The 2019-20 college basketball season is here, and with it comes nearly a year of speculation regarding next June’s 2020 NBA Draft. While plenty will change between now and then as teams are able to evaluate prospects, it’s worth getting out ahead on who to watch and the storylines that will shape the season, so here’s a first crack at just that.
Storylines first, projections to follow...
Who will win the race for the No. 1 pick? Unlike last season when Duke’s RJ Barrett entered the season as the consensus favorite to be selected No. 1 overall — although he was eventually overtaken by teammate Zion Williamson — there is no clear frontrunner for 2020. North Carolina’s Cole Anthony is where most fingers will point to open the year, but Georgia’s Anthony Edwards and Memphis’s James Wiseman will also be early contenders.
Barring a dramatic rise from one of them, or another prospect launching himself into the conversation, we may get the first real No. 1 pick debate in years.
Where’s the returning talent? Spoiler alert, but the first returning college player in the below projections clocks in at No. 16, which is a far cry from this past summer when six of the 2019 NBA Draft’s lottery picks were returning collegians. Is this a forthcoming trend thrust upon the draft by rules changes making early entry easier, or a blip on the radar reinforced by the optimism that comes with the start of a new season?
Whether new early entry rules have helped drain the collegiate talent pool is an interesting subject, and it’s likely too early to tell, but it is a storyline worth tracking this season as we see if any returnees can force themselves into the lottery.
How good is the international class? One of the factors in pushing the returning talent down the draft board is the rise of quality international players in this class. While there’s no generational prospect like Luka Doncic was two seasons ago, there are at least a few who project to go highly this year. Perhaps they will be able to make up for some of the depth lost from the lack of returning college players.
What happens to the bigs? The NBA’s move towards smaller lineups has been one of the most well-chronicled trends in recent memory, and as a result, the value of selecting bigs with high picks in the NBA Draft has been called into question. Now, though, with the league seemingly at least taking a step back in the big man’s direction this season, will there be any sort of change?
It’ll be worth keeping an eye on the stock of players like Wiseman, Washington’s Isaiah Stewart and Duke’s Vernon Carey as teams aim to sort out what to do with the 7-footers in the room.
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Now, before we dive into the selections below, a few brief notes about how to interpret things:
It’s obviously way too early to make projections about the draft order. The order of the mock was determined using FiveThirtyEight’s original projected finish by record. Clearly this projected order of finish will change over the season and with the lottery. Don’t put too much stock in which team is selecting which player.
Similarly, because the draft is so far away and the order is unsettled, fit was a non-factor when assigning players to teams. If a team with an established power forward selects a young power forward, don’t necessarily expect that to be the case come June. Unless it’s the Knicks — they love power forwards.
Basically, consider the below a fluid power ranking of where guys might go if the draft were held today, and expect it to change plenty before the actual draft rolls around.
Now, some picks...
NBA Mock Draft 2020
1. Knicks — Cole Anthony, Point, North Carolina
H: 6-3 | W: 185 | Age: 19.5
Anthony starts the season at the top here in large part because of the importance of the lead guard spot when it comes to offense in the modern NBA. The 19-year-old is a terrific shot creator with NBA quality athleticism.
At North Carolina, he’ll have the opportunity to put up plenty of counting stats in what is perennially one of the nation’s fastest offenses.
2. Hornets — Anthony Edwards, Wing, Georgia
H: 6-5 | W: 207 | Age: 18.2
If you’re a believer in the idea that youth and athleticism are an indicator of potential, then Edwards is the prospect for you. His power and explosiveness make him an impressive slasher with the ability to get to the rim at will.
The consistency of his jump shot will shape his draft prospects as much as anything.
3. Cavaliers — James Wiseman, Big, Memphis
H: 7-1 | W: 230 | Age: 18.6
At 7-1 with a 7-6 wingspan, Wiseman has legitimately great size for the center position in the NBA. He has the potential to excel as a rim protector in the type of drop coverage schemes growing in popularity and could be poised to make All-Defensive team appearances.
Questions remain about where he fits in offensively and his motor, but bets those pieces of his game will come along could be rewarded given his defensive upside.
4. Hawks — LaMelo Ball, Point, Illawarra
H: 6-6 | W: 180 | Age: 18.2
High IQ initiators with height are always interesting. Ball has already shown flashes as a creator and playmaker while featuring in Australia where he’s averaging 13.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists per contest.
He needs to be a more consistent shooter, but if the college prospects falter, it wouldn’t really be a surprise to see him enter the No. 1 pick conversation.
5. Grizzlies — Theo Maledon, Combo, ASVEL
H: 6-5 | W: 174 | Age: 18.4
Maledon possesses impressive size for a guard and has shown flashes as a playmaker for others. He’s capable of getting downhill toward the basket and knocking down shots off the catch. He’s also a willing defender.
He hasn’t been the most productive player this season, but he has potential to grow into a valuable NBA role.
