Start, Bench or G-League? Predictions for Every 1st-Round NBA Draft Pick

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterDecember 18, 2020

Start, Bench or G-League? Predictions for Every 1st-Round NBA Draft Pick

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The 2020 rookie class is on the verge of making its NBA debut without any summer league or much time to get acclimated after the draft.

    Some will still get an opportunity to start right away based on their particular skill set and fit with their team. Most will have bench roles, and a few will get sent to the G League if their franchise chooses to participate.

    We predicted how each first-round rookie will spend the majority of his time during his first season as a pro.

    Note: The Minnesota Timberwolves have stashed No. 23 Leandro Bolmaro overseas with Barcelona.

1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Prediction: Bench

    Usage type: Bench scorer

    Head coach Ryan Saunders won't feel pressured to start Anthony Edwards because the team selected him first overall. The front office just gave Malik Beasley $60 million, and he's more trustworthy right now than the 19-year-old rookie.

    D'Angelo Russell and Beasley should start in the backcourt for a Timberwolves team that will be gunning for the playoffs.

    Minnesota will see flashes from Edwards early, but he'll need time before offering any consistency in terms of one-on-one execution, shooting and decision-making. The biggest adjustment will be going from serving as the No. 1 option through which the offense runs to a complementary spot-up player, which is what he'd primarily be if he were to share the floor with Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns for most of the game.

    At least in the second unit, he could have extra freedom to create in a more familiar role. In the beginning, Edwards figures to serve as an instant-offense scorer who'll enter games late in the first quarter.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +700

2. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Prediction: Bench

    Usage type: Offensive finisher 

    Per ESPN's Nick Friedell, James Wiseman is unlikely to play in the preseason, and that means he'll begin his career as a reserve.

    Aside from the fact that he lacks polish with regard to his skill level and awareness, he hasn't played a game in over a year after logging just 69 total minutes of college basketball. 

    Head coach Steve Kerr will likely bring the rookie off the bench and start Kevon Looney or Marquese Chriss at the 5.

    Eventually, Kerr will want to use Wiseman's tools and athleticism for rim-running, finishing and shot-blocking in a lineup with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins. But until the rookie builds up his comfort level, basketball IQ and conditioning, he'll take it slow for a team trying to get back into the contender conversation.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +700

3. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Prediction: Starter

    Usage type: Lead playmaker

    LaMelo Ball should start for the Charlotte Hornets even if it means featuring three-guard lineups or adjusting Devonte' Graham's touches.

    The Hornets ranked No. 28 on offense last year and need Ball's playmaking, which should immediately translate given his 6'8" size and special mix of ball-handling and passing skills.

    Between Graham's shooting, Rozier's scoring, a presumed jump for P.J. Washington and the addition of Gordon Hayward, Ball could play to his strengths and focus on setting the table for teammates. He shouldn't feel the need to force shots like he did in Australia, where he was his team's clear top creator.

    Head coach James Borrego figures to use Ball as the primary facilitator and Graham as a secondary ball-handler and scorer with more reps shooting off spot-ups and screens.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +390

4. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

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    Matt Stamey/Associated Press

    Prediction: Bench

    Usage type: Off-ball scorer/energizer

    The draft's youngest NCAA prospect, Patrick Williams came off the bench every game at Florida State, so it's tough to picture head coach Billy Donovan starting him as a rookie.

    Williams' current game fits best at the power forward spot since he could mask some of his limitations with perimeter scoring and containing dribble penetration. But Lauri Markkanen seems locked into a full-time role there. Donovan deeming Williams capable of playing the wing could give the rookie opportunities to start, particularly if Otto Porter Jr. isn't ready or healthy.

