On this exact day one full trip around the sun ago – July 29, 2021 – the NBA got an influx of talent that could reshape the future of the league with a star-studded 2021 NBA Draft class officially getting drafted into the association. That’s just enough time for us to start making some early assessments on the picks. So did the players go in the right order? Too high, too low? Should teams have gone different directions in the top 10, in the late lottery, into the 20s?
The answer to most of those questions are about what you’d expect when you’ve got 20/20 hindsight on your side. By my calculation, most of the top five – including No. 1 – went in the way I’d still pick things. Cade Cunningham went No. 1 to Detroit and still goes No. 1 in a redraft. Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Scottie Barnes all still land in the top five as well.
But there are plenty of other notable changes in the top 10 – including Franz Wagner into the top four (!), Herbert Jones at No. 8 and Quentin Grimes at No. 9 – that I’d change now if we were redrafting today. And ditto for the remainder of the first round.
Now, of course teams can’t redraft today. They’re stuck with who they drafted or signed. But this is a fun mental exercise to assess the class a year after being drafted that will hopefully provide context for the future in scouting players while offering clues about the trajectory of those selected (and some that weren’t!) in the 2021 class.
With the benefit of hindsight, let’s jump to the redraft of the 2021 NBA Draft.
Original pick: Cade Cunningham
Redraft pick: Cade Cunningham
If you want to make an argument that Evan Mobley or Scottie Barnes should supplant Cunningham at No. 1 for Detroit, I’ll hear it, but for the record: Your argument would be wrong. Cade is still that dude. Big wings who have the size/skill/scoring/playmaking he brings to the table are just so incredibly rare. It’s also hard to overstate just how important he is already to the Pistons. He is Detroit. He’s embraced the culture in a way that other players probably would not, and has quickly made himself a fan favorite and leader. He’s the clear pick at No. 1 still.
Original pick: Jalen Green
Redraft pick: Evan Mobley
The first tweak to the redraft: Green slips and Mobley moves up the board. (Not much, though, so hang tight, Rockets fans.) Mobley proved he might just be a true unicorn in his one season with the Cavs, averaging nearly two blocks per game, 15.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and showcasing his talents as one of the most dynamic young bigs in the NBA. Green’s athleticism and scoring are foundational pieces that can make him one of the most productive players to come out of this class still, but Mobley — who was second among players in the class last season in win shares and VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) looks to be a tier above him as a prospect.
Original pick: Evan Mobley
Redraft pick: Scottie Barnes
With Mobley now off the board this time for the Cavs, they go instead with Barnes, the reigning Rookie of the Year who originally slipped to No. 4. There were some questions about Barnes’ shooting ability and long-term development as a scorer that kept him from cracking the top three a year ago, but I don’t think we fully appreciated the value he’d bring right away as a switchable, big-bodied defender whose passing vision would translate seamlessly and make him the type of player you need to build a winning team. Barnes led the rookie class in win shares and looks like a true star.
Original pick: Scottie Barnes
Redraft pick: Franz Wagner
With Barnes off the board, Toronto takes another analytics darling in Wagner who originally went No. 8 but would slip no further than to No. 5 in a redraft. Wagner’s projections were incredible coming out of Michigan but his just-OK shooting ability let him slip further than he should have. He shot 35.4% from 3-point range with the Magic last season while emerging as one of the most valuable long-term prospects in the draft because of his defense, passing and size.
5. Orlando Magic
Original pick: Jalen Suggs
Redraft pick: Jalen Green
The Magic still take a Jalen at No. 5, just not the one they initially selected. With Suggs still on the board, they instead take Green — who as you remember went No. 2 in the draft but slips a bit in this redraft. Green had a solid finish to his rookie season after some early struggles and looks capable of still living up to the sky-high expectations that came with being selected second overall. Very much in on him still. That he slipped this far speaks more to the strength of the 1-4 in the redraft and less to Green’s long-term future. Think Houston at No. 2 with Green still got someone they can build around.
Original pick: Josh Giddey
Redraft pick: Josh Giddey
Does OKC take Wagner or Jonathan Kuminga if the board fell as it did a year ago, over Giddey, whom they selected here? Maybe. Definitely maybe. But Wagner is off the board in this redraft — and I still think Giddey goes over Kuminga given OKC’s belief in his connective abilities as a passer and playmaker. The only question with Giddey is the shot — and they just hired Chip Engelland, one of the most respected shooting coaches in the league, which in time may be just the prescription to get him right.
Original pick: Jonathan Kuminga
Redraft pick: Jonathan Kuminga
Kuminga played in 70 games as a rookie and even saw some playing time in the NBA Finals as a 19-year-old. That seems like a really solid pick. The Warriors, by the way, won the title, so — even if Kuminga wasn’t, and may not be, a superstar early in his career — you’d be silly to go a different direction now.
