We're about 10 days away from the NBA Draft, and I'm ready to remove myself from overthinking, pull away from consensus and set my big board. It's been a one-of-a-kind scouting year, with nearly five months tacked onto the pre-draft process thanks to a global pandemic. The extra time has afforded scouts time to dive deeper into more prospects and get a clear view of the whole field. It's also afforded them the opportunity to over-fixate on certain details.
Some prospects have blossomed with the time off, rising their stock. Guys like RJ Hampton (working on his jump shot), Tyrell Terry (seeing massive weight gain and improving his body) or Den Avdija (playing in Israel and quelling some doubts about his shooting) have used the summer productively and could see boosts in their draft stock. There's been need for flexibility and re-visiting the prospects throughout.
But ten days before the draft, it's time to set our final big board. 100 Players and over 130 video scouting reports later, we're ready to fit our Top 100 in a large, all-encompassing piece below.
Before we dive in, a few reminders about what this big board really is and is not. This is, by our estimation, a calculation of the upside, downside and an averaging of the likelihood of hitting either. This is not a look at which players should, or will, be taken in what order. This version of the big board, our last, traditionally breaks hardest from consensus and puts players in the spots we believe they'll settle into. It's a look at, when all is said and done, who will have the best careers from this class.
There are ten tiers, with played labeled in order from tier to overall rank. So "3.8" means third overall tier, eighth overall on the big board. For a complete look at articles and videos on these prospects, please check out the Spreadsheet version of our Big Board.
Tier 10: Players 100-55
Tier 9 - Too Much Risk/ Doubtful Harvest
A group of guys who many have as first-round talents or fringe prospects, there are considerable holes to their games where I don't believe they'll be a crop that brings an abundance of fruitful production.
9.54 - Vernon Carey, Duke - A super-strong interior finisher, Carey's a bull in a China shop. An efficient rebounder, his post moves are too simplistic to be a back-to-basket threat. If he's not that, where is his sweet spot on offense? That question doesn't produce a clear enough answer to overcome the many worries about his pick-and-roll defense.
9.53 - Jahmi'us Ramsey, Texas Tech - A smooth shooter, I don't love Ramsey's first step or shot selection. He's mid-range heavy, struggled scoring at the rim (always a red flag) and isn't a good creator for others. He'd have to alter his shot profile to be productive, and then would be a 6'4" off-ball guard who isn't a great shooter on the move.
9.52 - Grant Riller, Charleston - Riller can fill it up, but he needs the ball in his hands to be successful. The evidence of his subpar athleticism in space, horrid defensive tendencies and lack of playing off-ball cause me to doubt if he's the right type of microwave scorer. At 24, I don't see a ton of upside left to scrape out of the barrel.
9.51 - Jaden McDaniels, Washington - Tantalizingly athletic and smooth for his size, McDaniels was among the least efficient players in Division I last year. His turnover rate was through the roof, there was little evidence of strong shot selection and he's more of an isolation player than someone who plays with purpose. Combine that with the habits that need to be broken from playing in a 2-3 zone and there's a lot that has to bounce right for McDaniels to be an efficient NBA scorer worth investing in.
9.50 - Paul Reed, DePaul - The appeal over Reed is in having a hyperathletic guy who can play the 4 and a little bit at the 5. But Reed struggled guarding 4s and can't seem to be reliable with his rotations. Combine that with low efficiency from deep and turnover problems and it begs the question: what is Reed actually good enough at to hang his hat on?
Tier 8 - Role Players w/ Clear Limitations
The next tier above those "high strikeout rate" players are the guys who I believe can be serviceable pros in the right system, with the right teammates for 8-16 minutes a night at their peak. Those players are worth having, especially in the second-round of a draft, but have irreconcilable weaknesses or a lack of clear upside to peg them in a bench role.
8.49 - Udoka Azubuike, Kansas - A freak athlete, Azubuike has tons of proof that he'll be a great finisher at the rim and a rim protector in Drop PNR coverage. Outside of that, there's little that he offers in the way of upside. His lack of perimeter skill or versatility may be his undoing, though teams could do a lot worse if they know exactly how to put Azubuike in this one role.
8.48 - Henri Drell, Libertas Pesaro - Drell is a very long wing who is capable of being a good shooter and adequate slasher at the 3. He's coming off a wretched season with a poor team, but defense and athleticism in the NBA may overwhelm him a bit. He can score at the wings, and that would be why a team drafts him as a draft-and-stash prospect.
8.47 - Cassius Winston, Michigan State - A winner by all accounts, Winston can score, facilitate and has NBA-ready polish as a scoring point guard. His shooting off screens is appealing, but there are always limits on someone of his size. Any team drafting Winston would be wise to cap his minutes in the backup or third string role. Capable, but best in this spot on a good team.
8.46 - Karim Mane, Vanier College (Canada) - Freak athleticism earns him the spot as the anomaly in this group. Mane could turn into a really long, pestering on-ball defender at the combo guard spot who can guard 1 thru 3. Those 'Swiss Army Knife' athletes usually find a role, but it may be a while until Mane carves out the offensive consistency to accompany his natural gifts.
8.45 - Jordan Nwora, Louisville - A big, shot-making wing with deep range and a quick release, Nwora has garnered some fringe first-round talks. Watch his games against elite NBA athleticism and strong defenders: he struggled against Kentucky (8 points), Duke (6 points) and Florida State (11 points). It's hard to shake those concerns, even if you love the shooting.
8.44 - Nate Darling, Delaware - Specialist snipers are finding their way into NBA rotations as 3-point assassins become a legitimate niche most teams need. Darling can hit treys in all ways - off the bounce, on the move or stationary. That versatile value could (and should) get him a roster spot, and an audition in a specialty role as the 13-15th guy who coaches dust off when they need a spark.
8.43 - Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State - Many NBA offenses are trending more towards 5-out formations where the center facilitates from the top of the key. In that structure, Wesson would be productive. He's an elite shooter for a big man, and has underrated facilitation chops off the short roll. The defense, body management and athleticism will always be of concern, but guys like this aren't overlooked any longer.
8.42 - Jalen Harris, Nevada - A backup with three-level potential, Harris isn't the most efficient scorer as of yet. His jump shot is either hot or cold, but when he gets it going, he can really fill it up. There isn't much other than letting him go get buckets that should excite teams; he's not a great defender or always in-tune to help assignments. He's instant offense for a team willing to live with him on his bad days and is more athletic than he looks!
Tier 7 - High-Variance Guys & Low-Ceiling Role Players
A true hybrid tier, Tier 7 has two types of players in it - and some names that will surprise many who follow the draft elsewhere.
The first group here are low-ceiling role players, guys who fit in at the NBA as being good at a specific role, valued slightly higher or more than those guys in Tier 8. They likely have a little more polish or upside to cover-up their weaknesses, where Tier 8 guys' weaknesses are much more natural or detrimental.
The second group in Tier 7 are guys who just have a really high variance of outcomes. They are the ones who will provide surprises here. In a "boom or bust" type of mentality, they're ones who I can't bring myself to bet on the boom because of one or two areas that just are difficult to overcome.
7.41 - Isaiah Stewart, Washington - It's hard to punish a kid for being a high-character, high-energy workhorse. Consistently, there's an error made in translating hard workers for always being guys who can improve on their weaknesses. If life were this simple, hard work would be the only cure to any maladies.
Stewart's jumper is his swing skill. If he becomes a 33% or better 3-point shooter, he's probably worth bumping up a few spots to the late-20s or early-30s on the big board. But that's a big if, and there's considerable worry about what type of player he is without it. A high-energy, rebounding big with little experience in ball screen coverages or true polish to his game. Stewart is my warning not to fall in love with character above skill.
