2020 NBA Draft: Ranking the Top 5 Prospects at Every Position
As the NBA evolves, so do its positions and the way teams categorize draft prospects.
General managers can break down the 2020 class into lead ball-handlers, combo guards/secondary playmakers, wings, forwards and bigs.
Labeling each prospect can give a team a better idea of how he'll fit into their lineup.
I ranked my top five 2020 prospects at each updated position for today's NBA.
5. Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama, PG, Sophomore)
Elevator pitch: NBA teams should value Lewis' ability to create scoring chances with his speed and ability to break down defenses off the dribble. He also made significant improvements to his playmaking and shot-making to become a more well-rounded lead guard.
Analysis: The pandemic interrupted a potentially needle-moving run for Lewis, who was averaging 23.2 points and 6.7 assists on 46.3 percent from three over Alabama's final nine games.
His shooting and passing execution reached new levels in February and March, a key development for a guard whose identity had been mostly built around his uptempo pace and attacking. Learning to slow down and play in the half court could go a long way for Lewis in the NBA.
His decision-making, pull-up game and finishing still aren't sharp. But the 19-year-old made substantial improvements to his skill set from his freshman season.
4. Cole Anthony (North Carolina, PG, Freshman)
Elevator pitch: A midseason injury and poor supporting cast at North Carolina didn't help Anthony. Despite an inefficient year, he still produced 18.5 points per game with dangerous shot-making (2.2 threes) and creating ability, and it's reasonable to think both can translate based on his skill level and positional athleticism.
Analysis: Despite many scouts cooling on Anthony, I'm still in the camp that he'll be a valuable NBA player if given the right role.
He finished in the 92nd percentile out of isolation without having much space to work with. Anthony demonstrated the ability to create his own shot with pull-ups and step-backs, but he also looked comfortable catch-and-shooting off the ball (41.2 percent).
He struggled in traffic, having shot just 39.2 percent at the basket and averaged 3.5 turnovers. Making the right reads and decisions off the dribble will remain Anthony's greatest challenge in becoming a quality NBA starter, but it shouldn't keep him from generating offense and burying jumpers for scoring.
3. Malachi Flynn (San Diego State, PG, Junior)
Elevator pitch: Throw away questions about Flynn's 6'1" size and lack of strength/athleticism, and it's tough to find a worrisome flaw on his scouting report. We've seen enough point guards overcome physical limitations with skill and IQ.
Analysis: Finishing in the 96th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, Flynn has a tremendous feel and skill level in ball-screen situations. Aside from his passing IQ, he sunk defenses with his floater (43.5 percent) and pull-up game (38.6 percent, 49 makes).
He even showed he can play off the ball by making 40.5 percent on spot-up shots, and despite his underwhelming physical profile, he impacted games defensively with his pesky nature.
The analytics also love Flynn, who led the nation in win shares and finished six in box plus-minus.
2. Killian Hayes (Ratiopharm Ulm, PG 2001)
Elevator pitch: Hayes could be the draft's most complete guard if he's able to keep improving his shooting. Otherwise, he's a stud passer and efficient finisher who's proved he can be useful defensively.
Analysis: At 18 years old (now 19), Hayes registered an outstanding 38.7 assist percentage, a reflection on his ball-screen passing instincts. On the downside, his 24.7 turnover percentage was sky high, but it is still evident how advanced he is manipulating defenses and delivering passes off the dribble.
As a scorer, he shot 48.2 percent, executing his pull-up, floater and finishes while flashing notable improvements as a shot-creator.
He still hit just 29.4 percent of his threes, but considering that he doubled his three-point makes from a year ago (30 from 14) and shot 87.6 percent from the line, it's worth betting on more improvement for a 19-year-old.
1. LaMelo Ball (NBL Hawks, PG, 2001)
Elevator pitch: At 6'7" with elite ball-handling, vision and passing skills, Ball's signature playmaking should translate. If he can improve his shooting consistency, he could emerge as the class' top offensive weapon, capable of taking over with shot-making firepower and setting the table for teammates.
Analysis: Ball possess star potential for his ability to create and dish with wing size for a lead ball-handler. He's highly advanced in ball-screen situations, using them to generate easy looks for rollers or shooters, or for himself as a driver or pull-up threat.
