The 2021 NBA Draft featured a number of intriguing prospects that could take the league by storm.
While last year’s Rookie of the Year race was largely a two-man competition between Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards and Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, this year’s race is wide open.
Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley and Jonathan Kuminga are all potential breakout candidates, but who will come away with the Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season?
Here’s are some of the top rookies that could make an impact on their teams this season.
10. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic will trot out one of the youngest teams in the NBA when the season begins this October. This offseason, the Magic front office made sure to focus on getting more youth to develop in 6-foot-9 pound forward Franz Wagner out of Michigan. Wagner’s versatility allows him to play both forward positions for the Magic. He has competent abilities on both ends of the floor and as a fairly high ceiling as part of the rebuilding Magic. Wagner will play with his older brother, Moe Wagner, who signed a two-year deal with Orlando back in April.
9. James Bouknight, Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets struck gold last season, drafting the 2020 Rookie of the Year in Ball. With such a young team with a mix of budding talent like Ball, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington and trusted veterans Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, UConn product James Bouknight will fit right in as part of James Borrego’s system. Bouknight was an elite scorer and playmaker for the Huskies and will likely be used as a role player off the bench to start the season. With Malik Monk and Devonte' Graham on different teams, the Hornets might need to rely on Bouknight to make up for the lost production. If he can produce early, his name could shoot up the Rookie of the Year boards as a result.
8. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder continue to rebuild as Sam Presti is armed with dozens of picks in the coming years. The development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will still be a focal point, but Giddey, who nearly averaged a triple-double in his lone season in Australia’s NBL, has the potential to be another young star. Giddey was named the NBL’s Rookie of the Year and will now attempt to continue his success in the NBA. He still needs to work on developing a consistent outside shot and improve his free throw shooting, but he has some upside due to his size at 6-foot-8 and exceptional playmaking ability when on the court.
7. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors drafting Scottie Barnes at No. 4 overall was certainly surprising, but the Florida State product has elite defensive skill and playmaking ability that could make him worth the pick. Barnes isn’t a flasher scorer but can still contribute in other ways on the offensive end of the floor. He projects as a two-way forward in Nick Nurse’s system that will likely sit behind Pascal Siakam and OG Anunuoby, but he should play a key role off the bench for Toronto.
6. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings
After an incredible performance leading the Baylor Bears to an NCAA Championship in April, Davion Mitchell rose up draft boards as the catalyst of a historic defense that shut down the most dynamic teams in the nation over the past year.
The Kings drafted Mitchell despite having a crowded frontcourt of De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. While Mitchell will largely be relegated to a bench role to start the season, Sacramento is in need of a true backup point guard to help Fox. Mitchell could be what the Kings have been looking for all along.
5. Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors
Questionable shooting in the G League led Jonathan Kuminga from a projected top-five pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to the Golden State Warriors at No. 7 overall.
But perhaps Golden State will be the right fit for a 6-foot-7 forward whose uber-athleticism allows him to defend multiple positions on the court.
With Kelly Oubre Jr gone and Andrew Wiggins currently dealing with local health and safety protocols, there could be an opportunity for Kuminga to get some playing time early in his rookie campaign. If his playing time increases, expect his consistency to improve as a result.
4. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
Evan Mobley projects as one of the best prospects in the class for a Cleveland Cavaliers team that desperately needs more playmaking on both ends of the court.
The 7-foot forward is a unique talent in today’s NBA. Mobley has the range to shoot outside of the paint, can play elite defense around the rim and also handle the ball. The Cavs' frontcourt currently consists of Kevin Love and Jarrett Allen.
However, there’s a strong chance Mobley contends for minutes early in the season. With Mobley in place for the foreseeable future, the Cavs could decide to move on from Love and move forward with a Mobley, Allen frontcourt instead.
The USC product will be a hot name in the Rookie of the Year conversation all season if he stays on the court.
3. Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic
Jalen Suggs captivated the nation as the floor general of an electric Gonzaga Bulldogs team in 2020-21. Suggs showcased an ability to score, rebound and facilitate in college, fundamental skills that every great NBA player has.
While he will have some competition for minutes at the point guard position with Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz already in place, Suggs could be the most talented guard on the roster already.
The Magic will probably embrace a rebuild this season as it continues to develop the young talent it acquired. But expect Suggs to take full advantage of any opportunity he has to shine for the Magic this season.
2. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
Jalen Green is one of the most explosive playmakers in the draft class. Green is a natural and polished scorer and the favorite to lead the rookie class in points scored.
He averaged 20 points per game in his three Summer League appearances for the Houston Rockets only a few months ago. Green's production with the G League Ignite suggests that he will have a high rate of 3-pointers attempted this season.
While shooting that many 3-pointers a game will no doubt have an impact on his field goal percentage, Green can make an impact in other ways as well. He also averaged 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals in the 15 G League games he played.
The biggest question surrounding Green is his designated role early in the season. He has the potential to start from the get-go, but with Christian Wood on the cusp of making the All-Star Game, veteran John Wall commanding the floor and a high-volume shooter in Kevin Porter Jr on the team, Green’s development could take a backseat.
1. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
Cade Cunningham is the clear Rookie of the Year favorite as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons.
However, whether he finishes the year as the award winner depends on whether or not he can stay consistent and improve on his collegiate production at Oklahoma State.
Cunningham is well-positioned to be the primary ball-handler and No. 1 option for a Pistons squad that desperately needs it.
Of course, like most rookies, Cunningham will go through rough periods and likely have a high turnover rate, but his statistical floor ranks as the highest of any player in the 2021 class.