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2021 NBA Draft: Grading Every First-Round Pick

Which teams shined and which teams disappointed in Thursday's draft? Here are The Crossover's 2021 NBA draft grades.

The 2021 NBA draft has concluded. The Crossover's draft expert Jeremy Woo graded every first-round pick. 

1. Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State

The Pistons took their time deciding what to do with the No. 1 pick, and ultimately settled on Cunningham, who has been my top-ranked prospect in this class from rail to rail and gives them a versatile centerpiece to build their team around. Cunningham checks just about every box for a perimeter player, with no glaring holes in his game, the ability to play with and without the ball, and an unwavering, focused, team-first approach. He’s one of the most impressive prospects to come along in the past decade. Detroit hopes he’s the player to bring the franchise back to the playoffs. 

Grade: A

2. Houston Rockets: Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite

It was a poorly kept secret over the past couple of weeks that the Rockets were planning to draft Green, who they hope will reach his considerable potential as a scorer and become the quasi-replacement for James Harden, whose trade request led to Houston's tanking away the 2020–21 season. Houston gets an A- here from me, simply because my preference would have been Evan Mobley. But the Rockets will pair Jalen Green with Kevin Porter Jr. in what they hope will be an explosive, dual-handler backcourt moving forward.

Grade: A-

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Evan Mobley, F, USC

Many around the NBA viewed Mobley as a No. 1 pick-caliber prospect, and his availability at No. 3 is a huge coup for the Cavs. Cleveland received a number of offers for this pick but decided to keep it and roll with Mobley, who immediately becomes their most valuable long-term piece. They may have to make a subsequent decision on their frontcourt logjam, with Jarrett Allen, Kevin Love and Larry Nance all potentially returning. But Mobley is well worth it, with a versatile game, incredible shot-blocking acumen and a great deal of offensive upside. It’s extremely hard to find centers with his level of ball skills, shooting potential, length and mobility, and he could vault into the upper echelon of NBA big men in relatively short order.

Grade: A

4. Toronto Raptors: Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State

This is a bold move from the Raptors, who were thought to be between Barnes and Jalen Suggs at No. 4, and made the riskier choice. League sources indicated Suggs’s recent workout for Toronto was underwhelming, and in recent days, speculation grew that they were seriously into Barnes here. So this isn’t entirely a shocker, but there was a good amount of support for Suggs around the league as a potential franchise cornerstone, and the Raptors opted to go against that grain. Barnes was a huge winner in the predraft process, working his way up boards and winning over teams in the interview process. His immense wingspan, defensive mentality, passing vision and potential as a two-way impact piece are strong selling points. He’s unlikely to become a go-to scorer, and his jumper remains a question, but he may do so much of everything else that it doesn’t matter.

Grade: B+

5. Orlando Magic: Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga

The addition of Suggs strongly enhances Orlando’s backcourt, and while it’s unclear how they sort out all the young guards on the roster, the dynamic he brings adds a different dimension to their personnel. A stellar, physical athlete, Suggs was one of college basketball’s top players as a freshman and has one of the best competitive motors in the draft. He’s able to impact games as a scorer, playmaker and defender—sometimes, all at once—and while his jumper has to improve, Suggs can play in any lineup and is willing to do the small things to win. It’s hard to find guards like that who also possess his elite strength and speed. The Magic will figure the rest out later. 

Grade: A

6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Josh Giddey, G, Adelaide 36ers (Australia)

This is the draft’s first major surprise pick, but it’s one I kind of love for the Thunder, who kept their interest in Giddey well under wraps. After trying and ultimately opting not to move up in the draft, Oklahoma City is taking a chance on Giddey’s incredible passing ability. He had a prodigious season as a teenager in his native Australia, and emerged as an elite prospect after spending time developing in the NBA’s Global Academy Program. The Thunder are focused on adding talent, and his size, skill level and low-maintenance game fit their preferences. He’s ultimately more NBA-ready than the other players on the board here, and his youth and advanced game point to room for growth. Whether he’s a full-time point guard or a wing, Giddey has the type of flexible approach that should allow him to excel.

Grade: A-

7. Golden State Warriors: Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite

After all the chatter around the NBA surrounding Kuminga and whether he’d fall in the draft, the Warriors took the biggest upside swing available here, taking him off the board. There’s no arguing Kuminga’s long-term potential, as one of the draft’s best all-around athletes with considerable scoring upside. But given Golden State’s circumstances—they need to win this season—taking Kuminga here as a long-view choice is worth a bit of scrutiny. This is ultimately a similar approach to the one the Warriors took at No. 2 last year, when they took James Wiseman based on upside and positional fit, and left LaMelo Ball on the board. That’s not to say they made the incorrect choice, and Kuminga could also be a valuable piece of a future trade for a star talent that fits their timeline. The Warriors also explored trade opportunities with this pick, sources said. Having said all this, Golden State needs to think about the post-Curry future, too. This is a step in that direction.

