NBA Draft 2020: Predictions for LaMelo Ball, Cole Anthony, More Landing Spots

Theo SalaunContributor IIIMay 1, 2020

LaMelo Ball of the Illawarra Hawks passes during their game against the Sydney Kings in the Australian Basketball League in Sydney, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

This figures to be one of the more nebulous NBA drafts in a while, with the top being shallow after some premier prospects not going through the traditional college route. Toss in the cancellation of further scouting opportunities and the haze is exacerbated. 

James Wiseman played just three games before calling it for the year. LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton opted to play in the less-visible National Basketball League. Cole Anthony missed about a third of his season with injuries. NCAA competition typically provides the barometer for evaluating NBA prospects, but that's proving unreliable in 2020.

As it stands, three teams have a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick: the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Of teams with a 9-plus percent chance to pick anywhere in the top four, those three are joined by the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks. The Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets each have 6-plus percent chances to get in there, but the aforementioned six squads are our presumptive high-lottery drafters. 

Still, the top of the lottery feels less significant when the pool is balanced and devoid of many true standouts.

Golden State, Minnesota and Atlanta each have their franchise's 1-guard likely locked down for the foreseeable future. This makes the placement of 2020's top point guards, Ball and Anthony, particularly intriguing. But neither the Warriors nor the Hawks have a cornerstone in the paint, giving this year's best bigs, Wiseman and Onyeka Okongwu, a chance to rise. 

Here are some predictions for those elite talents, placed in the context of deliberations NBA front offices may be having. 


Cleveland Triples Down on Point Guards, Drafts Ball

Ball's upside is obvious and the most alluring of any 2020 prospect. He's got older brother Lonzo's control over the game and enough of father LaVar's spice to create highlights when things get out of control. At 6'7" with slick dimes, a potent handle and a lightweight jumper, Ball passes the eye test with flying colors.

Oh, and he has that weirdly comfortable, off-the-dribble floater—which is somehow cash from just a few steps in from the arc.

On the other hand, the percentages haven't been pretty, and his defense has been...uninspiring. Ball shot just 37.5 percent from the field for the Illawarra Hawks in 12 games, with 25.0 percent from deep and 72.3 percent from the line. 

He was playing 31.3 minutes per game against grown men, though, and averaged out 17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game to earn Rookie of the Year honors.

It would be fun for Golden State to pick him, but the Dubs are focused on complementing their All-Stars on a title run. The Timberwolves and Hawks each have their own trigger-happy point guards, leaving Cleveland as Ball's best bet.

The Cavaliers got Collin Sexton in the 2018 lottery before selecting Darius Garland in 2019. Neither stands taller than 6'2" and neither seems intent on passing the ball. Ball has a higher ceiling than both. 

Cleveland is in a long, winding tunnel right now, and regardless of roster construction, Ball's upside may just mean a brighter light at the end.


Anthony Joins RJ Barrett in the Big Apple

New York could squeeze into the top four, which would put them in strong contention for Ball or a wing like Anthony Edwards or Deni Avdija. While the Knicks do have a 9.6 percent chance of picking fourth (not to ignore the 9.0 percent chance they pick first), the seventh or eighth spot is much more likely with 29.8 and 20.6 percent likelihoods, respectively.

An already murky draft gets even muddier at that range. And if New York is going to be gambling on someone anyway, why not bet on Cole Anthony?

Like Cleveland, New York selected a guard with its first pick (third overall) in 2019. Unlike Cleveland, New York has a few real pieces to build around, and Barrett is lanky and athletic enough to succeed off the ball.

One need became painfully obvious after Marcus Morris Sr. left the concrete jungle: The Knicks need shooters.

Anthony's season may have been derailed by a knee injury, but he still played 22 games and averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists. His 34.8 percent clip from deep isn't awe-inspiring, but the shot is pretty and he was hoisting up 6.4 per game.

New York, meanwhile, doesn't have anyone who takes over four threes a game and, even on those limited looks, none of them is converting better than 36.2 percent. 

Anthony is no sure thing, but the Knicks can afford to take a leap of faith.


Golden State Reaches for Wingspan: Wiseman or Okongwu?

In 2020-21, Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green should be Golden State's starters. But the Warriors need a fifth, and Alen Smailagic is still a wee bit raw.

Depending on where the Warriors pick, they may be tempted to grab a high-upside talent like Edwards, Avdija or even Ball. The first two can immediately contribute off the ball and on both ends, while the latter is just exciting.

What the Warriors really could use, though, is a 5. And there are two obvious routes they can take: Wiseman's ceiling or Okongwu's floor.

Wiseman is 7'1" and obliterated the competition in his small sample of NCAA games. Across three games, the big man averaged 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks while hitting 76.9 percent of his field-goal attempts.

But Okongwu was no slouch, either. In 28 games, the 6'9" USC forward averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks on 61.6 percent shooting from the field. 

Both of these bigs are excellent prospects and likely NBA contributors, and the possibility of a balanced starting five, primed for a playoff run, is too appealing for Golden State. 

If they luck into a top pick, the front office should gravitate to Wiseman's astronomical potential. And, if they drop out of his range, Okongwu will be a worthwhile reach for a team with a visible need.