July 26, 2021 | 7:35 pm EDT Update
Cade Cunningham has been the public favorite to go No. 1 to the Detroit Pistons since the lottery. While Detroit is surely doing its due diligence, is there any reason to doubt that Cunningham will be the first name we hear on Thursday night? Matt Babcock: I expect Cade Cunningham to be the top overall pick in this draft, selected by the Detroit Pistons. However, I’ve been told that the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder have been knocking the Pistons’ door down. Rumor has it that the Thunder offered the No. 6 pick and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in exchange for No. 1 — the Pistons declined. If the Pistons receive an offer better than that one, they may need to seriously consider it.
Scottie Barnes has moved up to No. 4 in your latest mock draft, breaking through what is generally considered to be a four-player top tier of Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs. What inspired you to make that change? Babcock: Scottie Barnes’ draft stock seems to be at an all-time high. There’s a lot of buzz swirling around that he’ll be going to either the Toronto Raptors at No. 4 or Orlando Magic at No. 5. I’m not completely convinced that Barnes will end up in Toronto at No. 4; however, it’s what I decided to go with for now. Another thing worth noting is that I’ve heard Toronto is very high on Evan Mobley, who I do not think will be available at No. 4. I could see a trade between Toronto and either Houston or the Cleveland Cavaliers making sense.
Five teams (Oklahoma City, Orlando, Golden State, New York and Houston) currently own multiple first-round picks. Do you expect movement from any of these squads? Babcock: There has been so much trade chatter this year among those teams, but most of the other teams, too. I fully expect there to be a ton of movement prior to, or during, this year’s draft.
However, two other names also are swirling around. Moses Moody has been someone league sources have said the Grizzlies are very interested in. He’s one of the most intriguing 3-and-D guys in the draft. In his one year at Arkansas, he made 35.8 percent of his 3-pointers, and nearly 50 percent of his shots came from beyond the arc. Nobody is blown away by 35.8 percent, but scouts/executives believe in his shot and are encouraged by the 81.2 percent he shot from the free throw line. Free-throw percentage is often an indicator of someone discovering long-distance accuracy.
Charlotte Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak has been around the NBA for the better part of five decades, dating back to his days in the late 1970s with Washington. So when he witnesses something a bit unusual, as he has for a hefty portion of these past two months since the season ended, it should be noted.
“Our gym has been just full of activity for the last 6-8 weeks,” Kupchak said Monday during his pre-draft availability. “Our coach has done a great job of setting up times for players to come in. Starting with treatment, training room, migrating to the weight room, then going upstairs (to the gym) and getting shots in. Tuesdays and Thursdays, they have fun, they scrimmage. Unlike any gym that I’ve been around in a long, long time.
“Players like living in Charlotte. They are staying here and they are coming in every day to work out. Even on a Friday — which we call a flex day — in which a player might want to get away for a weekend a lot of these guys are still coming in on Friday.”
That includes LiAngelo Ball. As first reported by SI.com’s All Hornets, LaMelo’s older brother is expected to be on Charlotte’s summer league roster when it’s finalized before the team heads off to Las Vegas in just under two weeks. “Melo and his brother LiAngelo — I call him Gelo — he showed up about a month ago,” Kupchak said. “We allow our players to have a workout partner. They can come in during the morning on odd hours or the afternoon or at night and come back. And they would be working out together. And then on scrimmage days, they would scrimmage.”