The NBA Draft is in a weird spot right now. With no clear path forward to resuming the NBA season, the draft is also in flux, given that it relies on a finalizing of standings to determine the order of picks. We have no idea whether there is even going to be a finish to the regular season or not, much less playoffs. Anticipating how anything is going to work after all of that is basically impossible.
However, the draft is basically the only thing going on in the NBA right now, unless you’re REALLY invested in watching players face off in NBA 2K. Since we don’t know what the draft process is going to look like, things are proceeding business as usual in terms of players making declaration decisions in advance of the original April 26 deadline. Most of the predictable suspects have declared, with only two real prospects returning to school: Scottie Lewis of Florida and Oscar Tshiebwe of West Virginia.
The NBA has also laid out some interesting guidelines for the process given the coronavirus outbreak. Teams will hold virtual meetings with players instead of bringing them in for individual workouts, drastically altering a staple of the draft process. Teams also have limited access to prospects, with four hours of contact allowed per week, and the largest meeting event, the NBA Draft Combine, getting cancelled. That’s going to really put the screws to certain teams’ scouting departments, making them rely on the legwork done during the regular season.
For those of us scouting from home, though, the lack of distractions like “NBA games” and “work and social events” has allowed for some elite level tape grinding. But unfortunately, this class remains tough to project due to its weakness, and there still isn’t much clarity on things, even who the number one prospect is. The top tier still has four players in it, all of whom might not have been in our second tier last season. I will continue to bang the drum that there is still talent here, but it’s a much thinner class than we’re used to, and even if the Cleveland Cavaliers pick in the top 3, expectations really need to be tempered for whoever they bring in.
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: Starter-grade players with high-variance upside
1. 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, even if he didn’t hit at an elite level this year. He’s becoming my favorite Cavs option at the top of the draft, due to his pretty ideal fit with both Collin Sexton and Darius Garland and the upside that he can become a legitimate primary initiator. And in terms of the overall class, Hayes represents both the safest bet to be a high end rotation player in three years, and the player with the most reasonable upside towards becoming an elite ball-handler, even if he’s on a longer time table than someone like Anthony Edwards.
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. For all of his technical issues, Ball consistently provided impactful, winning plays on the offensive end for Illiwarra. 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. Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia
Edwards’s performance cratered in SEC play, as he shot just 29.4% from three and his defense has completely fallen off a cliff. But still, he’s the only player in this draft that you can confidently project to being a future 20-point per game scorer at the next level. Edwards’s shot selection has been pretty bad this year, but he was also THE guy for the Bulldogs, and was not well reigned in by his coaches. Surround him with other scorers who will demand both possessions and the creation of looks from him, and Edwards may still be able to grow into a serviceable top option, given that he has every trick in the bag in terms of isolation scoring and getting to the rim. He’s a big body at 6’5” and 225 pounds, and it’s likely he’d be able to play some three next to Sexland and Kevin Porter Jr. The issue of too many mouths to feed is a significant risk with Edwards, but he might be the guy who forces a pecking order for the young guys in terms of scoring load if the Cavs take him.
4. Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC
Okongwu is a legitimate top-five prospect, even if he fits a traditionally low-value archetype of rim-rolling big man. Okongwu averaged 2.7 blocks per game, 11.3 rebounds per 40 minutes, and shot 61.6% 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. He’s not really a Cavs option if Andre Drummond sticks around long-term, but if that isn’t the case, he’s a good long-term option.
Tier 2: Probable starter-caliber players
5. Deni Avdija, SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Avdija’s performance lacks if you just watched his Euroleague action, but if you take his entire body of work into account, his projection is much more promising. Avdija was routinely the last resort for the Maccabi Tel Aviv offense, and his shot-creation ability, while still rough around the edges, progressed by leaps and bounds as the season went on. If his shot continues to come around and he’s this aggressive with the ball, he’s certainly a top-five prospect in the class, with an argument to go higher in the right situation. 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 Osman variant, that’s the type of player you want multiple of on your roster.
6. Cole Anthony, PG, UNC
Anthony still has a shot at being a primary creator at the NBA level, but his one major flaw needs to be addressed before that can happen. He finished the year shooting 53.6% at the rim, a subpar number, and was worse for much of the year in the half court despite a late uptick. His pull-up shooting has been great, but not good enough to break college defenses in the way someone like Trae Young can. And while it’s not entirely his fault, the fact that he was not a steadying hand in UNC’s continued tragic comedy of close losses in conference play does raise questions. He’s still a valuable prospect because of the shooting and his legitimately good team defense, and if the finishing comes around I do believe he could end up as the best player in the class. But that’s a tough ask with his frame, and he’s one of the older prospects in the freshman class.
7. Tyrese Maxey, SG, Kentucky
The conversation about Maxey being a point guard is probably settled based on his college sample. His passing just isn’t at the level it would need to be for him to take on a huge creation load at the next level, as he routinely missed reads and struggled with game speed throughout conference play. He appears to be much better suited to a scoring off-ball guard, who wins on secondary self-creation, catch-and-shoots and fast break opportunities next to a true number one scorer. He’s probably going to fill a similar role to Collin Sexton at the NBA level (For the record, that’s a guy with point guard skills who is best served off ball), but with a better frame and more advanced defensive profile that will likely allow him to be more successful in a winning environment.
