Early Returns: 2020 Draft Class
The work never ends on draft night. For scouts, following these guys into their NBA careers is the validation or invalidation of the entire process. An unbiased eye and examination of their performances when they get to the NBA not only shows which players we got right or wrong, but informs what traits or characteristics we perhaps have overlooked.
It's early. Most of these guys have played ten games or less. These are snap judgments that likely won't mirror how this class always turns out. There are guys who come out of the woodwork late, who need time to develop, and an instant-reaction analysis like this doesn't take them into consideration.
Regardless, we can glean a few areas where we're clearly wrong or clearly right already. I'll attempt to balance all those factors in a quick analysis below:
Looking Wrong on LaMelo
Last night, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. Through the first ten games of his career, he's averaging 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists with only 2.1 turnovers and 1.5 steals. The thought with LaMelo was that he'd put up strong raw numbers like this but would be an inefficient shooter from the field. Perhaps it's just a hot start to his career, but he's 35.6% from 3 on 4.5 attempts per game and is 55% at the rim.
Issues with his vertical explosion appear to be masked by his strong change of pace, as well as great movement of the Charlotte Hornets scheme. The jump shot mechanics can be fairly inconsistent based on the type of shot (pull-up, catch-and-shoot, left or right side of the floor). Months ago, I was very worried about that throwing off his ability to get into a rhythm. It doesn't appear that will be the case.
I'm still waiting to see how this works out for Ball over the long-term, and the shooting and finishing will be of large variance to this. He was 18th on my board. For the efficiency and loose shot selection issues he experienced with the Illawarra Hawks, I had worries those might diminish his impact on winning basketball. He struck me as an empty calories guy. That appears to be a major overstatement and incorrect. While I standby the critiques of what was seen from Ball in the scouting process, the conclusion drawn was already proven too harsh. I likely dropped Ball down a little farther than I should have as a result.
Another Miss: Haliburton
For different reasons, Tyrese Haliburton was functionally a faller on my draft board. I liked what Haliburton provided in terms of defensive playmaking, IQ and an overall impact on winning. But Haliburton wasn't good enough of a self-creator to deserve the ball in his hands, by my scouting report. He would have solid numbers and a great assist to turnover ratio, but relying on him as a primary creator would prove little individual scoring, which negates the need for help defenders to collapse and his brilliant passing to thrive.
Haliburton's scoring efficiencies have been high early, despite his funky jumper and inability to go left. But give the Sacramento Kings credit: they have done a fantastic job letting Haliburton play in space (double ball screens) and make quick decisions on the move. It's led to instances where Hali can let his IQ shine. He has 44 assists and 8 turnovers through eight games.
Hali was 20th on our big board. While I maintain he won't be a primary option, this would be a class where that lack of a skill isn't a dealbreaker. His IQ is clearly high enough that it translates in any role he's in; that was a clear area I overlooked. And if the shooting numbers continue to go in (as they did in college) the slower release and inability to score on pull-up jumpers won't make him a poor offensive player.
Lottery Guys who need more time
I took the long game with many guys in this draft class, prioritizing guys who I believe have the largest upside despite the need for some seasoning and development.
Those guys: Jalen Smith (6th), RJ Hampton (7th), Tyrell Terry (8th), Killian Hayes (9th), Theo Maledon (11th), Isaiah Joe (13th).
It's too easy to write those guys off or drop them down the list because of a ten-game sample where other rookies are performing better. But it's largely likely not all guys will stay above some of the other performers in the tier just above: Cole Anthony (15th), Isaac Okoro (16th), Tyrese Maxey (17th), Ball (18th), or Haliburton (20th). Those guys are already playing meaningful minutes (some on solid teams) and still have plenty of room for growth. Only Haliburton played more than one season after high school, so age isn't the tiebreaker there.
It may take time, but that tier of guys was slightly overlooked. I placed too much emphasis on their flaws instead of their pros, and fell in love with guys who can shoot (Terry, Joe, Smith for his position) or general size and athleticism (Hampton, Hayes).
Wish I Put him Higher
There is one guy throughout the pre-draft process that I was close to ranking higher but didn't: Immanuel Quickley (28th). I wish I had put him slightly higher in that tier, closer to 21st than 30th. I loved Quickly as this year's Kentucky guy that falls under the radar. He's a natural point guard who is a very good off-ball scorer. He has tricks up his sleeve that translate to the league. He's a really, really long guard. There's a lot to like.
But I took the safe route with Quickley and semi-regret it. He's the one guy I'll kick myself for not putting higher in this class.
Guys I Was Too Down On
Two guys ended up being a little too low on who were outside my first-round: Patrick Williams (40th) and Payton Pritchard (56th).
Williams had many of the same issues to me as Haliburton and LaMelo: functionality, where efficient scoring wasn't there to justify a role with the ball in his hands. For Haliburton and Melo, they were still top-20 guys on the board because of their transcendent passing, size and IQ. Even if the scoring didn't come, they could still play major minutes.
Williams' functionality concerns were about several possessions where I was worried about his defense and the lack of shooting to play off-ball. His shot has looked effective so far; he's shooting 46% from 3 through eleven games, starting all of them for the Chicago Bulls. More importantly, his defense looks great when going against 3s and 4s.
The Bulls are trying to play him at both positions and aid his development but letting him play on the move. He looks more bursty in the half-court due to the few standstill moments he catches the ball and eyes up his man.
It hit me this weekend: Williams is more like Pascal Siakam than a primary creator. He's best utilized in an off-ball attacking, transition, quick-striking role, not a facilitator or guy who commands the PNR. It's best to keep him as such in my mind, but the functionality of someone who is solid in that role is still a mid-first guy. I dropped Williams too much with the shooting concerns, air balls and overall stiffness he showed in Florida State's offense.
As for Pritchard, 56th really isn't that low for him, to be honest. The margin of difference between 56 and 40 is pretty minimal. My worries on Pritchard were more about using a draft pick on someone his age than him finding some value as a player.
While he's exceeded my expectations for his play, I still wouldn't have taken him in the first-round. Give him two or three years and see if, when he's 26, you'd rather have him than a 21-year-old Tyrell Terry or 22-year-old Malachi Flynn. I'm not saying Pritchard wasn't too low on my board: he probably should've cracked the top 45 for the diversity of his offensive play. But our ranking wasn't purely based on his play as much as his draft stock, which is what things become about in the second round.
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Adam Spinella, Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD)