How much can you really take away from basketball played during a global pandemic? It’s a question scouts and GMs will be asking themselves on the road to the 2021 NBA Draft.
The virus has hung over season since it started with players and coaches getting sick and games getting canceled. The mental toll of the pandemic also can’t be discounted as thousands of people are still dying from the virus every day while we wait for the vaccines to be widely distributed.
As basketball has continued around the world, the top prospects for the next draft are starting to establish themselves. Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham, USC big man Evan Mobley, and Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs are currently a step ahead of their peers, but the debut of Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga in the the G League bubble later this month will add further competition for the top spots around the No. 1 pick.
This mock doesn’t really take team needs into account. Instead, it’s our first updated outlook at the 2021 draft class since our preseason mock the day after the 2020 draft. Let’s get into it.
1. Washington Wizards - Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State
Cunningham emerged as the top player in his class during a breakout grassroots season with the Texas Titans as a rising senior, and he’s done enough at Oklahoma State to maintain his status as the presumptive No. 1 pick. The 6’8 guard is made for modern basketball: he’s blessed with tremendous vision as a pick-and-roll passer, has the strength and touch to finish inside, and is becoming better and better as a shooter both off the dribble and from spot-ups. That doesn’t even mention Cunningham’s versatile defense and flashes of vertical rim protection, which is becoming one one of the most tantalizing aspects of his skill set.
While Cunningham’s numbers as a freshman do feel slightly underwhelming given his pre-college hype, it’s worth noting that his supporting cast fails to maximize his talent. Oklahoma State has no shooters — they rank No. 286 in DI in three-point rate — and few finishers. Cunningham is still the best future building block in this draft class.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves - Evan Mobley, C, USC
Mobley’s talent leaps off the screen whenever you watch USC. The 7-foot freshman is oozing with natural ability and is just starting to grow into a skill set that feels like everything today’s NBA demands out of a big. The skinny 7-foot center projects as a terrific defensive prospect with a 7’5 wingspan, refined shot blocking instincts (9.4 percent block rate), and the lateral quickness to hold his own on switches. Offensively, Mobley’s best attribute is his feel for the game as a passer. He has a striking ability to process defensive coverages, which should make him a deadly short roll passer in the league. His three-point stroke is making progress (7-for-22 on the season), too.
Like Cunningham, Mobley suffers from a major lack of spacing playing in a two-big lineup alongside his older brother Isaiah Mobley at USC. There’s an argument that he’s the best big prospect to hit the draft since Karl-Anthony Towns, but teams will want to see him prove he can be a volume scorer if they are going to invest a top-two pick in him. Even if Mobley never averages 25 points per game, he can still held make an offense sing with his passing while anchoring a defense.
3. Detroit Pistons - Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga
Suggs is the engine of the best team in college basketball, but he’s far from a one-man show. Unlike Cunningham and Mobley, Suggs has an ideal supporting cast around him to maximize his talent, which has aided his jump into a top-three overall prospect. Regardless, Suggs is worthy of the hype as a 6’3 guard who dominates in transition and wrecks havoc as a help defender.
Suggs is often playing in the open court with the Zags, partially because he’s posting one of the best steal rates (4.6 percent) in college basketball right now. The most eye opening development in his game has been his shooting. Suggs is 18-of-47 (38.3 percent) from three so far this year. There will be questions about his ball handling and ability to dust NBA defenders off the dribble, but he has a high floor as a versatile guard who can play on or off the ball. He should get plenty of opportunities to prove he’s a top three prospect as Gonzaga chases a perfect season.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Heat) - Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite
Green was a mega-hyped high school player who decided to bypass college basketball to pioneer the G League’s new developmental initiative. Before his Ignite team begins a 15-game schedule in February, he already feels like a certain top-five pick based off his physical tools alone. The word ‘elite’ gets thrown around too often in draft evaluations, but Green’s explosiveness as a leaper around the basket absolutely deserves the descriptor. He is possibly this draft’s best pure scorer, a three-level bucket-getter who can stockpile easy points on drives to the rim or difficult ones in the half-court with his shot-making ability.
How well can Green read the floor as a passer? How good will he be defensively? Will he be able to consistently get to the free throw line? These are the questions scouts will be watching when the Ignite take the floor.
