2021 NBA Draft: Warriors need luck for 'historically great' class

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Warriors might just miss out on 'historically great' draft class originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The 2021 NBA Draft lottery is nine days away, at which point teams will know where they fall in the draft order and which prospects are likely to be available to them at their pick. And while teams covet the top overall selections every single year, there's an abnormally high level of enthusiasm about the top of this year's draft class, which could be among the best the league has ever seen.

Since 2000, there has been only one NBA draft class (2003) that has produced four All-Stars among the top five overall picks (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade). Obviously, it will be a decade or two until we can determine if the 2021 class has reached similar levels of superstardom, but NBA teams and executives generally view it as the one that has the best chance to do so.

"That top five is potentially as stout as any of the other drafts [since 2000]," one high-ranking NBA executive told ESPN's Mike Schmitz. "There are years where the No. 1 pick would never be the No. 1 pick ever again. Some drafts lack that No. 1 pick. This one's legit. I'm a big fan. There's legit star power [in the top 5]."

Between Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Kuminga, there's a bit of everything at the top of the 2021 draft, and they're all elite talents. No matter what a team is looking for, they'll likely be able to find it, and do so in a young player who might have been the No. 1 overall pick a year ago.

Schmitz provided NBA player comparisons for each of the five 2021 prospects generally regarded to be in a tier unto themselves, and they're some of the biggest names in today's game. Any team that lands in the top five picks almost certainly will end up with a tremendous asset.

So, it's a great year to have a pick in the lottery. And even better to have two, which is a possibility for the Warriors. But unfortunately for Golden State, even if the Minnesota Timberwolves' top-three protected pick conveys to the Dubs, it's extremely unlikely that they'll have a chance to select any of Cunningham, Green, Mobley, Suggs or Kuminga.

There's a 27.6 percent chance that the Timberwolves' pick lands in the top three, meaning Minnesota would keep it, and the Warriors instead would get the T-Wolves' unprotected first-round pick in 2022. But let's assume it conveys this year, meaning it's outside of the first three picks.

Minnesota's pick cannot end up fifth overall in the draft order. So, the only possible way the Warriors could end up with a top-five pick via the T-Wolves' selection is if it lands at No. 4 overall -- and there's only a 9.6 percent chance of that happening. 

The Warriors' own first-round pick is slated 14th going into the draft lottery, meaning that there's a 2.4 percent chance it jumps into the top four selections. Otherwise, there's a 97.6 percent chance that Golden State will be picking 14th.

So, really, the Warriors will have a 2.4 percent chance at one of the top five prospects if the Timberwolves' pick doesn't convey, and moderately better chances if it does. Either way, it's an extreme longshot that Golden State will have an opportunity to draft one of the five prospects that have the league so excited.

That's a bummer, especially since the Warriors would have had considerably better chances of landing a top-five pick had the Timberwolves won one fewer game. Perhaps this is a bad time to point out that Golden State lost to Minnesota in their third and final meeting of the regular season on Apr. 29.

One could argue that was the most detrimental defeat of the Warriors' season.

So, yeah, the Warriors probably are just going to miss out on the top tier of the loaded 2021 draft class -- that is, unless that tier extends further than commonly believed. If one or more prospects were to climb into that group, suddenly the calculus would be far more favorable to Golden State.

"I still think somebody else is going to come out of the pile and push their way up," one NBA exec told Schmitz.

Which prospects might fit that bill? Schmitz mentioned Scottie Barnes, Davion Mitchell and Keon Johnson as potential candidates to jump into the top five. Among those three, Mitchell would best fit the Warriors' timeline, while Barnes certainly offers an intriguing skill set to combine with the current core.

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It's always possible the Warriors get lucky in the lottery and jump into the top four picks. Or perhaps the T-Wolves' pick conveys, and Golden State packages that with its own first-rounder to move up. 

But aside from that, or another prospect working his way into the top tier, the Warriors likely will be just on the outside, looking in.

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