Dwell pick-by-pick evaluation and updates
The NBA welcomes its newest class of rookies to the league Thursday night during the 2021 draft from Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Draft night is always a time for trades, and this year could feature some prominent names and picks on the move. Several teams have multiple first-round picks and additional draft capital to potentially swing major deals that could significantly alter the league’s landscape entering the 2021-22 season.
Join USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt and Mark Medina during the night for all the latest updates on rumors and deal, plus live analysis for each pick in the first round.
1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Cunningham is a versatile 6-8 guard who play on the ball or off the ball and has the skillset to do both. He shoots 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers and gets to the rim and has the strength to absorb contact and finish with either hand. He didn’t post great assist statistics but he can be playmaker. He drew multiple defenders and is adept at finding the open man. In his one college season, he averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 40% on 3s. He’s a vocal leader and relishes the big moment in the close games.
2. Houston Rockets: Jalen Green, G-League Ignite
Green took the unconventional route with playing for the G-League Ignite team instead of attending college. And he believes playing against G-League players in an NBA environment will prepare him significantly. So much that Green considers it a realistic goal to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award and land on an All-NBA Defensive Team. One NBA scout told USA TODAY Sports that he’s enamored with Green’s physicality and aggressiveness as a listed 6-foot-5, 172-pound guard. But the scout added that Green needs to improve his consistency as a shooter and ball handler.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley, Southern California
Mobley looks like a perfect fit as a big man in the modern NBA. He’s a 7-footer who can play in the post with a soft touch at the rim and step outside and shoot 3s. He will have to adjust to the NBA long-range distance but that shouldn’t be a problem as he adds strength. In his one season at USC, he averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocks and shot 57.8% from the field. It will be interesting and perhaps fun to see how the Cavaliers use Mobley alongside Jarrett Allen, if Allen re-signs with the Cavs.
4. Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes, Florida State
This marked the first somewhat surprising move of the draft considering the expectation that Jalen Suggs would be selected. But Barnes is the real deal and has moved up draft boards after impressing talent evaluators with his playmaking and versatile defending. Barnes averaged only 10.3 points while shooting 27.5% from 3-point range. But Barnes has excelled on all other areas of the game, and will have an immediate impact.
5. Orlando Magic: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Suggs is a potential franchise-changing point guard and could be a steal for Orlando at No. 5. His buzzer-beater in this year’s Final Four will live on in March Madness lore, but his freshman season under coach Mark Few saw him blossom into an NBA-ready point guard with poise and smart decision-making. He averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.9 steals and shot 50.3% from the field last season. He’s athletic, good size (6-4), has range and likes to play on the defensive end. It appears the Magic found the point guard for their long-term rebuild.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Josh Giddey, Australia,
Thunder general manager Sam Presti hardly shies away from making bold moves. OKC selected Giddey, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward that has played professionally in Australia at 18 years old. Talent evaluators like Giddey’s vision, passing and playmaking, but his defense will still need some work. Giddey would have that opportunity in OKC since it is still considered a rebuilding project after finishing No. 14 in the Western Conference. The Thunder also have picks later in the first round (No. 16, 18) and second round (No. 34, 36, 55).
7. Golden State Warriors: Jonathan Kuminga, G-League Ignite
Kuminga, who was born in the Democratic Republic Congo but played high school basketball in the U.S., bypassed college and spent last season with the G-League Ignite. He averaged 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. Kuminga, a 6-8 forward, needs to work on his shot but he loves to attack the rim and rebounding with his athleticism. He also has the potential to make an impact as a wing defender who can help protect the paint.
8. Orlando Magic: Franz Wagner, Michigan
Wagner joins his older brother, Moe, at Orlando. Franz Wagner was a starter in his two seasons with the Wolverines. He averaged averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and three assists per game as a sophomore. He shot 34 percent from deep and was named second team All-Big Ten. He followed in his brother Moe’s footsteps. The older Wagner played three years at Michigan before becoming a first-round draft pick in 2018. Wagner has size and handle around the perimeter, can knock down treys accurately and plays great team defense. His game will parlay much better at the pro level than at Michigan where he was starting to blossom.
9. Sacramento Kings: Davion Mitchell, Baylor
The key catalyst of the national champion Baylor Bears team, Mitchell is a do-everything guard who can bolster any NBA team with his ballhawking defense. He was defensive player of the year – a great on-ball defender who averaged 1.9 steals. He’s also a capable passer who can stuff the stat sheet without needing to score. He can create and hit threes when he’s open or create for himself. The 6-2 Mitchell really improved his 3-point shot, making 44.7% from deep after making just 28.8% in his freshman season at Auburn. He averaged 14 points and 5.5 assists as a junior last season.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (via trade with New Orleans): Ziaire Williams, Stanford
Williams, a former five-star recruit, didn’t have the kind of dominant seasons that would mark most top-10 picks. But he was on the trajectory to be a lottery pick because teams like his ceiling once he gets some reps in the league. He averaged 10.7 points per game in his lone season at Stanford. At 6-8, he has the type of size NBA teams covet these days because of his ability to put the ball on the court and stretch opposing defenses with his perimeter play.
11. Charlotte Hornets: James Bouknight, Connecticut
Bouknight (6-5, 190) has all the tools to be just as potent a scorer — possessing the ability to fill it up both off the ball and with it in his hands, while sporting an explosive first step. He’s another dynamic guard, but he also needs to work on his 3-ball. He shot just 32% on 3s last season. However, he is really dangerous inside the line with his pull-up jumper and drive to the basket. Bouknight averaged 18.7 points and scored a career-high 40 points against Creighton. The Hornets could have an entertaining and productive backcourt with LaMelo Ball and Bouknight.
