Another draft season is upon us, and that means it is time to unveil the Step Back’s starting point for ranking 2020 NBA Draft prospects.
The 2019-20 NBA season kicked off a few weeks ago, and the college basketball season is upon us. That means that prospect evaluation for the 2020 NBA Draft is finally underway. This year’s draft class appears much stronger than the 2019 class, even with 2019’s rookies showing more promising flashes than expected early on. Overall, the 2020 draft class appears to have more depth, particularly at positions that matter. There is no Zion Williamson or Luka Doncic this time around (at least not right now), but there are two likely strong challengers for the top overall pick, and then a sea of potentially valuable role players later on.
The past few drafts have been trending towards finally catching up to the modern NBA skill demands, and 2020 is the first class that could really provide the NBA with multiple solid players at major positions of need. While the 2017 NBA Draft class was bogged down with a glut of traditional bigs and a virtual desert of wings, 2020 looks the way modern team building would want things to look — a couple of scheme changing guards at the top, several quality ball-handlers among the lottery picks, and then probably the deepest wing class in at least five years. This year’s class will almost assuredly net the NBA at least three top-15 NBA point guards just by playing the odds and is filled with specialist wings from defense-first athletic freaks like Isaac Okoro to versatile, or multi-dimensional shooters like Joe Wieskamp.
The big class is the class’s blind spot, and it comes at a perfect time, allowing the 2017 and 2018 classes that were filled with big men to phase through their careers in peace. There aren’t many spots available for lottery-level big men to play, and there aren’t many lottery-level big men, with only two bigs present in our lottery. Mainstream boards will feature a few more bigs, some even at the top of the draft, but it’s likely that those players are being at least somewhat over-ranked, and players like James Wiseman and Isaiah Stewart will find themselves further down the board by year’s end. We start with those players in (potentially shockingly) low spots because the burden of proof that their skills sets can not just succeed in college, but translate to winning, effective basketball at the NBA level should be met before ranking them where you’ll see them on many other boards.
This year will also see a slight change with the Step Back Big Board, which has been my own board for the past two years. With the great talent on hand for this season, you’ll see great 2020 NBA Draft coverage from our entire team. Jackson Frank will translate college film into a clear and concise projection to NBA roles. Ben Pfeifer will show you how athleticism manifests in NBA-level skill play. Brendon Kleen will continue to provide our weekly mock drafts, doing the dirty work of translating stocks rising and falling into how each player could fit in specific NBA roles. And Trevor Marks will man the ever-demanding ACC beat, hopefully helping to provide a particularly in-depth look at the player we project number one below. It would be a shame to not include their voices in these rankings as well, so we’ve combined forces to give you our consensus rankings every time there’s a new update.
Below, you’ll see rankings for our top 30 players to start the year and breakdowns of what to watch for with each player from Jackson and myself. And since there’s a lot of unknowns about how the draft will shake out, we’ve also included our top-75 watch list for the year.
Tier 1: Potential scheme-changing ball-handlers
The heralded North Carolina freshman is a dynamic offensive guard with pull-up shooting ability. He has a track record of success beyond the arc (37.4 percent in high school and EYBL) and at the free-throw line (88.2 percent). With functional strength and burst, Anthony is a lethal downhill scorer who projects to be one of the better interior scorers among NBA guards throughout his career. He should be a three-level scorer capable of creating space off the bounce for pull-ups — thanks to explosiveness and innate body control — and above-average rim frequency/efficiency.
While he’s still learning to balance play-making and scoring, he has shown a propensity for advanced passing reads and certainly meets the necessary threshold for primary ball-handlers; his pick-and-roll craft and manipulation is quite advanced for someone his age. Defensively, his motor, both on and off the ball, is inconsistent but he’s flashed enough competency that, when paired with his high-level functional athleticism, suggests he’s going to be just fine in the NBA. Monitoring him on that end is certainly a worthwhile endeavor, though. His strength and lateral agility are pluses on the ball while his IQ is impactful off the ball.
Anthony gets knocked among mainstream consensus for being viewed as a “finished product” but he’s clearly the best basketball player in the 2020 draft class and has dominated at virtually every turn in recent years. He wields a highly valuable skill set and drafting him provides any franchise with the long-term answer at point guard.
