The 2021 NBA Draft saw no surprises early since top prospects Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley went in the order they were expected to go and weren’t dealt by the teams that drafted them.
Cunningham will lead the Pistons’ rebuilding efforts, Green is set to boost the Rockets, and Mobley became Cleveland’s first top-3 pick since Andrew Wiggins, who never suited up for the Cavs. The franchise is hoping his impact will be closer to that of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving than Anthony Bennett, which is likely a good bet.
At No. 4, Toronto pulled the draft’s first stunner in passing on Gonzaga star guard Jalen Suggs in favor of versatile Florida State wing Scottie Barnes. The Magic quickly pounced on Suggs, who rounded out the top-five. Oklahoma City made Australian guard Josh Giddey the first international player off the board with the No. 6 pick.
The Warriors selected Green’s G League Ignite teammate Jonathan Kuminga the No. 7 selection. Whether he’ll open his career in San Francisco or wind up packaged in a deal for a veteran later this summer remains to be seen but Golden State made its second lottery selection too, taking Arkansas guard Moses Moody at No. 14.
Orlando took the only Big Ten player to go in the first round in German-born forward Franz Wagner out of Michigan at No. 8, while Sacramento selected Baylor guard Davion Mitchell, a key member of this past season’s NCAA title run, with the ninth pick. New Orleans closed out the Top-10 by taking Stanford forward Ziaire Williams, who will be shipped to Memphis once the Jonas Valanciunas-Steven Adams trade becomes official in early August.
Lakers Make Major Splash Via Draft Night Deal
Although there were a number of deals struck on Thursday, none was bigger than the blockbuster between L.A. and Washington that sends UCLA product Russell Westbrook back to his hometown to join forces with fellow future Hall of Famers LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Wizards received Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and former Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell in addition to the 22nd pick, which was used to take Kentucky center Isaiah Jackson. Washington moved Jackson to Indiana for Westbrook’s likely replacement at the point, Aaron Holiday.
Westbrook isn’t an ideal fit next to James since he doesn’t shoot well, is ball dominant, and similarly stuffs the stat sheet, but his energy should prove invaluable during the regular season in lightening the load on James and Davis. When the playoffs arrive, the Lakers will have to find shooters to surround their new Big 3.
Sportsbooks are banking that star power will lead to more bets on L.A. to win it all and decreased their liability by moving their championship odds down from the +600 range following the deal. BetMGM moved the number to +400, as did BetRivers. FanDuel has the Lakers at +420 to win the 2021-22 title. Brooklyn remains favored in the +220 range while the defending champion Bucks are third in the +800 to +850 range.
Marc Gasol is set to return to help protect the paint but Dennis Schroder is now undoubtedly a goner. The Lakers are likely to bring back free agent guards Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker and Wesley Matthews but will need to get creative in adding shooting and a few more big bodies with only the mid-level exception as their biggest weapon. It remains to be seen whether Markieff Morris and Ben McLemore will return or move on.
Ideally, L.A. will need another center who can rebound and protect the rim, another stretch-four and multiple wings who can stick the 3-pointer and take advantage of the playmaking skills James, Davis and Westbrook bring to the table. Executing a sign-and-trade utilizing Schroder would aid that cause but there’s no guarantee that will occur.
No matter how the Lakers fill out the roster, opponents are going to dare Westbrook to shoot the ball in any playoff series, which is one reason why establishing L.A. as the Western Conference favorite is presumptuous given how much depth there is throughout the West. The Suns, Nuggets, Jazz, Warriors, Clippers, Mavericks, and Trail Blazers all figure to be in the mix again, and teams like the Grizzlies and Pelicans could improve enough to rise up and be a factor.
Other Draft Night Deals and Interesting Picks
The Thunder added to their arsenal of future first-round picks by agreeing to take on Derrick Favors’ contract as the Jazz sought out financial flexibility in the hopes of re-signing All-Star Mike Conley. Oklahoma City sent No. 16 pick Alperen Sengun, a skilled Turkish 6-foot-11 center, to the Rockets for two future firsts, and still has a lot of deals to strike since it owns the rights to Kemba Walker and will look to find him a new home before the season begins.
Houston did really well in adding Green, Sengun, Spanish defensive specialist Usman Garuba and Arizona State guard Josh Christopher in the first round, so they scored the most talent on draft night. Charlotte also did well in picking up UConn scoring guard James Bouknight with the No. 11 when he was expected to go as high as No. 6 and traded for 6-foot-11 freak athlete Kai Jones out of the Bahamas, flipping a future first-rounder to the Knicks for his rights. The Hornets also added Mason Plumlee from Detroit, so their frontcourt depth will be much improved in the fall.
New York took the draft’s top leaper in Tennessee’s Keon Johnson and traded him too, dealing him to the Clippers in exchange for shooter Quentin Grimes out of Houston. West Virginia standout Miles “Deuce” McBride and Lithuanian guard Rokas Jokabaitis also ended up with the Knicks by the time draft night was over, which combined with last season’s addition of fan favorite Immanuel Quickley, sets Tom Thibodeau up with promising guards for the next few years. It’s expected that Derrick Rose will return to play mentor and top dog in the backcourt.
Speaking of mentorship, Ricky Rubio was moved to Cleveland by the Timberwolves in exchange for wing Taurean Prince, so he should be a valuable resource for young guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. It will be interesting to see what the Cavs do with Kevin Love but they have enough talent on the roster to expect a run at the playoff play-in if all goes right.
Brooklyn traded shooter Landry Shamet to the Suns for pick No. 29 and pesky guard Jevon Carter, ultimately fortifying its bench with a pair of promising rookies. The NBA title favorites added LSU scorer Cameron Thomas and North Carolina center Day’Ron Sharpe, one of the draft’s top rebounders. Both were freshmen last season and have significant upside.
Picks that puzzled included the Spurs reaching for Alabama freshman Joshua Primo at No. 12 when most had him as a late first-rounder. While San Antonio’s front office is typically brilliant and Primo has a really high ceiling, there’s no explanation for why they didn’t trade down in order to get him, adding an asset or two for a coveted lottery spot.
Barnes over Suggs may work out for the Raptors, but Toronto fans were pretty unhappy about passing on the heir apparent to Kyle Lowry, who will be one of the NBA’s most coveted free agents once the signing period begins.
Ben Simmons remains another key domino to watch as the 76ers are looking to move on from the former No. 1 overall pick, but so far the asking price has been too high. Philadelphia also took a shot at 18-year-old Jaden Springer out of Tennessee with pick No. 29 when there were more accomplished guards like McBride, Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu and Final Four MVP Jared Butler from Baylor on the board.
Free agency is up next. All-Stars Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard join Simmons as players all eyes will be on in the trade market while Chris Paul’s decision to re-sign with Phoenix or opt for free agency also bears watching before truly being able to dive into 2021-22 NBA futures.