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NBA mock draft 2021: Pre-lottery projection for the first round

Here’s our final projection of the 2021 NBA Draft before the lottery results are announced.

Oregon State v Oklahoma State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Update: Here’s a new mock draft after the lottery drawing.

After a full year of evaluating the best young basketball prospects in the world, the order for the 2021 NBA Draft is about to be determined. The draft lottery will be held on June 22 to decide where the 14 teams that missed the playoffs will be picking in this year’s draft. The big prize for the lucky team that lands the No. 1 overall pick is Cade Cunningham, a 6’8 ball handling wing out of Oklahoma State who became one of the best players in college basketball as a freshman.

There are massive stakes attached to the lottery outcome for teams that either traded away or traded for a draft pick. The Minnesota Timberwolves will send their pick the Golden State Warriors if it falls outside the top-three. The Chicago Bulls send their pick to the Orlando Magic if it falls outside the top-four. The Houston Rockets will send their pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder if it falls outside the top-four. The fanbases of every franchise involved in these deals will be hanging on the results of a lottery that could massively change the direction of their teams’ future.

We’re using the current lottery order for our final mock draft before the lottery results are determined. Find analysis on the picks below:

Read our new mock draft after the lottery drawing here.

2021 NBA mock draft before the lottery

Number Team Player Position From Year
Number Team Player Position From Year
1 Houston Rockets Cade Cunningham Wing Oklahoma State Freshman
2 Detroit Pistons Evan Mobley Big USC Freshman
3 Orlando Magic Jalen Green Guard G League Ignite Freshman
4 Oklahoma City Thunder Jalen Suggs Guard Gonzaga Freshman
5 Cleveland Cavaliers Jonathan Kuminga Wing G League Ignite Freshman
6 Golden State Warriors (via Wolves) Jalen Johnson Wing Duke Freshman
7 Toronto Raptors Scottie Barnes Big Florida State Freshman
8 Orlando Magic (via Bulls) Franz Wagner Wing Michigan Sophomore
9 Sacramento Kings Keon Johnson Guard Tennesse Freshman
10 New Orleans Pelicans James Bouknight Guard UConn Sophomore
11 Charlotte Hornets Moses Moody Wing Arkansas Freshman
12 San Antonio Spurs Corey Kispert Wing Gonzaga Senior
13 Indiana Pacers Davion Mitchell Guard Baylor Senior
14 Golden State Warriors Josh Giddey Guard Australia Born 2002
15 Washington Wizards Ziaire Williams Wing Stanford Freshman
16 Boston Celtics Kai Jones Big Texas Sophomore
17 Memphis Grizzlies Jaden Springer Guard Tennesse Freshman
18 Oklahoma City Thunder Usman Garuba Big Spain Born 2002
19 New York Knicks Sharife Cooper Guard Auburn Freshman
20 Atlanta Hawks Jared Butler Guard Baylor Junior
21 New York Knicks Isaiah Jackson Big Kentucky Freshman
22 Los Angeles Lakers Chris Duarte Wing Oregon Senior
23 Houston Rockets Josh Christopher Wing Arizona State Freshman
24 Houston Rockets Day'Ron Sharpe Big North Carolina Freshman
25 Los Angeles Clippers Cam Thomas Wing LSU Freshman
26 Denver Nuggets B.J. Boston Wing Kentucky Freshman
27 Brooklyn Nets Joel Ayayi Guard Gonzaga Junior
28 Philadelphia 76ers Tre Mann Guard Florida Sophomore
29 Phoenix Suns Ayo Dosunmu Guard Illinois Junior
30 Utah Jazz Roko Prkacin Wing Croatia Born 2002

The top-4 of this draft lives up the hype

Fans and media often view the quality of an NBA draft by the star-power available at the top. Under those parameters, this certainly looks like a strong class. Cade Cunningham is likely to go No. 1 overall regardless of who wins the lottery, but the teams that finish at No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 in the draft order will also have a chance at landing a young player with the potential to be a future star.

Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, and Jalen Green will be the next three players to come off the board after Cunningham. Each of them offers an enticing package of skills that fits the modern game well while possessing the upside to one day hit All-Star or even superstar levels.

Mobley is our pick for the second best player in the draft. The skinny 7-foot big man is a phenomenal defensive prospect who has the quickness to stick with guards on the perimeter and the length to block shots inside. Offensively, Mobley is a gifted passer and projectable outside shooter who won’t need to score 25 points per game to have a positive impact.