Edwards is a step behind Anthony to start the season, despite having a better superficial fit as a potential NBA star. Edwards is younger, has better size at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, and is reliant on stellar athletic indicators while displaying flashes of advanced skill. While Anthony is the more skilled shot-maker and creator now, the two-way potential as a playmaking wing should nudge Edwards ahead, right?
The problem is that Edwards does have to meet the burden of proof to deserve that number one ranking. Based on their prep profile, Anthony’s pull-up shooting and passing ability should project more confidently to being a high-level NBA player. Edwards, meanwhile, is more theoretical, because he needs to prove that he can shoot consistently off the dribble, make the right plays while running a halfcourt offense, and defend at a passable level, as his effort has been a question. The likelihood Edwards is able to answer some of these questions positively is high, given the role he’s likely to receive for Georgia and his positive growth indicators.
If Edwards proves himself as a scorer, his probable archetype is slightly more valuable than Anthony’s, so he deserves to be in Tier 1 for now.
Tier 2: Likely quality starters with upside
Look, there’s a lot not to like about LaMelo as a prospect. The Ball family drama hangs over everything, his effort level has been a consistent problem throughout his whirlwind high school career, and his shooting splits so far in Australia (38/29/69) have been very problematic. There’s an argument that he’s this year’s Deandre Ayton — the prospect who is worth taking this high, but is probably not the player you want your team drafting, as a fan.
But Ball is much more than what the casual observer knows of him. Beneath the drama is a 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7 wing with the absurd passing vision of his bother, the best shooting mechanics of the three brothers, and incredible fluidity both finishing around the rim and carving out space off the dribble. the shooting splits belie the fact that he’s playing 30.4 minutes per game as an 18-year old (compared to 22.7 for fellow NBL prospect R.J. Hampton), has an impressive 2.46 assist-to-turnover ratio, and is routinely being called upon as his team’s primary initiator and point of attack defender, things that are rarely asked of prospects in his situation. There’s a lot to iron out with Ball’s game, but talent-wise, he’s absolutely worth placing into this tier, and his placement here is due to far more than just buying into the hype he’s had since he was a 14-year old freshman at Chino Hills.
One of the best pure basketball players in the 2020 freshman class, Tyrese Maxey is a comfortable bet as an impactful NBA guy. He projects to be a high-level shooter (34.6 from deep, 81.1 at the line, between AAU and high school), combining elite touch with deep range and off-movement shooting upside. Defensively, he boasts functional upper and lower body strength that makes him a hounding on-ball defender capable of containing dribble penetration and even guarding up positions occasionally. His awareness and instincts shine through off the ball, where he constantly blows up passing lanes and has the short burst quickness to chase down balls.
He’s not a particularly manipulative passer but can make reads, even if he’s a bit risk-averse at times — though that’s also a testament to his impressive decision-making. The other hole in his game is as a downhill driver and tendency to avoid contact at the rim. Maxey has the quickness to take his man off the dribble. But he’ll reside on the perimeter, settle for awkward floaters or make shots at the rim more difficult than they need to be.
Regardless of these flaws, Maxey looks like a potential All-Defensive guard with versatile shooting and serviceable playmaking. His skill set is conducive to being a major plus on both ends of the floor and that’s why he exists as a top-five prospect on our board.
Avdija’s shooting indicators are pretty worrying for a wing, but those hide the rest of the picture — a player who is probably the class’s best two-way wing prospect. Avdija is a fluid athlete who can handle the ball in transition and attack off the dribble when the ball is swung to him, and he has the length and athleticism to function as a small-ball four in certain lineups. Defensively, he’s a competitive player who does very well mirroring ball-handlers and offering weak-side help, and it’s likely his immediate path to the NBA will be in a similar role to what he does for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli League — a bench wing who makes good decisions, keeps the offense flowing and the defense communicating and helps you win in transition consistently.
