The 2021 men’s NCAA tournament was worth the wait. A year after March Madness was canceled because of the pandemic, 68 teams came to Indianapolis for a bubble setup and gave us a tournament that featured upsets early and the two best teams in the country squaring off in the national championship game.
Now that the confetti has been cleared and the Baylor Bears are wearing men’s college basketball’s crown, it’s time to shift focus to the NBA draft.
The tournament was a mixed bag from a draft perspective. Tennessee’s early exit limited the amount of tape on potential lottery picks Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, while possible top-10 selections like Arkansas’ Moses Moody and Michigan’s Franz Wagner didn’t play up to their potential despite deep runs by their teams.
The top of our draft board hasn’t changed since the start of the NCAA tournament, but there are a few prospects who have risen because of strong play in March. Baylor guard Davion Mitchell was one of the final cuts in our pre-tournament mock draft, and is now getting lottery hype. A second Baylor player, Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament Jared Butler, has also been projected as a first round pick in our mocks all year.
The NBA draft lottery will be on June 22, and the draft is scheduled for July 29. With the season over for the majority of the prospects, here’s a look at our first round draft projection. These picks were made based on a combination of personal preference, conversations with people around the game, and potential team fit. We’ll have insight on some of the big themes in this year’s class after the table.
2021 NBA mock draft
|1||Minnesota Timberwolves||Cade Cunningham||Guard/Wing||Oklahoma State||Freshman|
|2||Houston Rockets||Evan Mobley||Big||USC||Freshman|
|3||Detroit Pistons||Jalen Suggs||Guard||Gonzaga||Freshman|
|4||Cleveland Cavaliers||Jalen Green||Guard||G League Ignite||Freshman|
|5||Orlando Magic||Jonathan Kuminga||Wing||G League Ignite||Freshman|
|6||Washington Wizards||Moses Moody||Wing||Arkansas||Freshman|
|7||Toronto Raptors||Keon Johnson||Guard/Wing||Tennessee||Freshman|
|8||Orlando Magic||Scottie Barnes||Big/Wing||Florida State||Freshman|
|9||Oklahoma City Thunder||Ziaire Williams||Wing||Stanford||Freshman|
|10||New Orleans Pelicans||Jalen Johnson||Wing||Duke||Freshman|
|11||Sacramento Kings||Kai Jones||Big||Texas||Sophomore|
|12||Indiana Pacers||Jaden Springer||Guard||Tennessee||Freshman|
|13||Golden State Warriors||Franz Wagner||Wing||Michigan||Sophomore|
|14||Memphis Grizzlies||James Bouknight||Guard||UConn||Sophomore|
|15||Boston Celtics||Sharife Cooper||Guard||Auburn||Freshman|
|16||New York Knicks||Davion Mitchell||Guard||Baylor||RS junior|
|17||Atlanta Hawks||Josh Giddey||Guard||Australia||Born 2002|
|18||San Antonio Spurs||Corey Kispert||Wing||Gonzaga||Senior|
|19||Oklahoma City Thunder||Usman Garuba||Big||Spain||Born 2002|
|20||Charlotte Hornets||Alperen Şengün||Big||Turkey||Born 2002|
|21||New York Knicks||Isaiah Jackson||Big||Kentucky||Freshman|
|22||Houston Rockets||Jared Butler||Guard||Baylor||Junior|
|23||Denver Nuggets||Chris Duarte||Guard/Wing||Oregon||Senior|
|24||Los Angeles Lakers||Greg Brown||Wing||Texas||Freshman|
|25||Los Angeles Clippers||Cameron Thomas||Guard||LSU||Freshman|
|26||Houston Rockets||Josh Christopher||Guard/Wing||Arizona State||Freshman|
|27||Philadelphia 76ers||BJ Boston||Wing||Kentucky||Freshman|
|28||Brooklyn Nets||Ariel Hukporti||Big||Germany||Born 2002|
|29||Phoenix Suns||Terrence Shannon Jr.||Wing||Texas Tech||Sophomore|
|30||Utah Jazz||Tre Mann||Guard||Florida||Sophomore|
Cade Cunningham is still the No. 1 pick
Cunningham entered the season as our projected top pick, and he only reinforced his status as the best prospect in the draft during his freshman year at Oklahoma State. While the Cowboys had a disappointing exit against Oregon State in the Sweet 16, Cunningham put together an All-American year that showed how easily his game is going to translate to today’s NBA.
Listed at 6’8, 220 pounds, Cunningham projects as the lead engine of an NBA offense. He has the passing vision and burst to run pick-and-roll at a high level, and can put added pressure on the defense with his own downhill scoring ability. Cunningham’s three-point shooting was a supposed question mark coming into the season, but he hit 40 percent of his 155 attempts from behind the arc on the year. Teams won’t be able to go under a screen when Cunningham has the ball, which should open up the rest of his game. He also projects as a clear plus defensively, likely checking bigger forwards and having the size and strength to wall up at the rim.
Cunningham’s ability to initiate offense playing on the ball, space the floor off the ball, and defend at a high-level makes him the easiest prospect to build around in this draft. Getting the player like him is the hard part. Once you have one, building a good team becomes so much easier.
