The 2021 NBA Draft Thursday is supposed to be one of the strongest in the last decade with some scouts predicting the projected top four picks will be better than anyone from the 2020 Draft. And that was a good one with Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, and the Bulls very satisfied at No. 4 with Patrick Williams.
Some even are projecting it could surpass the 2011 Capital K draft of Kyrie, Kemba, Klay and Kawhi. Oh, yeah Jimmy and Vooch, too.
But the player draft could be eclipsed by some of the brightest stars from the NBA horizon changing their orbits.
In what could be one of the most unusual draft nights in memory—if not history—multiple NBA All-Stars and all-league players could be involved in trades. There doesn't appear to be anything imminent, however.
There have been significant rumors and speculation since the 76ers playoff elimination that Ben Simmons will be traded. Those reports gained momentum this week along with speculation about team changes for potential difference makers like Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard and perhaps developing stars like Brandon Ingram and Collin Sexton.
It's a situation with veteran stars again eying a chance to play for a winning team, which is not atypical. But also the potential opportunity so many teams believe they now have following a championship series between the Phoenix Suns, who missed the playoffs for a decade and never won a title, and the Milwaukee Bucks, who'd missed the playoffs more times than they made it the last 30 years. In addition, there are several teams with title or lofty aspirations having multiple draft picks, like the Warriors with two lottery picks and the Knicks.
So it could be a supercharged draft that begins an extraordinary week in the NBA with free agency beginning Monday. Thursday still remains the highlight. So here's some conjecture about how the first round—and the 38th pick—might go beginning 7 p.m. (CT) from Brooklyn.
1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, 6-8 wing, Oklahoma State.
Everyone fears trading Luka. The Pistons reportedly have received multiple appealing offers, including from the Thunder with three firsts, but seem likely to select Cunningham. The Hawks have done OK with trading the right to Luka Doncic, but they never will be able to stop answering for it. Cunningham may not be Luka, but Luka wasn't supposed to be Luka. And Cunningham does a lot of that stuff.
2. Houston Rockets: Jalen Green, 6-6 guard, G-league.
With their mess of a roster they could select anyone and get help. Some believe Green could become the draft's best with high level scoring ability as a great athlete who'll be able to shoot. It's a start.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley, 7-0 center, USC.
Why with Jarrett Allen? Why not with that roster? When you're not very good you don't worry so much about fit as talent. Of course, five years from now we'll judge the talent order differently. But now he's a consensus for the top three tier as some believe it breaks here versus after No. 4. With Sexton likely on the market with their surfeit of guards, they can fill other positions. Mobley's regarded higher than James Wiseman and you can always trade a good big man in an era when there aren't many (hello, USA Basketball)
4. Toronto Raptors: Jalen Suggs, 6-4 guard, Gonzaga.
He's generally considered the fourth of the top four first tier of the draft. He makes sense for the Raptors with free agent Kyle Lowry likely leaving. Teams constantly embrace misdirection before the draft. So there's been rumors the Raptors might pass on Suggs. If they do, there'll be a good reason we didn't know. And they may be correct. Which we won't know for five years with all these teenagers. For now he still makes the most sense from the United States.
5. Orlando Magic: Scottie Barnes, 6-9 forward, Florida State.
He's been the biggest riser the past month like another Florida State guy from last year. Not a great shooter who has been likened somewhere between Ben Simmons and Kyle Anderson as a point forward. The Magic unloading their roster last season, including to the Bulls, now figure to just keep making draft picks to see if someone hits, like the Thunder will do.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder: James Bouknight, 6-5 guard, Connecticut.
Another late mover as probably the primary scorer after Green. Not a great shooter, but a bucket getter with good size, quickness and lots of highlights. The Thunder with dozens of picks the next few years and six in this draft with three firsts and curiously Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said to be on the market are looking for a big hit. Perhaps to join the greatest exodus of NBA talent to ever leave one city? They can pick ‘em; the problem seems to be keepin' ‘em.
