[NBA Draft]: 2021 Hoops Distillery Mock Draft (updated 7/21)

The global holiday that is our beloved NBA Draft day is coming up quick, so here’s an updated 1st round mock draft with a couple of big surprises along the way as food for thought. By now, most mock drafts have a lot of similar picks with most draft analysts agreeing (in general) on the tiers where players lie. But as you’ll see in this mock draft, one pick that comes out of left field can throw a monkey wrench into the 1st round, which then creates a ripple effect of semi-unexpected picks.  

The biggest theme I see in this year’s draft is that most teams want to win (as we saw with so many teams competing to make the play-in tournament last season) and would prefer to have someone who can step into their rotation right away to give them a boost. This is an especially big help for the older prospects like Corey Kispert, Davion Mitchell and Chris Duarte–all considered elderly in draft terms at the ages of 23 and 24. Although this draft is considered top heavy, with a lot of top tier talent in the first five picks, the top 40 picks should have multiple players who will play for years in the league and be important rotation players, if not all stars, for some players who can get a handle on the all-important swing skill of shooting. 

As opposed to some mock drafts that are aiming to be as accurate as possible with the picks that teams will make on July 29th via the intel they have from GM’s, scouts, and agents, this mock draft is fully based on my opinion of who each team should take based on my research, which includes a huge amount of time reading, watching, and listening to draft coverage in order to distill the best content possible. I avoid deep dives into player strengths and weaknesses, as I’m not a scout or an analytics guy, but instead, look closely at roster construction and how certain picks might fit into team’s current and future plans. Thanks to our friends Fanspo, as always, for their Mock Draft Simulator.

1. DET—Cade Cunningham: An almost no-brainer pick here as the Pistons need to win games but maybe more pressing in the near term is to be relevant and sell tickets. Cunningham gives them a leader on the floor and an identity off of it. He’ll control the pace and open up the floor for others to make plays. Can he coexist with Killian Hayes? There’s no reason to believe he can’t. He is a team first guy that loves to set other players up for easy looks, and will take the pressure off of Hayes to be the primary creator for the time being. If both can continue to gain experience, fine tune their ball handling and pick and roll playmaking, the Pistons will have a very versatile lineup moving forward that will be dangerously big and strong with Jeremi Grant and Saddiq Bey lurking on the perimeter.

Proposed starting lineup: Cunningham-Hayes-Bey-Grant-Plumlee

2. HOU—Jalen Green: Fertitta is desperate to have a new Rockets poster boy—and very excited to have a low-cost team with no expectations but lots of highlight reels. Green has tons of talent and athleticism, and should provide exactly that. And with the rebuild just beginning, he’ll have plenty of time to fine tune his game and be an offensive force for years in the league. Seems like there’s a very good chance Eric Gordon will be traded and certainly John Wall is not in their future plans, so their 2021 picks will be important to start filling holes with high-ceiling guys that they can develop, along with Kevin Porter Jr., KJ Martin, and Jae’Sean Tate. Christian Wood and John Wall will spar and side-eye each other, trying to be the go-to-guy for this squad, but when the smoke clears there’s a good chance that neither will be on the roster for long.

Proposed starting lineup: Wall-Green-Gordon-Tate-Wood

3. CLEEvan Mobley: some of the most experienced draft analysts think Mobley is the best prospect in this draft, so the Cavs may be lucking out with a franchise player here that is also a positional fit, assuming he can play the 4, and more 5 too, as he adds strength. Colin Sexton may be shipped out to avoid overpaying him, and Jarret Allen’s contract is up which will most likely cost the Cavs between $18-20m per year on a multi-year contract. Both players may not be in the future plans of the organization, but they are both skilled and should be retained to avoid losing them as assets (in Allen’s case) and/or signed and traded (in either case). Mobley should quickly emerge as the new face of the franchise.

