The 2020 NBA Draft is 126 days away. That feels like an eternity. Even though I have a roulette wheel of takes constantly spinning in my head, I still need to get creative in terms of content to get us through the times. My twitter mentions aren’t always the most pleasing section, but I love just talking basketball. I’ve always wanted to do a mailbag, but in all honesty, I never thought I’d get any questions. Now that I can play big-time, a Draft mailbag was an absolute necessity. Unfortunately I couldn’t answer everyone’s questions, but I tried to pick ones that I either feel strongly about or haven’t written about before. Without anymore spiel from me, here is my Draft mailbag 1.0:
What’s the most significant improvement and/or change you’ve made in your scouting process over the past draft cycle? (@eyreball)
Understanding high-end upside and how reachable that is for a given prospect, along with learning that high ceiling often equals high floor. I know, it’s counter-intuitive, but players are often billed as “high-upside” players because of their multiple paths to achieve that high outcome. I like to think of it as “Shoot for the stars so you if you miss, you land on the moon.” Yes, I just pulled out your 2nd grade teacher’s favorite inspirational quote, but let me give an elevator-pitch on how it applies to prospects. Let’s say prospect A has an All-NBA ceiling. Even if he doesn’t hit that ceiling, he can still land on his 50th percentile outcome as a starter or solid 6th man. Let’s say player B is viewed as the safe option because of age, translatable skills, production etc. but his ceiling is a good starter. This is where the misconception comes into play. Contrary to popular belief, player B doesn’t actually have a much greater chance at hitting his ceiling. Even though it’s a lower end outcome, it’s still that particular prospect’s 100th percentile. There are some prospects where the hit rate is just so unlikely that the risk becomes irresponsible, but usually, “safer” prospects actually have less room for error. With player B, even if he hits his high-end outcome, he’s probably still on the moon. It’s very rare for these “high-ceiling” prospects to actually flame out. Of course, most don’t end up on the All-NBA team, but why not give yourself a chance? Now, since I just gave an entire monologue on upside, I want to talk about what makes a responsible upside play. In the NBA, the most valuable players are primary initiators, someone you can run your offense through. Whether they’re point guard sized like Trae Young or mega-wing sized like LeBron James, they all serve the same purpose. Their job is to create advantages by manipulating the defense in some way, it can be a shifty handle, bully-ball, pull-up gravity, a wicked first-step, the list goes on. After creating that said advantage — by advantage I’m referring to when multiple defenders are locked in to one player — they need to be competent enough in their decision making to exploit the advantage they created. Without one of those abilities, you won’t have access to the superstar lounge, the upper echelon of NBA players all have both (unless you’re an elite defensive stopper). That’s not to say having one without the other isn’t a valuable player, we can all agree Donovan Mitchell outperformed his draft slot value at 13, even if he never finds the key to the lounge. But, real high-upside guys are prospects who you can envision cracking both of those codes, it’s not easy, but that’s what it takes to be a star in today’s game.
