Tiered board for high-variance 2020 NBA Draft

LaMelo Ball
Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

The 2020 NBA Draft is not as bad as many consider it. This class has a fairly normal amount of talent. That talent is just dispersed among many prospects, all of whom having glaring flaws.

So, I expect this draft to produce a typical number of good NBA players. But I have far less idea than usual which players those will be.

Of course, that’s the most important question for drafting teams. So, here’s my best attempt to rank prospects.

How this works:

Draft for need or take the best player available?

It’s the question as old as drafts themselves. Personally, I favor the middle-of-the-road approach – the tier system. I judge prospects on three attributes:

  • Current ability
  • Potential
  • Likelihood of meeting that potential

Obviously, assessing those attributes is not easy. It’s really hard.

That’s why I don’t like taking the best prospect – based on all three criteria – available. It’s just too difficult to split hairs between players with so many variables.

But overly considering fit is problematic for the same reason. Rosters churn, and it’s foolish to pass on a clearly better prospect – in the cases that becomes clear – just because he doesn’t fit the current version of the team.

So how does the tier system work?

Divide players into tiers based on their value regardless of fit. Don’t worry about differentiating prospects with nearly identical values. Find natural cutoffs.

Then, within each tier, rank the players based on fit for the specific drafting team.

Theoretically, a draft could have anywhere between 1 and 60 tiers. A 1-tier draft would mean every prospect – from the top pick to Mr. Irrelevant – holds the same value. A 60-tier draft would mean every prospect is clearly distinguishable based on value. Obviously, neither is likely.

The size of tiers should be organic, and therefore, the number of tiers is also organic. Naturally, tiers tend to be smaller near the top of the draft, where lines between players are sharper.

Within each tier, I rank players as if the drafting teams had empty rosters. Obviously, actual NBA teams would need to consider other information when assessing fit of players within a tier.

Here are the 10 tiers necessary to cover the first round of the 2020 NBA draft:

Tier 1

1. LaMelo Ball, point guard, Illawarra (Australia)

Ball possesses elite court vision. From the moment he gets the ball in the backcourt (often directly thanks to his plus rebound ability), Ball is looking to create favorable shots for his teammates – and has the tools to do so. He’s 6-foot-8 with superb passing skills and a tight, creative handle. Unlike his brother, Lonzo Ball, LaMelo has the scoring talent to run the pick-and-rolls that key halfcourt offense. But LaMelo also has horrendous shot selection. He takes an absurd proportion of his shots as floaters, including out to the perimeter. When shooting conventionally from outside, his form is funky. He must get stronger as a finisher. Will he cut out the bad shots in the NBA? Getting shuttled around the globe for publicity-seeking teams didn’t exactly nurture an unselfish attitude. Ball’s defensive effort is downright lousy. But Ball, who just turned 19 after the original draft date, is so young and already so talented. More maturity, mentally and physically, could turn him into a star.

Tier 2

2. Anthony Edwards, shooting guard, Georgia

Edwards is big (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) and explosive. His drives to the rim boom with power. He can also make difficult pull-ups on the perimeter. But he was also too inefficient as a scorer his freshman year. Was that because he’s too willing to settle for difficult shots from outside? Or did the Bulldogs just need him to do more than he was capable of handling? Edwards’ ability to create his own shot on multiple levels gives him star potential. But he must adjust to playing with better teammates at the next level. Edwards has the physical tools to defend well and showed flashes at Georgia. But that’s just not a consistent aspect of his game.

Tier 3

3. Tyrese Haliburton, shooting guard, Iowa State

Haliburton frequently gets projected as a point guard, the position he played for the Cyclones. But I wouldn’t want him at the point of attack on either end. His relatively poor ball-handling and slow first step limit his ability to initiate offense, and his thin frame can make him a liability when screened in pick-and-rolls. But he’s an excellent spot-up shooter and superb passer who makes quick, smart decisions. His basketball intelligence also shines on defense. His rotations are sharp, and he uses his length to disrupt. He doesn’t have the star potential ideal for this slot, but in this draft, I’d bet on his unique skill set.

