2021 NBA Draft Board: 1st Round Analysis

The home stretch of the 2021 NBA Draft is upon us. Fasten your seatbelts because it’s about to get bumpy.

The college basketball season has concluded so now it’s smokescreen/workout/feedback season for the draft hopefuls around the globe. Intel is king in this age, and it’s important not to believe everything you hear as teams and agents gather information and leak calculated reports from both directions. It’s an extremely fluid process that changes by the day, hour, minute, or, second.

The main disclaimer here is that this is a median board for me that is not team-specific so the ranges are as general as I can make them. When it comes to creating big boards, I very much prefer making team-specific boards because they are the only boards that have true, meaningful context behind them… but alas, this updated version is back by popular demand.

The Lottery Reports 

1. Cade Cunningham- PG, 6’8″ (Oklahoma St.)

NBA Role: Elite Wing Initiator 

Make no mistake about it, Cade is the king of this class until proven otherwise. He is a franchise-changing wing creator that can directly impact winning on both ends of the floor. The blend of size, shotmaking, and functional athleticism he possesses is extremely rare.

Cunningham stands at 6’8″, weighing 220 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, and when you combine that with his high feel for the game his ceiling becomes unquantifiable. There are very few flaws in Cade’s game, and he’s going to thrive with NBA spacing after leaving a congested Oklahoma State offense that did not bring out the best in him. It wouldn’t shock me to see him run away with Rookie of the Year and become an All-Star as early as his sophomore year, similar to the trajectory that LaMelo Ball’s rookie campaign was on pre-injury.

2. Evan Mobley- C, 7’0″ (USC)

NBA Role: Modern Franchise Center 

Mobley has cemented himself as the clear number two prize in this class behind Cade and even has the upside to potentially surpass him if he hits a high-end shooting outcome and adds significant strength. Evan is everything you want in a modern big, as he can switch on to the perimeter, covering ground in a blur with his long strides, and swats shots into the bleachers with his quick-twitch athleticism (relative to size) and ridiculous length. Some of the blocks he makes with those seemingly never-ending arms will leave the opponent and the crowd in awe.

He’s a very good bet to become a decent floor-spacer despite his somewhat pedestrian shooting numbers (30% from 3 on 40 attempts and 69% FT). The form on his jumper looks clean and he has an extremely soft touch around the basket (61% on 2PFGs). He can also draw fouls at a high rate, boasting the highest free-throw rate among freshman prospects in this draft with his absurd 56.6 FTR. The balanced all-around offensive game meshed with the defensive versatility and schematic nightmares he could pose for opponents’ gameplans makes him a potentially game-breaking center.

3. Jalen Suggs- PG, 6’4″ (Gonzaga)

NBA Role: Co-Creator + Fill in the gaps guard 

Sitting at third on my board is the star guard from Gonzaga. The former quarterback has an ideal NBA frame and plays with the tenacity and grit you love to see. The winning plays, flashy passes, and his rise to becoming an integral piece on a championship-caliber college basketball team have him locked in as a top 5 pick in the 21′ Draft.

He’s likely best suited in a role where he plays alongside another go-to scorer that can create for themselves to take the early creation duties off his hands. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not entirely irresponsible to assume he could eventually develop into a full-time number one creator given his high basketball IQ and tremendous instincts, though I wouldn’t count on it right away. Jalen Suggs and Jalen Green are in that tier right below Cunningham and Mobley and the pair of those duos have separated themselves from the pack for me as the clear-cut top four prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft.

4. Jalen Green- SG, 6’5″ (G League Ignite)

NBA Role: Scorer + Secondary Creator 

There are very few athletes on this planet that can do the things Jalen Green can once he takes flight. The springy 6’5″ guard is wired to score in a variety of ways but is most well-known for his tough shot-making off-the-bounce. The gap between him and Jalen Suggs is not much at all for me personally, and depending on the team I could make a case for Green being the better fit of the two in several instances, it all comes down to preferences and the team infrastructure that’s in place.

The dynamic off-guard had himself a productive stint in the G League Bubble, averaging 17.9 points per game on an ultra-efficient 61.3 True Shooting Percentage. He also finished 5th in the G League Bubble in steal percentage at 2.3%. The pathway is right there for him to become an effective NBA player, and he has the athletic profile to become a positive defender once his feel increases through the professional reps and film sessions he goes through.

