Thanks to Kevin O’Connor, Sam Vecenie, Mike Schmitz and Jonathan Givony along with the other draft savvy writers who inspired, educated and informed some of the analysis below. This is a difficult draft with 30 teams willing to move if the price is right. Two already did this morning, with New York leaping up to Utah’s 23rd overall spot. I predicted a few trades, but what will likely happen is even crazier than what I concocted here.
Remember that the NBA Draft is hard. I’m certain a stud will go in the second round in this class, with one of the deepest and widest array of stars ever. I left Nico Mannion, Killian Tillie, Cassius Winston, Isaiah Joe, Xavier Tillman and Tre Jones outside this first round who are all excellent players that could reach into the first round. Watch for Kira Lewis, Patrick Williams, the two fastest-rising players in the draft, and for Onyeka Okongwu to slide after news he broke his toe ahead of the draft.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves — G Anthony Edwards, Georgia
The Timberwolves stick with the tried and true NBA Draft method, take the best prospect available. Anthony Edwards is that. While not the physical prodigy Zion Williamson was at this spot, he features 225 pounds of muscle and explosive force. He shoots, scores and players have overcome the disconcertment and struggles his Georgia team went through in his lone college season. Minnesota waved the LaMelo Ball flag here in hopes of trading out of an undesirable position in this draft. Nobody bit as of Wednesday.
Edwards’ shooting, defensive consistency and decision making will make it necessary to impress on him more than he’ll immediately mold the Wolves. His physique, room for growth as a relatively new basketball player and fit in Minnesota make it worth the investment.
2. Golden State Warriors — James Wiseman, Memphis
The Warriors cast a wide and perplexing net of interviews and workouts with various prospects, like Minnesota, hoping to move out of this spot and either retain position to draft a player they like or upgrade. Neither No. 2 in this draft nor Andrew Wiggins enticed teams, though watch for a move here on draft night once the Timberwolves break the ice. Wiseman only worked out for the Warriors and Hornets. Only Karl-Anthony Towns will prevent him from going No. 1.
Golden State needs a center. The LaMelo Ball temptation is strong here given the Warriors development and need for a next era, but maximizing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s remaining elite years looms equally large. Wiseman fits in at center immediately, eases the burden on Draymond Green and attack the basket freely around Golden State’s shooters. He fits their pace, protects the rim and boasts his own shot-making potential. The draft trope, “take the center,” has killed many teams, adding to the Warriors’ Ball intrigue in recent weeks, but several reports point toward a Ball slide.
3. TRADE: Detroit Pistons (via Hornets) LaMelo Ball, USA
The phones will explode in Michael Jordan’s office if Wiseman goes No. 2 and Ball falls here. While enticed by Ball, moving into the 2021 draft is a no-brainer for the Hornets and the Pistons both worked Ball out and need a playmaker with No. 1 potential. Moving to No. 7 would be a tough sell for Charlotte, though seeing three teams with centers in front of them would increase their confidence in Onyeka Okongwu falling to them.
Ball’s rumored slide won’t last long. He’s an otherworldly passer with size, flare and a scoring touch in the lane that a hapless Pistons team desperately needs. His shot and defensive development remain concerns even after multiple professional overseas stints, though at 19 his development curve under Dwane Casey would be long, with a similarly exuberant veteran like Blake Griffin to guide and mentor him.
4. Chicago Bulls — Deni Avdija, Israel
The shot is concerning and over 300 free throws since 2017 at a sub-60% mark cast doubt on Deni Avdija developing into a shooter. He brings everything else though, size, an impressive vertical and playmaking skills the Bulls loudly seek at the No. 4 spot. Ball, the fast-rising Patrick Williams, Kira Lewis and Avdija are popular names around a secretive Chicago organization. They’ve also scouted Tyrese Halliburton, Killian Hayes and Obi Toppin for this pick. Don’t rule out Haliburton.
Avdija is a professional going back to age 12, from a basketball family and boasting a desirable mix of European flare with a nose toward the rim. He finishes and passes with both hands, though his transition pushes aren’t as seamless as his explosive dunks. At 6’7″ with a 6’10” wingspan he can play multiple roles on offense and defense. Chicago will need to be ok with little shooting upside here though, especially in catch-and-shoot spots.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers — Obi Toppin, Dayton
Toppin spoke excitedly about landing in Ohio professionally after dominating college basketball at Dayton. The slasher, roller and seasoned shooter is the best scorer in this draft. With standout footwork, elite hands that can catch lobs far above the rim and at 6’9″ provides an intriguing counter to the Cavaliers beloved guard combo.
