2021 NBA Draft Grades

·20 min read



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With the 2021 NBA Draft now in the books, it's time for the fun part: the grades. Truth be told, it's extremely difficult to assign grades at this point in the process. No player has appeared in an actual NBA game for their respective teams, and determining a potential "fit" on paper and evaluating it in action are two entirely different things. Drafts are best judged 2-3 years down the line. But what's the fun in waiting?

The 2021 draft class is considered to be one of the most talented in recent memory, and the assumption was that there was a clear top-3 heading into Thursday. But Toronto decided to throw us all a curveball of sorts, and that set the tone for the night. There were some other surprises in the lottery, as well as multiple trades before Georgios Kalaitzakis was selected with the 60th overall pick.

Below is a look at what each team did on draft night, with traded players being slotted in with their "new" teams. However, before getting into the grades there is a list of each of the moves made that involved draft picks.

Trades involving draft picks

- New Orleans trades Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, two 2021 draft picks (Nos. 10 and 40) and a protected 2022 first-round pick to Memphis, in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas and two 2021 draft picks (Nos. 17 and 51). This will become official on August 6.

- Phoenix trades Jevon Carter and the 29th overall pick to Brooklyn in exchange for Landry Shamet.

- Detroit trades Mason Plumlee and the 37th overall pick to Charlotte in exchange for the 57th overall pick.

- Indiana trades the 54th and 60th overall picks, along with a future second-round pick, to Milwaukee in exchange for the 31st overall pick.

- Washington trades Russell Westbrook and second-round picks in 2024 and 2028 to the Lakers, in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the 22nd overall pick.

- Indiana trades Aaron Holiday to Washington in exchange for the 22nd overall pick.

- Oklahoma traded the 16th overall pick to Houston in exchange for a 2022 first-round pick (via Detroit) and a 2023 first-round pick (via Washington).

- New York trades the 19th overall pick to Charlotte in exchange for a future first-round pick.

- New York trades the 21st overall pick to the Clippers in exchange for the 25th overall pick and a 2024 second-round pick (via Detroit).

- Utah trades the 30th overall pick to Memphis in exchange for the 41st overall pick and two future second-round picks.

- New York trades the 32nd overall pick to Oklahoma City in exchange for the 34th and 36th overall picks.

No picks: Dallas, LA Lakers, Miami, Minnesota, Phoenix

Atlanta

Picks: Jalen Johnson (20), Sharife Cooper (48)

Summary: The Hawks made out quite well Thursday night. While Johnson certainly comes with some questions, he's considered by many to be a top-10 caliber talent. The positional versatility, as Johnson has the potential to fill in at either forward spot, and athleticism make him an intriguing pick for the Hawks. As for Cooper he was expected by many to be an option for the Hawks at No. 20, but they were able to get him well into the second round. His lack of size and mediocre efficiency numbers are why he was picked far later than expected. Provided Cooper develops into a more efficient player, he could prove to be one of the steals of this draft.

Grade: B+

Boston

Picks: Juhann Begarin (45)

Summary: Looking to get Kemba Walker's contract off the books, Boston added its first-round pick to the deal that sent Al Horford and Moses Brown to Beantown. With their lone selection Thursday night the Celtics picked Begarin, a "power" guard who still has a lot of work to do with regard to developing into an NBA-caliber talent. New lead executive Brad Stevens said after the draft that there's a "good chance" that Begarin remains in Europe next season, which makes sense given the Celtics' lack of available roster spots and his need for game time.