Proposed starting lineup: Sexton-Garland-Okoro-Mobley-Allen

4. TOR—Jalen Suggs: No need to overthink this one. Barnes is tempting at this spot but Suggs has too high of a floor and will fit in perfectly with Raps culture. Whether Lowry leaves or not this offseason, he’ll be gone eventually and Suggs can play on or off the ball with VanVleet and provide the same competitive fire of Lowry. It can be hard for teams to replace leadership, but Suggs may be able to do that, even as a young player. He isn’t used to losing and doesn’t accept it, which Toronto fans will love. The Raptors will need some added depth to strengthen their bench next season, but by bringing back Gary Trent Jr. and having even average luck with team health (as opposed to last year’s disaster), they’ll already have a rotation that should put them back as one of the East’s elite teams.

Proposed starting lineup: Suggs-VanVleet-Anunoby-Siakam-Birch

5. ORL—Scottie Barnes: Barnes has one of the highest ceilings in this draft and from day one will be a glue guy who is super versatile and will be a terror on D paired with Isaac. Once his shot develops a bit more, he’ll be able to leverage that to be an even better playmaker. And, he could set up the Magic to have lineups, similar to the championship Warriors teams, where 4-5 guys can shoot, rebound, push the ball up the court, and make smart decisions.

Proposed starting lineup: Fultz-Bouknight-Isaac-Barnes-Carter

6. OKC—Ziaire Williams: ***……Record scratch…..***. The Thunder shock everyone by taking Williams with their first of multiple first round picks, with the plan to swing for the fences on a big, talented wing who could eventually provide positional versatility and the ability to shoot over anyone like Michael Porter, Jason Tatum, or KD. Chad Ford reported that his trainer, Joe Abunassar, at Impact Basketball, has been raving about him as a truly elite prospect—so what if that’s not smoke? What if he actually did underachieve due to circumstances last season? He already grew to 6’10” and his floor could be Cam Johnson on the Suns this season. It seems like a risky choice by Sam Presti, but with a super young roster, dozens of draft picks at his disposal, and Kemba Walker primed and ready for another flea market flip, they’ll take the best player available, and Presti always loves guys who are big, long, and athletic.

Proposed starting lineup: SGA-Kemba-Poku-Bazley-Bradley

7. GSW—Franz Wagner: Most mocks have the Warriors taking Davion Mitchell or James Bouknight to provide immediate help for a championship run next season, but I think they’ll opt for Wagner who also happens to provide immediate help on D, along with high IQ (which they strongly value), and is only 19, but with a lot of experience between playing pro in Germany and University of Michigan. If his shooting becomes more consistent, he could really help them as part of small-ball closing lineups, which the Warriors would love to get back to if they can piece together the right personnel.

Proposed starting lineup: Curry-Thompson-Wiggins-Green-Wiseman

8. ORL—James Bouknight: Easy pick here, as Bouknight has a very high ceiling offensively in the mold of Zach Lavine or Devin Booker, which is exactly the scoring punch that the Magic need with Fultz and Barnes still developing consistent offensive games. With Bouknight in the fold, Magic could also send out Terrence Ross for more assets sooner than later. They’ll need to make sure there are some vets on the roster to guide the young guys, but they should already be proud of how quickly they have been able to rebuild the roster after sending out Vucevic, Gordon, and Fournier.

Potential closing lineup: Fultz-Bouknight-Isaac-Barnes-Okeke

9. SAC—Jonathan Kuminga: After mock drafts had him as a top 5 pick for months, the tide has turned after players like Barnes and Bouknight have risen up the charts post-combine, interviews, and team workouts. Kuminga has a lot of work to do to make his skill level match his physical talents, but Jarrett Jack on the Ryen Russillo pod, mentioned that with a couple adjustments to his jumper, he could be a strong 3-D player for years, which would suit the Kings just fine—and the sooner the development the better, with the trade winds blowing hard on Bagley and Hield. A player like Kuminga will be much needed to try to slow down big wings like LeBron and Kawhi in the west.

