By Andy Katz
FOX Sports College Basketball Analyst
The top picks are set, but the first five players in the NBA draft are all worthy of No. 1 status.
This is a deep move at the top, but is also filled with experienced, meaning solid, rotation players who have a legitimate shot to shine in their first two years in the league.
Getting a real summer league experience, albeit in August rather than July, and a normal training camp in terms of actual days on the pitch will help this crop of rookies adapt and potential impact teams next season.
This is how I see Thursday’s draft:
Consensus No. 1 election. Cunningham did not have to play this season at Oklahoma State, where his brother Cannen is the assistant coach. He was wounded and came back. He was always there to answer the challenge. He is a matchup problem at the time and has the star potential that the Stamps desperately need.
2. Houston: Jalen Green, G League
Green chose another path, but the pandemic probably helped him in a strange way. Being in a locked bubble where all the focus was on basketball has led him into the top three in the draft. Houston needs to add talent and Green can deliver.
Mobley was a matchup issue for any Trojan opponent. He can be a rim protector, scoring with the front facing up and laying the ball on the floor. He has Chris Bosh-like skills. He can also carry a team. Cavaliers have the guards in place, but need a fixture inside.
This would be a homemade choice for the Raptors if this comes true. Suggs is a huge talent with all-star passing abilities. He was one of the main reasons Gonzaga went undefeated on his way to the title game. His game-winner to beat UCLA by the summer in the semifinals was no boost. It was a shot. He oozes confidence. If Toronto goes from Kyle Lowry to Fred VanVleet to Suggs in terms of inbound talent, it would be quite a few leading guards.
Barnes loves to defend. He immediately chose to be Leonard Hamilton player. He is tall, long-lasting and will flourish in various positions. Magic has scorers, but it’s a must to add a versatile defender.
Bouknight proved he’s a bucket getter at UConn. He also showed his toughness when he came back during the season from elbow surgery. The Thunder need a big-time scorer. Bouknight can deliver every night. He has a chip on his shoulder from being underrated. He’s not on draft tonight.
7. Golden State: Jonathan Kuminga, G League
Kuminga scrapes the surface with his abilities. He is a physical test, ready to compete with the size and strength of the NBA today. His skill is still a bit raw, but if he were to go to Golden State, he does not have to be a goal scorer yet. He learned from Draymond Green about how to use his size and strength to his advantage.
8. Orlando: Moses Moody, Arkansas
This is where the draft gets really interesting. Magic could go different ways, but I love this choice as Magic puts together an offensive team that can hurt you in a variety of ways. Moody would fit quite well into this group with his ability to score from across the floor.
Wagner loves to defend. Yes, he embraces it, and the Kings could use someone as versatile, poor, and all-in on defense as Wagner was in Michigan. He is also a player who can lay the ball on the floor and knock you from the dribble. He is ready for this step.
10. Memphis: Josh Giddey, Australia
Giddey is a young Australian who did not expect to be in this position. But here he is. He told me he follows in the footsteps of Americans RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball, who both played in the NBL, as well as studying under Boomers and former Saint Mary’s stars and NBA guards Paddy Mills and Matthew Dellavedova. Giddey is a first-time playmaker who can translate to the NBA and be a contributor to the Grizzlies.
The Hornets could use another rim protector and high-flyer. Jones responds to that call. He is a special talent who will only see his upward climb as he understands how to play the game even more.
12. San Antonio: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
Kispert could be gone before this, but if he is not, Spurs should take him, right? He can pass, shoot, run, score, defend, and he is an incredible person who gets it. He wanted to be a home run in the locker room and in the community. He fits the Spurs.
Would love to see this choice happen. Mitchell became one of the best two-way players in college basketball. He was this year’s Naismith defender. He would immediately enter the NBA with a transferable skill. He is a winner. A national champion. And the Pacers have traditionally gone with older, experienced, winning players.
14. Golden State: Chris Duarte, Oregon
Duarte continues to shine as he climbs on potential traction boards. He has become an all-round scorer and plays with an edge. Dana Altman players tend to shine later in their careers and translate well in the NBA. Warriors need to be very familiar with his skills.
