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Basketball Big Board Update: With Tiers

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Here is my latest (greatest?) Basketball Big Board (with tiers).

Brief write-up and/or comparisons.

Looks like I have a few tiers with solid secondary depth.  Good third rate depth too (back end rotation guys).  I have 40 players in this one, mainly because I ran out of room on my legal pad.  There are few more guys I am looking at who could have also been grouped in with Tier 5, but oh well.  I will do a longer big board once the NBA does its draft lottery.  I am also looking at new prospects.

 

Tier 1:

James Wiseman: for "top tier depth" guys it looks like James Wiseman or bust.  Comps for the big man include "athletic" Greg Oden, Admiral, and some others.  Classic dunking/rebounding/shot blocking big man.  Even Deluxe Javale McGee or Darryl Dawkins Plus could still go top 3 in this draft.  Weaknesses include pick and roll defense (which could really hold him back) and then jump shooting.  Doesn't have a broken shot but he isn't Dirk either.  Could still master the mid-range jump shot a la Patrick Ewing. On the wrong team could be fairly meh, even when putting up All Star numbers.  In the RIGHT SYSTEM I could see him putting up All Star stats AND Winning.  I think he puts the Warriors over the top.  Then you have an ideal starting five of Steph/Klay/Wiggins (keep him as a classic third/fourth option)/Draymond/Wiseman.  Shades of Wilt on that team?  Or... he goes to the Hawks and makes a bad team a good team.  There are worse options....

 

Tier 2:

LaMelo Ball: lots of downsides, and weaknesses.  Probably a hype job.  The fact that he "has information on Lavar Ball" would seem to be a negative.  On the plus side, the dude can pass -- and he DOES pass.  Some say, well, ok that's just a 6'7 or 6'8 White Chocolate -- but, hey a White Chocolate who is 6 inches taller is a total game changer -- a different player.  Then you are looking at Magic Johnson-esque passing and stat sheet filling.  Or, some Slo Mo Lebron type.  Then you add in a George Gervin-esque floater/finger roll package.  Not sure what that gives you -- but that is a weirdly fascinating player!

 

Tier 2.5:

Devin Vassell: best two-way wing player in the draft?  Can hit the 3, finish, and defend.  If 3 is too high then he should still be a valued pick in the 5-10 range.  This might be a trade-down Tier.  Shades of Scottie Pippen.  Shades of John Starks.  If you can get some of each, then you have a really really good player.  Worth a top 3 pick even.

Precious Achiuwa: polarizing.  A Tier 1 guy on defense, rebounding, dunking (ok maybe Tier 1.5) and running the floor with a Tier 5 or Tier 6 offensive package.  Even so, a defensive/rebounding/motor package that resembles Dennis Rodman with Ben Wallace-esque rim protection and lob threat skills makes him a valued pick at the top of the board.  Upside on 'o: his jump shot looks bad but not broken.  Even a corner 3 a game would help his team immensely.  Can get to the line.  Looks great/fluid in the open court and can make a solid pass out of a fast break.  If he adds more "Showtime" to his game then you get a STEAL -- even in the 3-5 range.

Deni Avdija: who knows?  Solid archetype with lots of upside.  YMCA Larry Bird with shades of Duke Christian Laettner.  So... another polarizing prospect.  Might depend on him going to the right team.  The upside is there but so is the downside.  The foul shooting is a big big red flag but he can put the ball on the deck, pass, and post up.  Can he call his own number though?  If he goes to the RIGHT team he might not have to.  

Aleksej Pokusevski: is either gonna get YOUR GM fired or ANOTHER GM fired.  I have seen the Bargs comps plus some either less-flattering Euoro Trash Comps.  He actually reminds me of Toni Kukoc somewhat.  Long, angular, coast-to-coast potential with a jumper and passing flair if not Euro Magic.  Taller/longer though.  Skinny but maybe he has room to fill out.  Can get dunks which is nice.  Just an interesting prospect who is young (which helps).  Even at 6, you take the Bargs floor/basement, Toni Kukoc baseline, and then you have an upside option on Giannis Sabonis.

Karim Mane: My favorite guard in this class?  I have watched exactly 3 (or 5) highlights of this kid and mostly featuring the same highlights.  He might be the guy Anthony Edwards' handlers think Anthony Edwards is.  Might be the Andrew Toney of this draft (I LOVE guys I never watched play) with LOTS of shades of Joe Dumars.  I REALLY want this kid on the Grizz.

Makur Maker: boom/bust.  Can shoot a little.  Pass some.  Can finish dunks above the rim.  Related to Thon which maybe  a good thing or a bad thing.  MUCH lower on other boards.  Semi-high floor as big man depth.  Gorgui Deing floor with upside.  Handling/passing is a major plus.  Sleeper potential if he goes a lot lower.  

 

Tier 3

Aaron Nessmith: can shoot.  A hit shots kinda guy.  Can score.  Buddy Hield plus?  You just take Buddy Hield here if you have to.  Shades or Ray Allen too.  High volume 3 point shooters should be all the rage now.  

Tyler Bey: looks like Ivan Rabb with a game closer to Pippen/Horry/Battier.  So, a solid utility guy (baseline) and the type of player every team needs.  A swing factor here looks like "shooting".  If he can hit shots -- GREAT you get a relative steal.

Cassius Stanley: upside and downside.  Elite run/jump guy good defender who can also rebound and fill the lanes on the break.  I've actually had him a lot lower.  Maybe not Jordanesque upside (although MJ was only a high level athletic role player archetype at some point too) due to his lack of scoring polish and lack of a wingspan.  Can hit the corner 3 though (at least in an open gym).  At this point you take the Dahntay Jones with corner 3 point shooting (and David Thompson hops/dunks) potential and call it a day.  

Onyeka Okongwu: Good player.  But power forward size and a center's game.  I think he is a good prospect -- not great. Reminds me too much of Stromile Swift and Jeff Green.  Might need an ideal fit.  His upside depends on getting stronger/bigger, better on the ball scoring, more floor game and more shooting.

Killian Hayes: you can probably sell me on him.  Although I don't see anything more than a 6'5 replacement level pedestrian point guard.  Not THAT quick and not THAT great of a shooter/scorer.  What does a less-speedy 6'5 Mike Conley, Jr. get you?

 

Tier 3.5

Anthony Edwards: my "relative bust" candidate.  Just screams Dajuan Wagner.  What does that get you?  Needs alpha shots.  Mega usage.  Is Deluxe OJ Mayo is upside?

Cole Anthony: Broke Derrick Rose meets World B. Free is his comp.  Also: Doc Rivers?  Not bad, not great.  If overrated for a long-time he might be underrated now.  Especially if you give him a Trae Young-esque long leash.

Jaden McDaniels: Floor: Rudy Gay.  Baseline: Rudy Gay.  Upside: Rudy Gay.  Maybe that says more about Rudy Gay than Jaden McDaniels.

Obi Toppin: 2 dimensional dunker.  But, the game is played in 3D (or at least it is in the pros).  Gotta move laterally and gotta play off the ball.  Looks like a guy who won third prize (set of steak knives!!!) in a mid-80's NBA dunk contest.  Ok, ok, here is my new comparison: meet the Brave New NBA's Tom Chambers!

 

Tier 4:

Tre Jones:  Shades of Mo Cheeks meets Mike Conley, Jr.  Solid, fringe All Star type upside.  More likely,  a solid replacement-level starting point guard (or high level backup) that gets 2nd team All Defense sympathy votes.

Jared Butler: the Chauncey Billups of this draft?  Need to get a better feel for him but that sounds about right.

Saddiq Bey: some shooting some scoring some defense.  Not a great athlete.  YMCA 3 and D Adrian Dantley.

Tyrese Halliburton: the Shaun Livingston comparison fits like a glove.

Devon Dotson: G League "Glove".  

Malachi Flynn: some Steph Curry upside.  More likely, SETH Curry upside.  I like his game.  Especially as a secondary guard.  Deluxe John Paxson with shades of Steph, Mark Price...  

Markus Howard: not a passer, creator but can dribble.  Chris Jackson 2.0.  I can see the Dana Barros comps but Markus Howard looks like an all-time shooter/shot maker.  

 

Tier 5

Josh Green: potential but doesn't put it together much.  Can he actually shoot?  

Nico Mannion: John Paxson 2.0

Paul Reed: new age 4.  Needs to expand his shot.

Nick Richards: Javale McGee 2.0 but maybe not as long.  Solid pick up here.  Gives you dunks/shot blocking and I ALWAYS overrate that.

RJ Hampton: maybe an ideal 3rd guard but that could be his UPSIDE.  Resembles Monta Ellis.

Desmond Bane: looks crafty.  Can shoot some.  Looks like a guy on the Houston Rockets.  Baseman Eric Gordon meets Basement PJ Tucker.  

Isaac Okoro: Overrated energy guy?  Vincent Askew plus?  Doesn't score a ton (other than drives and cuts), can't shoot.  Not overly athletic or big (size wise).  The next DeShawn Stevenson -- whatever THAT means.

Borisa Simanic: can hit the 3, dunk and block shots but he is old for his age.  Broke man's 3 and D AK-47.  Not the best rebounder but he could round himself into a Euro version of Bad Boys Bill Laimbeer at some point.  

Udoka Azubuike: the kind of guy you throw at a PRIME Shaq.  Can't hit free throws.  DaSagana Diop basement as a backup big.  Maybe some shades of Andrew Bynum/Darryl Dawkins.

Vernon Carey, Jr.  1980's style power forward who would have been low-key better in the 1970's.  Jeff Ruland upside -- although I only read about him in Charles Barkley's book.

Daniel Oturu: Haven't done tons of research yet.  Might be the guy I think Onyeka Okongwu is although I have no idea what to make of OO either.

Tyrese Maxey: does a whole lot of nuthin' at either guard spot.  Ok, he can do stuff but not at an elite level.  Maybe not uber efficient.  Jason Terry 2.0.

Immanuel Quickley: solid.  Can shoot.  Looks more like a "depth" guard than a starter type.  I might have a comp on him later.

Jalen Smith: poor man's Jaren Jackson Jr.  Although half the time JAREN is the poor man's Jaren Jackson Jr.  More likely, Jalen Smith is a prototype 4 with a 3 point shot.  

Xavier Tillman: toolsy utility backup power forward from 1982-1998 for teams that no longer exist (San Diego Clippers, Kansas City Kings, Seattle SuperSonics, Vancouver Grizzlies expansion draft pick).  See also: Rick Mahorn, Antoine Carr, Mike Brown.

Cassius Winston: all-time great 3rd string point guard.  Really good backup point guard.  Spot starter potential (plus) upside.  Kyle Lowry without the quicks.  Lacks the defense too (guessing).