5. New Orleans Pelicans - Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite
Kuminga was the top-ranked junior in the high school class before skipping his senior year to join the Ignite squad. Like Green, Kuminga is a potential top-three pick because of his physical tools. A 6’8 combo forward, Kuminga potentially offers intriguing downhill attacking ability and a mid-range pull-up game. He averaged 22.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 19 games on the EYBL circuit with the NY Rens.
Scouts will want to see how well he reads the floor as a passer, exactly where his three-point shooting is at, and see how impactful he is on defense.
6. New York Knicks (via Mavericks) - Ziaire Williams, F, Stanford
It’s been an up-and-down freshman season for Williams as he’s battled injuries and inconsistency with the Cardinal. When he’s on, Williams is a 6’8 wing with terrific shot-making ability and solid court vision. When he’s off, he looks physically weak going to the basket and feels like an inefficient volume shooter. A pro strength program would do wonders for Williams. The skill level is already there. After going through some great games and some tough ones at start his freshman year, scouts will be very interested to see how he finishes the season into March.
7. Orlando Magic - Sharife Cooper, PG, Auburn
Cooper has instantly become one of the best players in college basketball since debuting for Auburn on Jan. 9 after eligibility issues. Listed at 6’1, 180 pounds, Cooper is dazzling with the ball with the ball in his hands. He has a special gift for finding creases in the defense to create opportunities for his teammates. His assist rate of 53.4 percent would lead the nation if he met the minimum number of games. Cooper has also become incredible at forcing his way to the foul line, posting a nearly 70 percent free throw rate thus far.
Cooper might remind you a little bit of Trae Young but with one major difference: he struggles to shoot from three (7-of-34 on the year). Cooper makes up for some of that by being bigger and more active defensively than Young, though it’s hard to project him as a plus on that end in the NBA given his stature. If the shot comes around, he should be an excellent offensive player in the league.
8. Toronto Raptors - Jaden Springer, G, Tennessee
Springer is a bully of a 6’4 guard who thrives overpowering his opponents on both ends of the floor. The Tennessee freshman is a bulldozer going to the basket with the ball in his hands, where he can create space for himself by absorbing contact and dishing out body blows near the rim. Springer has always been impressive defensively dating back to his days at Florida prep powerhouse IMG Academy, showing a lockdown ability on opposing guards in isolation situations and also good help instincts off the ball. He is a big part of a suffocating Vols defense that ranks No. 2 in the country and is posting a solid 2.9 steal rate so far.
There remain questions about Springer as a shooter even after starting the season 9-of-16 (56.2 percent) from three. Scouts will want to see if he can turn up the volume from deep this season, and if his jumper extend to NBA range. While it’s been tough to evaluate Springer’s offense in Rick Barnes’ unimaginative system, he is one of the youngest players in this draft — not turning 19 years old until September 25 — and has plenty of physical tools to bet on.
9. New York Knicks - Jalen Johnson, F, Duke
The Duke freshman is a big 6’9, 220 pound forward with great vertical explosiveness off, impressive vision and creativity as a passer, and tantalizing ability in transition. Surrounding Johnson with shooters and letting him create with the ball in his hands is intriguing, but there have been times where he’s struggled to separate against defenders as a driver. Most of his concerns in the halfcourt will be focused on his shooting, where’s he’s reluctant to fire and typically off the mark (4-of-13 on the year). If a team thinks they can fix his jump shot, Johnson’s provides some nice playmaking ability on both ends of the floor.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder - Kai Jones, F, Texas
Jones is the lottery ticket in this year’s draft. The Texas sophomore didn’t start playing organized basketball until he was 15 years old, but he’s blossomed into a 6’11 forward with tantalizing flashes of long-term potential his short time with the Longhorns. Jones still doesn’t start for his college team, but it’s impossible to miss his talent when he is on the floor. Oozing with elite physical tools, Jones as a combination of length and quickness that can’t be taught. He spent the offseason trying to become more of a catch-and-shoot threat, and he’s hit 8-of-18 (44 percent) shots from deep so far. His best basketball remains far in front of him, but Jones’ natural talent could have some team gambling on him in the lottery.