Evan Mobley has the edge on Suggs, but it may come down to team fit
We’ve been consistent with USC center Evan Mobley as our No. 2 prospect and Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs as our No. 3 prospect all year. That remains the case after the tournament, but we won’t fault anyone who has the two prospects flipped. For several reasons, the choice at No. 2 could ultimately come down to whichever team lands the pick.
A team like the Orlando Magic, with former top-10 picks Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. at center, might opt for Suggs as a backcourt complement to Markelle Fultz. The Timberwolves would also have a fascinating decision if they land at No. 2. Suggs, a Minnesota native, would be an intriguing match next to Anthony Edwards in the backcourt. Mobley would be a fascinating fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns at power forward in the short-term and potentially replace him at center long-term if he eventually leaves in free agency. The Wolves really just want to land in the top-four so they don’t have to send their pick to the Golden State Warriors as part of the D’Angelo Russell trade.
Mobley’s combination of length, mobility, and quick decision-making makes him a tremendous two-way fit in the league long-term even if he isn’t wired to be a volume scorer. A case for Suggs over Mobley starts with the relative ease of finding competent big men for cheap. Suggs has some questions when it comes to ball handling and finishing, but so long as his three-point shooting holds up, he should be a tremendous complementary guard in the league for a long time.
We prefer Mobley to Suggs because the USC center feels like he has a greater chance at a truly special NBA career. You really can’t go wrong either way, though.
Who goes No. 6?
The top five of the draft feels set in stone more than three months before the selections will be made. Cunningham, Suggs, and Mobley will be joined by G League Ignite prospects Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga in some order. The big question headed into draft season is who goes No. 6.
It feels like there’s six prospects who have a chance to go sixth. In no particular order, those players are:
- Jalen Johnson, F, Duke
- Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State
- Keon Johnson, G, Tennessee
- Ziaire Williams, F, Stanford
- Moses Moody, F, Arkansas
- Franz Wagner, F, Michigan
None of those players helped their cases much in March. Barnes finished with 18 points, six rebounds, and nine assists total across three games in Florida State’s run to the Sweet 16. Wagner ended Michigan’s run to the Elite Eight with four points on 1-of-10 shooting and completely bricked a potential game-winning three. Moody put up disappointing numbers in Arkansas’ final two tournament games despite the team’s run to the Elite Eight. Keon Johnson and Tennessee were smoked in the first round by Oregon State. Jalen Johnson left Duke in February, and Williams didn’t qualify for the tournament with Stanford.
Our personal preference is for Moody at No. 6 because of his length (7’1 wingspan), floor spacing potential, and flashes of one-on-one scoring ability. Our guess is teams might favor Keon Johnson more for explosive athleticism and the impressive year-over-year growth in his skill set. Expect the debate of No. 6 to continue throughout the entire draft process.
Davion Mitchell is March Madness’ big winner
Mitchell started popping up on first round draft boards in the middle of the season. After an incredible run throughout March Madness, the Baylor star has locked in round one status and could end up as a lottery pick.
Mitchell will be a 23-year-old rookie coming off his redshirt junior season, but perhaps that will make him more appealing to a team that wants to fight for a playoff spot. The 6’2 guard has incredible burst with the ball in his hands and can burn any slow-footed big man to the hoop — just ask Drew Timme after the national title game. His three-point shooting took a wild leap this season — from 32 percent to 45 percent. Mitchell has also showcased tremendous point of attack defense, though his size will limit the types of players he can guard.
Scouts will wonder if Mitchell’s big shooting improvement is real considering he’s also a 64 percent free throw shooter. Mitchell’s inability to consistently get to the foul line is also concerning. He only attempted 64 free throws all season in 30 games.
Mitchell was one of our last cuts in our pre-tournament mock draft. Obviously that was a mistake. He will be expected to be selected in the 10-20 range heading into the pre-draft process.
Who will be this year’s Patrick Williams?
Last year, the Florida State freshman was projected as a late lottery pick throughout most of the draft process before going No. 4 overall in a surprising selection by the Chicago Bulls (it looks like a pretty good decision so far). Which player currently projected outside the top-10 has a chance to go on a meteoric rise come draft day?
Our first pick is Kai Jones, the 6’11 Texas big man with freaky flashes of skill and athleticism. Jones only averaged 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds this year in a bench role, but he led the Longhorns in all-in-one impact stat BPM. You only need to see the highlights of him flying down the floor for a transition finish or hitting a step-back three to see why his package of tools is so tantalizing.
Giddey is another player who started rising up boards midway through the season because of his size and production playing in the NBL. The 18-year-old Australian is a 6’8 guard who has put up better numbers than LaMelo Ball did last year in the same league and same age. Giddey is an unimpressive athlete who will likely struggle getting past the first line of defense while also facing questions defensively. Still, his size and offensive package of skills could entice a team to gamble on him earlier than expected if they think his recent stretch of hot shooting is real.
We’ll answer questions on this mock draft in the comments
Leave a comment or question below and we’ll get back to you. Draft season is officially here.