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Here's a good write up from the The Ringer about a handful of old school guards who could have thrived in this Brave New NBA (speed ball with 3's).

https://www.theringer.com/nba/2020/5/6/21249185/nba-shooting-guards-time-machine-all-stars

... I think the NBA might be headed for an era dominated by guards -- and centers.  Small forwards/wings might be less highly valued, or they are mostly 3 and D complementary players.

The 80's and 90's (and even before that) had some historically good-to-great guards.  They had some top notch centers, too.  On the flip side, maybe it's gonna be a lost decade for most forwards.

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Markus Howard's highlight package is INSANE.  Yeah, he is small, not that fast, not that long or athletic and is not a passer or defender, but he can SHOOT and SCORE.

I have him at 24 on my board and that might be a little low.

He should be there around 40 and could be a great instant-offense flamethrower off the bench for us.  

 

 

 

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This is a tricky draft, without a clear consensus No. 1 and every 2020 prospect has flaws worth nothing. Also, Wiseman has reportedly gotten into better shape over the last year and he may well be a late bloomer....i am not taking Center as number 1 pick....also Wiseman is too soft for my liking.

LaMelo Ball...just too much drama with that family.

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47 minutes ago, I❤️JV said:

This is a tricky draft, without a clear consensus No. 1 and every 2020 prospect has flaws worth nothing. Also, Wiseman has reportedly gotten into better shape over the last year and he may well be a late bloomer....i am not taking Center as number 1 pick....also Wiseman is too soft for my liking.

LaMelo Ball...just too much drama with that family.

The same was said about KD... 

(not saying he’s at that level ... but still)

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5 hours ago, I❤️JV said:

This is a tricky draft, without a clear consensus No. 1 and every 2020 prospect has flaws worth nothing. Also, Wiseman has reportedly gotten into better shape over the last year and he may well be a late bloomer....i am not taking Center as number 1 pick....also Wiseman is too soft for my liking.

LaMelo Ball...just too much drama with that family.

I can see Wiseman being the guy we all thought Greg Oden would be.  Best rebounder, dunker, lob finisher, shot blocker/rim protector in the draft. Runs the floor well. Hits foul shots at a decent clip.  Don’t think he is gonna be a legit threat from 3, but I think he can develop a solid Ewing-esque mid-range fall away jumper.  Ideal for would be the Warriors or Hawks. Less of an ideal fit elsewhere.  Two man game with RJ Barrett on the Knicks would be nice too.  

LaMelo Ball has upside. How much? How likely is it that he hits his ceiling? If you draft him you basically have to give him the ball and play Showtime.  

Looking over my board again, there might not be a big difference between all the Tiers from 2 and 4.  

I am guessing that some of my faves that could be there at 40 (or we could reasonably trade up for) could end up being Cassius Stanley, Markus Howard, Makur Maker, Karim Mane, and Tyler Bey. Possibly Borisa Simanic.  Less ideal fits but still decent picks could be Paul Reed, Xavier Tillman, Desmond Mane, Nick Richards,  Udoka Azubuike, and Vernon Carey, Jr.

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Top of the draft has very high bust potential....but middle and even 2nd round has some uncut gems.

From the top my favorite is Obi Toppin...even he is older (21y)....he has the least chance to be a bust....

I would draft Onyeka Okongwu before i draft Wiseman for me he's the next Bam Adebayo ...many mock drafts has Anthony Edwards as number 1....but i must agree with ALT GRIND that he has very high bust possibility ....

Deni Avdija...bad shooter...looked ok in the Israel league...but was totally lost in Euroleague...i would take him like 15 max no higher. ...

Theo Maledon=new Frank Ntilikina

Precious Achiuwa is good...but can he shoot?...his jumper is probably broken (not as bad as LaMelo tho)...if he can fix it...i like him...like him a lot.

 

Best 2nd round sleepers for me....Killian Tillie, Corey Kispert Joel Ayayi and Filip Petrusev.

P.S LaMelo to the Knicks....they deserve each other.

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9 hours ago, I❤️JV said:

Top of the draft has very high bust potential....but middle and even 2nd round has some uncut gems.

From the top my favorite is Obi Toppin...even he is older (21y)....he has the least chance to be a bust....

I would draft Onyeka Okongwu before i draft Wiseman for me he's the next Bam Adebayo ...many mock drafts has Anthony Edwards as number 1....but i must agree with ALT GRIND that he has very high bust possibility ....

Deni Avdija...bad shooter...looked ok in the Israel league...but was totally lost in Euroleague...i would take him like 15 max no higher. ...

Theo Maledon=new Frank Ntilikina

Precious Achiuwa is good...but can he shoot?...his jumper is probably broken (not as bad as LaMelo tho)...if he can fix it...i like him...like him a lot.

 

Best 2nd round sleepers for me....Killian Tillie, Corey Kispert Joel Ayayi and Filip Petrusev.

P.S LaMelo to the Knicks....they deserve each other.

This draft differs from the last draft in that last year you had a really awesome secondary prospect in Ja Morant.  Probably one of the more interesting players available at 2 since Kevin Durant (I also liked both players as the number one overall picks) based on upside/skill set/raw talent/college production.  You also had a nice player at 3 in RJ Barrett — then things got hectic.

This year Wiseman is much less hyped than Zion and many think he is overrated.  Ok, Wiseman may be overrated as a high level number one pick, but he is long, athletic, produced in high school, put up stats in 3 college games and looks like Wilt.  These things might not always pan out — but they might. 

After Wiseman though, who is the consolation prize?  Who knows although I would consider Lamelo Ball. But for teams with young point guards (Hawks) I think you look elsewhere at 2.  2-10 or maybe even 2-15 look similar.   

I think Okongwu looks like a secondary big man at the 4 (power forward position).  He might not be an “anchor”.

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Hollinger’s NBA Draft Top 20 (plus sleepers): The guys I’d be willing to bet on

https://theathletic.com/1808864/2020/05/13/hollingers-nba-draft-top-20-plus-sleepers-the-guys-id-be-willing-to-bet-on/

 

Twenty players.

That was always my goal when I worked in the Memphis front office – to narrow the draft down to the 20 players I thought could stick as rotation players in the league.

Why 20? That, give or take, is how many will actually pull it off. Most years it’s actually about 22 or 23, and it depends a bit on how exactly you define “rotation player” once you get past the obvious names. But as a general concept involving a round number, 20 works.

So, in putting together my draft list, I’m always thinking about those 20 names. Who are the 20 guys I’d be willing to bet on?

In particular, it’s a great tool for discipline later in the draft. One reason I felt so good about our team trading a future second-round pick for the 45th pick in 2017 was because the player we were about to select, Dillon Brooks, was in my 20. Other times, let’s just say we probably would have been better off not picking.

Of course, 60 players will be selected when the NBA (eventually) drafts, and some of the top picks will probably fail and a few of the late picks will probably succeed. Same as it ever was. So I will have a lot more than 20 names on my final draft list, and eventually I’ll tell you about all of them.

Today, however, I want to focus on that core group – I actually ended up with 23 for this year. That’s the core group of 20 players, and then three sleepers that I really believe in. I’ll come back later to chime on everyone else.

So with that all said, and with the caveat that this will likely look hilarious a decade from now given the variance of the draft, here’s how the top of my draft board looks.

 

1. LaMelo Ball, PG/SG, Illawara Hawks

In an ideal world, you’d like the top-rated player on the draft board to be somebody who actually tried on defense. Alas, that option doesn’t appear to be on the table this year. The two most talented players, Ball and Anthony Edwards, both submitted staggering displays of indifference at that end. Other players you’ll read about in a minute were more solid, but don’t possess nearly the upside of these two players.

That matters because the draft is primarily about upside, especially at the top. Whiff on a top-5 pick and you’ll get another one a year later. But for the non-glamour markets, this is your team’s best (and perhaps only) chance to hitch its wagon to a star.

Ball played only 13 games in Australia this season and the results weren’t always spectacular, but he’s atop my board because he showed the ability to do things most NBA players simply can’t. He’s an amazing passer off the dribble, particularly with his right hand, and his rebounds sometimes turn into full-court TD passes that hit the receiver’s hands perfectly in stride. At 6-6, he can see over the defense too.

Ball combines that with a very solid handle. Relative to his older brother with the Pelicans, LaMelo is much looser in the hips and can change directions more easily, and that makes him a much more dangerous navigator around screens.

Ball is a poor shooter right now and in spite of that will take some adventurous long-range shots, and his skill as a finisher could also use some work. It’s possible he ends up as just a bigger Ricky Rubio – brilliant in transition, but not so much in the halfcourt.

Defensively, Ball’s half-assed efforts are a concern, but he has the tools to do the job and he anticipates plays well … too well, actually, as he just tries for steals instead of playing solid. I don’t worry overly much about the defense – he’s very young and once he can’t get away with gambling and has to try, I’m guessing he will. As an added plus, he’s a very good rebounder for his size.

All told, however, it could be a wild ride in his first couple of seasons. Between his penchant for home-run passes, the YOLO 40-foot pull-ups, and the defense, he definitely will drive his first coach insane.

Overall, you can make a case that somebody like Killian Hayes or Onyeka Okongwu will have a better career. But I think Ball has the best chance of playing in an All-Star Game of anyone in this draft. Players of his size who have plus athleticism, can handle the ball, and fire laser beams all over the court are extremely rare. You grab them when you can and then deal with the warts.

2. Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia

Edwards may have more long-term upside than Ball, I’m just significantly less convinced that he’ll reach it.

Let’s start with the positives. His body comes straight out of a shooting guard factory – a chiseled 6-4 frame with long arms, quick feet and the ability to get in a stance. He pops off the floor for rebounds and dunks. He can quickly rise for pull-up jumpers or accelerate and beat a defender with either hand. I’m pretty sure he can average 20 points a game in the NBA.

Whether he can impact winning with those tools is much more questionable. While Edwards was a prolific scorer and a decent rebounder, his feel, IQ and motor all raised major red flags in his lone season at Georgia. You needn’t watch for long to get a serious Andrew Wiggins vibe.

His shot is suspect as well. Edwards launched 3s early and often but only converted 29.4 percent of them. Watching him shoot before games (it’s nice to have a top prospect play a short drive from your house), Edwards seemed equally inconsistent. His form tended to vary depending on whether he shot off the catch (straight over his head, elbow partly out) or off the dribble (more of a catapult motion off his right shoulder).

Off the dribble, Edwards gets a head of steam easily but it’s all straight lines, with little change-of-direction shiftiness once he starts moving and one-read passing ability. Edwards has more wiggle in tight spaces, where he loves to go between his legs and then rise up for a long jumper. He can get these away cleanly, but again, they didn’t go in that often.

