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2020 NBA Draft Preseason Big Board

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.

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.

Tier 2: Extremely valuable complementary talents or lower probability star gambles

This is where the 2020 class starts to falter. In a spot where downtrodden franchises are looking for guys who can turn them around, they instead find a bunch of star role players with relatively low-percentage true star outcomes. Generally speaking, this is a range in which teams should avoid picking.

3. Deni Avdija, Forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv

Avdija will undoubtedly draw comparisons to fellow European phenom, Luka Doncic. Those associations should be rejected and their authors questioned. Avdija, however, brings a valuable two-way skill set that offers the potential for a star role player career:

Avdija is highly coordinated for a player his size, and he should thrive as a transition ball-handler. His intelligence shines on both ends, allowing him to be an impactful help defender and clinically pick apart defenses as a passer (particularly in the post in the half court):

Despite Avdija’s coordination, his overall athletic tools measure out somewhere around “fine.” He moves well enough laterally, but he’s no special vertical leaper and requires significant load time to get off the ground. He’s rather weak at the moment and lacks great length (though he plays very physically and uses what length he has well). Most concerning for Avdija’s projection is his shot. At every level, he’s posted putrid percentages from distance and the free throw line while sporting suspect touch.

Overall, Avdija’s is a case in which it’s essential not to get too bogged down in his (considerable) weaknesses, because he’s simply a very good basketball player. As a transition playmaker, slasher, post creator, and impact defender, he consistently exerts positive influence on basketball games.

4. Isaac Okoro, Wing, Auburn

Okoro is the early leader for my annual Grant Williams Favorite Prospect Award. I’ll get the negatives out of the way first: he can’t dribble or shoot. For a wing, that’s highly problematic, and I do not mean to minimize those flaws, but it should indicate how special Okoro is at what he does well:

As a wing defender, Okoro has a very serious chance to be an all-time great. On-ball, he is a menace who routinely shut down elite wing and guard prospects on the AAU circuit. Off-ball, he is clairvoyant, possessing the anticipation and instincts to create event after event. He is, in my estimation, the best wing interior defender I have ever seen, due to those smarts and outlier vertical leaping and strength.

I conceptualize current Okoro much like a defense-first big man prospect, because I believe him to be the rare wing who can create truly elite level impact on that end of the floor, which is why I’m willing to forgive present offensive shortcomings.

Offense, however, is where I see the fringe outcomes in which Okoro is a destroyer of worlds:

Okoro’s intelligence translates to the offensive end, where he’s a lightning-quick decision-maker with strong vision. He is routinely encumbered by his handle, but when enabled to make on-the-move decisions without a dribble on cuts or rolls, he is devastating. He adds to that IQ package elite vertical leaping and strength.

At the moment, Okoro’s best offensive role is likely that of a big man, where teams could benefit from his decision-making and finishing without damage from his shooting and handling. Given his unique interior defensive impact at his size, I do think that could actually be a viable strategy in spurts similar to how the Celtics have found success using Williams as a big.

With one-of-a-kind defensive impact and foundational tools for offensive emergence down the road, Okoro is flying under the radar both as an elite complementary talent and very fringe star gamble.

5. Tyrese Maxey, Combo, Kentucky

Maxey is an excellent all-around basketball player. He’s an imposing guard defender with high-level strength that does not diminish his quickness. He’s a very good shooter, offering versatility off the dribble and off movement. He has a hilariously refined runner game:

Wildly explosive neither horizontally nor vertically, Maxey may be labeled a poor “athlete,” but he compensates with strength and an uncanny ability to shrink his large frame into small spaces and contort around defenders.

I worry about Maxey’s feel for the pick-and-roll, which we unfortunately may not see much as he slides into the Jamal Murray/Tyler Herro role at Kentucky. I question how elite he’ll be as a pull-up shooter with a low release point that might not translate perfectly to the transient shooting windows an NBA lead guard sees. But Maxey profiles well as a two-way contributor who could conceivably be more with a high-end shooting outcome and development as a pick-and-roll player.

