The case for the number one pick in the 2021 NBA draft - NBA Draft Room

The case for the number one pick in the 2021 NBA draft

Cade has been a near consensus to be the top pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He’s been no.1 on most draft boards all season, this one included. But I see a clear case for both Jalen Green and Evan Mobley being the top guy and a decent case for Jalen Suggs too. Here’s why each of these players deserves to go first overall – and why they shouldn’t. In no particular order:

Why Evan Mobley should be the no.1 overall pick

At 7-0 Evan Mobley has movement skills that rival Giannis. He’s fluid, quick coordinated and agile. And like Giannis he’s a multi-dimensional talent who can handle the ball, take his man off the dribble, make moves in the open court and elevate above the rim.

Besides his movement skills the thing that stands out about Evan is his decision making and play-making ability. He really has a solid understanding of how to play the game and he rarely makes a mental mistake or forces a bad shot. He’s a great passer out of the double team and he seems to have a sixth sense for where his teammates are (especially his brother Isaiah). Feel for the game is something you can’t teach and is a trait that separates the good players from the great players.

This great feel that Evan has shows up on both ends of the floor but is especially devastating on the defensive end. Mobley has great shot blocking instincts and uses his elite physical tools to shut off the lane. He’s a game changer in the paint and can be anchor for a NBA defense. He’s quick to cover the weak side and he’s able to cover a lot ground and get into position without fouling. He’s also one of the best 7-footers I’ve ever scouted at moving his feet on the perimeter and staying with guards. He’ll be able to handle all defensive assignments and situations that get thrown at him at the next level.

Evan plays with an even demeanor and doesn’t seem to ever get rattled. He might not have a fiery, vocal style of leadership but he seems comfortable carrying the weight of being the star player on his team and expects greatness from himself.

One more reason Mobley should be considered with the no.1 pick is his ability to space the floor on offense. The way the NBA game is played these days you have to have shooters all over the floor. Mobley wasn’t asked to take a lot of 3’s at USC but he’s a very capable outside shooter who will only get better over the years. In short, he’s a complete center prospect, a special athletic specimen and a unicorn that can do everything on the court. In many draft classes he’d be the consensus no.1.

Why he shouldn’t…

The easiest case for why Evan Mobley should not be the no.1 pick is the elite guards and wings in this draft class. Besides that there’s the fact that bigs have less value in today’s NBA.

One knock against Mobley is his slight frame and lack of power. He’s light in the lower body and doesn’t project as a bruising center that can play bully ball. He’s more of a finesse big (and a damn good one) who will likely spend a lot of time floating around the high post and the perimeter, operating in the pick and roll and pick and pop.

The reality is that Mobley is a no.1 overall type of talent who might fall to the 2-4 range simply because of the insane talent at the guard position in this draft class.

Evan has stayed in the 2-4 range of our mock draft.

Why Jalen Green should be the no.1 overall pick

There’s athletic and then there’s Jalen Green. The 6-6 shooting guard from Fresno, CA has blazing speed and a first step that leaves defenders stunned. When he drives into the lane and gathers to jump it looks like he’s ready to launch into outer space. He’s a quick and powerful leaper who has incredible body control and hang-time, which allows him to finish through contact and score over length. We’ve seen plenty of great athletes come through the draft but Green combines this athleticism with an elite skill level, great instincts and a lethal perimeter game. He also has it… that thing that makes the great ones great. He’s got a competitive fire and a burning desire to dominate on the court. He’s a player who hates to lose and will do whatever it takes to win.

One area in which Green stands out from the other players on this list is his ability to get nuclear from outside. His jumper can run a little hot/cold but when it’s hot it’s scary hot, like hide your kids, hide your wife hot. And he can get his shot off against anyone, anytime. When you combine this level of shot making ability with his ability to get downhill and into the lane you get a complete scoring package and a player who could lead the league in scoring one day.

Green also showed much-improved passing and court vision in his time in with the G League Ignite. He’s not a natural point like Cade but he’s taken big strides in this area of his game, which has turned him into a complete offensive package.

Why he shouldn’t…

Jalen Green is worth consideration at no.1 but might not stack up to Cade Cunningham in a few important areas. He’s got good but not great size. He’s a little bit thin and not exactly a power athlete. His scoring instinct is impressive but he’s more of a straight scorer than an overall basketball savant like Cade.

