2020 NBA Re-Draft: Does LaMelo Ball Leapfrog Anthony Edwards?
In the instant-analysis culture of today's sports media, many expect to know who won the NBA draft the moment it's over. NBA teams are immediately graded on every pick they made.
It's the nature of the business, but you can't know how wise a selection was until some time passes. You have to see how the player develops his game. You have to see how the team utilizes him within its schemes. In some cases, players still have plenty of physical changes on the way.
For the 2020 draft class, we've now had a year to analyze those factors. That would alter the order if the first round were held again today.
To determine an order for this re-draft, we considered more than a dozen numbers, including rate (think points per game) and cumulative (think total points) catch-all metrics, shooting percentages and per-possession averages for basic indicators like points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. Since there's still some looking forward here, FiveThirtyEight's individual player projections and subjectivity also factored in.
One thing you won't see weighted is team need. We aren't going back in time as much as guessing where players would be selected if they were re-drafted now. So, each pick will be driven by a best-player-available approach.
With all that in mind, let's take a look at how a 2020 NBA re-draft might shake out.
30. Memphis Grizzlies (via BOS): Malachi Flynn (originally picked 29th)
Part of the Toronto Raptors' comfort with moving on from Kyle Lowry may have something to do with their confidence in Malachi Flynn. Fred VanVleet will be their new starting point guard, but Flynn is in line for more responsibility as well.
His shooting efficiency was terrible as a rookie, but he already looks like a steady hand and solid decision-maker. A decent 2.0 steal rate suggests he can survive on that end as well despite standing only 6'1".
29. Toronto Raptors: Zeke Nnaji (originally picked 22nd)
On a title contender with a deep roster, it was difficult for Zeke Nnaji to find many minutes to show off his game. However, he still displayed some intriguing skills during his rookie season with the Denver Nuggets.
Most importantly, he was 24-of-59 (40.7 percent) from three. That kind of shooting from a player who logged the bulk of his minutes at the 4 and 5 can lead to precious extra space inside.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (via LAL): Jordan Nwora (originally picked 45th)
A similar caveat applies here. Jordan Nwora played for the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks and totaled even fewer minutes than Nnaji.
He also flashed some outside shooting ability, though, going 28-of-62 (45.2 percent) from three. What sets him apart from Nnaji is that he has more of a wing's game, even though he's only an inch shorter.
27. Utah Jazz: Josh Green (originally picked 18th)
Josh Green's offensive numbers aren't going to blow anyone away.
Over 39 appearances with the Dallas Mavericks as a rookie, he averaged 2.6 points, 0.7 assists and 0.1 threes. He was 4-of-25 (16.0 percent) from three. But with such a limited role, it's hard to find a rhythm. Green deserves a little slack on those efficiency numbers.
What makes the 20-year old an enticing prospect is what he can do on the other end. With his height (6'5") and lateral quickness, he can defend point guards and shooting guards at the very least. As he gets a bit older and stronger, that will extend more consistently to small forwards as well.
26. Boston Celtics: Killian Hayes (originally picked seventh)
It's fair to wonder whether Killian Hayes will ever live up to his status as a top-10-pick, but it's too early to sell all of your stock on him.
His shooting numbers were abysmal last year, but his most marketable skill before the draft (passing) showed up in several appearances. Among rookies with at least 500 minutes, Hayes' 7.6 assists per 75 possessions ranked third.
25. New York Knicks (via OKC): Aleksej Pokusevski (originally picked 17th)
Like Killian Hayes, some of the numbers from Aleksej Pokusevski's rookie campaign are borderline scary. Among the 893 rookie campaigns of at least 1,000 minutes in the three-point era, Pokusevski's minus-5.9 box plus/minus ranked 880th.
Catch-alls like BPM don't adjust for the fact that Poku is a 7-foot teenager, though. It takes almost everyone time to adjust the speed and intricacy of NBA basketball.
At this point, what's more important is how Poku looks. He has a decent-looking form on his jumper, already appears ahead of schedule as a passer and plays with excess confidence that may become a strength in the future.
