Re-Drafting LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and the 2020 NBA Draft
Today's media landscape demands instant analysis of the NBA draft, but it takes time to have a clear idea of how every team did.
For the 2020 draft class, we now have two seasons from which to draw takes. If teams knew then what they know now, the first round surely would've gone differently.
With that extra information in hand, we'll re-draft the first 30 picks from 2020, but the order won't be entirely based on past production.
These players are all still in their early- to mid-20s, comfortably pre-prime. So, there's a lot of subjectivity in play as well. Sorting through everyone requires a lot of judgments calls.
More general evolutions in the game of basketball have to considered, too. The idea of positionless basketball (and by extension, the importance of wings) continues to gain steam.
With all of the above tossed into something of an analytical cocktail, this is how the first round should shake out if it was re-drafted today (assuming an order of 30 generic teams, not the original order from 2020).
30. Kira Lewis Jr. (Originally Picked 13th)
Kira Lewis Jr. hasn't been able to show much of the upside that made him a lottery pick two years ago, and now he's in the midst of a torn ACL recovery that could cost him a chunk of 2022-23.
Flashes of high-end scoring ability during his rookie season are enough to keep him from sliding out of the first round, though. That year, he eclipsed double-figures in nine of the 17 games in which he played at least 20 minutes.
29. Malachi Flynn (Originally Picked 29th)
Malachi Flynn hasn't been able to nail down a consistent role with the Toronto Raptors, but he remains a first-rounder in the generic re-draft on the back of solid performances in his 19 career starts.
Overall, he has a below-replacement-level career box plus/minus of minus-2.2, but it's a closer-to-average minus-0.4 in those starts, when he's averaged 14.7 points, 5.4 assists and 2.6 threes while shooting 39.4 percent from three.
28. Saben Lee (Originally Picked 38th)
His scoring and efficiency leave a lot to be desired, but Saben Lee's strong assist and steal rates suggest he could stick around as a backup for a while.
Over the course of his career, there are only eight players with 1,000-plus minutes who match or exceed both of Lee's marks for assist percentage and steal percentage.
27. Tre Jones (Originally Picked 41st)
Tre Jones may not have shown a sky-high ceiling in his first two NBA seasons, but we probably don't have to worry about his floor.
Like his brother, Tyus, Jones looks like a consummate floor general who gets the ball and his teammates to the right spots and rarely makes mistakes.
Among the 313 players with at least 100 assists over the past two seasons, Tre trails only Tyus in assist-to-turnover ratio.
26. Killian Hayes (Originally Picked 7th)
Like Lee, Killian Hayes' scoring numbers are bad. In fact, they're almost scary. Over his two seasons, he's averaged 6.8 points while shooting 37.4 percent from the field and 26.8 percent from three.
With his size (6'5" with a 6'8" wingspan), solid defense and passing ability, there's still reason to believe Hayes can be a plus playmaker.
Hayes has logged 2,317 minutes and averaged 6.6 assists and 1.7 steals per 75 possessions. There are only seven other players in the three-point era who matched or exceeded all three of those marks through their age-20 campaign.
25. Aleksej Pokusevski (Originally Picked 17th)
Like some of the others included here, the basic numbers aren't pretty for Aleksej Pokusevski. Overall, he's averaged 7.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists, while shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 28.5 percent from three.
The idea of Poku is still about as intriguing as any player in this class, though. He's a seven-footer who can shoot from the outside and facilitate for others. Over his last 10 games of the season, he put up 13.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.8 threes.
24. Precious Achiuwa (Originally Picked 20th)
His shot selection could use a little more honing (he took a higher percentage of his shots from the mid-range, while his volume around the rim plummeted in 2021-22), but Precious Achiuwa adding a three-pointer this past season is enticing.
He's not just a Kenneth Faried-like offensive rebounder and finisher, as evidenced by a 35.9 three-point percentage on 156 attempts. If he improves on his output from the outside while trimming much of the mid-range from his diet, Achiuwa will be a unique weapon at the 4.
23. Zeke Nnaji (Originally Picked 22nd)
Playing on a good team can be tough for a young player. On-court reps are typically helpful, but they've been hard to come by for Zeke Nnaji, who's behind multiple veterans on Denver's depth chart.
This season, though, he should have more of a chance to show off his range and developing perimeter defense. He hasn't taken a ton of attempts, but a career three-point percentage of 43.9 suggests he can be a high-end floor spacer.
22. Jaden McDaniels (Originally Picked 28th)
Jaden McDaniels was a top-10 recruit heading into college, but less-than-stellar numbers at Washington and during his first couple seasons in the NBA have have taken some of the luster off his position on that list.
