There’s still plenty we don’t know about the 2021 draft, but with the NBA and international leagues well underway and college basketball essentially at its midway point, it’s time for our first real mock draft of the season. Keep in mind, of course, that we’re in midst of a particularly unpredictable stretch of time due to the impact of COVID-19 and an unusually paced schedule. It’s still too early to write prospects off in any conclusive way. NBA teams are afforded the maximum amount of time to do their homework and dig into players. This season in particular, staying patient with struggling college freshmen adjusting to a new level and new circumstances feels prudent.
With all that in mind, based on what’s happened so far, it’s hard to say with any certainty that the 2021 draft is as deep and talented as many hoped a few months ago. A number of quality prospects near the top of this draft stand out, headlined by Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. But a recurring theme in my recent conversations with NBA scouts has been the general lack of definition to this class once you get beyond the first five players. There is a ton of room for the landscape to shift, and it always does. Teams seem to mostly view this class as top-heavy right now and are hoping for a strong middle tier of players to emerge over the next couple months.
As always, this mock draft incorporates intel and information from around the NBA, in addition to my own player evaluations, to try and paint a picture of what the draft might look like if it took place today. This is not a definitive ranking of prospects, although it should give some sense of which players are most squarely on the first-round radar. It’s a useful thought exercise at this point in time, but not a conclusive one, nor does it attempt to be.
To determine the draft sequence, I used FiveThirtyEight’s win projections entering Tuesday, Jan. 19. Of course, the team order isn’t of much consequence this early in the season. But in the process of doing the mock, when splitting hairs between prospects, a degree of situational need factors in.
1. Pistons: Cade Cunningham, PG, Oklahoma State
Height: 6′ 8″ | Weight: 220 | Age: 19 | Freshman
There’s not much reason for anyone to be concerned about Cunningham, who entered the season as the favorite for No. 1 and is the clear-cut top prospect from my perspective. Nothing we’ve seen from him to this point has shifted that stance. His rare combination of size, versatility, skill level and basketball IQ adds up to impact winning in an unusual way for a player his age. Cunningham continues to expand his game as a shooter and has shown some improvement scoring in the paint, as well. He’s has never played to rack up numbers or hunt accolades, but his teams have always won. Oklahoma State is much more relevant than anyone expected, and Cunningham’s effect is palpable.
I do expect there to be some difference of opinion around the NBA surrounding Cunningham’s long-term ceiling, due in part to his lack of explosiveness in tight spaces. It can take multiple viewings to really see the scope of things he does well. But this ultimately shouldn’t be a situation that hinges on which team has the pick. Cunningham is big and intelligent enough to be deployed creatively in a range of playmaking situations defend different positions.
In this scenario, if the Pistons were to win the lottery, Cunningham’s quality means having Killian Hayes already in the fold shouldn’t be prohibitive. As things stand, he’s the best piece available in this draft.
2. Kings: Evan Mobley, F/C, USC
Height: 7′ 0″ | Weight: 215 | Age: 19 | Freshman
If there’s a prospect who might ultimately challenge Cunningham in the eyes of NBA executives, it’s Mobley, who’s been quite good on whole for USC and profiles as a potential defensive anchor and all-around contributor. Mobley changes games with his elite length (7’ 5” wingspan), defensive instincts and above-average mobility, capable of covering a surprising amount of ground and altering shots most players have no business contesting. For a young shot blocker, he’s done a remarkable job avoiding foul trouble. Mobley is the rare big you can legitimately build a defense around, and he combines that with tangible offensive skill and growth potential.
While Mobley has never been the most aggressive offensive player dating back to high school, he can consistently do damage in a few different ways: He’ll be a threat to catching lobs, he’s improved his ability to face up smaller bigs and his jumper is mechanically pretty sound, allowing him to help space the floor for drivers. He’s a very good passer for his size, and as he adds more strength, his native offensive impact should tick upward. While you can’t really bank on Mobley becoming a No. 1 option, his defensive impact and basic strengths will give his team a lot to work with. He’s an excellent prospect, and the type of modern big you can win with.
