It’s draft day and things had been quite quiet since a significant trade between New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies earlier this week.
But the jostling for position came with a flourish this afternoon.
There’s been some level of expectation that there could be more draft day transactions than usual this year, but it’s certainly a battle to maneuver through the smokescreens and disinformation to identify trade scenarios with true merit.
For now, let’s put other theoretical trades aside and dig into how we project the 2021 NBA Draft to shake out. Our mock draft is based on team intel and system fit, among other factors like our NBA Draft model rankings.
This draft class has been highly touted at the top for quite some time, and rightfully so. The consensus top three-to-four prospects are generally thought of as Tier 1 prospects that would warrant No. 1 pick consideration in your average draft class.
There’s a lot of noise, smoke and variability beginning in the mid-lottery and continuing through the bulk of the first round. There are also several wild-card prospects with abnormally wide ranges of outcomes and there are certainly some pivot-point picks that can have a freefall trickle-down impact on these prospects.
Bottom line: It doesn’t matter how many teams, agents, players, media members, or others are involved in the process… predicting what teams will do on draft day is HARD.
When the Detroit Pistons went ahead and did their due diligence on Jalen Green and Evan Mobley, it was more so a matter of further establishing and maintaining a good process than anything. The Pistons will continue to field trade calls, but Cade will be selected first overall as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski this afternoon.
Green has been consistently linked with the Houston Rockets since the lottery shook out in late June. While he certainly has his defensive and decision-making foibles, Green is an uber-athlete and one of the most impressive scoring prospects of the past decade. Putting up nearly 18.0 points per game on a 61.3 true shooting percentage against older, stronger, more experienced pros in the G League is no joke. Expect Green to be a 20.0-plus point-per-game scorer in the NBA sooner rather than later.
Mobley (who ranks first overall in our NBA Draft model) would be a great get for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who rank bottom five in the NBA in opponent points per game in the paint. Mobley, who averaged nearly 3.0 blocks per game, is a prototypical modern defensive big, capable of using his length to protect the paint and lateral quickness to viably switch onto the perimeter. Jarrett Allen’s impending restricted free agency shouldn’t have any impact on this decision, as Mobley’s skill and mobility can fit snugly alongside Allen or he can serve as a potential long-term upgrade if the Cavs don’t match a massive offer sheet.
There’s been a fair amount of buzz that Scottie Barnes is being legitimately considered by Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors front office, but Suggs still seems the most likely pick. Kyle Lowry could very well be on the move in free agency and Suggs would be a wonderful fit as his replacement alongside Fred VanVleet.
If Barnes doesn’t end up in Toronto, he’s very likely to land in his home state of Florida and be selected by the Orlando Magic. He very much fits the mold of prospect that Jeff Weltman and the Magic have historically favored with positional size, plus-length and versatility on both ends. Barnes leads all 6-foot-8-plus NCAA prospects with a 31.6 assist percentage and would complement Cole Anthony’s shot-creation quite nicely.
With their treasure trove of draft picks, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been deep in trade discussions and an obvious candidate to try to move up to nab a star. Information has leaked out that Sam Presti and the Thunder have been fond of Bouknight since last season and that he’s their preferred pick if they stay in this draft slot. The Thunder are known for keeping things hush-hush and have a history of making big moves with little media foresight. They typically don’t leak anything unless there’s a very strategic reason behind it. That being said, Jonathan Kuminga has seen his draft stock sliding throughout the pre-draft process while Bouknight’s has been skyrocketing after impressing at his pro day and at team workouts.
While our NBA Draft model doesn’t see this as a value pick (16th overall, 37th stats only), Bouknight has the makings of an effective scorer, especially with his efficiency numbers likely to rise with a now healthy elbow and more space to operate in an NBA offense.
