunningham, a point guard in a power forward's body, will be the top selection next month. Don't be fooled by Cunningham's relatively low assist average -- that should dramatically increase when he gets better players around him at the NBA level. The Pistons will be ecstatic to get a crown jewel like Cunningham to place around their other young pieces and help speed up their rebuild.
Round 1 - Pick 2
USC • Fr • 7'0" / 215 lbs
Sure, there is some positional redundancy with Christian Wood in Houston, but the Rockets are in no position to pass up a talent like Mobley based on those factors. I've bumped Mobley up in this mock based on some conversations with scouts who say that Mobley is more akin to a 7-foot wing than a big given his versatility on both sides of the ball, which presents all sorts of lineup options for the Rockets moving forward.
Round 1- Pick 3
Green is perhaps the most predictable prospect in the draft in the sense that you know pretty much exactly what you're getting. He's a superior athlete who's been a prolific scorer at every level at which he's ever played. Mobley might be a better fit given the Cavs' existing backcourt of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, but if he's gone then there's no reason that Green, at 6-5, couldn't slot alongside both of them in the modern NBA.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Jalen Suggs PG
Gonzaga • Fr • 6'4" / 205 lbs
The Raptors jumped up in the lottery and now have a chance to grab one of the coveted top-four prospects in this year's draft. If it ends up being Suggs, he'll join a near-perfect situation with a franchise that has a habit of maximizing scrappy, skilled guards. Coming from a high-level program with Gonzaga, Suggs should have no problem contributing right away for a team with designs of getting back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Florida State • Fr • 6'9" / 227 lbs
The Magic need all the help they can get as they kick off their rebuild, and Barnes is one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. A long, versatile, switchable defender with tremendous playmaking upside, Barnes is a prototype wing for the modern NBA, who should be able to eventually guard one through five. The jumper needs work, but Orlando has nothing but time to try to develop it.
Round 1 - Pick 6
I talked to a scout who doesn't even have Kuminga rated as a lottery pick, but OKC won't be able to pass on his upside at this stage in the draft. His lack of efficiency is alarming -- he made 39% of his field goals and 25% of his 3-pointers for the G League Ignite this season -- but the athleticism, build and motor are enough to entice the Thunder. Even if they're not in love with him, he could become a valuable trade asset down the line.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Moses Moody SG
Arkansas • Fr • 6'6" / 205 lbs
The Warriors may try to move this pick, but Moody would be a strong addition to the roster as a 3-and-D wing with upside as a scorer. His 6-11 wingspan makes him imposing when playing passing lanes and closing out on shooters. At the very least he'll fill a need, and at best he could develop into a Mikal Bridges or maybe even Khris Middleton-type two-way player.
From Chicago Bulls
Round 1 - Pick 8
Baylor • Jr • 6'1" / 202 lbs
They already have Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony, but the rebuilding Magic can't pass up a talent like Mitchell based on positional redundancy. At 22, Mitchell should contribute immediately on both sides of the ball with his strength and motor. He became a consistent 3-point shooter and playmaker over the course of his college career, turning him into an elite prospect with tremendous upside.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Keon Johnson SG
Tennessee • Fr • 6'5" / 186 lbs
When you set the record for highest vertical leap at the NBA Draft Combine, you're going to open some eyes, and the 48-inch jump should get Johnson at least into the top 10. Sacramento wants to play fast, and having an athlete like Johnson on the wing would make that much easier. He still needs to develop as a scorer and shooter, but he should be able to contribute in transition and on defense right away.
