An Early Look at the Best Players in the 2021 NBA Draft

An Early Look at the Best Players in the 2021 NBA Draft

The 2021 NBA draft is one of the most promising draft classes in recent memory. It is full of young players with serious star potential. These players vary from raw long term projects to NBA-ready stars. The only problem I can see so far with this draft, is the lack of big men. However the abundance of young guards and wings should satisfy almost any team in the modern NBA. 

Below I would like to highlight some of the most promising players in the 2021 NBA draft. While there is only a very small sample size from this season so far, most of these players’ talents have been in the public eye for a couple of years now. What needs to be remembered is due to the dysfunctional year that 2020 has been, many of these players will have had very limited chances to play. A lot of them will be rusty due to not having many chances to play organised basketball. 

Cade Cunningham 

Photo of Cade Cunningham by Colin Hass-Hill
  • Position: SF/PG/SG/PF
  • Height: 6’6-6’8
  • Wingspan: 7’0
  • Weight: 220 lb
  • College: Oklahoma State

Cade Cunningham is the perfect prospect for this era’s style of positionless basketball. Cade has had some of the most watched YouTube highlight reels of this class. And for good reason. Cunningham is known for being a 6’8 point guard who can both score and create for others. 

Over his very limited sample size at Oklahoma State, Cunningham has been very impressive, even if he has not looked like a full time point guard. Cunningham looks like he can be developed into a great scorer and secondary ballhandler. In today’s era of positionless basketball, this is a great playing style to have as it will allow him to fit into almost any team seamlessly. Cunningham has so far proven he is both an unselfish passer, and an aggressive scorer. 

So far Cunningham has been a very versatile scorer in College. He is capable of driving with the ball, cutting without it, shooting from deep and posting up on smaller defenders. This all around offensive game will make him a very coveted player in next year’s draft. 

Over his first 4 games at Oklahoma State, Cunningham has averaged 18.5 points, 6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He has achieved this with a great 50% field goal, 46.2% from deep and a strong 84.2% free throw. The only red flag in Cunningham’s stats so far is his high number of turnovers, at 3.3 per game. However their undefeated record shows that Cunningham has been a key winning contributor. 

While this is a very small and early sample of Cunningham’ stats, these shooting percentages are very impressive. Cunningham has very solid shot mechanics and looks like he can be a very good shooter at the next level. 

Jalen Suggs

  • Position: PG/SG
  • Height: 6’3-6’4
  • Wingspan: 6’5
  • Weight: 205 lb
  • College: Gonzaga

Jalen Suggs plays with such intelligence and toughness. He makes incredible reads on both sides of the floor. He is able to defend the opposing team’s point guard on defense, and create for his teammates on the other side of the floor. Suggs reminds me of a young, taller, more athletic Rajon Rondo with more scoring potential. Part of this will be due to his background playing quarterback in highschool. 

Suggs’ key attribute NBA teams will be looking at is his playmaking. Suggs is a strong ballhandler who is often looking to create for his teammates. Suggs is able to play as a pass-first point guard without being overly ball dominant. He also isn’t afraid to score himself. Essentially he is a point guard who is looking to make the best decision, whether that decision is scoring himself, assisting a teammate, or moving the ball to where someone else can make a better decision. 

Over his first 3 games at Gonzaga, Suggs has averaged 13.3 points, 6.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. His 6.3 assists to only 1.7 turnovers per game is especially impressive. His 56.7% field goal is very impressive, but his 33.3% from deep and 66.7% free throw will need improving. However there doesn’t appear to be any major red flags that would suggest they can’t be improved. In these first three games, Gonzaga has remained undefeated. 

Evan Mobley

  • Position: C/PF
  • Height: 6’10-7’0
  • Wingspan: 7’5 
  • Weight: 210 lb
  • College: USC

Evan Mobley is a very mobile and athletic centre. Very few 7 footers have his combination of height, speed and length. While he is not the strongest big man, his speed allows him to compensate, and at only 19 years old he has time to gain strength. With so few big men in 2021 lottery projections, Mobley should be able to secure himself a high draft pick. 

Mobley looks to have unicorn potential if his jump shot is able to translate to the next level. Players who are able to protect the rim on defense, and stretch the floor on offense are very valuable. Players such as Kristaps Porzingis, Myles Turner and Jaren Jackson Jr provide this role in the NBA. However what makes Mobley look special is his ability to rebound. It is very rare to find a big man who can stretch the floor, rebound and protect the rim. Mobley has the potential to do all three.

Mobley is not just a shooter on offense, he has a good hook shot he can use inside the paint, and looks to be a pick and roll threat. 

Over his first four games, Mobley has averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.5 blocks per game. He has achieved this on a 61% field goal, 40% 3 point and 63.6% free throw. All of these stats are impressive except for his free throw percentage. 