7. Golden State Warriors: Jonathan Kuminga, 6-7 forward, G-league.
Another rookie they don't want, or at least their best players don't. Heck, they'd probably move James Wiseman from last year's lottery. Those great trades to get draft picks are great if you can cash in those picks. So far not yet. Kuminga is a big time athlete with that high ceiling label teams love. He was once thought of part of the Big Five of this draft which may now be Big Three or Big Four. Figure they take him as perhaps a top talent to trade.
8. Orlando Magic (with Bulls pick): Moses Moody, 6-6 guard, Arkansas.
It's not about filling positions quite yet, but Evan Fournier was among the departed and they don't have that position yet. He's another of those bucket getters and potential 3-D guys teams love to talk about. The Magic is in talent stockpiling mode and will see if it works out. Bulls been there, done that.
9. Sacramento Kings: Franz Wagner, 6-9 forward, Michigan.
Said not to be quite as unreliable as his older brother, Moritz. Could the Kings finally get the more stable guy? It's difficult to figure out what that team ever is doing other than wasting De'Aaron Fox. Franz has defensive potential for a team starting to inch its way toward that with Tyrese Haliburton from last season, one of the better picks from 2020. Maybe they're on a roll.
10. Memphis Grizzlies: Josh Giddey, 6-8 forward, Australia.
As far as personnel goes, I don't get that trade taking on the fabulously unproductive Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe to move up to No. 10. And giving up Jonas Valunciunas, who had an excellent season. The Grizzlies seemed to have a good thing going. If it's Giddey, they'll have to be giddy about the pick. This is one of those they may know more than we do things. So let's see.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Alperin Sengun, 6-10 center, Turkey.
Finally moving on from the league's least productive big man, Bismack Biyombo. Well, maybe a tie with Steven Adams. Cody Zeller also comes off the books and with a long term commitment to Gordon Hayward they're probably more about now. Sengun is a ready to play player with a lot of Nikola Jokic in him. Not much defensively, but it hasn't hurt Jokic.
12. San Antonio Spurs: Kai Jones, 6-11 center, Texas.
Can he sell some tickets back home? That sound you hear—or may not way down there—is the Spurs finally exploding. Which may be why there's all those rumors about moving Dejounte Murray. Maybe Popovich finally moves on after the Olympics and who knows about that wonderful front office. When you start building you can from anywhere.
13. Indiana Pacers: Corey Kispert, 6-7 forward, Gonzaga.
The next Doug McDermott, who now is a valuable shooter, but a lot more expensive than the rookie marksman. Great shooter who isn't the swiftest defender, but shooting and Indiana go together.
14. Golden State Warrior: Davion Mitchell, 6-1 guard, Baylor.
They might want to keep him as a really tough guy with an improved shot and excellent defense who could run an offense for Curry and Thompson. Four-year guy who's ready for the NBA and was the star of the NCAA championship team. Or maybe a package with Wiseman and Kuminga?
15. Washington Wizards: Chris Duarte, 6-6 guard, Oregon.
It does seem it's time for Bradley Beal to move on. And someone will take Westbrook with two years left (still can't believe they got rid of Wall). The Wizards did all they could and got all they could from Beal the last two years and were gone from the playoffs early. So it's time while Beal has value. Duarte is a good young replacement as a potential two-way All-Star.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder: Trey Murphy, 6-9 forward, Virginia.
It's just about stockpiling talent and see which ones really have some. He looks like that 3-D guy who can defend and make shots with good size and athletic ability. You know, an NBA player.
17. New Orleans Pelicans: Usman Garuba, 6-9 forward, Spain.
Basically whomever Zion wants. Perhaps a policeman type for Zion as an undersized center in the Adebayo way. Scouts say he could be the best interior defender in this draft and who knows what's going on now with Jaxson Hayes and personal issues. A new look with Valanciunas?