Proposed starting lineup: Fox-Haliburton-Kuminga-Barnes-Holmes

10. NOP—Moses Moody: Pelicans have been rumored to be looking for veteran help and desperately need to unload Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams—both puzzling moves from David Griffin last summer. With Moody left on the board, they should keep the pick instead of using it as trade sweetener, as he will fit in immediately with his shooting and length on D. As Moody continues to develop his game (and confidence), there may actually be quite a bit of hidden upside that could emerge, but for the time being they only need him to play hard and play smart, leaving all the heavy lifting to Zion and Ingram. I’m also for the Pels resigning Ball so they don’t lose him as an asset. The only worry I have with this pick is that Ball, Ingram and Moody seem to all have very laid-back on-court personalities. That is a good thing in some ways, but may force the team to eventually add a Jimmy Butler/Chris Paul-style player to add the needed leadership and intensity come playoff time that to balances them out.

Potential closing lineup: Ball-NAW-Moody-Ingram-Zion

11. CHA—Keon Johnson: Hornets still have a lot of holes, so there are many picks that make sense here. Additionally, they have some tough choices to make roster-wise in terms of resigning Graham and Rozier, which speaks to the bigger question of whether to fast-track their way to the playoffs with vets or to be patient and develop over time. Although tempting to take the outside shooting of Kispert or the inside presence of Sengun, the better pick here is Keon Johnson, who will look much better with age, skill development, and the LaMelo effect. He’ll also provide insurance for Graham and/or Rozier leaving and help their D from day one.

Proposed starting lineup: Ball-Rozier-Hayward-Washington-? (FA center or trade)

12. SAN—Alperen Sengun: There are lots of interesting options on the board here including Jalen Johnson, Corey Kispert and Josh Giddey.  The Spurs, whose veteran trio of DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, and Rudy Gay are free agents leaving the roster at a bit of a crossroads. There are a various moves that they need to consider making to balance out the younger group on the roster, which is very guard-heavy for the time being. Not knowing exactly what their plans are, or even if Popovich will be back to coach next season, the best pick is Sengun, who can play some 4 and 5, and gives them a young big with a ton of upside. He can work with Chip Engalland to fine tune his jumper and will eventually be able to help stretch the floor. For the time being, he can score inside, rebound and give them more of an inside presence (if there’s such a thing anymore) and should have no issue fitting into the Spurs culture which thrives on having a diverse group of players from around the world.

Proposed starting lineup: White-Murray-Vassell-Johnson-Poeltl

13. IND—Davion Mitchell: Mock drafts have the Pacers taking Josh Giddey but I’m not so sure that makes sense unless they plan to eigher trade Brogdon or not resign McConnell. Jalen Johnson is another popular pick here which could make sense but not sure how he fits with Myles Turner and Sabonis. That being said, this roster could change quite a bit in the next couple months. The best pick, in my view, is Mitchell who can help Brogdon with ball-handling responsibilities but also is very good playing off the ball. It goes without saying the boost of energy he’ll give them on D, matching up against the Curry’s and Lillard’s of the world.

Proposed starting lineup: Brogdon-LaVert-Warren-Sabonis-Turner

14. GSW—Chris Duarte: Lots of debate as to whether the Warriors should trade these lottery picks for veteran, win-now help, and that makes a ton of sense, but if they do send out Wiseman, Wiggins and both picks for a max player like a Siakam, I don’t see how they’ll have enough quality depth to get through a full season + multiple playoff series—and overplaying Klay or Steph is not a good option. If the Warriors can sign a couple of ‘ring chaser’ vets and pick Duarte they may have a better shot at making a deep run. Duarte should be able to step in from day one and be solid on both ends of the floor, and as some have mentioned, based on the Warriors huge payroll and luxury tax issues, its well worth taking someone like Duarte, who may not have as a high a ceiling but is a cost controlled 3-D wing for years to come while they try to maximize what ever is left of being light years ahead.