8. Orlando Magic
Original pick: Franz Wagner
Redraft pick: Herbert Jones
The first whoa! of the draft. Jones initially went No. 35 in the draft a year ago, which already looks like cackling-out-loud value for the Pelicans. He’s the most dynamic wing defender in the class, and the value he brings on that end more than makes up for some of the deficiencies he has on offense.
Original pick: Davion Mitchell
Redraft pick: Quentin Grimes
Pairing the quickest guard in the draft (Mitchell) with one of the quickest guards in the NBA (De’Aaron Fox) was a fun move by Sacramento, no doubt, but we’re going to tweak things here a bit. The Kings instead select Grimes — who went No. 25 last year — at No. 9. Grimes was a three-year college player who was probably overlooked in part because of his age, which of course was a mistake by most of the league. He looks like he can be a tremendous two-way piece for the Knicks as they build. In the Summer League he was one of a handful who clearly looked like he did not belong. (For all the right reasons. He was head and shoulders better than most of his competition.)
10. Memphis Grizzlies (via New Orleans Pelicans)
Original pick: Ziaire Williams
Redraft pick: Jalen Suggs
Williams looks like he was a hit for Memphis despite some struggles in college at Stanford — he played in 62 games and started in half of them — so I’m not sure the Grizzlies would change course here. That said, Suggs slipping past No. 10 seems pretty unlikely, so if he had fallen this far I think they’d have scooped him up. Sure, he had a down rookie year — his win shares were lowest among drafted rookies who played — but Suggs is still someone with top-five upside in the class. His unselfish style of play (and swagger — lots and lots of swagger) would make him a great fit next to Ja Morant in Memphis’ fun young core.
Charlotte had the right idea here in drafting Bouknight. They thought they were getting a mega-athlete who could create offense and was a better shooter than his college production suggested. And maybe that’s still the case. But he played in only 31 games last season and shot a dreadful 34.8% on 2-pointers while rating out pretty poorly on defense. Grabbing Moody, who went three picks later, might have been the move. Moody’s defense is already rock solid and his offense — he was an 80th percentile spot-up shooter as a rookie — would be a perfect complement next to LaMelo Ball.
Chicago might’ve gotten the value of the draft in selecting Dosunmu at No. 38 overall. I’d take him here at No. 12 for the Spurs over Joshua Primo, who they initially selected. It’s clear the strides Dosunmu made late in his college career as a shooter stuck. He plays with a great understanding and feel for the game.
13. Indiana Pacers
Original pick: Chris Duarte
Redraft pick: Ziaire Williams
Indiana selecting Duarte with the hope that he’d compete for a big role right away on a team with playoff aspirations actually made some sense. Things have changed, however. The Pacers look destined for a rebuild. That makes drafting Duarte, now 25 years old, look a little odd. I’d go upside here with a youthful prospect in Williams, who flashed some real skill on a deep Memphis team and has the five-star pedigree to perhaps be a building block for a rebooting franchise.
14. Golden State Warriors
Original pick: Moses Moody
Redraft pick: Bones Hyland
There are a few picks that already look like hilariously good values, and Hyland — who Denver selected at No. 26 overall — is one of them. With Moody off the board the Warriors take him at 14 here to add another sharpshooter to their rotation. He fits Golden State’s up-tempo style and attitude as a fearless chucker who plays with a ton of confidence and poise.
Original pick: Corey Kispert
Redraft pick: Davion Mitchell
Selecting Kispert at No. 15 was a safe pick for the Wizards to grab a sharpshooter — and he played in 77 games as a rookie. So, clearly not a bad pick. But Mitchell is still on the board here, and with such a gaping need to add backcourt talent, they grab the Baylor product. He’s a difference-maker on D who could function early on — maybe right away — as the No. 1 playmaking option.
16. Houston Rockets (via OKC Thunder)
Original pick: Alperen Sengun
Redraft pick: Joshua Primo
It looks like Sengun has a chance to be one of the true building blocks for Houston moving forward as an old-school big with sweet feet. Not sure Houston would zag here if given the chance. Primo feels like he’d be an interesting upside swing if he was still in play, though. He was the youngest player in the draft and had a really strong predraft process showcasing his length and two-way ability.
17. New Orleans Pelicans (via Memphis Grizzlies)
Original pick: Trey Murphy III
Redraft pick: Joshua Christopher
In trying to add pieces that can fit around Zion Williamson, the Pels seem to have nailed the Murphy pick. I’m just enamored with Christopher’s ability as a combo guard who could fit into just about any young core. (New Orleans included.) Tough, do-it-all guard who could contribute to winning on a team that is already in the playoff hunt.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder
Incredibly, Boston Jr. — despite a five-star pedigree! — slipped to No. 51 overall in the draft. In a redraft he’d almost certainly go in the first round. OKC scooping him here at No. 18 would make a ton of sense as it tries to rebuild with big swings. Big wing with shot-making potential.
