NBA Draft

1st Look at Potential 2021 Lottery Yields Plenty of Quality

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This is the first half of a mock draft between The Lead’s Danny Fanaroff and Charlie Cummings. Both drafted for what they would do if they were making these picks, not what they expect to happen. Odd picks were made by Danny, evens by Charlie. Look for the second half of the mock coming later this week!

#1 Pistons select Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham

Despite speculation that the Pistons are fond of Green & Mobley and may consider trading back, it would be a surprise to hear any other name besides Cunningham’s called first on draft night. The Pistons won the lottery after a solid rebuilding season that culminated with two rookies (Saddiq Bey & Isaiah Stewart) named to the NBA’s All-Rookie team. In Cunningham, they will draft their franchise player of the future.

Cunningham projects to be a perfect lead guard in the modern NBA. His 6’8, 220lb frame gives him an advantage over other point guards, and his comfort level as a playmaker in all facets of the offense – transition, half court sets, pick and rolls – is going to help the Pistons take that next step towards postseason contention.

There are concerns with how he fits alongside last year’s top-10 pick Killian Hayes, but as we’ve seen from teams like the Suns, Hawks & Clippers in this playoffs, you can never have enough playmaking. Cunningham has the size & athleticism to lineup anywhere 1-4, which gives the Pistons flexibility in their roster construction as they build the team in his image.

https://twitter.com/KuKhahilNBA/status/1408848733857619971?s=20

#2: Rockets select USC big Evan Mobley

Mobley puts all preconceived notions about the value of modern centers to the test. A sublime defensive anchor with 1-5 switch-ability, Mobley is as unique as they come for seven-footers. He’s got an excellent motor and feel for the game to boot, with legit handle, playmaking and spacing skills. USC’s cluttered offense failed to showcase his true talents more often than not. He’s got the potential to be a plus contributor in all categories and facets of the game.

His fit with the Rockets is ideal for two reasons. First, they should have no expectations for the next few years whatsoever. Mobley is well ahead of the developmental curve at 20 years old, but the adjustment period for centers can be years. Especially if those players, like Mobley, need to fill out their frame.

Second, Mobley fits very well with the current Rockets personnel as well. He, Jae’Sean Tate and Christian Wood form a dynamic young frontcourt rotation. Having shooters like Eric Gordon a primary creator in Kevin Porter Jr. will give him the room he needs to operate. Houston certainly has decent perimeter talent when healthy, and Mobley will be given all the time and space to develop.

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#3 Cavaliers select G-League Ignite guard Jalen Green

With Cunningham & Mobley off the board, Jalen Green is the best player available and a great backcourt running mate for Darius Garland. Green projects as an elite, three-level scorer whose mechanics & athleticism mirror some of the best scoring SGs in the league. His balanced jumper and deep arsenal of dribble moves enable Green to get to his spots at will, but if defenders close out too hard Green makes them pay with blow-by speed and good bounce when attacking the basket.

He’s not an elite playmaker or defender, but he makes up for all of that with his ability to score at will. All-star-caliber SGs that can put up 25-30 points a night do not grow on trees, and Green has given front offices every reason to believe he is up next. The fit with Sexton & Garland has been questionable at times due to Sexton’s ball-dominant style of play. Green has excellent off-ball instincts that will allow Garland to thrive as the team’s lead ball-handler and facilitator.

*This pick was made under the assumption that the Collin Sexton trade rumors are true and that he is on the market. If the team decides to keep both Sexton and the pick, my choice would be Green’s Ignite teammate Jonathan Kuminga. 

#4: Raptors select Florida State wing Scottie Barnes

Barnes is an excellent fit for Toronto both in the short and long term. It feels likely that Kyle Lowry will make his exit from the Great North, leaving the keys to the backcourt in the hands of Fred VanVleet and restricted free agent Gary Trent Jr. The Raps still have a strong core of youth under team control for some time, and need the ancillary pieces to vault themselves back into contention.

Enter Scottie. He’s a dynamic halfcourt passer and transition creator with incredible defensive ability inside and outside the arc. Position-less as they come, he can conceivably play 1-4 within the right system. Shooting and self-creating concerns are real, but can be alleviated when surrounded by superior finishing and other primary creators.

