Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer hailed Giannis Antetokounmpo for his role in ending the "cold" reigning champions' three-game skid with Tuesday's win over the Detroit Pistons.

Antetokounmpo finished with 28 points, nine assists, nine rebounds and four blocks in a commanding all-round performance which improved the Bucks to 4-4.

The Bucks were again missing Jrue holiday (ankle), Donte Divincenzo (ankle), Brook Lopez (back) and Khris Middleton (COVID-19) but got the win Budenholzer said they needed.

"We needed this. I thought he [Giannis] set the tone defensively," Budenholzer said during the post-game news conference.

"He blocked a lot of shots. It felt like he was everywhere defensively. We wanted to come out and give a good defensive mindset and I thought he did that. He obviously played well, shot well, got in a good rhythm."

Budenholzer said the side "went a little cold for a few games" with their shooting during their three-game losing run.

The Bucks improved in that area, shooting at 50 per cent from the field and 45.9 per cent from three-point range.

Pat Connaughton led the way from beyond the arc with four-from-five three-pointers among his 16 points, while Jordan Nwora added 16 points off the bench.

"We needed this tonight. We needed a good game," Budenholzer said.

"I talked about setting the tone defensively and good things happen offensively when you do that."

LeBron James recorded his second double-double of the season and first since opening night as the streaking Los Angeles Lakers withstood the Houston Rockets 119-117 on Tuesday.

James, who was a game-time decision again with his niggling ankle issue, scored 30 points – including two-of-four shooting from three-point – range along with 10 assists, four rebounds and two steals. The four-time NBA MVP added 14 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers had led by eight points in the final quarter but escaped with the win, improving their record to 5-3 on the back of three straight victories, as Kevin Porter Jr.'s three-point attempt to steal the game on the buzzer rimmed out.

Star trio James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook scored a collective 84 points in their most productive game together after the latter arrived from the Washington Wizards in the offseason.

Davis added 27 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while former MVP Westbrook had 27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

 

Paul third for all-time assists

Chris Paul had 18 assists along with 14 points and seven rebounds to help the Phoenix Suns overcome a 20-point deficit in their rallying 112-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Paul moved past Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into third for all-time NBA assists. The Suns guard has 10,336 assists, behind only John Stockton (15,806) and Jason Kidd (12,091).

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 28 points, eight rebounds and nine assists as reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks ended their three-game skid with a 117-89 win against the struggling Detroit Pistons.

Kyle Lowry drained six three-pointers among his 22 points and nine assists as the red-hot Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks 125-110. Luka Doncic scored 33 points for the Mavs.

 

Clarkson's three-point woes

Utah Jazz point guard Jordan Clarkson shot poorly, going one of 11 from beyond the arc, scoring only two points in their 119-113 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks confirmed two-time All-Star Khris Middleton has tested positive for coronavirus.

Middleton had missed Sunday's 107-95 loss to the Utah Jazz with "illness" and was again absent from the Bucks team to play the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who had said after the Jazz defeat that the illness was not COVID-related, confirmed prior to the Pistons clash Middleton had since entered the NBA's health and safety protocols.

"We thought he just had a head cold or some type of non-COVID illness," Budenholzer told reporters. "And then, [he] didn't feel good again the next day. Got tested and has come back positive."

The Bucks, who have lost three consecutive games to slip to a 3-4 record, are already missing Jrue Holiday (ankle), Donte Divincenzo (ankle) and Brook Lopez (back).

Under the NBA's health and safety protocols, Middleton must sit out for 10 days minimum, meaning he may miss more than seven games stretching until next Friday's battle against the Boston Celtics.

"It's a challenge to figure out who's available, to get the best groupings out there and how we can get through a game and not really wear down the guys that are healthy," Budenholzer said.

Middleton becomes the third NBA player to test positive to COVID-19 this week, following Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love.

The Tokyo Olympics gold medallist averaged 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists across the Bucks' title-winning 2020-21 season.

Milwaukee have failed to lead at any point in three different games this season, including their loss on Sunday per Stats Perform. Last season, the Bucks held a lead in all 72 of their games.

The Bucks have won 10 straight games against Detroit – tied for Milwaukee's longest active win streak against any opponent (also the Sacramento Kings). It is also the longest win streak by either team in the series history.

James Harden recorded his first triple-double of the season as the Brooklyn Nets claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this NBA campaign in a 117-91 victory over the lowly Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

Harden finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists after three quarters, while Nets team-mate Kevin Durant top-scored with 23 points but was ejected in the third quarter for shoving his elbow into Kelly Olynyk's face.

