2021 NBA Draft Lottery Fallout and Mock Draft

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1. Detroit Pistons — Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State

The Pistons won the #1 pick, and you can pretty much start ordering your red and blue Cade jersey right now because Cunningham will be playing in Detroit. Let’s not belabor the point here.

I watched about 20 Cade games this year and he’s the #1 pick. Check out my deep dive profile at Action Network, plus a look at how Cade fits in with Detroit’s young core.

2. Houston Rockets — Evan Mobley, USC

With Cade locked in at #1, that means the Rockets really have the top pick in the draft, and it feels like it has to be either Mobley or Jalen Green. Houston didn’t even know if it would keep its pick heading into last night, and this franchise has to take the long view with no real long term pieces in place. That means swinging on the top upside available regardless of fit, despite the presence of Christian Wood and John Wall making Green the obvious “fit.”

Throwing fit out and picking talent means USC big man Evan Mobley, who looks like the full package as a modern big man. Mobley is an elite shot blocker and terrific defender, and he has the whole package as an offensive player with a promising shooting touch, great footwork, and special handling and instincts for a player his size.

I’m still debating whether I’d truly rather have Cunningham than Mobley long term, but that’s a conversation for another day. The fact that it’s a conversation at all means he has to be the pick here.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers — Jalen Green, G League Elite

Somehow the Cavs always manage to get one of those top few spots in the lottery, and here we are again. But this may not be quite the stroke of luck the Cavs needed.

The Cavs would surely love to add Evan Mobley here if possible, because the Cavs have already invested heavily into their back court of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland and have to be feeling pretty good about the duo after a strong season together. The Cavs do have Jarrett Allen in the middle but could use more big men and more defense in the form of Mobley.

Instead, the Cavs are left with their choice of Jalens here in a draft that looks increasingly like a top four and then a drop off. Cleveland already has two point guards and certainly doesn’t need a third, and Green is probably the higher upside swing and might be the best scorer in the draft. Suggs just doesn’t make much sense in Cleveland right now.

4. Toronto Raptors — Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

Toronto was a big lottery winner, especially considering the Raptors could probably have made a pretty easy push into the 10-seed play-in spot but instead developed their young guys late, took a half step back, and now have the chance to take a huge step forward.

The Raptors are in an absolutely ideal spot. In a four-player draft, they get to pick fourth, and that means there’s sure to be a valuable player here. In this case it’s Jalen Suggs, who absolutely feels like the next feisty Toronto point guard in the Lowry-FVV-Suggs line. It would be a heck of a rebuild for the Raptors to step back for half a season and immediately bounce back with Suggs, VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam, a terrific core and an extremely Raptors team.

This could also be an obvious trade spot for whichever one of the top four falls, with Toronto moving the pick for in a trade for a veteran who fits its core better. That could push the Raptors right back into the thick of the East as soon as next season. Either way, Toronto was a big lottery night winner.

5. Orlando Magic — Jonathan Kuminga, G League Elite

For much of this draft cycle, the four-player draft was a presumed five-player draft, and Jonathan Kuminga was the fifth player. For now, I’m keeping him at #5 until it’s clear that he’s definitely fallen out of that top tier.

Besides, Kuminga is a nice fit in Orlando. The Magic have guards in Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz, and they have defensive forwards in Jonathan Isaac and Chuma Okeke. They have a pair of centers with potential in Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba. What Orlando doesn’t have, what it badly needs, is scoring and versatility on the wing. Cunningham would’ve been perfect, and Jalen Green would be ideal if he fell, but Kuminga is a nice fit on the wing as a scoring combo forward and he makes a lot of sense as a consolation prize.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder — Keon Johnson, Tennessee

You can argue that all four teams in the top four were winners on lottery night. The Pistons won the big prize. The Rockets got second but had to have exhaled just to keep their pick. The Cavs moved up and get to hang in that top four, and the Raptors took a big leap up. All of them won.