His defensive tape only adds to the riddle. He’ll have tremendous possessions where he slides his feet, walls off drivers and uses his leaping ability to contest shots. He’ll have others — sometimes in the same game — where he sleepwalks alongside a driver and allows an uncontested layup. More concerning are the baffling stretches where he loafs up and down the court at both ends; you’ll rarely see a guard be the last man up and down the court more often than he is.

Again, there are no sure things in this draft. Edwards would be the third or fourth pick a year ago and might not crack the top 5 in 2018. But in this draft, just on straight talent he almost has to be one of the top two picks.

3. Killian Hayes, PG/SG, Ulm

An unknown quantity for most American fans, Hayes is a French lefty who isn’t a knock-down shooter (29.4 percent from 3) but has an extremely high skill level in terms of being able to execute complex moves like step-backs, side steps and pull-ups out of pick-and-rolls. Hayes has never shot well from the perimeter and has a funky push shot, but he has a history of shooting extremely well from the free-throw line (87.6 percent). One hopes that will translate to 3s as he gets older. Although he’s big for a point guard, he can run pick-and-roll all day and make the right delivery more often than not.

Hayes is still very young — like Ball and Edwards, he won’t turn 19 until this summer — and had a good season in a decent league. Ulm played in the Eurocup, not the Euroleague, and the German League isn’t quite as good as Spain’s, but it’s not bad.

Where Hayes falls short, and it’s something I saw in person a year ago at Basketball Without Borders, is having the zip to just cook a player off the dribble from a standstill and then finish over length at the rim. He struggles to gain separation off the bounce, which is one reason he has to rely on herky-jerky start-stops, step-backs and other complex skills, and depends a lot on pull-ups rather than lay-ups. Even his close-in finishes are difficult, contested makes. Again, that’s German League athleticism, so you can see how some are concerned about what happens against far more athletic players over here.

Hayes is also extremely left-hand dominant, which is a concern of some scouts and not of some others. I tend to be in the latter camp — John Stockton had a 20-year career as an all-time great NBA point guard and took maybe four dribbles with his left hand — but I could see how overplays could become a problem for him.

Read several of those lines above and it sounds very reminiscent of D’Angelo Russell, but Hayes offers more on the defensive end. Although he’s not a super athlete, Hayes has decent lateral quickness and great anticipation, and has posted high rates of steals and blocks in a competitive league (and without a cheating LaMelo style to get them).

Hayes’s combination of age, skill level, and free-throw accuracy offer an upside despite his meh athleticism. Additionally, an on-ball guard who defends two positions solidly is one of the most valuable player archetypes to have. I have Ball and Edwards rated higher because of their home-run upside, but Hayes could easily have a better career than either of them. For me, he’s the third-best value proposition on this board.

4. Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, USC

Okongwu was awesome as a freshman and the only reason I don’t have him higher is that today’s game doesn’t value bigs as much. He still might be undervalued here. Relative to his position he’s arguably the best player in this draft, and in particular would seem to be an outstanding fit with the Golden State Warriors.

Let’s get into the details. Since 2011-12, five major conference NCAA freshman have had a PER north of 30 and shot better than 70 percent from the line, an important indicator that they had enough skill to be something besides a ‘90s beast-ball 5 in the pros.

The first four were Anthony Davis, Cody Zeller, Karl-Anthony Towns and Deandre Ayton. Three of them were the first pick in the draft and the other one was picked third and has had a very solid pro career.

Okongwu is the fifth. He’s currently pegged in the mid-to-late lottery by most forecasts. Maybe that’s fair — obviously, the fact that he shares a statistical similarity with a group of players does not automatically mean he will follow in their footsteps.

At the same time … in a draft this short on star potential, isn’t at least a little interesting that Okongwu’s statistical comps have been so wildly successful? It’s not like he was playing in a USC system that titled things in favor; watch the tape and at times you’ll want to run on the court and beg their guards to get him the freaking ball. At other times he had to hold spacing so that USC’s other bigs could get touches (!), even though Okongwu has an excellent post game and easily gets to jump hooks with either hand.

He put up monster stats anyway, leading the Pac-12 in PER and BPM and shooting 60.7 percent in conference play. His ability to score on the block should become more prominent at the pro level, especially against switches.

While Okongwu’s ceiling probably profiles closer to that of Ayton’s than Towns’ or Davis’, that would still be a hell of an outcome with a meh lottery pick in a weak draft. As with a player he’s frequently compared to — Miami’s Bam Adebayo — his height may be held against him at 6-9. Unlike Adebayo, however, Okongwu shows enough promise as a shooter that he may be able to play next to a true 5 as his skill level progresses. He’s already a better post scorer than Bam, but he doesn’t have his ballhandling and passing skill.

Even if Okongwu doesn’t become a stretch big, he could be a steal anywhere after the first few picks. I’m not a huge fan of drafting 5s, but Okongwu offers some positional flexibility as a 4/5 and, as noted above, he was freaking awesome this year. After the three guards at the top, Okongwu’s value proposition is just too great to ignore.

 

 

Obi Toppin (David Kohl / USA Today Sports)

5. Obi Toppin, PF, Dayton

Toppin profiles as the best offensive big in the draft, and while his defense is more of a question mark, I don’t think the narrative about his defense is totally correct based on the tape I saw. Toppin isn’t great laterally, which we’ll get into a minute. But his length and leaping are huge advantages in switches. He blocked several guards’ jump shots in switch situations and showed a “closing speed” to catch up to drivers and reject them at the rim.

Where he really struggles is changing directions to recover once he gets dragged one way by a guard. That “one-one-thousand” to stop and then recover to challenge a shot is all the time a pick-and-pop big needs to launch away. Flipped screens also can leave him wandering in no-man’s land. But in a switching scheme, there are players in this draft I’m a lot more worried about than Toppin.

And can we talk about the offense? Toppin might be the most accomplished offensive weapon in this draft: a burgeoning pick-and-pop threat with a quick release who shot 39 percent from deep this year; a transition dunk machine due to his speed and leaping ability; and a low-post bucket getter who can abuse switches. Toppin’s feel for passing out of double teams was also quite impressive.

There are negatives here relative to other lottery picks. Toppin is a late bloomer and is already 22 years old, so you have to discount his spectacular college stats a bit. He played in a weak conference, although his performance held up against power-5 foes like Kansas and Colorado. His rebounding rate is quite ordinary. Finally, he’s likely a one-position player – too stiff laterally to check 3s, but not stout enough physically to battle 5s.

6. Tyrese Haliburton, SG/PG, Iowa State

In a draft loaded with guards, Halliburton doesn’t quite tantalize with the scoring ability of the top three players on this board, but he passes as well as anybody, has great size for the position, and is a knockdown shooter.

Haliburton’s assist totals could have been much more impressive; his tape is an infinite loop of sweet deliveries to teammates who flubbed easy chances. As a scoring threat in the halfcourt, however, he has work to do. He’s long and quick but doesn’t have crazy burst and needs time and space to uncork his outside shot. At the basket, he shies away from contact with his thin frame and doesn’t draw fouls.

He’s more spectacular in transition, where his speed and court vision can combine for some breathtaking sequences. He’s also a money shooter (42 percent from 3, 82 percent from the line) despite a low set shot that can be awkward to get into off the dribble.

As a defender, Haliburton can be slow changing directions laterally on the ball. He makes up for it by giving space and then using his superior length and leaping to close out; he surprised several shooters who thought they had open pull-ups. Off the ball, his phenomenal steal rate is a good omen (3.4 per 100 in Big 12 play – I tend to rely on conference games to weed out lopsided early-season schedules), and he was as good as anyone I saw at tagging a roller and then zipping back out to 3-point line. In transition defense, he’s a shot-blocking threat too.

All the background on Haliburton is rock solid as well. He may never be a big scorer, but as a long-term plus at the guard position, he looks like one of the few close-to-sure things in this draft.

7. Devin Vassell, SG, Florida State

A rock-solid prospect at the 2 who checks every single box for a 3-and-D wing and offers some promise to continue expanding his game, Vassell may seem too high here until you run through the value proposition and compare it to the alternatives.

Vassell is a wiry wing who can jump, and in his case, the 3-and-D isn’t some far-off theoretical construct. He shot 41.7 percent from 3 at Florida State and is equally potent off the catch or the dribble, with a high release and great elevation when he shoots off the bounce. Meanwhile, he was a consistent lock-down defender with long arms, good feet and quick reactions. He could use more muscle, but this isn’t 1995. And in spite of his slender frame, Vassell was a plus rebounder (10.7 boards per 100 in ACC games)

Offensively, Vassell’s biggest weakness is his inability to get downhill to the rim. He has a limited handle but good feel and decision-making, which led him to make the right pass (3.6 assists and a microscopic 1.8 turnovers per 100 in ACC play) but rarely draw fouls (a pitiful 3.1 FTA per 100 in league games). You could argue that his 3-point stroke is better suited for catch-and shoots than for pindowns and curls as well; can he be a true volume shooter?

Statistically, Vassell’s profile couldn’t scream “draft me” more loudly. His rates of steals, blocks and rebounds were all well above par for a wing player, he shot the lights out, and despite my misgivings about his dribble drives he shot 54 percent on 2s in the ACC. The star potential here isn’t nearly as high as some of the players above, but he comes in with a really high floor at a position and role where teams fling $10M a year deals at even mediocre alternatives. He could be a plug-and-play starter for a decade.

8. James Wiseman, C, Memphis

Wiseman is a hard player to rate because of the limited sample size, since he only played three NCAA games. Obviously his size-length combo is mouth-watering at 7-1 with a 7-6 wingspan. He has some shooting touch, too, and likely will be able to score at a decent clip. There’s a decent-to-good chance that he can be a starting center.

To get there, however, he has some work to do. The player he most reminds me of physically is Hassan Whiteside, but Whiteside is among the best rebounders in basketball and Wiseman’s board work is a constant disappointment. Wiseman has some shooting touch, but that may almost serve as a hindrance – he seems to relish shooting 15-footers more than attacking inside. Defensively, in his limited sample from this season, he wasn’t a massive presence despite his size.

Again, we’re operating with only a three-game NCAA sample, one of which was him dunking on Nerf hoops against Kenpom.com’s 339th-rated team. So we need to look at other information. Fortunately, we have it from his high school play. Believe it or not, AAU performance has predictive value for the NBA draft. In Wiseman’s case, despite his size he didn’t dominate the way you’d expect, especially on the glass.

