Welcome basketball fans to the Machine of Madness which is the NBA Draft Lottery. The Backcourt Violation audience continues to grow with time, but some of you might be new to the legend which is the "Backcourt Diaries." Consider it a bit of a journal. Basically, a trip to the therapist to get some basketball thoughts on the table so we can move forward. Today is a massive day for a number of fan bases. The 2021 NBA Draft Class is shaping up to be one that has the potential to be a great one. Believe in the hype folks, there's plenty of talent ALL over the board. It's going to be an exciting Lottery to monitor some of the notable storylines and potential landing spots for the top talent in this class. Some fan bases know exactly what it's like to fill the cold chill running down your spine as Mark Tatum grabs those dang envelopes. I'm looking at you Sacramento Kings fans. Sorry, but we're all rooting for you to finally take the next step forward. There's also some serious "protection watch" that we all need to pay close attention to. Without further delay, let's get some thoughts out there...
What's the best "Fit" for Cade?
It's the most important storyline tomorrow, let's not beat around the bush. Oklahoma State freshman guard Cade Cunningham is going to be the "prize" tonight. Whichever team lands the number one overall selection should basically be holding up a Cade Cunningham jersey immediately. While we could always have some anarchy and see a team with a low percentage win the lottery (Remember when the Bulls won the lottery and Derrick Rose with a 1.7% chance?), the favorites tomorrow include Houston, Detroit, Orlando (14.0%) as well as Oklahoma City and Cleveland (11.5%). If teams like Cleveland or Orlando land the first selection, they will obviously have a bit of a logjam to figure out with a number of talented guards already on their rosters. A team like Detroit would be an intriguing fit for Cunningham, especially after an extremely strong 2020 class haul including Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, and Killian Hayes. Although the Pistons invested in an early lottery selection in Hayes, they are still in a position in which they will gladly add as much elite talent as they can get their hands on. Houston of course would be an intriguing team as well, especially with the realization that they are in such an early stage for their rebuild. Yes, John Wall is on their roster and under contract for a high number, but Houston wouldn't pass up an opportunity to add Cunningham to their organization. What if a wildcard jumps up in the lottery? Could the Toronto Raptors have some magic happen today? Would a lineup involving Cunningham, OG, and Siakam be an extremely fun time? Who knows, but wherever Cunningham lands...that fan base will likely have themselves a heck of a night of celebration.
What Protections Do We Need to Watch For?
Honestly, the Golden State Warriors are one of the most underrated storylines to keep an eye on tonight. Golden State right now is positioned to be selecting 6th and 14th if everything were to stay put. The problem is if the Warriors pick "jumps" it's most likely going to go back to Minnesota, as it's protected in the top 3. For a team like the Warriors who are hoping to get back a healthy Klay Thompson, they could do some serious damage in this class if they were to add two solid selections in the lottery. Warriors fans will be hoping for no funny business, as they are in a great position to add two solid pieces to their roster. Minnesota fans will be hoping for some luck, and if it happens...they get the opportunity to add a GREAT talent to their roster and Rookie of the Year runner-up Anthony Edwards. The Timberwolves were a team on the rise after their head coaching change, and they could be an exciting team next year if the ping pong balls bounce their way.
From there, Orlando and Chicago are teams to watch closely. After the Trade Deadline deal involving Nikola Vucevic, Orlando is in a phenomenal position to potentially have two selections in the top 10. As of now, Orlando is positioned to be selecting 3rd and 8th. For a team that is going to have plenty of pieces coming back healthy next year, including versatile forward Jonathan Isaac, Orlando could take some serious steps forward if they find themselves with two top-10 selections in this class. Chicago Bulls fans will be praying for some magic (no pun intended) today, as they get to keep the pick if it jumps into the top 4. Chicago swung for the fences with the Nikola Vucevic, and they would obviously be doing backflips in Chicago if they somehow got to keep their first-round selection this year.
Who Should Go After Cade?
The old famous statement is "The Draft Starts at ___". Some might say that it starts at the 2nd pick, while others could say that things get extremely interesting after the Top 5. There's going to be plenty of debate around the draft world about who deserves to be the second player off of the board on Draft night. As always, it's going to be important to see what team ends up with the second overall selection. Don't be surprised if you see plenty of passionate campaigns out there for players like Jalen Green (G-League Ignite) and Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga). Both are talented guards with the ability to score in a hurry. Suggs is more of a floor-general presence who offers some sneaky playmaking upside while Green has the potential to be a volume scorer with his quickness and separation ability.
