The race for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft remains wide open we head into the new year. Each of the projected top prospects have failed to separate themselves from their peers in what’s shaping up to be one of the weakest classes in years. While there aren’t a lot of safe bets projected to go in the top-10, the draft is still full of intriguing young players who could turn into franchise cornerstones with the right development.
The last draft that felt this weak at the top was 2013, when Anthony Bennett went No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers. While that draft class was full of disappointments, it did feature the best prospect of the decade at No. 15 overall in Giannis Antetokounmpo. After a slow start to his career, Victor Oladipo looks like a worthy pick at No. 2 overall now.
Every draft is full of contributors, even ones that look underwhelming on the outside. This is our projection of the 2020 NBA Draft class at the moment, with less emphasis on team fit and more importance on sorting by the best players available.
1. Atlanta Hawks - Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia
Edwards’ first 13 games with Georgia have been peppered with fleeting moments of greatness along with maddening bouts of inconsistency. Never was this more apparent than at the Maui Invitational, when Edwards put up a clunker in the opener against Dayton (six points on 2-of-10 shooting) and struggled in the first half the following day against Michigan State, before a second-half explosion that put his star potential on full display. As Edwards finished with 34 second-half points against the Spartans, he showcased his improvements as an outside shooter (7-of-16 from three) and his playmaking defensive ability.
Such pronounced peaks and valleys shouldn’t be particularly surprising for one of the youngest and most talented players in this draft class. Edwards — who doesn’t turn 19 until Aug. 5 — has put up solid, but unspectacular, numbers thus far, with 18.8 points per game, 41.4/31.9/74.6 shooting splits, and encouraging steal (2.8) and block (1.5) rates. His tendency to settle for his jumper and a lack of focus on defense are major issues worth monitoring. That he’s become the top prospect in this class says more about lack of No. 1 overall contenders than it says about his season with the Bulldogs.
2. Golden State Warriors - LaMelo Ball, G, Illawarra Hawks
Ball doubled-down on the strengths and weaknesses in his scouting report during 13 games in the Australian league before his season was interrupted by a foot injury. He remains a brilliant passer off either hand, able to see the floor and read the opposing defense with the vision of a 10-year veteran, not an 18-year-old. He remains a major work in progress as a scorer. His paltry 47.9 true shooting percentage is a byproduct of his struggles finishing at the rim, inconsistency getting to the foul line, and Steph Curry-like shot selection without Steph Curry-like shot-making on deep three pointers. His defense can be an eyesore, with the occasional successful gamble not making up for all the ball watching and blow-bys.
Ultimately, Ball is a flawed but very good prospect because of his youth, his size (6’6, at least), and his elite skill as a facilitator. Rajon Rondo has been mentioned as a possible comparison, but Ball will draw more respect as a shooter. If he can make incremental improvements to his weaknesses along the way, he will end up as a high-impact guard.
3. New York Knicks - Killian Hayes, G, Ratiopharm Ulm
Hayes has been a long-time staple on France’s successful youth teams before moving to play in the top German league this season at 18 years old. The 6’5 guard is a big ball handler with tough shot-making ability, impressive passing craft on the move, and the size to play either backcourt spot. What he lacks in high-end athleticism and burst towards the rim he’s able to make up for with rare touch on floaters in the paint and the threat of his pull-up shooting. Through his first 25 games with Ratiopharm Ulm, he has 59 percent true shooting, a 41 percent assist rate, and a nearly three percent steal rate.
Hayes’ athletic shortcomings will come under the microscope in pre-draft workouts, but during a year when many of the top prospects are failing to produce at above-average efficiency, the young French guard is doing it. Factor in his size and his youth, and there’s a lot to like about his projection to the NBA.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers - Isaac Okoro, F, Auburn
To have Okoro as a top-10 pick is to believe he can be a special perimeter defender while his offense continues to develop. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl called Okoro the best defender he’s ever coached before he played his first game. That talent has been on display throughout the start to his college career even if it isn’t showing up yet in his steal rate. A long and strong 6’6 wing, Okoro can defend both on- and off-the-ball because of his impressive reaction time, ability to hold his own in the paint, and versatility to switch onto any position.
Okoro has not yet proven himself to be a dependable scorer, though he has a solid foundation of skills to build on. He’s a smart and willing passer who rarely takes a bad shot. He’s hit 66 percent of his two-point field goals so far. Teams will worry about his low free throw and three-point percentages, but those skills can be learned. His defensive toughness and versatility can’t be. There’s also this: Okoro literally did not lose a basketball game in 2019.
