Instant grades for every 2021 NBA Draft first round pick

Let’s grade every first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. The Detroit Pistons are on the clock with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NBA Draft, and there is zero suspense this year on who will be the first pick.
Cade Cunningham leads a draft class that is defined by star-power at the top. While Cunningham will be Detroit’s choice with the first pick, both USC center Evan Mobley and G League Ignite shooting guard Jalen Green are talented enough to go No. 1 overall in a vacuum. With Jalen Suggs also establishing himself as a terrific prospect during his freshman year at Gonzaga, the 2021 NBA Draft will be remembered for the excellent quartet of players taken with the first four picks.
The intrigue in this draft class starts at No. 5. Florida State forward Scottie Barnes, Michigan forward Franz Wagner, and Australian guard Josh Giddey have become hot names in the pre-draft process. The Memphis Grizzlies have already made a move into the top-10 by agreeing to a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. You can find our full top-30 player rankings for this draft class here.
Now that draft day has finally arrived, it’s time to grade every pick in the first round. We’ll be updating this post throughout the night.
1. Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State
Cunningham has been considered the top player in this class for more than two years. He maintained that status with a tremendous freshman campaign at Oklahoma State that saw him named as a consensus First Team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year. The Texas native is a 6’8 ball handler who can run the pick-and-roll, hit pull-up three-pointers, and defend both on the perimeter and in the paint. Cunningham lacks elite burst with the ball, but his strong frame, 7-foot wingspan, and well-rounded skill set makes him the type of prospect that has very few apparent weaknesses in his game.
Cunningham is simply an ideal fit in the modern NBA. The Pistons have their new face of the franchise.
Grade: A
2. Houston Rockets – Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite
Green is a 6’6 shooting guard with elite athleticism and the scoring chops to one day flirt with averaging 30 points per game. He has the best standstill burst in this class combined with ridiculous leaping ability and immense body control near the basket. He shot the ball well during his stint on the inaugural G League Ignite team, hitting nearly 37 percent of his threes and bouncing into step-back and side-step attempts with ease. He’s a relatively safe pick at No. 2 overall because it’s almost certain he’ll be a big time scoring threat in the league.
For as talented as Green is as a bucket-getter, he sometimes struggles to read the floor and isn’t a polished passer. He also projects to likely be a below-average defender at the start of his career. Evan Mobley was our choice for the second best player in this class (we have Green ranked third), but it was hard to go wrong either way for Houston.
Grade: B+
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley, C, USC
This pick is a home run for the Cavaliers. Mobley is the most versatile big man in this draft class as a 7-footer with long arms (7’5 wingspan), quick feet, and the ability to play any type of pick-and-roll coverage defensively. While he lacks an aggressive scoring mindset, Mobley can still make an impact offensively as a tremendous passer and lob target early in his career. He’s also just starting to scratch the surface of his shooting potential.
Mobley is a perfect fit with the Cavs’ young core. He can play next to Jarrett Allen at the four in some lineups while also sliding to the five in small ball looks. He can cover any defensive mistakes from Cleveland’s smaller guards, while also acting as a potential floor spacer around defensive-minded wing Isaac Okoro. Getting Mobley with the No. 3 pick is incredible value for the Cavs.
Grade: A
4. Toronto Raptors – Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State
This is the first big shock of the draft. The Raptors were widely projected to select Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs, but instead Barnes is the pick.
Barnes is a 6’9 forward with a 7’3 wingspan who stands out for his motor, defensive versatility, length, and playmaking potential. He raised the level of intensity on the floor every time he entered the game for Florida State. While he’s a shaky outside shooter who can’t be counted on to space the floor in the halfcourt, Barnes provides offensive value with his passing ability. The 31.7 percent assist rate he posted at FSU is extremely impressive for a player his size. There’s a lot to like about Barnes’ competitive mindset, but this selection does feel like a slight reach. Suggs was the clear No. 4 player on our board, with Barnes ranked No. 7. It’s hard to question the Raptors given their outstanding history of player development, but this is a truly surprising pick. Don’t be surprised if Barnes proves our light skepticism wrong.
Grade: B-
5. Orlando Magic – Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga
Orlando likely never thought Suggs would still be on the board when they were picking at No. 4. This feels like another home run pick given that Suggs was both the best player on the board and a perfect fit for a Magic team that needs help in the backcourt.
Suggs emerged as a top-four pick during his breakout freshman season at Gonzaga. A strong and quick 6’4 guard, Suggs projects as an overqualified complementary piece in the backcourt rather than the lead engine of an offense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Suggs is competent in the dribble-pass-shoot areas of his skill set while being a monster in transition and a force defensively. He could become an All-Star caliber player if his pull-up shooting continues to improve.