I cannot overstate how impressive it was for an 18-year-old kid to do what he did against some of the top professional basketball players in the world. Even if the Ignite program catered towards him and Kuminga, he did more than you could ask for under those circumstances.

5. Jonathan Kuminga- F, 6’8″ (G League Ignite)

NBA Role: Big Forward + Interior Threat 

Kuminga has the raw tools + frame that should solidify his status as a top 7 pick, likely in the back-end of the top-five according to most intel-based boards/mocks. Standing somewhere in the 6’8″ range, weighing in at 220 lbs. with a ~7-foot wingspan, Kuminga has the physical profile that scouts drool over. The flashes were impressive in the G League Bubble, but the lows were also discouraging so it’s important to temper expectations with him early on.

Not only is he strong like a bull, but he is a mobile and fluid mover for his size to where he can keep up with positions 2 through 4 (and occasional 5’s) ideally at his peak. There are very real concerns with his motor and jump shot, so if he can’t figure out at least one of the two then we’re talking about a very limited player. I’m not as cemented on him being the 5th best prospect as others, but for now, he holds this spot mainly due to the idea of what he could become, which is always a dangerous game to play.

6. Josh Giddey- PG, 6’8″ (Adelaide- NBL)

NBA Role: Connecting Creator + Wing Initiator 

Call it a hot take to have Giddey ranked this high, I’m fine with it. I was the first one to rank Giddey in the lottery back in the preseason draft process, and now the mainstream media has seemed to catch on. They’re going to have some more catching up to do after his second leap on my board.

He’s answered nearly every concern of mine on my preseason board, most importantly the shooting. He turned a corner during a 12-game stretch where he shot 22-for-41 (53.6%) from three, on nearly 3.5 attempts per game during that stretch. At the end of the day, Giddey is putting up 11/7/7 with 1.8 stocks in one of the top professional basketball leagues in the world at the age of 18, and that should not be taken for granted. Just take a look at the numbers LaMelo Ball put up in the NBL a year ago. He will thrive in the NBA as a secondary creator alongside a primary similar to the role (not a player comparison) that Tyrese Haliburton has in Sacramento.

Update: Giddey just officially recorded his first triple-double of the season (last night/this morning depending on where you live) posting 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists for the 36ers. The first of many in his professional career.

7. Scottie Barnes- F/C, 6’9″ (Florida State)

NBA Role: Swiss Army Knife

There is significant value in being a star in your role at the NBA level, especially for teams that already have their primary creator or franchise player(s) in place. Does your team need a complimentary piece that can enhance the rest of your roster? Insert Scottie Barnes. The 6’9″ wing initiator can bring the ball up the court like a guard in transition and defend positions 2-4 (plus occasionally 1’s & 5’s).

His energy is contagious, as he plays with a high-motor and exceptional feel for the game along with that, which is a combination that should not be taken for granted. The shot is not there by any stretch, but he has shown to be a *somewhat* willing shooter when he needs to be. For teams that trust their developmental staff, betting on Scottie at this point of the draft should be a no-brainer. It’s tough to imagine him not finding an impactful role in the league in one way or another.

8. Keon Johnson- G, 6’5″ (Tennessee)

NBA Role: Slashing Guard + Versatile Defender + Explosive Playmaker

Keon Johnson has some truly thrilling moments on the basketball court. He is the best athlete in this draft class by a substantial margin, but now the question is can he harness that along with simultaneously growing in other phases of his game. The main concern is quite clearly the jumper for Keon, as it’s a difficult league to survive in as a guard/small wing if you aren’t able to space the floor consistently. If defenses don’t respect his shot, the offensive limitations could cause some issues for him in tight spaces against the types of athletes he’s never faced as consistently as he will in the NBA.

Even with those issues looming, his slashing ability combined with the raw physical tools and defensive upside makes him a worthwhile gamble in the top 10 for a team looking to hit a home run.

9. Moses Moody- SG, 6’6″ (Arkansas)

NBA Role: Floor Spacer + Multi-Position Defender 

Moody is one of many players in this lottery that has an easily identifiable role to project from day one. While the “3 & D” label is sometimes considered “insulting” or limiting to some, I believe it’s a fair assessment of where he’ll start off his NBA career. From there, growing in other phases of the game such as playmaking, and taking on more on-ball responsibilities.

