Wasserman: Predicting the Next 4 Top Overall NBA Draft Picks

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 25, 2020

Montverde's Cade Cunningham #1 in action against NSU University School in a Boys Quarterfinal game at the Geico High School Basketball Nationals in the Queens borough of New York on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Anthony Edwards just followed Zion Williamson and Deandre Ayton to become the newest No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. So who's on deck?

It's possible the one-and-done rule will be wiped out and lead future stars to change classes or declare earlier than they're currently allowed to. It's still worth identifying the possible franchise-changers rebuilding teams will be monitoring over the next few years.

Scouting has already begun for the upcoming drafts. And I predicted the No. 1 overall picks through 2024.


2021 Draft: Cade Cunningham, PG, Oklahoma State

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Everyone knew whom the New Orleans Pelicans would draft last year the second they won the lottery. On Wednesday, nobody seemed confident about whom the Minnesota Timberwolves would pick at No. 1.

The 2021 draft won't have the mystery or guessing like this year's did. It will be like 2019, when Williamson was the obvious top prospect.

Cade Cunningham will be the first player selected, and no fit or need questions will keep it from happening.

Despite Oklahoma State being barred from the NCAA tournament, he will suit up for the season, with nothing to gain in draft stock.

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A 6'8", 220-pound ball-handler, Cunningham uses power forward size at the point guard position. He's another version of Luka Doncic—a jumbo playmaker with special ball control and passing instincts.

The Cowboys might play him off the ball more to use his body and athleticism around the basket. But there is no question an NBA offense will run through Cunningham's creation and decision-making.

He can control a game with the ball, manipulating defenses with his pace and dribble and then picking them apart as a passer and driver.

But Cunningham has also made strides with his perimeter scoring and jump shot. And though he might not hit volume threes or shoot them at 40 percent, his flashes of pull-up and step-back shooting have been equally encouraging and scary.


2022 Draft: AJ Griffin, SF/PF, Duke

There isn't an obvious No. 1 talent in the 2021 class. My prediction for the first pick in the 2022 draft isn't atop any recruiting rankings.

Chet Holmgren is the bigger name, but AJ Griffin's could be hotter after his freshman season at Duke.

At least 6'6", he is a physically advanced combo forward with a wing's skills for scoring and creating as a driver and dribble shooter.

In four games with USA Basketball at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship, Griffin registered per-40 minute numbers of 29.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 7.1 steals and 6.0 assists and made four of 11 threes. Though his high-arching three-ball needs work, he made 13 threes in the 12 high school games he played this season, per MaxPreps.com, while demonstrating enough shot-making capability and confidence for scouts to project him as a regular threat down the road.

The ability to get shots off easily can lead to bad attempts and forces, but he can convert from anywhere with pull-ups, fallaways and improvised one-handers off counter footwork.

If Griffin's effort and IQ develop, they could unlock ridiculous defensive upside in terms of contesting shots and versatility.

Holmgren is the rarer athlete with his 7'1" size, ball skills and elite shot-blocking instincts. But his skinny arms, legs and frame could cause scouts to hesitate and favor Griffin, whose floor seems higher and whose trajectory is equally enticing.


2023 Draft: Emoni Bates, SG/SF, Michigan State

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Skepticism that the NBA's age limit will be eliminated by 2022 could keep Emoni Bates from entering the draft until 2023.

It's almost laughable to think he'll have to wait that long, given how he's looked at 15 and 16 years old in high school and AAU.

A 6'8" wing, Bates already mirrors NBA scorers with positional size and perimeter skills, as practically every comparison discussion starts with Kevin Durant.

He's an advanced shot-creator and pull-up shooter from all over the floor with height and length that could resemble a power forward's.

Bates also plays with obvious confidence and a killer instinct to embarrass helpless defenders.

If there is a knock on Bates, it's that he gets too carried away with hero jumpers and trying to single-handedly crush opponents. But scouts likely prefer that passion over casualness and passivity.

France's Victor Wembanyama is also a rare prospect who is eligible for the 2023 draft. Already considered Europe's top talent regardless of age, the 7'2" big with handles, shooting versatility and defensive upside could have a case over Bates.

But for a No. 1 pick, Wembanyama's skinny frame and never-ending limbs could be worrisome, with durability and injury prevention such a hot topic. Bates could have an edge as long as no red flags emerge about his shot selection and defense.


2024 Draft: DaJuan Wagner Jr., PG, Undecided

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

I sat down courtside for Rancho Christian School vs. Camden High School at the Hoophall Classic in January, focused on seeing USC-bound center Evan Mobley, a potential top-three pick in 2021. Camden featured 2002 lottery pick Dajuan Wagner's son, DaJuan Jr., who had been one of five in his class to earn an invite to Team USA minicamp five months earlier.

That was about the extent of my knowledge of the 14-year-old point guard. Hoophall was my first experience watching Wagner, and I didn't have any expectations.

He quickly showed he was more than just a recognizable name. I found myself more drawn to Wagner than Mobley, the 7-footer just over a year away from draft eligibility.

His pace and command with the ball and fluid shooting popped. I checked the event program at halftime to confirm Wagner was indeed a freshman.

Since then, he has rocketed all the way up recruiting rankings to No. 1 (247Sports) in the 2023 class.

While I admittedly haven't scouted many of the high school freshmen, Wagner looks every bit of an elite point guard prospect with his well-rounded skill set, IQ and poised and professional approach.

He doesn't have Mikey Williams' athleticism or social media following, but he appears to have more polish, feel and potential for controlling and impacting games.