With the NBA Draft on the horizon, November 18th to be exact, it’s time for us to dive in on the potential lottery picks, potential sleepers, and see if this draft class has a superstar in it. I am sure many of you are already set for who you want on your teams and who will be a hit and who will be a bust, so I’m here to either reinforce those opinions or change them. Let’s get right into it.
Now, as many of us have realized, there is no consensus number 1 overall pick. There is no Zion Williamson this year or even a Cade Cunningham coming up next year. Some have Anthony Edwards, others have James Wiseman or LaMelo Ball. Heck, even Onyeka Okongwu’s name has been a fast riser lately. So there is no real safe prediction. In the end, it could all come down to preference and team need. But, for now at least, I don’t have to worry about controlling an organization so I can make my board based on what players I like the most. So here are my first half picks of the 2020 NBA lottery:
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- Anthony Edwards – Edwards, a 6’ 5” guard out of Georgia averaging nearly 20 points and 5 rebounds on 40% from the field, is the likely #1 pick and he is mine too. Even though there are some holes to his game that may prevent him from fulfilling his potential, his upside is tough to ignore. He is easily one of the best shot creators in this class with great athleticism and strength. He’s also good at getting to the bucket due to his size and speed, making him very hard to stop. However, he struggles on defense since he has a tough time closing out on shooters and gets caught loafing around. But, thankfully for him and the team that drafts him, there is hope as coaching and more effort from Edwards can elicit improvement. Shot selection is another problem, but with age and maturity, it is something that can be improved.
- Onyeka Okongwu – Coming out of USC at 19 years of age, Okongwu is a name that has flown up many rankings including mine. Standing at 6’ 10” and averaging 16 points, close to 9 rebounds, 2.7 blocks a game, and an impressive 62% efficiency from the field, he is one of the brightest players in this class. He is immensely versatile on defense and moves really well for a big. He is an excellent shot-blocker and can provide rim protection while also being a good athlete, finisher at the rim, and a great option in the pick and roll. However, he needs to get a bit stronger and improve his decision making, especially regarding fouls and biting on fakes.
- Deni Avdija – Deni is an interesting one. The 6’ 9”, 19 year old may be a high lottery pick or could end up falling to the middle of the pack. Personally, I think he is great and will help any team that picks him. He is coming over from the gritty Euroleague averaging 12 points with 6 rebounds on above average efficiency. He is a good passer and can create for himself and his teammates. He is fast in transition and has great off-the-ball skills put together with a solid iso and post game. All of this is great, but he must increase his strength and his lateral quickness.
- LaMelo Ball – Ball might be the most intriguing and polarizing player in this draft class. Until recently, he was my #1 pick, but he has slipped for me and others. Some reports have surfaced that he is not doing well in interviews with the NBA teams. Now, that may be a smokescreen for him to slip all the way down to my Knicks. Conspiracy you say? Shhh. But in all seriousness, he has the tools to become a great player. He averaged a 17/7.6/7 statline over in Australia, but with low efficiency due to his questionable shot selection. With that said, he is a very smart player, a skilled passer who plays great in the pick and roll, possesses an elaborate handle package, and has a great feel for the game. The knock on Ball is his porous defense, which can be fixed, but will likely be exploited early on.
- Jalen Smith – I know, I know. Jalen Smith? At #5?? Yes, Jalen Smith at #5. He probably won’t go this high come November 18th, but he should. The 20 year old, 6’ 10” forward is coming into this draft out of Maryland averaging 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds with nearly 2.5 blocks a game on great efficiency from the field. He also drains close to 40% from 3! He is a great rim protector, displayed by the 2.4 blocks a game, while also being a very agile and athletic player. He can dribble the ball well, which allows him to score score via the drive. He is a threat in the pick and roll and can be a very good floor spacer. Rebounding and boxing out are another great aspect of his game that feed into his rim protection ability. He is also a very good defender, not only inside but on the perimeter. His lateral quickness allows him to hold his own against players of smaller size that may be fast and he also has the ability to defend in space if he gets pulled out. However, his strength needs to be addressed as with many other prospects. He is also not the best passer and does not possess the creativity that others may have.