24. Denver Nuggets (via MIL): Kira Lewis Jr. (originally picked 13th)
On a team with Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, it was tough for Kira Lewis Jr. to find a bunch of developmental minutes. And even when he was on the floor, his inability to hit shots doomed some of his advanced numbers. (He hit only 41.5 percent of his two-point attempts and 33.3 percent of his threes.)
There were some encouraging signs, though, including a low turnover rate that is unusual for a teenager. Among players who appeared in at least 50 games and averaged 10-plus minutes in 2020-21, Lewis' 3.7 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked sixth.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (via NYK): R.J. Hampton (originally picked 24th)
R.J. Hampton played only 233 minutes with the Denver Nuggets, but his athleticism leaped off the screen whenever he did. Following his midseason trade to the rebuilding Orlando Magic, that athleticism led to a little more production.
As a 20-year-old wing, Hampton's efficiency was predictably low, but he averaged a well-rounded 16.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.2 threes per 75 possessions. If he develops a semi-reliable jumper, he has a chance to become a dynamic playmaker.
22. Denver Nuggets: Kenyon Martin Jr. (originally picked 52nd)
Like Hampton, Kenyon Martin Jr. was able to put up some numbers by virtue of playing for a tanking (er, rebuilding) team. Unlike Hampton, however, Martin's efficiency numbers are already encouraging.
Like his father, Martin can finish inside efficiently. He shot 71.1 percent within three feet of the rim. And like a true moneyball-era player, nearly 80 percent of his shot attempts came either from there or three-point range, where he shot 36.5 percent.
21. Philadelphia 76ers: Cole Anthony (originally picked 15th)
Averaging 12.9 points on 11.7 shot attempts is nothing to write home about. His already bad team being significantly worse when he plays is concerning, too.
But there are still reasons to be optimistic about Cole Anthony, the No. 3 recruit in his class prior to his freshman season at North Carolina.
Anthony seems to play with the confidence level required to be a successful point guard. He isn't afraid of big moments. And his 37-point explosion in the Orlando Magic's regular-season finale gave a glimpse of the ceiling that led to his high recruiting rank.
20. Miami Heat: Precious Achiuwa (originally picked 20th)
Achiuwa's size and defensive versatility were often on display, though. At 6'8", he can guard both 4s and 5s. And 10.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per 75 possessions suggest he can be a game-changer on that end of the floor.
19. Detroit Pistons (via BKN): Jaden McDaniels (originally picked 28th)
Jaden McDaniels plays on a team with Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D'Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley. That's part of why he only averaged 6.8 points on 5.8 shot attempts as a rookie.
There were some good signs for the former top-10 college recruit, though. A 6'9" rookie hitting 36.4 percent of his three-point attempts is encouraging. And 1.0 blocks in only 24.0 minutes per game suggests he could provide plenty of weakside rim protection in years to come.
18. Dallas Mavericks: Obi Toppin (originally picked eighth)
Tom Thibodeau is famously stingy with playing time for rookies, and Obi Toppin was unable to break that trend. He averaged only 11.0 minutes per game.
And while a high three-point attempt rate (40.7 percent of his shots were from deep) and a low three-point percentage (30.6) limited his impact, he still had his moments.
Toppin moves well for a big man, particularly on cuts from the corner or baseline for dunks. And his ability to finish at the rim contributed to a 62.9 two-point percentage. If he develops a little consistency outside, he has a chance to become a real weapon.
17. Oklahoma City Thunder (via MIN): Aaron Nesmith (originally picked 14th)
The Boston Celtics originally took Aaron Nesmith at No. 14, likely because of his sky-high 52.2 three-point percentage as a sophomore at Vanderbilt. However, there was reason for a hint of skepticism there.
Nesmith shot 33.7 percent from deep as a freshman and played in only 14 games the next season. A cold streak or two later in the season could have caused his three-point percentage to plummet.
His rookie season in the NBA was something of a show-me year. And after a fairly slow start, he averaged 9.7 points and shot 45.2 percent over his last 10 games to close the season with a solid 37.0 three-point percentage.
16. Detroit Pistons (via POR): Saddiq Bey (originally picked 19th)
Saddiq Bey was pretty steady from the outside throughout his rookie year with the Detroit Pistons. And from February 1 to the end of the season, he averaged 14.0 points and 2.8 threes while shooting 38.4 percent from deep.
