2020 NBA Draft: Historical and Current Pro Comparisons for Projected Top Picks
NBA comparisons are useful tools for describing what type of pro a prospect will look like during his professional career.
For each projected lottery pick, I pegged a current pro, as well as one who peaked in a previous era, who shares similar physical traits, skill sets and roles.
There will be differences, as no two players are the same. At the least, the pros used should be viewed as archetypes for each prospect.
Anthony Edwards (Georgia, SG, Freshman)
Current comparison: Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
Both taller 2-guards, Edwards (6'5") and LaVine (6'6") are similarly special athletically. Edwards is stronger at 225 pounds, but they're both high-fliers capable of exploding above the rim. The Georgia freshman ranked in the 81st percentile this season in transition points per possession.
LaVine's and Edwards' scoring attacks are fueled by perimeter shot-creation and shot-making. Both love their three-balls and pull-ups. Their shot selections are similar. And when they're locked in, LaVine and Edwards share the ability to catch fire and drill jumpers in bunches.
Nobody would mistake LaVine or Edwards for point guards, but they're both capable playmakers. LaVine has averaged between three and five assists in each of his six NBA seasons, and Edwards just averaged 2.8 as a freshman, a number that will presumably rise with more NBA freedom and development. He's a scorer, but he's also a skilled passer when the opportunity presents itself.
Defense has been a problem for LaVine throughout his career. Edwards has tools and quickness that hint at exciting defensive potential, but he didn't always apply his talent at Georgia. His effort and off-ball awareness wavered at different points of the season.
Production over impact?
LaVine continues to put together impressive statistical seasons in Chicago. In 2019-20, he's averaged 25.5 points and 4.2 assists on 45.0 percent shooting from the field and 38.0 percent from three. Given Edwards' college production, age, body and skill level, it's reasonable to think he can eventually match LaVine's numbers.
But those numbers haven't translated to wins for LaVine. This is going to be the third consecutive year the Bulls wind up in the lottery. Edwards' Bulldogs weren't going to reach the NCAA tournament (unless they won the SEC tournament). Like LaVine's, his style of play didn't always appear conducive to winning given his tendency to settle for hero jumpers and disrupt the offense's flow.
Historical comparison: Prime Vince Carter
In his prime, Carter was known for his explosive athleticism and scoring from the 2-guard spot. Edwards' reputation will be the same. The narrative for Carter didn't always paint him as a winning leader in Toronto, and Edwards could wind up facing similar scrutiny based on the low points of his freshman season. But Edwards is bound to produce massive scoring numbers while creating endless highlights with his shot-making and dunking.
Cole Anthony (North Carolina, PG/SG, Freshman)
Current comparison: Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Styles of play
Cole Anthony drew mixed reviews during his one year at North Carolina. The positives highlighted his scoring ability, while the negatives focused on his point guard feel and decision-making. Like Murray, Anthony is a scorer first who takes and makes tough shots, for better or worse.
Shooting off the dribble is Anthony's go-to skill for scoring. Murray is hitting 41.9 percent of his dribble jumpers this year. Both guards have the confidence, range and shot-making skills to stop and pop from anywhere on the floor, but they can also move off the ball to catch and shoot. Anthony was making 42.0 percent of his spot-up jumpers and 38.5 percent of his shots off screens. Murray hasn't been as sharp this year as a spot-up shooter (36.6 percent), but he's shot 47.8 percent off screens.
Bottom line, both guards have developed the shot-making versatility to convert out of different situations.
Questionable shot selection may be playing a role in Murray's inability to make the jump to become an All-Star. Anthony had a heavy workload at North Carolina, but he still struggled with tunnel vision in the lane and forced tough shots in traffic. There are questions about whether Anthony can be trusted to run an offense after averaging 4.0 assists to 3.5 turnovers. Murray is still getting most of his reps at point guard, but the Nuggets also have a center in Nikola Jokic who leads the team in assists.
Historical comparison: Ben Gordon
Anthony could wind up being a better playmaker, but like Gordon, he'll still be valued most for his shot-creation and shot-making. If Anthony can show his passing numbers at North Carolina were flukily low, his trajectory could take him toward former stars like Baron Davis, Deron Williams or Gilbert Arenas. If he doesn't, he could still thrive in the right situation as a scoring guard or microwave sixth man.