Former MVP Harden has had a slow start to 2021-22, however, he backed up his season-high 29 points against the Indiana Pacers on Friday with another impressive showing which will encourage the championship-chasing Nets (4-3) that he is getting back to his best after an injury-impacted offseason.

Harden hit four three-pointers as the superstar guard – already Brooklyn's all-time triple-double leader with 13 – joined Hall of Famer Larry Bird for second on the NBA's all-time list with 59.

 

Mitchell leads Jazz past struggling champs

Donovan Mitchell starred with 28 points, including a treble of first-quarters three-pointers as the Utah Jazz hit their first five attempts from range in a 107-95 win against slumping champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Bucks, who have lost three in a row.

Carmelo Anthony – who is shooting a career-high 50 per cent and 52.2 per cent from three this season – scored 23 points off the bench, while LeBron James had 15 points, seven rebounds and assists in the Los Angeles Lakers' 95-85 triumph over the Houston Rockets.

Luka Doncic led the way for the Dallas Mavericks with 23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in a 105-99 victory against the Sacramento Kings.

 

Dame cold in Blazers loss

All-Star Damian Lillard's shooting was wayward as the Portland Trail Blazers were downed 125-113 by the Charlotte Hornets, hitting two from 14 from three-point range for a below-standard 14-point return.

NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks suffered consecutive defeats after being upstaged by the San Antonio Spurs 102-93.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted a double-double of 28 points and 13 rebounds, but the Bucks still suffered back-to-back losses on Saturday.

The Spurs (2-4) trumped the Bucks (3-3) on the road in Milwaukee thanks to point guard Dejounte Murray, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the final period.

Murray entered the contest having put up 44 points, 22 rebounds and 23 assists over his previous two games – the only Spurs player in the last 30 seasons to have had at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists over a two-game span, according to Stats Perform.

"Obviously, it's a good win against the NBA champions," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the Bucks were again without Jrue Holiday due to an ankle injury. "They were missing a pretty big piece tonight but it happens to all of us."

 

 

76ers gain some revenge as Heat sizzle

Facing the Atlanta Hawks for the first time since being surprisingly eliminated in last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Philadelphia 76ers routed their rivals 122-94. Tobias Harris fuelled the 76ers with 22 points and 11 rebounds, joining Joel Embiid as the only 76ers players this season with 20-10 games.

The high-flying Miami Heat finished one short of setting a new franchise record after sinking 21 three-pointers in their 129-103 victory at the Memphis Grizzlies. Jimmy Butler led the way with 27 points.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic starred with 26 points and 19 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Minnesota Timberwolves 93-91.

Double-doubles from Deandre Ayton (17 points and 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (16 points and 10 assists) helped last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-92.

 

Jazz taste defeat

The Utah Jazz were the last unbeaten team remaining having opened their season 4-0, until the new-look Chicago Bulls spoiled the party with a 107-99 win.

The Golden State Warriors lost for the first time this NBA season, Stephen Curry and his team-mates outlasted 104-101 by the rallying Memphis Grizzlies after overtime.

Golden State were riding a 4-0 record – their sixth such start to a campaign in franchise history – but the Warriors came unstuck at home to the Grizzlies on Thursday.

Having forced overtime with a 25-19 fourth quarter, Ja Morant's Grizzlies outscored the Warriors 6-3 in OT to inflict a first loss of the season on Golden State.

Morant – leading the league with 30.4 points per game this season – fuelled the Grizzlies with 30 points on the road after overturning a 19-point deficit.

 

Curry, who did not score in the fourth quarter or OT, had a game-high 36 points as the Warriors ended the game with 22 turnovers.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls – enjoying their first 4-0 start to a season since 1996-97 – also lost for the first time in 2021-22, edged 104-103 by the New York Knicks.

 

Embiid leads the way, Jazz stay undefeated

Despite a sore right knee, last season's MVP runner-up Joel Embiid inspired the Philadelphia 76ers to a 110-102 victory over the winless Detroit Pistons. Embiid had 30 points and 18 rebounds. The 76ers star put up 19 points and 12 boards in the opening half – the sixth time since the start of last season he has posted a point-rebound double-double in a half, tied for seventh in the NBA during that span.

The Utah Jazz – last season's Western Conference top seeds – are the lone unbeaten team in the league after routing the Houston Rockets 122-91. All-Star Rudy Gobert (16 points and 14 rebounds) recorded another double-double. According to Stats Perform, it is the first time ever the Jazz are the last remaining undefeated side in the NBA.

