Updated: Jul 13, 2021
The 2021 NBA Draft is quickly approaching, and now, with less than three weeks to go, feels like the right time to unveil my first mock draft.
While there will certainly be plenty of trades that occur between now and draft day, this mock will just assume that all teams are picking in their current slots.
Round 1, Pick 1: Detroit Pistons - Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State
While he isn’t in the recent Zion Williamson/Anthony Davis class of no-brainer, superstar-floor, number one pick, Cunningham is still the best prospect in this draft. At 6’7”, he can easily play both guard positions, which is exactly what Detroit needs. With Jerami Grant and Saadiq Bey on the wings, Cunningham will fit seamlessly into a starting lineup that is dying for some star power. The Oklahoma State product will make an instant impact for a desperate franchise, and, while the team will still be bad, make the Pistons a very fun and watchable squad. There’s no reason for Detroit to overthink their first number one overall pick since 1970, Cunningham has to be the selection here.
Round 1, Pick 2: Houston Rockets - Jalen Green, SG, G League Ignite
“Upside” has surpassed “wingspan” as the most popular cliché when it comes to evaluating NBA Draft prospects (I’ll probably use it at least ten times in this article), but it truly applies here. Green has quickly shot back up into the top three, where he was before the college/G League season, due to his appealing upside. He’s arguably the best athlete in the draft and already has valuable experience that comes with spending a season in the G League. That, along with his scoring prowess, will make it very easy for a rebuilding team like Houston to overlook his potential early growing pains (defense, facilitating), and hand him the keys to the franchise.
Round 1, Pick 3: Cleveland Cavaliers - Evan Mobley, C, USC
The fit here isn’t perfect considering the Cavs have a legit young starting center in Jarrett Allen, but he is a (restricted) free agent this Summer. Even if Allen returns, the versatile Mobley should be able to slide over to power forward to start his career. Kevin Love is also, somehow, still in Cleveland, so that may complicate this pick even further. Regardless, the struggling Cavaliers should take the best player on the board and then figure it out from there. Mobley’s ceiling is two-way superstar, and his ability to close games at the five will be invaluable. With Mobley, 2020 first rounder Isaac Okoro, and whichever guard they choose to keep out of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, Cleveland would have a very strong young core.
Round 1, Pick 4: Toronto Raptors - Jalen Suggs, PG, Gonzaga
The Raptors jumped into the top four at the lottery and, as a team facing an identity crisis, there are plenty of directions they can go here. The combo guard out of Gonzaga easily has one of the highest floors in this draft. He is an NBA-ready defender and playmaker and would be a perfect Kyle Lowry replacement in Toronto. If the Raptors choose to rebuild, Suggs can be a centerpiece for the future. If they choose to retool and make another playoff push, he can make an instant impact, even on a good team. The initial concern with Suggs will be his outside shooting, but aside from that he is about as safe as they come for a point guard prospect.
Round 1, Pick 5: Orlando Magic - Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite
The Magic: 1) Have fully embraced a rebuild 2) Need wing players 3) Have two picks in the top eight. That makes the raw, but incredibly talented Kuminga a very intriguing option. It may take some time, but the 18-year-old has the potential to develop into an All-Star caliber two-way player. The upside (second use!) of Kuminga makes a lot of sense for Orlando with their first top eight selection.
Round 1, Pick 6: Oklahoma City Thunder - Scottie Barnes, SF, Florida State
Oklahoma City has a war chest filled with draft picks for the next several years, so Sam Presti and his team are almost playing with house money with this pick. Barnes projects as an elite defender and certainly has the ability to grow on the offensive end. The Thunder are still years away from contending, and have plenty of wings already on the roster, so the fit is perfect for both sides as Barnes comes into his own as an NBA player.
