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Grading the 2021 Draft First Round

The NBA Draft took place yesterday, so it’s time to go through the picks and give my thoughts on each of them. Let’s get right into it!

Detroit Pistons select Cade Cunningham: A+

This was the obvious choice and I don’t think it needs much explanation. Cade is the best player in the draft, and the Pistons took the best player. That’s really it.

Houston Rockets select Jalen Green: B+

I am one of those people that is and was firmly in the Evan Mobley camp for the #2 pick, but this is still a nice pick. With Green here, the Rockets cement that they have a dynamite offensive core going forward with Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Christian Wood (as well as other players they picked in this draft that we’ll get into later). While I’m not a big fan of his playmaking and defense, there is no question that Green’s scoring will help Houston immensely.

Cleveland Cavaliers select Evan Mobley: A+

Similarly to the Cade selection, there’s not much to go over here; I believe Evan Mobley is the second best player in this draft, and the Cavaliers got him with the third pick. Not only is he just a great player, but he fits very well on his roster; Cleveland has been building around two offensively oriented guards in Darius Garland and Colin Sexton. The pick of Mobley helps to hide their defensive issues, and he’ll also play extremely well off of Garland for years to come.

Toronto Raptors select Scottie Barnes: D

I really like Barnes and the mindset that he brings, so it’s tough for me to say that I think this pick was a big mistake for the Raptors. Barnes has the potential to be a great player, but he’s extremely redundant on this team. Even if he reaches his ceiling, I’m not sure he’ll be anything more than what OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam already are for the Raptors. The Raptors have an abundance of switchable defensive forwards/bigs, but they’re lacking in shot creation and scoring. Barnes adds to what they already have and doesn’t fit what they need at all. Still, since he is just a very good player, I have this as a D and not an F. It also hurts, though, that Jalen Suggs was on the board and he would have been a perfect fit in Toronto. One thing, though, that I think could make this pick much better is if Barnes can play center effectively (or at least allow Siakam to do so). If that is the case, then this pick will end up being much better in all likelihood.

Orlando Magic select Jalen Suggs: A+

I actually expected Orlando to end up with Barnes here instead of Suggs, and I felt like that pick would’ve ran into many of the same issues as Toronto. However, I believe that Suggs was a perfect fit. Orlando has some nice young guards, but no one that stands out as a franchise cornerstone to build around. Suggs changes this completely; he fits their gritty, defensive oriented culture but also brings a new spark of playmaking and athleticism that they’ve been lacking for an eternity. The last great floor general the Magic have had was Penny Hardaway, all the way back in the ’90s. Now, Suggs has a chance to change that completely and captain one of the best rebuilds in the league.

Oklahoma City Thunder select Josh Giddey: A

This was an unexpected pick to me, but one that I fully support. To me, Giddey was the best player available here and he fits exactly what the Thunder are trying to do. Shai is incredible as a young scoring guard, and while his playmaking has improved, I still think he is best next to another big time playmaker that he can share the creation duties with. Giddey fits that exact role. As a 6’8 point guard, he can split time handling the ball with Shai and they’ll be able to play off of each other extremely well. Also, Giddey may need to spend time developing some of his raw skills, and OKC is the perfect place for that because they have a great development team and no expectations.

Golden State Warriors select Jonathan Kuminga: B-

I’ve seen many people being very harsh on this pick and many people praising it; I understand the merits of both sides, but I fall somewhere in the middle. The downsides of this pick are that Kuminga is very raw and the Warriors are a team that don’t have time to waste. The upsides of this pick are that the Warriors should be able to develop Kuminga as well as any team can and Kuminga has the potential to be incredible. Also, Draymond Green wanted this pick, and it’s hard for a franchise to say no to that. I lean towards the camp that says this was a bad pick because I do believe they should be trying to do everything they can to win now. However, it’s not very likely to get rookies who can contribute immediately anyways. For that reason, I’m fine with Golden State taking an upside swing here on Kuminga, but I probably would’ve taken someone like Wagner instead.

Orlando Magic select Franz Wagner: B+

I’m conflicted on this pick. On one hand, Wagner is just a really great player who will be able to help Orlando in many different ways. He keeps up the defensive identity and brings more IQ in their young players, which always makes building a team easier. On the other hand, he seems a bit redundant with this team. Jonathan Isaac is already a defensive minded but offensively limited big man that Orlando is building around, and Chuma Okeke is a combo forward with a very similar game to Wagner. So, I think taking someone like Moses Moody here would’ve been better, but I’m still a fan of this pick. A solid pick to end a fantastic draft.