The Wizards go with the best available player and Thomas fits those criteria at 15. He is a shot-maker, big-time bucket-getter and a player who could fill the needs of the perimeter of Washington. His defense needs work (if not?), And he was overshadowed by an amazing beginner class. But he was the best rookie in the SEC. He makes sense here.
16. Oklahoma City: Alps Sengun, Turkey
Thunder has had success with foreign bigs. The Thunder has undergone a transition inside. They could use another player to connect and start the process of assembling their inside game. Sengun is ready to contribute if he gets the chance.
The Pelicans need a playmaker now. Cooper played in 12 games due to eligibility and injuries, but proved he can turn on opponents. He ran the word well for Bruce Perle’s team. Cooper is underrated, but ready to be an asset to a team like the Pelicans going forward.
18. Oklahoma City: Usman Garuba, Spain
How can the Thunder take two foreign bigs? Well, remember, we do not know who is coming over and there are always moves and stash moves. The Thunder also has plenty of choices to relocate, and foreign majors are great assets to have in any trade due to the ability to keep them overseas initially. Either way, Garuba’s game for Spain has made him a hot item.
Johnson has lottery talent, but not ending the season at Duke could hurt him a bit. If there is one place where he could easily rehabilitate his image, it is in New York. His talent is too overwhelming to reject. And when I talked to him in Chicago, he said all the right things about making an informed decision on the draft.
Johnson is a versatile player with range who can help defensively, although his offensive play is still evolving. He did not dominate in Tennessee, but he did not need it. Hawks within the crew could be in flux, and having a versatile player like Johnson would help.
21. New York: Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky
The Kentucky (New York) Knicks would love to get a high-flyer like Jackson. He is not that skilled, but he runs the floor well and can finish high above the edge. Just be patient and he will probably deliver.
22. Los Angeles Lakers: Jared Butler, Baylor
The Lakers would love to have Butler. He is self-made. He is a winner. He did not receive a scholarship initially and ended up becoming the 12th greatest player of the year. He can defend himself. He can score. And he’s a good teammate.
23. Houston: Ziaire Williams, Stanford
The Rockets need talent. Williams has plenty of it that was barely utilized during his freshman season on the farm. He could be a great find so deep in the draft if he lasts that long.
24. Houston: Trey Murphy III, Virginia
Rockets need shooting games or even more interchangeable choices with value. Murphy has both because he can strike down shots. Playing for Tony Bennett is always a plus. He knows how to defend.
The Clippers could use a different playmaker. Hyland has been quiet under the radar. The Rams did not get a chance to shine in the NCAA Tournament due to COVID issues. If they had done that, the rest of the sport might have seen Hyland’s talent. Do not sleep on him.
JRE will be a good pickup for a team later in the first or high second round. He is a winner. A complete passerby. A system player that will do what is asked and quit. Nuggets are primed for a final run and can use another experienced rotary player. The JRE would meet this need.
This may be too loud for some, but I love Ayo here for the Nets. He is a playmaking guard who has made himself a better shooter. He is a winner. He’s closer. He would fit perfectly into KD, Kyrie and Harden. This would be a home run if Ayo could land in Brooklyn.
Mann is a shot producer. He came back to Florida to prove he could handle the pressure and finish on a higher clip. He did it for the Gators. He is ready to be a solid rotating wing on a playoff team like the Blazers.
29. Phoenix: Jaden Springer, Tennessee
Springer, like Keon Johnson, not only shone with Vols. He was part of the system and had his moments. He’s like Devin Booker was in Kentucky – a part of the system that could eventually star alone. His potential is untapped at the NBA level. Look for him to embrace this opportunity.
This would be a steal for the Jazz at 30. McBride played for Bob Huggins, meaning he knows how to defend. He is tough. He handles adversity on the floor. And he can score in clusters.
Andy Katz is a longtime college writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on FOX Sports and Big Ten Network platforms as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the podcast “March Madness 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for almost two decades and before that in newspapers for nine years.
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