Deni Avdija (Maccabi Tel Aviv, SF/PF, 2001)
Current comparison: Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
Physical traits for combo forwards
Deni Avdija (6'8") possesses similar physical attributes to Hayward (6'7"), who's a good athlete but not an explosive one. They also have enough quickness, mobility and skill to switch between either forward spot. Hayward has played more at the 4 over the years, and given the how the NBA has trended lately, Avdija's future coach may prefer he play power forward, as well. His quickness and perimeter skills could be more advantageous there.
Like Hayward, Avdija scores on and off the ball in different ways. For Maccabi Tel Aviv in Euroleague, he's mostly a spot-up player who shoots off the catch, cuts and gets out on the break. In the Israeli BSL, he's featured more as a creator like he was for Israel during the U20 European Championships. He's shown the ability to pull up, attack off the dribble or score from the post.
Both players can seemingly play in any offense. Avdija will need to improve his shooting consistency, but he's definitely a shot-maker with three-point range, and like Hayward, he should be able to fit into any lineup based on his versatility and low-maintenance play.
Hayward has averaged 4.1 assists for Boston this season, giving the Celtics a secondary playmaker who can operate out of pick-and-rolls. Avdija averaged 5.3 assists over the summer with Israel, playing the role of a point-wing while flashing a knack for facilitating and high passing IQ. During his prime NBA years, he should be able to match Hayward's playmaking potential.
Avdija has a higher defensive ceiling than Hayward, who still competes and guards both forward spots. The 19-year-old has the occasional lapse, but overall, he's difficult to shake in one-on-one play. His defensive potential shows most around the perimeter, where he moves his feet and sticks with quick guards and wings. He's focused, which is apparent when he's defending on and off the ball.
Avdija may have trouble with stronger bigs, but between his foot speed, size, effort and IQ, he figures to develop into a positive defensive link.
Historical comparison: Prime Nicolas Batum
Batum's game (in his prime) was all about versatility as a forward who could make open shots, pass and defend multiple positions. Avdija's identity will be similar unless he makes a substantial jump as a one-on-one creator. His trajectory points to more of a high-end role player—like Batum—than a regular All-Star.
Isaac Okoro (Auburn, SF, Freshman)
Current comparison: OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors
Isaac Okoro has a serious build for a 19-year-old, checking in with 6'6", 225-pound size and powerful quads that resemble Anunoby's. They're built similarly with strong lower bodies, plus the foot speed and enough height to guard big and small. Their physical profiles contribute to their defensive effectiveness and scoring efficiency.
Anunoby can be used to defend the opposing team's top-scoring forward or wing. Okoro will land similar assignments. He's strong, quick, gritty and determined. His body, defensive IQ and competitiveness should earn him immediate rookie minutes even if his offensive game is still behind.
Anunoby has shot over 57.0 percent inside the arc every season for the Toronto Raptors. Okoro shot 60.3 percent on twos with Auburn. Like Anunoby, Okoro thrives by attacking closeouts (18-of-23) and finishing around the basket (64.2 percent). Eventually, he should be capable of matching Anunoby's 1.3 threes per game. He made 20 in 28 games, but the eye test sees a correctable shooting stroke for a teenager.
Limited creators, poor rebounders
Creating shots isn't a strength of either player. They'll always be complementary off-ball scorers who take what the defense gives them. And neither has put up good rebounding numbers in spite of their strength. Both have rebounding percentages below 10 percent in 2019-20.
Historical comparison: Andre Iguodala
Passing is a skill that separates Okoro from Anunoby and makes him closer to Iguodala, who also wasn't a volume shooter early in his career. He didn't average a made three-pointer per game until his fourth season. If Okoro can continue to improve his shooting the way Iggy did, he can be a similarly versatile forward who can slash, serve as a playmaker, defend at a high level and knock down open jumpers.
James Wiseman (Memphis, C, Freshman)
Current comparison: Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers
The draw to James Wiseman focuses on a special physical profile that features 7'1", 240-pound size and a 7'6" wingspan. It's not far off from Whiteside's profile: 7'0", 235 pounds, 7'7" wingspan. With their strength and length, they both anchor the paint from the center position and don't spend any time playing the 4.
Rim protection and rebounding
Before the season went on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Whiteside was leading the NBA in shot-blocking (3.1 per game) and ranked No. 2 in rebounds (14.2 per game). Wiseman's hands aren't as strong, but he's bouncier and should be just as capable of developing into one of the league's most active shot-blockers and rebounders. He eats up space around the basket, both below and above the rim.
Like Whiteside, who has 119 putbacks in 61 games, Wiseman also figures to use the offensive glass for a good chunk of his scoring.