Grade: C-

Brooklyn

Picks: Cameron Thomas (27), Day'Ron Sharpe (29), Kessler Edwards (44), Marcus Zegarowski (49), RaiQuan Gray (59)

Summary: With Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving all extension eligible this summer, so the Nets won't have much money to play with when it comes to filling out the rotation. Grabbing a second first-round pick via the Shamet trade makes sense when viewed through that lens. And Brooklyn managed to select two rookies who may be able to crack the back end of the rotation this season. Thomas led the SEC in scoring and can fill it up on all three levels; the combination of the NBA spacing and playing alongside Brooklyn's offensive talents should boost his percentages. As for Sharpe, he's the best offensive rebounder in this class, runs the floor well and can be effective in pick-and-roll actions. Edwards and Gray have the potential to give the Nets welcome versatility at the forward spots, while Zegarowski faces an even tougher battle for minutes with Harden and Irving in the fold.

Grade: A-

Charlotte

Picks: James Bouknight (11), Kai Jones (19), JT Thor (37), Scottie Lewis (56)

Summary: The Hornets had one of the best nights of any team in the draft, beginning with Bouknight being available at No. 11. Viewed by many as a player who shouldn't get outside of the top-10, the UConn standout gives Charlotte a scoring guard who's ready to contribute immediately. Charlotte also managed to address the frontcourt situation by selecting Jones and Thor. While neither would be labeled a polished prospect, both possess a considerable amount of upside. Capping Charlotte's night was the selection of Lewis, who was considered to be one of the prospects in his high school graduating class. He's got a lot of work to do when it comes to the offensive skill set, but Lewis is an athletic wing who can defend multiple positions.

Grade: A

Chicago

Picks: Ayo Dosunmu (38)

Summary: The Bulls were without a first-round pick, as it was sent to Orlando as part of the Nikola Vucevic deal. But Arturas Karnisovas lucked out when Dosunmu, who's a first-round caliber talent, was available at pick No. 38. Chicago is expected to be in the market for a point guard when free agency begins, but Dosunmu can also help address those depth concerns. The Chicago native can either get his or set up his teammates, depending upon what's required.

Grade: B

Cleveland

Picks: Evan Mobley (3)

Summary: With Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green already off the board, and no team making the Cavaliers an offer that they couldn't refuse, Mobley was the obvious choice. The hope is that he can develop into a frontcourt talent capable of either anchoring a defense or playing alongside a rim protector like Jarrett Allen. The key for the Cavs now is to clear out enough room in the rotation to ensure that Mobley has the opportunity to take on all the minutes that he can handle. That way, they can derive full value from the pick.

Grade: A-

Denver

Picks: Nah'Shon Hyland (26)

Summary: With Jamal Murray not expected to be available at the beginning of next season due to a torn ACL, Denver could afford to go after a scoring guard Thursday night. And they did just that, selecting "Bones" Hyland with the 26th overall pick. A prolific scorer who can also make plays in the two-man game, Hyland should be a good fit within the Nuggets rotation.

Grade: B+

Detroit

Picks: Cade Cunningham (1), Isaiah Livers (42), Luka Garza (52), Balsa Koprivica (57)

Summary: As soon as the Pistons won the draft lottery, the basketball world knew what the outcome would be, even with the team attempting to play it off as if their decision had not been made. Cunningham has star potential, a 6-foot-8 guard who can play either on the ball or shift over to the wing depending upon the matchups. He's a big-time competitor who also manages to bring his teammates along with him, something that some young guards can struggle with. GM Troy Weaver also deserves credit for what he did in the second round. Livers and Garza are experienced options who excelled -- to varying degrees -- in the Big Ten, while Koprivica made strides throughout his time at Florida State. Thursday was a good night to be a Pistons fan.

Grade: A

Golden State

Picks: Jonathan Kuminga (7), Moses Moody (14)

Summary: There was no shortage of chatter that the Warriors would be looking to move these picks, in an attempt to add an established star to their core. Ultimately there wasn't a deal to be made, with GM Bob Myers saying after the draft that they weren't particularly close to making a move. Kuminga is the ultimately "home run swing" of the top half of the lottery. While the athleticism and defensive potential stand out, so does an offensive skill set that doesn't offer much in the way of polish. Moody may be the better equipped of the two to have an immediate impact, as he's a quality perimeter shooter who offers a bit more within the team defensive concept at this point in time.

