NBA Draft Buzz: If Top Pick Isn't Traded, Sources Expect LaMelo Ball to Go First

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterSeptember 28, 2020

Georgia's Anthony Edwards brings the ball down the court during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The NBA predraft process is moving. A draft date has finally been set for November 18. And now the league has put together a reimagined combine to offer more evaluation opportunities. 

Teams are talking. Thoughts are being expressed and exchanged to create gossip after months of dead air and waiting. 

Bleacher Report has kept its ear on the NBA's door to remain plugged into this year's draft conversation. 


Teams open-minded about new combine structure 

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The NBA announced this year's combine would be virtual, with the league conducting interviews, measurements, testing and drilling—and no team personnel permitted. Instead, teams will be sent the information and footage, including individual pro day videos created by each prospect's camp. 

But despite scouts and executives barred from attending combine sites, and players sending videos of non-gameplay action, teams still sound open-minded and interested. 

"Uncharted territory, but I'll take new information after not seeing these kids on a court since March," a scout told Bleacher Report. "It's new information that everyone will do something different with. But to check in on kids we haven't seen in half of a year? Especially when we can't bring them in for workouts or go watch them train, that's at least a minor positive."

The collective intrigue in this reformatted, virtual event is somewhat ironic, considering during normal times when teams are invited courtside to watch the combine in Chicago, most insist that they don't put much stock into on-court activities.

But this year, scouts sound anxious to resume their jobs after a long layoff, even if it's to evaluate shooting drills. 

It will be interesting to find out later whether any prospects actually move the needle for themselves with on-camera sales pitches from late September to November. 


Buzz: Minnesota Timberwolves not sold on any prospect, expected to try and trade down

Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

According to a Western Conference executive, word around the league is Minnesota isn't leaning one way at No. 1, sounds "confused" and feels pressure after "messing up last year by trading for Jarrett Culver." 

The belief is that Minnesota's priority is to trade, realistically down the board assuming an established star won't become available. If the Wolves stick at No. 1, multiple sources say they'd bet on LaMelo Ball having the edge over Anthony Edwards. 

Rival scouts have mentioned fit issues with Ball in Minnesota, specifically his ability to play alongside other ball-dominant players and whether a team's defense featuring Ball, D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns has any chance in a seven-game series against Western Conference opponents. 

But Ball also has a chunk of support as the draft's top overall prospect, and with president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas still unsure about the makeup of his team (Russell and Towns have played one game together), fit might not factor into Minnesota's decision. 

On the other hand, there are trade-down targets who do fit the roster on paper, including Deni Avdija, Isaac Okoro, Tyrese Haliburton, Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams. Rosas could even make a case for Obi Toppin if he was willing to go all-in with offense. 


Concern with Anthony Edwards for a top pick

James Crisp/Associated Press

Teams are worried about Edwards' drive and enthusiasm for winning, and according to a source, the Golden State Warriors aren't a likely landing spot due to these concerns.

Despite media projections and upside that everyone acknowledges, he has a shaky reputation within NBA circles. Dion Waiters has been used by skeptics as a comparison or low-end outcome for Edwards, an inefficient scorer at Georgia whose Bulldogs finished 13 of 14 teams in the SEC.

Scouts and executives have mentioned that his teams haven't won at any level, and that he even forgets plays and actions. 

He could still get consideration at No. 1 from Minnesota, but most seem to think the Wolves will favor Ball, who should also generate more interest from teams looking to trade up, given his superior star power and potential to transform a struggling team's identity with his flashy playmaking and exciting pace. 

Meanwhile, the more we ask around about Edwards, the more we hear concern about his professionalism and ability to impact winning, even if his scoring production carries over.

While a trade could throw off any predraft predictions, the likelihood of Edwards dropping to No. 3 seems to have increased. The Charlotte Hornets would then have a tough call, particularly if James Wiseman is still on the board. 


Onyeka Okongwu over James Wiseman?

Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

Wiseman started the season as a No. 1 overall candidate, while Okongwu was mostly off NBA rankings as a 6'9", non-shooting center. But Bleacher Report has talked with multiple scouts who've moved Okongwu over Wiseman.

We made the move in November. But what matters most are the teams picking No. 2-10.

At this stage, Wiseman's case is mostly built around measurements, considering he played just three games at Memphis and did most of his damage as a finisher and shot-blocker. But Okongwu averaged 16.2 points and 2.7 blocks for the season, wowing with athletic plays, 94th-percentile post scoring, touch (15-of-35 half-court jumpers, 72.0 percent free-throws) and defensive activity/versatility. 

As enticing as 7'1" size and 7'6" length sound, being big doesn't generate the same love and reaction as it once did. 

We reported earlier there is a belief that Wiseman could fall in the No. 5-9 range. 


2020 Trend: Extra stock into IQ, intangibles 

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

One scout brought up the notion that his team will be putting more stock into basketball IQ and other valued intangibles compared to previous years.

Teams are having a tough time identifying the obvious NBA talent in this draft. Worried about misevaluating it, they could feel more confident in drafting a player who makes good decisions, competes and brings a positive presence to their locker room—even if they don't possess appetizing upside.

Based on where certain prospects stack up on most draft boards around the league, overvaluing intangibles seems to be a strategy shared by other organizations. 

Okoro and Haliburton stand out as the posterboys for this conversation. Both are projected 10 picks and perimeter players who averaged fewer than 17.0 points per 40 minutes.