2020 NBA Draft Big Board: LaMelo Ball Isn't the Only Guard Vying for Top Spot
The top 2020 NBA draft prospects have kept the scouting discussion buzzing as they follow up last year's class, which was led by Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett.
A few have already given us memorable performances and lottery teams some assurance that franchise stars are in the pipeline.
Guards dominate the early portion of this year's board, and there are a number of different types. Three of them could have a case to go No. 1 by June.
We've already had surprise freshmen emerge who weren't on our preseason board, as well as breakout upperclassmen who suddenly look more suited for the NBA game.
These rankings take into account NBA potential based on personal scouting and conversations with scouts. This is not a mock draft.
Former New York Knick and Heisman Trophy winner, Charlie Ward, joins “The Full 48 with Howard Beck,” to discuss the era of the multi-sport athlete, the effect of the NBA on youth basketball, the New York Knicks, and Kevin Durant.
50. CJ Elleby (Washington State, SG/SF, Sophomore)
Elleby drew some NBA interest last year before returning, so his early 22.5 points and 2.5 threes per game are good for his stock among scouts. He compensates for limited explosion with 6'6" size and crafty shot-making skills.
49. Derrick Alston Jr. (Boise State, SF/PF, Junior)
Shooting 39.5 percent inside the arc and 39.4 percent from three, Alston has been more effective away from the basket. That still makes him intriguing as a 6'9" forward making 2.6 triples per game.
Alston, who's averaging 21.4 points, can also handle and slash through defenses, though he does lack strength and athleticism for converting in tighters spaces or after contact.
48. Amar Sylla (Senegal, PF/C, 2001)
Sylla started slow, but he's been more productive lately in Belgium and the Basketball Champions League, using his tools, bounce and mobility to make plays around the rim at both ends. He likes to face up and attack or shoot threes, though he isn't sharp enough to execute consistently at this stage. Scouts will keep tabs on his skill development using the dribble and three-ball.
47. Robert Woodard II (Mississippi State, SF, Sophomore)
An explosive leaper, Woodard suddenly returned as a threatening three-point shooter (7-of-17). His athleticism and defense are the draws, but enough scoring and shooting could put him in the second-round-sleeper discussion.
46. Samuell Williamson (Louisville, SF, Freshman)
Williamson may not wind up showing enough as a freshman, but it's still easy to see long-term potential tied to his 6'7" size, shot-creation ability and three-level shot-making with floaters and threes. His role and production will likely fluctuate behind Louisville's veteran forwards.
45. Mamadi Diakite (Virginia, PF, Senior)
Already with more three-pointers (seven) than he made last year (five), Diakite has evolved into an offensive weapon capable of stretching the floor and attacking closeouts. He isn't strong or physical, but he's active defensively. A consistent shooting touch could be enough to generate NBA love.
44. Vernon Carey Jr. (Duke, C, Freshman)
After struggling against Kansas' enormous front line, Carey has settled in, recently combining for 51 points, 22 rebounds and five blocks in wins over Georgetown and California.
Carey's appeal would become much greater if his shooting touch starts to look real. He's made all three of his three-pointers but just 54 percent of his free throws. Carey is strong and skilled around the basket; away from it, he struggles to work off the dribble or defend.
43. Precious Achiuwa (Memphis, PF, Freshman)
With James Wiseman suspended, Achiuwa has taken on a heavier workload. And despite lacking creation skills, he's averaging 15.0 points on 54.8 percent shooting. He's relying more on his NBA tools, including a 6'9", 225-pound frame. Eventually, however, he'll need some ball-handling maneuvers and a shot. Achiuwa is 0-of-2 from three and 22-of-46 from the foul line with five assists in six games.
42. Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia, C, Freshman)
Tshiebwe can make an impact with his body, movement and motor, which have translated to 21.5 points, 15.8 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 2.7 steals per 40 minutes. He won't be used as a skill player, but teams could eventually visualize an energizer and interior disruptor who does have some mid-range touch for coaches to unlock.
41. Trendon Watford (LSU, PF, Freshman)
The idea of Watford—a 6'9", 230-pound face-up forward—is appealing. He's lacking a bankable skill and talent around him, so inconsistency is expected as a freshman. But he's still flashed a full array on offense with spot-up shooting, drives past closeouts, floaters in the lane and open-floor ball-handling.