Round 1 - Pick 10
Gonzaga • Sr • 6'7" / 220 lbs
The Pelicans shouldn't overthink this one. They need as much shooting around Zion Williamson as possible, and Kispert is probably the best shooter in the draft. He should be able to hold his own defensively given his size and strength, and knows all the tricks to get open off the ball. This may be a little early for Kispert on some big boards, but he has a high floor and fills an important need for New Orleans.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Connecticut • Soph • 6'5" / 190 lbs
You want to give LaMelo Ball as many transition weapons as possible, and Bouknight is an elite athlete who consistently throws down highlight dunks on the break. When he gets into the halfcourt, he's an intriguing one-on-one scorer whose efficiency should improve with NBA coaches drilling him on shot selection.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Stanford • Fr • 6'8" / 185 lbs
Williams was the No. 6 player in his class coming out of high school before suffering through a train wreck of a freshman season at Stanford. His upside is undeniable as a shot creator and ball-handler with a 6-11 wingspan. Williams' trainer told me that he's "going to be a star," and I trust his opinion after he raved about Tyrese Haliburton last year. The Spurs have a knack for developing players, so Williams seems like a worthwhile gamble at this juncture of the draft.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Franz Wagner SF
Michigan • Soph • 6'9" / 220 lbs
The Pacers ended the season as one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, and they could look to improve that by drafting Wagner, one of the best defenders in the draft with his length, strength and instincts. He's also an impressive finisher in transition and a threat as both a roller and a popper. If he can become a league-average 3-point shooter, he'll be a valuable asset for new coach Rick Carlisle.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Chris Duarte SG
Oregon • Sr • 6'6" / 190 lbs
Duarte is an absolute pure shooter, and the Warriors won't be scared away by him being 24 years old since they're trying to win a title now. He's actually reminiscent of Klay Thompson in the way he can shoot and with his defensive potential, so there's no better place to learn from the master. He may never reach Thompson's ceiling, but Duarte should be a knock-down shooter with potential off the dribble as well.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Duke • Fr • 6'9" / 220 lbs
Johnson is a bit of a mystery because he only played 13 games at Duke, but he's a tantalizing prospect because of his length, athleticism and upside. He would be a menace in transition for the Wizards, who played at the league's highest pace (by far) last season. Given the trouble Washington has experienced surrounding Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal with quality rotation players, Johnson should get a shot to contribute right away.
From Boston Celtics
Round 1 - Pick 16
Giddey is almost a perfect OKC pick -- he has incredible upside, but needs development in order to unlock his full potential -- so he could present great value if he falls this far in the draft. Giddey's virtuoso passing ability is close to LaMelo Ball levels, and he can also finish on the break himself. The jump shot is a concern, but he could become an elite playmaker if he continues to develop his ball-handling.
Round 1 - Pick 17
With a 7-2 wingspan and tremendous technique, Garuba has perhaps the most defensive potential of any big in the draft besides Evan Mobley. Where the intrigue lies is in Garuba's potential to be a Draymond Green-esque playmaker, both in transition and in the half-court. Obviously it will take a while for that to develop, but Memphis has the depth to be patient while Garuba gets some seasoning.
From Miami Heat
Round 1 - Pick 18
Tennessee • Fr • 6'4" / 204 lbs
One scout I talked to ranks Springer ahead of Jalen Suggs in his projections. I wouldn't go that far, but it explains the value that Springer could have at this point in the draft. The Thunder are no stranger to taking big swings -- they traded up to get Aleksej Pokusevski at No. 17 last year -- so taking a flier on Springer, one of the youngest guards in the draft, makes sense here.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Virginia • Jr • 6'9" / 206 lbs
I think Murphy is one of the more underrated prospects in the draft, largely because he has a ready-made role as a 3-and-D wing, and he improved his stock at the draft combine. He took very few mid-range jumpers in his last college season in favor of NBA-level shot distribution. The Knicks are in dire need of shooting, particularly from the wing, and Murphy can step in right away with the defensive ability and discipline to keep him on the court under Tom Thibodeau.
Round 1 - Pick 20
Tre Mann PG
Florida • Soph • 6'4" / 178 lbs
I don't rate Mann as highly as some other draft evaluators, but the Hawks would be lucky to get him at this point and start grooming him as Trae Young's backup. His scoring ability is undeniable, and his shot creation is among the best in the draft. His short arms make him play smaller than he is defensively, and he needs to work on his playmaking ability, but he won't have pressure to play major minutes right away with Atlanta's incredible depth.
