The top three picks of the 2021 NBA draft came as anticipated: Cade Cunningham for the Detroit Pistons, Jalen Green for the Houston Rockets and Evan Mobley for the Cleveland Cavaliers. But then, starting with the fourth pick, chaos ensued, with intriguing picks and draft night changes taking center stage.
The Toronto Raptors surprised many by selecting Florida State’s Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 pick, and the Oklahoma City Thunder used their high lottery pick, No. 6, to make the first international pick in the draft, selecting Australian Josh. Giddey.
Then the big change: The Los Angeles Lakers added former MVP Russell Westbrook to their team in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, along with future draft picks.
Which teams get an A rating? Who impressed the most with their deals? Which teams disappointed with their selections? Our NBA experts answer all the biggest questions – and make bold predictions – in the wake of the 2021 NBA draft.
MORE: Rubio to Cavaliers | Westbrook to Lakers
Which lottery pick do you like right away?
Kevin Pelton: Jalen Suggs in Orlando. More than anything, the Magic are hungry for a perimeter star they haven’t had since Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson. Orlando has some interesting young guards in former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and 2020 first-round picks Cole Anthony and RJ Hampton, but neither has as much of a ceiling as Suggs to become the kind of dominant playmaker as the contending teams. they usually have.
Ohm Youngmisuk: Cade Cunningham. It’s been a very, very long wait for Detroit to have an exciting and elite playmaker like Cunningham. It’s been 27 years since the Pistons had a franchise star as a mainstay to build on like they did the last time they took Grant Hill third overall in 1994. Like Hill, Cunningham comes into the league as a 6-player. 8-foot-tall with base skills who can defend multiple positions and take over games. He may not be as explosive as Hill, but he should bring excitement to Detroit, which is developing a core of young prospects.
Jonathan Givony: I love that Orlando took advantage of Jalen Suggs’ surprising slip, but by landing Franz Wagner, they have two of the best defenders in this draft. Wagner can help improve the performance of his teammates without needing the ball or requiring plays for him. He’s a high-level off-the-ball defender blessed with elite instincts to protect the rim, close distance to shooters, or dig into the post and mess up opposing offenses. There is a simplicity to his game at both ends of the court, as he keeps the offense flowing with smart touch passes, rebound passes to the post, or pushing forward in the transition from the defensive glass. With Wagner and Jonathan Isaac at forwards along with Suggs and Markelle Fultz on the backcourt, the Magic could have one of the best defensive units in the NBA.
Which team gets an “A” grade in this draft?
Bobby Marks: It would have been easy for the Golden State Warriors to trade any of their lottery picks for much-needed bench help. Instead, they chose a player in Jonathan Kuminga who could turn out to be the best player in a loaded draft. Moses Moody has a potential top-10, and Golden State picked him 14th. Because Kuminga is more of a development project, expect Moody to see more playing time in 2021-22. One thing to remember is that the Warriors have limited financial flexibility due to the contracts of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Kuminga and Moody have four-year contracts totaling $ 42 million in combined salary.
Myron Medcalf: The Detroit Pistons. This was a draft full of high-ceiling players, but few guarantees. You could even put most of the players in the top five in that category. But not Cade Cunningham. He’s a 6-foot-8 savvy playmaker who’s ready to compete and excel in the NBA right now. He made 40 percent of his 3s last season as a do-it-all player for Oklahoma State. Cunningham has the ingredients to be a young star who will have a long and fruitful career in the NBA. And second-round draft pick Isaiah Livers is an intriguing prospect.
Andrew Lopez: The Houston Rockets finished with the worst record in the league last season and needed an influx of talent right away. Mission accomplished. The Rockets landed Jalen Green with the No. 2 pick, and he may be the star the team needs to get back in the fight sooner rather than later. They also chose a pair of prominent big men from abroad at No. 16 and No. 23 with Alperen Sengun of Turkey and Usman Garuba of Spain. And with their latest first-round pick, they picked Josh Christopher from Arizona State. On a team that needed talent, the Rockets found a few on every pick.
Which team disappointed with their draft pick (s)?
Bobby Marks: The New York Knicks. I mentioned during the draft that New York was going to get two players aged 19 and 21 who would have been selected in the lottery (possibly Jalen Johnson and Cam Thomas) last year. Unfortunately, the Knicks would trade the No. 19 pick to Charlotte for a future protected first-round pick and drop four spots from 21 to 25 (select guard Quentin Grimes) in a trade with the Clippers. The Knicks should get high marks for picking Rokas Jokubaitis, Jericho Sims and Miles McBride in the second round. The real New York work now begins in the offseason. The Knicks are sitting in pole position with a projected salary space of $ 50 million.
