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2021 NBA mock draft: First round


In this first post-NCAA Tournament 2021 NBA Mock Draft of the First Round, we will be focusing on the basic scouting report of each prospect. Every selection will begin with an NBA comparison to give you an idea of what type of player the prospect could look like one day. For players without an obvious comparison due to their frame and/or style of play, we added some contingencies to make it easier to envision. Future mock drafts may focus more on the fit with and needs of the team making the selection, but for this first version, an introduction to each prospect containing a short summary of the player’s strengths and weaknesses seemed most appropriate. Enjoy!

[Note: Draft slots were determined by current record and not a simulation of the lottery odds.]

 

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Minnesota Timberwolves: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State

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NBA Comparison: Penny Hardaway

Like the next four prospects, Cade Cunningham has the talent and potential to be a franchise player. Unlike the next four prospects, Cunningham is jumbo-sized (6-foot-8, 220 pounds) for his natural position (guard), and has no holes in his game – he’s above-average at everything – giving him, by far, the highest floor of any player on the board. Cunningham has point guard playmaking skills, shooting guard separation ability off the bounce, and a forward’s strength and athleticism. He also projects to be a multi-positional defender at the next level. Finally, Cunningham has a sense of the moment and is able to take his game up a notch in high-pressure moments. The respective performances of Jalen Suggs in the NCAA Tournament and Jalen Green in the G-League Bubble certainly make those two tempting here at no. 1, but there’s no reason to overthink here for Minnesota.

 

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Houston Rockets: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

Houston Rockets: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

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NBA Comparison: Jrue Holiday with Russell Westbrook’s upside

I LOVE Jalen Suggs. He’s everything a team like the Rockets could want with the no. 2 pick in the draft. He’s a big guard (6-foot-4, 205 pounds), who has elite athleticism, a football player’s mentality and toughness, and all of the attributes you’d want in a franchise guard in the NBA. Suggs might be the best player in the draft once he’s made the focal point of an offense. Gonzaga barely needed him and certainly didn’t cater to him at all this season despite him being their best player. However, he always showed up big in the biggest games of the season – if this block-assist highlight wasn’t good enough for you, then perhaps this iconic buzzer-beater was. He projects to be an excellent defender and works his tail off as well. If Houston is able to land Suggs, people will probably stop questioning the Rockets passing on Ben Simmons and the Philly trade package in the James Harden sweepstakes. 

 

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Detroit Pistons: Jalen Green, G-League Ignite

Detroit Pistons: Jalen Green, G-League Ignite

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NBA Comparison: Bradley Beal

Jalen Green looks and plays like he was built in a lab to be an elite two-guard in the NBA. He’s 6-foot-5 and has the kind of bounce that will stand out even at the NBA level. He also already has all of the offensive moves of a go-to scorer – he looks like Bradley Beal with his ability to handle the ball in pick-and-rolls, finish above the rim amongst the trees, score in isolation, and get his shot off with an array of dribble moves, step-backs, and side-steps. While his playmaking abilities will need to improve if he ever wants to get to Beal’s level, but there’s plenty of time to develop those skills. The Pistons happily snag Green here at no. 3 and continue building a young roster with plenty of potential around him.

 

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Orlando Magic: Evan Mobley, USC

Orlando Magic: Evan Mobley, USC

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NBA Comparison: On the Nerlens Noel-Anthony Davis Spectrum, but much closer to Davis

In almost any draft ever, Evan Mobley would be a no-brainer top-two, top-three pick. Though he certainly has a chance to go in the top three, he falls to the Magic at no. 4 in this mock draft because franchise ball-handlers are usually more valuable to a franchise than versatile big men. Mobley has the propensity to coast a bit but jumps off the screen when he does stuff, which is always a great sign. Standing at 7-foot, with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Mobley has the length and athleticism to be an incredible rim protector (3.0 BPG) at the next level as well as an excellent rim-runner. He also has some unicorn perimeter skills and has the chance to be a nice pick-and-pop threat from the perimeter. He’ll have to add some muscle to his skinny frame in order to guard the NBA’s top centers, but the Magic are in rebuild mode, so his timeline will mirror Orlando’s timeline.

