In an overall weak draft class, the New York Knicks draft the juggernaut they so need. Where does everyone else fall?
Now that the NBA Finals are over, it’s time to utter a sentence I hold dear to heart:
IT’S NBA DRAFT SEASON!!!
Alright, now that we’ve gotten the light fanfare out of the way, let’s get serious. The NBA Draft is an exciting time for all basketball fans regardless of fandom. One night showcases how all 30 teams are addressing the future. Some make unbelievable picks, some reach, and some even trade their selections in moves to acquire bigger stars.
This year, however, is far different from NBA Drafts of the past. Usually held in the summer, the COVID-19 pandemic means the 2020 NBA Draft will be on Nov. 18. ESPN also announced that, not surprisingly, this year’s draft will also be virtual.
And though this year’s draft class is considered very weak, there is enough talent in the pool that we might get some surprises. Will LaMelo Ball be the No. 1 pick and live up to the hype his brother, Lonzo, couldn’t? Will any trades take place? Who will the beleaguered New York Knicks select at No. 8?
LeBron James is a champion (again), the Orlando bubble experiment is over, and it’s the official NBA offseason. Let’s take a guess at just who will land where in the first round!
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia
We all know that Anthony Edwards is better than his percentages. He was just carrying the offense on a bad Georgia team. Minnesota could use a shooting guard with restricted free agent Malik Beasley set to have a high price tag. Playing alongside D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns, Edwards can put up impressive scoring numbers once he slows down his game.
2. Golden State Warriors: Obi Toppin, F, Dayton
Everyone knows Obi Toppin’s deal right now. He’s a talented big who, if his game film is any indication, will win the Slam Dunk Contest at some point. Toppin has also shown some prowess from long range, always a great skill in today’s NBA.
On a Golden State team expected to be a contender once again next season, watch for him to get significant minutes behind Draymond Green. He’s a natural fit in the Warriors’ fast offense and with Green getting older, don’t be shocked if Toppin poaches some minutes down the stretch.
3. Charlotte Hornets: Onyeka Okongwu, F/C, USC
Okongwu seems like a reach here, and it’s because he is with James Wiseman still on the board. However, Charlotte runs a guard-oriented offense, and Wiseman’s star potential is too high. Rather, Okongwu can sit for a year behind Cody Zeller as he further develops as a young big to complement Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham.
4. Chicago Bulls: Deni Avdija, G/F, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel
I cannot find enough good things to say about Deni Avdija. His numbers with Maccabi don’t show it, but he can do literally everything on the court from shooting to distribution to defense. The 19-year-old has the finesse of Toni Kukoc paired with the versatility of Luka Doncic. In Chicago, he can electrify the Bulls’ offense and kick off the Billy Donovan era with a bang.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Isaac Okoro, F, Auburn
We all know Okoro is a strong prospect with stud potential on defense, but his offense needs lots of development. Lucky for him, Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff has two prime young scoring options in Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. Okoro immediately fills Cleveland’s hole on the wing, and his physicality is leagues ahead of some other rookies. He won’t have a pretty rookie year, but his defensive prowess is what the Cavaliers need right now.
6. Atlanta Hawks: Devin Vassell, G/F, Florida State
Despite a new jump shot that can truly be called ugly, Devin Vassell’s stock is on the rise. Still, it’s unclear if he’ll be a proper scoring guard or a three-and-D in the NBA. Atlanta has a hole at shooting guard and plenty of wings, but Vassell’s upside makes it certain he’ll find some footing as a pro. In Atlanta’s case, with only Trae Young and John Collins as sure things, Vassell is worth a flier at No. 6.
7. Detroit Pistons: LaMelo Ball, PG, Illawarra Hawks, Australia
Ball still has No. 1 pick potential, but both his defense and shooting have enough question marks that he isn’t a lock for Minnesota. Additionally, whichever team drafts him will have to deal with father LaVar, who we all know could prove a heavy distraction. Detroit, however, has a former MVP in Derrick Rose to show LaMelo Ball the ropes for a year before trusting him as a full-time point guard. The risk is high, but so is the potential reward for Pistons basketball.
8. New York Knicks: Killian Hayes, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm, Germany
The New York Knicks need their franchise point guard, and Killian Hayes is worth every risk for an international prospect. The 19-year-old has already been playing professionally for three years in both France and Germany. On top of that, he can score in multiple ways and his athleticism is perfect for coach Tom Thibodeau’s system.
More importantly, second-year man RJ Barrett’s consistency should improve with Hayes feeding him the ball. New York won’t be an immediate contender in drafting him, but the future is already brighter with Hayes on the team.
9. Washington Wizards: James Wiseman, C, Memphis
This is a big drop for Wiseman, but hear me out. We don’t know how John Wall will look after a long injury layoff and Bradley Beal just signed a hefty contract extension. Throw in their respective price tags, and one or both could soon be traded.
