The 2021 NBA Draft is finally here. After a full year of evaluating this class, the next generation of NBA players are about to learn where they will begin their careers. You can watch the 2021 NBA Draft at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, ESPN and the ESPN App.
We did our first mock draft for this class the day after the 2020 NBA Draft. There have been some big risers and fallers since then. International players like Josh Giddey and Alperen Şengün have emerged as likely lottery picks after great seasons in pro leagues overseas. Certain college players didn’t quite meet expectations. The end result is a 2021 draft class that feels extremely talented within the top-four and then becomes something of a grab bag throughout the rest of the lottery.
This mock draft is based off what we’re hearing ahead of draft night. We have already published our top-30 big board player rankings, and in-depth profiles of first round picks Sharife Cooper, Ayo Dosunmu, and Giddey. We also profiled Cade Cunningham almost two years ago to the day as he started his journey to become the No. 1 overall pick.
Here’s how we see the first round playing out:
Final 2021 NBA mock draft
|1||Detroit Pistons||Cade Cunningham||Wing||Oklahoma State||Freshman|
|2||Houston Rockets||Jalen Green||Guard||G League Ignite||Freshman|
|3||Cleveland Cavaliers||Evan Mobley||Big||USC||Freshman|
|4||Toronto Raptors||Jalen Suggs||Guard||Gonzaga||Freshman|
|5||Orlando Magic||Scottie Barnes||Big||Florida State||Freshman|
|6||Oklahoma City Thunder||Jonathan Kuminga||Wing||G League Ignite||Freshman|
|7||Golden State Warriors||James Bouknight||Guard||UConn||Sophomore|
|8||Orlando Magic (via Bulls)||Franz Wagner||Wing||Michigan||Sophomore|
|9||Sacramento Kings||Moses Moody||Wing||Arkansas||Freshman|
|10||Memphis Grizzlies||Josh Giddey||Guard||Australia||Born 2002|
|11||Charlotte Hornets||Kai Jones||Big||Texas||Sophomore|
|12||San Antonio Spurs||Alperen Şengün||Big||Turkey||Born 2002|
|13||Indiana Pacers||Davion Mitchell||Guard||Baylor||Senior|
|14||Golden State Warriors||Corey Kispert||Wing||Gonzaga||Senior|
|15||Washington Wizards||Chris Duarte||Wing||Oregon||Senior|
|16||Oklahoma City Thunder||Ziaire Williams||Wing||Stanford||Freshman|
|17||New Orleans Pelicans||Trey Murphy III||Wing||Virginia||Junior|
|18||Oklahoma City Thunder||Usman Garuba||Big||Spain||Born 2002|
|19||New York Knicks||Keon Johnson||Guard||Tennessee||Freshman|
|20||Atlanta Hawks||Jared Butler||Guard||Baylor||Junior|
|21||New York Knicks||Isaiah Jackson||Big||Kentucky||Freshman|
|22||Los Angeles Lakers||Tre Mann||Guard||Florida||Sophomore|
|23||Houston Rockets||Jalen Johnson||Wing||Duke||Freshman|
|24||Houston Rockets||Cam Thomas||Guard||LSU||Freshman|
|25||Los Angeles Clippers||Miles McBride||Wing||West Virginia||Sophomore|
|26||Denver Nuggets||Josh Primo||Wing||Alabama||Freshman|
|27||Brooklyn Nets||Ayo Dosunmu||Guard||Illinois||Junior|
|28||Philadelphia 76ers||Sharife Cooper||Guard||Auburn||Freshman|
|29||Phoenix Suns||Bones Hyland||Guard||VCU||Sophomore|
|30||Utah Jazz||Jaden Springer||Guard||Tennessee||Freshman|
The top four of the NBA draft appears to be locked in
- Cade Cunningham was widely projected to be the No. 1 pick coming into the year. He maintained that status with a tremendous freshman season at Oklahoma State. While there have been rumors the Rockets and Thunder tried to trade up to No. 1 — as well as rumors Detroit has yet to fully commit to Cunningham — he’s obvious choice at the top. Anything else would be shocking.
- While we have a preference for Evan Mobley as the No. 2 overall pick in this draft (more on our top-30 big board here), the Rockets seem zeroed in on Jalen Green. There’s certainly an argument for Green as the safer pick. He could flirt with being a 30-point-per-game scorer at his peak.
- The Cavaliers should be doing backflips that Mobley is still available at No. 3. He’s a wonderful fit next to Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, and (if he isn’t traded) Collin Sexton. We think he can play the four next to Jarrett Allen early in his career while also unlocking lineup flexibility when he slides to the five. Mobley has the highest defensive ceiling of any player in this class, and while he’s not hardwired to score, his passing skill and shooting potential will make him an effective offensive player.
- The Raptors have reportedly been considering Scottie Barnes at No. 4, but it’s hard to imagine them passing on Jalen Suggs. Suggs is less of a heliocentric star and more of an overqualified complementary piece in the backcourt, but he’s a well-rounded player who should be a plus on both ends of the floor. He’s the last player in this draft class who feels likely to one day compete for All-Star bids.
The Magic appear to be settled on Scottie Barnes at No. 5
The level of talent in this draft drops another tier starting with the fifth pick. The Magic were seen to have two options when they landed at this spot in the lottery: G League Ignite forward Jonathan Kuminga and Florida State forward Scottie Barnes. It appears Barnes will win out.
Barnes is a Florida kid who played his entire high school career in the state. He fits the Magic’s longstanding history of favoring players who are, well, long. Barnes’ 7’3 wingspan and elite motor help make him one of the best defensive prospects in this class. His creation ability as a passer is the most enticing part of his offensive game, but he’ll have to improve as an outside shooter. Barnes feels more likely than Kuminga to make an immediate contribution.
