The 2020 NBA Draft class is deeper at wing and guard, but there are a handful of bigs who could wreak havoc at the next level.
It’s the 3-point shooting era, but high-percentage close-range looks are still the best shot in basketball — according to the analytics, the eye test, or any other philosophical approach to the game.
So, while the notion of a “traditional” center is nearly extinct — or at least de-emphasized — the idea of having an exceptionally tall, athletic person to prevent and convert close-range attempts is as important as ever.
The upcoming NBA Draft (Nov. 18) may be shallow on stars, but it’s deep with versatile wings and scoring guards who could become key rotation pieces. The 2020 class isn’t as rich with bigs, but there are a handful of prospects that teams looking to defend the rim better should consider.
Who are the best rim-protectors in the 2020 NBA Draft Class?
James Wiseman, Memphis
The 19-year old center played just three games for the Memphis Tigers due to questionable eligibility issues, yet it remains unlikely that Adam Silver calls his name later than second on Wednesday.
An exceptional athlete at 7-foot-1, 240 pounds, with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, Wiseman projects as an elite rim protector at the next level. The risk with Wiseman is the shortage of tape on him and the lack of big-game experience and obvious basketball instincts. (For what it’s worth, he had nine blocks in his three collegiate games.)
His presence alone will keep folks out of the paint. He bites a little too hard on pump-fakes and struggles to grasp defensive schemes, but if he does, his ceiling as a weak-side shot-blocker gets even higher.
Simply put, if he can adapt to the pros, he should be an All-Defense caliber player. The Golden State Warriors are reportedly interested at No. 2, though they could trade the pick to another interested party.
Potential Fit(s): Golden State Warriors (No. 2), Charlotte Hornets (No. 3)
Onyeka Okongwu, USC
Okongwu is skilled, smart, and athletic. More importantly, he’s a gifted and versatile defensive player, with an ability to protect the rim and switch onto guards on the same possession, if need be.
Okongwu stands 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, and he processes the game at a level beyond his years. His basketball IQ is off the charts, which has enabled him to defend the pick-and-roll extremely effectively and position himself for rim defenses. He’s instinctual, in addition to being fundamentally sound.
He averaged 3.5 blocks per 40 minutes at USC, and possesses a great motor, though he can chase blocks a bit too eagerly. Draft analysts say he isn’t the most talkative, which he’ll need to change to anchor NBA defenses.
The 19-year old is considered a relatively safe pick in this year’s draft, and he could go as early as third or drop to the Washington Wizards at No. 9. Either way, he’s a safe bet to be the second big off the board.
The former USC Trojan has drawn comparisons to Miami Heat star Bam Adebayo due to his similar size and ability to guard multiple positions. Not bad.
Potential Fit(s): Charlotte (No. 3), Chicago Bulls (No. 4), Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 5) Washington Wizards (No. 9)
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis
Unlike Wiseman, Achiuwa actually did play a full season for Penny Hardaway in 2019-20. In his lone season at Memphis, Achiuwa was one of the most dominant shot-blockers and rebounders in college hoops, and flashed an improved offensive game, too.
Achiuwa is an Energizer Bunny who can switch onto multiple positions. He forced a ton of turnovers in college, and his defensive upside is amongst the highest in the class. He could carve out a nice role as a small-ball five who specializes in screening on offense and wreaking interior havoc on D.
The 6-foot-9 Achiuwa (7-aood-2 wingspan) averaged 2.5 blocks and 14.2 rebounds per 40 minutes for the Tigers. He could be drafted anywhere from the back-end of the lottery (as high as No. 9, if the Wizards reach) to late first round. At 21, he’s a little bit older than his fellow one-and-doners.
Potential Fit(s): Phoenix Suns (No. 10), Boston Celtics (No. 14), Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 17), Denver Nuggets (No. 22)
Jalen Smith, Maryland
Smith averaged 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes for the Terrapins in 2019-20, in addition to shooting 3s and rebounding.
Smith is a 6-foot-10 stretch-big with a high-IQ and a good sense of timing and noticeable bounce. He seems to enjoy the defensive end of the court, based on how he contests shots and attacks defensive rebounds. He can be a little bit stiff and slow on his feet, but if he’s in the right position, he’s effective at impacting close-range field goal attempts.
Potential Fit(s): Brooklyn Nets (No. 19), Miami Heat (No. 20), Milwaukee Bucks (No. 24)
Isaiah Stewart, Washington
Stewart is only 6-foot-9, but his 7-foot-4 wingspan helped him become the Pac-12’s best defensive center in his only season at Washington. He averaged 2.6 blocks per 40, and disrupted seemingly everything that came his way in the lane. His activity level is promising, though his size could suddenly become a disadvantage in the pros.
He’s a bit of a throwback, too: a broad-shouldered big who does his best work in the post — on both ends. He likes to battle and bully in the paint, compete for rebounding positioning, and stop rim-attackers in their tracks. He generally excelled as the anchor of Washington’s zone — an increasingly frequent tactic in the NBA.
His offense and defensive “switch-ability” are question marks, though, which could drop him into the late first round, or beyond.
Potential Fit(s): Denver (No. 22), Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 25), New York Knicks (No. 27), New Orleans Pelicans (No. 39)