NBA Draft: Five Scenarios For the 2020 Lottery

The Warriors face one of the more intriguing team-specific conundrums if they receive the first pick. Here are five NBA draft lottery scenarios with a different team picking first.
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While the 2020 NBA draft, technically, remains slated for June 25, let’s be real: it’s probably going to be a while. Barring an imminent decision from Adam Silver to officially scrap the regular season and playoffs, which doesn’t appear forthcoming as the league continues to exhaust all scenarios to salvage play in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, it remains much more likely the NBA drafts in August or September. That’s likely to be the case regardless of what happens, given the need to allot time toward scheduling the lottery and laying out some type of firm calendar leading up to the draft itself.

For now, all anyone really has, for better or worse, is time to stew over the possibilities. So, rather than putting together one big mock draft, we’re going to try something different—we’ll play around with potential scenarios and see what can be gathered from the trends and themes that crop up in the process. I spent some time using Tankathon’s convenient mock draft simulation tool and settled on five lottery scenarios (including the chalk lottery sequence based on the end-of-season standings as they currently stand), each with a different team picking first.

What’s clear enough right now from my conversations with executives and personnel around the NBA is that there’s a pretty clearly defined group of players who are good bets to be selected in the Top 10, which makes this exercise a bit easier and more instructive. Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball, Deni Avdija, Obi Toppin, Onyeka Okongwu, Isaac Okoro, Tyrese Haliburton and Killian Hayes, in some order, are the prospects tracking to come off the board in the first third of the draft. From what I can gather, there’s more variance of opinion on Haliburton, Hayes and Okoro, who ranked 5-6-7 on our most recent big board, but whose landing spots are likely to be a bit more fit-dependent based on their specific skill sets. Sequencing the next group of players after that is much more difficult right now, but there should be enough clarity to make this a worthwhile thought exercise.

Also, a quick note: the Pelicans and Kings are currently tied for the 12th and 13th picks, and if the season ended, settling that would require a tiebreak (ironically, they were scheduled to play each other on the night the NBA shut down). I chose to flip-flop those teams as necessary for the sake of variance.

Scenario I

We’ll start with the draft order as-is, based on current lottery odds, with Golden State keeping the top pick.

1. Warriors: Anthony Edwards

2. Cavaliers: James Wiseman

3. Timberwolves: Deni Avdija

4. Hawks: Tyrese Haliburton

5. Pistons: LaMelo Ball

6. Knicks: Killian Hayes

7. Bulls: Isaac Okoro

8. Hornets: Obi Toppin

9. Wizards: Onyeka Okongwu

10. Suns: Cole Anthony

11. Spurs: Devin Vassell

12. Kings: Patrick Williams

13. Pelicans: Aaron Nesmith

14. Trail Blazers: Tyrese Maxey

If things play out this way, there’s probably going to be incessant debate about what Golden State should do with the top selection. In this situation, the Warriors face one of the more intriguing team-specific conundrums. There’s impetus and opportunity for them to contend in 2021 with a healthy Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But given their cap situation and the financial slot money that accompanies a top pick, it might be hard to fully justify selecting any of the top prospects. There’s something to be said for developing young talent in a championship environment, but the Warriors are a unique sort of pressure-cooker, and realistically, you’re not throwing Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball or James Wiseman in to help close a playoff game a year from now. So making this pick—and keeping this pick long-term—requires a degree of commitment to the future. For Golden State, you have to consider trading back, but if there’s no deal on the table, it makes the most sense to take the prospect who you feel has the best chance of holding significant trade value on his rookie deal, and grooming him in the interim. There’s weird dissonance in the fact that this would seem to be a franchise-changing decision, but it doesn’t seem likely to involve drafting a true franchise-changing player.

Ball feels like a bit of a non-starter here given his limited value playing without the ball in his hands. While it would be fascinating to use him as a lead guard while Curry and Thompson run off of screens, but the Warriors probably don’t have time to entertain that experiment given the age of their core. Curry will continue to get picked on defensively for the rest of his career, and hoping Ball becomes a viable wing defender in short order requires a certain level of optimism. Golden State has had success going center-by-committee with veterans, and paying James Wiseman only makes sense if they think he’s an immediately productive piece. From the perspective of asset value, Edwards should be the pick here, and he’d be walking into a good development situation where he can grow into a role, provided he embraces it.

