Cade Cunningham-Luka Doncic/Chauncey Billups
Cade Cunningham was the consensus #1 prospect in a loaded 2021 NBA Draft, and even though he isn’t at the top of the Rookie of the Year race right now- partially because he has missed time and hasn’t had the same ramp-up process as others- the flashes he has shown are special. The Luka Doncic comparisons are pretty straight forward: He is a big guard with a developed body, he isn’t the most explosive, but can really read the floor in the pick and roll. He is very patient and get to his spots from every level despite average athleticism, and he has a very good step back. He isn’t quite as special of a shot creator as Luka, but he can really create separation and is a better shooter (expect him to massively improve his 31.4% from deep). He also has some similarities to Chauncey Billups: He isn’t a true score-first player like Doncic, there have been a couple games where Cade shot below 10 attempts, he needs to be more aggressive, at times. Cade’s decision making is very adapted to the flow of the game, he looks to pass and rarely makes a low efficiency decision, like Chauncey. He also projects to be a very capable defender with high-level leadership quilters. Cade is a very unique talent, so comparisons will never be fully direct, but he has a lot of good qualities other great player have possessed, which gives him a chance to be one of the best players out of this draft.
Jalen Green- Zach Lavine
Zach Lavine was a pretty common comparison for Jalen Green coming into draft night, some other ones included Bradley Beal and Vince Carter. Where Zach and Green are both really comparable at the same stage is their physical profile and explosion: They both are naturally thin with incredible explosiveness. Where Jalen Green does separate himself from Zach Lavine at this stage is the polish he has creating separation and shooting. Crazily, Zach was not a great shooter his rookie year, his form was very unpolished, whereas Green has improved his shot since high school pretty significantly. His ability to create separation off the dribble is also better than Zach at this stage. To Zach’s credit, he worked his tail off and has developed into a sensational shooter and shot creator, in ways very few improve. Jalen Green is much better at those things at this age, but if he becomes the shooter and creator Zach is right now, who I believe is the most capable SG in the game right now, that would be sensational. Zach Lavine would be a good projection for what Green could become.
Evan Mobley- Kevin Garnett
When comparing Evan Mobley to Kevin Garnett, it has more to do with skill than the intangibles. It appears Mobley is an incredibly mature and smart young player, but he doesn’t have the loud and fiery personality KG does, not many do! He isn’t going to rim your head off like KG, but in terms of being a versatile defensive minded player, who can switch on multiple positions with the ability to be an elite rim protector, their defensive similarities stand out. Offensively, KG was a good scorer, but he was never looking to score first and foremost, he played to the flow of the game, I see the same with Mobley. Mobley is not going to constantly try to score 30 on your grill, he is a tremendous passer with a good feel and when he has an open teammate, he is going to find him. When he is looking to score, although he is somewhat raw right now- still less raw than rookie KG- he has great feet and agility, he has great touch around the rim, and can beat you from the mid range. Mobley has KG’s talent, maybe not personality. Nonetheless, Mobley is a legit franchise talent with MVP upside.
Scottie Barnes- Lebron James lite
There, there I said it! Scottie Barnes reminds me of Lebron. No, I’m not saying Barnes is going to be Lebron. Lebron is a top three player ever, Lebron was a already a superstar at the age of Barnes’ rookie season. He is not going to be Lebron. But where do I see the Lebron comps? It’s the completion of Barnes’ skillset. First of all, he is a fantastic athlete at 6’10,” he has a stout frame, long arms, great explosion, and good body control. Barnes is incredibly physically mature for his age, like Lebron was. Scottie Barnes is special in transition because of his athleticism, finishing, and passing, similar to Lebron. He has a rapidly growing half court game where he has developed a jumper and creation ability in the half court. He is also naturally a good passer who can run your offense as a 6’10” guard, similar to Lebron. I don’t just throw this comparison out there, I just don’t know how many big playmakers with Barnes frame, two-way versatility, improving shooting, passing, and physical maturity at his age, Lebron is the guy who comes to mind! There may never be a Lebron again, but Barnes could be a superstar in the NBA with his Lebron-like skillset.
Jalen Suggs- Elfrid Payton/Dejounte Murray
The jury is out on all of these rookies, they only got drafted five months ago. How these rookies develop will be key in determining the quality of each draft pick, and that is especially true for Jalen Suggs. Once considered a consensus top four prospect in the basketball-media world, he fell to the fifth pick and Toronto current looks brilliant for it. As special as Scottie Barnes has been, Jalen Suggs has been equally bad. He has shot an EFG% of 38.9%, he is shooting 25.5% from three, and he has negative win shares. Just because he is struggling now doesn’t mean this will forever be the case, we saw Trae Young in his rookie season also really struggle in the first half then dominate the second. My player comparisons are pretty widespread because I want to see more from him, but the floor is Elfrid Payton, someone who has a solid feel as a passer and can defend at a solid level, but has limitations as a scorer that ultimately hold himself back from justifying himself being a lottery pick. His floor a little bit higher than Payton, though, because he is more physically gifted as he is bigger and a little thicker. There is a scenario where Suggs does pop, and if he does, a bigger Dejounte Murray could be his upside. Suggs has the upside to become an elite defender and really good passer in the open court, which is Murray’s bread and butter. I don’t see the upside as an elite half-court shot creator in Suggs, but because of the pressure he can put on the rim and his potential occasional hot spurts from three, he could become a someone who can average near 20 PPG. Who knows if Suggs can ever become the rebounder Murray is? But let’s not give up on him quite yet.