5. Washington Wizards - Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
Mannion ended his high school career with a stellar performance at the Nike Hoop Summit and has continued his positive draft momentum during a productive freshman season at Arizona. A 6’3 point guard, Mannion is the best passer in the class behind LaMelo Ball, showing the ability to throw soft lobs to big men for alley-oops, zip passes to the corner for threes, and use the threat of his scoring to set up teammates for easy baskets. While his three-point shooting (35 percent on 63 attempts) has been good but not great, this is a prospect with fantastic touch from all over the court. He’s currently making 84 percent of his free throws and grades out in the 68th percentile in floaters, per Synergy Sports. On the season, he’s at 55 percent true shooting with a 35.4 percent assist rate.
Mannion will likely struggle to finish at the rim against NBA length and doesn’t have the elite explosiveness teams ideally want out of a lead guard. While it may hold him back for competing for the No. 1 pick, he’s simply too good of a passer and shooter to fall out of the top-10.
6. Chicago Bulls - Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky
Maxey has often found himself in an awkward spot within John Calipari’s lineups featuring three point guards at Kentucky. Playing alongside Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley has pushed Maxey to an off-ball role, where he’s been used to dart around screens and attack closeouts. While it might not be his ideal role in the pros, Maxey has performed well on the biggest stages, hanging 26 points against Michigan State (on 7-of-12 shooting) and 27 points against Louisville (on 9-of-12 shooting). He has shown a consistent ability to get to the free-throw line and projects as a better shooter than his current three-point percentage (27.6 percent) suggests.
Maxey excels going to the rim on offense and gets after it defensively. He doesn’t have great size (expected to measure between 6’2 and 6’3) and isn’t the flashiest pick, but he’s the rare lottery prospect in this draft without large, apparent holes in his skill set. If Kentucky is going to develop into a national title contender as the season goes on, it’s up to Maxey to take charge and become the team’s best player.
7. New Orleans Pelicans - Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv
Avdija is a 6’9 forward who put himself on NBA radars with a track record of strong play for Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and for Israel at the U20 European Championships. Playing in Euroleague this season, Avdija — who just turned 19 years old — is having an inconsistent campaign with some intriguing flashes of what he could one day become. Passing and ball handling are Avdija’s best skills. He loves handling the ball and making plays in the open court, which helped him average 5.3 assists per game during his MVP run at the U20 Championships.
Shooting is Avdija’s swing skill after making only 28.6 percent of his threes and 60 percent of his free throws in the U20 Championships. Teams will hope his shot comes along and he can develop into a dribble/pass/shoot forward with great size who can fit into any lineup.
8. Detroit Pistons - Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina
Anthony was supposed to be college basketball’s most impactful and productive freshman, but his first nine games at North Carolina were full of inconsistency before undergoing knee surgery for a torn meniscus. At his best, Anthony is a dynamic pull-up shooter and gifted lead ball handler in the pick-and-roll. This was on display vs. Notre Dame in the season opener when he exploded for 36 points. Scouts had concerns about his scoring efficiency and his tendency to look for his own offense instead of getting his teammates involved coming into college, and both bubbled to the surface with the Tar Heels. He was shooting only 36.8 percent from the field at the time of his injury, struggling to score in transition and finishing with more turnovers (34) than assists (32).
The athleticism Anthony showed in dunk contests didn’t always translate functionally and his shooting ability at the high school level didn’t consistently follow him to college. Some of that is variance, but it’s also worrisome for a player who is a full year older than most freshmen (and older than both Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, who were freshmen last year). Anthony’s game still feels suited for the NBA, but his relative struggles at North Carolina mean he isn’t the slam dunk pick he once looked like.
9. Charlotte Hornets - Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC
Okongwu has been the most productive freshman in the country. At 6’9, 245 pounds, the USC center has been a monster finisher (80 percent shooting at the rim), impressive shot blocker (10.7 percent block rate), and capable offensive rebounder. He’s No. 5 in the country in PER and No. 7 in box score plus-minus. Long, strong, and blessed with great body control, Okongwu feels like a sure thing to be a contributor in the pros in a draft without many safe bets.
10. Phoenix Suns - Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State
Haliburton went from under-the-radar recruit to an advanced stats wunderkind as a freshman at Iowa State in a relatively limited role. He’s continuing his evolution by turning into a bonafide lottery pick as a sophomore. Even as his usage rate has tripled, Haliburton remains one of the country’s most efficient players, posting 64 percent true shooting, a nearly 40 percent assist rate, and a four percent steal rate.
At 6’5, Haliburton has great instincts as a passer and defensive playmaker. He’s a tremendous spot-up shooter as well, hitting 42.5 percent of his threes. At the same time, Haliburton isn’t the most fluid athlete or powerful finisher, and struggles to shoot off the dribble. He’s one of the most unique NBA prospects to hit college basketball over the last few seasons, but in a down year for talent, his defined strengths are worth taking a chance on.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves - RJ Hampton, G, New Zealand Breakers
Hampton was a top American prospect out of Texas who spurned the heavyweights in college basketball to turn pro in Australia. While he’s battled a hip injury recently, he’s mostly acquitted himself well in 15 games in the NBL. An athletic 6’5 guard, Hampton has a well-rounded skill set without a signature niche. He’s shown an ability to attack the rim off the dribble and generate power going to the hoop on offense, and has done a good job of getting into passing lanes and applying ball pressure on defense. His shooting and offensive feel remain question marks.
