What Each NBA Team Should Do With Its 2021 First Round Selection, Picks 11-30

This column serves as Part 3 of a three-part series called “What Each NBA Team Should Do With Its First Round Pick In The 2021 NBA Draft,” featuring picks 11-30, some guys who missed the first round, some second round sleepers and a breakdown of the Big Board.

Pick No. 1

Picks No. 2-10

No. 11, Charlotte Hornets: Kai Jones, Texas

Kai Jones is probably the rawest prospect in the draft, with Kuminga coming in second place.  He’s one of the most athletic players you’ll see for a guy his size, but at times it seems as though he has no idea how to play the game of basketball.

It makes sense that he doesn’t – Jones has only been playing since he was 15, and he’ll be 20 on draft night.  At 6’10, Jones frolics around the court like a deer.  He moves incredibly smoothly, which immediately gives him a perimeter game as at worst a dribble-handoff guy, and potentially a shooter.  For now, he’s probably somewhere in between those two things.  He experimented as a driver in college and had success with it, but some of that feels a little unreasonable in the NBA given his lack of body control at times.

Jones has the chance to be an incredibly unique and valuable big at the next level.  His best case scenario is that he can be a stretch big who can get to the rim from the three point line, be a threat on the roll, shoot and even create his own shot.  On defense, he could be a switchable player 3-5, and protect the rim with ease in drop and when switching PNRs.  

At worst though, Jones is a simple rim running big whose sole offensive purpose is to catch lobs and who is simply put out there to threaten drivers with his large, massive frame.

Jones has a wide range of outcomes at the next level.  The hope is that he doesn’t end up at his low-end projection.  If he doesn’t, then the Hornets have themselves a pretty good player at center, which fills a huge hole and will make LaMelo Ball quite happy.

No. 12, San Antonio Spurs: Josh Giddey, Australia 

Giddey is largely rumored to be Memphis’ target at No. 10 overall, and it makes sense.  Giddey, along with Jalen Johnson, is one of the few prospects not ranked in Tiers 1 or 2 that have true star potential.  That’s the type of player that the Grizzlies need.

So why Johnson and not Giddey for Memphis, who’s ranked three spots ahead of the Duke wing on the Hub’s board?  

Giddey projects as a point guard at the next level.  He’s an incredibly talented passer who can throw any dime known in the book.  There isn’t much else to his game yet – he’s a poor shooter and hope for that to develop is low. Despite a 6’8 frame and impressive athleticism, he’s bad defensively.  But Giddey does some of the things you’d want your starting point guard to do – passes like a wizard, gets to the rim and dictates the game at his own pace.

So where’s the star power?  Well, Giddey’s passing has the chance to be special.  He’s the third best passer in the draft, which doesn’t sound impressive, but given Cunningham and Suggs’ projection as potentially generational guys, Giddey is up against unfair odds.  

His lack of a jumper could make some worried about his effectiveness in the PNR, but vision and accuracy on passes should allow him to fire the ball anywhere, no matter how deep the drop is or where else defenders are helping away from him.

The Spurs are similar to Memphis in the sense that they have a lot of talented youth.  But nobody has emerged as the alpha among those guys yet, and they need to be done waiting around.  Giddey is the best bet left to emerge as that guy.

No. 13, Indiana Pacers: Moses Moody, Arkansas

Indiana is devastated by the picks of Jalen Johnson and Giddey, as it is in the same boat as Memphis and San Antonio, teams equipped with talented, deep rosters but ones that lack a player good enough to take them over the top.

That player doesn’t exist at this spot – all the guys left that project along that trajectory are massive reaches and are essentially fliers.

The Pacers could use some more athletic, defensively-apt wings on their roster though.  Kispert is ranked higher than Moody on the board, but doesn’t project as the effective two-way player Moody does.

Moody was miscast at times at Arkansas, having to carry an offensive load he wasn’t quite equipped for.  However, he was more successful than one would think in that role, and it makes one wonder whether there’s some upside with shot creation down the line.

For now, Moody is a lights out shooter – the third-best in the class – and should provide good defense on the wings and in switching schemes.  If he’s more than that, Indiana has a gem on its hands – exactly what it needs.

No. 14, Golden State Warriors: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga

The same two things apply to Golden State here as they did at No. 7: overall competence and shot-making.

Kispert is 22 years old and ready now, making the first trait an obsolete problem.  He’s also the best shooter in the draft, checking the second box.

Kispert is a bit more than a shooter though.  He’s a very good defensive player even though he’s not the best athlete in the world.  He’s strong and long, making him a tough out for anyone smaller than him.  

The Warriors wouldn’t be their 2017 selves with Kispert in the lineup, as he has zero upside as a shot creator like Kevin Durant.  But the former Gonzaga forward could be just as lethal of a shooter, and with Bouknight potentially carving defenders up, Golden State suddenly has title contender written all over it next season.

No. 15, Washington Wizards: Jaden Springer, Tennessee

Here’s what was written about the Wizards taking Springer prior to the Russell Westbrook trade:

“The state of the Wizards franchise is in flux.  It’s unclear whether Bradley Beal will be on the team next year, and the roster is geared as if he will be, creating a paradox.   Regardless of Beal’s presence, defense simply does not exist, and Russell Westbrook doesn’t make the situation better as a whole.

Washington likely has to deal with Westbrook being on the roster for two more years, assuming he opts into his $47 million player option next summer.  Whether he’s on the roster or not, the Wizards should be in the business of trying to upgrade from him.

That’s where Springer enters the picture.  He’s probably the most complete point guard in the draft outside of Suggs and Cunningham”

With Westbrook now gone thanks to the Lakers’ hilarious dealings, the fit is even better.  

Springer solves many of Washington’s problems at once.  He’s a ridiculous defensive player despite his relatively small size at 6’3.  He’s hard for anybody to shake when dribbling, and simply grinds through possessions with a pest-like energy.  Springer maintains that energy off the ball too, and has the potential to take anybody out of a game whenever he wants.  He should be a decently switchable defender given his abilities on and off the ball, though it remains to be seen how effective he can be against ball dominant wings, especially when they’re driving.

Offensively, Springer is one of those guards who always seems to know what he’s doing and never makes the wrong decision.  Playing at his pace is his speciality.  

He combines his very solid passing ability with a scoring punch too.  The grit he shows on defense translates into offense evidently.  Springer can get to the rim against seemingly anyone, though that can get the best of him against beefier rim protectors, as his finishing numbers aren’t as high as you’d like them to be.  Still, Springer’s herky-jerky style makes him an incredibly tough guard.  Defenders can’t lax in their effort when on him.