Tier 4

4. Devin Vassell, wing, Florida State

Another player without star potential ideal for such a high pick, Vassell at least fills a highly coveted role as a 3-and-D wing. He’s a smart defender who impresses on and off the ball. As the 20-year-old gets stronger, he should get even better guarding his man. His risk-taking off the ball might not immediately pay off at the next level – or it might. Vassell shows good basketball intelligence. I’m relieved by a report that his suddenly awkward shooting form was just him goofing around.

5. James Wiseman, center, Memphis

Wiseman (7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan with excellent speed and mobility for his size) covers so much ground – and air. He’s a heck of a leaper. His defensive potential is massive. He can enter the NBA as a highly productive rebounder and roller/alley-oop finisher. But he has a long way to go to capitalize on his defensive upside. His defensive awareness is poor. That’s understandable considering he played just three college games. But he is behind. Wiseman has shown some ball skills – shooting, dribbling – outside the paint, but not nearly enough to justify how often he turns to them. The optimistic spin: He’s developing tools that will eventually make him a far more complete and valuable player. The pessimistic spin: He’s infatuated with inefficient aspects of his game and will try to play outside himself. I lean slightly toward the pessimistic side, but who knows? Wiseman is just 19.

6. Killian Hayes, point guard, Ulm (Germany)

Hayes has the size (6-foot-5) and skill to become a quality NBA point guard. He accelerates rapidly, getting to the rim to finish with touch or – if the defense scrambles – pass to open teammates. But Hayes is more quick than fast with sustained speed. He’s not an explosive athlete who finishes above the rim, either. He’s also very left-handed dominant. All that sometimes allows defenders to catch up. He must improve as an outside shooter, though the 19-year-old appears to be on the right track.

Tier 5

7. Tyrell Terry, point guard, Stanford

Terry is an excellent 3-point shooter on and off the ball. He has deep range, including on pull-ups, and works hard off the ball to relocate, including coming off screens. He can throw special passes. The big negative: He’s small (6-foot-2). He doesn’t always put enough zip on his passes, and he can get abused defensively. But if pre-draft reports of Terry getting bigger and more athletic are accurate, that’d go a long way. Even absent outlier physical development, Terry has a chance at hte next level. Though he’s diminutive and and not the best ball-handler, he has developed his game to compensate. He finishes with craft and from odd angles at the rim, shielding the ball from bigger defenders. His basketball intelligence and competitiveness shine.

8. Onyeka Okongwu, big, USC

Okongwu is a highly productive player a young age. He defends inside and out, blocks shots, rebounds, screens, finishes well, attacks off the bounce, passes and hustles. His comfort creating contact and still elevating is particularly useful in a number of facets. But even as the NBA moves toward small ball, Okongwu (6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan) is a little small for an NBA center. Frequently compared to Bam Adebayo, Okongwu isn’t nearly as powerful as the Heat big was at the same age. Nor does Okongwu have the ball skills Adebayo (surprisingly) developed.

Tier 6

9. Aaron Nesmith, forward, Vanderbilt

Nesmith is a lights-out 3-point shooter ready to gun from beyond the arc. He sets screens, comes off screens and shoots on the move. When facing a hard closeout, Nesmith can take a dribble or two to create space from beyond the arc, step into a mid-range jumper or attack the basket in a straight line. He has the length to defend, but his footwork needs work. His most intriguing defensive skill is using his length and hops to defend the rim, but I’m not sure how much he’ll actualize that in the NBA

10. Aleksej Pokusevski, big, Olympiakos B (Greece)

Pokusevski is an absolutely ridiculous prospect, and I mean that in both the best and worst ways. His highlights are jaw-dropping. A 7-foot 18-year-old, he keeps his dribble alive while navigating screens and traffic, throws dazzling passes from all angles and drains 3-pointers. The catches? He plays weak competition in the Greek second division. He’s rail thin – to the point it could be a while until he’s not completely overwhelmed in the NBA. He can try to do too much offensively, making him too prone to turnovers. But he’s at least a thrilling roll of the dice.

11. Isaac Okoro, forward, Auburn

Okoro appears to have commendable attitude and work ethic. On the court, he impresses with his blend of size size, athleticism and motor. He’s a multi-position defender who can stifle opponents on and off the ball. Offensively, he can put the ball on the floor and pass. He also finishes well when he gets all the way to the rim, which isn’t too often. Okoro’s poor shooting significantly limits him. If he develops his jumper, he has star potential. But it’s tough to bet on that happening.