 

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Washington Wizards: Jonathan Kuminga, G-League Ignite

Washington Wizards: Jonathan Kuminga, G-League Ignite

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NBA Comparison: Jaylen Brown

The fifth franchise player-level prospect in this draft is Jonathan Kuminga – a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward whose body and skillset brings Jaylen Brown to mind. Kuminga is a very nice athlete and has noticeably good footwork for such a young player. And while his three-point stroke is inconsistent, his form is solid and he’s already comfortable shooting off the dribble. The consistency should improve with coaching and repetition. Most negatives associated with Kuminga have to do with his motor and feel for the game, so he’s a bigger risk than the four players ahead of him, but still a player with All-Star potential for the Wizards at no. 5.

 

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Cleveland Cavaliers: Keon Johnson, Tennessee

Cleveland Cavaliers: Keon Johnson, Tennessee

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NBA Comparison: A better defending, worse shooting version of Zach LaVine

Let’s hope that we see Keon Johnson and Jalen Green competing against one another in a dunk contest in the near future. Johnson was college basketball’s most emphatic dunker this past season. And while he’s a different type of player than Zach LaVine, his vertical athleticism certainly makes you think of the two-time dunk contest champion. Johnson isn’t nearly as smooth with his jump shot release as LaVine, so he will need to remedy the slight hitch in his shot to ever become a go-to scorer and more consistent three-point shooter (26.1 percent from three last season). However, unlike LaVine, Johnson is an engaged and active defender as well as a very good off-ball cutter. While Johnson isn’t in the same tier of prospects as the five guys selected ahead of him, he’s still a player with All-Star potential if he ends up in the right position and everything breaks right for him.

 

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Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes, Florida State

Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes, Florida State

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NBA Comparison: Jerami Grant with some playmaking chops

Scottie Barnes is a baller. He’s the type of player who probably dominates pickup games with his fluid athleticism, impressive size (6-foot-9) and length (7-foot-2 wingspan), and extreme confidence. He was a monster recruit coming out of high school last season and won both the SEC Sixth Man of the Year and SEC Rookies of the Year after averaging 10.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 1.5 SPG. He also made a couple of clutch plays throughout the year for the Seminoles and is very comfortable in late-game situations. Much like they’ve done with players like OG Anunoby, the Raptors will have to help Barnes develop his shot, but he’s worth the swing here at no. 7.

 

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OKC Thunder: Davion Mitchell, Baylor

OKC Thunder: Davion Mitchell, Baylor

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NBA Comparison: Donovan Mitchell

As The Ringer’s Chris Vernon recently pointed out, Davion Mitchell is essentially a clone of Donovan Mitchell. Both are stout combo guards with excellent two-way skills, both named “D. Mitchell”, and both wear number 45. If there are some differences between the two: Donovan’s athleticism really pops, even at the NBA level; Davion’s shooting (52.3 percent from the field; 45.0 percent from three this season) and passing (5.3 APG this season) is further along than Donovan’s was in college (although Donovan only played two seasons whereas Davion is a junior). After his stellar NCAA Tournament performance, which ended with him destroying Gonzaga and cutting down the nets, Mitchell looks like a guaranteed lottery pick. The Thunder select him here and prepare to terrorize opposing guards for the next decade with him and Lu Dort.

 

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Orlando Magic (via Bulls): Jalen Johnson, Duke (kind of)

Orlando Magic (via Bulls): Jalen Johnson, Duke (kind of)

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NBA Comparison: Aaron Gordon (with less jaw-dropping athleticism)

Jalen Johnson is a jack of all trades, and master of none. At 6-foot-9, he can handle the ball well enough to start fast breaks off of rebounds, can pass well enough to take advantage of inattentive defenders, and can finish at and above the rim fairly well. He also projects to be a solid defender at the next level. The only major hole in his game is his shooting. If he can become a threat from the outside, he could end up being a high-level role player in the NBA. The Magic seem to covet big forwards who can do a little bit of everything except shoot, so he makes sense for them here at no. 9.