12. Sacramento Kings - James Wiseman, C, Memphis
Wiseman was considered the No. 1 player in his recruiting class as a 7’1, 240-pound center with a 7’6 wingspan, wide shoulders, and cut frame. While he certainly looks like everything the NBA would want in a big man, Wiseman’s numbers have always been a bit underwhelming. He didn’t even make one of three All-EYBL teams as a rising senior on the Nike grassroots circuit. His play in three games at Memphis didn’t provide enough answers before he left the program to prepare for the draft amid an NCAA suspension. Wiseman may go much higher than this based on his pedigree, but there are reasons to be skeptical of his stock as a pro prospect, namely: his underwhelming ability to quickly get off the ground, his unpolished defensive traits, and his lack of overall offensive skill.
13. Portland Trail Blazers - Obi Toppin, F, Dayton
Toppin has been the biggest revelation of this college basketball season. An explosive 6’9 forward who dunks everything, Toppin has been a great finisher (68 percent true shooting), dependable rebounder, and has shown satisfactory defensive instincts. He’s also made big strides as an outside shooter, hitting 36 percent of his first 39 attempts from three-point range. A redshirt sophomore, Toppin will be one of the oldest players drafted in the lottery as someone who turns 22 in March.
14. Boston Celtics - Jahmi’us Ramsey, G, Texas Tech
Ramsey has missed time this season with a hamstring injury, but the Texas Tech freshman has been a walking bucket when he’s taken the court. Ramsey, an athletic 6’4 shooting guard, is averaging 17.7 points per game on 61 percent true shooting thanks to a smooth jumper and deep range. Ramsey already looks natural flowing into his pull-ups, which has helped him hit better than 48 percent of his threes on 5.3 attempts per game. He could be a draft riser as the season continues.
15. Atlanta Hawks - Jaden McDaniels, F, Washington
Think of McDaniels as Brandon Ingram-lite. A skinny 6’9 forward, McDaniels was a late bloomer who rose up his high school class rankings because of his length and shot-making potential. He has looked great when his jumper is falling at Washington, but his off nights have also exposed the holes in his game. McDaniels consistently gets knocked off his spots because of a lack of strength, and still struggles to think the game on both ends of the floor. He’s worth a gamble if he can rapidly improve on shooting ability that has run hot-and-cold (36 percent from three, 72 percent on foul shots) so far.
16. San Antonio Spurs - Theo Maledon, G, ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne
Maledon has become a part-time starter in Euroleague at 18 years old as a 6’4 point guard who lacks elite quickness but brings spot-up shooting, an impressive feel for the game, and the length to provide ball pressure defensively. Maledon has struggled to score efficiency throughout his season with ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne (49 percent true shooting) and has had turnover issues, but he’s already comfortable running a pick-and-roll and has been a positive contributor at a young age in one of the better leagues in the world. He and Hayes thrived together in FIBA youth play for France before getting their professional careers.
17. Orlando Magic - Aleksej Pokusevski, C/F, Olympiacos
Pokusevski is a 7’, 200-pound center playing in the Greek second division and showcasing one of the most intriguing skill sets in this class. He has a rare ability to flow into pull-up jumpers for his size and age, and has shown shooting potential on both threes and free throws throughout his career. He’s also shown an ability to rack up blocks and steals on defense even if he badly needs to add strength. For more on Pokusevski, read Ignacio Rissotto.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder - Josh Green, wing, Arizona
The freshman forward from Australia has been an impressive on-ball defender and capable attacker off straight line drives at Arizona. While his scoring efficiency (53.8 percent true shooting) and three-point stroke (31.7 percent) need work, he has a big 3.1 percent steal rate and has made 79 percent of his free throws. A team will hope he can develop into legitimate 3-and-D wing down the line.
19. Milwaukee Bucks - Paul Reed, C, DePaul
Reed is one of the best developmental stories in college basketball, using his three seasons at DePaul to go from a three-star recruit way off NBA radars to a legitimate first-round pick. At 6’9, 220 pound, Reed has been one of the most productive big men in America, averaging 16.1 points per game while posting gigantic block (11 percent) and steal (3.3 percent) rates defensively. Reed has the quickness to be a switchable defender and also has some shooting potential, hitting 84.6 percent of his free throws and 8-of-30 three-pointers this season despite an odd release. Teams will want to see him add strength and prove his active rebounding and defense can hold up against bigger professionals.