12. Obi Toppin, big, Dayton

Toppin was the best player in college basketball last year. But the big flashing neon warning sign: He’s already 22. He should have been far better than his “peers” last season. He has a nice offensive package. He’s a rim-rattling dunker and an effective spot-up shooter from beyond the arc, and he can put the ball on the floor. Toppin struggles to change direction, which obviously poses massive defensive issues. His best hope defensively comes as a rim protector who camps out under the basket and skies vertically. But if positioned there, how will he avoid getting bullied under the rim by more forceful opponents? And how much time can he spend right at the hoop, anyway?

13. Saddiq Bey, forward, Villanova

Bey’s high effort level and quality outside shooting stroke should offset his lackluster athleticism. Bey works hard to get open looks from beyond the arc – running the floor, coming off screens, repositioning as the ball moves, releasing his shot quickly. At 6-foot-8, he’s a versatile defender. He uses his length well on the perimeter to cover for his mediocre lateral quickness. He works hard inside against bigger opponents. But athletic shortcomings create downside risk – on both ends. Bey doesn’t have the first step and ball-handling ability to draw help defenders, often even while attacking a closeout. But if he ever draws help, he has the vision to find open teammates.

14. Tyrese Maxey, point guard, Kentucky

Will Maxey become the latest player to blossom in the NBA after filling a narrower role at Kentucky? He might. Maxey spent plenty of time off the ball, where he didn’t look as comfortable. But he shined more running pick-and-rolls. He’s a sound finisher amid contact and can also stops short for pullups. A developing change-of-pace/creative-ballhandling game should make him even more effective. The bet is he’ll shoot better on 3-pointers than the 29% he made at Kentucky. He has NBA range. He must improve significantly as a distributor. He’d be far less valuable if he must be a combo guard. He’s a committed defender, but he’s not as versatile and disruptive as ideal.

15. Deni Avdija, forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)

Avdija is a plus passer for his size (6-foot-9). That’s the highlight of his all-around skill set. Avdija is a fun creator in scramble situations, but he struggles to shoot on the move. He can hit shots when stationary, but his distributing isn’t as captivating. Can he connect his skills? A bigger question: Will he develop his outside shot into enough of a weapon?

Tier 7

16. Patrick Williams, forward, Florida State

A big riser during the pre-draft process, Williams might be impressing teams in workouts. The 19-year-old who came off the bench at Florida State could have surged forward in his development in the several months since the college season ended. But I haven’t seen that progress. So, I rank him a little lower, still recognizing a projectable base of skill, length and athleticism. Williams’ standout skill is his shot blocking as a forward, a valuable tool in help defense. He has also shown flashes of more diverse offense – running pick-and-rolls and creating mid-rangers for himself off the dribble. But last I saw, he was inconsistent with the ball and lacking as a passer. Still, he found ways to score by opportunistically taking advantage of his athleticism with cuts and alley-oop finishes.

17. Cole Anthony, point guard, North Carolina

The highly touted son of former NBA player Greg Anthony, Cole underwhelmed in his lone college season. Maybe he’ll fare better in the NBA with more spacing. He has the scoring tools with the ball in his hands – a tight handle, plenty of moves, a good stroke he can get off from anywhere and strength to finish amid contact inside. But his passing ability lags behind, which significantly reduces his potential.

18. Kira Lewis, point guard, Alabama

Younger than many freshmen, Lewis looks better when judged as a 19-year-old rather than a typical sophomore. He’s very fast in the open court. He also has plenty of moves when he doesn’t have room to get up to full speed. But physicality gives Lewis (6-foot-3) trouble on both ends of the floor.

Tier 8

19. Cassius Winston, point guard, Michigan State

Winston is a poised ballhandler who can quickly launch and make shots or pass to teammates. He’s small and lacks burst and explosiveness. But he compensates with his basketball intelligence and toughness. He also has enough length to make his hardnosed defense reasonably effective.

20. Malachi Flynn, point guard, San Diego State

Flynn is a pick-and-roll master with ability to shoot, control his dribble and pass. He has to be. He’s short (6-foot-1) and relatively unathletic and weak. Despite his physical shortcomings, Flynn competes defensively.