Josh Giddey- Taller Ricky Rubio
The draft is such an unpredictable science, a lot of the time, even the best draft evaluators miss something that becomes key in the game of a young player. Josh Giddey is a rare case where his game is almost exactly how people anticipated. He is a special passer with an unbelievable feel for the game, both in the half court and in transition. He is leading all rookies in assists, and his assist numbers would be even better if he was playing with a more talented cast of characters. That is where he is comparable to Ricky Rubio for the better. For the worst, he is not an efficient scorer nor shooter. He is shooting 42.7 EFG%, and 24.5% from three. He had real questions as a shooter coming into the league, and that is still real. Giddey has a higher ceiling than Ricky Rubio, as he is four inches taller and has a better feel getting boards. If he could become a respectable shooter and defender, he could become a stud.
Jonathan Kuminga- Jaylen Brown
It is no secret the Warriors are in a championship window with Steph Curry likely in the back-half of his prime. When they took Jonathan Kuminga, the decision was polarizing because it was widely believed he was not ready to help contribute to winning basketball out of the jump. But looking back, the Warriors never needed any rookie to play a massive role as they have had a top two record in the league pretty much all season while not being at full strength, so it makes sense they decided to grab a blue chip prospect to develop. Kuminga draws a lot of similarities to Brown as they were both high-lottery picks drafted to competitive teams, that are incredibly gifted physically- Kuminga is even bigger and stronger than Brown is- and weren’t asked to play much more than a defensive energy player year one, while showing their oozing potential. Kuminga has only played 9.4 MPG this year, but in that time, he has showed his special defensive upside, incredible slashing talent, and flashes as a shot maker. Kuminga at his ceiling may be a different player from Brown as he isn’t quite as pure of a shooter and has even more slashing upside, but the background similarities and unbelievable physical tools makes them a near perfect comparison. Hopefully Kuminga can develop as rapidly as Brown did.
Franz Wagner- Hedo Türkoğlu+
The rookie I was most wrong about coming in was certainly Franz Wagner. I liked his two-way versatility, I just did not know where he exactly excelled, and he proved me wrong. Hedo Türkoğlu was a comparison I considered during draft season, that does not mean my opinion hasn’t changed on Wagner, he is a rich man’s version. They both are 6’10” playmakers who possess scoring versatility from all-three levels, and have a nack for making teammates around them better as secondary ball-handlers. Wagner projects to be even better than Türkoğlu as he was way more polished at the same age and possesses way more defensive upside than Türkoğlu. Türkoğlu was never a huge liability defensively, but Wagner can legit switch on four positions at a high level due to his strength, nimble feet and instincts. Wagner is going to be a star in the NBA.
Davion Mitchell- Patrick Beverley/Donovan Mitchell-lite
Davion Mitchell was another one of those guards who scouts were divided on because of his inconsistent shooting and lack of size and length, despite his college defensive success as the 2021 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. On one hand, his defensive production has proven to more than translate at a high-level as he is already a stud level on-ball defender. He is like Patrick Beverley in that department: Not the biggest, not the strongest, not the rangiest, he is just very physical and intelligent on that end, which makes him special there. On the other hand, he has proved some scouts right with his shooting concerns as he is shooting 31.4% from deep and 66.7% on the line, which could minimize his offensive upside because him being at his height without a frequent jumper makes him easier to guard. Where he does have Donovan Mitchell flashes is because he is super fluid and shifty with the ball in his hands and can really create space. If he begins hitting shots, he will be very dynamic, if not, he will still have a long career as a good energy defender.
Ziaire Williams- Kevin Knox
When Ziaire Williams became the 10th pick to the Memphis Grizzlies, it was surprising and something I was not a fan of. His smoothness and shot creation upside at his height was very apparent, but he really struggled with physicality and efficiency from every level. There isn’t as much film or opportunity out there for Williams, a big part of that is he is on a deep Memphis team, so it is not fair to draw conclusions right now. But when he has played, he is shooting 35.4% with a PER of 4.58. He still has ways to go physically and as a shot creator. I am not going to say Williams will be Kevin Knox, but that rawness with those physical tools at around 6’9″ or 6’10” are similar. If Knox ended up being drafted by a team that excels at developing talent, we may be looking at him much differently. Fortunately for Williams, he is on a very deep Memphis team where he won’t have the pressure to be anything right away. He is also being coached by Taylor Jenkins, one of the best coaches at developing talent in the NBA. There is not a better place for Williams to develop than Memphis.