6. Nico Mannion, Initiator, Arizona

Mannion is another well-rounded guard prospect. He derives his value primarily on offense, where his game is centered on diverse shooting. He gets to his pull-up quickly, and generates tremendous rise on the shot, allowing him to launch over contests with ease. Off-ball, he is both an excellent shooter, and crucially, an accomplished relocator:

With good burst and vertical leaping, Mannion is capable enough of getting to the rim, but lacking strength and length hamper his finishing (he has flashed well as a finisher at times). Those subpar physical tools hinder Mannion on defense as well, though he compensates some with strong communication and intelligence:

He’s not quite genius level, but solid IQ manifests in Mannion’s (ambidextrous) passing as well:

Mannion checks most of the boxes necessary for a competent initiator. I’m not certain he’ll have enough scoring gravity on-ball to be a great offensive engine, and thus might be a situation-dependent complementary guard, but he could be very good in that role. The possibility for strength improvement or elite shooting carries interesting upside for which we must account.

7. LaMelo Ball, Initiator, Illawarra Hawks

I don’t know that there exists any inherent value in uniqueness, but LaMelo Ball’s uniqueness unambiguously translates to impact on basketball:

Through his genius, touch, creativity, and preternatural court awareness, LaMelo creates passes that didn’t exist until the split second he thought up and flawlessly executed them. He sees passing windows and angles and the game of basketball in a way no one else does. And he’s willing to try anything.

A unique mind and audacious style separate LaMelo as a new viewing experience. As someone who watches a fair amount of basketball, I still can’t get over how jarring it is to watch him play what amounts to a different sport at times. Everyone else is an iteration; he’s something new.

When forced into the confines of normal basketball, though, Ball has often struggled. Prior to his time with Illawarra, he had never played defense, notably functioning as a risk-taking free safety with Spire Academy. That lack of experience has shown in Ball’s transition to the NBL:

Improved effort has been a welcome sign of development, but that doesn’t mitigate LaMelo’s complete inability to navigate a screen or tendency to make ill-advised gambles. Furthermore, traditional on-ball creation can be a mixed bad due to his underwhelming burst:

There’s also the issue of Ball’s shooting. In NBL play, he’s connecting on 3-pointers at 18.9%. Given his lack of explosion, he’ll always be incredibly reliant on the jumper, and I have major reservations thanks to his striking lack of core strength and balance:

But then he does this:

The handle, touch, never-before-seen mind and approach produce moments that inspire certainty LaMelo is destined for greatness. Stepping back, trying to reconcile that LaMelo’s uniqueness still has to conform to the game of basketball as we understand it, there are too many monumental holes in his game to be certain of anything.

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

By far, my greatest concern with Tshiebwe derives from the processing delay he experiences on offense:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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’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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

Intellectual struggles extend to the defensive end:

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:

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.

Tier 4: Possible rotation players

Finally the 2020 class hits its stride as we reach my final tier. I’ve only ranked this group publicly to 60, but my estimate would be it extends comfortably past 100. This tier captures my favorite aspect of the 2020 Draft in the extensive forward/wing depth, but the quantity and quality of situational bigs and complementary guards deserves mention as well. This tier presents a massive opportunity for good teams to add much-needed depth at cost-controlled prices.

21. Josh Green, Wing/Off Guard, Arizona

Green is an accomplished defender both on-ball and off, standing out with strong recognition and motor:

Offensively, his most appealing trait is passing, as he can be relief upon to make correct decisions, often executing them creatively and effectively:

Shooting is Green’s most significant roadblock, and I’ll remain skeptical on him until he can prove competent enough to punish defenses and force the closeouts necessary to deploy his passing acumen.