Grade: B

Houston

Picks: Jalen Green (2), Alperen Sengun (16), Usman Garuba (23), Josh Christopher (24)

Summary: Houston entered the draft with three firsts, adding a fourth by way of a trade with the Thunder. Green, who some believe has the potential to be an NBA scoring champion at some point in his career, is the headliner. Houston needed a star that it could hold up as the focal point of its rebuild in the aftermath of the James Harden trade, and he fits the bill. The Sengun and Garuba picks are interesting, in that the Rockets added one of the better offensive bigs in this class and followed that up by taking one of its most versatile defenders. Christopher at 24 feels like a reach; most had him pegged as a second-round pick. He wasn't particularly efficient in his lone season at Arizona State, and there were better options on the board at that spot.

Grade: B

Indiana

Picks: Chris Duarte (13), Isaiah Jackson (22)

Summary: Duarte is one of the oldest prospects in this class, but his age (24) doesn't change the fact that he brings a loaded skill set to the NBA. Whatever the Pacers need, he'll be able to provide. Duarte possesses a very high basketball IQ, which proved to be an asset on both ends of the floor during his time as a collegian. We'll see if he gets time as a primary ball-handler, as the Pacers traded Aaron Holiday to the Wizards and T.J. McConnell will be a free agent. As for Jackson, he runs the floor well and is a very good rim protector, but there's a lot of work to be done offensively. It was reported before the draft that Indiana was looking to move Myles Turner, but nothing has come to fruition on that front. Having Jackson in a position where he won't have to be a major contributor immediately could be a positive given the offensive skill set.

Grade: B

LA Clippers

Picks: Keon Johnson (21), Jason Preston (33), Brandon Boston Jr. (51)

Summary: The Clippers moved up four spots in the draft to select Johnson, whose 48-inch vertical at the NBA Draft Combine has become the stuff of legend. That being said, while he does play very hard and is an excellent athlete, the offensive game lacks polish at present time. That being said, he'll have two good "teachers" in Kawhi Leonard (who will miss a significant amount of time due to knee surgery...provided he doesn't leave via free agency) and Paul George. Preston is one of the best pick-and-roll players in this class, and he'll offer something a bit different from the Clippers' other point guards. Boston had a disappointing season at Kentucky, and he's going to need some time...like Johnson.

Grade: B-

Memphis

Picks: Ziaire Williams (10), Santi Aldama (30)

Summary: The Grizzlies moved up seven spots in the draft with a particular player in mind, and many (myself included) believed that Josh Giddey was the target. Instead it was Williams, a high-level talent whose numbers didn't back that up in his lone season at Stanford. It's possible that the Cardinal's COVID-influenced schedule (they didn't play a true home game until February 2 due to local restrictions) was taken into consideration in Memphis' evaluation of Williams, which would make some sense. While a surprise, this isn't the reach that it appeared to be on paper. Aldama was the one that caught some by surprise, even with the reports that the Grizzlies were fans of his. He had a productive season at Loyola (MD), but you have to wonder if Oklahoma City's rumored interest at 34 (or 36) is what convinced the Grizzlies to trade back into the first round.

Grade: B-

Milwaukee

Picks: Sandro Mamukelashvili (54), Georgios Kalaitzakis (60)

Summary: Milwaukee didn't have a first-round pick, as it was moved to Houston in the P.J. Tucker trade. The champs then dealt the 31st overall pick to the Wizards, before going on to acquire the draft rights to Mamukelashvili and Kalaitzakis. The versatile Mamukelashvili has the potential to give the Bucks some immediate depth on the back end of their rotation, as he can score on multiple levels and is also a solid passer. He wouldn't be considered a lockdown defender by any stretch, but Mamu isn't a liability, either. As for Kalaitzakis, he's likely a draft-and-stash player who will remain in Europe for at least one more season.

