clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Instant grades for every 2021 NBA Draft first round pick

Let’s grade every first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

The Detroit Pistons are on the clock with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NBA Draft, and there is zero suspense this year on who will be the first pick.

Cade Cunningham leads a draft class that is defined by star-power at the top. While Cunningham will be Detroit’s choice with the first pick, both USC center Evan Mobley and G League Ignite shooting guard Jalen Green are talented enough to go No. 1 overall in a vacuum. With Jalen Suggs also establishing himself as a terrific prospect during his freshman year at Gonzaga, the 2021 NBA Draft will be remembered for the excellent quartet of players taken with the first four picks.

The intrigue in this draft class starts at No. 5. Florida State forward Scottie Barnes, Michigan forward Franz Wagner, and Australian guard Josh Giddey have become hot names in the pre-draft process. The Memphis Grizzlies have already made a move into the top-10 by agreeing to a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. You can find our full top-30 player rankings for this draft class here.

Now that draft day has finally arrived, it’s time to grade every pick in the first round. We’ll be updating this post throughout the night.

1. Detroit Pistons - Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State

Cunningham has been considered the top player in this class for more than two years. He maintained that status with a tremendous freshman campaign at Oklahoma State that saw him named as a consensus First Team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year. The Texas native is a 6’8 ball handler who can run the pick-and-roll, hit pull-up three-pointers, and defend both on the perimeter and in the paint. Cunningham lacks elite burst with the ball, but his strong frame, 7-foot wingspan, and well-rounded skill set makes him the type of prospect that has very few apparent weaknesses in his game.

Cunningham is simply an ideal fit in the modern NBA. The Pistons have their new face of the franchise.

Grade: A

2. Houston Rockets - Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite

Green is a 6’6 shooting guard with elite athleticism and the scoring chops to one day flirt with averaging 30 points per game. He has the best standstill burst in this class combined with ridiculous leaping ability and immense body control near the basket. He shot the ball well during his stint on the inaugural G League Ignite team, hitting nearly 37 percent of his threes and bouncing into step-back and side-step attempts with ease. He’s a relatively safe pick at No. 2 overall because it’s almost certain he’ll be a big time scoring threat in the league.

For as talented as Green is as a bucket-getter, he sometimes struggles to read the floor and isn’t a polished passer. He also projects to likely be a below-average defender at the start of his career. Evan Mobley was our choice for the second best player in this class (we have Green ranked third), but it was hard to go wrong either way for Houston.

Grade: B+

3. Cleveland Cavaliers - Evan Mobley, C, USC

This pick is a home run for the Cavaliers. Mobley is the most versatile big man in this draft class as a 7-footer with long arms (7’5 wingspan), quick feet, and the ability to play any type of pick-and-roll coverage defensively. While he lacks an aggressive scoring mindset, Mobley can still make an impact offensively as a tremendous passer and lob target early in his career. He’s also just starting to scratch the surface of his shooting potential.

Mobley is a perfect fit with the Cavs’ young core. He can play next to Jarrett Allen at the four in some lineups while also sliding to the five in small ball looks. He can cover any defensive mistakes from Cleveland’s smaller guards, while also acting as a potential floor spacer around defensive-minded wing Isaac Okoro. Getting Mobley with the No. 3 pick is incredible value for the Cavs.

Grade: A

4. Toronto Raptors - Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State

This is the first big shock of the draft. The Raptors were widely projected to select Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs, but instead Barnes is the pick.

Barnes is a 6’9 forward with a 7’3 wingspan who stands out for his motor, defensive versatility, length, and playmaking potential. He raised the level of intensity on the floor every time he entered the game for Florida State. While he’s a shaky outside shooter who can’t be counted on to space the floor in the halfcourt, Barnes provides offensive value with his passing ability. The 31.7 percent assist rate he posted at FSU is extremely impressive for a player his size. There’s a lot to like about Barnes’ competitive mindset, but this selection does feel like a slight reach. Suggs was the clear No. 4 player on our board, with Barnes ranked No. 7. It’s hard to question the Raptors given their outstanding history of player development, but this is a truly jarring pick. Don’t be surprised if Barnes proves our light skepticism wrong.

Grade: B-

5. Orlando Magic - Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga

Orlando likely never thought Suggs would still be on the board when they were picking at No. 4. This feels like another home run pick given that Suggs was both the best player on the board and a perfect fit for a Magic team that needs help in the backcourt.