 

Slumping Spurs lose again

The San Antonio Spurs lost their fourth consecutive game, this time falling to rivals the Dallas Mavericks 104-99.

Kevin Huerter was one of the surprising stars of the Atlanta Hawks' run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but he struggled in the 122-111 loss at the Washington Wizards. He was scoreless in 14 minutes, having missed all four of his shots from the field.

Giannis Antetokounmpo came close to a triple-double as reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks took down the Indiana Pacers 119-109 on Monday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, as well as two blocks and a steal to fuel the Bucks.

Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton provided good scoring support with 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists, including a remarkable three-pointer on the first-quarter buzzer.

Milwaukee pulled away throughout the game, leading by 15 points at the final change, having no issues in Jrue Holiday (ankle) and Brook Lopez's (back) absence.

While the Bucks improved to 3-1, the Pacers slipped to a 1-3 record despite Domantas Sabonis' 21 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

 

 

Bulls maintain perfect start

The Chicago Bulls improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97 thanks to a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls led by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining before Fred VanVleet (15 points and a career-high 17 assists) missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to send it to overtime.

Jayson Tatum posted 41 points, including six three-pointers, with seven rebounds and eight assists as the Boston Celtics outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 140-129 after overtime. The Celtics closed the extra period with a 14-0 run to storm to victory.

Paul George had a career-high eight steals along with 16 points as the Los Angeles Clippers won 116-86 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Luke Kennard added 23 points.

Jonas Valanciunas put up 22 points and a career-high 23 points as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a season-opening three-game skid by topping the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-98.

 

Harden's radar still off

The Brooklyn Nets improved their record to 2-2 with a 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards although James Harden's shooting radar was off. The former MVP finished five of 17 from the field, including going at 12.5 per cent from beyond the arc for his 14 points.

Damian Lillard continues to struggle for the Blazers this season. The All-Star finished four-of-15 shooting against the Clippers, while he missed all eight of his three-point attempts. Lillard has made two of 24 three-pointers this season (8.3 per cent). He is shooting 34 per cent overall.

Zach LaVine is "excited" and brimming with confidence for the NBA season ahead following the Chicago Bulls' 94-88 win over the Detroit Pistons in their opening game.

The All-Star guard dragged his team to victory with a superb individual performance, with 34 points, seven rebounds and four assists - his best tally in a season-opener.

LaVine feels a new-look Bulls side can look ahead with plenty of optimism.

"This ain't last year. We're looking forward now," LaVine said. "It's a whole new team. A whole new mindset. So, I'm excited that we ground that one out. A win's a win.

"I'm always confident. I put the work in but having this dude [DeMar DeRozan] next to me, having Vooch [Nikola Vucevic] next to me, that just makes me more confident and more ready to play.

"We have a bunch of dogs on the team now and guys that will step up for each other so I'm really excited, but a win's a win and we're going to go forward from here."

The Bulls' victory was their first on an opening day since 2016 and head coach Billy Donovan had plenty of praise for LaVine's talent as he hopes to lead the team to the playoffs after a four-year absence.

"The shots that he made and things that he does with athletically and talent-wise, I think people have seen that for years," Donovan said. "He's always kind of had that.

"I think he's looking at things through a different lens. His voice is there. There's a different message coming from him in a really, really different way. He sees things in a different way now, based off his experiences."

The Philadelphia 76ers put aside the Ben Simmons drama for 48 minutes as the championship-chasing team opened their NBA season with a 117-97 win at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Simmons was nowhere to be seen in New Orleans after the disgruntled All-Star – demanding a trade – was suspended on Tuesday for "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice by head coach Doc Rivers.

The 76ers – last season's Eastern Conference top seeds – played without Simmons on Wednesday and made light work of the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans behind Joel Embiid (22 points), Furkan Korkmaz (22 points), Tobias Harris (20 points and 12 rebounds) and new starting point guard Tyrese Maxey (20 points, seven rebounds and five) for their first season-opening road win since 2004.

Korkmaz sizzled in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points on four-for-four shooting from three-point range – the most points in a quarter by a Sixers bench player since Lou Williams in 2011.

