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2020 NBA Draft Preseason Big Board: Tier 1 with The Anthonys

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Max Carlin breaks down the top prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft and shares his first big board of the year.

High School Basketball: McDonald’s High School All American Portrait Day Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Check out Tier 2 (extremely valuable complementary talents and lower probability star gambles), Tier 3 (valuable complementary talents and low probability star gambles), and Tier 4 (possible rotation players).

Tier 1: The Anthonys/heavy #1 favorites/potential star initiators

The Anthonys--Anthony Edwards and Cole Anthony--are the clear prizes of the class at the moment, and I truly view them as 1A and 1B (in fact, if I weren’t being speculative with high-end outcomes, their order would likely flip). If they were in the 2019 Draft, I’d slot this tier comfortably below Zion but meaningfully above my second tier headlined by Jarrett Culver and Ja Morant this summer.

1. Anthony Edwards, Wing/Initiator/Combo, Georgia

Edwards derives his appeal from an absurd physical package. I hate the blanket term of “athlete,” because it fails to delineate between the various aspects of athleticism, but Edwards is truly a freak athlete in every respect:

His explosion is intensely powerful, body control excellent, strength unparalleled at his size and age, and vertical leaping prodigious. Otherworldly physical tools translate to special rim gravity, as Edwards’ assaults on the rim collapse the entire defense around him, allowing him to flash as a playmaker:

Serious questions abound with respect to Edwards’ effort, decision-making, feel, and shooting. He tended to play hard in AAU but effort waned in high school games (he put forth solid effort in Georgia’s first exhibition game this year). The decisions can be very rough, and rarely appears to be a cerebral player. He’s a confident shooter with range, but his results and mechanics tend to be inconsistent.

Edwards is a deeply flawed player, but his physical tools, skill flashes, and youth are the ingredients for a special prospect. More so than anyone else in 2020, Edwards could conceivably emerge as a true franchise-changer.

2. Cole Anthony, Initiator, North Carolina

The other Anthony, Cole, is also a physical outlier. He lacks Edwards’ size and burst (I actually consider this to be a relative weak point for Cole), but Cole Anthony is an elite vertical leaper with high-end strength:

Whereas Ja Morant, last year’s top initiator prospect was a similarly outrageous two-foot leaper, Anthony’s strength enables him to explode through contact off one, which is what actually matters for finishing on drives in the half court.

What really elevates Anthony is his shooting. In EYBL play, Anthony shot 89.2% on 176 free throw attempts and 37.9% on 132 3-pointers. You simply do not see that intersection of efficiency and volume from players this young. Anthony is a potentially special shooting prospect, who offers shot versatility and elite range. Combined with his strength around the rim, shooting makes Anthony a uniquely well-rounded three-level scorer.

Anthony’s by no means a bad passer, but he does struggle to seamlessly blend passing with scoring, appearing to be a very pre-determined and inflexible decision-maker in the mold of RJ Barrett. I’m also relatively certain I’ve never seen him hit a roll man in stride, as the pacing and tight windows of the point guard position don’t appear entirely natural to him.

Otherwise, there’s not much--he is quite old for the class though--to hold against Anthony. The degree of his stardom will vary in accordance with just how elite a jump-shooter he is, and he’ll need to mix the scoring and passing better, but he’s incredibly safe bet to destroy college basketball and subsequently star in the NBA.