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Ahhhhhh, NBA draft time!
Each year’s draft comes with its own unique set of questions, and the 2021 iteration is no different. Is Cade Cunningham truly an elite difference-maker, a player who can alter the course of a franchise? Are the guys who skipped college in favor of the G League more ready to contribute as a result of facing better competition? Will the sheer number of teams possessing multiple first-round picks lead to more wheeling and dealing than we’ve seen in recent years?
With the latest NBA trend emphasizing defensive versatility and switchability, this class’s extensive supply of high-end wings seems poised to address that need at least through the middle of the first round. And after that? Well, let’s hope you like smaller guards.
And so with that, The Salt Lake Tribune’s 2021 NBA Mock Draft …
1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
A year ago there was some debate as to who was the top prospect; it’s pretty cut-and-dried this time around. This 6-foot-8 lead guard is a smart and adept playmaker, an efficient shooter, a capable scorer, and a switchable defender. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for everywhere else.
2. Houston Rockets: Jalen Green, G League Ignite
Though he had some ups and downs in the G League, struggling in particular with decision-making and efficiency (very turnover-prone), Green is still an explosive, high-flying athletic specimen who can absolutely fill it up offensively at multiple levels. He needs to get more defensively sound, however.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley, USC
If the Cavs are not enamored of spending big to retain Jarrett Allen, Mobley would be a great replacement. He’s a tremendous defender at the rim, and has shown himself to be mobile and agile enough to guard on the perimeter, too. Also a surprisingly good ball-handler and passer, offensively.
4. Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes, Florida State
The first real “surprise” of the draft isn’t too much of one. While a certain Gonzaga guard would make a lot of sense, Barnes has been shooting up draft boards thanks to his 7-3 wingspan, his 1-5 switchability, his solid passing, and his incredible motor. If he can get his jumper more consistent …
5. Orlando Magic: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Many have Suggs as the second-best prospect in the draft, and there’s a lot to like: mind-blowing athleticism, good size and creativity as a lead initiator, and constantly playing in attack mode. Of course, the latter does lead to him being a bit wild, out of control, and turnover-prone at times, too.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jonathan Kuminga, G League Ignite
Who knows what machinations OKC’s front office are up to, considering their ridiculous stash of picks, but Kuminga presents some enticing building blocks — great frame, nice strength for a wing, downhill driving ability. His shot is absolutely yikes, however, as he hit only 25% from 3 this year.
7. Golden State Warriors: James Bouknight, Connecticut
Will the Warriors keep their picks or trade for instant help for Steph Curry? Either way, they could probably use some extra wing help. Bouknight is a good-if-unspectacular athlete who generates open looks with craftiness and wiggle. The 3 is inconsistent, as is his attention span in off-ball defense.
8. Orlando Magic: Alperen Sengun, Besiktas
After sending away one offensively-skilled, defensively-limited big man at the trade deadline, Orlando could replace the departed Nikola Vucevic with Sengun, the MVP of the Turkish League. He’s a nice finisher around the rim, and is known for impeccable footwork and an intuitive feel for the game.
9. Sacramento Kings: Moses Moody, Arkansas
Sacramento was pretty awful defensively, and the 3-and-D Moody can help there, with a wingspan over 7 feet, and some great positional versatility. He is a bit slight, though, and could stand to add some muscle. Offensively, a smooth shooter, but not the most adept at reading opposing defenses.
10. New Orleans Pelicans: Josh Giddey, Adelaide 36ers
There’s been speculation the Pels aren’t keen to spend big to retain Lonzo Ball, so why not go with the guy who’s got an eerily similar skillset to early Lonzo? Big frame, high-level passing, excellent in transition … and, to drive it fully home, pretty much needs to re-work his jumper for it to be useable.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Kai Jones, Texas
Charlotte has legitimate talent at every position — except center. Is Jones the answer to that? He’s incredibly raw, and his stock is all over the place, from top-10 to mid-20s. But he’s obscenely athletic and has a smooth jumper. Not an immediate fix, given his lack of game recognition, but so tantalizing.
12. San Antonio Spurs: Franz Wagner, Michigan
The Spurs have a fair bit of depth in the backcourt and some intriguing young pieces on the wings, but could use an upgrade in the frontcourt. While Wagner’s 3-point shot isn’t totally consistent yet, he’d still improve the Spurs there. Meanwhile, he brings the added benefit of defensive versatility.
13. Indiana Pacers: Davion Mitchell, Baylor
Indy doesn’t necessarily have any glaring holes, so this is something of a best-player-available situation. Mitchell might be the best on-ball defender in the draft, a great combo of aggression and fundamentals. His offense, despite an improved 3-point shot, remains a bit one-dimensional.
14. Golden State Warriors: Keon Johnson, Tennessee
There are worse things to have on your roster than a guy who is a stellar wing defender, while also possessed of the ability to jump out of the gym. That said, he’s an exceedingly polarizing prospect, given his janky jumper and his occasional unwillingness to take open shots as a result.
