As you may be well aware by now, 2020 is probably not the best year for your favorite team to win the draft lottery. That doesn’t mean this draft won’t be full of intrigue—quite the opposite, in all likelihood—but there may not be a superstar-in-waiting to shift a franchise’s fortunes, and there’s certainly a lack of excitement across the NBA surrounding this incoming class. And yes, being the bearer of subpar news can be mildly exhausting.
Here’s what we do know about this draft going into the New Year. Anthony Edwards, our preseason projected No. 1 pick, has begun to separate ever-so slightly from the pack in the minds of teams. Some of that is on his own merit, but it’s also because James Wiseman left Memphis and will be more than six months removed from organized basketball come June, and because LaMelo Ball is sidelined indefinitely in Australia with a foot injury. Those players have ostensibly become the consensus top three prospects, but it’s unlikely any of their current résumés would have put them in contention for the top pick in any of the last handful of drafts (in hindsight, 2017 hasn’t held up all that well, but that’s not really the point). A top pick in this draft just may not come with the type of yield you’d want in theory.
Complicating matters further: the draft lottery is going to be heavy on guards, making it harder for teams to appropriately address positional need in a year where it should be more sensible to factor in fit, given the talent level is somewhat flat. The true difference between, say, 6-10 and 11-15 may end up being negligible. It’s possible nearly half of the lottery selections are players who spent their seasons overseas. There could be a heavy international flavor on whole, if teams opt to stash prospects elsewhere in lieu of committing roster spots. And with the 2021 and 2022 drafts looking much deeper in comparison, particularly if the NBA allows high schoolers to make the leap in time for the latter, the value of 2020 first-rounders as the deadline approaches would appear to be less than usual. There are still three months of college basketball season left, and in three months’ time, there could still be relatively little clarity. So it goes.
As always, this mock predicts what the upcoming draft might look like were it to take place on a given day. This is not a definitive ranking of prospects—our Big Board attempts to evaluate the available talent—and it’s hard to truly account for team needs this far in advance. Think of this more as an informed, ballpark assessment of each player’s individual standing with respect to the draft.
Order determined using the NBA standings entering Tuesday, January 7.
1. Hawks - Anthony Edwards, G, Georgia
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 225 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Edwards began the season atop our mock draft and remains here as conference play gets going. He continues to look like the best answer to the No. 1 pick conundrum in what league executives view as a difficult, frustrating and thin draft class. In a typical year, Edwards would be a more palatable option in the three-to-five range, where expectations can be tempered for a player still at a particularly nascent stage of his development. His physical tools, projectable shooting and long-term potential as a scorer create a tantalizing best-case scenario as a worthy building block, and he can be jaw-dropping to watch for certain stretches of a game. But Edwards only turned 18 in August, and is still figuring out how to consistently impact play from start to finish.
Right now, he’s shown just enough to be considered the favorite here, and the hope around the NBA is that he’ll turn a corner in the coming weeks. Until then, the thought of taking Edwards first overall will continue to make some stomachs drop. If he continues to float in and out of games, James Wiseman may end up looking like a safer bet for high-end production in the minds of some front offices, despite his brief stint at Memphis. The optimistic slant would be that Edwards’ youth and a demonstrated willingness to learn thus far at Georgia make for an appealing blank slate, with a lack of fully-formed on-court habits preferable to a host of poor ones. No matter what, he’ll require patience.
For the Hawks, Edwards’ hometown team, pairing him with the prolific, ball-dominant Trae Young would create an intriguing, if imperfect long-term partnership. Atlanta would surely consider Wiseman and other alternatives should it indeed win the lottery, particularly given the youth already on the roster at the guard and forward spots as well as the Hawks’ recent history of draft-day trades. If the Hawks do indeed land Andre Drummond, it may change their calculus with priorities. For now, Edwards maintains his hold on this spot, as he does in the minds of a growing number of evaluators.