7.40 - Patrick Williams, Florida State - Williams has floated almost into near consensus as a top-ten pick, and could have his name called as high as fifth overall. He's a big, rangy athlete at the 4 who can handle a bit, defend different guys and has the athletic upside at 19 that teams are lining up to be the ones who get to mold him themselves.
But Williams violates the key tenet of "be good at what you'll do frequently" at the next level. For every good defensive switch he made, he struggled. A good pull-up scorer and OK facilitator, he's nowhere near dynamic enough to merit the ball in his hands frequently. As an off-ball scorer, the 32 percent from 3-point range is a tad misleading, as he air-balled plenty of misses and greatly struggled when rushed. I'm just not sold on Williams.
7.39 - Cassius Stanley, Duke - Perhaps the best wing athlete in this draft class, Stanley needs something else to hang his hat on. That alone won't carve out an NBA role. He's a fine shooter, but needs to get better with the ball in his hands. I don't know how long it might take for Stanley to be comfortable developing into that role, though he definitely fancies himself as more of a handler than a pure slasher. That alone provides a high variance for who Stanley could become.
7.38 - Aleksej Pokusevski, Olympiacos B - This year's Austin Powers International Man of Mystery, Pokusevski's all-around tantalizing skill set is garnering attention. He's a really thin frame and isn't a freak athlete by any means; much of his upside is predicated on adding strength and continuing to become such an outlier with his skill level that the athleticism is irrelevant.
In order to get there, Poku will need to identify what role he'll play and which specific skill development tactics go to reinforce success in that role. If we're banking the success of an individual player on the accuracy of he and his camp drilling down into minutia, there's always a bit of a worry. Like other really big, unorthodox pieces, he'll need a signature skill to hang his hat on (Porzingis shooting, Simmons passing, etc.) and not just be a wonder ball of many types of skill with no discernible method for using them. He's a little too much of everything to project right now, which gives me pause.
â7.37 - Zeke Nnaji, Arizona - Belief in pre-draft process upgrades can betray scouts. Nnaji appears to have really worked on his shooting and added the 3-point range that alluded him as a freshman at Arizona. Nnaji is another high-character kid with a well-rounded background who plays with great energy.
The reason Nnaji is above Stewart in these areas is simple: the progress he's displayed with his jumper is farther along (and he was mechanically better to begin with) and there's defensive versatility with how he defends ball screens. Nnaji being a first-round pick wouldn't surprise me, but I'm overall sheepish on taking bigs too early in drafts since the modern NBA dictates you can only play one at a time. Nnaji needs to make one part of his game his strength, or at least be good at so many his lack of a true strength doesn't matter. Either way, he's a little bit away from getting there.
7.36 - Saben Lee, Vanderbilt - A guy I continually am drawn to thanks to his 6'9" wingspan as a combo guard, Lee gets to the free throw line and can score it in bunches. He's best-served in a versatile NBA backcourt as a scoring role player off the bench. Why a guy like him is higher than other bench scorers is due to that size and wingspan. He can guard NBA 2s with little problem, and that versatility makes him a safe play with different types of weapons.
Lee still has to become more consistent off-ball and become more dialed in on the defensive end. He's a guy I've long liked, though, and think the right situation could turn him into a surprising scorer at the next level.
7.35 - Malik Fitts, St. Mary's - Fitts is, to me, what everyone hopes Paul Reed could be. Standing 6'8" with a 7'0" wingspan, he brings size to that 4-spot with decent athleticism. What Fitts really does is shoot the ball - he was 41 percent from 3 this year on a high volume. He'll need to realize that the transition from St. Mary's to an NBA team would move him from being a primary option to a true role player, and the leash for bad shots will disappear.
That said, I believe in Fitts as a fairly immediate-impact role playing 4-man who can be adequate on defense, space the floor and be that option which gives championship-contenders the ability to hold their own against bigger teams like the Lakers. As the league swings back to seeing success with size, getting someone like Fitts may become more important than it has been recently.
7.34 - Leandro Bolmaro, Barcelona - Think of Bolmaro as either a 6'8" pass-first point guard or a defensive-minded wing who can guard 1 thru 3. Either way, the lack of shot keeps him out from having a first-round grade. He'll have the time to develop, but I do like the pace and intensity with which he guards. At the very least, there'll be the opportunity to attempt to be creative with him on offense because he's a willing defender. As far as high-variance guys go, those are the ones who you'll work with since there's little they'll do that can hurt on one end.
7.33 - Desmond Bane, TCU - A trendy first-round name right now, Bane has some Ginoblian secondary playmaker to him. He's a gym rat with years of consistent shooting, can be a capable passer in certain actions and won't be a negative on defense.
So why so low for Bane? The wingspan and lack of quickness may catch up to him. It may not be immediate, but the bar for upside is pretty low here. It puts more pressure on him to be an impactful movement shooter, an area where his somewhat-slow release and short wingspan could catch up to him. I'd foresee an immediate impact from Bane, then a frustrating "why isn't this guy getting better" discussion similar to Landry Fields about a decade ago. That settles him into a fairly low-ceiling camp for me.
7.32 - Yam Madar, Maccabi Tel-Aviv - Madar gets rave reviews for his on-ball defense, but it's the shooting that does it for me. He has a touch of Tyrell Terry to him. He's undersized, he doesn't have a high usage rate and he'll need to be better inside the arc. But Madar is that long-term prospect who possesses the most vital skill for a backcourt guy (shooting) and the work ethic, defensive acumen and youth to invest in.
7.31 - Tyler Bey, Colorado - Bey is a fascinating fringe first-round prospect. There's a lot to love with his athleticism at his size. He can probably play 3 thru 5 and find ways to be a solid role player. The value of that versatility defensively is huge.
The trouble with versatility is that it can create indecision with what areas to get better in. Specifically for Bey, who is already somewhat unpolished on offense, that versatility may be as much of a curse as a blessing. Will teams want him to be a smaller 5 or a true wing? They go a long way in dictating which offensive skills he improves first. A tailor-made plan and dedication to Bey will make him an NBA player in my book, though I'm sure there will be bumps along the way, both with his shooting and his tendency to chase highlight plays as a help defender.
7.30 - Mason Jones, Arkansas - Another guy whose production I've fallen for, Jones is a contact magnet and a true bench scorer in the wing spot. Give him the ball and let him go, and good things happen. Jones has reportedly improved his athleticism a great deal during quarantine times, quelling some fears about what appeared to be a guy who was a little too grounded for NBA's liking.
Still, Jones has to become more consistent in many areas to increase his role and earn minutes. He has the toughness and scoring acumen to stick around and warrant a chance, he just needs a little more defensive polish to become a career role player.
Tier 6 - First-Round Talent Role Players
The term "first round talent" is typically relative to the draft class. Some years there can be 40-45 guys who have true first-round talent. Since there are so many, not all guys can actually go in the first-round.
This year, there's a solid 29 guys who I'd identify as being consistent first-round grades no matter what the year is. While that's not a guarantee that all go in the first 29 picks (especially seeing the names with lottery hopes we plugged lower on this list), it does give me the feeling as an evaluator that these guys come with the least amount of risk to answer the question "in four years when his contract is up, will I still want this guy on my roster"?
6.29 - Xavier Tillman, Michigan State - High-character and intense work ethic, everyone who knows Tillman raves about him. As far as on-court production goes, Tillman could be elite as a short roll passer and a true playmaker as a 4 or 5. He's reliable defensively, doesn't make many mental mistakes and has an NBA-ready body to make immediate contributions.