One positive indicator that he has more than just the “3” offensively is his outstanding free-throw rate of 48.2 puts only behind Evan Mobley among NBA Draft freshman prospects. He also rarely turns it over with just an 11.8 turnover percent, an elite number for a college freshman with a usage rate over 20%. The playmaking and self-creation flashes are there, and you should expect gradual progress in those phases of his game as he establishes himself in the league. Until then, he still projects to be an extremely useful player that will have value early on in his contract, making him well worth a lottery pick.

10. Jaden Springer- G, 6’4″ (Tennessee) 

NBA Role: Multi-Position Defender + Secondary Creator 

Springer’s draft stock holds the most significant discrepancy this year when it comes to the gap between “NBA Draft Twitter’s” evaluation and where he’s ranked on mainstream/intel boards or mock drafts. The main reason I’m on the *somewhat* higher end of that spectrum and consider him a top 10 prospect is due to his ability to score from all three levels and the defensive upside.

When a prospect is as well-rounded (and as young) as Springer is, it makes his game projectable (and expandable) in a myriad of avenues which has significant value for teams that can be patient and develop their picks. I could see Springer emerging as one of those draft workout darlings and subsequently soaring up draft boards as we get closer to the private workout portion of the pre-draft process.

11. Jalen Johnson- F, 6’8″ (Duke)

NBA Role: Versatile Forward + Tertiary Creator

There has been plenty of (unnecessary) controversy around Jalen Johnson’s decision to leave Duke this season. Jalen was put in a tough spot on a roster that was not built to optimize him by any stretch of the imagination during a pandemic, so let’s relax with all of that. Putting that aside, it’s tough to question the talent level that Johnson possesses. I’m not going to overanalyze the 8 games he started (only played 13 total), but he was a stocks machine (2.4 per game) and shot the ball well from deep (44%) though it wasn’t on a high volume.

It’s difficult to evaluate him for anything other than the eye test, which I believe was actually worse than the raw counting numbers. Some areas of concern center around his low engagement level off the ball, the unforced turnovers issues (considering one of his main appeals is being a playmaking forward), and his inability to consistently score in the half-court. Overall I would rule it a disappointing and stock-dropping season from Jalen, but his talent level and physical profile should still land him somewhere in the late lottery, a few spots lower than he was on most preseason draft boards.

12. Franz Wagner- F, 6’9″ (Michigan)

NBA Role: Versatile Wing + Wing Defender 

There seems to be a relatively easy path when it comes to projecting Wagner’s role, as he’s a do-it-all wing that can make plays on both ends of the floor. Having a plug-and-play wing that is 6’9″ and more than capable of handling the ball as a secondary/tertiary creator is a luxury that most teams crave. Ideally, he winds up in a situation where he’s relied upon to complement the engines that are already in place offensively.

While there isn’t much star equity with Franz, he seems like a good bet to be a strong rotation piece for years to come. In the back-end of the lottery, that’s extracting a solid amount of value. If he develops in other phases and becomes more than a complementary piece, at that point you’re just playing with house money.

13. Usman Garuba- F, 6’8″ (Real Madrid)

NBA Role: Versatile Defender + Play Finisher 

Garuba is another player I feel confident in excelling in his role, and those types of players are often undervalued due to the notion that they have a low “ceiling”, which is a separate debate that I’ll compartmentalize from this discussion. I will concede the fact that it’s difficult to imagine him becoming a consistently reliable scorer, but that’s not what teams will be drafting him for.

The defensive prowess of the 6’8″ forward is impeccable, and his 7’2″ wingspan allows him to combat some of those size issues against taller players. The consistency he brings on the defensive side of the floor is impressive, as he rarely has lapses or breakdowns on that end, which for an 18/19-year-old kid playing for Real Madrid is almost unheard of. While not a source of creation offensively, he has a high feel for the game and understands how to play off the ball whether it’s cutting, relocating, or spacing the floor properly to open up the offense. I view him as a play finisher that can score opportunistically rather than be used as a hub for offensive production.

As long as the team that selects him knows what they signed up for and puts him in a position to succeed, it seems like a safe bet to assume Garuba is ready to carve out a meaningful role from day one.

