Through the first two months of college basketball, it’s been rough. The blue-bloods are far from dominant, a lot of the five-star freshman have been underwhelming and many of the top draft prospects are struggling to optimize their potential due to their surroundings. James Wiseman had trouble with the NCAA, LaMelo Ball, Cole Anthony and RJ Hampton are hurt and Anthony Edwards has very limited help. I could go on but I think you get the point. There have been some bright spots, but overall, this is a weak year for college basketball and the NBA Draft.
The 2020 Draft has been pegged as a weak draft since last year, and it’s certainly looking to be true. I think this can largely be attributed to the 2019 freshman class, which was always viewed as a down year, and all the talented underclassmen that entered last year’s draft early. Yes, there is a plethora of guards who could eventually become quality starters, or maybe even all-stars. But, this draft really lacks wings, which come at a premium in today’s game. I’m against trading up in general (unless you’re getting a stud) but anyone who trades up in this draft would raise some eyebrows for me. One, this draft is full of unfinished products. The more chances you get, the higher your probability is of hitting. Two, the next two drafts project to be very impressive, I would be extremely reluctant to give up assets in those drafts to move up a few spots this June. Because of where most prospects are in their development, team fit and resources will be more important than ever when determining who pans out in this class. So far, this draft doesn’t look very strong in quick turnaround investments, few prospects will find success in their rookie year and I think it’ll take longer than usual to weed out the good picks from the bad. Because of this, I was inclined to include a few very accomplished seniors towards the end of my top 30. Contenders might want to take a swing on a project, but the odds of that project hitting are even slimmer than usual. I assembled my top 30 prospects at the moment and placed them into tiers. I talk about every prospect in my lottery, but after 14 I only talk about a few players in each tier.
1. Anthony Edwards
2. LaMelo Ball
At this point in the process, Edwards and Ball have separated themselves as the top two prospects in the class and the only ones worth mentioning in the number one pick conversation. Edwards’ scoring prowess and shot diversity give him the edge in this update, but Ball has been absolutely incredible in Australia. Along with his scoring, I’ve also been very impressed with Edwards’ defense and playmaking. At 6’6” 225 and top notch lateral quickness, Edwards has all the tools to be an impressive wing defender but his effort has always been questionable. He hasn’t been perfect, but the flashes of weak side rim protection and and shooting the gaps have been very impressive. As for playmaking, he went viral with his wicked cross-court bounce pass against Michigan State, but he’s had plenty of other eye-opening reads. Edwards’ teammates aren’t the strongest so his assist numbers might not always correlate, but his approach to the game has been good to see. The downside to Edwards at this stage is his shot-making can be a double edged sword. Because of his pull-up ability, he tends to settle instead of using his freakish physical profile to assert dominance and attack the rim.
Unfortunately, Ball suffered an injury that will keep him out for a month, but he was playing his best basketball up to date. While the shooting percentages are still a little concerning, he has vastly improved his balance throughout the season, which has resulted in more makes and better looking misses. On defense, he still gets beat too easily and gets caught ball-watching on occasion, but his flashes and overall instincts leave for some optimism. The selling point with Ball is his initiating, which is downright special. Ball grew up driving a Lamborghini on an empty freeway, and as a result, he has the creativity and confidence of prime Rondo despite only being 18. LaMelo is a natural, that’s the only way to describe it. There will be bumps with both prospects, but I truly believe that Edwards and Ball are on a different level.
3. Nico Mannion
4. Cole Anthony
5. Tyrese Maxey
6. Onyeka Okongwu
7. Killian Hayes
8. Deni Avdija
Mannion has been the best point guard prospect in college basketball by a decent margin and that should be rewarded. I was extremely high on Nico coming into the season, and he’s still managed to exceed my expectations. Like Ball, he has a tendency to settle for the floater instead of getting all the way to the rim and he’s had a few rough games against more athletic competition, but overall, Mannion has been a stud in Tucson. This year in the NBA has shown us that guards who can dribble, pass and shoot are extremely important, Mannion has proved he can do all those at an efficient and effective clip. He’s a true tablesetter, when he sits the Wildcats look like a deer in headlights. One of the reasons I was so high on Mannion coming into the season was his shooting versatility, and he’s showcased that thus far. He carries a ton of gravity with his pull up and he’s shown impressive balance coming off pin-downs, flares and simple relocations.