And while that doesn’t seem like a player worth a top-five pick, the upside of Avdija’s skill set is what should help him reach a higher level than what we’re seeing now. Avdija has been a dominant player at the youth level, and if he’s able to develop more consistent outside touch off-ball, his shooting could unlock a much higher ceiling for his offensive game. The threat of a shot will make his finishing and driving ability more potent, and he’s shown the ability to be a decent playmaker when dictating an offense as well. It will take a long time for him to get to the level of a Khris Middleton or Jimmy Butler type secondary offensive initiator, but that type of skill progression should be considered in Avdija’s future. Avdija can already defend at a competent level, and while he can’t shoot yet, he can dribble and pass. That makes for a pretty good wing prospect.
Finding this year’s Jarrett Culver (a player who comes from relative obscurity to legitimate top-level draft stock) is going to be a common theme among draft takes early in the season, but to us, that question has already been answered by Okoro’s entrance into the college basketball world. Despite being completely off the radar if you go by high school recruiting rankings, Okoro looks poised to be a very valuable NBA prospect, thanks mostly to his combination of size and awareness on the defensive end. Okoro projects to be one of college basketball’s best defenders on the wing this season, able to stay with quick wings off the dribble, with the size to play a lot of college four, and the positioning awareness to always be in the right spot and provide some value as a weak-side rim protector. Much has been made of what the Kentucky and Michigan State defenses are going to look like this year, but between Okoro and Anfernee McLemore, Auburn has the best two-defender combination in college basketball.
There are few better marriages of raw skill set and development planning than Okoro’s fit with the Tigers. They make the most of supremely gifted defensive wings, and Okoro is very likely the best they’ve had under Bruce Pearl. And it’s not just the defense that makes us sing Okoro’s praises; he’s also a skilled ball-handler and passer in the open court, and few wings in this freshman class figure to be as strong at finishing as Okoro is. He looks like the perfect role player for the NBA level, but there’s also real positive development capital here from the lens of turning him into a secondary playmaking wing. No one has really caught on yet to it, but Okoro figures to be a quick and gigantic riser once the season gets underway.
Tier 3: Lottery prospects
There’s a lot to like about Nico Mannion’s assortment of skills. He’s a creative passer, both in structured sets and impromptu situations. He has some ambidexterity as a playmaker. His shooting indicators (36.6 percent from deep and 82.3 percent at the line, between AAU and high school) — combined with quick shot prep and release off the bounce — mean his jumper will translate.
Mannion is a zippy North-South driver but a 6-foot-1 wingspan, underdeveloped strength and poor vertical burst make him, at best, a middling athlete. All of those traits dampen his offensive ceiling. That being said, he uses his frame well as a driver and uses his handle to manipulate defenses. His lateral burst hurts him on the ball while inconsistent off-ball awareness produces defensive breakdowns. Generally speaking, Mannion is a skilled player whose athletic profile likely hinders his upside, though I still believe in him as a top-10 prospect. The skill level and IQ are high, and his North-South quickness is a positive athletic trait.
Outside of Anthony, Maledon is the best pick-and-roll navigator in the draft class. Excellent coordination and a deceptive handle allow Maledon to carve out space with tantalizing footwork, and his ability to create strength advantages on the way to the rim. While not as strong or big as Luka Doncic, Maledon reminds of him in his ability to get to the rim despite elite burst, based on his ability to win every step after the first one. He’s also a fairly solid team defender at this stage thanks to good play recognition, despite his smaller frame.
Maledon won’t see a lot of playing time this year as a bench player for French League team ASVEL, but in the time he does get, it will be important to see how well he functions in an off-ball role. So far this season Maledon has been relatively turnover prone, but he has shown some value as a spot-up shooter. How well he continues to integrate into that role will be important, as he continues to grow as an on-ball creator.
It’s all about efficiency with Hayes. The French point guard has great size at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. He consistently shoots over 80 percent from the line, a good indicator for future shooting success. He is also another good defensive guard prospect in a class full of them, with active hands, good awareness for play recognition, and the ability to compete in what is a very complex defensive scheme for Ulm. Hayes has about all the tools you could ask for from a modern NBA guard.
But to be that player, he’s going to need to prove he can be more efficient with the basketball. Hayes’s touch hasn’t translated into success from deep, as he’s hitting just 29.7 percent from three this year. He’s also been horribly turnover prone, never posting a turnover rate lower than 18.9 percent in European play and currently turning the ball over at a 31.8 percent rate. It’s very difficult for a player to average over five assists per game and have an assist-to-turnover ratio of under 1.5, but Hayes is doing just that. And Hayes also needs to improve his efficiency of movement — too often on defense he makes the right read, but doesn’t get in the right position to contest a shot or drive quick enough, because he takes a winding path to get there. How these efficiency markers level out is going to be key for our evaluation of Hayes, because on talent, he’s arguably a top-five player in the class.
