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2021 NBA Mock Draft: Final predictions for Thursday's event

Photo illustration by Nick Roy / theScore

After months of speculation and buildup, the 2021 NBA Draft is just hours away from starting.

Cade Cunningham is a virtual lock to be the first name selected, but the draft immediately kicks into high gear once the Houston Rockets are on the clock at No. 2.

Here's how we see Thursday's draft playing out.

1. Detroit Pistons - Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State

Detroit added some solid young pieces in last year's draft, but Cunningham is the type of talent that can turn a franchise around. The Oklahoma State standout has the potential to be a two-way star at the next level. He has elite size for a lead ball-handler, exceptional shot-creating ability, and the physical tools to guard multiple positions.

2. Houston Rockets - Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite

Green has inched his way up draft boards and now finds himself going No. 2 to the Rockets. According to Jonathan Givony of ESPN, Houston was unable to bring in Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs for private workouts, making this selection a near certainty. Green is an explosive scorer who will instantly help a Rockets team that finished near the bottom of the league in points per game.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers - Evan Mobley, C, USC

Mobley has all the qualities of a modern big man. The 7-foot center can handle the rock, facilitate the offense, and contain guards on the perimeter. He was named the Pac-12's Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Freshman of the Year after a dominant 2020-21 campaign. Mobley's fit alongside Jarrett Allen isn't perfect, but the Cavs can't afford to pass on the draft's top defensive prospect.

4. Toronto Raptors - Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga

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Suggs to the Raptors has been a consistent projection since Toronto snagged the No. 4 pick. The Gonzaga point guard announced himself on the national scene with a brilliant NCAA tournament performance, including a buzzer-beater for the ages during the Final Four. The versatile point guard is a perfect fit for the Raptors as the team will likely move on from franchise legend Kyle Lowry.

5. Orlando Magic - Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State

Barnes has drawn comparisons to Draymond Green because of his defensive versatility and playmaking skills. The reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year ranked fifth in the conference in assists (4.1 per game) and seventh in steals (1.5). Barnes' addition will bolster a Magic unit that finished 26th and 28th last season in defensive efficiency and assists per game, respectively.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder - Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite

Barnes has surpassed Kuminga on the draft board, but the G League star doesn't fall far as the Thunder nab him at No. 6. The 6-foot-7 standout is a project, but Oklahoma City seems as willing as any team to be patient with development. Kuminga gets to the basket as well as anybody in the draft but will need to improve his outside shooting to contribute at a high level in the NBA.

7. Golden State Warriors (via MIN) - James Bouknight, G, UConn

The Warriors are likely seeking a player who can contribute from Day 1. Bouknight should be able to step in and provide the Warriors' second unit with a much-needed scoring option. Additionally, his ability to put pressure on the rim will add another wrinkle to an already potent offense.

8. Orlando Magic (via CHI) - Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor

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Mitchell's all-around game should immediately pay dividends in Orlando, especially for a team that ranked 26th defensively last season. The Baylor star was incredible during the Bears' run to the school's first national title ever, recording 15 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, a block, and a steal in the championship game. Mitchell improved in his final collegiate season from a 32.4% 3-point shooter to a sizzling 44.7%. If he continues that upward trajectory, he will be a steal at No. 8 for the Magic.

9. Sacramento Kings - Franz Wagner, F, Michigan

Sacramento allowed the third-most points per game and finished dead last in defensive efficiency last season, so adding a versatile defender like Wagner is a step in the right direction. The Michigan forward has the lateral quickness to stay in front of guards, uses his length to disrupt passing lanes, and has shown promise as a weakside rim-protector.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (via NOP) - Josh Giddey, G, Adelaide 36ers (Australia)

Giddey may not be well-known to most fans in North America, but the 6-foot-9 guard from Australia is one of the best passers on the draft board. While the Grizzlies are certainly positioned well at point guard with Ja Morant, both players offer great versatility and the ability to play at either spot in the backcourt. Giddey needs to add size and improve his shooting, but his play-making potential makes this a smart pick at No. 10.

11. Charlotte Hornets - Alperen Sengun, C, Besiktas (Turkey)

Charlotte needs a long-term solution at the five, even if Cody Zeller is brought back in free agency. Sengun lit up the Turkish Super League last season as a teenager, averaging 19.2 points, 9.4 boards, 1.7 blocks, and 1.3 steals over 29 appearances en route to earning MVP honors. His soft hands should make him an ideal partner for LaMelo Ball in pick-and-roll scenarios.

12. San Antonio Spurs - Jalen Johnson, F, Duke

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Johnson's one season at Duke ended in disappointment, but the 6-foot-9 standout flashed a versatile skill set that will be too good to pass up at No. 12. His talent saw him receive top-five buzz entering his lone season with the Blue Devils, and that ceiling still exists for the 19-year-old. He played in only 13 collegiate games, but a stat line of 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, and over a steal and block per game makes this a worthwhile gamble.

13. Indiana Pacers - Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga

Kispert fits Indiana's need for shooting and size on the wing. The 6-foot-7 forward shot 40.8% from deep over four years at Gonzaga, including the NCAA's sixth-best mark (44%) in 2020-21. Kispert could easily fill Doug McDermott's floor-spacing role if the Pacers allow him to walk in free agency this offseason.

14. Golden State Warriors - Chris Duarte, G, Oregon

The Warriors are in win-now mode as their core continues to age, and at 24 years of age, Duarte represents arguably the most NBA-ready player in the draft. The Oregon star poured in 17.1 points per game last season while connecting on over 42% of his shots from deep. Combine that shooting with strong defensive potential, and he should fit perfectly on the Golden State roster.