The jump-shot is a weakness, which could allow teams to drop deep against him and take away his driving lanes, and subsequently make finishing even harder.  But athleticism tends to win out. Washington could get a player similar to Westbrook in Springer, just without all the shenanigans and bad stuff.

No. 16, Oklahoma City Thunder: Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky

It seems like Oklahoma City is destined to move up with this pick and No. 18 overall.  But if they keep it, it makes for the Thunder to keep addressing their front-court.

Jackson has been rumored to have received a promise from the Thunder with this pick, although trading it would obviously void that.  OKC’s interest makes sense.  Jackson is the exact type of simple center craved in the league now.  He’s incredibly athletic and won’t be played off the floor.  He has a long frame, which makes him an imposing shot blocker and rim protector.  He’ll never be a floor spacer, but his bounciness doesn’t make him totally out of place on the perimeter.  There’s potential for him to attack the rim from out there thanks to his athleticism and quick feet, but it’s not something OKC should count on.

Simply put, Jackson projects as a classic rim running, shot-blocking big.  Making selections because of Aleksej Pokuševski’s presence on the roster seems a little reckless.  With Barnes and now Jackson, the Thunder have their front court of the future, with Barnes hopefully being able to play anywhere he wants.

No. 17, New Orleans Pelicans: Trey Murphy Jr., Virginia

New Orleans has an interesting choice with this pick.  It could go with a guard, signaling that the front office doesn’t plan on bringing back Lonzo Ball in restricted free agency and instead re-sign Josh Hart, or they could go with a wing like Murphy Jr., opening up a spot for Ball or another point guard while letting Hart walk.

The only real need New Orleans has is defense.  Murphy Jr. provides that.  He’s one of the safest players in the draft thanks to his three-and-D skill set.  He’s reminiscent of Cam Johnson thanks to a long, wiry-like frame, but is a much stronger and more developed defensive player than Johnson was out of North Carolina. 

It seems like Murphy could go higher than this on Thursday, which is respectable.  He’s about as close to a guarantee as one can get in the draft.

No. 18, Oklahoma City Thunder: Jared Butler, Baylor

Butler would be really intriguing for New Orleans the pick before, giving them a scoring punch at guard that no one on its roster provides.  But another small guard in their backcourt doesn’t provide the defense the Pelicans are looking for, even though Butler is pesky on the ball.

Instead, Oklahoma City takes him, and gets a solid point guard ahead of Theo Maledon, who’s already perfectly playing his role as a backup.  Butler’s scoring ability is the big difference between him and Maldeon.  He’s a three-level scorer who winds his way to the rim and can stop on a dime for pull-up jumpers as well.  Playing next to Davion Mitchell required some patience, but Butler figured it out and was able to hit threes at a good rate off the ball.

Butler is a solid passer who tends to make the right decision, though his vision isn’t elite and the turnovers were higher than you’d want.  His scoring is what elevates the rest of his game, and his status as a prospect.  Oklahoma City would probably want someone with a bit more upside at this position in the future, but if Cunningham or Suggs aren’t in the cards for them this draft, then Butler is a solid fall-back plan.

No. 19, New York Knicks: Isaiah Todd, G-League Ignite

Todd might be the biggest riser of the past month or so, and with good reason.

The last out of the four prospects on G-League Ignite to be taken seriously, Todd is a super unique player who could be a lot of different things in the league.  But the one skill that will certainly translate is his shooting ability.  Todd is an absolute sniper from deep, and can hit threes in a variety of ways.

From there, Todd’s game can take a whirlwind of avenues.  He’s got some isolation skills, although a lot of the shots he took out of those play types were a bit wild and inefficient.  He’s got the body of a power forward, which makes him incredibly intriguing as a screen-setter – he could roll, pop or slip out of a pick and be able to finish in either way.  He has a good handle and feel for the game, which could turn him into an offensive hub in the post.

All of these skills could develop for Todd over time.  If they all do, he could be an absolute star.  But it’s likely only one or two will develop.  Whether he’s a stretch four who is effective as a roller or a scoring wing, the Knicks could use competent rotation players almost everywhere.  Not that their 2020-21 season was a total fluke, but surviving again with Taj Gibson, Elfird Payton, Derrick Rose and Alec Burks contributing heavy minutes seems unlikely.

No. 20, Atlanta Hawks: Usman Garuba, Spain 

The Hawks roster is loaded, which means they can afford to draft for need more than other teams.  Atlanta lost in the Eastern Conference Finals largely due to its inability to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is obviously no easy task for any team in the league.  So why not take the second-best defender in the draft to help with that?

Garuba, like Scottie Barnes, is switchable 1-5 and is a complete specimen.  There’s not much else to his game outside of his lurking defensive ability.  He figures to be a nice roll man and lob threat, but Garuba’s value will be held in his ability to lock down an opposing team’s best player.

No. 21, New York Knicks: McKinley Wright, Colorado

This is likely the biggest reach of this entire mock, and Wright’s placement on the Hub Big Board might be the highest that exists anywhere.  But the Colorado guard is one of the most underrated players in this draft.

Wright had games last season where he was absolutely unstoppable.  His ability to get any shot he wants in the paint is comparable to few in this draft.  Wright’s athleticism causes defenders to guard the rim, but he can then hit them with a beautiful floater instead.  He can also stop on a dime to pull-up, as well.

Wright’s a very good passer, not great.  But he’s best at making plays in the PNR, which is most important at the NBA level.  The combination of his PNR chops and mid-rangers alleviate concerns about poor outside shooting and lack of great feel.

He also doesn’t take it slow on the defensive end, which will make him a good fit for Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks.  Wright does everything we wished Elfrid Payton or Frank Ntilikina did on the offensive end, giving the Knicks the best of both worlds.

No. 22, Washington Wizards: Chris Duarte, Oregon

After clearing Westbrook, selecting Springer at No. 15 and still acquiring Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, the Wizards are in win-now mode and could use even more length on the wings. Duarte is perhaps the most NBA-ready player in the draft as an elite shooter and solid, strong defender.

No. 23, Houston Rockets: Franz Wagner, Michigan

Houston lacks length on its roster whether it wants to contend or not – most of its wings aside from DJ Wilson and Sterling Brown are almost like hybrid guards.  That’s where Wagner comes in, who is renowned for his defensive ability and three-point shooting.  The Hub is significantly lower on Wagner than most because of some overplayed hype about his ability to move well, but he should be a serviceable three-and-D player at the next level.