Tillman scored well as a shooter in pre-draft settings, though consistency will be his biggest obstacle. He's undersized to be a 5 and not a great shooting option at the 4. Still, he's a productive basketball player with few other holes in his game. I'd feel comfortable handing him a four-year deal and knowing he's going to compliment scoring point guards very well, especially within a versatile frontcourt scheme.
6.28 - Immanuel Quickley, Kentucky - We talk a lot about "the Kentucky effect" of guys who sacrifice under Calipari in order to blend in with the group. While Tyrese Maxey gets the brunt of attention there, Quickley should be the guy who sees the most jump at the next level. He played as the 3-point option surrounding non-shooters Maxey and Ashton Hagans this year, so much of the noise around him on draft night is about his shooting ability (and rightfully so).
There's potential for more. Quickley can be a long, crafty combo who does things with the ball in his hands. The lack of evidence there, and the poor finishing at Kentucky can be excused by the lack of spacing around him in the few times he was utilized that way. To me, Quickley could rise into become a solid 6th man scorer and impart his 6'9" wingspan to guard 1 thru 3.
6.27 - Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt - Small sample size alert! Nesmith's 52 percent 3-point shooting in 20 games this year is impressive, though we all know it will cool down a tad. How much remains to be seen. It's important to project because Nesmith doesn't really have many other parts of his game that are highly attractive. His frame is good, but he's not a multi-positional defender, hasn't shown explosion or strong finishing and doesn't make plays off the bounce.
That puts pressure on Nesmith to be ultimately so consistent of a shooter and lethal shooting on the move. The elite guys at this -- Kyle Korver, JJ Redick, Doug McDermott -- are wildly consistent on a nightly and annual basis to cover up for their other flaws. It's a high bar for Nesmith to clear, so I'm taking the lower estimate and putting him closer to the end of the first round, where a Reggie Bullock-like output and career would not be a disappointment.
6.26 - Malachi Flynn, San Diego State - It seems like Malachi Flynn's all-around game and overall competitive nature are elevating him into being a first-round prospect in most mock drafts. We've had him here since May, mostly because of his ability to play on-ball and off-ball. The comparisons to Fed VanVleet may be a little generous (especially in terms of FVV's unexpected continual growth) but there are certain overlaps to having versatility at the point guard spot.
Flynn is still undersized, though, so predicting guys that are sub-6'3" to have breakouts in the NBA is not an easy task. He has the competitiveness, off-ball shooting and on-ball defense to stick at the very least as a backup point guard and, at the very most, play minutes alongside another creator in a two-guard backcourt.
6.25 - Reggie Perry, Mississippi State - One of my true sleepers, Perry doesn't get talked about enough for how perfect he is as a modern 4 and 5 hybrid. Perry's an outstanding creator, who can both rebound and run (while rebounding at a super high level) and push the floor in transition. Mississippi State used him in the coveted "top of the key creator" role and he flourished, averaging 2.3 assists per game.
Perry's jumper is aesthetically fine, though more consistency would be ideal. Standing 6'10" with a 7'0" wingspan, I see Perry as more a natural 5 than anything else. Playing him there would help clean up some of the turnover issues, give him more time as a shooter, solve his biggest weakness of guarding the perimeter and allow the rebound-and-run potential to flourish against bigger guys. Perry screams "modern NBA big" at you, and with an MVP performance as the center for the U-19 USA Basketball world champs, there is plenty of proof he can thrive in such a system.
6.24 - Killian Tillie, Gonzaga - Stretch bigs can be the biggest cheat code to modern spacing. Tillie is an elite stretch-5 who drills shots in the pick-and-pop or while spotting up. He'a a better closeout-attacker than given credit for, as well as a more versatile defender than many think. The automatic assumption about a European big with multiple knee surgeries is that he's a stiff. Tillie is no Anthony Davis, but he's no Enes Kanter, either.
From a skill perspective, Killian definitely deserves a first-round grade. He's got a niche he can be great in without sacrificing many other facets in terms of production. The reason Tillie may not have his name called in the first-round is thanks to that injury history. Putting him 24th on the board is a decision made with the assumption he'll be able to shed that label and won't get injured again.
6.23 - Nico Mannion, Arizona - A polarizing name, Mannion has seen a precipitous free fall from potential lottery pick to almost surefire second-rounder. The drop is due to average or below-average athleticism and length, which limit his promise as a live-ball passer. That passing is, in my opinion, not only his best strength but something he's shown at an elite level. I have Nico as the best passer in this year's class, ahead of LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton. His vision is that good.
An area of Mannion's game that doesn't get enough love is his shooting. At Arizona, he wore down as the season progressed after being the only source of offensive creation on the perimeter. Give him more of a rest and play him off-ball more (where he's a good movement shooter) and Mannion provides a jolt to offenses that other second-unit point guards usually cannot. I'm not sold on the idea of giving Nico the keys to a team due his athleticism, but the freefall his stock has experienced weighs that too much. He's still an elite creator and should produce enough offensively to be a really good backup.
6.22 - Tre Jones, Duke - Speaking of career backups, Tre Jones fits the same role as Mannion with a completely different skill set. Jones relies on his on-ball defense and live-dribble passing to create and earn his way onto the floor. Improvements to his jump shot from freshman to sophomore year didn't create the rise in draft stock he was hoping for, but did go a long way in quelling doubts about how he'll be guarded.
If Jones can consistently knock down dribble jumpers, he'll be a good live-dribble passer out of ball screens who can maximize the group he plays with. That's ideal for a backup point guard. But Jones may not be a dynamic enough scorer to be on the floor in crunch time of big games and moments, relegating him to being a super high-level, career backup. His safety on both ends of the floor puts him higher than other backup guards like Mannion or Flynn.
6.21 - Josh Green, Arizona - 3-and-D is a role we hear about most frequently at the NBA level. The ability to guard guys of size while spacing the floor is so insanely valuable that guys who can do both don't really need to be good at much else.
Green projects as a very high-level on-ball defender. He moves his feet well, is intense, applies pressure and has picture-perfect form. The consistency of the jumper will be what earns him minutes. I'm a believer in his shot, so I have him as a middle first-round prospect. With that as his ceiling, he's just a bit below some of the guys who might have a little higher ceiling, particularly on offense.
Tier 5 - High-Upside Swings, Downside Worth Considering
In this draft class, once we get into the Top 20, there are plenty of guys who have high ceilings where they could achieve at the highest levels of NBA production and easily be the best players in this draft class when all is said and done.
The questions surrounding them are about whether you, as a general manager of a team, want to be the one who takes the risk on finding out if they get there. There are clear drawbacks to how they play and worries about the functionality of their skills within the role they'll be asked to play that need to be considered. Those factors, to me, push them farther down the board to the point where I'm not confident they'll succeed in any system they end up in. For a few of these guys, whether they reach their potential will not just be the normal crapshoot bet, but highly dependent on the situation they land in.
5.20 - Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State
Haliburton is a guy who I first scouted in this draft class and was not overly impressed by the tape. While I've written about him extensively, the beliefs about what role Haliburton plays vary greatly. Some see him as a point guard and lead guard who has size but is utilized in the Spread pick-and-role, putting his IQ and passing instincts to good use. Others think he's an off-ball facilitator who can be the secondary or tertiary option, use his high-percentage 3-point shooting to thrive in the off-ball role and use his length to guard up on defense.
Frankly, I'm of the frame of mind that either are overly optimistic.