The shooting alone is encouraging, but if Bey can become more consistent as a multipositional option on the other end, his three-and-D ceiling is high.
15. Orlando Magic: Tyrese Maxey (originally picked 21st)
Tyrese Maxey was also somewhat limited by playing on a good team with plenty of options at his position. That didn't stop him from showing glimpses of explosiveness both as a scorer and playmaker, though.
In January, he erupted for 39 points against the Denver Nuggets. And over his last 15 games of the season, he averaged 11.3 points and 3.2 assists in 19.1 minutes while shooting 35.3 percent from three.
14. Boston Celtics: Xavier Tillman Sr. (originally picked 35th)
Bruising big man Xavier Tillman Sr. annihilated expectations in his rookie campaign. Among players drafted in 2020, he was tied for fifth in 2020-21 wins over replacement player, a mark that came courtesy of wide-ranging statistical contributions.
Tillman averaged 12.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks and 0.7 threes per 75 possessions. And when you combine that versatility with the physical style with which he plays, it's easy to fall for his game.
13. New Orleans Pelicans: Payton Pritchard (originally picked 26th)
Even on a team with Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart, Payton Pritchard was able to exceed the expectations of a No. 26 pick, force his way into the Boston Celtics' rotation and shoot 41.1 percent from three as a rookie.
On a team with playmaking wings like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, he wasn't expected to create as much for teammates as point guards traditionally do. Showing a bit more in that area is probably the next step for him.
12. Sacramento Kings: Isaac Okoro (originally picked fifth)
In a sink-or-swim season for a team that was never going to sniff playoff contention, Isaac Okoro's advanced numbers were predictably rough. His minus-4.3 wins over replacement player (the cumulative variant of BPM) ranks 3,043rd among three-point era rookies from a sample of 3,054 players.
As scary as that might be, it's fair to focus more on the eye test than catch-all metrics for players as young as Okoro. What he showed as a rookie was a willingness and ability to defend multiple positions. And all of these early reps could help him in the long run.
If he improves his efficiency as a scorer—and there's plenty of time for that—those numbers should rise fairly quickly.
11. San Antonio Spurs: Deni Avdija (originally picked ninth)
Deni Avdija's three-point accuracy fell off a cliff a few months into the season, but his form looks solid. Plenty of reps in the offseason should help him avoid a similar cold spell as a sophomore.
What's encouraging is that Avdija didn't look completely overwhelmed on defense. No one would mistake him for a lockdown perimeter defender, but his size (6'9") and awareness suggest he could eventually guard multiple positions.
If his outside shooting and playmaking develop as expected—those were two of his main selling points coming into the draft—he could be an important piece for the Washington Wizards going forward.
10. Phoenix Suns: Devin Vassell (Originally Picked 11th)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $60.3 million
We should learn quite a bit more about Devin Vassell in 2021-22. As a rookie, he had DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay taking up minutes ahead of him on the San Antonio Spurs' depth chart, but they're both gone now.
In the limited role that Vassell did have, he was able to confirm much of why he was a borderline top-10 pick.
A cold streak in April and May drove his three-point percentage below the league average, but he shot 40.8 percent from deep over his first 45 games. That's more than enough of a sample to be encouraged by his outside shooting. His 84.3 free-throw percentage helps on that front, too.
Perhaps more importantly, Vassell's strong defense from his two seasons at Florida State seems to have translated to the NBA.
Even as a rookie, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was able to trust Vassell to defend both shooting guards and small forwards. As Vassell adds more strength, he might even be able to defend small-ball 4s.
In short, Vassell was projected to be a solid three-and-D option, and his rookie campaign only served to reinforce that projection.
9. Washington Wizards: Desmond Bane (Originally Picked 30th)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $49.0 million
The concern about drafting older players is valid. If a college player doesn't dominate his peers until he's an upperclassman who can bully freshmen and sophomores, NBA veterans will likely have their way with him.
However, some older players buck that trend. They're typically four-year players who produced and showed at least a strong feel for the game for the entirety of their college runs.
