College basketball is here and I am excited to share my first board for the 2020 NBA Draft. With as many as five picks spanning all ranges of the Draft, 2020 represents a year for Celtics fans to be especially attuned to the happenings of the world’s best young players outside of the NBA. Before the rankings, though, let’s go over some essential background information.
Prior to the 2019 Draft, I wrote a brief piece outlining my philosophies on the draft. I won’t re-litigate any of that here, but I’d recommend taking a quick look before diving into this year’s rankings. The one notable difference between that final evaluation and this preseason version is my willingness to be speculative. When it comes to considering outcomes, I’ll be placing greater weight on high-end outcomes, as there is simply more time to see if prospects can translate tantalizing tools to impact on basketball games.
As for general thoughts on the 2020 Draft, I consider it to be meaningfully weaker than 2019. The simple fact that there’s no Zion Williamson at the top hampers the class a lot, but where I saw the 10-20 range as such a massive strength in 2019, that range is quite weak in 2020. That said, the depth of initiators in 2020 is considerable, and I am a huge fan of the forward/wing depth extending well into the second round (a massive win for good teams needy at the NBA’s most cherished positional group). Due to the extraordinarily weak returning class, we could see record-setting numbers of one-and-dones in 2020.
Tier 3: Valuable complementary talents or low probability star gambles
Again, I consider this tier to be a major weak point. Throughout are a few high-probability valuable complementary talents, and I envision some being potential difference makers in their roles. The star gambles here seem highly improbable, and the complementary talents are flawed enough to have meaningful disaster potential.
8. Theo Maledon, Combo, ASVEL Basket
Maledon has fantastic touch and sports good decision-making and craft as a passer:
I don't know what exactly to call it--distress passing maybe--but Maledon finds himself in a lot of compromising positions and is somehow able to improvise and make the most of it pic.twitter.com/6xeYVPpXG8— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 22, 2019
However, he is completely devoid of burst. Even when drawing switches, Maledon is unable to punish European bigs and create separation either to get to the rim or for jumpers. His lack of quick twitch limits his defensive ability as well, as he can be susceptible to blow bys on-ball.
I view Maledon as much more of a secondary creator, an off-ball player, and that is not an archetype I consider to be highly valuable in most cases, though he should be quite a good one.
I remain a little more optimistic on Maledon than I maybe should in light of his shooting numbers. As a 17-year-old playing in France last year, Maledon shot 38.6% on 127 3-point attempts and 85% on 133 free throw attempts. Shooting that well at that competition level at that age is beyond unusual and could indicate shooting upside that would elevate Maledon considerably as a player.
9. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Forward, Villanova
Last year, I discussed the appeal of prospects with a lack of glaring weakness with respect to PJ Washington who’s off to a roaring start to his NBA career. Robinson-Earl fits the mold of a relatively weakness-free combo forward who projects to be a star role player.
He’s highly intelligent and brings great effort:
Absolutely love this sequence from JRE. Defending PnR on the weakside, takes away the cutter first, then stunts toward the roll man, encouraging a pass, which he breaks up while recovering, leads break, gets defender on his back, and caps it with the soft finger roll pic.twitter.com/CXEKoS1GWu— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 20, 2019
Really like this transition defense from JRE. Running hard and aware of where Perry's moving and where he needs to be pic.twitter.com/hwUp2Wobnb— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 20, 2019
Opportunistic screening from JRE pic.twitter.com/S9cycd23fV— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 17, 2019
He excels as a help defender on the interior due to his recognition:
He demonstrates sufficient mobility to hang on the perimeter:
Where Robinson-Earl lacks is physically. He’s not overly long or explosive. He’s not freakishly strong. He may no longer be able to sustain the remarkable production he managed through AAU, high school, and national team play.
But I’m buying on a player Robinson-Earl’s size, who shows skill as a ball-handler, remarkable intelligence, and a shot I very much believe in long-term.
