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Grading every pick in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft

Chinmay Vaidya provides his pick-by-pick grades for each prospect selected in the first round.

2021 NBA Draft
A general view of hats on a table during the 2021 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on July 29, 2021 in New York City.
Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

The 2021 NBA draft will begin at 8:00 p.m. ET in Brooklyn, New York with the Detroit Pistons holding the top pick. The Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic will round out the top five selections. The Pistons, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, have settled on taking Cade Cunningham with the first overall pick.

We’re tracking each pick as it happens and providing instant reaction with draft grades.

2021 NBA Draft grades

No. 30: Memphis Grizzlies — Santi Aldama: B

Aldama performed well for the Loyola Greyhounds, shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from deep last season. He’s a good developmental prospect for the Grizzlies, who need floor spacing and size.

No. 29: Brooklyn Nets — Day’Ron Sharpe: B+

The Nets continue to add young talent to a championship core and Sharpe provides some toughness and hustle down low. He’s not going to garner a lot of attention but will be an important part of the rotation for a team chasing the title.

No. 28: Philadelphia 76ers — Jaden Springer: B

Springer is a good point guard prospect who can help the Sixers get more consistent play from the second unit. If Philadelphia ends up dealing Ben Simmons, Springer can develop into the lead guard with time. He’ll be brought along slowly, but has the potential to be a big steal at this spot.

No. 27: Brooklyn Nets — Cam Thomas: A

The Nets have championship expectations and need someone who can help off the bench. Thomas can score the ball with the best of them and has enough long-term potential to excite Nets fans. Getting him in the late first round is a steal for Brooklyn. This is a great situation for Thomas, who will get development advice from some of the league’s best scorers in Kevin Durant and James Harden.

No. 26: Denver Nuggets — Nah’Shon Hyland: A-

Hyland is a great shooter and fills a need for Denver in the backcourt. He’ll make an immediate contribution off the bench and should get good looks with the likes of Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic on the floor. The Nuggets needed to add someone with immediate value and Hyland fits the bill.

No. 25: New York Knicks — Quentin Grimes: B+

The Knicks traded out of their selections but held onto a pick late in the first round to take Grimes, a sleeper on the draft board. He’s a valuable contributor on both ends of the floor and should help a New York team trying to build on a playoff appearance from last year.

No. 24: Houston Rockets — Josh Christopher: B-

Christopher is a wing player with tremendous potential and although he didn’t do much in college, he’s entering an environment where he can develop slowly. The Rockets are simply accumulating as much young talent as possible early in this rebuild and Christopher is a positive in that regard.

No. 23: Houston Rockets — Usman Garuba: B

Garuba brings immediate defensive help for the Rockets, who are entering a deep rebuild. The Real Madrid product needs a lot of work offensively, but is part of a young core who will hopefully grow together. Teams can always use a versatile defender and Garuba provides that.

No. 22: Indiana Pacers — Isaiah Jackson: B-

Jackson brings a lot of energy and rim protection to the Pacers, who grab the Kentucky big from the Wizards after they took the pick from the Lakers in the Russell Westbrook trade. Jackson joins a crowded frontcourt in Indiana, but will make an impact off the bench immediately.

No: 21: Los Angeles Clippers — Keon Johnson: A

The Clippers were losing Reggie Jackson in free agency, but Johnson fills that void and then some. He’s got a ton of potential and should bring immediate energy to a contender. The Tennessee product fell in the draft, but he could make those who passed on him pay in a big way if he develops correctly.

No. 20: Atlanta Hawks — Jalen Johnson: B-

Johnson has a lot of question marks and his fit is a redundancy with Atlanta’s roster, but he could represent a floor-spacing upgrade over Cam Reddish if he pans out. The Hawks are looking to build on a run to the conference finals but decide to take a swing on Johnson here.

No. 19: Charlotte Hornets — Kai Jones: A

Jones is a raw prospect but fits what Charlotte needs in the frontcourt. He’s a floor runner and can shoot from deep as well, but needs to build out his post game and be more accustomed to playing down low. For the Hornets to get a lottery talent at No. 19 is a big move for them.

No. 18: Oklahoma City Thunder — Tre Mann: B+

Mann is a great shooter and can be a dynamic player alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcourt. The Thunder are accumulating a ton of assets and can take swings on high-upside players who may need time to develop. Mann fits the bill there and might still be growing into his frame.

No. 17: New Orleans Pelicans — Trey Murphy: A-

Murphy fits New Orleans’ roster extremely well and won’t be asked to do much more than be an excellent three-point shooter. That’s exactly what Murphy excels at and should provide an immediate lift for the Pelicans. Another riser in the pre-draft process, Murphy can be a lethal marksman given New Orleans’ primary offensive options.

No. 16: Houston Rockets — Alperen Sengun: B+

The Rockets move up to take a post player who will complement Green in the future. Sengun is in the mold of a post-heavy big man, but has enough of a development curve to add a shot to his game. The Rockets are in a deep rebuild and can afford to take a swing on a prospect with a lot of upside.