Such was the case with Desmond Bane, who shot 38.0 percent from three as a freshman and finished his time at TCU with a 43.3 three-point percentage.
Shooting often translates to the NBA regardless of age, and it certainly did for Bane. In his rookie campaign, he averaged 9.2 points and 1.7 threes in only 22.3 minutes. He had a 43.2 three-point percentage and a 58.6 effective field-goal percentage.
That skill alone should give Bane staying power. As teams around the league lean into the trend of surrounding a ball-dominant playmaker with floor-spacers, he'll hold value.
But what could set Bane apart from plenty of other mid-40s three-point shooters is his defensive ceiling. The 6'5" rookie was built like a tank and showed his ability to defend forwards.
Add a pinch of playmaking (he averaged 2.8 assists per 75 possessions in 2020-21), and it's easy to be excited about Bane's future.
8. New York Knicks: Patrick Williams (Originally Picked 4th)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $61.4 million
Patrick Williams' individual numbers in 2020-21 weren't as good as Desmond Bane's, but this is where the age discussion comes up again. Bane was 22 during his rookie season, whereas Williams was 19. Three years from now, the latter figures to have developed quite a bit.
The other factor that sets Williams apart is size. Bane's 6'4" wingspan isn't close to Williams' 7'0" mark, and that extra length gives Williams the kind of defensive versatility so many teams want in today's NBA. At his peak, he could conceivably defend three or four positions.
What Williams showed offensively as a rookie is enticing, too. He didn't take many shots, but a 39.1 three-point percentage and solid accuracy from the mid-range provide the profile of a good shooter.
At the very least, Williams looks like he has the potential to be a high-end, gap-filling three-and-D player.
7. Detroit Pistons: Immanuel Quickley (Originally Picked 25th)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $69.7 million
Immanuel Quickley already looks like the kind of heat-check scorer off the bench who could have a long NBA career.
In 2020-21, he was third among rookies in value over replacement player. He averaged 22.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.6 threes per 75 possessions while shooting 38.9 percent from deep and 89.1 percent from the charity stripe.
Perhaps most importantly, he was a high-impact player for a surprising playoff team. On the season, the New York Knicks were plus-7.6 points per 100 possessions with Quickley on the floor and minus-0.6 with him off.
If he can figure out how to finish more effectively inside the three-point line (or eliminate some of those shots from his diet) and be a bit peskier on defense, his ceiling might even exceed Sixth Man of the Year contender.
6. Atlanta Hawks: Onyeka Okongwu (Originally Picked 6th)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $62.3 million
This placement might be relying more on projection than just about any other so far.
Onyeka Okongwu played only 601 minutes in the regular season. He had a well-below-average offensive BPM, thanks in large part to a nonexistent outside game and a poor free-throw percentage.
But due to his combination of size (6'8" and 235 pounds) and what he's already shown as a defender, he remains a borderline top-five pick.
As a pick-and-roll dive man and offensive rebounder, Okongwu has top-tier explosiveness. He's the kind of rim runner who will command the attention of defenses in the paint, which should open up extra space for shooters and drivers outside.
His athleticism is backed by good instincts on defense, too. He's quick enough to switch onto wings and already has a good awareness of when to reach, jump passing lanes or chase swats (he averaged 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per 75 possessions).
Perhaps most encouraging, all of the above showed up in the Atlanta Hawks' surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Okongwu looked anything but overwhelmed by the pressure of the playoffs.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: James Wiseman (Originally Picked 2nd)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $11.9 million
This pick relies more heavily on pre-NBA notions than even Onyeka Okongwu at No. 6.
James Wiseman's rookie season was mostly a disaster. He often looked completely lost on both ends of the floor, and he finished with a minus-5.4 BPM that ranks 1,335th among the 1,423 rookie seasons of at least 500 minutes in the three-point era.
And that negative impact wasn't just theoretical. The Golden State Warriors were minus-8.3 points per 100 possessions when Wiseman shared the floor with Stephen Curry and plus-9.4 when Curry played without the rookie big man.
