2020 NBA Draft Roundtable
The NBA offseason was short lived for franchises like the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, NBA finalists Miami Heat, and all of their fellow playoff teams. For teams that were out of the playoff picture like the Golden State Warriors and the New York Knicks in March when COVID-19 threw the NBA into chaos, the offseason has been loooong. The Lakers and Heat actually will have the shortest offseason in NBA history, while the 8 franchises who were not invited to the Disney Bubble have had the longest offseason in NBA history. Among those who have also had incredibly long offseasons are the NBA draft prospects, whose seasons were cut short. Furthermore, whereas the NBA Draft is usually in June, this is the first November NBA Draft.
None of this is normal, which is part of what makes the 2020 NBA Draft so intriguing as fans and armchair analysts. Without a doubt, there will be all types of trades, surprise picks, and a new class of 60 NBA players all ready to make their mark. Due to all this, we felt it was important to get a roundtable going with some members of the Blog Squad on the upcoming NBA Draft and Offseason.
I would like to give a huge thanks to Isaac Chasen, Jordan Monaco, and Lucas Widerka for their great responses. Let's get into it.
1. This is the first November NBA Draft as the 2019-20 NBA season did not finish until October this year. Do you think the extra time for franchises to scout all the draft prospects will lead to less early pick busts, or has the lack of an NCAA season made player evaluation harder this year?
Trevor Goldstein: I think this has made it harder for many franchises because they have had to adapt their evaluation strategies. The player you see in clips from a shortened NCAA season could have added 20 pounds and fixing a hitch in their shot in the nearly 10 months since the suspension of their season. Every prospect should have been doing work like this in the offseason, so it is crucial, yet difficult for franchises to keep up with all prospects. Teams were also only allowed to bring a select few prospects for workouts, so you have to hope they brought in the right guys.
Isaac Chasen: I do think the lack of an NCAA season, particularly the lack of a NCAA Tournament in March, will impact the draft this year. The tournament is where we usually get to see not only the top prospects perform at the highest level, but also some players who may not have been on our radar previously. I think there is only so much you can get from pre-draft workouts, as opposed to genuine game time. So, with Covid restricting travel and players' ability to work out and practice, scouts may actually be projecting prospect potential with less information than they have ever had. As a result, I do think we may see more early pick busts, but also more sleepers later in the draft.
Lucas Widerka: I think it’s definitely harder for front offices to evaluate players this year. As we all know, the NCAA season was cut short, and as a result, we all missed out on the NCAA and conference championship tournaments. During these games, many players are able to showcase their talents in front of a larger audience, and gain more recognition from scouts and fans. So, this year, some mid-major talents who might have been looked at more during a normal season, won’t receive the same recognition. Also, just because there’s been more time for scouts to evaluate, doesn’t mean that they have more tape to go off of. Teams are constantly evaluating draft talent.
Jordan Monaco: In terms of "lack of an NCAA season," only the conference tournaments and NCAA March Madness tournament were cancelled as every regular season game for Division 1 teams finished prior to the pandemic. Although teams have had more time to scout players, prospects' unknowns and potential remain the same. If a scout isn't sure whether James Wiseman's offensive game will translate to the NBA as he shoots many mid-range jumpers, this unknown remains the same. If another scout believes James Wiseman has the potential to be Defensive Player of the Year, their opinion was unlikely to change during this extra time. However, without the conference tournaments and NCAA March Madness tournament to show how these prospects perform during clutch moments, there will be drastic differences on teams' overall draft boards ("Big Boards") and will result in fluctuation on how some teams view different prospects.
2. Who is your number one prospect and why? Who is a player you see as a sleeper?
TG: My opinion on who I think the best player is has changed often because there is no clear answer, but today I am leaning towards Killian Hayes. He might not be a consensus top-5 player, but I see a jumbo Manu Ginobili in his game with his court vision, ability to create his own shot, and stout defense. As for a sleeper, I like Vernon Carey Jr. to become a starting center in the league for a long time. He is projected late 1st-early 2nd round currently, but he is arguably the best Center in the draft behind James Wiseman. Carey Jr. has great offensive awareness and touch for a guy his size. He also reliably gets rebounds and blocks, so he can shore up many teams defensively.