While his 37.7 field-goal percentage for a projected top pick is worrisome, he carried a huge workload at 18 years old in a professional league. Adding muscle should help with playing through contact, and his body seems to improve every year.
Shooting is the obvious swing skill for Ball, who is already a special passer with floater touch and a versatile finishing package. His mechanics may need adjusting, but he still hit 24 threes in 13 games overseas, and between his shot-making skill and confidence, Ball's jumper figures to become threatening enough (for a star lead guard) when paired with his creation and playmaking.
Combo Guards/Secondary Playmakers
5. Grant Riller (Charleston, PG/SG, Senior)
Elevator pitch: Riller has a case as the draft's most advanced shot-creator. But he also converted off his creation with incredible efficiency while being the obvious player for defenses to game-plan for.
Analysis: For three consecutive seasons, Riller averaged at least 18 points on better than 60 percent true shooting. This past year, he ranked in the 97th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and 87th percentile out of isolation, carving up defenses with his change of direction, footwork to separate and pull-up game (42.5 percent).
He's arguably the draft's top finishing guard as well, having converted 63.4 percent of his shots around the basket.
It's worth questioning his line-drive jumper for the NBA's arc, plus the fact he's never been a volume three-point shooter (4.2 attempts per game in 2019-20). And he's always been asked to score over facilitate, though he still registered a 30.1 assist percentage as a senior.
4. Tyrell Terry (Stanford, PG/SG, Freshman)
Elevator pitch: Though Terry is missing a standout physical trait, he has some of the best shooting touch and shot-making versatility in the draft. And there is likely more playmaking ability to unlock compared to what he was able to show at Stanford.
Analysis: Terry shot 40.8 percent from three and 89.1 percent from the free-throw line, convincing numbers, particularly when they're backing up a shot that looks as smooth as his on film.
Scouts question whether he'll be able to separate or play through contact without great speed, strength or bounce. But he still managed to convert 61.5 percent of his shots around the basket.
He might not have enough upside in creation to work as a lead ball-handler and playmaker. But he did flash promising passing instincts in ball-screen situations.
Regardless, Terry figures to make a name for himself with his shooting range and ability to drill jumpers off different actions and pull-ups.
3. Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Elevator pitch: Questions about Haliburton's speed for beating defenders suggest he may be better suited for a secondary playmaker role, particularly since he played plenty off the ball at Iowa State (22.8 percent of offense out of spot-ups). Elite passing and accurate catch-and-shooting create versatility that should allow Haliburton to fit anywhere—and help him become one of the draft's safest picks.
Analysis: Haliburton will give a lineup a special passer, whether it's in pick-and-roll situations, transition or as a standstill ball-mover. He's a reliable, unselfish decision-maker capable of making the game easier for teammates.
But he also ranked in the 99th percentile out of spot-ups, having shot 49.3 percent on catch-and-shoot chances. While he struggles to blow by or use the pull-up, he can connect from deep and space the floor from the wings.
He averaged just 2.0 free-throw attempts in 36.7 minutes, and he doesn't offer much scoring upside. But his value won't show in the box scores. Haliburton's IQ with the ball and shooting should help improve an offense, even with a low usage.
2. Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
Elevator pitch: Kentucky has a strong track record producing NBA scoring guards, and Maxey could be next in line. His numbers didn't pop last season when he shared the ball with Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, but the eye test should buy Maxey's ability to create and make shots from all three levels.
Analysis: Despite playing in the same backcourt as the SEC's assist leader and Player of the Year, Maxey still managed 14.0 points per game, scoring with transition opportunities and drives and floaters off ball screens.
He graded in the 86th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, using screens to get downhill and a mix of strength, coordination and touch to finish in the paint.
He'll have trouble becoming the class No. 2 combo guard if his three-point shot doesn't improve. But it's worth betting on Maxey's confident shot-making and range leading to rising percentages over the years.
1. Anthony Edwards (Georgia, SG, Freshman)
Elevator pitch: No player in the draft possesses a more favorable mix of physical talent and skill than Edwards, an explosive, 6'5", 225-pound guard who averaged 19.1 points and 2.3 threes as an 18-year-old freshman (now 19).
Analysis: Edwards' body and athleticism are built for transition offense, downhill attacking and drawing fouls. His ability to create and hit shots around the perimeter allows him to take over stretches of games.