And they arguably all won at the expense of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder were the big lottery loser. They didn’t get one of those top four picks, and on top of it, Houston did get one which means the Thunder didn’t get the Rockets’ pick. OKC could’ve left the night with a #5 Rockets pick — its most likely outcome — and the #1 or #2 pick itself. Instead the Thunder are out of the top five altogether. Good thing they have 700 other picks to come.

The Thunder are basically a blank slate right now. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a budding star but can play on or off the ball, and Aleksej Pokusevski is intriguing but a long ways away. The Thunder should take the best upside on the board, and on my board right now, the one guy most likely to crack that top five is Keon Johnson, the man who just set the all-time Combine record with an absurd 48-inch max vertical. Keon is an extremely Sam Presti kind of player as a hyper athletic wing with a questionable shot, and NBA teams can never have enough talented wings.

7. Golden State Warriors — Scottie Barnes, Florida State

My first instinct when Toronto moved up in the lottery was being bummed for Scottie Barnes, who I’ve consistently mocked to the Raptors as a perfect fit. But I kind of love Barnes to Golden State too, where he can act as a second Draymond Green, soaking up regular season and bench minutes and extending the life of Golden State’s most irreplaceable player. Yeah, I said it.

Barnes is a raw, unique prospect. Barnes is 6-foot-9 with a plus-plus wingspan and preternatural defensive instincts and abilities… and he played point guard as a freshman at FSU. Barnes is an elite defensive prospect with lockdown ability on the wing and the potential to switch and defend four or five positions. The offensive role will be a work in progress. Barnes is a good passer for his size but he’s definitely not a point guard in the NBA, so he won’t have the ball a ton. Instead he’s going to need to learn how to shoot and finish, and he can’t really do either of those things yet. So, yeah… Draymond.

Think of Barnes as an even bigger boom-or-bust version of Patrick Williams, another raw toolsy Florida State pick from a year ago. Everyone raves about Barnes, and he makes his teams and teammates better. He could be one of the big risers in the draft process.

8. Orlando Magic — Jaden Springer, Tennessee

The Magic have two picks in the top eight, so they have a real chance to add to their core here. The question is which part of the core counts to build around. Has Markelle Fultz shown enough to be part of the future? Is Cole Anthony a real piece? Are Bamba and WCJ the answers at center? I’m not sure anyone on the roster right now is definitely a part of the next good Orlando team, so they just need to take the best player available.

For me, that’s Jaden Springer, a guy who is still being vastly undervalued in the draft market right now. Springer is one of the youngest players in the draft, and he’s super talented, especially for his age. Springer looks like a future top-5 talent who might be a year or two early. He’s a cerebral player, especially for an 18-year-old, and he’s a sharp defender and a versatile guard who can shoot, allowing him to play both and off the ball. Springer looks like a 16-game player — he’s just going to take some time.

One other option for Orlando could be packaging #5 and #8 to move up to one of those top two picks if there’s one star the Magic think they absolutely have to have to build around. What if Detroit ends up not totally sold on Cade Cunningham? Could Orlando tempt the Pistons with #5, #8, and maybe a player like Cole Anthony? This is one team that was set up perfectly for Cade, and they have the pieces to make a move.

9. Sacramento Kings — Ziaire Williams, Stanford

Ziaire Williams is another player I’m higher on than consensus, though we’ll see if that holds up over the final month. Williams reminds me of an elite 3-and-D wing prospect… a couple years early. He’s Mikal Bridges, but if Bridges came out a year or two too soon. He has the length to defend and I still trust his shot.

The Kings are a tough team to get a feel for because they’re kind of in no man’s land. They’ve got their backcourt of the future (and present!) in De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, but none of the forwards or big men feel like long term pieces here. Unfortunately the Kings don’t pick high enough to add a significant piece because they’re just good enough to pretend to contend for the playoffs but not good enough to actually get there.

10. New Orleans Pelicans — Davion Mitchell, Baylor

I haven’t totally made my mind up about Davion Mitchell yet. On the one hand, Mitchell was the best player on the best team in college basketball. He is a terrific, feisty guard defender with a streaky hot shot and a great ability to get downhill and attack the rim. It’s very easy to look at Mitchell’s game and see an NBA player, particularly another D. Mitchell who lit up these playoffs.