Round 1, Pick 7: Golden State Warriors - Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor
Mitchell surged up the draft board throughout the NCAA Tournament as he led Baylor to the title, but he has seen his stock fall in recent weeks. The negatives for Mitchell are that he is a 6’1” combo guard and his offensive game is not fully polished. However, defensively he is about as NBA-ready as any guard I have ever seen. Seventh overall may still be a reach here, but for a contending team like Golden State, if they were to keep this pick (for the record I think they would be silly to not trade it), he may be worth the risk because, at the worst, he should at least be able to secure minutes as a defensive stopper in year one.
Round 1, Pick 8: Orlando Magic - Keon Johnson, SG, Tennessee
With the Magic, in this mock draft, taking Kuminga at number five, they may want to go with a “safer” pick than Johnson. However, the upside (again!) of the one-and-done out of Tennessee is hard to pass up. At only 185 pounds and after averaging just 11.3 points per game in his one college season, there are definite risks here. His athleticism on both ends of the floor makes his “boom” chance as enticing as his “bust” risk is scary. If you’re Orlando, taking Johnson and Kuminga may be worth the risk as, with all of the young talent already on the roster (Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Wendell Carter Jr.), they may only need one to pan out.
Round 1, Pick 9: Sacramento Kings - Franz Wagner, SF, Michigan
I’ll admit that I am not sold on Wagner as a top ten prospect (definitely a solid pro, just not top ten), but this mock draft is about what I think makes sense/will happen, not how I would rank the players. Therefore, I am very comfortable slotting Sacramento, the league’s worst franchise, with a player I still have doubts about. He is an interesting prospect because he lacks both obvious strengths and obvious weaknesses. Regardless, Sacramento needs wings, and he would fill that hole.
Round 1, Pick 10: New Orleans Pelicans - James Bouknight, SG, UConn
There is absolutely zero reason for the Pelicans to add another lottery pick to their roster as they enter a make-or-break year due to Zion Williamson’s reported frustration. However, if they were to surprisingly not trade this pick, Bouknight would be an absolute steal that could fill real needs for the Pelicans. He has shot up draft boards in recent weeks due to a strong combine, and he truly jumps off of the screen in his game film. The former UConn star averaged 18.7 points per game last year and is easily one of the best scorers in this draft. In New Orleans he could be an interesting complement to Williamson and Brandon Ingram on offense, but he still has room to improve, which means he does not make sense given the Pelicans’ timeline. Regardless, if anyone is getting Bouknight at the tenth pick, it will be one of the steals of the draft.
Round 1, Pick 11: Charlotte Hornets - Kai Jones, C/PF, Texas
This pick is all about, yes, upside. Jones, who averaged just six points, four rebounds and one block in two years at Texas, will certainly enter the NBA as a project. However, the potential that he holds as a strong interior defender and rim runner makes him a perfect fit for today’s NBA. Not only do the Hornets need a center, but LaMelo Ball would serve as a perfect running mate for Jones in transition. He remains one of the more polarizing prospects in the draft, and Charlotte may not be comfortable with taking the risk, but the ceiling of Jones, especially alongside Ball, is very intriguing.
Round 1, Pick 12: San Antonio Spurs - Jalen Johnson, F, Duke
Johnson’s rocky 13-game stay at Duke was surprising, but it did not harm his draft prospects as much as many expected it would. Based on pure talent alone, Johnson is easily a top ten pick. This just feels like a classic steal of a pick by San Antonio, as Johnson will have plenty of room, and help, developing into the star he was expected to become at Duke. There is just no way that a 6’9”, 19-year-old, former five-star recruit that can play three positions, pass and defend well, can fall out of the lottery.
Round 1, Pick 13: Indiana Pacers - Moses Moody, SG, Arkansas
The one-and-done from Arkansas projects as one of the best wings in the draft. With his strong “3-and-D” ability, Moody seems to have one of the safer floors out of all the potential lottery picks. This makes him a strong fit for Indiana as they can get some good bench minutes from him immediately, but will not need to throw him right into the fire due to their seemingly set starting five.