10. Matthew Hurt, Forward/Wing, Duke
Of the wings/forwards in this class, very few can claim to be quality offensive prospects. Hurt is the most significant exception. At 6’9”, Hurt is an outstanding ball-handler and shooter with plus passing. Hurt’s offensive excellence should not overshadow the defender he’s been throughout his pre-college career, though:
Hurt is mobile and intelligent, and that’s translated to consistent on- and off-ball defensive impact. Questions arise, however, as to whether Hurt can sustain positive impact on that end due to his weak frame and lack of length (about an even wingspan).
I also harbor minor reservations about those tools inhibiting Hurt’s offense. At various amateur levels, you’d see Hurt get to his spots and simply work over the defense, but when he’s confronted with athletes who are bigger, stronger, and longer than him, I’m not positive that size-reliant style will work perfectly.
Yet, if Hurt proves his on-ball scoring equity persists as the difficulty levels up, if he continues to influence games defensively, he could be a major riser, offering an offensive dimension and two-way play no one in his role can match.
11. Wendell Moore, Wing, Duke
I cannot get behind the star outcomes some envision with Moore. I acknowledge his youth, touch, strength, and solid decision-making, but he’s quite lacking in explosion and truly cannot dribble:
Wendell Moore's lack of left is a problem pic.twitter.com/zKfnSzqNWX— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 24, 2019
I'm not wild about Wendell Moore's handle pic.twitter.com/mDgAkJtiSy— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 5, 2019
While those impediments to stardom exist, Moore is a great bet as a valuable complementary wing. He’s a reliable decision-maker, and IQ, strength, and length facilitate positive defensive impact individually and in a team construct. While Moore’s yet to shoot consistently from deep, utterly elite free throw shooting presages a future as a marksman. He’s unsexy, but Moore should be a nice piece.
12. RJ Hampton, Initiator/Combo, New Zealand Breakers
Hampton has the makings of a capable on-ball scorer. He’s at his best when exhibiting well-rehearsed dribble sequences to create space for himself as a scorer:
RJ Hampton destroying ankles with the stepback pic.twitter.com/GUg72qA3v7— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 9, 2019
Simple, beautiful RJ Hampton sequence. Hesitation, blow by, floater pic.twitter.com/AeXzZyxBac— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 12, 2019
He’s never shot consistently from deep, but Hampton’s posted strong free throw shooting both in AAU play and so far in the NBL (he’s also shot 38.5% from 3 on low volume so far in the NBL). Offensively, Hampton’s appeal wanes when decision-making is factored in:
Hampton fails to see the floor well and tends to look for nothing but his own shot, typically at the expense of quality team offense. Issues extend to the defensive end, where he’s lackadaisical with poor effort defending point of attack and in transition, liable to losing his man off-ball, and fails to help the helper as a team defender.
With decision-making development and more team-oriented play, Hampton could rise as more of a star outcome play in a class lacking quality ones, but his is a style of play I’m not generally inclined to buy into.
13. Oscar Tshiebwe, Big, West Virginia
Physically, Tshiebwe is flawless. He is as strong as they come, has elite length, can get up, and covers ground like few people on this earth:
Look at the cushion the defender's giving Oscar Tshiebwe. Covers so much space so quickly with just one dribble, gives the guy no choice but to hack pic.twitter.com/CgD7I5QeLX— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 25, 2019
Classic Oscar goodness. One dribble from the top of the key and finish through contact pic.twitter.com/Cg988Zomx0— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 26, 2019
Legitimate Giannis stuff from Oscar Tshiebwe pic.twitter.com/20wW9H175Q— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 26, 2019
When you drop a physical freak by NBA standards into a not particularly high level high school basketball game pic.twitter.com/WkRC7Ej8Ie— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 25, 2019
To physical perfection, Tshiebwe adds a keen mind, well-attuned to the exact moment he should rotate as a help defender, maximizing his dominance in team defense:
Yep. All the way in on Oscar Tshiebwe pic.twitter.com/ffwMx3wO9n— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 25, 2019
By far, my greatest concern with Tshiebwe derives from the processing delay he experiences on offense:
I think the most concerning thing I've seen from Oscar Tshiebwe so far is decision-making speed. He doesn't make bad decisions, but clearly has some delay processing the floor. Big problem for a modern big pic.twitter.com/aRpAzPxEi2— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 25, 2019
Quick decision-making is essential for all players, but especially so for the modern roll man who must instantaneously punish defenders with decisiveness off the catch.