No. 15: Washington Wizards — Corey Kispert: B+

Kispert adds some shooting to Washington’s roster, but will the Wizards truly hit the reset button by dealing Bradley Beal? The Gonzaga forward is unlikely to develop into a star, but will be a consistent three-point threat for the Wizards.

No. 14: Golden State Warriors — Moses Moody: B

Moody does do some things right away as a 3-and-D prospect for the Warriors, but Golden State making two selections tonight without a trade lined up or even speculated is surprising. Moody is solid, but he will have to do a lot of work behind the scenes to develop into a solid starter.

No. 13: Indiana Pacers — Chris Duarte: B-

Duarte brings some immediate shooting assistance to the Pacers, but he doesn’t move the ceiling much for this team. Indiana had the opportunity to add a high-potential player with this pick, but opted for an older prospect in Duarte. He’ll be a great shooter, but won’t raise the ceiling for this team much.

No. 12: San Antonio Spurs — Joshua Primo: C

The Spurs had the chance to draft a prospect who could anchor their future, but instead opted to go for Primo as a perimeter threat. Primo will give San Antonio an immediate scoring threat, but does he have what it takes to become a big-time star? The Spurs have a crowded backcourt now.

No. 11: Charlotte Hornets — James Bouknight: B+

Bouknight should fit well next to LaMelo Ball in Charlotte, but the Hornets opted to go with another perimeter player rather than someone like Kai Jones or Alperen Sengun. Bouknight is a good player, but will he be able to get enough opportunities in a crowded backcourt rotation?

No. 10: Memphis Grizzlies — Ziaire Williams: C+

Given the prospects on the board, this is a questionable pick for the Grizzlies. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. form a good foundation to build around, but Memphis moved up seven spots for a reason. Williams is very raw and doesn’t offer much on the offensive end. For a team looking to make strides in the next few seasons, this is an odd selection.

No. 9: Sacramento Kings — Davion Mitchell: A-

Mitchell is a player who can make an immediate impact and fits well in Sacramento’s rotation. His versatility defensively makes him a great asset for the Kings, who will look to break a long streak of playoff futility next season. If Mitchell’s shooting is for real, he’ll be an All-Star eventually.

No. 8: Orlando Magic — Franz Wagner: B+

Wagner is a versatile talent for the Magic, who will look to slot him into a crowded frontcourt rotation. The Michigan product will need to be a consistent shooter to maximize his effectiveness, but his defensive skills are already going to make a positive impact for a team looking to jump back into contention quickly.

No. 7: Golden State Warriors — Jonathan Kuminga: B-

This is not an immediate solution for Golden State, but Kuminga has the potential to be a decent scorer in time. Golden State said it would weigh the short-term benefits vs. the long-term health of the franchise with this selection, but Kuminga is an interesting choice for a team looking to maximize an aging core.

No. 6: Oklahoma City Thunder — Josh Giddey: B+

The Thunder are taking the long-term approach here and Giddey fits the bill. He was the NBL’s Rookie of the Year and LaMelo Ball’s performance this past season definitely influenced OKC’s decision. Giddey is a mobile, ball-handling wing who is already a very skilled passer. If his shooting come around, he could be a steal in this draft.

No. 5: Orlando Magic — Jalen Suggs: A

Suggs is a two-way star in the making at the point guard position and should get immediate playing time in Orlando. He can co-exist with Markelle Fultz, but will need to improve his perimeter shot to be an all-around offensive threat. Suggs’ best ability may be his leadership skills and composure, something Orlando’s young squad needs to take the next step.

No. 4: Toronto Raptors — Scottie Barnes: B

Barnes is an interesting selection for the Raptors, who could use a point guard with Kyle Lowry reportedly on the way out. Barnes is a strong all-around prospect, but is limited offensively at the moment. Pascal Siakam’s development is encouraging, but Barnes might not have been the best selection for the Raptors here.

No. 3: Cleveland Cavaliers — Evan Mobley: A

Mobley has the makings of a generational big man and should fit well with Cleveland’s backcourt. He’s got the tools to be effective immediately on both ends of the floor and should be a consistent All-Star with MVP potential. The Cavaliers are getting a strong prospect with this pick.

No. 2: Houston Rockets — Jalen Green: A-

Green was an outstanding scorer in the G-League and provides a perimeter threat for the Rockets right away. His development curve is great and he can be one of the top scorers in the league if everything goes right. The Rockets could’ve gone with big man Evan Mobley, but Green is an outstanding selection in a league centered around perimeter players.

No. 1: Detroit Pistons — Cade Cunningham: A

Cunningham has the makings of a two-way star and can do just about everything on both ends of the floor. The development curve is great and Cunningham’s biggest challenge will be to steadily improve in his first few seasons before potentially being an MVP-caliber player. The Pistons didn’t really have a major decision to make here as Cunningham is clearly the top prospect in the draft. Will he make the Pistons title contenders down the line?