IC: LaMelo Ball has the most potential to be a star in the NBA, which is why I would say he is my number one prospect. He is an explosive playmaker that has the potential to get the best out of every player around him due to his incredible passing ability. If he improves his three-point shooting, he could be the next star point guard in the NBA. As for sleepers, I think there could be many in this draft, because we didn't get to see anyone play at the NCAA Tournament. But I think the biggest sleeper is Aleksej Pokusevski, from Serbia. He could be another impactful European player in the NBA, because he can truly do it all. He is a 7-foot center who can defend the paint, shoot from the outside, and has great ball-handling skills. The only question regarding Pokusevski is the fact that he currently plays for a second-division club in Greece and may take longer to develop as a result. Teams may not want to spend a first-round pick on a player who may only be impactful a few years from now.
LW: LaMelo Ball is my favorite player of the draft, as I think all of the physical tools are there, and he’s already a polished passer and ball handler. Standing at 6’8”, I think he can be a great combo guard in the league, and if he can improve his shooting and put on some more weight, he can definitely pass the career of his brother. As for sleepers, I like what Desmond Bane and Tyler Bey can do. Bane can be a really solid piece for a contender, with great perimeter shooting coupled with strong D on the wing. Bey is a physical freak whose athleticism is intriguing, and he fits well into the evolving role of big men in the league. He can also pop shots from outside well, making 13 of his 31 3’s last season at Colorado.
JM: My number one prospect is Anthony Edwards. The Georgia guard has the potential to be an All-NBA talent, with NBA-guard measurables and off-the-charts athleticism. His explosiveness consistently gets him to the rim and his aggressive mentality in the paint allows him to finish in traffic. He also can hit midrange shots, hitting 42 pull-up jumpers in 32 games and easily rises over defenders. Additionally, Edwards has potential as a playmaker as well. Not to mention, this same athleticism that guides him on the offensive end should translate into him becoming a lockdown defender in the NBA as he continues to become more disciplined on that end of the floor. Yes, Anthony Edwards may have only shot 29.1% from 3 on 237 attempts. However, his shooting stroke is naturally smooth and he has the potential to become a capable 3-point shooter in the NBA.
3. Hypothetically, your favorite team keeps their picks. Who do you want them to draft and why?
TG: Well as a Knicks fan, we have the 8th pick and 27th pick. That aligns very nicely with a double draft of Killian Hayes and Vernon Carey Jr. If Hayes is not available at 8, I would take anyone except Obi Toppin, who has bust written all over him. At 27, if a guard like Tyrell Terry, Cole Anthony, or Josh Green falls then I would give them great consideration because the Knicks need guards who can shoot.
IC: My Knicks are going to need a lot more than just one good draft to salvage their fortunes. But this year, whether through trades or through the draft, they need to find their point guard of the future. It's taken way too long already. As a result, if they keep their 8th pick, I think they need to draft Killian Hayes. The 6-foot 5 guard has great playmaking ability and has room to develop, particularly with his 3-point shot. He is a lefty playmaker who has the potential to develop into another crafty European guard in the NBA.
LW: I’m a Knicks fan and I’m praying that Tyrese Haliburton falls to them. The Iowa State product is a fantastic two-way guard that would be their best PG since Raymond Felton? He has great length, decision making, and is a solid shooter. He’d be an ideal fit with Barret for the Knicks, as Barrett’s ability to create and score inside, along with good off-ball abilities, would pair well with Haliburton.
