It’s been 154 days since the 2021 NBA Draft, which inherently makes the idea of re-drafting the top ten picks, even if it’s existence is limited to the confines of this article, premature. However, with most of the notable rookies having played at least 25 games thus far – which has led to some turbulence among their individual stocks – it seems reasonable to believe that if the draft were held today instead of on July 29th, the top few picks might shake out a bit differently.
The rules of a re-draft seem to vary by author, so prior to walking onto the podium and announcing whom the Detroit Pistons will select first overall, I’ll clarify that this is not a rookie ladder rendition. These rankings are not written to account for any recency bias (sorry, Franz Wagner), nor will they entirely disregard the preconceived notions or the college credibility of any prospects (you’re welcome, Jalen Suggs). These are – just as one could have assumed from the headline – a big board of the top ten NBA players from the 2021 Draft accounting for both their potential, and their performance through the first leg of their rookie season.
1. Evan Mobley
At this juncture, it seems fair to simplify and say that the Rookie of the Year race is a two-headed one. Both Mobley and Scottie Barnes have far exceeded their expectations, and they will both enjoy long and illustrious careers. Neither player should be focused on winning this irrelevant piece of hardware, however as illegal as this feels to post on a Raptors blog, Mobley is owed the edge. It is rare for someone with less than two decades of life under their belt to enter an NBA locker room and alter the outlook of his franchise’s future entirely. After being among the worst teams in the league last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers now sit fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 20-14 record. Mobley has been a key contributor to his team’s success, ranking sixth in contested two-point field goal attempts, in addition to owning 2.6 win-shares and recording 14.1 points per game.
This is not as much of a 1 and 2 ranking as it is a 1-a and a 1-b. Scottie could very well earn the most votes for Rookie of the Year and stand on stage next to Adam Silver as he accepts his trophy next summer. For odds on who will take home the hardware, you can check out Novibet. At the time of the draft, Barnes was regarded as a zero-level scorer, without any ability to break his primary defender down. At the NBA level, where the wings guarding him would be much longer, stronger, and quicker, he would not be able to find his way into the paint – the only place where he would be a scoring threat. Barnes was quick to chew up those criticisms and spit them out. After being encouraged by Nick Nurse to shoot more threes, Scottie currently ranks seventh among all qualifying rookies in three-point percentage. Per FiveThirtyEight, he also leads all rookies in Box-Score RAPTOR – an overall impact metric – by being the only one to have a positive impact of over one point per 100 possessions both offensively and defensively.
After an underwhelming start to the season where Cade was struggling to find his rhythm like a child searching for Santa at the mall, he has slowly been able to creep up his efficiency. Ignoring his first four career contests, Cunningham is shooting 41.0% from the field and 34.8% from deep. It surely does not help him as a table setter that the supporting cast built around him is worthy of nothing more than a twelfth seed. In the long-run, Cunningham still looks like he can be a multiple-time All-Star if he is surrounded with some better talent. The consensus coming into the 2021 Draft was that Cade is capable of doing just about everything on the floor, and although he has only shown it in flashes so far, the groupthink-influenced analyst’s general report on him holds true.
4. Josh Giddey
Giddey was heralded as the top international prospect coming into the 2021 Draft, edging out the Turk, Alperen Sengun. Through his first thirty games in Oklahoma City, he is proving that having two oversized point guards run the Thunder’s offense is anything but problematic. Although his play has yet to translate into many wins for the youngest team in the NBA, Giddey is the only rookie that currently averages at least 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. On higher usage, he looks like he can be an efficient triple-double machine, but to reach his full potential, he’ll still need to add a few pounds of muscle to his frame.
5. Jalen Green
It was hard not to be excited about Jalen Green at the time of the draft: a charismatic 19-year-old kid who has as much of a desire to be great as the legends, and with a history of being able to put the ball in the basket no matter who was in front of him. It was obvious why the Houston Rockets chose to select him second overall (although I’d argue, even at the time, that Mobley was a better option for them). Unfortunately, Green’s career to date simply has not panned out as many had hoped. He is shooting a dismal 39.5% from the floor, 31.6% from deep, and he is a net negative on both ends of the court according to his box-plus-minus. He has already missed significant time due to injury, but his team boasts a record of 8-7 when he is out of the lineup, and they’re an abysmal 2-18 when he plays. For now, the best thing for Green’s development – and for the Rockets success – could be scaling back his usage offensively, but it’s natural for a wiry kid who’s greatest ability is scoring in isolation to take a bit more time to develop.
6. Franz Wagner
Which Orlando Magic rookie has the most points in a single game? Unfortunately, it is not Franz Wagner, but he now ranks third on that list after a 38-point outburst last week against the Miami Heat. Coming into the draft, Wagner was known as a capable scorer who could attack closeouts and knock down catch-and-shoot threes, but nobody expected him to have the most twenty-point games among all players in his draft class this early in the season. He has since proven that he can already be relied upon as a top scoring option when his team needs him to be, in addition to still providing the versatile and intelligent defense that teams loved about him in July.
When he was originally drafted 16th overall by the Rockets, Sengun was already the youngest MVP ever of the Turkish Super League. When scouting international prospects, there is always an extra amount of uncertainty when trying to determine how their skillset will translate to the NBA. The officiating is different, the court measurements are tweaked, and the game in North America is less physical than it is in Europe. Through his first 34 games, Sengun has played like the man whom he was advertised to be. His three-point shot is still a work-in-progress, but within ten feet of the rim, he’s shooting a respectable 56.4%. The Rockets will need to figure out how to get him more minutes in the rotation while still maximizing Christian Wood as the season progresses.
8. Jalen Suggs
Suggs, much like his friend Jalen Green, has had some tough luck with the injury bug early in his NBA career. After suffering a fractured thumb on November 29th, Suggs has yet to return to basketball activities. Even when the Gonzaga product was in action, he looked far less impactful than he did in college. Known as someone who could have an effect on winning everywhere he went, Suggs hasn’t been able to replicate those same successes at the NBA level yet, posting -1.1 win shares thus far. His shooting splits are also horrendous, and he has not shot over 50% from the field a single time out of his 21 tries to date. Hopefully, once Suggs is able to return to the floor, he will be able to find some chemistry with Cole Anthony and he can develop into the do-it-all point guard that fans expected him to be.
9. Chris Duarte
Picking Duarte at the end of the lottery was an easy decision for Indiana. He was already 24-years-old at the time of the Draft, and he’s set to turn 25 before Barnes or Mobley even become of legal drinking age. Still, the low-risk pick has failed to disappoint. Across 33 games, the Dominican-Canadian is averaging 11.8 points on over 35% shooting from beyond the arc. With Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner all on the trade block, it’s likely that Duarte will see more opportunities to showcase his skillset during the back half of the season, but it still does not seem like he has the ceiling to develop into an All-Star caliber wing.
10. Herbert Jones
It’s always enjoyable to watch a second-round pick scratch and claw their way into the rotation of an NBA team. This season, due to the plethora of players entering into health & safety protocols, many men have been granted those opportunities, but Herb Jones of the Pelicans has been one of the few to capitalize on his chance. The lanky wing out of Alabama has been a revelation, giving the Pelicans a defensive stopper who can slow the opposing team’s most explosive guard or wing on any given night, and still knock down open threes when he’s invited to shoot them. Jones, another older rookie, also lacks the ceiling that some of his predecessors on this list do, but if he can keep doing what he has been so far then there will always be a spot for him in the NBA.