2021 NBA Draft: Pick-by-pick analysis (1-14)
Chad Ford breaks down every pick in the lottery
1. Cade Cunningham | Detroit Pistons
W | Age: 19.8 | 6'7" | 220 | Wingspan: 7’0”
Ranking: 1 | Tier: 1 (Potential superstar)
The Pistons got their man, the new face of the franchise. Cunningham is one of the most complete prospects I’ve scouted in the past decade. He plays the most coveted position in the NBA, with elite size and feel for the game.
Cunningham excels with the ball in his hands, makes plays both from halfcourt sets and in transition and has great control of the pace of the game. Heading into his freshman season, NBA scouts expressed concern about his outside shot, but he shot 40% on nearly six 3-pointers per game and 85% at the FT line. That makes him dangerous from anywhere on the floor. He plays unselfish basketball, but will take over a game in the last few minutes if he needs to.
Given his size, length and strength, he has the potential to guard 2s, 3s and 4s in the NBA. Though he’s not considered an elite athlete by NBA standards, he’s an excellent defensive rebounder for his position and picks up his fair share of steals and blocks.
While Cunningham is sometimes regarded as a point guard, drawing frequent comparisons to Luka Dončić, he racked up turnovers at a high rate, and many scouts believe his NBA future is as a playmaking wing alongside a primary ball-handler — think along the lines of Khris Middleton or Jayson Tatum.
In Detroit, one big question will be how well he meshes with point guard Killian Hayes and small forward Saddiq Bey, two of the franchise’s three 2020 first-round picks. If the fit is as seamless as the Pistons hope, and Cunningham lives up to the billing, Detroit’s rebuild just got a massive boost.
2. Jalen Green | Houston Rockets
SG | Age: 19.5 | 6'6" | 178 | Wingspan: 6’7.5”
Ranking: 3 | Tier: 1 (Potential superstar)
The Rockets officially start their rebuild with the best pure scorer in the draft. As he showed for G League Ignite, Green is an excellent finisher at the rim with creativity, body control and hang time. With his quick first step, excellent speed and explosive leaping ability, he thrives in isolation plays and is very dangerous on the break as well.
He’s a good free-throw shooter, which bodes well for his projection as an NBA 3-point shooter, though his shooting is inconsistent now.
With score-first instincts, he doesn’t always involve his teammates. And his penchant for pull-up jumpers cuts into his efficiency.
On defense, he lacks strength and intensity. But his coaches raved about his work ethic, and he has good lateral quickness.
If he commits on that end and is willing to get others involved on offense, the Rockets might have a franchise player and not just a scoring star.
3. Evan Mobley | Cleveland Cavaliers
F/C | Age: 20.1 | 7'0" | 215 | Wingspan: 7’4”
Ranking: 2 | Tier: 1 (Potential superstar)
Mobley doesn’t provide the sizzle of Cunningham or Green — or LeBron James and Kyrie Irving during Cleveland’s recent heyday — but the Cavs might have gotten the best prospect in the draft.
Mobley is the unique 7-footer who can be both a dominant scorer and rim protector in the NBA. He has a soft touch around the basket, can step out and hit perimeter jumpers, including 3s, and has the unique ability at his size to take defenders off the dribble and get to the rim. He has soft hands and a good feel for the game. And he’s an above-average passer for a big man.
On the defensive end, he’s even further along. He’s proven to be an elite rim protector and he has the mobility to guard players all over the floor. He’s very good at avoiding fouls for a young big man. He has quick feet and excellent lateral mobility and is an explosive leaper.
While he needs to add significant strength and keep his motor revved, there are very few big men with his versatile skill set and defensive potential. If there is one puzzling note in his statistical profile, it’s that he doesn’t rebound as prolifically as you’d expect.
There have been questions about Mobley’s fit with center Jarrett Allen, but the versatility of Mobley should make those concerns moot. Regardless, he was too good a get for such questions to deter Cleveland.
4. Scottie Barnes | Toronto Raptors
F | Age: 19.9 | 6'8" | 225.4 | Wingspan: 7’2.75”
Ranking: 5 | Tier: 2 (Potential All-Star)
There is only one Scottie Barnes in this draft. He is a big, unselfish wing who can play the point in some lineups and small-ball center in others. His size and strength allow him to see over defenses and make difficult passes from anywhere on the floor.
The question, and it’s a major one: Can he develop a jumper that works? Right now his release is all over the place, and it could allow NBA defenses to ignore him the way they do Ben Simmons.
On defense, his potential to defend all five positions on the floor makes him especially valuable. What he lacks in explosive quickness or leaping ability is made up for by long arms, strength and a great feel for how to get in the best defensive position. He picked up a high number of steals for a player his size. He has a chance to be an All-NBA defender.
