Much like 2020, the 2021 NBA Draft took a twist right after the third pick and gave us a number of surprising picks thereafter. In what was a draft process that felt both shorter and longer than normal due to the unusual timing, we finally know where the best available college stars, international players and G-League Ignite prospects have landed. There were shocking risers, even more shocking falls and even some legitimate potential NBA players who went undrafted. The Pro Insight team spent the weekend outlining some of their favorite picks and biggest surprises from draft night.
In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse,’ we present our 2021 NBA Draft Recap:
Favorite Overall Picks
Nah’Shon Hyland to the Denver Nuggets at #26
“Bones” is about as fun a player as there was in this draft. Depending on how things shake out in free agency for Denver, Hyland could get serious minutes with Jamal Murray out for the foreseeable future and little overlap between him and Campazzo, Dozier, or Barton ($14.7M player option). Add Hyland’s dynamite shotmaking into an offensive system built around Jokic’s passing and watch out.
Jaden Springer to the Philadelphia 76ers at #28
The 76ers identity has revolved around their stymying defense in the Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons era, but as a result, they’ve lacked requisite perimeter creation, due to how few players in the league are able to provide both strong defense and offensive creation. To somehow land a prospect who projects to provide rim pressure, interior passing, strong point of attack defense, and active off-ball rotations at the 28th pick is a massive win for a flawed contender. While Springer’s youth likely prevents him from contributing immediately, his profile projects to be spectacularly helpful in easing some of the Sixers’ pain points down the line.
Josh Giddey to the OKC Thunder at #6
The draft started at pick #6 when the Thunder opted to do what they always do, which is draft the guy they want regardless of the general consensus. At 6’8” tall with the ability to act as a secondary creator, big facilitator, slasher and set shooter, Giddey is able to slide next to Shai Gilgeous Alexander as part of an effective and methodical guard duo. While he’ll need to learn quickly on the defensive end, the pairing of SGA and Lu Dort will serve as mentors and aid in covering up any mistakes. With a roster that’s still very much in flux, the hope is Giddey proves to be one of the corner pieces of the puzzle that brings OKC back to playoff relevance.
Most Surprising Picks
Josh Primo to the San Antonio Spurs at #12
Primo’s stock had risen in recent months but it was surprising to see a guy projected as a late first/early second-rounder go in the lottery with fellow SEC freshmen SGs Keon Johnson and Moses Moody still on the board. When you factor in Primo’s youth and the organizational fit in San Antonio this could end up being a fine pick but if Primo was “their guy,” it seems the Spurs likely could have traded down from 12 and gained an additional asset.
Josh Christopher to the Houston Rockets at #24
An elite recruit coming out of high school, Christopher struggled to find the same level of success in his lone year at Arizona State. While the talent is apparent and there’s still plenty of reason to believe in his long-term projection, it was a little brow-raising to see him be selected in the top-25 picks when prospects who had similar trajectories and more obvious hurdles to success (Brandon Boston, Jr., Jaden Springer) fell further. Adding to that, the Rockets had selected future building block Jalen Green just 22 picks prior, who in many ways overlaps with Christopher skillswise in areas that may make it hard to develop them together.
Georgios Kalaitzakis to the Milwaukee Bucks at #60
The Bucks made sure to cap off the night with a mild surprise. The Bucks traded off #31 (Isaiah Todd) for #54 (Sandro Mamukelashvili) and #60 (Georgios Kalaitzakis). The 22-year-old Greek wasn’t on many boards but just happens to share an agent with the Finals MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Steals of the Draft
Keon Johnson to the Los Angeles Clippers at #21
Johnson reportedly slipped from the mid-lottery to #21 due to a questionable medical report. He also is a multi positional defender and a top tier athlete who seemed to settle more into his offensive role as his lone season at Tennessee progressed. After seeing what Terance Mann was able to do with the Clippers last year, Johnson should be able to fill a similar role down the line, but with more youth and athleticism — assuming he is healthy.
Usman Garuba to the Rockets at #23
This was also good value for where he was taken. The 19-year-old Spaniard has already proven to be an impactful defensive player in the second-best league in the world. His blend of athleticism, instincts and growing passing savvy makes him an excellent fit next to Sengun and Green, who will both likely need some covering up for defensively and some help greasing offensively. An excellent way to ease the likely developmental hurdles that come with having three ball dominant scorers, as the Rockets now do, is adding a player who’s ready to accept a role and fill in gaps when needed, which is exactly what Garuba excels at.
Jaden Springer to the Sixers at #28
For the second straight year, the Sixers drafted a strong, impactful defender with an offensive upside dependent on shooting development. For the second straight year, that player was wildly underrated and will make an outsized early impact relative to draft slot. Springer is a tough evaluation to be certain — a low-volume, high-percentage shooter in a cramped Tennessee offensive setting, one where easy creation looks were hard to come by for anyone. Some of the concerns about Springer came about his true positional home: “is he a guard-sized wing or a wing-sized guard?” But in a Philly system that has a ton of good defenders, adding another talented POA option to the