NBA Draft week is here, and we’re just days away from players hearing their name called in Brooklyn by commissioner Adam Silver.
For weeks now, Oklahoma State sensation Cade Cunningham has been the favorite to go No. 1 on Thursday. While there’s been an ongoing summer battle for No. 2 on mock draft boards, it’s beginning to look like G-League standout Jalen Green will beat out two NCAA stars in USC center Evan Mobley and Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs.
If picks No. 2 though No. 4 play out as we expect, does it work against the argument that college basketball exposure is necessary for being a lottery pick? Hardly anyone had heard of Green before the summer, while Suggs was dancing on tables during the Final Four. It’s safe to say Mobley and Suggs only bettered their chances to be lottery picks, but Green is proof that the NCAA spotlight isn’t wholly necessary. When teams have needs (the Rockets could use his scoring), they’ll be smart enough to make the pick.
USA TODAY Sports provides a closer look at how everything can unfold on Thursday. A look at the projected first round picks:
Cade Cunningham of the Oklahoma State Cowboys (right) is the clear-cut choice as the No. 1 draft pick by the Pistons.
1. Detroit Pistons
Cade Cunningham • Oklahoma State • Freshman • Point Guard • 6-8 • 220
Cunningham is a lock at this point to be the top pick by Detroit. He’s drawn Jayson Tatum comparisons recently but it’s his point guard mentality that will set him apart in the league. The All-American guard used his freshman season with the Cowboys to show that he’s more than just a dynamic playmaker who’s built for the NBA physically. Cunningham (20.1 ppg in 2020-21) consistently showed a clutch gene, making several game-winning shots and exuding leadership well beyond his years.
Jalen Green chose to play in the G-League instead of playing for a college program.
2. Houston Rockets
Jalen Green • USA • G-League • Guard • 6-5 • 172
Green catapulted up to the No. 2 spot because he’s got the most offensive firepower of any player in the draft. That’s a necessary void to fill or chess piece to move for Houston. Green would’ve been a star in the NCAA but instead opted to play in the G-League. Although his offense is the most NBA-ready, his defense could take some time. He’s not a great decision maker yet either, but has the skillset to develop into a formidable combo guard.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Evan Mobley • Southern California • Freshman • Center • 7-0 • 215
Mobley’s fallen down on this list because the two guards ahead of him offer more reward over risk. But this is a pick the Cavaliers just can’t pass up on. His shot blocking ability, length and size position him to make an impact right away. He has potential as a long-term All-Star at the big man position but he’ll need to bulk up to have better strength against NBA bigs.
4. Toronto Raptors
Jalen Suggs • Gonzaga • Freshman • Point Guard • 6-4 • 205
Suggs is a potential franchise-changing point guard and will be a steal if he falls this far to Toronto. His buzzer-beater in this year’s Final Four will live on in March Madness lore, but his freshman season under coach Mark Few saw him blossom into an NBA-ready floor general with poise and smart decision making. Gonzaga’s offense caters well to the pro level so Suggs should be ready to make a splash.
5. Orlando Magic
Jonathan Kuminga • Congo • G-League • Small Forward • 6-8 • 205
Another G-Leaguer, Kuminga is an oversized wing with massive potential. He won’t be an All-Star right away but has all the intangibles to develop into one with the Magic. Kuminga averaged 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in the G-League.
Scottie Barnes • Florida State • Freshman • Small Forward • 6-9 • 227
Sporting a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Barnes brings raw abilities as a playmaker and versatile defender, but his shooting (27.5% from three) and overall offensive production (10.3 ppg) are not there yet. Put him on the right team and all his growth can come in stride. His ceiling is high and his floor (a great defender and two-way player) makes him a lock to land in the lottery.