The defense moving laterally stinks. Otherwise he’d be the No. 1 pick in this draft. You can’t overlook this level of seasoned offensive talent though, an argument reminiscent of Jayson Tatum’s defensive concerns at Duke. Toppin is worse, older (22) played the five in college, where he’ll only play sparingly in Cleveland. Still, the Cavaliers need a piece to build around and Toppin’s offense is explosive enough to dream he’s that guy. The Cavs met with him privately in New Jersey last month.
6. Atlanta Hawks — Isaac Okoro, Auburn
Okongwu would be tough to pass on here, but news he broke his toe and Clint Capela being in ATL slide him another spot. The Atlanta native Okoro making it past Cleveland, who worked him out, would sway them away. The Hawks did not see Okoro in-person, but he thrived in their backyard with a 32-0 senior year at McEachern. He’s the best defender in the draft, versatile with the potential to guard all five positions in today’s league at 6’6″, 225 pounds. His shot isn’t there yet, finishing below 30% from three at Auburn, but he’s 19 and puts up 1,000s as a renowned worker. Everything else is, flashy finishes, a soft touch, with all-defense potential if he cleans up the pick-and-roll side. Offensively-gifted Atlanta needs that for Trae Young.
7. Charlotte Hornets — Onyeka Okongwu, USC
This would mark the furthest fall possible for Okongwu, after news that he’ll miss time into the 2020-21 season with a broken toe. Charlotte would like to take him at No. 3, but it’s worth the wait and trade back for an organization that needs multiple pieces. A 2021 first would entice them to take a risk. If not, the Hornets worked out Toppin and love Ball.
Okongwu’s workouts remain a secret, but his pick-and-roll prowess and shot blocking project well in today’s league. He rotates, guards and hedges well on pick-and-rolls defensively, with 1.6 steals and 3.5 blocks per 40, he can change Charlotte’s defensive fortunes, but likely won’t become a shooter.
8. New York Knicks — Killian Hayes, France
The Knicks would be fortunate to lose the lottery and land Hayes, Kevin O’Connor’s top player in the 2020 draft. He’s slated to slide through the cracks due to his international game and his up-and-down performance in Germany. New York allows him a learning curve at the point guard position, a lighter scoring load and young talent around him.
A trade this morning to land 23 from Utah suggests New York is working on a package to get higher in the lottery, perhaps for Okoro or Toppin.
Hayes should be here at 8 though as a potential steal. He can swing passes to the corners, handle the pick-and-roll, finish with poise at 6’5″ with a step-back jumper that should make Knicks fans salivate. He’ll take time, with turnover concerns (25% of his possessions last year) and a leniency on his left hand, but his defensive intensity and scoring ability at every level will earn him minutes quickly. He’s also 19.
9. Washington Wizards — Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State
Another slam dunk for an unsung Wizards team. He’ll go to Detroit at 7 if they stay there, but would fit in immediately on Washington’s wing as a 61.1% effective field goal shooter and a secondary ball-handler for John Wall and Bradley Beal.
10. Phoenix Suns — Patrick Williams, Florida State
A defensive answer to Cam Johnson, Williams has exploded up boards and could go as high as 4 to Chicago. He’s 6’8″ with a 7-foot wingspan who can slide in immediately next to DeAndre Ayton, on a team where he can play off Chris Paul and Devin Booker as a cutter, shooter and slasher. His defense will be appreciated on an increasingly versatile team that featured Mikal Bridges and Aron Baynes as rising forces on a team that went 8-0 in the bubble.
Williams is raw, but on a near-playoff team in Phoenix will not need to be a front-line contributor to impact winning.
11. San Antonio Spurs — Saddiq Bey, Villanova
The Spurs miss their hope to acquire Williams here and settle for Bey, an older, seasoned three-and-D prospect. Devin Vassell could land here too, as could Tyrese Maxey and RJ Hampton as a reach.
Bey shot 45% from three at 6’8″ last year and defends across the wing positions.
12. Sacramento Kings — Kira Lewis, Alabama
The speedster guard at 6’3″ will not fall out of the lottery and worked out for the Bulls, to put his ascent into perspective. He finishes craftily inside, defends with active feet on and off the ball, with a blur of speed that’d put Sacramento back on League Pass when he and De’Aaron Fox take the floor together.
13. New Orleans Pelicans — Devin Vassell, Florida State
Vassell’s shot scared many in offseason workout videos, but he’s a long, versatile defender who breaks up plays and switches seamlessly at his floor. He managed 41.5% from three last year, albeit on only 168 attempts. He’s an underrated talent in this class and could feasibly flip with his college teammate Williams due to his college splits. New Orleans would be thrilled with him here, able to rotate him in between penetrators like Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson as a spot-up shooter that Lonzo Ball can find. This team would grow defensively even in Jrue Holiday’s absence.