2. Warriors - James Wiseman, C, Memphis
Height: 7’1” | Weight: 240 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Wiseman remains very much in contention for the No. 1 selection after playing just three games for Memphis, receiving a well-publicized suspension from the NCAA, then leaving campus in December to sign with prominent agency Excel Sports and begin preparations for the draft. His frame has been likened to that of a young Dwight Howard, he looked to be turning a corner in terms of consistent effort and impact, and while the concerns about his own positional self-awareness are valid, the ball skills and shooting potential he possesses are more the cherry on top. Wiseman could approach double-double production out of the gate, and many around the industry believe he will strongly benefit from a change of scenery after escaping what had been a tumultuous amateur career.
All that said, the thought of Wiseman stepping in to help Golden State at center makes sense only from a long-term perspective they can’t presently afford. There’s a growing expectation in NBA circles that the Warriors will explore trade options with this pick, which is likely to be a top-five selection. This season is a wash, and with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on track to start the 2020-21 season fully healthy, there’s little reason for the Dubs to consider a foundational reboot. If a can’t-miss talent were available atop this draft class, the conversation might be different. There’s little reason to think Wiseman, or any of the other projected top picks, would be ready to offer valuable playoff minutes to a contending team right way. So, there’s real financial dissonance between the Warriors’ aspirations and clogging up their salary sheet with a teenager on a hefty, slot-value rookie contract.
The doomsday scenario the rest of the league has begun to fear is that Golden State pulls off another blockbuster and flings wide a second championship window. Rival executives believe the Warriors should be able to build reasonably attractive packages for a star who fits their timeline by offering the still-improving D’Angelo Russell, who’s on a max-level contract for three more seasons, in addition to this pick. In lieu of a path to being competitive, Golden State has smartly handed minutes to a variety of young prospects, giving them an NBA audition while also theoretically generating trade value. It’s a situation to monitor as February’s trade deadline approaches.
3. Knicks - LaMelo Ball, PG, Illawarra Hawks
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 180 | Age: 18
The expectation around the league is that Ball won’t play another game for Illawarra after injuring his foot in December. There’s not much reason for him to risk things, and his audition as a top pick has been successful, though his poor shooting percentages seem likely to preclude him from being the No. 1 pick. Ball has an elite combination of size and passing ability, his ball-handling skills are advanced, he’s outstanding in transition, and although his team isn’t very good, he managed to rack up big numbers in Australia as an 18-year-old. On the other hand, if someone looks like a bad jump shooter and shoots like a bad jump shooter, they might just not be very good at shooting, and his efficiency struggles are a huge red flag. If Ball’s realistic statistical peak ends up somewhere in the realm of, say, Ricky Rubio, then he’s justifiably a high selection, but hard to sell as the top overall prospect.
As with any high-usage teenager, some of Ball’s struggles can improve with better shot selection. This would be more palatable if he were more of a threat to apply pressure on the rim. Plus, beyond gambling for steals, he’s a fairly uninterested defender. It’s hard not to discuss Ball without using his brother Lonzo‘s career as a prism, due to their similarities. To be fair, Ball seems to be figuring some things out as with the Pelicans. LaMelo is bigger and a better handler than his brother, but far worse defensively. It’s worth asking how we might view this situation had LaMelo had gone to college and anchored a winning team for one season. But where Lonzo always managed to be remarkably efficient, even with his limitations in the halfcourt, LaMelo often veers into hero ball, often to his detriment. On a separate note, league-wide concerns over the public presence of their father, LaVar, have been overblown at this point. It’s something teams have to parse carefully, and it’s worth wondering how much LaMelo’s cosmetic strengths actually matter if he doesn’t adapt and score efficiently. If he can’t do that in the NBL, it’s hard to say he’s especially close to doing it in the NBA.
The Knicks seem to be careening toward a crossroads, with their front office on extremely thin ice and prospects like Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith vacillating between treading water and abjectly sinking. Predictably, R.J. Barrett has struggled to score efficiently, and there’s nobody to consistently lob the ball up to Mitchell Robinson. Whoever’s calling the shots for New York come spring should be justified to clear the decks as they see fit. Ball comes with some real red flags, but his height, youth and natural proclivity for the game should prevent him from slipping too far. His fit with the Knicks could be tenuous, but it’s a reasonable risk-reward play given the circumstances.