Still, the upside is easy to fall for. He's 6'9", looks like a multipositional defender and is 11th among players drafted in 2020 in total made threes.
21. Josh Green (Originally Picked 18th)
He's been limited to 14.0 minutes per game for his career, and he doesn't get many shots up when he's out there, but Josh Green is already a plus defender. His 35.9 three-point percentage (albeit on just 78 attempts) is encouraging.
If he becomes a consistently above-average outside shooter while maintaining his commitment to the defensive end, Green has the chance to develop into an ideal fifth starter for a team with plenty of scoring and creation at the other four spots.
20. Kenyon Martin Jr. (Originally Picked 52nd)
Despite standing just 6'6", Kenyon Martin Jr. is already among the league's most explosive finishers. Absurd athleticism and a knack for knowing when and where to cut have helped him dramatically outperform his original draft position.
An average three-point percentage on decent volume is what pushes him into the top 20, though. If he can push that mark a little closer to 40.0 percent while applying his athleticism more consistently on the defensive end, Martin can be a long-term starter.
19. Xavier Tillman Sr. (Originally Picked 35th)
His scoring efficiency plummeted during his second season, but Xavier Tillman Sr. put up an encouraging combination of numbers in 2021-22.
On the hustle front, he was fifth in the league in steal percentage (a stat typically dominated by guards) and top-50 in offensive rebounding percentage. His 3.2 assists per 75 possessions is another noteworthy addition to this statistical cocktail.
If he can keep all of that up while getting back on track from three-point range (his percentage there went from 33.8 as a rookie to 20.4 in Year 2), Tillman has a chance to be one of the game's more unique bigs.
18. Isaac Okoro (Originally Picked 5th)
Among the 60 players drafted in 2020, Isaac Okoro is 57th in career wins over replacement player (and only 58 of those players have logged any NBA minutes). That mark isn't necessarily a product of Okoro being bad as much as it is about him largely disappearing.
Okoro has averaged just 11.0 points per 75 possessions without supplementing that with many rebounds, assists, steals or blocks.
But he's still just 21 years old. He's shown the potential to become a high-end perimeter defender, which is a big part of why he was drafted in the top five two years ago. A 35.0 three-point percentage in 2021-22 suggests he can fill out the other side of the three-and-D equation.
17. Jalen Smith (Originally Picked 10th)
There is almost no way to evaluate Jalen Smith on the basis of his 56 appearances with the Phoenix Suns. Despite using a top-10 pick to select him, he played just 9.6 minutes per game with the Suns, and at the start of his second season, Phoenix declined the team option for his third year (an exceptionally rare move with a lottery pick).
After he was traded to the Indiana Pacers, though, Smith reminded everyone of the upside that made him a top-20 recruit before he went to college and a top-10 pick in 2020. In his 22 games with the Pacers, Smith averaged 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 threes and 1.0 blocks in just 24.7 minutes.
It's risky to base a judgment on 22 games, but he showed enough three-and-D potential to threaten the lottery again.
16. Payton Pritchard (Originally Picked 26th)
Payton Pritchard probably isn't going to be a star. Because he's undersized (6'1" with a 6'4.5" wingspan), he may never be a plus defender, either. But there's plenty of value in what he does.
During his two NBA seasons, Pritchard has a top-40 assist-to-turnover percentage (among players with at least 100 assists) and is tied for 11th in three-point percentage (among players with at least as many attempts as him).
Having a reliable creator who can run the second unit is important, but Pritchard brings the added bonus of being able to space the floor when sharing it with ball-handling starters.
15. James Wiseman (Originally Picked 2nd)
Two years after the real draft, taking James Wiseman in the top 15 might be a bigger gamble than it was taking him second in 2020.
Injuries have limited him to just 39 career games, he missed all of 2021-22 and his production has been terrible.
Among the 112 seasons from players younger than 20 who logged at least 500 minutes, Wiseman's minus-5.0 box plus/minus is tied for 98th. That season, the Golden State Warriors were minus-13.1 points per 100 possessions when he played and plus-4.7 when he didn't.
Despite the daunting numbers, Wiseman is still a bona fide seven-footer who runs the floor well (when healthy), finishes above the rim and has a jumper that looks fundamentally sound. The physical tools to become a dynamic pick-and-roll (or pick-and-pop) big are there, and he's only 21 years old.
14. Isaiah Stewart (Originally Picked 16th)
Isaiah Stewart is a couple months younger than Wiseman, and he's already shown plenty to suggest he'll be in the NBA for a long time.
