2021 NBA Draft Winners & Losers
Last week’s NBA Draft has been heralded as one of the deepest drafts in years, and that’s for good reason. Regarded as a four-man draft (Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs) with significant drop-off, there are plenty of players ready to make an impact later in the lottery and throughout the rest of the Draft as well. There were surprises, as Suggs wasn’t selected until No. 5, and several teams took big swings in the lottery or else failed to make any significant moves. Today, I’ll identify four teams who came away winners and four teams who went belly up in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Bouknight, an elite scorer and playmaker, shot up draft boards over the last few weeks and was seen by many in the industry as a top-8 pick. He somehow fell to No. 11, and Charlotte pounced. Despite being a guard-rich team, the Hornets can use Bouknight as a microwave scorer off the bench. Jones is a raw talent, but his tremendous athletic ability and fit for a position in need made him a steal at No. 19, as he was a potential lottery selection as well.
Houston didn’t come away with the top selection in the draft, but they got a fine consolation in Green at No. 2. One of the most athletic and highest-upside scorers in this class, Green should make an immediate impact. Houston followed up the tremendous No. 2 pick with two of the best international prospects available. Sengun slipped to 16, and the Rockets jumped at the chance to acquire a guy who had flown up draft boards to a near-lock in the lottery. Finally, the Rockets landed Garuba, a risk/reward talent from Spain who’s a bit undersized at C but comes with a high ceiling.
The team in the Warriors draft room had to be elated when Kuminga fell into their laps at No. 7. The G League forward fell down draft boards due to his poor shooting, but there’s obviously room for improvement in that area. His strength is his versatile, multi-position defense and insane athletics. Moody is a much better shooter than Kuminga but another solid defender. Golden State snagged a pair of excellent two-way wings who fell farther in the draft than they should have… that’s a slam dunk!
Suggs seemed like a lock as a top-four pick, but he surprisingly fell out of that quartet, as the Raptors surprisingly went after Scottie Barnes. That left Suggs to land with Orlando, who were surely ecstatic at their fortune. Suggs is one of the most athletic prospects in this class and a guy who can score, rebound, and get teammates involved. He’ll have some competition in the form of Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz, but Suggs’ talent should ultimately win the day. Even if he’s not an immediate starter, he should be involved as a key reserve right away.
Wagner is a high-IQ player who can impact both ends of the floor. Though he’ll also have some competition from Jonathan Isaac, James Ennis, Chuma Okeke, and others, he’s got a great chance to carve out a meaningful role right away.
The Duarte pick is one that was a bit of a head-scratcher. Indiana selected one of the oldest draft prospects in NBA history, and while his floor is fairly stable, he has a limited ceiling. Grabbing Jackson (and trading up for him) made little sense, either. Indiana is loaded with frontcourt talent in Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, and Jackson was far from a need.
Key Draft Picks: Joshua Primo (12)
The Spurs went out on a limb selecting Primo here, and that’s why the team makes the list of losers. Still on the board were Keon Johnson, Alperen Sengun, Moses Moody, Corey Kispert, and Trey Murphy III among others. Primo was highly likely to still be available at the end of the first round or even the beginning of the second round. San Antonio could have traded back and acquired additional assets while still landing their guy. Primo fills a position of need with DeMar DeRozan likely gone in free agency, but that’s where the positives unfortunately end.
Key Draft Picks: Davion Mitchell (9)
Mitchell was my seventh-ranked prospect in this year’s draft, so taking him at No. 9 certainly wasn’t a reach. I just can’t understand the fit. The Kings are loaded at the guard positions with De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Tyrese Haliburton. Surely, they could have addressed a need at one of the forward positions or at center. Maybe Sacramento will get a deal done for Buddy Hield, but even so, Mitchell may have a tough time finding meaningful minutes as a rookie.