The 2021 NBA Draft is finally here.
Ahead of a highly anticipated night, NBA.com Global draft experts Kyle Irving (Canada) and Juan Estévez (Argentina) each proposed three pressing questions and gave their analysis for the six combined.
With an in-depth perspective on each topic, below are anchors to jump around to the questions you're looking for answers to.
- Is Cade Cunningham the undisputed No. 1 pick?
- Who is the second-best prospect in this class: Evan Mobley or Jalen Green?
- What general notion about this draft class do you disagree with?
- Who will be the "how did he fall in the lottery" prospect of this draft?
- Which prospect will be the steal of the draft?
- Who is the prospect you blindly support through their flaws?
So without further ado...
Is Cade Cunningham the undisputed No. 1 pick?
Juan Estévez (@JuanEstevez90): There is no debate about the strength of the 2021 NBA Draft class, especially in terms of star power potential. I see at least six or seven prospects who have a reasonable path to becoming All-Stars. But with that being said, I really think Cunningham is a notch above the rest.
That's not a knock on players like Evan Mobley, Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs, but rather an example of how good Cunningham is.
The Oklahoma State prospect has everything you want from a modern superstar set to become the face of a franchise. He perfectly fits the role of a big playmaker who can create for both himself and his teammates. He can drive the ball, score from the perimeter and be a primary ball-handler, but can also be a threat off-ball. He makes his free throws at a great rate, he's a good passer and rebounder and a versatile, focused defender. And if that's not enough, he seems extremely mature and intelligent with very good intangibles.
When you search for Cunningham's weaknesses, there's simply not much to find.
You may not think he's an explosive athlete compared to some of his peers, but similar players like James Harden and Luka Doncic have proved you don't need superhuman athleticisim to dominate the league offensively. And even if he's not on the same level of Green or Keon Johnson athletically, he's far from being a minus in that sense.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Cunningham should be the undisputed No. 1 pick, in my opinion.
To build on all of the attributes that Juan just described, his ability to command and control the pace of a game is uncanny for a 19-year-old. You can't speed him up and with his NBA-ready body and skill set, I don't believe that will change when he gets to the next level.
The other thing that separates Cunningham from the field is his versatility on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he can make an impact as a primary scorer or facilitator. He's at his best when the ball is in his hands and the offence is running through him, but he can also play off-ball as a confident shooter and instinctive cutter. Defensively, he can definitively guard positions 1-through-3, but his size also makes him capable of handling his own against bigger forwards on switches.
Cunningham being the top prospect in this class is more than just his tools - it's his adaptability to fit in seamlessly with pieces already in place while also being a flexible cornerstone to build around for the future.
Who is the second-best prospect in this class: Evan Mobley or Jalen Green?
Estévez: I'll go with Green because of his position and role.
I think both players have a similar upside as possible superstars, but I would always take the wing superstar over the big man. Even in this case, where it is an extremely versatile big man like Mobley.
It's just easier to build around wings. You can pair Green with basically anyone, but it would be harder to play Mobley next to another dominant big unless the chemsitry is perfect. You simply have fewer options building around a big than doing it around a wing.
But with that being said, I really like both players and would consider either of them as a No. 1 pick in a draft class that didn't have Cunningham. Green has all the tools to average 20 points per game from Day 1, similar to what Anthony Edwards did during his rookie season in Minnesota. Mobley projects as one of those bigs capable of impacting the game on both ends of the court with the rare ability to play in the paint and on the perimeter.
I'll give Mobley this: he has a higher ceiling, especially with Jalen's lack of elite playmaking and passing. But I still think Green is the safer pick and would give his new franchise more options to work with in their future roster building.
Call it a philosophical preference, if you will.
Irving: I'm going to dance around this answer a bit.
If both players reach their ceiling, I believe Green will be the better prospect than Mobley. But I also have more uncertainty about Green's floor than I do Mobley's.