19. Charlotte Hornets (via New York Knicks)
Original pick: Kai Jones
Redraft pick: Trey Murphy
Charlotte got Moody with its first pick in the redraft and comes back to double down with a similar type of talent in Murphy. He’s a long forward with great scoring ability who, like Moody, can be a killer catch-and-shoot threat, the exact type of talent who should fit nicely into a system revolving around LaMelo Ball.
20. Atlanta Hawks
Original pick: Jalen Johnson
Redraft pick: Chris Duarte
After appearing in only 22 games as a rookie, it’s unclear exactly what Johnson’s role is with the Hawks moving forward and how much of an impact he’ll be able to make. He was a big swing at No. 20 who still has gobs of potential, but wasn’t much of a needle-mover in Year One. For an Atlanta franchise in win-now mode, Duarte seems much more capable of fitting their timeline. Sure, he’s an older prospect, but he has a huge frame, can be a knockdown shooter and would fit neatly into the Hawks’ wing rotation.
21. Los Angeles Clippers (via New York Knicks)
Original pick: Keon Johnson
Redraft pick: Alperen Sengun
Sengun ranked seventh in VORP as a rookie and ranked in the top 10 among all drafted players in both rebounds per game and assists per game despite playing the 17th-most minutes per game. Johnson, who the Clippers traded for, played in only 15 games with the team before being dealt midseason to the Trail Blazers.
22. Indiana Pacers (via Los Angeles Lakers)
In a redraft? Maybe the Lakers don’t deal this pick at all. (They selected Jackson, who was then traded to the Pacers.) In this scenario the Lakers instead select Reaves and keep him. Reaves, who signed with the Lakers as an undrafted free agent and has thus far looked worthy of being a first-rounder in hindsight, could have a starting role on a contending L.A. team in 2022-23.
23. Houston Rockets
Original pick: Usman Garuba
Redraft pick: Isaiah Jackson
Neither Garuba nor Jackson played more than half a season — Garuba played in 24 games, Jackson in 36 — so the sample size is the sample size. Hard to judge. But I’d take Jackson over Garuba if I were Houston in hindsight. He was second among all rookies in blocked shots per game and No. 1 among all qualified rookies in PER (Player Efficiency Rating).
24. Houston Rockets
Original pick: Joshua Christopher
Redraft pick: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
On a Thunder team that went 24-58 last season, Robinson-Earl, the No. 32 overall pick, finished his rookie season ranked 13th in win shares, 15th in minutes played, fourth in rebounds per game and 14th in 3-point shooting percentage. He looks like he was a steal for OKC and would still offer value at No. 24.
25. New York Knicks (via Los Angeles Clippers)
Original pick: Quentin Grimes
Redraft pick: Kai Jones
The Clippers traded Grimes to New York in the first version of the 2021 draft (which was probably a mistake by the Clips!) In our redraft, though, Grimes is already off the board. So at No. 25 the Knicks swing for the proverbial fences with Jones, a young, raw prospect who played in 21 games for Charlotte last season after being selected 19th overall. Jones isn’t a win-now player — and maybe not even a win-soon player — but he still presents major future upside at this spot in the draft.
26. Denver Nuggets
Original pick: Bones Hyland
Redraft pick: James Bouknight
Bouknight reportedly had a confrontation with his (now former) coach, made zero starts and was generally unimpressive as a rookie. Not ideal for the No. 11 pick! But I was, and still am, a believer in the talent of Bouknight, and I can’t see him slipping out of the first round.
27. Brooklyn Nets
Original pick: Cam Thomas
Redraft pick: Cam Thomas
This was one of the hardest to pinpoint for me in the redraft. Ultimately, I took the coward’s way out and just left Thomas where he was initially selected. He had some great moments as a rookie and made 67 appearances on a playoff team in Brooklyn, but outside of his (inefficient, volume-based) scoring, he’s a black hole who doesn’t add much value elsewhere.
The first undrafted player to make an appearance! Alvarado was a revelation for the Pelicans after going undrafted. He finished his rookie season fourth among all rookies in PER and first in assist rate (ahead of Josh Giddey). His height probably kept him from being drafted, but the value he brings on both ends would have him as a top-30 guy if we were doing this again.
29. Phoenix Suns
Original pick: Day’Ron Sharpe
Redraft pick: Usman Garuba
Sharpe was traded to Brooklyn before he could ever play a game in Phoenix, so maybe the Suns — even acknowledging he had some good moments with the Nets — would welcome a re-do here. So we’ll give them one here to select Garuba, who was the No. 23 overall pick. Garuba didn’t show much on offense with the Rockets last season but his defensive and leaping ability in only 24 appearances look like they could in time help him stick in the league.
30. Memphis Grizzlies (via Utah Jazz)
Original pick: Santi Aldama
Redraft pick: Corey Kispert
Memphis has a type of prospect it likes, and man, Kispert fits to a T: confident competitor, experienced, winner. Maybe not a future star, but someone who’d fit a need in Memphis as a shooter who could play off of Ja Morant.