Also, is it just me or are the Timberwolves potentially walking into a really difficult spot in this draft? Minnesota is committed to Karl-Anthony Towns and recent addition D’Angelo Russell at center and point guard. They’ve also loaded up on the wing, with fellow trade deadline acquisition Malik Beasley up for a new contract and youngsters Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver still developing. What positions do the consensus top-three prospects play? Center, point guard, and shooting guard. Minnesota was highly active in trade talks entering last year’s draft, and as they continue to reshuffle the deck, I speculatively would expect that to continue. If they can create a market for their pick (say, if there’s enough demand for LaMelo Ball for a team like the Knicks or Bulls to justify moving up), there might be a value opportunity here to move down and/or add a veteran piece to their lineup. Ball almost surely won’t fit with Russell, particularly if he doesn’t shoot it. Begrudgingly, here we gave them Deni Avdija as a player whose skill set could complement what’s on the roster meaningfully down the line.

james-wiseman-memphis-nba-draft

Scenario II

In this situation, the Cavs win the lottery, the Bulls leap from seventh-best odds to No. 2, and the Wizards improbably jump from ninth to fourth.

1. Cavaliers: James Wiseman

2. Bulls: LaMelo Ball

3. Warriors: Anthony Edwards

4. Wizards: Onyeka Okongwu

5. Timberwolves: Deni Avdija

6. Hawks: Tyrese Haliburton

7. Pistons: Killian Hayes

8. Knicks: Cole Anthony

9. Hornets: Obi Toppin

10. Suns: Patrick Williams

11. Spurs: Isaac Okoro

12. Pelicans: Devin Vassell

13. Kings: Tyrese Maxey

14. Trail Blazers: Theo Maledon

If there’s a team that’s going to take the plunge on James Wiseman at No. 1, it’s probably Cleveland, who after a series of weird drafts possess one of the weirder rosters in the NBA. The Cavs have a trio of young, scoring-oriented guards in Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter. The issue is that it’s highly unclear which one of the three will end up being the best NBA player. And after a tumultuous year in the locker room that included John Beilein’s exodus, Cleveland is screaming for some stability moving forward. The thing they probably can’t justify without a concurrent trade or two is taking another guard. Unless they firmly believe Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball will be better than Sexton, Garland and Porter (which is certainly a reasonable stance to have, but maybe not as easy to say with confidence as you’d hope), it makes sense to go big with Wiseman. Kevin Love is under contract through 2022, and Andre Drummond would be smart to pick up his player option for 2020-21, but it shouldn’t be enough to dissuade Cleveland from taking Wiseman and hoping he adds the type of backbone to help cure some of their defensive allergies. There’s probably not another team with an obvious case (other than maybe Charlotte) to prioritize a center here.

This wound up being a good scenario for Cole Anthony after Ball, Haliburton and Hayes all came off the board in the first seven picks, leaving the Knicks in a tricky spot. Could you see the Knicks taking 22-year-old Obi Toppin after signing every free agent power forward East of the Mississippi to short-terms last summer? (Unfortunately, yes—they could simply decline Bobby Portis’s club option and slide Toppin into the rotation). Isaac Okoro should be in play here, but given the shooting questions, he’s not a great fit with R.J. Barrett, who is going to need optimal spacing to hit his ceiling. As things stand, this is probably the highest Anthony could get drafted. But above all else, the Knicks sorely need an offensive upgrade at guard, and while a lot of scouts are down on Anthony, he has a reasonable chance of being a more dynamic player in two years than any of their current guards. So that ended up being the fit here.

Could Okoro actually fall out of the Top 10? Maybe. His shooting struggles are going to be a bigger holdup for some teams than others. He’d be a no-brainer for the Spurs at 11, who have an organizational history of developing players’ jumpers. If he somehow made it to New Orleans at 12, that would also be a fairly obvious choice. But I could see teams like Charlotte (who might still have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sticker shock) or Phoenix (who took wings in each of the last two lotteries) balking. Toppin and the Hornets make some sense together. Point being, Okoro’s range looks to be slightly wider than some of the other top guys just based on each organizations’ patience and capacity to take a risk. He should be a viable NBA player for a long time with his defensive acumen and toughness regardless, but paying for his upside high in the draft will be contingent on whether or not you think he eventually shoots. But his absolute floor is the 10-12 range.

