2020 NBA Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions for Most Intriguing Prospects

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 25, 2020

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2019, file photo, LaMelo Ball of the Illawarra Hawks carries the ball up during their game against the Sydney Kings in the Australian Basketball League in Sydney.  LaMelo Ball's bone bruise on his left foot is expected to keep him out of the Illawarra Hawks lineup for the remainder of the National Basketball League season in Australia. The 18-year-old American, who joined Illawarra as part of the NBL's Next Stars program, is expected to be a first-round pick in this year's NBA draft.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

There may be a few bigger buzz words in the NBA draft lexicon than "intriguing," but perhaps none better encapsulates the process.

It's equal parts praise and criticism, as the prospects who most arouse curiosity are often the ones with the widest range of possible outcomes. It's sort of a simpler way to say "boom or bust," as in the player has immense upside but also substantial risk.

After updating our mock first round, we'll examine three of the most intriguing prospects in the class.


2020 NBA Mock Draft

1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia

2. Golden State Warriors: James Wiseman, C, Memphis

3. Charlotte Hornets: LaMelo Ball, PG/SG, Illawarra Hawks

4. Chicago Bulls: Deni Avdija, SF/PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv

5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Obi Toppin, PF/C, Dayton

6. Atlanta Hawks: Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State

7. Detroit Pistons: Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, USC

8. New York Knicks: Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State

9. Washington Wizards: Isaac Okoro, SF/PF, Auburn

10. Phoenix Suns: Killian Hayes, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm

11. San Antonio Spurs: Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt

12. Sacramento Kings: Patrick Williams, PF, Florida State

13. New Orleans Pelicans: Saddiq Bey, SF/PF, Villanova

14. Boston Celtics (via Memphis Grizzlies): Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina

15. Orlando Magic: Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama

16. Portland Trail Blazers: Josh Green, SG, Arizona

17. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Brooklyn Nets): Tyrese Maxey, SG, Kentucky

18. Dallas Mavericks: Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Olympiacos B

19. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia 76ers): RJ Hampton, SG, New Zealand Breakers

20. Miami Heat: Precious Achiuwa, PF/C, Memphis

21. Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City Thunder): Tyrell Terry, PG, Stanford

22. Denver Nuggets (via Houston Rockets): Grant Riller, PG/SG, Charleston

23. Utah Jazz: Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL

24. Milwaukee Bucks (via Indiana Pacers): Leandro Bolmaro, SG/SF, Barcelona

25. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Denver Nuggets): Robert Woodard II, SF, Mississippi State

26. Boston Celtics: Jaden McDaniels, SF/PF, Washington

27. New York Knicks (via Los Angeles Clippers): Jahmi'us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech

28. Los Angeles Lakers: Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona

29. Toronto Raptors: Jalen Smith, PF/C, Maryland

30. Boston Celtics (via Milwaukee Bucks): Xavier Tillman, PF/C, Michigan State


Most Intriguing Prospects

LaMelo Ball, PG/SG, Illawarra Hawks

Want to know how you're examining an intriguing prospect? When an article arguing for them to be the top player in the draft starts like this: "There is not a player at the top of the 2020 NBA draft class who has red flags that are more obvious and well-defined than that of LaMelo Ball."

Those were the words of NBC Sports' Rob Dauster, and again, it's a discussion of why he feels the 19-year-old is the No. 1 prospect in the draft. So, why start the conversation with his red flags? Answer: Because they're unavoidable.

Ball is, at best, indifferent on defense. He fires with reckless abandon from three-point range—and often well beyond it—even though he shot just 20-of-80 from distance over 12 games with Illawarra. As soon as he crosses half-court, he thinks he's within his shooting range, despite the numbers screaming that he's most certainly not.

And yet, these are also part of the appeal with Ball. Defensive effort and shot selection are both issues that can theoretically be corrected by the right coaching staff. In other words, there's a chance the team selecting him can get all of his strengths and be able to iron out his primary weaknesses.

If that happens, you're probably talking about a perennial All-Star. He's a 6'7" floor general with the handles to ditch defenders and the quarterbacking skills of a top-10 passer, which he'll be as soon as his rookie campaign tips. He has the length (if not the bulk) to be a disrupter on defense, and his comfort (and confidence) pulling up from deep may eventually demand a gravitational pull on the opposition's entire defense.

He's too good of a passer to flame out of the NBA entirely, but ball movement alone won't get him major minutes if his defensive motor stalls and his shot selection doesn't improve. Check those boxes, though, and Ball could be the kind of transformational talent that an organization can build its entire identity around.


Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina

Because this draft—like most in recent years—has a heavy collection of one-and-done prospects at the top, there's value in examining how analysts viewed these players as college recruits. ESPN, for instance, pegged Cole Anthony as the No. 2 overall recruit in 2019.

The fact that the 20-year-old now appears in this discussion highlights how things went with the Tar Heels. They were Roy Williams' first team to fail to post a winning record, and they didn't even sniff that mark (14-19).

Those struggles aren't all on Anthony, of course, but it's hard to say he stopped the bleeding when he shot just 38.0 percent from the field and only had 11 more assists (88) than turnovers (77).

Saying that, the talent that drove him to such a high recruiting ranking is still evident. He can create offense on his own, and there's little reason to think that skill won't make the transition to the next level.

"Anthony's shot-making should be a lock to carry over based on the eye-test results of his 34 half-court pull-ups in 22 games and 41.2 percent catch-and-shoot mark," B/R's Jonathan Wasserman wrote. "He's an advanced shot-creator getting into his jumper and a comfortable spot-up shooter off the ball from the wings."

He may never be an advanced playmaker, but scoring combo guards can make a nice living in the Association (Just ask the Denver Nuggets' $170 million man Jamal Murray).

If Anthony lands in the right spot—one with other table-setters and far more spacers than the Tar Heels had—he can still have the kind of career high school evaluators envisioned last summer.


Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Olympiacos B

Aleksej Pokusevski might be the hardest prospect to place on a mock draft board. When The Athletic's John Hollinger slotted the Serb as his 13th-rated prospect, he also included this less-than-glowing review: "Look, there's a decent chance he'll suck."

Shouldn't that drive the 18-year-old way down the board? In a loaded draft class, sure, but when even the top prospects in this draft have major question marks, his potential is rich enough for teams to stomach his shortcomings and possibly invest a lottery pick.

As for that potential, Hollinger noted Pokusevski's intriguing abilities as a "7-footer who shoots clean-looking threes on the move, shows skill for dribbling and passing, and snags steals on the perimeter." Add rim protection to the mix, and you might have a player who mans the middle on defense and becomes a brutal matchup along the offensive perimeter.

Pokusevski faces a long road to even approach that point, and it's very possible his light bulb never clicks. But the chance he'll become such a unique talent leaves this mock drafter feeling less than confident about projecting him as a non-lottery pick.