4. Cavaliers - Jaden McDaniels, SF, Washington
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 200 | Age: 19 | Freshman
After two months, McDaniels has firmly helped his stock, solidifying a spot as a likely Top 10 pick by simply showing up at Washington as the good version of himself. After struggling to a degree during his senior year of high school in Seattle, McDaniels has successfully showcased his full range of offensive skills, and a degree of upside that has always been present, but seemingly never for long stretches. He’s begun taking better shots, has made his threes at a respectable clip, and his ability to handle fluidly and pass the ball at his size has always been unusual. Many scouts have seen enough from McDaniels skill-wise to now comfortably project him as a full-time wing, which projects as his best pathway to success given his slender build. If he puts it all together, he can be a real mismatch problem with his height, coordination, and ability to draw defenders away from the rim. He has to keep working on creating easy looks and finishing in the paint, but his production has been appreciably stable for the most part.
Some scouts have also praised McDaniels’ activity level on defense and as a rebounder, where he’s played a big role in Washington’s zone. His length, instincts, and ability to cover ground should translate in some capacity, and the NBA has gone away from the type of bruising threes and fours who might render him situationally unplayable. McDaniels has to successfully navigate conference play (and he got off to an extremely poor start against UCLA last week), but Washington looks capable of making the tournament, and his continued success will keep assuaging concerns. He hasn’t won everyone over yet, and likely won’t—his history of inconsistency and the fact he still hasn’t been all that efficient scoring the ball have always generated sticker shock. Still, it’s certainly possible McDaniels hits the high end of his range in an underwhelming draft. Looking the part can go a long way when you’re skilled and 6’9”, and for teams that need a guard alternative—like the Cavs, in this instance—he should end up in play relatively early.
5. Pelicans - Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 190 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Although Arizona stumbled a bit in December, Mannion won a lot of people over around the league over the first two months of the season and is pretty firmly on track for the lottery, although his exact position in the hierarchy of top guards varies a bit depending on preference. He’s a bit of a 90s-style throwback, with terrific playmaking instincts, quick decision-making and a demonstrable nasty streak on the court. Mannion has always had his detractors, as he lacks top-shelf explosiveness, isn’t intimidating physically and has work to do as an on-ball defender. He’s comfortable shooting floaters and pulling up for jumpers, but has to improve his finishing around the basket. Still, Mannion has adequately answered the usual questions at each step of his career, and scouts laud his approach to the game and intangibles.
It’s tough to say exactly what the Pelicans will end up needing at this point, given their abundance of youth at every position, but adding another guard to the mix seems palatable with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson the long-term answers at each forward spot, and Jaxson Hayes enjoying early success at center. Mannion’s ability to shoot and involve others makes sense in an uptempo scheme, and he could provide a useful shot in the arm working behind Lonzo Ball in the short-term. He’ll be a bankable option in this part of the draft, and someone teams should feel comfortable with.
6. Wizards - Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 175 | Age: 19 | Sophomore
Haliburton has been one of college basketball’s breakout stars this season, successfully transitioning into a full time point guard and cementing himself as an obvious lottery talent. There remains some serious trepidation among teams over his ability to create shots for himself, tied to a fledgling pull-up game and unorthodox shooting mechanics, but it’s hard not to notice the pace at which he’s evolved over the past year. There’s more progression in order before he becomes a true, full-time lead guard, and self-creation will never be his primary strength, in contrast to some of his peers. Still, he makes everyone else around him better, has been arguably the most fun college player to watch, and if he can successfully elevate a middling Iowa State team over the next few months, it’ll be hard to ignore what he’s doing. Haliburton might rival LaMelo Ball as the most creative passer in this draft class, and while he struggles at times defending on the ball, he’s a plus team defender with terrific instincts.
Washington is in an intriguing position, with John Wall making massive, potentially untradeable money and set to return from injury next season, and Bradley Beal also now under long-term contract. Haliburton would be an attractive, early-impact option who can fit alongside both guards on a team that may not be too far from a return to playoff contention. Where Haliburton lands in the draft could vary wildly, as teams will value his unique skill set in different ways depending on their own personnel and their belief in his long-term potential. That being said, his he’s far too intelligent to fail completely, which is more than most prospects in this draft have going for them, particularly after the top few players are off the board.
