We need look no further than the Finals to see the importance of the NBA Draft brought to life. The two best players in the series have been Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, who were selected by their current franchises with the 15th and 13th picks, respectively. Finding a player outside the top-five that turns out to be a superstar is rare, but it's what makes the pre-draft process so crucial.
Teams may find a late gem in the 2021 Draft, but the general consensus is that the prizes are all at the top, with Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham leading the way. By all accounts he's still expected to go to the Pistons with the No. 1 overall pick, but after that it gets a little trickier.
Several reports have the Houston Rockets focused on Jalen Green with the second pick, so I've moved him ahead of USC big man Evan Mobley (who might not actually be a big man) in this mock draft, even though I consider Mobley to be the slightly better prospect. There's also been some movement throughout, as players continue to visit teams for private workouts. It's hard to know how prospects have done in those scenarios since teams tend to keep a tight lid on their evaluations, but we can be sure that at least one player will start shooting up draft boards as the fateful July 29 date approaches.
As of now, here's my latest 2021 NBA Mock Draft.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Oklahoma State • Soph • 6'6" / 220 lbs
We can try to get cute all we want, but there's no reason to think the Pistons won't snatch up Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick. In addition to his obvious playmaking talents, Cunningham's shooting far exceeded expectations at Oklahoma State, leading one scout to call him the "most complete prospect I've seen in my lifetime." That's just one person's opinion, but they're certainly not alone in that assessment.
Round 1 - Pick 2
I have Evan Mobley second on my board, but the intel around the league is that the Rockets are zeroing in on Green at No. 2, which makes sense for a team at the very cusp of a rebuild. Green is a potential No. 1 scorer whose ball-handling and playmaking have continued on an upward trajectory. One scout told me he'd be shocked if Green never averaged 25 points per game in a season during his career, so a pretty safe bet for Houston's future.
Round 1- Pick 3
USC • Soph • 6'11" / 215 lbs
The Cavs will be ecstatic if Mobley is on the board at No. 3, and will perhaps hit pause on the Collin Sexton trade talks as they figure out how the USC 7-footer will fit in. Mobley has wing skills on both ends of the floor, so he could certainly play alongside Jarett Allen, with Sexton and Darius Garland in the backcourt. That's a pretty good foundation for a young team looking to get back into contention in the near future.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Jalen Suggs PG
Gonzaga • Soph • 6'5" / 205 lbs
There's some buzz that the Raptors really like Scottie Barnes, but I can't see them passing up Jalen Suggs with Kyle Lowry's free agency looming. He has everything you want in a guard prospect, even if his ceiling isn't quite as high as the players that will likely be taken above him. Also, it's not exactly scientific, but he just seems like a Raptor with his toughness and versatility.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Florida State • Soph • 6'7" / 225 lbs
It appears as if Scottie Barnes' workouts and interviews have pushed him ahead of the field as the best prospect outside of the top four. The shooting concerns are real -- both in mechanics and confidence -- but his 7-2 wingspan, defensive versatility and playmaking potential should make up for it. A frontcourt with Barnes and Jonathan Isaac would be an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Jonathan Kuminga is a pretty polarizing prospect, and I would love to come up with some crazy off-the-board pick for OKC here, but I just don't see it. Despite his flaws and lack of a standout NBA skill, Kuminga doesn't turn 19 until October and, as one scout put it, "the best 10% of his games are amazing." The Thunder development staff could help turn Kuminga into an All-Star, which you can't really say about any other players on the board at this point.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Moses Moody SG
Arkansas • Soph • 6'5" / 211 lbs
Trade rumors will continue to swirl surrounding the Warriors' picks, but if they keep No. 7 I still think Moses Moody is the perfect fit. The main knock on him offensively is a lack of creation, and he won't need to do that at all as a rookie with Golden State. Instead he can focus on his immediately translatable skills -- 3-point shooting and defense. Unlike some, I see a lot of upside in Moody as a scorer, with a Khris Middleton type as the ultimate ceiling.