At first, I was hesitant to give him the edge over Cole Anthony due to ceiling, but Cole just hasn’t proved it yet. I was very high on North Carolina coming into the year and they have been extremely disappointing, their grad transfers have been underwhelming and no one other than Cole can create. There’s no doubt the situation isn’t ideal, but Anthony’s finishing woes have been concerned all year. He’s shooting a measly 36% from the field, 68% from the line and has more turnovers than assists, other than the opener against Notre Dame, Anthony just hasn’t looked like the player I expected. Prior to Chapel Hill I thought he was in serious contention for the number one pick, I know he’s capable of being that guy, but Mannion gets the nod until then. Maxey is interesting, he came out firing in the Champions Classic but has certainly cooled off since then. I believe in his shooting and think it will come around, but as a true combo guard, he’ll need to improve from deep as the season goes on to justify this ranking.
Three weeks ago on my NBA podcast with Sam Herbst, we talked about how “undersized” centers who are fluid athletes at both ends are trending up in today’s game. I’m not suggesting that Okongwu is Bam Adebayo, but he’s the epitome of that archetype in this class. What he gives up in size, he more than makes up for with his lateral quickness, snap-of-a-finger load time and impressive instincts. So far at USC, Okongwu has showcased an incredible combination of potential and production that give him a spot in my top six. Killian Hayes has been one of the biggest risers on my board throughout the year. While Hayes lacks elite explosiveness, but he’s a wicked passer off the live-dribble. His ability to manipulate defenses and sling passes all over the court with high velocity and pinpoint accuracy is mesmerizing for an 18 year-old. His biggest leap this year has been scoring the ball, he’s playing with more aggression and the shots are falling. I had concerns with his shot coming into the year, but he’s shooting over 40% from deep and 90% from the line. My biggest concern with Hayes is his POA (point of attack) defense. His posture and lateral quickness has been a glaring issue since is U17 FIBA film in the summer of 2017 and while it’s much improved, he still gets blown by a little too often. However, at some point you can (kind of) bank on the NBA to either improve his technique or scheme around it. With Hayes, we’re not talking about a Trae Young type defender, he makes really impressive reads off the ball and has great size to go with it, if an NBA team is confident in their ability to improve his posture and footwork, he’s probably worth a top five pick in this draft.
Rounding out the group is Israili forward, Deni Avdija. At this point, I’m very familiar with his game. Avdija’s shooting is without a doubt his swing skill, he impacts the game in many facets with his team defense, creation and fiery passion but his ceiling is definitely capped if the shooting never comes around. The mechanics look pretty decent but Avdija has always struggled from the free throw line and isn’t particularly known for his touch. At the least, Avdija is a high IQ versatile wing who knows how to be a pro.
9. Tyrese Haliburton
10. Kira Lewis Jr.
11. RJ Hampton
12. James Wiseman
13. Isaac Okoro
14. Theo Maledon
Tyrese Haliburton has been my favorite prospect to scout this season. He’s a true basketball genius, watching him decipher defenses with his eyes, size and savant-like understanding of the game is mesmerizing. Last year, Haliburton was surrounded by ball dominant guards who were consistently occupied by tunnel vision, his ball-movement skills were probably the main reason the 2018-19 Cyclones were even somewhat functional on the court. With all those guys gone, Steve Prohm handed Haliburton the keys and he hasn’t looked back since. While I’m still not completely sold on his handle, he’s been the best passer in college basketball by a landslide. His shot is still funky, but Haliburton is shooting at a 39% clip on 5.6 attempts per game, and many of those makes have been from well-beyond NBA range. His newfound aggressiveness getting to the rim and looking to score have been his most improved traits this year.
I wrote about Lewis in the first volume of my Draft Journal, and I haven’t wavered since. While his teammates aren’t extremely talented, Lewis has been able to showcase his shot-making, speed and live dribble passing throughout the first two months of the season. Despite having a season of college basketball under his belt, he won’t turn 19 until the Final Four. Lewis’ trajectory, age and translatable skills make me a big fan. Few prospects in this class have been improving at a faster rate than RJ Hampton. After starting off somewhat slow, the former five-star recruit has turned it up a notch in terms of his effort and effectiveness at both ends. His off-ball defense is still suspect, as Hampton gets caught ball-watching at times, but he has certainly improved on that end of the floor. He’s learning how to use his length and height to disrupt passing lanes and ball-handlers, if Hampton can continue to add muscle, he can be a very interesting defender. On offense, he’s made serious strides as a passer and is finally settling in as a scorer. Hampton’s bag is certainly deep, and it’s been great to see that in recent weeks. If Isaac Okoro learns to shoot, he’ll definitely become one of the best pros in this class, but that’s a big if. Regardless of the shooting, his defensive potential, strength and offensive IQ are enough to land him in the lottery.