20. Dallas Mavericks - Aaron Nesmith, wing, Vanderbilt
Nesmith has had a breakout sophomore season at Vanderbilt as a 6’6 wing who can fill it up from deep. Arguably the best perimeter shooter in the class, Nesmith has hit 52.2 percent of his threes this season and 82.5 percent of his free throws. Teams will wonder if he can hold up defensively, but his block and steal rates indicate he does add some value on that end.
21. Brooklyn Nets - Devon Dotson, G, Kansas
Dotson has been one of the best players in college basketball this season as a sophomore at Kansas. A strong and speedy 6’2 point guard, Dotson has a well-rounded skill set and gets after it defensively. While his three-point percentage (30.2 percent) is lower than scouts would like, he’s an 80 percent free throw shooter and has shown improved ability to facilitate this year. He’s also one of the nation’s leaders in steal rate at 4.1 percent.
22. Toronto Raptors - Amar Sylla, C, Oostende
A 6’9 forward with measurements similar to Pascal Siakam, Sylla is intriguing for his rare agility and defensive upside. While he remains a major work in progress on the offensive end, there aren’t many 18-year-olds with this type of size who can switch screens and rotate as effortlessly as he can.
23. Utah Jazz - Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Jones is a bulldog defensive point guard who made the surprising decision to return for his sophomore year at Duke. After being the fourth or fifth option on Duke’s Zion Williamson-led superteam last year, Jones has morphed into the Blue Devils’ best option on the perimeter this season, averaging 14.2 points and 7.2 assists per game while also posting an impressive 3.4 steal rate. His jump shot — up to 31.8 percent from three-point range on just under four attempts per game — is his biggest question mark.
24. Los Angeles Clippers - Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington
Stewart has been a monster inside scorer and rebounder from day one at Washington, just as he was promised to be as a top-five overall recruit out of high school. Through his first 15 games, Stewart is averaging 19.5 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 59.7 percent from the floor. Stewart has long arms and impossible strength for a 19-year-old, but scouts will worry about his lack of polished offensive skill as a shooter and passer, and his struggles to defend in space.
25. Houston Rockets - Zeke Nnaji, C, Arizona
Nnaji is the third Arizona freshman on this list. A 6’11, 240-pound big man, Nnaji is one of the most efficient scorers in the country with 72.9 percent true shooting on the season. He does almost all of his damage around the rim, usually off feeds from Mannion. While Nnaji is an 80 percent free-throw shooter, he’s still uncomfortable stretching the floor from three-point range, as he’s only 1-for-7 on the season from deep. Nnaji also has issues defending in space.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder - Devin Vassell, wing, Florida State
Vassell is developing into a certified 3-and-D prospect during his second season at Florida State. The 6’6 sophomore wing is a 39.8 percent three-point shooter and has posted impressive block (5.6 percent) and steal (3.5 percent) rates this season. Vassell also rarely turns the ball over and has been excellent in limited opportunities running the pick-and-roll as a ball handler (94th percentile) this season. Teams will want to see him do more off the dribble and improve as a finisher and passer.
27. Boston Celtics - Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F, Villanova
How does Robinson-Earl fit into the NBA? A 6’9, 230-pound forward, the Villanova freshman lacks the explosive leaping ability, length, and rim protection mastery to play the five and doesn’t have ideal three-point shooting (28 percent from three) to play the modern power forward. Regardless, JRE is a good bet to find a way to carve out a career because he’s simply always found a way to be productive. A good rebounder with a well-rounded skill set across the board, Robinson-Earl’s 84.2 percent mark from the free-throw line hints that he may have more shooting potential than he’s shown thus far.
28. Miami Heat - Patrick Williams, wing, Florida State
Williams is coming off the bench as a freshman for the Seminoles, but has impressed when he’s had the opportunity as a big wing who scores efficiently in the half court and has potential as a shooter. At 6’8, 225 pounds with a 6’11 wingspan, Williams has been an 86 percent foul shooter despite only making 31 percent of his threes. His block and steal rates are impressive on defense, and he’s scoring in the 81st percentile in the half court so far.
29. Los Angeles Lakers - Scottie Lewis, wing, Florida
Florida’s freshman wing is an elite athlete in every sense. Blessed with incredible speed and rare leaping ability, Lewis has shown his playmaking defensive potential all year with a 5.9 block rate and three percent steal rate. He remains a huge work in progress on the offensive end, struggling to make decisions with the ball and score efficiently (51.1 percent true shooting) in the half court.
30. Boston Celtics - Jordan Nwora, F, Louisville
Nwora has become one of the very best players in college basketball as a junior at Louisville. A 6’7, 225-pound wing, Nwora has hit 43.7 percent of his first 87 attempts from deep. Teams will wonder if he can hold up on the defensive end, but his combination of size, shooting ability, and productivity at the college level should make him a first-rounder.