On the other hand, there are some serious red flags. Mitchell is quite old for a draft prospect. He’ll be 23 before the season starts, and he really wasn’t even on the draft radar before this season, when he took a huge leap forward on both 2% and 3%. But the shot may not be magically fixed, since the free throws still aren’t falling, and Mitchell is also a small guard at 6-foot-2, so that big athletic advantage may not translate to the next level.

Mitchell was a sleeper of mine the entire draft process, and I’ve had him fringe lottery the whole time, ahead of everyone else. Then Baylor was awesome in the tournament, everyone else saw what Mitchell had been doing all year, and suddenly he’s a top 10 pick and even top 7 on many boards. It feels like we’ve gone too far for a bit of a worrying profile. But I like Mitchell’s defense and skill set as a strong fit in New Orleans, sort of a better version of Josh Hart who is probably on his way out as a free agent.

11. Charlotte Hornets — Alperen Şengün, Turkey

I’m still getting a handle on the international prospects, but Şengün has been a big time riser after a breakout season in Turkey. The Hornets badly need a real center, and Şengün might be that answer. He’s super young and crazy advanced for such a young big man with his already terrific footwork in the post and passing out of it. He’s going to be a very good interior scorer, and the shot is a question mark for now but looks like it should develop in time. The defense is a much bigger question mark, especially at 6-foot-9.

Think something like a Nik Vucevic type prospect here. Şengün certainly isn’t going to solve any of Charlotte’s defensive problems, but adding his passing and scoring to LaMelo Ball and everyone else here would be super fun.

12. San Antonio Spurs — Josh Giddey, Australia

Insert GIF of Gregg Popovich running to the podium to select an international draft prospect.

Giddey is another guy I’m still getting to know, but he’s another player who had a terrific season in the Australian NBL and is now moving quickly up draft boards. Giddey won’t turn 18 until October and he’s already maybe the most skilled pick-and-roll passer in the draft, and he’s 6-foot-8.

He’s also a major work in progress. He can’t shoot and doesn’t score much, and he’s a poor defender right now and has serious strength and athletic limitations. He’s a developmental project, and that doesn’t always go so well for international point guard prospects.

13. Indiana Pacers — Jalen Johnson, Duke

I had Jalen Johnson to the Pacers in my first mock draft, and I still love his fit here. Indiana has a great history of taking talented wings around this point of the draft and developing them into stars, and Johnson has star talent.

This will be Rick Carlisle’s first chance to put his stamp on his new team, so it’ll be interesting to see where he sees this team needing help. It should be obvious, though, that another wing would be great. The Pacers struggled to keep Caris LeVert and T.J. Warren healthy, and Johnson adds depth and could take his time developing behind one of the more complete starting fives in the NBA. He flamed out at Duke but has a whole lot of talent.

14. Golden State Warriors — Moses Moody, Arkansas

Maaan, NBA Twitter will absolutely melt down if we really let the Warriors draft Draymond II and Klay II.

Moses Moody is one of those guys who looks better and better the more you consider what he’ll look like at the next level. Moody looks like a plug-and-play wing at the next level. He’s young and comfortable scoring at all three levels, with a silky smooth 3-pointer and a confident pull-up jumper. He also has good size and defensive potential, so the Klay Thompson comps make sense.

Michigan’s Franz Wagner would be another good option for Golden State here as a connecting piece wing, but Moody is probably too good to pass up. Kai Jones, James Bouknight, and Isaiah Jackson are three other players high on my draft board as we close out NBA Lottery mock draft out. I’m particularly high on Kai Jones as an elite big man project but couldn’t find the right fit for him.

This is a top-heavy draft with those top four or five names standing out, and then it’s a huge drop off. That makes it a really bad year to pick in that 7-to-10 range, because the talent available there may not stand out that much more than the guys on the board 10 picks later.

We’re only a month out from the 2021 NBA Draft! Should be a wild ride. ■