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COVID-19 is about to make the 2020 NBA Draft unlike anything we’ve seen before

How do you make the right draft decision about players you can’t meet with or watch in person, for a draft that may not even happen?

NCAA Basketball: Alcorn State at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NBA Draft was already projecting to be chaotic. A vacuum at the top created by the lack of true superstar talent was a known problem, as was the fact that several first round prospects had their seasons cut short. LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton both elected to play in the Australian League, then had injuries and cut their seasons short. James Wiseman got absolutely screwed by the NCAA and left school after playing just three college games. Tyrese Haliburton broke his hand. Aaron Nesmith broke his foot. And early exciting prospects like Cole Anthony and Paul Reed watched their teams just completely implode in a comedy of errors during conference play. This draft class was already weird, kind of bad, and needed a lot more information during the scouting process to unveil the best options for NBA teams.

And now, all of those other opportunities have evaporated. The coronavirus outbreak has cancelled the NCAA Tournament, a chance for us to see how prospects match up on a big stage. It’s also all but eliminated the opportunity for NBA teams to scout players on a one-on-one basis, with the all but official cancelling of the NBA Draft Combine and individual workouts. And the biggest question of all still looms: When will the Draft happen? We don’t even know how the NBA season will end, much less how the draft and free agency will be impacted after that is resolved.

What we’re left with is a partial sample of the college or international regular season for most players, the prognosis of a bad draft, and no idea when that draft will happen.

The impacts on this draft will be felt across the board. It will particularly impact Ball, Hampton and Wiseman, who were all banking on gearing up for workout season to solidify their draft stocks. Teams have had very limited chances to see each of them, and that is likely to create a huge error bar between different teams on how they’re perceived. Wiseman is probably helped most, as his weaknesses have certainly not been fully exposed, and a team that can’t scout him further may just look at his college production and physical tools think that’s enough to pick him.

It will also likely help players like Jaden McDaniels and Obi Toppin, who have either pedigree from high school or excellent, established athleticism. A player like McDaniels who was a top recruit may be forgiven for his college flaws by name recognition without the opportunity to really test his largest issues against similar NBA athletes in a combine or workout setting. Meanwhile, without the ability to gauge the athleticism of the class as a whole, obvious plus athletes like Toppin are likely to benefit as well.

The losers are pretty obvious. Plus athletes or small-college players who didn’t produce in college or flew under the radar now don’t get a chance to get discovered. That probably negatively impacts the draft stock of a guy like Grant Riller of College of Charleston, or someone who doesn’t already have a mainstream profile but has good NBA odds like Jeremiah Robinson-Earl of Villanova. In reality, that isn’t that many draft prospects, but it is a huge problem for the rest of the scouting complex, as teams are going to really have a difficult time filling out Summer League rosters or finding training camp invitees. It’s not going to necessarily be your Brandon Clarkes who aren’t going to get found. It’s your Torrey Craigs, your Matthew Dellavedovas, or your Alfonzo McKinnies who may not get the opportunity to earn their NBA spot.

Picking this draft class to find the bright spots wasn’t going to be easy as is, but now, it’s even more difficult for NBA teams to do. This draft is probably really going to show just how good your scouting department is, and any positives unearthed even within the top ten are going to probably be a credit to the scouting work done by front offices with limited resources and opportunities. This year more than any other, mock drafts are probably useless, because every team’s board is going to look different, and that could create some very wild swings in actual draft position that deviate from the consensus. The question will be whether those swings are going to look genius, or look dumbfounding five years down the road.