Who is the player who’s evaluation is centered on shooting improvement, that you most believe will not shoot? (@Abovethebreak3)
I’ll give two answers for this one, Devon Dotson and Josh Green. We’ll start with the former, Dotson is an explosive downhill guard who made impressive improvements in his sophomore campaign but I’m still skeptical of the shot. Dotson shot 30.6% on jumpers off the bounce and 33.3% on spot-up no-dribble jumpers, neither of which are abysmal and both hover around the 50th percentile nationally. The percentages aren’t horrible, I just can’t get behind the mechanics. Dotson has an unusual shotline which stems from his release, it’s somewhat of a two-motion release and he shoots it from his right ear. The overall mechanics are far from fluid and just a little too hitchy for me. In regards to his projection, I love his attack first mentality but think a lot of it gets diminished if he can’t keep defenses honest from behind the arc, especially when you consider that he isn’t a super advanced playmaker. With Green — similar to his entire evaluation — I’m struggling to figure it out. He’s basically a non-factor off the dribble (ranking in the 9th percentile) but I don’t want to hold that against him too much. In order to be a successful NBA wing, Green just needs to hit standstill threes. He is a very impressive passer for his position and an extremely explosive athlete, all he needs to do is generate closeouts. Green fared particularly well on those standstill threes, canning them at 43.3% which ranked in the 88th percentile. Now, it feels like I’m nitpicking, but sometimes you just can’t shake a gut feeling, so here we are. Despite shooting it at a very respectable clip, Green is very knee-knocked on his jumpers and has a wide base on some of his shots, this really worries me when projecting his shot out to the NBA line because that only means he’ll have to generate more power. On top of those qualms, Green’s release isn’t picture perfect either. His left elbow flares out a little too much for my liking and I’ve also seen Green be trigger shy on too many occasions, I just don’t feel comfortable betting on it. He has a tendency to disappear for stretches in the half court and I think he’ll struggle finishing due to his lack of ambidexterity, his shot is his swing skill to consistently make an impact there. I’m less confident in this one, but I’m relatively out at the moment.
The prospect opinion you changed the most over the course of the past year? (@BeenThrifty)
Killian Hayes is the easy answer here. I had Hayes right outside the lottery in my pre-season board. I loved his pace and playmaking creativity but just couldn’t get over his athletic limitations, mainly laterally. While the NCAA teams were playing their cupcake games, I watched a ton of Hayes. I was blown away by how much he improved in so many areas that are critical for his game, lateral quickness and shotmaking especially. Now, Hayes is firmly in my top 4. Instead of being an absolute burden at the point of attack, Hayes knows how to use his length and strength to create havoc for opponents, he’s also very smart and impactful off the ball as a team-defender. Before the year, I also had questions about how Hayes would score and put pressure on defenses at an NBA level. Well, he proved me wrong again by unleashing an extremely difficult Harden-esque stepback regularly. His catch and shoot numbers are still worrisome to me, I think part of that can certainly be attributed to his lack of comfort operating off-ball at the moment — hence the shaky footwork. Hayes has also been very impressive in the paint this year, his deceleration is controlled and his touch is supreme. He might not rise up on you for a poster but Killian Hayes plays his way. I’m fairly confident Hayes will be a solid NBA starter — with a plausible path toward All-Star appearances — and that certainly means something in this class.
The Knicks get the 6 pick first 5 picks are LaMelo/Edwards/Wiseman/Hayes/Deni who should they take at 6 and is that the best player left on your board? (@ladieslovecc)
In terms of my Knicks board, LaMelo and Killian Hayes are in a tier of their own at one and two, respectively. The Knicks will probably need some lottery luck to snag Melo but Hayes’ stock still seems to be in the 8-12 range. But, if we’re going by your scenario, I’d go with Cole Anthony. I know a lot of Knicks fans love the idea of Tyrese Haliburton, but personally, I think it’s a horrible fit. In my latest piece I talked in depth about what the proper utilization of Hali would look like at the next level and the Knicks just aren’t in a place to provide that. Hali will be at his best as the ultimate linking piece, someone who can make threes, move the ball and create events on defense. If you’re relying on him to be your primary initiator from day one — which the Knicks likely would — then I think you’re getting yourself into trouble. I’ve tweeted in the past how I’d like the Knicks to sign a solid vetern point guard to a contract similar to Ricky Rubio’s in Phoenix. It might be viewed as a *slight* overpay, it’s absolutely essential for the development of this team. They don’t have to be a part of your “young core,” but someone that’s competent running an NBA offense and can stop the lead guard revolving door at Madison Square Garden is what the Knicks need. Since he can create gravity on his own with a lethal pull-up game, Cole will be effective alongside a “care-taker” point guard. With Hali, I think he’ll need a high-usage star — like Trae Young — to be at his best. Don’t get me wrong, that’s completely okay, but the Knicks just don’t have that guy right now. While I don’t really think Cole would be our point guard of the future, he offers offensive creation for a team that played through Julius Randle, Hali just can’t provide that in the half court. In that same piece, I also talked about the team context issues Cole had to play through and how I still really like him as a prospect. Sure, it would be nice if the numbers were better, but I’m going to need more than that to budge off Cole Anthony.
