Welcome to the 2019-20 NBA Draft season. This is an exciting time for draft enthusiasts, NBA scouts and basketball fans alike, where the brightest draft minds plant their flag on the upcoming draft’s best prospects. That’s what I’m doing here, presenting my 100 best prospects for the 2020 NBA draft.
My board is split into a tier system, delineating major separations between prospects. Prospects in tiers are mostly fluid, with the prospects at the top of the tier ahead of the ones at the bottom. Prospects within a tier are closer to prospects in other tiers; my third ranked prospect in tier II is closer to my sixth ranked prospect in tier II than my second ranked prospect in tier I.
This draft class lacks a clear alpha and lacks the top-end talent of recent drafts. There’s no incontestable top prospect like Zion Williamson. This draft doesn’t feature multiple franchise changing prospects like Luka Doncic and Jaren Jackson Jr. Where this draft excels though is in its depth. The 2020 NBA draft is loaded with potential good players. There’s a legitimate first round case for every prospect up until 70 or so. It makes ranking quite difficult as we go down the draft.
The top of the draft will always feature prospects with the highest probability of developing into a primary initiator, as that is the most valuable piece of the championship puzzle. As we travel down the board, tiers get bigger as the separation between prospects becomes larger. Based on historical data, prospects become more and more interchangeable later in the draft. The top prospect and 10th ranked prospect have a massive gap in value, while the 70th and 100th prospect are valued virtually the same.
As a scout, intelligence — feel for the game and IQ — is something I value highly. More than its on-court manifestation, passing, team defense, decision-making, rim protection and more—intelligence is often a greater predictor of upside and star development than the prospects traditionally defined as having upside, the ones with raw physical tools. Good basketball players are good basketball players and that fact is so often overlooked in prospect scouting.
Positional value is also important to consider. The modern NBA is way oversaturated with big men and point guards. If a prospect is likely to be a run of the mill starting big or backup point guard type, I’ll rank them lower than a wing, even if they are less talented, due to positional scarcity.
With four unprotected draft picks, the Pelicans find themselves in an excellent spot to significantly improve this roster given the depth of the draft. I’ll place an asterisk next to some of my favorite targets for them.
My final board next June will look nothing like this one. Though some of the overall framework will be similar, prospects will inevitably move all over the place. For now, this ranking is what I have landed on and feel comfortable with. This intro has been long enough, so I’ll stop rambling here.
1. Anthony Edwards
Anthony Edwards is a ludicrous athlete: a jacked 6’5 with one of the most powerful first steps I have ever seen, letting him blow by virtually any defender. Aside from his raw athleticism, Edwards flashes advanced slashing craft and impressive off-dribble shooting flashes separating for his pull-up three.
This ranking goes against my valuation of intelligence and feel but these traits alone fuel superstar upside, but Edwards is still a raw prospect. His decision-making, passing vision, shooting accuracy and team defense are all major question. The degree of how good, or how bad these traits are will determine whether he can hold this slot.
If Edwards’ passing and defense are train wrecks, he’ll slide down my board considerably. If they are good enough to not take away value from his elite traits, Edwards feels like a surefire top pick based on his rim gravity and pull-up shooting alone. Heading into the seasons, his range of outcomes is much wider than the next prospect in this tier. His chance of being the best player on a championship level offense is higher for me, which is what matters most for a number one pick.
2. Cole Anthony
Cole Anthony is a far safer bet to be a star than Anthony Edwards and he’s right there with him for my top prospect in this class. Anthony has real offensive engine equity, with elite shooting potential (89.2% from the line, 6.8 threes per game in EYBL), a crafty handle and a full bag of passing tricks. A unique athlete, Anthony lacks top end burst, but his strength, body control and balance are all elite, turning his drives to the rim deadly.
The questions come with decision-making and defensive consistency; flashes of passing and team defensive greatness pop up, but his consistency in these areas are things to monitor. Either way, Anthony is going to get to the rim, shoot pull-up threes and make great passes at a high volume. That’s a formula for an offensive star guard.
3. LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball has quickly become the most divisive prospect in this class. Out of the spotlight a few months ago, he’s rocketed himself back to stardom and into top pick contention. The case for Ball is simple: a 6’6 initiator with a creative handle, a special playmaking gene, wizard floater touch and indicators suggesting development into a pull-up deity.
