There is a tremendous amount we do not know about this NBA draft, happening as it is under such improbable circumstances—virtually, with prospects logging in by webcam, held in the throes of November chill rather than the warmth of June.
But we have tried to figure out as much as we can, even as rumors crop up about teams wanting to move up (like the Celtics, taking aim at the Top 3) and move down (like the Warriors, who either want out of the No. 2 pick or could slide back to Chicago’s No. 4 slot.)
We have already seen some teams move in the draft, including the Lakers dealing away pick No. 28 to the Thunder in the Danny Green trade, the Rockets taking over No. 16 in the Robert Covington trade, the Bucks giving up their pick to the Pelicans and the Knicks sliding up in a deal with Utah.
More is surely to come. There is talk, in fact, that the Celtics could be moving into the Top 3 in the draft–or at least, that they are trying. They have been said to be interested in Isaac Okoro, but getting into the first three picks would mean they’re likely to take LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman or Anthony Edwards.
With that in mind, we arranged our mock draft, spoke with a league scout, and put it all together as draft day approaches:
1. LaMelo Ball, PG, Ilwarra Hawks.
The Timberwolves have done their due diligence with Ball, and it says something that they still want to trade out of this spot. There is a chance they go with Anthony Edwards No. 1 but it does appear they are zeroing in on Ball, if they keep this pick.
Scouting report: “Obviously, the team is going to have to deal with his dad and all the Hollywood BS in his game. He is a legitimate 6-7, maybe he’ll get to 6-8 and he can shoot it and pass. His shot should translate to the NBA. He didn’t make a lot of them this year. He should be a better shooter than his brother, but he needs to make a couple of tweaks in his form, be more consistent with his footwork. He is an elite passer, there’s no question about that.”
2. Golden State. James Wiseman, C, Memphis.
If you played college basketball—or, heck, international ball—in the past 12 months, chances are the Warriors have put the word out that they are very high on you. Makes sense, because Golden State’s motivation here is to drive up the value of this pick, then trade it for a veteran who can help the team return to championship form. But if they keep it, Wiseman is their man.
Scouting report: “There is not a whole lot to go on with him. But he is a versatile big guy who should be able to play some defense and has nice skill in the paint. Very long (7-foot-6 wingspan) and he can switch defensively. I think the question is whether he is too nice, too fine, and whether he is a guy who can go down and bang around in there.”
3. Minnesota. Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia.
Edwards might not be the perfect fit for a team with a logjam in the backcourt but it has become clear that the Top 3 players in this draft make up the first tier, and it is a drop from there. The good news for the Hornets is that some compare him to Dwyane Wade. The bad news is that others compare him to Ben McLemore.
Scouting report: “He can give you buckets from all three levels. He is a strong guy, he can bully smaller defenders and he has enough ballhandling to play some point guard. I would be concerned about his tendency to dominate the ball and he does not seem to be a willing defender. But he is 6-5 and if he can be consistent as an outside shooter, he has all the tools you want for today’s NBA.”
4. Chicago. Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State.
The Top 3 seems to be where the action is in this draft. That leaves the Bulls to have their pick of Tier 2 prospects. Isaac Okoro, Killian Hayes, Obi Topping—they’ll all be considered. But if the Bulls hang onto this pick, Haliburton is a good fit.
Scouting report: “He has good size (6-foot-5) and he can do a little bit of everything. He is a very good shooter, better than 40% from the 3-point line, shoots it confidently. He is not a pure point guard but he has good vision, he can pass, he can set up the offense. If you are going to run a pick-and-roll offense, he might not be the guy, but he is a very smart floor-general-type and could be a great defensive guard.”
5. Cleveland. Obi Toppin, PF, Dayton.
Okoro or Halliburton are possibilities for Cleveland but they appear to have focused on Toppin if he is on the board. The Cavs are eager to dump Kevin Love and need some long-term answers at power forward.
Scouting report: “With him, it’s all about his toughness. He is a tough, tough presence in the middle. He is not a great defensive player but I think he has the tools to be a pretty good one. Above average, smart. A lot of his weaknesses there are things that can be fixed—he gets hung up on footwork, he gets a little scared to help, things like that. He can learn to be better. But offensively he is going to allow you to do a little bit of everything. Dayton this year was such a smooth offensive team and it started with him because he can step out and get into the high pick-and-roll, he can do dribble hand-offs, he can set up in the post, high or low.”
6. Atlanta. Isaac Okoro, F, Auburn.
The Hawks are open to a move here, but Okoro is like the best available prospect and for a team that is still in the asset-collection business, Okoro makes the most sense.