No. 24, Houston Rockets: Sharife Cooper, Auburn

Houston could really use another big on its roster, but all the ones remaining are a bit of a reach at this spot.  Outside of Suggs, the Rockets lack a really good passer on their roster.  Cooper doesn’t do much else thanks to a poor jumpshot and small frame, but he’s at least a top five passer in the draft.

No. 25, Los Angeles Clippers: Miles McBride, West Virginia

McBride is a player who could very well be in play for the Knicks, as he’s a defensive grinder who also shoots.  He’s ranked ahead of Cooper on the Hub’s board, but Houston needs someone who can pass, which isn’t McBride’s strong suit.  That said, he’s still a good point guard, and the Clippers desperately need someone to right the ship at that position.  They essentially take the best one left in McBride.

No. 26, Denver Nuggets: Cam Thomas, LSU

Even without Jamal Murray, the Nuggets roster is pretty loaded.  It’s fair to wonder whether they still have enough with Murray back in the fold from a perimeter shot creation standpoint.  Thomas is no guarantee to be anything more than a sixth man who’s actually ninth in the rotation, but his skills are too hard to find.  There’s always that 0.1% chance he’s a star.

No. 27, Brooklyn Nets: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova 

This pick belonged to Phoenix before an afternoon trade on Thursday.  Brooklyn sent Landry Shamet to the Suns for Jevon Carter and this pick, which seems like a bit of a steep price for Phoenix given that Shamet never fit in Brooklyn and had a bad year.  At the same time, Phoenix protects itself from Cam Payne’s overpay with Shamet, while passing up the opportunity to add to the front court with Robinson-Earl, who’d be a perfect fit for Brooklyn as well.  Robinson-Earl will help limit Kevin Durant’s minutes at the five as a small-ball option, and also take minutes away from Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown.

No. 28, Philadelphia 76ers: Davion Mitchell, Baylor

The 76ers still need a star perimeter creator with or without Ben Simmons or the roster, and while the Hub is much lower on Mitchell than others, he still offers a decent two-way skillset.  It seems doubtful that Mitchell will thrive on both ends given his 6’1 frame and poor historical shooting, but if he’s here, he’s certainly worth a shot.

No. 29, Brooklyn Nets: Josh Primo, Alabama

The Nets just need as many competent players as possible.  After helping out their front court at No. 27, they address the wings here with Primo, who’s a lights out shooter who plays a tad too casually.  Brooklyn should be able to get away with that though, and they replace Shamet in an instant with this pick.

No. 30, Utah Jazz: Bones Hyland, VCU

Like Denver, it remains to be seen if the Jazz have enough firepower and star shot creation on their roster.  Hyland might end up just as a sixth man type player, but the guy can get buckets with ease thanks to a long, wiry frame.

How are these guys not first round picks? (# = big board rank)

  • Tre Mann (#27): There just wasn’t a fit for him in the late rounds after all of Thursday afternoon’s trades.  He’s a good shooter and is a menacing presence as a passer thanks to his 6’5 frame. 
  • Ziare Williams (#55): Might have one of the widest ranges in the draft.  Reports indicate that he could go as high as No. 8 overall or fall out of the first round completely.  Williams dealt with a lot this past year, but he played like someone who was much better than he is.  The jump-shot also feels like it will never come around.
  • Ayo Dosumno (#56): Could be a solid third guard in the league, but his NCAA Tournament performance was just too hard to get over.  You can let Loyola Chicago swallow you like that if you’re truly in consideration for National Player of the Year.
  • DayRon Sharpe (#57): It sounds like Sharpe is trying to refine his game by shooting threes, but it seems unlikely he’ll come into the league as a shooter.  If he’s not one, it might be tough for him to stay on the court.
  • BJ Boston (#59): A top recruit who had a bad year and has since endured tragedy, this is quite a fall for Boston.  But he seemed overwhelmed with the responsibilities handed to him at Kentucky, and could project best as a sixth man in the NBA.
  • Josh Christopher (#60): Similar to Boston, Christopher might be best suited as a sixth man after the handing of the car keys to him at Arizona State went poorly.  Christopher did get hurt and suffered from poor roster construction around him, but like Williams and Boston, he played like he was the best player on the court when he certainly was not.

Some favorites that didn’t make the first round:

  • Sandro Mamukelashvili (#35):  This guy is a wild player, but it seems like he could at least be something in the NBA.  He’s almost seven feet tall and shoots, passes and gets to the rim off the dribble.  One of those skills has to flourish at the next level.
  • Jericho Sims (#42): Just a fantastic rim runner who’s strong on defense and should be a good roll man.
  • Justin Champagnie (#43): He’s a similar prospect as Sims – just trades rim protection for more athleticism.
  • Charles Bassey (#44): This guy is a freak.  Not many guys get up as high as he does at his size.  He’s got to put it all together, but the athleticism is hard to overlook.

Big Board tiers break down:

Tier 1A: Superstars

  1. Cade Cunningham
  2. Jalen Suggs

Tier 1B: Superstar with some questions

  1. Evan Mobley

Tier 1C: Elite players in a role, need to develop more for superstardom

  1. Jonathan Kuminga
  2. Scottie Barnes

Tier 2: Can they really reach their ceiling?

  1. Jalen Green
  2. James Bouknight

Tier 3: Good bet to be solid players because of one or two things they do exceptionally well

  1. Keon Johnson
  2. Alperen Sengun
  3. Corey Kispert
  4. Josh Giddey
  5. Jaden Springer
  6. Moses Moody
  7. Jalen Johnson
  8. Kai Jones
  9. Isaiah Jackson
  10. Trey Murphy Jr.
  11. Usman Garuba
  12. Jared Butler

Tier 4: Tier 3, but with less confidence 

  1. Isaiah Todd
  2. McKinley Wright
  3. Chris Duarte
  4. Miles McBride
  5. Sharife Cooper
  6. Cam Thomas
  7. Josh Primo
  8. Tre Mann
  9. Davion Mitchell
  10. Quentin Grimes
  11. Isaiah Livers
  12. Franz Wagner
  13. Joe Wieskamp
  14. Bones Hyland
  15. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
  16. Sandro Mamukelashvili 

Tier 5: Each of them are something

  1. David Johnson
  2. Rokas Jokubaitias
  3. Matthew Hurt
  4. Herb Jones
  5. J.T. Thor
  6. Moses Wright
  7. Jericho Sims
  8. Justin Champagnie
  9. Charles Bassey
  10. Filip Petrusev
  11. Greg Brown
  12. Joel Ayayi
  13. Daeshin Nix
  14. Jason Preston
  15. Austin Reaves
  16. Aaron Henry
  17. Kessler Edwards
  18. Sam Hauser
  19. Vrenz Bleijenbergh

Tier 6: Out on

  1. Ziare Williams
  2. Ayo Dosumno
  3. DayRon Sharpe
  4. Neemias Queta
  5. BJ Boston
  6. Josh Christopher
  7. Juhaan Begarin
  8. Luka Garza
  9. Santi Aldama
  10. Aaron Wiggins
  11. Raiquan Gray

What Each NBA Team Should Do With Its 2021 First Round Selection, Picks 2-10

This column serves as Part 2 of a three-part series called “What Each NBA Team Should Do With Its First Round Pick In The 2021 NBA Draft.” Part 3 will come on Thursday, with picks 10-30 and looks an some intriguing second round talents.