Suggs emerged as a top-four pick during his breakout freshman season at Gonzaga. A strong and quick 6’4 guard, Suggs projects as an overqualified complementary piece in the backcourt rather than the lead engine of an offense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Suggs is competent in the dribble-pass-shoot areas of his skill set while being a monster in transition and a force defensively. He could become an All-Star caliber player if his pull-up shooting continues to improve.

Suggs was in a perfect situation at Gonzaga where he was surrounded by veteran creators, shooters, and big men on a team with a massive talent advantage in every game (well, until the last one). It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to a less idyllic environment in the NBA.

Grade: A

6. Oklahoma City Thunder - Josh Giddey, G, Adelaide

Giddey became the biggest riser in this draft class after a productive year playing in the Australia’s NBL at 18 years old. The Aussie native is a 6’8 point guard who is one of the draft’s best playmakers, showcasing awesome vision, instant processing ability, and the passing touch to make almost any feed with either hand. Giddey is a shaky three-point threat at this point, but he improved as a shooter throughout the season. He is underwhelming as a run-and-jump athlete, but his size and IQ makes up for many of his shortcomings.

This was the draft’s second big surprise, but we love the fit for the Thunder. OKC remains dedicated to a long-term rebuild, but Giddey is a nice fit in the backcourt next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and won’t ruin the franchise’s tanking dreams over the next two seasons.

Grade: A

7. Golden State Warriors - Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite

Kuminga is a 6’8 wing with impressive physical tools but shaky production during his one season on the G League Ignite. He is one of the youngest players in this class and has plenty of upside, but the Warriors will likely have to be patient before he’s a dependable contributor at the NBA level. Kuminga shot under 40 percent from the field, under 25 percent from three, and under 65 percent from the foul line in the G League. He is still learning how to read the floor on both ends, but if his shooting touch improves there’s a chance he could become the type of powerful two-way wing every team covets.

We like Kuminga’s long-term ceiling, but he feels like a questionable selection for a Warriors team that is trying to maintain its championship window with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. We had Kuminga ranked No. 12 on our big board. He could end up being a very good player down the road, but it feels unlikely he’ll be the immediate contributor the franchise needs while Curry is still in his prime.

Grade: C

8. Orlando Magic - Franz Wagner, F, Michigan

Wagner is a huge wing who was listed at 6’9 by Michigan but might be still growing. He’s one of the draft’s better defensive prospects, showing impressive quickness and agility on the perimeter while also having the size to defend in the paint. Shooting will be Wagner’s swing skill on offense. He hit 34 percent of his threes at Michigan, and projects to be a better floor spacer than fellow oversized forwards Scottie Barnes and Jalen Johnson. It’s just that Wagner appears to get in his own head when he misses a few threes, which is something he’ll have to get over in the NBA. If he can get opposing defenses to respect his three-point shot, Wagner offers enticing ability to make plays off the bounce for someone his size.

While he may not be a star, Wagner could be an excellent role player. We had him at No. 5 overall on our draft board. It feels like the Magic aced this draft.

Grade: A

9. Sacramento Kings - Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor

Mitchell skyrocketed up draft board after March Madness by helping Baylor win a national championship. He’s a strong and super quick 6’1 guard who has a killer first step on offense while also being one of the draft’s best on-ball defenders. Mitchell enjoyed a huge leap as a shooter this past season, going from a 32.4 percent three-point shooter in 2020 (on 105 attempts) to a 44.7 percent shooter in 2021 (on 141 attempts). He was still a poor free throw shooter at 64 percent. It’s easy to wonder if his three-point shooting improvement this year is sustainable.

Mitchell feels like an odd pick for a Kings team that already has two great guards in De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. He is one of the smallest and oldest players in this draft, turning 23 years old before his rookie season. We had Mitchell at No. 21 on our draft board, so this isn’t our favorite pick, but his burst and defense should make him a productive pro for a long time as long as he continues to shoot it as well as he did during his final year at Baylor.

Grade: C

10. Memphis Grizzlies - Ziaire Williams, F, Stanford

Williams is a 6’10 wing who can shoot with range both off the dribble and on spot-ups. His freshman season at Stanford was up-and-down as he struggled to play through contact at both ends of the floor. Williams badly needs to add muscle to his frame, but his combination of size and shot-making potential makes him an upside swing for a Grizzlies team that needed to take one.

Memphis will likely have to be patient in developing Williams’ body and game. If he can add strength, though, this could look like a worthwhile gamble a few years down the line.

