- Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State University, Guard
To say that the Motor City has been suffering over the past decade would be an understatement. For a city with so much history, the story is the same on the basketball court. This pick may well be what the Pistons faithful need to revive their passion for Detroit’s lackluster franchise. The consensus #1 pick, Cade Cunningham, will need to squeeze out every bit of his potential to become the face of the Pistons, and lead them back to the promised land. Cunningham will be joining the likes of Jeremi Grant, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes, and Saddiq Bey to form the core of Pistons moving forward. With four of the aforementioned five players going into either their rookie or sophomore season, the future of Detroit basketball is bright. Much has been said about Cunningham’s well-roundedness, however the 6’8 guard will need to command the floor and make use of his height, weight and IQ to lead this team back to the playoffs. With an above average shot and the ability to attack the rim, Cade should be as lethal of an offensive weapon as there is in this draft. There will certainly be growing pains – as there are with all rookies – however under the leadership of Dwane Casey, look for Cunningham to develop into a solid leader and player on the court.
- Houston Rockets – Jalen Green, G-League Ignite, Guard
The Houston Rockets are coming off of one of the most disappointing seasons for their squad in recent memory. They entered the season with high hopes of making another deep playoff run led by all-NBA guard and former MVP James Harden. Harden, disgruntled by the Rockets organization failing to build a winning team around him, forced his way out of Houston dramatically early on in the 2020-2021 season. The Rockets failed to get a solid return for Harden, and an injury to center Christian Wood further added to their trainwreck of a season. Jalen Green is the perfect start to a full rebuild for the Houston Rockets. The G-League Ignite guard has a solid build with good length. With the potential to be a dominant three-level scorer in the NBA, Green is a great starting point for a Rockets rebuild, and could be the next great scoring guard out of Houston.
- Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley, University of Southern California, Center
The Cavs are one of the bigger wild-card teams in the top five. They have a young backcourt with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, as well as Jarrett Allen (Restricted Free Agent) who could be their big man for the future. They have been rumoured to be shopping Sexton so maybe they consider Jalen Suggs or Jalen Green (if available) at pick 3, but Evan Mobley is the best player available. Mobley is an elite defender who can guard 1 through 5, he is as laterally quick as most wing players, and is a decent (and improving) shooter. Mobley just might be the grand prize of the entire draft, so the fear of pairing him with Allen if they re-sign him should not scare the Cavs away from making this selection.
- Toronto Raptors – Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga, Guard
It’s the season of misinformation, and so despite the multitude of rumours surrounding the Raptors fourth pick, I have them staying pat and drafting the consensus fourth best player in this class: Jalen Suggs. Simply put, Suggs is a winner. His intangibles – from his leadership capabilities to his hustle and IQ on the basketball court speak loudly to what the Raptors front office looks for in their young prospects. Should Lowry walk out of the door this summer – which is becoming increasingly likely as a bidding war ensues over him – then Suggs could take over the reins immediately as Toronto’s franchise point guard.
- Orlando Magic – Jonathan Kuminga, G-League Ignite, Forward
Going with Kuminga at the number 5 is a little bit controversial given how he’s been slipping in big boards over the past couple weeks, but with the Magic in desperate need of players who can create their own shot, Kuminga seems to make the most sense. With his athleticism and great body control, Kuminga was once a top-pick consideration, but after leaving the G-League bubble early, failing to improve his outside shot, and not making up for either shortcomings at the combine, he’ll almost certainly be available at this point in the draft. Kuminga also possesses solid physical tools that will allow him to transition smoothly to the NBA. There are question marks surrounding his effort on the defensive end, but Kuminga does have a 7-foot wingspan which can help him develop on that side of the ball.
- Oklahoma City Thunder – Scottie Barnes, Florida State University, Point Forward
The Thunder are reportedly scrambling to trade up in this year’s draft – presumably to draft one of the Jalen’s, Cade, or Mobley – but after failing to do so, they’re going to go with Scottie Barnes. Sam Presti’s treasure of draft picks is finally starting to show its return, starting with the addition of Flordia State’s point-forward. An elite defender that can defend multiple positions, Barnes has the ability to impact the game in a multitude of ways using his size, strength, and athleticism. At 6’9 his playmaking abilities are unicorn-esque, and if he develops a consistent outside shot, we could potentially see an All-Star nod in his future. Overall, Barnes is a solid pickup for the Thunder, as he will presumably be joining a core of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley and Luguentz Dort. Oklahoma City may be well on their way to do what they couldn’t with Durant, Westbrook or Harden, if this group can develop to their full potential, and win an NBA championship.