No. 1, Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State

No. 2, Houston Rockets: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

The Rockets seem destined to take Jalen Green with this pick. Trading up for Cunningham, who they are allegedly interested in and would make sense given Houston’s array of future draft picks and Cunningham’s prospectus, is perhaps a better option. But the Rockets can split the cake if they instead take Jalen Suggs, who’s the only player in this class in the same tier as Cunningham.

Suggs is a classic high floor player with his passing, instincts and addiction to winning. But he has a higher ceiling than that. He possesses a scoring knack seldom seen in guards, using his lean yet sturdy frame to get to the rim and a mechanical but effective jump shot to hit from deep and pull up in transition.

At Gonzaga, Suggs was everywhere on the court. He always seemed to be in the right spot making winning plays – be it a steal, box-out, extra effort on a help defensively, a rebound, or a game-winning shot..

He’s reminiscent of Tyrese Haliburton from last year’s draft class in that sense – a player that this site was way too low on (He was No. 14 on the Hub’s 2020 Big Board). Having Suggs ranked as high as No. 2 might be an overcorrection from that, but Suggs’ shot creation skills give him an extra flavor that Haliburton – as a draft prospect – never let exude.

Houston is at the forefront of a rebuild, but Suggs represents a path down multiple routes. He can play next to John Wall in the short term while representing a path forward and past Wall’s contract. A team with Suggs, a hopefully healthy Wall, Eric Gordon assuming he’s not traded and Christian Wood isn’t terrible. Sprinkle in some Kevin Porter Jr. off the bench, and if the Rockets want to be competitive while stuck with Wall’s salary, that mix of players doesn’t make a great team, but it’s not exactly a bad one. It puts them in contention for a playoff spot.

Suggs also would serve as the next face of the franchise and Wall’s successor at point guard in the long term. He’s the type of player you build around rather than insert as a role guy. His upside is the best player on a championship team.

Suggs’ weaknesses are the expectations. Like Cunningham, projecting anybody as a true 1A offensive option is risky. This is even more true with Suggs, who already does so much on both ends of the court, and isn’t the shooter Cunningham is, limiting his potential as a scorer in the pick and roll game. He’s bigger than one would think, but his lack of immense size at the guard spot, in addition to a lack of moves in isolation, makes him potentially more of a true point guard rather than an all-around offensive creator.

No. 3, Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley, USC

In a way, Mobley should be the Cavaliers’ pick at this spot no matter who is on the board, assuming he’s available. Cleveland might be set on developing its young backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland even further, and Mobley’s unique skill set as a big makes him fit to play anywhere in the frontcourt. The fit is so good that Cunningham, if he were here, may be worth passing on for the Cavs.

But that scenario is unlikely to occur, with Cunningham destined to go No. 1 no matter who is picking. That makes this decision easy for Cleveland.

Mobley is the best player available and with good reason. The 7-footer is an absolute freak for his size and position. He moves as effortlessly as a wing or guard for his size – the only prospects in recent years who comes close to matching Mobley’s mobility are Oneyka Onkongwu in 2020 and Bam Adebayo in 2017, and both of those players are at least three inches shorter than Mobley.

Mobley’s game is simply beautiful. He’s not much of a bruiser or a post-up player thanks to a thin frame, but his athleticism and soft hands make him deadly on the roll. His height allows him to shoot over anyone – even the tallest bigs – with jumpers, hooks and curls. While Mobley won’t bang, his quick feet and athleticism gives him the ability to take his time before attacking a defender – one he will almost certainly beat. In addition to his work as a true center, Mobley can shoot it from anywhere. On a short roll, he can pull up from the mid-range while creating the mirage that he’s diving to the hoop. He can pop instead of roll out of the pick and drain a three with an effortless stroke. He has shot creation skills as well with his knack for shooting, touch and athleticism. At the same time, he doesn’t need the ball, because he’s a capable shooter from beyond the arc and moves around like a slashing wing trying to find an open spot on the court to spot-up from.

That’s just the start of it, too. Mobley’s not quite Nikola Jokic, but has an amazing passing gene for someone his size. He can handle and take dribble-handoffs, and have the offense anchored around him at the elbow. With some seasoning as a ball-handler and an expanding knowledge bank, it’s not far-fetched to say that he could be a lead ball-handler someday.

On the other end, Mobley is just as special. The athleticism on the offensive side of the floor translates perfectly to defense, where the former Trojan can switch and guard 2-5. He’s a menace at the rim, blocking anything in sight and using those quick feet to help and recover to wherever. Teams simply can’t hunt in the pick and roll – he’s too fluid to let a screen disrupt his movement and stands a chance against almost any ball-handler in that scenario (aside from much smaller, craftier guards).

So how is Mobley not the No. 2 overall pick, or let alone the first? He has very few weaknesses – the first being that despite his skills as a rim protector, his thin frame will likely see him suffer against beefer bigs like Joel Embiid and Jokic. The second is a reaction to the first. If he can’t hang against those players, then who does his team have to put on the floor to help handle them, and what kind of problems does that cause late in the postseason when unathletic bigs are hunted and usually played off the floor?

The value of bigs overall still plays its part here. Sure, Mobley himself projects as a player able to stay on the court in those situations, but does his defense – or someone else’s in spite of Mobley’s limitations thanks to that thin frame – actually hurt against teams that can get away with going against the grain? That list is bigger than it seems– the Lakers, Sixers, Nuggets, Bucks, Suns and Pelicans are all doing it with success or likely will be soon. 

In addition, the fact that a player can do everything Mobley does at his size at the NBA level seems a bit unreasonable. Every USC game of his was a show, but the Pac-12 wasn’t exactly college basketball’s greatest display last season. Can Mobley do all of the things he displayed at the next level? If he truly can, then he could very well be the best player in this draft years from now.