Then we get to the value proposition. Centers are worth less than perimeter players in general, and unlike Okongwu, Wiseman is a one-position player, a true 5. That said, Wiseman’s upside outcomes can’t be ignored. If he becomes an All-Star center, that’s still good.

Splitting hairs, the top five players in this draft all have shown clear star potential, and the next two offer too much probable value to ignore. The players that follow are more speculative. Overall, this seems the right slot for him.

9. Isaac Okoro, SF, Auburn

I’m not quite as all-in on Okoro as some others, but he’s an impressive prospect and should be a sure-fire lottery pick. In particular, he should be a plus wing defender right away. Okoro has a strong frame and good feet, plays hard, and can jump.

Okoro is a tremendous shot blocker for his size, but you want to see more handsiness and anticipation from him. He doesn’t get many steals or deflections and has a weirdly bad rebound rate for such strength and athleticism.

The offense is more of a question mark. Okoro is a poster dunk threat when he gets a head of steam, but the halfcourt is an issue. While he has a good first step and makes the right pass, he’s a straight-line, right-hand driver with little wiggle. On the perimeter, the shooting is iffy at best, with form that will require some significant remedial work. For now he seems more comfy firing off the dribble than catch. There is some potential as second-side initiator because he can pass.

The draft over-indexes a bit on muscles and Okoro has a great frame, so he probably goes higher than this. And maybe he should – the background on him is off the charts from everything I’ve heard. But in a league that’s become all-offense, his offense is an issue.

 

 

 

 

Kira Lewis (Marvin Gentry / USA Today Sports)10. Kira Lewis, PG, Alabama

I’ve written about Lewis already, but he’s still a bit undervalued. The key here is his birth certificate – Lewis was the youngest sophomore in the nation in 2019-20, and was actually younger than several prominent freshman. Relative to the freshman class, he outperformed everybody.

In terms of his capabilities, Lewis has top-notch straight-line speed and he can shoot. His height and length are a plus for the point guard spot but his thin frame needs to fill out, something that particularly hurts him when he tries to battle through screens on defense.

Offensively, while he blazes from end to end his acceleration from a stop isn’t as lethal. Lewis needs to improve his left hand at the rim and is still fine-tuning his decision-making as a passer. You want to see better reads from him in the pick-and-roll as he develops, although he was hindered in this respect by this team’s complete lack of lob and finishing targets (Every Alabama possession this season was a kickout 3. I’m only slightly exaggerating).

Defensively, he should be capable right away if he doesn’t get screened into oblivion. Lewis has good hands and feet and is a good leaper who can rear-view contest shots. I see him as good enough to play backup minutes immediately with a relatively projectable path to being a starter due to his speed/shooting combo.

11. Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt

Guys who can shoot are one thing. Guys who can shoot on the move? Now that’s special. Nesmith can catch in motion and immediately let fly, rolling seamlessly off of screens and right into perfect rainbow splashes thanks to great footwork and a butter-smooth release. Nesmith shot 52.1 percent from 3 on huge volume (13.1 launches per 100 possessions) in his shortened sophomore season. While he may not be THAT accurate over larger samples, the eye test loves his stroke too.

Relative to the “3-and-D” archetype, Nesmith is more “3-and-.” He isn’t a mind-blowing defender, but he can get in a stance and competes, and he’s a pretty good leaper with size so he can contest shots. The size and athleticism are good enough that he won’t get lit, and his shooting can do the rest.

Offensively, the biggest concern is that once he puts it on the floor the other 4 players might as well be invisible. Nesmith can show-and-go when teams crowd his jumper but doesn’t see anything except the rim. He has to develop ways to use his shooting threat to open other teammates – particularly hitting bigs when he comes off curls and pins.

Nesmith’s season was ended by a broken foot, but having done this on the team side I can tell you a single foot injury is rarely impactful on a player’s draft stock. Athletically, he’s the most projectible of the shooters in this draft, and thus the highest on my board.

12. Paul Reed, PF, DePaul

Some of you have heard me extoll Reed’s virtues already, but for those who haven’t: My hottest take on the 2020 class is that Reed is the most undervalued player in the draft, hiding in plain sight as a young junior mired on a brutal DePaul team. I still wonder if I have him too low here.

A long-limbed 4 who moves well laterally, flashes tremendous hands, and has great instincts, Reed can guard 1 through 5 and has All-Defense potential. He’s a rim protector too, a quick leaper who can block shots, and he’s an outstanding rebounder for his size – which may allow him to play 5 as his body fills out. Statistically, Reed had the highest steal rate of any player in my top 60, guards included, and had the highest block rate of any non-center.

Offensively, he books in transition and gets easy buckets that way, but the halfcourt will be a work in progress. He has a high handle and an awkward shooting release, although he seems comfortable shooting off the dribble. He’s athletic enough to finish plays at the rim as a roller, but the decision-making can be suboptimal. He’s pretty quick off the bounce, however, and one wonders if he can attack the rim with more space.

Overall, Reed may be a negative on offense if the shot doesn’t come around, but his college numbers weren’t tragic: 33.0 percent career from 3 and 77.0 percent from the line. Additionally, Reed scores as much from “random” offense — cuts, put-backs, fake DHOs, etc. — as anyone you’ll see, and that could be an offensive lifeline.

For me Reed projects as a high-value role player, a guy who could be a team’s best defender and productively play a secondary role on offense. I’m really interested to see where he lands in the draft, because most projections have him buried in the late second round. If that really happens, he’s an absolute steal.

13. Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Olympiakos

I feel pretty good about the 12 players at the top of my list, and not that great about the players after this point. So here’s where I’d swing for the fences on the biggest boom-bust guy in the draft.

Pokusevski is one of the most unusual players you’ll see – a rail-thin seven-footer who shoots clean-looking 3s on the move, shows skill for dribbling and passing, and snags steals on the perimeter. He also gets absolutely mashed inside the paint and struggles enough with lower body strength that it even impacts his 2-point percentages offensively. He still can protect the rim though, with a staggering 14.2 percent block rate in the Euro U18 championships in 2019.

He plays in the Greek second division, which is roughly on par with the competition in your neighbor’s driveway, so it’s tough to gauge his real ability level. But I’m guessing the strength issue is at least partly fixable over the next few years, and no matter what happens he’ll still be 7-feet tall and skilled. He’s also the youngest player in the draft – he won’t turn 19 until the day after Christmas.

Look, there’s a decent chance he’ll suck. That’s part of the deal with a pick like this. But no player remaining on the board has anywhere near the high-end outcomes that Pokusevski brings. Some of the stuff he does on tape is ridiculous; he just needs to fill in the gaps between highlights with more of the mundane. Take the plunge!

14. Patrick Williams, PF/SF, Florida State

The youngest collegian in draft, Williams is the less extreme version of Pokusveski. He’s the youngest notable collegian in the draft and is a bit project-y, but has obvious NBA talent and size.

There is some bust potential here – does he really know how to play? Why doesn’t he rebound more? But his ability to defend at the rim is clear and he has quick hands on the perimeter. Tape says he made the right pass more often than his assist rate would suggest. At 6-9 with a projectible shot and a decent handle, he’s a potential long-term starter at both forward spots, and those types get $15M a year if they’re even halfway decent.

Of course, the swing skill here is “both forward spots.” His first step can be pretty slow on switches against perimeter players, and he needs to be able to guard those positions. Is he really just a 4 or does can he defend small forwards full-time? I would put him in my top 10 if the answer to the second question was a firm “yes,” but I’m not sold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devon Dotson (William Purnell / USA Today Sports)15. Devon Dotson, PG, Kansas

I’m higher on Dotson than the consensus, as I elaborated in this recent piece. The ability to blast off past defenders without a screen is hugely important for a guard, and Dotson has it. He’ll be able to get to the rim in NBA space.

The questions are about the rest of the package. Will he ever be good enough to be a starter, or is he just a change of pace guy? He’s neither a great shooter nor a great passer at the moment. The tape showed some nice deliveries and Kansas’s post-up heavy offense wasn’t designed to pad his numbers, but he has to prove himself as a distributor at the next level. His left hand could use some work too.

Defensively, he was just okay on the ball but had a great nose for steals off it. He’s listed at 6-2 but looks smaller on tape, although he does have a plus wingspan. Teams will certainly try to target him in size mismatches, and it could be another limitation toward his becoming a starter.

Overall, however, I can’t see Dotson ranking any lower than this. He is the same age as Cole Anthony and was massively better this year, arguably the best player on what was likely the best team in college basketball. I don’t get why Anthony is universally ranked higher.

16. Deni Avdija, PF/SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv

I saw Avdija in person at Basketball Without Borders a year ago, and it reminded me a lot of seeing a teenage Dario Saric play in Croatia. Like Saric, Avdija showed as a teen that he can handle the ball and pass, but probably isn’t good enough at it to be a primary initiator in the NBA. Avdjia has more athletic pop and grab-and-go potential than Saric, but the shot is even more questionable. In particular, he’s an absolutely dreadful foul shooter.

My default is that prospects who get regular minutes in Euroleague as teenagers and play halfway decently virtually never bust, but Avdija just barely creeps over the bar on this one. His Euroleague minutes with Maccabi weren’t terrible, but they certainly weren’t good. His fans say to focus on his play in domestic Israeli League games, but that league stinks. No thanks.

I think there are some positional questions here, too. Can he really guard 3s? Or is he just a 4 who can’t space the floor (what my former ESPN colleague Kevin Arnovitz called a “retch 4”)? For me Avdija is a much more borderline prospect than the hype, probably a backup 4/3 at the end of the day but with some upside as a starter if the shot straightens out.

17. Saddiq Bey, SF, Villanova

Bey might have the lowest ceiling of any player on this list, but he has a high floor and plays a coveted role as a 3-and-D wing with size. He got on the draft radar by shooting extremely well from 3 this year (45.1 percent), but his overall body of work (including a 72.8 percent career mark from the line) suggests he’ll be good-but-not-great shooter as a pro. His greatest value might be as an on-ball defender.

Where Bey fails to impress is in the other categories. Statistically, the first thing that jumps out is his shockingly poor rebound rate for his size. Offensively, he has a good mid-range game but struggles to get all the way to cup and doesn’t explode when he gets there. He used some mid-post isos at Villanova but will probably be a one-dimensional offensive player as a pro. He can shoot 3s in volume, however, if paired with good distributors – he has a low release but he’s big and gets it away quickly.

Defensively, it’s an odd thing … he had very low rates of blocks and steals. But calling him a “switchable” player doesn’t do this justice. Bey is listed at 6-8 but routinely guarded 6-2 guys, and when those small guards thought they could take him off the dribble the results were borderline hilarious. You could make a five-minute YouTube compilation of fools attacking Bey and throwing up no-hoper slop that missed the rim entirely. Bey uses his size as a weapon, slides his feet well, stays vertical and never gives a decent angle.