If he reaches his highest potential, Green will win at least one scoring title in his career and could be the type of player that averages over 30 points per game in a season. He's that bonafide when it comes to scoring the ball because of his electrifying burst, elite athleticism and his knack for shot creation. However, there are questions about his streaky shooting, lack of playmaking and limitations as a defender. That's where his uncertain floor comes in to play.
Whereas, with Mobley, his lateral quickness as a big man to switch pick-and-rolls on the perimeter without getting burnt, his IQ as a help defender and rim protector and his leaping ability and coordination as a lob threat are all things I'm confident about at the next level. His offensive arsenal may need work in terms of consistent shooting and go-to post moves, but even if those skills never develop (which, to be clear, I think they will) his floor is still higher than Green's.
All of that to say: If I'm the front office selecting with the No. 2 pick, I'd roll the dice and go with Green because, kind of like Juan said, the perimeter player is better suited for today's game.
What general notion about this draft class do you disagree with?
Estévez: The idea that the top-five players are a lock. I don't see Cunningham, Mobley, Green or Suggs falling, but it wouldn't shock me to see that the fifth name called is not Jonathan Kuminga.
I think there's a debate there with players like Scottie Barnes or Keon Johnson, even with the Orlando Magic's track record of drafting players with similar strengths and weaknesses as Kuminga.
The G League Ignite prospect has huge upside as a forward with great size, athleticism and flashes of being able to create with the ball in his hands. But I also see a couple of things that could make a franchise take a different route: not just the doubts surrounding his shooting touch, but also his focus and effort on the defensive end.
Kuminga could end up being a superstar, but as a prospect, I would put him a level below the top-four of this class, not among them.
Irving: This is fun, I'm going to play devil's advocate again here. I'm starting to feel like Kuminga being outside of that top-tier group is a notion in its own, and I disagree with that.
If you were to create the ideal prospect in today's NBA, what would that player's measurables look like? 6-foot-6, 210 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan that can defend practically any position on the floor is probably a good starting point, and that's exactly what Kuminga is working with for an NBA-ready body.
I know there were times he wasn't locked in defensively in his one G League season, but I partially feel like he was pressing so much to prove what he can do on the offensive end that it made defence an afterthought. Once he gets to the NBA and realizes his defence will be what keeps him on the floor, I think you'll really start to see him maximize his potential there.
I also realize he shot 38 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3. But it's also worth noting that the 18-year-old led the Ignite in field goal attempts per game (yes, more shot attempts than Jalen Green) and that won't be his role in the NBA.
The concerns about the mechanics of his jumper and his shot selection are warranted, but I would attribute the latter to trying to make a certain impression as a prospect.
I feel like I'm still higher on Kuminga than most, for all of those reasons.
Who will be the "how did he fall in the lottery" prospect of this draft?
Estévez: I think that one of the Johnson's - Keon or Jalen - will take that distinction this year. I really like Keon, but I can see a scenario where teams are a little too worried about his shooting percentages and scoring potential. To me, that would be a mistake, but then again, something similar happened with Tyrese Haliburton last year.
I don't think of Jalen as highly as Keon a prospect because I have doubts about his defensive focus and shooting ability. But he was a top-10 recruit for a reason and as frustrating as his season was at Duke, he has the tools to be one of those players that in three years makes us wonder, "How did he fall outside of the top-10? Was it because he left his college team after just 13 games?"
Irving: I'm not sure if this qualifies for a case of "how did he fall in the lottery" because we already know the answers of why he would, but I'm going with Corey Kispert.
The hesitations are his age as a 22-year-old senior and his lack of versatility, speed and athleticism. But in an age of the NBA where 3-point shooting is prominent, how is the far-and-away best shooter in this draft class going to slide when it's an asset that every team could use?
I know he doesn't bring the excitement of a high-risk, high-reward pick, but selecting Kispert would give you an immediate contributor that can knock down shots in a variety of ways and space the floor. I also don't think he gets enough credit for his ability to run the lanes and get to his spots in transition, read the defence and cut to open spaces on offence and he's also a heady and hard-working defender.