Grade: C

New Orleans

Picks: Trey Murphy III (17), Herbert Jones (35)

Summary: Love the Murphy pick for the Pelicans, who won't be able to officially introduce him until August 6 due to the trade noted in the intro. A very good shooter on all three levels, Murphy is a lengthy wing who can also defend multiple positions. He may be better served to make an early impact in the NBA than Ziaire Williams, who's headed to Memphis in the same trade. As for Jones, he's an elite multi-positional defender who also served as Alabama's primary playmaker for much of last season. He may not be a great shooter at this point in time, but those positives make him a solid value add at No. 35.

Grade: A-

New York

Picks: Quentin Grimes (25), Rokas Jokubaitis (34), Miles McBride (36), Jericho Sims (58)

Summary: The Knicks were in need of shooting and defense on the wing, and the pre-draft expectation was that they'd use their two first (Nos. 19 and 21) in order to move up. That didn't happen, and with players such as Chris Duarte, Trey Murphy, Corey Kispert and Ziaire Williams all off the board, Leon Rose decided to move down. New York ultimately wound up with Grimes, who improved as a defender and scorer throughout his two seasons at Houston. Jokubaitis is still under contract at Barcelona, so it's possible that he'll remain in Europe for at least one more season. McBride was a much-improved shooter (and scorer) during his sophomore season at West Virginia, and he's one of the top on-ball defenders in the class. Sims offers some potential as a rim protector at No. 58. While this draft crop doesn't jump off the page, the Knicks managed to add to its future draft assets while improving their depth.

Grade: B-

Oklahoma City

Picks: Josh Giddey (6), Tre Mann (18), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (32), Aaron Wiggins (55)

Summary: While the "upside" label tends to get applied to athletic marvels who are incredibly raw from a fundamental standpoint, Giddey is on the other end of the spectrum. He may not be an explosive athlete, but he has a very good feel for the game as a playmaker. Giddey will need to improve his perimeter shot, but Oklahoma City is in a spot where it can afford to let him learn on the fly. Mann was much-improved in his sophomore season, as the ball was in his hands much more, showing off the ability to create scoring opportunities. Robinson-Earl brings a high basketball IQ to the table, but he will need to improve that perimeter shot if he's to stick as a pro. Wiggins doesn't lack for potential, but he needs to keep the approach that led to his earning a Combine invite. Being consistently aggressive was an issue at times during his Maryland career.

Grade: C

Orlando

Picks: Jalen Suggs (5), Franz Wagner (8)

Summary: When a lead guard the caliber of Suggs falls into your lap, you do not hesitate to get that card in to league officials. Orlando's backcourt is a bit crowded at this point in time, especially with Markelle Fultz having been signed to an extension, but Suggs' ability to create offense for others will be of high value to this roster. Wagner is better defensively than he is offensively at this stage in his career, and he'll need to refine his jumper in order to fully fill the 3-and-D potential that so many see. This pick may have been influenced by the curveball thrown by Toronto, which selected the player that many thought was headed to Orlando at No. 5 (Scottie Barnes).

Grade: A-

Philadelphia

Picks: Jaden Springer (28), Filip Petrusev (50), Charles Bassey (53)

Summary: No movement on the Ben Simmons front just year, and it's entirely possible that the 76ers won't be able to trade him due to the contract. At this stage in his career Springer, one of the youngest prospects in this class, is more of a combo than a lead guard. He did put up a very good 3-point percentage, but that 45.3% clip was on just 1.8 attempts per game. Petrusev has some face-up capabilities, but it's difficult to see him being a rotation player right now due to the defensive issues. He may be staying in Europe next season. As for Bassey, Philadelphia paid New Orleans $2 million for that pick, and that may have been too much. While good around the basket, he struggles when asked to play in space defensively. Jericho Sims would have been a better option here, especially for the price tag.