The Thunder are a true wild card at No. 6
The Thunder reportedly made a strong offer for the Pistons No. 1 pick, with some speculating they included star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the package. It wasn’t enough for Detroit. If they stick at No. 6, the Thunder will have a ton of interesting options. Given their history of favoring players with impressive physical tools who are still raw, Kuminga feels like the most likely option.
The Thunder appear to have no interest in winning until they get a shot at drafting 7’3 French phenom Victor Wembanyama in 2023. By that time, Kuminga could be ready to contribute at a high level. One of the youngest players in this class, Kuminga is a big 6’8 wing who showed off poor shooting touch in the G League, but has all the tools to eventually be the type of two-way foward teams covet. He just feels more likely to be OKC’s selection given their history than someone like UConn sophomore James Bouknight, who has also been getting buzz.
The Warriors have two lottery picks and plenty of options
Golden State picks at No. 7 and No. 14 in the lottery. Their top option should be a trade for immediate help with Steph Curry coming off a near MVP season, Draymond Green still playing at an All-Defense level, and Klay Thompson finally returning after two years missed because of injury. It’s just hard to find a deal out there that feels worth it for both sides.
The most likely option is the Warriors making two picks on draft night. We would have a preference for two players in this spot: Franz Wagner and and Josh Giddey. Wagner feels like the most overall talent on the board (we have him ranked No. 5 in this class) because he’s the best bet to shoot of the big forwards while still offering potentially elite defense. Giddey is a 6’8 Australian playmaker who could offer redemption after the Warriors foolishly decided to pass on LaMelo Ball last year.
Golden State could also consider Baylor’s Davion Mitchell, Kuminga, and UConn’s James Bouknight. We’ll give Bouknight the edge here given the recent buzz. His scoring ability is seen as a known quantity in a draft that doesn’t offer many outside of the top-four. It’s not our favorite pick personally, but Bouknight’s instant offense and endless motion in the halfcourt could be a nice fit in Steve Kerr’s offense.
The Memphis Grizzlies are reportedly looking to trade up again
The Grizzlies already made a move from No. 17 to No. 10 after completing their deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. They reportedly want to move up again. Memphis is said to have two targets: Giddey and Wagner. It’s likely they need to move up to get Wagner, who is widely projected to go No. 9 overall to the Sacramento Kings.
We’ll guess Wagner doesn’t make it to the Kings’ pick. The Grizzlies may trade up to No. 7 with Golden State or No. 8 with Orlando to get their guy. It’s also possible the Warriors or Magic just take Wagner with their own pick.
Where will Alperen Şengün get drafted?
The big man put up incredible production in the Turkish league at 18 years old to force his way into the lottery conversation. He doesn’t have ideal tools for an NBA center, lacking ideal measurables, quickness on the perimeter defensively, and three-point range on his jump shot. At a certain point, though, Şengün’s production will be too tempting to pass on.
Sacramento at No. 9, Charlotte at No. 11, and San Antonio at No. 12 feel like the most likely options. He’d also be a solid pick for the Warriors if he slides all the way to No. 14.
3 ‘old,’ tall shooters could crash the top-15
Corey Kispert is well known to basketball fans after a starring role on a Gonzaga team that fell one win short of an undefeated season in the national championship game. Virginia’s Trey Murphy III and Oregon’s Chris Duarte were lesser known names during the college season who have gotten plenty of buzz in the pre-draft process. All three are on the older side in a draft class largely filled with freshmen. All three have a chance to go in the top-15 of this draft because of their skill as three-point shooters.
Kispert or Duarte feel like an obvious selection for the Warriors at No. 14. Murphy is getting buzz at No. 15 to the Washington Wizards. The back-end of the lottery is still anyone’s guess, but at this point it would be a surprise if any of the three slipped out of the top-20.
2 big sleepers in the 2021 NBA Draft
- Sharife Cooper is the best playmaker in the draft after Cade Cunningham. He has an ultra-quick first step, an endless combination of dribble moves, and the best vision and passing ability in this class. Cooper is held back by his lack of size (6’1, 180 pounds) and unrefined three-point shot, but we think he’s a top-10 overall talent in this class. The Knicks at No. 19 or No. 21, and the Houston Rockets at No. 23 and No. 24 feel like wonderful landing spots.
- Jaden Springer is the youngest American player in the draft. He’s also one of the best on-ball defenders. While didn’t get to show everything he could do offensively on a Tennessee team that provided little spacing around him, it feels wild that he’s projected to slip outside of the top-20. The Knicks, Rockets, Suns, and Jazz would be nice fits for Springer late in the draft, but we’d take him much earlier than that.
The Knicks could trade up in the 2021 NBA Draft
New York picks at No. 19 and No. 21 coming off a surprising season that saw them grab the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference in their first year under Tom Thibodeau. The prevailing logic is the Knicks will take a guard and a shooting wing with these two selections.
In our mock, the Knicks take the ‘best available player’ with their first pick with mega-athletic guard Keon Johnson dropping. They also take Kentucky big man Isaiah Jackson, who is a CAA client and has ties to assistant coach Kenny Payne, who used to work for John Calipari and the Wildcats.
It also wouldn’t be a surprise if the Knicks moved up, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks reported. The Hornets could be an option at No. 11. It makes sense after Chicago Thibodeau’s Bulls once traded the No. 16 and No. 19 picks to move up for Doug McDermott. Kispert, Murphy, or Durate feel like targets for New York if they trade up.
2021 NBA Draft date, time, and channel
Here’s how you can watch the 2021 NBA Draft.
Date: Thursday, July 29
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Channel: ABC, ESPN
Stream: ESPN App.