- Golden State Warriors – Franz Wagner, Michigan, Forward
The Warriors are in win-now mode. With Klay Thompson expected to return from his torn achilles (and a torn ACL from the season before), the splash brothers will be back in action. Point-forward Draymond Green is still eager to complete the big three with the splash bros, and the Warriors have no shortage of other talent to put around them in James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins, and Jordan Poole. Wagner is the perfect player to slot into an exciting Warriors lineup. With the guard positions locked up, we will likely see Franz slotted into either forward spot. His phenomenal ability to finish at the rim will be very attractive to a Warriors squad that has no problem spacing the floor with shooting. Additionally, he is a tremendous defender and will not shy away from attacking the boards. While he likely won’t turn into a dominant offensive player, he is a perfect fit to slot into the Warriors lineup, make a difference right away, and maximize the final years of the splash brothers as their primes wind down.
- Orlando Magic – James Bouknight, University of Connecticut, Guard
With their second pick in the top 10, the Magic would be wise to draft a guard. While they have Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton, and Markelle Fultz, none of these players profile as a likely All-Star level player. James Bouknight is by no means a guarantee to be one either, but his stock has seen a meteoric rise since highschool. He was the 69th ranked player in his class, and was projected mid to late first round throughout much of this season. He is not much of a playmaker, but his 1-on-1 scoring ability would be much needed for a Magic team who has desperately needed scoring for years. If this is the Magic’s pick at 8, don’t be surprised if he is their leading scorer as soon as next season.
- Sacramento Kings – Moses Moody, Arkansas, Guard/Forward
The Sacramento Kings are going to have a busy offseason with Richaun Holmes, Maurice Harkless, and Hassan Whiteside hitting unrestricted free agency, Terence Davis Jr. hitting the restricted market, and Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley looking to be dealt. It’s easiest to view their roster skeletally, as pieces of the puzzle who may actually play an important role if they are to ever win a championship with this core. De’Aaron Fox signed a max extension last summer, and Tyrese Hailburton has shown immense promise to be his backcourt running mate for the next decade. To that core, they’ll add arguably the best 3-and-D prospect in this class, Moses Moody. Moody’s near-7’1 wingspan makes his shot hard to contest, which allowed him to shoot 35.8% from deep in his freshman year at Arkansas, and guard 1-3.5 fluidly in college.
- Memphis Grizzlies – Josh Giddey, Adelaide 36ers (NBL), Guard
Memphis giving up Jonas Valanciunas to move up seven spots in the draft makes it seem like there’s a player who they are in love with, and are looking to position themselves to draft. Rumors are that Memphis like Franz Wagner out of Michigan, but with him off the board, I believe they will go with Josh Giddey. Giddey is a 6’9 guard who can play on and off the ball well. He’s a pick and roll maestro with the ability to find the roll man or pull up in the mid range and find his jumper. With Kyle Anderson having one year left on his contract, Giddey seems like a natural player who can take over his minutes, if Anderson decides to head elsewhere. Giddey gives the Grizzlies another ball-handler who can be on the court at the same time as Ja Morant, and Memphis would not have to give up any size defensively to do so. Giddey will need to work on his defensive game at this level to be on the court in crunch time, and there are times at which he falls in love with passing the ball a little too much and isn’t aggressive enough finding his own shot. Overall Giddey has the potential to become an efficient triple-double machine and has a great basketball IQ.
- Charlotte Hornets – Corey Kispert, Gonzaga, Forward
The Hornets got themselves a star in last year’s draft by picking up the reigning Rookie of the Year, LaMelo Ball, with the third overall pick. Looking to build on their stellar young core of Ball, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk, the Hornets get arguably the best shooter in the draft. Kispert is a three-point sniper and shoots with a lightning quick release. Most of his looks come off the catch, and he is not expected to be a player who can be given the ball and get a bucket in isolation. The Hornets do have some glaring holes in their frontcourt, however with a pick this high I believe that you should always go with the best talent available. Kispert has a big frame and will hold his own defending guards and wings. His real value will be in spacing the floor for LaMelo and hitting his shots at a high clip.