That said, Mobley is a fantastic prospect, and the Cavaliers should be ecstatic that they’ll likely be able to take him here on Thursday night. Mobley’s versatility allows them to play him at the 4-spot if they re-sign Jarrett Allen to play center, which will protect Mobley from bigger guys but allow Cleveland to deploy him as a switching defensive menace who can simultaneously protect Allen against more mobile bigs. If Allen and the Cavs part ways, then Mobley slides right into the 5-hole, and likely struggles defensively in certain matchups but punishes unathletic bigs on the other end.

No. 4, Toronto Raptors: Jalen Green, G-League Ignite

The Raptors need a star – and one who can be a star right away. 

That’s why Toronto takes Jalen Green here, who despite having two players ranked ahead of him on the Hub’s board, can be that.

Let’s first start with the players we don’t have Toronto taking. More in-depth scouting reports will be found in the next two picks, but Jonathan Kuminga, despite being the better prospect, is not an immediate help to the Raptors, whose roster won a NBA Championship two years ago and is not far off from being there again. Kuminga may be a better player than Green someday, but his rawness on both sides of the ball makes inferior to Green right now.

There’s perhaps a better case for Scottie Barnes going to the Raptors here. Toronto needs more size, and likely has a hole at guard assuming Kyle Lowry signs elsewhere (Suggs seems likely to be here for the Raptors Thursday night, which is insane and would be a home run for them to draft). Barnes can arguably fill both of those roles, as his passing instincts are rare for a player with his size and frame and his defensive acumen and ability is the best in the draft. But he’s a lock at either position, and probably fits best as a Draymond Green-style player offensively – someone who can screen and roll or be anchored at the elbow throwing darts to teammates. Using him solely as a rim protector – which Toronto needs – wastes his true potential.

So, enter Green. Pascal Siakam is a fine, solid player. But his half-court and isolation scoring went off the deep end after a brutal performance in the Bubble in 2020 – the Celtics seemingly figured him out in that second round series last Fall, and he never recovered. Fred VanVleet is the same level of offensive player as Siakam, as he can get hot one night and carry the team, but isn’t a crunch-time scorer made for deep playoff runs.

Toronto needs someone like Green – who’s best skill is scoring and who can do so in bunches. He’s their best bet in the short-term to pull them out of the league’s middle class.

That said, Green as a prospect is not perfect. While scoring is his best skill, it might be the only one he has. He’s a weak passer for someone who projects as a No. 1 offensive option, and doesn’t have the best game in and out of the pick and roll. Green is a high-usage player, who loves isolations and high-usage possessions. It’s not totally a bad thing if the ball consistently goes in, but players like Green – who are purely scorers and don’t bring anything else to the table aside from it – tend to have their ceiling capped in the NBA.

Those players are not bad – Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and Donovan Mitchell come to mind. But teams like Washington and Utah seemed capped out at second-round playoff exits with those types of players as its 1As. With two-way threats like Kuminga available, a Green-clone in James Bouknight still on the board and potentially Suggs or Mobley in reach on Thursday night, Green’s ceiling just isn’t worth reaching for at the top of this class. For Toronto though, it is.

No. 5, Orlando Magic: Jonathan Kuminga, G-League Ignite

Sure, this is the classic Orlando pick – a long, athletic guy who’s raw and has problems shooting.

But the Magic have room for error. First, they own this pick and No. 8 overall, allowing them to take a swing with one of the spots. Second, if the past four years are any indication, Orlando’s front office led by John Hammond and Jeff Weltman have unlimited job security – that duo entered a rebuilding situation four years ago, took the team nowhere, and have now entered their second rebuilding phase. It is incredibly hard to not get anywhere at all when building a team up from nothing.

With those two things in my mind, Kuminga should be the pick. There’s a case for him to be a top-three ceiling player in this class, as his two-way skill set and athletic wing frame is comparable to no one ahead of him.

Kuminga is raw as all hell. He needs to fine-tune his shot selection, and he can be too aggressive at times on the ball and take shots away from those who potentially deserve it more. Despite his athleticism, his defense can waver – most of this may be due to his age and lack of development thus far. 

But the seeds are there. If he can put it together, Kunminga could develop into a Kawhi Leonard-type player, where he’s one of the game’s best defenders and not only is a No. 1 option offensively, but can handle the ball and initiate the offense as well. For better or for worse, Kuminga plays at his own pace, and establishes control over a game that way – similar to the way Leonard does. That’s a rare skill to have – it’s the same reason Cunningham is going No. 1 overall. 

Throughout the last decade, the Magic have had solid pieces. But there was never a guy to bring all together with his star power, and it’s why Orlando has been stuck in the dirt for years on end. Kuminga is no guarantee to be that guy either, but he has the best shot out of anyone available.

Barnes is the widely expected pick here, and it makes sense. The Magic don’t have a big man they can be confident in, as Mo Bamba has seemingly busted and Wendell Carter Jr. is not the player we’d thought he’d be out of college. But at No. 8 overall, the Magic should have another option to fill that spot, and whoever may be there doesn’t have close to the ceiling that Kuminga does.

No. 6, Oklahoma City Thunder: Scottie Barnes, Florida State

The Thunder are living a blank check lifestyle.

With 17 first-round picks over the next seven drafts starting Thursday night, Oklahoma City can essentially make any offer they want to, and subsequently, draft whoever they want to.

It seems as though they’re already trying. As written on Tuesday, the Thunder have reached what they considered their ceiling to be on a package offered for No. 1 overall, and it’s not enough for Detroit to accept given that there’s a potentially generational player on the board. It’s odd that the Thunder won’t go to the ends the Pistons want, because they certainly can, but there’s also a good case that protecting some of those draft assets to trade up for another generational prospect in a future draft – or a disgruntled star elsewhere in the league – is worth it as well. 

If the Thunder don’t move up for a shot at one of the top three prospects, all of whom should be held in similar regard by their respective teams compared to the Pistons and Cunningham, Barnes is the best player available.

The Thunder have cornerstones of their future at guard and on the wing already in Shai Gilgenous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley. Down low, there’s less of a future, with Aleksej Pokuševski being a complete wild card in terms of which way he goes as an NBA player (or not – that’s legitimately still up in the air).