Barnes jumped into a loaded FSU team hesitant to hand the reins to a freshman, and was asked to be a sixth man with more emphasis on his creation. That same role in Toronto as a rookie would be a boon for his development. They have a starting lineup penciled in, and Scottie as a floor-raiser for their subpar bench talent is a match made in heaven in the short term. Nick Nurse is a creative coach and Toronto has a knack for development, especially on the shooting front.

This would be a beautiful pairing.

#5 Magic select G-League Ignite wing Jonathan Kuminga

This was a no-brainer. The Magic are entering the first full season of a rebuild, after trading away Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier at the trade deadline this past year. The core franchise pieces now are Markelle Fultz & Jonathan Isaac, both of whom have severe injury history, and last year’s first-round pick, Cole Anthony. For all intents and purposes, the Magic are at ground zero for building their next viable playoff roster.

Enter Jonathan Kuminga.

At 18 years old, Kuminga is the youngest player eligible for this year’s NBA Draft, a bonus to his elite package of athleticism and skill. Kuminga is considerably more raw than some of his peers, but that is the benefit of the Magic’s timeline; they can afford to be patient with Kuminga’s development. He shot poorly from distance this season for the Ignite, but the tools and mechanics of a respectable jumpshot are evident.

At 6’9, 230 pounds, Kuminga has the athleticism and size to compete at an NBA-level on day one. There is no urgency for him to bulk up; he’s already there. What the Magic will need to cultivate, is Kuminga’s basketball IQ and ball-handling. He is already an elite defensive forward. He makes perfect sense for a rebuilding team like the Magic who can afford to be patient. The top-end projection for what Kuminga could be 4-5 years down the line (at which point he will still only be 22-23) is worth the wait.

#6: Thunder select Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs

For a team square in the middle of a tank, the Thunder are in a strange position. They have three first-round picks and far more on the way in future years. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a primary creator to build around, with plenty of interesting young pieces around. Kemba Walker will be rehabilitating his image in some form before finding another team. The pressure on young players to perform is immense when 3-5 more young players can come in any given season with their draft capital.

The No. 6 pick presents an interesting conundrum if the “big five” are off the board, but in this case they scoop a massive value in Suggs. A bully of a combo guard with a legitimate defensive presence, Suggs may be the most malleable in terms of role amongst the top five. Exceptional balance, feel and explosive athleticism make him an exciting potential top option. The reason I have him fifth on my board is I’m not convinced that path to being a true No. 1 is very evident.

Oklahoma City represents the best of both worlds for Suggs. Existing next to an excellent primary creator and defender in SGA eases his rookie year burden. He excelled as the closer for Gonzaga, allowing the offense to flow around him when necessary during the game but always taking over when needed. The lack of spacing is a concern but Suggs has the requisite touch to be coached into above average shooting. The blend of upside and fit with SGA should make stopping this brief slide a no-brainer for Sam Presti.

#7 Warriors select Arkansas wing Moses Moody

Moody has long been one of my favorite prospects in the draft. Checking in at 6’6 with a 7’1 wingspan, Moody will bring length and perimeter defense to a Warriors bench that could have used some more of it this year. An excellent athlete, Moody would provide energy and spacing to the Warriors’ second unit, as a relief for either Klay Thompson or Andrew Wiggins. Moody shot 36% from 3PT range and 81% from the free-throw line at Arkansas, and adds another 3&D wing to complement Stephen Curry.

There is a tremendous amount of upside here, but the Warriors have an open window of contention as long as Curry is there. Finding draft prospects that have the right combination of day one utility and long-term upside is tricky, but Moody fits that bill. Warriors GM Bob Myers has already said as much (see below).

Rookies earn playing time with defense and Moody is one of the best perimeter defenders in his class. That and the knockdown shooting make him an easy complement to any lineup featuring two or more of the Warriors’ usual starters, or their bench with Jordan Poole & Eric Paschall.

Down the road, Moody’s ball-handling and ability to create for himself can be developed into a legitimate isolation threat. But at first, he will excel learning how to play off-ball from Thompson & Wiggins, two of the league’s best.