Whiteside is averaging 16.3 points while shooting 68.6 percent at the rim, scoring mostly off rolls, cuts, second-chance opportunities and post-ups. Wiseman will similarly give his guards an enormous, high-percentage finisher. He's poised to eventually rank among the leaders in dunks.
Teams won't be running offense through Wiseman in today's league. He isn't a sharp shot-creator or stretch big man who'll shoot threes. But he does show decent touch on his one-handers and mini jump shots around the foul line. This season, Whiteside has shot 52.6 percent on jumpers inside 17 feet and 44.1 percent on shots from 17 feet to the arc. Over time, Wiseman could become a threat from those areas, as well.
With a career 4.2 percent assist rate, Whiteside is notorious for being a non-passer. Wiseman only played 69 minutes at Memphis, but he totaled one assist and doesn't project as a center who'll be facilitating from the post.
Historical comparison: Prime DeAndre Jordan
Flashes of post play and mid-range shooting hint at Wiseman's offensive ceiling being higher than Jordan's. Wiseman will also have trouble matching prime Jordan defensively. But between their physical presence, elite finishing and shot-blocking, their core strengths and roles will wind up being similar.
Killian Hayes (France, PG, 2001)
Current comparison: D'Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves
Positional size and athletic limitations
Both lefty point guards, Russell (6'4") and Killian Hayes (6'5") also look similar physically. They have good size for lead ball-handlers, but neither wows with explosiveness and burst. They play below the rim, and they're both still effective there.
Russell was shooting 56.7 percent at the rim in Golden State before the Warriors traded him to Minnesota, where he's been ever more efficient (16-of-23). Finishing around the basket has become one of Hayes' signature strengths overseas. Despite his lack of standout athleticism, he uses angles, craft and touch to convert drives and floaters at strong rates.
Ball-handling and passing
Both guards are skilled off the dribble with their ball-handling, footwork and passes. Hayes has to improve around the perimeter to reach Russell's level, but he's become sharper at creating space. He doesn't need bounce to separate, and he dishes out slick assists off ball screens and penetration, showing impressive vision and delivery methods to rollers and shooters. Hayes was averaging 6.2 assists in Eurocup and seems to offer even more playmaking potential than Russell.
Historical comparison: Prime Goran Dragic
Dragic has been a productive starter for the majority of his career, which peaked in 2017-18 when he made the All-Star team. He's never been a high-volume three-point shooter, and it doesn't appear that Hayes will be one, either. But both are crafty lefties who compensate for limited athletic ability with scoring/passing skills and a savvy feel for the game.
LaMelo Ball (Illawarra Hawks, PG/SG, 2001)
Note: There is no one comparison among current NBA players for LaMelo Ball. Luka Doncic is the closest, but the comparison is too far-fetched based on Doncic's unique early success. A blend comparison for Ball was deemed more appropriate.
Current comparison: Ricky Rubio/Caris LeVert
LeVert's positional size and role
Ball should measure similarly to LeVert, who has helpful 6'6", 205-pound size for a ball-handling guard. At that height, they can both play on and off the ball. But LeVert is used to run pick-and-rolls for 40.4 percent of his possessions. LaMelo should wind up with a similar ratio given how effective he is with a ball screen and his size, ball skills and IQ.
Rubio's passing and flash
Rubio hasn't developed into a high-level scorer, but he's been one of the league's best facilitators, a title Ball should quickly earn. Like Rubio, Ball has special passing skills and vision, and he delivers assists with craft and flash. Teammates will enjoy playing with LaMelo, whose value will revolve around his ability to set them up for quality looks off transition plays, pick-and-rolls and penetration. While Ball's jumper, pull-up and lack of strength raise questions about his scoring potential, his passing IQ props up his floor to Rubio-type value.
LeVert's scoring: Threes and drives
Like LeVert, who has only made four medium-range jumpers all season, Ball relies on three-point shooting and drives for scoring. They both finish off penetration with layups and floaters, but rarely do they pull up in the mid-range. They do shoot off the dribble from behind the arc.
Ball isn't consistent yet, but when he's able to build rhythm and confidence, he demonstrates plenty of deep shot-making ability. He also has soft touch off one foot, even from beyond the foul line. And though he lacks muscle and a degree of explosion, he is highly coordinated and possesses a versatile finishing package that highlights his knack for adjusting at the rim.