It's a gift and a curse, as Edwards tends to settle for hero jumpers, given how easily he can get them off. Among 78 college players who averaged at least four pull-up attempts per game, Edwards' 28.6 percent ranked 75th.
However, tight defense isn't enough to slow down Edwards when he's in the rhythm, which was evident during his 32-point second half against Michigan State. An advanced one-on-one game, potent shot-making and confidence suggest he has No. 1 option scoring potential.
5. Elijah Hughes (Syracuse, SF, Junior)
Elevator pitch: Teams could see a scoring specialist in Hughes, who is skilled around the perimeter and oozing with confidence in his shot.
Analysis: Given a featured role at Syracuse, Hughes averaged 19.0 points and 2.4 threes while ranking fourth in the country in isolation scoring per game.
He hit 45 dribble jumpers and graded in the 85th percentile as a spot-up player. Hughes also excelled as a driver, using his athleticism and strength to attack in straight lines.
His shot selection and execution in traffic need work, and he's spent the last two seasons playing in a zone defense. It's easiest to picture Hughes carving out a career and role that taps into his ability to provide instant offense, streak scoring and shot-making off the bench.
4. Leandro Bolmaro (Barcelona, SG/SF, 2000)
Elevator pitch: Playmaking wings are in, and if Bolmaro could just improve his shooting, he'll have a valuable package of skills and defense to offer.
Analysis: Bolmaro hasn't had many reps in Euroleague or the Spanish ACB. But he's stood out in the lower levels of Spain with his ball-handling and flashy passing for a 6'6" wing. Defensively, he brings energy, pressure and the ability to force turnovers around the perimeter.
He'll be able to give an NBA team a transition initiator and creator in ball-screen situations. His three-point percentages have hovered in the 28.0 to 31.0 percent range the past two seasons, but just reaching the 35.0 percent mark could give Bolmaro enough offensive versatility for a regular rotation role.
3. Aaron Nesmith (Vanderbilt, SF, Sophomore)
Elevator pitch: Nesmith shot a scorching 52.2 percent from three through 14 games before injuring his foot. And assuming that accuracy wasn't completely fluky, he has enough size (6'6") and shot-making skill to carve out a shooting specialist role.
Analysis: Nesmith was ridiculous this season shooting off the catch, making 48.5 percent of his spot-up jumpers and 51.0 percent of his shots off screens.
But he offers little as a creator or scorer off the dribble. He generated six total points as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, made 13-of-37 pull-ups and finished with 13 assists in 500 minutes.
Still, if Nesmith can continue drilling threes at a rate anywhere close to the one he registered at Vanderbilt, he'll always have a role and interested suitors.
2. Josh Green (Arizona, SG/SF, Freshman)
Elevator pitch: Explosiveness, shooting and defensive quickness could be just enough for Green to hold down a starting role for the right team.
Analysis: Green shot 43.9 percent on spot-up jumpers, graded in the 78th percentile in transition and regularly flashed his defensive chops on fundamentally sound closeouts.
He doesn't create or work in ball-screen situations, which hurts his value for a perimeter player. But he's still a threat off the dribble to pass or use the floater. And as long as his catch-and-shoot numbers translate, Green should be a useful three-and-D wing who possesses a willing role player's mentality.
1. Devin Vassell (Florida State, SF, Sophomore)
Elevator pitch: Vassell has a case as the draft's top perimeter defender, but he also shot over 40 percent from three in consecutive seasons at Florida State. Teams looking for a three-and-D wing should look no further.
Analysis: Vassell's spot-up (80th percentile) and transition games (94th percentile) should carry over to the NBA, based on his high-release jump shot and athleticism in the open floor.
He won't be used to create much, but he also rarely makes mistakes, having left college with a career 7.1 turnover percentage. He also improved his pull-up game to convert 38.3 percent of his dribble jumpers.
Still, Vassell separates himself on defense, where he demonstrates quickness and bounce for playmaking, as well as terrific instincts to anticipate on and off the ball. One of the lowest-risk prospects in the draft, Vassell just needs to keep building on his one-on-one game to become more useful as a scoring option in the half court.
5. Saddiq Bey (Villanova, SF/PF, Sophomore)
Elevator pitch: Bey could receive looks in the teens for his positional size, shooting and IQ, a combination that hints at a safe bet, regardless of what else does or doesn't translate.