11. Chicago Bulls - Moses Moody, G, Arkansas
Moody is a well-rounded 6’6 wing who will make his living hitting shots, attacking closeouts, and being a pest defensively with a 7’1 wingspan. The Arkansas freshman is a solid shooter (29-for-81 or 35.8 percent on the year) who can also hit one or two dribble pull-ups or get to the foul line inside the arc. He’s currently in the 90th percentile for halfcourt scoring in DI, per Synergy Sports. It will be interesting to see if Moody has any extra juice on the ball, because he’s currently in the 99th percentile in efficiency as a pick-and-roll handler on limited attempts. In general, he’s a wing who wins with skill rather than raw athletic traits.
Moody has had some truly excellent games in SEC play this year, dropping 26 points on Vanderbilt, 28 points on Alabama, and 25 points on Georgia all in January. He’s also had some down performances. With so many top prospects ineligible for the NCAA tournament, Moody could boost his stock significantly in March to lock in his top-10 status.
12. Sacramento Kings - Franz Wagner, F, Michigan
Wagner is looking bigger and stronger in his sophomore season at Michigan, and it could make him the first multi-year college player off the board. The younger brother of Wizards 7-footer Moe Wagner, Franz is a 6’8 wing who should provide value on both ends of the floor at the next level. Wagner’s defense has been electric at times this year on a Wolverines’ unit that ranks top-five in the nation in efficiency. Wagner is their best stopper, currently posting a 4.1 block rate and 2.8 steal rate.
Wagner has also looked good offensively. He ranks in the 87th percentile in transition opportunities, and in the 79th percentile in the half court. He’s making 59 percent of his two-pointers right now with impressive scoring versatility inside the arc. He’s 14-for-44 (31.8 percent) from three-point range right now. He’ll need to be able to hit outside shots in the league to be taken this high, but his size and ability to on both ends of the court should be appealing.
13. San Antonio Spurs - Keon Johnson, F, Tennessee
One of the best pure athletes in the class, Johnson is an explosive leaper and high-upside defensive prospect who is still learning how to pick his spots on the floor. Johnson is mostly an off-ball player for Tennessee as a freshman, looking for cutting lanes to the basket and attacking closeouts off spot-ups. Johnson’s above the rim finishing will be his offensive calling card, and it’s helped him make more than 50 percent of his two-point field goals so far. Strangely, he’s ranking only in the 14th percentile in transition opportunities, which is curious for a player with his physical gifts. Like Springer, Johnson is a big part of Tennessee elite defense. The NBA team that takes him will have to work to develop his outside shot.
14. Portland Trail Blazers - Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State
Barnes has been a staple near the top of class rankings for years after a stellar high school career that included three gold medals with USA Basketball. After spending his senior year playing alongside Cunningham and Moody on Montverde’s super team, Barnes has been a seamless fit as a do-it-all forward on Florida State. A long-and-strong 6’9, 230-pound wing, Barnes is most comfortable playing with the ball in his hands where he does a good job reading the defense and making passes to the open man. Barnes’ defense will be his main selling point early in his career. He has the physicality to match up with a variety of different offensive players and shows good instincts forcing turnovers. As has always been the case, Barnes’ biggest weakness is his outside shooting ability and general lack of touch. If he can score at all in the league, he brings so much else to the table that he should have a long and fruitful career.
15. Cleveland Cavaliers - James Bouknight, SG, UConn
Bouknight is one of the best pure bucket-getters in this class. After putting himself on NBA radars with a solid freshman season, Bouknight soared up draft boards after dropping 40 points on Creighton in December. He’ll be at his best as an off-ball scorer attacking closeouts, running around screens, and finding advantage situations in dribble-handoffs. There aren’t many players better in this class at creating separation and leveraging angles to score. His package of dribble crossovers and step-backs is already pro-ready.
16. Charlotte Hornets- Usman Garuba, F, Real Madrid
Petit Binge Watching Euroleague d'Usman Garuba (Real Madrid)— Guillou Alan (@Alan_Guillou96) January 30, 2021
L'argument de vente de l'espagnol, c'est sa polyvalence défensive. Incroyable envergure, bon QI et de belles lectures pour toujours être en bonne position. Grosses qualités à la protection de cercle notamment pic.twitter.com/dYw4IHlWy4
Garuba is only 18 years old but he’s already been getting minutes in Euroleague for two seasons with Real Madrid. A strong and long 6’8 big man, Garuba is a defense-first prospect who’s ability to guard the pick-and-roll makes him so intriguing. Garuba has quick feet, the frame to absorb contact, the length to challenge shots, and the discipline to defend until the play is over. He isn’t much of a scorer at this stage, but has flashed intriguing passing chops in the short roll.
