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Early 2021 NBA Draft Outlook

The 2020 NBA Draft was just two months ago but the college basketball season has already gone underway and the top prospects of the 2021 draft have already helped us get a feel for their games. This class has been regarded as one of the best in recent memory due to a wide variety of potential star players at the top combined with great rotation players in the later picks. Today, we’re just going to be looking at some of the top guys in this draft. One of the big weaknesses of the 2020 NBA Draft was the lack of surefire stars at the top of the draft. This class doesn’t have that issue whatsoever, and the top of this class is about as good as it’s going to get.

The Top-3 Contenders

Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo

Cade Cunningham, Guard

6’8, 225 lbs

Freshman, Oklahoma State

Cade Cunningham is the crown jewel of the 2021 NBA Draft. We didn’t know who was going to go number one in the 2020 NBA Draft, but that’s likely not to happen this year. Cunningham appears to have all the tools of a potential superstar and could perhaps be someone you build your franchise around. 

At 6’8, he’s a big point guard who has a wide variety of foundational skills. For starters, he’s the best playmaker in this draft by a pretty fair margin. Whether it’s being a master in the pick ‘n’ roll or manipulating the defense with his eyes, he can make any pass on the court. He can make accurate kickout passes to wide open shooters or he can find open cutters running baseline for an easy layup. He does it all as a passer and he’s got all the tools to be a lead playmaker at the next level.

He’s also one of the best off-dribble scorers and on-ball shot creators in this draft. Using footwork, body control, and his strong frame, Cunningham can barrel his way to the hoop and finish with finesse at the rim, or hit a pull-up mid-range shot with two hands in his face. His long distance shooting has also been a lot better than expected. There are still times where he fails to create the right amount of separation from his defender or struggles to finish through contact at the rim, but he has all the scoring tools at 19 years old to be a lethal isolation player.

He can also defend extremely well. Considering his positional size, it’s no surprise that his length is extremely bothersome for smaller players. But his size also allows him to switch onto wings and guard several positions effectively. Like most teenagers, he has his lapses where he doesn’t give as much energy as you’d like. But more often than not, he’s locked in on the defensive side of the floor and he’s tough to get past.

At 19 years old, Cunningham is on track to become the engine of an NBA offense. His on-ball creation skills as a scorer and playmaker combined with his defensive potential is just incredible. There’s going to be some people who say otherwise but the way I see it, he is the best prospect in the 2021 class. There’s no such thing as a “surefire star” in the draft, but Cunningham has all the potential in the world to be a huge factor at the next level. He’s not perfect, but the combination of size and skill as his position is too overwhelming for him to not be on the top of draft boards.

John McGillen/USC Athletics

Evan Mobley, Big

7’0, 210 lbs

Freshman, USC

The big man is going out of style in the NBA but Evan Mobley is not your prototypical big man. Mobley has been dominating the competition as a freshman for USC and is making a case to be the number one overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft. His rare two-way versatility and ball skills at seven feet tall is unheard of, and he is perhaps the best big man prospect since Anthony Davis.

Offensively, Mobley can really do it all. As a scorer and shooter, he has a ton of upside. He can space the floor as a pop shooter but he’s not quite adept at creating his own perimeter shot yet. However, he does a really nice job of attacking the basket off the dribble, and possesses exceptional touch around the rim. There are times where he isn’t assertive enough offensively (even went as far as to shoot zero field goals in a game versus Utah), but that’s not always a terrible thing. His offensive skill as a scorer and shooter is extremely high for a big man.

He can also really pass the ball too. The assist numbers won’t wow you but his one handed skip passes to shooters, dump offs to open cutters, and even his pick ‘n’ roll action as a playmaker gets me really excited. I think he could be a guy that you can give the ball to at the elbow, and he can make plays for himself and others.

Defensively, he’s almost everything you’d want in a modern rim protector. Mobley is currently top five in blocks per game in the NCAA and has great technique as a rim protector. He can also switch onto guards and wings due to his quick feet and excellent lateral quickness. The ability to switch one-through-five without getting exposed is extremely rare for bigs nowadays, and it just shows how special of a prospect he truly is. 

I think Mobley is a generational big man talent. I don’t love throwing the word generational around, but I think it’s applicable in this scenario. He might just be the best big man prospect since Anthony Davis. His two-way versatility, elite scoring potential, and defensive mobility for a guy his size is remarkable. My favorite part about him is that he doesn’t have bad habits that he needs to break. He needs to work on his consistency as a shooter and his strength, but he doesn’t have bad habits. I think he is on track to be one of the best big men in the NBA.