The Kings are starved for help defensively, and Mobley would be a strong long-term fit who complements their core nicely.
3. Cavaliers: Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite
Height: 6′ 8″ | Weight: 220 | Age: 18
As a multitalented, athletic forward who can slash to the rim and defend a range of positions, Kuminga continues to track as a top five pick, and has acquitted himself well within the Ignite program thus far. He’s ready for the NBA from a physical perspective, with an ideal frame that can continue to add meaningful muscle. He can be a legitimate mismatch for slower bigs and smaller wings, allowing him to play either forward spot situationally and take guys to the basket. His offensive tendencies and skills are works in progress, and he has to get more comfortable playing through contact, but his upside as a starting-caliber forward is obvious. Kuminga isn’t a very creative player, but he does tend to stop the ball a lot, which can be a negative combination at times. The good thing is that most of his scoring stems from rim attempts and threes, which bodes well long-term from a shot selection standpoint.
Kuminga is still a project in those respects, but his defensive switchability gives a big boost to his floor, and if he continues to put in work and effort on that end, it’ll go a long way. The upcoming G League bubble will be a huge stage and test for him, given how limited the opportunities have been for NBA teams to see him play in structured settings.
The Cavs seem to be making a bit of progress with their roster, and pairing Kuminga with Isaac Okoro (while perhaps a tad redundant) would give them an athletic, defensive-minded pair of forwards to complement Darius Garland and Collin Sexton.
4. Warriors (via Wolves): Jalen Suggs, PG, Gonzaga
Height: 6′ 4″ | Weight: 205 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Suggs has been stellar in leading Gonzaga to an undefeated start and has played his way into this range of the draft accordingly. He’s a plus run-jump athlete by NBA standards, and his toughness, energy, playmaking skills and ability to attack the rim have him on a solid trajectory moving forward. Suggs projects as a plus defender at both guard spots, with strong anticipation and quick-twitch burst that help compensate for his lack of plus length. I do think there was a bit of an overreaction to Suggs’ hot start—his three-point shooting has predictably regressed to the mid-30% range, and he’s significantly more impactful in transition than against a set defense.
With his current limitations in mind, Suggs might profile better as a starting-caliber combo guard who chips in everywhere—think Marcus Smart, but more physically gifted and efficient—than as a true full-time offensive engine. Still, that’s a highly valuable player. If Suggs can improve his jumper and expand his half-court game, there’s room for him to be more than that. I’m skeptical he’ll end up as a contender for the No. 1 pick, and Gonzaga’s team context has helped cover for some of his weaknesses. But he’s certainly left a great impression thus far.
Keep in mind that Minnesota’s pick conveys to Golden State if it lands outside the top three. The stakes are somewhat high for the Timberwolves, who have a substantial chance of being bad enough to keep this pick. It will convey unprotected in 2022 if the Warriors don’t get it this year.
5. Wizards: Jalen Green, SG, G League Ignite
Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 185 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Green rounds out the current soft consensus top five, with potential to be a dynamic scorer long-term if things break correctly. He’s an explosive athlete with a developing pull-up game and has the tools to be a positive contributor on both ends of the floor. When he’s on, he’s a difficult player to stop. Green is still very much learning how to be a pro, but some of his natural scoring ability translates already, and he’s clearly in the process of adjusting. He’s always been a shoot-first player but has shown some passing flashes and might gradually evolve into more of a playmaker, which will be important given how much time he tends to spend with the ball. Green also has some bad habits defensively, and still settles for too many jumpers, but his issues feel mostly correctable with experience and coaching over time.
The G League bubble will be a key benchmark for Green’s development, and it may be less about his stats than his ability to process the game, make smaller plays and stay composed. Given that he doesn’t always add value without the ball in his hands and isn’t particularly big for a wing, his stock may be on slightly lower footing relative to some of his peers for now. But Green is also making a big jump in level this year, and will deserve some benefit of the doubt, too. He’s drawn Zach LaVine comparisons with his overall scoring package, and that type of outcome wouldn’t be bad at all.
After picking forwards in consecutive drafts, it’s fair to expect Washington to go in a different direction with its pick this year, regardless of what happens with Bradley Beal and the rest of the roster.