Here's something to take into consideration when you want to think about who will go after Cade Cunningham. NBA Front Offices LOVE size. There's been a history of teams drafting bigs very early in the draft. Remember, the Phoenix Suns took Deandre Ayton first overall in 2018 over some guy named Luka Doncic. USC big man Evan Mobley is a unicorn of a prospect. Take that from someone who usually doesn't enjoy the unicorn "tag" but Mobley has all of the tools to be a special player at the NBA level. Mobley moves and runs the floor like he's a guard. He will be a prospect that most will immediately say "Wow...he's skinny right?" Well, he also plays with some serious nastiness in the paint. There's a number of times on tape in which you randomly find yourself drooling about all of the tools that he has when it comes to his game. Mobley has the potential to become a serious force on both sides of the floor. He's an intelligent defender who offers the ability to stretch the floor with his outside shooting. If that wasn't enough, Mobley also has the potential to be a serious P&R asset, due to his soft hands and ability to finish around the basket with both hands. Don't overthink this one, and don't be shocked if NBA teams are just as excited about Mobley.
Promise Season is Here
One of the most fascinating developments throughout the pre-draft process is the legend of "Promises." Each year, you'll notice a number of players who have withdrawn from participating in certain pre-draft events due to promises of their "draft range" from NBA teams. Usually, this comes from a team that promises that a player won't be selected lower than their position. It's always interesting to see what names all of a sudden get this "honor" of having some desire in Front Offices. As you'll see below, Sports Illustrated Draft Expert Jeremy Woo reported that two prospects in this year's class received some promises for the draft.
Some draft news: I'm told LSU's Cameron Thomas and Kentucky's Isaiah Jackson, both projected first-rounders, have withdrawn from the NBA combine as of this morning.— Jeremy Woo (@JeremyWoo) June 21, 2021
Both of these aren't much of a surprise, as LSU guard Cameron Thomas and Kentucky big man Isaiah Jackson were both considered to be potentially late lottery/middle of the first selections. The interesting conversation will be trying to figure out what range they are going to be in specifically. When it comes to a player like Cam Thomas, there's no denying that certain teams in the draft are going to be fond of his ability. Thomas is the definition of a microwave scorer. He's a prospect that playoff-caliber teams would be drooling to add to their rotation. He averaged 23.0 PPG last year for the LSU Tigers and he can fill it up in a hurry from all over the basketball court. If a team makes it simple for Thomas early on and just wants him to be a bucket getter, he could be a heck of an addition in the draft. The rest of his game will take some time to come around, but there's serious potential for Thomas to become a draft-day steal.
When it comes to Isaiah Jackson, it's not going to be a secret why teams could be so high on his game. Jackson plays with contagious energy and he's got a great combination of size and explosiveness for a big man. Jackson caught fire towards the end of the season, and scouts around the league started to get intrigued with his skillset again in a hurry. It's a similar conversation to Cam Thomas. If an NBA makes it simple for Jackson early on, he could be a player that thrives. He's at his best as a volume rebounder who can make some terrifying rejections on the defensive side of the ball. Jackson tries to swat the ball into the 40th row whenever an opposing player drives the lane. There's some serious upside to the rest of his offensive game, and he's just scratching the surface. He could be a project that turns into a heck of an NBA player with patience and development.
Are There Any International Prospects Who Could Climb the Lottery?
The answer is a very exciting YES. Don't you dare sleep on this international class for a second. While last year's class obviously was a hyped one with the likes of LaMelo Ball*, RJ Hampton*, and Deni Avdija, the international class of the 2021 Draft has some serious talent all over the place. While most of the options will most likely hear their names later in the draft, there's a couple of options who could start to see their stock climb in a hurry. The first candidate here is Josh Giddey, who has been playing in the NBL (Australia) with the Adelaide 36ers. Giddey won't turn 19-years-old until October, but he's got a serious amount of exciting tools in his treasure chest of skills. Giddey will be one of the better playmaking guards in this year's class, and at 6'8" he's going to have the curiosity of plenty of NBA Front Offices. Giddey also plays the game like a seasoned veteran, showcasing an understanding of when to push the tempo and how to get to his spots on the offensive side of the floor. If his outside shot can come around on a more consistent level, he has the potential to be a special addition to an NBA organization.