However, some equally grave concerns exist. He’s unbelievably skinny and has struggled mightily to score inside the arc in the NBL and his efficiency from all over the floor has been subpar. Though his IQ is clearly high, he has decision-making issues on offense and defense, along with his massive strength deficiency on the defensive end. Ball has had success in a tough domestic league, has the traits of an elite offensive player and the size to be passable on defense. For LaMelo, continuing to iron out his flaws will be vital to watch.
4. Isaac Okoro*
If the world’s best scientists collaborated to craft the perfect wing defender, Isaac Okoro is a close approximation to what they would come up with. He lacks a major plus wingspan, just +2-3, but Okoro boasts every other trait imaginable for a future Defensive Player of The Year-level wing stopper.
Think of a tool a wing defender could benefit from — elite functional strength, explosion off of the floor, guard-like fluidity and coordination in the open floor, light-footed lateral agility, high-level feel and IQ — Okoro has it. On the ball, Okoro’s quick feet and strength help him vaporize ball screens and slide with attackers. His 6’6 frame allows him versatility to play up and down positions. He creates events off of the ball; his his size, bounce and instincts yield a rim protector unlike other wing prospects. As a help defender, he makes timely rotations and reads passing lanes for steals:
Very few wing defender prospects are as good as Isaac Okoro. pic.twitter.com/yPq2LGtL4C— Ben Pfeifer (@Ben_Pfeifer_) September 27, 2019
Okoro’s biggest question mark is his three-point shot, as his touch is lacking and he shot 64% from the line in his final EYBL season. Bruce Pearl’s offense is predicated on space and pace, so Okoro will have the chance to shoot threes on a spaced court. He doesn’t create advantages with his handle. often relying on his pure strength to muscle to the rim. Projecting as an off-ball wing, he adds value with his passing feel, adept at hitting cutters and open shooters off of the catch.
Even though offensive questions are real with Okoro, his defensive incandescence in a league rife with dominant wing creators is too much to pass up early in the draft.
5. Tyrese Maxey*
Though Tyrese Maxey lacks the high-end upside of a primary initiator on a title team, he looks like a potential ideal second piece, a-la Kyle Lowry. A high-level shooter, Maxey has deep, NBA range, a pull-up game with enough handle to separate and wicked floater touch. He’s an excellent passer, racking up assists without turning the ball over.
Defensively, Maxey is a sturdy 6’3 and excels both on and off of the ball. His skillset scales well with higher end talent, allowing him to play off ball next to bigger and better initiators while commanding the offense on the ball at times. As an efficient shooting/scoring, smart decision-making and defensive guard, Maxey is a sure a thing to be a good NBA player as anyone in this class.
6. Deni Avdija
Deni Avdija is an unspectacular athlete with a highly questionable shooting profile. For most, those two factors would take a player out of top prospect contention. For Avdija, his IQ, size and versatility on both ends of the floor project him as a valuable complementary piece.
A gifted passer on and off of the ball, Deni slings full-court outlet, passes out of the pick and roll and mid post and works as an off-ball mover. He’s a tricky finisher, winning with size and craft to compensate for his lack of burst and vertical explosion.
Defensively, he’s not laterally quick, but Avdija’s feel for the game and size let him defend the PNR as a drop defender, jump weak side passing lanes and protect the rim at a high level on the weak side. Few prospects can do as much as Avdija, giving him a valuable floor while maintaining a high ceiling if the shooting comes around.
7. Nico Mannion
Nico Mannion might not sport the high-end playmaking chops or athletic tools as one of the top guard prospects in this class, but his floor as a secondary creator while maintaining some primary upside fuels his stock. Mannion is a versaile shooter, with a quick-trigger pull-up game and real movement shooting ability. He’s a good passer and has enough first step to get to the rim and finish.
Defensively, Mannion’s size will always be a limiting factor, but he tries hard and has good enough instincts to conceivably place around neutral on that end. His upside comes from the degrees of goodness of his already good skills. If the shooting or passing is better than he’s let on so far, Mannion could rocket himself into the tier above.
8. Matthew Hurt
Matthew is a lanky, smooth shooting forward with a near-complete offensive games. At 6’9 with excellent touch, Hurt’s shooting profile will be the main talking point regarding his draft stock. Hurt is much more than a shooter, though.