Round 1, Pick 14: Golden State Warriors - Corey Kispert, SF/SG, Gonzaga
This one almost feels too obvious. Kispert is the best shooter in the draft and could provide instant bench scoring for an elite Warriors team. On the other hand, Kispert is a college senior (this may be a positive for Golden State who probably isn’t looking for raw projects) and, worst-case scenario, may end up being “just” a shooter (and they are a dime a dozen in the NBA). Once again, the Warriors should trade both of these picks, but if they do select Kispert (and Mitchell at seven) they would smartly be prioritizing rookies that can help their three All Stars right away.
Round 1, Pick 15: Washington Wizards - Joshua Giddey, G/F, Adelaide 36ers (Australia)
The 18-year-old Australian is easily one of the most interesting prospects in the draft. At 6’8”, Giddey can play point guard, shooting guard and small forward, and he led the NBL in assists last year. Like many young prospects who come from international professional leagues, fair or unfair, there seems to be a wide variance on his NBA potential. Giddey can instantly be an exciting playmaker, but his defense is his biggest weakness. He will probably end up in the top ten once I do the second version of this mock draft, but if he falls to Washington, he can be a great first guard off the bench behind Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, or a strong piece of their young core if they choose to blow it up.
Round 1, Pick 16: Oklahoma City Thunder - Alperen Sengün, PF/C, Besiktas (Turkey)
Sengün took the Turkish league by storm last year as a teeanger and is now another intriguing international option. The Thunder have great young talent at every position except for center and, with this being their second of three first rounders (and second of six total picks), have the ability to take a chance on a high-risk/high-reward option.
Round 1, Pick 17: Memphis Grizzlies - Usman Garuba, PF, Real Madrid (Spain)
The 19-year-old from Spain is viewed as one of the best defenders in the draft, but is very limited on the offensive end. This makes him a good fit for the Grizzlies who already have an elite young core and, with just three free agents, have more than enough depth to take on a project like Garuba.
Round 1, Pick 18: Oklahoma City Thunder - Sharife Cooper, PG, Auburn
Cooper, who played just one year at Auburn, has a very wide variance on scouts’ big boards as he ranges from the mid-teens to the thirties. With an elite handle and top-tier passing skills, he is one of the best pure point guards in the draft. The downside for Cooper would be his size (6’1”, 180 Pounds) and off-ball struggles. Once again, the Thunder are able to take risks given their surplus of picks, and he would fit well as a second-unit point guard while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to play off the ball.
Round 1, Pick 19: New York Knicks - Jared Butler, PG, Baylor
The National Champion’s draft status has been put in jeopardy as he awaits clearance from a medical panel. If Butler is cleared, he is going to be a perfect high-ceiling guard that playoff teams will be jockeying to grab in this area of the draft. The Knicks desperately need a point guard and Butler, who realistically can play either guard spot, is a two-way star that would flourish in Tom Thibodeau’s system.
Round 1, Pick 20: Atlanta Hawks - Chris Duarte, SG, Oregon
Every conversation about Duarte leading up to the draft will be about his age. It is worth noting that, if he were drafted by Atlanta, the 24-year-old is 15-months older than his potential backcourt mate Trae Young, who is entering his fourth season. Regardless of his age, and Atlanta should be at the point where they favor experience over projects, Duarte can fill the much needed hole that the Hawks have when it comes to playmaking and defense off of the bench. His strong shooting acumen can also help provide more space for Young to operate.
Round 1, Pick 21: New York Knicks - Ziaire Williams, SF, Stanford
Williams entered his only year at Stanford with a ton of hype, but after a relatively disappointing season, the once top-ten-projected wing finds himself outside of the lottery. Also, at 6’9” and only 185 pounds, he’ll have to put on some weight in order to establish himself as an impactful NBA small forward. However, his pure talent alone still makes him a very worthwhile first round option. The Knicks need more talent on the wings, and with Jared Butler (assuming his medicals come back clean) slotted as their “safe” pick at 19, they can afford to take a risk on one of the most talented players in the draft.