So, yes, the upside here is pretty limited, but the floor as a useful, winning piece is pretty high. On the basis of his 3-and-D utility at the small forward spot alone, he’s worth a top-20 pick.

18. Cole Anthony, PG/SG, North Carolina

Is he this year’s Shabazz Muhammad? OK, that’s probably too harsh. But like Muhammad, Anthony is an older freshman with an impressive physique, who dominated in AAU but wasn’t as good when he got to the NCAA and couldn’t just take over with his physical tools.

Anthony might shoot better than he did at UNC on 2s, but his inability to explode and finish at the rim doesn’t bode well for the next level. That said, his 3-point and free-throw percentages offer promise for his perimeter game. His AAU numbers are indeed impressive and, as noted above, that has some predictive value. The eye test says he can get to pull-ups pretty easily and profiles as a microwave bench scorer. In time he could become a really good jump shooter off the dribble.

But he’ll likely be a supbar defender — he has short arms, meh instincts, and a disappointing steal rate — and I’m not sure he translates as more than a feast-or-famine volume scorer at the offensive end. Also, Anthony was a year older than the other freshmen in this class, and if you compare his season to the other sophomores in this draft it wasn’t that impressive.

It seems he’ll be picked in the high lottery, but that feels like a serious reach to me. I still see a future for Anthony, which is why he made my top 23, but it’s probably as a bench guy.

19. Theo Maledon, PG/SG, ASVEL Lyon

I watched Maledon play in France a year ago on a scouting trip with the Grizzlies and thought he compared favorably with Frank Ntilikina at the same age – a long-armed combo guard who could defend, shoot a little and make the right play, but with a bit more wiggle and playmaking than Frankie Smokes. Maledon was also just 17 at the time, a year away from being draft-eligible.

That’s damning with faint praise, of course — Ntilikina isn’t good — and it’s worse because Maledon showed roughly zero improvement this season. Most of Maledon’s stats in France declined this year, although some of the blame lies with a shooting percentage regression that could easily be noise. However, for a “toolsy” guard Maledon also had an alarmingly low steal rate (just seven in 389 Euroleague minutes).

Nonetheless, Maledon was able to break into ASVEL’s rotation as a 17-year-old, played decently this past year as an 18-year-old in the Euroleague (his numbers were better than Avdija’s), and has several potential pathways to success at one of the guard spots.

Maledon shoots well enough and has enough length to have a future at the 2, but he also flashes enough on the ball that he might be able to play 1 full-time. At either spot, the defense should be acceptable. There’s little star power here – his upside is probably something more like George Hill — but he has a pretty good chance to stick.

20. Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis

Achiuwa could be a complete disaster on offense; he’s a below-average shooter with no concept of what a good shot is and little interest in generating one for a teammate. But his size and motor alone land him in my top 20; just by rebounding, running and defending he can probably earn minutes as long as he isn’t a complete pig on offense.

Achiuwa tempts scouts with his energy and athleticism, posting an awesome rebound rate and getting easy baskets with put-backs and transitions. He also has a decent handle for a big and can use it to generate shots, although he does that far too willingly.

While Achiuwa profiles as a forward, he played 5 at Memphis and rebounds well enough to steal minutes as a smallball 5 in the pros. If he gets his shooting up to snuff he could be a mismatch proposition at this spot. At the same time, he can play some 3 in the right lineup as well. His positional flexibility is a major plus.

Defensively, he’s a switchable big who can keep guards in front of him in short-clock situations. Relative to a player like Paul Reed, whom I’ve ranked much higher, Achiuwa is similar but has more questions marks about his offensive feel and isn’t on the same level as a defensive force. That’s why he’s more of an overall gamble. He’s the same age and same size as Reed, so I’m a little bewildered that he’s universally slotted 30-40 spots higher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elijah Hughes (Mark Konezny / USA Today Sports)My Three Sleepers

21. Elijah Hughes, SF, Syracuse

These picks in the 20s like Hughes take us into a different strata from the one-and-dones in the top 20. Hughes is older, he’s not quite as accomplished as a collegian, and he’s likely to get picked in the second round. Nonetheless, I think he has a good chance to stick as a productive wing player in the league, and that’s the most valuable position to hit on. The third wing in a rotation is a $10 million guy on the open market, making good backups on rookie contracts at these spots far more valuable than similar bigs or point guards.

In Hughes’s case, I think he has starter upside as a scoring wing. Shooting will be the swing skill: He has deep range but needs to shoot the ball more consistently. Beyond that, Hughes has a good handle for his size, operating as Syracuse’s de facto point guard at times. While he’s pretty right-hand dominant, he has enough zip to beat defenders off the dribble without a screen, he’s capable of making the right pass, and he has the hops to finish against NBA bigs in traffic.

Hughes has to demonstrate the ability to guard on the ball after playing in Syracuse’s zone the past two years. Going back in time, the tape from his freshman year at East Carolina is underwhelming in this regard – he’s a quick leaper who blocks a lot of jump shots, but his lateral movement is suspect. Nonetheless, big wings who can jump and dribble are hard to find. Hughes has been undervalued.

22. Malachi Flynn, PG, San Diego State

File this one under “just a baller.” Flynn isn’t a true Bad Geography Guy — scouts will happily squeeze a San Diego trip into their January schedules — but as a late bloomer who sat out last season and played outside the Power 5, Flynn was almost certainly seen less than he should have been.

The two things that stand out about Flynn are a) what appear to be very ordinary physical tools and b) awesome results. Defensively, he seems eminently cookable because he’s not that big and not a leaper. But opponents didn’t do squat against him. He rarely gets beat off the dribble because he’s a good lateral mover, never takes a play off and rarely fouls. Watching him off the ball borders on fun – he’s constantly on alert, anticipates actions, has quick hands, and stole the ball at a high rate (2.8 per 100 in Mountain West play). It’s not clear if that will make up for his tools disadvantage against NBA point guards, but it gives him a chance.

Offensively, he’s a polished pick-and-roll operator who is a scorer first but shows he can make the right pass if the read requires it. In particular, he excels at short-range pull-ups. He’s a money foul shooter but the long-range shot is more questionable; he shot 36.3 percent for his career and some of the misses were bad, but he does show deep range and has a high release. His somewhat high handle could be an issue be against NBA pressure, but again, his high IQ and feel on offense give him a chance. He doesn’t get to the rim as often as you might like, but he had a miniscule turnover rate for a point guard with such a high Usage Rate.

Overall, I’m high on Flynn because I think the IQ and feel will win out, but I see the other side here: His athletic tools don’t scream upside and he could end up overmatched in 1-on-1 battles on defense. After the first 20 players, I’m willing to take the plunge.

23. Desmond Bane, SG, TCU

I keep seeing Bane listed in the 40s and 50s. Whatever. He’s a strong wing who can pass, shoot with deep range, and defend. He can dribble into step backs and comfortably launch. He’s a fantastic rebounder for his size (10.4 boards per 100 in the Big 12), and as a secondary playmaker makes some impressive deliveries. The tools are here for a high-level role player, and again, that’s a $10M proposition at the wing positions. The surplus value of landing that on a rookie contract is huge.

Bane has his warts, which is why draftniks aren’t fawning over him. His arms are shorter than this sentence. He’s athletic in some respects but doesn’t explode vertically at the rim, shooting just 42 percent on 2s in the Big 12 – blecch. Despite his strong frame, he never draws fouls, and he had a lot of trouble getting all the way to the rim with his merely adequate off the dribble game. He’s better at getting to step-backs, with the ability to shoot off of a quick stop by going backward between the legs.

Bane competes defensively and is very strong, but he has a powerlifter’s body with a thick chest and, as noted, very short arms. The lateral quickness is just okay and a good crossover can leave him wobbling, but his anticipation and off-ball defense are pretty good. He’ll have to rely on his strength and IQ to fare well in switching schemes.

That said, the positives here outweigh the minuses at this spot on the board.

 

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6 hours ago, I❤️JV said:

Hollinger’s NBA Draft Top 20 (plus sleepers): The guys I’d be willing to bet on

https://theathletic.com/1808864/2020/05/13/hollingers-nba-draft-top-20-plus-sleepers-the-guys-id-be-willing-to-bet-on/

 

Twenty players.

That was always my goal when I worked in the Memphis front office – to narrow the draft down to the 20 players I thought could stick as rotation players in the league.

Why 20? That, give or take, is how many will actually pull it off. Most years it’s actually about 22 or 23, and it depends a bit on how exactly you define “rotation player” once you get past the obvious names. But as a general concept involving a round number, 20 works.

So, in putting together my draft list, I’m always thinking about those 20 names. Who are the 20 guys I’d be willing to bet on?

In particular, it’s a great tool for discipline later in the draft. One reason I felt so good about our team trading a future second-round pick for the 45th pick in 2017 was because the player we were about to select, Dillon Brooks, was in my 20. Other times, let’s just say we probably would have been better off not picking.

Of course, 60 players will be selected when the NBA (eventually) drafts, and some of the top picks will probably fail and a few of the late picks will probably succeed. Same as it ever was. So I will have a lot more than 20 names on my final draft list, and eventually I’ll tell you about all of them.

Today, however, I want to focus on that core group – I actually ended up with 23 for this year. That’s the core group of 20 players, and then three sleepers that I really believe in. I’ll come back later to chime on everyone else.

So with that all said, and with the caveat that this will likely look hilarious a decade from now given the variance of the draft, here’s how the top of my draft board looks.

 

1. LaMelo Ball, PG/SG, Illawara Hawks

In an ideal world, you’d like the top-rated player on the draft board to be somebody who actually tried on defense. Alas, that option doesn’t appear to be on the table this year. The two most talented players, Ball and Anthony Edwards, both submitted staggering displays of indifference at that end. Other players you’ll read about in a minute were more solid, but don’t possess nearly the upside of these two players.

That matters because the draft is primarily about upside, especially at the top. Whiff on a top-5 pick and you’ll get another one a year later. But for the non-glamour markets, this is your team’s best (and perhaps only) chance to hitch its wagon to a star.

Ball played only 13 games in Australia this season and the results weren’t always spectacular, but he’s atop my board because he showed the ability to do things most NBA players simply can’t. He’s an amazing passer off the dribble, particularly with his right hand, and his rebounds sometimes turn into full-court TD passes that hit the receiver’s hands perfectly in stride. At 6-6, he can see over the defense too.

Ball combines that with a very solid handle. Relative to his older brother with the Pelicans, LaMelo is much looser in the hips and can change directions more easily, and that makes him a much more dangerous navigator around screens.

