July 19, 2024


Exercise makes you strong

2021 NBA Draft team grades: Warriors, Rockets, Pistons get top marks; Knicks, Celtics come up short

  • 20. Jalen Johnson, F, Duke
  • 48. Sharife Cooper, G, Auburn

Johnson is a lottery talent who dropped to Atlanta at No. 20 and Cooper was projected to be a first-round pick in many mock drafts. The Hawks swung for the fences with these two picks, and they’ll almost certainly present good value, eventually, for the point at the draft in which they grabbed them. Cooper is a potential long-term backup for Trae Young, which Atlanta sorely needed, and Johnson has the potential to play multiple positions and fit into various lineups. Both may take a while to develop, but the Hawks are deep enough to be patient. Grade: B+

  • 45. Juhann Begarin, G, France

A rare draft in which the Celtics didn’t make multiple picks, Boston selected Begarin, a 6-5 guard out of France with a 7-foot wingspan, with the 45th pick. He’s expected to be a draft-and-stash candidate, so he may not see the floor for the Celtics next season. After the Kemba Walker trade, Boston could have used a point guard. But it’s unlikely they would have found a starting-caliber guard with No. 45, so taking a big swing might not be the worst idea. Grade: C

  • 27. Cam Thomas, G, LSU
  • 29. Day’Ron Sharpe, C, UNC (via Suns)
  • 44. Kessler Edwards, F, Pepperdine
  • 49. Marcus Zegarowski, G, Creighton
  • 59. RaiQuan Gray, F, Florida State

The Nets filled two major needs in the first round with a bucket-getting guard in Thomas and a bruising backup center with playmaking potential in Sharpe. Considering the team could owe over $500 million in extensions to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, it makes sense for them to grab as many rotation-caliber players as possible in the draft. Edwards, Zegarowski and Gray should all be able to compete for a spot on the opening day roster. Grade: B+

  • 11. James Bouknight, G, UConn
  • 19. Kai Jones, C, Texas (via Knicks)
  • 37. JT Thor, F, Auburn (via Pistons)
  • 56. Scottie Lewis, G, Florida

The Hornets had a second straight outstanding draft, landing a potential prolific scorer in Bouknight, then trading for Jones, a rim-runner who will be able to get out on the break with LaMelo Ball and potentially space the floor to 3-point range. Thor is another super-athlete who needs to develop but has tremendous upside, while Lewis, as an older prospect, could potentially earn some backup point guard minutes right away. Grade: A

  • 38. Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois

Dosunmu was almost unanimously considered a first-round talent leading up to the draft, so the Bulls did well to get him with their only pick at No. 38. His shot creation and playmaking should translate immediately to the NBA, which could allow him to fight for backup minutes on a Bulls team that lacked bench scoring last season. Grade: A

Ideally you’d want more than one bite at the apple as a team fighting to make the playoffs like the Cavs, but they landed a player who some believe could ultimately become the best in his draft class in Mobley. A 7-footer with guard skills, Mobley is the ideal modern big man with his ability to stretch the floor and switch defensively. The fact that he was available at No. 3 avoided any potential redundancy with Jalen Green and the existing Cleveland backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, so overall the Cavs have to be thrilled. Grade: A+

Dallas stayed quiet and elected not to trade into the draft. Grade: N/A

  • 26. Nah’Shon Hyland, G, VCU

Hyland shot up draft boards partly due to a strong combine performance, and he obviously caught Denver’s attention. He’s one of the most confident shooters in the draft, regularly launching from well beyond the 3-point line, and is a slithery finisher around the basket. Ideally he’d improve his playmaking, but the Nuggets need a scoring guard with Jamal Murray set to miss a good chunk of next season. Grade: A-

  • 1. Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State
  • 42. Isaiah Livers, G, Michigan
  • 52. Luka Garza, F, Iowa
  • 57. Balsa Koprivica, C, Florida State (via Hornets)

Every rebuilding franchise is looking for a cornerstone, and that’s exactly what the Pistons got in Cade Cunningham — one of the most complete prospects in recent memory. That alone would have been enough for an “A,” but they also added some intriguing second-round picks in Livers, National College Player of the Year Garza and Koprivica. Grade: A

  • 7. Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite
  • 14. Moses Moody, G/F, Arkansas

