NBA Draft 2021: Looking for a Cade Cunningham compatriot in a new-look Big Board

Detroit Bad Boys

Troy Weaver and our Detroit Pistons did it: they tanked hard, they tanked smart, and they won the lottery. As a result, the Pistons are in position to draft Cade Cunningham. Rejoice.

What now?

With three second-round picks this year, there has been a lot of discussion of consolidating into a potential additional first-round pick. Who are the targets?

I’m not going to write about the rest of the mostly-consensus top four Evan Mobley and Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs, as the trade-up cost would almost certainly be prohibitive. (I’ve even inquired with Rockets and Cavs fans at their respective SBN sites, and they ain’t having it.) Because it is basically a moot point if I like some of the players on the following list even more than Suggs, this can basically be considered a big board.

I have recently been thinking a lot about historical examples of how different types of players fit around superstars on successful teams. To that end, this is an attempt to map out some parameters for expectation. Also, my personal big board likely features some players who will generally be available from the 16th pick and lower, so there might be a few players on this list available for Troy to trade up for. Enjoy!

5. Jaden Springer, Tennessee, 6-4 (height) / 6-8 (#wingspan) / 202 (weight)

Fit: Jrue Holiday to Cade’s Khris Middleton

Congratulations to the newly-crowned world champion Milwaukee Bucks.

A prediction: when Jrue Holiday ages out, we are going to be making the “hell prison” jokes about Springer rather than Suggs.

A confounding thing that I have encountered on the internet: people citing this season’s Baylor-Oklahoma State games as evidence that Davion Mitchell should be a lottery pick on the strength of his on-ball defense, despite the fact that Cade averaged 25/8/5 in two games against the eventual national champions. To my eyeballs, Springer in high school (IMG played Montverde twice in 2019-20) gave Cade more trouble than the Baylor guards did.

Lost in all of this is his fairly staggering 47/44/81 slash line at age 18 in the SEC. He can shoot and dribble, and you need more than one of those guys. This would be a bet on secondary creation AND hell prison defense!

I’m sure it is obvious by now that I think he would be an absolute steal in the Weaver Zone. Youngest American player in the draft, like Patrick Williams last year. Watch him start rocketing up the board now that teams have turned their attention to the draft, and go like 4, like Patrick Williams last year. In the future, this will come to be known as the Scott Bump.

6. Moses Moody, Arkansas, 6-6 / 7-1 / 211

Fit: Klay Thompson to Cade’s Steph Curry, or JR Smith to Cade’s Early Chris Paul

These are not especially instructive comps for Cade, but if Cade becomes one of the best shooters in the world, you still want as much shooting around him as possible, right? Moody is one of several likely 2021 draftees who were Cade’s teammates on the famed 2019-20 Montverde Academy team that mauled everybody. Like Springer, he is another very young player who is already good at some of the basketball things. Outlier #wingspan. I think the shooting is VERY real. Two-way players who might be awesome shooters in the NBA is very much the theme here.

7. JT Thor, Auburn, 6-9 / 7-3 / 206

Fit: Pascal Siakam to Cade’s (Raps) Kawhi

Nobody is as strong as Kawhi, but, yea.

Is Thor a wing, or a wing 4, or a smallball 5, or….? Really athletic and really long arms. If this was 2002, he would probably get picked even higher than I am suggesting here, like if Stromile Swift or Tyrus Thomas projected as a shooter. The fact that some outlets still have him projected in the second round is mystifying.

8. Franz Wagner, Michigan, 6-9 / 7-0 (?) / 220

Fit: Tayshaun Prince to Cade’s Chauncey Billups

Giant ace role player and maybe more. I just love watching him play defense. It is true that he can’t dribble with his left hand yet (something, something Franz/Killian Voltron), and his jump shot has a pronounced dip that makes it take longer, and that he is sometimes a seemingly reluctant shooter. These seem like things that can be improved, and his perceived passivity on offense might have just been a function of being on a really awesome team last year. He also might be closer to 6-11, per reports, and he can pass, and I think he will shoot. I’m in.

(Franz did not measure at the combine, apparently, but his #wingspan has been listed as +3 in the past.)

9. Usman Garuba, Real Madrid, 6-8 / 7-2 / 229

Fit: PJ Tucker to Cade’s Khris Middleton, or Cade’s James Harden, or Cade’s Early Devin Booker, or Cade’s Kyle Lowry OR DeMar DeRozan (PJ Tucker has been on a lot of teams)

Currently the best defender in this draft class, hands down. Thick, strong, smart, #wingspan. Mobley fans (like me!) would expect him to eventually supplant Garuba on such a list, but Mobley is currently many cheeseburgers away from that potential outcome.

Garuba right now has a rudimentary offensive game where at this point you are hoping for standstill treys and then trying to build from there. The prospect of Garuba on the same team as Isaiah Stewart has friend of the program Chaz Malibu downright giddy over the sheer violence that would ensue. Speaking of being “giddy”….

10. Josh Giddey, Adelaide 36ers, 6-8 / 6-8 / 205

Fit: LaMelo Ball to Cade’s Gordon Hayward

This one is a conundrum for me, as there might be strength and agility thresholds that prevent him from leveraging his obvious playmaking acumen. That said, tall guys who can really pass is another theme. Contextualized bias, or at least an attempt at it.

It does seem like he has gotten better at shooting, so “taller slower worse Rubio,” while possible, doesn’t necessarily seem entirely preordained.

11. Jonathan Kuminga, G-League Ignite, 6-8 / 7-1 (?) / 210

Fit: Bruno Caboclo to Cade’s Lowry/DeRozan

Two years away from being two years away. The ceiling outcomes are fairly obvious given his physical tools, but this is a bet on a team’s player-development infrastructure itself. He also probably won’t fall this far.