6. Bulls: Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State
Height: 6′ 8″ | Weight: 225 | Age: 19 | Freshman
It bears some mention that this draft class is significantly harder to peg right now beyond the top five picks. Barnes figures to be among the better options in the next group, as a defensive-minded, tough forward with strong intangibles and passing skills. He’s been overtaxed playing as a lead ballhandler at times for Florida State this season, and he’s a poor jump shooter, which is going to make him more of an acquired taste. Barnes is extremely long and does enough things at a high level that you can see his game coalescing into a unique, starting-caliber player. His ability to playmaker at his size from different spots on the floor is the big calling card here, and he should be a strong addition to any defense.
There’s still quite a bit for teams to work with here, but players who do everything but score are always polarizing. But if he doesn’t start to shoot it better, Barnes’s success becomes much more fit-dependent—and it wouldn’t be shocking if he ended up falling toward the back of the lottery. Still, he profiles as the type of individual teams are going to want to invest in, which helps.
It’s unclear what Chicago’s roster will look like in six months, but the Bulls should be able to go a range of directions with this pick regardless.
7. Thunder: James Bouknight, SG, UConn
Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 190 | Age: 20 | Sophomore
Bouknight is currently sidelined after having surgery to deal with bone spurs in his left (non-shooting) elbow, and it’s unclear when he’ll return, which is an unfortunate break for all parties. His first six games this season, including a 40-point barrage against Creighton, drew considerable interest around the NBA. An athletic, slashing off-guard, Bouknight has shown appreciable polish and maturity over the course of the past year and taken a believable step forward as a scorer. He’ll have to expand his game as a playmaker and add strength to play on the ball this often as a pro, but his feel for making decisions is solid, and uncommonly good for a high-volume college scorer. Teams and fans alike will surely want to see Bouknight play in a tournament setting, and a strong return would help solidify his range in the lottery. His profile is a tad risky, given much of what he does well revolves around scoring, but dating back to his freshman season, it’s been hard not to watch him play and come away impressed.
Oklahoma City has been better than expected this season, and it’s worth noting a couple of things: The Thunder will receive the Warriors’ first-rounder if it falls outside the top 20, and they have the rights to the two best picks between their own first-rounder, Miami’s first-rounder, and Houston’s first-rounder (unless it falls in the top four). They’ll again be in position to add young talent as Sam Presti reshapes his roster.
8. Knicks: Jalen Johnson, F, Duke
Height: 6′ 9″ | Weight: 220 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Between several middling performances and a foot injury, Johnson’s Duke career has been underwhelming thus far. He’s set to return at full strength soon and has work to do to stabilize his draft stock. It’s hard to see a player with his size and skill level falling out of the lottery, but he hasn’t really done anything to help himself yet, and his inconsistent play falls in line with his high school reputation for floating in and out of games. Johnson is an exceptional passer in the open court and has a rare combination of size and ball skills, but he’s not a very consistent jump shooter and lacks burst beating defenders downhill. If things ever fully click for him, he could be a versatile playmaking forward. I wouldn’t write him off yet, but he has some convincing left to do.
Their modest success this season has been a pleasant surprise, but the Knicks remain in a talent accumulation phase. They could use another playmaker moving forward. They also have Dallas’s unprotected first-rounder.
9. Hornets: Ziaire Williams, SF, Stanford
Height: 6′ 8″ | Weight: 185 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Williams has underachieved relative to lofty expectations, but he’s started to play better in recent weeks and has begun to look a bit more comfortable with the college level. His positional size and budding pass-dribble-shoot skills have always been intriguing, but his lack of physical strength has greatly hampered his ability to score in the paint and limits his capacity to defend the ball. His positioning and awareness have to keep improving to compensate. Williams also settles for too many jumpers as a result of his body type but has gotten to the foul line more often of late, which is a positive sign. He’s shown nice playmaking flashes but has registered more turnovers than assists. There’s creative potential here, which will ultimately help his case.