Tim Bontemps: The San Antonio Spurs took a chance to win Josh Primo with the 12th overall pick. Now this could certainly work well in the long run; Remember, it was only a few years ago that the Phoenix Suns were ridiculed for taking Cam Johnson in 11th overall, and he just was a key player for the Suns in the NBA Finals. Primo is an interesting prospect and the youngest player in the draft. But he was ranked 26th by ESPN heading into the draft, which means the onus is on the Spurs to show that this pick will work for them going into the future.
Royce Young: The 76ers. There were a lot of rumors that the Sixers could make a standout move, but it all turned out to be pretty typical. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that they are patient and haven’t accepted what were surely a lot of offers for Ben Simmons, but they stuck with their only first-round player at No. 28, Jaden Springer, and made some light purchases in the second round.
Which exchange from draft night impressed you the most?
Youngmisuk: The agreement between Lakers and Wizards. Rob Pelinka added a third star to create plays and help LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook brings much-needed intensity and relentless momentum that the Lakers lacked last season. Frank Vogel will have to figure out how to make the trio work, as Los Angeles still needs to add shooters and perimeter defenders. For the Wizards, the Westbrook era only lasted a year. They were able to add defense and future cap space around Bradley Beal with Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. In addition, they traded the Lakers’ 22nd pick for Indiana point guard Aaron Holiday.
Marks: I like what the Charlotte Hornets did before and during the draft. They addressed an obvious need at center when they acquired veteran Mason Plumlee from the Pistons. The Hornets were projected to have $ 22 million in cap space and used $ 8.8 million of that on Plumlee, leaving them with $ 14 million in free agency to improve their bench. The trade with New York for the 19th pick, an unusual move for their generally conservative front office, gave them a player in Kai Jones who had lottery potential and fulfills a need. And selecting James Bouknight wasn’t a trade, but the point guard is an insurance policy for the likely departure of free agent Malik Monk.
Bontemps: The Washington Wizards not only moved Russell Westbrook without having to give up a first-round pick, or take bad money, but they also got a first-round pick on the deal. It was excellent work from general manager Tommy Sheppard, who turned arguably the worst contract in the league at the moment, John Wall, into long-term flexibility, and he did it without running a draft pick deficit. On the other hand, for the Lakers, let’s just say I don’t think this is going to work, as Westbrook is heading to his fourth team in the same number of seasons.
What surprised you the most about this draft?
Pelton: Josh Primo as the first SEC base / guard selected. It was behind three others, Keon Johnson of Tennessee, Moses Moody of Arkansas and Sharife Cooper of Auburn, in ESPN’s Top 100 and just one place ahead of a quarter in LSU’s Cameron Thomas. I thought I liked Primo, who finished 14th in my consensus projections. However, the San Antonio Spurs evidently thought more of him, taking him at No. 12.
Lopez: I didn’t think the NCAA tournament’s top player would slide that far in the second round, but that’s what happened when Jared Butler dropped to No. 40 overall, where he was picked by Utah through Memphis and New Orleans. . Butler had a reported medical problem in the NBA Combine, but it was ultimately cleared by a medical panel. Still, his college resume speaks for itself: a third All-American team in 2020 and an All-American first team in 2021, leading the Bears to a national championship.
Bontemps: Jalen Suggs missing out of the top four picks. I know going from fourth to fifth doesn’t seem like a big drop, but heading into the NBA Draft Lottery a month ago I felt like there was a clear consensus at the top of this draft: Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Suggs. Seeing Suggs sitting there for the Toronto Raptors and then being overlooked in favor of Florida State forward Scottie Barnes was definitely a surprise. That being said, Suggs finds himself in a situation with the Orlando Magic where he will be given the keys to the Magic Kingdom from day one and will be the immediate face of the franchise, as he showed that he is capable of handling in his spectacular silver suit on Thursday. the night.
Who will finish as the 2022 NBA Rookie of the Year?
Pelton: Both Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green should be well positioned to compete for Rookie of the Year, but it would give Cunningham a slight edge. He’s in a position to succeed with the ball in his hands on a team that should be more competitive than Green’s Rockets.
Youngmisuk: Jalen Green. Green has already tried playing against men in the G-League and that should help him more in his transition to the pros than some of his collegiate counterparts. You should also have plenty of opportunities to score. Even with John Wall and Kevin Porter Jr. on the backcourt, Green’s explosiveness and scoring ability should shine.
Young: Jalen Suggs. With the Magic in a complete rebuild, Suggs will get the keys to the car almost immediately and have a chance to settle in early in the season. Suggs is an intense competitor and is able to create a special culture in Orlando. He will enter the Magic franchise with the intention of changing the script. The same is true, of course, for Cade Cunningham in Detroit, but with a knack for big plays, Suggs could produce the kind of noise-making moments when it comes to awards.