The NBA welcomed its newest class of rookies to the league Thursday night during the 2021 draft from Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Draft night is always a time for trades, and this year featured plenty of picks on the move. After the draft was fairly predictable at the top, things really got wild in the middle of the lottery through the first round. Several teams had multiple first-round picks and additional draft capital to swing deals that could significantly alter the league’s landscape entering the 2021-22 season.
USA TODAY Sports recaps the entire 2021 NBA draft with all 60 picks, plus pick-by-pick analysis from and on each of the first-round selections.
1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Cunningham is a versatile 6-8 guard who play on the ball or off the ball and has the skillset to do both. He shoots 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers and gets to the rim and has the strength to absorb contact and finish with either hand. He didn’t post great assist statistics but he can be playmaker. He drew multiple defenders and is adept at finding the open man. In his one college season, he averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 40% on 3s. He’s a vocal leader and relishes the big moment in the close games.
2. Houston Rockets: Jalen Green, G League Ignite
Green took the unconventional route with playing for the G-League Ignite team instead of attending college. And he believes playing against G-League players in an NBA environment will prepare him significantly. So much that Green considers it a realistic goal to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award and land on an All-NBA Defensive Team. One NBA scout told USA TODAY Sports that he’s enamored with Green’s physicality and aggressiveness as a listed 6-foot-5, 172-pound guard. But the scout added that Green needs to improve his consistency as a shooter and ball handler.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley, Southern California
Mobley looks like a perfect fit as a big man in the modern NBA. He’s a 7-footer who can play in the post with a soft touch at the rim and step outside and shoot 3s. He will have to adjust to the NBA long-range distance but that shouldn’t be a problem as he adds strength. In his one season at USC, he averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocks and shot 57.8% from the field. It will be interesting and perhaps fun to see how the Cavaliers use Mobley alongside Jarrett Allen, if Allen re-signs with the Cavs.
4. Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes, Florida State
This marked the first somewhat surprising move of the draft considering the expectation that Jalen Suggs would be selected. But Barnes is the real deal and has moved up draft boards after impressing talent evaluators with his playmaking and versatile defending. Barnes averaged only 10.3 points while shooting 27.5% from 3-point range. But Barnes has excelled on all other areas of the game, and will have an immediate impact.
5. Orlando Magic: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Suggs is a potential franchise-changing point guard and could be a steal for Orlando at No. 5. His buzzer-beater in this year’s Final Four will live on in March Madness lore, but his freshman season under coach Mark Few saw him blossom into an NBA-ready point guard with poise and smart decision-making. He averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.9 steals and shot 50.3% from the field last season. He’s athletic, good size (6-4), has range and likes to play on the defensive end. It appears the Magic found the point guard for their long-term rebuild.