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Fear the Sword 2020 NBA Draft Big Board 2.0

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Christmas time means we actually start to know things about the NBA Draft’s prospects, and that means our draft board needs updating.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at New Mexico Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers are almost assuredly going to pick around the same spot in the 2020 NBA Draft as they did in the 2019 one. Barring a stroke of luck in the draft order, or a sudden unexpected turnaround in the second half of the year, the Cavs are looking again at not being the worst team in the league, but not being far off.

That means that the team is probably going to miss out on top prospect Anthony Edwards, and instead get put into the area where the many talented point guard prospects deserve to go. That creates an obvious problem for the Cavs that we have discussed before. However, there are still good options at positions of need for the team throughout the top ten. Some of the point guard prospects have disappointed, and other players surprised, creating a more robust array of options in the middle of the top ten.

Things will continue to take shape throughout the conference season, as they do every year. Players will continue to establish themselves in the class, and that will help us narrow down who the best options are for the Cavs to take. But for now, let’s examine how the 2020 Draft class has changed since the start of the college basketball season.

Reminder: This is a general ranking of how I see the prospects in this class, unrelated to their fit in Cleveland. I will be discussing potential Cavs fits for many players throughout the board, however.

Tier 1 - Potential star level talents

1. Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia

Edwards has separated himself from Cole Anthony at the top of the board, if only as much due to Anthony’s issues as much as his own performance. Edwards is probably the only reliable top-level scoring prospect in the class, and it’s easy to see him have a path to that type of role, thanks to his pull-up shooting profile and ability to get to the rim almost at will. The issue is whether he can be the type of scorer who helps you win playoff series, or if he gives up enough elsewhere, mainly in on-ball defense and shot selection, to put a cap on your team’s ceiling. Whether Edwards is a legitimate Dwyane Wade type on offense or more of a Devin Booker variant will ultimately decide how good of a choice he is at number one.

Tier 2 - Starter-grade players with high-variance upside

2. Cole Anthony, PG, UNC

Anthony’s knee injury isn’t serious, but his play prior to the injury did create doubt about whether he’s truly the lead guard initiator type that he was projected as coming into the year. Mainly, Anthony’s finishing has been an issue, as he’s shooting just 44.1% at the rim this season. His pull-up mechanics look strong, but without competent finishing, he’s going to end up in Darius Garland no-man’s land in the NBA as teams overplay his jumper. Fortunately, Anthony does enough other things on both ends that he still projects confidently as an NBA guard.

3. LaMelo Ball, SG, Illiwarra Hawks

There’s reasonable fear about Ball’s shooting projection, but his feel for the game and instincts on the defensive end keep him this high. It’s important to remember that the deficits with Ball are potentially improvable. Shooting can be fixed, especially if the player has comfort with it. Defensive awareness does incrementally improve. The things that Ball has going for him - feel, length, touch - generally aren’t improvable. So if you’re betting on one of the players in this tier to become a star level player, Ball is a safer bet from a purely basketball perspective.

4. Isaac Okoro, PF, Auburn

Easily the best fit for the Cavs from a team-building perspective if the roster stays relatively the same moving forward. Okoro can play the three or four and he is probably the most versatile defender in the class, with the strength to battle with fives and the footwork and agility to contain guards in isolation. He’s as ideal an option as you’ll find in this class to shore up perimeter defense problems with a small and inexperienced backcourt. Many are unsure of Okoro’s offensive utility because he has pretty bad shooting indicators, but he’s a useful passer, has good touch around the rim, and has shown the ability to put the ball on the floor against a bent defense in ways that may mean his handle has development potential. If he can turn into a potential creator from the elbow in the pros, and offers the defensive capabilities he’s flashed at Auburn, that’s a pretty ideal pick-up in the middle of the top ten.

5. Tyrese Maxey, PG, Kentucky

Maxey’s cooled off after a hot start, but the defensive awareness, decision-making on offense, and rebounding skill from the guard positions are still exciting skills. There’s confidence for long-term development here even if he’s not performing at a very high level right now. Probably not a good fit for the Cavs but you could justify it, given he’s a big body who might thrive more in an off-ball role.

6. Killian Hayes, PG, ratiopharm Ulm

Of all the point guards in the class, Hayes is probably the best fit for the Cavs to pursue, thanks to his size at 6’6” and defensive versatility. Hayes makes good rotations and has shown the ability to consistently provide deflections at the Eurocup level, and his defense should improve as he continues to get stronger. Offensively he’s a little rough around the edges as a primary creator, but he has good vision and shows the ability to spot up and pull-up from three. A marriage between Hayes and Sexton or Hayes and Garland would be a little bit more palatable.

7. Deni Avdija, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv

Avdija’s performance in Euroleague games leaves a lot to be desired. But he’s one of the younger prospects in the class, and his strength appears to be the primary limiting factor. He has a great size and agility combination and he’s one of the better two-way decision-makers available. He might be more of a project than initially anticipated, but he definitely has the right attributes to confidently project that development.

8. Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona

He’s extremely fun to watch because he’s probably the best passer at the top of the draft class, but size at 6’3” kind of makes him a non-starter for Cleveland.

9. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, PF, Villanova

His last three games have nuked his shooting percentages, but Robinson-Earl is probably the most underrated prospect in the class among the mainstream outlets. With good size at the four and excellent athleticism, Robinson-Earl does a little bit of everything, whether it’s creating out of the post or the elbow, crashing the glass to the tune of 9.6 rebounds per game, or creating deflections in passing lanes by playing free safety on defense. Like most of this tier, he needs polishing, but there are several aspects to his game that figure him to be an impactful playoff rotation player in the future.

10. Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC

The hot name among draft scouting circles. Okongwu has barnstormed into the top ten by averaging 3.2 blocks per game, 12.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, and shooting 62.4% from the field, and his projected role is pretty easy to figure out and project with confidence. Bigs as springy as Okongwu with instincts as good as his on defense are likely to be at least rotation players, and there’s a chance he can get to either a Rudy Gobert level as a rim protector or Clint Capela level as a finisher. The main reason I’m less bullish on Okongwu compared to his peers is that these types of players are relatively easy to find, and he hasn’t really shown any passing, shooting, or outlier utility in perimeter defense to differentiate himself from someone like Mitchell Robinson. Okongwu is good, but he’s a rim-running big, and those are like NFL running backs. Their shelf life is always shorter than you expect and it’s easy to replace 80% of their production for 50% of the cost.

11. R.J. Hampton, SG, New Zealand Breakers

If you watched Hampton in October, you saw a player who was completely lost on the floor. Struggling to make decisions and create separation off the dribble, Hampton looked out of his league. But November Hampton was much stronger, acting much more decisively, finishing better, and really displaying the flashes of his potential on-ball utility. Of course, that month of hot play ended abruptly with an injury that sidelined him through the new year. We need more information on Hampton before committing to him in this tier.

Tier 3 - Probable Rotation players

12. Oscar Tshiebwe, C, West Virginia

A competent two-way energy big, Tshiebwe wouldn’t hurt the Cavs if they ended up picking around the back of the top-ten. He has a little bit more potential to shoot than Okongwu does, and he’s probably a better rebounder, too.

13. Romeo Weems, SF, DePaul

Weems looks like he’ll fall on the three-and-D-plus spectrum, showing some good defensive versatility and the ability to shoot off movement. If his free throw shooting stabilizes and he shows improvement as a passer, there’s probably a top ten argument for him.

14. Aaron Henry, SF, Michigan State

Weems, but with off-the-dribble scoring as his swing skill. Either of these two would be phenomenal fits for the Cavs’ rebuild if they were to buy back into the first round at the deadline.

15. Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL

Here’s where the point guard crop drops off from likely starter-level talents to players best served on bench units, at least early on. Maledon is a creative pick-and-roll scorer, but he’s probably too small to reliably do so in the halfcourt against starter talents. He’s probably best served attacking in open space at a higher pace, and there’s a definite ceiling to him as an initiation threat in ways that Mannion and Hayes don’t have.

16. Xavier Tillman, C, Michigan State

Tillman won’t wow you with any highlight plays, but he also won’t take you out of any plays with bad decisions or late reactions. Tillman is probably best served as a third big on a good team, but he can unlock a lot of options for second units thanks to his potential elbow creation skill and ability to switch on the perimeter on defense.

17. Josh Green, SG, Arizona

As much as we like to think otherwise, athletic wings who can shoot and pass don’t grow on trees, and they certainly don’t come with Green’s level of athleticism that often. There’s a certain amount you can forgive about his upper echelon skill play just due to what his athleticism covers for.

18. Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State

The weirdest prospect this year by a significant margin. Pluses: Tall, functionally athletic, brilliant passing, flexibility on defense. Cons: Avoidance of pull-up shooting, slow and more ground-bound. He’s like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s id, in both good and bad ways.

Tier 4 - What if we built the entire plane out of power forwards?

19. Kira Lewis, PG, Alabama

Lewis is a solid passer with good shooting mechanics and looks like a capable collegiate point of attack defender. He’s also 170 pounds if you’re being extremely generous.

20. Wendell Moore, SG, Duke

Defensively, Moore switches well and is great at containing drives, and looks like he might be able to defend one through three at the NBA level. Offensively, [FILE NOT FOUND]

21. Paul Reed, PF, DePaul

Reed reminds a lot of Thaddeus Young thanks to his odd ability to hit circus shots and ability to body bigger opponents despite a wispy frame. Adding strength and solidifying his corner three are the keys to him making a big impact at the NBA level.

22. Aaron Nesmith, PF, Vanderbilt

Nesmith’s shooting off screens and ability to punish mismatches are great. He doesn’t pass, which is problematic, but if you’re looking for a scoring forward off the bench, he’s the best option there’s been in a few years.

23. Killian Tillie, PF, Gonzaga

Probably a late lottery pick if you trust his health. Unfortunately there’s three years of data that show you shouldn’t do that.

24. Devin Vassell, PF, Florida State

Like Weems and Henry, Reed and Vassell have many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Vassell just isn’t as long or fluid with the ball as Reed, and that makes projecting him a little harder.

25. Patrick Williams, PF, Florida State

Williams would be a nice Cavs target as he shows great ability defending in space and protecting the rim. He also will probably be a good target in 2021 because he isn’t playing enough in a crowded Florida State frontcourt.

26. Kaleb Wesson, C, Ohio State

Hard to really argue with a dude who is built like a tank and also can shoot threes. Wesson’s NBA role is probably undefined, but someone will be able to figure him out.

27. Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis

If you buy into the idea that Achiuwa can play some five, his defensive intensity and switchability, as well as his screen-setting and finishing, become a lot more appealing.

28. Myles Powell, PG, Seton Hall

Powell’s ability to fit the “veteran leader point guard” mold while projecting well to a high-tempo NBA pick-and-roll heavy offense mean he probably should go in the first round this year, when that archetype is usually reserved for early round two.

29. Matthew Hurt, PF, Duke

Hurt hasn’t been able to stay on the floor consistently, but defensive improvement and physical maturity will make him into a good member of the Ryan Anderson spectrum of shooting fours.

30. Xavier Johnson, PG, Pittsburgh

Johnson has NBA size at 6’7” and he can shoot from outside, but his finishing troubles despite his length are pretty worrying.