There is a difference between a lottery and a bingo game.
Thursday evening, the NBA will conduct the 2020 draft lottery, in which first prize is basically a $160 pot, depending on whether Grandpa Joe pays on time.
The drafts of 2013, 2006, 2001 and 1989 will, in the coming years, have some serious competition on the list of all-time worst vintages for pro basketball prospects. It will take an extraordinary scouting team to find the rare jewels available to be selected on Oct. 16 as part of the NBA Draft class of 2020. It will take a special brand of audacity to look at this pool of players and comfortably choose one of them as the first overall pick.
That’s the job, though. At least those of us ranking the prospects won’t have to actually put them in a game.
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NBA Draft prospects 2020: Big board of top 60 players
1. Obi Toppin, 6-9 PF, Dayton
Just before the world shut down on college basketball and pretty much everything else, Toppin turned 22. That’s why elsewhere you will not see him projected as the No. 1 overall pick. But watch his tape. Look at his stats. Everything about his game screams he will be a first-rate NBA player, potentially a star. He’s got an ideal frame. He’s an A-minus athlete. There is zero question about his competitive drive. He can handle the ball in short bursts, passes effectively and is a serious 3-point threat. Anyone who thinks he’s done improving just because he’s past 20 should look at the difference between his first and second seasons at UD.
2. Anthony Edwards 6-5, G, Georgia
If you saw him in the Maui Invitational against Michigan State, you might have believed you were watching the next James Harden. That was as good as it got for Edwards. He has great size for a guard, the ability to play either backcourt position and the potential to grow into a star. He chose a program he knew would be rebuilding and got up all the shots and all the threes he wanted, and he made a meager percentage of each. There seems little doubt Edwards wants to be a player, but does he want to be a winner?
3. James Wiseman 7-1, C, Memphis
How much does Wiseman want to play? It seems to vary from game to game, and he did nothing to fortify himself in this area by walking away from the Tigers as he came close to completing a 12-game NCAA suspension, however many people there are willing to excuse his decision. But Wiseman is an elite athlete for his position. The competition he dominated in his first few college games was minimal, but not everyone wreaks that sort of destruction. His position no longer is coveted, but if he accepts coaching Wiseman could become a game-changing, Gobert-esque defender.
4. LaMelo Ball, 6-7 PG, Illawarra Hawks (NBL)
It really helps Ball to be in such a crummy draft, because the myriad concerns about him are mitigated by a simple question: Who else do you like? Ball’s pre-NBA career has been a series of cameos: Play a few games here, move along. Will he ever finish anything? Is he at all interested in competing? Watch tape on him from Australia’s NBL: Ball is making dazzling passes and his team is trailing by 30. He has elite vision as a passer, possibly in the category of Kidd, Penny or Nash. But can we judge that when he so rarely has been part of a real team for more than a few weeks? His long-range accuracy is poor; his mechanics are worse. Ball might be the most vexing NBA prospect ever. So much promise, so many concerns.
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5. Saddiq Bey, 6-8 SF, Villanova
On pure value, he is likely to be the best pick in the draft. He won’t be No. 1 overall, likely won’t be chosen in the top five and, if everyone’s asleep, could last into double-digits. Somebody smart will grab him, though, because he’s got a complete offensive package, including the ability to hit from long range off the bounce and off the catch. He is not an A-plus athlete, but neither is he lacking in that category. He does need to be more cautious with his ballhandling; his turnover numbers given his level of access to the ball were somewhat disconcerting.
6. Onyeka Okongwu, 6-9 PF, Southern California
Okongwu is an astonishing athlete for his size and, as a result, is being favorably compared to budding Heat star Bam Adebayo. Okongwu is a more imposing defender, with better length and ability as a rim protector. It’s easy to see him serving as a center in a small-ball lineup. The team that chooses him will be delighted to have him on the roster, even more so if he successfully works to extend the range on his shot. He has a nice release but gets little extension on his shot for such a dynamic player, but that won’t be a huge problem for someone who’ll generally shoot jumpers when all alone.
7. Deni Advija, 6-9 SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Euro)
In a draft featuring so few elite U.S.-based players, it would be helpful if the international group had a few Doncics or Goberts. Alas, this is probably the best player among them, and he’s someone his club barely trusted against elite competition. Advija averaged just 14 minutes in 26 Euroleague games last season. Advija can function at both forward positions, has solid strength, finishes with either hand and is an excellent passer, both in transition and as a pick/roll ballhandler. He will need to improve as a shooter to become the starting-quality forward his team will expect.
