As we continue to await the NBA’s return to play, where would top prospects fall within a projected NBA Draft lottery?
Under normal circumstances, the 2020 NBA Draft lottery would have already taken place. It was scheduled to happen on May 19, but was postponed to June because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, though the draft itself is still currently scheduled to happen in Brooklyn on June 25, it will almost certainly be pushed back. Per Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic, the season likely won’t resume again until mid-July. Surely, this means the draft won’t happen until August at the earliest.
Therefore, sometime between now and whenever the draft is, the long-anticipated NBA Draft lottery will take place. On record alone, the New York Knicks should receive the No. 6 pick while the banged-up Golden State Warriors own the top spot.
And as much as I’d like for it to be the case, I do not have the means to conduct a true mock lottery in my apartment. I have no lottery ping-pong balls, no fancy executives in suits. Even if I called in every favor, I probably couldn’t invite a representative from each fo the 14 lottery teams to a meeting via Zoom.
But that matters not. Based on each lottery team’s record and position now, we can still determine who they’ll probably pick if the order shakes out as such. Who do the Warriors take at No. 1? More importantly, who do the beleaguered Knicks pick at No. 6?
Strap in, folks. Let’s dive into the first mock lottery of the 2020 NBA Draft.
1. Golden State Warriors: Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia
Anthony Edwards is an interesting prospect. He averaged 19.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs, but shot just 40.2% from the field. Edwards’ shot also has range, but he made just 29.4% of his threes.
However, Edwards’ true shooting percentage (TS%) at Georgia was a very respectable .520. He also played for a bad Georgia team that went just 16-16 on the year, and 5-13 in the SEC. On a better team or in a less competitive conference, his percentages probably would have been better across the board.
But more importantly, where does Edwards fit with the Warriors? Even though regular shooting guard Klay Thompson is recovering from a torn ACL, he should be back at full strength next season. That may be, but Thompson also just turned 30, and ACL injuries are no joke. Thompson also just signed a max extension, and Golden State needs more frontcourt help than it does another guard.
Except, Drew Shiller of NBC Sports speculates that due to Marquese Chriss’ strong showing ahead of the shutdown, the Warriors could move away from center James Wiseman come draft night. Chriss averaged 13.4 points and 7.8 boards over his last 20 games and is still just 22 years old, so this is certainly possible.
This means even with Klay Thompson ahead of him, Edwards would be a strong fit for the Warriors. He can work on keeping his shot consistent and improving his overall game in a bench role, not to mention adjusting to coach Steve Kerr’s fast offense. And even if Thompson’s knee continues to bother him, Edwards can develop smoothly with Steph Curry feeding him the ball.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers: James Wiseman, C, Memphis
If the Warriors pass on James Wiseman to select Edwards, the young Memphis center automatically becomes the steal of the NBA Draft. Cleveland already has a young core in place, not to mention a popular coach in J.B. Bickerstaff, but veteran Andre Drummond isn’t the long-term answer at center.
Wiseman, however, might be. He only played in three games at Memphis due to an NCAA suspension, and then left the team to prepare for the draft. Still, his small sample size yielded encouraging results. Wiseman averaged 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and three blocks per game. Wiseman also has NBA size at 7-foot-1, 240 pounds.
The Cavaliers already have a pair of potential franchise guards in Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. Now, with Wiseman available at No. 2, it’s time to draft their franchise big man.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves: LaMelo Ball, PG, Illawarra Hawks, Australia
Any team knows by now that in drafting LaMelo Ball, they also draft his father, LaVar. In the case of the Timberwolves, Ball might be worth the potential media circus.
First, Ball is bigger than most point guards at 6-foot-8 and a skinny 180 pounds. He would do well to bulk up, but his numbers from his brief time in Australia are encouraging. In 12 games, Ball averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game. Given his fast style of play, he could make the small-market Timberwolves exciting to watch.