When Kispert is shooting 40 percent from 3 at the All-Star break, we'll wonder why he dropped outside the top-10 in this draft.
Which prospect could be the steal of the draft?
Estévez: I like Auburn's JT Thor a lot.
He's somewhat of a risky pick as a first-rounder because he's far from a finished product and there's tons of things he needs to develop, but he has all the tools to become a very good NBA player.
First of all, he's one of the youngest prospects in the draft (he will turn 19 at the end of August). His physical and athletic profile is great - he has good height for a power forward or small-ball centre and measured with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, the second-longest at the combine. Then add his speed and agility, where he ranked among the top bigs in the 3/4-court-sprint and shuttle run.
But it's not just that. During his freshman year, Thor showed the ability to knock down open 3s (22 makes in 27 games), he shot the ball well on long 2s (44%) and made his free throws (nearly 75%), flashing an ability to create his own shot on the perimeter. And that's just on offence.
Keep in mind that his defensive ceiling is even more enticing as a versatile big man capable of protecting the rim (2.4 blocks per 40 minutes) and switching outside of the paint.
Irving: He's not as overlooked as Thor, but it surprises me that Ziaire Williams isn't getting more consideration as a lottery pick.
His freshman season at Stanford wasn't what was expected out of the five-star, No. 7 overall prospect in the high school class of 2020 - there's no denying that. He only averaged 10.7 points per game and his lack of efficiency, shooting 37.4 percent from the field and 29.1 percent from 3-point range, was a concerning product of both inconsistency and poor shot selection.
But the shot creation skills are there and at nearly 6-foot-10 (he measured at 6-foot-9.75 with shoes on at the combine) with a wingspan to match his height, I would have thought NBA front offices would be salivating over the untapped potential of the 19-year-old.
In my Mock Draft, I used Michael Porter Jr. as a player comparison for Williams and I feel strongly about that, as Porter Jr. himself (although his back injury, of course, played a major role) nearly fell out of lottery on draft night in 2018. I believe Williams has a similar raw skill set as MPJ and if he lands in the right situation where he can be patient with his development to maximize that potential, he'll end up being the steal of the draft.
Who is a prospect in this class you blindly support?
Estévez: I'll go outside the lottery here to make it more interesting. Maybe even outside the first round. But I have full confidence in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to become a solid NBA player.
He's everything you would expect from a prospect coming out of Villanova: great feel for the game, versatile on both ends, intelligent, good skill level, good passer, reliable with the ball, plays hard. He needs to become a better 3-point shooter, but even if he doesn't figure that out, he can find ways to help his team.
To me, Robinson-Earl would be the perfect pick in the 20-to-30 range for a team that already has a good starting lineup but needs a contributor off the bench. Something similar to what the Memphis Grizzlies did with Brandon Clarke a few years back.
The former Wildcat doesn't project to be a star. And perhaps, not even a starter. But we know roster construction goes beyond that, needing nice complementary pieces that bring order and harmony to your rotation, and I think Robinson-Earl will be exactly that for the team that drafts him.
Irving: For the record, if Juan didn't go with Robinson-Earl, that just may have been my pick for this question. But I'm going with Ayo Dosunmu.
There are questions about his jumpshot's consistency and his ability to keep NBA defenders honest from both midrange and the perimeter. He isn't as bursty or shifty as some of the other guards in this class. He's not freakishly athletic either.
But there is something about Dosunmu's intangibles - his feel for the game, the way he commands an offence in the halfcourt, his intensity as a perimeter defender - that makes me feel like he will succeed in his role in the NBA.
The way he operates a pick-and-roll, knowing when to attack, look for the roll man or find an open teammate on the perimeter, will go a long way in the league's most popular style of offence. Once he picks up speed and gets downhill in transition, he's tough to stop when putting pressure on the rim. He doesn't shy away from contact on either side of the ball and his 6-foot-10 wingspan can suffocate smaller guards on the perimeter.
Dosunmu is just a flat out winner who is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team, so how does a player like that fail? Congratulations in advance to the team that decides to use their first-round pick on him.
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