8. R.J. Hampton, SG, New Zealand Breakers
One of the toughest players to peg on the board due to the lack of a formal pre-draft process. Hampton had an up-and-down season in New Zealand that ended early, and it would have been nice to see how he progressed in his time working out on his own in the NBA Draft Combine setting. Few prospects grew as much as Hampton did from October to January, and while there’s reason to be skeptical of his creation ability, his touch, change-of-direction athleticism, and passing are all pretty exciting. He is still very raw in a lot of aspects, especially on defense, but there’s certainly long-term potential to buy if his shooting stabilizes or if his handle improves to make his shiftiness more useful. Hampton’s one of the more high-variance prospects in the top tiers of the class, but there’s enough untapped potential here to buy in on that you can justify having him over some of the more safe options you’ll see below.
9. Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State
Vassell has continued to rocket up the board thanks to his well-rounded profile. He leaves you with the feeling of “That’s definitely an NBA role player on a good team,” and there are only a few of those guys in this class right now. Finding a big wing that can shoot off the catch and is a phenomenal weakside team defender is one of the hardest things to do in any draft, and Vassell is one of those guys. He’s a very obvious fit for a lot of teams at the top of the draft, but none more so than the Cavs, who have a dire need for this type of player in their rotation.
10. 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 score at the NBA level, but he’s proven enough on both ends to deserve lottery consideration. He’s probably best served as a taller George Hill type who can dictate an offense but is mostly deferring to a primary initiator, and he is one of the better fits for the Cavs among the point guards due to his size and facilitator-first mentality. If you’re going to have two undersized scoring guards in the rotation, having your third guard be Lonzo Ball-light isn’t the worst idea.
Tier 3: Probable Rotation players
11. 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’s defensive versatility is legitimately good, and you can easily buy in to him having some offensive utility as a passer and finisher out of spot-up situations. But as the season dragged on, his shooting never even showed signs of progressing and his defensive profile started to show cracks. He didn’t make the same types of consistent off-ball reads that we saw flashes of in non-conference, and his size really did start to become an issue in terms of his ability to switch up positions. Okoro is still a good defensive prospect with a high ceiling, but he’s not the sure thing that he looked like early on. And if that is the case, his offensive weaknesses become much, much more glaring.
12. 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. Even if he never fully harnesses it, Green projects at minimum as a Corey Brewer-style “excellent athlete who sticks around because he can sometimes do skill work.”
13. 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, or grows enough as a defender and shooter, to be really impactful at the next level. But still, he’s talented enough that he’ll stick in the league, and it’s hard to drop him too much further than this at this point. It’s hard to really put a ton of stock in a less athletic Marvin Bagley who is three years older than Bagley was at the time of the draft.
14. 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, and that really puts a damper on confidence that he’ll finish or defend at an NBA level. But if you’re going to bet on one of the small guards in this class, take the guy who gives consistent good effort on defense and has shown indicators that he can actually finish at the rim consistently.
15. Saddiq Bey, SF, Villanova
Another 6’8” wing who is good at a lot of things, Bey gets extra points for his quirky skill set, which includes a bullying post game and the ability to cut off driving lanes on closeouts better than just about anybody in the class.
16. Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
He’s extremely fun to watch because he’s probably the guy with the most flair as a passer at the top of the draft class, but size at 6’3” kind of makes him a non-starter for Cleveland, especially because he has the same issues with finishing as Anthony, and doesn’t even try to get to the rim.
17. Aaron Nesmith, PF, Vanderbilt
Nesmith’s shooting off screens and ability to punish mismatches are great. He doesn’t pass, which is problematic, but he owns the “best shooter in the draft” label, and he’s likely to be a pretty decent defender for his role, too.
18. 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.
19. 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, although I will concede that like Toppin, size and athleticism are probably going to dictate him sticking in the league for awhile.
20. Desmond Bane, SF, TCU
Bane’s 3-and-D skill set also probably dictates that he will be in the league for awhile. He’s a talented shooter who can handle the ball a bit, and is one of the smarter decision-makers with the ball among the wings. He also has a good amount of defensive versatility, able to switch well onto guards and function as an excellent off-ball role player.
Tier 4: Swing players with large boom/bust potential
21. Tyrell Terry, PG, Stanford
A Darius Garland variant, Terry is pretty small but is a dynamic pull-up shooter in the halfcourt and can run transition opportunities pretty well. He is a solid long-term point guard prospect who could turn out as one of those late-first round sleepers that props the class up.
22. 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. He’s another player who, like Vassell and Avdija, has only gotten better as the season goes on.
23. 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. Without off-ball shooting, which is a weakness too, it’s hard to see him making a dent in the league if he’s not an on ball point guard.
24. 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.
25. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, PF, Villanova
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 9.5 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 if things break right.