Welcome the #HurtLocker.
Hurt gets the top billing among a weak big man class because of his combination of functional athleticism, defensive instincts, and shot-making ability. While eyes will drift to Tre Jones and Vernon Carey on this year’s Duke team early on, Hurt has been establishing himself as their go-to scorer, displaying a versatile all-around game with good post-touch, quality mechanics on pick-and-pop 3s, and some very enticing fluidity as an off-the-dribble shooter. Defensively, Hurt is the poster child of how physical traits can be misleading for defensive potential — because the undersized Hurt routinely has shown glimpses of quality defensive play thanks to his awareness and footwork in space, and his outstanding general sense of positioning. He is absolutely a better defensive prospect than Carey despite Carey having all the physical tools in the world.
Hurt certainly doesn’t look the part, but he’s as skilled as any big in this class on both ends of the floor, and has a reasonable path to being a quality playoff contributor, because shooting bigs that can play sound team defense are a must-have on any playoff roster.
A versatile and highly intelligent big man, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has the makings of a high-level role player who fills various gaps in the frontcourt. He sports the ball-handling and fluidity to score on face-ups and has soft touch and coordination around the rim. Pair the latter two traits with his strength and he can attack mismatches down low. As a passer, Robinson-Earl is capable of executing drop-off feeds on the interior, being a connector in high-low sets or whirling dimes from the post to shooters. His court awareness is rather impressive and stands out in his distributing, off-ball feel and overall defense. He struggles with closeouts but displays light footwork and lateral mobility on switches to diversify defensive coverages. A 6-foot-9 wingspan hinders his finishing against length and his rim protection, though he regularly makes timely rotations.
It’s certainly possible Robinson-Earl levels out as a tweener, given his lack of length and 6-foot-9 build. Yet I believe in his fluidity, IQ, potential as a spot-up shooter and all-around skill package to not categorize him as a lottery talent.
Mann isn’t the best physical prospect, nor is he as well-regarded as the rest of this class’s bevy of guard prospects. But he is an X-factor to Florida’s season, and one of the players who could rise up the consensus draft boards as the season goes on. While not regarded as an elite offensive prospect, Mann checks a lot of boxes on the offensive end — he’s a good finisher with very good touch in the mid-paint, a confident off-ball shooter, and he has great passing touch and vision to help him keep the ball moving on offense. There’s a lot to like about his potential as at least a capable backup lead guard, with potential that he progresses strength-wise enough to be a long-term starter at the NBA level.
Much of Mann’s ultimate landing spot will likely come from opportunity. While he looks like one of the better guards in the class, Mann will have to coexist with Andrew Nembhard, an NBA prospect in his own right. The two lead guards will have to play a balancing act to keep Florida’s offense firing, and they do look capable of doing that. But that marriage may limit Mann’s ability to really show the extent of his capabilities prior to the draft, which could make him a huge steal in this class.
Our top center prospect, Tshiebwe blends an exciting package of skill and size that should make him a strong rim protector with offensive value. At 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and excellent leaping ability, Tshiebwe should offer a lot as a weakside shot blocker, and he’s strong enough to keep from getting bullied in the post by bigger opponents, as well. Combine that with valuable balance and agility on the defensive end, and it’s easy to see Tshiebwe in a Tristan Thompson-like role on the defensive end in the NBA, where he’s maybe not a traditional backline rim protector, but a player who takes the assignment of tailing the other team’s primary pick-and-roll big and is comfortable switching and containing guards off the dribble when needed.
Offensively, Tshiebwe brings much of the same skill package that James Wiseman has currently. He’s a ferocious dunker and is great at filling in space on the offensive end, and he also is further along in screen-setting than most of the center cohort, meaning he should easily pencil in as a pick-and-roll threat. But his mid-range game is also probably the best of any of the bigs who aren’t Matthew Hurt, and how well he’s able to translate that to pick-and-pops and pull-ups out of face-up opportunities will be something to watch this coming season.