22. Isaiah Joe, Off Guard, Arkansas

The only freshmen in NCAA history to shoot 40+% on 270+ 3-point attempts are Steph Curry, Jamal Murray, and Isaiah Joe. But there’s more to Joe than just historic shooting. He is an ingenious relocator, a shockingly physical screener, a generally intelligent player:

Joe’s greatest weakness is...his weakness. Painfully skinny, Joe is a total non-threat as a slasher and is likely generates the least rim pressure I’ve ever seen from a guard:

Ultimately, though, Joe is a special shooter and more than just a gunner. He’ll have to bulk up a ton before he’s ready for NBA minutes, but it’s hard to see his skillset not playing in the league at some point (for more on Joe, read Cole Zwicker’s fantastic piece on the Arkansas sharpshooter here).

23. Tre Jones, Initiator, Duke

Jones is a special point-of-attack defender:

At this stage, that’s only part of Jones’ game in which I feel confident. He’s careful with the ball and certainly a good passer, but I have no faith in him to pressure the defense with his scoring after posting a 48.5% true shooting on just 15.1% usage as a freshman. I worry also that Jones’ absurdly low turnover numbers (1.5 per game to 5.3 assists last year) indicate excessive cautiousness.

There is a real chance Jones has untapped scoring potential that was hidden on last year’s star-studded Duke team--he did, for instance, score well in AAU play back in 2017. That possibility keeps him comfortably in the first round for me right now, but Jones will have to prove his ability to pressure the defense as a scorer this year.

24. Amar Sylla, Big, Telenet BC Oostende

Sylla is an explosive and intelligent big who flashes perimeter skills. At this time, defense is his calling card, where he excels as a help defender, but he owns some interior skill on offense as well:

Questions stem from Sylla’s skinny frame, which enables opponents to bully him on the interior (though he often fight well with his length). Sylla’s projection relies largely upon how functional his perimeter skills prove to be. I buy value in his grab and go equity, but I’m not sure how much I can get behind his shooting or general offensive impact in the half court.

25. CJ Walker, Forward, Oregon

In AAU, Walker played as a big, allowing him to showcase his recognition and effort as an interior defender:

The role resulted in monster block numbers and highly efficient finishing, but in high school games he filled a very different role:

Playing as more of a ball-handling perimeter player, Walker demonstrated unusual handling coordination at his size, comfortability getting to his pull-up off the dribble, somewhat advanced reads as a passer, and admirable fire (he likes to dunk on people).

Transposing Walker’s different roles on to each other, you get an effective interior player with an elite motor who flashes serious perimeter skill. I want to make clear that those perimeter flashes are flashes--chiefly, the shot remains a serious question--but Walker’s combination of skills and physical traits I find highly intriguing.

26. Xavier Tillman, Big, Michigan State

Tillman is a defensive wrecking ball who will string together brilliant possessions of multiple rotations to completely shut down an opponent’s offense. Detractors will likely cite size as an impediment to Tillman’s viability as a big, but I always defer to the film, and Tillman continually beasted NBA centers:

Strength remains among the most underappreciated physical tools, and Tillman has it at an elite level. To that strength, Tillman adds adequate mobility, possible shooting development, and considerable feel for the game:

Tillman may not be a starting big in the NBA, but I imagine coaches will find themselves gravitating toward the Michigan State big man in high-leverage situations due to his smarts and all-around game.

27. Isaiah Mobley, Big, USC

Mobley is perhaps best known as the older brother of Evan, a likely top-5 pick in the 2021 Draft, but Isaiah is a very compelling prospect in his own right. Distinctive of both Mobleys is outlier skill and intelligence in gargantuan human beings:

With their AAU team, 6’10” Isaiah legitimately played point guard, and he acquitted himself well. For his size, he’s an exceptional ball-handler and passer. He projects well as a shooter, too, with sound mechanics and soft touch.

Physically, Isaiah is a mixed bag (this is where Evan sets himself apart). At times, he moves well enough, but he’s certainly not quick and lacks the bounce characteristic of the league’s best rim finishers and protectors. Isaiah compensates well with elite length, however:

I suspect Mobley might be a bit too limited to play huge minutes, but his skill, intelligence, and length should elevate him to the status of high-impact rotation big who actually carries significant value among the morass of forgettable bigs in today’s NBA.

