The 2021 NBA Draft Lottery is in the books, and the Detroit Pistons were the big winners, taking home the No. 1 pick. The Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Toronto Raptors also got some luck from the ping pong balls, coming up at No. 2, 3, and 4, respectively.
We’re barely a month out from the 2021 NBA Draft, and this has been discussed for months as a five-player draft at the top.
So who exactly are those five players, and what are our early leans as bettors start to consider odds on which prospects end up going at each pick?
The Top Tier Prospects
Let’s start with a quick introduction to the presumed top five prospects and their odds to be picked in their respective spots via DraftKings.
You’ll find more in-depth scouting profiles of each prospect in the comings weeks here at Action Network, but consider this a friendly meet and greet.
Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
No. 1 Pick Odds: -10000
Cunningham is the big prize and the likely No. 1 pick. He was a superstar in his one year at Oklahoma State, and lead the Cowboys to a No. 4 seed with a season full of highlights and lofty stats.
Cunningham stands 6-foot-8 and looks like one of those increasingly popular big lead initiators in the line of Luka Doncic and Ben Simmons. He has elite passing ability, a sweet shot, defensive potential, and a terrific feel for the game. I did a deeper dive on Cunningham’s strengths coming out of college, but the He looks like a franchise player.
Evan Mobley, USC
No. 2 Pick Odds: -118
Mobley is a 7-footer with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, and he’s an elite shot blocker with terrific hand placement and defensive ability. Mobley is a game changer on defense, affecting myriad shots in the paint and discouraging many others from even going up.
Offensively, Mobley is quite skilled for a player his size. He has a soft shooting touch and skilled footwork in the post, and he’s a nice passer. He will need to add strength to his frame and improve as a rebounder, but the fully realized version of Mobley may look like Chris Bosh or Anthony Davis.
Jalen Green, G-League Ignite
No. 3 Pick Odds: -106
Jalen Green is one of the two members of top tier who isn’t as well known because he skipped out on college ball to play with the NBA’s G-League Elite team. He started slow with the Elite, but finished strong; he might be the most talented scorer in the draft.
Green is a classic 6-foot-5 wing scorer in the Kobe mold with an electric first step and huge athleticism — he oozes star potential if everything comes together. Right now, though, he’s more of a scorer than a shooter, and the playmaking and defense need some work.
Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
No. 4 Pick Odds: -106
If you watched the Final Four, you remember Jalen Suggs. He was the fiery leader of the nearly unbeaten Zags, and he’s the guy who hit that all-time walk-off buzzer beater in the Final Four win over UCLA.
Suggs is a former quarterback and plays like it: he runs the offense with terrific passing reads and a strong, physical style that helps him get downhill toward the rim. Suggs is a natural leader and plays with his heart on his sleeve. He will be a fan favorite anywhere he goes.
Jonathan Kuminga, G-League Ignite
Jonathan Kuminga is other lesser know member of the top tier. He was an early star for the Elite, but he was inconsistent. Kuminga is one of the youngest players in the class and actually reclassified up a year, or he might have been in contention for next year’s No. 1 pick.
Kuminga stands 6-foot-8 with a seven-foot wingspan and projects as a scoring forward. His shot runs hot and cold, and he still needs to develop the rest of his game beyond the scoring ability.
How the Top 5 Teams Shape Up
Pick No. 1 — Detroit Pistons
Cunningham opened as a clear favorite to go first at -250 at the start of March, and he’s only gained steam since. Cunningham is currently -2000 to be drafted first at BetMGM, and he’s -10000 at DraftKings (and at BetRivers, which has identical odds to DraftKings on NBA Draft, for now).
DraftKings lists Jalen Green as the next most likely No. 1 pick at +1000, which matches The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie’s report that the Pistons have some interest in Green. At BetMGM, it’s Jalen Suggs who’s next most likely to be taken first at +1400. Evan Mobley comes off at +1500 and +1600, respectively, and Jonathan Kuminga is a long shot at +3000 at DraftKings.
For now, we have to assume Cunningham will be drafted first until there’s some serious reason to believe otherwise. He’s been the top prospect in the class all along, was even better than anticipated in college, and fits perfectly with where the Pistons are heading.
Pick No. 2 — Houston Rockets
With Cunningham penciled in at the top, the draft unofficially begins with the Rockets, and the pick feels wide open right now with any one of Mobley, Green, or Suggs expected to hear their name called.