Whether he can start tying everything together by March could determine whether he's viewed as a first-round option for 2020 or a two-year college prospect.
40. Isaiah Joe (Arkansas, SG, Sophomore)
Joe has looked similar to last year: a smooth three-point shooter who's limited inside the arc. At 6'5", he may have a jumper accurate enough to create specialist potential, though his draft ceiling probably only reaches the late first round.
39. Cassius Stanley (Duke, SF, Freshman)
Stanley has used his bounce and quickness for exciting finishes, 10 blocks and 10 steals through seven games. The bigger development has been his three-point shooting (9-of-18). Stanley isn't used to handle or create, but he might not need to in the right NBA role.
38. AJ Lawson (South Carolina, SG, Sophomore)
Coming off a strong summer for the Canadian U19 World Cup team, Lawson has been more aggressive this season. He's attractive for his shot-making, but improvement off the dribble would maximize his first-round chances. So far, he's been efficient in ball-screen situations while totaling 20 assists to five turnovers.
37. Cassius Winston (Michigan State, PG, Senior)
The success of Devonte' Graham, Fred Vanvleet and Jalen Brunson—point guards with limited athleticism who played at least three years in college—could make it easier to buy Winston as a pro. In the second round, teams will looks past his body for his scoring skill, passing IQ, intangibles and winning resume.
36. Isaiah Mobley (USC, PF, Freshman)
Mobley may stick around for another year at USC to join his brother Evan, a potential top-five pick for the 2021 draft. Either way, the 6'10" freshman's ball control, footwork and potential skill versatility have stood out early. The NBA ingredients are there, though his shot still needs significant work.
35. Devin Vassell (Florida State, SG/SF, Sophomore)
Vassell caught eyes last year in 10.7 minutes per game with his athleticism, defense and shooting. He returned a better scorer, having already hit seven pull-ups after making one total last year. A three-and-D wing, Vassell was intriguing to start the year for his NBA fit and teams' needs. But scouts will start taking him more seriously if he continues to expand his offensive game.
34. Bryan Antoine (Villanova, SG, Freshman)
When scouting for the long term, Antoine can't be ignored, even if he won't start making regular appearances until 2020. He entered the season injured and appeared for limited minutes against Middle Tennessee State, flashing his shooting range, attacking and defensive quickness. It's worth keeping him on watch lists and staying patient.
33. Paul Reed (DePaul, PF/C, Junior)
Reed looks like he's made strides at both ends and has started the season shooting 68.3 percent inside the arc and 6-of-12 from three while averaging 2.9 blocks and 1.9 steals. He's looked sharper around the perimeter and more mobile and reactive on defense. Reed's upside doesn't pop, but at 6'9", his finishing, improving touch and defensive progress have been noteworthy.
DePaul starting off 7-0 has also led to more attention and recognition for the junior.
32. Trevelin Queen (New Mexico State, SG/SF, Senior)
Now playing a full-time role after logging just 15.2 minutes per game last season, Queen is averaging 18.2 points, a somewhat expected development following his 2018-19 postseason play. The 6'6" wing is 17-of-44 from three and making enough scoring plays off cuts and screens. A lack of explosiveness and good decision-making habits hold him back, however.
31. Scottie Lewis (Florida, SG/SF, Freshman)
Lewis is making noise with his athleticism and defensive activity, signature strengths he established throughout high school. His offense is further behind, though he has looked capable of converting open threes and separating into step-backs.
He'll need to show improvement from now until March, both as a creator and shot-maker, to guarantee a spot in the first round. Otherwise, Lewis may be a candidate to return and maximize his draft stock as a sophomore.
30. Jordan Nwora (Louisville, SF/PF, Junior)
Nwora looks to have taken another step forward with his shot-making, as he's averaging 21.3 points and 2.7 threes through six games. Limited playmaking and defensive upside will reduce his margin for error at the next level. But for a 6'7" wing who can rebound and play the 4, his perimeter game and overall scoring arsenal have become too advanced for NBA teams to ignore.