Historical comparison: Penny Hardaway/Jason Williams
Picture a bigger Williams with Hardaway's star power. Ball creates and dishes with Williams' flair and confidence, and he has the same type of pull-up three in his bag. But he's closer in size and athleticism to Hardaway, who averaged over 20 points per game during his short prime years. Ball has more scoring upside than Williams, but to reach Penny's level, he'll have to improve his mid-range shot and post offense.
Obi Toppin (Dayton, PF/C, Sophomore)
Current comparison: John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Physical tools and athleticism
The comparison between Collins (6'9", 235 lbs) and Obi Toppin (6'9", 220 lbs) starts with their similar tools and athleticism. They're both strong and vertically explosive, physical strengths that drive their effectiveness on offense.
Toppin led the country in dunks this year while shooting 76.7 percent around the basket. Collins has shot 67.3 percent at the rim, ranking in the 90th percentile among NBA players. They're both elite finishers who also use the offensive glass for scoring opportunities, and they each grade in the 87th percentile on post-ups.
Toppin was too tough for NCAA defenders who couldn't contain his strength or face-up coordination. He's also the better passer, though it's worth noting Toppin is already 22 years old, the same age as Collins.
Collins went from hitting 16 threes as a rookie to averaging 1.4 per game this season. His improved ability to stretch the floor raises his value, and it's made it easier for the Hawks to find another big (Clint Capela) who'll fit next to him. Toppin also made a notable jump as a sophomore, draining 32 threes in 31 games at a 39.0 percent clip.
Defensive question marks
Suspect defense (plus Atlanta's record) has cast a cloud over Collins' tremendous production. The main concern with Toppin centers around his slower defensive reactions, particularly away from the basket. At the 4, he could struggle to guard some of the NBA's hybrid forwards, and he only managed to average 6.4 defensive boards and 1.2 blocks in 31.6 minutes per game.
Historical comparison: Amar'e Stoudemire
Visually, the similarities between Toppin and Stoudemire are uncanny. They both have the same broad shoulders and destructive explosiveness when leaping around the basket. Like Stoudemire, Toppin has major scoring potential powered by strength, athleticism, post skills and developing shooting touch. On the flip side, he doesn't dominate the boards or add value on defense, weaknesses that also held Stoudemire back.
Rebounding and passing are the areas that ultimately separate Toppin from Collins.
Onyeka Okongwu (USC, C, Freshman)
Pro comparison: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Like Adebayo, Onyeka Okongwu will enter the league with a tremendous physical profile for a player who only spent one year in college. Okongwu is listed at 6'9", 245 pounds with a reported wingspan over 7'0". Adebayo is 6'9", 255 pounds with a 7'2¾" wingspan. Both are strong and toned, and though Adebayo is lighter on his feet, Okongwu can similarly explode above the rim.
Adebayo was shooting 63.1 percent at the rim before the 2019-20 season was suspended. Okongwu was at 66.4 percent. They're both powerful finishers, able to catch the ball in traffic and score through contact at the rim off rolls, cuts and entry passes.
Okongwu's face-up potential
Comparing Okongwu to Adebayo means expecting the USC freshman to build on the flashes of face-up play he's already displayed. The ability to handle the ball and pass help separate Adebayo offensively. Okongwu was more of a post player this season, but he did flash promising footwork and body control ripping through and either scoring or finding teammates on the move.
Adebayo has quickly developed into a special defender due to his playmaking and versatility. Okongwu was one of two collegiate players this season to reach 2.7 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. He's an active rim protector, quick to react and jump passing lanes, but like Adebayo, he's also demonstrated the mobility to switch onto forwards or wings. Both players have spent time playing power forward early in their careers.
Historical comparison: Alonzo Mourning
Okongwu, who's thought to have an older-school game relative to today's typical big, would benefit from watching tape of Mourning, a '90s-era post scorer, fearless defender and high-energy anchor. He'd have to develop a mid-range jumper, but Okongwu shares a similar body, skill set inside 17 feet and shot-blocking tools.
RJ Hampton (New Zealand Breakers, SG, 2001)
Current comparison: Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz
Positional size and speed
Clarkson (6'4") and RJ Hampton (6'5") share similar measurements and quick-twitch movement. They're fast, athletic and able to shake or blow by.
Styles of play and roles
Hampton projects as a scoring combo guard like Clarkson, who revived his NBA stock in Utah by averaging 15.6 points in 25.3 minutes off the bench. That could wind up being Hampton's role. Like Clarkson, Hampton puts pressure on defenses in transition, but he's also flashed shot-creation potential in the half court off drives and pull-ups.