Not only did Jonathan Kuminga, one of the best upside prospects in the draft, fall to the Warriors at No. 7, but they were also able to secure a player that should help them win right away in Moses Moody at No. 14. If the idea is to build for the future while returning to championship contention, they couldn’t have done much better than their two picks. Kuminga also immediately becomes an intriguing asset to add to a trade package if and when the next superstar becomes available. Grade: A

  • 2. Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite
  • 16. Alperen Sengun, C, Turkey (via Thunder)
  • 23. Usman Garuba, F, Spain
  • 24. Josh Christopher, G, Arizona State

The Rockets may have lost James Harden last season, but they gave the Houston fan base reason for hope on Thursday. They started by taking Jalen Green, a potential franchise scorer and playmaker, at No. 2, then added high-upside prospects Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba and Josh Christopher. All four of those young players have tremendous upside, and are perfect for a team that’s just beginning its rebuild. Grade: A

  • 13. Chris Duarte, G, Oregon
  • 22. Isaiah Jackson, C, Kentucky (from Lakers via Wizards)

The Pacers got some win-now help in Duarte, a knockdown shooter who has potential as a playmaker and shot-creator, then traded for Jackson, a 6-10 center with a 7-4 wingspang who profiles as an elite rim protector and lob-catcher. Both fill a need for the Pacers, and they’re convinced that Duarte was the right guy at No. 13, but they could have taken a slightly bigger swing at some of the higher upside prospects still available. Grade: B

  • 21. Keon Johnson, G, Tennessee (via Knicks)
  • 33. Jason Preston, G, Ohio (via Magic)
  • 51. Brandon Boston Jr., G, Kentucky (from Grizzlies via Pelicans)

The Clippers are likely going to be without Kawhi Leonard for at least a portion of the season, maybe more, so they need as much help as possible on the wing. It’s unclear, though, if Johnson, Boston and Preston– all of which the Clippers traded for on draft night — will be able to significantly contribute next season. Johnson and Boston are major upside plays, however, so they could pay off down the road. Grade: B

The Lakers traded their only pick in the draft in the Russell Westbrook deal, but signed several undrafted players, including Gonzaga’s Joel Ayayi. Grade: N/A

  • 10. Ziaire Williams, F, Stanford (via Pelicans)
  • 30. Santi Aldama, C, Loyola-Maryland (via Jazz)

Williams was a top recruit coming out of high school, but slipped on a lot of draft boards due to a disastrous year at Stanford. The Grizzlies traded up to No. 10 before the draft, and they found their man in the 6-8 wing who could develop into a tremendous scorer and playmaker if he reaches his ceiling. Williams was probably the biggest surprise of the draft to that point, and Memphis went off the board again by trading up for Aldama at No. 30. They’re hoping fortune favors the bold. Grade: B

The Heat didn’t make a selection on Thursday night. Grade: N/A

  • 54. Sandro Mamukelashvili, C, Seton Hall
  • 60. Georgios Kalaitzakis, F, Greece

The defending champs didn’t get much immediate help on draft night, as they traded the No. 31 pick for two late second-rounders who might not even earn a roster spot. You’d like to think they could have gotten an impact player with the first pick of the second round, but clearly they have other plans in mind. Grade: C-

The Wolves didn’t make any selections in the 2021 draft. Grade: N/A

  • 17. Trey Murphy, G/F, Virginia (via Grizzlies)
  • 35. Herbert Jones, F, Alabama

The Pelicans need to put shooting and defense around Zion Williamson, and they did exactly that with both of Thursday’s picks. Murphy is a ready-made 3-and-D wing who should be able to step into a role immediately, while Jones should be able to defend from day one as his offense develops. Grade: A-

  • 25. Quentin Grimes, G, Houston
  • 34. Rokas Jokubaitis, G, Lithuania
  • 36. Miles McBride, G, West Virginia
  • 58. Jericho Sims, F, Texas

It was slightly odd that the Knicks traded down from Nos. 19 and 21 in the draft when there were some solid win-now options on the board. They clearly had their eye on Grimes, but he was a borderline first-rounder in most pre-draft evaluations. McBride was a solid pick, and we’ll see what happens with the crafty Jokubaitis and uber-athletic Sims, but the Knicks could have taken a shot at 19 or packaged the picks to move up and take a bigger swing. Grade: C+