Offensively, I do see some potential for face-up scoring or grab and go utility if Tshiebwe can make strides as a ball-handler and really harness his otherworldly physical ability. There is also a small but worth-noting chance Tshiebwe extends his mid-range jumper out beyond the line.
Without getting caught up in those unlikely high-end outcomes, Tshiebwe’s immense value as a defensive anchor, glass-cleaner, and general dominator in the trenches make him the most probable impact big man in the class.
14. Tre Mann, Initiator/Combo, Florida
Two key skills define Mann’s game, change of direction and pull-up shooting:
This is why Tre Mann stands out even in a crowded class of initiators. Sets up the screen with his sharp change of direction ability and the range to hit from anywhere inside halfcourt pic.twitter.com/eow2gVtSSB— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) October 1, 2019
Tre Mann multiple sharp change of direction and the pull-up make. Filthy. pic.twitter.com/4Q74yCA0lL— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 15, 2019
Marrying the two together, Mann’s a vicious scorer out of pick-and-roll, as he generates massive separation on screen rejections or simply coming off a pick and hitting the big defender with a sharp movement he has no prayer of mimicking.
A ridiculously controlled handle and hypnotic pace enable Mann to reach the rim:
Tre Mann isolation, hesitation, Nash layup. Hello pic.twitter.com/3MCoRmBWTK— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) October 30, 2019
Mann has the makings of a special on-ball scoring guard, but achievement of a high-end outcome will be predicated on decision-making growth:
Poorly spaced floor, but a pretty concerning turnover by Mann from an awareness standpoint pic.twitter.com/Cu7TMjgSUI— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 15, 2019
There is reason to believe Mann’s extreme dribble to pull-up coordination could be a sign of dribble to pass coordination that could boost him as a creator:
Far from anything complex as a passer so far, but Mann's not gunning. Nice little live dribble pass with the right, too pic.twitter.com/gyHbmTdTTk— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) October 30, 2019
If Mann can advance as a decision-maker on a star-studded Florida team, even in a class loaded with initiators, he could vault up rankings. As Celtics fans see every night in Kemba Walker, the synergy of elite change of direction and pull-up shooting will take you very far in today’s NBA.
15. Killian Hayes, Initiator, Ratiopharm Ulm
Most of my sample of Hayes comes from his age-17 season playing professionally in France. For a player in that context, his craft and intelligence as a pick-and-roll player is mind-boggling:
First three PnR possessions I've seen from 17-year-old Killian Hayes pic.twitter.com/WxN5rudSal— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) June 22, 2019
With exquisite timing, vision, and an advanced handle, Hayes is a maestro in the pick-and-roll. And his intelligence translates to the defensive end, where he makes plays as a team defender. Beyond Hayes’ intelligence, I find mostly glaring holes:
Alright, here's some negative Killian Hayes stuff. I really don't like his on-ball D. Very upright and moves north-south rather than sliding, making stop/start very difficult. Don't like his screen navigation either pic.twitter.com/ndk3wRU51H— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) June 24, 2019
While I tend to value team defense much more than the individual on-ball variety, that distribution is a lot closer to even for lead guards, and Hayes’ on-ball defense is a big problem.
The bigger concern for Hayes is his ability to pressure the defense as a scorer. He lacks explosion, plays very upright, and always takes these highly rounded routes to the rim rather than really getting downhill.
Elite free throw shooting inspires some optimism for shooting development, but Hayes’ shot has never fallen at an acceptable rate, his mechanics plagued by an overactive wrist, very acute elbow angle, and low set point. While he might one day be a competent off-the-catch shooter, I don’t know that Hayes will ever have the pull-up capability required of a lead guard.
I accept the premise that intelligence is the most important trait in a basketball player. As such, it’s hard to be completely out on Hayes, but the other elements of his game leave much to be desired.
16. James Wiseman, Big, Memphis
I tend to diverge from consensus, but even as a skeptic, I understood the appeal of someone like RJ Barrett as a top-3 prospect in the 2019 Draft. Wiseman’s near-consensus ranking as the top prospect in the 2020 class is beyond baffling.
