Anthony Edwards and Cole Anthony have separated themselves as the top players in the 2020 NBA Draft, plus other thoughts after the first month of college basketball.
The 2020 NBA Draft picture is starting to take shape. Six weeks into the NBA season, we know who a few of the teams who will be picking at the top of the draft are. The Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, New Orleans Pelicans, Atlanta Hawks, and somehow, the Golden State Warriors, are our likely top five in lottery odds. Meanwhile, we’re a month into the college basketball season, which has helped us sort out who the players are that will be headed to those destinations.
The first month of the season is typically an enlightening one. Despite our best efforts, projecting a preseason ranking is often a futile exercise, as high school situations and the outrageous athleticism gap between elite prospects and their peers make figuring out which freshmen will hit tough, and it’s hard to predict who among the returners will surprise us with an unexpected development.
With a month of college data (and two months for international players), things start to come together, although it’s still far too early to make any legitimate claims about the strength of the class. Every year around this time, proclamations of how bad the year’s draft crop looks start to come up, only to go away once April comes around and we can properly put the class in context. Nevermind that this is almost always because at this point we’ve started to discard the players we thought would be good but have disappointed, but hesitate to truly promote the players we didn’t see coming. That creates a gaping hole in the second and third tiers of the board, hence the hand-wringing about class depth. Remember that at this point last year Bol Bol and Cam Reddish were popular top-five pick candidates still, and Jarrett Culver and Coby White were ranked in the 20s on most boards.
This year, the pattern re-emerges. Things look like they take a pretty steep drop-off after Anthony Edwards, but that may just be because preseason favorites like Deni Avdija have disappointed. It’s also probably too early to be too bullish on guys like Onyeka Okongwu and Aaron Nesmith, who both look on their way to the top 10 early on despite not really being on the radar for those spots heading into the year. As with every year, things will make a lot more sense in January.
The one theme we can expect, however, is that last year’s dichotomy between evaluations of players with demonstrable NBA traits and players with perceived potential is a continued confounding factor. Jackson Frank and I continue to lean on the side of the former compared to the latter, given how many times the former has actually led to real NBA success. That’s why you will see names that might be outside the mainstream (like Kira Lewis and Oscar Tshiebwe) in the lottery on our board, while names like James Wiseman and Jaden McDaniels sit much lower than their likely eventual draft spots.
Edwards’ scoring profile and athleticism match up very well to a player who can be a top option at the NBA level. He’s very advanced as a pull-up shooter and rim-driver for his age. For more on Edwards, click here.
Anthony’s high school and AAU shooting indicators suggest he has the potential to be an elite pull-up shooter. While he struggled in nine games prior to being sidelined with a right knee injury (.368/.355/.679 split), he still flashed an array of live dribble shooting, with the step-backs and pull-ups, evidenced by the fact he ranks in the 82nd percentile in half-court, off-the-dribble shooting. He’ll need to improve his tunnel vision and burst as a driver but Anthony’s shooting and team defense have popped this season. For more on Anthony, click here.
SG, Illiwarra Hawks
Ball will miss a month with a foot injury, and hasn’t shot or finished well. But his creativity with the ball and size are too promising to ignore if the shot comes around. For more on Ball’s injury, click here.
Maxey is another heralded freshman guard whose shooting numbers have underwhelmed thus far (.400/.245/.833 split). But the on-ball defense, quickness and strength continue to be clear pluses. Maxey’s touch — emphasized on floaters and free throws — is far too good for him to struggle all year beyond the arc, though the issue seems to stem from inconsistent arc and lower body involvement, often leaving his attempts short . Most encouraging has been his .417 free-throw rate, as he’s displaying increased downhill aggression compared to his pre-collegiate sample. Maxey’s shooting should positively regress soon and he remains a top-five prospect on our board because of it.
Perhaps the smartest defender in the draft class, Okoro has latent offensive upside to pair with incredible 1-through-5 versatility and strength on defense. For more on Okoro, click here.
After a red-hot start to the season, Mannion has cooled off in recent weeks. Nonetheless, he projects as a highly valuable pull-up shooter because of a quick gather phase and succinct mechanics while his passing repertoire and creativity are among the best in this class. Mannion’s lack of burst (seven half-court rim attempts this year) is an issue as it pertains to his viability as a lead guard and it also hurts his on-ball defense. Yet he’s displayed high-level off-ball awareness defensively (1.2 steals per game) and regularly cuts off drives with his anticipatory skills. There’s a clear avenue to Mannion being a very good NBA player, even if his athletic profile is concerning.