Grade: B

8. Orlando Magic: Franz Wagner, SF, Michigan

After winding up with Jalen Suggs instead of Scottie Barnes at No. 5, the Magic still get a supersized, versatile forward here in Wagner. He’s a highly versatile, smart player who’s still scratching the surface of his ability, with room to grow as a jump shooter. Wagner is also a stellar team defender who understands positioning and covers ground effectively, and that flexibility should allow the Magic to play a variety of combinations when he’s on the floor. He profiles as a high-level supporting player if all goes right. Despite not landing Scottie Barnes, Orlando should feel good about how the lottery broke.

Grade: A

9. Sacramento Kings: Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor

This is a surprising direction from the Kings, who were thought to be looking at frontcourt options here, but instead add to their backcourt with Mitchell. Sacramento has designs on competing for the playoffs, and taking an NBA-ready guy like Mitchell here does help to that end. But how much playing time he’ll realistically find with De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton on the roster is worth questioning. Mitchell will surely enhance what was one of the worst defenses in the league last season, and his speed, toughness and scoring ability are a fit with their personnel. But James Bouknight might have been a higher-upside play here, and many scouts have questioned Mitchell’s long-term upside due to his size and advanced age.

Grade: B-

10. Memphis Grizzlies: Ziaire Williams, F, Stanford

The Pelicans made this pick on behalf of the Grizzlies, who will officially receive it after their recent trade is consummated in August. In that deal, Memphis moved up to No. 10 from No. 17, but ultimately selected a player here in Williams who was widely projected to be on the board at that point. Clearly, the Grizzlies hold him in quite high regard. Williams significantly helped himself in the predraft process with a series of strong workouts, and his size, shooting ability and ball skills have always pointed to impressive upside. But many teams were concerned with his history of inconsistency and lack of physicality, and he was expected to come off the board later in the draft. Memphis has drafted well in recent years and deserves the benefit of the doubt here—if Williams can reach his potential, he can be a meaningful addition to their core. But this is a high-risk, high-reward move that will need time to properly evaluate.

Grade: C+

11. Charlotte Hornets: James Bouknight, G, UConn

Bouknight was projected to come off the board as high as No. 6, and becomes a strong value pick here for the Hornets. While not a perfect fit on a roster that already features a number of ball-dominant players, the selections of Bouknight and LaMelo Ball in consecutive drafts have significantly enhanced the team’s talent base. Charlotte will now hope that’s their backcourt of the future. Bouknight is an explosive, inventive scorer with better feel than advertised, and one of my favorite prospects in the draft. If he hits his potential, this could be a pick we look back on in a few years and wonder about.

Grade: A

12. San Antonio Spurs: Josh Primo, G, Alabama

This is an outside-the-box selection for the Spurs, who opted to take a shot on the youngest prospect in the draft here. Primo was a supporting piece at Alabama and was injured for some of the year, but really helped himself in the predraft process with strong workouts and a terrific showing at the combine. While not incredibly toolsy, Primo’s feel is advanced, and he has much more playmaking ability than he was able to show in college, where he was more of a spot-up option. This wasn’t a pick anyone necessarily saw coming, but there was chatter that Primo could go much higher than expected, and that came true. It’s not conventional, but the Spurs clearly see a lot of upside here, and will likely be patient with him as they move forward with their rebuild.

Grade: C

13. Indiana Pacers: Chris Duarte, SG, Oregon

The Pacers were tabbed as suitors for Davion Mitchell, Duarte and Kispert here, and wound up with Duarte, whom a number of teams tried to trade up and draft in the lottery. Indiana aims to compete for the playoffs under Rick Carlisle next season, and Duarte should be able to give them immediate minutes. Although he’s one of the oldest draft-eligible players in the class, Duarte put on a convincing display this season at Oregon, shooting the ball extremely well, playing strong defense and earmarking himself as a solid 3-and-D wing. While his upside likely isn’t immense, he makes a great deal of sense for Indiana.

Grade: B+

14. Golden State Warriors: Moses Moody, G, Arkansas

This is a nice surprise for the Warriors, who were known to be intrigued by Moody in the predraft process. It wasn’t clear if he’d be available here, and while Golden State was said to be hunting for experienced talent, simply taking Moody and figuring things out later makes a lot of sense. He has a chance to become a solid 3-and-D player, with a projectable jumper, developing secondary skills and a long wingspan, although it may take him a little time to get comfortable. This is good value for the Warriors, who may enter next season younger than expected and likely hunt for veteran help via other avenues.