This is where things go off the rails. There isn’t much consensus on what direction the Golden State Warriors will go with this pick. Kuminga, Franz Wagner and Josh Giddey all seem to have gained traction to be the first of Golden State’s two lottery picks. Though they are still high on James Wiseman internally, he was one of the most harmful players to his team among players who played significant minutes last season (fifth-worst box plus-minus, minimum 750 minutes). His rookie-year struggles and perceived value around the league, in conjunction with the franchise’s win-now push at the tail end of their core’s prime, put a lot of pressure on the Warriors to nail this pick.
Wagner would likely be the safest bet and Giddey somewhat mirrors the “what could have been” factor with LaMelo Ball, but ultimately we have the Warriors taking another high upside swing on a prospect with pedigree.
It’s recently been rumored that the Magic have a genuine interest in Stanford’s Ziaire Williams at this pick. While there are certain things to like with his positional size and skill, his freshman season was a bit of a mess. There’s a lot of contexts to wade through in trying to make sense of his struggles, but ultimately it seems too much of a risky proposition to select a prospect in the top 10 that our model grades as second-rounder. If they really covet him, trading back would make the most sense.
Despite being a sophomore, Wagner is only a couple of weeks older than Williams and already has the makings of a team-defensive savant. This would be a great pick for the Magic.
The Sacramento Kings have also been linked to Wagner (who is now off the board in this mock) and Alperen Sengun, but Moody makes a good bit of sense here and would mark the third Montverde Academy high school teammate to be selected in the top 10 (Cunningham, Barnes).
With some shot-creation acumen and an 8 1/4″ wingspan differential, Moody has the makings of a valuable 3-and-D cog in their system and would fit cleanly on the wing flanking Sacramento’s young backcourt.
The trade executed on Monday serves as an indicator that Memphis highly covets a prospect in this range and wants them badly. That prospect is rumored to be Giddey, an Australian jumbo-sized initiator. Giddey had a very productive rookie season in the Australian NBL (the same league that LaMelo Ball built up his draft stock in last season) and is one of only two NBA Draft entrants to average more than 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 7.0 assists.
Giddey is among the youngest players in the draft, has special passing vision/instincts, is seemingly still growing and is following an encouraging development curve. While the jump shot is a bit shaky (29.3% from 3 and 69.1% from the stripe), it doesn’t appear broken and he showed some flashes of confidence and mechanical improvement during the course of the season. This would be a home-run pick for Memphis.
The Charlotte Hornets have been most commonly linked to Kai Jones and to Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert. While Jones is a polarizing prospect with a wide range of outcomes (he could slide quite far if not selected by the Hornets), his upside is tantalizing with freakish athletic tools and fluidity at his size. Our model isn’t nearly as high as consensus on Kispert, so taking a shot on Jones’ high-end outcome may be worthwhile.
Sengun’s production in his MVP run as an 18-year-old star in the Turkish BSL is somewhat unprecedented. With rare exceptions (i.e. Luka Doncic), you don’t see European players that young dominate high-caliber first division leagues. Sengun averaged 19.0 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, and 1.6 BPG on a 69.7 true shooting percentage. These are mind-boggling numbers.
Prospects this young who produce to this extent against this caliber of competition rarely fail in the NBA. While he’s thought of as somewhat of a “traditional” big man archetype and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the San Antonio Spurs are an organization in which he can flourish.
For some time, Mitchell was thought to be the likely option for the Warriors at No. 7. This eventually cooled off after the post-March Madness glow-up slowly faded. Mitchell is a dog as an on-ball point-of-attack defender, has some playmaking chops, and has certainly improved since his days at Auburn. He’ll fit nicely in Indiana alongside Malcolm Brogdon, as Mitchell measured in quite small at the NBA Combine and Brogdon has great size at the guard position.
In the late lottery, this pick could return good value, though our model isn’t nearly as high on Mitchell and there is a legitimate reason to be concerned about an outlier shooting performance this season, among other things.
It’s been rumored that the Washington Wizards are high on Duarte and that the New York Knicks could try to package their picks and move up into the lottery to nab Duarte. We’ll see soon enough if that comes to fruition.