With Barnes, the Thunder can get someone they can play anywhere. Likely used best as a screener and roll man and switchable big, Barnes’ athleticism makes him a matchup nightmare on both ends. Offensively, he’ll be impossible to stop when heading toward the rim. With a good passing guard, lobs should become a staple play of his. He also has the ability to initiate an offense – some see Barnes as a point guard given how good his feel for the game is. That might be a tad ambitious, but there’s no reason he can’t be an anchor at the elbow with sets running around him, or bring the ball up the court at times and initiate from the top of the key. 

Barnes is the best defensive player in the draft, too. He’s legitimately switchable 1-5, which automatically makes him one of a select few in the NBA. He’s got the special ability to play the equivalent of free safety on the basketball court by manning the open space on the court and quickly jumping to wherever the help is needed or the switch is to occur. His recovery time is that small, thanks to a chiseled, long frame and ballerina feet.

For whoever takes him, Barnes is an extremely safe pick. The only concern is his lack of a jump-shot, which is brutally bad and has no means of getting better given his poor free-throw shooting. In minutes he does play point guard, the lack of an outside shot could throw off his team’s offense – the same way it has to Philadelphia and Ben Simmons all these years.

No. 7, Golden State Warriors: James Bouknight, UCONN

If they don’t move them, the Warriors need to be getting two things out of their two lottery picks.

  1. Basketball competence. 
  2. Consistent shot-making.

Last year was just not good enough in those two departments. For example, Kelly Oubre Jr.’s line left you wondering if he was wildly underrated or overrated every night. Juan Tocanso-Anderson is certainly a rotation player, but the days of him starting need to be over. James Wiseman was simply not ready for the minutes allocated to him, and his eventual injury forced players much less talented than him into the rotation.

Of course, upgrades might be more bankable on the trade market rather than in rookies. But those options are much different than they were in 2020, when Golden State was picking No. 2 in a perceived weak draft. Trading last year’s pick for a star or selling low on it and acquiring two or three average to above-average rotation players was a better choice than taking a swing on whatever prospects were available. 

This year, a trade for a star player is the only real option outside of using the picks. The talent available at No. 7 and No. 14 is not far removed from – or perhaps even better than – trading for NBA-qualified veterans or rotation players. 

But does a star exist? It seems like neither Damian Lillard nor Bradley Beal are officially available yet. Ben Simmons would be the third name but picks No. 7 and No. 14 seem like a lot for someone who would essentially serve the same role as Draymond Green on the Warriors current squad.

It seems as though the Warriors are stuck using these picks, which isn’t totally a bad thing, as James Bouknight would provide both of the traits Golden State needs.

Bouknight is a very similar prospect to Green in the sense that both have only one real skill in scoring. But the Warriors desperately need that around Stephen Curry and the returning Klay Thompson to avoid a similar outcome as last season. Bouknight’s shot bag is deep, and he projects as a classic 2-guard who could fit in alongside Curry and Thompson. 

Bouknight has a chance to be a bit more efficient than Green despite his poor outside shooting. He’s not quite as high usage as Green is, displaying more selflessness as an off-ball offensive player despite bad three-point percentages. His slim, small frame may be a worry when cutting and slashing, but his athleticism translates to him getting to the rim well when the ball is in his hand.

If Bouknight’s threes can go down, then he’s got similar ability to Curry in the sense that he never stops moving and trying to get open. His shot creation skills make him more bouncy and slippery at the point of attack than Curry, which could allow Bouknight to still be effective if the shot never comes along.

Bouknight tries hard defensively. His small, slight frame puts a cap on his defensive ceiling that he can’t control. But the Warriors, for once, need offense with these picks. The other side of the ball is, for once, not a worry at all.

No. 8, Orlando Magic: Alperen Sengun, Turkey

After taking a high-upside wing at No. 5 overall, the Magic come back and address their problems down low here at No. 8 overall with Sengun.

Sengun is simultaneously one of the most intriguing and confusing prospects in this draft. The things he does to his opponents on tape make you wonder if he’s playing against YMCA dudes, but the Turkish League is a legitimate association, and Sengun put up historic numbers in it and won MVP at just 18 years old.

So how does a non-switching, defensively challenged, throwback offensive big end up ranking ninth on the Hub’s big board and go eighth in the draft? 

Sengun is simply a bucket. He will almost immediately challenge Joel Embiid for the best footwork in the league, which he uses to dance with bigger, slower players in the post with his back-to-the-basket. His quick feet also allow him to attack off the dribble from the perimeter and get to the rim, a skill that seems hard to believe until you see it. 

On the roll, Sengun can throw dimes to shooters, keeping defenders honest and reluctant to help inside. This opens up the lane and rim for him, which is an easy two points every time. 

Sengun’s passing also allows a team to use him as an offensive hub at the elbow, where he can dot up opposing defenses with craft and I.Q. 

There are serious limitations with Sengun, though. While his bounce off-the-dribble when driving would lead one to believe that he has untapped potential as a shooter and switchable big, neither is guaranteed. Sengun’s quick feet do not translate to defense at all, and his three-point percentage is quite low on not much volume. Not only is Sengun not switchable, but his defense in every type of coverage is poor. He’s also a little short on height, which doesn’t give him advantages on the defensive end.

Does that combination of traits in a Magic uniform sound familiar? Sengun is extremely comparable to former Orlando center Nikola Vucevic with his dazzling footwork, passing skills and lack of defensive talent, but he might have a higher ceiling thanks to his capabilities off the dribble and work from the perimeter.

No. 9, Sacramento Kings: Keon Johnson, Tennessee

Texas’ Kai Jones would make a lot of sense here for the Kings given their need for a big man, but Sacramento also desperately needs defense, which is Keon Johnson’s calling card. 

Johnson should be expected to make a similar defensive impact Isaac Okoro did for the Cavaliers last season as a rookie. He’s a lockdown wing defender who grinds through screens and has quick feet. He’s a tad short, but has a long wingspan and might be one of the best athletes in the draft – June’s Combine proved that.

His ability on the offensive side of the ball is up for debate. Johnson certainly projects to be better on that end than Okoro was or ever will be, but to what extent is unknown. He was a little too ball-dominant at times at Tennessee and took shots at times when he would have been much better off putting in Jaden Springer’s hands instead. But those shots at times were impressive when they went in, and tapped into Johnson’s perhaps unexpected potential as a go-to scorer.

The Kings could benefit from a guy like that. They currently lack a star offensive player on their roster, although Tyrese Haliburton’s second year could bring some upgrades to that department. Regardless of what Johnson does offensively, his defensive presence should make an immediate impact, one that the Kings sorely needs.

No. 10, Memphis Grizzlies: Jalen Johnson, Duke

The Grizzlies need a star.

