The 2021 NBA draft is about a week away now, and the ordering of players set to hear their name called by commissioner Adam Silver is starting to crystallize.
Oklahoma State sensation Cade Cunningham has been the favorite to go No. 1 to the Detroit Pistons in the July 29 draft for a while now, but behind him there’s been a tug-of-war between two Jalens – G-League standout Jalen Green and Gonzaga star Jalen Suggs.
The Houston Rockets have a hard decision to make in going with the draft’s most gifted scorer in Green or a blossoming potential point guard of the future in Suggs. They also could go with USC big man Evan Mobley, perhaps an even safer pick. Whatever Houston does at the No. 2 spot could largely shape the lottery.
As the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks go down to the wire for the NBA championship, teams that were out of title contention will soon look to build their futures with pivotal picks and trades to bolster their respective franchises.
USA TODAY Sports provides a closer look at how everything can unfold in a few short weeks. A look at the projected first round:
1. Detroit Pistons
Cade Cunningham • Oklahoma State • Freshman • Point Guard • 6-8 • 220
Cunningham is a lock at this point to be the top pick by Detroit. He has drawn Jayson Tatum comparisons recently but it’s his point guard mentality that will set him apart in the league. The All-American guard used his freshman season with the Cowboys to show that he’s more than just a dynamic playmaker who’s built for the NBA physically. Cunningham (20.1 ppg in 2020-21) consistently showed a clutch gene, making several game-winning shots and exuding leadership well beyond his years.
2. Houston Rockets
Jalen Suggs • Gonzaga • Freshman • Point Guard • 6-4 • 205
Suggs is a potential franchise-changing point guard and will be too hard to pass up for Houston. His table-topping 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 floor general with poise and smart decision making. Gonzaga’s offense caters well to the pro level so Suggs should be ready to make a splash.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Jalen Green • USA • G-League • Guard • 6-5 • 172
Green shot up to the No. 3 spot last week because of how he can give the Cavs much-needed offensive firepower. Green would’ve been a star in the NCAA but instead opted to play in the G-League. His offense is the most NBA-ready. Defense, not so much. He’s not a great decision maker but he’s a bucket-getter who can score at will and has the skillset to develop into a formidable combo guard.
4. Toronto Raptors
Evan Mobley • Southern California • Freshman • Center • 7-0 • 215
Mobley’s fallen down on this list because the three guards ahead of him offer more reward over risk. But this is a pick the Raptors just can’t pass up on. His shot blocking ability, length and size position him to make an impact right away for in Toronto. He has potential as a long-term All-Star at the big man position but he’ll need to bulk up to have better strength against NBA bigs.
5. Orlando Magic
Jonathan Kuminga • Congo • G-League • Small Forward • 6-8 • 205
Another G-Leaguer, Kuminga is an oversized wing with a tall ceiling. He won’t be an All-Star right away but has all the intangibles to develop into one with the Magic. Kuminga averaged 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in the G-League.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Scottie Barnes • Florida State • Freshman • Small Forward • 6-9 • 227
Sporting a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Barnes brings raw abilities as a playmaker and versatile defender, but his shooting (27.5% from three) and overall offensive production (10.3 ppg) are not there yet. Put him on the right team and all his growth can come in stride. His ceiling is high and his floor (a great defender and two-way player) makes him a lock to land in the lottery.
7. Golden State Warriors
Davion Mitchell • Baylor • Junior • Point Guard • 6-2 • 205
The key catalyst of the national champion Baylor Bears squad, Mitchell is a do-everything guard who can bolster any NBA team with his ballhawking defense. He’s also a capable passer who can stuff the stat sheet without needing to score. He can create and nail threes when he’s open or creates for himself. An ideal fit for Golden State alongside an All-Star backcourt.
8. Orlando Magic
Moses Moody • Arkansas • Freshman • Shooting Guard • 6-6 • 205
Moody’s defense will make him hard to pass up in the top 10, as he proved to be an excellent perimeter defender for an Elite Eight-finishing Razorbacks team this past March. He’s also one of the best spot-up mid-range shooters in the draft.
9. Sacramento Kings
James Bouknight • Connecticut • Sophomore • Shooting Guard • 6-5 • 190
Bouknight gave coach Dan Hurley a go-to scorer every night. In the NBA, Bouknight 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 with an explosive first step.
10. New Orleans Pelicans
Franz Wagner • Michigan • Sophomore • 6-9 • 220
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.
11. Charlotte Hornets
Keon Johnson • Tennessee • Freshman • Shooting Guard • 6-5 • 186
Johnson can develop into an All-Star but he’s not ready to come into his own yet, as his offensive prowess still needs some work. He averaged 11.3 ppg for the Volunteers and showed flashes of his true potential in his lone NCAA season.
12. San Antonio Spurs
Josh Giddey • Australia • Forward • 6-8 • 205
Giddey’s best asset is his court vision, passing and playmaking. The Australian’s offense outweighs his mediocre defense, which needs help. But at 18 with pro experience already in Australia, he’s got time to hone his craft and adjust to the league’s style.