7. Pistons - Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 190 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Anthony’s stock has slipped somewhat amid a poor season for North Carolina on whole, but in truth, the sense I’ve gotten from NBA types familiar with his game is that he has always been more of a contender-by-proxy for the No. 1 pick, bolstered by a lofty high school ranking that masked some of the warts along the way. It’s presently unclear whether or not he’ll return to the floor as a Tar Heel after having meniscus surgery in December, and it’s kind of become a chicken-or-egg situation for teams to parse: is North Carolina so undermanned that Anthony had no chance to engineer success, or did the team have issues in part because he struggles to natively impact winning? He shot the ball plenty, generally shot it poorly and had issues getting all the way to the rim, but at the same time, he often had little space to operate due to a lack of quality supporting talent. Regardless, it’s difficult to sell yourself on any player shooting just 37% on two-point attempts, situation aside. Under duress, Anthony tends to revert to hero-ball, and while he’s made some strides as a playmaker, it’s not what he naturally does best. Questions have circulated dating back to high school surrounding how much his peers enjoy playing with him, and why his teams have often underperformed.
His body of work is tricky to evaluate, but Anthony is generally seen more as a potent scorer with above-average tools than as a guard to whom you might anchor a franchise. He certainly has the capacity to put up big points at the NBA level, and in this draft, that alone is going to be worth the gamble for someone. Whether or not Anthony returns this season, his stock should float somewhere between here and the back end of the lottery. It could be smart for him to simply shut it down, but he also has something to gain by returning and engineering some additional wins, even if the Tar Heels fall out of the NCAA tournament picture. His ability to catch and shoot as well as play on the ball could make him a viable fit in Detroit. With Andre Drummond potentially on the move and Blake Griffin staring down injury again, expect the Pistons to wind up with an early draft slot. They might be staring down a full rebuild sooner than later.
8. Bulls - Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 210 | Age: 19
Avdija has always been a somewhat divisive prospect, but it’s hard to say he’s helped himself in a significant manner since leading Israel to a U20 European Championship over the summer. There’s an undeniable degree of appeal with his on-court intelligence and the way he passes the ball, but at the moment it’s also tough to envision him becoming a legitimate full-time ball-handler at the NBA level, a role in which he’s enjoyed most of his individual success to date. Avdija is crafty but not overly explosive off the dribble, and while he’s a capable shooter when left open, he’s not an overly dynamic one, nor has he been a very good free throw shooter historically.
The fact Avdija just turned 19 and has been cutting his teeth in a legitimate reserve job for Maccabi is helpful, and he’s found ways to be productive other than scoring in an off-ball, secondary role that’s probably more akin to what he’ll be asked to do in the NBA. Avdija has improved defensively, and the word on his competitive makeup is positive. But it will tough for some teams to talk themselves into him based on the way he’s being used at the moment, and with the way he’s struggled to score and create his own shot on a consistent basis. He remains a likely lottery pick, but comes with notable concerns. The Bulls have loaded up on scoring-oriented guards over the past year, and developing Avdija as a playmaking wing to eventually fit next to Coby White and Zach LaVine might make some sense.
9. Kings - Killian Hayes, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Age: 18
At this point, there’s an outside chance Hayes ends up being the first European-based player drafted, as he’s put together a productive year at Ulm in Germany, where he’s had a valuable opportunity to play through mistakes and develop. Hayes has always appeared to be ahead of the curve relative to his age, and has made some visible strides playing real minutes in the BBL and Eurocup as an 18-year-old. While in the eyes of international scouts (and in the French national team setup), Theo Maledon has long been regarded as the superior prospect, the gap between them has narrowed significantly, and Hayes’ innate ability to create shots for himself and his teammates off a live dribble may actually make him the more intriguing player, based on what the NBA values at the moment.
Hayes has the size to be deployed as more of a combo guard long term if need be, and while his outside shot still has a ways to go and he’s still extremely left-hand dominant, he’s been able to succeed in spite of those things to date, and it helps that he’s an excellent free throw shooter. His high turnover totals are more a byproduct of aggressiveness and willingness to try things than any serious lack of feel. Hayes is pretty clearly in the process of elevating his stock, and he’d make sense for the Kings, who could use another creative guard, particularly given he could potentially spend time at both backcourt spots.