Potential small-ball closing lineup: Curry-Thompson-Duarte-Wiggins-Green

15. WAS—Corey Kispert: The Wizards, as with some of these other teams in the late lottery have the option of choosing a high-ceiling prospect to develop over time or going for someone who can help right away. The front office will want to maximize what could be a short window of time with Beal and Westbrook, so makes more sense to pick someone who can be in the rotation right away. Garuba and and Giddey are interesting options here, but Garuba overlaps a bit too much with Hachimura and Giddey with Avdija, so the Wiz go with the plug-and-play 3-and-D game of Kispert who will provide much needed outside shooting threat to spread the floor. Adding Kispert to the roster definitely does not improve the defensive outlook, but they can look to fill out the roster with some defensive-minded vets that may at least make them passable.

Proposed starting lineup: Westbrook-Beal-Kispert-Hachimura-Bryant

16. OKC—Josh Giddey: The Thunder come in with a boat load of draft picks which gives them many options to trade up or trade for another young player, if the right one is offered up. But assuming they don’t trade up based on the high quality of guys who are still left on the board, Giddey seems like a great choice here, dropping a bit from where most mock drafts have him. As SGA does with his size and ball handling, Giddey will provide lots of positional versatility with lineups that may combine him with Maledon/Kemba, SGA, and Poku. Who actually brings the ball up the court doesn’t matter so much, as long as they all can shoot and create for others. Giddey is young and has plenty of upside which he’ll have a good chance to maximize with the OKC player development staff.

Multi-ball-handler lineup: Maledon, SGA, Giddey, Z. Williams, Poku

17. MEM—Jalen Johnson: Everyone raves about the depth of the Grizzlies, but in order to make playoff run in the West, they still need to upgrade their talent via the draft or trade along with continued player development. With Johnson, the Grizzlies add a versatile wing who has some similarities to Kyle Anderson, who happens to be in the last year of his contract. Both provide some ball-handling, solid vision, and solid 3-point shooting. Johnson will need to work on his game and gain a lot more experience, but he can learn the ropes from Anderson and not have pressure to produce in the near term. Eventually, if Johnson’s shooting consistency and maturity improves, the Grizzlies could utilize him as their starting SF, as he’ll provide much needed athleticism and speed to their lineup.

Proposed starting lineup: Morant-Brooks-Anderson-JJJ-Valanciunas

18. OKC—Usman Garuba: With their 3rd pick in the 1st round, the Thunder go with another international player with lots of upside and pro experience in Garuba who will provide positional versatility at the 4 or 5.  Without a good center option on the roster after sending Al Horford and Moses Brown to Boston, Isaiah Jackson and even Day’Ron Sharpe are interesting options, but what Garuba has that those two don’t, is unicorn stopper ability that will certainly come in handy vs. the LeBron, Kawhi, KD, and Giannis’s of the world. Not to mention, Garuba is a great team defender who can protect the rim immediately. OKC player development staff will have their hands full working with Williams, Giddey, and Garuba on their shooting, but if they’re able to turn them into 35-40% three-point shooters, than look out.

Future super-sized wing lineup: SGA, Giddey, Z. Williams, Poku, Garuba

19. NYK—Miles McBride: Rumors are swirling that the Knicks will trade their two picks to move up, and it’s possible that the Hornets or Wizards might take them up on the offer, with both teams needing more depth (and home run swings). That being said, I don’t think the Knicks have much quality depth either and unless they are in love with a specific player, they’d be best off, making both picks. McBride is a perfect fit with Thibs style, providing tough-nosed defense, speed/athleticism, and a good shooting stroke. He won’t give them much playmaking which is why many think (and hope) the Knicks will select Sharife Cooper here, but his lack of prowess on D, plus poor shooting does not seem like a great match. Once the Rose era ends, some combination of Quickley, Vildoza and McBride can be the Knicks future guard rotation, moving Barrett to the 3.

