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Fear the Sword 2020 NBA Draft Big Board 3.0

The middle of the first round is settling, but the top of the draft is as unsettled as ever.

NCAA Basketball: Portland at Southern California Kirby Lee-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 the Cavs are likely to miss out on the top pick, and this year, it’s seeming more and more like that’s actually not a bad thing. Perceived top pick Anthony Edwards has turned into a pumpkin in conference play, and that has left a void at the top of what’s become a very busy but uninspiring top tier. At least six players have a deserving shot at the top overall pick now, and that doesn’t include the uninspiring James Wiseman, who surely now will ride good counting stats into a top-five selection.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t good value at the top of the draft, though, and the Cavs can easily get better in this draft if they make a smart decision. There are just looking like there are several traps along the way. To try to help you make sense of who those top targets should be, here is our updated NBA Draft big board.

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 0: Potential star level talents

This tier is on hiatus for now, given there aren’t any confirmed star level talents this year. Someone will get there, at least one player always does. But this is very much shaping up into another “Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, and Victor Oladipo” type draft like 2013.

Tier 1: Starter-grade players with high-variance upside

1. Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia

Edwards’s performance has somewhat cratered in SEC play, as he’s shooting just 30.8% from three and his defense has completely fallen off a cliff. Outside of the first half against Tennessee and the second half against Kentucky, it’s been pretty bleak in terms of hise decision-making and shot selection. Edwards is still 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.

2. 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. However, that is never the only aspect to focus on with him, and shutting down from NBL play adds further off-court questions.

3. 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. He’s becoming my favorite Cavs option at the top of the draft, due to his pretty ideal fit with both Sexton and Garland and the upside that he can become a legitimate primary initiator.

4. 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.

5. Isaac Okoro, PF, Auburn

Easily one of the best fits 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.

6. Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC

Okongwu has barnstormed into the top ten by averaging 3.0 blocks per game, 12.1 rebounds per 40 minutes, and shooting 61.7% 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. He’s also started to show some shooting and face-up value, which could open up a new level for his offensive game. That’s the biggest reason he’s moved up a tier from last time, and the fact that he’d be an instant salvage to the Cavs’ defense is a big bonus.

Tier 2: Probable starter-caliber players

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. You can see that in his performance in the Israeli League, where he is averaging 10.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. He might be more of a project than initially anticipated, but he definitely has the right attributes to confidently project that development, and even if he’s just a Cedi variant, that’s the type of player you want multiple of.

8. Tyrese Maxey, PG, Kentucky

Maxey’s continued to struggle 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; that’s basically the same argument we’re using for Edwards. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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, and he’s still very much getting his legs back.

11. Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State

The weirdest prospect this year by a significant margin. He’s tall, long, and plays with a quirky style that helps him get to the rim well despite mediocre athleticism. It’s still a question of how well he’ll shoot at the NBA level, but he’s proven enough on both ends to deserve lottery consideration. He’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s id, in both good and bad ways.

Tier 3: Probable Rotation players

12. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, PF, Villanova

Robinson-Earl is probably the most underrated prospect in the class among the mainstream outlets. With good size at the four and functional 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 9.8 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.

13. 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.

14. 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. He 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.

15. Aaron Henry, SF, Michigan State

A phenomenal fit for the Cavs’ rebuild if they traded back into the first round or picked up another pick, Henry is capable of executing as a passer and cutter, can shoot, and is one of the better perimeter defenders in the class.

16. Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State

Slowly creeping up the board due to his defensive instincts as a rim protector and his dynamite outside shooting. The bevy of three-and-D wings in the middle of this class is pretty exciting, and Vassell is emerging as perhaps the best two-way option among them.

Tier 4: Weirdness

This is a tier of players who for better or worse are atypical and outside traditional roles. Expect at least one of these guys to hit in a big way by overcoming or utilizing their athletic oddities.

17. 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.

18. 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 first round. He has a little bit more potential to shoot than Okongwu does.

19. Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL

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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

Tier 5: Potential rotation players

22. 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]

23. Jaden McDaniels, SF, Washington

One of the worst finishers for his size in college basketball, McDaniels probably isn’t a high level scoring prospect like some see him as. But he could be of use if a team buys into the idea of him as an off-ball weapon and defensive contributor, where he’s much more impactful.

24. 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 doesn’t play big minutes but it’s more Zach Collins syndrome, due to the number of bodies Florida State has than anything else.

25. 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.

26. Landers Nolley, SF, Virginia Tech

Nolley has been very outmatched playing as a four for the Hokies, but he has one of the most impressive jumpers in the class, and he’s going to fare much better in NBA space as a full time wing.

27. Obi Toppin, PF, Dayton

Toppin is insanely productive, and a legitimately great college scorer. But that’s about all he does at an NBA level, and it’s doubtful he gets enough scoring load to matter at the next level.

28. James Wiseman, C, Memphis

The NBA size and play finishing are great tools, but I’m down on his defense because of his lack of flexibility and instincts in space. There just isn’t much inspiring about Wiseman’s game if you’re picking where the Cavs are picking.

29. 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. He has to do it more consistently though to get back into lottery consideration.

30. 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.