Do you think Wiseman will be better in the short term than Okongwu, and which one do you like more? (@carteryoung340)
Personally, I prefer Okongwu to Wiseman by a pretty decent margin. In the short-term and long-term, I think Okongwu is more valuable, versatile and made for today’s NBA. Everyone knows about Wiseman’s freakish measurements, standing at 7’1” with a 7’6” wingspan and 9’3.5” standing reach. Those numbers will literally jump off the page. Wiseman is an absolute physical specimen, but I’m worried how functional those tools will be at the NBA level. In a straight line, Wiseman is absolutely incredible. If there was a 40 yard-dash event at the NBA combine, Wiseman would probably be a top-10 pick based on his frame and straight line running alone, he practically looks like a gazelle sprinting across an open field. The problems arise when he has to move laterally — which is much more important for a big man in 2020 — Wiseman has extremely slow feet and hips, which give him a lot of trouble when guarding the pick and roll. In today’s NBA, being able to contain quick guards and contest elite shooter’s pull-up threes is somewhat of a necessity — unless you’re an elite rim protector and the scheme can be catered to you. Wiseman isn’t that type of rim protector either, he has a slow load time which causes him to get fooled by crafty and deceptive finishers around the rim. While Wiseman is a measurement beast, his true functionality as an NBA defender is much more questionable than most are perceiving it as. I think he’ll be a solid big man who can use his size to overwhelm on both ends and maybe shoot it, but I can’t get there with him as a revolutionary top-5 pick. I wrote about Okongwu in the piece I linked above so I won’t go too in-depth, but I love his mobility, strength and touch. While his height, wingspan and standing reach don’t compare to Wiseman’s, Okongwu has lighter feet, quicker hips and snap-of-a-finger load time. All those functional traits will allow Okongwu to be much more versatile and impactful on both ends — especially defensively. Despite what the consensus might say, Okongwu is my C1.
Players you could see yourself drafting ahead of RJ? (@pktHoops)
RJ Barrett finished 3rd on my board last year but I think it’s probably far-fetched to say he’ll end up being the 3rd best player from that class. If we’re taking into account what we know now, I’d take everyone in my top four ahead of RJ Barrett, which consists of LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Onyeka Okongwu and Killian Hayes. I also gave Cole Anthony, Deni Avdija and Kira Lewis some consideration but ultimately settled on my first four. I think RJ will be a solid piece for the Knicks, I really do. He lacks shake and is pretty much the opposite of ambidextrous, he finds a way to get things done on the basketball court. Obviously he wasn’t very efficient, but most rookies aren’t. The free throw line struggles give me some pause when projecting him as a viable floor spacer, shooting 61.5% is far from ideal. I don’t think RJ will ever be optimized as a primary — like some Knicks fans do — but I do think that he can ultimately be a swiss-army knife that wins with strength. That can be a valuable piece in the Knicks ultimate puzzle. However, in the top three, you’re typically looking for an offensive engine or defensive stopper, RJ is neither. With Ball and Hayes, I project them as very solid NBA primary initiators, which is far more valuable than RJ. I’m a big fan of Killian Hayes’ floor — he’ll probably be able to step in and run an NBA offense for 10 years — with the upside to do a lot more. LaMelo Ball is just in a completely different stratosphere than RJ as prospects so I’ll just save characters here. With Okongwu, there’s a sense of safety — similar to RJ — but he also brings an added boost of potential and versatility on both ends of the floor. Okongwu doesn’t make much sense for the Knicks, but in a vacuum I’d take him over Barrett. Edwards is polarizing at the top of the class but I’m still a fan, his athletic baseline and overall scoring potential are far more intriguing than RJ thus far.