Hampton is another of the danger players in this class — talented enough to deserve drafting in the lottery, but so far lacking in many of the finer areas that help turn that talent into real impact. Hampton is quick, agile, and a good finisher in the open court, and so far he’s been a pretty decent finisher against contact at the professional level. But he seems pretty firmly in the “off-ball guard” category from a role perspective, lacking the court vision and passing touch to really give confidence that he’ll be able to shoulder any meaningful load in the NBA. He also has questions about how well his driving ability is going to translate, given that he’s a very loose ball-handler who doesn’t always dribble with purpose, and he always feels a step slow in the decision-making process in the halfcourt. Those things aren’t massive problems in the NBL, just like they aren’t in college; but they’ll definitely make an impact in his overall NBA value, and these are major issues that need ironing out.
This may seem like a reach, but another year of physical maturity should do well for Queta, a raw two-way big who has good instincts but wasn’t always able to apply them as a freshman. Queta’s statistical indicators were impressive last year, and his film was also impressive — he has the quick-twitch athleticism and length to be an NBA-level rim protector, has the beginnings of a pretty good face-up game, and he’s the best passing big among the top tier of this class. Consistency was a problem for him in year one, but as a relatively unknown international prospect playing at a mid-major, Queta equipped himself about as well as one could last season for a sophomore breakout.
The issue to track for Queta will be whether he receives enough national attention to match his actual talent level. Queta is probably the most situation-dependent player of any in the top-15, as he’ll need continued tutoring and focus on the finer points of performing on the backline of an NBA defense. As a midmajor returning player, it’s unlikely that he’ll be high on many radars early in the season. Luckily, with Nevada out of the way in the Mountain West, Utah State should once again be a good bet to make the NCAA Tournament based around Queta, so there’s potential for him to gather the necessary momentum.
Tier 4: Possible first-round quality players
The term “zero on offense” usually means that a player will have minimal to no value on that side of the ball in the NBA, but Moore challenges the range of that definition. While he’s one of the best defensive prospects in the class, capable of switching across multiple positions, defending at the point of attack, and perhaps even providing some rim protection value, his offensive limitations will be what likely keep him out of the lottery conversation.
The shooting issue was the primary complaint heading into the season, as Moore’s funky jumper and lack of confidence to take open 3s were apparent in high-level competition. But he also appears to struggle with simple touch around the rim, a major problem when you get to the next level, and contact becomes more frequent and severe. Andre Roberson comps will fly for Moore, but Roberson was always at least a decent finisher, and definitely had the strength to absorb contact at the rim. Couple that with Moore’s dribbling, which has also been a continual issue, and it’s hard to see how he ever even becomes a transition threat in the NBA. But he may be good enough on defense for all of this to still not matter, and that’s why he’s in this tier.
The draw for Johnson is his size and ability to hit pull-up 3s, two things that are very helpful to becoming an NBA playmaker. There were times last season when Johnson seemed to be the best player on the floor for stretches even against elite opponents, and his highs are very high. But this year, he needs to show more consistency on the offensive end, especially as a finisher. Johnson can get to the rim — a much bigger prerequisite for guards than converting at this stage — but he converted at just a 51.2 percent rate last season, and that’s well below standard for a guy with his size and athleticism. The hope this year is that Johnson can take the steps forward needed to realize that athletic ability and make his physical traits into winning traits that will make him stand out in this guard class.
Jones performed admirably as Duke’s game manager next to Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish last season. He showed off the same court vision and off-ball defensive awareness that helped brother Tyus captain a national title team, and he should once again be a calming, steady hand on what will be a lesser talented, but probably more functional offensive team in Durham. The red flag on Jones, however, is his shooting, as his form is less than ideal and he contributed to last year’s recurrent stagnancy by hitting 28.6 percent from 3. If he doesn’t show improvement in that area, it’s hard to really see a functional path to starter-level point guard play in the NBA. And with the number of deserving point guard prospects in this class (Arguably Jones is the ninth-ranked point guard in this class, depending on how you classify Hayes and Maxey), it could be very easy for Jones to end up lost in the shuffle.