 

 

LaMelo leads Hornets rally, Brown has career night

LaMelo Ball put on a show as he helped the Charlotte Hornets come back to pip the Indiana Pacers 123-122. The reigning Rookie of the Year put up 31 points, including seven three-pointers – tying a career high, nine rebounds and seven assists to fuel Charlotte's rally. The Hornets used a 24-0 run – in which Ball scored 12 points – in the third period to the stun the Pacers. Chris Duarte (27 points, six three-pointers and five rebounds) became the first Pacers rookie with 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus threes in a game since Jamaal Tinsley in 2002.

A career-high 46 points from Jaylen Brown was not enough as the Boston Celtics lost a wild showdown with the New York Knicks 138-134 after double overtime. Brown's tally was the most points ever by a Celtics player in a season opener. The Knicks withstood the Celtics thanks to Julius Randle (35 points) and debutant Evan Fournier, whose 32 points were the most by a player on debut in franchise history.

Jo Morant had 37 points – the second most on opening night in franchise history, behind only his 44-point haul last season – in the Memphis Grizzlies' 132-121 win at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Memphis posted 73 points by half-time – tying the fifth-highest first-half scoring total in their history.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's 27 points and 13 rebounds guided the Denver Nuggets past last season's NBA Finals participants the Phoenix Suns 110-98.

CJ McCollum (34 points), Damian Lillard (20 points and 11 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (20 points and 14 rebounds) combined for 74 points but the Portland Trail Blazers still lost 124-121 to the Sacramento Kings, who were led by Harrison Barnes' 36 points and eight three-pointers.

 

Forgettable debut for Rockets rookie

The second pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Jalen Green endured a baptism of fire midweek. The Houston Rockets rookie finished with nine points on four-of-14 shooting from the field, while he made just one of six three-pointers. His minus-37 was the worst plus-minus by a Rockets rookie in a game in the last 20 seasons – tied for the fourth worst by any Rocket in that span. The Rockets were taken down 124-106 by Minnesota Timberwolves trio Karl-Anthony Towns (30 points and 10 rebounds), Anthony Edwards (29 points) and D'Angelo Russell (22 points).

Back on home court for the first time since February 2020, the Toronto Raptors' long-awaited return to Canada ended in a disappointing 98-83 loss to the Washington Wizards. Toronto missed 19 of their first 21 three-pointers, finishing seven of 34 from beyond the card. They were just 30.9 per cent from the field overall.

Suns star Devin Booker was far from his best against the Nuggets, finishing three-of-15 shooting for 12 points in 30 minutes of action.

On the eve of the 2021-22 NBA season, the league appears well-positioned with as much talent and star power as in any year in recent memory. 

Future Hall of Famers like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant remain at the centre of the basketball universe, while a younger generation led by Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson continues to grow stardom. 

But the most recent additions to the league – those in the 2021 NBA Draft class – appear to be in prime position to make their mark in their rookie seasons. 

This year's class of rookies was targeted years ago as a deep crop of talented prospects, and some of the most coveted players landed in situations that will allow them to contribute immediately. 

Early and frequent contributions – in combination with the NBA's current wide-open, high-scoring style of play – mean that this year's talented rookie class has a chance to make history. 

Shaq and Co. set the standard

The top five picks from the 1992 draft class averaged 19.0 points per game in the 1992-93 season, the most by the top quintet of first-year players since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. That class featured Shaquille O'Neal (23.4 points per game), Alonzo Mourning (21.0), Christian Laettner (18.2), Jim Jackson (16.3) and LaPhonso Ellis (14.7) taken with the first five picks. 

The top five from 2018 was the highest-scoring rookie class in recent memory by averaging 17.3 points, led by Doncic (21.2 points per game) and Trae Young (19.1). 

Michael Jordan's 28.2-point rookie scoring average boosted the top quintet from the 1984 class to 16.9 points per game. 

 

The high end of the lauded 2003 class – which included James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – averaged 15.9 points per game despite scant contributions from the infamous Darko Milicic (1.4 points per game). 

But can this year's top five picks compete with some of the best draft classes in league history?

Green already impressing in Houston

The Detroit Pistons took Cade Cunningham number one overall, the Houston Rockets selected Jalen Green second and the Orlando Magic picked Jalen Suggs number five – three natural scorers on the perimeter who landed on teams deep in the rebuilding process. 

Cunningham and Suggs both averaged more than 15 points in Las Vegas Summer League action, while Green was a top-10 scorer there, averaging 20.3 points in just 24.1 minutes. 

Detroit and Orlando ended last season with two of the youngest five rosters in the NBA, making it likely that they feature their rookies early and often in the 2021-22 campaign. 