21. Desmond Bane, shooting guard, TCU

For someone fairly unathletic, Bane has a pretty NBA-ready game. He’s a knockdown 3-point shooter who can spot up, come around screens or dribble (in any direction) to get off his looks. Bane is strong, which helps him whiz passes to open teammates across the court and boosts his defense. Defensively, plays hard and smart. However, he can get blown by. His lack of athleticism also causes him to struggle to gain separation and finish at the rim. As much as he does well, it’s just hard to succeed in the NBA without more athleticism.

22. R.J. Hampton, guard, New Zealand Breakers

Hampton just glides with the ball in his hands. He’s quick and fast. He also elevates with ease while accelerating to the rim. That athleticism is intriguing. But he must significantly improve his jump shot. Playing any defense would be welcome.

23. Xavier Tillman, power forward, Michigan State

Tillman doesn’t look like a typical first-round pick. He’s an upperclassman, 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds and not an elite athlete. He lacks star upside. But he just knows how to play. Tillman is a physical interior defender who’s mobile enough on the perimeter. His basketball intelligence typically outshines his physical limitations. That also goes for offense, where Tillman is also hamstrung by lackluster outside shooting. But Tillman can screen and finish or pass – a useful combination for a roller in the NBA.

Tier 9

24. Leandro Bolmaro, guard, FC Barcelona (Spain)

The Manu Ginobili influence is obvious in the Argentine native. Bolmaro is a creative ball-handler and finisher whose moves feel off-rhythm. That sets up his passing. He’s a tenacious defender – sometimes too much so. He must improve his 3-pointer, but getting stronger should help the 20-year-old’s push shot.

25. Isaiah Joe, shooting guard, Arkansas

Joe is a lights-out long-range shooter with a quick and high release. He must improve sprinting around screens and into shots, but has the tools to do that well. Despite his lankiness, Joe shows flashes driving and passing and defending. Getting stronger will be essential to having an even somewhat well-rounded game

26. Jahmi'us Ramsey, shooting guard, Texas Tech

Ramsey is a gunner, but that works when he makes 43% of his 3-pointers, like he did as a freshman. Though his 64% shooting on free throws is concerning, it doesn’t necessarily reveal too much about his outside shot. Ramsey attempted nearly twice as many 3-pointers as free throws, creating a far larger sample of actual 3s on which to judge his jumper. That Ramsey attempted so few free throws is the real concern. He has impressive hops off two feet, but that doesn’t materially add to his game aside from some fastbreaks. Still, it shows at least some potential explosiveness. His defensive fundamentals are a mess

27. Theo Maledon, point guard, ASVEL (France)

Mentored by Tony Parker, Maledon is an advanced passer – including in pick-and-roll – and crafty finisher. With his pedestrian burst and handle, can’t always get where he wants on the floor. He shows defensive flashes, but his effort effort is unsustained on that end.

28. Jaden McDaniels, forward, Washington

A highly touted recruit, McDaniels struggled as a freshman. He way too frequently drove haphazardly into traffic and turned the ball over. Forcing bad shots from the perimeter was another staple. His effort waxed and waned. I have major questions about his ability to read the floor, play committed and intelligent defense and even shoot from outside (one of his theoretical skills). But he still a 6-foot-10 wing who moves fluidly, elevates (at least in space) and can handle the ball.

Tier 10

29. Paul Reed, big, DePaul

Reed creates havoc defensively. He’s active, agile and elevates quickly. Reed can both protect the rim and switch onto smaller players. He sometimes tries to do too much offensively (though I like his developing jumper more than his forays into shot creation). At his best offensively, he’s screening, rolling and finishing.

30. Precious Achiuwa, big, Memphis

Achiuwa has the size, strength and mobility to defend both interior and perimeter players. He must refine his defensive attentiveness, but the potential is there. Offensively, he can finish above the rim. He also brings intrigue with his open-court ball-handling, pushing ahead after grabbing rebounds. The rest of his offense, I could leave.