- San Antonio Spurs – Alperen Sengun, Besiktas (TSL), Center
DeMar DeRozan has one foot out the door, leaving the Spurs as the definition of mediocrity. While they have a hall of fame head coach in Gregg Popovich, as well as some decent players in Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills, and Keldon Johnson, the Spurs are nowhere near title contention, let alone making a deep playoff run. Unfortunately, the twelfth overall pick likely won’t turn that around. Alperen Sengun is an old-school big man that is a beast down low. At 18-years-old, he won the MVP of the Turkish Super League and has to be respected anytime he is around the basket. His style of play should cater well to coach Popovich, who coached Hall Of Fame big men Tim Duncan, and David Robinson. Sengun will give the Spurs a much-needed center, and likely keep them a mediocre team for years to come.
- Indiana Pacers – Jaden Springer, Tennessee, Guard
The Indiana Pacers are a bit of a mess. They have plenty of good players but could use an on-ball guard. Malcolm Brogdon fulfills this role to an extent, but he is similar to Fred Vanvleet, whereby he would benefit by playing alongside a ball-dominant guard, and transition into the role of a secondary playmaker. Jaden Springer has a high basketball IQ, elite shooting, and is a good defender. Even if the Pacers decide to move into more of a rebuild, Springer is a culture-setting type of player who will likely be a starting-level player in the NBA for years to come. He has yet to develop much of a consistent mid-range game so there is some cause for concern that he doesn’t become a drive threat and ends up only having a three-point shot in his offensive arsenal.
- Golden State Warriors – Chris Duarte, Oregon, Guard/Forward
The Warriors are in a unique position with picks #7 and #14 in this draft. They’ll surely be looking to dangle both of those assets to land a more established player in San Francisco who can help them contend immediately, however for the sake of this mock, we’re assuming that they were unable to find a trade partner by Thursday night. With their dynamic trio of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Stephen Curry all playing into their early 30’s, the Dubs need to find players in this draft who can make an immediate impact, as Drew mentioned earlier. The 24-year-old Canadian, Chris Duarte could fit that bill. Duarte is a lights-out three-point shooter who plays with a lot of energy, and he’s a solid perimeter defender. He’s one of the few players in this draft whom experts are confident about being able to help his team win games as a rookie, and so if the Warriors are forced to hang onto this pick, Duarte should be their guy. I’m not one for NBA comparisons, but some have gone as far as to liken him to a Walmart version of Klay.
- Washington Wizards – Jalen Johnson, Duke, Point Forward
The Wizards have some depth at their forward positions, but with this pick I have them bolstering their young core. Jalen Johnson is more of a point forward than a traditional forward like Hachimura or Bertans, who possesses lots of athleticism. With him making the personal choice to sit out for half of Duke’s season last year, his ranking in this draft varies a ton. He has NBA-read size and strength, and he’s a tremendous playmaker in transition. Playing with the likes of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, Jalen projects to be a solid fit since he doesn’t command the ball in halfcourt settings, and provides great length and versatility on the defensive side of the ball.
- Oklahoma City Thunder – Davion Mitchell, Baylor, Guard
To rack up 3 first round picks in 1 draft is some 2K-level madness. After adding Scottie Barnes to their squad with the 6th pick, Oklahoma is taking the best player available at 16. The Thunder are rich in talent, and it remains to be seen what they have in store in terms of trades. If Shai does end up getting dealt, Davion Mitchell would be an impressive pickup who could make up for some of Gilgeous-Alexander’s lost production immediately. Coming off a National championship with Baylor, Mitchell knows how to win at every level. The rugged point guard brings a tenacious attitude and work ethic every time he steps on the court, which is perfect for a young team in Oklahoma. An additional benefit would be allowing Mitchell to develop his offensive game playing alongside Kemba Walker, if he’s still on the team by the start of next season.
- New Orleans Pelicans – Jared Butler, Baylor, Guard
The Pelicans decided to move back from the 10th overall pick to the 17th overall pick in order to acquire Valanciunas. With the frontcourt completely locked down by JV and Zion Williamson, the addition of Butler will provide them some skill at the guard spot after the departure of Eric Bledsoe. While Butler is very similar to Pelicans restricted free agent Lonzo Ball in terms of his shooting ability, passing, and defense, he has a far better ability to create his own shot. Additionally, Ball enters restricted free agency this season and is expected to be paid big, either by the Pelicans or through an offer sheet from another team. Adding Butler allows the Pelicans to let go of Lonzo and save some cap room in the short term to go after Kyle Lowry.
