The Top 5
We're quickly reaching the point of Draft Season in which things are about to start heating up in a hurry. This is usually how things go this time of the year. The G-League Elite Camp, NBA Draft Combine, and Prospect "Pro-Days" wrap up, and teams start the process of bringing in specific prospects for group or individual workouts. It's something that Draft fanatics pay close attention to. We try to connect dots and see if we can find any sort of information that might convince ourselves that a specific team is more interested in a prospect than others might believe. Often, it turns out that teams are being thorough with their research. These teams want to make sure they cast a wide net, making sure they take a look at as many prospects as possible because you never know who will still be on the board on draft night.
One of the most important parts of this next couple of weeks is intel. Remember that fans, because while we all obsess over what we see on film during games, intel is almost everything in the world of scouts and NBA personnel. It can completely swing the momentum of a prospect during this time of the year. Let's take a look at last year's class for example. Then Florida State forward Patrick Williams was seen as a potential Lottery selection until strong intel and rave reviews started pouring in from all over the league. That momentum, lead to some speculation around the league that the Detroit Pistons, who were picking 7th, had promised Williams they would select him with their pick. We can only speculate if Detroit was really planning on taking Williams at 7, but the Chicago Bulls didn't want to take a chance and drafted him with the 4th overall selection. That same sort of momentum can swing a player the other way. Remember, teams will also be scrambling these next couple of weeks to try and get medical information on certain prospects. A player like Michael Porter Jr was seen as an elite prospect, but some questionable intel and medical evaluations lead to him falling to the Denver Nuggets at 14th in the 2018 Draft. The rumor mill is going to start heating up and so is the speculation. So it's always important to be able to take everything with a grain of salt. But, it's always important to remember that where there's smoke...there's usually fire as well.
This year's Top 5 is shaping up to be a fascinating one, as expected. Each of these teams has a number of options they can consider with their first-round selections (I know Pistons fans let's just get through this together). Below, I'll break down the options that each team could be considering. Let's get this party started.
The Belle of the Ball when it comes to this year's 2021 NBA Draft. Yes, we all know that the Detroit Pistons are currently "On the Clock" even though Adam Silver will officially announce that on July 29th. While there's going to be plenty of discussion about what the Pistons could do with the first overall pick, Oklahoma State freshman guard Cade Cunningham is going to be the heavy favorite to become the selection. It makes all of the sense in the world. Although the Pistons had themselves a heck of a first-year during their "re-build", there's still plenty of work to be done moving forward. After an impressive draft haul in 2020 that landed Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, and Killian Hayes, the Pistons now find themselves with an intriguing young core to continue to build with. Adding a talent like Cunningham to that mix definitely pushes the needle forward a considerable amount. Cunningham will come in as a potential franchise-changing type of talent. A 6'8" guard with a sensational feel for the game and the ability to make an impact on both sides of the floor at multiple levels. He's a threat to score from all over the floor and plays the game with a veteran feel that is rare to see with young ballhandler prospects. It would be a serious shock to see Detroit go in another direction but let's just entertain the idea for educational purposes.
If Detroit is smitten on someone like G-League Ignite guard Jalen Green, then they could try to bring in a type of haul that was similar to when the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers exchanged spots in the draft in the Markelle Fultz/Jayson Tatum trade. That saw the Boston Celtics move from 1 to 3 while picking up additional picks. On the other hand, Detroit could simply just be convinced they like Green enough to take him 1st overall and not risk the idea of a team like Houston taking Green at 2. Maybe Houston wants to come up to 1 to secure Cade Cunningham? A lot of questions can be discussed at this point, especially if we want to go the route of entertaining that maybe Detroit is fond of USC big man Evan Mobley as well. When talking about Green, there's going to be plenty of fans across the league when it comes to the upside. He's got the vibes of a smoother Zach LaVine who has the potential to turn into a special talent as a scoring wing. Green jumps off on tape with his ability to create separation and he can light it up from all over the floor. Not to mention the fact that Green is a highlight reel waiting to happen with terrifyingly impressive athleticism. Plenty will try to stir the pot when it comes to the direction that the Pistons will go on Draft Night. As of now, it seems that Cunningham would be a slam dunk selection for the city of Detroit and the Pistons organization. We've seen crazier curveballs happen on Draft Night, but it would seem to be a major shock if GM Troy Weaver didn't turn in the "Cade Cunningham" card as fast as possible.