Like many of the freshmen currently struggling, Williams deserves some patience in a strange year. But his high school injury history and functional strength do raise added questions from an NBA perspective. Williams has work to do, but if he continues showing signs of progress, the lottery is still feasible.
With LaMelo Ball in place as a long-term point guard, the Hornets will have to build out their roster creatively around him. Williams would be an interesting complementary piece, and a potential successor in Gordon Hayward’s role.
10. Warriors: Greg Brown, F, Texas
Height: 6′ 9″ | Weight: 205 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Brown’s strengths and weaknesses have been laid somewhat bare at Texas, where he’s struggled to transition into a perimeter-oriented role but has provided energy on both ends of the floor and showcased legitimately elite athletic ability as a leaper. His motor, rebounding and finishing skills are strong selling points. Legit concerns continue to swirl about his feel. Somewhat improbably, Brown has recorded just one assist in 12 games, and while some of that is situational, it’s an alarming stat. He blocks a lot of shots but also fouls too much. Still, it’s easy to envision him succeeding as a play finisher, defender and energy piece thanks to his athletic gifts. He’s not a great shooter, but he’s made real strides in that department since high school.
Ultimately, Brown’s feel is an issue that caps his upside, but the things he does and can conceivably do at a high level should translate into the type of role we’ve seen athletic forwards like Jerami Grant (pre-Detroit) and Derrick Jones thrive in. He’s the type of player who seems likely to win people over in workout settings. Finding more consistency to close the season will help a lot, and Texas, as a Final Four contender, offers a major platform.
If the Warriors miss the playoffs and also receive the Timberwolves’ pick, this draft will be a strong opportunity to add talent for the post-Curry era, whenever that happens.
11. Hawks: Corey Kispert, SF, Gonzaga
Height: 6′ 7″ | Weight: 220 | Age: 21 | Senior
There’s basically no way to frame Kispert’s monster season in a negative light: He’s shooting 70% on twos, 48% from three, and 88% from the foul line. He’s the best shooter in this draft and looks ready to walk into somebody’s rotation and help immediately. His deep range, great footwork and ability to stretch defenses with the threat of his shot give him an immediate path to minutes. The success of players like Joe Harris and Cameron Johnson points to Kispert’s likely role. His low block and steal rates are a concern to some extent, but he’s big enough to hold up defensively. He’s athletic and smart enough to attack closeouts in a pinch. It’s hard to see him getting picked too much higher than this, given his age (he’ll be 22 in March) and the fact that at some point, whatever slot value you’re paying him becomes an expectant price. But Kispert should be able to play in the NBA for as long as he wants to with the way he shoots it and looks like a pretty safe pick.
The Hawks, obviously, have a lot of shooting on the roster already. But you can never have too much of it, and at some point Atlanta will have to make a move to consolidate talent before its young players get expensive.
12. Thunder (via Rockets): Marcus Bagley, F, Arizona State
Height: 6′ 8″ | Weight: 215 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Bagley has quietly been a big early-season winner in NBA circles and is trending toward the lottery with his recent play. He entered college with much less hype than his older brother Marvin did, but Marcus is a quality player in his own right. Bagley boasts a strong, NBA-type frame, a repeatable jumper with range, and his consistent effort on defense has been a pleasant surprise for many scouts, creating a degree of floor as a forward who adds value on both ends. He’s an aggressive scorer and not a very creative player, but his low assist totals are more a byproduct of Arizona State’s team-wide affliction for sharing the ball than any inability to execute simple reads. Bagley also needs to improve as a finisher. But there’s been a lot to like so far, particularly on the defensive end, where his length allows him to defend bigger players, cover ground and contest shots. Versatile guys with the ability to play either forward spot are always in demand, and optimistic scouts see Bagley fitting that mold.
In this scenario, the Thunder receive the rights to Houston’s pick, and add another solid long-term piece.