12. Scottie Barnes, Florida State, 6-9 / 7-3 / 227

Fit: Draymond Green to Cade’s Steph Curry

Another of Cade’s teammates from high school, Cade and Scottie (and Moses, and Dariq, and Caleb) would blitz-trap at half court like the Heatles and it just wasn’t fair.

I have said in the past that Scottie has to be a center, because he can neither shoot nor jump. As such, this placement is a hedge against the possibility (likelihood?) that I am wrong about those things long-term, and also an acknowledgment that interesting role players are a more worthwhile draft investment when you have a star for them to supplement. Here’s to hoping that the Cade Pistons, and we as fans, are really and truly there.

13. Ziaire Williams, Stanford, 6-9 / 6-10 / 188

Fit: Josh Childress to Cade’s Joe Johnson

I know the college stats say he can’t shoot, but in a challenging pandemic year where his Stanford team was not allowed to use their own weight room(!), I’m betting on the historical reality that NBA teams know how to help skinny guys add strength and that the strength gains make good shooters better (see De’Aaron Fox).

In theory, he should be right next to BJ Boston on this sort of list; in practice, I like Ziaire better as a prospect because of what I’ve seen in terms of passing and defensive rotations, things that can be summed up as “feel.” As always, I might be completely wrong.

14. Trey Murphy III, Virginia, 6-9 / 7-0 / 206

Fit: James Jones to Cade’s LeBron

This is something of a placeholder for the multitude of wing-size shooters in this class. I would pick Murphy over Joe Wieskamp, Corey Kispert, and Quentin Grimes because of his superior #wingspan, and because as a player who arrived at college an emaciated point guard of normal human height (I have read something like 6-3 and 160) before growing half a foot, he seems to be better at dribbling than the others and might possess some latent self-creation uppppsidiness.

(I do think all of those other guys are pros too; can the evolving league absorb all these tall shooters? I look forward to finding out!)

15. Vrenz Bleighenbergh, Antwerp Giants, 6-10 / TBD / TBD

Fit: Toni Kukoc to Cade’s Michael Jordan

That’s right, MJ!


Vrenz is a self-described combo guard who has flashed some fun passing vision. And he’s 6-10. I’m a fan. Nobody seems to know how much he weighs, but I’m fairly certain he is not still 170, which is what has been listed in the past.

16. Keon Johnson, Tennessee, 6-5 / 6-7 / 185

Fit: Dwyane Wade to Cade’s LeBron

If I thought this was actually going to happen, I would obviously have him rated higher. I’m a bit worried about Zhaire Smith vibes, but if Weaver loves him enough to pick him, there will at the very least be lots of cool dunks.

17. Kai Jones, Texas, 6-11 / 7-2 / 221

Fit: Giannis to Cade’s Khris Middleton

Like with Keon, I regard this unreasonably optimistic high-end comp as exceedingly unlikely, but Kai is a WILD athlete for his size, and those are the outlier development bets.

18. Chris Duarte, Oregon, 6-6 / 6-7 / 190

Fit: Kevin Martin to Cade’s Peja Stojakovic

To reheat one of my own jokes, Duarte is so old that Wesley Johnson thinks it’s weird he was still in college this year. He was also one of the very best players in college basketball this past season (66% TS!), and I think he is a more versatile offensive player than the “other” shooters. (Solid AST and STL percentages too; but, seriously, 66% TS!) The thing that really grabbed me was the hard one-dribble stepback that he deploys regularly, and that looks like the one Grant Riller stole from Dame. If Riller was 6-6, that would be a really good player, regardless of age.

19. Davion Mitchell, Baylor, 6-1 / 6-4 / 202

Fit: Mario Chalmers to Cade’s LeBron

I don’t think that a team should spend a top-10 pick on a short and relatively old player with a suspect shooting profile (.657 FT% for his college career), but if he does shoot then he will certainly belong in the NBA, given his defense and secondary creation potential.

20. Nah’Shon Hyland, VCU, 6-3 / 6-9 / 165

Fit: Salim Stoudamire to Cade’s Joe Johnson

“Bones” might just be an outlier nuclear shooter. Chucks from DEEP. Impressed at the combine in 5-on-5 play. Gets steals and might not be a complete liability on defense, although that would require putting on some weight, the feasibility of which remains to be seen.

(If any of you kids don’t remember Salim, check out his college highlights. Really fun.)

* * *

And finally, I know I said I wasn’t writing about the other consensus top recruits because the trade-up cost would be prohibitive, but I have a final example that was the best that I could do in terms of downside risk for Cade:

2. Evan Mobley, USC, 7-0 / 7-5 / 215

Fit: Kevin Garnett to Cade’s Wally Szczerbiak

If Cade ends up not being the best player in this draft, I think it will be Mobley, because he’s amazing in his own right.

And if Cade ends up not being the best player in this draft, it will probably be because of what some observers perceive to be a pedestrian level of general athleticism. I don’t agree, but let’s think about it.

Wally did have a 19 PPG / 60% TS season, so this probably shouldn’t be perceived as “floor” because the floor for any prospect is absolutely lower than this, but I think it is an instructive example of a player of similar size who could score but not help much in other ways. If Cade is not a plus defender, and if he is not an especially helpful rebounder, and if he can’t get to his spots to leverage his (utterly delightful) passing vision, I think this is approximately what it would look like.

Again, I think this is crazy and wrong, and Cade is gonna be Awesome. We’ll see how it goes.

Thank you for reading. WE HERE!

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