As the college basketball season tilts towards conference play and the more competitive matchups it brings, it's time to start thinking about where prospects may rank in the 2020 NBA Draft. Obviously it's still early and those contests plus the pre-draft process will weigh heavily on how this list looks in June, but it's nice to have a starting point we can update from going forward.
Evaluators have been given quite a bit of time to develop initial impressions of the top players in the class, and unfortunately in some cases, it may be all they see before the pre-draft process. Memphis center James Wiseman elected to leave college basketball after being ruled ineligible for several games by the NCAA. Cole Anthony is also missing time following knee surgery and a timeline for his return to a struggling North Carolina squad remains up in the air. Meanwhile, both LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton suffered injuries in Australia that may cause them to miss the remainder of the NBL regular season, which wraps up in mid-February.
These absences have muddled things at the top of the board in the race for the No. 1 spot. Anthony, Ball, Wiseman and Georgia's Anthony Edwards all appear to be in play there. None of them are surefire top picks, and all of them have significant question marks:
- Anthony seems likely to possess the jump shooting ability necessary to be a gravitational threat offensively, but he's also been toothless as a threat at the rim in the halfcourt and struggled to make the Tar Heels better this season. How much of that is attributable to him and how much rests on the shoulders of the rest of the roster is open to interpretation.
- Ball appears to be one of the highest IQ players in the class with a feel for the game that should let him at worst be a valuable piece on a winning team, but the shooting highlights that show up on Twitter have yet to translate into sustained success. He's shot 70.0 percent from the foul line this season and made just 27.9 percent of his 86 3-point attempts. The 18-year-old may suffer from some of the same faults of his older brother at the next level.
- Wiseman is a legitimate future Defensive Player of the Year candidate given his physical tools, but his place and value on the offensive end has always been in question. Is it really sufficient to select someone you're hoping can be something like Rudy Gobert with the No. 1 pick?
- Edwards is the default option at No. 1 right now thanks to the intersection of production, athleticism and youth his profile possesses. The 18-year-old suffers from struggling with shot selection in the halfcourt, often finding himself settling for jumpers rather than attacking the basket despite winning the space necessary to do so. Maybe that comes more consistently once he's comfortable with his handle.
These issues at the top of the class are emblematic of this draft's overall issues. It would be harsh to say the class is bad, although few could realistically critique some who says as much.
This year's group just appears to find itself beholden to a significant number of swing skills that will make or break individual prospects. If the switch flips in the right direction, we could look back at the pre-draft analysis and have a hearty laugh at how wrong we all were. If it doesn't, things could get ugly, and the draft could struggle to produce many relevant NBA pieces. Perhaps we can agree to call it highly variable rather than just outright bad.
This pessimism shouldn't overshadow some of the highlights of this season. Several players have improved their draft stock with impressive performances to start the year:
- Kentucky's Tyrese Maxey is someone who has moved from the back half of lottery toward the top five on this board in large part because he's shown he can score at a high rate, carry a team offensively and succeed defending at the point of attack. Critics will point to Maxey's poor 3-point percentage this season, but it would be a mistake to discount him for that reason. The 19-year-old has a history of success from behind the arc, is shooting 80.3 percent from the foul line and clearly has the confidence of his coaching staff behind him — he's taking 5.2 3s per 40 minutes. Don't let the small sample size fool you into thinking Maxey will grade out as a poor shooter.
- Iowa State's Tyrese Haliburton is another prospect who has climbed into the top 10 of this board. Haliburton was a favorite of some evaluators last season thanks to his high basketball IQ and success in several analytics models. The traits that impressed during his freshman campaign have continued in an even larger role. Haliburton has dished out 3.28 assists to each turnover he's committed this season and is averaging 2.8 steals per 40 minutes. What role he'll play at the next level still needs to be parsed out, but winning basketball teams frequently have guys like Haliburton.
- The final prospect we'll mention here is Dayton's Obi Toppin. The 21-year-old has been dominant offensively this season, posting a 67.9 true shooting percentage while taking 3.4 3s per 40 minutes and regularly playing at center for the Flyers. He's developed the ability to create offense when put into advantage situations coming off screens or working in dribble handoffs. Toppin can obviously play power forward at the next level, but what should really attract teams to him is the potential to slot him in at center in the right lineups, especially in the playoffs.
It's not all bad news for the 2020 NBA Draft. With that in mind, here's a look at where our top 60 stands currently.
9. Nico Mannion Arizona Guard 6-3 185 18.8
2020 NBA Draft big board of top 60 prospects
|3.||Cole Anthony||North Carolina||Point||6-3||185||19.6|
|6.||Tyrese Haliburton||Iowa State||Wing||6-5||172||19.8|
|7.||Deni Avdija||Maccabi Tel Aviv||Forward||6-9||210||19.0|
|8.||RJ Hampton||New Zealand||Wing||6-5||185||18.9|
|28.||Aaron Henry||Michigan State||Wing||6-6||209||20.3|
|29.||Cassius Winston||Michigan State||Point||6-1||185||21.8|
|31.||Myles Powell||Seton Hall||Combo||6-2||195||22.5|
|32.||Patrick Williams||Florida State||Wing||6-6||215||18.4|
|36.||Amar Sylla||Real Madrid||Forward||6-9||190||18.3|
|38.||Jahmi'us Ramsey||Texas Tech||Point||6-3||190||18.6|
|46.||Xavier Tillman||Michigan State||Big||6-8||245||21.0|
|47.||AJ Lawson||South Carolina||Wing||6-6||178||19.5|
|56.||Reggie Parry||Mississippi State||Big||6-10||249||19.8|
|57.||Tres Tinkle||Oregon State||Wing||6-8||225||23.6|
|58.||Neemias Queta||Utah State||Big||6-11||245||20.5|
|59.||Devin Vassell||Florida State||Wing||6-7||194||19.4|