Stewart is one of the bigs who will be ranked much higher than this on most sites for the foreseeable future, but it’s important to categorize Stewart not by his recruiting ranking or what he can do at the college level, but by what he projects to be at the NBA level. Stewart is going to be one of the stronger college centers this year, just like he was in high school, and he does appear to be a very good rebounder particularly when it comes to clearing space under the basket. He also seems to be a pretty competitive player, and that’s going to matter when it comes to projecting him to the NBA.
But in terms of the actual skills he will need to utilize to succeed as a modern big man, there are a lot of questions. He’s not a good screen setter, so how will he be an upper-tier pick-and-roll big man? Without a threat of a jumper, what kind of face-up game can he have? Is he supposed to hang his hat on developing a pretty raw post-game? He’s bouncy, but is his timing on shot-blocking good enough? Will we even know given he’s playing in Washington’s zone?
A consistent theme of this draft class’s evaluation early on has been overvaluing the big men’s strength and athleticism, and under-valuing just how skilled bigs have to be to matter at the NBA level. Stewart gets billed as another Wendell Carter Jr. type, but he actually is probably closer to Ed Davis, who while a good player, can’t stick on one NBA team because of how replaceable his production is. How Stewart differentiates himself from the rest of the powerful, athletic bigs without skills in this class will be one of the biggest question marks of the year, especially if he’s still considered a top-five prospect come May.
Green will help make Arizona a very good transition team this year, as his athleticism and advanced handle should help him carve up opposing defenses on the break. The question is whether or not that’s enough. It’s unlikely that Green is going to develop into an off-the-dribble shot maker of much value, so how well he projects into a traditional wing role is going to be a big question for his ultimate draft value. It’s certainly possible that Green demonstrates both shooting prowess and team defensive capabilities that would make him a strong first-round prospect; but we’ve seen this type of player, who is more theory than substance, struggle before.
A versatile, smart defender, Tillman could steal the show from many of the other centers in this class to become one of the more dependable two-way bigs on the market. Tillman is probably the most advanced big on the board in terms of positioning, play recognition, and versatility, all of which made him a very important piece of Michigan State’s Final Four team last season. He also is a strong, reactive passer within the flow of the offense, has good touch, and probably will have some shooting utility in the future as well. Simply put, he’s as close to a jack-of-all-trades big man as we will see in this class, and seems very easy to pencil in as a quality third big. The question is how exactly his development needs to go to help him become more than that.
McDaniels was a thrilling high school player, but he’s difficult to project to the NBA level. He has solid athleticism and enough of a handle and shooting stroke to be a pretty good number one scoring option at the college level, but his skill set projects to being a high-level bench scorer in the NBA, rather than a starter-caliber scoring 4. McDaniels probably doesn’t have a good enough handle or court vision to e a focal point of an offense, but he also doesn’t really play enough around the fringes of the offense to fully blend into the background. He reminds us a lot of watching John Collins at Wake Forest, yet he probably doesn’t have the pick-and-roll gravity that helped Collins assimilate into the NBA 4 role. While McDaniels is probably more talented than the five guys ahead of him in this tier, it’s difficult to see that talent functionally translating to the NBA as well.
A very good defender with quick hands and demonstrated positional versatility, Sylla has potential as a 3/4 hybrid tasked with filling lanes as a cutter on offense and defending the more dominant scoring threat on the opposing wing to take pressure off a ball-dominant star. He’d be an ideal fit on a team like either Los Angeles squad, if he can progress as a finisher and shooter. The big hurdle for Sylla to clear is control, which is something that may be a little beyond the capability of the traditional development curve to solve. He’s a fairly sound defender from a technical standpoint, but he struggles to reign in his handle when attacking the rim, which makes him a minimalist on-ball threat. He’s going to need that to succeed at the NBA level.
It’s quite the divergence from the placement of Wiseman on most mainstream big boards, but as Jackson laid out in the piece linked above, Wiseman is far from the sure thing he’s been billed as, and is not even a safe bet to be an NBA player like Marvin Bagley was projected as two years ago. The appeal is there thanks to stellar strength and seemingly unimpeachable athleticism — but too often, Wiseman’s athleticism fails to be functional, and his inability to leap in tight spaces and make weakside rotations is rather concerning for someone who teams will look at as a game-changing two-way big.
