Five Early 2021 NBA Draft Questions

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While there are still seven teams alive in the NBA Playoffs, the rest of the league has turned its full attention to next month's NBA Draft. Unlike last year's pre-draft process teams won't be "flying blind" (comparatively speaking) this time around. There will be pre-draft combines and individual/group workouts, adding to the data that teams managed to gather throughout the course of the season. While we will have more in the way of draft content between now and July 29, let's kick things off with some of the questions that could very well shape how those 60 picks are used.

1. There appears to be a clear top-5. But is there a clear No. 1?

Oklahoma State point guard Cade Cunningham, USC power forward/center Evan Mobley, Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs, G-League Elite wing Jalen Green and G-League Elite combo forward Jonathan Kuminga are considered by many to be the unquestioned top-5 in this class. How that order shakes out, however, may not be as clear-cut. Cunningham, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound playmaker who made strides as a shooter throughout his lone season at Oklahoma State, and is a versatile defender as well, is viewed as the favorite to go first overall. And it makes sense given the combination of skills and intangibles that Cunningham brings to the table.

But to act as if he's a lock to go first overall at this point in the process may be a bit unfair, especially when taking Mobley and Suggs into consideration. Mobley is a versatile 7-footer who fits the mold of a modern-day big man. He moves extremely well on the perimeter on both ends of the floor, and is considered to be the top rim-protector in this draft class. He will need to get stronger in order to deal with the physicality of the NBA game, but that's to be expected given his age.

As for Suggs, he's an elite point guard who was also a highly-regarded football recruit before deciding to focus on basketball. He makes good decisions in pick-and-roll actions, offers good size/strength at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, and doesn't back down from challenges on the defensive end, either. Suggs will need to become a more consistent perimeter shooter at the next level, but there's a lot to like here.

2. Who's No. 6?

This is where things should really get interesting, especially once the draft lottery is held on June 22. Florida State freshman Scottie Barnes has the size (6-foot-9, 227 pounds) and athleticism of a wing, but he was used primarily as a point guard by the Seminoles this past season. There's still work to be done offensively, but the defensive versatility could give him a leg up on some of the other prospects in this range. Baylor guard Davion Mitchell had an outstanding season for the national champions, making significant strides as a perimeter shooter/scorer. And while the aforementioned Mobley appears to be the top rim-protector in this class, Mitchell may be its best overall defender.

Beyond those two are two freshmen and a sophomore, in the form of Tennessee shooting guard Keon Johnson, Duke forward Jalen Johnson and Michigan forward Franz Wagner. Keon considered to be one of the best athletes in the class, but he is quite raw when it comes to his offensive skill set. As for Jalen (no relation to Keon), he's a versatile defender capable of taking on a variety of assignments, but he also has strides to make as an offensive option. Lastly there's Wagner, who is also a versatile defender and was used as a facilitator at times during his two seasons at Michigan. He'll need to improve as a perimeter shooter, but Wagner's versatility and upside are enough to keep him in this conversation.

3. Who are the top international prospects in this draft class?

Removing Kuminga and Wagner from the equation, as they played their basketball stateside this past season, Australia point guard Josh Giddey may be that player. At 6-foot-8, 195 pounds, Giddey brings a different dimension to the table as a lead guard. He led Australia's NBL in assists (7.4 apg) this past season and is elite when it comes to pick-and-roll situations. There's work to be done with regard to both his perimeter shooting and on-ball defense, but Giddey should be a lottery pick next month.

Beyond him, Turkish power forward/center Alperen Sengun and Spanish power forward Usman Garuba also merit consideration. Sengun had an excellent season at Besiktas, averaging 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting better than 62% from the field and 81% from the foul line. While Sengun's early promise appears to be on the offensive end of the floor, Garuba is considered to be one of the best defenders in this class. Listed at 6-foot-8, Garuba's an athletic forward whose wingspan also factors into the equation when it comes to his defensive versatility.

4. Which team -- or teams -- stands to have the biggest impact on this draft?

The question can't be fully answered until after the June 22 draft lottery. Depending upon how things shake out next Tuesday, Golden State could be the answer. The Warriors hold the rights to Minnesota's first-round pick thanks to the D'Angelo Russell/Andrew Wiggins trade, but it is top-3 protected. Reeling in Minnesota's pick would give the Warriors two lottery picks as they have their own as well. That would open up a lot of possibilities for a franchise that is looking to vault back into contender status after missing out on the postseason each of the last two seasons. The return of Klay Thompson will certainly help matters, but thanks to this draft the Warriors are well-positioned to strengthen their roster even more.

In addition to the Warriors, Houston and Orlando will have a lot to say about how this draft will go. The Rockets finished this season with the NBA's worst record, and while draft odds did change a couple years back, they've still got a good chance of landing in the top-4 at minimum. And they'll need to stay in the top-4, because the pick would convey to Oklahoma City (Russell Westbrook trade) if not. Beyond that lottery pick the Rockets have two other first-rounders (23rd and 24th overall), which is good news for a team that is in dire need of a talent upgrade. As for the Magic, due to the Nikola Vucevic trade they've got two lottery picks at their disposal. Orlando finished with the league's third-worst record, while Chicago won its three-way lottery tiebreaker with Sacramento and New Orleans. That places Orlando's second lottery pick eighth in the pecking order ahead of Tuesday's lottery.

5. Which team has the most to lose in next week's draft lottery?

Easy answer: Minnesota. While one could argue for Houston, Detroit or Orlando, as all three have a 14.0% chance of landing the first overall pick, at least they're guaranteed to be on the clock next month. That's not the case for the Timberwolves, whose first-round pick is only top-3 protected and they're sixth on the list of teams in the lottery (9.0% chance of keeping their pick). With the aforementioned Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards the Timberwolves don't lack for young talents, but there are a lot of questions to be answered.

First and foremost: what will this trio look like when all three are healthy for an extended period of time? Minnesota played well down the stretch, but that remains a tough question to answer. And what does Chris Finch, who will be entering his first full season (he was a midseason hire, for those who may have forgotten) at the helm, want this roster to look like? With Minnesota's second-round pick being property of Oklahoma City, Gersson Rosas won't have much to do on draft night (outside of working the phone lines) if the Timberwolves don't get some good fortune in the lottery.