From the Warriors’ perspective, let’s keep this short and sweet. Duarte was one of the best players in college basketball this season and would likely be able to contribute immediately to a team that was notably bereft of depth last season. After taking a high-risk proposition in Kuminga at No. 7, the Warriors would likely covet more of a sure thing at 14.
Washington appears to be turning the page from the short-lived Russell Westbrook era and is in need of more shooting threats to space the floor around Bradley Beal (assuming the lack of a second blockbuster trade). Kispert shot 40.8% from deep on 662 career 3-point attempts at Gonzaga and is, perhaps, the best shooter in this draft class.
This range is where the Ziaire Williams upside swing starts making sense, and who better to make it than the pick-rich Thunder. With many bites at the apple in this draft and in drafts to come, Oklahoma City can afford to take these types of high-upside gambles.
Murphy has been one of the sharpest rising prospects throughout the pre-draft process. He very well could be taken by Washington at 15 and was recently brought back in for a second workout with the Warriors. The formerly underrecruited Rice transfer turned jumbo-sized 50/40/90 sniper wing is a safe bet to land in the mid-first round and would provide much-needed floor spacing around Zion Williamson in New Orleans.
The joy of Butler leading Baylor on a national championship run was quickly followed by immense worry when he was barred from basketball activities while the NBA Fitness-to-Play panel investigated the severity of a diagnosed heart condition. Thankfully, Butler was cleared two weeks prior to the draft. Butler has, perhaps, the best handle in the draft class, is a dynamic shooter both via catch-and-shoot and dribble pull-up, and can slot into either guard position on both ends of the court.
While some teams don’t even have him on their draft boards due to lingering medical concerns, others actually prefer him to his teammate, Davion Mitchell. With similar risk-tolerance logic (though, a different kind of risk) to the Ziaire Williams selection two picks prior, the Thunder can afford to pick Butler at this spot.
Johnson has among the widest ranges of any first-round prospect. For a significant chunk of the season, he was considered the sixth or seventh-best prospect in this draft class. Despite his freakish athleticism, which was very much on display when he blew the NBA Combine max-vertical record out of the water, there are many question marks as to what about Johnson’s game can contribute to winning. He’s very raw and has a long way to go before having a chance of being a meaningful NBA contributor.
The explosiveness, pedigree and underlying talent may be enough for Leon Rose to justify taking a swing if Johnson, a CAA client, falls this far.
Thomas is one of the premier scorers in this draft class and was second only to Iowa’s Luka Garza in total points scored this season at only 19 years old. While he’s a bit of an inefficient chucker with a 47.4 effective field goal percentage and 8.3 assist percentage, the shot-creation ability alone has appeal. Thomas could provide some scoring punch off the bench for the Atlanta Hawks and help carry the offensive load when Trae Young sits.
Jackson is a pogo-stick rim protector with NBA All-Defensive upside. He ranks second in this draft class with a 6.0 defensive box plus/minus and third in the class with a 12.7 block percentage. He’ll need to reign in the aggression and refrain from getting himself in foul trouble (5.8 fouls per 40 minutes) hunting blocks, but has a very strong foundation to be an impactful defender for years to come, especially if he can put on some weight to bang with the NBA’s behemoths down low.
There’s uncertainty as to the Mitchell Robinson situation and the CAA-repped Kentucky product could slot in as a perfect insurance policy.
Johnson was initially considered a top seven to eight prospect in this draft class, but things went off the rails at Duke this season. Johnson ultimately decided to leave the team mid-season, recover from injury, and prepare for the draft. This decision, along with legitimate on-court translatability concerns and some previous off-court question marks, make Johnson a wild card in this draft class.
Johnson’s pedigree and talent is still there, likely worth a roll of the dice at 22.