Also of note: this is probably the highest Patrick Williams could go. Call that a hunch. But his defensive versatility as a more legitimate power forward would be a feasible bet for the Suns, who have struggled to find the right partner for Deandre Ayton up front. In this instance, I have Phoenix passing on Okoro and Devin Vassell and gambling on upside. While he hasn’t received much hype and is a ways off, it feels like Williams should be drafted somewhere between 10 and 15—his tools are going to play up in some capacity. You’re just betting that the rest of his skill set hits.

anthony-edwards-georgia-nba-draft-prospect

Scenario III

The Knicks and Kings walk into a bar…

1. Knicks: LaMelo Ball

2. Kings: Anthony Edwards

3. Cavaliers: James Wiseman

4. Hawks: Tyrese Haliburton

5. Warriors: Obi Toppin

6. Timberwolves: Onyeka Okongwu

7. Pistons: Killian Hayes

8. Bulls: Isaac Okoro

9. Hornets: Deni Avdija

10. Wizards: Devin Vassell

11. Suns: Cole Anthony

12. Spurs: Patrick Williams

13. Pelicans: Aaron Nesmith

14. Portland: Tyrese Maxey

Frankly, if the Knicks win the lottery, the LaMelo pressure is going to be there. New York is one of a few teams (Chicago, maybe Detroit) that have a strong enough need for a playmaker to seriously consider tying their future to Ball as a long-term piece. The Knicks and Bulls have undergone changes atop their front offices and have the type of decision-making security to make a splashy decision like this. Certainly, Ball will move tickets in a major market. And from his perspective, the Knicks might be the most attractive on-court situation, as well. He’d be a strong fit with Mitchell Robinson, who exclusively catches lobs and covers for mistakes defensively. Ball would help take decision-making pressure off of R.J. Barrett, who is always going to be a little miscast if he’s your best player.

The Knicks would almost certainly still be bad next season, and both players are going to have to shoot the ball better for this to have any chance of paying off. It’s important to note that Knicks boss Leon Rose was the guy who brought Lonzo Ball to CAA a year ago (Rose obviously left, and the Ball brothers recently signed with Roc Nation Sports). It’s not quite a Lonzo-LaVar-Lakers shotgun marriage. But for better or worse, there’s a level of familiarity that will inform New York’s decision if Ball is on the board. If LaMelo is going to go No. 1, this is the most plausible scenario.

The Kings will have between a five and seven percent chance of leaping into the top four picks. This is a chaos situation, but we’ll roll with it. James Wiseman doesn’t fit all that well with Marvin Bagley, so it’s Edwards who becomes the pick at No. 2, even with Buddy Hield’s contract extension and Bogdan Bogdanovic’s restricted free agency coming up. Edwards would be an intriguing long-term fit with De’Aaron Fox, and worth the gamble. The fallout here is intriguing, with Golden State dropping all the way to 5, where Obi Toppin becomes much easier to justify situationally as a close-to-ready rotation piece for next season. Minnesota ends up with Onyeka Okongwu in a fit that could see Karl Towns play minutes at the four, and a pick that’s much easier to make at No. 6 than at No. 3 (where we had them taking Avdija earlier on), where the concept of floor takes on a bit more value. Avdija then slips all the way to Charlotte at No. 9 as the best player available.

deni-nba-draft-drive

Scenario IV

Atlanta wins the lottery, Charlotte leaps up to No. 4, and LaMelo falls all the way to No. 6 here.