10. Hornets - Obi Toppin, PF, Dayton
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 220 | Age: 21 | RS Sophomore
Although Toppin’s advanced age (he turns 22 in March) makes it difficult to rationalize him as a Top 10 pick, he’s become a legit late-lottery candidate while anchoring a very good Dayton team with his production and offensive versatility. There aren’t many bigs who are natural threats to catch lobs and consistently hit corner threes, and Toppin makes both look easy, making him well-suited for a creative role operating along the baseline and in the paint. That skill set gives him a clear pathway to contributing, with the primary concerns coming on the defensive end, as he’s not tall or physical enough to handle legit centers, and makes more sense as a stretch-four/small-ball five hybrid. The NBA certainly favors bigs of Toppin’s ilk right now, and there’s plenty to like here. Charlotte appears to have found a long-term answer at point guard in Devonte’ Graham, and shoring up their frontcourt with a more dynamic scorer would be close to ideal.
11. Suns - R.J. Hampton, G, New Zealand Breakers
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Age: 18
Hampton returned over the weekend after missing two weeks with a hip injury, and continues to make an admirable adjustment to the level of play in Australia as a useful supporting player for the Breakers. But teams continue to question his perimeter shooting, which is viewed as a particularly critical swing skill given he appears best suited as a combo guard moving forward. Hampton has the size and tools to make that sort of role work in the NBA, and his decision-making has improved while abroad. His shot mechanics are still somewhat laborious, and he just hasn’t shown a ton of confidence in his jumper on a consistent basis. He still has to prove he can impact winning basketball in a meaningful way, and makes more sense in this part of the first round than as an easily projectable early selection. Hampton makes some sense for Phoenix as a potential long-term partner for Devin Booker, although he’s still a ways away from contributing consistently in the NBA.
12. Timberwolves - Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 200 | Age: 18 | Freshman
At this point, Maxey is more or less a consensus lottery pick, and while there’s difference of opinion on how high he belongs in the hierarchy, he does supply a different set of strengths than the other top guards do. He’s a better shooter than his sample suggests, he’s tough, and his ability to legitimately play on and off the ball helps mitigate the height concerns. Maxey is thickly built, which can sometimes work to his detriment in attacking small spaces, but his frame should hold up in the NBA, and helps him a good deal on the defensive end. He’ll make his money as a scorer, but a creative coach should be able to take advantage of his offensive versatility, perhaps in a better way than Kentucky has thus far. Minnesota would be an intriguing fit for Maxey, and while they might prefer a true point guard to build around long-term, he’d be a nice fit next to Jarrett Culver in the backcourt. He might be best suited as a third guard long-term, but in this part of this particular draft, that’s a pretty solid outcome.
13. Celtics (via Grizzlies) - Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 235 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Okongwu has helped himself as much as any prospect in the draft in the first part of the season, and while this spot in a regular draft might be somewhat steep for a 6’8” rim-running five-man, he’s done enough to put himself in consideration in the back end of the lottery, particularly given the current dearth of enticing first-round bigs. He’s an exceptional run-jump athlete with terrific timing and instincts around the rim, catching lobs, putting back misses and defending the airspace with his length. Skill-wise, he doesn’t have a ton to offer, but there’s certainly some value with productive bigs you never have to run plays for, and Okongwu checks a lot of the right boxes. This selection will convey from Memphis to Boston as long as it falls outside the top six, which could end up being a sort of windfall for the Grizzlies, who would surely rather send the pick now rather than hand over their unprotected 2021 first. Okongwu has a chance to be a high-end producer within his role, and should be able to help a team early in his career. With the Celtics in need of help up front, this makes a lot of sense.
14. Trail Blazers - Isaac Okoro, SF, Auburn
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 225 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Okoro has been the most valuable player on a still-undefeated Auburn team and an obvious first-round talent, with attractive long-term potential as a defensive-minded, utilitarian presence on the wing. NBA teams have been pleasantly surprised, and his balance, smarts and natural feel in all aspects of the game are noteworthy. Okoro’s jump shot remains the one glaring hole in his game (he’s made just five of 24 three-point attempts to date), and may be what limits him from sneaking into Top 10 territory. While it’s tough to find minutes for non-shooters who aren’t special in other ways, Okoro’s defense and efficiency around the rim give him a chance at succeeding in spite of it. And if he can work himself into even an average catch-and-shoot player, he’ll be extremely valuable. Okoro could be the type of versatile perimeter stopper Portland sorely needs.