28. Scottie Lewis, Wing, Florida

Lewis is a stifling on-ball defender on the wing, though he’s very weak, so he might be more guard stopper than true wing dominator. He is also an absurd vertical leaper with a powerful motor that produces entrancing highlights:

Virtually every other aspect of basketball is a major struggle for Lewis, however (he’s also quite old for his class). He’s a spacey off-ball defender who doesn’t impact team defense nearly enough, and his offensive decision-making is comically poor:

Consistently high free throw shooting numbers and non-horrific mechanics render Lewis a solid bet to shoot, and his guard-stopping defense does have value. He’ll benefit from a scaled back role on a stacked Florida team that should more accurately reflect his NBA future as a 3&D specialist, but he’ll have to prove he can fit in as a cog.

29. Kahlil Whitney, Forward/Wing, Kentucky

Whitney is 6’7” and long, bouncy as heck, and appears relatively likely to shoot. I am not a proponent of the mode of analysis that lists off the three or four traits a prospect has and ignores how they come together to produce an effective basketball player. Doing so would lead one to massively overrate a toolsy prospect of Whitney’s ilk, because this is how it all comes together (check out both threads for some high comedy):

Whitney’s decision-making is catastrophically horrid. His on-ball ability is further derailed by a complete inability to dribble, as he not only lacks advanced moves but routinely posts laugh out loud lowlights in which he dribbles off his own feet or simply trips into a defender.

But, he’s 6’7” and long, bouncy as heck, and appears relatively likely to shoot, and at some point those tools are worth something. To remain this high, Whitney will have to prove to me he can be helpful in a complementary role, but the tools are there.

30. Aaron Wheeler, Forward/Wing, Purdue

As one of my favorite prospects in the class, Wheeler rounds out my top 30. Wheeler brings great size at a rangey 6’9”, which he couples with eye-popping bounce:

By pairing those remarkable physical tools with solid recognition, consistent effort, and heady play, Wheeler generates value on the margins on both ends of the floor.

Wheeler’s NBA success will be a story of his shooting. On 2.4 3-point attempts per contest as a freshman, Wheeler connected at a respectable 36.5%, but his 61.3% from the free throw line leaves questions as to how real that success was. Yet Wheeler’s occasional flashes of shot versatility really excite me as to his potential as a valuable two-way wing/forward:

Wheeler must prove capable of thriving in a larger offensive role than he did during his limited but impactful freshman year, but at the moment he is one of the most overlooked prospects in the class.


This segment of Tier 4 is probably unrealistically heavy on underclassmen, but this is a notably weak returning class, and my willingness to be speculative plays a role. By June 2020, older players like Grant Riller (62nd) and Cassius Winston (65th) will most likely work their ways into my top 60, while names like Trent Forrest, Jay Huff, and Nojel Eastern are on my radar.

I’m also light on international talent here, which is a function of some guys, like Rokas Jokubaitis (64th), narrowly missing out, but also a reflection of my being slightly behind on the crop as I’ve focused on preparing for the college season. That said, I don’t believe I have any truly glaring omissions among international players. Some players I’ll be monitoring are Aleksej Pokusevski, Biram Faye, Nikita Mikhailovskii, and Maxime Carene among many others.

31. Anton Watson

32. Aaron Henry

33. Nate Hinton

34. Joe Wieskamp

35. Tyrese Haliburton

36. Kira Lewis

37. Devin Vassell

38. Darius Days

39. Keyontae Johnson

40. Trevelin Queen

41. Onyeka Okongwu

42. Bryan Antoine

43. AJ Lawson

44. Harlond Beverly

45. Mamadi Diakite

46. Vernon Carey

47. Brandon Newman

48. Jay Scrubb

49. Precious Achiuwa

50. Patrick Williams

51. Malcolm Cazalon

52. Jon Teske

53. Paul Reed

54. Saddiq Bey

55. Robert Woodard

56. Kaleb Wesson

57. Jalen Smith

58. Devon Dotson

59. Aaron Nesmith

60. Andrew Nembhard

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