    Though not a refined shooter or playmaker, Williams did show touch and live-dribble passing. It's possible he evolves into a small forward over time by sharpening his offensive skills. But for now, Donovan seems likely to take it slow with the No. 4 pick and use him to back up Markkanen.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +3000

5. Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Prediction Starter

    Usage type: Glue guy 

    While Isaac Okoro was clearly in the best-player-available discussion for the Cleveland Cavaliers, his fit, style and strengths must have given him an edge over Onyeka Okongwu and Obi Toppin.

    Okoro should be a starter, adding complementary, efficient offense and needed defense on opposing wings.

    He'll play off Cleveland's ball-handlers and scorers in Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Kevin Love, working as a cutter, slasher, ball-mover and spot-up shooter.

    Despite Cleveland's 19-46 record last season, Okoro shouldn't have to take many tough shots or make many decisions.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +3000

6. Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Prediction: Bench

    Usage type: Insider scorer/energizer

    The Atlanta Hawks' offseason acquisitions of Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn and Tony Snell suggest they're serious about trying to win games. That should give Clint Capela the edge over Onyeka Okongwu for the starting job, particularly given the broken toe that's limiting the No. 6 pick in camp.

    He should still hold a valued role in Atlanta's rotation, providing athleticism, energy, easy baskets and defense off the bench. And he'll surprise with his skill level operating one-on-one around the post, where he can give Atlanta's second unit a scoring option capable of creating his own shot inside 15 feet.

    Capela has an injury history of his own, though, and at some point, Okongwu figures to get an opportunity to start games with Trae Young and John Collins.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +5500

7. Killian Hayes, Detroit Pistons

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Prediction: Starter

    Usage type: Lead playmaker

    Head coach Dwane Casey has already pegged No. 7 pick Killian Hayes as the Detroit Pistons' starting point guard. He's obviously the long-term answer, but he must have made a strong impression in training camp.

    The adjustment shouldn't be too overwhelming for Hayes, who's 6'5" and finished third in EuroCup in assists while playing alongside former NCAA standouts Tyler Harvey, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis and Grant Jarrett.

    In the short term, the big question is how Casey will use Hayes and Derrick Rose in the same rotation. It wouldn't be surprising if they played together with Hayes focused on playmaking in ball-screen situations and Rose more of a scorer and driver.

    Either way, it sounds like the Pistons will give their lottery pick an opportunity to play through mistakes and get familiar running an NBA offense.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +950

8. Obi Toppin, New York Knicks

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    Prediction: Bench

    Usage type: Bench scorer/energizer

    Though fans will want Obi Toppin in the starting lineup opening night, head coach Tom Thibodeau isn't likely to make the move until later in the season.

    He'll have more trust in Julius Randle early, and the New York Knicks may have some incentive to boost the veteran's trade value before the deadline.

    Regardless, defensive question marks will force Toppin into a bench role until the playoffs appear out of reach and prospect development becomes a priority. Unless Thibodeau quickly sours on Randle, who isn't a defensive ace and showed little interest in looking for teammates last year, Toppin figures to work as a second-unit scorer.

    And that isn't a bad thing. He should still be good for 20-plus minutes per night with slightly less pressure.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +440

9. Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards

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    Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

    Prediction: Starter

    Usage type: Complementary scorer/playmaker

    Head coach Scott Brooks will want an excuse to find extra opportunities for Deni Avdija. The starting small forward spot is up for grabs, and it's a job the No. 9 pick can win over Troy Brown Jr.

    The Wizards had to be fine with Avdija playing the 3 since they knew rising sophomore Rui Hachimura would be playing the 4.

    Avdija happens to make sense for a lineup built around ball-dominant guards like Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. In EuroLeague, he demonstrated a mature approach, willing to work in an off-ball role as a spot-up shooter, cutter and passer, and he'll add a level of competitiveness and effort that should align with Westbrook's and the team's evolving identity.

