Player Comparisons for the Top 2021 NBA Draft Rookies using Top Shot Moments
by Paul Brown
As one NBA season ends, another is already beginning, as many fan bases are reinvigorated with the excitement of adding top-tier talent through the NBA Draft. Lottery picks are important in turning a franchise around, but what fans really want to know is simple “What will this rookie look like on my team?”
The best way for a fan to get to know a player’s game is by visualizing what aspects are familiar. That’s why we’re going to “get to know” the new players today by comparing their skills to those shown in some of my favorite NBA Top Shot Moments from existing NBA players.
Let’s jump into the 2021 NBA Draft Rookies and compare their skills to Top Shot Moments.
Guard Cade Cunningham — Oklahoma State
Sports Illustrated Mock Draft: No. 1 to Detroit Pistons
Last season, the Oklahoma State offense had a name, and that name was Cade Cunningham. He is listed as a 6-foot-8 point guard – so plenty of size to go with his court vision. Cunningham is an offensive star who has no glaring weaknesses, though his 4:3.5 turnover-to-assist ratio in college is a valid concern.
Many people including Cunningham say they “see the similarities” between him and Luka Doncic. This is not a Mavericks fan trying to bring up Luka at any opportunity, it’s coming from him — I promise. His passing ability and feel for the game have many scouts saying Cunningham is the next “one-man offense” who has the ability to catapult any team into the Playoffs as he develops.
While he brings more speed to the table than Kyle Anderson, they’re both highly-recruited wings who controlled their offenses in college. But I think with more defense and less range than Luka, he could be the next Jimmy Butler.
Cade Cunningham Player Comparisons
High End Moment: Luka Dončić Series 1 Dunk — Top Shot Debut
Realistic Expectation: Jimmy Butler Series 1 3-pointer — Top Shot Debut
Guard Jalen Green — G-League Ignite
SI Mock Draft: No. 2 to Houston Rockets
Jalen Green already has a taste of professional basketball after averaging almost 18 points per game in the G-League. Maybe someday we will be able to use a prospect’s G-League Moments to see his game on the blockchain, but for now we have to go with scout’s projections.
His future looks bright with incredible athleticism and a great ability to get to the rim, his pro comps are kind of amazing. Some scouts have seen enough improvement in his one G-League season that the high end of his offensive ability showed signs of James Harden.
The consensus is he will always be a guy who will always be at minimum a walking bucket like Jordan Clarkson. I think the sweet spot is Zach LaVine, a former dunk contest champion who made his first All-Star team this season with incredibly efficient scoring from all over the floor. It’s still a high projection, but more realistic than Harden.
Jalen Green Player Comparisons
Realistic Expectation: Zach LaVine Series 2 Throwdowns
Power Forward/Center Evan Mobley — USC
SI Mock Draft: No. 3 to Cleveland
As a top recruit going into his freshman season at USC, Evan Mobley surpassed the lofty expectations showing off incredible length and stout defense. His ability to cover ground and erase shots has some giving him Defensive Player of the Year potential with others comparing him to Chris Bosh if his outside shooting continues to improve.
With his ability to play on and off the ball defensively, solid rebounding, and a playmaker in the paint, he will at minimum be a Larry Nance Jr. type of player. However, at 7-foot, Mobley’s added height should make those skills even more valuable.
Mobley is already a strong finisher in the post but does lack range. He has strong playmaking instincts and can keep the offense moving, even if he is not the primary facilitator. The name Bam Adebayo has been mentioned multiple times as a comparison, and this seems like a good fit for him, as most scouts do see his range expanding but not all the way out to the three. Mobley’s passing and dribbling are superior for his size, and he has all the makings of an All-NBA level defender.
Evan Mobley Player Comparisons
Low End: Larry Nance Jr. Series 1 MGLE Dunk
Realistic Expectation: Bam Adebayo Series 1 Dunk — Top Shot Debut
Guard Jalen Suggs — Gonzaga
SI Mock Draft: No 4 to Toronto
Lottery teams usually need players who have the ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball — enter Jalen Suggs. He uses great quickness and speed to lock down defensive assignments and then become a serious problem in transition. The dogged defense of Suggs is an attribute that can quickly make him a starting-caliber combo guard like Derrick White.
Suggs is also already capable of running an offense. A strong ball handler with great passing instincts, he averaged 4.5 assists last season. While he may not shoot as well from outside, he most likely will settle in as a very good defender who makes smart decisions with the ball like Malcolm Brogdon.
At Gonzaga, Suggs only shot 33 percent from deep, but he can develop his shot in the league, and his defense is already truly elite. I think it’s not out of the question that if all the stars align for Suggs we are seeing someone who could end up looking a lot like Jrue Holiday.
Jalen Suggs Player Comparisons
Realistic Expectation: Malcolm Brogdon Series 1 Dunk — Top Shot Debut
Forward Scottie Barnes — Florida State
SI Mock Draft: No. 5 to Orlando
Scottie Barnes is intriguing to many in the lottery because most lottery teams are bad on defense and he is elite on that end. He has the ability to switch one to four, making the easiest and most obvious (but lofty) comparison Draymond Green.