31. Robert Woodard, small forward, Mississippi State

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and good athleticism/strength, Woodard has the ideal profile of an NBA small forward. He can defend multiple positions, though his defensive value presently comes more in versatility than effectiveness. He has potential as a 3-point shooter but needs development. A 3-and-D skill set would be a nice outcome. Anything more would require major advances as a ball-handler and distributor.

32. Jalen Smith, center, Maryland

Smith has strong building blocks both offensively and defensively. He’s an active screener who can both roll and pop. He has even shown an ability to shoot 3-pointers on the move. On the other end, he blocks shots and rebounds well thanks to his hops. But he struggles to defend in space, which can be a fatal flaw for modern bigs.

33. Payton Pritchard, point guard, Oregon

Pritchard (6-foot-2) might just be too small and unathletic for the next level. But he’s a good shooter with deep range who can handle the ball. He attacks the rim with changes of pace and finishes with craft. He’ll at least give himself a fighting chance to succeed in the NBA.

34. Killian Tillie, big, Gonzaga

Tillie is big (6-foot-10 with a wide frame) and a confident 3-point shooter. In addition to pick-and-popping, Tillie can roll and finish with touch. He also shows passing potential. But Tillie’s history of lower-body injuries is distressing. Already slow, he has lost mobility as a defender. And that’s when he’s on the floor. Tillie could miss too much time to be productive.

Houston acquires 2025 2nd-round pick in eight-player trade with Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder v Sacramento Kings
Getty Photo

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski described this as a “cap-centric deal”, since it helped the Thunder get around $10 million below the luxury tax, while Houston added a 2nd-round pick by taking on $1 million in cap space.

The Rockets acquired Derrick Favors, Ty Jerome, Moe Harkless, Theo Maledon and a protected 2025 2nd-round pick from the Hawks and sent David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke and Marquese Chriss to Oklahoma City.

The 2nd-rounder from Atlanta is protected 31-40, and it will become the second best 2026 2nd-round pick between the Mavericks, Thunder, and 76ers if it doesn’t convey in 2025.

A tweet from Jackson Gatlin of Locked On Rockets indicates that Houston will also receive $6.3 million in cash from the Thunder.

Previous reports indicated that Derrick Favors was unlikely to remain with the Thunder this season, while Ty Jerome wasn’t participating in training camp as his representatives worked with the team to find an exit strategy for him. Kelly Iko of The Athletic reported that Houston plans to waive Jerome. Harkless was traded for the third time this summer. He was dealt from Sacramento to Atlanta in July as part of the Kevin Huerter deal, and then was shipped to OKC for Vit Krejci earlier this week. Hopefully he’ll be able to settle in with Houston this season.

As he enters his seventh season, this will be the sixth team that Nwaba has suited up for. The journeyman has had a few solid seasons, including averaging 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.0 steals for Houston during the 2020-21 season. Among the players in the deal, he’s the most likely candidate to carve out a role on his new team next season.

Brown, Burke, and Chriss were already traded once this summer as part of the deal that said Christian Wood to Dallas. Now, they’ll be depth pieces in Oklahoma City if the team decides to keep them around.

Daily Thunder’s beat writer Brandon Rahbar pointed out that the trade wouldn’t have been possible without the Disabled Player Exception that the Thunder received because of Chet Holmgren’s injury.

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it


Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.


Proud to be an American: 76ers’ Embiid officially becomes U.S. citizen


CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Joel Embiid is an American citizen.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid said he was sworn in as a citizen two weeks ago in Philadelphia. The NBA scoring champion and Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center said his family – Embiid and his Brazilian girlfriend Anne de Paula have a young son – played a pivotal role in his decision.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” Embiid told The Associated Press Thursday at training camp at The Citadel. “My son is American. I felt like, I’m living here and it’s a blessing to be an American. So I said, why not?”

Embiid, who played college basketball for one season at Kansas, also has citizenship in France. He said it is way too early to think about which country he could potentially represent in international basketball.

The 28-year-old Embiid averaged a career-best 30.6 points in 68 games last season. The 7-footer also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in helping Philadelphia reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Embiid averaged 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in the postseason despite playing with hand and facial injuries.

Embiid had been announced as playing out of Kansas during pregame introductions at 76ers’ home games but switched around midseason last year as being introduced from Cameroon. He might try for a mouthful this season.

“We’re going to say Cameroon, American and French,” he said, laughing.