 

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Sacramento Kings: Franz Wagner, Michigan

Sacramento Kings: Franz Wagner, Michigan

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NBA Comparison: A better playmaking, worse shooting version of Danilo Gallinari

Though it may be difficult to get past his late-game struggles in the Elite Eight, Franz Wagner is a baller. He’s a highly-skilled, highly intelligent, tall small forward who can even play some defense. He’s 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, he can make plays off the dribble, he can shoot (38.4 percent from three). He also does all of the little things that make him a perfect high-level role player in the NBA. The Kings could use a do-it-all player at the forward position, so he’s a nice fit here at no. 10 for SacTown.

 

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New Orleans Pelicans: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga

New Orleans Pelicans: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga

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NBA Comparison: Joe Harris/Doug McDermott (very low hanging fruit, I know)

Before the National Championship Game against Baylor, Corey Kispert was looking like a surefire lottery pick. All season long he’d been a deadeye shooter (44.0 percent from three) who still athletic enough to pump fake, attack closeouts and finish at the rim. After the National Championship Game against Baylor, teams certainly have to be a little worried about Kispert’s ability to play against NBA athletes as Baylor had him looking shell-shocked and tentative on offense. While the concerns are legitimate, completely dismissing a 6-foot-7, 220-pound intelligent and efficient player like Kispert would be a mistake as he played just fine against other Power Five opponents all season. The Pelicans would be smart to grab him here at no. 11 and to provide better spacing for Zion Williamson.

 

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Indiana Pacers: James Bouknight, UConn

Indiana Pacers: James Bouknight, UConn

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NBA Comparison: Jordan Clarkson (Jazz version)

It was a tale of two seasons for James Bouknight this past season. Before his scary elbow injury, he was dominating every opponent in his path, culminating with a 40-point explosion against Creighton. After his injury, he and UConn were a little out of sorts on offense, leading to some ugly spacing and poor offensive outputs. Odds are Bouknight will resemble what we saw during the first half of the season when he gets to the NBA as the increased spacing will allow him to show off his smooth, shifty moves off the dribble as well as his elite hang time. His game resembles what we’re seeing from Jordan Clarkson since he was acquired by the Jazz, and the Pacers would be smart to have him come off the bench and attack opponent’s second units with a healthy dose of slithery drives and volume three-point shooting.

 

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Golden State Warriors: Jared Butler, Baylor

Golden State Warriors: Jared Butler, Baylor

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NBA Comparison: Taller Fred VanVleet

What’s not to love about the 2021 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Jared Butler? He’s got decent size for a point guard (6-foot-3, 195-pounds). He can defend the hell out of opponents as seen by his stellar performance against Gonzaga in the Championship (2.0 SPG too). He can shoot the hell out of the ball (47-42-78 shooting splits). And he can handle, make plays for his teammates and play alongside other guards. Yes, he’s a junior, but he’s still only 20 years old. Again, what’s not to love about this kid? He does everything you could ask for from a guard. If the Warriors keep this pick, look for them to add a player like Butler who will be ready to contribute to winning next season.

 

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San Antonio Spurs: Jaden Springer, Tennessee

San Antonio Spurs: Jaden Springer, Tennessee

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NBA Comparison: Malcolm Brogdon

Like Malcolm Brogdon, Jaden Springer doesn’t have eye-popping athleticism or do anything that makes your jaw drop…unless elite on- and off-ball defense and efficient shooting makes your jaw drop. While the casual fan might not appreciate Springer’s tenacity, there’s a good chance that Gregg Popovich will. Springer averaged 12.5 PPG with 47-44-81 shooting splits in his freshman year at Tennessee. He’s a player on the rise as of late and seems to be a nice fit for the Spurs’ system.