James Wiseman is arguably the toughest evaluation in the entire class. The Memphis center was highly touted as a recruit, but his pre-college film isn’t that of a top five pick. In college, Wiseman beat up on smaller opponents (which doesn’t show much) and missed the entire first half against Oregon due to foul trouble. His frame, length and tools are intriguing, but his questionable shot-selection, slow load-time and overall lack of self-awareness keep me very reserved at the moment. Rounding out the lottery is French point guard Theo Maledon. He’s been getting minutes on best team in France for the past two years, Maledon presents a high floor option with his size, IQ and shooting potential. I have some questions about his ceiling, but I feel comfortable saying Maledon will stick in the league for a long time and can be a good piece that contributes to winning.
15. Tre Jones
16. Aaron Henry
17. Josh Green
18. Obi Toppin
19. Paul Reed
20. Jaden McDaniels
21. Jahmius Ramsey
I’ve written about Aaron Henry before, and as you know, I’m a huge fan of his game. His skillset presents a ton of versatility and I truly believe you can plug him into any system to be successful. Michigan State has been off to a rough start and that’s definitely affected him individually, but I’m still a believer. I wouldn’t pick Henry as my franchise centerpiece, but in this range, he presents value as a good safe piece that can create, knock down shots and play both ends. In the beginning of the year I was somewhat indifferent towards Josh Green, but I’m beginning to buy into some of his translatable skills. While the shooting mechanics remain an issue (shooting just 31% on catch and shoot jumpers), Green’s defensive versatility and lock-down potential combined with his top tier athleticism make me more inclined to bump him up my board. His ability to laterally slide with his man and absorb contact at 6’6” 210 present nightmares for opposing wings. In transition, he’s the definition of a high-flyer. Green sprints his lane and can play above the rim with the best of them.
The DePaul Blue Demons have been one of the most pleasant surprises throughout college basketball so far and Paul Reed is a huge reason why. On paper, he appears to be a tweener, but his defensive dominance and funky offensive skill set suggest a unique role for him at the next level. His statistical profile is absolutely fascinating, Reed is averaging over five stocks (steals + blocks) and nearly two assists per game. His three point shooting has dipped from last year at higher volume, but he’s shooting 79% from the line. In this draft Reed is more of a swing, but if he hits, he’ll provide great value as a big who can playmake, stretch the floor and hold it down defensively. Jaden McDaniels has been an interesting case so far. After a really strong debut against Baylor, his shooting has tailed off a bit and the physicality seems to have caught up. I think he’s a better shooter than 33% from deep and he has an impressive offensive arsenal, but he’s been getting bumped off his spot a little too often. I’m still optimistic that McDaniels could turn the corner, but he probably has to improve his body to fulfill his potential.
22. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
23. Isaiah Stewart
24. Zeke Nnaji
25. Patrick Williams
26. Myles Powell
27. Romeo Weems
28. Grant Riller
29. Aaron Nesmith
30. Cassius Winston
The final tier is a mixed bag. I have some really good seniors (Powell, Riller, Winston), freshmen who have shown intriguing flashes (Williams, Nnaji and Weems), freshmen who have underwhelmed (Robinson-Earl and Stewart) and a solid returner (Nesmith). I’m lower than consensus on Stewart, a lot of that comes from positional value at the next level. He’s absolutely jacked, but he doesn’t carry the physical prescience and freakish athleticism on the court that you would expect by looking at him, especially on the defensive end. He’s been productive in college, but if he’s not going to shoot, I’m not sure how much of it translates. With Carsen Edwards’ early struggles, I’m reluctant to get super high on another under-sized tough shotmaker. However, in this class, I’m willing to buy Powell as a late first round guy. His numbers have cooled since his nuclear start to the season, but his shot diversity is still absolutely incredible. While he’s only 6’2”, Powell plays with impressive physicality. My biggest concern so far would be the big dip in his 2P% (was 54% last year and now at 44%) but I expect it to eventually get back to the norm.
As I mentioned above, DePaul is extremely fun. Paul Reed is awesome, but Romeo Weems is pretty good in his own right. The freshman wing is a true jack-of-all-trades, I’m not sure he has one bankable skill, but Weems always finds a way to impact the game in a positive way. He’s very fluid for a 6’7” wing, the Detroit native is also very active on both ends. If you turn your back on defense, he’ll make you pay with a perfectly-timed cut every single time. Cassius Winston is having a down year so far (which is completely understandable given everything he’s gone through) but when push comes to shove, Winston is a really good basketball player. He’s gotten better every single year throughout his first three and you know exactly what you’re getting. Winston will struggle on defense and he’ll be faced with physical challenges, but his vision and shooting are enough to sneak into the first round.