In Wiseman's defense, Golden State deploys a read-and-react attack that would've been difficult for any rookie to pick up, especially one who profiles as a pick-and-roll specialist. He used only 1.7 possessions per game as a roll man, a mark that ranked outside the top 50 leaguewide.
But despite all of those scary numbers, Wiseman was still able to display an intriguing combination of athleticism and mobility for a 7-footer. He runs the floor well, can finish above the rim and showed off decent form on his jumper.
Taking him in the top five now requires a leap of faith, but he's only 20 years old. The right developmental staff and program could still unlock his potential.
4. Chicago Bulls: Isaiah Stewart (Originally Picked 16th)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $99.9 million
If the 2020-21 Detroit Pistons weren't a full-scale tanking or rebuilding team, it's because the front office acquired frontcourt veterans Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee in free agency. They even gave Blake Griffin, who looked like a shell of his former (and future) self, over 30 minutes per night for 20 games.
The rest of the roster was highlighted by young players. Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes and Josh Jackson, all of whom were 23 or younger, were thrown straight into the fray.
All of that experience inside may have contributed to Isaiah Stewart coming along a bit more gradually. He averaged 18.4 minutes before the All-Star break, compared to 24.4 after.
He eventually established himself as an exciting piece of Detroit's future, though, thanks to a combination of old-school, bruising interior play and a hint of outside shooting.
On the season, Stewart averaged 13.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per 75 possessions. And though he shot only 33.3 percent from three, his form looks good.
If a player his size can just get to average from three-point range, it'll be a valuable part of his game.
3. Charlotte Hornets: Tyrese Haliburton (Originally Picked 12th)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $85.9 million
Regardless of experience level, Tyrese Haliburton was one of the NBA's steadier guards last season.
Beyond those well-rounded statistical contributions, Haliburton looked like the kind of calming influence you typically associate with a veteran guard. He made smart decisions (he had the 13th-best assist-to-turnover ratio among players who averaged at least 10 minutes and played in at least 50 games), had good shot selection and was typically in the right spots on defense.
At worst, he already looks like he'll be a floor-raiser for years to come.
2. Golden State Warriors: Anthony Edwards (Originally Picked 1st)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $117.0 million
After he had a few months to adjust to the NBA game, Anthony Edwards' production and efficiency skyrocketed:
- Pre-All-Star break: 29.1 minutes, 14.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 30.2 three-point percentage, 46.6 true shooting percentage
- Post-All-Star break: 35.2 minutes, 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 34.9 three-point percentage, 56.7 true shooting percentage
That post-All-Star-break version of Edwards often looked like a bona fide star.
He was hitting threes off the dribble at a ridiculous clip. In fact, he was sixth in total pull-up threes during that segment of the season. And his percentage on those shots (38.7) topped three of the players ahead of him on that list (CJ McCollum, Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic).
He was also bullying his way to points inside with his 6'4", 225-pound frame. Over that same stretch, he was ninth in points from drives.
If he can leverage some of those drives into more opportunities for teammates and become more consistent on defense, Edwards has a chance to be one of the best wings in the NBA.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: LaMelo Ball (Originally Picked 3rd)
Projected Five-Year Market Value: $209.0 million
With his combination of size (6'6"), vision and passing, it seemed almost impossible heading into last year's draft for LaMelo Ball to be anything other than a great playmaker. His star upside was reliant on whether he could develop a dependable jump shot.
Now that his rookie campaign is over, it's safe to say Ball is way ahead of schedule.
After shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from three in his lone season in Australia's NBL, Ball shot 43.6 from the field and 35.2 from three during his rookie season in the NBA. He also knocked down 39.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts from deep.
Since he just turned 20 in late August, it's safe to assume he still has room for development.
What he did as a shooter this season might've been seen as his eventual ceiling before he stepped foot on an NBA floor. The fact that he's already there should have even the most optimistic analysts adjusting their expectations for Ball.
On the other end of the floor, Ball seems further from a finished product, but there are encouraging signs there as well. He averaged 6.0 defensive rebounds and 2.0 steals per 75 possessions.
Add it all together, and Ball put up 20.0 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 total rebounds per 75 possessions last season. No other rookie in the three-point era hit all three of those marks in the same season.
All statistics via Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.