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.
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
- Cade Cunningham
- Jalen Suggs
Tier 1B: Superstar with some questions
- Evan Mobley
Tier 1C: Elite players in a role, need to develop more for superstardom
- Jonathan Kuminga
- Scottie Barnes
Tier 2: Can they really reach their ceiling?
- Jalen Green
- James Bouknight
Tier 3: Good bet to be solid players because of one or two things they do exceptionally well
- Keon Johnson
- Alperen Sengun
- Corey Kispert
- Josh Giddey
- Jaden Springer
- Moses Moody
- Jalen Johnson
- Kai Jones
- Isaiah Jackson
- Trey Murphy Jr.
- Usman Garuba
- Jared Butler
Tier 4: Tier 3, but with less confidence
- Isaiah Todd
- McKinley Wright
- Chris Duarte
- Miles McBride
- Sharife Cooper
- Cam Thomas
- Josh Primo
- Tre Mann
- Davion Mitchell
- Quentin Grimes
- Isaiah Livers
- Franz Wagner
- Joe Wieskamp
- Bones Hyland
- Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
- Sandro Mamukelashvili
Tier 5: Each of them are something
- David Johnson
- Rokas Jokubaitias
- Matthew Hurt
- Herb Jones
- J.T. Thor
- Moses Wright
- Jericho Sims
- Justin Champagnie
- Charles Bassey
- Filip Petrusev
- Greg Brown
- Joel Ayayi
- Daeshin Nix
- Jason Preston
- Austin Reaves
- Aaron Henry
- Kessler Edwards
- Sam Hauser
- Vrenz Bleijenbergh
Tier 6: Out on
- Ziare Williams
- Ayo Dosumno
- DayRon Sharpe
- Neemias Queta
- BJ Boston
- Josh Christopher
- Juhaan Begarin
- Luka Garza
- Santi Aldama
- Aaron Wiggins
- Raiquan Gray