17. Atlanta Hawks - Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga
Kispert is a 6’6 knockdown shooter who is already playing in a pro-style offense on Gonzaga. As the Zags devastate opponents with an onslaught of weapons on the country’s most efficient unit, Kispert has established himself as the rare senior with a shot at getting drafted in the lottery. Kispert is a high volume, highly accurate shooter who is hitting 48.6 percent of his attempts from deep this year after hitting 43.8 percent of his threes last year. He has a quick trigger and deep range, which should fit in any modern offense. Scouts will wonder if he’s closer to Joe Harris or Doug McDermott in terms of four-year college players with dynamic long range shooting ability.
18. Houston Rockets - B.J. Boston, G, Kentucky
Boston’s flashes of tight ball handling and impressive pull-up shooting off the dribble at the high school level looked so tantalizing that we put him at No. 2 overall in our preseason mock. His freshman season at Kentucky has proven that hype was premature on our part. Boston has struggled badly trying to find consistency as a scorer, posting just 43.5 percent true shooting to start the season. The threat of his jump shot has pretty much disappeared as he’s started the year 9-of-50 (18 percent) from three-point range. Boston’s biggest issue might be his narrow frame and lack of strength. Still only 19 years old, a team that focuses on getting him stronger could have a talented offensive wing down the line.
19. Indiana Pacers - Terrence Shannon Jr., G, Texas Tech
Shannon is a 6’6 wing who has emerged as the second leading scorer and best all-around player on Texas Tech during his sophomore season. Shannon is at his best near the basket where he can use his athleticism to finish, ranking in the 91st percentile on cuts. Defensively he leads the Red Raiders with a three percent steal rate, showing off impressive instincts as a help defender. While Shannon has improved his outside shot some this season — he’s at 32 percent from deep after hitting 26 percent of his threes last year — it remains his biggest area of improvement and ultimately the swing factor that could determine how successful he can be in the league.
20. Golden State Warriors - Roko Prkacin, F, Cibona
One of the top prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft, Roko Prkačin played a fantastic game against KK Krka Novo Mesto. 20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists in 38 minutes.— Kuzey Kılıç (@Kuzeykg) January 31, 2021
5/7 2PTS, 2/2 3 PTS, 4/9 FT pic.twitter.com/VsKg455x8w
The 6’9 Croatian forward is putting up nice numbers for Cibona this season at 18 years old. Prkacin is intriguing for his ability to play on the perimeter at his size, showcasing straight-line drives to the basket and good floor spacing potential. He’s also shown an ability to finish through contact down low against pro competition. He’s averaging 13 points per game on about average efficiency at 55.5 percent true shooting.
21. Boston Celtics - Jared Butler, G, Baylor
Butler has been arguably the best player in college basketball and on one of the two best teams in college basketball so far this season. The 6’3 junior guard has made massive improvements as an outside shooter over his three-year career, and has hit 42-of-93 (45.2 percent) deep shots to start his career. He’s having the best playmaking season of his career (31.5 percent assist rate) and is scoring more efficiently inside the arc than ever before by making 52.4 percent of his two-point attempts. Butler’s size may limit him to a one-position defender in the league, but he’s been wrecking havoc in the passing lanes all year with a monstrous 4.5 percent steal rate for the No. 3 ranked unit in the country.
22. Phoenix Suns - David Johnson, G, Louisville
Johnson is a big 6’5 guard with impressive playmaking chops who has taken major strides as an outside shooter this year. The Louisville sophomore isn’t going to dust defenders off the dribble with an ultra quick first-step, but he thrives as a facilitator because he does a good job reading the floor, has the size to see over the defense, and can throw some really creative passes. While his scoring efficiency hasn’t improved much this year — he’s at 53 percent true shooting — the work Johnson put in as a three-point shooter is paying off. After going only 5-of-23 from three as a freshman, Johnson is 23-of-57 (40.4 percent) from deep this year.