29. Myles Powell (Seton Hall, SG, Senior)
Powell has well-documented flaws as a 6'2", non-playmaking shooting guard who plays below the rim. But he's emerged as one of the nation's more dangerous and versatile shot-makers, and he made a strong impression last week by scoring 37 points against Michigan State on a sore ankle. Teams could start to view him as a shooting specialist somewhere in the Nos. 20-45 range on draft night.
28. Isaiah Stewart (Washington, C, Freshman)
Nothing has changed for Stewart moving from high school to college, where opponents still aren't a match for his 6'9", 250-pound frame. He's gone to work on the low block and offensive glass.
However, NBA scouts may start to cool on Stewart unless he shows more shooting ability and switchability. He's an old-school bruiser during a time at which teams are looking for floor-stretchers, playmakers and defensive versatility.
27. Romeo Weems (DePaul, SG/SF, Freshman)
Weems won't generate NBA buzz early, but he's a candidate to rise later in the season or during the predraft process if his scoring skills start to click.
His athleticism, defense and energy have caught our attention on closeouts, challenges, reactions, steals and blocks. He's flashed just enough shooting (6-of-15 on threes) and slashing ability for us to feel confident he has untapped offensive potential.
26. Patrick Williams (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)
Williams' 6'8", 225-pound toned frame immediately stands out, but he's quickly begun flashing offense that seemed more likely to surface later in the season. The 18-year-old combo forward has scored at least 16 points in three of Florida State's last four games. He's made four threes and all 17 of his free throws while showing off touch on set shots and pull-ups in space.
Creating right now isn't a strength, but Williams' shot-making, finishing and defensive versatility could be worth waiting on long-term.
25. Aaron Nesmith (Vanderbilt, SF, Sophomore)
Freshman flashes, plus the departures of Darius Garland and Simisola Shittu, put Nesmith on the breakout radar for 2019-20. He's delivered early, particularly with his shot-making, having hit 29 threes in six games at a 52.7 percent clip. Nesmith isn't a high-level creator, but for a 6'6" wing with solid defensive tools, his shooting, slashing and post play have caught NBA scouts' attention.
24. Zeke Nnaji (Arizona, C, Freshman)
Scouts who've traveled to Arizona for Nico Mannion and Josh Green should now have Nnaji on their radar. The 6'11" freshman is averaging 19.5 points in 25.3 minutes per game and shooting 82.1 percent inside the arc. He doesn't wow with athleticism or skill versatility, but no defense has had any answers for Nnaji's mix of size, footwork, hands, motor and mid-range touch.
23. Tre Jones (Duke, PG, Sophomore)
Admired for his passing IQ and defense as a freshman, Jones returned to improve his scoring. And in his fourth game as a sophomore, he erupted for 31 points against Georgia State. He's still just 9-of-28 from three, but he does look more threatening offensively with drives, short pull-ups and floaters.
Regardless, Jones figures to enter the draft viewed as a high-floor role player worth taking in the late teens or 20s.
22. Aaron Henry (Michigan State, SG, Sophomore)
Playing a larger role and more minutes, Henry has been efficient, mostly spotting up from three, but also capitalizing in transition, slashing through open lanes and scoring from the post. Quick defensive reactions are also becoming a regular occurrence. There isn’t any physical trait or skill that screams NBA upside, but he’s solid across the board and should start drawing looks for his role player potential.
21. Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama, PG, Sophomore)
Lewis wasn't even old enough to gain eligibility for the 2019 draft after his freshman season. He'll play his entire sophomore year at 18 and won't turn 19 until April. So far, he's averaging 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 40.0 percent from three. He isn't the most explosive athlete, but he plays with quickness, balance and controlled pace, shoots and passes well, and has soft touch on his floater.
20. Jahmi'us Ramsey (Texas Tech, SG, Freshman)
Though streaky early on, Ramsey has made a strong impression during his hot games against Long Island (27 points), Houston Baptist (25 points) and Eastern Illinois (19 points).
His shot-making fluidity and versatility have been convincing, as Ramsey has demonstrated a smooth delivery off pull-ups, spot-ups and screens. No real playmaking ability could limit his draft ceiling and versatility, but his transition scoring, shooting and defensive potential could be enough to enter the first-round discussion.