Suggs was in a perfect situation at Gonzaga where he was surrounded by veteran creators, shooters, and big men on a team with a massive talent advantage in every game (well, until the last one). It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to a less idyllic environment in the NBA.
Grade: A
6. Oklahoma City Thunder – Josh Giddey, G, Adelaide
Giddey became the biggest riser in this draft class after a productive year playing in the Australia’s NBL at 18 years old. The Aussie native is a 6’8 point guard who is one of the draft’s best playmakers, showcasing awesome vision, instant processing ability, and the passing touch to make almost any feed with either hand. Giddey is a shaky three-point threat at this point, but he improved as a shooter throughout the season. He is underwhelming as a run-and-jump athlete, but his size and IQ makes up for many of his shortcomings.
This was the draft’s second big surprise, but we love the fit for the Thunder. OKC remains dedicated to a long-term rebuild, but Giddey is a nice fit in the backcourt next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and won’t ruin the franchise’s tanking dreams over the next two seasons.
Grade: A
7. Golden State Warriors – Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite
Kuminga is a 6’8 wing with impressive physical tools but shaky production during his one season on the G League Ignite. He is one of the youngest players in this class and has plenty of upside, but the Warriors will likely have to be patient before he’s a dependable contributor at the NBA level. Kuminga shot under 40 percent from the field, under 25 percent from three, and under 65 percent from the foul line in the G League. He is still learning how to read the floor on both ends, but if his shooting touch improves there’s a chance he could become the type of powerful two-way wing every team covets.
We like Kuminga’s long-term ceiling, but he feels like a questionable selection for a Warriors team that is trying to maintain its championship window with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. We had Kuminga ranked No. 12 on our big board. He could end up being a very good player down the road, but it feels unlikely he’ll be the immediate contributor the franchise needs while Curry is still in his prime.
Grade: C
8. Orlando Magic – Franz Wagner, F, Michigan
Wagner is a huge wing who was listed at 6’9 by Michigan but might be still growing. He’s one of the draft’s better defensive prospects, showing impressive quickness and agility on the perimeter while also having the size to defend in the paint. Shooting will be Wagner’s swing skill on offense. He hit 34 percent of his threes at Michigan, and projects to be a better floor spacer than fellow oversized forwards Scottie Barnes and Jalen Johnson. It’s just that Wagner appears to get in his own head when he misses a few threes, which is something he’ll have to get over in the NBA. If he can get opposing defenses to respect his three-point shot, Wagner offers enticing ability to make plays off the bounce for someone his size.
While he may not be a star, Wagner could be an excellent role player. We had him at No. 5 overall on our draft board. It feels like the Magic aced this draft.
Grade: A
9. Sacramento Kings – Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor
Mitchell skyrocketed up draft board after March Madness by helping Baylor win a national championship. He’s a strong and super quick 6’1 guard who has a killer first step on offense while also being one of the draft’s best on-ball defenders. Mitchell enjoyed a huge leap as a shooter this past season, going from a 32.4 percent three-point shooter in 2020 (on 105 attempts) to a 44.7 percent shooter in 2021 (on 141 attempts). He was still a poor free throw shooter at 64 percent. It’s easy to wonder if his three-point shooting improvement this year is sustainable.
Mitchell feels like an odd pick for a Kings team that already has two great guards in De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. He is one of the smallest and oldest players in this draft, turning 23 years old before his rookie season. We had Mitchell at No. 21 on our draft board, so this isn’t our favorite pick, but his burst and defense should make him a productive pro for a long time as long as he continues to shoot it as well as he did during his final year at Baylor.
Grade: C
10. Memphis Grizzlies – Ziaire Williams, F, Stanford
Williams is a 6’10 wing who can shoot with range both off the dribble and on spot-ups. His freshman season at Stanford was up-and-down as he struggled to play through contact at both ends of the floor. Williams badly needs to add muscle to his frame, but his combination of size and shot-making potential makes him an upside swing for a Grizzlies team that needed to take one.
Memphis will likely have to be patient in developing Williams’ body and game. If he can add strength, though, this could look like a worthwhile gamble a few years down the line.
Grade: B+
11. Charlotte Hornets – James Bouknight, G, UConn
The Hornets landed their franchise cornerstone in last year’s draft by taking LaMelo Ball at No. 3 overall. Bouknight should be a nice complementary guard next to him as one of the draft’s best pure bucket-getters. The 6’5 guard had a breakout sophomore season at UConn after dropping 40 points on a talented Creighton squad early in the season. Bouknight is super talented off the ball, buzzing around screens and attacking the opposing defense whenever he gets a crease. He should be a better three-point shooter than his sub-30 percent mark suggested this past season.
Bouknight was widely expected to go in the top seven, so this is nice value and a solid fit for the Hornets.