Cunningham has been held out all preseason after suffering a sprained ankle in a late-September practice, but Pistons head coach Dwane Casey classified the injury as "mild", giving Detroit hope that the top pick will be available for the team's season-opening game on Wednesday. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who selected versatile big man Evan Mobley number three overall, seem to have intentions of making a playoff push and have more experienced players inside like Jarrett Allen, Lauri Markkanen and the estranged Kevin Love. A slight frame and Cleveland's crowded frontcourt could limit Mobley's minutes in his first year, but he has shown his versatility in exhibition play, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds while averaging 11.7 points per game in Summer League and exhibition play. 

Scottie Barnes was drafted fourth overall by the Toronto Raptors and, like Mobley, is more of an all-around player than a pure scorer, but the six-foot-nine forward has averaged 10.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists in his first three exhibition games, handling the ball plenty for a team that lost Kyle Lowry this offseason. 

Potential for eye-popping numbers

It is far too early to count on the 2021 class to be one of the best in recent memory, but today's rookies have the advantage of putting up big numbers in a high-scoring league, especially with each of the top five selections showing promise from three-point range. 

When LeBron James was a rookie in 2003-04, teams scored an average of 93.4 points per game and attempted 79.8 field goals per game. Last season's league scoring average was 112.1 points, a 20 per cent increase, and a typical team launched 88.4 shots, up nearly 11 per cent. 

Last season saw 32 different players score at least 20 points per game. Just a decade ago, only 19 players hit that milestone. 

The NBA's pace and scoring continue to rise, and young players are seeing statistical bumps as well. Last year's top pick, Anthony Edwards, struggled to begin his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He finished the season by scoring at least 15 points in 36 of his last 40 games and averaged 23.5 points per game over that span.

 

Cunningham, Green and Suggs are all considered better outside shooters than Edwards was heading into his rookie season, and this crop of rookies could let it fly from three-point range early and often. 

While the ultimate verdict on the 2021 draft class will be decided several years down the line, the door is open for some of league's most coveted prospects to put up eye-popping numbers in today's wide-open NBA. 

Cade Cunningham might experience "growing pains" but will not "be a bust", insists Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey.

The Pistons selected Cunningham out of Oklahoma State with the first overall pick in this year's draft.

Much is expected of the 20-year-old as he seeks to lift Detroit, who finished bottom of the East last season having been in the playoffs as recently as 2019.

Cunningham scored 20.1 points per game in college last year and should offer help to Jerami Grant on offense.

After Grant's 22.3 points in 2020-21, Derrick Rose (14.2) was the team's next-best scorer, and he left for the New York Knicks after 15 games.

It meant the Pistons had the fourth-worst offense in the NBA (106.6 points per game).

Cunningham, who had 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks, is a two-way talent, but the need is less pressing on the defensive end of the floor, where Detroit ranked 10th in giving up 111.1 points.

The focus will certainly be on his scoring, yet Casey is happy to stay patient with the team's young new star.

"One thing I know: Cade won't be a bust. He's not. That's one thing, you can guarantee that," Casey said. "But there will be growing pains.

"We have to be supportive. He's going to have a target on his back each and every night, and it's something that [we], his team-mates, the coaching staff, the whole organisation [have] to make sure we support him.

"There's going to be some nights he scores seven and there's going to be some nights he scores 25."

Reflecting on his status as a number one pick, Cunningham said he was "just writing my own story" and added: "This is a different pressure than I've ever faced before, I guess, but I don't really look at it as pressure.

"It's more an opportunity to show people something than to think about all the bad things that can happen."

He echoed Casey's sentiments, however, as he said: "I know it's the NBA and nothing is given to you.

"You have to be humble coming in and just take it for what it is, just try to work your way up. I feel like if you can be consistent every day and just work hard, the good things will come.

"I'm not really going to press, trying to force the issue too early. I want to make sure everything is smooth with the squad and be patient."

Fans got their first glimpse of top NBA Draft pick Cade Cunningham in Detroit Pistons colors on Sunday as he scored 12 points in the Summer League.

The 19-year-old drained two early three-pointers in his 12-point haul along with six rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes for the Pistons, who went down 76-72 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Expectations are high for Cunningham with Detroit who finished bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 20-52 record last season and have not won a playoff game since 2008.

"It was fun getting to put the jersey on for the first time," Cunningham said after the game.

"Obviously, we wanted a win out of this, but we spent the last week beating on each other. It’s our first time being able to get to go and be with each other and really try to get this chemistry down.

"We got a lot from this game we can learn from. That’s the main thing you want out of your first game. Now we’re going to try to keep building off of that."