Ball is a poor shooter right now and in spite of that will take some adventurous long-range shots, and his skill as a finisher could also use some work. It’s possible he ends up as just a bigger Ricky Rubio – brilliant in transition, but not so much in the halfcourt.

Defensively, Ball’s half-assed efforts are a concern, but he has the tools to do the job and he anticipates plays well … too well, actually, as he just tries for steals instead of playing solid. I don’t worry overly much about the defense – he’s very young and once he can’t get away with gambling and has to try, I’m guessing he will. As an added plus, he’s a very good rebounder for his size.

All told, however, it could be a wild ride in his first couple of seasons. Between his penchant for home-run passes, the YOLO 40-foot pull-ups, and the defense, he definitely will drive his first coach insane.

Overall, you can make a case that somebody like Killian Hayes or Onyeka Okongwu will have a better career. But I think Ball has the best chance of playing in an All-Star Game of anyone in this draft. Players of his size who have plus athleticism, can handle the ball, and fire laser beams all over the court are extremely rare. You grab them when you can and then deal with the warts.

2. Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia

Edwards may have more long-term upside than Ball, I’m just significantly less convinced that he’ll reach it.

Let’s start with the positives. His body comes straight out of a shooting guard factory – a chiseled 6-4 frame with long arms, quick feet and the ability to get in a stance. He pops off the floor for rebounds and dunks. He can quickly rise for pull-up jumpers or accelerate and beat a defender with either hand. I’m pretty sure he can average 20 points a game in the NBA.

Whether he can impact winning with those tools is much more questionable. While Edwards was a prolific scorer and a decent rebounder, his feel, IQ and motor all raised major red flags in his lone season at Georgia. You needn’t watch for long to get a serious Andrew Wiggins vibe.

His shot is suspect as well. Edwards launched 3s early and often but only converted 29.4 percent of them. Watching him shoot before games (it’s nice to have a top prospect play a short drive from your house), Edwards seemed equally inconsistent. His form tended to vary depending on whether he shot off the catch (straight over his head, elbow partly out) or off the dribble (more of a catapult motion off his right shoulder).

Off the dribble, Edwards gets a head of steam easily but it’s all straight lines, with little change-of-direction shiftiness once he starts moving and one-read passing ability. Edwards has more wiggle in tight spaces, where he loves to go between his legs and then rise up for a long jumper. He can get these away cleanly, but again, they didn’t go in that often.

His defensive tape only adds to the riddle. He’ll have tremendous possessions where he slides his feet, walls off drivers and uses his leaping ability to contest shots. He’ll have others — sometimes in the same game — where he sleepwalks alongside a driver and allows an uncontested layup. More concerning are the baffling stretches where he loafs up and down the court at both ends; you’ll rarely see a guard be the last man up and down the court more often than he is.

Again, there are no sure things in this draft. Edwards would be the third or fourth pick a year ago and might not crack the top 5 in 2018. But in this draft, just on straight talent he almost has to be one of the top two picks.

3. Killian Hayes, PG/SG, Ulm

An unknown quantity for most American fans, Hayes is a French lefty who isn’t a knock-down shooter (29.4 percent from 3) but has an extremely high skill level in terms of being able to execute complex moves like step-backs, side steps and pull-ups out of pick-and-rolls. Hayes has never shot well from the perimeter and has a funky push shot, but he has a history of shooting extremely well from the free-throw line (87.6 percent). One hopes that will translate to 3s as he gets older. Although he’s big for a point guard, he can run pick-and-roll all day and make the right delivery more often than not.

Hayes is still very young — like Ball and Edwards, he won’t turn 19 until this summer — and had a good season in a decent league. Ulm played in the Eurocup, not the Euroleague, and the German League isn’t quite as good as Spain’s, but it’s not bad.

Where Hayes falls short, and it’s something I saw in person a year ago at Basketball Without Borders, is having the zip to just cook a player off the dribble from a standstill and then finish over length at the rim. He struggles to gain separation off the bounce, which is one reason he has to rely on herky-jerky start-stops, step-backs and other complex skills, and depends a lot on pull-ups rather than lay-ups. Even his close-in finishes are difficult, contested makes. Again, that’s German League athleticism, so you can see how some are concerned about what happens against far more athletic players over here.

Hayes is also extremely left-hand dominant, which is a concern of some scouts and not of some others. I tend to be in the latter camp — John Stockton had a 20-year career as an all-time great NBA point guard and took maybe four dribbles with his left hand — but I could see how overplays could become a problem for him.

Read several of those lines above and it sounds very reminiscent of D’Angelo Russell, but Hayes offers more on the defensive end. Although he’s not a super athlete, Hayes has decent lateral quickness and great anticipation, and has posted high rates of steals and blocks in a competitive league (and without a cheating LaMelo style to get them).

Hayes’s combination of age, skill level, and free-throw accuracy offer an upside despite his meh athleticism. Additionally, an on-ball guard who defends two positions solidly is one of the most valuable player archetypes to have. I have Ball and Edwards rated higher because of their home-run upside, but Hayes could easily have a better career than either of them. For me, he’s the third-best value proposition on this board.

4. Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, USC

Okongwu was awesome as a freshman and the only reason I don’t have him higher is that today’s game doesn’t value bigs as much. He still might be undervalued here. Relative to his position he’s arguably the best player in this draft, and in particular would seem to be an outstanding fit with the Golden State Warriors.

Let’s get into the details. Since 2011-12, five major conference NCAA freshman have had a PER north of 30 and shot better than 70 percent from the line, an important indicator that they had enough skill to be something besides a ‘90s beast-ball 5 in the pros.

The first four were Anthony Davis, Cody Zeller, Karl-Anthony Towns and Deandre Ayton. Three of them were the first pick in the draft and the other one was picked third and has had a very solid pro career.

Okongwu is the fifth. He’s currently pegged in the mid-to-late lottery by most forecasts. Maybe that’s fair — obviously, the fact that he shares a statistical similarity with a group of players does not automatically mean he will follow in their footsteps.

At the same time … in a draft this short on star potential, isn’t at least a little interesting that Okongwu’s statistical comps have been so wildly successful? It’s not like he was playing in a USC system that titled things in favor; watch the tape and at times you’ll want to run on the court and beg their guards to get him the freaking ball. At other times he had to hold spacing so that USC’s other bigs could get touches (!), even though Okongwu has an excellent post game and easily gets to jump hooks with either hand.

He put up monster stats anyway, leading the Pac-12 in PER and BPM and shooting 60.7 percent in conference play. His ability to score on the block should become more prominent at the pro level, especially against switches.

While Okongwu’s ceiling probably profiles closer to that of Ayton’s than Towns’ or Davis’, that would still be a hell of an outcome with a meh lottery pick in a weak draft. As with a player he’s frequently compared to — Miami’s Bam Adebayo — his height may be held against him at 6-9. Unlike Adebayo, however, Okongwu shows enough promise as a shooter that he may be able to play next to a true 5 as his skill level progresses. He’s already a better post scorer than Bam, but he doesn’t have his ballhandling and passing skill.

Even if Okongwu doesn’t become a stretch big, he could be a steal anywhere after the first few picks. I’m not a huge fan of drafting 5s, but Okongwu offers some positional flexibility as a 4/5 and, as noted above, he was freaking awesome this year. After the three guards at the top, Okongwu’s value proposition is just too great to ignore.

 

 

Obi Toppin (David Kohl / USA Today Sports)

5. Obi Toppin, PF, Dayton

Toppin profiles as the best offensive big in the draft, and while his defense is more of a question mark, I don’t think the narrative about his defense is totally correct based on the tape I saw. Toppin isn’t great laterally, which we’ll get into a minute. But his length and leaping are huge advantages in switches. He blocked several guards’ jump shots in switch situations and showed a “closing speed” to catch up to drivers and reject them at the rim.

Where he really struggles is changing directions to recover once he gets dragged one way by a guard. That “one-one-thousand” to stop and then recover to challenge a shot is all the time a pick-and-pop big needs to launch away. Flipped screens also can leave him wandering in no-man’s land. But in a switching scheme, there are players in this draft I’m a lot more worried about than Toppin.

And can we talk about the offense? Toppin might be the most accomplished offensive weapon in this draft: a burgeoning pick-and-pop threat with a quick release who shot 39 percent from deep this year; a transition dunk machine due to his speed and leaping ability; and a low-post bucket getter who can abuse switches. Toppin’s feel for passing out of double teams was also quite impressive.

There are negatives here relative to other lottery picks. Toppin is a late bloomer and is already 22 years old, so you have to discount his spectacular college stats a bit. He played in a weak conference, although his performance held up against power-5 foes like Kansas and Colorado. His rebounding rate is quite ordinary. Finally, he’s likely a one-position player – too stiff laterally to check 3s, but not stout enough physically to battle 5s.

6. Tyrese Haliburton, SG/PG, Iowa State

In a draft loaded with guards, Halliburton doesn’t quite tantalize with the scoring ability of the top three players on this board, but he passes as well as anybody, has great size for the position, and is a knockdown shooter.

Haliburton’s assist totals could have been much more impressive; his tape is an infinite loop of sweet deliveries to teammates who flubbed easy chances. As a scoring threat in the halfcourt, however, he has work to do. He’s long and quick but doesn’t have crazy burst and needs time and space to uncork his outside shot. At the basket, he shies away from contact with his thin frame and doesn’t draw fouls.

He’s more spectacular in transition, where his speed and court vision can combine for some breathtaking sequences. He’s also a money shooter (42 percent from 3, 82 percent from the line) despite a low set shot that can be awkward to get into off the dribble.

As a defender, Haliburton can be slow changing directions laterally on the ball. He makes up for it by giving space and then using his superior length and leaping to close out; he surprised several shooters who thought they had open pull-ups. Off the ball, his phenomenal steal rate is a good omen (3.4 per 100 in Big 12 play – I tend to rely on conference games to weed out lopsided early-season schedules), and he was as good as anyone I saw at tagging a roller and then zipping back out to 3-point line. In transition defense, he’s a shot-blocking threat too.

All the background on Haliburton is rock solid as well. He may never be a big scorer, but as a long-term plus at the guard position, he looks like one of the few close-to-sure things in this draft.

7. Devin Vassell, SG, Florida State

A rock-solid prospect at the 2 who checks every single box for a 3-and-D wing and offers some promise to continue expanding his game, Vassell may seem too high here until you run through the value proposition and compare it to the alternatives.