Analysis: At 6'8", 216 pounds, Bey has an impressive physical profile for a shooter who hit 45.7 percent of his threes as a sophomore.
He's far more effective shooting off the catch (48.8 percent) than the dribble (29.6 percent). He won't be used to create offense at the next level, but coaches can optimize Bey in a stretch-4 role that masks his limited explosiveness and lateral quickness on defense.
At the power forward spot, his ability to shoot out of spot-ups and screens, score within the flow and make good decisions should work for every offense.
4. Aleksej Pokusevski (Olympiacos II, PF, 2001)
Elevator pitch: There aren't many 7-footers outside the NBA who possess Pokusevski's wing-like offensive skills. He's also the draft's youngest prospect who doesn't turn 19 until Christmas time.
Analysis: In 11 HEBA 2 games (Greece's second division) this season, Pokusevski averaged 1.6 threes, 3.1 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals in 23.1 minutes. Between his shooting, passing and defensive playmaking, he checks a rare, valued set of boxes with his unique skill level for a 7'0" forward.
Despite his height, he won't be considered a big, given his lack of strength and comfort level around the basket. But Pokusevski has become one of the most tempting prospects in the draft with his advanced perimeter game, open-floor ball-handling and defensive instincts.
3. Isaac Okoro (Auburn, SF/PF, Freshman)
Elevator pitch: Okoro has the body and discipline to be a defender teams can use on opponents' top scoring forward, wing or guard. He won't be a featured scoring option, but he'll capitalize opportunistically with efficiency in an off-ball role.
Analysis: The primary draw to Okoro stems from his defensive tools and toughness. At 6'6", 225 pounds, his body looks similar to Jae Crowder's with strong legs and a wide frame.
His offensive game isn't as convincing, but he still shot 60.7 percent inside the arc, taking advantage of poor closeouts to drive, open floor for transition scoring and weaker defenders in the post. He's a smart, unselfish passer, which limited creation reps occasionally masked at Auburn.
The big question with Okoro concerns his jump shot. As one scout put it, "Anyone who shoots less than 70 percent on free throws and less than 30 percent from three has traditionally never improved significantly."
2. Patrick Williams (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)
Elevator pitch: Williams is raw, and taking him top 10 (where I have him) means betting on major improvement. But it's a bet worth taking, given his age and the potential trajectory tied to a 6'8", 225-pound forward with shooting and passing skills, powerful finishing and exciting defensive playmaking ability.
Analysis: Athletic with a chiseled, standout frame, Williams immediately pops physically, but it's his particular skill set for a player with his body that fuels so much intrigue. He shot 41.9 percent on pull-ups and generated 44 points on 46 pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions.
He still has to improve his range, but he's capable from three (16-of-50), efficient shooting off the dribble and a live-dribble playmaker, which is rare for a forward his size.
Though he could stand to improve his defensive discipline, Williams averaged a steal and block in 22.5 minutes, showing the ability to blow up plays with a combination of strength, speed and aggression.
1. Deni Avdija (Maccabi Tel Aviv, SF/PF, 2001)
Elevator pitch: MVP of both the U20 European Championship and the Winners League in Israel, Avdija was also a regular contributor in Euroleague at 18 and 19 years old. He's had success in every setting, and at 6'8" with a strong body, well-rounded skill set and reputation for working hard, Avdija stands out as an obvious NBA pro.
Analysis: The only question is, what level of pro can he reach?
Skeptics will point out that he's missing one bankable skill. On the other hand, he's a threat to grab-and-go in transition, drive or pass in ball-screen situations, spot up for three and cut off the ball, as well as challenge opposing forwards with defensive intensity.
Though I have a tough time picturing a star, I have an easy time seeing a quality starting forward who can contribute in different ways each game. We've seen him take over as a lead option or fall back into a supporting role.
Scouts are wondering most about his jumper, which has been on and off throughout the years, and he's been never on from the free-throw line. However, he's still been a threatening shot-maker off the catch at every level, and based on all the intel on his work ethic and dedication to the game, it's worth betting on improvement.
5. Xavier Tillman Sr. (Michigan State, PF/C, Junior)
Elevator pitch: Tillman led the nation in defensive and overall box plus-minus, and it's easy to picture his special IQ, effort and unselfishness translating in a supporting role. Only three NCAA players have ever averaged 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks: Tim Duncan, Bo Outlaw and Tillman.
