The 2021 NBA Draft will take place on July 29th at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with several teams hoping to make lottery picks that will turn their franchise’s fortunes around faster than a De’Aaron Fox fast break.
The Detroit Pistons have the top pick, followed by the Houston Rockets at No. 2, the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 3, the Toronto Raptors at No. 4, and the Orlando Magic rounding out the top echelon at No. 5.
Considered one of the most stacked drafts in recent years in terms of talent, let’s see which prospect each of the top five teams is likely to snag—and which one has the best NBA odds and is therefore the best NBA pick—and who else these teams might have their eye on.
While there has been and continues to be much debate about which players coming out of the college ranks should be selected in the second to fifth slots, there’s been a pretty large consensus on who the top dog and best prospect in the 2021 NBA draft is: Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham.
After dominating at Bowie High School in his native Arlington, Texas, Cunningham, who will be 20 in September, moved onto OSU, where he played just one season before declaring for the 2021 NBA Draft.
Cunningham was named the Big 12 Player of the Year for 2021 while earning spots as part of the All-Big 12 First Team as well as consensus All-American honors. But it’s not just the prizes and recognition he gathered that make him the easy top pick in this year’s NBA draft, it’s his makeup as a player.
He’s a 6’8” point guard in the mold of Ben Simmons and Luka Doncic, though his jumper is much more polished than the former and his overall game hasn’t reached the levels of the latter. He can contribute from the 1, the 2, or the 3 positions, is a solid scorer at all three levels, boasts elite vision and basketball IQ and has the size to be a decent defender.
The only area where he is slightly lacking is with his speed and athleticism, but with all of the other tools at his disposal, surely he can make up for that—Doncic certainly has. It’s basically a foregone conclusion that Cunningham will go first overall to the Pistons: he’s offering -10,000 NBA odds on 10bet to be taken with the top pick. If he doesn’t go there, the Rockets would be silly not to snag him.
Up next on the prospect board is one of the first to take a path to the draft that promises to be very common practice very soon: Jalen Green, who comes into the draft coming off of an impressive stint in the NBA’s G-League with the Ignite. The Ignite is an alternative to college ball where top prospects can earn salaries up to $500,000, not too shabby when compared to college players that can’t even accept a meal from their coach.
Following a McDonald’s All-American type of high school career, Green was excellent in his one season as part of the Ignite, averaging 17.9 points on a 46/37/83 shooting line against other top prospects as well as NBA veterans.
That kind of competition gives Green an advantage right off the bat, but it’s his bag that makes him the top challenger to Cunningham for the top pick (though he’s a long shot, at +1,500 NBA odds) and the overwhelming favorite to go No. 2, boasting -200 NBA odds, to be taken second overall by the Rockets. The Rockets would be getting an instant boost from an NBA ready talent.
He’s got elite burst and athleticism as a 6’6” two-guard who’s still growing into his frame. He’s already a strong finisher at the rim and through contact, so added weight will only compound that skill.
He’s got a great pull-up jumper, his floater is solid, and his step-back is filthy. His 37 percent mark from deep for the Ignite means that while he’s not yet a sharp-shooter, he can still keep the defense honest. If he can improve that long-range shot, the sky’s the limit for the Merced, California native.
Next up we have the reigning PAC-12 Player of the Year, seven-footer Evan Mobley, coming out of USC. He was also the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, and has shown excellent dexterity and coordination at his size, which allows him to possess an advanced skill set.
At just 215 pounds, he has a long way to go in terms of turning himself into an NBA-sized center that can anchor a defense and bang down low with the big dogs of the association, but the skillful part of his game should make up for that. He’s sure to put on a few pounds, but is likely to remain more of a finesse guy rather than a power guy.
Despite his lack of power, he’s an excellent shot blocker who possesses elite defensive instincts, not to mention his excellent touch at the rim and on the run and the fact that he’s shown the ability to build some solid handles.
While the Raptors could really use a center like Mobley, all signs point to the Cavs taking the prospect at No. 3, offering -167 NBA odds to be taken in that slot. His +200 NBA odds to go fourth to the Raptors could be a solid value bet, however.
Jalen Suggs is most likely to be taken at No. 4 by those Raps, with that scenario giving -161 NBA odds on 10bet. While the Raptors are in more need of a center, Suggs fits into their team mentality perfectly. He’s fiery, he’s got an insane will to win, and he’s a hustler, which is a mental makeup you don’t often find at the top of the draft.
Suggs, a 6’4” point guard, is very fast, which makes him a problem in the open court. The Gonzaga product’s football background also shines through on the defensive end and on the boards, where he exhibits toughness, high IQ, and an intangible ability to read the passing lanes. Nick Nurse loves him as a good, energetic defender.
Not to mention that his offensive bag is well-varied and aided by his very high BBIQ. He has everything it takes to become an elite three-point shooter in the league as well, which will supplement his impressive layup package. And even with all of that offensive talent, Suggs is a guy who will look to involve others more often than not.
If those top four go as expected, the top five is likely to be rounded out by one of three guys. The first of these is FSU’s Scottie Barnes, who offers the lowest odds to be taken at No. 5 by the Magic, with -120 NBA odds. He’s also the most likely player from the field to break into the top four, offering attractive +400 NBA odds to be taken by Toronto.
Barnes is your quintessential NBA player in this day and age: he can defend every position as a 6’8” forward while also possessing the playmaking abilities to run an offense. Next up is Jonatahn Kuminga—who played alongside Green with the Ignite—who offers +100 NBA odds to be taken No. 5. The Congolese national offers a ton of upside and possesses generational athleticism, but is far from polished.
The last and most unlikely of the names we’ve mentioned to crack the top five is Baylor’s Davion Mitchell, who is a unique prospect in that he’s just 6’1” and is 23 years old. He’s a fiery competitor and has really improved his jumper, but his value is in his speed, athleticism, and defensive tenacity. Any team looking for a defensive stopper at the one position would do well to give Mitchell a look