For more on Mannion, click here.
SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Has struggled in Euroleague play so far, but his youth track record and defensive instincts mean he should be a fairly good NBA defensive wing. For more on Avdija, click here.
PG, ratiopharm Ulm
Hayes has a ton of things going for him as a prospect. He produces at every level, doesn’t turn 19 until next July and has made tangible athletic gains over the past year. He’s arguably the smartest and best passer in the class — using manipulation and IQ to torch defenders — has incredible touch, which is encouraging from an outside shooting perspective, and regularly is in the right spots as an off-ball defender. His poor burst and mediocre handle are troubling — the former on both ends, the latter offensively — but Hayes boasts some primary initiator equity. In this class, that’s hugely valuable.
For more on Hayes, click here.
PG, New Zealand Breakers
Prior to injury, Hampton was having a great month for New Zealand, showcasing the body control and decision-making that could make him an NBA initiator. For more on Hampton’s injury, click here.
There have been few players as dominant as Okongwu this year. His quick leaping and length make him a forceful rim protector while his lower body strength and coordination are important traits as a roll man. His ambidextrous finishing touch allow him to be a go-to interior scorer as well. He’ll have to improve his tunnel vision and upper body strength but Okongwu has been nothing short of stellar this year and is a very good prospect.
One of our favorite players in this class, Robinson-Earl is a cerebral player with rare fluidity for a big. He’s a heady playmaker in the front-court, has face-up scoring potential and shoots a smooth ball (84.8 percent from the free throw line), so it’s easy to expect him to develop from deep in time. He struggles against length inside and that curbs some of his interior scoring but he’s a smart team defender and overall basketball player. Given the right opportunity, he could be a major plus on both ends. That’s quite the find in this class.
Despite small stature, Lewis offers solid point of attack defense and decent driving ability. One of the class’s biggest risers so far.
C, West Virginia
While Okongwu is the classic rim protector build, Tshiebwe combines incredible strength and agility to be a more modern switch defender prospect.
Weems is a great off-ball defender with quick hands, strength and awareness. He flashes instinctive playmaking as well and has a projectable jumper. He’s not a flashy pick but there’s enough to like with his game that make him a top-20 guy.
Maledon’s undersized, but his footwork and touch around the basket should still make him a strong creation prospect.
SF, Michigan State
Another one of the wings in this class whose cut from a near-identical cloth to Weems. Henry is a 3-and-D forward with some facilitating chops and needs the outside shot to truly deliver value in the NBA. But he’s light on his feet, can finish inside with either hand and is probably a bit more developed as a slasher than Weems. For more on Henry, click here.
Few returning players developed more than Nesmith, whose off-movement shooting and footwork on face-ups should make him a solid offensive four.
At 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, Moore owns good size and strength for a wing, which enables his downhill driving. He’s improved his handle since high school and is a sharp off-ball defender. The outside jumper and passing consistency are question marks but there’s the makings of a valuable wing if those two pan out.
C, Michigan State
Tillman’s agility at the five makes him both a solid space defender and pick-and-roll finisher. He’s not flashy, but he’s a pretty ideal third big man prospect.
Shoulder and ankle injuries over the past five weeks have derailed the positive momentum Watson was building early in non-conference player. But he remains a sharp playmaker at the forward position with rare defensive versatility and fluidity, powered by quick hands (3.0 steals per 40 minutes). He’s also flashed some face-up scoring and has the athletic package to be a good slasher.
A tangle of limbs with an outside jumper, Reed is one of the most interesting athletes in the class, as long as he harnesses that athleticism in a more functional way.
PG, Iowa State
Haliburton is among the leaders for National Player of the Year to this point. He’s arguably the best pure passer in this class, capable of making passes from a variety of angles, has maintained elite scoring efficiency in a new on-ball role (62.9 percent true shooting) and is a great defensive playmaker (3.7 percent steal rate, 1.6 percent block rate). The issue is much of his offensive upside is shakily translatable to the NBA. Haliburton lacks much explosiveness or strength as a driver and his awkward shooting mechanics leave us doubtful he’s a much of a pull-up shooter at the next level. But despite these issues, he’s a darn good basketball player in a class that lacks them. Tough to drop him much lower than this spot.