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8. Devin Vassell, 6-6 SG, Florida State
In another program, Vassell would have been an All-American last season, but he averaged only 29 minutes and 10 shots, because that’s how Leonard Hamilton does it – and he’s got two lottery picks in this draft and was 26-5 when the 2019-20 season was shut down. Vassell is the most complete shooting guard in this draft: ballhandler, shooter, defender. He won’t need volume to be effective early in his career because he never got to take a ton of shots in college. But if that becomes warranted as he advances, will he be comfortable carrying such a load?
9. Isaac Okoro, 6-6 SG, Auburn
We’ve learned not to be too harsh with elite shooters who don’t hit for great percentages in single college seasons. Bradley Beal taught everyone that a decade ago, and Devin Booker’s late-season slump at Kentucky offered a refresher course a few years later. But what about someone who hasn’t been a shooter? It’s impossible not to love Okoro’s size and dynamism. He will be, if he wants it, an overwhelming defender. To be an overwhelming player, he’ll need to become a more a proficient shooter. The mechanics are there.
10. Tyrese Haliburton, 6-5 PG, Iowa State
Can the team that drafts Haliburton resist messing with a shot that produced 52 3-pointers last season and 41.9 percent accuracy? Because the release is low on what is not far from a set shot. But he makes them, and extending that to NBA range does not look like it will be an issue. Haliburton has a great feel for his teammates’ movements and the ability to put the ball on the spot. He’s one of several big point guards in this draft and probably the best passer among them, other than LaMelo Ball.
11. Aaron Nesmith, 6-6 SF, Vanderbilt
Looking for the best shooter in the draft? It’s quite possible this is the guy. He hits from deep in a variety of ways: off the catch, a one-dribble move, a step-back. He understands how to locate openings on the perimeter and stay available for kick-outs. It’s possible Nesmith is undervalued a smidge because he didn’t finish his sophomore season – he needed surgery to repair a foot injury – and because his freshman-year team was undermanned (and horrid). Nesmith hit 52.2 percent of his threes as a sophomore, hitting seven or more four times in 14 games.
12. Patrick Williams, 6-8 PF, Florida State
Investing in Williams is going to require a lot of confidence and vision. He only played 23 minutes a game as an FSU freshman, but he showed some rare abilities when you could find him on the court. For a 19-year-old, he’s ridiculously strong, and for someone so powerful he’s absurdly dynamic. He only made 16 threes and just 32 percent of his attempts, but his shot looks like the work of someone who can grow into proficiency. Williams will be one of the players most impacted by the absence of an NCAA Tournament and NBA Summer League; each would have presented the opportunity for him to play, to play a bigger role and to accelerate his development into a top pro.
13. Tyrese Maxey, 6-3 PG, Kentucky
Maxey impressed as part of a three-guard shutdown crew that dominated the final 8 minutes of UK’s last 20 games, consistently making smart decisions with the ball and connecting on clutch free throws. He did not get a ton of opportunities to be the team’s point guard because Ashton Hagans was the incumbent when Maxey arrived. Maxey got the chance when Hagans took the season-ender at Florida as a day off, and he looked comfortable reading pick-and-rolls and attacking substandard defending. He did not shoot well that day but did produce seven assists. It may take a bit, but Maxey can be a starting point guard.
14. Precious Achiuwa, 6-9 PF, Memphis
When Wiseman was suspended and then chose to pack it in, so much of a burden at both ends was placed on Achiuwa, but he is powerful enough to carry such a load. If big men no longer are quite as coveted as they once were in the league, big guys who can move like this still are viewed as assets. Achiuwa is physically overwhelming, has a keen understanding of how to control the boards and can reject shots like a 7-footer. He has some potential as a perimeter shooter, although he’ll have to make subtle improvements as an offensive player on the baseline and block and dramatic improvements at the free throw line, where he failed to crack 60 percent.
15. Killian Hayes, 6-5 PG, Ulm (Bundesliga)
Hayes is a lefty playmaker (and, as one expert on international hoops said to me, only a lefty). Hayes prefers not to attack the right side and, when he does, rarely attempts to finish with his off hand. He has excellent vision and averaged 6.2 assists in 10 EuroCup games this season, 5.3 in 20 games in Germany’s Bundesliga. He is not yet a dangerous or comfortable deep shooter, hitting only 29.4 percent in all competitions last season. He scored 10 points as France was annihilated by the U.S. in the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup gold medal game, sharing a backcourt with fellow prospect Theo Maledon.
16. Kira Lewis Jr., 6-3 PG, Alabama
Lewis has a chance to be an exceptional backcourt defender. He has quick hands, reads ballhandlers’ intentions beautifully, is alert enough to anticipate screens and tough enough to fight through when necessary. He improved dramatically as a distributor in his first season playing for Nate Oats, nearly doubling his assists per game to 5.2. He has room for improvement as a deep shooter.
