If nothing else, the 2021 NBA Draft proved that making a perfect mock draft is just as difficult — if not more — as creating a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket.
The first three picks went chalk, but nobody could have predicted how the rest of the night went. The Scottie Barnes-Jalen Suggs swap at No. 4 and 5 was largely unexpected, as was the No. 10 selection of Ziaire Williams, who was listed at (+500) before the draft to crack the top 10.
The unpredictability of the lottery alone made for an entertaining event, let alone the remaining 46 picks that were made after.
When the dust settled, a few teams stood out from the crowd after compiling an impressive cast of rookies. Others made questionable decisions that left fans and bettors alike wondering what they were missing. Here are The Game Day’s winners and losers of the 2021 NBA Draft.
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2021 NBA Draft: Winners, Losers + Highlights
Winners: Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets were one of the early winners of the NBA Draft, and that trend continued through the second round. After lucking into selecting James Bouknight at No. 11, Charlotte then traded up to Pick 19 to acquire Kai Jones — a player many expected to be a lottery pick. The Hornets unearthed more potential gems later on, nabbing JT Thor at No. 37 and Scottie Lewis at No. 56.
Bouknight is the big prize here. The Connecticut guard was one of the best scorers in the nation in 2020, averaging 18.7 points per game while cashing in on 44.7% of his looks from the field. He had trouble getting his outside shot to fall in college, but with LaMelo Ball as his new facilitator, Bouknight should make the most of his shot creation and Charlotte’s spacing.
The Hornets barely missed out on a spot in the play-in tournament last season. If their rookies pan out, they’ll be a sneaky pick to qualify for the postseason in 2022. Keep an eye on their “make playoffs" bets.
Winners: Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic made the most out of each of their lottery picks, selecting Gonzaga standout Jalen Suggs at No. 5 and Michigan wing Franz Wagner at No. 8. Both flashed two-way potential in college and figure to provide Orlando with a boost on both ends of the floor.
Suggs in particular is one player bettors will want to keep an eye on as the season progresses. As one of the most NBA-ready players in his class, Suggs is expected to make an immediate impact with the Magic and could be in for a very productive season. He currently has the fourth-best odds to win 2022 NBA Rookie of the Year, but it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if he finishes higher up the ladder.
Winner: Jalen Green
The Houston Rockets came away as one of the big winners of the draft, and it all started with Jalen Green. The 19-year-old is a ready-made scorer with one of the highest ceilings in his class, and he’ll have the opportunity to shoot to his heart’s content in H-Town.
The Rockets ranked near the bottom of every offensive metric in 2021 and entered draft night in desperate need of a scoring guard like Green. Alongside Christian Wood, Green figures to become a focal point of Houston’s offense and should boast one of the highest usage rates among rookies next season.
Like Anthony Edwards in 2021, expect Green to put up some big, potentially inefficient numbers in 2022 as he looks to carry his game to the next level. That was good enough for Edwards to finish as a finalist in the Rookie of the Year race, and it should be for Green as well.
Losers: San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs provided the first head-scratcher on draft night, selecting 18-year-old wing Joshua Primo with the No. 12 pick. Their loser status has nothing to do with the person — Primo is the youngest player in the class and has plenty of upside — and everything to do with draft position.
Primo was almost unanimously projected to be a late-first round pick, with some outlets pegging him as an early-second-rounder. Perhaps the Spurs had intel suggesting otherwise, but it’s not a stretch to say that he likely would’ve been available in the 25-30 range.
San Antonio easily could’ve added to its draft pool by trading back into the late-first, perhaps pairing Primo with another young, high-ceiling type of player. Why the franchise felt compelled to reach for him at No. 12 remains a mystery.
Loser: Buddy Hield
A few hours before the 2021 NBA Draft began, Sacramento Kings sharpshooter Buddy Hield was reportedly a prime candidate to head to the Los Angeles Lakers via trade. Instead, the Lakers opted to deal for Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook, leaving Hield stuck with one of the more dysfunctional franchises in the league.
To make matters worse for Hield, the Kings used their first-round pick to select Davion Mitchell, an NBA-ready guard who could eat into his playing time should he remain in Sacramento.
We may never know how close the Lakers were to acquiring Hield before pivoting away from the move, but it has to hurt knowing he could’ve been heading to Los Angeles to play a sizable role alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis and will instead remain in Sacramento for the time being — a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004.
Loser: Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors will finally get Klay Thompson back at the beginning of the 2021-22 season, cementing the Dubs’ status as a squad in win-now mode. Given the circumstances, many expected Golden State to trade at least one of their two top-14 picks for a veteran who could improve their chances of winning a championship in 2022.
Instead, the Warriors elected to use their picks to select Jonathan Kuminga at No. 7 and Moses Moody at 14, two unproven rookies who could struggle to see time on the court next season. They could certainly become star-caliber players in the future, but neither is particularly NBA-ready.
Golden State currently has the fourth-best odds to win the NBA title in 2022. Even if Stephen Curry turns in another MVP-level season, they’ll need more from their role players to truly compete.
Fade the Warriors until they surround their stars with instant contributors.