Analysis: Drafting Tillman means accepting a big who won't create or generate much offense. However, he'll add value as a cutter (80th percentile) and short-roll passer. He'll move the ball and finish efficiently within the offense.
Tillman will earn his money with hustle and defense. Coaches will love his ability to make reads in pick-and-roll coverage and rotations from off the ball. IQ is more important than tools for defense, and one could make the case that Tillman possesses the highest defensive IQ in the draft.
Developing into a threatening spot-up shooter (13 3PTM as a junior) could help turn Tillman into a quality starter for the right team.
4. Jalen Smith (Maryland, PF/C, Sophomore)
Elevator pitch: Ten NBA players in 2019-20 averaged at least a block and three-pointer: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Brook Lopez, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, John Collins, LaMarcus Aldridge, Myles Turner and Maxi Kleber. Smith seems like a lock to eventually join this club of valuable bigs.
Analysis: Smith improved his body and shooting, and it led to him finishing 67.2 percent of his shots around the basket, an 18.6 rebounding percentage, 2.4 blocks per game and 32 threes in 31 games. He ranked in the 94th percentile in putbacks and the 99th percentile in transition.
I'm not confident in teams being able to run offense through Smith in the post, given his limitations as a creator and passer.
But even if his offensive skill set never evolves from here, a team can bank on adding a stretch big who'll also provide toughness, energy and activity at the rim. It's not a common combination of strengths, and the bigs who possess them are valued.
3. James Wiseman (Memphis, C, Freshman)
Elevator pitch: Wiseman's measurements (7'1", 240 pounds, 7'6" wingspan) nearly mirror Joel Embiid's out of college (7'0", 240 pounds, 7'6" wingspan), and Wiseman may have a quicker, bouncier jump around the basket. How can his tools and athleticism not translate to easy baskets and shot-blocking?
Analysis: We learned little about Wiseman at Memphis, where he played just three games, dominating two inferior mid-major opponents and having some trouble against Oregon. But there have been enough scouting opportunities during his high school days to get a feel for his strengths and flaws.
He'll always be a giant lob target and high-percentage scorer in the paint with his length and coordination. And though not polished, he has decent touch around the key on shorter jumpers. The question is how much he develops his post moves, shooting and passing from here. Because at this stage, he isn't a trustworthy-enough option to feature on non-catch-and-score opportunities.
Defensively, he'll have to get better making pick-and-roll reads away from the basket. But even a lower-IQ defender can make the game tougher on offenses with 7'1" size, 7'6" length and mobility.
2. Obi Toppin (Dayton, PF/C, Sophomore)
Elevator pitch: Toppin led the nation in dunks while also shooting 39.0 percent from three. His athleticism and skill set are translatable, and together, they're valuable in today's league.
Analysis: There is so much enthusiasm over Toppin's offense that teams don't seem alarmed about his suspect defense. The explosiveness and coordination should continue translating to easy baskets, and his shot and passing are both pluses for a big.
Only Anthony Edwards seems to possess more scoring potential than Toppin, who'll be significantly more efficient, likely to shoot in the 50-60 percent range from the floor.
His team just has to find ways to mask his limited lateral quickness, which likely means playing Toppin at center. There, he could use his athleticism to block shots, and he won't be forced to guard the perimeter as much.
1. Onyeka Okongwu (USC, C, Freshman)
Elevator pitch: Okongwu deserves top-five looks for his potential to serve as both a featured scorer and defensive anchor. He's more skilled than Wiseman with far greater upside in rim protection compared to Toppin.
Analysis: Skeptics still have Okongwu in the Nos. 5-8 range of the draft, with his floor being the selling point. At worst, a team gets an athletic finisher and active rim protector with enough foot speed to switch and guard in space.
But I see more offensive upside. He ranked in the 94th percentile out of post-ups, and not just by going over his shoulder with hook shots. Okongwu has terrific footwork to create and touch with both hands. He can get himself high-percentage looks one-on-one. And though he didn't take many jump shots, he hit 15-of-35 in the half court and 72.0 percent of his free throws.
It's understandable why certain teams with established centers may be hesitant to draft Okongwu. But after the first two or three picks, the teams that aren't set at the position could see the best player available.