In just 23.5 minutes, he's averaging 8.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. And though the sample isn't huge (just 109 total attempts), he's hit 33.0 percent of his threes.
With his energy on the boards and as a defender, Stewart is a plus player. If that outside shot becomes more consistent, he should remain a starter for years.
13. Cole Anthony (Originally Picked 15th)
The scoring efficiency leaves a lot to be desired (he's at 39.3 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from three), but 14.9 points in 29.8 minutes suggests Cole Anthony can be a long-term heat-check scorer off the bench.
What bumps him up a couple spots from where he was originally picked is his ability to facilitate. Anthony can get to the paint, and his 6.2 assists per 75 possessions show he does a decent job of finding teammates once he's there.
12. Deni Avdija (Originally Picked 9th)
Deni Avdija was forecast to be a better shooter than his career 31.6 career three-point percentage suggests, but the 21-year old has plenty of time to improve.
What keeps him around the top 10 are the areas of the game where he appears to be ahead of the learning curve.
Avdija posted a plus-1.4 defensive estimated plus-minus in 2021-22 and averaged 3.2 assists per 75 possessions. Those numbers show that he doesn't just have three-and-D potential. There's a possible point forward there.
11. Patrick Williams (Originally Picked 4th)
Patrick Williams only played in 17 games last season, and the Chicago Bulls' point differential was far worse when he was on the floor.
But Williams just turned 21 in August, has a seven-foot wingspan and has hit 41.3 percent of his career three-point attempts.
His current role doesn't demand much playmaking, but it's also not outside the realm of possibility for him to develop that, too.
At the very least, he's shown the potential to be a high-end floor spacer with plenty of switchability on defense.
10. Devin Vassell (Originally Picked 11th)
As is true of most young San Antonio Spurs players in the Gregg Popovich era, Devin Vassell had some things to prove before he secured a significant role.
As a rookie, he appeared in 62 games and averaged just 17.0 minutes, 5.5 points and 0.8 threes for a team that was never in the hunt for anything more than a play-in spot.
He did post an above-average defensive estimated plus-minus, though. That, a near-average three-point percentage and his intriguing physical tools made for an encouraging first year, but it was his sophomore campaign that bumped him up a spot in the re-draft.
In 2021-22, Vassell had a bigger role and still boosted his effective field-goal percentage by over two points. He dabbled in pick-and-roll ball-handling and increased his assist rate, all while maintaining that solid defense he flashed as a rookie.
9. Saddiq Bey (Originally Picked 19th)
Second-year drops in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage are all concerning, but Saddiq Bey has shown enough to establish himself as a steady-handed and positionless forward.
And while wings and forwards like Vassell, Avdija and Williams may develop into better players in a few years, that's not guaranteed. We already know Bey's baseline is a double-figures scorer who can defend multiple positions.
Two years in, he's tied for fourth among players drafted in 2020 in both career wins over replacement player and points per game.
There's certainly a chance for him to improve, too. This past March, Bey dropped 51 in a game (the highest mark of any 2020 draftee), demonstrating that his ceiling may be higher than expected.
8. Onyeka Okongwu (Originally Picked 6th)
Onyeka Okongwu has had to spend plenty of his first two seasons watching Clint Capela and John Collins from the bench, but he's made the most of his limited minutes.
Last season, he averaged 14.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.0 assists per 75 possessions, with a 71.4 true shooting percentage.
Generally speaking, he looked like a prototypical rim-running and -protecting 5, but he also showed some of the same attributes that have made Robert Williams III an invaluable member of the Boston Celtics.
Okongwu is good enough laterally to survive switching onto the perimeter, and he nearly doubled his assist rate in just one season.
Having a big who can give you some of the benefits of small-ball without sacrificing the traditional qualities of a center is huge in today's game.
7. Obi Toppin (Originally Picked 8th)
Like Vassell and Okongwu, Obi Toppin had limited opportunities to show what he can do as a rookie. In 2021-22, he arguably outperformed the All-NBA forward starting in front of him.
Toppin averaged 19.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.6 threes and 1.0 blocks per 75 possessions, with a 61.4 true shooting percentage.
And those were far from empty numbers. The New York Knicks' net rating was plus-6.8 when Toppin was on the floor and minus-3.1 when he was off.
If he can add consistently above-average outside shooting to his explosive finishing, Toppin has a chance to be one of the game's more dangerous offensive big men.
6. Immanuel Quickley (Originally Picked 25th)
Immanuel Quickley lags a bit behind his teammate, Toppin, in career box plus/minus. He's way behind in true shooting percentage.