At his size, he’s highly coordinated and has enough handle to drive from the perimeter and create from the elbow. He can pass a bit as well, on the move and moving off-ball. Without top tier strength or athleticism, his defensive ceiling isn’t anything special, but he’s quick on the ball for his size and has enough instincts and anticipation to be a plus team defender at the NBA level. In a modern league where size and versatility are everything, Hurt is an ideal complementary combo-forward type player.
9. Oscar Tshiebwe*
Oscar Tshiebwe’s age — he turns 20 just weeks into his freshman season — is the main factor holding him back from placing even higher here. A true center, Tshiebwe makes up for his 6’9 height with a 7’5 wingspan and freakish speed and coordination for his size. For a 250-pound human, Tshiebwe moves gracefully, gliding up and down the court like few his size can:
250 pound humans are not supposed to move this quickly pic.twitter.com/aBsWcEV4gI— Ben Pfeifer (@Ben_Pfeifer_) July 27, 2019
His speed in the open floor, strength, vertical leaping ability make him a monster rim protector, added to his instincts and timing on the weak side. Combined with good enough lateral agility to defend the perimeter, Tshiebwe profiles as a unique defender with sky-high upside.
Offensively, that speed and fluidity becomes even scarier when Tshiebwe dribbles coast-to-coast or blows by defenders from the perimeter with a rare first step for his size. He’s not a serious off-dribble creator and his decision-making speed leaves some to be desired, but Tshiebwe has functional handling and passing skill from the perimeter and the interior. Though questions exist about his shooting, Tshiebwe’s freakish athleticism and skill intersection present some incredible potential outcomes for his future.
10. Theo Maledon
Theo Maledon lacks a great first step, a consistent pull-up three, elite passing and rim gravity, which makes his initiator ceiling lower than a prospect like Cole Anthony, Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball. While he lacks this ultimate ceiling, Maledon is very good at basketball. He put up great numbers as an 18-year-old in France, a good sign for his projection. Though Maledon struggles to get to the rim, he routinely finishes tough shots with his soft touch. His handle and overall craft are weapons; he changes speeds well and has the footwork and finishing craft to find his way around defenders.
I’m not crazy about Maledon’s feel and IQ. He has some impressive passing flashes but misses a fair amount of reads and makes questionable decisions. Defensively, he’s laterally quick and has a high steal rate, but his team defense is inconsistent. The numbers and many others disagree with my interpretation of the film, so I could be wrong here. Maledon won’t be the engine powering a great offense. He will, in all likelihood, end up as a valuable offensive piece next to another initiator.
11. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
For a modern, versatile combo forward, there’s a ton to like about Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. At 6’9, he moves incredibly well in all directions, helping him defend the pick and roll, rotate from the weak side for blocks and mirroring on the perimeter. Despite lacking the size to act as a primary big defender, his IQ and mobility make him a capable help side rim protector.
Offensively, his IQ shines as a passer out of the short roll. A tricky interior scorer, his speed on the inside, finishing creation and touch make him efficient on the inside. That touch means there’s a decent chance he develops a reliable three-point jumper. An undersized big, his perimeter skills are a bit underdeveloped for an outside role. Playing at Villanova, the space and motion of Jay Wright’s offense will do well to optimize Robinson-Earl. Robinson-Earl’s baseline of feel and movement skill make him a solid bet to contribute positive value.
12. Killian Hayes
Killian Hayes’ passing gene is preternatural; when it comes to pick and roll facilitators, few are better than the 18-year-old. His timing, vision, anticipation and craft are all off of the charts, rifling live-dribble passes to corner shooters and rolling bigs. His IQ shows up on the defensive end, where his team defensive chops help compensate for his major struggles at the point of attack.
The issue with Hayes comes with his role: for a prospect who projects to carry an offensive load, he lacks the scoring gravity of traditional initiators. Without plus athleticism or an elite handle, he doesn’t create much separation for pull-ups and doesn’t get to the rim often. The hope for his future scoring gravity comes from his slippery navigation of ball screens and his elite touch (86% from the line in his last two seasons). This shooting potential, added to his passing and impressive statistical production at his age, make him an intriguing lead guard prospect.
13. Romeo Weems
Romeo Weems is another one of the better defensive players in this year’s class. With high steal and block numbers, Weems is a major defensive event creator, aggressive attacking passing lanes, digging on drives and breaking up plays on the weak side, despite his tendency to gamble fairly often.