As a high school player, Wiseman was legitimately bad:
Here's another quarter of Wiseman stuff. Idk, man. Rough defensive decision-maker, poor movement skills, disengaged, fairly low feel. It's not great pic.twitter.com/3vBzCUDOPd— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) June 23, 2019
Effort, weakness defending the interior, terrible movement skills, and inexplicable decision-making rendered Wiseman rather abominable at fulfilling the responsibilities of a traditional big man (he also has terrible hands and struggles to corral passes). As for the skills that populate highlight tapes, they’re fake:
Wiseman has "skills" that will flash in highlights, but they're totally non-functional pic.twitter.com/vL9w01BAsy— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 6, 2019
James Wiseman or Terry Rozier? No way to know, really pic.twitter.com/VI6gNIXOfb— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 6, 2019
Wiseman’s shot is an unmitigated disaster, a slingshot that fires wildly from behind his head. His handle is not controlled and in no way enables him to create separation.
The one positive differentiator for Wiseman is his size:
Pretty solid Wiseman sequence. You see just how massive he is, lack of strengths crops up and he concedes some space when bumped, but he has so much length he's just overwhelming pic.twitter.com/rZqQDSwNix— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 7, 2019
I don’t want to downplay the impact of being an utterly enormous human being. Routinely, Wiseman seals defenders to create massive targets and easy points. As a rim protector, he can be imposing.
But I don’t even consider his overall physical package to be particularly exceptional, given his narrow and high hips, which allow him to be bullied on the interior (and he still can’t turn faster than a semi truck). His “athleticism” is vastly overstated. In response to Wiseman, I’ve coined the term “wingspan dunker.” It’s a description of players so long their highlight dunks trick viewers into thinking they’re explosive leapers. Wiseman’s vertical explosion is, in reality, quite limited.
Based off the film and numbers Wiseman has produced, he has no business being ranked this high. However, I believe hyperactivity on defense is probably easier to rein in than to inspire adequate intervention, so I see some potential for Wiseman to refine himself into a potent rim protector.
More importantly, I am aware of and want to account for the way the NBA treats prospects. Wiseman will struggle mightily with Memphis, but he should produce enough volume of box score stats to ride his recruiting ranking to a top-10 selection in the 2020 Draft. Guys with that pedigree get chances. Wiseman will have long-term margin for error, chance after chance to fashion himself into a dominant rim protector.
17. Xavier Johnson, Initiator, Pittsburgh
Discussing Morant last season, I wrote, “to be an offensive engine, a player must satisfy two basic criteria: 1) ability to compromise a defense 2) ability to capitalize on that weak point.” Morant’s ability to do both meant, despite his troublesome shortcomings, I could not be too low on him.
Johnson unquestionably checks the first box:
Xavier Johnson explosion is absurd. Finishes through contact too pic.twitter.com/zmGm2mcrO7— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) October 11, 2019
As a freshman, Johnson attempted 49.8% of his half court shot attempts at the rim. Finding prospects who rival those numbers has proved a futile task. Johnson’s explosion is absolutely absurd. He just blows straight by defenders at will, and if that weren’t enough, he has a controlled and deceptive handle, too.
Johnson brings it on the defensive end as well, where he shows good effort defending the point of attack and involves himself in team defense:
Xavier Johnson defensive sequence pic.twitter.com/2ymyC8STk1— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) October 11, 2019
Given the tantalizing positives in Johnson’s game, if he satisfied the second requirement for an offensive engine, he’d comfortably rank as a top-5 prospect in this class. Alas, Johnson’s decision-making is relatively questionable, he finished in the 16th percentile in efficiency at the rim, and his shot remains iffy at best (though he converted somewhat well as a freshman at 35.2% from deep).
As a sophomore, Johnson must leverage his explosion and handle better to serve as an offensive engine:
Just nasty from Xavier Johnson. Uses the threat of his pull-up, crazy explosion, looks to be a live dribble off-hand dish to top it off pic.twitter.com/GgWeX7oLVM— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) October 11, 2019
With that improvement, though, Johnson could skyrocket up boards. As it stands, he is the one returner whose realistic high-end outcomes excite me. I don’t want to pretend the necessary shooting, finishing, or decision-making improvements are likely to come, but we have to account for the chance that they could and the special prospect Johnson would be in that case.