- James Wiseman – The 7’ 1” center that only played a handful of games for Memphis last season is a tantalizing option. He seems to have the tools and potential to someday be one of, if not, the best player on the team he is on. But will he? Many have him being drafted at #1 and, in all seriousness, he might actually find himself in Minnesota after going first overall (unless the Wolves trade down, which they might). His game is good, potentially even great, but some of the holes in his game drag him down. Let’s start with what makes him good though. For the few games that he played he averaged a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds on exceptional efficiency (76.9%)! He is a great athlete and has good size and agility. He is a good runner which makes him dangerous in transition, rebounds well at both ends of the floor, and blocked 3 shots per game. Now for the bad. He picks up dumb fouls and has limitations on defense. He does not have great lateral quickness, which makes him susceptible to the pick-and-roll and switching onto perimeter ball handlers. Playmaking is also not his strong suit and he has questionable shot selection. Overall, he’s a great prospect and will likely end up going in the top 3, but for me, that’s too high.
- Tyrese Haliburton – Coming out of Iowa State, standing at 6’ 5”, Tyrese may arguably be the best guard in this class. He averaged a 15.9/5.9/6.5 statline in college coupled with a steal per game. He shot the ball incredibly well at 50.4% and was lights out from behind the arc, one of the better aspects of his game. He is also very athletic and a good playmaker that can be the focal point of the team and grow into the leader. He is very versatile at his height, allowing him to guard many positions and is a very smart player overall. Although his defense and isolation play will need improvement, Haliburton will be an enticing option for many teams.
Now for some players that may slip in the draft. Three players really stand out to me and could prove to be great value for whatever team takes them:
- Precious Achiuwa – Precious may be exactly what his name says… A Precious asset to a team. Ah, come on. Allow that! Anyway, coming out of college standing at 6’ 9” , Achiuwa averaged a double-double on 49% shooting. He is a versatile and athletic player that can finish at the rim and be explosive. He also has a good handle and a great motor, which allows him to clean the glass and run the floor well. However, his shooting is inconsistent and he has to work on his playmaking and turnovers. Nonetheless, he is someone I am going to keep an eye on.
- Saddiq Bey – Just to clear the air right off the bat, Saddiq Bey does not scream superstar. But, and this is a big but, he is a player that every team would want. He can slot in right away and do a plethora of jobs. He is versatile defender, possesses a high basketball IQ, has size, and displays good lateral quickness. He is engaged off the ball and is great at drawing charges (move over Kyle Lowry). He has a good 3-point shot, converting 45% of his attempts, and is a great decision maker, which feeds into his ability to create for teammates. In addition, Bey has an excellent motor. On the flip side, though, he does not have a good first step and struggles to create space for himself in one on one situations. Overall, the team that gets him should thank their lucky stars.
- Aleksej Pokusevski – Aleksej might be the definition of boom or bust. He can be an absolute star or out of the league. It all depends on how he works and develops. He is a seven foot, 18 year old that plays overseas in Greece for Olympiakos and for the Serbian national team. In the A2 league of Greece he averaged an 11/8/3 statline with 2 blocks a game. His height and length are his biggest strengths, which allow him to be a great shot stopper. He also moves extremely well for a seven-footer. If you see him barrelling down the court, you will be impressed by his fluid movements and good ball handling abilities. Having a good handle allows him to execute plays for his teammates, making him a good facilitator. But, the one glaring hole is that at seven feet, he only weighs 200-210 pounds. He is going to have to add weight and muscle if he wants to hang in the big leagues. He may also be a defensive liability on the perimeter, but that can be fixed with improved defensive footwork and lateral quickness.
In about a week we will know where all these rookies land and how different the NBA may look. There aren’t many players here that can come in and have a huge impact immediately, but there are some gems that we will have to familiarize ourselves with, as they will stick around in the league for a long time. Good luck to all your teams out there. Can’t wait for draft night!!
For more, you could check out the Overtime Zone podcast available on Spotify as well as Apple Podcasts and other podcast platforms for a longer depth NBA Draft episode that should be out by the time you’re reading this.