Now, if he really does come out and display a more versatile, skilled offensive game that many (including, most importantly and likely concerningly, James Wiseman), believe he possesses, then there’s a definite cause for belief that he could be a top-five prospect in the class. But with all of the high level guards in the class, and the burden of proof still to be met in many regards, it’s hard to justify thinking of a player who seems likely to be little more than an energy big ahead of guys like Sylla and Tre Mann, much less ahead of Maxey and Edwards at the top. And if the NCAA’s ineligibility ruling passes, we won’t get a chance to meet that burden for the player who we most need a college sample from among the one-and-dones.
Florida’s depth of playmaking might squeeze Lewis into the background, but like Josh Green, he’s an absurdly athletic wing with a nice toolbox of potential skills to build on. The wing class has a consistent theme this year throughout — there’s plenty of variations of roles these guys could play, but there isn’t a single one that won’t cut it from an athleticism perspective. Discussing this year’s wing crop isn’t about finding NBA roles like it is for the big class. Instead, we’re accepting that these are all NBA-caliber role players for the most part, and our discussion centers on what the likely ceiling is for them.
Lewis is an interesting fit in that discussion, because he has a clearly decent baseline in pretty much every area, from passing to shooting off the dribble, to team defense. With all of the specialists in this tier, Lewis stands out because he’s pretty good at a lot, but it’s hard to peg down exactly what he’s going to do at a high enough level to get noticed by NBA standards. There’s certainly value in being a toolsy wing with few glaring weaknesses. But you have to bring a primary skill to the table, and it’s unclear what that is for Lewis currently.
Another competent big man with great physical tools. Petrusev will get the opportunity to man the 5 at Gonzaga with Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke gone, and will probably get plenty of opportunities to make his presence felt as a pick-and-roll finisher. He’s probably not mobile enough to be a very valuable NBA rim protector, but his rebounding and decision-making in the pick-and-roll are going to be important traits that help him become what will likely be a strong third big prospect.
Joe’s shooting bonafides speak for themselves (41.4 percent from 3 on eight attempts per game as a freshman). He showed great footwork coming off screens, and has one of the most fluid jumpers in the draft class. At 6-foot-5, he also has decent size despite a smaller frame, and he had a steal rate of 2.8 percent last season, a good indicator of the athleticism required to make it at the next level. Added strength is going to be his major proving point this season, as he finished at a subpar 55.2 percent at the rim last year, and he doesn’t likely have the build to be able to play much three. Joe is probably the most easily projectible shooting prospect this year but needs to show positive steps physically to earn much higher than this spot.
Achiuwa is Sylla’s id fully unleashed. Another wing who has all the physical tools on defense and none of the skill tools to survive on offense, Achiuwa compounds Sylla’s shaky handle problem with more reckless decision-making. Achiuwa’s Marcus Smart-esque disregard for his own physical well-being gives him good utility to potentially play up a position, but it also will likely manifest this year in foul trouble and less than ideal finishing numbers. He’s a physical specimen who will almost assuredly be a first-round pick if he proves capable of staying on the floor at the college level, but if he can’t become more disciplined, he probably has a hard cap as a bench prospect in the NBA.
Mobley isn’t going to get the same fanfare that his brother Evan will get when he arrives in 2020, but he does have some scoring talent as a 6-foot-10 big that can pull up from 18 feet reliably and is a decent finisher around the rim. Decision-making and defensive value will be the question marks with Mobley’s projection, and there is some wonder as to whether he will actually go one-and-done, especially if Evan is actually coming to USC next year. If he does, he is going to be one of those project players who might be worth taking late in the first round.
It’s bizarre to see a DePaul player even sniff the NBA Draft radar, but the power forward from Detroit is a legitimate NBA prospect. Great athleticism and solid shooting indicators drive Weems’s stock, and he appears to have enough tools to be able to sneak into the lottery conversation if he plays well for the Blue Demons. Ideally, Weems fits in as a Thaddeus Young type that can play some on the wing and defend up to the 5, with the caveat that his shooting will be his primary avenue to that type of role, rather than Young’s cutting and passing. But Young was also much more disciplined than Weems, especially on defense, and that could be a challenge for him to overcome this year.