PF, Florida State
An upside play thanks to defense that looks ready to contribute at an NBA level, and offensive upside as a shooter.
The third brother in the Weems and Henry family, Green has impressed with his strong frame, instincts and lateral mobility defensively. He struggles to score in the half-court but has hinted at some on-the-move passing when attacking from the wing. Pair that with his display of the requisite touch on floaters (69th percentile) and from the line (79.6 percent) to inspire hope as a shooter, and you’re left with a good, 3-and-D forward.
6-7 point guards who can shoot a little do well, but he needs to improve finishing to be truly a starter-level prospect.
PF, Florida State
A darling among certain crowds, Vassell is a fantastic team defender (3.5 percent steal rate, 5.5 percent block rate) whose debuted some off-the-dribble shot making. He lacks the handle and strength to be much of an NBA on-ball creator and the career 67.2 percent mark at the line are concerning for his jumper but there are clear outlines of a 3-and-D wing who constantly wreaks defensive chaos.
Hurt hasn’t met preseason expectations, but he still looks like a solid shooting prospect at the four. For more on Hurt, click here.
A string of injuries have mellowed Tillie’s NBA allure but he remains a great playmaking big man who’s a career 44.9 percent 3-point shooter with feathery touch. Tillie moves also moves well on the perimeter for his size and can function as a pick-and-pop or off-movement shooter. Underwhelming strength and length, along with the injuries, are all reasons for pause but he’s a very good player and worth the gamble at this stage.
C, Ohio State
In addition to being built like a mountain, Wesson can spot up from three and legitimately defend across the board in space.
A legitimately pestering point-of-attack defender with quick hands, ability to wiggle over screens and make punctual rotations. Some of his defensive value is mitigated entering a league where offensive initiators continue to be bigger guards or wings. Jones also has questions about his jumper and if he’s not much of a scorer, his passing acumen is muted as well. But his jumper isn’t broken and the playmaking still has value while the defense is special for a guard. For more on Jones, click here.
Achiuwa’s offensive impact is minimal, but he could legitimately play the five at a small forward size, giving him intriguing versatility.
PG, Seton Hall
Powell is a dynamite pull-up shooter who can hit off-movement jumpers and has great balance and deceleration skills. His passing is inconsistent while the defense can often be brutal at times but he has the potential to be a legitimate off-ball dynamo and works well to create looks for himself off the ball.
Diakite’s face-up game is enticing, even if he’s not a true fit as a defensive five.
A big wing who can shoot (42.9 percent from deep in his career), Livers also uses his frame well to create looks coming around curls and has improved to some degree as an on-ball creator this season. He is not a flashy pick but the shooting and size are a valuable combo at this stage of the draft.
C, Utah State
A raw big that can pass and has decent instincts, Queta is a long-term prospect that could be a starter-level center eventually.
PG, Michigan State
Winston is undersized, but strong enough and a good enough shooter to let his playmaking drive his way into the league.
The top-ranked recruit of 2019, Wiseman has great size (7-foot-1) and length (7-foot-6 wingspan), which makes him a valuable roll threat in ball-screen actions. Defensively, those same tools help him as a rim protector but poor discipline and a slow load-up time leave us skeptical of his upside on that end. Pair that with poor touch, passing feel and decision-making, and you’re left with a big man whose best attributes are physical rather than skill-based. For more on Wiseman, click here.
It’s hard to see how McDaniels’ skinny frame lets him get to the rim in the NBA, and without that, can the rest of his impressive skill set work?
Joe has disappointed somewhat this season and his 3-point shooting has regressed from 41.4 percent last year to 34.8 percent now. His true mark likely falls somewhere in the middle but he’s only a 77.0 percent free throw shooter, so it’s tough to project him as elite from deep. He can’t score much inside the arc either (42.1 percent on 2s in 1.5 seasons). But he’s a smart team defender who occasionally flashes impressive passing reads, meaning there’s a chance he outperforms his draft slot with improvements as a 2-point scorer, largely reliant on bulking up his 170-pound frame.