Things will get extremely interesting when it comes to the second overall selection on Draft Night. This is where the debate between a couple of specific players gets juicy. While most will be curious about what Detroit might do at 1 if it's not Cade Cunningham, Houston is going to be in a spot in which they can go in two interesting directions. The first is Jalen Green. Like it's stated above, Green has the upside to be a special talent in this league. He's a 6'5" shooting guard with crazy bounce and the potential to be a monster of a threat as an offensive player. Green also has some untapped ability defensively, and some might argue that he has the upside to be a dominant off guard in this league. But Green is going to need plenty of patience and time to find his groove in the league. Houston is a team that is still extremely young when it comes to the overall stage of their re-build. John Wall is going to be under contract and will most likely be with Houston this year unless a surprising trade happens. The Rockets also landed Christian Wood as a free agent last year, although there have been some rumblings about if Houston might try to move Wood this offseason. Still, Green would inject some serious excitement into the backcourt and fanbase of this organization.
If Houston doesn't go the Jalen Green route, then the other card they could play is drafting USC big man Evan Mobley. It's always important to remember that teams fall in love with the athletic big men that have the potential to be a franchise-changing type of presence. Mobley has the upside to be special as well. He's 7'0" but runs the floor like a deer and showcases impressive lateral quickness. Mobley will need to become a more consistent threat from outside, but he has the potential to be a "force feed" option on the offensive side of the ball, especially if he can continue to tighten up his handles off the bounce. When it comes to his defense, it's hard not to drool about what you see on tape. Mobley will hang his hat on his defensive ability from the moment he steps on an NBA court. He's lengthy and has fantastic anticipation and timing when it comes to shot-blocking. There's plenty to love about Mobley and if an NBA team is convinced his best basketball is ahead, he's going to be a popular name. Houston could see themselves trying to see if a pairing of Christian Wood and Mobley would work out or if they eventually want to move Wood they can just live with Mobley securing the middle of the paint. While Mobley is a bit thin-framed, and plenty will point that out when wondering about his ability to bang with bigger centers in the league, he's able to beat those bigger opponents with his quickness and feet. Most young centers come into the league with a need to add strength to their frame, and I wouldn't be too overly worried about Mobley being able to hang with NBA players. For what it's worth, there's plenty of times on tape in which Mobley has no fear and shows a bit of a mean streak when he's battling in the paint.
It seems as if every year there's one team towards the top of the draft that becomes a bit difficult to try to and predict the direction in which they might go. This year it seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers might become the "headache" team if you start to break down potential scenarios. Now before Cavs fans try to argue that this isn't a difficult decision, allow me the opportunity to explain. The next couple of weeks are going to feature a number of rumors coming out of Cleveland. It's already started right before our own eyes. The Cavaliers have a talented backcourt right now featuring Collin Sexton and Darius Garland aka "SEXLAND." Side note, still convinced that SEXLAND is one of the best nicknames in sports as of now. Okay, let's get back to the point here. With Sexton's contract situation becoming the elephant in the room, the Cavaliers have some options they need to consider. Do they look to trade Sexton and replace him with a guard in this class? Do they move forward with Sexton and Garland and try to just continue to add pieces to the puzzle? Do they move down and acquire additional assets? Do they try to be super aggressive and move up? Those are going to be questions thrown around because the truth is...Cleveland is a bit of a wildcard towards the top of the draft.
Now let's say that the Cavaliers stay put at three and let the board fall to them, deciding to draft the Best Player Available and figure everything out down the road. Cleveland still finds itself in a fantastic position to let an extremely talented player fall right into their laps. Personally, I believe the dream for Cavs fans would be Houston drafting Jalen Green at 2 and then Evan Mobley is the pick at 3. With Mobley, you get a defensive anchor with serious offensive upside and the potential to turn into a monster on both sides of the floor. Grooming a young backcourt of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley sounds like great family fun for all. Don't forget about last year's lottery selection Isaac Okoro as well. If Cleveland also decides to bring back Jarrett Allen on an extension, you now have a young defensive core involving the likes of Allen, Mobley, Okoro, and Sexland. That's a fun group to roll with on a nightly basis. The other option on the table is that Houston goes Evan Mobley at two and the Cavaliers have to make a decision between two talented backcourt members. I personally still think Jalen Green would be a fantastic addition for the Cavaliers even with Garland and Sexton. Green is going to need time and experience to allow his game to continue to grow. Cleveland can offer an opportunity to let him find his groove and they can then figure out what they want to do with that backcourt at a later time. The idea of Okoro and Green flying all over the court is extremely exciting as well. The other wildcard is saying the Cavaliers want to move on from Sexton, do they try to move back and target someone like Jalen Suggs instead? While I would hate for the Cavaliers fans to have to deal with that situation from a point of just annoyance with waiting to see what the roster is going to look like down the road, it could make some sense. Say for example Toronto wants to come up to 3 and secure Jalen Green while giving up a future asset and Cleveland goes back one spot to draft "their guy" in Suggs. The odds are it would be unlikely, but the Draft is known to throw us some serious surprises from time to time.