From Chicago Bulls
Round 1 - Pick 8
Connecticut • Soph • 6'4" / 190 lbs
If the Magic take Scottie Barnes at No. 5, it would behoove them to select a primary scorer with their second top-10 pick. James Bouknight is exactly that, and has impressed throughout the pre-draft process with his shooting and creation. He has the upside of a 20-point-per-game scorer, and the floor of a heat-check bucket-getter off the bench, which seems like a worthwhile selection for Orlando at this juncture.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Franz Wagner SF
Michigan • Soph • 6'10" / 220 lbs
The Kings were dead last in defensive efficiency last season, and Franz Wagner is one of the best defensive prospects in the draft with his length and instincts. Sacramento wants to play fast with De'Aaron Fox at the helm, and Wagner can help them in transition as a finisher, or as a spot-up 3-point shooter if he gains more consistency. He also has some burgeoning playmaking ability in the pick-and-roll that could eventually be developed.
Round 1 - Pick 10
Gonzaga • Soph • 6'6" / 224 lbs
I hear all the criticisms about age and lack of upside, but Corey Kispert is as close to a known commodity as it gets with a premium NBA skill. He's the best shooter in the draft, with cultivated knowledge of all the tricks to get open and work around screens. The Pelicans need as much shooting around Zion Williamson as possible, and Kispert should be able to hold his own defensively given his size and strength.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Keon Johnson SG
Tennessee • Soph • 6'4" / 185 lbs
Charlotte needs athletes flanking LaMelo Ball on the break, and you won't find a better one in this draft than Keon Johnson, who set the NBA Draft Combine record with a 48-inch vertical leap. He's a bit rough around the edges, but there's enough potential there to see Johnson eventually becoming a reliable offensive player in the halfcourt. Johnson said that his shooting consistency has improved since his college season ended, and that will be the key to his ceiling in the NBA.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Baylor • Soph • 6'0" / 202 lbs
Davion Mitchell's age (22), size (measured 6-foot in socks) and questions about whether his shooting last season was an anomaly might drop him to the back of the lottery, but the Spurs would be happy to get him into their system. Mitchell will be able to defend from day one, which will endear him to Gregg Popovich, and his shiftiness and finishing ability should translate right away. The Spurs are reportedly shopping Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, with DeMar DeRozan hitting free agency, so there could be ample opportunity in the San Antonio backcourt.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Duke • Soph • 6'8" / 219 lbs
I'm not as high on Jalen Johnson as some, but I can definitely see why he's viewed as a lottery pick. He said he sees himself as a big point guard in the vein of Magic Johnson, Penny Hardaway or Ben Simmons, which is slightly concerning, but his future could be as a four or even a small-ball five once he bulks up a bit. The Pacers have enough quality players to be patient with Johnson, which makes him a solid upside pick at No. 13.
Round 1 - Pick 14
After impacting winning as an 18-year-old against grown men in the Australian NBL, Josh Giddey should be able to step in and contribute right away for the Warriors. He's a virtuoso passer who should fit right into the Warriors' ball-movement, read-based offense and push the ball in transition. Defense and shooting will be the major questions, but the playmaking upside makes him an easy choice if he's still on the board at No. 14.
Round 1 - Pick 15
Chris Duarte SG
Oregon • Soph • 6'5" / 190 lbs
I'm extremely high on Chris Duarte despite his age (24 years old), and the Wizards might want to draft a more win-now piece to put next to Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. Duarte will space the floor with his shooting and can do more off the dribble than you might think. He's probably not as good of a defender as the Wizards would like, but he could fill in immediately as a starter or off the bench.
From Boston Celtics
Round 1 - Pick 16
Stanford • Soph • 6'9" / 185 lbs
Ziaire Williams is as intriguing of a prospect as they come, with potential All-Star upside -- in other words, right in OKC's wheelhouse. Williams is 6-10 with shoes, but is one of the best in the draft at creating space with step-backs and pull-ups. He suffered through an absolute nightmare of a season at Stanford amid the pandemic, but there's no doubt that the talent is there. The Thunder have all the time in the world to develop him, so the fit makes sense.
