Draft Lead

2020 NBA Draft Big Board: Part 1

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Ah, the New Year, a basketball fan’s dream. Fresh off of the primetime Christmas Day games, the Association is in full swing. Trade rumors are swirling, elite teams are taking shape, and load management is still holding out some of the league’s elite. With all that said, there is one component that deserves our full, undivided attention: the NBA Draft.

Unfortunately, the 2020 NBA Draft doesn’t have the same star power or depth that the previous few classes have possessed. The word from scouts is that either Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, along with the entire top five from the 2018 Draft, would have gone first overall in this class. There isn’t a surefire NBA star in the mix, although many players possess intriguing upside.

But the NBA Draft is still months away, and a ton can happen. With many of the top players currently injured or in an unfortunate situation, it is hard for scouts to grasp some of the top players in the class. Some prospects will improve, some will drop, and the almighty March Madness will surely propel a star or two. With that in mind, I have ranked the top 60 players who scouts project to declare for the NBA Draft. Some will get discussed in length, specifically players with a significant question mark or talking point.

The Rules:

These rankings are in seven tiers to help with the organization. Therefore, I have not ranked every player entirely accurately. For example, Romeo Weems would be ahead of Matthew Hurt, but since Weems is the top of his tier and Hurt the bottom of his, they place at 44th and 43rd respectfully. It will all make sense in the rankings. These tiers are essential for me, as it is an important key to consider as an NBA scout. Judging off talent is vital, but what type of prospect they are, and how they fit the roster are very important.

Today, we’re looking at tier one and two, which covers the top 13 players on my overall big board.

 

Tier One: The cream of the decent crop

1. Anthony Edwards, 6-5 G, Georgia

2. Cole Anthony, 6-3 G, North Carolina

3. James Wiseman, 7-1 C, Memphis

4. LaMelo Ball, 6-7 G, Illawarra (NBL)

Amongst basically every scout, these four players make up the top of this year’s NBA draft. However, they aren’t showing much currently. For Cole Anthony and LaMelo Ball, they are sitting on the sidelines, nursing injuries. Anthony Edwards is struggling somewhat amid a subpar roster and a coach determined on playing a free rotation. And of course, James Wiseman notoriously left his team at Memphis to sign with an agent and prepare for the draft.

Instead of a race to first, it’s been more like a crawl. None of these four have shown the signs of an NBA superstar. However, all four seem to have the ability to get there. Questions remain, and several are incredibly prominent when discussing this core group. However, no issue looms more substantial than the debate over the class’s top guards.

The Edwards vs. Anthony vs. Ball debate

When searching for NBA Draft writers’ takes, there does not seem to be any consensus on the rankings of these three guards. They all bring different yet similar things, and their fit varies depending on the situation. To tackle this debate, I have divided it into three parts: the body of work, NBA fit, and potential outlook.

BODY OF WORK

My opinion on this element is certainly not in the majority, but I am more impressed by the body of work that Edwards and Anthony have accomplished versus Ball’s. Up to this point, Ball has played for two high school teams who play nowhere near an NBA-like system (Chino Hills and Spire), a second-division Lithuanian basketball, and 12 games for the NBL in Australia. LaMelo showed promise when healthy for Illawarra. However, those 12 games are his only ones that should count. Given the way that his high school teams played, scouts can take away as much from that tape as the Drew League or any pickup league of that nature. It simply isn’t comparable basketball.

Let’s compare this resume to Edwards’ and Anthony’s. Anthony played prep basketball at Oak Hill Academy, consistently one of the best prep schools in the nation over the past two decades. Edwards played at another prep school, Holy Spirit, where he won back-to-back state championships. They also played in countless showcases against their fellow draft class, including McDonald’s All-American, where Anthony won MVP, which Ball hasn’t won.

The argument circles back to Ball’s playing professional basketball for a top-five league worldwide, while the other two are playing in the NCAA. While I won’t dive too deep into the differences between the two, while the talent level is higher in the NBL, the NCAA, especially top teams, have proven the ability to develop guards to the NBA level. Ball playing well in the NBL says a lot, but to me, the body of work for Edwards and Anthony says more.

NBA FIT

This component is the most important one to me, how a player fits in today’s league. Despite these three all being guards, their games are quite different. In one sentence: Edwards is a combo guard who can facilitate the offense, yet still play off the ball, and guard multiple positions with his length, strength, and athleticism. Picture someone like Victor Oladipo or Jrue Holiday. Anthony is a prototypical skilled lead guard who is score first, yet can still facilitate and has a substantial size. Damian Lillard and John Wall come to mind. Ball is a modern point guard who is pass-first, yet with his size, he’s able to guard multiple positions. Think Ben Simmons or his brother Lonzo.

When put in this context, all three seem to be the right type of player for today’s NBA. This versatility must be a big reason why they are the top three projected guards. However, I’ll venture back into the discussion about what players have done before, and that success level. The reason why Edwards is #1 on the board is just how seamlessly his game fits. His linebacker-like body and elite athletic ability should make him switchable onto three positions. He’s hit multiple threes in 9 of his 14 games this season.