Throw in Thomas Bryant not being a franchise center, and Wiseman makes even more sense for the Wizards. His explosive dominance paired with a strong guard as well as Rui Hachimura’s continued development makes him a prime fit in Washington. If he falls this far, he instantly becomes the steal of the NBA Draft.
10. Phoenix Suns: Jalen Smith, PF, Maryland
The Suns can score, but could use some help on defense. Smith showed marked improvement in his second year with the Terps and can stretch the floor as well as work the low post. He has size a 6-foot-10, 225 pounds and posted a defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) of 4.3 last season. If he can continue bulking up and commit to a strong effort on D, the Suns will improve upon ranking 20th in points allowed in 2019-20.
11. San Antonio Spurs: Tyrese Haliburton, G/F, Iowa State
Haliburton is a tough prospect in that he’s such a Swiss Army Knife of a player, it’s hard to figure his ceiling. He can do literally everything and will need elite coaching to blossom in the NBA. Thankfully, Gregg Popovich has an A-plus eye for talent and can find a way for Haliburton to flourish. Be it as a scoring point guard, defensive wing or something else altogether, San Antonio is where he needs to be to reach his full potential.
12. Sacramento Kings: Patrick Williams, F, Florida State
Sacramento has established scorers in De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, so fixing the team’s middling defense should be a priority. Williams is a plus defender who fearlessly attacks the glass and uses a seven-foot wingspan to his advantage. He also has potential as a scorer, but the Kings need defense first as they reinvent themselves once again. Even if he doesn’t score much, Williams’ energy and motor make him a solid fit out west.
13. New Orleans Pelicans: Tyrell Terry, G, Stanford
Terry is undersized at 6-foot-1, 160 pounds, but has a motor on offense that just won’t quit. He can shoot threes and drive the lane, but is still a raw prospect with just one year of college experience. Thankfully, the Pelicans have a new coach in Stan Van Gundy and Lonzo Ball still has a year left on his contract. By coming off the bench for a year, Terry can learn the NBA’s pace and if he grades out better as a point guard or a high-volume “2.”
Is he a reach at No. 13? Absolutely, but this is a weak NBA Draft class. With Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram already established, the Pelicans can afford to take a risk/reward approach.
14. Boston Celtics (from Memphis): Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis
Already a strong defensive team, the Celtics’ frontcourt struggled to keep up in the playoffs as Daniel Theis was constantly in foul trouble. In drafting Achiuwa, Boston lands a natural defender with envious physicality. He plays much bigger than his 6-foot-9, 225-pound frame and is aggressive without racking up fouls. The Celtics’ defense gets even stronger with him in the second unit as another option alongside Robert Williams.
15. Orlando Magic: Aaron Nesmith, SG, Vanderbilt
The young and feisty Magic ranked 25th in the league in three-point shooting and starting shooting guard Evan Fournier only has a year left on his contract. Nesmith, meanwhile, shot a filthy 52.2% from three and practically lived beyond the arc for the Commodores last year. Orlando not only improves its offense in drafting him, but also has Fournier’s potential successor waiting in the wings.
16. Portland Trail Blazers: Théo Maledon, PG, ASVEL Basket, France
Portland needs to start thinking about life after Damian Lillard, and Maledon is an ideal successor. He has size for his position at 6-foot-4 and is already a solid defender at 19. Maledon can also shoot the three, though his jump shot still needs work. By playing behind and learning from Lillard for a year, Maledon would set himself and his team up for success once Lillard hits free agency next summer.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Brooklyn): Vernon Carey, F/C, Duke
Rumors continue to swirl about Karl-Anthony Towns wanting out of Minnesota. This means the T-Wolves need insurance and Carey has good size at 6-foot-10, 270 pounds. However, he moves awkwardly with the ball, is still learning the low post, and isn’t quite NBA ready yet. Still, if Minnesota can trade Towns for a more established big, Carey still works as a pick. He can sit for a year or two, and then step up as the team’s next franchise big man.
18. Dallas Mavericks: Saddiq Bey, F, Villanova
Kristaps Porzingis had offseason meniscus surgery and has no timetable for a return, so adding a tough wing is the right move for Dallas. Bey only posted a 1.9 DBPM in two college seasons, but made up for it with elite three-point shooting. The Mavericks ranked an impressive 10th in the category last year, so look for Bey to also help with scoring until KP is ready to play again.
19. Brooklyn Nets (from Philadelphia): Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky
I said last week that Maxey was a project player, but Brooklyn is a team where he can develop properly. First-year coach Steve Nash is a Hall of Famer and knows all about being a smaller scoring guard in the NBA. If you think about it, he’s really the perfect man to help Maxey slow down his game and become more focused. Even as a bench player, Maxey can easily be a key member of this young Nets team alongside stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
20. Miami Heat: Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina
Don’t let the poor percentages fool you. Cole Anthony is a franchise point guard who just had to carry a bad team in college. Miami needs to get younger at point guard despite Jimmy Butler’s prowess running the offense. In Anthony, the Heat get an immediate scoring option, a second-generation talent, and someone who’s just plain good. Along with Wiseman to Washington, Anthony to Miami has high potential for the steal of the NBA Draft.