    He'll likely end up splitting time with Brown, but there is more excitement over Avdija, whose body, versatility, track record overseas and toughness point to an NBA-ready rookie.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +2700

10. Jalen Smith, Phoenix Suns

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Prediction: Bench

    Usage type: Second-unit energizer/floor spacer

    A Jalen Smith-Deandre Ayton pairing feels clunky since the rookie is better suited to play center based on his limitations as a creator, passer and perimeter defender. So the Phoenix Suns figure to use Smith as an energizer and floor-spacer off the bench.

    He offers a rare and valued mix of shooting and rim protection. And when combined with his motor for rim-running, rebounding and defending, he should make for a useful bench spark on Phoenix's second unit.

    However, considering the Suns took him No. 10 overall, they must have some optimism about his potential to share the floor with Ayton. It wouldn't be shocking if head coach Monty Williams occasionally used the two bigs together, particularly if Smith's three-point shot carries over.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +6500

Late Lottery Picks

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    11. Devin Vassell, San Antonio Spurs

    Prediction: Three-and-D reserve 

    The return of DeMar DeRozan limits Vassell's rookie upside. The Spurs never seem to rush their young players, and Vassell figures to follow a similar timeline as the team's previous first-rounders. He should wind up as San Antonio's starting small forward at some point over the next few years, but he'll begin his career as a shooter and defender off the bench.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +5500


    12. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

    Prediction: Second-unit combo guard

    After losing Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings will start Buddy Hield, whether to capitalize on his scoring, to repair/strengthen their relationship or to boost his trade value. Though Haliburton comes off as an appealing backcourt partner next to De'Aaron Fox, he'll begin his career running pick-and-rolls and spotting up off Cory Joseph in Sacramento's second unit. 

    If the Kings do wing up trading Hield, look for them to experiment with a Fox-Haliburton backcourt. 

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +2000


    13. Kira Lewis Jr., New Orleans Pelicans 

    Prediction: Bench spark 

    Following the huge Milwaukee Bucks-Pelicans trade, Eric Bledsoe will take over for Jrue Holiday while Lonzo Ball assumes his role as the starting setup man.

    Lewis is better suited coming off the bench, anyway. He won't have as much pressure to run the offense and make good decisions. Instead, he'll play to his strengths and focus on putting pressure on defenses with his speed pushing the break or turning the corner. For now, Lewis' calling card will be generating offense and scoring opportunities with breakdown penetration and shot-making.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +4500


    14. Aaron Nesmith, Boston Celtics

    Prediction: Reserve shooting specialist

    Whoever the Celtics drafted was going to begin his career coming off the bench. Nesmith should have a defined role in Boston. Head coach Brad Stevens will bring him into games to score, almost exclusively as a shooter off spot-ups and screens. Just don't count on Nesmith adding any creation or playmaking to the rotation.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +6500

Picks Nos. 15-20

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    15. Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic

    Prediction: Bench scorer

    Anthony should see minutes with Markelle Fultz throughout the season, but it's more likely he comes off the bench behind him. As a reserve, he'll have less pressure on his suspect decision-making and fill a role that lets him play to his strengths as a self-creator and scorer. 

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +3600 


    16. Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons

    Prediction: Bench energizer

    After drafting Stewart, the Pistons signed Mason Plumlee and Jahlil Okafor. The rookie doesn't project to have a substantial role this season, but head coach Dwane Casey should value his physicality and motor off the bench when the lineup needs a boost of energy.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +11000 


    17. Aleksej Pokusevski, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Prediction: G League

    It would make sense for the Thunder to opt into the G League bubble given their rebuild and plethora of young prospects. The draft's youngest player, Pokusevski would benefit from a full-time role with the Oklahoma City Blue before jumping into the NBA. His skill set is unique for a 7-footer, but he's also just 190 pounds with some wild decision-making habits.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +11000 


    18. Josh Green, Dallas Mavericks

    Prediction: Two-way bench spark 

    The Mavericks' starting wings are set with Josh Richardson and Tim Hardaway Jr., but Green has a path into the rotation. He should earn minutes with his explosiveness and perimeter defense, as well as the threat he poses as a spot-up shooter who can also attack closeouts and make plays on his drives with live-dribble passes and floaters.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +6500 