 

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New York Knicks: Sharife Cooper, Auburn

New York Knicks: Sharife Cooper, Auburn

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NBA Comparison: Ty Lawson

If you watch five minutes of Sharife Cooper, you’ll immediately notice a couple of things: 1) that he’s the quickest player on the court, which allows him to get wherever he wants; 2) that he’s a pass-first player (8.1 APG), and 3) that he sees the court and can manipulate defenders the same way players like Chris Paul and Trae Young can with creative dribble moves and hesitations. And while he has a propensity to pass, he can still score in bunches (20.2 PPG) due to the aforementioned cat-like quickness. At the NBA level, he’ll have to play more efficiently (39-23-83 shooting splits with 4.2 turnovers per game) than he did for an underwhelming Auburn team this past season, but he possesses some elite gifts and worth the risk at no. 15 for the point guard-needy Knicks.

 

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Boston Celtics: Kai Jones, Texas

Boston Celtics: Kai Jones, Texas

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NBA Comparison: Young JaVale McGee, Current-Jaxson Hayes

Kai Jones probably has the largest discrepancy between his highlights and his actual play on the court in this draft. His highlights are spectacular. He has ridiculous athleticism for a 6-foot-11, 218-pound big man, and will hammer home lob passes on offense and block the ball like he’s spiking a volleyball on defense. He can also move laterally were well for a center, so there’s plenty of flashes of defensive versatility. Moreover, Jones will occasionally do something on the perimeter or in the open court that will make your jaw drop, like euro-step past an unsuspecting defender and drop a no-look dime to a teammate for an easy basket. Or nail a three-pointer in rhythm like he’s done it his whole life. On the other hand, Jones averaged pedestrian numbers (8.8 PPG and 4.9 RPG) as a freshman and only started playing organized hoops at age 15, so he’s still very raw and inconsistent.  

 

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OKC Thunder (via Heat): Alperen Sengun, Turkey

OKC Thunder (via Heat): Alperen Sengun, Turkey

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NBA Comparison: Domantas Sabonis

Who? This 6-foot-9, 235-pound Turkish big man has a post-game that would have made him a potential top-five pick 10-15 years ago. His ability to use an array of pivots, shot fakes, baby hooks and up-and-unders keeps defenders off-balance, and he has enough bounce to play above the rim. If Sengun just had a back-to-the-basket game, he’d probably be a second-rounder, but there’s more to his game – he’s a nice roll man who looks comfortable catching the ball on the roll and on secondary fast breaks and finishing above and around defenders. While it remains to be seen if Sengun can switch onto NBA ball handlers, he does flash some nice closing speed in blocking shots as a help defender. The Thunder don’t mind taking a swing on an overseas project given that they have over thirty draft picks stockpiled the rest of the decade.

 

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Charlotte Hornets: Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky

Charlotte Hornets: Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky

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NBA Comparison: Skinny Richaun Holmes

Any team drafting Isaiah Jackson is selecting him with the hopes that he’ll put some more weight onto his 6-foot-11, 205-pound frame and be able to guard NBA centers. Holmes put up pretty pedestrian stats in college (8.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG)…until you see that he blocked 2.6 shots per game and had a player efficiency rating of 25.4 despite being on a 9-16 Kentucky team. Jackson’s massive wingspan (9-foot-5 standing reach) and athleticism will enable him to catch basically lob pass thrown below the top of the backboard and, likewise, deter most shots in the paint. His decent hands will be a massive upgrade for the Hornets guards who like LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier who are used to throwing passes to Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller (puke emoji).

 

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Memphis Grizzlies: Cameron Thomas, LSU

Memphis Grizzlies: Cameron Thomas, LSU

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NBA Comparison: Norman Powell

Cameron Thomas was put on this earth to do one thing: Get buckets. Thomas led the SEC in scoring this past season in conference play, averaging 28.5 PPG, including 10 free throw attempts a game. At a stout 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Thomas has both the athleticism and strength to get to the rim and finish through contact. He has the shooting range to bury shots from beyond the three-point arc. And he has the confidence to walk into the SEC as a freshman and think he’s the best player in the conference. Thomas will be able to score in the NBA, but the question will be whether he learns how to play enough within a team construct (aka share the ball!!) to be a consistent positive contributor. 