After Giddey, keep a lookout on Turkish big man Alperen Sengun, who spent the last year playing with Besiktas. If you're looking for a big man with elite athleticism, then you might be a bit disappointed when you watch Sengun. But what you should really be paying attention to, is the rare skillset that Sengun has for a big man prospect. Sengun plays the game like a chess player, calculating how to be one move ahead of the opposition. He lulls defenders to sleep before attacking them when they give him the smallest of windows. He's got a sensational feel for the game and will draw plenty of comparisons to Nikola Jokic for his ability as a playmaker as well. Don't be surprised if Sengun has some serious fans in Front Offices, especially if they are convinced he's going to be fine on the defensive side of the ball. Sengun isn't an elite athlete when it comes to lateral quickness, but he makes up for it with his length and effort. He has a great understanding of the game on both sides of the ball and he's shown plenty of flashes that he could eventually turn into a floor-spacing threat.
One final name that you need to pay close attention to when it comes to International prospects in this class is Usman Garuba. Although Garuba will be listed as a big man, you would be fooled when you watch him on tape due to his lateral quickness and speed when running the floor. Garuba moves like a possessed wing, especially on the defensive side of the ball. You could argue that no prospect in this class is as fun to watch as a defender as Garuba. He plays the game with contagious passion and effort and isn't afraid to sprint back to make an emphatic chase down block at any time. The rest of his offensive game is going to take some time to come around, even though he's shown some flashes as a floor-spacing option. Teams could have Garuba high on their boards just for his potential to come in and immediately make an impact as a defender who can guard multiple positions at a high level. Don't get too caught up on his stats when you take a look at Garuba. He spent most of the year trying to carve out minutes for European powerhouse Real Madrid. Before you knew it, Garuba was too important to leave off the floor, especially when it came to crunch time minutes in which Madrid needed defensive stops.
Sleeper Lottery Options & Names to Watch Out For
Each year, we end up finding some names that all of a sudden sneak up into the lottery out of nowhere. Take for example last year when the Phoenix Suns decided to draft Jalen Smith 10th overall. It's still early in the pre-draft process and there's going to be a lot of information and intel (remember intel is everything for the next couple of months) rolling in. Make sure you keep a close eye on those names that start to heat up in draft circles. While there's always a lot of smoke that starts to build up around this time of the year, some of that smoke carries some weight. Just be careful of who is reporting it. As always, we don't report sources or rumors unless we are 110% sure it is coming from reliable connections. That being said, it's a fun exercise to take a look at the boards and think of some names that could potentially climb after the Combine and pre-draft workouts.
Virginia forward Trey Murphy III announced he would keep his name in the 2021 Draft this week, and it's definitely an intriguing option to keep an eye on. TM3 has plenty to like about his game and he's a name who could start to climb up in the first round if he continues to have himself a strong pre-draft campaign. At the combine today, Murphy measured in at 6'9.25" with a 7'0" wingspan. Pair that length with his ability to be an absolute flamethrower of a shooting threat from outside, and NBA teams will be intrigued with his ability as a 3-and-D option.
Two of the biggest winners from the combine today were West Virginia guard Miles McBride and VCU guard Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland. Both players were trending towards potentially being early second-round options, but it wouldn't surprise me if they start trending upward in a hurry if they continue to impress over the next couple of weeks. I'm still believing that Arkansas wing Moses Moody could start to get some momentum again after his stock cooled off a bit after a disappointing NCAA tournament performance. Moody has good size and length and has serious upside as an offensive weapon at the NBA level. If he can confirm to NBA teams during workouts that he's the player they saw throughout the regular season, Moody could be a name who climbs up into the lottery in a hurry.
A wildcard name to keep an eye on as a potential late lottery "surprise" would be Oregon guard Chris Duarte. Although Duarte will have plenty of skepticism because of his age (just turned 24-years-old) he still offers plenty of skills that NBA teams will covet once the end of the lottery comes into the conversation. Realistically, I think Duarte is trending towards being someone that is selected in the late teens/early 20s. But, it's always important to remember that there's always a number of draft day surprises and if teams think Duarte is a safer pick with a lower "floor", they might be enticed to add a 6'6" guard who can come in and score in bunches.