Ja Morant already is that, but he and Memphis are bogged down by his inefficiencies in the half-court. Morant plays 100 mph, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s unfortunately not the way things can be all the time.

So the Grizzlies need somewhere else to go for those buckets. As good as he is, Dillion Brooks just isn’t that guy, and Jaren Jackson Jr. is best suited shooting from the corner and wrecking havoc defensively.

Jalen Johnson has his warts. He has no jump-shot. He left Duke after his relationship with Coach K soured and his performance dipped. He’s done the same at other schools. His effort wanes on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense.

But the Grizzlies need a star and are one of few teams in the league that can afford to take a gamble. That star is their only missing piece, now that they’ve installed a greater veteran presence on their roster and added extra draft capital thanks to Monday’s trade with the Pelicans, who initially owned this pick.

The trade was smart for both sides. Memphis downgraded at center with Steven Adams but at least replaced the leadership Jonas Valancuinas brought to the table. It also added to it with Eric Bledsoe who, despite his selfish tendencies, can at least be a bit of a mentor to Morant, as the two’s games at one point were quite similar. They also picked up an extra first in addition to moving up to this spot, giving them extra protection if this pick or future ones bust.

New Orleans got rid of two massive financial mistakes in Bledsoe and Adams, and only moved down seven spots while giving up one of its billion other future picks in the process. They also improved their current roster, as Valanciunas is a much better fit next to Zion Williamson in the front court thanks to his ability to shoot threes.

Both teams are better off, and if both hit on their draft picks, it’s essentially a win-win.

Memphis may not hit on Johnson though. What he’s guaranteed to bring to the table is an intriguing skillset built around his astute passing gene, which is rare for a wing his size. He’s a wizard in transition and would be a dynamic threat next to Morant. In the half-court, his vision is still pristine, but his lack of a jump-shot makes his constant yet impressive drives to the rim predictable – he’s not a Ben Simmons/Giannis Antentokoumpo body mold, making those play types much easier to stop.

But the Grizzlies need someone who can be any type of threat off the dribble. Johnson’s frame makes him much more imposing than Morant, and his passing skills give Memphis something else to bank on. With youth everywhere and only one piece missing, the Grizzlies are best off taking a chance. Johnson is a big one, but he just might be worth it.

AD, Luka, Zion, Cade?? Why The 2021 NBA Draft’s No. 1 Pick Isn’t Getting Enough Love

This column serves as Part 1 of a three-part series called “What Each NBA Team Should Do With Its First Round Pick In The 2021 NBA Draft.” Part 2 will come on Wednesday, spotlighting another top prospect and unveiling another team’s projected pick before Thursday’s first round mock debuts.

No. 1, Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State

After one of the NBA’s best drafts in 2020, the Pistons found luck in 2021 by winning the lottery and being in position to select Cunningham, who’s long been the No. 1 prospect on the Hub’s board and on many boards dating back to when he was in high school. 

That recognition comes with good reason.  Cunningham is potentially generationally – his prospectus is the fourth-best we’ve seen since 2010, after Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson and Luka Doncic.  Cunningham is that good.

It starts with his size.  At 6’8, Cunningham has an immense feel for the game and can make any pass in the book.  His height allows him to pass out of contested drives to the rim and throw dimes at angles few else can.  In the pick and roll, Cunningham’s size makes him possible to guard when he attacks the rim, and gives him an added advantage when making the pass to the roll man.

Cunningham’s ability to create his own shot is also incredibly developed.  He doesn’t miss as a shooter, although his percentage from deep will likely decrease in his early NBA years before rising back up again.  His size allows him to bully guys when driving and punish smaller guards with short wingspans when pulling up.  He’s not an amazing ball-handler given how special his passing is, but his knockdown shooting and frame can make up for that in the short term.

With so much hype and skill, it’s fair to wonder whether Cunningham can reach the ceiling pegged for him.  Perhaps the most indicative indicator of that resides in just how much Cunningham did for Oklahoma State this past year.  None of his teammates were close to NBA-level prospects, and none of them will likely be in the future.  Opponents swarmed Cunningham defensively and helped off his teammates in an ultra-aggressive way.  Yet, Cunningham still rallied to the Cowboys to an NCAA Tournament berth, put up impressive numbers and cemented his status as the best player in his class.

Given his point guard traits, Cunningham may seem like an odd fit next to Detroit’s second-year guard Killian Hayes, who the Pistons took No. 6 overall in 2020.  But the beauty of a player like Cunningham is his versatility on the offensive end.  Need a point guard?  Great, Cunningham is your guy.  Have one and need scoring next to him?  Cunningham’s projects as a No. 1 offensive option in an offense in addition to his passing ability.  Both guard spots full?  Cunningham’s 6’8 frame and lights-out shooting makes him a fit on the wing, and his passing comes as an added and perhaps overqualified bonus.  He’s the perfect tall, ball-dominant wing every NBA team craves.

On top of all of that, Cunningham is already a valuable defender off the ball thanks to his lengthy frame, and could develop into an on-ball pest with more effort and development.

We’ve seen this type of player fail before – AKA Markelle Fultz in 2017. Fultz projected as the offensive hub and creator Cunningham is, and played for a struggling college team. Cunningham has extra height on Fultz though, and plays the game at his own pace – something that Fultz’s struggled with on the court and off it coming into the draft. Additionally, Cunningham’s a better passer, has more feel and will have to purposely try not to make an impact defensively given his size. The same could not be said for Fultz.

Detroit has seemingly rebuffed offers from Houston at No. 2 overall and Oklahoma City at No. 6 overall to move up. The Pistons are smart to do this, given that Cunningham is a potentially generational player. But Oklahoma City has a lot of ammo, and Detroit would be smart to strangle them with picks until they tap out. The Thunder likely have their cut-off point, and it’s probably not enough for Detroit to give in.

2021 NBA Finals Preview

Whether he plays or not, Giannis Antetokounmpo is a problem in the 2021 NBA Finals.

For Milwaukee, it’s obvious: Antetokounmpo’s presence is the only guaranteed advantage the Bucks hold against the Suns, and even that statement has its limits.

And for Phoenix, the same problem that almost every team in the NBA has faced over the past two years sticks out like a sore thumb: Antetokounmpo is a matchup nightmare, with positives in every defensive matchup or scheme tough to find.

But for the Suns, some do exist.  In the two regular season games between these two teams – which were both worthy of regular season Game of the Year consideration – Deandre Ayton did an impressive job defending Antetokounmpo on drives and postups, and forced jump shots instead.  He kept a low base, used his hands and moved his feet, and didn’t ever find himself overshooting his eventual recovery in the pick and roll.