Sacramento Kings Select Davion Mitchell: F

This was the single worst pick of the draft in my opinion. This is no slight on Mitchell, as I believe he will be a good player, but this pick just made no sense from a teambuilding perspective. Sacramento only has two bright spots on their roster: De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, both of which are point guards. Why would Sacramento decide that the correct piece to compliment these two is another point guard? With great bigs like Alperen Sengun still on the board and wings/forwards like Ziaire Williams, Moses Moody and many more, I can’t fathom why the Kings front office thought that Davion Mitchell was the correct pick here.

Memphis Grizzlies select Ziaire Williams: A-

This is a pretty loaded pick in my eyes, and I like what it says about Memphis’ teambuilding philosophy. Memphis is a team that already has a good, competitive young core, but is slightly lacking. Past Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., they have many good players but no one that stands out. So, it makes sense to go after players with star upside, and Ziaire Williams is exactly that. If this pick pans out, the Grizzlies got their third star that will help turn them into a contender at some point soon. If Ziaire is a bust and doesn’t fulfill his potential, the Grizzlies are still fine because they have such a solid foundation as a team. This pick to me signals that Memphis perfectly understands where there team is standing right now, so I support this pick heavily. The reason it doesn’t get a better grade is because Ziaire has a fairly high chance of not fulfilling his potential, and I’m not sure if he was the best player available.

Charlotte Hornets select James Bouknight: A

The more time has gone by, the more I am a fan of Bouknight and this pick. Bouknight is a fantastic scorer, but what I love most about him is how dynamic he is off-ball. He is a nice screener for a guard, a great finisher, moves around screens extremely well, and apparently his shot looks fantastic in workouts. He is the most perfect scoring compliment to Lamelo Ball possible. He really can be the most dynamic off-ball mover in the league soon, and pairing that with one of the best playmakers in the league is just a guaranteed recipe for success. One of three incredible picks from Charlotte today (which is a team that I believe may have won the draft).

San Antonio Spurs select Josh Primo: ?

I have no clue what to say here. This was definitely the surprise of the draft. I honestly have barely studied Primo, but he’s one of the youngest players in the draft and is said to have fantastic upside. If any other team did this, I would call it a bad pick. However, if there is one team I don’t want to question when it comes to scouting and development, it’s San Antonio. So, I will hold off judgement on this pick until later. The one thing I will say, however, is that I don’t understand why the Spurs didn’t just trade back to take Primo, since he definitely would’ve fallen much further than 12.

Indiana Pacers select Chris Duarte: B-

The Duarte pick in itself was a fairly decent one; he brings NBA ready qualities of shooting and defense, which really help the Pacers. However, I’m not sure I understand why they took Duarte when Moody was still on the board. Moody brings the same qualities (maybe to a slightly lesser extent currently) but is much younger with much more potential and upside. Still, I can’t hate on the pick because Duarte will definitely make the Pacers better from the jump. I just wish they aimed a little higher with their first lottery pick in so long.

Golden State Warriors select Moses Moody: A+

This was an incredible pick. If the Warriors took Moody with pick 7, I still would’ve given it an “A”. Getting him 7 picks later is absolutely incredible. Moody is one of the most NBA ready players in the draft and will absolutely help the Warriors with their quest to win a championship soon, but he also has high upside. At only 19, Moody has a lot of room to grow, and I think he has much untapped potential as a shot creator. Just an out-of-the-park pick by the Warriors who were very fortunate to have Moody fall to them.

Washington Wizards select Corey Kispert: C

I didn’t like this pick. Kispert is a solid player and will help the Wizards immediately, but there were better players left and I feel like Washington should have gone for a higher upside player. With guys like Alperen Sengun and Jaden Springer on the board, I think they would’ve been much better picks than Kispert. Still, Kispert’s shooting and IQ will help the Wizards, but they should have aimed higher here.

Houston Rockets select Alperen Sengun: A+

Honestly, I don’t like the fit of Sengun to Houston, but I think the talent pick here is incredible. Sengun was #3 on my big board, so getting with pick 16 is absolutely incredible. His playmaking as a big man will definitely help Houston’s offense a lot. Him and Wood will create an incredible and versatile offensive big duo. The issue comes with the defense; Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Christian Wood, and Alperen Sengun is not an inspiring defense for a team. Still, I have to rate this pick very highly just because of the caliber of player the Rockets selected at this point in the draft.

New Orleans Pelicans select Trey Murphy III: A

This was a very simple but effective pick. Trey is a standard 3&D player, which is exactly what the Pelicans need. They want to surround Zion and Ingram with spacing, but last year their defense was also bottom of the league. Murphy is a fantastic shooter and extremely smart defender, so he helps fix both of these flaws. He doesn’t create for himself much, but he doesn’t need to for this team. This was, simply, the right pick.