Sylla is very much a hypothetical player but he flashes defensive mobility, passing talent and offensive fluidity to a degree most 6-foot-9 bigs with a 7-foot-2 wingspan cannot. But there’s not much in the realm of consistent skill or understanding of the game, leaving him as a bit of a dart throw rooted in his physical package.
Stewart has shown very good post touch and rebounding skill, but he might be too stiff to survive on defense at the next level.
SG, Texas Tech
Ramsey is a bursty, bouncy athlete who is off to a roaring start beyond the arc (42.9 percent). He flashes some passing feel but doesn’t bring a whole lot else offensively and is a mess off the ball defensively. Furthermore, he’s only shooting 63.6 percent at the line and has a bit of a stiff, two-motion shot, which leaves us skeptical he’s going to be a dynamic live dribble shooter. Even so, the burst, bounce and potential jumper are enough for some worthwhile intrigue.
An underrated athlete, Teske won’t wow you, but he always makes the correct decision on defense and shows some interesting shooting upside.
An advanced stats darling, Bey has established himself as a quality shooter and has some weakside rim protection potential.
PG, New Mexico State
Queen has NBA size as a 6-6 point guard, and he shows good scoring potential out of the pick-and-roll.
PG, Ohio State
Carton is one of the main reasons Ohio State has emerged as one of the best teams in the nation this year. He’s a shifty athlete with silky ball-handling and space creation skills. He can fling skip passes and ignite transition scoring opportunities. Carton’s athleticism fuels his dribble-drive game while his instincts and active hands make him a plus defender, both on and off the ball. A low release point on the jumper and middling free throw efficiency (72.2 percent) make it tough to be fully confident in his outside shot but there’s a lot to like for a freshman.
A powerful shooting guard with good three-point stroke that wins with excellent footwork in the post. One of this year’s weirder skill sets.
Mobley is a skilled passing big with rim protecting instincts who lacks the functional strength necessary for a big and isn’t quite fluid enough to play on the wing regularly. Athletic advancements are the key to him developing into a first-round prospect.
Toppin plays like a stronger Kyle Kuzma, and that is probably his NBA role, as well.
One of the best on-ball wing defenders in this class, Lewis is an electric lateral athlete capable of shutting down drives. His springy athleticism propel him into help defense situations at the rim, too. But he’s incredibly weak for a big and a maddeningly poor offensive decision-maker. Even so, the defense — along with potential slashing upside offensively — give him value.
Grimes looks reborn in Houston, mostly because he looks stronger and better equipped to use his court vision.
Johnson is a very smart and aware team defender who moves his feet well on the perimeter. Offensively, his quick jumping ability, strong frame and straight-line driving project him as a valuable slasher and play finisher. If he can force defenders to close out on his jumper, the slashing potential expands, too.
Dotson’s quickness and decision-making defensively are good skills, but at 6-2, it’s somewhat challenging to see him finding a role in the NBA while not being a good shooter.
Finally emerging in his third year with Gonzaga, Ayayi has flashed deep pull-up range, looks improved as a pick-and-roll passer with each game and is a silky finisher at the rim. He’ll have to make strides as a shooter in traffic, off-ball defender and add functional strength but the fact he doesn’t turn 20 until March is encouraging for his development, especially given how far he’s come since November.
Hammonds has good scoring skill, but needs to fill out the rest of his game to be a good NBA option.
Wieskamp’s allure rests in his shooting (42.1 percent from deep for his career) and is augmented by heady off-bal relocation instincts, team defense and a modicum of passing flair. But he lacks the functional handle and burst to do much of anything on the ball, which significantly limits his upside. Regardless, the shooting and general basketball IQ make him worthy of a top-60 slot.
Terry is another small point guard, but shows some interesting pick-and-roll scoring ability and pull-up mechanics. He’s probably a long-term draft prospect.
PG, North Carolina State
A bouncy, lively shooter (37.1 percent from 3 for his career). Johnson adds some passing talent as well and has the verve to create for himself in a pinch. His poor decision-making and inconsistent defensive motor — along with a career 65.5 percent mark at the charity stripe — are problematic, though.
The French strongman has turned into quite the pick-and-pop threat for the Vols, and is an interesting long-term prospect as a small-ball five.
Dosunmu’s scoring ability is great, but does he do enough else to matter?