19. Wendell Moore Jr. (Duke, SF, Freshman)
The game has already seemed to slow down for Moore after a rough debut against Kansas. He scored 17 points against Georgetown on Friday, effectively using his mix of power and quickness to slice through gaps and play through contact on the way to the basket.
It won't be smooth sailing every game for one of the nation's youngest players. But with 6'6", 213-pound size, he has obvious appeal as a slasher and defender, as well as intriguing shooting and passing potential.
18. Landers Nolley II (Virginia Tech, SG/SF, Freshman)
Nolley validated a 30-point debut against Clemson by racked up 22 points, five assists, three steals and two blocks in an upset win over Michigan State. He’s burying defenses with quick-release jumpers off a variety of actions. His emergence has become a compelling storyline, given his 6’7” size, smooth scoring and 24 three-pointers through seven games.
17. Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State, PG, Sophomore)
Haliburton's playmaking efficiency and defensive playmaking have carried over from this summer's U19 World Cup. He's the nation's earlier assist leader, but he's also coming off a career-high 25 points against Michigan on Wednesday.
There is still debate surrounding his NBA upside as a point guard who lacks burst, advanced creation skills and a strong pull-up game. Regardless, the right team, one that could surround him with athletes and shot-makers, should be able to optimize his elite passing IQ, while a consistent three-ball could give him enough scoring purpose.
16. Josh Green (Arizona, SG/SF, Freshman)
A work in progress offensively, Green has been a defensive standout, pressuring the ball, forcing turnovers, making smart rotations and staying alert and engaged throughout shot clocks. His energy and athleticism consistently translate to defensive activity, as well as transition opportunities and finishes.
Just flashing glimpses of slashing, floaters, passing and spot-up shooting could be enough for Green to earn a lottery grade. So far, he's just 5-of-20 from three.
15. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova, PF, Freshman)
Robinson-Earl has shown off his skill level and rebounding instincts early, scoring from the post, making six of 15 threes and grabbing 9.8 boards per game. A lack of athleticism holds him back inside the arc, and it's questionable how well he'll be able to switch defending the perimeter. But he comes off as a high-floor big man for his size (6'9", 232 lbs), hands, footwork, shooting touch and intangibles.
14. Jaden McDaniels (Washington, SF/PF, Freshman)
McDaniels has quickly begun creating an exciting highlight package using his 6'9" size, ball-handling for creation, off-the-dribble footwork and perimeter shot-making. His defensive playmaking and switchability have also stood out on numerous possessions.
He is shooting just 38.9 percent from the field, though. And if there is reason to hesitate on McDaniels, it's that his talent and skill don't always translate to efficient execution or impact play.
13. Obi Toppin (Dayton, PF, Sophomore)
No opponent has had an answer for Toppin so far. Georgia and Virginia Tech looked helpless in Maui. He's returned a more decisive scorer and passer from the post and a confident three-point shooter. Between his power and athleticism, back-to-the-basket game and projectable jump shot, Toppin has quickly developed into one of the draft's most convincing offensive big men.
12. Theo Maledon (France, PG, 2001)
Maledon has had some strong games in Euroleague and Jeep Elite since returning from a shoulder injury that cost him a month. Though limited burst and explosion raise questions about his NBA ceiling, he has still been able to make plays as an 18-year-old point guard overseas.
Maledon operates with poise at his own pace, showing strong instincts for navigating through defenses and making passing reads while possessing enough skill to finish, convert a runner or hit the open three.
11. RJ Hampton (New Zealand, PG/SG, 2001)
Hampton continues to give scouts glimpses of his combo versatility by working on and off the ball. He's done an admirable job staying efficient while putting pressure on defenses in transition, setting up teammates and making 35.5 percent of his threes.
On the negative side, he lacks a tight pull-up game, while a 57.9 percent clip on free throws raises some questions about his shooting legitimacy.
10. Killian Hayes (France, PG, 2001)
At 18 years old, Killian Hayes has become one of Europe's best passers, averaging 6.9 assists in Eurocup play.
He's terrific out of pick-and-rolls, threading the needle to diving bigs, lofting it over the top or throwing crosscourt darts to shooters on the wings and in the corners. His identity revolves around his setup ability and facilitating.