In order to be a high-level lead guard creator, Haliburton has to become a MUCH better scorer off the bounce. His pull-up jumper is undoubtedly his biggest flaw and, with his funky mechanics, it's hard to predict improvement without complete overhaul. He's right-hand dominant, which NBA teams will key in on, and there are legitimate questions about how he guards opposing lead guards in ball screen actions.
On the flip side, Haliburton's shot is so slow that in an off-ball role, he won't be able to attack closeouts and get to the rim. His aversion to driving all the way to the basket limits his off-ball offensive upside. While I think this ends up being his clearer path to productive minutes, his best role is likely in a bench spot fusing these two concepts together. At the end of the day, he does make shots, is an incredibly smart player and has great defensive instincts. He'll be a solid NBA player, but in my eyes he's not dynamic enough to merit the ball in his hands with top units in control of an offense.
5.19 - Precious Achiuwa, Memphis
Modern NBA defenses have brought back the impact of the switching defenses. Cheat codes include a big man who can play the 5 and switch to guard all positions effectively. While Achiuwa came to Memphis expecting to be the 4 next to James Wiseman, he ended up sliding up to the 5 and anchored the best half-court defense in the country while playing in a switching scheme. His athleticism, and ability to guard all those spots in isolation, definitely make him a lottery prospect. It's too valuable of a skill right now to ignore.
On offense, Achiuwa is a frustrating grab bag. On some days, he'll flash guard skills and potential to be an impactful perimeter guy. On others, his shot selection is abysmal and he lacks the decision-making to be trusted with the ball in his hands. Beneath all the uncertainty is a great lob finisher out of the PNR, an elite rebounder who sprints the floor at all times and a guy who thinks he's not a 5. If Achiuwa embraced being just a rebound-and-run, pogo stick screen-and-roll guy who defended every position, he'd be a little higher on this list.
â5.18 - LaMelo Ball, Illawarra Hawks
I won't go into a full re-hashing of why Ball is so far down my draft board, but its based on both his skill showcased and the temperament he's displayed that is coming out as we approach the draft.
To begin with the temperament, Ball is pretty individualistic. He's traveled the world in search of a situation where he can be "the man", foregoing a typical path to the pros. He's the Ball Brother who most buys into the hype his father has created and wants the spotlight. He hasn't shown an ability to do the little things that go towards winning, like play consistent help defense. When he shows up in an NBA loaded with equal or greater talent, I fear he'll evaporate.
From a skill perspective, Ball has been clear about how he wants to play and is best being utilized: with the ball in his hands. He's a flashy, borderline-elite open-floor passer. He's a tall lead guard at 6'6" with incredibly tight handles and has proven he can make plays happen.
But Ball is not efficient in those roles. When you're the lead cog in an offense, efficiency is paramount. You have to take seriously the responsibility of generating high-quality looks for the team each trip down the floor, not just for yourself. That's where my dismissal of Ball as a top-10 selection comes in. There's no doubt he has talent on par with the best in this draft. Without becoming a high-level jump shooter, that talent is all for naught.
The lack of 3-point consistency, particularly off the dribble, handicaps his passing. If teams go under and dare him to shoot, not only does it take away his biggest strength (floor vision and passing) but I don't trust him not to chuck up a ton of shots that the defense is hoping for. He's not a good defender or consistent spot-up threat, which puts all the more pressure on him to make the right plays when teams inevitably go under ball screens.
Is there talent? Yes. The goal is to win with talent, though, not just to stockpile individual talent. I have a difficult time trusting Ball will turn into anything other than a low-efficiency, high-usage guy.
5.17 - Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky
There are a few things we can be certain on with Maxey that don't present itself with the high-risk, high-reward label attached here. He'll be a hell of a competitor, playing with a pace and motor easy to fall in love with. He'll defend opposing guards (1s and 2s) effectively on the ball. He'll finish effectively near the hoop thanks to his deceleration, good touch and crafty maneuvering.
There's a legitimate top-seven rotation just in those factors, which is why Maxey's floor is considerably higher than the guys directly below him (Ball, Haliburton, Achiuwa). I'm not very sold on Maxey's jumper taking enough strides to be a consistent scorer at the next level, which would move him from a Colin Sexton role to a Marcus Smart one.
There have been enough point guards so far on this list to glean what's most important to me in lead guards: the ability to shoot. Maxey's low release point is of concern in that regard, especially if he's playing with someone smaller and has more length defending him.
Maxey is an adequate, but not stellar, passer. He falls in love with risky lob passes and I don't trust the consistency of his reads. A more spacing-friendly scheme than Kentucky's could unlock more on that end, but it won't create runways out of the pick-and-roll for him to attack in the way that shooting improvements would. Maxey's good and I don't doubt his productivity, just how he projects in a lead role.
5.16 - Isaac Okoro, Auburn
A top-5 pick in the eyes of many, Okoro's NBA-ready frame and on-ball defense are hard to dispute. The guy locks down almost every position, plays like Tigger ready to bounce all around the floor with energy and is great at the most important spots on the floor to defend in isolation - elbows, pinch post and top of the key against guards.
Those who really like Okoro concede the shooting is an issue he's not likely to address, at least to the point where he becomes a league-average threat. Instead, they focus on evidence from other aspects of his game to hypothesize there are ways he can be utilized to be a net-positive on offense.
Amongst those are as a slasher along the baselines and a good mover without the ball, a transition creator with solid vision and passing, and even as a short roll or even PNR handler who creates for others. Those hypotheses are based on the evidence of being a great finisher at the hoop (which he is) and small glimpses of creation and kicks off the bounce.
In my opinion, the level of play guys need to get to in order to warrant having the ball in their hands on a good team is really high. Okoro's flashes are there, but I'm not as optimistic he'll reach those roles on offense as others may seem. In playoff times, there are too many non-shooting wings who get played off the floor. What Okoro adds is of tremendous value, but only if it is accompanied by enough to keep it on the floor in crunch time. My lack of faith in his jumper, with the skepticism of how good he'l have to be at everything else to be a positive on offense, drop him outside the lottery in my book.
5.15 - Cole Anthony, North Carolina
âIt's difficult to call Anthony's lone collegiate season anything other than a nightmare. The perennially strong Tar Heels were amongst the ACC's worst, with an inefficient offense that struggled to make shots. Anthony's stock has fallen from "top-5 prospect" to myriad outcomes scattered throughout the first-round.
The question to solve is how much Anthony's production was the cause of, or just a symptom of, North Carolina's struggles. I'm of the frame of mind that NBA spacing and better shooting around him will bring out more in his talents and allow him to thrive. That doesn't mean he's fully restored as a top-five pick, by any means.
Offensively, Anthony has the 1v1 scoring chops to be the focal point of an offense and an above-average starter at the point. He scores off step-backs and pull-ups in the mid-range. He's a really good catch-and-shoot guy who can get really streaky. He's got an overall pace he plays with that makes him look like he belongs in the NBA.
Combined with those traits are below-average finishing when he got to the hoop and decision-making that made the "score-first" label get firmly applied. Again, how much of those issues get solved outside of North Carolina, where he'll be able to trust his teammates and have more room to finish at the hoop?
There's not much hope in my book for Anthony to be an above-average defender. He can be passable and hidden in some ways because he's big enough, but mediocrity is the ceiling on that end. He'll need to be really good on offense in order to overcome those constraints. I'd be willing to bet on Anthony with a late-lottery pick.
5.14 - Obi Toppin, Dayton
Another consensus top-tier guy, Toppin falls on my board due to major defensive concerns. He's a legit high-flyer and elite vertical athlete that looks lost when guarding ball screens, chases highlight-reel blocks when protecting the rim and has some of the worst hips and lateral athleticism I've seen.