#8: Magic select Michigan wing Franz Wagner

A two-piece of wings, no fries, is definitely in the cards for the Magic. Kuminga represents one of the bigger unknowns in terms of NBA readiness, but Wagner is on the opposite end of that spectrum. Though a slight reach for the 12th prospect on my board, the Magic have a desperate need for creative wings with defensive acumen.

Even with average, straight-line athleticism, Wagner’s balance, coordination and active limbs make him one of the better perimeter defenders in this class. He’s also dynamic offensively both on and off the ball. The self-creation on the perimeter is a work in progress, but Franz attacks out of the triple threat and on closeouts to get downhill. On top of that, Wagner is a plus passer in set actions and off the dribble who reads the floor extremely well.

Calling Wagner a “safe” prospect is misleading, because nothing can be guaranteed. He does have a very bankable skillset for the league, but athleticism concerns are real. If I’m John Hammond, I’d be willing to bet on Franz’s smarts and secondary athletic traits making him a valuable contributor. Spacing for Kuminga and alleviating the defensive pressure on Fultz and Cole Anthony feels like a major W at the eighth slot.

#9 Kings select Stanford wing Ziaire Williams

This is an upside play for a team in need of young wing talent. After letting Bogdan Bogdanovic walk in free agency, Buddy Hield (28) and Harrison Barnes (29) are the Kings’ main options on the perimeter. If they are retooling around Tyrese Haliburton and De’Aaron Fox, adding a combo forward like Ziaire Williams makes a lot of sense.

Prior to Williams’ freshman season at Stanford, most mock drafts had him going in the top 10. A disappointing campaign marred by injuries and shooting struggles saw his stock fall. Since season’s end though, Williams is shooting back up boards after an impressive showing at the NBA Draft Combine. He measured at 6’10, and showed off a new and improved shooting stroke that caught scouts’ attention.

Here you can see the makings of a balanced jumper, and ability to create off the dribble or spot up around the arc. With Fox & Haliburton, there is no shortage of speed and playmaking on this team. What they need are elite wings who can stretch the floor and defend, but also fit the timeline of their young backcourt.

Williams is more of a project than some other 3&D wings that might be in consideration with this pick. His Stanford campaign left much to be desired in the way of basketball IQ. Like the Magic with Kuminga though, the Kings can afford to be a little bit patient with his development. Long-term he fits in very well as a lengthy SG/SF hybrid.

#10: Pelicans select Adelaide 36ers guard Josh Giddey

One of the fastest risers of the pre-draft process, Giddey is getting his flowers at the right time. He has all the tools in his bag to be a legitimate offensive dynamo at the next level. As we saw last season, LaMelo Ball was extremely prepared for the NBA, which gives some legitimacy to the way Giddey dominated the NBL as a playmaker.

He’s one of the best passers in the class, with an uncanny ability to find open movers and put the ball in the right spot. Live dribble passing with either hand takes special skill and lots of work. He’s a decent enough shotmaker, but the self-creation skills are evident. Making enough of his shots to be respected at the perimeter opens up downhill lanes for his creativity and rim finishing (see: Doncic, Luka). The main concerns are his strength and length, as he has a negative wingspan and wiry frame.

Much like Ball, Giddey has the tools and smarts to be a plus defender but lacks attention to detail and fights an uphill battle physically.

His fit with the Pelicans is obvious. I expect Brandon Ingram to be on his way out, and he slots in well with or without Lonzo in the fold. You could argue having a 3+D guard in Zo would be beneficial for Giddey, someone who could hide his defensive struggles and make the opposition pay off movement and receiving Giddey’s passes. Zion Williamson needs legitimate perimeter creators to give him the space he needs to work, and someone who can get him the rock in transition. Giddey checks all those boxes.

#11 Hornets select Texas big Kai Jones

The Hornets were one of the most fun teams in the league to watch this year. They get out in transition often, have multiple playmakers and plenty of shooting. What they lack though, is a two-way, rim-running big man. Here I have them taking Kai Jones, as a long-term upgrade to their big man platoon of Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller.