6. Kings — Deni Avdija, Forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv
H: 6-9 | W: 210 | Age: 18.8
A 6-9 forward with perimeter skills makes for an attractive lottery prospect. Avdija has frequently worked as a primary creator in youth international appearances, although that likely won’t be his role in the NBA due to a lack of elite athleticism.
Still, his potential as a secondary offensive option given his skill level is enticing.
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7. Wizards — Jaden McDaniels, Big, Washington
H: 6-9 | W: 185 | Age: 19.1
McDaniels is another big with perimeter skills who has the potential to fit into modern offenses if things come together. There’s plenty of potential here that needs to be actualized and polished before he’s a finished product, but we’ve seen less sure players go this high before.
8. Bulls — Nico Mannion, Guard, Arizona
H: 6-3 | W: 185 | Age: 18.6
Explosiveness and size are the question marks. Skill level is of little concern. Mannion can knock down shots and make plays for others while operating with a crafty handle. This year will be all about figuring out what his ceiling is given the lack of elite athleticism.
9. Pistons — Scottie Lewis, Wing, Florida
H: 6-6 | W: 180 | Age: 19.6
Elite athleticism, competitiveness and size are the package Lewis has going for him. He’s an excellent wing defender who excels in transition thanks to his quickness and bounce. He’ll be looking to find a place in the half-court offensively at Florida this season as he looks to bolster his draft position.
10. Spurs — RJ Hampton, Combo, New Zealand
H: 6-5 | W: 185 | Age: 18.7
Like Ball, Hampton is spending his pre-draft season playing in Oceania. He’s a combo guard capable of generating his own offense who could grow into additional athleticism.
One interesting number to watch from his early days in New Zealand is his 3.8 percent steal rate, which could portend some future growth.
11. Suns — Precious Achiuwa, Forward, Memphis
H: 6-9 | W: 210 | Age: 20.1
Achiuwa possesses NBA size and flashes the type of versatility that will be attractive to NBA front office personnel. He can attack in a straight-line drive offensively and occasionally knocks down jumpers. His size and athleticism offers a canvas to work from.
12. Pelicans — Tyrese Maxey, Point, Kentucky
H: 6-3 | W: 198 | Age: 19.0
Maxey brings an impressive scoring repertoire to the table thanks to a quality handle and projectable jumper. He’s a bit stuck in between positions, as he has the size of a traditional point guard, but lacks the dynamic distribution that might be required of him in that role.
The NBA team selecting him will need to figure out where he slots in offensively.
13. Trail Blazers — Isaiah Stewart, Big, Washington
H: 6-9 | W: 250 | Age: 18.4
With a 7-4 wingspan, Stewart’s got the size to play the center spot in the NBA. He also plays with a high motor on both ends of the floor and is working to use his length to be an effective defender. His ability to knock down some outside shots could shape where he ultimately lands on draft night.
If he’s not able to show projectable growth there, he may come off as a player from a bygone era.
14. Thunder — Josh Green, Wing, Arizona
H: 6-6 | W: 209 | Age: 19.0
Like many high school wing prospects with elite athleticism, Green faces questions surrounding the development of his jump shot. He should still show out nicely at Arizona in a fairly large role given his ability as a slasher in the half-court.
15. Hawks (via Nets) — Trendon Watford, Big, LSU
H: 6-9 | W: 236 | Age: 19.0
Watford combines his size with ball-handling, which makes him an intriguing prospect as a versatile big man. There’s still a need for him to develop some of the shot-making required to become a real threat offensively, but his intriguing ball skills are enough to project him this high to start the season.
16. Heat — Tyrese Haliburton, Wing, Iowa State
H: 6-5 | W: 172 | Age: 19.7
It might be surprising to see a sophomore who put up a meager 9.2 percent usage rate as a freshman this high in the order, but Haliburton was an advanced analytics darling in the lead-up to the 2019 NBA Draft. The 19-year-old checks plenty of boxes, including an outstanding assist-to-turnover ratio, a high 3-point percentage and plenty of steals and blocks.
If he can maintain those rates in a higher-usage role — and keep the shooting numbers up, specifically — he’ll be one of the best returning prospects in the sport.
17. Magic — Matthew Hurt, Forward, Duke
H: 6-9 | W: 214 | Age: 19.5
Hurt is a high IQ forward with the ability to knock down shots from the outside and do a little bit of playmaking in the half-court. His size and athleticism may leave him in an awkward position, however, as he’s not strong enough to battle down low and may lack the athleticism to defend the perimeter.
If he can find a place defensively, his offensive skills are good enough to move him up the board.
18. Bucks (via Pacers) — Isaac Okoro, Wing, Auburn
H: 6-6 | W: 215 | Age: 18.8
Big wings with defensive potential are in high demand in the modern NBA as the ability to defend multiple positions becomes paramount. Okoro is a prospect who will need to find his way offensively, but he has the potential to be a terrific defender as a freshman and really impress scouts en route to a first-round selection.