- Oklahoma City Thunder – Sharife Cooper, Auburn, Guard
The Oklahoma City Thunder have so many future picks that picking for need doesn’t have much value with their later round picks. Sure they already have Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, Shai Gilgeious-Alexander, and now Davion Mitchell, but who knows who will stay long-term? Sharife Cooper is a small guard who has the potential to score and make plays at a high level, which should translate to the NBA. He averaged over 20 points per game to go along with 8.1 assists for Auburn this past season. His field goal percentage was dreadful at 39% from the field and 23% from beyond the arc, however the Thunder could be wise to select a player with Cooper’s risk/reward potential.
- New York Knicks – Kai Jones, Texas, Center
After finally reviving their franchise thanks to the likes of Derrick Rose, Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks are going to use this draft to add to their young core, and bolster themselves into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Kai Jones has a wide range in this draft, with some saying he could go as high as 7, or as low as the mid-20’s. Regardless, the Knicks will be getting a player who can fill some minutes at the 5 as a rookie, while also playing well next to Julius Randle. Jones is an uber-athletic 6’11 big who can stretch the floor and take players of his size off the bounce, and while he is not an astute rebounder, that’s an area of his game which Randle will be able to compensate for.
- Atlanta Hawks – Usman Garuba, Real Madrid, Forward/Centre
Atlanta has trusted the process for many years, and it’s finally starting to pay off. With Trae Young, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter all taking another step forward this year, they were even able to make an improbable run in last season’s playoffs. There is no question that Atlanta can score the ball in the halfcourt. The question for the Hawks is how well they’ll be able to defend opponents in the halfcourt. Taking arguably the best defender in the draft at the 20th spot would be a steal. Garuba played in Spain last season and was a force on the defensive end. Mix this with his ability to get up and down the court in a flash, and this makes for an ideal pick for the Hawks.
- New York Knicks – Keon Johnson, Tennessee, Guard/Forward
As one of the Cinderella stories of last season, nobody predicted the resurgence of the New York Knicks. As mentioned earlier, the Knicks will continue their rise to the penthouse of the Eastern Conference. With the addition of Kai Jones to the core of Randle, Rose and Barrett. Keon Johnson seems to be a solid fit with their squad. Under a hard-nosed coach in Tom Thibodeau, look for Johnson to really excel on the defensive end. He is a physical presence with some incredible athleticism, having set the NBA combine vertical leap record at 48-inches! The offensive side of his game still needs to be polished, however, if Johnson buys into the Knicks system and works on his ball handling, he has a very high ceiling.
- L.A. Lakers – Tre Mann, Florida, Guard
There is no team that is under more pressure to win now than the Lakers. With an aging LeBron James who will turn 37 this season and a prime Anthony Davis hungry for a second ring, the Lakers need a player who will make an impact right away. Tre Mann is a point guard with decent size, a good-looking three-point shot, and the ability to run a pick-and-roll offense. His shooting will allow the Lakers to space out the floor with LeBron and Davis dominating the paint, while his ability to operate the pick-and-roll will allow the team to get some easy buckets with their superstars sitting on the bench. The Lakers need a point guard to allow LeBron to play off-ball and rest for certain possessions, and Mann is the guy to fill that role.
- Houston Rockets – JT Thor, Auburn, Forward
JT Thor is an exciting pick for the Rockets at 23. The sky’s the limit with this 6’10, 7’0 wingspan lefty. With the Rockets having Kevin Porter Jr., Christain Wood, and Jalen Green (likely) adding Thor would fill a big positional need for them moving forward if he can reach his potential. The defensive IQ, and physical strength, and three-point shooting are areas in which Thor can improve, but he has the potential to be an exciting project for the Rockets as they go through their rebuild.