Grade: B+

11. Charlotte Hornets - James Bouknight, G, UConn

The Hornets landed their franchise cornerstone in last year’s draft by taking LaMelo Ball at No. 3 overall. Bouknight should be a nice complementary guard next to him as one of the draft’s best pure bucket-getters. The 6’5 guard had a breakout sophomore season at UConn after dropping 40 points on a talented Creighton squad early in the season. Bouknight is super talented off the ball, buzzing around screens and attacking the opposing defense whenever he gets a crease. He should be a better three-point shooter than his sub-30 percent mark suggested this past season.

Bouknight was widely expected to go in the top seven, so this is nice value and a solid fit for the Hornets.

Grade: B

12. San Antonio Spurs - Josh Primo, G, Alabama

Primo started playing at Alabama as a 17-year-old and is one of the youngest players in this draft class. A skinny 6’6 wing, Primo is an explosive athlete on the wing with great speed in the open floor and elite leaping ability in the paint. He was a surprisingly good shooter for the Tide, making 38.1 percent of his three-pointers on 113 attempts this season. While there is a lot to like about Primo’s long-term tools, he still has a long way to go before he’s contributing at the NBA level. He looked overmatched defensively and was erratic with his decision making, finishing with 41 turnovers to 25 assists.

This feels like the biggest reach of the draft. We did not have Primo as a top-30 prospect, though he was reportedly rising up boards in the pre-draft process. The Spurs needed to take a swing on upside and Primo fits the bill in that regard, but it was still shocking to see him go so early. He might be a good player one day, but that will likely be long after Gregg Popovich calls it quits.

Grade: D

13. Indiana Pacers - Chris Duarte, G, Oregon

Duarte is the oldest prospect in this draft as a 6’6 wing who is already 24 years old. The native of the Dominican Republic spent two years playing JUCO ball before transferring to Oregon and turning in a standout senior year this past season. Duarte’s appeal in the NBA is easy to see: he projects as a 3-and-D style prospect who can space the floor on offense and defend smaller guards on the other end. Duarte hit 42 percent of his threes while showing some burst off the dribble. The Pacers want to make a move into the playoffs next year, and Duarte is about as ‘pro ready’ as it gets given his age.

While Duarte’s game does seem like it should translate in the league, he also didn’t emerge as a serious prospect until late in his career when he was playing younger players. There were better options on the board for Indy, but Duarte should be solid in his role.

Grade: C+

14. Golden State Warriors - Moses Moody, F, Arkansas

Moody should be a great pick for Golden State. A 6’6 wing with a 7’1 wingspan, Moody projects as a perfect fit next to the Warriors’ veteran stars by providing length, shooting, and defense on the wing. Moody had a productive freshman year at Arkansas, hitting 36 percent of his three-pointers on 162 attempts. He isn’t an explosive athlete and could struggle to get all the way to the rim at the NBA level, but he did flash a nice mid-range game when attacking closeouts. He should be immediately impactful on defense, showing good instincts off the ball with the length to smoother small offensive players at the point of attack.

While Golden State’s first pick at No. 7 felt questionable, this one is a no-brainer.

Grade: A

15. Washington Wizards - Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga

Kispert is a 6’7 wing who emerged as a first round prospect as a senior while playing on a Gonzaga team that came one win away from an undefeated season in the national title game. He’s arguably the best shooter in this draft class, hitting 44 percent of his threes on a high volume of attempts in each of his last two seasons. Kispert can hit threes after running off screens, and he’s the type of player you can never leave on the perimeter as a spot-up shooter. The question for Washington will be what else he provides aside from shooting.

While Kispert did show some athletic and defensive improvements as a senior, there’s still concern he could be a one dimensional player. He isn’t going to attack an opposing defense off the dribble, and could be a liability defensively. He’s a safe pick with a relatively limited ceiling who provides some shooting for a Wizards team that needed it. Washington had the second lowest three-point rate in the league last year, and was near the bottom in three-point percentage.

Grade: B

16. Houston Rockets - Alperen Sengun, C, Turkey

This was our first on-the-clock trade of draft night, with Houston giving up future picks owned by the Wizards and Pistons to move up to No. 16. After passing on Mobley at No. 2, the Rockets get their center in Sengun, who became one of the biggest risers in this draft class after an MVP-winning season in the Turkish league at 18 years old. Sengun is a bit undersized for a center and he lacks quickness to defend the perimeter, but he’s a stronger interior scorer, rebounder, and passer. He’s not yet a threat to shoot from three-point range, but he could develop into one eventually.

Sengun lacks the ideal physical tools for an NBA center in terms of size and athleticism, but it’s hard to argue with his production. We need to knock Houston a bit for giving up multiple future picks, but Sengun may eventually prove his production will translate despite his relative physical limitations.