13. Grizzlies: Franz Wagner, F, Michigan
Height: 6′ 9″ | Weight: 220 | Age: 19 | Sophomore
Pegged as a potential breakout coming into the season, Wagner has stepped his game up in a meaningful way on a very good Michigan team. What’s impressive is that he’s done it without hijacking the offense or dominating the ball. Of course, Wagner is the younger brother of Wizards center and former Michigan star Moritz Wagner, and after a somewhat slow adjustment as a freshman, he’s begun to deliver on the hype that followed him from Germany to the United States. Wagner has been quite good on both ends of the floor, with a well-rounded floor game and a surprisingly disruptive impact on defense, showing off great anticipation skills and quick hands to block shots and force turnovers. He looks like the type of big forward who can blend lineups with playmaking and feel. Though he’s only shooting 32% from three, given he’s always been a good free throw shooter, there’s not too much concern about the long-term health of his jumper. Wagner looks the part as a top 20 prospect and should continue playing his way into late lottery consideration if all goes well.
Memphis has drafted well over the past couple of years and would add another versatile piece in Wagner who fits their timeline and can accent Ja Morant.
14. Pelicans: Moses Moody, SG, Arkansas
Height: 6′ 6″ | Weight: 205 | Age: 18 | Freshman
While Arkansas has come back to earth significantly in conference play, Moody’s shot-making skills have remained constant. With the requisite size and frame to play the wing, he profiles as a reliable, if unflashy, 3-and-D prospect, and it helps that he doesn’t turn 19 until May, making him one of the younger draft-eligible college freshmen. While he’s not a great athlete or a creative playmaker, Moody has leaned into the type of role he’ll play in the NBA, working off-ball to find shots spotting up and off of cuts, while also pushing himself to expand his individual game working from a standstill. His lack of explosiveness limits his capacity to finish at the rim, and while he’s done a good job drawing fouls and getting to the line to compensate, he won’t get bailed out as much at a higher level. Moody needs to become a better positional defender, but his length allows him to play the passing lanes and impact the game away from the ball. He’s been a little bit of a late bloomer, but the raw production has been good, and it’s easy to see the type of role he can slide into long-term.
New Orleans has a bit of a roster logjam at guard spots right now, but adding more shooting seems prudent. Moody’s youth and skill set makes him an interesting fit.
15. Magic: Usman Garuba, F/C, Real Madrid (Spain)
Height: 6′ 8″ | Weight: 230 | Age: 18
Garuba has built a strong reputation in Europe as a teenager and has been an integral part of Real Madrid’s rotation dating back to last season, where he’s tasked primarily with providing defensive backbone. He has a chance to be a legitimately special piece on that end, with a 7’ 2” wingspan that covers for his height, a developed frame for his age, good balance and mobility and a level of physical toughness. He can slide in space effectively and stay with smaller players. Garuba has brought solid per-minute productivity on one of Europe’s best teams. He’s also an above-average passer. The catch here is that he’s not a consistent jump shooter, and he’s historically very poor from the foul line. His offensive contributions are sporadic and often limited to the paint, and it’s hard to expect he’ll keep defenses honest from range. His progression has been marginal in those areas, and international scouts have soured on him a touch as a result. Still, Garuba’s age and defensive acumen make him a really intriguing prospect, and he figures to hear his name called in the top 20, if not the lottery.
16. Rockets (from Heat): David Johnson, PG, Louisville
Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 210 | Age: 19 | Sophomore
Johnson made a good decision to stay at Louisville and has started to answer the lingering questions about his shooting. He’s upped his three-point percentage from 21% to 43% and his free throw clip from 60% to 76%. That progression was necessary for him to threaten defenses as a big, playmaking combo guard. He’s also a very good on-ball defender. In a relatively thin point guard class, Johnson figures to benefit. He stands to be more consistent and aggressive at times, but he’s a very advanced passer who can almost be too unselfish at times. If his shooting improvement proves to be sufficient, he looks like a versatile backcourt piece who can help a team in a range of areas. There’s a lot to like.
The Rockets could end up with multiple first-rounders in this draft, this one eventually being whichever one is worst between Miami’s pick, Oklahoma City’s pick and Houston’s own (protected 1–4). Houston stands to get younger and turn the roster over a bit, but the Rockets haven’t historically relied on the draft to get better. How that might change in the post-Harden, post-Morey era remains to be seen.