Jalen has plenty of upside as a defender and can hold his own but he doesn’t impact the game in big way on D. This will be a big area of growth for him as he matures in the league.

Again, not to sound redundant, Jalen Green is a worthy no.1 overall pick but with players like Cade and Mobley in this draft it’s not likely Green will hear his name called first on draft day.

Green has been in the 2-4 range of our mock draft.

Why Cade Cunningham should be the no.1 overall pick

Cade is the complete package and has been the clear no.1 guy in this class for a minute or two. He’s been on the same court as a lot of the top players in the nation and he’s been the best player on the court every time.

Cade is a mega-talented player who does a great job of playing within the game and not forcing the issue yet still impacting the game on every level. He’s a truly elite passer who manipulates the defense with his movements and uses his height, huge wingspan and great vision to find teammates for open shots. If he was playing with more talented shot makers his assist numbers would have been much higher this season but his passing prowess was obvious to anyone watching.

As a play-maker he does the little things that don’t often get noticed like playing with great spacing, drawing defenders and anticipating the play before it happens. No matter how I type these words on the screen it won’t do justice to how special Cade is at reading the game and running the offensive show, you just have to watch him play.

At 6-8 with a wingspan of about 7-1 he’s got truly elite size for the point guard position. This helps him score in the lane, despite not having crazy hops or explosive ability (see below) and it allows him to guard up a few positions and disrupt the passing lanes on defense. His size also helps him get his mid range and outside shot over defenders, despite not always being able to separate.

Cade can also take on a big scoring load as needed. He generally doesn’t look for his shot first, which is a strength, but he can turn up the scoring pressure when it’s needed. He’s a great 3pt shooter, hitting 40% of his 3’s as a freshman, despite taking some challenged shots late in games. He’s also deadly from the FT line (84%), which you need from your point guard.

In short, Cade has been the top guy in this class for a while and his freshman year only helped solidify his ranking.

Why he shouldn’t…

It would be a bit surprising if anyone other than Cade hears his name called first on draft day but there are some question marks with Cade that could give the team drafting at the top pause.

First and most importantly is his lack of elite burst and blow by speed. He’s a good overall athlete for sure but not a super quick-twitch player and his ability to beat defenders off the dribble is a bit lacking. His size, strength and savvy ball handling help him get past defenders and make plays in the paint but these will be somewhat neutralized at the next level.

Cade is a winner and a quiet leader on the court but doesn’t have that super-charismatic leadership quality of a player like Jalen Suggs or that fierce competitive fire of Jalen Green.

He can also be a bit casual with the ball and turns the ball over way too much (4 per game). Some of this can be attributed to the amount of attention he received from every opposing defensive he faced but that’s only part of the story. There were plenty of times when Cade threw errant passes or mis-dribbled the ball. It’s not a huge thing but he’ll have to value the ball better going forward.

We could talk a lot of mess about Cade lacking this or that but really what it comes down to is the question about his lack of elite burst/separation. That’s the one knock against him that could keep him from going no.1

Cade has been no.1 in our mock for nearly two years running.

Why Jalen Suggs should be the no.1 overall pick

Jalen carries a presence with him that lets everyone else know he’s here for business and intends to win. He’s got all the natural athletic ability in the world and a very high skill level but the thing that raises Jalen to the top is his commanding presence and supreme confidence.

Jalen can play on or off the ball and is equally effective at both positions. As a point guard he brings great size and strength and the ability to power his way into the lane and initiate the offense. He moves the ball well and tends not to over dribble (of course he played in a pass-happy offense with very talented teammates at Gonzaga).

Jalen is a constant threat from 3 and has deep range on his jumper. He’s a fearless player who is always in attack mode and does a good job of hunting his shot. The defense can’t sleep for a second or he’ll make them pay. As a driver he’s aggressive at getting to the rim and his strength and excellent burst really standout. Jalen might not be the most elite above the rim player but his agility, strength, toughness and quick first step give him above average NBA athleticism, and that’s saying a lot.