Most importantly, with the trend of two, even three playmakers on the floor at once for an NBA team, Edwards can thrive. He does well with the ball, but can be just as effective without it. That positional versatility on both sides of the floor makes him an excellent fit for today’s NBA.

 

POTENTIAL OUTLOOK

A player’s potential is just as subjective as it is factual. If someone came to me with a full-fledged argument on one of these players having a higher ceiling than the other, I would certainly understand. Ball probably has the most tantalizing potential. The NBA has seen the overwhelming success of oversized playmakers in Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although the two possess greater size and athletic ability, Ball’s passing may trump both. The only issue with this formula is there is a specific archetype that a team must have around a player like Ball. Shooting 25% from three in the NBL with a wonky release will surely be on the list of weaknesses for Ball.

Therefore, for Ball to reach his potential, he will need to play with shooters around him. In short, Ball’s potential will only fully blossom with the right pieces around him. Put him on a slow-paced team, one with an existing floor general, or one lacking shooters, and Ball may not be as effective. Teams could nullify his transition game, and play off of him, showing off weaknesses that have plagued guys like Lonzo and Markelle Fultz. It is for this reason that he falls below Edwards and Anthony on this list. Life may undoubtedly work out for Ball, but he needs to be in the correct situation. The other two seem to be more adjustable around the association.

 

Tier Two: The notch below

5. Deni Avdija, 6-8 F, Israel

6. Jaden McDaniels, 6-9 F, Washington

7. Isaac Okoro, 6-6 F, Auburn

8. Tyrese Maxey, 6-3 G, Kentucky

9. Nico Mannion, 6-3 G, Arizona

10. RJ Hampton, 6-5 G, New Zealand (NBL)

11. Theo Maledon, 6-3 G, France

12. Obi Toppin, 6-9 F, Dayton

13. Onyeka Okongwu, 6-9 F/C, USC

Just below the upper tier of prospects, this group is also a reasonably accurate representation of scouts’ feelings at the moment. Save for a player or two, this collection of players seems unlikely to propel themselves into the higher echelon. However, they appear relatively safe in the lottery. Some may be more positive on players such as Tyrese Maxey and see him as a step above, but this is quite a conservative ranking.

The backgrounds for this group vary somewhat significantly. Jaden McDaniels, Isaac Okoro, and Onyeka Okongwu are guys that have tantalizing physical and athletic attributes that teams will attempt to mold. Maxey, Nico Mannion, and Obi Toppin have spent this NCAA season showing scouts the type of production they can produce, while still holding upside. Deni Avdija, RJ Hampton, and Theo Maldeon have had varying levels of play internationally. However, this group does bring up a very significant question that NBA evaluators continuously consider when looking at prospects.

Production versus Potential

As this group has a multitude of players that are currently on different paths of their development, it raises an important question. Do you value previous production, or potential outlook when scouting? Players five and six on this Big Board make a perfect study case. Avdija and McDaniels play the same position. They are listed at almost the same height and are only four months apart in age. Despite that, the case of their draft-ability is entirely different.

Deni Avdija

Avdija has long been a coveted international prospect amongst evaluators. His peak came in the U20 European Championships, where he led Israel to a stunning Gold Medal. He was 5th in points, rebounds, and assists in the tournament. It was effortless to see Avdija’s future. While he lacks blow-by foot speed, he’s a big guard who can make plays for himself and others, and knock down the occasional three. It is a lazy comparison to think about superstar Luka Doncic, but given their lack of elite burst, it makes sense. Avdija has nowhere near the upside that Doncic had, but regardless, his outlook, skills, and limitations are apparent.

Jaden McDaniels

Take McDaniels, on the other hand. A late bloomer, you can tell his body still needs much improvement. His legs are rail-thin, and opponents push him around frequently. However, the potential is there, should he figure his body and his game out. If he puts on 20-30 pounds and improves his feel for the game, McDaniels could be a mainstay in an NBA starting lineup. He is shooting 36% from three and 72% from the line, indicating that shooting is not a concern. Can McDaniels get to his spots on offense? Can he hold his ground defensively? These are questions scouts must consider with McDaniels.

All in all, the age-old question isn’t going anywhere. Lack of potential is what turned teams off from Doncic and made him a star. The possibility of Joel Embiid pushed him to 3rd overall, and he ended up blossoming. Like in any draft, there are so many variables that one must consider. There is no right or wrong, but there is hiring and firing, and choosing the wrong option between production or potential can be a death sentence for executives.

Stay tuned for the rest of my Top 60 list over upcoming weeks!

Follow us on Twitter @Draft_Lead for the latest Draft and insight.

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About Matthew Winick

Matthew Winick is an avid basketball fan both from the NBA side, as well as NCAA hoops. A native of Toronto, Ontario, he is a lifetime Raptors fan and is just now reaping the benefits. He is currently studying Sport Media at Ryerson University in Toronto, and hopes to be talking sports with the best of them in his future. You can reach him on any social media @matthewwinick.

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