It's easy to fall in love with the highlight-reel dunks and the offensive statistics that tell the story, but figuring out who Toppin guards and how to get him passable on that end are just as important to slotting him into an impactful offensive role.
Let's give Toppin his due. If he was even slightly above-average defensively, he'd be a top-five pick in my book. His offense is that good, and so consistent that he'll merit a lottery pick despite the defensive concerns and being the oldest guy consistently mentioned within the top-10 (by a wide margin, by the way).
His offensive prowess to score inside or out, bully smaller guys on the blocks or stretch bigger ones out to 3, is attractive. His decent handles and ability to flash guard skills off the bounce is attractive. But he's not a Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis creator where he'll consistently get into the lane off the bounce. He'll be reliant on an offensive scheme and point guard that generates open shots for him. Most teams can do that, but the more players they have who can, the less volume Toppin likely merits. If Toppin is averaging 20 a game, it likely means the team he's on has a real lack of perimeter play.
Then comes the questions about where to guard -- and how they impact his offense. His worst defensive trait is guarding quicker guys in space. If he plays the 4, he'll be asked to do that a lot, as the league is trending smaller. If he's matched up with a quick NBA 4, he'll hemorrhage points.
Moving him to the 5 fixes some of those, but creates two additional problems. First, he's got to be better with angles when guarding ball screens and not chasing blocks every chance he gets. He only had 38 blocked shots at Dayton, and his per-possession totals were similar to Maxi Kleber or Alex Len this year. The second issue is that, by playing him at the 5, the massive advantage of his interior scoring against smaller guys is gone. Dayton used him as a bully on the block in a versatile frontcourt with two hybrid 4 and 5s. He'd need that same infrastructure to be given the ball on the block.
There's a lot to like with his production and shooting for a big, but many hurdles that sill need to be cleared. With someone of his age, it's hard to bank on the defensive upside being explored further. He's a top-ten talent in some ways, but with the age and the defensive risk, I wouldn't bet on him ahead of the guys listed above.
Tier 4 - The Safest, Highest-Value Role Players
Some scouts will go back-and-forth on how to weigh "high-risk, high reward" prospects with the "low-risk, adequate reward" guys. On one hand, if you have a high pick, you're expected to get franchise-changers. If you don't gamble on the high-end reward, you'll never find them. On the other hand, it's devastating to strike out on these picks. Over time, most draft classes only produce a handful of guys with perennial All-Star play. There's merit to taking the safe route early if it fits the roster-building plan.
In this draft class, we have a real dearth of top-end talent. Tier 5, with the high-risk, high-reward guys, had seven guys -- I'd only throw two or three in on most draft classes. That volatility, in my mind, only makes these steady role players even more valuable. These are the guys who I foresee as starters in this league and, while not focal points of any team offense, provide the skills worth knowing the team drafting them will have them on the floor in crunch time and they'll be a net-positive in those supporting cast, 4th or 5th guy roles.
â4.13 - Isaiah Joe, Arkansas
Perhaps I'm the most bullish on Joe (I've yet to see a draft board put him this high) but there's good reason. As a freshman at Arkansas in 2018-19, Joe put up 41.4 percent 3-point shooting on an ABSURD 8.0 treys a game. For reference, only Davis Bertans and Duncan Robinson put up that many attempts and had a higher 3-point percentage this year. His shooting was elite.
Then Eric Musselman came to town as his new coach and the Razorbacks, short-handed in talent with only Joe and Mason Jones as creators, loaded an absurd load upon the two. Joe went up to 10.6 treys a game, the most ever for a Power-5 conference player, and a mark that only James Harden took more of. Joe's efficiency on those shots fell to 34.2 percent.
Joe also missed about three weeks in early February due to injury concerns, ones he admitted he played through and hampered his shooting. Joe was 9-for-36 in the four games leading up to his absence to heal. Take that away and he was 35.6 percent from deep - less alarming and, considering the volume, a pretty good clip.
Joe is who he is in that regard. He's a sniper with deep range, a beautiful stroke and is solid on the move. As his volume regulates in an NBA scheme and away from the asinine volume he kept at Arkansas, his efficiency should return to those 40 percent levels. That's one bet I'd certainly be willing to make with this class.
Joe isn't a slouch in other areas of his game. He has glimpses of scoring off the bounce, and not just with pull-ups when chased off the line. He's a really, really good help defender, and with his wingspan and quick hands he can be fine on the ball. He needs to add strength (few 20-year-olds don't), but he's the closest thing to an elite shooter and a Klay Thompson-like figure in this year's class. Shooting is invaluable in today's NBA, and Joe is the best shooter in this class.
4.12 - Onyeka Okongwu, USC
I've been waving the flag for a couple years now: don't take big men in the lottery unless they're transcendent. As we discussed with this draft class, the lack of reliable high-end talent changes that up a bit. That raises Okongwu's relative value, though his versatility as a high-level defensive anchor should cause him to be a solid NBA starter regardless of the class around him.
Be careful with Okongwu in some areas. It's easy to fall in love with the Bam Adebayo comparison due to the similar size, their defensive overlaps in terms of impact and the roles which they played in college. Bam's meteoric rise to All-Star is as much of an anomaly as any we've seen - everything about what makes him great offensively is a 180-degree switch from his role at Kentucky. To predict the same for Okongwu just because they share some defensive similarities (and even in those areas, Bam is so elite that it's a tall order to live up to) would be doing Onyeka no favors.
He may be 6'9", but Okongwu is firmly a 5 in the NBA. I have trouble seeing him playing the 4. He's a really reliable rim protector, and at USC under Andy Enfield, he played in many different types of defense, succeeding in them all. He blocked shots in the middle of a 2-3 zone, he thrived in Drop coverage with angles and playing the cat-and-mouse game with other guards. Most importantly, he showed chops switching onto smaller guys, pressuring bigs on the perimeter and using his athleticism in space. That defensive versatility -- to be used in different schemes and be effective in them all -- is rare for a young big.
Offensively, Okongwu is all catch-and-finish right now. He's not a really good passer in my book, he doesn't have range to 3 and his jump shot mechanics need to change. He's got upside to be a solid movement finisher for a big, who can take more than one bounce from the perimeter to score. Those are the areas he'll need to grow into, but I'd feel comfortable with him serving a career in the Clint Capela role.
4.11 - Theo Maledon, ASVEL
Maledon deserves a bit of an introduction, because most American fans don't have a great grasp on who he is and what he does. He's 19 and has played three professional seasons (most as a role player), shooting 35 percent from 3 while averaging 15.1 points and 6.4 assists per 36 minutes. In his most recent Euroleague season with ASVEL, he shot 36.7 percent from 3 on 2.2 attempts per game. He's been a backup for them, but made a high impact in the minutes he'd played.
At 6'4", Maledon is a bigger point guard. He's not overly athletic by any means. But with his size, a 6'9" wingspan and shooting 39 percent on catch-and-shoot looks, he has the ability to combine being a capable 2-guard that can play off the ball and guard up with how some real silky pick-and-roll savvy for someone his age. He's a really good passer and has the ability to hit pull-ups or floaters over the defense thanks to his size.
Evaluating Maledon based on his age should be done in comparison to other one-and-done point guards, like Anthony, Mannion and the like. Maledon is the most polished of the group. He doesn't need elite speed because he has such tight command of his dribble and a high-level understanding of how to play out of the pick-and-roll that he can manipulate defenses without speed. His change of pace is great, and he uses hostage dribbles to weave through traffic, as well as his body to create contact.