This is great value for Garuba this late in the first round. He’s been a defensive prodigy in Spain from a young age, capable of protecting the rim, switching, and doing just about anything a scheme could ask of him as a pick-and-roll defender. He supplanted Luka Doncic as the youngest starter in Real Madrid history and has grown into a valuable contributor in the ACB and Euroleague (the two best leagues in the world outside of the NBA) this season.
Down the stretch of the season, he showed encouraging offensive strides, shooting 84% from the line and 35.9% from deep since April 1 and popping off for 24 points against Anadolu Efes.
Cooper is a very polarizing prospect and there’s a real chance he slides outside of the first round, however, Houston could be a candidate to select him with one of these back-to-back picks. Assuming the selections of Green and Garuba earlier in this mock, Cooper’s facilitation acumen and ability to manipulate into the paint at will could be complementary to Green’s scoring punch while Garuba can help cover up for Cooper’s defensive shortcomings.
Beyond the defensive issues, Cooper’s funky shot mechanics were problematic at the collegiate level (22.8% from 3 on 4.8 attempts per game) and it will be even more difficult to get shots off at his size in the NBA. It’ll be important for him to work through these kinks and iron out the shot, but Cooper’s shiftiness and creativity may be enough to get him drafted in the late first round.
The Los Angeles Clippers are typically unpredictable on draft night. They’ve been linked to UNC’s Day’Ron Sharpe and Lithuanian draft-and-stash candidate Rokas Jokubaitis. They could really use some backcourt help sooner rather than later and Deuce McBride fits the bill. He’s tough as nails, is an elite stop-and-pop pull-up shooter, can play either guard position, had among the best wingspan differentials at the NBA Combine. He also excels as both an on-ball pest and off-ball instinctual team defender.
While he does share a similar issue to the Clippers as a whole last season in struggling to get to and finish at the rim, the rest of what he brings to the table may be too appealing to pass on.
Primo is the youngest likely draftee in this year’s class and has gained some steam as a first-rounder since the NBA Combine. While 8.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game certainly don’t jump off the page, Primo is a confident and capable shooter. He possesses some combo guard skills that he wasn’t asked to put on display within the context of his role at Alabama. While he’s likely a long-term project, the Denver Nuggets’ draft history suggests that they’d be willing to bring him in and develop him.
Sharpe is the No. 1 ranked NCAA prospect in the “stats only” iteration of our draft model. He’s an absolute monster on the glass, coming in nearly four standard deviations above the mean in normalized offensive rebounds per 30 minutes and offensive rebounding percentage and more than two standard deviations above the mean in normalized defensive rebounds per 30 minutes and defensive rebounding percentage, per our model.
With DeAndre Jordan fading into the twilight of his career, the Brooklyn Nets could use another physical presence to bolster their front-court depth.
Grimes was one of the biggest winners of the NBA Combine and vaulted himself into first-round consideration. After struggling immensely as perceived one-and-done two years ago at Kansas, he’s grown into a formidable prospect and an excellent shooter. Philadelphia needs more shooting to surround Joel Embiid and Grimes fits the bill.
Hyland could wind up higher than this, potentially even with the Knicks at 21. If he falls to Brooklyn’s newly acquired second pick in the late 20s, the Nets could wind up with one of the better value picks in the first round. Hyland is among the most lethal off-the-dribble shot creators in this draft class and would likely thrive in the New York City spotlight, providing a spark alongside his new star teammates. His range is limitless and his confidence is unmatched. After putting up numbers unseen since Steph Curry and following it up with a dominant combine scrimmage showing, Bones is unlikely to fall outside of the first round.
Springer is beloved by draft Twitter but is a bit more of a head-scratcher to NBA evaluators. While the Utah Jazz are in their contention window and Springer may not be a valuable contributor off the bat, the value proposition here is too much to pass on and this would be a significant steal with the final pick of the first round.