Grade: B
12. San Antonio Spurs – Josh Primo, G, Alabama
Primo started playing at Alabama as a 17-year-old and is one of the youngest players in this draft class. A skinny 6’6 wing, Primo is an explosive athlete on the wing with great speed in the open floor and elite leaping ability in the paint. He was a surprisingly good shooter for the Tide, making 38.1 percent of his three-pointers on 113 attempts this season. While there is a lot to like about Primo’s long-term tools, he still has a long way to go before he’s contributing at the NBA level. He looked overmatched defensively and was erratic with his decision making, finishing with 41 turnovers to 25 assists.
This feels like the biggest reach of the draft. We did not have Primo as a top-30 prospect, though he was reportedly rising up boards in the pre-draft process. The Spurs needed to take a swing on upside and Primo fits the bill in that regard, but it was still shocking to see him go so early. He might be a good player one day, but that will likely be long after Gregg Popovich calls it quits.
Grade: D
13. Indiana Pacers – Chris Duarte, G, Oregon
Duarte is the oldest prospect in this draft as a 6’6 wing who is already 24 years old. The native of the Dominican Republic spent two years playing JUCO ball before transferring to Oregon and turning in a standout senior year this past season. Duarte’s appeal in the NBA is easy to see: he projects as a 3-and-D style prospect who can space the floor on offense and defend smaller guards on the other end. Duarte hit 42 percent of his threes while showing some burst off the dribble. The Pacers want to make a move into the playoffs next year, and Duarte is about as ‘pro ready’ as it gets given his age.
While Duarte’s game does seem like it should translate in the league, he also didn’t emerge as a serious prospect until late in his career when he was playing younger players. There were better options on the board for Indy, but Duarte should be solid in his role.
Grade: C+
14. Golden State Warriors – Moses Moody, F, Arkansas
Moody should be a great pick for Golden State. A 6’6 wing with a 7’1 wingspan, Moody projects as a perfect fit next to the Warriors’ veteran stars by providing length, shooting, and defense on the wing. Moody had a productive freshman year at Arkansas, hitting 36 percent of his three-pointers on 162 attempts. He isn’t an explosive athlete and could struggle to get all the way to the rim at the NBA level, but he did flash a nice mid-range game when attacking closeouts. He should be immediately impactful on defense, showing good instincts off the ball with the length to smoother small offensive players at the point of attack.
While Golden State’s first pick at No. 7 felt questionable, this one is a no-brainer.
Grade: A
15. Washington Wizards – Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga
Kispert is a 6’7 wing who emerged as a first round prospect as a senior while playing on a Gonzaga team that came one win away from an undefeated season in the national title game. He’s arguably the best shooter in this draft class, hitting 44 percent of his threes on a high volume of attempts in each of his last two seasons. Kispert can hit threes after running off screens, and he’s the type of player you can never leave on the perimeter as a spot-up shooter. The question for Washington will be what else he provides aside from shooting.
While Kispert did show some athletic and defensive improvements as a senior, there’s still concern he could be a one dimensional player. He isn’t going to attack an opposing defense off the dribble, and could be a liability defensively. He’s a safe pick with a relatively limited ceiling who provides some shooting for a Wizards team that needed it. Washington had the second lowest three-point rate in the league last year, and was near the bottom in three-point percentage.
Grade: B
16. Houston Rockets – Alperen Sengun, C, Turkey
This was our first on-the-clock trade of draft night, with Houston giving up future picks owned by the Wizards and Pistons to move up to No. 16. After passing on Mobley at No. 2, the Rockets get their center in Sengun, who became one of the biggest risers in this draft class after an MVP-winning season in the Turkish league at 18 years old. Sengun is a bit undersized for a center and he lacks quickness to defend the perimeter, but he’s a stronger interior scorer, rebounder, and passer. He’s not yet a threat to shoot from three-point range, but he could develop into one eventually.
Sengun lacks the ideal physical tools for an NBA center in terms of size and athleticism, but it’s hard to argue with his production. We need to knock Houston a bit for giving up multiple future picks, but Sengun may eventually prove his production will translate despite his relative physical limitations.
Grade: B
17. New Orleans Pelicans – Trey Murphy III, F, Virginia
Murphy spent two seasons at Rice before transferring to Virginia and soaring up draft boards late in the process. Murphy was appealing to NBA teams for two reasons: his size and shooting. The 6’9 forward hit 43.3 percent of his three-pointers on 120 attempts this season. Murphy isn’t a great athlete and struggles to create his own shot off the dribble. He took almost all over his jumpers off spot-ups, and didn’t show any ability to hit jumpers off the dribble.
Murphy isn’t a perfect prospect, but he fills a need for a New Orleans team that desperately needed shooting and floor spacing around Zion Williamson.
Grade: C+

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