Davion Mitchell • Baylor • Junior • Point Guard • 6-2 • 205
The key catalyst of the national champion Baylor Bears squad, Mitchell is a do-everything guard who can bolster any NBA team with his ballhawking defense. He’s also a capable passer who can stuff the stat sheet without needing to score. He can create and hit threes when he’s open or create for himself. An ideal fit for Golden State alongside an All-Star backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
8. Orlando Magic
Moses Moody • Arkansas • Freshman • Shooting Guard • 6-6 • 205
Moody’s defense will make him hard to pass up in the top 10, as he proved to be an excellent perimeter defender for an Elite Eight-finishing Razorbacks team this past March. He’s also one of the best spot-up mid-range shooters in the draft.
Some draft pundits have called Connecticut’s James Bouknight the second-best scorer in this draft class behind Jalen Green.
9. Sacramento Kings
James Bouknight • Connecticut • Sophomore • Shooting Guard • 6-5 • 190
Bouknight gave coach Dan Hurley a go-to scorer every night. In the NBA, the dynamic guard has all the tools to be just as potent a scorer — possessing the ability to fill it up both off the ball and with it in his hands, while sporting an explosive first step.
10. New Orleans Pelicans
Josh Giddey • Australia • Forward • 6-8 • 205
Giddey’s best asset is his court vision, which feed into phenomenal passing and playmaking. The Australian’s offense outweighs his mediocre defense, which needs help. But at 18 and with pro experience already in Australia, he’s got time to hone his craft and adjust to the league’s style.
11. Charlotte Hornets
Keon Johnson • Tennessee • Freshman • Shooting Guard • 6-5 • 186
Johnson can develop into an All-Star but he’s not ready to come into his own yet, as his offensive prowess still needs some work. He averaged 11.3 ppg for the Volunteers and showed flashes of his true potential in his lone NCAA season.
12. San Antonio Spurs
Franz Wagner • Michigan • Sophomore • 6-9 • 220
Wagner has size and handle around the perimeter, can knock down treys accurately and plays great team defense. His game will parlay much better at the pro level than at Michigan where he was starting to blossom.
13. Indiana Pacers
Jalen Johnson • Duke • Freshman • Forward • 6-9 • 220
Johnson didn’t overly impress at Duke but he still got a chance to develop under arguably the greatest coach of all-time and has the skillset to grow into an All-Star.
14. Golden State Warriors
Alperen Sengun • Turkey • Center • 6-10 • 240
A standout in the Turkish pro league, the 18-year-old Sengun was the Basketball Super League’s MVP. While he’ll have a transition from the international game to NBA, particularly on defense, he’s got all the tools to excel. Golden State could use a boost in the frontcourt.
15. Washington Wizards
Corey Kispert • Gonzaga • Senior • Shooting Guard • 6-7 • 220
Kispert could develop into a Kyle Korver replica. His 44% three-point shooting for Gonzaga was the highlight of his game, but he’s also got great instincts on defense and can do the little things to make just about any team in this draft better. His athleticism is underrated, too, as he’s far more than just a sharpshooter.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder
Isaiah Jackson • Kentucky • Freshman • 6-10 • 205
Jackson’s best attribute is his motor in the open court. His athleticism skills around the rim will make him a contributor to any team that selects him. Kentucky coach John Calipari helped fine-tune his craft in one season in Lexington but there’s still a long way to go to reach his full potential.
17. Memphis Grizzlies
Trey Murphy III • Virginia • Junior • Small Forward • 6-9 • 205
Murphy, similar to Virginia players of the past like Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris, hardly got a chance to show his full stock in coach Tony Bennett’s strict system. He shot 43% from beyond the arc and averaged 11.3 points on just around seven shot attempts a game. His game will take off in the pros.
Tennessee’s Jaden Springer made the SEC all-freshman team and shot 43.5 percent on 3-pointers.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder
Jaden Springer • Tennessee • Freshman • Point Guard • 6-4 • 204
Springer (12.5 ppg, 44% three-point shooting with the Volunteers) has the ability to progress into a starting point guard, illustrated by his strong outside shooting at the NCAA level.