This is where things are going to get fun. I always tell myself to stress some serious caution when it comes to trying to figure out what type of tricks Masai Ujiri has up his sleeve. Although there's going to be plenty of attention to whether or not Ujiri signs a new deal to stay with Toronto, let's just say for sake right now that he's around for this Draft at least. Personally, I think the Toronto Raptors are one of the most fascinating teams in the entire lottery. Toronto was originally expected to be selecting 7th before jumping to 4th overall on lottery night. It's a notable win for this Raptors organization because this draft is "considered" having four high-caliber players before a bit of a drop-off. Not often do you see a team with Toronto's roster end up picking so early in the draft. It was a bit of a roller-coaster season for Toronto, as they had to spend the NBA season playing their "home games" in Tampa Bay, Florida due to the pandemic and all of that chaos. Now Toronto finds itself picking in a great spot and they have the chance to add a serious piece to that talented roster. The hope is that adding this type of "elite" prospect to that nucleus can seriously jumpstart Toronto towards having a bit of a "comeback" season next year.
So what do we know about the Raptors? Well, it would seem like veteran guard Kyle Lowry is on his way out. Although Lowry has been a crucial part of that organization over the years, he's getting up in age and it seems as if Toronto is finally ready to move on. With that being said it wouldn't surprise me if Toronto quickly becomes intrigued with adding a talent like Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs if he's still on the board at 4. Suggs would bring an alpha mentality and competitiveness that would fit perfectly with the Raptors roster. Although there's been plenty of attention to the other prospects mentioned earlier in this article, it would not surprise me if Suggs ends up being one of the better players from this draft at the end of the day. It's hard not to be a fan the moment you turn on the tape. Suggs flies all over the court on both sides of the ball and he does an outstanding job of setting up defenders with his change of speeds. He's a fighter who is simply going to bring it on a nightly basis. If you're looking for a floor general to go to war with, Jalen Suggs would be at the top of the list. Could Toronto be a team that also potentially throws a curveball? Could they be more intrigued with the upside of adding someone like G-League Ignite forward Jonathan Kuminga or Florida State Scottie Barnes? There's definitely a possibility and it wouldn't surprise me if the Raptors are one of the first major "curveballs" in this class. That being said, I do believe that the fit between Suggs and the Raptors is too enticing. He checks a lot of boxes for that organization and I believe Toronto would be THRILLED to add him to their core.
Now, this is one of the more interesting storylines to pay attention to when it comes to early teams in the Draft. Orlando finds itself picking at 5th overall but they also have the 8th overall selection as well from Chicago via the Nikola Vucevic trade. With a team that's still young and trying to find their identity, as well as a number of young promising pieces on the roster, Orlando has a big Draft ahead of themselves. Magic faithful, and the basketball world, are excited about the idea of key player Jonathan Isaac returning from injury for the upcoming season. Isaac was really coming into his own groove with his play at the NBA Bubble before going down with his injury. If Isaac can return to form, then the Magic have themselves a heck of a unique talent to continue to build with. Markelle Fultz was given an extension previously, and last year's first-round selection Cole Anthony looks to be a player who could make a big leap in his sophomore campaign. Don't forget about Chuma Okeke as well, who showed some serious signs for Orlando last year and looks to be another player who could do some damage with another full NBA offseason under his belt.
So where does that leave Orlando when it comes to the draft? Well, for now, let's just focus on the 5th selection. Because Orlando also has another "roll of the dice" at 8, I would imagine they would hope to take someone at 5 that has more upside to turn into something special. This is where the Jonathan Kuminga conversation will start to heat up in a hurry. Kuminga has spent the last year playing with the G-League Ignite in a shortened season, but the tools are just fascinating. While some might be quick to point out his below-average percentages when it comes to shooting, it's always important to remember that Kuminga had a small sample. One of the youngest players in the draft, Kuminga is going to be a project and someone that will most likely experience some "growing pains" early as a rookie. But this Magic team is still in a position to continue to add as many pieces to the puzzle as they can, as they are trying to find their identity moving forward. Kuminga has an NBA body already and has the frame and athleticism to turn into a serious player on both sides of the floor. He's going to need patience and time to continue to develop his craft, but his upside is right there with any of the prospects in this class if all of the tools can come together. A wildcard candidate here could be Florida State forward Scottie Barnes as well. It would be interesting though if the Magic want to try and pair two similar talents like Scottie Barnes and Jonathan Isaac. Although that duo would just be a joy defensively because of the versatility and length, it would probably create some serious questions on the offensive side of the ball as well. Orlando also could potentially "reach" at 5 and take someone they like that they might not be able to get at 8. It would be a bit rich for my taste, but maybe someone like UConn bucket getter James Bouknight is thrown into the mix. Although I would love if the Magic could somehow land Bounkight at 8 instead, if the Magic have someone they love, they might not want to risk losing him before their next selection.