Scouting report: “It’s a little bit of a leap of faith because he is not a finished product. But his physical skills are there. He is strong, he has a good lower half, so he can post up and he can guard the post and does a good job guarding multiple positions. He can use either hand, he can go up over either shoulder. He is explosive but he is smart, too, so he uses start-and-stop ability really well. He does a lot of little things really well, like setting screens and moving without the ball, good, clean passing. I think the thing with him is you have to wait until his experience level catches up with his physical level.”
7. Detroit. Killian Hayes, SG, France.
The Pistons have Derrick Rose and that might be the best player to whom Hayes is compared. He is only 19 and will need some tutelage but Hayes has huge upside, a scoring guard with a flair at the rim. The Pistons also have interest in Patrick Williams and R.J. Hampton here.
Scouting report: “He is 6-foot-5 and can be a combo guard. He was playing in Germany so it is hard to gauge his competition but he was productive, a very solid scorer, really can bully his defenders. Strong with his left hand but needs to show he can go right.”
8. New York. Deni Avdija, SF, Israel.
The Knicks would like to get some point guard help and there is a strong chance they will move this pick. They do like France’s Killian Hayes here as well as Alabama’s Kira Lewis. But if they stay put and a versatile offensive talent like Avdija falls to them, they’d have to scoop him up.
Scouting report: “I love him especially in this draft where there are so many unreliable things that you’re looking at. For a couple of years now he has shown he’s the best player in his age group in Europe, he has held his own against older guys, he is a coach’s son and he plays like it. Very smart with the ball, he is an excellent passer. He’s very smart off the ball, good cutter, can play three positions, 2 through 4, he can switch defensively, he can handle the ball in stretches. He does not have the big-time athleticism but he has a pretty well-defined game. I think the knock on him is that he is not great at anything. He’s pretty good at a lot of things but not elite at any one thing.”
9. Washington. Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC.
The Wizards are one of the few teams not shrouded in trade rumors entering the draft, and with a clear need to bulk up the frontcourt, Okongwu makes the most sense here. They would gladly scoop up any of the forwards who slip through—Toppin, Williams, Avdija—but a defensive-minded big like Okongwu is a safe bet.
Scouting report: “I have seen comparisons to Bam Adebayo and I have to say, that is not fair to the kid. He is not Bam. He is a very good rim-protector, he can block shots, he can rebound. I like what he does as a roll man in the pick-and-roll. And that is what he is—a good defensive big who can give you a bit in the pick-and-roll game. He is not a great ballhandler or passer, you can’t run an offense through him. But he is good for what he is.”
10. Phoenix. Tyrell Terry, G, Stanford.
It is likely that the Suns could pull a surprise with this pick and this would qualify as such. But the team is emphasizing shooting and even if it brings in Chris Paul, a guy like Terry, who shot 40.8% from the 3-point line as a freshman, would be an ideal complement.
Scouting report: “He is 6-foot-1 and I think that is the big knock on him. He is an outstanding shooter because he can make them off the dribble, he can pull up, he can knock down spot-up shots from all over the floor. Question is, can he be a ballhandler for you and can he get his shot off against bigger defenders at the NBA level?”
11. San Antonio. Patrick Williams, PF, Florida State.
The Spurs have not had a pick this high since they drafted Tim Duncan in 1997. Williams is no Duncan, but given his raw skill and the Spurs’ developmental system, this would be a win for both sides.
Scouting report: “I think what caught a lot of people’s attention about him is what he can be as a defensive player, kind of an inside-out stopper, like a P.J. Tucker. He has the physical skill for that and he seems to want to be a defensive player. Offensively, I don’t know what he is. He is not a great shooter. He is athletic but he did not score a whole lot (9.2 points) and, to me, did not look comfortable as an offensive player. So I get that he is a physical specimen, but I am not sure what you’re getting as a basketball player.”
12. Sacramento. R.J. Hampton, G, New Zealand Breakers.
Hampton skipped college to play in the Australian league, where he was underwhelming. But he has raw skill and for a Kings team that just traded away Bogdan Bogdanovic, adding another wing makes some sense.
Scouting report: “He is a big guard (6-foot-5) who can play the small forward spot and handle the ball. He is superfast, I love what he can bring to your transition game. But we just have not seen much of him and other than some flashes, he was not that impressive in Australia. This is a gamble.”
13. New Orleans. Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt.
In his first 15 games as a collegian, Nesmith shot 30.2% from the 3-point line. In his final 31 games—the last half of 2019 and the first part of this season (which was ended with a foot injury)—Nesmith shot 44.1% from the arc. It is that shooting ability that makes him a likely lottery target and, for the Pelicans, an ideal floor-spreader.