    19. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons

    Prediction: Bench shot-maker

    The Pistons rotation will need offense, and Bey could offer it right away with his scoring and shot-making as a 6'7", 216-pound forward. Versatility to play the 3 or 4 should maximize his chances of seeing the floor behind Jerami Grant and Blake Griffin.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +4500 


    20. Precious Achiuwa, Miami Heat

    Prediction: Bench energizer 

    Though raw offensively, Achiuwa will earn minutes with his activity at both ends, which is fueled by functional athleticism for a 6'9", 234-pound high-motor big man. Head coach Erik Spoelstra should find use throughout the season for Achiuwa's defensive tools and versatility in certain matchups. 

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +6500 

Picks Nos. 21-30

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    21. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers

    Prediction: Bench combo/scorer

    Maxey's role may be inconsistent this year with Seth Curry joining the lineup and Shake Milton expected to take another step forward. But the No. 21 pick will have opportunities to add creation, shot-making and defensive toughness off the bench. 

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +3600 


    22. Zeke Nnaji, Denver Nuggets

    Prediction: Backup big

    Nnaji will battle Bol Bol for backup minutes, and he should win some by offering a stronger body and tougher presence around the basket. He'll go stretches without seeing the floor, but he should still see regular-season action, particularly if his three-ball translates quicker than expected.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +11000 


    24. RJ Hampton, Denver Nuggets

    Prediction: Bench combo guard

    Hampton will warm the bench his rookie year in Denver after the Nuggets re-signed Monte Morris and added Facundo Campazzo. When he does hear his name called, he'll be used as a combo guard to handle the ball in transition and ball-screen situations and play from the wings as a shooter and secondary scorer.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +6500 


    25. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

    Prediction: Reserve shooting specialist

    The Knicks need shooters and should turn to Quickley early. Head coach Tom Thibodeau will value the threat he poses alone, just for spacing purposes. The No. 25 pick should eventually be a regular in New York's rotation, especially if Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina continue to struggle offensively.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: N/A


    26. Payton Pritchard, Boston Celtics

    Prediction: Bench combo

    Despite Boston's depth, Pritchard could play his way into the rotation, offering more passing than Carsen Edwards, sharper shooting than Romeo Langford and the basketball IQ and toughness necessary for a supporting role. The ability to create and play off the ball should make it easier for Pritchard to find time.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +11000


    27. Udoka Azubuike, Utah Jazz

    Prediction: Bench/G League

    The Jazz won't have much use for Azubuike this year unless Derrick Favors misses time with an injury. The No. 27 pick offers similar strengths and limitations as Rudy Gobert with the length for rim protection and finishing but no positional versatility. 

    Rookie of the Year Odds: N/A


    28. Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Prediction: Bench/G League

    If the Timberwolves opt into the G League bubble, they'll likely send McDaniels there to work on his offensive execution and decision-making. He's a project who needs reps, and he won't be able to earn them for a Minnesota team trying to jump up the standings. 

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +5500


    29. Malachi Flynn, Toronto Raptors

    Prediction: Bench/G League

    With Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Terence Davis, head coach Nick Nurse shouldn't feel a need to give minutes to another point guard.

    It wouldn't be surprising if Flynn spent time in the G League. But he also comes off as a rookie with NBA-ready shooting and passing skills, basketball IQ and a competitive edge, so injuries or load management could give the No. 29 pick a chance to crack the rotation at different points throughout the season.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +6500


    30. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies

    Prediction: Starter

    The last pick of the first round could emerge as one of the few rookie starters from the class. Bane landed in a favorable situation with the Grizzles missing a reliable starting 2-guard, and he's a strong fit next to Ja Morant with his mix of three-point shooting, passing and defensive IQ.

    Rookie of the Year Odds: +11000


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