So, his placement one spot higher in the re-draft is based on philosophical leanings.
Toppin may reach a point in his career when he dabbles in some additional playmaking, but he's firmly in the finishers' camp right now. Quickley is the kind of creator who can make life significantly easier for finishers.
In his first season, a lot of the playmaking was for himself, but Quickley looked like a much more willing and capable passer in Year 2.
5. Tyrese Maxey (Originally Picked 21st)
From one fast-twitch playmaker to another, Tyrese Maxey broke out in a big way in 2021-22.
His numbers skyrocketed across the board to 17.5 points, 4.3 assists and 1.8 threes per game, with a 42.7 three-point percentage.
Even on a team with James Harden and Tobias Harris, there were plenty of stretches when Maxey felt like the rightful second option behind Joel Embiid.
He was certainly the best on the team at getting from the perimeter to the rim, and that kind of driving ability can make life easier for everyone else.
Over the coming years, he'll get better at knowing when to end those drives with field-goal attempts or passes. He'll get better at knowing when to pull up.
That's almost gravy, though. Maxey's already proven he has plenty of the basics.
4. Desmond Bane (Originally Picked 30th)
We've talked about finishers and creators, but the most valuable of all may be the wing who can do both.
After a huge second season for the 56-win Memphis Grizzlies, it's safe to assume Desmond Bane can be (or already is) that type of player.
He established his floor-spacing credentials as a rookie when he shot 43.2 percent from three. That number actually crept up to 43.6 in 2021-22 when his responsibility increased and his assist rate climbed to 3.3 per 75 possessions.
On a team with a playmaker like Ja Morant, he may never be called upon to do much more with the ball in his hands, but he's at least shown us the capability.
Even without it, though, Bane is one of the game's most dangerous high-volume shooters. That and solid, versatile defense probably would've been enough to slide him into the top 10.
3. Tyrese Haliburton (Originally Picked 12th)
What he did for the Sacramento Kings was enough to vault Tyrese Haliburton into the top 5-10 range of the re-draft, but his production there was clearly limited by the presence of De'Aaron Fox.
After he was traded to the Indiana Pacers, we got a better idea of how high Haliburton's ceiling might be.
In his 26 games with Indiana, Haliburton put up 17.5 points, 9.6 assists and 2.2 threes, while shooting 41.6 percent from deep.
Unlike some of the other guards profiled, Haliburton already knows how to modulate the pace of an individual possession, manipulate defenses in the pick-and-roll and generally engineer an offense like a veteran.
Standing 6'5" and having a 6'7.5" wingspan is a bonus, too. Haliburton hasn't shown himself to be a lockdown perimeter defender yet, but that size suggests he can help largely positionless lineups thrive.
2. Anthony Edwards (Originally Picked 1st)
But his explosiveness was undeniable. And over his last 10 games of that 2020-21 season, he averaged 26.0 points, 4.3 assists and 3.0 threes, while shooting 38.5 percent from three.
It was a small sample, but it was also an indication that he was starting to figure things out. He was closer to that version of himself throughout his second season, when he averaged 21.3 points and 3.0 threes.
Finally, in his playoff debut, he truly arrived.
In a first-round series between perhaps the league's most exciting and brash young teams, Edwards went toe to toe with Ja Morant and occasionally outperformed him. He looked like the alpha on a team with Karl-Anthony Towns.
His never-back-down mentality practically leapt through the screen, and it's translating to projections, too.
According to FiveThirtyEight's player projections, Edwards has a five-year market value of $237.5 million. As a wing with his physical tools, demeanor and already-improving grasp on the fundamentals, it's not hard to see why the system is so high on him.
1. LaMelo Ball (Originally Picked 3rd)
If you thought that estimated market value was high for Edwards, get a load of LaMelo Ball's.
That same system forecasts a five-year market value of $310.2 million for the Charlotte Hornets' wing-sized playmaker. For context's sake, Ja Morant's predicted value is $200 million. Joel Embiid's is $280.7 million.
The confidence in his career is a product of absurd production over his first two seasons.
Ball has appeared in 126 games, and the only players in league history who matched or exceeded all of his totals for points, rebounds and assists through 126 games are Luka Doncic, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.
Additionally, the one area of the game that was supposed to be a weakness is already a strength.
Ball averaged 2.9 threes and shot 38.9 percent from deep in 2021-22, numbers matched or exceeded by only five other players.
Combining that level of volume shooting with Ball's size (6'6"), vision and willingness to distribute makes him one of the most intriguing guards in the league.