Jones fits the mold of the many Texas big men before hi. He offers a lob threat that you know LaMelo Ball, or Terry Rozier, or Gordon Hayward, will take full advantage of. What separates Jones from most of his rim-running peers though, is the ability to stretch the floor. Jones shot 38% from 3PT range as a sophomore.

As a screen-setter, this adds a layer of versatility that opens up what was already a potent motion offense. If teams go into drop coverage, he will step out to three-point line and bury it from deep; if they send their big men to hedge around the screen, Jones will have an open lane to the rim.

He has underrated dribble instincts, but he wouldn’t be asked to handle the ball much on this team. It will help smooth his transition to the next level if the team that drafts him can limit his responsibilities to setting good screens, running the floor, and protecting the rim. The Hornets are well equipped to do that.

Most importantly, he fits the timeline for a young team that was already on the verge of a playoff appearance prior to Ball & Hayward getting injured midway through the season. They are building this team around LaMelo now, and he fills their most glaring need.

#12: Spurs select Duke wing Jalen Johnson

On pure talent, Johnson is a top-five player in this draft, though a variety of issues on and off the court at Duke kept him from displaying that potential. Playmaking forwards with his size and defensive ability are incredibly rare. However, his effect on the game and effort level waned at times. The Spurs are the kind of team who are willing to bet their structure can smooth over any concerns.

Hybrid wings who can defend, make plays and score at all three levels are ideal for the Popovich system. Johnson sliding in as the four next to Jakob Poeltl forms a dynamic defensive tandem in the restricted area. His soft touch and passing skills complement his strength and athleticism well. Johnson could be a plus shooter from distance off the catch with movement skills to boot.

Armed with young talent and cap space, Johnson is the kind of gamble the Spurs can afford. The depth of talent puts pressure on rebuilding teams to get it right in this draft. Johnson’s off-court questions that teams may never be able to answer don’t carry the same weight with the 12th pick. Realizing his full potential alongside Dejounte Murray and the rest of the developing Spurs could see them return to the upper echelon of the West someday.

#13 Pacers select UConn guard James Bouknight

Outside of Jalen Green (and maybe Cade Cunningham), Bouknight is the next best prospect in this draft as an isolation scorer. His defense is lackluster, he isn’t a superior athlete, but he plays with finesse using craft and footwork to get shots off. His easy jumper was not on display in the NCAA Tournament as he struggled against Maryland, which hurt his draft stock some.

But the performance he put on at the Draft Combine in Chicago served as a reminder of his talent, and how useful he can be at the next level.

Every team that made a meaningful playoff run this year had bench pieces who can score in bunches. It is fitting that the player comparison he receives most often is Jordan Clarkson, this year’s recipient of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. He has a tight enough handle to come in as a lead guard, which pairs nicely with his spot-up ability to come off screens and let others facilitate instead.

The Pacers have solid pieces, and with Rick Carlisle at the helm, should be back in the playoffs next season. When they get there, they will be glad to have someone with Bouknight’s scoring prowess and moxie on the second unit.

#14: Warriors select Tennessee guard Jaden Springer

Athleticism, shooting and secondary playmaking.

It’s what the Warriors need, and what Springer has plenty of. Their need for a guard with translatable spacing and defense, before and after Klay Thompson returns early in the season, is apparent. After Klay is back, Springer slides in well as the de facto point guard next to burgeoning self-creator Jordan Poole.

Springer isn’t the traditional image of a scoring combo guard, but his ability to pressure the rim is sublime. His tight handle, touch, strength and balance open up an interesting package of finishes. The lack of projection as a true No. 1 scorer keeps him out of the upper echelon of the draft in the end. It’s everything else that brings immense value, and the Dubs won’t be needing a new No. 1 any time soon.

It’s incredible that an 18-year-old player with these bankable skills should be available late in the lottery, but Springer has been undervalued throughout the entire draft process. A team like the Warriors with structure in place and a movement-heavy system should bet on that untapped potential.

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About Charlie Cummings

Warriors writer born and raised in the Bay Area. University of Denver graduate currently living in Denver

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