12. San Antonio Spurs: Joshua Primo, Alabama
The youngest player in the NBA Draft, Primo was a bit of a surprise as a lottery pick. He was originally pegged as a second rounder, but his stock started rising at the NBA combine. Primo started 19 of the 30 games he played at during his lone season at ‘Bama. The Canadian had a breakout freshman campaign for the Crimson Tide, helping the program win an SEC title and vault into the national equation. He only averaged 8.1 points per game.
13. Indiana Pacers: Chris Duarte, Oregon
Duarte has shot up on draft boards, making his decision to skip the draft combine a smart one. He’s older than most rookies at 24 – he spent two years in junior college and two seasons at Oregon – so he has a maturity to his game. His size is solid, he can hit the boards and with strong catch-and-shoot ability, he shot 38% from 3-point range for the Ducks. He averaged 17.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in his senior season for the Ducks. Duarte will help the Pacers stretch the floor.
14. Golden State Warriors: Moses Moody, Arkansas
The 6-6 guard from Little Rock was a first-team All-SEC player as a freshman for Arkansas last season. He averaged 16.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in 32 games and was SEC Freshman of the Year while helping the Razorbacks reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Moody’s defense made him tough to pass up for the Warriors. He proved to be an excellent perimeter defender and he’s also considered one of the best spot-up mid-range shooters in the draft.
15. Washington Wizards: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
There is a premium on shooting in the NBA, and Kispert will provide that for the Wizards who want more shooting alongside Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. The 6-7 Kispert spent four seasons at Gonzaga and was a career 40.8% 3-point shooter, including 44% in his senior season when he averaged 18.6 points. He has a quick release, finds open spots and has the ability to drive and score at the rim. Kispert won’t be a premier defender but has a knack for getting in passing lanes for steals and deflections.
16. Houston Rockets (from Oklahoma City Thunder): Alperen Sengun, Turkey
A standout in the Turkish pro league, the 6-9 Sengun was the Basketball Super League’s MVP. He said he models his game after Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal, as well as current bigs Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. He averaged 19.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.6 blocks, while shooting 63.2% from the field. While he’ll have a transition from the international game to NBA, particularly on defense, he’s got all the tools to excel.
17. New Orleans Pelicans (via trade with Memphis): Trey Murphy III, Virginia
Murphy spent his final college season at Virginia after two years at Rice and became the only player in Cavaliers history to shoot 50% from the field, 40% on 3-pointers and 90% from the foul line. He averaged just 11.3 points in Virginia’s system offense, but the expectation is that he will flourish more offensively in the NBA. At 6-9, he has great size for a 3-point shooting wing and takes the defensive challenge. The Pelicans continue to look for the right combination to put around young star Zion Williamson.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Tre Mann, Florida
Mann led the Gators with 16 points a game and was the team’s second-leader rebounder, averaging 5.6 a game. He also shot 40.2% from 3-point range and is used to playing a physical style. He elevated his play down the stretch, averaging 20.9 points over Florida’s final seven games. His four consecutive 20-plus-point games matched the longest streak by a Gator player over the past 25 years (Nick Calathes, Matt Walsh).
19. Charlotte Hornets (from the New York Knicks): Kai Jones, Texas
The Hornets are looking for frontcourt depth and while Jones’ stats don’t stand out (8.8 points, 4.8 rebounds as a sophomore last season), the 6-11 forward-center has potential as a scorer. Like Deandre Ayton, Jones is from the Bahamas and will enter the NBA as a better defender than offensive player. He averaged almost a block a game in just 22.9 minutes per game. Jones shot 58% from the field, including 38.2% on 3-pointers. It just might take time for his offense to develop in the NBA.
20. Atlanta Hawks: Jalen Johnson, Duke
Johnson didn’t overly impress at Duke before opting out. But he is a 6-9¼, 220-pound playmaking combo forward with impressive athleticism. He played in just 13 games for the Blue Devils, including eight starts. He was third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.2 points per game and second in rebounding (6.1). Johnson missed time at Duke with a foot injury and later left the program to prepare for the draft. He was asked about that decision following a pre-draft workout with the Charlotte Hornets, he told reporters earlier this month, “I honestly think I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today if I hadn’t left early. I’ve prepared myself. I’m in the best position and ready for this next step. I think I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been.”
21. Los Angeles Clippers (from the New York Knicks): Keon Johnson, Tennessee
An incredible athlete, Johnson gets to the rim, can finish with explosive dunks and draws fouls and likes to compete on the defensive end. But he has a lot of work to do on his shot. He shot just 27.1% on 3-pointers. With the Clippers, the 6-5 Johnson will have the time to develop and learn without immediate pressure under Los Angeles coach Ty Lue. He averaged 11.3 points in his only season with the Volunteers.
22. Washington Wizards (from Los Angeles Lakers): Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky
Jackson’s best attribute is his motor in the open court. He averaged 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in 25 games, including 13.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in the last seven games. His athleticism skills around the rim allowed him to average 2.6 blocks per game. He ranked eighth nationally in block percentage (12.7). He had eight blocks against then-No. 7 Kansas in his third game, the most ever for a Kentucky player against an Associated Press Top 10 opponent.
23. Houston Rockets: Usman Garuba, Real Madrid (Spain)
Garuba has long been one of top young players in Spain and was named the Euroleague’s 2020-21 Rising Star. Playing for Real Madrid the past two seasons, Garuba didn’t post scoring and rebounding averages that stand out, but that’s not unusual for a young player in Spain’s top pro league. He had 24 points and 12 rebounds in a Euroleague playoff game. The 6-8 forward can run the floor and block shots and is an efficient scorer in the paint.
24. Houston Rockets
25. Los Angeles Clippers
26. Denver Nuggets
27. Brooklyn Nets
28. Philadelphia 76ers
29. Phoenix Suns
30. Utah Jazz
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