That said, odds are Ball would come off the bench as a rookie in Minnesota. D’Angelo Russell isn’t perfect but knows how to score in the NBA. Ball, meanwhile, only shot 37.5% from the field for Illawarra and an abysmal 25% from three. Moreover, he’ll still only be 19 when the 2020-21 season starts.
But there is another reason the Timberwolves should pick Ball in the NBA Draft, and that is star center Karl-Anthony Towns. He recently signed a max extension with the team but grew frustrated by Minnesota’s poor play last season. By adding a dynamic young point guard who could soon be feeding him the ball, Towns has reason to stick around a little longer.
More importantly, if Ball can improve his percentages, he could finally bring Timberwolves basketball back to prominence.
4. Atlanta Hawks: Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel
On the night of the 2018 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks selected Slovenian swingman Luka Doncic with the No. 3 pick. Almost immediately, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for No. 5 pick Trae Young. Fast forward to today, and Doncic is one of the league’s most dynamic players. Young, though talented, looks more like the best player on a bad team.
And though the Hawks are loaded with athletic wings and forwards and need more backcourt help, they will reach on Deni Avdija. Why? Simple. Team president and GM Travis Schlenk is (hopefully) smart enough to not make the same mistake twice.
In terms of his numbers with Maccabi, Avdija didn’t do much. He averaged just four points and 2.6 boards per game in less than 15 minutes per game. However, playing for Israel in the FIBA U20 European Championship last summer, he posted 18.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 blocks, and 2.1 steals per game. This was enough to earn tournament MVP honors.
That said, even with solid size at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, Avdija is still just 19 years old and may do well to remain overseas for a year or so. Atlanta still has De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish on the wing and they deserve more time to develop. But if Avdija feels he’s ready and management thinks the same, don’t be surprised if he bursts out of the gate early.
5. Detroit Pistons: Killian Hayes, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm, Germany
The NBA is a point guard’s league right now, and the Detroit Pistons are hungry for one who can lead them back into contention. Killian Hayes is only 18, but has the size at 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, and the skills to be the new face of Motor City hoops.
And just how good is Hayes? Well, the young Frenchman was the MVP of the FIBA Europe Under-16 Tournament in 2018. In the tournament, he posted 15 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 3.2 steals per game.
More recently, Hayes played in Germany and averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 assists per game. Hayes also shot 45.5% from the field and 39% from downtown. Combine his size with his high ceiling as a scoring point guard, and the idea of him bringing the Pistons back from the dead is an appealing one.
That said, Hayes is still 18 and will need some time to adjust to the NBA’s pace. Thankfully, Detroit has former MVP Derrick Rose under contract for next year and he can be a good mentor for the rookie. He can also still carry the offense and hopefully stay healthy as Hayes develops.
But when the day comes that Hayes is ready to lead the team himself, don’t sleep on the Pistons.
6. New York Knicks: Obi Toppin, F, Dayton
The Knicks need a point guard, first and foremost, but those available right now would be reaches with the sixth pick. Thus, in this case, New York is taking the best player available in Dayton’s Obi Toppin and hoping they’ll find their point guard with the No. 27 pick.
As for Toppin, the numbers are exciting. He averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds for Dayton as a sophomore, shooting an eye-popping 69% from the field and 39% from three. Toppin also posted a total box plus/minus (BPM) of 11.8, 4.3 of which was on defense. Even in a college offense, he was effective.
And how well will Toppin do as a Knick or in the NBA in general? Well, that depends. His percentages are strong and he can stretch the floor, but he needs to learn how to produce outside the low post. Toppin’s face-up game and defense also need some work. It’s also worth noting he’s a power forward, and the Knicks have Julius Randle under contract at least through the 2020-21 season. Toppin is also already 22 and only has two years of college playing experience.
All in all, if Toppin is drafted by the Knicks in the NBA Draft, his success will depend on the team’s new coach. So long as he is shown patience and not rushed into stardom, the Brooklyn-born bruiser can be one who leads the Knicks back into contention.