DraftKings has Mobley as the favorite to be selected second at -118, with Green and Suggs just behind at +125 each. BetMGM lists Suggs as the favorite to go second at +140, with Green and Mobley at +175 behind him. Kuminga is +1000 at BetMGM, and if you think Cunningham slips, you can take him to go second at +1100.
The pick feels wide open. There’s no strong lean yet for which prospect is second best, and the Rockets are close to a blank slate going forward. Christian Wood had a breakout season, a strong Most Improved Player candidate before injuries sidelined his season. He’s 25 years old, but under contract for just two more seasons. John Wall is the other long-term piece by default, but there’s a feeling that neither Wood nor Wall will be on the next competitive version of this team.
The Rockets are not in a position to draft for need, they need to take the best talent with the highest upside, especially because Houston does not control three of its next six first-round picks.
Assuming Cunningham is gone, Mobley and Green look like the highest upside players on the board. Suggs has a higher floor, but may lack the explosive athleticism to be a superstar point guard. The best version of Mobley could be the perfect modern big man and the core defender on a contender. The best version of Green is a dynamic 25-point per game scorer, perhaps something like Devin Booker or Zach LaVine.
Mobley theoretically fits the least with Wood in tow, but he’s the highest upside play, and for my money, he’s closer to No. 1 on the board than anyone at No. 3 or below. Mobley is an intriguing pick at +175 on BetMGM.
Pick No. 3 — Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers were not good this season, but the team has a core to build around going forward. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland both took major steps forward this season. Isaac Okoro is a work in progress but looks like a good wing defender. The Cavs also picked up Jarrett Allen on the cheap to man the middle.
The last thing Cleveland needs is yet another point guard, so it certainly feels like Jalen Suggs would not be a likely option. Cleveland is heavily invested in “SexLand” at this point and can’t afford to spend three top-10 picks in four years on another small point guard.
That means Green or Mobley is more likely, and Cleveland may not end up having a choice, if either one goes second. The Cavs would probably prefer a more classic wing or forward to fit their team construction. Green would be a dynamic scorer and give Cleveland a heck of a three-guard rotation but really leave the Cavs shorthanded in defense. Mobley makes more sense in theory, since he and Okoro could shore up the defensive shortcomings of their backcourt, and Cleveland isn’t fully committed to Allen yet.
Green is the favorite to go third at -106 at DraftKings, with Suggs at +125 and Mobley at +150. Kuminga and Florida State’s Scottie Barnes come off at +700 each, with both forwards fitting the team needs better, but you have to think the Cavs might trade down to select one of those two, rather than giving up that top-four pick equity.
Pick No. 4 — Toronto Raptors
The Raptors were a surprise lottery night winner who leapt into the top four. With the right picks, they have a great chance to add a blue-chip talent and quickly return to their competitive ways.
The closer we get to the draft, the more the presumed “five-player draft” starts to feel more like a four-plus-one draft, with Kuminga as the odd man out. It’s hard to see anyone cracking that top four the way things look right now, which would mean the last of the four being selected here by default.
The good news for Toronto is that all three presumed options make sense. Mobley with Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby would give this team a ferocious defensive core. Green would slot right into that vacated Norm Powell scoring role on the wing. Suggs feels like a perfect successor to Kyle Lowry, another fiery leader who makes the little plays and does more than the box score indicates. Both Suggs and Green make sense next to Fred VanVleet.
There’s a good chance the Raptors just wind up taking whichever one of those top four players is still on the board. Considering the case I made against Suggs at Nos. 2 and 3, I think he’s a real favorite to end up going fourth here, either to the Raptors or to another team trading up.
Suggs is the DraftKings favorite to go fourth at -113, but there may still be some value there. Mobley and Green are up next at +150 and +160.
Pick No. 5 — Orlando Magic
There aren’t odds for picks outside the top four right now, in part because everything is so up in the air from then forward.
The Magic have the No. 5 and No. 8 selections, and Kuminga is widely assumed to be the fifth-rated guy in that top tier of five. That feels tenuous. It just doesn’t make much sense that one player would be widely considered as worse than four players but better than all the rest. If it becomes available, a Kuminga over 5.5 draft slot play looks interesting.
Still, Kuminga does fit Orlando. The Magic need scoring on the wing badly. Orlando also picks twice in the span of four picks, so that could also throw a wrench into things, with the team prioritizing its must-have player first and potentially trading out of the second pick. Or the Magic could package the two picks to move up for one of those top-tier talents.
All we can do for now is speculate — but the speculating is half the fun.