23. Brooklyn Nets - Ariel Hukporti, C, Kedainiai Nevezis
The 18-year-old German center was named MVP of the Basketball Without Boarders camp during the last All-Star Weekend and has shown flashes of his towering physicality during the start to his season in the Lithuanian League. At 7-foot, 250 pounds, Hukporti is a powerful rim runner and forceful finisher near the basket. He’s even started hitting a couple threes this season.
24. Milwaukee Bucks - Daishen Nix, PG, G League Ignite
Nix is the third best NBA prospect on the G League Ignite team behind Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, and it feels like he has a lot more on the upcoming 15-game schedule than either of his teammates. The 6’5 point guard has impressive vision and creativity as a passer who manufactures transition opportunities every chance he gets. He isn’t a consistent and efficient scorer yet, but there are have been some compelling examples of outside shooting. Nix has a massive frame for a lead guard and will have to prove he’s able to keep up with faster and quicker guards at both ends.
25. Denver Nuggets - Scotty Lewis, G, Florida
Lewis was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit who couldn’t quite live up to his one-and-done projections as a freshman. He looks much more comfortable this season as a sophomore, flashing the physical tools and competitive mindset that always made him appealing while slowly learning to become a more efficient scorer. Lewis has been scoring in the 90th percentile in transition and in the 80th percentile in the halfcourt this year. He’s grown as a shooter and is hitting his threes at 42 percent on a low volume of attempts (19 all season). His best attribute will continue to be his defense thanks to his quick-twitch athleticism and leaping ability.
26. Memphis Grizzlies - Josh Giddey, PG, Adelaide
2021 draft prospect Josh Giddey had another big game today with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists in a big win over the Breakers. He's now averaging 9.8/8/5.5 through the first four games of the season. pic.twitter.com/RikQAOQOHG— ID Prospects (@idprospects) January 27, 2021
Giddey has gone from a breakout star on Australia’s youth clubs to shining at the Basketball Without Boarders Camp on All-Star Weekend to impressing this season as an 18-year-old in the NBL. The 6’8 point guard deserves to get looks in the first round as a young playmaker with good vision, the size to see over defenses, and an ability to contribute as a rebounder. Giddey will have to prove he can be an efficient scorer and respectable outside shooter after posting 44 percent true shooting and making only 2-of-13 attempts from three to start the season.
27. Philadelphia 76ers - Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky
It was weird that Bassey ever went to Western Kentucky in the first place as a five-star recruit (something, something Rick Stansbury), and it’s even weirder that he’s stayed three years. After missing most of his sophomore year following surgery on a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg, Bassey has come back better than ever as a junior. He’s dominating the paint as a shot blocker (13 percent block rate) and rebounder (No. 5 defensive rebound rank in American, No. 38 offensive rebound rate) while scoring efficiently with 63 percent true shooting. If Bassey can continue to improve as a shooter — he’s 9-of-31 from three this year — he should have a long career.
28. Los Angeles Lakers - Greg Brown, F, Texas
Brown has some special athletic gifts even by NBA standards. Now he just needs to learn how to use them. The 6’9, 220-pound freshman has absurd bounce which aids him as a shot-blocker (5.9 percent block rate), rebounder, and lob catcher. His physical tools can’t be taught, but the team that drafts him will have to be committed to developing the rest of his game. That Brown only recorded one assist in his first 13 games with Texas speaks to how much he needs to grown in terms of processing the game. At least he’s shooting a little better than anticipated at 17-of-56 (30 percent) from deep on the season.
29. Utah Jazz- Ron Harper Jr., F, Rutgers
It’s hard to miss Harper as the huge 6’6, 245-pound wing at the center of Rutgers’ resurgence this season. As he was stringing together 20-point performances against quality competition throughout December, Harper was showcasing microwave scoring ability, deep range on his jumper, and an impressive avoidance of turnovers. He currently grades out as ‘excellent’ on a points per possession basis in both halfcourt and transition situations, according to Synergy Sports.
30. Los Angeles Clippers - Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois
Dosunmu will have a chance to prove he deserves a first round grade in Illinois’ first trip to the NCAA tournament in nine years. While he doesn’t have a standout skill from an NBA perspective, Dosunmu is a big 6’5 guard who has been one of the most productive players in the country all season. He ranks in the 87th percentile in transition opportunities this season, according to Synergy Sports.