NBA Draft 2021: Cunningham, Barnes lead way as teams take versatile talent
The era of the "positionless" player continued as versatile athletes like Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes went early in the NBA Draft.
The term "positionless" has been all the buzz in the NBA the last few years, and the first round of the 2021 draft followed that trend as the Detroit Pistons took Cade Cunningham with the first overall pick and players with similar skill sets went off the board soon after.
Longstanding positional terms like guard, forward and center have gone out the window as athletic players like NBA MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets have taken over the league, and Cunningham leads the latest crop of versatile options.
Checking in at 6-foot-8, Cunningham often plays like a point guard, leading his team down the floor – exactly the kind of headache-inducing matchup teams are seeking these days.
After the Houston Rockets took guard Jalen Green second overall and the Cleveland Cavaliers used the third pick on big man Evan Mobley, the Toronto Raptors surprised many prognosticators by taking another of those positionless players at number four with Scottie Barnes.
At 6-foot-9, his role at Florida State was similar to Cunningham's at Oklahoma State, running the offence while defending across multiple positions.
Raptors take "multi-faceted, multi-positional" Barnes in NBA Draft
"He's a multi-faceted, multi-positional two-way player," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters. "We like guys that can handle, pass, score, defend, rebound a little bit and just kind of come at you in waves with that."
Most had expected Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs to be Toronto's pick after US fans fell in love with him during the NCAA Tournament, but he fell to the Orlando Magic at number five.
The Okahoma City Thunder then took yet another 6-8 talent in Australia's Josh Giddey at number six in a move that caught many off guard.
It was more of the same with the following pick as the Golden State Warriors took Jonathan Kuminga, a player who can defend anyone and is unafraid to launch from three-point range.
It was that kind of night as NBA teams added young talent while trading players and picks in this and future drafts.
Because most transactions cannot become official until August 6, teams selected players they know they will not keep due to deals made ahead of and during the draft.
Those types of moves prevailed in the latter half of the first round, with numerous reported trades on the cards.
Among them, yet another versatile big man in Turkey's Alperen Sengun, who was drafted at number 16 by the Oklahoma City Thunder but reportedly will play for Houston.
The 6-foot-10 Sengun told reporters he believes his passing abilities will help him excel as other European imports have done before him.
"With my new team, Houston, I will bring something different on the court," he said. "I will do whatever it takes and whatever is needed."
As the lines between positions and roles continue to blur in the NBA, that approach has increasingly become the default setting across the board.
2021 NBA Draft first-round picks