- Houston Rockets – Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky, Center/Forward
The Houston Rockets need to nail this draft if they’ll have any hope of shedding the darkness that the departure of James Harden cast upon them. They’ve been on the receiving end of good luck all season, landing the #2 pick in this year’s draft, and finding some success with their newfound duo of Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood. With Wood, Jae’Sean Tate, and now JT Thor as Houston’s sole frontcourt personnel heading into free agency, they are deciding to add another big man to the mix by drafting Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson. Jackson is probably the second best rim protector in this class, trailing only Evan Mobley in that category, as he is coming off a season where he averaged 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes. Though he is incapable of shooting the ball from beyond the arc at this point in his career, he is a solid free-throw shooter, sparking hope that he could one day develop into a pick-and-pop threat. For now, he could make a great frontcourt pairing with Wood, especially on the defensive end.
- L.A. Clippers – Trey Murphy III, Virginia, Forward
The L.A. Clippers are looking for a win-now type of player with the 25th pick, and having Trey Murphy III still on the board is ideal. Murphy is a prototypical 3-and-D player that can guard wings and guards effectively using his quick lateral movement and 7’0 wingspan. He can also spread the floor for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to drive to the cup, and is a reliable shooter, having hit 40% of his looks from deep last season. Trey should be able to join the Clippers and make an impact off the bench right away.
- Denver Nuggets – Joshua Primo, Alabama, Guard
The Denver Nuggets were a Jamal Murray away from potentially being NBA Champions last season, having come so close without one half of their 1-2 punch. However, Mike Malone’s squad are a bunch of fighters, and are young enough to make some noise in the Western Conference for years to come. One of the most intriguing players left in the draft is Joshua Primo: a freshman out of Alabama, and the youngest draft eligible player. To say Primo is raw would be an understatement, but the 6’6 shooting guard has a very high ceiling and Denver’s lack of guard depth will give Primo the opportunity he needs to develop into a real NBA player.
- Brooklyn Nets – Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky, Center
This 6’11 big man with a 7’3 wingspan is the perfect addition to the Brooklyn Nets. If re-signed, the return of Spencer Dinwiddie will restore Brooklyn’s much-needed backcourt depth. With forwards Kevin Durant and Joe Harris also returning for another season, Brooklyn is primed to add a big bruising center. While Blake Griffin and Jeff Green have been surviving as stretch fours, Bassey will give the Nets a strong paint presence who can also hit catch-and-shoot threes to space the floor. This addition could finally push the Nets over the hump and allow them to win a championship
- Philadelphia 76ers – Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois, Guard
If the Sixers are going to trade Simmons, they could use some playmaking and rebounding to fill the void that his departure leaves. Ayo Donsunmu is a well-rounded prospect at 6’5 who can defend, rebound, and has a high motor. Dosunmu is a much-improved shooter, raising his three-point percentage from 29% to 39% between the 2019-20 season and the 2020-21 season. He doesn’t appear to have as high of a ceiling as some other prospects, but he could have a chance to play some meaningful minutes for Philly this season off of the bench as a high-energy guy.
- Phoenix Suns – Rokas Jokubaitis, Zalgiris (LBL), Guard
The Phoenix Suns will have big decisions to face this summer after falling two games short of miraculously winning an NBA Championship. Chris Paul has a player option for $44M – which if he declines, would not be shocking – and Cameron Payne is also set to hit unrestricted free agency. With the strong possibility of losing one of their floor generals this offseason, the Suns will add to their backcourt by drafting one of the better point guards still on the board: Rokas Jokubaitis. Despite being what one might call a “pure” point guard, Jokubaitis is also good at playing off the ball. He’s not as athletic as some other guards in the league whom he’ll have to keep up with, but that doesn’t stop him from being a plus defender, simply because of his basketball IQ and his hustle on that end of the floor.
- Utah Jazz – Ziaire Williams, Stanford, Forward
With the last pick of Raptors Cage’s inaugural NBA mock draft, Utah is swinging for the fences on a ‘boom or bust’ prospect. Ziarie was a top-ranked player in the nation coming out of high school, but after an underwhelming season with Stanford, he’s no longer projected to be drafted in the lottery. Williams possesses great athleticism with a smooth mid-range jumper. There are question marks surrounding his game due to how much he struggled with finishing at the rim, shooting from deep, or bringing any sort of scoring ability consistently, but all of the raw tools are still there. Going to Utah, he will have the time to develop, and could find himself slotting into their rotation in the future with aging wings in Bojan and Joe Ingles. If Ziaire ends up going this low, don’t be surprised if he’s the steal of the draft.