15. Spurs - Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 250 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Unsurprisingly, Stewart has been among the more impactful college freshmen, establishing himself as a consistent double-double threat and continuing his strong trend of high school production. Teams have long praised his activity level and intangibles, and despite being more of a throwback, bruising five-man, Stewart boasts serious length and enough athletic ability to survive in the modern NBA. The fact he’s so comfortable doing the dirty work is appealing, and while this pick will be more for floor than ceiling, he’s viewed by most scouts I’ve spoken with as a relatively safe option. Although he won’t be an elite rim protector or interior scorer, his physicality and effort level should help bridge the gap, and he won’t require heavy post touches to impact the game. The Spurs still value bigs in his mold, and should end up in position to address the frontcourt after loading up on perimeter players the past couple drafts.
16. Hawks (via Nets) - Zeke Nnaji, F/C, Arizona
Height: 6’11” | Weight: 240 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Although his defensive struggles have been notable, Nnaji has mostly looked the part as a viable energy big, and his genuine effort level and competitiveness have won scouts over. He’s not exceptionally long, but he’s a live body and strong rebounder who opponents have to account for at all times due to his activity level. His natural touch around the rim (72% on two-point attempts) has been notable, and he’s shown some potential to eventually stretch his range out to the three-point line. Nnaji is heavy-footed and undisciplined defending outside the paint and struggles to finish with his left hand, but there’s a good amount to like here. This lottery-protected Nets first-rounder has been tied to the Pistons in a potential Andre Drummond deal, but the Hawks could theoretically add a different dimension to their frontcourt here. That being said, you do wonder how many young players Atlanta can viably develop and roster effectively all at once.
17. Magic - Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL Basket
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 175 | Age: 18
After missing time with injury early in the season, it feels Maledon has begun to plateau a little bit, and while he’s widely considered part of the lottery mix, the prevalence of available guards may end up pushing him down a bit. He‘s never been particularly flashy, but he’s big with projectable shooting mechanics and has the size to defend both guard positions. Scouts often laud his serious approach to improvement, and he’s viewed as having an agreeable floor as an eventual rotation-caliber player who can fit into different types of lineups with his ability to handle, playmake and shoot. However, Maledon’s playing time and effectiveness have been in flux for the past few months, and he’s become a tougher sell relative to some of the other options on the board. He’ll need to up his production the rest of the way to solidify a spot in the lottery. Orlando could pair him with Markelle Fultz, in theory.
18. Thunder - Josh Green, SG, Arizona
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 210 | Age: 19 | Freshman
In a lot of ways, Green is kind of the ideal, no-frills Thunder role player: he’s athletic, hits enough shots, has potential defensively, and has a way of taking what the gameflow gives him and making the most of it. On one hand, those traits and an average handle limit him from becoming the focal point of an offense. On the other, they create what appears to be a reasonable pathway to NBA success. Green has been mostly solid for Arizona, and while his offensive progression has stalled a little bit, his natural strength, ability to drive and finish, and a jumper with room to improve make him worth grooming as a role player. This isn’t a sexy pick, but it’s a reasonable one. This pick is owed to Philadelphia if it falls outside the Top 20.
19. Bucks (via Pacers) - Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 215 | Age: 20 | Sophomore
Nesmith continues to fly somewhat under the radar nationally, but he’s been arguably the top long-distance shooter in college basketball, making 51.4% of his threes on 8.4 attempts per game and averaging an impressive 23.4 points. His progression from last season has been rather remarkable, and his size and physical tools coupled with his potentially elite skill make him an intriguing first-round option. This is where the quality of the draft begins to get much dicier, but there are far worse options than taking a chance on a naturally potent and potentially dynamic catch-and-shoot wing. Stacking the roster with those types of players is a prerogative for Milwaukee, given the way they’ve built around Giannis Antetokounmpo. This Pacers pick is lottery-protected and likely to convey.