Secondary playmaking, ball-screen offense
Hampton also averaged 2.5 assists overseas, demonstrating promising ball-screen playmaking and passing ability. He'll be valued for his scoring in the NBA, but he'll also be used often as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, the way Clarkson was in Utah (29.6 percent of time, 77th percentile).
Shot-makers, not shooters
Clarkson is a dangerous shot-maker who can heat up, but he's also a career 34.1 percent three-point shooter. Hampton shot 29.5 percent from three, but he did look competent when set (13 threes, 15 games). The eye test and early numbers suggest Hampton will be similar to Clarkson in that he'll threaten defenses with his jumper around the perimeter, but his overall body of shooting work won't be seen as efficient.
Historical comparison: Prime OJ Mayo
Mayo averaged 15.2 points and 3.1 assists through his first five NBA seasons, numbers that seem reasonable to project for Hampton. Like Mayo was, Hampton could work as a starting 2-guard or hold value in the sixth-man role with his scoring and secondary playmaking skills.
Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State, PG, Sophomore)
Current comparison: Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
Positional size, limited athleticism
Ball (6'6") and Tyrese Haliburton (6'5") share similar bodies and athletic limitations. They both have advantageous height for ball-handlers, but their lack of explosiveness keeps them from putting pressure on defenses as drivers. Ball is averaging just 1.2 free-throw attempts in 2019-20. Haliburton only averaged 2.0.
Ball's and Haliburton's identities revolve around their special passing IQs. Their ability to make good reads, decisions and deliveries is what drives their value. Coaches trust them with the ball. Teammates enjoy playing with them. Ball and Haliburton, who averaged 6.5 assists before hurting his wrist, can make the game easier for others without needing to pound the rock and overdribble.
Ball entered the league with a strange release by the side of his face. Haliburton has similarly unusual mechanics with his pushing motion from the chest. Both of their forms limit their pull-up games, but Ball (38.3 three-point percentage) and Haliburton (41.9 three-point percentage) are still effective catching and shooting behind the arc.
Ability to play off-ball
Though he's known for being a traditional pass-first point guard, Ball spends more time spotting up (30.4 percent) in New Orleans than he does running pick-and-rolls. Haliburton is also comfortable and efficient playing off the ball, having finished his sophomore season in the 99th percentile as a spot-up player.
Averaging 1.5 steals through three seasons, Ball demonstrates impressive defensive anticipation. Haliburton was averaging 2.5 steals at Iowa State, also showing defensive IQ that helps him compensate for limited athleticism and strength.
Historical comparison: Prime Jose Calderon
Jason Kidd could be a historical comparison, but it doesn't feel right comparing Haliburton to the legendary point guard.
There are differences between Calderon and Haliburton, particularly on defense. But their roles and strengths could wind up being similar. Calderon averaged at least eight assists four times. He managed the offense, ran pick-and-rolls and made open threes without doing too much dribbling or creating. That sounds like Haliburton's projected style and role. He'll be valued for his decision-making, passing and shot-making over his scoring and athleticism.
Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
Current comparison: Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Sexton (6'1", 190 lbs) and Tyrese Maxey (6'3", 198 lbs) aren't far off physically. They both use strength to play through contact, but neither is explosive as most of their finishes come below the rim.
Scoring ball-handlers, limited playmakers
Like Sexton, Maxey lacks traditional size for an off-guard. But they're both better suited for the 2 given their limited feel as facilitators. Sexton is having a huge season (20.8 points per game, 47.2 field-goal percentage) while playing 77 percent of his possession at the 2. Maxey's future coach will want to pair him with another playmaker. He can make pick-and-roll passes, but his instincts are more geared toward scoring, and he has enough strength and skill to execute against taller defenders.
Maxey's shooting percentages weren't great, but the eye test buys his jumper and finishing in the paint. Dangerous with both pull-ups and spot-ups, Sexton has also developed one of the league's best floater games (47.6 percent). As Maxey grows, his shot-making versatility and accuracy should similarly improve, and he'll enter the NBA with excellent touch on his runner, as well (39.1 percent).
Historical comparison: Prime Eric Gordon
Gordon thrived during his first three seasons in Los Angeles as a score-first combo guard who averaged 18.1 points and 3.3 assists. Those are numbers Maxey can reach by similarly using strength, deceptiveness and skill over athleticism. Over time, as Gordon's field-goal percentage started to fall, he revived his value by moving to the sixth-man role, which may also be best for Maxey if he turns into more of a streak scorer than an efficient one.