Douglas DeFelice/Getty Images

Jalen Suggs, Guard

6’4, 205 lbs

Freshman, Gonzaga

Jalen Suggs was projected to be a mid-to-late lottery pick coming into the college season, but he’s impressed so much that now it seems like he could be a top five, if not top three, selection in the upcoming draft. Gonzaga is the best team in the country right now, and Suggs has been the primary offensive initiator for this team. He’s come back down to earth recently, but there’s a ton to like with him as a prospect.

His best trait in my opinion is his playmaking. Suggs is a genius playmaker who’s a reliable decision maker. He can whip passes across the court with either hand and does a great job pushing the pace for Gonzaga. He’s a great pick ‘n’ roll passer who could be even better in the NBA with a better pure roll big. He can already reliably run an offense. He’s been surrounded by terrific talent at Gonzaga which may have helped him, but I think you can replicate the same success at the NBA level if you surround him with a good roll big man and shooters.

He’s a bruising downhill slasher as well. He’s not crafty like Cade, but he attacks the basket relentlessly and is terrific at finishing through traffic. He’s got a ton of built up strength and he’s extremely athletic. I’ve heard the John Wall comparison being tossed around and while I don’t love it, I definitely think their attacking style and transition game is very similar. Although I do think Wall is quicker and more of an explosive athlete, him and Suggs are similar in terms of their slashing style.

He’s also shown to be a reliable man-to-man defender. He’s tough, physical, and engaged on the ball and is a smart team defender. He rotates well, jumps passing lines to spark a fastbreak, and can switch onto wings pretty well.

Suggs has an extremely high floor due to his wide variety of NBA ready skills. He’s a terrific playmaker, a smart defender, and an aggressive slasher. Does he have an extremely high ceiling though to pair with it though? He’s not a great shooter at all and I’m not sure how great of a scorer he’s going to be at the next level. I see no world where he busts however, and I’m a fan of his game.

The High Upside G-Leaguers

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

Jalen Green

6’5, 180 lbs

18 years old

Jonathan Kuminga

6’8, 210 lbs

18 years old

Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga both broke the basketball world when they decided that they were not going to go the college route, but instead were going to get real NBA training in the G-League. Now, both of them had large high school profiles and were both top recruits from their class. They’re both otherworldly athletes with shot creation skills that have a ton of potential. However, we haven’t seen full games of them playing yet since high school, so it’s really tough to evaluate them. But this is what I know about the two so far.

Green is a high flyer who can throw down some mean hammers. He’s a fluid ball-handler and creator off the dribble, and has a ton of three-level scoring upside. His jumper though is extremely streaky for the time being. He also seems to neglect the defensive side of the ball and doesn’t bother to put much effort in. And while he’s a great scorer, he’s not a great playmaker and seems to only look for his own offense. Regardless, there’s no denying his skill as a scorer and his ridiculous athleticism. He could be a potential go-to scorer in the NBA, or he could be an inefficient “microwave” off the bench.

Jonathan Kuminga is someone I’ve been extremely fascinated with. Like Green, he’s an explosive athlete with a good handle, and he attacks the basket well. He’s got three-level shot creation and I’d say he’s a more consistent three-point shooter than Green at this point in time. However, his decision making is extremely poor. Whether it’s his poor shot selection or his turnovers, he has a hard time making smart decisions off the dribble. He’s actually not a bad passer either, he just makes poor decisions with the ball. He’s a much more stable defensive presence compared to Green too. He has his lapses but more often than not, Kuminga is locked in on his defensive assignment and does a great job on that end. 

I buy Kuminga’s two-way upside more than I buy Green’s one-way upside at this point in time. Both prospects are intriguing, but it’s hard to get a real feel for a player’s game when they’re playing against inferior athletes and players. The G-League will help the scouting world evaluate these guys a lot better, and I’m really excited to see them both produce.

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

The 2021 class is still far away, but this should hopefully be a good beginner’s guide. There are plenty of more talented players in this class but the way I see it, these are the five most notable players. Not necessarily the five best, but five of the most talented and well-known players. I cannot wait to scout the rest of this class, and hopefully these guys all live up to the hype.

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