Free throw percentages are often used to gage whether a player’s shot mechanics are repeatable enough to be used at the NBA level. Mobley’s 63.6% free throw is concerning. However, with only 4 games played this season, it is far too early to overreact. Over his two years playing for USA at the U17 and U19 FIBA world cups, he made 13 out of 15 free throws. According to MaxPreps, Mobley was also a 75% in his senior year in highschool. Pretty much all of these signs show that it is too early to panic about his free throw percentage, but we should definitely keep an eye on it. 

Jalen Green

Photo of Jalen Green published by FIBA
  • Position: SG
  • Height: 6’5-6’6
  • Wingspan: 6’7-6’8
  • Weight: 180 lb
  • Team: G-League Ignite

Jalen Green is a lightning quick, super athletic shooting guard. At the high school level he was a scoring machine. He also has some of the most impressive highlight reels you can find on YouTube. His ability to drive and slash should translate instantly to the NBA. 

Green was one of the top prospects this year who chose to play on the G-League select team. Before there was an international pandemic, this looked like a great way to prove his skills against players sitting just outside of the NBA level. However with it being unclear when the G-League will be able to start, it must be tough sitting out while some of these other young prospects are thriving. 

The big question marks about Green’s game are his strength and shooting form. At only 18 years old, it is pretty easy to imagine Green being able to put on enough muscle to play against NBA wings. This should not be a problem at the next level. 

Green’s shot however, is a concern. When he is in a rhythm he is able to knock down jumpers easily. However his three point percentage, free throw percentage and shot form are concerns. His shot release is a little low, which will allow for taller and longer defenders to disrupt it. At the 2018 U17 FIBA world cup he shot 60% from the free throw line, and 34.1% from deep. At the 2019 U19 FIBA world cup he shot 20.7% from deep and 75% from the free throw line. Training with the G-League coaches looks like it may benefit Green. They will hopefully be able to raise his shooting form, which will allow him to be able to shoot against NBA level defenders. While there may not be many G-League games played this season, Green may have made the right decision to play there if the coaching staff can adjust his jumpshot. 

Jonathan Kuminga 

Photo of Jonathan Kuminga from SlamDunktotheBeach
  • Position: SF/PF
  • Height: 6’8-6’9
  • Wingspan: 6’11
  • Weight: 205 lb
  • Team: G-League Ignite

Jonathan Kuminga is the definition of a physical specimen. He has perfect size and length for either forward position and boasts the strength and athleticism needed. This has made him one of the most hyped 2021 NBA Draft prospects. 

Kuminga projects to be a strong finisher and defender. He is also a better passer than he is given credit for. Kuminga has solid shot mechanics and has the potential to become a shooter, but there is not enough evidence for me to confidently say he will be a shooter at the NBA level. 

Kuminga is one of the rawest players in the top 3-5 of this draft, but his motor and potential ceiling make him one of the most intriguing players to watch. 

In high school at Patrick School, Kuminga averaged 16.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Kuminga’s stats were hard to find online, and I was unable to find his percentages, but his stats mostly confirm his potential, and all around talents. 

Brandon “BJ” Boston Jr

  • Position: SG/SF
  • Height: 6’6-6’7
  • Wingspan: 6’10
  • Weight: 181 lb
  • College: Kentucky 

BJ Boston is loaded with potential. He is a smart wing who looks to be a capable defender, shooter and slasher. While his jumpshot has not translated immediately to the NCAA, his shot form and free throw percentage are positive signs.

Boston has averaged 14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal per game. He is only shooting 39.7% from the floor and 16.7% from deep. He is however shooting 81.8% from the free throw line. While these stats are a little underwhelming for a top NBA draft prospect, the season is still early, and I believe that Boston will be able to pick up his game. 

Ziaire Williams

  • Position: SF/SG/PF
  • Height: 6’8
  • Wingspan: 6’11-7’0
  • Weight: 185 lb
  • College: Stanford

Williams is a very talented young wing. However he is not physically ready for the NBA, and this has been very apparent so far in College. He brings intensity, skill and energy with great height and length. Williams definitely has great NBA potential, but he will be a long term project for both Stanford and whichever team drafts him in 2021. 

Over Williams’ first 3 games at Stanford he has averaged 11 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1 block. His field goal has only been at 38.2% and his three point percentage is a solid 35.7%. Williams’ free throw percentage is sitting at 100% with only limited attempts. While these stats are not overly impressive, they do highlight Williams’ shooting potential. 

Honorable Mentions

This draft is loaded with talent, and with so few games played so far this season, the landscape of this draft could still change drastically. I have not written a mock draft or given too specific an order to this list due to how early in the season it is.

Below is a list of players who I have not written about, but are still very promising players in the 2021 draft.

  • Jalen Johnson – 6’9 – SG/SF/PF
  • Roko Prkacin – 6’8 PF
  • Jeremiah Robinson – 6’9 PF/C
  • Terrence Clarke – 6’7 SG/SF
  • Scottie Barnes – 6’8-6’9 PF/SF
  • Josh Christopher 6’5 SG