He was universally loved by his teammates and coaches at Florida State for his unselfishness, work ethic, cheery demeanor and leadership.
Because of his unique qualities, Barnes is an eye-of-the-beholder player. Scouts who love him invoke the names Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard -- ridiculously huge shoes to fill. Skeptics see a player whose weaknesses, particularly as a shooter and scorer, will overwhelm his strengths and prevent him from reaching stardom.
Toronto is betting on talent here.
5. Jalen Suggs | Orlando Magic
G | Age: 20.2 | 6'4" | 204 | Wingspan: 6’5”
Ranking: 4 | Tier: 2 (Potential All-Star)
Leadership and talent are what Orlando is getting in one package with the ultracompetitive Suggs. He can play both the 1 and the 2. A former quarterback in high school, Suggs plays a similar role on the court, and he has the aggressive approach of a football player as well.
His explosive first step and strength allow him to finish through contact, his range extends beyond the 3-point line and his decision-making is solid. His floor vision is not elite, but he was an excellent floor general for a talent Gonzaga team.
On defense, he’s both strong and quick enough to lock down opposing guards, although he’s a bit small to guard 2s full-time.
I think Suggs has the highest “It” factor of any player in the draft. His compelling presence on and off the court was part of the appeal for Orlando.
6. Josh Giddey | Oklahoma City Thunder
PG | Age: 18.8 | 6'8" | 205 | Wingspan: 6’8”
Ranking: 11 | Tier 3 (Potential high-level starter)
OKC might have just grabbed the best passer in the draft.
For a player his age Giddey has a very advanced feel for the game, and he has elite size for a point guard. He excels in putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim or finding an open man. He’s a creative finisher at the rim, with a strong array of floaters and runners. And he has above-average body control.
He’s an excellent passer who excels at controlling the tempo of the game. He’s fearless for his age. For a point guard, his rebounding and shot-blocking are excellent, and he routinely put up triple doubles in the Australian league.
7. Jonathan Kuminga | Golden State Warriors
F | Age: 18.8 | 6'8" | 210 | Wingspan: 7’0”
Ranking: 6 | Tier: 2 (Potential All-Star)
Kuminga is Mr. Upside, an 18-year-old with the ideal physical profile for an NBA forward. While we assumed that Golden State might be looking for a player who could help now, taking Kuminga is about the future — unless the Warriors were also thinking about Kuminga’s trade value with this pick.
Kuminga has size, length and a strong frame, and he is a very good athlete both vertically and laterally. Few players his size move as well as he does, which has major implications on both ends.
His offensive game is still a work in progress, but he has all the fundamental tools. He is an excellent finisher at the basket and has the makings of both a pull-up and a 3-point game. He showed ability as a passer in the G League that surprised scouts.
For the time being, he’s an inefficient offensive player whose shooting stroke is inconsistent, and his shot selection is suboptimal as well.
While his defensive intensity comes and goes, he has the athletic tools to be able defend three, maybe four positions on the floor. He has a rep as a gym rat who is always working on his game.
8. Franz Wagner | Orlando Magic
F | Age: 6’9” | 220 | Wingspan: 6’11”
Ranking: 9 | Tier 3 (Potential high-level starter)
Orlando gets a player who might be able to contribute right away and who should have a bright future. Wagner is relatively experienced and yet relatively young.
Wagner’s versatility, on both the offensive and defensive ends, made him a standout prospect. He is a bit of an analytics darling in NBA circles, ticking many of the statistical boxes that point to being an effective NBA player. On the other hand, some NBA scouts worry that his lack of shot creation will make it tough for him to live up to his draft projection.
NBA teams covet switchable big men who can defend multiple positions, and Wagner can guard 2s, 3s, and 4s effectively thanks to terrific lateral quickness. He’s the size of an NBA power forward, but he racked up steals like a guard thanks to that quickness and excellent feel for the game. Wagner has great instincts on both ends of the court.
He also has shown real promise as a secondary ball-handler who can initiate offense and use his quickness to get by defenders. His assist rate and assist-to-turnover ratio are really special for a player his size. Wagner has a solid jumper with 3-point range, is a strong finisher at the rim and is a good free-throw shooter.
9. Davion Mitchell | Sacramento Kings
PG | Age: 22.9 | 6’1.25” | 202 | Wingspan: 6’4.25”
Ranking: 8 | Tier 3 (Potential high-level starter)
No one skyrocketed up draft boards the way Mitchell did in 2021.
After his strong NCAA Tournament run, he became a lottery pick, and now he’s headed to Sacramento.