Proposed starting lineup: Rose-Vildoza-Barrett-Randle-Robinson

20. ATL—Jared Butler: The Hawks lineup is stacked, but maybe not for long, as Hawks owner Tony Ressler honestly admitted to the media after the playoffs. Although Cam Thomas, Jaden Springer, and even JT Thor are interesting here, the developmental curve of those players may bit a bit too long to take advantage of the awesome depth that the Hawks have which could (and almost did) propel them on a championship run before they have to pick and choose who to resign and consider consolidating the roster. Butler can play some backup PG as well as playing off the ball with Trae Young or Bogdanovic. He’s an excellent ball handler, defender, and is experience playing in big games–and he’s only 20 years old. He will be attractive to other teams in trade packages while at the same time providing insurance if they do opt to trade (or not resign) Huerter, Lou Will, or Reddish.

Proposed starting lineup: Young-Bogdanovic-Hunter-Collins-Capela

21. NYK—Isaiah Jackson: Logically, Jackson has been rumored to be going to the Knicks in many mock drafts with the current roster uncertainty of resigning Mitchell Robinson and/or Nerlens Noel. Makes sense that they won’t bring both of them back. And again, the Knicks coaching staff and front office are overly well-connected with the Kentucky staff and will have better intel than most teams on what Jackson is capable of.  As happens with many Kentucky players during the Calipari era, there may be a hidden offensive upside for Jackson which would could eventually allow him to pick and pop and/or space the floor when Randle or Barrett post up. For the time being, he’ll provide a poor man’s version of the rim protection and rim running alley-oop dunks that Noel gave them last season.

Future starting lineup: Quickley-Vildoza-Barrett-Randle-Robinson

22. LAL—Sharife Cooper: This may not actually make sense as the Lakers pick, as LeBron may get grumpy if he’s not surrounded by shooters, but the Basketball Gods may need to make this happen to bring a bit more of the Showtime-style back to the Lakers. With uncertainty surrounding Schroeder, Caruso, THT, and KCP, this seems to make sense from a basketball standpoint too. The Lakers thrive in the bubble with lineups that combined the elite playmaking and high basketball IQ of Rajon Rondo with LeBron and AD and Sharife could eventually do the same.

Proposed starting lineup: Schroder-KCP-James-Davis-Drummond

23. HOU—Jaden Springer: (see below)

24. HOU—Isaiah Todd: With back-to-back picks in the 20’s and lots of rebuilding to do, the Rockets can swing for the fences with two versatile, high upside guys. Springer can play the 1 or 2 and will fit nicely with Kevin Porter Jr and John Wall in the near term. And Todd, who showed flashes of solid D on the Ignite, has an intriguing game that has shades of Tatum/Durant/MPJ thanks to his athleticism, size and footwork. Combining these two with Jalen Green and Christian Wood would be very entertaining and eventually lead to winning. Fertitta isn’t the same as Donald Sterling, but for some reason, I get the feeling he’ll be more than happy fielding a young, exciting, and inexpensive team for years to come, while he collects his checks and watches the team value grown exponentially.

Starting lineup once they find a way to trade Wall and Gordon: Porter Jr.-Green-Tate-Martin Jr.-Wood

25. LAC—Cameron Thomas: Everyone talks about the Warriors being in win-now mode, but the Clippers also have a very limited championship window to take advantage of with the Kawhi/PG pairing. On the positive side, Reggie Jackson and Terrence Mann showed that they are truly 16-game players in this year’s playoffs. On the negative side, there’s Ibaka and Kawhi’s injuries and unknown recovery time—and Kawhi’s lack of communication/trust with team management and medical staff. Although Luke Kennard played well at times in the playoffs, the Clips are sorely missing a microwave scorer off the bench like they had with Lou Williams, and that’s where Thomas comes in. Although a bit undersized for a SG at 6’3” (reportedly), he can score from all three levels and at his age there’s a lot of room for growth.