7. Chicago Bulls: Isaac Okoro, G/F, Auburn
The Chicago Bulls are about to enter a major transitionary period. New executive Arturas Karnisovas will almost certainly move on from head coach Jim Boylen. He also has the beginnings of a strong young core in Coby White, Zach LaVine, and Wendell Carter Jr.
But what Chicago lacks is an electrifying wing who can contribute on both sides of the court, and Isaac Okoro could be a fine fit in the Windy City. He averaged 12.8 points per game as a freshman at Auburn and held his own on defense, posting a defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) of 3.4. Okoro also had a win shares per 40 minutes (WS/40) mark of .156, which isn’t terrible for Tigers coach Bruce Pearl’s tough and physical system.
Like Obi Toppin and the Knicks, just how well Okoro fits with the Bulls depends on who their next coach is. Regardless of who Chicago hires, Okoro will need to improve his three-point shooting. Until then, however, he’ll do just fine as a defensive wing.
8. Charlotte Hornets: Onyeka Okongwu, F/C, USC
The Hornets’ backcourt is fairly set, but veteran center Cody Zeller only has a year left on his contract. Odds are greater than none general manager Mitch Kupchak will look to draft Charlotte’s next big man.
Okongwu doesn’t quite have the size at 6-foot-9, 245 pounds, but is a thunderous dunker who can stretch the floor with a half-decent midrange jumper. As a freshman for the Trojans, he led the team with 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game. Okongwu also posted a DBPM of eight and WS/40 of .251.
That said, it’s easy for a player to put up strong advanced stats when they’re the go-to guy in a college system. Okongwu is no exception. The holes in his low post game will be exposed when he’s matched up against bigger opponents. Okongwu will also have to work to limit his turnovers as he develops a face-up game.
But the good news for the 19-year-old is Charlotte is rebuilding, and he’d almost certainly play behind Zeller and PJ Washington as a rookie. If he can bulk up while learning from them, he could soon become a staple of the Hornets’ frontcourt.
9. Washington Wizards: Daniel Oturu, C, Minnesota
Appearing on Showtime’s All the Smoke, Wizards point guard John Wall mentioned how he and teammate Bradley Beal could use an athletic small forward. However, given how center Thomas Bryant has a tradeable contract and is better suited as a backup, Washington will draft a dominant big man in this case.
Enter Daniel Oturu, who has NBA size at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds. He was an absolute machine for the Gophers as a sophomore and averaged a team-best 20.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. Oturu also posted respectable percentages, making 56.3% of his attempts from the field and posting a TS% of .612.
Like most rookie big men, Oturu will have growing pains. He needs to show more confidence in the paint, especially in the low post. He could also use some work on defense. But if he can find a rhythm on the court with Wall, Bradley Beal, and heeds coach Scott Brooks’ advice, he’ll find his rhythm as a player and look like a great pick in the 2020 NBA Draft class.
10. Phoenix Suns: Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis
The Suns need some frontcourt defense alongside Deandre Ayton and there might not be a better man for the job than Achiuwa. He averaged 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game for Memphis, assuming the leadership role on the court after Wiseman left to prepare for the NBA Draft.
First things first, Achiuwa should not be heavily featured in the offense as a rookie. He shot just 49.3% from the field as a big man and his offensive box plus/minus was -0.3.
But on defense, Achiuwa held his own and then some. His DBPM was a respectable 5.9 and he covers opposing players very well for someone just 20 years old. So long as he understands he doesn’t need to worry about scoring, he can certainly be a fine defensive specialist in Phoenix.
11. San Antonio Spurs: Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State
Tyrese Haliburton has some red flags, but an overall high ceiling. I did a full NBA Draft profile on him a couple of weeks back, which can be read here. In a nutshell, he’s a long and athletic point guard who did it all for a struggling Iowa State team and his versatility ensures his future in the NBA. Be it as a scoring point guard or a three-and-D, he will survive in the pros.