 

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Atlanta Hawks: Moses Moody, Arkansas

Atlanta Hawks: Moses Moody, Arkansas

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NBA Comparison: OG Anunoby

After a less than stellar NCAA Tournament showing, Moses Moody could be a nice steal here at no. 20 for the Atlanta Hawks. The lengthy 6-foot-6 wing averaged 16.8 PPG and 5.8 RPG on 43-36-81 shooting during his freshman year and displayed some strong defensive qualities both on- and off-ball throughout the year. He’ll almost certainly turn pro this summer, but Moody is a player who, if he thought he could become a better playmaker and pick-and-roll player with the ball in his hands, might benefit from another year in college in order to expand his offensive game – because right now, he relies solely on his teammates to get him open shots. Assuming he does turn pro, the Hawks could select him as a Cam Reddish insurance policy as Reddish has been underwhelming during his first two seasons. 

 

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New York Knicks (via Mavericks): Johnny Juzang, UCLA

New York Knicks (via Mavericks): Johnny Juzang, UCLA

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NBA Comparison: Paul Pierce lite

Outside of Max Abmas, no player raised his NBA profile more than UCLA’s Johnny Juzang in the NCAA Tournament. In six games, he averaged 22.8 PPG on 51-38-78 shooting and led the 11-seeded Bruins to the Final Four and within inches of the championship. He made clutch play after clutch play and displayed some elite shot-making abilities under heavy defensive attention and pressure. The former Kentucky recruit has a Paul Pierce-like pace, patience, and herky-jerky rhythm to his game. He has a way of using his body to get wherever he wants on the offensive end and has a bevy of shot fakes, spins, and old-school tricks that should make him a solid scorer in the NBA. While he might not fill out the way Pierce did (Pierce was 6-foot-7, 235 pounds; Juzang is 6-foot-6, 210 pounds), Juzang’s game and LA-ties call to mind Inglewood’s finest.

 

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Houston Rockets (via Blazers): Tre Mann, Florida

Houston Rockets (via Blazers): Tre Mann, Florida

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NBA Comparison: Derrick White

Tre Mann doesn’t have any elite attributes, he’s just a really good basketball player. And the Houston Rockets could use a few good basketball players right now. Mann enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore and averaged 16.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 3.5 APG to go along with very efficient 46-40-83 shooting splits. He doesn’t jump off the screen with his athleticism or playmaking, but he can break down a defender, he can manipulate a defense a bit, and he’s comfortable shooting step-back jumpers. At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Mann projects to be a nice rotation guard at the NBA level.

 

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LA Lakers: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

LA Lakers: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

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NBA Comparison: Delon Wright

Whichever team is selecting in place of the Lakers here at no. 23 (as we know LeBron James teams almost always trade first-round picks), is getting a steal if Ayo Dosunmu drops this far. Dosunmu was one of college basketball’s finest players this past year, averaging 20.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 5.3 APG on 49-39-78 shooting. Though he doesn’t have any elite skills or athletic traits, he’s above-average at a lot of things and projects to be a solid player at the next level.

 

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Houston Rockets (via Bucks): Josh Giddey, Australia

Houston Rockets (via Bucks): Josh Giddey, Australia

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NBA Comparison: Kyle Anderson

With their third pick of the first round, the Rockets take a home run swing on Josh Giddey – a huge point guard out of Australia who knows how to stuff a stat sheet. Giddey is averaging 11.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 6.6 APG in 31.3 MPG in the NBL this season. Standing at 6-foot-8, he’s an excellent playmaker with court vision that appears to be very high level. The problem is, as with many overseas prospects playing in lower leagues, will those seemingly elite skills translate to the NBA against the best athletes in the world? Giddey may end up moving up draft boards depending on how well he performs the rest of the season and in workouts.

 

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Denver Nuggets: Ziaire Williams, Stanford

Denver Nuggets: Ziaire Williams, Stanford

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NBA Comparison: Derrick Jones Jr. with more game

Much like his Sierra Canyon high school teammate, B.J. Boston, Ziaire Williams struggled more than people were expecting during his freshman year in college, falling from a potential top-10 pick to no. 25 here for the Nuggets. If Williams were to fall to Denver, however, it’d be a nice place for him to land as his high-flying leaping and above-average playmaking abilities would fit in very well with the Nuggets’ point-center, Nikola Jokic. Williams will need to add some weight to his rail-thin, 185-pound frame before having a chance to be an impact player at the next level, but we’ve seen the Nuggets develop plenty of raw players into contributing rotations pieces over the past few years – no reason to think Williams couldn’t be the next.