Round 1 - Pick 17
The 18-year-old Turkish MVP, Alperen Sengun may very well go higher than this, but if he's available at No. 17 the Grizzlies would be wise to swoop him up. He's an extremely skilled post-up scorer who shows playmaking and shooting potential that could take his game to the next level. As with any big man there are concerns about how he will be able to guard in space, but at such a young age, an NBA training staff should be able to help improve his quickness and technique.
From Miami Heat
Round 1 - Pick 18
With a 7-2 wingspan and tremendous technique, Usman 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 OKC has nothing but time.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Virginia • Soph • 6'8" / 206 lbs
I think Trey 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
Tennessee • Soph • 6'4" / 202 lbs
One scout I talked to ranks Jaden 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 Hawks long-term backup for Trae Young, and Springer is big enough and stout enough defensively that he could even play alongside Young for stretches. Springer's youth (turns 19 in September) makes him even more appealing in this range.
From Dallas Mavericks
Round 1 - Pick 21
Kai Jones PF
Texas • Soph • 6'11" / 221 lbs
If they end up keeping the pick, this seems like a good spot for the Knicks to take a flier on Kai Jones, who just started playing organized basketball a few years ago. He has the potential to become a rim-runner/shot-blocker type who can also stretch to the 3-point line, but he's going to need a lot of development and probably some time in the G League. His upside makes him a worthwhile gamble at this stage for the Knicks, though.
Round 1 - Pick 22
Jared Butler PG
Baylor • Soph • 6'3" / 193 lbs
The Lakers need as much shooting and playmaking as possible off the bench, and Jared Butler will bring those in spades (now that he's been cleared by the NBA's fitness-to-play panel). 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
Kentucky • Soph • 6'9" / 205 lbs
Isaiah Jackson is a bit of a project, but has the chance to develop into an elite defensive center with his 7-4 wingspan and athleticism. He needs to add weight to his frame and will likely foul quite a bit to begin his career, but he shows significant promise as an offensive rebounder and handles the ball well for his size. Houston is in a full rebuild, so adding a player like Jackson, who needs some seasoning, is a smart play at this stage in the draft.
From Milwaukee Bucks
Round 1 - Pick 24
Auburn • Fr • 6'1" / 180 lbs
Sharife 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 • Soph • 6'5" / 200 lbs
The Clippers could use some scoring pop off the bench, and Ayo 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 playmaker. His size and length will allow him to play multiple positions and fit into the Clippers' switching defensive scheme.
Round 1 - Pick 26
LSU • Soph • 6'3" / 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. He can also help pick up the slack until Jamal Murray returns from his ACL surgery.
Round 1 - Pick 27
West Virginia • Soph • 6'1" / 195 lbs
If we learned one thing this season, it's that the Nets need some backcourt depth. With Spencer Dinwiddie potentially leaving in free agency, Miles 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 since a strong combine performance, and is looking more and more like a first-round lock.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Bones Hyland PG
VCU • Soph • 6'2" / 169 lbs
Nah'Shon Hyland is a pure scorer who started rising up draft boards following an excellent combine performance. He's extremely confident, 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 the ability to provide bench scoring right away for the 76ers while also possessing potential for the future.
Round 1 - Pick 29
North Carolina • Soph • 6'9" / 265 lbs
I'm not in love with Day'Ron Sharpe as a prospect, but I think the fit here makes sense for the Suns. Phoenix could have used a bruising, offensive rebounding backup center in the playoffs, and Sharpe brings that physicality with the added bonus of passing ability. He's not going to stretch the floor, but that's presumably what they drafted Jalen Smith to do. Sharpe would give Monty Williams another big option off the bench, with a slightly different look.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Arizona State • Soph • 6'4" / 215 lbs
Josh Christopher has all the upside you want in a late first-rounder. 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. Utah can give him time to develop, but if he impresses early there could be a rotation spot up for grabs.