Tier 5: Potential rotation players
26. Grant Riller, PG, College of Charleston
Few guards in the class are as creative scorers as Riller, who overcomes his lack of elite athleticism with excellent finishing touch and crafty ball moves to get to the rim. He’s probably a valuable bench scoring guard, but it’s unclear whether he’s a good enough passer to ever be a starter.
27. Killian Tillie, PF, Gonzaga
If Tillie can stay reliably healthy, he has a role as a stretch four in the future. But there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that he won’t stay healthy.
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. 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.
30. Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Jones is a great decision-maker, but he doesn’t inspire confidence that he’s an NBA athlete. As good as he could be as a two-way point of attack option, his lack of vertical pop and strength limit him.
31. Jalen Smith, PF, Maryland
Rim protectors who can shoot find spots, even if Smith’s going to be very limited outside of those two skills.
32. Leandro Bolmaro, SF, Barcelona
Bolmaro’s playmaking at the four and defensive talent are really interesting, but he has to get stronger.
33. Tyler Bey, SF. Colorado
Bey’s do-everything statistical profile is intriguing in theory, but too often these guys struggle to have the same impact in the NBA.
34. Devon Dotson, PG, Kansas
A really talented defensive off-ball guard who would be a lottery pick if he were 6-4 instead of 6-2.
35. 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.
Tier 6: The Rest
36. Precious Achiuwa, PF, Memphis
Really only valuable as a small-ball five, Achiuwa’s decision-making and lack of shooting are glaring holes for his role.
37. Matthew Hurt, PF, Duke
Stronger Ryan Anderson without the touch.
38. Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech
Dion Waiters thinks Ramsey has bad shot selection. The highs are pretty high, but most of the time he’s just not an NBA player.
39. Jared Butler, PG, Baylor
Has the strongest handle in the class, but that’s about it.
40. Aleksej Pokushevski, PF, Olympiacos
Getting plenty of press as a first round talent, but he’s not an NBA athlete and he hasn’t proven that he’s going to be able to finish at the NBA level.
41. Robert Woodard, SF, Mississippi State
A good athlete who can shoot and has some rim protection ability, but feels more like a G-League stat-stuffer than an NBA wing.
42. Keyontae Johnson, SF, Florida
Your typical college wing who contributes in many ways at the college level, but doesn’t have any NBA-level skills that would indicate a real role off the bench.
43. Malachi Flynn, PG, San Diego State
A sound playmaker and good shooter, but like so many other guards in this class, he’s undersized and not a good enough athlete. Fill in this spot with Cassius Winston, Markelle Johnson, or Markus Howard if you prefer.
44. Isaiah Joe, SG, Arkansas
One of the best shooters in the class, but he’s really limited as a playmaker and driver.
45. Isaiah Livers, SF, Michigan
Probably undersized for the role he’d play in the NBA, but he’s strong enough and a good enough shooter that he may be able to find a fit as a small-ball four.
46. Cassius Stanley, SG, Duke
A very good athlete with some transition potential, ball-handling and shooting issues will likely make his ceiling a Derrick Jones Jr. variant.
47. Romeo Weems, SF, DePaul
Weems has some intrigue as a 3-and-D type, but is probably too raw to bank on getting there.
48. Kaleb Wesson, C, Ohio St
A mountain of a man who can shoot threes off the catch is an interesting recipe for success. But his inconsistencies throughout the year cast doubt on how well he’ll translate to the next level.
49. Vernon Carey Jr., C, Duke
If Carey was a legitimate 7-foot, he’d project a little better with his antiquated skill set and poor defensive awareness.
50. Daniel Oturu, C, Minnesota
A black hole offensive big who doesn’t shoot or protect the rim well enough.
51. Amar Sylla, SF, Oostende
A project defensive wing who has little to no offensive utility if his handle doesn’t improve.
52. Joel Ayayi, SG, Gonzaga
A good pull-up shooter and passer off the wing, but again, probably not an NBA guy.
53. Jordan Nwora, SF, Louisville
Unless he becomes an elite shooter, Nwora is pretty useless at the NBA level thanks to poor finishing and worse defense.
54. Mamadi Diakite, C, Virginia
A stiff but talented offensive big who probably won’t survive defensively in the NBA.
55. Saben Lee, SG, Vanderbilt
Probably the quickest player in the draft class, but that’s about the only major positive.
56. John Petty, PF, Alabama
A quality off-movement shooter, but he plays too chaotically otherwise to matter.
57. Peyton Pritchard, PG, Oregon
Probably will get drafted as a lifetime achievement award, but doesn’t really do anything at an NBA level.
58. Nikita Mykhailovskii, SG, Avtodor Saratov
Definitely worth a draft-and-stash selection as a playmaking big guard.
59. Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington
He’s huge and a good rebounder and passer, but he’s going to get destroyed by athleticism at the NBA level. It’s baffling that he’s getting first-round consideration.
60. Lamine Diane, SF, CSU-Northridge
A draft this bad is an excuse to rank a guy whose nickname is “Cocaine,” and he’s probably a decent bet to be a good G-League or Euroleague type.