19. Timberwolves — Ayo Dosunmu, Combo, Illinois
H: 6-5 | W: 185 | Age: 19.8
Dosunmu is a quality shot creator with the potential to be a secondary ball-handler in an NBA lineup. His best work currently comes in transition. He’ll need to show more in the half-court as a sophomore at Illinois where he can be expected to pile up stats after averaging 13.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game last season.
20. Mavericks — Wendell Moore, Wing, Duke
H: 6-6 | W: 214 | Age: 18.1
Possessing a 6-11 wingspan, Moore has tremendous size for an off guard at the next level. He’s also a capable creator out of the pick-and-roll and a disruptive defender thanks to the aforementioned length.
The issue is the jump shot, which is why he finds himself here. If a team believes it can teach the jumper, he could go higher.
21. Celtics — Kahlil Whitney, Wing, Kentucky
H: 6-7 | W: 210 | Age: 18.8
Size, athleticism and youth are the attractions here, as Whitney looks the part of an NBA player physically. He’ll need to compete at a high level for Kentucky this season in order for NBA teams to buy into him as a long-term option.
22. Nets (via Warriors) — Killian Hayes, Wing, ratiopharm Ulm
H: 6-5 | W: 176 | Age: 18.3
Hayes is most intriguing thanks to his passing, as he’s averaged 8.6 assists per 36 minutes in five EuroCup games this season. He’s adept at setting up his teammates, but he still needs to find consistency in his own scoring ability.
While he’s gotten off to a hot start shooting this season, history suggests there’s room for improvement.
23. Lakers — Devon Dotson, Point, Kansas
H: 6-2 | W: 185 | Age: 20.6
After a late decision to return to Kansas for the 2019-20 season, Dotson is now positioned as one of the top point guards in college basketball. His pace in both transition and in the half-court as well as his intensity at the point of attack defensively stand out.
While he flashed promise as a shooter during his freshman campaign, increased consistency and volume could benefit his draft stock this season.
24. Raptors — Tre Jones, Point, Duke
H: 6-3 | W: 185 | Age: 19.8
Jones is widely lauded for his point of attack defense and offensive play-making, but he rates lower in these projections primarily because of his shooting questions. The 19-year-old converted just 26.2 percent of his 103 3-point attempts last season.
In order to be more than a likely NBA backup, that number needs to improve. His 75.8 free throw percentage offers a bit of hope.
25. Jazz — Amar Sylla, Forward, B.C. Oostende
H: 6-9 | W: 190 | Age: 18.1
Athleticism and size are the selling points for Sylla, who is averaging 4.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in the Belgian league to start the season. He’s flashed an interesting offensive skill set in international competitions, which leads to questions about where his ceiling may end up.
26. Celtics (via Bucks) — Vernon Carey, Big, Duke
H: 6-10 | W: 269 | Age: 18.7
Carey is what I’d describe as an absolute unit physically with the ability to overpower defenders on the block. His ability to do more than that offensively will shape his ceiling, though, as pure post players are seemingly out of vogue in the modern NBA. Carey will also need to prove he can fit in defensively at the next level.
27. Thunder (via Nuggets) — Aaron Nesmith, Wing, Vanderbilt
H: 6-6 | W: 213 | Age: 20.0
Positional size, defensive ability and projectable shooting combine to make the rising Vanderbilt sophomore an interesting prospect. While he only made 33.7 percent of his 3-point attempts last season, he hoisted 7.5 attempts per 40 minutes and shot 82.5 percent from the foul line, suggesting plenty of potential for improvement.
In a league constantly seeking out value on the wings, Nesmith could be a nice find.
28. Clippers — Isaiah Joe, Wing, Arkansas
H: 6-5 | W: 168 | Age: 20.3
Joe is the only high-major freshman this decade to attempt 8.0 or more 3-pointers per game while connecting at a better than 40.0 percent clip in their first season. The 20-year-old has deep range and the ability to generate space working off the ball. Those are valuable attributes as teams seek out ways to space the floor offensively.
29. Nets (via 76ers) — Kira Lewis, Point, Alabama
H: 6-3 | W: 165 | Age: 18.6
Lewis was too young to enter the draft last summer after reclassifying, but he could be poised for a breakout year as a sophomore. He put up solid numbers last season, including connecting on 35.8 percent of his 3-point attempts.
His ability to generate separation is valuable, and he should put up even bigger numbers as a sophomore.
30. Rockets — Neemias Queta, Big, Utah State
H: 6-11 | W: 245 | Age: 20.3
Queta made the decision to return for his sophomore season in late May after going through the pre-draft process. As a freshman at Utah State, he averaged 3.5 blocks per 40 minutes while posting a 25.4 percent defensive rebound rate.
With a 7-4 wingspan, Queta has an easily projectable role at the next level.