Round 1, Pick 22: Los Angeles Lakers - Cameron Thomas, SG, LSU
With this pick, the Lakers obviously need a player who can come in and contribute right away. Thomas, who averaged 23 points per game in his only year at LSU, fits that description well. The problem with Thomas is that, at the moment, his game is based almost entirely on scoring. The Lakers may be inclined to target a more well-rounded, ready-made prospect, but his offensive gifts will be enticing for any contender looking for scoring punch off of the bench (they all are).
Round 1, Pick 23: Houston Rockets - Isaiah Jackson, PF/C, Kentucky
Jackson’s projected landing spot in the draft has fluctuated throughout the year. He has ranged from inside the lottery all the way to outside of the first round. At the moment, the early 20s seems fair for a prospect that has all of the athletic skills to be a rim runner and shot blocker (he averaged 2.6 blocks per game in his one year at Kentucky) but still remains somewhat unfinished. He is definitely a high-upside project that may take a year or two to develop, and that is exactly the kind of player Houston should be targeting with the second of their three first round picks.
Round 1, Pick 24: Houston Rockets - Tre Mann, PG, Florida
Assuming the Rockets take Jalen Green with the second overall pick, drafting Mann to pair with him in the backcourt for years to come would make a lot of sense. At 6’4”, Mann provides great size and versatility to go along with his impressive shooting touch. Like many of the other point guards in this draft, Mann has a very high floor (with a relatively limited ceiling) and would be a “safe” pick for Houston following their selection of Isaiah Jackson.
Round 1, Pick 25: Los Angeles Clippers - Trey Murphy III, F, Virginia
On paper, Murphy is one of the most impressive prospects in the draft. At 6’9” he can play both forward positions and space the floor (43% on threes last year) while also scoring well from inside the arc (62% on twos last year). While he doesn’t have the same high ceiling that many of the other wings in this draft have, he would be a great addition to a Clippers team that will want to contend again next year.
Round 1, Pick 26: Denver Nuggets - Jaden Springer, G, Tennessee
The Nuggets’ downfall in 2020, after Jamal Murray tore his ACL, was their lack of strong guard play. Springer, who has potential to jump all the way into the lottery, would be a great fit as he can play either guard position on offense, and defend at a high level. At 18-years-old, the Nuggets may look past Springer in favor of a more polished talent who could contribute immediately, but his potential at a position of need for them would be hard to pass on.
Round 1, Pick 27: Brooklyn Nets - Ayo Dosunmu, SG, Illinois
After an incredible Junior season at Illinois, Dosunmu is a tricky prospect to figure out. His prestige at the college level makes him an attractive bench piece for contenders like Brooklyn, but his lack of outside shooting and questions regarding which guard position he will fit best at may push him outside of the first round. He makes sense for Brooklyn as they: 1) need guard play off the bench, 2) should favor an experienced college star over an upside pick, 3) have Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant in the building to expedite Dosunmu’s development.
Round 1, Pick 28: Philadelphia 76ers - JT Thor, PF, Auburn
Thor, who is still 18-years-old, is not a ready made product by any means. However, his size, athleticism and versatility should keep him in the first round conversation. Philadelphia, despite the ugly way their season ended, is a very deep team, especially at the guard position. Therefore, they would have no problem taking a chance on a high risk/high reward prospect like Thor here.
Round 1, Pick 29: Phoenix Suns - Joshua Primo, G, Alabama
Primo, who doesn’t turn 19 until December, is a 6’5” combo guard that has jumped up draft boards recently. It is always a risk to take such a young prospect in the first round, but the Suns need guards behind Devin Booker (and Chris Paul if he returns) and don’t feel pressure to nail this pick. He has too much potential to fall out of the first round, and Phoenix would be a very solid landing spot for him due to their expertise in developing talent.