  • 6. Josh Giddey, G, Australia
  • 18. Tre Mann, G, Florida
  • 32. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F, Villanova (via Knicks)
  • 55. Aaron Wiggins, G, Maryland

The Thunder clearly felt that Giddey was worthy of the No. 6 pick despite many projections having him in the late lottery, and now it’s up to them to unlock his potential. Mann also seemed like a bit of a reach at 18, and then OKC took a more win-now prospect with Robinson-Earl at No. 32. Overall a strange draft for the Thunder, but who are we to doubt Sam Presti. Grade: B-

  • 5. Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga
  • 8. Franz Wagner, F, Michigan

The Raptors made a bit of a surprising move by taking Scottie Barnes at No. 4, and the Magic were happy to swoop up Suggs with the next pick. He gives them a dynamic two-way guard who can be a franchise cornerstone for years to come. They also landed Wagner, a do-it-all forward who was racing up draft boards. Those are two strong pieces to add to a young, rebuilding roster. Grade: A

  • 28. Jaden Springer, G, Tennessee
  • 50. Filip Petrusev, F/C, Serbia
  • 53. Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky (via Pelicans)

Springer is a high-level defensive guard who is one of the youngest players in the draft. He should be able to compete for playing time immediately, depending on what the 76ers get in a potential Ben Simmons deal. Petrusev could fill a hole at center if Dwight Howard goes elsewhere, while Bassey has major potential and a high ceiling if he can be developed. Grade: B

The defending Western Conference champs didn’t make a pick during the 2021 draft. Grade: N/A

The Blazers didn’t have a pick in the draft, but traded for Brown, a raw, athletic prospect out of Texas. Brown didn’t do himself any favors at the combine, which clearly lowered his draft stock. The Blazers are hoping he can eventually turn into gold, but the likelihood of Brown making a major impact next season is slim. Grade: B-

  • 9. Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor
  • 39. Neemias Queta, C, Utah State

Monte McNair said he took Mitchell despite the Kings’ crowded backcourt because he was the highest player on their board, and it may not be a problem if they end up moving Buddy Hield. But still, adding Mitchell to a backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton seems a bit redundant, and Mitchell seemed very surprised Sacramento drafted him. Queta is a huge body who can bang around inside if he makes the squad. Grade: C+

  • 12. Joshua Primo, G, Alabama
  • 41. Joe Wieskamp, G, Iowa

San Antonio produced the loudest gasps of the night when it selected Primo at No. 12. Most mock drafts had him in the late first or even second round, but the Spurs obviously see something special in the youngest player in the draft. The Spurs have a very crowded backcourt, but are reportedly looking at trade options, so maybe a spot for Primo will open up. Wieskamp, an athletic, knock-down shooter is an excellent second-round selection, and should be able to compete for minutes right away. Grade: B-

  • 4. Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State
  • 46. Dalano Banton, F, Western Kentucky
  • 47. David Johnson, G, Louisville

The Raptors deviated from expectations by taking Barnes, a defensive maestro who earned rave reviews during the pre-draft process, over Jalen Suggs at No. 4. The move would be fine in a vacuum, but with Kyle Lowry potentially leaving in free agency and some positional redundancy with Barnes, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, it seems like Suggs would have made more sense. That all changes if Toronto ends up making a trade, though. The Raptors also drafted a Canadian for the first time in Banton, and a big guard in Johnson. Grade: B

  • 40. Jared Butler, G, Baylor (from Pelicans via Grizzlies)

The Jazz traded their first-round pick, then traded farther down in the draft, but they ended up with an absolute gem in Butler, a prospect who might have gone much higher were it not for some medical issues. Butler was rated as high as the teens on some draft boards, so for the Jazz to get him at No. 40 — and not have to pay him first-round money — is a huge win. Grade: A+

  • 15. Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga
  • 31. Isaiah Todd, F, G League Ignite (from Bucks via Pacers)

The Wizards’ biggest move of draft night had nothing to do with prospects, as they dealt Russell Westbrook to the Lakers for a bevy of assets. In terms of the draft itself, Washington added arguably the best shooter in the class in Kispert and traded for the No. 31 pick to take a chance on Todd, a high-upside big who can stretch the floor. Kispert should help contribute to winning right away, while Todd could be a piece for the future. Grade: B+