Where Jalen really stands out is on the defensive end, where his football background really shows up. He’s one of the best prospects I’ve ever seen at reading and jumping the passing lanes and has elite instincts as an off-ball defender. He can also lock up 1 on 1 and guard 1-3 with ease. His leadership really stands out on defense as he brings energy to his teammates and helps rally the whole team to lock in. His instincts are off the charts, whether it’s sneaking in for a steal, guarding on the ball or his quick reaction for weak side blocks.

Jalen doesn’t have the size of Cade or the elite elevation of Green but he’s got a star quality about him that any franchise would want to have at the top of the draft. It’s not surprising to hear that some teams/scouts/draftniks have Suggs no.1 on their board.

Why he shouldn’t…

Suggs is a good but not great shooter. His 33% shooting from 3 this season has room for improvement and his 76% from the line suggests that he’s not yet a pure knockdown shooter.

At 6-4 to 6-5 he’s got plenty of size for either guard position but isn’t a dominating athlete like some past no.1 picks, or like Evan Mobley projects to be this year.

His intense style of play is great but can lead to some careless turnovers and some forced shots. His 2.9 turnovers per game isn’t great and he’ll have to learn to reign in some of his energy and become more efficient.

Suggs landed in the perfect situation with Gonzaga where he could show off his strengths but not have to try to dominate all aspects of the game. It would have been fun to see him lead his own team like Cade but it might not have helped his draft stock.

It’s hard to find any big knocks against Suggs. He’s clearly going to be star at the next level but can he be a no.1 option on a championship level team? My sense is he’s a hair below Cade, Green and Mobley in terms of superstar potential.

Suggs has been in the 2-5 range of our mock draft.

Ok, ok, one more!

Why Scottie Barnes should be the no.1 overall pick

This is obviously not going to happen but as someone who is very high on Scottie Barnes I have to make the case:

Scottie is built in the same mold as Ben Simmons and Magic Johnson; a jumbo point guard with extra-sensory court vision and the speed and length to make any pass on the court. He knows what’s happening two plays ahead of the action and his ability to read the game is in a class of its own.

His defense is off the charts. He routinely guards the opposing point guard, picking up full court, showing off incredible foot-speed and agility for a 6-9 player. And he can drop inside and guard 4s and 5s as well – and everyone in-between. He brings an intensity to the defensive side of the ball that rubs off on teammates and makes him by default a leader on the team. His energy, activity, agility and length combine to give him ALL NBA defensive upside. Suggs and Mobley are great defensive players in their own right but I’d give the nod to Barnes as the top defender in this group.

Barnes is blossoming into a superstar in front of our eyes. I wouldn’t say he’s a late bloomer since he’s been a star player during his time at Montverde and University School before attending FSU, but his game just keeps growing and unfolding in new ways. His agility and overall athleticism also seem to be improved from his time in high school and should continue on this good trajectory for the next few years.

His quickness and anticipation really show up on the boards. He’s an excellent rebounder on both ends and has a nose for the ball. He doesn’t shoot the ball very well but he’s great at anticipating his misses and scoring off the offensive board.

Again, I don’t think Scottie will go no.1 but then again we did see Patrick Williams rise from mid first round to no.4 overall last year. Florida State might have another draft season riser this year.

Why he shouldn’t…

I’m as high on Barnes as anybody but it’s clear he shouldn’t be in the conversation for no.1 overall. He might be a better pro than some of the guys on this list but going into the draft he clearly grades out a step below the top 2 or 3 guys.

Barnes lack of demonstrated scoring ability and outside shooting is the biggest part of his mid lottery valuation, instead of being a top 3 guy. Some players have a killer instinct to score, while Barnes has a passing instinct. This is a very valuable trait but it needs to be combined with scoring to form a lethal offensive package.

For the season Barnes shot 27% from 3 on low volume and only 62% at the line. His shot looks okay and will almost certainly see a lot of improvement over the next few seasons but at this point shooting the ball definitely isn’t a strength of his game and whichever team drafts him will need other players around him to handle the scoring load.

Barnes has been in the 5-7 range of our mock draft.

Jonathon Kuminga is the one other name that gets grouped in with the top of the draft class and for good reason. He’s a special prospect who would be top 3 in a lot of drafts, but probably lands in the 4-6 range this year.

Here’s the full 2021 Mock