Scouting report: “He is an elite shooter, and I think that is why whoever takes him will love him. But how good he is will depend on what he does with his other skillsets. Can he score in traffic? Can he develop as a passer, as a ballhandler? What about his defense? He has a lot of questions beyond the shooting.”
14. Boston (from Memphis). Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina.
The Celtics have plenty of options to be weighed, with three picks in the first round after reaching the Eastern Conference finals. They need help on the bench, but they also do not need an influx of rookies. They have discussed packaging the picks—stay tuned next week, when their intentions become clearer.
Scouting report: “There are teams that see him as a starter, but I think his ideal role is as the leader of a bench unit, a guy who can sort of seize control of the second unit and be the featured scorer there. He dominates the ball too much and he is not as polished as a lot of us expected him to be, but his talent and scoring ability is obvious.”
15. Orlando. Devin Vassell, SG/SF, Florida State.
The Magic love long, versatile players who can defend, and they should have some choices at this spot. Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Precious Achiuwa—for a team badly in need for an overall talent influx, this will be an important pick. Vassell could well be gone by this point but he is the kind of 3-and-D prototype the Magic like.
Scouting report: “He has a high release on his shot but he is very comfortable shooting it. He is an excellent defensive player, plays with a high motor. Not an elite talent but will get the most out of the talent he has.”
16. Houston (from Portland). Kira Lewis Jr., G, Alabama.
The Rockets dumped Robert Covington to get this pick and yes, it is true they still have guard James Harden and Russell Westbrook on their roster. But as you may have seen, that might not be the case for long.
Scouting report: “He has a ton of speed. He has good size (6-foot-3) and is very athletic, he sees the floor well and he is a decent enough perimeter shooter. But it the ability for him to get out and run that separates him.”
17. Minnesota (from Brooklyn). Jalen Smith, PF, Maryland.
The second of Minnesota’s picks in this draft, the Wolves could go in a number of directions here. But with an offensive-minded backcourt of LaMelo Ball and D’Angelo Russell, they’re gonna need some D, and Smith has a lot of potential on that end of the floor. He averaged 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds, with 2.4 blocks, as a sophomore.
Scouting report: “He can shoot it a little and I think that gives his game some diversity that teams are looking for. He is a very good rebounder, he has the instincts for it, and I like his potential in the pick-and-roll game. I think he can be a real presence on the defensive end—I know not everyone is sold on him there. He can be too aggressive but I would rather that than not aggressive enough.”
18. Dallas. Saddiq Bey, SF, Villanova.
There is a consensus that the Mavs will look to a long-term Euro prospect here, but that is not what we’re hearing. The Mavs want to develop into a contender and want to bring in a polished collegian who can help right away. Bey would be ideal.
Scouting report: “Excellent shooter at 6-foot-8. He has some good defensive potential, but it is too limiting to call him a 3-and-D guy. He can handle it and pass, has a high IQ. He could go in the lottery and if he slides, someone will get a bargain.”
19. Brooklyn (from Philadelphia). Precious Achiuwa, F, Memphis.
Someone unexpected could slip to this spot for the Nets, and they are hoping it will be R.J. Hampton. We have him long gone, though, so they’ll have to accept Precious Achiuwa.
Scouting report: “High athleticism, high physical tools, low basketball IQ. He is big and long but he just does not have a good feel for the game—he forces his shot too much, then passes up opportunities to take advantage when he should. He needs experience, I would like to see him spend a lot of G-League time developing and just getting comfortable with his skills.”
20. Miami. Tyrese Maxey, SG, Kentucky.
Pat Riley likes Kentucky guards, having been one himself. The team needs backcourt depth and Maxey is a fit here.
Scouting report: “He is a 6-foot-3 combo guard who can’t shoot very much and does not handle the ball all that well. But there are teams that love him because he can create and find ways to score. If he does develop a shot, he will be dangerous. Potentially a really good sixth man.”
21. Philadelphia (from Oklahoma City). Josh Green, SG, Arizona.
Defensively, scouts love Green’s versatility and willingness to guard multiple positions. He is excellent in transition, but when he can shoot consistently enough to be useful in the halfcourt is a question mark.
Scouting report: “He has the potential to be a lockdown defender on the perimeter. He has such good skills and instincts for guarding out there and he could be in someone’s rotation just for his D. He is kind of a clunky offensive player, he is a good enough shooter who can attack the basket, but it’s not always smooth.”
22. Denver (from Houston). Isaiah Stewart, PF, Washington.
Coming into the year, it looked like Stewart could be a Top 10 pick. But the Huskies were disappointing and, fair or not, Stewart’s stock took a hit. Expect the Nuggets to consider Jaden McDaniels and Serbian center Aleksej Pokusevski here.