Grade: A-

15. Washington Wizards: Corey Kispert, G, Gonzaga

The Wizards were searching for shooting at this pick, and Kispert’s availability is a nice coup for them as they restructure the roster next season following today’s Russell Westbrook trade. Kispert was arguably the most accomplished three-point marksman in the draft, and gives Washington a much-needed dimension on the wing. His experience level should allow him to contribute right away as the Wizards push to stay competitive around Bradley Beal, who seems like he may stay put for now. This is a step in the right direction.

Grade: A-

16. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Boston): Alperen Sengün, F/C, Besiktas (Turkey)

This pick is on the move to the Rockets, who gave up two future firsts for the rights to Sengün, who was dominant in the Turkish League at age 18. His productivity made him a favorite for analytics-driven front offices—with Houston clearly among them—and while he’s not the type of hyperathletic big the NBA often favors, Sengün is already an outlier in his own right. Houston will hope he gives them a legitimate offensive focal point up front in due time, and this is nice value for a prospect who was thought to be in play as high as No. 9 to Sacramento. The Rockets will hope the future picks they surrendered don’t come back to bite them, but Houston also has plenty of draft capital remaining. Taking Sengün is an applaudable, measured gamble. 

Grade: A-

17. New Orleans Pelicans (from Memphis): Trey Murphy, F, Virginia

The Pelicans were hoping to find shooting after trading back to No. 17 from No. 10, and Murphy is a pretty strong fit for them here. An impressive athlete and high-level jump shooter, New Orleans will hope Murphy helps them blend lineups and provides much-needed spacing for budding superstar Zion Williamson. Murphy will have to keep improving and become a more physical defender, but if he becomes what many teams think he can be, he could be a perfect role player for the Pelicans. 

Grade: A-

18. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Miami): Tre Mann, G, Florida

I don’t love this pick, primarily because I’m a bit less confident in Mann reaching his upside, but it’s a justifiable choice by the Thunder, who were hoping to add shooting with one of these picks in the teens and get a capable one here. Mann is a slithery ballhandler who excels at creating his own shot, but is not especially physical and is still learning how to consistently impact games. OKC, of course, has the runway to give him plenty of time, hoping he becomes a legit perimeter creator, and hopefully, a difference-maker. But he’s not much of a defender, and there were other options on the board here—like Kai Jones—whom I would have preferred for them.

Grade: C+

19. New York Knicks: Kai Jones, C, Texas

This pick was traded to Charlotte, who were intrigued by drafting Jones at No. 11 before James Bouknight surprisingly slipped to them, and were able to find a way back in to select their guy. Jones has a good deal of upside as a rangy defender who can switch onto wings or defend bigs, and combines that with intriguing skill potential and basic shooting ability. He’ll be a bit of a project for the Hornets, but playing with a special passer like LaMelo Ball could really enhance his impact as a lob-catcher (and hopefully, a floor spacer). Charlotte has the makings of an exciting team—it just may take some time.

Grade: A

20. Atlanta Hawks: Jalen Johnson, F, Duke

Johnson was viewed as one of the draft’s big wild cards but has always been an undeniably intriguing talent, and the Hawks opted to take the plunge here. Johnson had a frustrating year at Duke that culminated in his leaving the team, and was never an especially reliable player dating back to high school. Concerns stemming from that history led to his falling out of the lottery, but ultimately, not as far as some feared. Johnson has terrific size and playmaking ability, and if the Hawks can find a way to get the best out of him, he could be a really valuable complementary piece for them. This is a little bit of a risky pick, but in this part of the draft, it’s not a bad proposition.

Grade: B

21. New York Knicks (from Dallas): Keon Johnson, SG, Tennessee

This pick is reportedly on the way to the Clippers. Johnson was once projected as a potential late-lottery pick, but his stock fell a bit in the predraft process, due in part to concerns around his shooting, and also due to concerns over his medical, per sources. But this isn’t too bad of a fall for him, and he’s a very nice project for the Clippers here. L.A. loves defensive-minded, tough, versatile players, and Johnson fits that bill—it just may take him some time. If his ballhandling and jump shot come around, he could be an extremely valuable, high-energy piece for them. 

Grade: A-

22. Los Angeles Lakers: Isaiah Jackson, C, Kentucky

The Wizards acquired this pick as part of the Russell Westbrook trade, then flipped it to Indiana in a trade that saw them move back to No. 31. The Pacers drafted Jackson, who will be a long-term developmental big for them. Jackson is an elite run-jump athlete, but his basketball skills are a work in progress. Teams hope he can fit into a rim-running role, block shots and provide energy, and Indiana has enough talent up front that they won’t have to rush him. If all goes well, he could eventually supplant Myles Turner at center, and allow them to play faster. Jackson was a bit polarizing among scouts, and he’s not my favorite fit here, but the pick makes some sense for the Pacers.