13. Indiana Pacers
Corey Kispert • Gonzaga • Senior • Shooting Guard • 6-7 • 220
Kispert could develop into a Kyle Korver replica. His 44% three-point shooting for a nearly undefeated Gonzaga team was the highlight of his game, but he’s also got great instincts on defense and can do the little things to make just about any team in this draft better. His athleticism is underrated, too, as he’s far more than just a sharp-shooter.
14. Golden State Warriors
Alperen Sengun • Turkey • Center • 6-10 • 240
A standout in the Turkish pro league, the 18-year-old Sengun was the Basketball Super League’s MVP. While he’ll have a transition from the international game to NBA, particularly on defense, he’s got all the tools to excel. Golden State could use a boost in the frontcourt.
15. Washington Wizards
Kai Jones • Texas • Sophomore • Power Forward • 6-11 • 220
Jones’ stat line (8.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg) at Texas won’t raise eyebrows, but he’s a gamble-type pick based on huge upside. He’s got a high motor and can protect the rim right away, while the rest of his game develops.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder
Isaiah Jackson • Kentucky • Freshman • 6-10 • 205
Jackson’s best attribute is his motor in the open court. His athleticism skills around the rim will make him a contributor to any team that selects him. Kentucky coach John Calipari helped fine-tune his craft in one season in Lexington but there’s still a long way to go to reach his full potential.
17. Memphis Grizzlies
Ziaire Williams • Stanford • Freshman • 6-8 • 185
Williams was on the trajectory of a lottery pick but wasn’t very impressive in his lone NCAA season at Stanford. Teams like his ceiling once he gets some reps in the league.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder
Jaden Springer • Tennessee • Freshman • Point Guard • 6-4 • 204
Springer (12.5 ppg, 44% three-point shooting with the Volunteers) has the ability to progress into a starting point guard, illustrated by his strong outside shooting at the NCAA level.
19. New York Knicks
Jalen Johnson • Duke • Freshman • Forward • 6-9 • 220
Johnson didn’t overly impress at Duke but he still got a chance to develop under arguably the greatest coach of all-time and has the skillset to grow into an All-Star.
20. Atlanta Hawks
Cameron Thomas • LSU • Freshman • Guard • 6-4 • 210
An explosive scorer, Thomas averaged 23 points a game for the Tigers and erupted for a bundle of 30-plus scoring nights. He had the ball in his hands a lot at LSU but he’ll have to find a way to make an impact when he’s not scoring at will at the pro level.
21. New York Knicks
Tre Mann • Florida • Sophomore • Point Guard • 6-5 • 190
Mann is the type of point guard who can play on and off the ball, which could be a nice fit in New York. He shot 40% from beyond the arc at Florida and is used to a physical style.
22. Los Angeles Lakers
Chris Duarte • Oregon • Senior • Shooting Guard • 6-6 • 190
Duarte has shot up on draft boards, making his decision to skip the draft combine a smart one. He’s older than most players so he brings a maturity to his game. His size is solid and he shot 38% from three-point range for the Ducks.
23. Houston Rockets
Ayo Dosunmu • Illinois • Junior • 6-5 • 200
The USA TODAY Sports national college basketball player of the year in 2020-21, Dosunmu was a triple-double machine who helped the Fighting Illini land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He’s reminiscent of John Wall and Russell Westbrook with his do-everything ability.
24. Houston Rockets
Jared Butler • Baylor • Junior • Guard • 6-3 • 195
Butler, the leading scorer of a national champion Baylor squad, improved his assists and playmaking this past season as a first-team All-American. But he’s still not a natural point guard and as a combo guard he’s undersized.
25. Los Angeles Clippers
Trey Murphy III • Virginia • Junior • Small Forward • 6-9 • 205
Murphy, similar to Virginia players of the past like Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris, hardly got a chance to show his full stock in coach Tony Bennett’s strict system. He shot 43% from beyond the arc and averaged 11.3 points on just around seven shot attempts a game. His game will take off in the pros.
26. Denver Nuggets
Sharife Cooper • Auburn • Freshman • Point Guard • 6-1 • 180
Cooper’s numbers speak volumes, averaging 20.2 points and 8.1 assists per game with the Tigers. He’s a multi-dimensional passer and can create for himself, while making open shots. That’s a recipe to boost just about any playoff team. His size will get knocked, but so did Fred VanVleet’s stature.
27. Brooklyn Nets
Greg Brown • Texas • Freshman • Power Forward • 6-9 • 205
The big man showed flashes of brilliance in his lone season in Austin. He averaged 9.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. His athleticism and high stock could bolster just about any team.
28. Philadelphia 76ers
Miles McBride • West Virginia • Sophomore • Point Guard • 6-2 • 200
McBride averaged 15.8 points and 4.9 assists for the Mountaineers in 2020-21 and has a high basketball IQ that would make him a great asset off the bench for a contending team.
29. Phoenix Suns
Nah’shon Hyland • Virginia Commonwealth • Sophomore • Point guard • 6-3 • 175
Hyland could be the steal of this draft, as he possesses Steph Curry and Damian Lillard mid-major-to-NBA-star potential. He averaged 19.5 points for the Rams in a breakout season.
30. Utah Jazz
Josh Christopher • Arizona State • Freshman • Guard • 6-5 • 215
Christopher didn’t have a major national spotlight last season as the Sun Devils underachieved, but he made great strides as a freshman and is a natural scorer who can slash to the rim with ease.