15. Washington Wizards: Chris Duarte, Oregon
No, him being 24 isn’t ideal. Then again, he’s been steadily rising up draft boards because he’s viewed as a plug-and-play 3-and-D guy. He’s not terribly athletic and won’t get by many people, but he’s a legitimately good spot-up sniper who should fit into a team’s rotation from Day 1.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder: Usman Garuba, Real Madrid
The Thunder are in a position to take some big-upside swings, and the Spaniard is definitely one of those — drawing raves from scouts as a potential future All-Defensive Team honoree. Problem is, he’s neither big nor particularly explosive. And his offensive development seems to have stalled.
17. Memphis Grizzlies: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
The Grizz could stand to add some more 3-point shooters to their arsenal, and Kispert is undeniably that, having shot 43.8% from deep as a junior and 44.0% as a senior. He also brings some surprising physicality to the table. The big problem is he’s slow and struggles to move laterally on defense.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jalen Johnson, Duke
What to make of Johnson? He began the season as a top-10 prospect, and then just absolutely disappointed. At his best, he’s a point forward with great size, vision, and playmaking. At his worst, a guy whose broken mechanics lead to poor shooting and enable defenders to overplay passes.
19. New York Knicks: Trey Murphy, Virginia
New York is in need of shooters, and he’s one of the best in this class, finishing his collegiate career above 40% on more than 500 attempts. He’s deceptively athletic in transition, too, and a willing defender. He’s not a shot creator at all right now, though — for himself or for his teammates.
20. Atlanta Hawks: Cameron Thomas, LSU
Given that Lou Williams is a free agent, and starting to show signs of slowing down anyway, why not replace him with the absolutely most unrepentant, unabashed me-first gunner in the draft? He’s got an uncanny gift for getting defenders off-balance and drilling over them. Does nothing else, though.
21. New York Knicks: Jared Butler, Baylor
Tom Thibodeau is a big-time culture-setting guy, which is why Taj Gibson can land with him in spot after spot. Butler brings the same intangibles. Beyond that, though, he could fill some of the Knicks’ voids with his efficient shooting and solid playmaking, though he’s more combo guard than point.
22. Los Angeles Lakers: Joshua Primo, Alabama
As the youngest guy in this draft, whoever takes him is gambling on a guy who maybe could have been a top-10 pick in another year. The spot-up shooting is already there, though, and the Lakers could certainly use that. But he could also develop into a nice secondary playmaker down the line.
23. Houston Rockets: Ziaire Williams, Stanford
Like Jalen Johnson, Williams is another highly-rated prospect who had a tough freshman season (albeit for different reasons), but whose toolbox is sufficiently stocked to entice someone. If he could go from “lanky” to “wiry,” that’d help, but he often looked physically outmatched in college.
24. Houston Rockets: Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky
Jackson’s got a pretty simple pathway to NBA minutes: serve a paint-protecting, shot-swatting defender, and a rim-running, lob-finishing offensive player. Which is good news for him, because he doesn’t have a ton of skills otherwise. He also needs to prove he can stay out of foul trouble.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Sharife Cooper, Auburn
He’s a savvy floor general and one of the best passers in this draft class, as evidenced by his 8.1 assists per game. Problem is, he is a horrible deep shooter right now (22.8% on 3s) who defenders go under the screen on every time. He also was a pretty disinterested defender.
26. Denver Nuggets: Miles McBride, West Virginia
Unlike Cooper, McBride is an absolute terror defensively — a dogged, on-ball disruptor who makes up for his 6-2 height with a 6-9 wingspan. He brings that same attack mentality to offense, too, frequently looking to put pressure on the rim. His jumper is inconsistent, but he hit clutch shots.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Tre Mann, Florida
Are the Nets, who will probably add some more ring-chasing vets on the cheap, likely to play a rookie? Probably not. Though they might if they could add a guy with a ready-made skill, such as Mann’s knock-down perimeter shooting and pick-and-roll play-making.
28. Philadelphia 76ers: Nah’Shon Hyland, VCU
Adding another small scoring guard may not be the biggest need for the Sixers, but there’s a ton of buzz about “Bones” moving up into the first round. Extremely slight, but an absolute three-level weapon who, like Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, and Trae Young, has ridiculous pull-up range.
29. Phoenix Suns: Jaden Springer, Tennessee
There’s a fair amount of confusion over how his game projects to the next level. Can he play some point or is he better suited off-ball? While his overall shooting numbers look good, the prevailing thought is his shot is generally not great. Still, enough athleticism and defense to take a chance.
30. Utah Jazz: Herbert Jones, Alabama
This guy could absolutely help address the team’s lack of defensive switchability. He goes 6-7, 215, and boasts a 7-foot wingspan. While he doesn’t have top-level athleticism, he makes up for it with elite processing ability. Great passer and surprisingly good ball-handler, but he needs work as a shooter.