JM: Assuming the Knicks keep their pick at #8, although some may consider it a reach, I would not mind them taking Aaron Nesmith out of Vanderbilt. Although he only played 14 games due to a stress fracture in his foot and Vandy had a weak schedule during his games, he's one of the best shooters in the draft. Being a dangerous 3-point shooter and having a smooth, natural shooting stroke is what led me to believe in Tyler Herro prior to last year's NBA Draft, as I had him as my #6 overall prospect on my scouting Instagram account. Aaron Nesmith, standing at 6'6" and 213 lbs with "a near 7-foot wingspan" (Mike Schmitz), shot 50% from beyond the arc this season. Additionally, he can shoot the ball off screens, through pull-ups, and made many difficult shots at Vanderbilt. Lastly, Aaron is known for having a tremendous work ethic and the leadership ability to impact a locker room and change the course of a game.
4. There are rumblings that this could be the year of the “trade-down.” What are your thoughts on that?
TG: This makes sense to me because there are no true standout players, but the depth this year is really strong. What is interesting about trading down in the NBA Draft is that your trade partner is trading up, so its a balance. Teams trading up likely have locked onto a certain player and do not believe they can get him any later in the draft, so the year of the trade down really depends on front office evaluations.
IC: There are not many prospects who are projected to be immediate impact stars in this draft, which is why we are hearing these rumblings. Outside of the top three or four picks, we do not see any one prospect who jumps out at scouts. Additionally, given the impact Covid has had on this draft class, many prospects may not have had as many opportunities to show off their skills. As a result, teams may not be as willing to spend draft capital when they could instead trade down to receive immediate impact players.
LW: I think that this year should not only be the year of the “trade down”, but the “trade out”. This draft class was looking pretty weak pre-pandemic, as RJ Barrett, who went third last year, would probably be the first pick in this draft, and now with the pandemic creating all these new obstacles, player evaluations became that much harder. Accumulating as many picks as possible would be a wiser strategy, trying to get a large amount of talent, and hoping one sticks. Or, if scouts aren’t as confident with their evaluations this year, it would also be wise to trade out and get picks for stronger draft classes.
JM: This being the year of the "trade down" is fairly accurate. After the consensus top 4 prospects (Ball, Edwards, Wiseman, Okongwu), there appears to be a drop-off to the next 4 (Avdija, Toppin, Okoro, and Haliburton). Then, there is, what some believe, a lack of talent. After that, especially since there were no conference tournaments or NCAA tournament, teams' big boards are going to be scattered with some teams taking players mid-1st round that other teams probably wouldn't have taken until late-1st or early-2nd round. Therefore, since teams know this, they may believe they can trade down and still grab the guy they wanted at their original pick.
5. Which franchise is the most intriguing for you coming into the draft?
TG: I am extremely interested in what the Atlanta Hawks do this draft. They have the 6th pick, which could nab them another good young player, but they already have, in my opinion, a strong 7-man rotation of young guns that just needs to mature. I would not be surprised if they dangle the pick to try and secure a quality veteran player to lead Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and Cam Reddish.
IC: The Warriors have a situation that almost every other franchise in the NBA would envy. They have two superstars returning from long-term injury, in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But they also have the number 2 overall pick because the team went 15-50 in the absence of those two stars. They have a big choice to make in this draft as a result. They could decide that they want to use their pick on a future superstar that will still be there when Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green are not. But they could also choose to trade the pick, in return for a player that could give the 32-year-old Curry, the 30-year-old Thompson, and the 30-year-old Green a shot at more championships. It's a good problem to have if you're a Warriors fan.
LW: I think it will be interesting to see what Minnesota does at the top of the draft, as it seems like they’ll be fielding offers all around until the pick is made. I also am intrigued with what the Knicks do with their two first round picks, and if the new front office will try to make any big moves. Although, for their sake, I hope they don’t give up valuable assets for a declining star. One last team I'm intrigued by is the Celtics, as they fell short last year, have three late first rounders, and are never shy of making moves if they think it brings them closer to a championship.
JM: The Warriors are by far the most intriguing franchise coming into this draft. Prepared to make a run at a championship, the Warriors own the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Assuming they don't trade their #2 overall pick to a team looking for young talent and not in win-now mode, they should (and will) go with the best player available and take one of the consensus top 4 prospects in the draft.