Tier 5: Other players to watch
We obviously can’t capture everyone that should be on your radar for the 2020 NBA Draft. In 2018, Trae Young wasn’t on our (or almost any) preseason boards, and in 2019, Brandon Clarke rose from No. 98 on our initial board to No. 5 at season’s end. That said, we can still give you a list of names to watch, players who may be poised for a breakout or should be considered on the NBA radar, either for this year or beyond. To us, all of these players are basically on the same footing, so rather than try to parse through rankings, the players in this crop are listed alphabetically. Most should be considered second-round or long-term prospects, but there’s probably at least one top-20 talent in the draft class among the names below.
Ochai Agbaji SF
Athletic wing big on finishing, low on skill
Desmond Bane SF
One of the class's best 3-and-D senior wings
Charles Bassey C
Traditional great rebounding big that needs to show skill progression
Vrenz Bleijenbergh SF
Belgian forward, a long-term draft and stash lottery ticket
Garrison Brooks PF
Energetic four who will benefit from increased role on elite team
Vernon Carey C
Rated higher most places, Carey might be more Marques Bolden than Marvin Bagley in terms of NBA potential
D.J. Carton PG
Good at a lot of PG skills, not elite at any
N'Faly Dante PF
Will miss the first half of the year (ineligible)
Ayo Dosunmu PG
Solid defensive PG looking to hit next level of offensive play
Devon Dotson PG
Really good off-ball guard with unfortunate PG size
Nojel Eastern SG
Brilliant defensive wing with minimal shooting value
Tyrese Haliburton PG
Truly unique PG prospect that needs to prove he can shoot
Rayshaun Hammonds PF
Productive offensive big with stock dependent on Anthony Edwards' impact
Aaron Henry SF
3-and-D wing in need of much larger role
Dejon Jarreau SG
Volume shooting guard built for NBA bench role
Rokas Jokubaitis SG
One of the most creative passers in the class
Markell Johnson PG
Undersized, efficient scoring point guard
Isaiah Livers SF
Big bodied versatile switching wing
A.J. Lawson SG
Canadian 3-and-D wing with emphasis on 3
Naji Marshall SF
Deceptive stats hide a potentially massive upside for a scoring wing
Nikita Mikhailovskii PG
Russian guard with as many dribble moves as letters in his last name
E.J. Montgomery PF
Solid rebounder, but can he do other things?
Andrew Nembhard PG
High volume of playmaking, low scoring value
Aaron Nesmith PF
Raw athlete in new situation that could show off his ceiling
Jordan Nwora SF
Theoretically great; in practice, a decision-making mess
Onyeka Okongwu C
The fearsome shot blocker from Chino Hills, the question is whether he can do other things
Reggie Perry PF
An absolute hoss under the basket, but is he big enough for the NBA?
Jalen Pickett PG
Siena guard who would be 1974's best point guard prospect
Myles Powell PG
Absolute flamethrower, college basketball's best shooting point guard
Trevelin Queen PG
Big PG with great on ball skills looking for major breakout campaign
Dru Smith SG
Small wing with great two-way indicators two years ago at Evansville
Jalen Smith C
No Bruno Fernando means center minutes, which is his real NBA position
Jon Teske C
Quietly one of this class's smartest defenders
Killian Tillie PF
Overcome injury history, and he's a first-round prospect
Devin Vassell SG
Big breakout candidate as an aggressive two-way wing
C.J. Walker SF
Impressive ball skills for a big wing drive his draft stock
M.J. Walker SG
Another member of what's becoming a long line of NBA-caliber defensive wings for the Noles
Aaron Wheeler PF
Stretch capabilities on offense, impressive impact on defense. Now see if it translates to a bigger role.
Kahlil Whitney SF
Effective athlete with NBA size, but needs to not be Keldon Johnson
Joe Wieskamp SG
Versatile shooting prospect with deceptive athleticism
Alondes Williams SF
Wild card prospect trying to break through after dominating Juco
Trevion Williams C
A workhorse college big that probably is too limited for the NBA
Samuel Williamson SF
Underrated prospect with great intersection of off-movement shooting and athleticism
Cassius Winston PG
The presumptive National Player of the Year
Arturs Zagars PG
Rail thin point guard that's high on skill, and should finally get playing time this year