17. Cole Anthony, 6-3 PG, North Carolina
Anthony’s most promising quality is how much better he made Carolina when available. The second most is how determinedly he worked to make himself available after an injury interrupted his freshman season. Anthony is a score-first ballhandler, somewhat similar to Cleveland’s Collin Sexton but without the extra gear. To become an NBA starter will require more proficiency as a distributor; in his defense, playing on a poor team meant Anthony almost always was the best available option. That also impacted his shot selection and efficiency. He wants to win, and he has a solid understanding of the game. But he needs the experience of playing with great players against great competition.
18. Jalen Smith, 6-10 PF, Maryland
Smith has the potential to be one of the few steals of this draft. He entered college with the descriptive nickname “Sticks”, then, because it was best for the team, functioned entirely as a center in a league full of high-quality big men. Never complained publicly once about playing “out of position.” He might have trouble holding that ground against NBA bigs, but it’s not out of the question for him to cover two positions. He is very comfortable as a pick-and-pop shooter (.368 on threes, 32 makes as a soph) and can protect the rim. He’s a bit upright, rigid, which leaves some scouts less enthusiastic.
19. Isaiah Stewart, 6-9 C, Washington
Stewart is supposed to be the kind of player who is out of style in the NBA, but do you want to tell him that? He’ll rebound, defend along the baseline and has the feet to excel in pick-and-roll coverage, although he’ll have some catching up to do there because of UW’s preference for zone defense. Stewart has a wide variety of post moves based as much on his dexterity as his physical power, and though he can score on jump-hooks and duck-unders, he also will step back into a face-up jumper when it’s available.
20. RJ Hampton, 6-5 PG, NZ Breakers (NBL)
Hampton is being presented as a point guard prospect, but in 17 games last season he averaged only 2.5 assists. He has excellent size for the position, is a fine athlete and plays comfortably with the ball, but he did not shoot well from any distance, even the foul line. It will be interesting to see how playing in Australia’s NBL at 18 impacts his development.
21. Theo Maledon, 6-4 PG, ASVEL
22. Jahmi’us Ramsey, 6-4 PG/SG, Texas Tech
23. Xavier Tillman, 6-8 PF, Michigan State
24. Devon Dotson, 6-2 PG, Kansas
25. Tyrell Terry, 6-1 PG, Stanford
26. Vernon Carey Jr., 6-10 PF, Duke
27. Robert Woodard II, 6-7 F, Mississippi State
28. Josh Green, 6-6 SG, Arizona
29. Aleksej Pokusevski, 7-0 C, Olympiakos B
30. Daniel Oturu, 6-11 C, Minnesota
31. Desmond Bane, 6-5 SG, TCU
32. Nico Mannion, 6-3 PG, Arizona
33. Cassius Winston, 6-1 PG, Michigan State
34. Cassius Stanley, 6-6 SG, Duke
35. Tre Jones, 6-3 PG, Duke
36. Zeke Nnaji, 6-11 C, Arizona
37. Grant Riller, 6-3 PG, Charleston
38 Jaden McDaniels, 6-9 SF, Washington
39. Udoka Azubuike, 7-0 C, Kansas
40. Leandro Bolmaro, 6-8 SF, Barcelona
41. Tyler Bey, 6-8 F, Colorado
42. Reggie Perry, 6-10 PF, Mississippi State
43. Payton Pritchard, 6-2 PG, Oregon
44. Malachi Flynn, 6-1 PG, San Diego State
45. Nick Richards, 6-11 C, Kentucky
46. Immanuel Quickley, 6-2 PG, Kentucky
47. Killian Tillie, 6-10 PF, Gonzaga
48. Yam Madar, 6-2 PG, Hapoel Tel Aviv
49. Karim Mane, 6-4 G, Vanier College HS
50. Sam Merrill, 6-5 SG, Utah State
51. Isaiah Joe, 6-5 SG, Arkansas
52. Skylar Mays, 6-4 SG, Louisville
53. Jordan Nwora, 6-7 F, Louisville
54. Elijah Hughes, 6-6 SF, Syracuse
55. Paul Reed, 6-9 PF, DePaul
56. Abdoulaye N’Doye, 6-7 F, Cholet
57. Filip Petrusev, 6-11 C, Gonzaga
58. Ty-Shon Alexander, 6-4 SG, Creighton
59. Lamar Stevens, 6-8 F, Penn State
60. Kenyon Martin Jr., 6-7 SF, IMG Academy