14. James Bouknight- SG, 6’5″ (UConn)

NBA Role: Secondary Creator + Transition Scorer 

I’ve long been a fan of Bouknight and had him as high as sixth on my board at one point of the season, but there’s a very specific level of self-creation and shotmaking that he has to hit in order to return that top tier value as a pure two-guard. His “fall” is more in part of me buying into the guys before him reaching their projected outcomes, but also coming to an understanding that even if his high-end ceiling is an enticing player, you have to set realistic standards for his archetype.

NBA spacing is going to help Bouknight more than others, as he is able to navigate through traffic with a head of steam by using his long, elusive strides to cover tons of ground in a smooth, gliding fashion. Ideally, he enters an offense that has its’ primary creators and an offense that can space the floor so he can thrive in the seams of the defense as a relief creator and scorer. Ultimately that’s how you extract the most out of him immediately, then hope the rest of his game develops over time.

The Rest of the 1st Round

15. Ziaire Williams- F, 6’8″ (Stanford)

NBA Role: Floor Spacer + Wing Defender 

16. Kai Jones- F/C, 6’11” (Texas)

NBA Role: MobileAthletic Rim Attacker + Defender 

17. Davion Mitchell- G, 6’2″ (Baylor)

NBA Role: Secondary Creator + POA defensive menace

18. Corey Kispert- W, 6’7″ (Gonzaga)

NBA Role: Top-Tier Floor Spacer 

19. Sharife Cooper- PG, 6’1″ (Auburn) 

NBA Role: Floor General 

20. Tre Mann- G, 6’5″ (Florida)

NBA Role: Off-The-Dribble Shooter + Combo Guard 

21. Alperen Sengun- C, 6’10” (Turkey)

NBA Role: Versatile Offensive Big

22. Roko Prkacin- F, 6’9″ (Croatia)

NBA Role: Versatile Forward + Slasher 

23. Isaiah Jackson- F/C, 6’11” (Kentucky)

NBA Role: Rim Protector + Play Finisher 

24. Miles McBride- G, 6’2″ (West Virginia)

NBA Role: Defensive Menace + Secondary Creator 

25. Bones Hyland- G, 6’3″ (VCU)

NBA Role: Floor Spacer + Guard Defender 

26. Jared Butler- PG, 6’3″ (Baylor)

NBA Role: Offensive Flamethrower + Secondary Creator 

27. Chris Duarte- W, 6’6″ (Oregon)

NBA Role: Floor Spacer + Energy Wing

28. Josh Christopher- SG, 6’5″ (Arizona St.)

NBA Role: Scorer + Raw Athlete

29. Brandon Boston Jr.- W, 6’7″ (Kentucky)

NBA Role: Downhill Scorer + Wing Defender 

30. Kessler Edwards- F, 6’9″ (Pepperdine)

NBA Role: Floor Spacer + Multi-Position Defender

Next 10 Out

  • Marcus Bagley- F, 6’7″ (Arizona St.)
  • Terrence Shannon Jr.- W, 6’6″ (Texas Tech)
  • Greg Brown III- F, 6’9″ (Texas)
  • Cam Thomas, SG, 6’5″ (LSU)
  • Joel Ayayi- SG, 6’5″ (Gonzaga)
  • Daishen Nix- PG, 6’5″ (G League)
  • David Johnson- PG, 6’5″ (Louisville) 
  • Aaron Henry- W, 6’6″ (Michigan St.)
  • Trey Murphy III- F, 6’8″ (Virginia) 
  • Rokas Jokubaitis- CG, 6’4″ (Luthuania) 

Stock Rising

  • Juhann Begarin, G/W ^
  • Neemias Queta, C ^
  • Max Abmas, PG ^^
  • Johnny Juzang, W ^^
  • Ariel Hukporti, C ^

Closing Thoughts 

This draft class may not have a ton of buzz, but I think it winds up being one of the best in recent memory due to the strength at the top and the combination of the high-upside guys and scalable role players sprinkled throughout. When the star power is strong and one or two of the “home run swings” type prospects break out, it typically makes for an upper-echelon draft class. The role players are just gravy.

The players I ranked in the ’20s are all players that I actually really like, there’s just not enough room to have more than 20 top 20 players, so that’s a good sign when it comes to breaking down this class piece by piece from a depth perspective.

It’s been a challenging year to scout with all of the hurdles that teams, coaches, players, scouts, and personnel have faced, but it finally feels like the dust is settling a bit.



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