As far as improvements go, Maledon has to get a little bit stronger, he must improve as a finisher and can become a little quicker laterally on defense. The versatility with which he plays is crucial, and ultimately the reason I have him this high. He can be an average to above-average point guard with the ball in his hands (think Jose Calderon) who has great command and control, as well as shooting. Maledon's size and off-ball shooting would make him the perfect fit next to a wing or big who is the primary creator. By my count, almost a third of the league falls into that category, providing many avenues for Maledon to turn his versatility into the perfect fit with his team.
4.10 - Saddiq Bey, Villanova
As a guy who has an affinity for fundamentals, it doesn't get any sweeter than Villanova guys. Jay Wright has produced no shortage of role players who are above-average defenders, capable and versatile in half-court offenses, know how to play in open schemes, knock down shots and play on-balanced in traffic with perfect footwork.
Bey might be the best of the group (Mikal Bridges is seated at the table with him for discussion) in the long line of Villanova pros to be impactful. Bey's natural size (6'10' wingspan and sturdy frame), consistent shooting (45.1 percent shooting from 3 on 5.6 attempts per game) and experience as a lead guard in high school are not just the best manifestations of the Villanova pedigree, but perfect blends for what NBA teams are looking for.
Some scouts and draft pundits will complain that Bey doesn't have enough clear upside to be ranked this high. He's a bit stiff athletically and slow-footed, they might say. This is precisely what the 'Nova system and emphasis on fundamentals are meant to counteract and make up for! It's the reason why Josh Hart, Eric Paschall and Kyle Lowry thrive despite not being superb athletes (although Lowry may be the exception to the rule, not the rule itself. Guy is a tank).
I also project Bey out as a really good defender at the 3 and the 4, who is tolerable switching onto smalls in certain times. He uses his length well, is active on the ball and is super smart about how and where he applies pressure. The thing with Bey and his game is that he doesn't really need to get better at a specific weakness in order to have an impact in his role. Those improvement areas only augment his game, add layers to it (where the upside is hidden) and make him more reliable in late-game situations.
All other boxes get checked. He's a tremendous guy off the court, an awesome teammate, well-read and studied to the point where his character is among the tops in the class. He's a great young man, and the team that drafts him will get one of the better shooters in this class when they draft him.
Tier 3 - The Fringe All-Stars/ Safe 2nd Options
The differences between Tier 3 and Tier 5 are, to some extent, minimal. It comes down to splitting hairs, and the overall belief I have in these guys working out. Some of that is based on evidence, functional skill and the overall severity of the downsides to the guys in Tier 5.
But some of it is difficult to explain succinctly. For more in-depth reads on all these guys, please find our individual profiles here at The Box and One. For the quick overview about why these four in Tier 3 are the fringe All-Star guys who, even if they're at their lowest projected outcomes, can still be meaningful to an NBA team, we'll do our best to articulate it meaningfully.
3.9 - Killian Hayes, Ulm
Hayes is a big, big point guard. He has the same dimensions as Isaac Okoro (6'5" with a 6'8" wingspan) and has gotten to be the number-one prospect on The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor's draft board due to his combination of size and playmaking.
Hayes had an impressive ten-game run with Ulm last winter against Euroleague competition. While the team went 1-9, Hayes posted per-36 averages of 17.2 points, 8.3 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 39 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the charity stripe. The shooting performance looks a bit like an outlier for a guy who was 16-for-75 from deep before coming into the event. Hayes hasn't played in live competition since, leaving the evaluation of his shooting and its trajectory in serious limbo.
My ranking on Hayes at 9 is a little bit of splitting the difference between the two outcomes of "solid, reliable shooter" and "poor catch-and-shoot threat who cannot play off-ball". He's definitely best with the ball in his hands and having a long leash to create, though I don't think he'll remain a 24 percent 3-point shooter off the catch.
Where Hayes stands to improve most is with how he utilizes his weak hand. That is, to me, a more worthy concern than his shooting. He's adding the savvy to counter teams that overplay him defensively, but those plays still involve getting back to his left for a finish.
He desperately needs to add that right hand ability because he's such a tremendous player when going to his left - if defenses solely take that away, he'll lose a lot of his impact. His skip passes and corner reads out of ball screens are tremendous. He's a lot like Haliburton as a passer - creative, high-IQ, great when the floor is spaced and uses his eyes really well to manipulate the defense.
Hayes cannot have teams consistently going under ball screens to take that away or forcing him right to handicap his live-dribble passing. At the very least, he's a good enough shooter off the bounce and in isolations that he'll have defenders crowd him, which gives lanes to drive into. The concerns about passing lanes aren't the same for Hayes as they were for Ball or Haliburton.
Because of that, and because Hayes is a legitimately above-average on-ball defender who can move with point guards at his size, he's higher than the other two. The floor is higher and the path to the ceiling is more visible for Hayes.
3.8 - Tyrell Terry, Stanford
No player has made a larger leap during the pre-draft process than Tyrell Terry. He went from being in the late-teens/ early 20s to a legitimate top-ten prospect thanks to his strides in the weight room. He's grown from 6'1" to 6'3", has added a reported 25 pounds of muscle and is throwing down legitimate windmills, between-the-legs dunks consistently through his workouts.
He may be the only player in this draft class who has already addressed two of the biggest concerns about his game: strength/ size and finishing. With those continuing to work themselves out, there are few reasons not to talk yourself into Terry with a lottery pick, especially considering the skill he provides is one that can dangerously transform an offense.
Resist the urges to compare him to Stephen Curry, but the off-the-dribble 3-point shooting, combined with movement shooting and being utilized in screening actions, is the versatility that makes him so attractive. As we noted with Maledon, about one-third of the league has primary creators within their offense who are wings or forwards (Celtics, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, Sixers, Mavericks, and Nuggets, with Nets, Pelicans, Heat and Raptors all debatable). A guard who is more shooter than true point playing the 1 works now more than ever.
To call Terry just a shooter would be to overlook his AAU performances pre-Stanford and show a lack of understanding for the system Stanford played. Without going in too much detail, Stanford ran an equal-opportunity ball screen motion, where Terry wasn't given the reigns as the de facto lead guard. His numbers suffered and the tape didn't reveal frequent looks into how he combats different coverages. But it also doesn't mean those abilities aren't there; based on the small evidence available, I'm a believer that there's much more coming beneath the surface. He's a strong weak-hand passer, he's somewhat crafty near the rim and the threat of the shot will give him plenty of runway to make decisions when he gets past his man.
âTerry isn't ready for that role yet, and I'm not making the argument he's only one or two years away from being a high-level creator. But because of his shooting, he doesn't have to be yet. He'll find ways to get reps and be on the floor (so long as there's another creator on the wings) so that he gets game reps and experience before the lead-creation burden is his. He'll need to improve defensively, and the strength or athleticism gains don't guarantee strides there.
If there's one type of offensive skill to bet all-in on, it's a dynamic, deep-range shooter off the bounce. Those guys can transform an offense and, even without being above-average on defense, mostly outscore what they give up to the point that the rewards far outweigh the risks.
3.7 - RJ Hampton, NZ Breakers
From one rapid improvement over the summer to another, Hampton checks in as a top-ten prospect on my board not as much because of the shooting, but because of the egregious misuse of his talents with the New Zealand Breakers.
I recently wrote a long-form piece on Hampton and how he's the real sleeper due to see a boon with NBA spacing in his ideal role, but the jist is this: he joined a contending pro team that wasn't in the position to give the keys to an 18-year-old point guard. To adjust, they moved Hampton to a wing/ secondary creator role, one where he struggled because it was such a 180-degree shift from his high school roles and what he does best.