20. Nets (via Sixers) - Precious Achiuwa, F, Memphis
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 210 | Age: 20 | Freshman
While Achiuwa remains polarizing enough among scouts that it’s hard to truly gauge his stock, he’s having a productive enough season to assuage at least some of the long-standing concerns surrounding his game. He’s shown an increased commitment to rebounding, running the floor, and doing big-man stuff, although there’s a degree of skepticism as to how much he truly enjoys playing the five, which has become a big part of his role with James Wiseman having left Memphis. Achiuwa is already 20 years old, not particularly skilled and still rather mistake-prone, but he’s been so effective on whole at this level that it’s hard to quibble. His physical versatility, strong motor and growing statistical case make him viable in this part of the draft. It’s likely this lottery-protected pick will convey to Brooklyn, a team that can afford to be patient with someone like Achiuwa.
21. Mavericks - Vernon Carey Jr., C, Duke
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 270 | Age: 18 | Freshman
It’s getting awfully hard to ignore Carey’s consistency and productivity as the focal point of a Duke team that wouldn’t be particularly good without him. He appears to have turned a corner, and his rebounding, finishing and above-average rim protection have been a godsend for the Blue Devils. Carey is very left-hand dominant and not an elite leaper, but his footwork is better than he’s gotten credit for, and he’s shown flashes of potential as a jump shooter. He’s young and effective enough already to have a chance at success as a viable energy big with continued improvement. Carey doesn’t exactly fit the modern mold as a NBA five-man, but if he can consistently punish smaller bigs, and hold his own defensively against better competition, he has a chance to stick. He’d be a depth piece for the Mavericks in this scenario.
22. Raptors - Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 195 | Age: 18 | Freshman
When healthy, Ramsey has been one of the more well-adjusted freshmen in the country, and a key offensive focal point for the Red Raiders. He remains an attractive pro prospect, with a good build and the capacity to play on and off the ball, plus he’s currently hitting his threes at a strong clip and racking up steals and blocks. Teams will get to see watch him more closely and often in conference play—a hamstring injury held him out of games against DePaul and Louisville that would have been early showcase opportunities. But if he continues to do what he’s doing, it’s hard not to see him winning people over. His toughness and scoring mentality fit with what Toronto values.
23. Jazz - Joel Ayayi, G, Gonzaga
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 180 | Age: 19 | RS Sophomore
At long last, Gonzaga opted to fully unleash Ayayi as a starter in December, and his summer breakout at the U19 World Cup with France has proven real in short order. He’s been unselfish, efficient, and been a critical ball-moving piece on a team that’s badly needed his playmaking. While he’s not a shot-heavy dynamo and has been somewhat streaky shooting the three, Ayayi has been such an effective cog in Gonzaga’s offense that it’s easier to overlook those things and project forward. His slight build might be an obstacle at some point, but the fact he’s still only 19 years old and turning 20 in March helps the appeal. It’s unclear if he’ll end up in this draft, but it certainly helps that Gonzaga is no longer curbing his minutes. He’d be an interesting long-term development pick for the Jazz here as a fit with Donovan Mitchell.
24. Clippers - Jordan Nwora, F, Louisville
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 220 | Age: 21 | Junior
Nwora’s catch-and-shoot skills are an intriguing fit for the Clippers, who are tasked with thriftily building around Paul George and Kawhi Leonard for the next few seasons and will have to spend significantly to keep Montrezl Harrell this summer. An experienced college player with a translatable skill set like Nwora makes sense in the 20s, and his struggles creating his own shot should be alleviated somewhat naturally when he’s no longer the focal point of an offense, as he is for Louisville. Playing off of what the Clippers have in place could make him immediately useful, even if he’s not quite the hard-nosed sort of role player L.A. presently favors. Nwora has struggled of late, including a dud game against Kentucky, but remains a viable late first-round option nonetheless.