18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Ziaire Williams, 6-9 forward, Stanford.
What, them again! Stacking young athletes like cord wood and hoping someone lights a fire. One of the fluid athletes with some upside and needs time, which they have.
19. New York Knicks: Jared Butler, 6-3 guard, Baylor.
They'll likely be looking for trades, but they're also on the verge of losing a lot of guards. He's a scorer and shooter, a mature junior coming off a national championship.
20. Atlanta Hawks: Jalen Johnson, 6-9 forward, Duke.
The Hawks seem to like those versatile wing players with point forward potential, though he has moved on prematurely several times from schools that lead some to hesitate.
21. New York Knicks: Cameron Thomas, 6-3 guard, LSU
Under the radar scorer who's another to get buckets. Again, the Knicks will try to trade the picks to make a splash with a veteran. But they need guards and scoring and Thibs did play Obi Toppin at least a little bit.
22. Los Angeles Lakers: Isaiah Jackson, 6-10 center, Kentucky.
LeBron certainly doesn't want any development perhaps other than his son. They'll be among most of the rest of the first round trying to trade their pick. If they keep it, it's about a role player and perhaps he could play some as an athletic shot blocker.
23. Houston Rockets: Keon Johnson, 6-5 guard, Tennessee.
It only about stacking talent for them like the Thunder and see if anyone breaks out. So take a look at another of those explosive athletes who plays hard.
24. Houston Rockets: Miles McBride, 6-2 guard, West Virginia.
John Wall could go any day. He's a point guard who's tough and can defend and make a shot. Perhaps not the best distributor, but he'll have time to work on it there.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: Jaden Springer, 6-4 guard, Tennessee.
On the small side for a shooting guard, but can shoot, unlike Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo. It's kind of a running in place season for them with Kawhi Leonard's knee surgery. So work in some young replacements.
26. Denver Nuggets: Ayo Dosunmo, 6-5 guard, Illinois.
The Nuggets do well with these kinds of guys who are smart and can make plays and will figure things out. A good landing spot for the local Chicago kid.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Sharife Cooper, 6-1 guard, Auburn.
Maybe give Kyrie something to look at for how difficult it is to stay with a quick and elusive guard. Too small, but a clever passer and ball handler who doesn't shoot quite well enough. But fun to watch.
28. Philadelphia 76ers: Nah'Shon Hyland, 6-4 guard, VCU.
If they also keep the pick it's about spacing and shooting and although he's skinny, his shot is fat city and reliable.
29. Phoenix Suns: Joshua Primo, 6-5 guard, Alabama.
One of those high upside, in-the-draft-too-soon kids who can shoot and that's always good.
30. Utah Jazz: Joe Weiskamp, 6-7 forward, Iowa.
There's been talk they might move Joe Ingles and he'd be a nice replacement as a big time shooter with size, a Duncan Robinson type.
38. Chicago Bulls: Filip Petrusev, 6-11 center, Serbia/Gonzaga.
I expect this to be a "stash" pick like last season with Simonovic. The clues certainly suggest that with not only the trades for Vucevic and Theis, but moving not only Carter, but Gafford and Hutchison. This management isn't doing development. So let someone else do the development for you. It actually makes more sense to let guys play overseas than even some splits between the G-league and sitting on the bench in the NBA. Petrusev is a bit undersized at center, but in the Jokic mold (yes, we have to go there every time with Karnisovas) a heck of a scorer with a great feel for the game. He played two years at Gonzaga and then played last season in Serbia, where he led the league in scoring at more than 23 per game and 42 percent on threes and was league MVP. He averaged 17.5 his second year at Gonzaga. He's one of my three potential picks for the Bulls at that spot. The other two also are "stash" guys to return overseas. There's 6-6 attacking guard from France Juhann Bagarin and 6-10 Belgium point forward Vrenz Bleijenbergh. Bulls new management really requires us to have pronunciation guides.