31. MIL: Ayo Dosunmu | Illinois (Jr.) | 6’5” | 194.4 lbs. | 21.5 years old | Combo Guard
32. NYK: Tre Mann | Florida (So.) | 6’4 ¼” | 177.6 lbs. | 20.5 years old | Combo Guard
33. ORL: JT Thor | Auburn (Fr.) | 6’9 ¼” | 203 lbs. | 18.9 years old | Forward
34. OKC: Josh Christopher | Arizona St. (Fr.) | 6’4 ½” | 214.8 lbs. | 19.6 years old | Wing
35. NOP: Isaiah Todd | G League Ignite | 6’10” | 219 lbs. | 19.8 years old | Forward
36. OKC: B.J. Boston | Kentucky (Fr.) | 6’7” | 188 lbs. | 19.7 years old | Wing
37. DET: Joel Ayayi | Gonzaga (RS Jr.) | 6’4 ¾” | 180 lbs. | 21.4 years old | Combo Guard
38. CHI: Joe Wieskamp | Iowa (Jr.) | 6’7 ¼” | 204.8 lbs. | 21.9 years old | Wing
39. SAC: Charles Bassey | Western Kentucky (Jr.) | 6’10 ¼” | 230.2 lbs. | 20.8 years old | Big
40. MEM: Kessler Edwards | Pepperdine (Jr.) | 6’8” | 203 lbs. | 22.0 years old | Wing
41. SAS: David Johnson | Louisville (So.) | 6’4 ¾” | 202.8 lbs. | 20.4 years old | Combo Guard
42. DET: Jason Preston | Ohio (Jr.) | 6’4” | 180.6 lbs. | 22.0 years old | Lead Guard
43. NOP: Juhann Bégarin | Paris Basketball | 6’6 ¼” | 214.4 lbs. | 19.0 years old | Wing
44. BKN: Rokas Jokubaitis | Žalgiris | 6’4” | 194 lbs. | 20.7 years old | Lead Guard
45. BOS: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl | Villanova (So.) | 6’9” | 242.4 lbs. | 20.7 years old | Forward
46. TOR: Filip Petrušev | Mega | 6’11 ¾” | 235 lbs. | 21.3 years old | Big
47. TOR: Aaron Wiggins | Maryland (Jr.) | 6’5” | 190 lbs. | 22.6 years old | Wing
48. ATL: Jericho Sims | Texas (Sr.) | 6’10” | 250.2 lbs. | 22.8 years old | Big
49. BKN: Herb Jones | Alabama (Sr.) | 6’7 ¼” | 206.4 lbs. | 22.8 years old | Wing
50. PHI: Aaron Henry | Michigan St. (Jr.) | 6’6” | 209.6 lbs. | 21.9 years old | Wing
51. NOP: Vrenz Bleijenbergh | Antwerp | 6’11” | 200 lbs. | 20.8 years old | Wing
52. DET: Greg Brown III | Texas (Fr.) | 6’8 ½” | 206.4 lbs. | 19.9 years old | Forward
53. PHI: Neemias Queta | Utah State (Jr.) | 7’0 ½” | 248.4 lbs. | 22.0 years old | Big
54. IND: Dalano Banton | Nebraska (RS So.) | 6’9” | 194.4 lbs. | 21.7 years old | Lead Guard
55. OKC: Santi Aldama | Loyola MD (So.) | 6’11” | 224 lbs. | 20.5 years old | Big
56. CHA: Austin Reaves | Oklahoma (RS Sr.) | 6’5 ¾” | 197.2 lbs. | 23.2 years old | Combo Guard
57. CHA: Amar Sylla | Oostende | 6’10” | 190 lbs. | 19.8 years old | Forward
58. NYK: Justin Champagnie | Pittsburgh (So.) | 6’6 ¾” | 206.4 lbs. | 20.1 years old | Forward
59. BKN: Sandro Mamukelashvili | Seton Hall (Sr.) | 6’10” | 239.8 lbs. | 22.1 years old | Big
60. IND: Sam Hauser | Virginia (RS Sr.) | 6’8” | 217.4 lbs. | 23.6 years old | Forward
Design by Matt Sisneros.