Green is a classic 6’5 shooting guard who could comfortably be described as a walking bucket. Green combines both outrageous natural explosiveness as a downhill attacker with serious flashes of three-level shot-making ability both off the dribble and as a movement shooter. Green isn’t the type of player an offense should run through, especially not early in his career, and his thin frame will hold him back as a defender. While he has plenty of room to grow in other areas of his game, Green’s volume scoring is one of the closest things to a sure bet in this class.

Suggs might be the best-known player in the class at this point after being the freshman sensation and Final Four hero on a Gonzaga team that fell one win short of an undefeated season. The Zags put Suggs in something close to an ideal role as a supercharged combo guard who could pick his spots rather than act as the engine of the offense. Suggs might not project as the ball dominant Point God some want him to be, but he’s still an elite prospect in this draft thanks to a solid all-around skill set that doesn’t feature many holes on either side of the ball. Suggs may not immediately drag a bad team up the standings, but he’s the kind of player who can fill so many holes for a team that’s ready to compete.

Pick your favorite big wing

There are at least four, and possibly five, forwards standing at least 6’8 who will be picked in this draft between the No. 5 and the end of the lottery at No. 14. Each of them has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and will need the right team context and developmental emphasis to reach their ceiling.

Figuring which of these players you like and which you don’t is one of the great challenges in this class. In no particular order, those players are:

  • Jonathan Kuminga, G League Ignite: Kuminga is a big, athletic wing with impressive physical tools who can get to the basket and provide a few highlight reel plays per week. At first glance, Kuminga looks like the type of prospect every team should covet in the modern NBA, but a deeper dive into his film shows some very real concerns about his shooting touch (sub 50 percent true shooting through 13 G League Ignite games) and feel for the game. Whoever drafts him should take a patient, long-term approach with his development.
  • Scottie Barnes, Florida State: Barnes looks like a wing when he walks into the gym as a long-and-strong 6’9 forward, but he might best be used as a big man who can act as a passing hub on offense. Barnes isn’t a spectacular athlete, but he’s drawn praise from his competitiveness and intangibles since his high school days. While scouts will question his scoring ability and outside shot, his passing his a real strength and could be ultra-valuable in the right context.
  • Franz Wagner, Michigan: Don’t put too much stock into Wagner’s brutal final game against UCLA (1-of-10 shooting): he can be one of the better two-way prospects in this draft, especially if he gains more confidence in his jump shot. Wagner is an impressive defensive prospect who can challenge shots inside and hold its own on the perimeter. Offensively, Wagner is another good passer who can attack the basket as a cutter, but seems to question his own three-point shot despite decent college shooting numbers (34 percent from three on 102 attempts).
  • Jalen Johnson, Duke: Johnson already felt like one of the more challenging evaluations in this class before he left Duke mid-season to prepare for the draft. He likes to play with the ball in his hands as a point-forward, especially in transition where he can grab a rebound, push the ball down the floor, and put pressure on the basket as a power athlete. He’s less suited for that role in the halfcourt because of an inability to consistently attack the rim, but his outside shooting troubles means he’s not exactly a floor spacer, either. He’ll need a creative head coach, plenty of shooting around him on the floor, and a team that can invest in improving his own shooting stroke.
  • Ziaire Williams, Stanford: Williams projects as the best shot-maker of anyone in this group, but he also has the most work to do preparing his body to play against pros. When he was healthy early in the season, Williams had some wonderful moments as a shooter splashing jumpers off pull-up moves or while moving off the ball. His rail-thin frame is going to hold him back in the short-term as he struggles to play through contact on both ends of the floor. He shouldn’t be expected to be an immediate contributor, but his touch and length makes him an intriguing long-term gamble.

4 other prospects we like in the first round

These players should be available late in the lottery or just outside of it.

  • Jaden Springer, Tennessee: A physical guard who gets to his spots on offense and gives ball handlers hell as a point of attack defender. He’ll need to prove he can shoot it better from the outside than he did in college.
  • Josh Giddey, Adelaide 36ers: Giddey is a 6’8 point guard with tremendous natural feel who might be the best passer in the class. He’s a limited in terms of his strength and athleticism, but his outlier skill at his size is worth gambling on near the end of the lottery.
  • Usman Garuba, Real Madrid: Garuba is one of the best defensive prospects in this class as a burly forward who is light on his feet and can stick with a variety of different types of players. His passing is the strong suit of his offense, but he’ll have to continue to make strides as a shooter.
  • Kai Jones, Texas: Jones’ highlight reel plays were some of the most impressive in the class. The 6’11 big man flashed astounding athletic fluidity in transition, a surprising three-point stroke on low volume, and enticing help-side rim protection. His tools are undeniable, but he’s still learning how to use them.

How to watch the 2021 NBA Draft lottery

Date: Tuesday, June 22

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET.

Channel: ESPN