17. Spurs: Day’Ron Sharpe, C, North Carolina
Height: 6′ 11″ | Weight: 265 | Age: 19 | Freshman
There’s some degree of debate in every draft as to how traditional centers should be valued. But bigs who play extremely hard, have legitimate skill and are willing to do the dirty work tend to be rewarded on draft night, and Sharpe checks all of those boxes in a real way. His playing time at North Carolina has been sporadic, due in part to foul trouble but also because of Roy Williams’s insistence on playing Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks. Sharpe is the Tar Heels’ best player, and he might be the best rebounder in college basketball, with soft hands, plus length, and great instincts for hunting the ball. He’s also an exceptional passer for his position, a capable finisher, and he has a knack for making things happen on defense despite not really being an above the rim player. I’d expect his efficiency to tick upward when the paint isn’t always clogged. Sharpe hasn’t shown much as a jump shooter, and he’s certainly not a sexy pick—teams are concerned to varying degrees about his heavy feet and limited ability to run the floor, and he’s going to need to be hidden to avoid leaving him on an island defensively. But in the right scheme, Sharpe has a chance to be impactful for a long time, and his intangibles are really going to matter here.
18. Rockets (from Trail Blazers): Brandon Boston, SG, Kentucky
Height: 6′ 7” | Weight: 185 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Boston has been one of the more disappointing players in college basketball this season, and where exactly his stock falls right now is certainly up for debate, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t turn pro, and I still think there’s a fairly good chance he ends up in the first round. The hype surrounding him out of high school was perhaps a bit overwrought, focusing more on the cosmetic aspect of his scoring than his actual ability to impact winning. What he’s done at Kentucky has to be rock bottom, and it’s begun to feel like a lot of his struggles are confidence-based and not as much an indictment of his skill level.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Boston will actually turn his season around. Expectations need to be reset, but I don’t think he’ll be a 17% three-point shooter forever. NBA teams tend to like buying low on players with All-America pedigree—Cole Anthony just went 15th in the draft despite a bad year in college—and Boston could conceivably fall into that category, too. He’s a big wing with the ability to get separation off the dribble, and there’s a reason guys like him aren’t just lying around the G League. I’m personally not all the way there on Boston, but at some point in the draft, someone is going to take a chance. Obviously, will help if he can find any semblance of a rhythm over the next six weeks.
The mechanics surrounding the Rockets’ picks are a tad complex, and worth spelling out while we’re here. As stated earlier, Houston gets to keep the worst of its own first (protected 1–4) and OKC and Miami’s firsts. Houston also has conditional rights to Portland’s first-round pick (which is protected 1–14) and technically, Detroit’s (which is protected 1–16 and unlikely to convey). The Rockets then hold the option to swap any of their picks with the Nets (which may not matter, given the optimism surrounding Brooklyn the rest of the season). So in this scenario, Houston ends up with No. 16 and No. 18.
19. Pacers: Keon Johnson, SG, Tennessee
Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 185 | Age: 18 | Freshman
The sense I’ve gotten from people around the NBA is that Johnson’s early lottery hype (he was No. 11 on our initial Big Board) was premature. The Tennessee guard does have plenty of fans around the league—he plays extremely hard, he’s wildly athletic, and an impressive defender. But he’s a bit smaller than his listed height of 6′ 5”, doesn’t shoot the ball well, and also doesn’t offer much in the way of ball-handling or creative play. Johnson has a number of promising traits, particularly his tenacious on-ball defense and instincts, and his decision-making is sound. But teams don’t seem convinced he’s going to score the ball consistently yet—he’s just 4-of-17 from three, and pretty raw as a shot creator—and the size concerns don’t help. Johnson is clearly a good player, and right now, a more intriguing prospect than teammate Jaden Springer. But barring some offensive improvement or a late-season breakout (Tennessee’s team success will help), he profiles better in this part of the draft.