But this year, he's taken a step forward as a scorer (12.5 points per game in Eurocup), showing good burst attacking through the lane and more advanced perimeter skills, both as a shot-creator (using step-backs) and shot-maker.
He can frustrate with recklessness and unforced turnovers. And though his jumper has improved, he's still a combined 16-of-54 between Eurocup and the German BBL.
However, given his age, production, playmaking upside, 90.2 percent free-throw mark and progress since last year, Hayes could look like an enticing bet in the late lottery for a team that missed on the top point guard targets.
9. Isaac Okoro (Auburn, SF/PF, Freshman)
Flashy scoring isn't one of Isaac Okoro's selling points. With a top-10 pick, he may not be right for teams in search of a new lead guard or No. 1 option. But he's making a case to be the draft's premier wing defender. And given his 6'6", 215-pound frame, powerful legs and obvious determination, the likelihood of his defensive effectiveness and versatility translating seems like a lock.
Opponents are consistently having trouble getting clean shots up when guarded by Okoro, who's quick and persistent around the perimeter and a wall inside.
But he's delivered enough offensive flashes for an 18-year-old who'll also be built (physically and mentally) to cover NBA teams' top guard or forward. Shooting 72.0 percent inside the arc, he's 6-of-7 on drives to the basket out of spot-ups, and he's shown he can maneuver and pass from the post.
However, slotting him this high does mean expecting his three-point shooting to eventually improve. So far, he's just 3-of-14.
8. James Wiseman (Memphis, C, Freshman)
A 12-game suspension shouldn't break James Wiseman's draft stock or affect his long-term potential.
Scouts are drawn to the obvious talent fueled by 7'1", 240-pound size, extreme length and athleticism, a package that buys him time when it comes to skill development. Even without offensive polish, he can still impact games by easily finishing, putting back misses and blocking shots.
Flashes of post moves and mid-range touch also create optimism when it comes to eventually picturing a player who can score in the half court even if he's not just set up to dunk.
I still have concerns about his feel for the game, hands in traffic, shot selection, jumper and defense away from the basket. And with only around two months to improve at Memphis, it will be interesting to see how much progress he's able to make from January to March.
7. Deni Avdija (Israel, SF/PF, 2001)
Scouting Deni Avdija means looking past his limited role in Euroleague, where he's playing 11.6 minutes per game almost exclusively off the ball. He still gives scouts a play or two per game that highlights either his offensive versatility or defensive range.
He's at least playing 22.7 minutes per game in the Israeli BSL. Though the competition isn't as strong, it's still encouraging to see him average 8.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 51.4 percent shooting (35.7 percent from three).
Avdija has held his own and played the right way both with and against pros. But scouts will still put plenty of stock in the junior tournaments and camps he's used to build his reputation over the years.
The 2019 U20 European Championships MVP possesses 6'8" size, face-up scoring and passing skills, three-point shot-making ability and encouraging defensive instincts. Even if teams have trouble picturing a star, they'll wind up valuing a high floor and a player who can fit any roster or system.
6. Onyeka Okongwu (USC, C, Freshman)
Onyeka Okongwu's first six games were convincing enough to shake up the big board. The 6'9", 245-pound big has come out punishing rims and blocking 3.0 shots per game while flashing encouraging post moves and mid-range touch.
Per Barttorvik.com, he's racked up 16 dunks through six games, giving his guards a powerful, athletic target and cleanup man. He's 11-of-18 on post-ups and 5-of-10 on jump shots while shooting 80.0 percent on free throws.
And Okongwu has shown the ability to quickly cover ground and airspace defensively from the foul line to the baseline.
An improving threat offensively with huge potential in rim protection, USC's freshman anchor has become our No. 1-ranked center. We don't see him slowing down during conference play.
5. Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
The eye test loves Tyrese Maxey, whose 198-pound frame and shot-making versatility scream NBA guard.
Teams won't dig too deep into his freshman percentages. Maxey clearly has shooting range off the catch and dribble. And though not overly explosive, he's shifty with the ability to score through contact on runners and drives.
He's also already generated 25 points on 23 pick-and-roll possessions despite teammates converting just two of eight spot-up jumpers off his passes.