Grade: C+

23. Houston Rockets (from Portland): Usman Garuba, F/C, Real Madrid (Spain)

This is nice value for the Rockets, grabbing a potentially strong role player in Garuba, who can defend all over the floor and complement the array of young scorers Houston has collected. Garuba isn’t especially wired to score, but he’s a smart offensive player who understands how to fit in, and if his shooting improves, he could be the next in the Rockets’ line of useful, unorthodox small-ball bigs. There may not be many shots to go around in Houston next year, but Garuba won’t care.

Grade: B+

24. Houston Rockets (from Milwaukee): Josh Christopher, SG, Arizona State

This is a bit higher than most expected Christopher to hear his name called, but the Rockets clearly preferred him to the array of other available guards here, and based on upside, it’s a defensible choice. Christopher can be a bit of an acquired taste—he shoots first and often shoots second—but he can really get buckets, and he’s a good athlete with a chance to stick around the NBA if he can be a more consistent performer. He wouldn’t have been my favorite pick here, but I get it. (Random side note: He’s also very close friends with Jalen Green, Houston’s choice at No. 2.)

Grade: C+

25. Los Angeles Clippers: Quentin Grimes, G, Houston

This pick was acquired by the Knicks, who traded back off No. 21 to grab Grimes. I like this fit for New York, who ultimately walked away from their widely rumored interest in Isaiah Jackson and made a more methodical play for a wing who can help them immediately. Grimes’s well-rounded offensive game should enhance the team’s offense, and he’s regarded as a rock-solid locker room guy, as well. He’s a winning role player and should be able to help the Knicks.

Grade: A-

26. Denver Nuggets: Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, SG, VCU

In addition to having one of the better nicknames in recent basketball history, Hyland was a riser in the predraft process and earned a first-round spot with impressive shotmaking displays behind closed doors. The Nuggets were looking at scoring guards here, and Hyland was the choice, with his ability to make tough shots a likely separator. Denver has a solid track record of identifying potential role players, and Hyland could develop into a unique, entertaining piece for them. After flying somewhat under the radar at VCU, his best basketball may be ahead of him.

Grade: B+

27. Brooklyn Nets: Cameron Thomas, SG, LSU

This is fairly good value for the Nets after Thomas slipped toward the back of the first round, giving them an extra bucket-getter as they aim to build out their supporting cast. Thomas can be very ball-needy, but he’s a good jump shooter who could conceivably be much more efficient as an auxiliary player, rather than the focal point of a team. The Nets, with an established trio of stars, should be able to lessen his responsibilities in the early going. While Thomas’s style of play isn’t for everyone (including this writer), it’s a good gamble for Brooklyn.

Grade: B

28. Philadelphia 76ers: Jaden Springer, G, Tennessee

Springer is a nice value pick for the Sixers, who can develop him as a long-term prospect. There’s a bit of overlap between his skill set and Tyrese Maxey’s, but he’s a tough, defensive-minded guard and has yet to turn 19. Springer was hampered by an injury for part of the year at Tennessee and has some tangible upside on offense, as he becomes a better shooter and playmaker. While there may have been a case for Philly to grab an older guy here, Springer was arguably the most interesting teenage prospect left on the board.

Grade: B+

29. Phoenix Suns: Day’Ron Sharpe, C, North Carolina

This pick was traded from the Suns to the Nets earlier in the day, in a deal that sent Landry Shamet to Phoenix. This is one of my favorite picks in the first round, as Sharpe is a terrific fit for Brooklyn, and a potentially starting-caliber center in the long run. There was chatter that Sharpe could come off the board a bit earlier than this after a strong predraft process, and the Nets sorely need a rugged, rebounding center in their rotation. Sharpe is also a terrific passer and has some upside shooting the ball, and could help Brooklyn sooner than you think.

Grade: A

30. Utah Jazz: Santi Aldama, F, Loyola (MD)

This pick was reportedly traded from Utah to Memphis. Aldama was prolific in the Patriot League and was rumored as a stash selection for the Thunder—my educated guess is that the Grizzlies felt they had to move in front of OKC’s picks in the 30s to ensure they got him. But Aldama was extremely low on my Big Board, and not the pick I would have made here. His feel and skills at his size are intriguing, but the level of competition he faced was extremely low this season, and this is a fascinating long-term gamble. It just isn’t what I would have done.

Grade: D-

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Rockets Chart New Path Forward With Green Pick
Grading the Russell Westbrook/Lakers Trade
NBA Free Agency Rankings