25. Rockets - Xavier Tillman, F/C, Michigan State
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 245 | Age: 21 | Junior
If the Rockets actually use a first-round selection—which they haven’t since 2015—expect them to go thrift shopping for a role player who fits their system. Houston’s financial situation has shifted its preference toward mining for second round and undrafted talent, and their first-rounder remains one of their only real trade chips going into the deadline. All that said, Tillman, who turns 22 next week, would be a nice fit in Houston, where his well-rounded, low-maintenance game could immediately provide a boost in the frontcourt. He’s tough and more skilled than you realize at a glance, and has played a huge part in Michigan State’s success the past couple of seasons. If he turns pro, Tillman deserves consideration at the back end of the first round.
26. Thunder (via Nuggets) - Amar Sylla, F, Oostende
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 190 | Age: 18
Sylla is one of the more unique prospects in this draft class, with remarkable agility for his size and having had the benefit of learning the game in Spain in the early stages of his career at Real Madrid. While it kind of feels like we’re all beating ourselves over the head with an unfair comparison, Sylla’s physical measurables are closely comparable to those Pascal Siakam, and he patterns his game after Toronto’s breakout star. He’s a terrific athlete who’s trying to make the transition into a unique skill player, and has weathered the ups and downs accordingly this season in Belgium. He’s young and a ways off, but it’s easy to see a team getting hooked on the idea and investing time and money into his growth, particularly in a thin draft. Oklahoma City is no stranger to those types of projects. This pick from Denver is Top 10 protected and will likely convey.
27. Heat - Scottie Lewis, SF, Florida
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Lewis’s stock has certainly dropped after two largely disappointing months, and it may behoove him to stay at Florida another year. But if he starts to turn things around a bit in conference play, his makeup and high-end athletic tools are still strong enough to make him draftable, and should theoretically prevent him from going into free fall. He’s been really challenged to score the ball at a desirable clip, and until there’s some uptick in efficiency and shot selection, it’s a tough sell, particularly given his struggles as a jump shooter. Still, Lewis has always played hard, adds a lot of value on the defensive end, and is likely to interview well. His situation remains somewhat volatile, and he’d be a cultural fit in Miami.
28. Celtics - Isaiah Joe, SG, Arkansas
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 180 | Age: 20 | Sophomore
Joe can really, really, shoot, and that hasn’t changed, but he hasn’t diversified his game a ton this season, either. Eric Musselman has allowed him to bomb away at will, and he’s attempted double-digit threes in each of his last eight games, a trend that should continue. He’s in a fascinating development situation, and truthfully, it’s hard to become an elite volume shooter if you aren’t empowered to do so in the first place. Joe’s potentially elite shooting puts him in the first-round conversation. But his lack of scoring inside the arc is still concerning, and at some point, he’ll have to diversify a bit better. He might be somewhat divisive in the end, but for Boston at this spot in the draft, he could be worth a roll of the dice.
29. Lakers - Paul Reed, F/C, DePaul
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 220 | Age: 20 | Junior
DePaul has come back to earth a bit following a hot start to the season, but Reed has been a big part of the program’s return to relevance, and there’s a growing school of thought around the league that he’ll eventually sneak into the first round. He’s a flawed prospect as far as scoring the ball goes, but his agility and length allow him to affect the game on defense, and he’s been able to impact gameflow with his activity level on the offensive glass and around the rim, generally. Reed has shown occasional flashes of skill on offense, and is still figuring himself out. All that said, he’s been pretty good, and once you get over the cosmetic stuff (which includes a pretty ugly jumper), it makes sense why teams would put him in play in this range. It’s worth noting that according to the NBA’s Stepien rule, the Lakers can’t trade this pick at the deadline, having conditionally traded their 2021 first-rounder to the Pelicans.
30. Celtics (via Bucks) - Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State
Height: 6’1” | Weight: 185 | Age: 21 | Senior
Yes, the Celtics loaded up on small guards last year, so this probably won’t happen. But Winston’s playmaking chops make him a strong candidate to succeed as a backup guard at the NBA level if his body holds up. There are scouts who love everything he brings to the table, and others who can’t get over his lack of remotely ideal physical profile. Still, it’s hard to argue with the results, and while established college guards of Winston’s ilk often slip into the 30s, the success of players like Devonte’ Graham and Jalen Brunson point to why it might behoove teams to grab those types of guys earlier than that. This pick is protected within the top seven, and all but assured to convey to Boston. The Celtics could end up picking three times in the first round.