Grade: B

17. New Orleans Pelicans - Trey Murphy III, F, Virginia

Murphy spent two seasons at Rice before transferring to Virginia and soaring up draft boards late in the process. Murphy was appealing to NBA teams for two reasons: his size and shooting. The 6’9 forward hit 43.3 percent of his three-pointers on 120 attempts this season. Murphy isn’t a great athlete and struggles to create his own shot off the dribble. He took almost all of his jumpers off spot-ups, and didn’t show any ability to hit jumpers off the bounce.

Murphy isn’t a perfect prospect, but he fills a need for a New Orleans team that desperately needed shooting and floor spacing around Zion Williamson.

Grade: C+

18. Oklahoma City Thunder - Tre Mann, G, Florida

After taking Josh Giddey with their first pick, the Thunder swing for another creator by selecting Tre Mann at No. 18 overall. Mann had an underwhelming freshman season with the Gators before growing two inches over the summer and enjoying a breakout sophomore campaign. Now standing 6’5, Mann is one of the best pull-up shooters in this draft class, hitting 40 percent of his threes with a big portion of his attempts coming off the dribble. He’s a good ball handler who can string together crossover moves, and he’s slowly developing as a passer in the halfcourt. OKC remains committed to its long-term rebuild, and Mann gives them another shot as an offensive initiator with better pull-up shooting than Giddey as a first round pick outside of the lotto.

Grade: B+

19. Charlotte Hornets - Kai Jones, C, Texas

The Knicks sent this pick to the Hornets in exchange for a protected future first rounder. Jones was thought to be an option for Charlotte at No. 11 before James Bouknight slipped to them, so it isn’t a huge surprise to see them make a move back into the first round to get their guy.

Jones was a long jumper out of the Bahamas who didn’t start playing basketball full-time until he was 15 years old. The 6’11 big man is a killer run-and-jump athlete who had some of the best highlight plays in this class. It’s easy to get enticed by Jones’ upside by watching the way he flies down the floor in transition, soars above the rim for dunks and blocks, and flashes potential as a three-point shooter. While all the tools are there, Jones is still extremely raw and badly needs to add strength to his frame. He also often looks like he lacks awareness at both ends. While Jones is something of a boom-or-bust prospect, he should be a nice lob target for LaMelo Ball and give Charlotte some badly needed athleticism in the front court.

Grade: B

20. Atlanta Hawks - Jalen Johnson, F, Duke

Johnson was supposed to be the next one-and-done star at Duke before becoming a lottery pick. Instead, the Blue Devils turned in an uncharacteristically poor season and Johnson left the program midway through the year to focus on the draft. While his freshman season was a disappointment, there are few players in this class more talented than Johnson.

A 6’9 forward with huge hands and long arms, Johnson is a dynamic threat in the open floor. He loves playing with the ball in his hands and utilizing his passing ability to find shooters around the arc. While he has an impressive combination of strength and explosion, he’s also a stiff athlete who often struggles to get past bigger, slower defenders on the perimeter. Johnson’s biggest weakness is his three-point shot. He won’t be expected to space the floor for Atlanta early in his career. At this point in the draft, however, Johnson feels like a great upside bet because of his size, speed, power, and passing.

Grade: A

21. Los Angeles Clippers - Keon Johnson, G, Tennessee

The Clippers moved up four spots by acquiring this pick from the Knicks for only a future second round pick. Johnson is a fascinating upside bet at this point in the draft given his elite athleticism and developing two-way ability. He broke the record at the draft combine with a 48-inch vertical leap after showing off his explosion all year at Tennessee. He has immense standstill burst, great speed in the open floor, and serious bounce elevating for his jump shot or around the rim on finishes and put-backs.

He is still a raw player in terms of his dribble-pass-shoot skill set, and how he develops in those areas will ultimate determine how successful he is at the NBA level. He projects as a player who can defend smaller guards and could make an impact on off-ball cuts until his on-ball skill set comes into focus.

Grade: A-

22. Indiana Pacers - Isaiah Jackson, C, Kentucky

The Pacers acquired this pick in a trade with the Wizards for former first round Aaron Holiday. Jackson is a super bouncy big man who can finish plays above the rim on both ends. On the offensive end, he projects as a lob threat who can get put-backs after hitting the glass. He’ll be a shot blocker defensively, but he may not have the bulk to play full-time center in the league. Jackson likely didn’t get to show off all he could do on a Kentucky team that played with a cramped floor featuring little shooting, but vertical explosion should play at the NBA level. We prefer a center prospect with superior passing and shooting ability, but this is still a decent pick.