1. Hawks: Anthony Edwards

2. Warriors: James Wiseman

3. Cavaliers: Deni Avdija

4. Hornets: Obi Toppin

5. Timberwolves: Onyeka Okongwu

6. Pistons: LaMelo Ball

7. Knicks: Tyrese Haliburton

8. Bulls: Isaac Okoro

9. Wizards: Killian Hayes

10. Suns: Cole Anthony

11. Spurs: Devin Vassell

12. Pelicans: Patrick Williams

13. Kings: Tyrese Maxey

14. Trail Blazers: Theo Maledon

If Atlanta wins the lottery, they’ll have one of the easier decisions relative to the field. Edwards would be a strong fit next to Trae Young, who can open up the floor with his playmaking and naturally facilitates transition offense. Defensively, that’s another story, but at 18 years old, Edwards clearly has the tools be above-average on the ball if he embraces that challenge moving forward. For what it’s worth, Hawks owner Tony Ressler personally scouted Edwards down the road at Georgia this season, and Edwards is an Atlanta native. Granted, staying home isn’t always the best situation for young prospects. But from a basketball standpoint, this is a natural fit.

This scenario ended up creating a weird run on bigs in the top five, with Wiseman being the move for the Warriors at No. 2, the Hornets opting to reach for Toppin (they do seem to love their established college stars), and the Wolves going with Okongwu as defensive cover for Towns. That chain of circumstances leads to the point guards slipping. Ball’s absolute floor is probably here at No. 6, in scenarios where an odd team leaps into the top four, but none of the Pistons, Knicks or Bulls move up. The Knicks go with Haliburton, who has a case as the best pure passer in the draft, over Hayes and Anthony.

Hayes becomes the best player available for Washington at 9, and for all Anthony’s warts, he seems like a reasonable fit for the Suns at 10 or 11. Phoenix badly needs a guard who can consistently make shots alongside Devin Booker. On the flipside, if the Suns were to somehow move up into the top four, Anthony could make it all the way to the back (or, potentially, out) of the lottery, where a team like Portland might be compelled to take him. His range remains somewhat wide, and may hinge on Phoenix’s level of optimism if the draft order holds.

Scenario V

Minnesota and Atlanta come in at Nos. 1 and 2…but both face tricky decisions.

1. Timberwolves: Anthony Edwards

2. Hawks: James Wiseman

3. Pistons: LaMelo Ball

4. Hornets: Obi Toppin

5. Warriors: Tyrese Haliburton

6. Cavaliers: Deni Avdija

7. Knicks: Killian Hayes

8. Bulls: Isaac Okoro

9. Wizards: Onyeka Okongwu

10. Suns: Cole Anthony

11. Spurs: Devin Vassell

12. Kings: Patrick WIlliams

13. Pelicans: Aaron Nesmith

14. Trail Blazers: Tyrese Maxey

We spent some time talking about Minnesota earlier, but if they win the lottery, they probably have to take Edwards or trade back. I view him as the best prospect in the draft, and he’ll have an easier pathway to find minutes and a far better chance of succeeding on this roster than Ball or Wiseman (who overlap with Russell and Towns). There’s not a perfect choice for the Timberwolves in the top three. But this would be the defensible one.

Similarly, would trading for Clint Capela (and Dewayne Dedmon) preclude Atlanta from going with a big at No. 2? This would actually be a tough spot for the Hawks, who have a recent history of being active on draft night and would likely have to explore moving back from here. There probably isn’t anyone quite worth reaching for if you’re Atlanta, and the Pistons could reasonably draft whichever or Wiseman or Ball is off the board at No. 3. The Hawks would essentially be dangling a chance at either player to a team like the Knicks or Bulls, who might need to get in front of Detroit to take Ball. How that type of trade-down market evolves will hinge on the order, and just adds to the intrigue in a flatter draft like this.

With the Hornets taking Obi Toppin at 4 (which is not a foregone conclusion at all), the Warriors end up in an interesting spot, with Haliburton, Avdija and Okongwu being the three players that could feasibly give them helpful minutes as rookies. Haliburton in particular could be a nightmare in Golden State, where he’d simply have to move the ball, hit open shots and fit in, similar to his impressive freshman year at Iowa State. The difference here is that he’d be playing alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, rather than Lindell Wigginton, Marial Shayok and Talen-Horton Tucker. That’s a home run scenario for Haliburton, who’s one of the few players in this lottery capable of making a good team better in relatively short order. He might be best deployed as a free-flowing cog and not a ball-dominant guard. The Warriors probably have to at least think about it.