2020 NBA Draft Lottery Buzz: The Mystery Begins Right at the Top

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterAugust 20, 2020

Florida State forward Patrick Williams (4) dribbles up court against Florida during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)
Matt Stamey/Associated Press

The arrival of the NBA draft lottery Thursday night has sparked teams to resume putting their boards together and dig for more intelligence. 

Bleacher Report has had its ear on the league's draft conversations all season, and now things are starting to heat up again after a short layoff.

Here is some of the buzz we've heard pertaining to what scouts are thinking as teams take their draft preparation a step further.


Top of Draft May Not Go as Expected

Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

The general belief all year had LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman as top-three overall favorites, with Obi Toppin, Deni Avdija, Onyeka Okongwu and Isaac Okoro mixed into a tier that either slightly overlaps or follows. But based from some scouts' takes I've heard over the past few weeks, mock drafts could start looking silly right from the top. 

I've heard Avdija being ranked higher than LaMelo. Wiseman graded as a late-lottery pick. Jalen Smith over Okongwu. Okoro being compared to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Patrick Williams mentioned as a sleeper to be the draft's top prospect. There are international scouts with Killian Hayes top five, and college scouts who "don't see it."

Opinions are all over the place. This year has all the ingredients for draft results that don't align with the narratives believed by media and fans throughout the season.  

The last draft with this much uncertainty and varying viewpoints was in 2013, when Anthony Bennett went first and Giannis Antetokounmpo went No. 15. Who goes where in 2020 will come down to the order and eye of the general manager at each pick. And each GM's eye could wind up seeing something different by October. 


Florida State's Patrick Williams, Potential Top-10 Riser

Matt Stamey/Associated Press

Williams has quietly gained serious steam within NBA front offices. His name has come up multiple times in the sleeper-of-the-draft discussion.

One executive admitted to moving him into the top eight of his rankings, citing Williams being the draft's youngest NCAA prospect with "off-the-charts upside."

Another scout floated the idea that when we look back in a few years, we'll question how and why Williams wasn't a top pick more than any other prospect. 

He didn't generate national attention, averaging just 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds. But for a powerful 6'8", 225-pound 19-year-old, scouts have become enticed by his flashes of physical, athletic finishes, shot-making touch off the catch and dribble, pick-and-roll passing skills and defensive playmaking. 

Those particular flashes create a unique potential trajectory if they become routine plays for Williams. And considering he only turned 19 on August 6, it seems as if teams will be willing to bet on his development.


Israel's Deni Avdija Solidifying Top-5 Status

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

Avdija has been viewed as a potential top-five pick all season, but now it's starting to seem more like a certainty than a possibility. 

July's run helping Maccabi Tel Aviv win Israel's Winner's League championship may have helped solidify his case. Scouts sound highly comfortable with Avdija, even if they're unsure about whether he possesses star potential. 

His versatility at the small and power forward spots also fits with every lottery team. Unlike Ball or Wiseman, whose particular styles and limitations will force GMs to question if they'll work with their roster, teams won't have to worry about whether Avdija can fit.

Since play resumed following the shutdown, he delivered more sequences of grab-and-go transition offense, ball-screen driving and passing, and spot-up shooting. In EuroLeague play, he's proved to be comfortable playing off the ball in a supporting role. In the Israeli BSL, he's shown more confidence and ability as an initiator for Maccabi's offense.

Rather than question Avdija's ceiling, we're looking at a case of teams valuing a player's high floor in a draft loaded with uncertainty. Teams targeting him in the No. 6-10 range will likely have to trade up.


Love and Hate with Georgia's Anthony Edwards

John Amis/Associated Press

Every scout seems to have and project Edwards in the top three—yet nobody seems confident that he's the right type of player to build an offense around.

I've heard "lowest basketball IQ for any potential No. 1 overall pick I can remember." One executive called him a "top-three mystery," which is an amusing oxymoron. Another scout questioned why Edwards couldn't win more games on a team that had decent talent. 

With 6'5", 225-pound size and explosive athleticism, he averaged 19.1 points and 2.3 threes per game, demonstrating a high skill level when creating and making shots. He also shot 40.2 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from three with 91 assists to 87 turnovers for a Georgia team that finished 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC.

The acknowledgement of Edwards' talent and low confidence in it translating to winning has been fascinating. It also fuels more speculation that teams at the top will look to trade down. 


Maryland's Jalen Smith Generating Lottery Buzz

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Multiple scouts have Smith graded as a lottery pick.

There is a belief that his full skill set was slightly masked at Maryland, and that he'll surprise with more offensive versatility in the NBA.

Regardless, his improved body and shooting hint at an easy fit and high floor. Teams want bigs who'll bang inside and stretch the floor, and Smith just became the sixth NCAA player on record to average at least a three-point make, 10 rebounds and two blocks a game, per Sports Reference.

He's also getting rave reviews for his professionalism and work ethic. He'll be moved into our lottery projections for our next mock draft.


RJ Hampton Falling

Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

Teams don't sound as high on Hampton as they did earlier in the season, when many projected a lottery pick despite his decision to play in the NBL over the NCAA. While his explosiveness for a 6'5" guard always suggested upside, he didn't showcase any signature skill in Australia for scouts to feel confident.

I've started to hear late-first to early second-round grades from teams on Hampton, who combined to shoot 3-of-19 in exhibition games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grlzzlies when the New Zealand Breakers visited the United States in October 2019. 

All it takes is one of 30 teams to buy into his athleticism and versatility while having patience with his shot and IQ. But he's definitely lost supporters, and he now sounds vulnerable to sliding.


Smaller Takeaways

—I'm hearing a lot of top-10 talk for Iowa State's Tyrese Haliburton. He's likely to be the first NCAA point guard drafted and the second point guard to go after LaMelo Ball.

Stanford's Tyrell Terry has fans who continue to move him up their board and skeptics who have him in the second round. A source told me he's grown to over 6'3" in sneakers, which could be a big deal for teams questioning his size.

—There is a lot of love for Villanova's Saddiq Bey. I'm sensing he could be one of the first players taken outside the top 10 in the late lottery. His mix of size, shooting and high character have become big draws.

Vanderbilt's Aaron Nesmith has been labeled as the draft's best shooter who some think will go in the late lottery. There are skeptics who aren't as high, citing the idea that he's too one-dimensional. 

—Some think Alabama's Kira Lewis Jr. is going top 20; others have him 25-35. Believers buy his improvement and speed, while doubters have questioned his feel for the game.