21. Philadelphia 76ers (from Oklahoma City): Josh Green, SG, Arizona
Whatever Doc Rivers decides to do as the new coach of the Sixers, drafting Green needs to be on his to-do list. The young Australian can score in multiple ways, but is also a strong defender who had a 4.1 DBPM at Arizona. By comparison, his offensive box plus/minus (OBPM) was just 2.8. Either way, Philly’s backcourt needs energy under Rivers, and Green has it in spades. Even coming off the bench, look for him to quietly make an early impact in the City of Brotherly Love.
22. Denver Nuggets (from Houston): Tyler Bey, F, Colorado
There is no difference between being defended by Bey and playing a round of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! His commitment to defense is high enough that he allowed only 85.7 points per 100 possessions for the Buffaloes last season. The Nuggets have a fast high-scoring team, but could use some extra help on defense. In drafting Bey to come off the bench, Denver gets someone who can immediately make life on the hardwood tough for anyone.
23. Utah Jazz: Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
Utah will need a point guard if Mike Conley opts out and should look no further than Mannion. He isn’t a particularly strong defender and needs to do a better job taking care of the ball, but would already have strong support in Utah. Remember, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are around for at least another year. Plus, if Conley doesn’t test the market, Mannion can learn the ropes off the bench without immediately being thrown in the fire.
24. Milwaukee Bucks: Jaden McDaniels, PF, Washington
The Milwaukee Bucks deserve to win a ring with Giannis Antetokounmpo, but haven’t quite been able to keep up in the playoffs. Meanwhile, McDaniels had a 2.2 DBPM at Washington last year and a lean, mean build at 6-foot-9, 200 pounds. He’ll need to bulk up, but his defensive motor is there. On the high-scoring Bucks, he could very well be the missing piece of the championship puzzle. Rather than add another scorer, let Milwaukee add some defense to keep the opposition in check.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Denver): RJ Hampton, G, New Zealand Breakers
The Thunder are making lots of changes for a playoff team. Billy Donovan is out as the coach with no replacement yet named. Chris Paul is all but certain to be traded, potentially leaving the team without a point guard.
Hampton is a raw product with a high ceiling, and oddly perfect for OKC. If the Thunder keep Paul, he can come off the bench and learn behind a phenomenal leader. If he is the starter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is there to handle the lion’s share of scoring. One way or another, Hampton’s ceiling is high and the Thunder can absolutely get the best out of him. That is, they can if the right coach is hired.
26. Boston Celtics: Zeke Nnaji, C, Arizona
In keeping with the theme of adding some extra toughness in the paint, the Celtics draft Nnaji with the intent of sitting him most of the year. He has the size at 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, and he can score in the key. However, he needs to be more confident in the low post and show more awareness on defense. His size is what the Celtics need so if he can spend another year or two developing, Boston could have someone special very soon.
27. New York Knicks (from LA Clippers): Isaiah Stewart, PF, Washington
The Knicks got their guard with their first pick, so now it’s time to take a young big to develop. Stewart is a little slow-footed on defense, but is never scared of attacking the basket and is built like a tank at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds. He has potential as a scorer, but really needs to develop his low post game before getting significant minutes. Thankfully, Thibodeau’s coaching should help Stewart’s game become more complete.
28. Los Angeles Lakers: Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech
The Lakers are defending champions who absolutely must improve their three-point shooting after ranking 21st in the league last year. Ramsey is a speedy guard who shot 42.6% from beyond the arc last year and is also an underrated defender. Los Angeles doesn’t have an immediate need for him, but needs to get younger across the board. Even if he only plays in garbage time, Ramsey will quickly establish himself as someone to watch in LA.
29. Toronto Raptors: Leandro Bolmaro, SG, Barcelona, Spain
Bolmaro is a great fit for the Raptors in that player development is Toronto’s forte. Just ask Pascal Siakam, who went from NBA Draft unknown to the star of the team in less than five years. Bolmaro is only 20 and didn’t play much in Spain, but the Argentine guard has range potential and plays with strong determination.
Maybe he stays overseas for a year, maybe he goes to the G-League. Either way, Bolmaro could develop into a viable scoring option playing for Nick Nurse. Just don’t ask him to run the point unless you want to see truly ugly ball-handling.
30. Boston Celtics (from Milwaukee): Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama
Lewis rounds out the first round as Boston plays the long game at point guard. Kemba Walker isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but Lewis is good to have as a speed option off the bench. He reads defenses well, is an underrated passer, and has strong range.
And given Walker’s presence, Boston’s priority with Lewis should be improving his defense. Everyone knows he can score, but he’s not quite there with his development yet. His jumper could use work too, but defense is absolutely the priority. With his ceiling and Brad Stevens’ coaching expertise, Lewis is a name to watch over the next couple of years.