Scouting report: “He is a high-energy guy. I think he needs a lot of improvement on the defensive end—you can post him up, and he has trouble being drawn out to the perimeter. Offensively, he is not a perimeter shooter but if he can add that to his game, he will be really dangerous as a scorer. Great size, and plays with a very aggressive mentality.”
23. New York (from Utah). Jaden McDaniels, PF, Washington.
McDaniels is a raw prospect who will need some work and some muscle, but he is an excellent 6-foot-9 athlete who can attack the rim. He did not develop as expected this year, with averages of 13.0 points and 5.8 rebounds, but still has home-run potential.
Scouting report: “He is very thin and that is going to be a big issue for him. I know they were calling him a baby Kevin Durant but he is a long way from that—he does not have any go-to offense that you know he can give you when you need a bucket. Very explosive, very quick, especially at that size. But it did not always translate into the kind of numbers you would want to see.”
24. New Orleans (from Milwaukee through Indiana). Desmond Bane, SG, TCU.
Bane is a draft sleeper who has been so widely identified as a sleeper that he is no longer really a sleeper anymore. He is a four-year player and 22 years old, with shooting that was off the charts throughout his college career: 49.5% from the field and 43.3% from the 3-point line. The Pelicans can’t say no to that kind of shooting.
Scouting report: “He carved out a good niche where he can be successful with his IQ and his ability to manipulate defenses rather than his athleticism. He can handle the ball some, he is a good finisher at the rim, but his 3-point shooting is where he is going to make his biggest impact.”
25. Oklahoma City (from Denver). Aleksej Pokusevski, C, Serbia.
There is interest in Pokusevski throughout the draft and someone might take a chance on him earlier. But he has a high upside and for the Thunder, it is all about the future.
Scouting report: “He is a 7-footer who has some perimeter-style skills and that is always going to be intriguing. Good playmaker, promising as a shooter. He is thin and he is raw and I am not sure the skills you’d like to see for him are going to develop. I’d worry about his defense, too, he is just not strong enough now.”
26. Boston. Leandro Bolmaro, SG, Argentina.
The Celtics do not need to use all three of their first-rounders. If they don’t make a trade a draft-and-stash option makes sense, and Bolmaro is an exciting young prospect who will need some time.
Scouting report: “He is 6-foot-7, legitimately, and has point-guard skills. He is not a great athlete and not particularly quick but he has a good array of moves, he is good at getting you off-balance. He has been playing in Spain and he will need at least a year overseas, he is still pretty raw.
27. Utah (from New York via L.A. Clippers). Tyler Bey, G/F, Colorado.
The Jazz want some defense, and that is a strength for Bey, who was the Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He is a junior, so he is on the older side, but Utah needs immediate help.
Scouting report: “He has good size on the wing (6-foot-7) and great athleticism. I am excited about what he can do as a perimeter defender. He is not great at any one thing but he can chip in in a number of areas. He is going to need to develop a 3-point shot and get more comfortable shooting in general—he is sort of limited to catch-and-shoot at this point.”
28. L.A. Lakers (for Oklahoma City). Theo Maledon, G, France.
This is still the Lakers pick because, by NBA rule, L.A. cannot trade consecutive picks and they owe their 2021 pick to New Orleans. But the agreement in the Dennis Schroder trade with the Thunder is that the Lakers will make this pick and trade the player to Oklahoma City.
Scouting report: “He is very good once he gets going downhill. He is very long-limbed and that kind of limits his quickness but in the open floor, he is tough to stop. He has not played much, he is really just scratching the surface. He has all the tools (he is 6-foot-5) to be a plus-defender and a solid combo guard.”
29. Toronto. Malachi Flynn, PG, San Diego State.
The Raptors are not expecting to lose point guard Fred VanVleet in free agency but they could very well trade Kyle Lowry this year. Flynn has grabbed attention in workouts and has firmed himself up as a first-rounder, perhaps as high as No. 21.
Scouting report: “He is not big (6-foot-1) but he has some toughness and some grit about him. He is a winner and I love to see that from a point guard. I think defensively, he might have some issues because of his size but the effort is there. Love him in the pick-and-roll.”
30. Boston (from Milwaukee). Xavier Tillman, C, Michigan State.
The Celtics may not hang onto this pick but f they do, do not be surprised to see them go with a polished big man like Tillman, Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu or Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji.
Scouting report: “He is not very big (6-foot-9) but he is tough and does a very good job defensively. That is where his NBA future lies, his ability to work on the defensive end, to switch and be a high IQ defender. He is not bad offensively but will probably only be average at best.”