Diving too deep into the film on Hampton only shows small glimpses of what he does with the ball in his hands, though the context of why that's the case is inseparable from why he's struggled since leaving high school.
Hampton is a point guard, and if you want proof of that, go watch him in the scrimmage against the Oklahoma City Thunder from last October. Hampton was originally cast in this role with the Breakers before their roster changed, and it was by far the most comfortable he looked all season. Some impressive reads, the ability to play with the ball in his hands and some glimpses of strong defense were all impressive from a kid who is a year younger than everyone else in this draft class. Hampton should be a freshman in college as we speak, but re-classed to expedite his pro process. I'm more patient with guys in those shoes than most.
With the ball in his hands in a spread pick-and-roll, Hampton is a freak athlete in the Zach LaVine, Russell Westbrook mold. He'll lack in his floater and pull-up game because, if there's a sliver of space for him to get to the basket, its in his best interests to do so - he's that explosive. While the lack of consistent finishing is worth improving on, be careful about trying to cage his instincts too much. His misses are due in large part to a far takeoff point. Instead of trying to adjust that point (and therefore hinder the potential makes he'll get as he continues to get stronger) it may be easier to focus on his decision-making at the last level so that he becomes a better live-ball passer within ten feet.
Hampton's size as a lead guard is important. He's good enough defensively to guard the 1, so there's not many issues with the long-term trajectory of playing him in either backcourt spot. He's shown some comfort in taking smalls into the pinch post (something great guards do a lot) and makes some timely live-ball reads out of ball screens. He may need a little time to add efficiency to his game, but Hampton has all the tools in his disposal.
Everything will circle back to shooting. Without strong progress and consistency, Hampton at 7 would feel a little ambitious. With it, and the faith that Mike Miller is teaching him effectively and not BS-ing those who ask for progress updates, Hampton becomes a really dynamic scorer and athlete who just makes plays at both ends.
3.6 - Jalen Smith, Maryland
This may be the highest board Jalen has been on in the country. I can promise you, it's not a new development: my preseason board had Smith as a top-10 pick, as I anticipated major boons as he moved to the 5 once Bruno Fernando left Maryland.
The 5 is the natural, best position for Smith despite his slender frame and versatile athleticism. Let him use that leaping which earned him the nickname "Sticks" to protect the rim, catch lobs and finish at the basket.
By my count, there are four traits that big men can possess in order to be elite:
Numbers 2 and 4, the offensive skills, are pretty widely agreed-upon with Smith. He shot over 40 percent from 3 after January 1st at Maryland; he's one of the only first-round bigs men who can reliably stretch the floor. He's also a fairly efficient finisher, a lob threat out of the pick-and-roll that pairs well with a good ballscreen creator.
Smith has a long way to go before he's tapping into the creative aspects of his play. His thin frame lets him get pushed over a bit in traffic, so if its not a clear finish, he's only average. He's not a great screener, nor a short roll playmaker. There's polish to add, but his versatility as a shooter makes up for it. He can attack poor closeouts, which he'll get if he remains this consistent from deep. There were times where Mark Turgeon used him off screens and staggers, and that's an element to a creative coach that can open up the playbook like none other.
As far as the defense goes, Smith can definitely block shots at the rim. Calling him an elite or even above-average rim protector may be a stretch, but he's at least going to be solid. The controversy comes around my claims that Smith is switchable and can be more than just a drop-back, protect-the-paint big.
There's a focus on Smith's hips and lateral movements, just the lack of overall seamless athleticism, that followed Myles Turner around when he was at Texas and helped him slide to the Indiana Pacers. I find that stuff a bunch of rubbish. The proof for Smith is in the tape, where he had so many effective positions switching onto guards and wings in the Big Ten (no slouch of a league). He uses his length well, is good with angles, stays down as to not bite on pump fakes and does a really sturdy job.
Do you want to switch with Smith the same way you would with Draymond Green at the 5? No chance. What Smith does is provide late-clock options and late-game versatility to the position that most teams don't have. It's a defensive "ace in the hole" strategy that allows you justify taking a center, and even a physically raw one, early in the draft. I'm not sure if "All-Star" is in the cards for Smith, but I'm pretty confident that he can be on the floor in end-game situations for championship-caliber teams and be the linchpin that unlocks the playbook on both ends.
3.5 - Deni Avdija, Maccabi Tel-Aviv
A true point forward, Avdija is the highest European player on our board. What I like most about Avdija is the versatility in his game. He may not be an All-Star in the raw numbers sense, but he's the perfect third option to almost any combination of top-two guys. How he adjusts to playing with any team, scheme, tempo or roster makes it difficult to not forecast a strong career for the Israeli product.
Shooting is a big area of contention with Avdija. He's proven inconsistent here, shooting below 60 percent from the free throw line and 30 percent from deep. The struggles in 2019-20 were noticeable and raise concerns about how good he'll be at flanking top talent. Gradual improvements to his form, comfort in the corners and the absence of mechanical flaws bring optimism that Avdija will be fine in these areas. Don't expect him to turn into Dario Saric, but he'll be passable from deep.
When evaluating wings and forwards, the "be good at what you do most" mantra is vital. Avdija aces these tests because he's good enough with the ball in his hands to be used frequently as a pick-and-roll creator. He has good passing chops, a deceptively-long first step and counter moves to different coverages. He passes over the top of defenses and doesn't ignore his screeners in favor of spot-up opportunities.
Away from those areas, Avdija is deployable across the board. He's a really smart cutter and a solid finisher (he can improve not missing bunnies, but there aren't many concerns here), especially around and along the baseline. If he's a productive shooter from the corners, as he appears to be most comfortable right now, the baseline will be an area of frequency for him. He's got some crafty post moves when he takes smaller guys down there. He fits well in almost any offensive scheme.
Defensively, Avdija likely won't be a superb on-ball defender. He's shown a real knack for defensive positioning, strong help-side impact and even glimpses of verticality and rim protection. There aren't many holes to his game, and the things he does well are things he'll do a lot. That carries a lot of weight with me.
Tier 2 - Just Outside the Elite Prospects
Typically, Tier 1 and Tier 2 will take us down to around the 8th-10th selections in a draft. They're guys who are either alphas or close to alphas without having much risk. In this year's draft class, only two four guys make the top two tiers, showing an absence of elite talent. This is the worst time to have a high-draft pick: a risky draft with a shortened training camp when guys go nine months between meaningful reps.
Still, a few guys give me confidence. These are the names I'm most vehemently fighting for, believing they'll be great in what they're asked to do and are guys being overlooked at the height of their talents. They may not be the alpha-male guys worth including in a franchise's building pillars (and by my estimation, there's only two in this class), but they can become All-Stars without much imagination and have very little chance of striking out.
2.4 - Kira Lewis, Alabama
Another bandwagon I've been on since early February, Kira Lewis is a really fun prospect. He's the fastest end-to-end player in this draft, and his speed is so noticeable and breathtaking that most folks will hinge their evaluation of him based on his speed.
There's so much more to Kira's (pronounced Ky-ruh) game than that, so calling him a speedster almost does a disservice to his half-court potential and impact. Much of how he plays in the half-court is also related to his speed, though in a different way: using it as a threat. For a 19-year-old who has already played two college years in the SEC, the minutia of his game has impressed me so much.
Kira is super dynamic on offense. He's long, quick and unreal in the open floor. His speed in transition to go end-to-end is instant offense; he created through scoring or assisting 7.8 points per game in transition. He can weave through traffic, accelerate or decelerate when he must and rewards teammates who will run with him. He's not selfish at all.