20. Raptors: Daishen Nix, PG, G League Ignite
Height: 6’ 5” | Weight: 225 | Age: 18
The jury is still out on Nix, who probably has more to gain or lose than his Ignite teammates during the upcoming G League bubble. In footage from Ignite’s recent scrimmages, Nix’s NBA-caliber passing chops were on display, but he struggled to make shots and, perhaps more concerningly, he looked out of shape. He’s never been particularly svelte and has a wide body type, but Nix is a better athlete than he’s shown, and he’ll need to prove he can handle himself on the defensive end. He’s better shooting set than off the dribble, and that projection will be something to monitor closely as well. As a big, pass-first guard with exceptional vision, toughness and strong intangibles, there’s a lot to like about Nix. But teams have had limited exposure to him thus far and will need to make sense of the situation for themselves. There’s reason to be optimistic he’ll turn it around, but his draft range is pretty wide at this early stage.
21. Suns: Tre Mann, PG, Florida
Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 190 | Age: 19 | Sophomore
Mann’s recent growth spurt helped breathe new life into his draft stock—he may stand closer to 6′ 6″ now, and he’s a shifty, creative ballhandler who can playmake and shoot. He’s still been a tad inconsistent for Florida, but Mann certainly warrants first-round intrigue and can play his way higher than this if his play improves. His shot selection and decision making are still works in progress, but his size makes a significant difference when it comes to his skills translating. If he can be a bit more efficient, it’ll help a lot. Mann is more comfortable handling but can play both guard spots, and he’s naturally more unselfish than many of the backcourt players in this range of the draft. The upside here is pretty intriguing.
22. Nuggets: Kai Jones, PF, Texas
Height: 6′ 11″ | Weight: 220 | Age: 19 | Sophomore
While his offensive impact has been sporadic, Jones is a fascinating athlete and late-blooming prospect who’s starting to piece some things together this season. As a long, mobile big who’s flashed the ability to shoot threes and put the ball on the floor—and someone who picked up the game late—Jones is an undeniably fascinating project. He moves incredibly well for his size, but his talent manifests much more in splash plays than on a consistent basis. Scouts I’ve spoken with aren’t all the way there yet—Jones’s lack of physicality and limited basketball IQ are still holdups. But he’s been productive on a per-minute basis, and on a team with a less-crowded frontcourt, you wonder what he’d be capable off. He’s a ways off from helping an NBA team win games, but the fact Jones is making strides for a good college team is significant, and he’ll have a lot of opportunity to prove himself over the next couple months. He’s almost certain to look good in workouts, and if he keeps shooting this well, teams will notice.
23. Knicks (from Mavericks): Cameron Thomas, SG, LSU
Height: 6′ 4″ | Weight: 210 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Thomas arrived in college with a bright green light and has put up big scoring totals through his first 12 games, playing himself into the one-and-done picture. He’s a dangerous shooter with range all over the floor, though it’s worth noting that his three-point clip has sharply dovetailed to start conference play. There’s a decent amount of skepticism surrounding Thomas, who often played a selfish style in high school and has done little to shed the perception that he’s not much for sharing the ball. He won’t be a fit for every team—he’s not very big or explosive for a two-guard, and the fear is that he’ll be too jumper-reliant and not efficient enough—but at some point, it’s hard to argue with the results. Thomas has done an exceptional job of getting to the foul line and has some craftiness in the paint, as well. But you have to really need scoring to look his way, as he won’t supply much else of value. Still, he’s helped himself to an extent, and if he continues putting up numbers, that will continue.
The Knicks will receive this pick unprotected from the Mavericks, as part of the Kristaps Porzingis deal.
24. Celtics: Ariel Hukporti, C, Nevezis (Germany)
Height: 7′ 0” | Weight: 250 | Age: 18
Far and away the most impressive player at last year’s Basketball Without Borders Global Camp, Hukporti recently returned from injury to start his first season in Lithuania and has some work to do to ensure a first-round selection. But his unusual mix of size, mobility and technique is advanced for his age, and he has serious potential as a defender. Few 7-footers have his type of lateral mobility, and Hukporti is already a solid screener and finisher. He’s a good athlete but not freakishly explosive off the floor. There will be a lot for a team to work with here physically. This will be his first season playing full time at a senior level (he was the MVP of Germany’s U-19 league last year), so his progress will be worth monitoring closely.
25. 76ers: Isaiah Jackson, C, Kentucky
Height: 6’ 10” | Weight: 205 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Jackson has put himself in the one-and-done conversation despite not actually playing all that well for Kentucky. His insane 15.9% block rate is notable, as are his athletic tools, but he’s scored in double figures just once and has predictably been foul-prone and undisciplined on defense. Clearly, Jackson is a long-term project, and his scoring derives entirely from being fed easy baskets by teammates. He’s not quite a Mitchell Robinson–level shot-blocking prospect, but the overall package here is going to be worth a shot for somebody. Jackson needs to play better down the stretch to firm up his range, which as of now is unsurprisingly pretty wide.
26. Jazz: Joel Ayayi, SG, Gonzaga
Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 180 | Age: 20 | Junior
Still two months away from turning 21 years old, Ayayi has been one of the best supporting players in college basketball, showcasing his breadth of skills as a rebounder, defender and secondary playmaker and playing a big part in Gonzaga’s overwhelming success. He’s the type of versatile off-guard pretty much any team can plug and play and has been a smart, efficient offensive player all season. There’s still some debate over what caliber shooter he is and how much offense he’ll be able to create for himself. But Ayayi has a pretty clear pathway to being a rotation player and has the range of strengths to help accent talented teammates—something he’s already doing at a high level in college. He’s a viable first-rounder, and no longer flying under the radar.
27. Bucks: Terrence Shannon Jr., SF, Texas Tech
Height: 6′ 6″ | Weight: 210 | Age: 20 | Sophomore
It’s hard not to appreciate Shannon’s unrelenting toughness, and he’s one of the more intriguing wings expected to be available in this middle part of the draft. He’s a solid defender with an underrated feel, does a good job making opponents uncomfortable and always plays hard. His athletic ability points to some untapped upside as his ball skills improve. Shannon’s major area for improvement is jump shooting—he’s a pretty good free throw shooter, his three-point clip has improved a bit, and his footwork in catch-and-shoot situations looks better. He’ll have to convince teams of his potential in that area, but at least he’s not a non-shooter. Shannon’s willingness to defend and do the small stuff will have to be his calling card, regardless.
28. Nets: Josh Christopher, SG, Arizona State
Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 215 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Christopher has been a polarizing prospect for some time, and his play in the first half of the season hasn’t changed that. He’s a gifted ballhandler, above-average athlete and naturally talented scorer. But he also struggles to impact winning, and his feel for decision making has always left something to be desired. Christopher doesn’t play a ton of defense, he’s shot the ball poorly from three (9-for-37 through 10 games), and he’s still not as willing a passer as you’d like. His level of focus seems to come and go, and scouts have always been skeptical about his makeup—he comes off as more of a showman than an intense competitor at times. All that said, Christopher is a talented player, and certainly worthy of first round consideration. He just hasn’t been wholly convincing.
29. Clippers: Keyontae Johnson, F, Florida
Height: 6’5″ | Weight: 230 | Age: 21 | Junior
A lot of unknowns surround Johnson’s health, and it seems unlikely he returns to this season as he deals with heart inflammation that may be related to a previous case of COVID-19. That alone is frightening, and the NBA is strict about health screening, particularly with heart issues, so his professional future is somewhat up in the air. What we do know is that Johnson is a first-round talent when healthy, capable of impacting the game in a range of ways and supplying invaluable toughness to Florida’s front line. He’s long, athletic, plays both ends well and has a chance to be an excellent glue guy in the NBA if he’s cleared. But it’s impossible to properly assess his stock given all that we don’t know.
30. Lakers: Jared Butler, PG, Baylor
Height: 6′ 3″ | Weight: 190 | Age: 20 | Junior
Butler has been the driving force behind a very good Baylor team for the last two seasons and has been even better this season, shooting 52% on twos and 45% on threes through 13 games. He’s young for a junior and doesn’t turn 21 until August, which makes his trajectory that much more impressive. Butler is a shifty ballhandler and all-around intelligent guard, and projects skill-wise as a long-term winning role player. He should be a strong option for teams looking for immediate rotation help.