Last updated on September 1, 2021
The annual NBA draft serves as the gateway for budding new basketball superstars to enter the NBA scene, competing on the highest level in the United States. Like many of the drafts in previous years, 2021’s event was uneventful. Most of the first-round picks were consistent with the mock drafts that have been essentially the same for several months – not many surprises pick nor blunders from the GMs of the league.
But now that these prospects are set on their new teams, it’s clear that some have a clear and bright path ahead while others are facing a tough road to glory. Before any one of them even step foot on the court this season, I’ll be predicting which of this year’s top prospects will enjoy early success in their careers and who will have to tough it out for a couple of rough years.
Those who will succeed:
Jalen Green – Houston Rockets
The Rockets are in a difficult spot. They have a couple of very promising young players like big man Christian Wood and forward Danuel House, but outside of these two and their new face of the franchise in Green, there isn’t a whole lot. They don’t have any depth nor generous cap space (much of that can be attributed to John Wall’s massive contract although he can’t seem to stay on the court). But I think that Green’s pure talent and scoring ability, when paired with the Rockets’ offensive scheme favoring his slasher play style, will lead him to see great statistical success. I’m not sure that they will win many games, but Jalen will do well in his rookie season.
Jonathan Kuminga – Golden State Warriors
There’s no denying that a healthy Klay Thompson makes the Warriors better. With the ‘splash bros’ back together again, and James Wiseman and Andrew Wiggins’ further development within Steve Kerr’s scheme, the Warriors are back to championship-contending levels. Because of this, Kuminga has very little to prove off the bat compared to many of the other players drafted in the top 10. He is not the most physically gifted, but he is technically sound and remains very consistent doing what he does well. Kalinga has room to grow but he will be learning from a great veteran in Draymond Green and will have a lot of help as he comes along. As Green continues to regress and Kuminga takes on a larger role as his obvious successor at the 4, the kid from Congo will only be getting better and better.
Josh Giddey – Oklahoma City Thunder
I love this pick for both Giddey and the Thunder. As one of the youngest players in the entire draft, Giddey is still very early in his progression as a player (although his physical measurements are already elite at 6’9”). This is perfect for where OKC is going with their plethora of draft picks and super young team poised for a breakout season within the next 2-3 years. He’s not the most dynamic scorer right now, but with the time that should improve and he can afford to take that time considering his team and his age. He needs to work on his shooting, but his elite passing skills and play-making should make him a good court general at the very least in the NBA.
Those who face a tougher time:
Cade Cunningham – Detroit Pistons
Sorry Pistons fans, but this team is a dumpster fire of a franchise. Cunningham will be joining a roster devoid of any firepower or, frankly, potential. It’s hard to succeed when you have no help at all. Cade was the most enticing prospect in the draft, a 6’8” shot-creating point guard who scored at will at Oklahoma State, but even he won’t be able to carry this Pistons team to seeding of any real significance. It’s nothing against him, I see him as a future all-star who will be a matchup nightmare for smaller guards, but outside of Jerami Grant, he will be all alone on this offense. I don’t see the Pistons going anywhere anytime soon, and unfortunately for Cunningham, many of his early years will be spent fighting double-teams and long minutes.
Evan Mobley – Cleveland Cavaliers
Evan Mobley is an NBA-ready center. He was the right playstyle and physical traits to be successful in today’s game, especially his defensive game. There are questions, however, about how effective of a shot-maker he can be in the league. He has the athleticism of an elite defender and a solid rebounder, but can he be a number one option? His floor will be high as a prospect because of his other abilities, but with Collin Sexton possibly on the move and the rest of this Cleveland team with no other source of reliable offense, Mobley may struggle to score. It may not be an easy first couple of years for Mobley as the Cavs attempt to rebuild yet again around him.
Jalen Suggs – Orlando Magic
Suggs was a really impressive player at Gonzaga, a powerful and smart guard who could seemingly do it all. From what we could see during NCAA games, Suggs looked as pro-ready as anyone in the draft. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will be the case early on. Suggs does a lot of things well, like the pick and roll game, but we’ve never really seen anything from him outside of that, and this creates some constraints on how creative he can be when facing much more intense defense in the NBA. His three-point shooting has never been the most consistent, and that plays a major role in how you are factored into an NBA offense. As the Magic attempt to figure out their rebuilding process, Suggs will likely be thrown into some unfamiliar scenarios and struggle for a little bit.