Mock Draft 1.0 Picks: 1-5

Excerpt of my first Mock Draft of 2021

The first five picks in the mock draft will be free for all of our readers. 

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Our first Mock Draft of 2021 is here!

Unlike last year, when teams seemed almost reluctant to have the No. 1 pick, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the top-5 players in this year’s NBA draft, all of whom have a strong claim on being the No. 1 pick.

Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, USC’s Evan Mobley, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs and the G League’s Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green all grade out, right now, as Tier 1 prospects -- the most Tier 1 prospects I’ve had in a draft (going back to my first draft tiers column in 2008).

This year’s draft does, however, start to drop off pretty seriously after that and might not be able to match the depth of the 2020 draft. While there are plenty of intriguing prospects after those five, almost all of them have either scary floors or limited ceilings.

To determine the order for the NBA’s 30 teams in this Mock Draft, I am using 538’s Playoff Projections to project each team’s final W-L record. Where there was a tie in projected records, I went with the actual record of each team.

As a reminder, the new NBA lottery percentages changed in 2019, so that the three teams with the worst records in the NBA will each have a 14% chance of getting the top pick, a 13.42% chance of getting the second pick and a 12.75% chance of landing the third pick. After that the scale starts to slide: The team with the fourth-worst record has a 12.5% chance of jumping up to get the top pick, the fifth-worst team has a 10.5% chance, and so on. 

Current projected lottery odds are noted in the Mock Draft as well as any draft-pick trades that could affect who is drafting where.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s my earliest take on how the 2021 NBA Draft could play out this summer:

1. Houston Rockets

Projected record: 17-55
Odds of winning the No. 1 pick: 14%

Cade Cunningham

Oklahoma State
Point Forward
Age: 19.4

The Rockets will be praying to the lottery gods that they stay in the top 4. If their pick falls to No. 5 or lower, they must send it to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Right now they have a 52.1% chance of staying in the top 4.

The Rockets need help almost everywhere, and adding Cade Cunningham should be a no-brainer. A versatile wing with a tremendous feel for the game, Cunningham sees the floor, can score from anywhere and appears to be a model teammate.

Cunningham’s combination of size and offensive abilities make him the unicorn of NBA wings. He should be an elite building block as the Rockets start a multi-year rebuild.

2. Detroit Pistons

Projected record: 21-51
Odds of winning the No. 1 pick: 14%

Jalen Green

G League Ignite
Shooting Guard
Age: 19

The Pistons began their rebuild in earnest in November by adding three first-round picks -- Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey -- but they are still looking for a young star to build around.

Of the players left on the board, Green should be the most tantalizing for the Pistons. He has the potential to be the best scorer in this draft class, he has electric athleticism and the rest of Detroit’s young core should fit around him nicely.

Green’s strong play in the G League has some scouts quietly wondering whether he might ultimately have the most star power of anyone in the draft. That’s exactly what the Pistons need right now as they begin building a new identity.

3. OKC Thunder

Projected record: 22-50
Odds of winning the No. 1 pick: 14%

Evan Mobley

Age: 19.7

The Thunder are in the midst of a major rebuild with one cornerstone -- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander -- and a bunch of intriguing young players who everyone, including OKC, is still trying to assess.

Mobley feels like a perfect fit in that group. He is an elite prospect that ticks all the boxes NBA teams are looking for in bigs today. He’s got a versatile offensive toolbox that allows him to score from anywhere on the floor and he’s proven to be a good rebounder and an excellent rim protector.

The biggest knock on Mobley is that he lacks strength. He can get pushed around in the paint a bit. Given his frame, he might end up keeping a Chris Bosh-esque body type throughout his career. 

Pairing him with Poku in the Thunder frontcourt should be a sight to behold.

4. Orlando Magic

Projected record: 22-50
Odds of winning the No. 1 pick: 12.5%

Jonathan Kuminga

G League Ignite
Age: 18.6

The Magic have a reputation for taking the player in the draft with the longest wingspan, best athletic numbers and the most ridiculous upside. Kuminga, one of the youngest players in the draft, has as high a ceiling as anyone in the draft, and he’s tailor-made as the type of prospect Jeff Weltman and John Hammond have coveted over the years.

His size, positional versatility and defensive potential should make him too intriguing to pass up here for the Magic. His hot play in the G League cooled as the truncated season went on, but that hasn’t deterred scouts from seeing star potential. 

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

Projected record (Wolves): 22-50
Odds of winning the No. 1 pick: 10.5%

Jalen Suggs

Age: 19.9

The Cavs have already heavily invested in their backcourt by using lottery picks on Collin Sexton and Darius Garland in recent drafts. But I don’t think that will stop them from taking Suggs if he’s on the board. Sexton and Garland have both shown promise, but neither has the upside of Suggs.

Suggs is a leader who makes winning plays and has the ability to play both on and off the ball. His streaky 3-point shooting is a little worrying, but teams are willing to overlook it based on all the other ways he impacts winning on the court.

(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of Mock Draft 1.0 provided to free subscribers. To get picks 6-30 you need to be a paid subscriber. Click button below to read the full version.


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