 

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LA Clippers: Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

LA Clippers: Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

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NBA Comparison: Lou Williams

Not sure there’s ever been a player whose stock soared as quickly as Max Abmas’ did during the NCAA Tournament. He went from being a guaranteed four-year, small school star to being a first-round NBA prospect as a sophomore. He was a complete afterthought and probably not even on the NBA’s radar before he led the 15-seeded Oral Roberts on a run to Sweet Sixteen that saw him take down Ohio State (two-seed) and Florida (seven-seed), and come a shot away from beating Arkansas (three-seed) as well. Standing only 6-foot-1 and weighing 165 pounds, Abmas has the speed and quickness to put his head down and zip past staunch defenders, but can also shoot the lights out of the ball if the defense goes under screens on him (24.6 PPG on 48-43-89 shooting last season). He projects to be a heat check scorer off the bench in the NBA.

 

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Brooklyn Nets: Brandon Boston Jr., Kentucky

Brooklyn Nets: Brandon Boston Jr., Kentucky

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NBA Comparison: Poor-man’s Brandon Ingram

BJ Boston came into college as a high-lottery pick and left college half a year later as a fringe first-rounder. What happened? Kentucky, for one, was horrendous (9-16). And for his own part, Boston wasn’t all that special either. While he can often make the game look so easy with his 6-foot-7 height and 7-foot wingspan, he struggled to score the ball efficiently all season (11.5 PPG on 36-30-79 shooting). He’ll need to start filling out some of that 185-pound frame if he ever wants to be a contributor in the NBA. If he lands in Brooklyn, he should study Kevin Durant’s every move and approach to the game.

 

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Philadelphia 76ers: Aaron Henry, Michigan State

Philadelphia 76ers: Aaron Henry, Michigan State

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NBA Comparison: Pat Connaughton

Aaron Henry is a 6-foot-6, 210-pound under-the-radar wing out of Michigan State. He was a pretty low-level recruit for Tom Izzo, but showed significant improvement during his time in college, suggesting that he’s a very hard worker. Henry is a big-time athlete and should be able to get on the court with his defense. However, in order to stick it in the league, he’ll have to improve on the 29.6 percent three-point shooting he had this past season. The 76ers take him at no. 28 and hope that his 76.2 percent shooting from the free-throw line eventually translates to the outside.

 

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Phoenix Suns: Usman Garuba, Spain

Phoenix Suns: Usman Garuba, Spain

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NBA Comparison: Isaiah Stewart

Usman Garuba has been on the NBA radar as an international prospect for a couple of years and is projected to be a first-round pick this summer, but he’s still a big-time project and won’t be ready to contribute for a while. Don’t get me wrong, he certainly has some potential. He just turned 19 and is playing for Real Madrid’s top team. He’s 6-foot-8 and a strong 230 pounds who will scrap and fight for rebounds and clean up misses. And he’s capable of playing above the rim on both ends. At the same time, he doesn’t appear to have any semblance of a post-game and can’t shoot from the outside. A lot of his potential will come down to whether he can switch on the perimeter and at least body up wings and slower guards. 

 

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Utah Jazz: Isaiah Todd, G-League Ignite

Utah Jazz: Isaiah Todd, G-League Ignite

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NBA Comparison: Christian Wood (if everything goes right)

With the final pick of the first round, the Jazz take a swing for the fences and select Isaiah Todd out of the G-League. Todd’s physical profile compares favorably to the breakout star, Christian Wood. His game is somewhat similar as well – he can run the court, finish off of pick and rolls, but has also flashed the ability to step outside and knock down three-pointers. The Jazz select him here and hope that their excellent player development program can get him ready to be a contributor by the time he’s extension-eligible in a few years.





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