14. Boston Celtics — RJ Hampton, USA
It seems inevitable that the Celtics will have the chance to draft Hampton at 14 and shouldn’t pass it up. Tyrese Maxey and Precious Achiuwa intrigue here as fits, while Okoro and Hayes intrigue the team as move-up options. For now, nobody is biting and out of high school Hampton would have gone in the top 10. An inconsistent shooter who jumps out of the gym, reaches the rim with ease and explodes down the floor in transition?
The Celtics worked Hampton out and they’re ready to select him at 14 if he’s there. Vassell and Lewis would be easy selections here if they fall instead, as would Bey. Boston is working on moving up into the top three, though it seems unlikely without yielding a 2021 pick.
15. TRADE: Oklahoma City Thunder (via Orlando) — Aleksej Pokusevski, Serbia
The Thunder need to wonder how patiently they’ll wait if they want to target the 18-year-old Pokusevski once the lottery ends. The teams with little to lose and a desire to pick him start lining up at 16 with the Rockets, and Orlando is a willing trade partner this season. They could sell the Thunder additional pieces, Aaron Gordon, Mo Bamba particularly, along with the 15th pick for Oklahoma’s 25th and plenty of future considerations. Between future Rockets, Clippers and Thunder picks Orlando can’t go wrong.
Pokusevski shoots, dribbles and passes at 7’0″ with a 7’3″ wingspan, eliciting memories of Kristaps Porzingis, but the main differentiator is his size at 200 pounds. He has no muscle at all, but the Thunder look intent on waiting. The Celtics could call with 26 and 30 to try and double dip with Achiuwa, or even take their own stab at Pokusevski as a future center.
16. Houston Rockets — Precious Achiuwa, Memphis
Thank you Trailblazers. Portland gets its wing in Robert Covington. Houston gets back to having a center on its roster, and a pretty dynamic one in the hyper-athletic Achiuwa. He’s 235 pounds, long (9’1″ standing reach), blocks shots and finishes hard at the rim.
Between Achiuwa and Jarrett Allen in a potential James Harden trade, the Rockets get fill their front court as quickly as they diminished it last year.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves — Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt
Whether the Wolves take Ball or Edwards, they’ll love a chance to take a pure floor spacer with their second pick and there are plenty in this draft. Haliburton is available if they can move up using this pick, but staying at 17 they can get Nesmith or Tyrell Terry for free.
Nesmith is 6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan and shot 52.2% from three last year on 110 looks. The SEC was not a strong conference, casting some concern on the two Wolves selections in this mock, but their gaudy production and attributes are tough to argue against in a vacuum. Nesmith’s a pure shooter in multiple facets and the Wolves need shooting badly.
18. Dallas Mavericks — Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky
Dallas will not a miss a sliding Maxey to play combo guard alongside Luka Doncic. Tim Hardaway and Dorian Finney-Smith worked for the Mavs in 2020, but a two-way, multi-dimensional guard with Kentucky prestige is a pick Dallas would enjoy making here.
Maxey provides secondary ball-handling, with a jumper that must improve to fit in more comfortably with Doncic. Both can run the pick-and-roll to Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell, with less pressure on Maxey to do it next to an iconic P&R player, though Dallas runs enough to get him chances. He can also help Dallas’ rough guard defense as a 6’3″ switcher.
19. TRADE: Houston Rockets (via Brooklyn) — Theo Maledon, France
Guess who? James Harden is likely going to Brooklyn and that means No. 19 and a bunch of other picks are going to Houston. The Rockets filled a need at big earlier in this mock and now address a soon-to-be bare guard position with a crafty, young, 6’5″ guard who hits threes and free throws. He’s a clean shooter, defends reliably and is rock solid overall for an 18-year-old. Rockets fans who struggled from years of Tony Parker in San Antonio get a French guard mentored by the Hall-of-Famer. This pick works for Brooklyn too.
20. Miami Heat — Jalen Smith, Maryland
Multiple mocks point Miami in this direction given Kelly Olynyk’s likely final season in Miami on a player option and the Heat’s struggles without Bam Adebayo in the NBA Finals. The Heat still want to be in play for Giannis Antetokounmpo, which could mean parting with Bam reluctantly in the future. Either way, Smith complements Bam as a stretch big who can still rebound and as a future starter if Miami’s dream comes true.
Smith record over 10 rebounds, 2 blocks and 36% three-point shooting as a daunting Heat front court gets richer deep in the first round. If Miami wants to double dip at guard, a 20 for 26, 30 could make sense here, with Boston moving up to pick Smith or Isaiah Stewart.
21. TRADE: Boston Celtics (via Philadelphia) — Isaiah Stewart, Washington
Philly does Boston a solid one year after the Celtics delivered them Matisse Thybulle in a draft night trade. The 76ers may not enjoy aiding Boston’s front court depth, but popping back to 26 and 30 allows Philadelphia to helps its depth at guard and on the wing.