Barnes spent most of his minutes at Florida State running the point from the small forward position. He does a little bit of everything on the floor with a solid playmaking ability but hasn’t shown that he is a real small ball center, so I think a realistic comparison is Nicolas Batum.
Barnes’ body is NBA ready and his effort is there on every play. Barnes will most likely find his role in the league as a better passing, but worse shooting version of OG Anunoby, and if he can add Anunoby’s range he can be the complete package.
Scottie Barnes Player Comparisons
Realistic Expectation: Nicolas Batum Series 2 Block — Top Shot Debut
Forward Jonathan Kuminga — G-League Ignite
SI Mock Draft: No. 8 to Orlando
Jonathan Kuminga is a freakish athlete who looks like he is ready to contribute at the next level after his stint in the G-League. He has a solid skill set and is a physical force on both ends of the floor with an improving mid-range game. Even with a lack of 3-point shooting, scouts are hopeful he could become a DeMar DeRozan type scorer and playmaker.
Kuminga has a rugged defensive style that can easily be compared to Jeff Green. Green may be a good comparison on defense, but the ceiling is much higher on the offensive end of the floor for Kuminga.
With a great handle for his size and ability to drive he frequently collapses defenses and can create shots for his teammates. With tremendous athleticism and solid rebounding for a wing, he has the upside to be similar to Jaylen Brown.
Jonathan Kuminga Player Comparisons
Realistic Expectation: DeMar DeRozan Series 2 Holo Icon
Guard James Bouknight — UConn
SI Mock Draft: No 6 to Oklahoma City
A blazing hot start to his sophomore season had James Bouknight among the nation’s top scorers. His 3-point percentage dipped near the end of the season, but his athleticism allowed his offensive game to shine throughout the year.
Bouknight is somewhat turnover prone, but can put up points in a hurry with solid shooting from anywhere on the floor. His creativity with tough shots, solid rebounding, but also inconsistency as a shooter, has drawn comparisons to Knicks favorite RJ Barrett.
Primarily using hesitation moves to get where he wants but showing explosion around the rim, many see a lot of Jamal Murray in his game. He is a solid passer and smart with the ball; he may not have gotten a lot of assists in college, but he was used primarily as a scorer. Bouknight lacks the same strength as Murray, but he does bring a bit more raw athleticism. His explosion around the rim, however, is why I think his game also fits a role similar to Top Shot Certified Baller Terrence Ross.
James Bouknight Player Comps
Realistic Expectation: RJ Barrett Series 1 Layup — Top Shot Debut
Point Forward Josh Giddey — Australia
SI Mock Draft: No. 7 to Golden State
Josh Giddey spent last season in the NBL and hopes to follow the footsteps of Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball. He has similar passing attributes, but lacks quite the ceiling of the youngest ball brother due to his 24 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Without the same shooting chops, a better comparison may be Ricky Rubio, a career 32.5 percent shooter from three.
Most see Giddey playing a point forward role to highlight his vision and playmaking and minimize the lack of range. This skill set is very similar to fellow Australian, Ben Simmons, but he is not near the defensive presence of Simmons, so he seems unlikely to reach that ceiling.
When you consider Simmons elite defensive play and Giddey’s willingness to shoot even if he doesn’t make many, the Sixer he more closely resembles may actually be Shake Milton. An improvement from deep or on defense could make him a top star at the next level.
Josh Giddey Player Comparisons
Realistic Expectation: Ricky Rubio Series 1 Layup — Top Shot Debut
Forward Moses Moody – Arkansas
SI Mock Draft: No. 12 to San Antonio
Standing at 6-foot-6 but with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and already a plus shooter from beyond the arc, Moses Moody is the prototype 3-and-D wing. Primarily as a spot-up shooter in college, his 81 percent from the line shows he has the potential to get even better.
Though some say he has a low ceiling, a big improvement on his 37 percent from deep could put him in the range of Khris Middleton, a champion with two All-Star appearances on his resume. Middleton has shown what anyone can become with enough work, and Moody has shown plenty of work ethic.
There seems to be a bright future for a prospect who is already a Mikal Bridges-type of player entering the league, with a strong defensive presence. However, if he can’t generate more of his own shots or improve any on-ball skills, he may carve out a role similar to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Moses Moody Player Comparisons
Realistic Expectation: Mikal Bridges Series 1 Dunk — Top Shot Debut
Guard Davion Mitchell – Baylor
SI Mock Draft: No. 14 to Golden State
The similarity in name and wearing the number 45 draws an obvious comparison to Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. The first Google result does let you know they are not related, but they do share tremendous athleticism and basketball I.Q.
At 6-foot-1 and with a fluid offensive game, Mitchell has also drawn comparisons to Kemba Walker. Mitchell may be undersized, but his extreme quickness and athleticism allows him to find his shot from anywhere on the floor. He has already shown great improvement from deep as his 3-point shooting went from 28.8 percent to 44.7 in his time at Baylor.
After heaping that praise on his offensive game, it should be noted he is probably the best perimeter defender in this draft, which brings to mind another Celtic Marcus Smart. I think this may be the better player to focus on as he will always be a valuable commodity shooting over 40 percent from deep and being a top tier defensive guard.
Davion Mitchell Player Comparisons
Realistic Expectation: Marcus Smart Series 1 Steal — Top Shot Debut