From Dallas Mavericks
Round 1 - Pick 21
Kentucky • Fr • 6'10" / 205 lbs
Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson are free agents, so the Knicks could beef up their frontcourt with the addition of Jackson, an explosive pogo stick of a center with a 7-4 wingspan. He's one of the best shot-blockers in the draft, and would essentially become a second Mitchell Robinson coming off the bench. He also shows the potential to switch on the perimeter, but he'll likely get into foul trouble a lot as a rookie, just like Robinson.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Jared Butler PG
Baylor • Jr • 6'4" / 195 lbs
It's clear that the Lakers need as much shooting and playmaking as possible off the bench, and Butler will bring those in spades (assuming he gets cleared to play by the NBA panel looking into his diagnosed heart condition). He's also a strong enough defender to hold his own on the league's best defensive team. Butler will be 22 when next season starts, and he's physically and mentally mature enough to contribute to a winning team right away.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Sengun didn't play against the best competition this season in Turkey due to COVID and passport issues, but the Rockets would gladly take the versatile center prospect at this stage in the draft. He's a polished low-post scorer who has shown tremendous playmaking potential, and he possesses a rare combination of skill and toughness. He'll need time, but the Rockets don't mind waiting.
From Milwaukee Bucks
Round 1 - Pick 24
Auburn • Fr • 6'1" / 180 lbs
Cooper is one of the most dazzling playmakers in the draft, with elite passing potential at the next level. He's constantly putting pressure on the defense in transition and is a whiz in the pick-and-roll. His small stature and lack of shooting thus far in his career raise some flags, but he's well worth a flier for Houston.
Round 1 - Pick 25
Ayo Dosunmu SG
Illinois • Jr • 6'5" / 200 lbs
The Clippers could use some scoring pop off the bench, and Dosunmu is one of the most polished scorers in the draft. If his 3-point shooting can hold up it will take him to the next level, but he's still incredibly valuable as a mid-range jump shooter and pick-and-roll operator. His size and length will allow him to play multiple positions and fit into the Clippers' switching defensive scheme.
Round 1 - Pick 26
LSU • Fr • 6'4" / 210 lbs
Talk about a bucket-getter. Thomas has the game, and the confidence, to eventually become a 20-point-per-game NBA scorer -- he just needs to work on his efficiency. The Nuggets, like pretty much every team, are always looking for bench players who can create and put the ball in the basket, so Thomas would be a gem this late in the draft.
Round 1 - Pick 27
West Virginia • Soph • 6'2" / 195 lbs
If we learned one thing this season, it's that the Nets need some backcourt depth. With Spencer Dinwiddie likely leaving in free agency, McBride could slide in nicely as a combo guard off the bench capable of both scoring and facilitating. He's also a tenacious defender with a powerful frame, which should make him ready to play right away. McBride's stock has improved with a strong combine performance, which means he could slide into the first round.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Arizona State • Fr • 6'5" / 215 lbs
Christopher has all the upside you want in a late first-rounder, and he said he had an "amazing" meeting with the 76ers. He has NBA athleticism and creates tremendous space off the dribble with a confident mid-range and 3-point stroke. He improved toward the end of the year at Arizona State, indicating an upward trajectory. Philadelphia can give him time to develop, but a bench unit featuring Christopher and Tyrese Maxey could do wonders for its offense.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Kai Jones PF
Texas • Soph • 6'11" / 218 lbs
Jones is a lottery prospect in terms of talent but center is just not a premium position right now in the NBA, so he could fall far enough for a team like Phoenix to grab him late in the draft. Jones is mobile and attacks the rim on offense while protecting it on defense, but the real game-changer will be if his 3-point shooting translates to the pro level.
Round 1 - Pick 30
VCU • Soph • 6'3" / 169 lbs
Hyland is a pure scorer who is rising up draft boards following an excellent combine performance. He's an extremely confident scorer with tremendous range off the dribble, and has shown the ability to hit clutch shots. His offensive game, particularly his playmaking, needs some fine tuning, but he has tremendous potential for a player taken with the last pick in the first round.