Grade: C

Portland

Picks: Greg Brown III (43)

Summary: Lacking a first-round pick, Portland didn't have much to work with as far as improving the roster via the draft is concerned. Brown is an athletic forward who can jump out of the gym, but he's a ways off to being a credible rotation player. Kessler Edwards, who was taken with the next pick, may not be the athlete that Brown is but he's a more polished player who offers a lot on both ends of the floor. He would have been a better option for Portland, given the need to become a bonafide contender ASAP.

Grade: C-

Sacramento

Picks: Davion Mitchell (9), Neemias Queta (39)

Summary: You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who isn't a fan of Mitchell and what he brings to the table, especially as a defender. When you earn the nickname "Off Night," a testament to what happened to most players that Mitchell defended, you know you're doing something right. The problem here: the fit. Even if the Kings were to find a way to move Buddy Hield, which would set up a starting backcourt tandem of De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, you've still got Delon Wright under contract and they also picked Terence Davis' qualifying offer. We'll see what GM Monte McNair does to rework this roster, but the fit feels a bit awkward right now. Queta is a very good rim protector who also made strides as an interior scorer/passer, and he fills a need. While that is good, it isn't enough to counter the concerns regarding the fit of the Kings' first-round pick.

Grade: B-

San Antonio

Picks: Joshua Primo (12), Joe Wieskamp (41)

Summary: Primo, the youngest player in this draft class, going 12th overall raised some eyebrows. While a good perimeter shooter who boasts a credible amount of upside, this one feels like a reach given who the Spurs could have taken if they were set on adding to their wing rotation. San Antonio is clearly betting on its player development staff, which is a fair approach to take. They may up for that by snagging Wieskamp, who's further along in his development, in the second round. He shoots the ball well and is solid defensively, and it would not come as a surprise if he were to crack the rotation as a rookie.

Grade: C

Toronto

Picks: Scottie Barnes (4), Dalano Banton (46), David Johnson (47)

Summary: The general consensus was that there was a top-4, with Barnes sitting just outside of that quartet. Toronto had other ideas, selecting him with the fourth overall pick. Barnes has the ability to facilitate offensively, and he can defend positions 1-4 (and some fives in smaller lineups). Banton and Johnson are similar to Barnes in that they need to put in a lot of work on their respective perimeter shots, but we've been down this road with the Raptors before. Between their developmental staff and G League squad, the franchise has managed (on multiple occasions) to help shooting-deficient players grow into effective pros. Hopefully they've still got that "Midas touch," because this trio could use it.

Grade: B+

Utah

Picks: Jared Butler (40)

Summary: Utah originally held the 30th overall pick, but they ultimately decided to trade back into the second round. In Butler, the Jazz add a very good point guard who also has some experience playing off the ball. There were medical concerns, which is why Butler slipped even after the NBA's medical staff cleared him for competition earlier this month. Provided Butler stay healthy, this could prove to be a steal for the Jazz. Utah still finds itself in need of additional athleticism/defense on the wing, which they'll look to address in free agency. Utah managed to get itself a little more financial flexibility by trading Derrick Favors (and a future first) to the Thunder in exchange for a future second-round pick.

Grade: A-

Washington

Picks: Corey Kispert (15), Isaiah Todd (31)

Summary: Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard had a good night at the office. The Westbrook trade gives the franchise some needed financial flexibility, and in Kispert he added a wing who's capable of contributing immediately. The former Gonzaga standout shoots the ball well, competes defensively, and doesn't have to have the ball in his hands in order to make an impact. Kispert should be able to play off of Bradley Beal (provided he stays) without much trouble. Todd offers significant upside as a potential face-up big who can also protect the rim, but this season is going to be all about getting stronger. He isn't ready to contribute immediately, but the addition of Montrezl Harrell and the returns of Thomas Bryant and Daniel Gafford would have made it difficult for Todd to crack the rotation either way.

Grade: B