Oklahoma City Thunder select Tre Mann: C

I’m a fan of Tre Mann, but this is a terrible fit for him in my opinion. Oklahoma City already has playmaking and scoring in their backcourt, but they’re lacking in defense. Taking Mann just adds more of what they already have while not fixing the flaws of this core. I would’ve liked for the Thunder to take Jalen Johnson here instead of Mann.

Charlotte Hornets select Kai Jones: A

This was a fantastic pick. Kai Jones is an uber-athletic big man with a lot of potential. He can grow into a shooter, ballhandler, rim-runner, and elite defender. If he meets that potential, he will help the Hornets immensely. If not, he will still be a decent finisher who will get easy shots from Lamelo. That’s what makes this such a good pick: he will be a perfect partner with Lamelo and bring defense, doing so at a position of need for the Hornets.

Atlanta Hawks select Jalen Johnson: A

Jalen Johnson is a prospect with a ton of upside, but not much is known for sure about him. He has the potential to be a playmaking athletic forward and great defender. This type of player thrives next to guard creators, and now he’s playing next to one of the best guard creators in the league (Trae Young). Also, since Atlanta already has so many good young players, they can afford to take upside swings. All of this makes Johnson a perfect fit for Atlanta.

Los Angeles Clippers select Keon Johnson: A-

What the Clippers lacked last year was rim pressure. While not much is known about Keon’s offensive game, the one sure quality he possesses is the ability to attack the basket. He’s an extremely athletic wing who will fit in well to the Clippers’ versatile defensive style and has a lot of offensive upside. He said that he models his game after Kawhi Leonard, so it’s nice to see him have a chance to play with his inspiration.

Indiana Pacers select Isaiah Jackson: B+

The Pacers’ roster is lacking in athleticism and mobile forward/big defenders. Assuming they trade Myles Turner, which looks increasingly likely, Jackson will hopefully be able to infuse this Pacers team with energy and defense. He’s fairly raw and needs more experience defensively, but the potential he has as a rim protector and switchable defender makes this pick very worth it for Indiana.

Houston Rockets select Usman Garuba: A

I mentioned multiple times that the Rockets have created a fantastic offensive core but lack in defense, so they picked up one of the best defenders in the class with Garuba. Garuba is a very versatile defender who can help cover their negatives defensively. Offensively, he has potential as a passer offensively. I’m very intrigued to see him in lineups with the other foreign big man they just drafted, Alperen Sengun, but he also fits very well alongisde Christian Wood.

Houston Rockets select Josh Christopher: B-

This pick seemed more like a locker room fit and upside swing than anything else. Houston already pretty much has their entire young core filled out, so they don’t really need any specific type of player. Still, I would’ve liked to see them go for a defender rather than a guy who’s mostly known for his offense but can bust. There is a chance that this pick ends up looking really good, though, if Christopher lives up to his potential.

New York Knicks select Quentin Grimes: B-

There’s nothing really wrong with Grimes as a player, but I would rather the Knicks have targetted a better guard. Sharife Cooper, Ayo Dosunmo, Jaden Springer, Myles McBride, and Jared Butler (even though he isn’t really a point guard) would all be better in my opinion. Grimes is a solid off-ball player, but I just thought the Knicks could do better with this pick.

Denver Nuggets select Bones Hyland: B+

Bones is a really nice shooter who can create his own shot, so he seems like a natural replacement for Jamal Murray while he’s injured. He should be able to help Denver early on in his career which is a good aspect of this pick. However, I would’ve liked a pick like Jaden Springer more for the defense he brings and versatility alongside Jamal Murray when he comes back from injury.

Brooklyn Nets select Cameron Thomas: C-

Cam is a good pick in this range talent wise, but I hate the fit. Brooklyn has the most shot creation of any team in NBA history, but they lack just about everything else. Cam Thomas is a score-first player who doesn’t really offer much else. Not sure why they thought this was the pick to make. As I’ve said multiple times, I would’ve liked Jaden Springer here.

Philadelphia 76ers select Jaden Springer: A+

Ironically, I think Philadelphia is one of the worse fits for Springer. Still, he’s such a steal this late in the draft that it’s a fantastic pick. Honestly, I think Cam Thomas would’ve fit better here than in Brooklyn and Springer would’ve fit better in Brooklyn than Philly, but Philly still got a great pick here. Best player available can almost never go wrong.

I don’t know enough about Day’Ron Sharpe and Santi Almada to provide an accurate grading of the picks, so I won’t write descriptions of those picks. All in all, this was a great draft and most teams did very well. I’m excited to see how all these players pan out and how they effect their teams.

Kia Khoshbin is the head basketball analyst for The Dyspatch. You can find him on Twitter at TruthTellerNba and on Instagram at NBA.TruthTeller. Contact him at NBA.TruthTeller3@gmail.com

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