Mitchell has all the physical tools to succeed in the NBA, plays with an aggressive mentality and has translatable skills as an on-the-ball defender, ball-handler and shooter. While his age will limit his upside, he should have one of the highest floors in the draft.
The Kings want to start winning after missing the playoffs for 15 straight years. How Mitchell plays alongside De’Aaron Fox is an open question, but Mitchell is a win-now pick.
10. Ziaire Williams | Memphis Grizzlies
W | Age: 19.9 | 6’9.75” | 188.4 | Wingspan: 6’10.25”
Ranking: 8 | Tier 3 (Potential high-level starter)
Williams was considered a top-10 pick before the college season, had a difficult year at Stanford and then played his way back up to the top 10 during workouts by reminding NBA teams why they liked him so much in the first place.
Williams is a versatile scorer and playmaker, a fluid athlete with a very good handle for a player his size. He has struggled to be an efficient scorer, but has scoring instincts and looks for his shot.
His best attribute may be his ability, at his size, length and mobility, to defend three positions. Scouts see a lot of upside for Williams as a defender if he can add strength.
Memphis will need to be patient, but in a league obsessed with big wings, the Grizzlies got one of the most talented in the draft.
11. James Bouknight | Charlotte Hornets
SG | Age: 20.9 | 6’4.75” | 190 | Wingspan: 6’8.25”
Ranking: 7 | Tier 3 (Potential high-level starter)
Bouknight is an elite scorer. He’s most lethal taking the ball to the rim, but he can pull up for jumpers and hit 3s as well -- though he was an inconsistent shooter at UConn.
He is very quick and has explosive leaping ability that allows him to get a step on defenders and finish above the rim. He’s an excellent ball-handler who uses hesitations and change of pace to keep defenders on their heels. He is very difficult to stay in front of. He’s also proven to be an above-average rebounder for a guard, especially on the offensive boards.
He has tunnel vision, not really looking to pass. When he does, he can be turnover prone. His assist-to-turnover ratio was underwater all year.
Defensively he has the speed and the aggressive mentality to be a good defender, but he doesn’t compete nearly as hard on that end.
If his elbow and knee are OK, then Charlotte has itself dynamic scorer to run alongside LaMelo Ball.
12. Joshua Primo | San Antonio Spurs
W | Age: 18.6 | 6’5” | 189 | Wingspan: 6’9.25”
Ranking: 36 | Tier 5 (Deep rotation player)
This was a surprise, but we shouldn’t be surprised to see the Spurs find their own path in the draft.
Primo’s primary attribute right now is spot-up shooting. He shot 38% from 3 as a freshman and has a smooth stroke with range. He’s got good size for his position, and he’s an excellent athlete with quickness and explosive finishing ability at the rim.
On defense, he has the potential to guard 1s, 2s and 3s.
As one of the youngest players in the draft, Primo didn’t get to show his entire skill set on a veteran Alabama team. Scouts that saw him in high school believe there’s a lot more to his game and that he could become the type of 3-and-D wing everyone in the NBA wants.
That appears to be the bet that San Antonio is making.
13. Chris Duarte | Indiana Pacers
W | Age: 24.1 | 6'6" | 190
Ranking: 15 | Tier 4 (Potential starter to rotation player)
At age 24, Duarte is the prototypical NBA-ready prospect. He had great workouts and persuaded teams that he could help right away.
Duarte is highly skilled on both ends. He is an excellent shooter, can be a secondary ball handler and playmaker and can defend multiple positions. His feel for the game and toughness combined with playing one of the most desired positions in the league as a 3-and-D wing made him a coveted prospect.
He’s an excellent finisher at the rim, thanks to toughness and body control. Defensively he uses great anticipation and a relentless motor to pick up steals and a surprising number of blocks for a wing.
If he were 20 years old rather than 24 (the oldest player drafted in the top 15 in the last decade), he’d have been a top-10 pick. His ceiling may not be particularly high because of his age, but scouts believe he’ll make an instant impact.
That’s exactly what Indiana wants as it tries to get back to the playoffs and contend in the East.
14. Moses Moody | Golden State Warriors
W | Age: 19.2 | 6’6” | 210 | Wingspan: 7’0.75”
Ranking: 13 | Tier 4 (Potential starter to rotation player)
Golden State opted for another young prospect in Moody, defying expectations the franchise needed to draft win-now contributors. But the Warriors do need more shooting to surround Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and Moody might help there.
Moody’s huge wingspan gives him the potential to be an elite defensive stopper, and he has a sweet-looking stroke, giving him potential to be a solid 3-and-D player.
His lack of elite athleticism and playmaking lowers his ceiling significantly, but most scouts also see him as having one of the higher floors among the freshmen in the draft.