He added: "I wanted to step into the game confident, ready to shoot, ready to play. To see the first two go down, it’s a good feeling. Now it’s building off of that."

Cunningham played the first half alongside 20-year-old French guard Killian Hayes, who was selected seventh overall in the 2020 Draft, with the pair likely to be the side's main ballhandlers.

"I think more than anything, we’re on the same page mentally in where we want this team to be," Cunningham said.

"Now it’s about having a better feel for each other. We haven’t played a lot together."

He added: "We have so much time to build and grow from this. We are not going to hang our heads off of this one game."

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. 

"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

1. Detroit Pistons – Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
2. Houston Rockets – Jalen Green, USA
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Evan Mobley, USC
4. Toronto Raptors – Scottie Barnes, Florida State
5. Orlando Magic – Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
6. Oklahoma City Thunder – Josh Giddey, Australia
7. Golden State Warriors – Jonathan Kuminga, Congo
8. Orlando Magic – Franz Wagner, Michigan
9. Sacramento Kings – Davion Mitchell, Baylor
10. New Orleans Pelicans – Ziaire Williams, Stanford (traded to Grizzlies)
11. Charlotte Hornets – James Bouknight, Connecticut
12. San Antonio Spurs – Josh Primo, Alabama
13. Indiana Pacers – Chris Duarte, Oregon
14. Golden State Warriors – Moses Moody, Arkansas 
15. Washington Wizards – Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
16. Oklahoma City Thunder – Alperen Sengun, Turkey (reportedly traded to Rockets)
17. Memphis Grizzlies – Trey Murphy III, Virginia (traded to Pelicans)
18. Oklahoma City Thunder – Tre Mann, Florida
19. New York Knicks – Kai Jones, Texas (reportedly traded to Hornets)
20. Atlanta Hawks –Jalen Johnson, Duke
21. New York Knicks – Keon Johnson, Tennessee
22. Los Angeles Lakers – Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky (traded to Pacers via Wizards)
23. Houston Rockets – Usman Garuba, Spain
24. Houston Rockets – Josh Christopher, Arizona State
25. Los Angeles Clippers – Quentin Grimes, Houston (reportedly traded to Knicks)
26. Denver Nuggets – Nah'Shon Hyland, VCU
27. Brooklyn Nets – Cam Thomas, LSU
28. Philadelphia 76ers – Jaden Springer, Tennessee
29. Phoenix Suns – Day'Ron Sharpe, North Carolina (reportedly traded to Nets)
30. Utah Jazz – Santi Aldama, Loyola (reportedly traded to Grizzlies)

In the end, there really was no suspense. The Detroit Pistons made the expected move, taking Cade Cunningham with the top pick in the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday. 

The Houston Rockets followed up by selecting Jalen Green second overall and the Cleveland Cavaliers took Evan Mobley third. 

Though everyone had predicted for months that Cunningham would be the top pick, he still had to take time to collect himself after NBA commissioner Adam Silver called his name. 

"It's still crazy to be in the moment," Cunningham told ESPN. "Words can't really describe the emotions. ... I'm just so happy to be here and I'm ready to see what I can do at the next level."

The 19-year-old Cunningham starred in his only season at Oklahoma State, earning consensus All-America honours after averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

At 6-foot-8, he looks like a forward but plays like a guard and is comfortable creating shots for his team-mates and scoring on his own. 

Green, 19, skipped college to go straight to the NBA G League Ignite developmental team. The 6-foot-6 guard is a natural scorer who should provide the Rockets and immediate boost on the offensive end. 

Mobley, 20, is known for his two-way abilities, excelling on offence and defence in his lone season at Southern California. The 7-footer averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocks for the Trojans. 

The Detroit Pistons will have the first overall selection in the NBA Draft for the first time in 51 years. 

Detroit won the NBA Draft lottery Tuesday after finishing with the second-worst record in the league (20-52) this season. 

The Houston Rockets (17-55) will pick second overall, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Pistons, Rockets and Magic each had 14 per cent odds to earn the top pick, while the Thunder and Cavaliers had the next-best chance at 11.5 per cent. 

The Pistons last had the first overall pick in 1970, when they selected Hall of Famer Bob Lanier. 

It will be Detroit's highest selection since the Pistons infamously took Darko Milicic second overall in 2003 -- behind only LeBron James but ahead of future Hall of Famers Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. 

Heading into the July 29 draft, most analysts have tipped Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State as the likely top pick. 

 

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