It's worth wondering about Maxey's 6'3" size and athleticism as a guard who may need to play the 2. But docking him too much for it could be overthinking. His effort and positive energy only enhance his likeability as a teammate.
4. Nico Mannion (Arizona, PG, Freshman)
It's been a clean start for Nico Mannion, who's shooting 57.1 percent inside the arc and 48.0 percent from three while averaging 5.0 assists for 6-0 Arizona. There aren't many holes in his game or scouting profile, except for the fact that he isn't oversized or ultra-athletic.
Otherwise, he's starting to identify as the class' most complete point guard from a skill standpoint thanks to his shooting accuracy, versatility, pull-up and floater game and passing.
Mid-major opponents haven't given him any trouble, so his 23 points and nine dimes against Illinois (and 6'5" sophomore Ayo Dosunmu) were validating. Mannion has even delivered multiple explosive finishes above the rim, highlighting his bounce.
He hasn't been perfect taking care of the ball or defending. But otherwise, Mannion is executing well and looking in complete control of both his own offense and opposing defenses.
3. Cole Anthony (North Carolina, PG, Freshman)
A team that needs a lead-scoring point guard could favor Cole Anthony at No. 1. He flashed takeover ability during his debut against Notre Dame with 34 points, showing off the shot creation and off-the-dribble shooting suited for the NBA game.
Quick with the ball, Anthony splits screens and breaks down defenses to drive or kick. Though known for a shoot-first mentality, he's a skilled passer whose assist rate probably won't match his playmaking ability based on his role at North Carolina.
Even if his offense is off, Anthony will still outrebound other guards and force turnovers while playing with contagious competitiveness and passion.
He needs to limit his own turnovers, over-dribbling and complaining to referees. They can easily turn off the wrong scout. His finishing in traffic needs work, as well. But between Anthony's strength, explosiveness, shot-making and triple-double potential, we aren't putting too much stock into probable freshman inefficiency.
2. Anthony Edwards (Georgia, SG, Freshman)
Our preseason No. 1, Anthony Edwards still looks like an acceptable first-pick preference through Thanksgiving, particularly after his 37 points against Michigan State and game-winner over Chaminade on Wednesday.
While his 6'5", 225-pound frame and athleticism pop first, his specialty shot-making always comes alive to help paint Edwards as a natural talent who's also highly skilled. His memorable performance Tuesday also highlighted his shot-creation skill and effortless ability to get off makeable jumpers after shaking defenders using in-and-out dribbles, pull-ups and step-backs.
The "more than a scorer" narrative is also starting to build after flashes of his passing and defensive quickness.
The big question with Edwards is whether his style of play is conducive to winning. He prefers contested hero jumpers over layups and free throws, and he doesn't always do a great job picking whether to settle, attack or move the ball.
1. LaMelo Ball (Illawarra Hawks, PG/SG, 2001)
Over a year younger than Cole Anthony and not turning 19 until August, LaMelo Ball stretches the imagination unlike any other prospect. Anthony Edwards may possess more physical talent, but Ball has more makes-teammates-better appeal while still possessing the significant scoring upside that also drives Edwards' case.
Ball is coming off a 32-point triple-double in Australia, a game he sent to overtime and helped seal by showing terrific poise and confidence in crunch time.
An elite passer, he is masterful in ball-screen situations using his hesitation, vision and ball skills. No other guard can create open shots for teammates as easily. And he's playing the right way, showing encouraging maturity when picking spots to shot-hunt versus facilitate.
His athleticism and balance—along with his body—have improved dramatically over the years. A dangerous transition weapon, Ball is also making more pull-ups while flashing his signature floater touch. And despite lacking strength, he's demonstrated advanced finishing moves using his coordination and off-hand on layups.
Ball's jumper will remain under the microscope, but he's hit 16 threes over his last six games. The made shots outweigh the misses this early. He's also made major progress in other areas, which makes it easier to buy his potential to improve as a shooter.
Watch him carve up pros in the NBL and it's difficult not to wonder what Ball could look like five-to-eight years down the road when he could approach 6'8", 200-pound size and become sharper around the perimeter.
Advanced stats courtesy of Synergy Sports