15. Washington Wizards - Moses Moody, G, Arkansas

New Wizards bench boss Wes Unseld Jr. has been vocal about improving the club's defense. Moody's 7-foot-1 wingspan and 205-pound frame should allow him to guard multiple positions at the next level. Additionally, he'll provide more floor spacing to a team that knocked down the third-fewest triples per game last season.

16. Oklahoma City Thunder (via BOS) - Usman Garuba, F, Real Madrid (Spain)

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The Thunder need help all over the court, and the toughness and defense that the Real Madrid standout can bring will be welcomed in Oklahoma City. At just 6-foot-8, he's undersized for a traditional center, but a 7-foot-3 wingspan more than makes up for that in today's era of small ball.

17. New Orleans Pelicans (via MEM) - Trey Murphy, G/F, Virginia

New Orleans needs to surround Zion Williamson with more shooters if they hope to unlock his full potential. Murphy's 3-and-D skill set is the perfect complement for the rising star. He made 43.3% of his 3-point attempts last season while playing solid defense for one of the NCAA's stingiest squads.

18. Oklahoma City Thunder (via MIA) - Keon Johnson, F, Tennessee

Drafting Johnson will certainly bring much-needed energy to the Thunder, as the high-flying forward from Tennessee is arguably the top dunker in this draft class. Johnson shocked the basketball world with an astonishing 48-inch vertical leap at the NBA combine. His energy and athleticism are second to none, and with Oklahoma City willing to wait on his development, he slots in perfectly at No. 18.

19. New York Knicks - Sharife Cooper, G, Auburn

Cooper has the tools to be the Knicks' long-term solution at the point. He can make virtually every pass in the book and thrives as a pick-and-roll operator. The Auburn floor general uses his quickness and shifty ball-handling skills to get to the rim and charity stripe. Cooper's jump shot needs work, but he did convert 82.5% of his free throws in 2020-21.

20. Atlanta Hawks - Ziaire Williams, F, Stanford

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Williams fell down draft boards during the season at Stanford, but the 6-foot-9 forward still offers a ton of upside for the right situation. The Hawks need some wing depth to help lighten the load for Trae Young, and Williams' scoring potential could be a huge help in the loaded Eastern Conference.

21. New York Knicks (via DAL) - Isaiah Jackson, F/C, Kentucky

Jackson gives New York some insurance if Nerlens Noel moves on this summer. Despite playing just under 21 minutes per game, the Kentucky product was one of college basketball's top rim-protectors, ranking sixth nationally in block percentage (12.7) and 15th in blocks per game (2.6).

22. Los Angeles Lakers - Jared Butler, G, Baylor

With LeBron James turning 37 in December, the Lakers have no interest in a rebuild. That makes the selection of Butler at No. 22 a simple decision. The Baylor star was instrumental in leading the Bears to the NCAA title, and his versatile skill set will fit in well with Los Angeles.

23. Houston Rockets (via POR) - Kai Jones, F/C, Texas

Houston can afford to take some swings with their two late first-round selections. Jones' defensive mobility and shot-blocking are his biggest strengths, but his improving jumper and ball-handling skills is what intrigues scouts.

24. Houston Rockets (via MIL) - Joshua Primo, G, Alabama

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At just 18 years and five months, Primo is the youngest player in the draft this year. With the Rockets in full rebuild mode, the team can afford to grab the talented Alabama wing at No. 24 and focus on development. Primo has helped himself as much as anybody in the predraft process, wowing scouts with his versatility in workouts.

25. Los Angeles Clippers - Cameron Thomas, G, LSU

Thomas poured in 23 points per contest during his lone collegiate campaign, finishing fourth in the 2020-21 NCAA scoring race. The LSU product showed off NBA 3-point range as well as an ability to get to the charity stripe at will. The Clippers attempted the third-fewest free throws last season and will undoubtedly benefit from Thomas' ability to pressure the rim.

26. Denver Nuggets - Tre Mann, G, Florida

With Jamal Murray on the shelf for a large part of next season, the Nuggets will opt for backcourt help with Mann at No. 26. The Florida guard stars in pick-and-roll situations and shows the ability to step out beyond the arc with a 40.2% shooting line from deep. The 6-foot-5, 190-pounder will have to work on his ball protection at the next level to reach his full potential.

27. Brooklyn Nets - Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois

Brooklyn's defense got better as the season progressed, though it was far from the level Steve Nash would've preferred. Dosunmu gives the Nets an athletic, tough wing defender to play alongside their Big Three. If Dosunmu's improved outside stroke carries over to the NBA, he could benefit just as much as Joe Harris did a year ago.

28. Philadelphia 76ers - Miles McBride, G, West Virginia

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McBride will bring a great mix of scoring potential and defensive intensity to the 76ers at No. 28. The 20-year-old connected on 41.4% of his triples last season while excelling as an off-ball defender. Philadelphia desperately needs to improve its team shooting around Joel Embiid, and McBride immediately does that at the end of the first round.

29. Phoenix Suns - Day'Ron Sharpe, C, North Carolina

Dario Saric's ACL injury leaves the Suns pretty thin at the five. Sharpe has an NBA-ready body and performed well for the Tar Heels in a backup role. The McDonald's All-American demonstrated elite passing skills for his position and was among the nation's top offensive rebounders last season despite playing under 20 minutes per game.

30. Utah Jazz - Quentin Grimes, G, Houston

The Jazz are in the enviable position to grab the best available talent at No. 30, and that will see the sweet-shooting Grimes land in Utah. The Houston star was one of the top shooters in the country last year after taking the Cougars on a solid run in the NCAA tournament. At age 21, he's ready to immediately contribute for a team looking to make another run in the West.

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