The Celtics get a four, five hybrid in Stewart that they missed last year. It’s more likely Boston can package its two late round picks into one like this, that addresses a front court need and integrates an inspiring prospect. The Celtics can’t wait forever on Robert Williams and it’s worth introducing competition for Grant Williams at the four and five. Stewart is 6’8″, 250 pounds with a 7’4″ wingspan. He blocks shots, hits free throws (77%), projects to shoot threes and excelled in the kind of zone concept that Enes Kanter played in last year. His post-up game could translate against second units.
22. Denver Nuggets — Zeke Nnaji, Arizona
The Nuggets face a tough choice between need and quality here. If Stewart’s available, he’s an easy choice to replace Paul Millsap and insure against a massive Jerami Grant offer in free agency that loses him at the four too. Denver likes to play big and the 6’11” Nnaji could play alongside Jokic running the offense at the top. He’s shooting threes now and can fill a cutting, spot-up roll for the Nuggets in rotation if they retain Grant as they should.
23. TRADE: New York Knicks (via Utah) — Josh Green, Arizona
The Knicks won’t miss Green sliding this far. As a shooter, defender with 6’6″ size and a 6’10” wingspan he fits into the Knicks wing position as a shooter for their array of guards and Hayes to hit, while factoring defensively at multiple positions. He’s a fast riser who could be gone well before this, tempting NY to take Jaden McDaniels or one of the Winstons (Cassius or Stanley). New York could package this to move up from eight and take Okoro, the second best wing in the draft.
24. New Orleans Pelicans — Leandro Bolmaro, Argentina
A perfect fit for both teams, Bolmaro can stay with Barcelona in Spain amid COVID-19 uncertainty in the NBA next season while the Pelicans can stash this pick with their needs largely filled. Eric Bledsoe and George Hill step in at point alongside Lonzo Ball next year, giving New Orleans time to watch the 6’7″ Bolmaro develop a jumper overseas.
25. Orlando Magic (via Oklahoma City) — Jaden McDaniels, Washington
A haul from Oklahoma City works out for the Magic receiving a former lottery hopeful wing in McDaniels. He can immediately fill the hole Gordon would leave at the four, standing 6’9″ with shooting and defensive potential alongside Nikola Vucevic, or whichever center Orlando sticks with into the future. A classic stretch four prospect for a team that preaches defense first and plays big.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (via Boston) — Cole Anthony, North Carolina
A scoring guard works for the 76ers around tons of size and playmaking between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The wing is still moderately loaded in Philadelphia, with tons of playing time available even with Josh Richardson and Shake Milton playing the guard spot next to Simmons. Anthony is a scorer, scoring 21.2 per 40 minutes last year with UNC.
The team stunk, but Anthony’s return late in the season after injury flashed his two-way abilities at 6’3″, pull-up jumper, finishing and strong handles. He’s ready made to score in the league and doesn’t sacrifice size like many great college players of his mold have. He’s also fearless on the offensive end and will not need to be told to shoot.
27. Utah Jazz (via New York) — Desmond Bane, TCU
Pushing the lottery in some mocks, Bane shot 44% from three, handled the pick-and-roll and defended strong at TCU at 6’6″. He’s 22, which drops him here, though that won’t matter to the contending Jazz who have built around shooting.
28. Orlando Magic (via Oklahoma City) — Cassius Stanley, Duke
No Duke player in the first round? That can’t happen. The Blue Devils thrived last year without a lottery pick and despite Vernon Carey, Jr. winning ACC Player of the Year, Winston drove Duke. His transition plays were impeccable, he shattered the rim on drives and defended across the wing.
There’s playmaking, shooting and leadership potential here. The Magic can take a flyer at 28 and a strong case for Tre Jones as well.
29. Toronto Raptors — Malachi Flynn, San Diego State
The Raptors could lose Serge Ibaka this offseason, but it’s more likely they lose Fred VanVleet amid uncertainty of their playing location and suitors like the Knicks pursuing him. With Kyle Lowry aging, guard should be a central investment for Raptors even if they need to move up. Though only 6’1″, Flynn knocked down threes and record steals for the Aztecs while running the P&R effectively. Toronto could eye the defensively menacing Jones here too.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (via Boston) — Elijah Hughes, Syracuse
A wing shot blocker, three-point shooter on and off the ball and fresh off one of the best scoring seasons in the ACC last year. Hughe bloomed late, but in a big way with the Orange and fits an intersection of needs in Philadelphia: play-making, shooting, while maintaining their defensive structure. He’s 6’6″, 22 and hits free throws.