Which is why the San Antonio Spurs make so much sense for Haliburton. This is a team that has mastered the art of turning raw talent into gold. With a patient coach in Gregg Popovich and a winning culture that’s slowly adjusting to today’s league, Haliburton can slowly but surely become a star in his own right.
It may take a year or two, but just watch. Playing in San Antonio might be the best thing to ever happen in Haliburton’s young pro career.
12. Sacramento Kings: Vernon Carey Jr., C, Duke
We all know Sacramento’s front office is a mess. General manager Vlade Divac took over in 2015 and his tenure has been marred by inconsistent team play. More importantly, in the 2018 NBA Draft, Sacramento used the No. 2 pick on big man Marvin Bagley III despite Luka Doncic being available.
That said, it’s going to be pretty hard for the Kings to mess this up by not drafting Carey, who dominated at Duke as a freshman. This isn’t to say the Kings should give up on Bagley, who was limited to 13 games in his second pro season. Rather, drafting Carey means Sacramento can pair Bagley with a fellow Duke guy who dominates both in the low post and pick-and-roll. This also allows Bagley to switch back to his natural position at power forward.
As for Carey, he’s built like a tank at 6-foot-10, 270 pounds. He posted 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks for the Blue Devils last season. Carey shot 57.7% from the field and his TS% was strong at .615. It also helps that Carey can run well, which matters when he’d potentially have De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield as teammates. If he can find a way to work with Bagley, then perhaps the Kings will finally receive praise for drafting yet another big man.
13. New Orleans Pelicans: Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina
On paper, Cole Anthony doesn’t look like much of a top prospect. He averaged 18.5 points and four assists in 22 games as a freshman, but made just 38% of his shot attempts. That’s a concern for a scoring point guard, but it’s worth noting UNC was exceptionally bad at 14-19 (6-14 ACC) last season. Even Roy Williams, the Tar Heels’ Hall of Fame coach, said the 2019-20 team was “not a very gifted team.”
Which is why Anthony would be such a steal for New Orleans at No. 13. His TS% was a strong .501, so his struggles at UNC can be traced to having to carry a bad team. Save for some improvement on defense, he can score well enough to keep up in the NBA.
And how does Anthony fit on a young and scrappy Pelicans team? Well, though Lonzo Ball has looked much more comfortable in the Big Easy compared to Los Angeles, he still isn’t a game-changer. No, the Pelicans belong to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, and center Jaxson Hayes should soon develop into a regular starter.
Each of those three players will need an electrifying point guard who can not only feed them the ball, but also be something of a force on offense. If Anthony can prove his struggles in college were no fault of his own, he can fully escort the Pelicans out of the shadow of the Anthony Davis era.
14. Portland Trail Blazers: Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt
On paper, Nesmith’s numbers look almost video game-like. As a sophomore, he averaged 23 points per game while shooting 51.2% from the field and a disgusting 52.2% from three-point land.
That said, the Trail Blazers already have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum as a deadly 1-2 scoring punch. Why should general manager Neil Olshey take yet another shooter when Portland desperately needs frontcourt help alongside Jusuf Nurkic? Keep in mind, strong as Nesmith’s numbers last season are, 8.2 of his 14.6 attempts a game were three-pointers. Oh, and he also can’t play defense.
Well, the reason is simple. The 2020-21 season is the last on Lillard and McCollum’s current contracts, and it’s hard to see the Blazers giving max deals to both. Assuming the Blazers re-sign Lillard and let McCollum walk, having someone with Nesmith’s scoring abilities will be important.
As a rookie, he’ll be little more than a bench shooter, and that’s fine. He needs a year to improve his shot selection and show he isn’t just a one-trick pony. If he can become a more complete two-guard, he can easily become the next face of Portland basketball.