Those performances came before Ayton’s ascension as a valuable playoff performer – before he gave Anthony Davis problems in the first round, before he played MVP Nikola Jokic to a draw in the second round and before he didn’t let the Los Angeles Clippers take advantage of him with their small-ball ways in the Western Conference Finals.

So assuming Ayton is the primary defender on Antetokounmpo, that is, when he plays, the matchup may not be as much of a lost cause for Phoenix as one may think.

Milwaukee can make Ayton work and let Antetokounmpo shine by using him as the roll man in the PNR at an even higher usage than it has during the regular season and playoffs, both of which saw a much-needed increase in those types of plays.  This forces maximum movement from Ayton, which while improved, is likely the weakest part of his game defensively aside from some general wavering effort at times.  If done enough – and successfully – it could force the Suns to switch that action more frequently to give Ayton a break.  Depending on the ball-handler, that could pit one of the Suns smaller or more challenged defensive players – Devin Booker or Chris Paul – on Antetokounmpo when he rolls, which is tough sledding for Phoenix.

Of course, the Suns avoid this by putting a more defensively-apt player on the PNR ball-handler – likely Jrue Holiday.  But that requires sacrificing Mikal Bridges – who’s almost certainly going to be glued to Khris Middleton in this series and isn’t someone the Bucks are going to pick on – or Jae Crowder, another astute Antetokounmpo defender.

If Ayton struggles, Crowder is the Suns secret weapon.  He was one of the main reasons for the Bucks’ colossal letdown in the Bubble last season, acting as a one-man wall against Antetokounmpo’s constant straight-line, bull-rush drives to the rim.  Milwaukee’s offense has evolved past that, thanks in part to Middleton’s elevated shot-making and the presence of Holiday as a true point guard.  But Crowder’s history is a positive sign for Phoenix, and can be used at its deposition if Antetokounmpo puts Ayton through hell.

The Bucks don’t have to rely on Antetokounmpo so heavily, even though it gives them the best shot to win the series.  Middleton has proven that he can play to the level of the best player on a championship team at times – his takeover ability has been on display twice this postseason.  Holiday’s shot creation and jump shooting numbers have plummeted in these playoffs, but he’ll likely have one of Booker or Paul on him, which could be a favorable matchup thanks to Booker’s deficiencies defending one-on-one and Paul’s multiple nagging injuries.

Milwaukee might also be forced to not rely on Antetokounmpo.  Listed as questionable for Game 1, his status for the series is completely up in the air.  If he doesn’t play a majority of the games, the Bucks chances of winning this series are quite low.

The MVP of these playoffs so far has been either Booker or Paul.  We’ll see if either of them play at that same level during this series, and in turn win it, but up until this point, the top of the ballot belongs to one or the other. 

That’s why Antetokounmpo’s presence is critical.  As well as Middleton has played, and as high as Holiday’s ceiling is as a creator for himself and others, Booker and Paul are just better at the top skills that Milwaukee’s duo possesses.

The Suns also have many ways to toy with Milwaukee, with Antetokounmpo in the fold or not.  While half of the Bucks’ demise against the Heat in the second round of the playoffs last season had to do with its poor offensive strategy involving the two-time MVP, the other half was its drop PNR defense and lack of switching.

The Bucks experimented with switching throughout the 2020-21 regular season, and deployed it at times against Brooklyn in the second round and in the final two games of their Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Hawks.  It was successful, but perhaps that was out of necessity – Brook Lopez’s constant drifts to the arc of the restricted area were giving Trae Young and company floater after floater. Lopez at least put something menacing in front of drivers.

Playing drop coverage against the Suns is a death sentence.  Booker and Paul have ate well in the postseason with mid-range shots – they’ve been able to get shots off with little space or create it with their crossovers and elevation on jump shots.  If Lopez is dropping as far as he can, Booker and Paul could average 30 points per game this series.  Those are not the guys Milwaukee should be letting beat them – at least willingly.

Lopez’s dropping in the PNR limits opportunities for Ayton offensively, although his sneaky face-up game could emerge in this series.  Ayton is quicker and more athletic than Lopez – he’ll have the advantage if he wants to dabble in some shot creation.  

If and when he plays, the Bucks also have Antetokounmpo to deploy defensively.  The Suns are not going to want him switching or dropping in the PNR, as he matches up way better with Ayton on the roll and could swallow whatever Phoenix guard is the ball-handler.  If Lopez struggles against Ayton, and is toasted when the Bucks potentially switch, Antetokounmpo at the five is the Bucks’ last resort – and it’s a pretty good one.

Lopez’s shortcomings on defense in this series could be made up for on the other end.   Him and Antetokounmpo are a size nightmare for the Suns, who could be forced to play Dario Saric next to Ayton for more minutes than they’d like to.  While it’s possible Ayton could do a good job on Antetokounmpo, Lopez’s ability to space the floor forces Phoenix to give up serious height on three-point attempts, and his post-ups could be overpowering against a smaller wing. 

For the all perhaps overbearing all talk about the NBA being a make-or-miss league these days, parts of that description hold very true in this series.  If the Suns hit enough shots, they can make up for what they’re giving up to Lopez – if they hold true to their usual rotations and don’t increase Sarics’s minutes.  

Phoenix also has to hit shots in this sense: outside of Lopez, the Bucks aren’t going to play anyone the Suns can easily hunt on the defensive end.  Holiday, Middleton, Antetokounmpo, PJ Tucker and Lopez (to a certain degree) are all excellent defenders.  Lopez is the only one the Suns have a real advantage against.  When the shots are there against those defenders, they have to go down – that task falls on Booker and Paul maintaining the level of play they have in these playoffs.  If that production from the backcourt is still there, the Suns probably have the best two players on the court, whether Antetokounmpo is playing or not. But Milwaukee’s defense with or without its best players gives it a huge advantage in the series.

This series is incredibly even, which makes Antetokounmpo’s injury hurt bad for Milwaukee and for fans who want an entertaining series.  The Suns win every game he doesn’t play in – the star-power on their end is just too much for the Bucks to overcome.  While it seems likely he plays eventually, the Suns win at least two games in this series with him on the court.  If he misses one or two contests, that could give the Bucks no hope.  Since Antetokounmpo was likely to play in a Game 7 against the Hawks, he should be back for Game 2 if he doesn’t play Tuesday night.  That extra win should give the Suns the boost they need.

Pick: Suns in 7