18. Romeo Weems, Wing, DePaul
As a team defender, Weems is savant-like, collecting blocks and steals at unparalleled rates. Offensively, he’s progressed rapidly as a shooter, and his handle stands out for a wing, allowing him to find his way to the cup, where he embraces contact. He is, however, a flawed offensive player:
Have grown pretty impressed with Romeo Weems' handle, but he has Brandon Newman, one of the best shooters in the class, wide open in the corner on this play and ignores/doesn't see an easy no-brainer of a pass pic.twitter.com/X8kXaJch51— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 24, 2019
Weems is a near-complete black hole, his decision-making belying the considerable intelligence he so clearly demonstrates on defense.
Prudent decision-making is an absolute non-negotiable for stars, but it is also a requirement for complementary players who aspire to contribute to truly great teams. If Weems proves his competence as a decision-maker, I’ll have few reservations as to his capacity to be a part of one of those teams.
19. Jaden McDaniels, Forward/Wing, Washington
I guess McDaniels’ appeal is as a scoring prospect. In that respect, he should be relatively successful working in the middle of Pac-12 zones with his gargantuan height and length combined with a nice repertoire of runners:
Jaden McDaniels runner game--with both hands--has been on point in this one pic.twitter.com/H9c6yWxkEK— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 23, 2019
Even as a scorer, I’m skeptical, particularly of McDaniels’ shooting. He’s never shot the ball at a high clip and his base tends to be highly variable. Then there’s the added element of what he’s doing when he’s not scoring:
Also McDaniels has played in the middle of this zone all game and exclusively looked to score. A lot of questionable decisions pic.twitter.com/h3i5mZJO08— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 23, 2019
Pretty awful Jaden McDaniels sequence I forgot to share yesterday. Swallowed up in the post and makes a really rough decision after missing what was probably a makeable baseline pass then completely oblivious to the cutter behind him on the other end pic.twitter.com/0un2uv1NAU— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 24, 2019
Intellectual struggles extend to the defensive end:
Rough half of team defense from Jaden McDaniels, lacking the awareness to contest attempts around the rim, and when he was there, contests were poor pic.twitter.com/ZYZLIMxjyQ— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 23, 2019
Size is not something that should be dismissed when it is paired with skill and intelligence, but while McDaniels has the former, I consider him to be worryingly unrefined in the latter two. He needs to make major strides in those departments to remain in the first round conversation.
20. Isaiah Stewart, Big, Washington
The second of the highly-regarded big man recruits, Stewart’s case is a bit less hazy. He is, and will likely continue to be, the type of productive box score big man who’s overestimated by the traditional stat line.
Stewart’s a handful on the glass, bringing considerable strength and bounce. He’ll collect points as big men do, through rolls, putbacks, and eventually pops, as he boasts mechanics and free throw shooting that foreshadow stretch potential.
The case against Stewart stems from a general overvaluation of the areas in which he excels, namely big man scoring (and individual rebounding). For most bigs, scoring is such a product of their teammates, the raw totals they post massively overstate their individual offensive impacts. The exceptions are players like Karl-Anthony Towns, who self-creates and stretches the defense unprecedentedly as perhaps the greatest big shooter ever, or Nikola Jokic, who powers offense as an all-time playmaker.
Then there’s the primary job of a big: defense:
Isaiah Stewart has some nice rim protection sequences with his combination of strength, mobility, and discipline to stay vertical pic.twitter.com/SFicM9xrNk— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) August 15, 2019
Thus far, Stewart has been a quality interior defender, but there is reason to doubt he quite sees the game fast enough. At lower levels, it could be hard to see due to Stewart’s physical tools, but offensively, the processing delay he experienced when evaluating the floor as a passer was evident. As the athletes around him improve, Stewart may struggle to overcome a second rate basketball mind with first rate physical tools.
I remain slightly more optimistic on Stewart than most friends in the draft Twitter community because I buy the shooting and trust his ability to soak up minutes at a competent level, but I do not see him as the elite prospect more mainstream sources portray him to be.