Grade: B-

23. Houston Rockets - Usman Garuba, F, Real Madrid

Garuba is a bit undersized for a big at 6’8, but he makes up for it with immense strength, long arms, and serious defensive versatility. Garuba feels like he was built to defend the pick-and-roll in the modern NBA as a high-motor big man who is strong enough to wall up at the rim and quick enough to defend on the perimeter. His offensive development stagnated this season, but the passing flashes throughout his career are enticing. If the Rockets can teach Garuba how to shoot, this could end up being a great value.

Grade: B+

24. Houston Rockets - Josh Christopher, G, Arizona State

Christopher is an aggressive scoring wing with a quick first step who can play through contact on his drives to the basket. His three-point shot remains a question mark with a high-arcing release that only went in at a 30 percent clip during his freshman year at Arizona State. He often appears to have a one-track mind for scoring, and struggles to read the floor as a passer. He finished with more turnovers than assists this past season. He has the tools to be a good defender, and posted a solid 2.7 percent steal rate, but could be more impactful on that end given his physicality. Houston would have been wise to opt for a point guard like Sharife Cooper or Jaden Springer, but ‘Jaygup’ is a solid wing prospect late in the first round.

Grade: B-

25. New York Knicks - Quentin Grimes, G, Houston

Grimes was originally projected as a one-and-done pick when he committed to Kansas before an underwhelming freshman season eventually led to him transferring to Houston. The 6’5 guard turned in a nice junior season, hitting 40 percent of his threes, posting a 2.6 percent steal rate, and avoiding turnovers for a team that made a surprising run to the Final Four before getting blown out by Baylor. Grimes could develop into a dependable off-ball guard for the Knicks, but given the team’s need for point guard help, it feels like Cooper and Springer would have been better selections. Grimes didn’t have a history as a shooter before this year, never showed the playmaking chops he was supposed to have in high school, and just feels like he has a limited ceiling.

Grade: C

26. Denver Nuggets - Nah’Shon ‘Bones’ Hyland, G, VCU

Hyland is a 6’3 guard who emerged as a slippery ball handler and dangerous pull-up shooter during his sophomore season at VCU. He is one of the best pure bucket-getters in this class with deep range on his jumper. Hyland hit 40 percent of his threes on 331 attempts throughout his two years in college. He’s also good at getting into the passing lanes and forcing turnovers on the defensive end despite his ultra thin frame. He should be a great fit next to Nikola Jokic and will add more offensive firepower to Denver as Jamal Murray recovers from injury.

Grade: A

27. Brooklyn Nets - Cam Thomas, G, LSU

Thomas is a shoot-first guard who proved he could create his own shot with ease during his freshman year at LSU. A quick and strong offensive gunner at 6’4, Thomas was a high volume shooter who didn’t always score efficiently. He adds more scoring punch off the bench for the Nets, but won’t help the team as a playmaker or defender. If Thomas can hit better than the 32 percent of his threes he connected on during his freshman year, he could be added firepower off the bench, but he’s still a strange fit for a team that already has so many scorers.

Grade: C+

28. Philadelphia 76ers - Jaden Springer, G, Tennessee

This might be the best value pick of the draft. We viewed Springer as a lottery-level prospect who had a standout freshman season at Tennessee despite being one of the youngest American players in the draft. A powerful 6’4 guard, Springer is a relentless on-ball defender who can bully smaller guards at the point of attack. While his offensive production felt a bit underwhelming given his high school reputation, Springer still hit 44 percent of his threes on low volume and showed an ability to play through contact in the paint. This is the second year in a row the Sixers found a big steal in the lottery after taking Tyrese Maxey in the 20s last year.

Grade: A

29. Brooklyn Nets - Day’Ron Sharpe, C, North Carolina

Sharpe starred at Montverde Academy with Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, and Moses Moody before an up-and-down freshman year at UNC. He has nice size for a big man at 6’11, 265 pounds and put up huge rebounding numbers with the Tar Heels. Sharpe led the country in offensive rebound percentage and also hit the defensive glass hard. He didn’t score efficiently with 52 percent true shooting and lacks mobility on the perimeter. He’s a safe pick who could have a long career, but there were higher upside options on the board.

Grade: B-

30. Memphis Grizzlies - Santi Aldama, F/C, Loyola (Maryland)

Aldama is a big 6’11 forward with shooting ability and a high feel for the game. He hit 37 percent of his 87 attempts from three, and showed an impressive ability to find easy baskets in the halfcourt on cuts. He’s not a strong or explosive athlete, but his size and deep offensive arsenal makes him a nice choice at No. 30.

Grade: B