Perhaps the most underrated part of Kira's game is his passing. He's a terrific creator, both out of the pick-and-roll and in the open floor. He makes incredible live-ball kicks with both hands and on target. Those kicks are so much more impressive when you imagine the pace he plays with.
Being as quick as he is, defenders will sag off him in the half-court, knowing they need to give some sort of cushion in order to prevent him from getting to the rim. Two things happen as a result of how defenses guard the threat of Lewis' speed. The first: helpers collapse sooner and closer to the hoop, so Lewis can more easily see passing lanes. He's anticipatory and accurate with these.
The second is that teams go under screens or step back when guarding him. Lewis has proven to be a capable pull-up shooter from 3, with deep range, a quick trigger and smooth mechanics. His mid-range jumper leaves a little to be desired, but with speed and pressure he puts on the rim, it's not a necessary component of his game right now. He could stand to add it, but doesn't need it to counter any specific type of coverage.
âLewis can also play off-ball and knock down treys, opening up the opportunity to not be worn down as the only creator. He'll thrive next to many types of stars and doesn't need to turn into an All-Star to justify an early draft pick or the role he'll want.
Kira must get strong and add more vertical explosion. He does get a lot of shots blocked and isn't great at decelerating without a Euro step (a move that severely limits his jumping ability and leads to him getting shots pinned off the glass). With those improvements and continued strides to a commitment on defense, he'll be the breakout star in this year's draft class outside of the top three on draft night.
2.3 - Devin Vassell, Florida State
Frequent readers of The Box and One know my affinity for Vassell as a player. Two-straight years over 40 percent from 3 (on somewhat skinny volume). Anchoring an elite defense with his switchability. The prototypical 6'7" height with 6'10" wingspan for guarding multiple positions. Elite athleticism that will only improve as he gets stronger.
The love for Vassell comes from thinking that he's a great, disruptive on-ball defender and the best help defender I've ever scouted at the college level. His defensive instincts are so great that he makes basket-saving plays in every game he's a part of. Perhaps its the coach in me hyping him up to number three on my draft board, but there's no situation in which what he provides is not valuable. It's hard to quantify and easy to overlook, but finding a defensive star is so important in today's NBA.
Instead of talking about Vassell ad nauseam (I've written multiple pieces about him elsewhere), let's discuss how valuable a player like this can be in the NBA. My comparison for Vassell is the offense of Wesley Matthews and the defense of Andre Iguodala. He's primarily a catch-and-shoot guy, but he can become someone who drills pull-ups. If he can harness his athleticism and cut out the wide driving tendencies, he'll be a solid finisher at the hoop, too.
Everything comes down to that defensive role and just how valuable someone who can lock down 1 thru 4 while being a transcendent help defender really is. I know most people want to focus on star power and offensive upside this early in the draft, though 2020 is different and Vassell's defense is worth the exception. If he only averages 8 points a game for his career but becomes the type of defender Iguodala was, I'd call that a successful find in this draft class.
2.2 - James Wiseman, Memphis
A circuitous route that included a three-game stop at Memphis, James Wiseman could be the best athlete in this class. He's 7'1" with a 7'6" wingspan, the open-floor fluidity of Anthony Davis and the above-the-rim finishing prowess of a John Collins.
The shame in Wiseman's abridged collegiate career is in the poor competition he faced. Two of the three games he played told very little about how he'll fare against NBA competition. The third, against Oregon, was against a team without comparable size.
Still, the label of "best athlete" may stick with Wiseman and propel him into the top-three on draft night. Of those four boxes that all modern bigs need to check (rim protection, PNR defensive versatility, PNR finishing, shooting potential) he clearly checks three and, with more work on extending his range, will check all four. That's something not even recent top bigs like DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley or Karl-Anthony Towns could claim.
A scouting report breakdown of the three games at Memphis should be taken with an enormous grain of salt, with heavier emphasis put on his AAU footage and the eye test from the few workouts scouts have seen. But Wiseman's potential and high ceiling are difficult to ignore and worth swinging for. He could be an elite rim protector with Anthony Davis-like athleticism.
2.1 - Anthony Edwards, Georgia
The top player in this draft class, Edwards has held this mantle since the pre-season in my book. Polarizing by way of his drive, shot selection and defensive intensity, there is literally no physical trait that Edwards doesn't possess that you'd want him to. He's a tailor-made athlete for NBA success, scoring the ball and running with the best of the best.
The questions around Edwards will all cloud how likely he is of becoming an alpha and true superstar at the next level. Despite being the top in this class, he's not quite a bonafide superstar in my book. Shot selection and playmaking issues, two traits he'll need to fix considering how much he'll warrant the ball in his hands, could turn him into a less-efficient scorer than he should be.
A lot of people see the size (6'9" wingspan!) and position, then automatically compare him to the freak athletes at his position: Dwyane Wade and Victor Oladipo (both of whom played for his college coach, Tom Crean). Those are so lazy and bullshit comparisons. Edwards is a high-volume jump shooter, not a slasher. He's more comfortable in isolation and off step-backs to 3 than in going at someone's throat. The reliance on jumpers despite being great at getting to and finishing above the rim could be what holds him back from being an efficient scorer.
To me, Edwards is a taller, more athletic version of Gilbert Arenas. Gilbert was ahead of his time as a scorer; his first four years in Washington (three of them All-Star seasons) he averaged seven treys a game - at a comfortable 36.4 percent. I see Edwards taking the same trajectory. He's the go-to offensive threat to chucks up a ton of shots, many of them threes. He's barely above 40 percent from the field, but he quarterbacks an All-Star level of statistical production without being really inefficient. He's score-first, always has a high number of turnovers and leaves a lot to be desired defensively in terms of his awareness. But when the game is on the line, his team has no doubt about who wants the ball in his hands and will create the highest-percentage look for the team.
This isn't to say Edwards producing like Arenas is a sure thing. It most certainly is not. He has to get better with kicks and be held accountable for the areas he comes short. Edwards wasn't exactly in an ideal situation in Georgia, either. They had poor shooting around him and were undermanned in a really, really good SEC. I'm confident some of his assist numbers and his shot selection (some, not all) improve just with better spacing and teammates.
When it comes to defense, Edwards may always be frustrating, much in the way guys like Andrew Wiggins or Aaron Gordon are. They have the athleticism to take over games on that end, but never will. Whether its lack of awareness (Gordon) or preserving energy for offense (Wiggins), neither is an excuse that should exist. Still, Edwards being lumped as an "empty calorie" guy immediately rubs me the wrong way.
I'm a believer in Edwards. He is so gifted in the many ways that cannot be taught. I'll take my chances on that guy and believe my coaching staff/ franchise can both teach him the other ways and surround him with enough talent to maximize who he is. What's troubling for Edwards is that, at the top of this draft, the top-two teams on the board aren't really cut out to cater to him.
Tier 1 - Superstar Molds
This is it. The elite of the elite. The guys who would, and should, be in consideration for top picks in any draft class. They are the franchise-changers, the guys who come with the ability to turn around the trajectory of a team from the moment they arrive.
Guess what? None exist in this draft class. There is no top tier of elite names who stack up with typical years. James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards, the top two players on our board, have downsides and real worries, albeit ones where their floor is still relatively productive.
If there's one complain with this draft class, it's that Tier 1 is empty and, as a result, Tier 2 is shallow. Add two names like a Zion Williamson or Ja Morant to this class and it's a really, really good crop of talent. Without it, there's little reward at the top and the reason why Minnesota, Golden State and Charlotte remain at the center of trade conversations heading down the pike towards draft night.