Vassell is a wiry wing who can jump, and in his case, the 3-and-D isn’t some far-off theoretical construct. He shot 41.7 percent from 3 at Florida State and is equally potent off the catch or the dribble, with a high release and great elevation when he shoots off the bounce. Meanwhile, he was a consistent lock-down defender with long arms, good feet and quick reactions. He could use more muscle, but this isn’t 1995. And in spite of his slender frame, Vassell was a plus rebounder (10.7 boards per 100 in ACC games)

Offensively, Vassell’s biggest weakness is his inability to get downhill to the rim. He has a limited handle but good feel and decision-making, which led him to make the right pass (3.6 assists and a microscopic 1.8 turnovers per 100 in ACC play) but rarely draw fouls (a pitiful 3.1 FTA per 100 in league games). You could argue that his 3-point stroke is better suited for catch-and shoots than for pindowns and curls as well; can he be a true volume shooter?

Statistically, Vassell’s profile couldn’t scream “draft me” more loudly. His rates of steals, blocks and rebounds were all well above par for a wing player, he shot the lights out, and despite my misgivings about his dribble drives he shot 54 percent on 2s in the ACC. The star potential here isn’t nearly as high as some of the players above, but he comes in with a really high floor at a position and role where teams fling $10M a year deals at even mediocre alternatives. He could be a plug-and-play starter for a decade.

8. James Wiseman, C, Memphis

Wiseman is a hard player to rate because of the limited sample size, since he only played three NCAA games. Obviously his size-length combo is mouth-watering at 7-1 with a 7-6 wingspan. He has some shooting touch, too, and likely will be able to score at a decent clip. There’s a decent-to-good chance that he can be a starting center.

To get there, however, he has some work to do. The player he most reminds me of physically is Hassan Whiteside, but Whiteside is among the best rebounders in basketball and Wiseman’s board work is a constant disappointment. Wiseman has some shooting touch, but that may almost serve as a hindrance – he seems to relish shooting 15-footers more than attacking inside. Defensively, in his limited sample from this season, he wasn’t a massive presence despite his size.

Again, we’re operating with only a three-game NCAA sample, one of which was him dunking on Nerf hoops against Kenpom.com’s 339th-rated team. So we need to look at other information. Fortunately, we have it from his high school play. Believe it or not, AAU performance has predictive value for the NBA draft. In Wiseman’s case, despite his size he didn’t dominate the way you’d expect, especially on the glass.

Then we get to the value proposition. Centers are worth less than perimeter players in general, and unlike Okongwu, Wiseman is a one-position player, a true 5. That said, Wiseman’s upside outcomes can’t be ignored. If he becomes an All-Star center, that’s still good.

Splitting hairs, the top five players in this draft all have shown clear star potential, and the next two offer too much probable value to ignore. The players that follow are more speculative. Overall, this seems the right slot for him.

9. Isaac Okoro, SF, Auburn

I’m not quite as all-in on Okoro as some others, but he’s an impressive prospect and should be a sure-fire lottery pick. In particular, he should be a plus wing defender right away. Okoro has a strong frame and good feet, plays hard, and can jump.

Okoro is a tremendous shot blocker for his size, but you want to see more handsiness and anticipation from him. He doesn’t get many steals or deflections and has a weirdly bad rebound rate for such strength and athleticism.

The offense is more of a question mark. Okoro is a poster dunk threat when he gets a head of steam, but the halfcourt is an issue. While he has a good first step and makes the right pass, he’s a straight-line, right-hand driver with little wiggle. On the perimeter, the shooting is iffy at best, with form that will require some significant remedial work. For now he seems more comfy firing off the dribble than catch. There is some potential as second-side initiator because he can pass.

The draft over-indexes a bit on muscles and Okoro has a great frame, so he probably goes higher than this. And maybe he should – the background on him is off the charts from everything I’ve heard. But in a league that’s become all-offense, his offense is an issue.

 

 

 

 

Kira Lewis (Marvin Gentry / USA Today Sports)10. Kira Lewis, PG, Alabama

I’ve written about Lewis already, but he’s still a bit undervalued. The key here is his birth certificate – Lewis was the youngest sophomore in the nation in 2019-20, and was actually younger than several prominent freshman. Relative to the freshman class, he outperformed everybody.

In terms of his capabilities, Lewis has top-notch straight-line speed and he can shoot. His height and length are a plus for the point guard spot but his thin frame needs to fill out, something that particularly hurts him when he tries to battle through screens on defense.

Offensively, while he blazes from end to end his acceleration from a stop isn’t as lethal. Lewis needs to improve his left hand at the rim and is still fine-tuning his decision-making as a passer. You want to see better reads from him in the pick-and-roll as he develops, although he was hindered in this respect by this team’s complete lack of lob and finishing targets (Every Alabama possession this season was a kickout 3. I’m only slightly exaggerating).

Defensively, he should be capable right away if he doesn’t get screened into oblivion. Lewis has good hands and feet and is a good leaper who can rear-view contest shots. I see him as good enough to play backup minutes immediately with a relatively projectable path to being a starter due to his speed/shooting combo.

11. Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt

Guys who can shoot are one thing. Guys who can shoot on the move? Now that’s special. Nesmith can catch in motion and immediately let fly, rolling seamlessly off of screens and right into perfect rainbow splashes thanks to great footwork and a butter-smooth release. Nesmith shot 52.1 percent from 3 on huge volume (13.1 launches per 100 possessions) in his shortened sophomore season. While he may not be THAT accurate over larger samples, the eye test loves his stroke too.

Relative to the “3-and-D” archetype, Nesmith is more “3-and-.” He isn’t a mind-blowing defender, but he can get in a stance and competes, and he’s a pretty good leaper with size so he can contest shots. The size and athleticism are good enough that he won’t get lit, and his shooting can do the rest.

Offensively, the biggest concern is that once he puts it on the floor the other 4 players might as well be invisible. Nesmith can show-and-go when teams crowd his jumper but doesn’t see anything except the rim. He has to develop ways to use his shooting threat to open other teammates – particularly hitting bigs when he comes off curls and pins.

Nesmith’s season was ended by a broken foot, but having done this on the team side I can tell you a single foot injury is rarely impactful on a player’s draft stock. Athletically, he’s the most projectible of the shooters in this draft, and thus the highest on my board.

12. Paul Reed, PF, DePaul

Some of you have heard me extoll Reed’s virtues already, but for those who haven’t: My hottest take on the 2020 class is that Reed is the most undervalued player in the draft, hiding in plain sight as a young junior mired on a brutal DePaul team. I still wonder if I have him too low here.

A long-limbed 4 who moves well laterally, flashes tremendous hands, and has great instincts, Reed can guard 1 through 5 and has All-Defense potential. He’s a rim protector too, a quick leaper who can block shots, and he’s an outstanding rebounder for his size – which may allow him to play 5 as his body fills out. Statistically, Reed had the highest steal rate of any player in my top 60, guards included, and had the highest block rate of any non-center.

Offensively, he books in transition and gets easy buckets that way, but the halfcourt will be a work in progress. He has a high handle and an awkward shooting release, although he seems comfortable shooting off the dribble. He’s athletic enough to finish plays at the rim as a roller, but the decision-making can be suboptimal. He’s pretty quick off the bounce, however, and one wonders if he can attack the rim with more space.

Overall, Reed may be a negative on offense if the shot doesn’t come around, but his college numbers weren’t tragic: 33.0 percent career from 3 and 77.0 percent from the line. Additionally, Reed scores as much from “random” offense — cuts, put-backs, fake DHOs, etc. — as anyone you’ll see, and that could be an offensive lifeline.

For me Reed projects as a high-value role player, a guy who could be a team’s best defender and productively play a secondary role on offense. I’m really interested to see where he lands in the draft, because most projections have him buried in the late second round. If that really happens, he’s an absolute steal.

13. Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Olympiakos

I feel pretty good about the 12 players at the top of my list, and not that great about the players after this point. So here’s where I’d swing for the fences on the biggest boom-bust guy in the draft.

Pokusevski is one of the most unusual players you’ll see – a rail-thin seven-footer who shoots clean-looking 3s on the move, shows skill for dribbling and passing, and snags steals on the perimeter. He also gets absolutely mashed inside the paint and struggles enough with lower body strength that it even impacts his 2-point percentages offensively. He still can protect the rim though, with a staggering 14.2 percent block rate in the Euro U18 championships in 2019.

He plays in the Greek second division, which is roughly on par with the competition in your neighbor’s driveway, so it’s tough to gauge his real ability level. But I’m guessing the strength issue is at least partly fixable over the next few years, and no matter what happens he’ll still be 7-feet tall and skilled. He’s also the youngest player in the draft – he won’t turn 19 until the day after Christmas.

Look, there’s a decent chance he’ll suck. That’s part of the deal with a pick like this. But no player remaining on the board has anywhere near the high-end outcomes that Pokusevski brings. Some of the stuff he does on tape is ridiculous; he just needs to fill in the gaps between highlights with more of the mundane. Take the plunge!

14. Patrick Williams, PF/SF, Florida State

The youngest collegian in draft, Williams is the less extreme version of Pokusveski. He’s the youngest notable collegian in the draft and is a bit project-y, but has obvious NBA talent and size.

There is some bust potential here – does he really know how to play? Why doesn’t he rebound more? But his ability to defend at the rim is clear and he has quick hands on the perimeter. Tape says he made the right pass more often than his assist rate would suggest. At 6-9 with a projectible shot and a decent handle, he’s a potential long-term starter at both forward spots, and those types get $15M a year if they’re even halfway decent.

Of course, the swing skill here is “both forward spots.” His first step can be pretty slow on switches against perimeter players, and he needs to be able to guard those positions. Is he really just a 4 or does can he defend small forwards full-time? I would put him in my top 10 if the answer to the second question was a firm “yes,” but I’m not sold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devon Dotson (William Purnell / USA Today Sports)15. Devon Dotson, PG, Kansas

I’m higher on Dotson than the consensus, as I elaborated in this recent piece. The ability to blast off past defenders without a screen is hugely important for a guard, and Dotson has it. He’ll be able to get to the rim in NBA space.

The questions are about the rest of the package. Will he ever be good enough to be a starter, or is he just a change of pace guy? He’s neither a great shooter nor a great passer at the moment. The tape showed some nice deliveries and Kansas’s post-up heavy offense wasn’t designed to pad his numbers, but he has to prove himself as a distributor at the next level. His left hand could use some work too.

Defensively, he was just okay on the ball but had a great nose for steals off it. He’s listed at 6-2 but looks smaller on tape, although he does have a plus wingspan. Teams will certainly try to target him in size mismatches, and it could be another limitation toward his becoming a starter.

Overall, however, I can’t see Dotson ranking any lower than this. He is the same age as Cole Anthony and was massively better this year, arguably the best player on what was likely the best team in college basketball. I don’t get why Anthony is universally ranked higher.

16. Deni Avdija, PF/SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv

I saw Avdija in person at Basketball Without Borders a year ago, and it reminded me a lot of seeing a teenage Dario Saric play in Croatia. Like Saric, Avdija showed as a teen that he can handle the ball and pass, but probably isn’t good enough at it to be a primary initiator in the NBA. Avdjia has more athletic pop and grab-and-go potential than Saric, but the shot is even more questionable. In particular, he’s an absolutely dreadful foul shooter.

My default is that prospects who get regular minutes in Euroleague as teenagers and play halfway decently virtually never bust, but Avdija just barely creeps over the bar on this one. His Euroleague minutes with Maccabi weren’t terrible, but they certainly weren’t good. His fans say to focus on his play in domestic Israeli League games, but that league stinks. No thanks.

I think there are some positional questions here, too. Can he really guard 3s? Or is he just a 4 who can’t space the floor (what my former ESPN colleague Kevin Arnovitz called a “retch 4”)? For me Avdija is a much more borderline prospect than the hype, probably a backup 4/3 at the end of the day but with some upside as a starter if the shot straightens out.

17. Saddiq Bey, SF, Villanova

Bey might have the lowest ceiling of any player on this list, but he has a high floor and plays a coveted role as a 3-and-D wing with size. He got on the draft radar by shooting extremely well from 3 this year (45.1 percent), but his overall body of work (including a 72.8 percent career mark from the line) suggests he’ll be good-but-not-great shooter as a pro. His greatest value might be as an on-ball defender.

Where Bey fails to impress is in the other categories. Statistically, the first thing that jumps out is his shockingly poor rebound rate for his size. Offensively, he has a good mid-range game but struggles to get all the way to cup and doesn’t explode when he gets there. He used some mid-post isos at Villanova but will probably be a one-dimensional offensive player as a pro. He can shoot 3s in volume, however, if paired with good distributors – he has a low release but he’s big and gets it away quickly.

Defensively, it’s an odd thing … he had very low rates of blocks and steals. But calling him a “switchable” player doesn’t do this justice. Bey is listed at 6-8 but routinely guarded 6-2 guys, and when those small guards thought they could take him off the dribble the results were borderline hilarious. You could make a five-minute YouTube compilation of fools attacking Bey and throwing up no-hoper slop that missed the rim entirely. Bey uses his size as a weapon, slides his feet well, stays vertical and never gives a decent angle.

So, yes, the upside here is pretty limited, but the floor as a useful, winning piece is pretty high. On the basis of his 3-and-D utility at the small forward spot alone, he’s worth a top-20 pick.

18. Cole Anthony, PG/SG, North Carolina

Is he this year’s Shabazz Muhammad? OK, that’s probably too harsh. But like Muhammad, Anthony is an older freshman with an impressive physique, who dominated in AAU but wasn’t as good when he got to the NCAA and couldn’t just take over with his physical tools.

Anthony might shoot better than he did at UNC on 2s, but his inability to explode and finish at the rim doesn’t bode well for the next level. That said, his 3-point and free-throw percentages offer promise for his perimeter game. His AAU numbers are indeed impressive and, as noted above, that has some predictive value. The eye test says he can get to pull-ups pretty easily and profiles as a microwave bench scorer. In time he could become a really good jump shooter off the dribble.

But he’ll likely be a supbar defender — he has short arms, meh instincts, and a disappointing steal rate — and I’m not sure he translates as more than a feast-or-famine volume scorer at the offensive end. Also, Anthony was a year older than the other freshmen in this class, and if you compare his season to the other sophomores in this draft it wasn’t that impressive.

It seems he’ll be picked in the high lottery, but that feels like a serious reach to me. I still see a future for Anthony, which is why he made my top 23, but it’s probably as a bench guy.

19. Theo Maledon, PG/SG, ASVEL Lyon

I watched Maledon play in France a year ago on a scouting trip with the Grizzlies and thought he compared favorably with Frank Ntilikina at the same age – a long-armed combo guard who could defend, shoot a little and make the right play, but with a bit more wiggle and playmaking than Frankie Smokes. Maledon was also just 17 at the time, a year away from being draft-eligible.

That’s damning with faint praise, of course — Ntilikina isn’t good — and it’s worse because Maledon showed roughly zero improvement this season. Most of Maledon’s stats in France declined this year, although some of the blame lies with a shooting percentage regression that could easily be noise. However, for a “toolsy” guard Maledon also had an alarmingly low steal rate (just seven in 389 Euroleague minutes).

Nonetheless, Maledon was able to break into ASVEL’s rotation as a 17-year-old, played decently this past year as an 18-year-old in the Euroleague (his numbers were better than Avdija’s), and has several potential pathways to success at one of the guard spots.

Maledon shoots well enough and has enough length to have a future at the 2, but he also flashes enough on the ball that he might be able to play 1 full-time. At either spot, the defense should be acceptable. There’s little star power here – his upside is probably something more like George Hill — but he has a pretty good chance to stick.

20. Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis

Achiuwa could be a complete disaster on offense; he’s a below-average shooter with no concept of what a good shot is and little interest in generating one for a teammate. But his size and motor alone land him in my top 20; just by rebounding, running and defending he can probably earn minutes as long as he isn’t a complete pig on offense.

Achiuwa tempts scouts with his energy and athleticism, posting an awesome rebound rate and getting easy baskets with put-backs and transitions. He also has a decent handle for a big and can use it to generate shots, although he does that far too willingly.

While Achiuwa profiles as a forward, he played 5 at Memphis and rebounds well enough to steal minutes as a smallball 5 in the pros. If he gets his shooting up to snuff he could be a mismatch proposition at this spot. At the same time, he can play some 3 in the right lineup as well. His positional flexibility is a major plus.

Defensively, he’s a switchable big who can keep guards in front of him in short-clock situations. Relative to a player like Paul Reed, whom I’ve ranked much higher, Achiuwa is similar but has more questions marks about his offensive feel and isn’t on the same level as a defensive force. That’s why he’s more of an overall gamble. He’s the same age and same size as Reed, so I’m a little bewildered that he’s universally slotted 30-40 spots higher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elijah Hughes (Mark Konezny / USA Today Sports)My Three Sleepers

21. Elijah Hughes, SF, Syracuse

These picks in the 20s like Hughes take us into a different strata from the one-and-dones in the top 20. Hughes is older, he’s not quite as accomplished as a collegian, and he’s likely to get picked in the second round. Nonetheless, I think he has a good chance to stick as a productive wing player in the league, and that’s the most valuable position to hit on. The third wing in a rotation is a $10 million guy on the open market, making good backups on rookie contracts at these spots far more valuable than similar bigs or point guards.

In Hughes’s case, I think he has starter upside as a scoring wing. Shooting will be the swing skill: He has deep range but needs to shoot the ball more consistently. Beyond that, Hughes has a good handle for his size, operating as Syracuse’s de facto point guard at times. While he’s pretty right-hand dominant, he has enough zip to beat defenders off the dribble without a screen, he’s capable of making the right pass, and he has the hops to finish against NBA bigs in traffic.

Hughes has to demonstrate the ability to guard on the ball after playing in Syracuse’s zone the past two years. Going back in time, the tape from his freshman year at East Carolina is underwhelming in this regard – he’s a quick leaper who blocks a lot of jump shots, but his lateral movement is suspect. Nonetheless, big wings who can jump and dribble are hard to find. Hughes has been undervalued.

22. Malachi Flynn, PG, San Diego State

File this one under “just a baller.” Flynn isn’t a true Bad Geography Guy — scouts will happily squeeze a San Diego trip into their January schedules — but as a late bloomer who sat out last season and played outside the Power 5, Flynn was almost certainly seen less than he should have been.

The two things that stand out about Flynn are a) what appear to be very ordinary physical tools and b) awesome results. Defensively, he seems eminently cookable because he’s not that big and not a leaper. But opponents didn’t do squat against him. He rarely gets beat off the dribble because he’s a good lateral mover, never takes a play off and rarely fouls. Watching him off the ball borders on fun – he’s constantly on alert, anticipates actions, has quick hands, and stole the ball at a high rate (2.8 per 100 in Mountain West play). It’s not clear if that will make up for his tools disadvantage against NBA point guards, but it gives him a chance.

Offensively, he’s a polished pick-and-roll operator who is a scorer first but shows he can make the right pass if the read requires it. In particular, he excels at short-range pull-ups. He’s a money foul shooter but the long-range shot is more questionable; he shot 36.3 percent for his career and some of the misses were bad, but he does show deep range and has a high release. His somewhat high handle could be an issue be against NBA pressure, but again, his high IQ and feel on offense give him a chance. He doesn’t get to the rim as often as you might like, but he had a miniscule turnover rate for a point guard with such a high Usage Rate.

Overall, I’m high on Flynn because I think the IQ and feel will win out, but I see the other side here: His athletic tools don’t scream upside and he could end up overmatched in 1-on-1 battles on defense. After the first 20 players, I’m willing to take the plunge.

23. Desmond Bane, SG, TCU

I keep seeing Bane listed in the 40s and 50s. Whatever. He’s a strong wing who can pass, shoot with deep range, and defend. He can dribble into step backs and comfortably launch. He’s a fantastic rebounder for his size (10.4 boards per 100 in the Big 12), and as a secondary playmaker makes some impressive deliveries. The tools are here for a high-level role player, and again, that’s a $10M proposition at the wing positions. The surplus value of landing that on a rookie contract is huge.

Bane has his warts, which is why draftniks aren’t fawning over him. His arms are shorter than this sentence. He’s athletic in some respects but doesn’t explode vertically at the rim, shooting just 42 percent on 2s in the Big 12 – blecch. Despite his strong frame, he never draws fouls, and he had a lot of trouble getting all the way to the rim with his merely adequate off the dribble game. He’s better at getting to step-backs, with the ability to shoot off of a quick stop by going backward between the legs.

Bane competes defensively and is very strong, but he has a powerlifter’s body with a thick chest and, as noted, very short arms. The lateral quickness is just okay and a good crossover can leave him wobbling, but his anticipation and off-ball defense are pretty good. He’ll have to rely on his strength and IQ to fare well in switching schemes.

That said, the positives here outweigh the minuses at this spot on the board.

 

Thanks for posting.  Interesting read.  I like Malachi Flynn and Desmond Bane ok.  I had Flynn high on some of my internal big boards -- and I completely left him off some of my boards.  He kinda reminds me of a poor man's Steph Curry.  I think you take him at 40. Especially if he is closer to 6'3 than 6'1 (two pg lineups).

Lamelo/Edwards/Killian Hayes don't sound all that hot if you listen to Hollinger.  Maybe it's the year to roll the dice on bigs.

 

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