19. New York Knicks
Kai Jones • Texas • Sophomore • Power Forward • 6-11 • 220
Jones’ stat line (8.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg) at Texas won’t raise eyebrows, but he’s a gamble-type pick based on huge upside. He’s got an athletic build and can protect the rim right away, while the rest of his game develops.
20. Atlanta Hawks
Ziaire Williams • Stanford • Freshman • 6-8 • 185
Williams was on the trajectory of a lottery pick but wasn’t very impressive in his lone NCAA season at Stanford. Teams like his ceiling once he gets some reps in the league. He’s a big wing with obvious gifts.
21. New York Knicks
Tre Mann • Florida • Sophomore • Point Guard • 6-5 • 190
Mann is the type of point guard who can play on and off the ball, which could be a nice fit in New York. He shot 40% from beyond the arc at Florida and is used to playing a physical style.
Oregon Ducks guard Chris Duarte (5) has shot up the draft board.
22. Los Angeles Lakers
Chris Duarte • Oregon • Senior • Shooting Guard • 6-6 • 190
Duarte has shot up on draft boards, making his decision to skip the draft combine a smart one. He’s older than most players so he has a maturity to his game. His size is solid and he shot 38% from three-point range for the Ducks.
23. Houston Rockets
Cameron Thomas • LSU • Freshman • Guard • 6-4 • 210
An explosive scorer, Thomas averaged 23 points a game for the Tigers and erupted for a bundle of 30-plus scoring nights. He had the ball in his hands a lot at LSU but he’ll have to find a way to make an impact when he’s not scoring at will at the pro level.
24. Houston Rockets
Jared Butler • Baylor • Junior • Guard • 6-3 • 195
Butler, the leading scorer of a national champion Baylor team, improved his assists and playmaking last season as a first-team All-American. But he’s still not a natural point guard and as a combo guard he’s undersized.
25. Los Angeles Clippers
Ayo Dosunmu • Illinois • Junior • 6-5 • 200
The USA TODAY Sports national college basketball player of the year in 2020-21, Dosunmu was a triple-double machine who helped the Fighting Illini land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He’s reminiscent of John Wall and Russell Westbrook with his do-everything ability.
26. Denver Nuggets
Sharife Cooper • Auburn • Freshman • Point Guard • 6-1 • 180
Cooper’s numbers speak volumes, averaging 20.2 points and 8.1 assists per game with the Tigers. He’s a multi-dimensional passer and can create for himself, while making open shots. That’s a recipe to boost just about any playoff team. His size will get knocked, but so did Fred VanVleet’s stature.
27. Brooklyn Nets
Nah’shon Hyland • Virginia Commonwealth • Sophomore • Point guard • 6-3 • 175
Hyland could be the steal of this draft, as he possesses Steph Curry and Damian Lillard mid-major-to-NBA-star potential. He averaged 19.5 points for the Rams in a breakout season.
28. Philadelphia 76ers
Miles McBride • West Virginia • Sophomore • Point Guard • 6-2 • 200
McBride averaged 15.8 points and 4.9 assists for the Mountaineers in 2020-21 and has a high basketball IQ that would make him a great asset off the bench for a contending team.
Joshua Primo has likely played his way into the first round after a strong showing at the NBA Draft Combine.
29. Phoenix Suns
Joshua Primo • Alabama • Freshman • Shooting Guard • 6-6 • 190
The Canadian had a breakout freshman campaign for the Crimson Tide, helping the program win an SEC title and vault into the national equation. He only averaged 8.1 points per game for a deep Nate Oats squad but he has only scratching the surface of his NBA potential.
30. Utah Jazz
Josh Christopher • Arizona State • Freshman • Guard • 6-5 • 215
Christopher didn’t have a major national spotlight last season as the Sun Devils underachieved, but he made great strides as a freshman and is a natural scorer who can slash to the rim with ease.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: G-League star proves NCAA exposure not required for NBA lottery picks