Round 1, Pick 30: Utah Jazz - Roko Prkacin, F, Cibona (Croatia)
The Croatian forward is still 18-years-old and has plenty of (last time!) upside due to his passing skills and basketball IQ. However, he is an unfinished product on defense and could very well fall into the mid-second round. Utah is another team that does not need to find an immediate contributor with their first rounder, and Prkacin could join the Jazz’s long line of recently successful European big men.
Round 2, Pick 31: Milwaukee Bucks - Josh Christopher, SG, Arizona State
Round 2, Pick 32: New York Knicks - Day’Ron Sharpe, C, North Carolina
Round 2, Pick 33: Orlando Magic - Nah’shon Hyland, SG, VCU
Round 2, Pick 34: Oklahoma City Thunder - Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky
Round 2, Pick 35: New Orleans Pelicans - Miles McBride, PG, West Virginia
Round 2, Pick 36: Oklahoma City Thunder - Daishen Nix, PG, G League Ignite
Round 2, Pick 37: Detroit Pistons - Brandon Boston Jr., SG/SF, Kentucky
Round 2, Pick 38: Chicago Bulls - Joel Ayayi, SG, Gonzaga
Round 2, Pick 39: Sacramento Kings - Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, PF, Villanova
Round 2, Pick 40: New Orleans Pelicans - Isaiah Todd, PF, G League Ignite
Round 2, Pick 41: San Antonio Spurs - Greg Brown, PF, Texas
Round 2, Pick 42: Detroit Pistons - Filip Petrušev, C, Mega Basket (Serbia)
Round 2, Pick 43: New Orleans Pelicans - Vrenz Blijenbergh, F, Antwerp (Belgium)
Round 2, Pick 44: Brooklyn Nets - Aaron Henry, SG/SF, Michigan State
Round 2, Pick 45: Boston Celtics - Jason Preston, PG, Ohio
Round 2, Pick 46: Toronto Raptors - Quentin Grimes, SG, Houston
Round 2, Pick 47: Toronto Raptors - Ariel Hukporti, C, Nevezis (Germany)
Round 2, Pick 48: Atlanta Hawks - Herbert Jones, F, Alabama
Round 2, Pick 49: Brooklyn Nets - Neemias Queta, C, Utah State
Round 2, Pick 50: Philadelphia 76ers - Kessler Edwards, F, Pepperdine
Round 2, Pick 51: Memphis Grizzlies - David Johnson, G, Louisville
Round 2, Pick 52: Detroit Pistons - Joe Wieskamp, SG, Iowa
Round 2, Pick 53: New Orleans Pelicans - Rokas Jokubaitis, PG, Zalgiris (Lithuania)
Round 2, Pick 54: Indiana Pacers - Luka Garza, C, Iowa
Round 2, Pick 55: Oklahoma City Thunder - Matthew Hurt, F, Duke
Round 2, Pick 56: Charlotte Hornets - Austin Reaves, G, Oklahoma
Round 2, Pick 57: Charlotte Hornets - Isaiah Livers, F, Michigan
Round 2, Pick 58: New York Knicks - David Duke, G, Providence
Round 2, Pick 59: Brooklyn Nets - Sandro Mamukelashvili, PF/C, Seton Hall
Round 2, Pick 60: Indiana Pacers - Juhann Begarin, SG, Paris Basket (France)
Just Missed the Cut: Chaundee Brown (SG/SF, Michigan), Justin Champagnie (F, Pittsburgh), Ibou Dianko Badji (C, FC Barcelona B- Senegal), Sam Hauser (F, Virginia), Carlik Jones (PG, Louisville), Yves Pons (SF, Tennessee), Aamir Simms (PF, Clemson), Jericho Sims (PF/C, Texas), DJ Steward (G, Duke), McKinley Wright (PG, Colorado)