NBA Draft 2020: Spotlighting Highest-Rated Upperclassmen on Expert Mock Drafts

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2020

Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) brings the ball up court during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Maryland Saturday, February 29, 2020, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
Terrance Williams/Associated Press

The NBA draft is a young man's game. Age and potential typically rule the day, but those who are willing to take on the more experienced players available can be rewarded with a return on their investment as well.

Any drinking game that involves consumption after the word "upside" on draft night can get dangerous quickly. Sometimes the elder statesmen of the college game have upside, too, though. In the 2019 draft, Rui Hachimura, Cameron Johnson and Matisse Thybulle were drafted in the first round as juniors or seniors and ended up showing flashes of potential this season.

The 2020 draft is light on upperclassmen who are expected to even be in the late lottery, but there are some prospects showing up on expert mock drafts. Here's a look at some of the more prominent names and which experts think they will end up getting their name called within the first 30 picks.


Xavier Tillman, PF/C, Michigan State

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Xavier Tillman was back-and-forth on whether he would return to Michigan State after three successful seasons in East Lansing. His transformation there from unknown recruit to legitimate first-round prospect speaks highly of his work ethic and ability to make himself better.

Tillman arrived at Michigan State as the 112th-ranked recruit in the country and 270 pounds. He leaves as a 245-pound bully in the paint with the switchability to stay on the court against small-ball lineups.

The junior is not a polished offensive weapon. His lack of explosiveness will likely prevent him from being a strong finisher who can get to the line, but he has enough touch around the rim to get some putbacks and  can find the open man as a passer (3.0 assists per game).

Tillman was a defensive playmaker for the Spartans as his 7'1" wingspan helped him notch 2.1 blocks per game and 1.2 steals. He has the size and athleticism to guard multiple positions, and his defense is what makes him an intriguing prospect.

The X-factor, like so many players, will be his shooting. He nearly doubled his three-point attempts as a junior (from 27 to 50) and hit just 26 percent of them. That isn't encouraging, but there's something to work with there, and him finding a consistent shot would be a game-changer for his stock.

There isn't a consensus on many upperclassmen who will go in the first round, but Tillman is one who is often cited. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman has him rounding out the first round to the Milwaukee Bucks, while Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports projects him as the 20th pick to the Brooklyn Nets, citing his ability to contribute immediately on the defensive end.

Gary Parrish and Kyle Boone of CBS Sports both have the big man going in the back half of the first round as well.


Grant Riller, PG/SG, Charleston

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

The only other upperclassman who makes an appearance in Wasserman's latest mock is explosive scorer Grant Riller. Coming from Charleston, Riller faces the usual questions of competition, but unlike Tillman, the offensive upside is easy to see.

Riller projects as the prototypical combo guard. He has the frame to guard point guards and smaller shooting guards but didn't necessarily impress as a primary facilitator (3.9 assists per game). Instead, he combines a lightning-quick first step and the spot-up shooting ability to play alongside a traditional point guard and could become an effective sixth man.

According to The Ringer's NBA draft guide, Riller hit 41 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes while scoring 21.9 points per game, good for 11th in the nation. His ability to drive and shoot on the wing would make him an ideal secondary ball-handler.

The experts have Riller pegged as a fit on multiple rosters. Wasserman sees the Toronto Raptors taking a shot on him with the 28th selection. He is an intriguing fit in Toronto, where he would be surrounded by long defenders who could make up for his shortcomings on that side of the floor.

Ward-Henninger sees him going a bit earlier, with the Philadelphia 76ers utilizing the 21st pick on the guard. Philadelphia figures to be the kind of team who would want him for his ability to be a secondary ball-handler.

Boone also has Riller going in the first, with the Jazz looking to add him to the roster to make up for the disappointment of the Mike Conley addition. Meanwhile, Parrish sees Riller falling into the second round.


Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State

Terrance Williams/Associated Press

Tom Izzo is going to have a lot of production and leadership to replace next season. With both Cassius Winston and Zavier Tillman on their way to potentially becoming first-round picks, they are losing a lot of familiarity.

Brendan Quinn @BFQuinn

So Michigan State will be replacing Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman. A combined 32.3 ppg, 12.8 rpg and 8.9 rpg. Winston and Tillman accounted for 350 of MSU's 845 made FGs last season. One or the other led the Spartans in scoring in 26 of 31 games.

ESPN's latest mock draft joins all three CBS sports mocks in placing the veteran point guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, and it's hard to argue with the fit. The Lakers are in need of a point guard who simply makes the right plays, goes hard on defense and can play off the ball.

That's exactly what Winston does. He is a heady player on the pick-and-roll, can stick with most point guards and shot 43 percent from deep in his three years as a starter.

There are more exciting point guard prospects. The lottery figures to be littered with them. Killian Hayes, LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton are just a few who have higher ceilings and will have their names called long before Winston.

But it could be Winston who is playing meaningful minutes in a playoff game much sooner than any of his contemporaries.