Proposed starting lineup: Jackson-Mann-PG-Leonard-Ibaka

26. DEN—Brandon Boston: Murray’s injury was a huge stroke of bad luck for the Nuggets who were riding an MVP season from Nikola Jokic and could have made a deep playoff run had they fielded a healthy squad. With Will Barton opting out, Murray recovering, Gary Harris and RJ Hampton on the Magic, they are in major need of depth at the guard position, but because based on their current roster, they’d be best off filling some of these holes in free agency with players that can step in right away and contribute. In the end, the Nuggets will stick with what’s worked for them the past few years—swing for the fences on the guy that has undeniable talent and high ceiling but dropped out of favor for whatever reason. And this year, that player is Brandon Boston. While Josh Christopher or Bones Hyland would also be solid options, the Nuggets will bank on Boston being the next Kentucky guard to show a more diversified skill set than they flashed in college. Plus, Boston is 6’7” which should help on the defensive side of the ball from day one. Becoming a solid 3-D wing will go a long way in helping the Nuggets get to the next level, but if he can eventually regain his confidence and shot creation ability, he’ll provide a scary perimeter trio with MPJ and Murray, which Jokic will take full advantage of.

Proposed starting lineup: Murray-Morris-MPJ-Gordon-Jokic

27. BKN—Bones Hyland: Rumor has it that the Nets made a promise to Day’Ron Sharpe here, but I’m not so sure that makes sense. The Nets already have Jordan (who KD and Kyrie won’t allow to be traded) and the up-and-coming Nicolas Claxton—plus KD, Blake Griffin or Jeff Green for small-ball lineups, so why would they take another center—a position that is relatively easy to find inexpensively via free agency or the buyout market? With Spencer Dinwiddie heading out via free agency and Mike James questionable to return, plus the fragility of Kyrie Irving, the Nets take Hyland who can run backup PG and also play off the ball in some lineups with Harden, as he is a very confident scorer and most likely better than D on day one, than Landry Shamet. KD can even teach him how to survive and thrive in the league as an ultra-skinny but highly skilled player.

Proposed starting lineup: Irving-Harden-Brown-KD-Griffin

28. PHI—Kai Jones: Lots of questions this offseason for the Sixers, as a Ben Simmons trade may happen. If this is the case, this pick could be part of the outgoing package in a two or three team deal. But assuming the trade doesn’t happen till the deadline or Daryl Morey doesn’t feel like he’s getting enough value, Jones would be a solid pick here based on his athleticism and upside. Dwight Howard may not be resigned, so Jones could play a bit of backup center for Joel Embiid while also getting a few minutes at the 4. With a strong lineup built to make a championship run in the next couple of years, Jones wouldn’t have any pressure to produce in the near term, but if he ever comes close to reaching his very high ceiling, he could end up being the Sixers starting PF if Simmons gets traded and they use a more traditional PG.

Proposed starting lineup: Simmons-Curry-Thybulle-Harris-Embiid

29. PHX—Day’Ron Sharpe: After all the Nets rumors, it was the Suns who made the promise to Sharpe, and boy could they have used him during the Finals. Ayton did well to protect the rim and battle with Brook Lopez and Giannis, but he had to play 36-40 minutes per game which is exhausting after such a long season—and very hard to stay out of foul trouble. One of the flaws of the Suns roster was the lack of a backup big man that could provide some muscle against the bigger centers like Embiid and Jokic. The Suns tried Damian James earlier in the season but eventually waived him and Dario Saric was their backup center. Sharpe, who is in great shape, has a high motor, untapped potential as an outside shooter, and is a skilled passer for his size. He’ll provide lineup versatility for the Suns next season while Saric recovers and Jalen Smith continues to develop.

Proposed starting lineup: CP3-Booker-Bridges-Crowder-Ayton

30. UTA—JT Thor: After passing on Jaden McDaniels in the 2020 draft in the oft-told tale of front office in-fighting, the Jazz have an interesting choice here. As with most perennial playoff teams who want to make a championship run, Assuming Mike Conley is back next year and the Jazz aren’t looking for guard-help, they could really use an injection of youth and athleticism. That’s where JT Thor could really help. He may not provide instant production, but just for Quinn Snyder to have the option of playing him in a faster lineup as a small-ball 5 or to guard the long, athletic, skilled PFs of the league like Tatum and KD, could give them quite a boost. As his three-point shot continues develop, he’ll fit right in with the Jazz offense.

Proposed starting lineup: Conley-Mitchell-Bogdanovic-O’Neale-Gobert

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