Weems has some on ball creation ability, with a fairly advanced handle for his size, helping him get to the rim and create for pull-ups. He has moments of excellent passing feel, especially playing off of the ball, but his tunnel vision flares up at times on drives. Weems handle, athleticism and high-level wing defense are all bankable NBA skills.
14. Josh Green
Josh Green doesn’t boast a particularly inspiring shooting profile, has some questions with his handle and tends to disappear from games. However, Green has some rare skills indicative of a future high-level complementary piece.
Green’s defensive instincts are elite; he makes some of the smartest rotations and steals of any prospect in this class, while being laterally quick on the ball. That feel translates to the offensive end in his passing, where Green has real vision as an on-ball playmaker as well as off of the ball, taking advantage of closeouts. Despite his flaws, Josh Green has enough valuable skills to make him a worthy gamble, hoping the shot comes around or his on-ball creation becomes more consistent.
15. Tre Mann
In a league where primary initiators are the keys to winning titles, Tre Mann’s collection of initiator traits fuel his case as a high draft prospect. Pull-up threes are the most valuable shot in basketball and Mann has range well beyond the NBA line and a fluid transition from his dribble to his shot, along with a fast release and elite touch:
Tre Mann is pretty ridiculous. Sets up screen well and miscommunication leaves him wide open. Deeeeep range obviously noteworthy, but I'm maybe more interested in his change of direction. Always plants really hard allowing rapid change and really convincing deception pic.twitter.com/B4YSOyo3Ry— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) September 11, 2019
More impressive might be Mann’s electric, almost violent change of direction. His stringy handle allows for razor-sharp change of direction, creating all manner of space for step-backs and pull-ups. Mann has some vision and decision-making questions and is an average at best defender, but these factors are ancillary to his initiator package. Despite lacking a high-octane first step or any other major plus athletic tools, Mann’s shooting and handling projection give him a legitimate chance at carrying a good NBA offense.
16. Xavier Johnson
Xavier Johnson lands on the opposite side of the “initiator swings” spectrum from Tre Mann; what he lacks in pull-up threat and a herky-jerky handle, he makes up with the best first step in the class. A free-flying bullet, Xavier Johnson lives at the rim, with the acceleration to dust anyone off of the dribble and the handle to make things interesting enough for defenders. Though Johnson has issues with decision-making consistency, his passing vision is phenomenal, making plays out of the pick and roll and locating open teammates relishing off of his gravity.
He’s a fine guard defender who should be passable with his athleticism and team defensive instincts. Even though Johnson lacks a reliable pull-up (75% from the line and over 100 three-point attempts are good for his general shooting projection) and is somewhat raw, the pure pressure he places on the rim along with the passing to take further advantage of it make Johnson a worthwhile upside gamble.
17. Wendell Moore
I’m not really sure what to make of Wendell Moore. For a wing who projects to have the ball often, Moore’s handle is loose and he lacks plus athletic tools. On the other hand, he is the youngest player in the freshman class, is 6’4 with a 6’11 wingspan and is an excellent free throw shooter (85.5%).
He flashes the ability to pull-up for threes and has some perimeter creation, which gives him high shooting potential combined with his free-throw shooting. Defensively, Moore’s size pops and his instincts are inconsistent. Moore might not have the creation ceiling to have the ball in his hands often, but his shooting projection, age and size are all worth betting on.
18. RJ Hampton
RJ Hampton has an avenue to primary initiator status. He does a lot well: pull-up shooting, passing, some driving ability. I’m not sure Hampton is good enough at any of these to warrant real initiator consideration though and that’s certainly what he’ll be billed as.
Hampton isn’t a spectacular athlete and his lack of strength is a detriment to his finishing and his defense. His feel for the game is on the lower end, with too many questionable decisions on offense and low-effort, spacey moments on defense. In order to compensate for his athletic and IQ warts, Hampton’s scoring offense is going to have to be excellent to warrant a high offensive load. For that reason, he feels like a potential wing initiator-type prospect to me.
19. Amar Sylla
Amar Sylla’s intrigue comes from his two-way potential and positional versatility. Defensively, his 6’9 frame, 7’2 wingspan and athletic tools make him a Swiss army knife. He can defend multiple positions on the perimeter, protect the rim with verticality and instincts and is a prolific rebounder.
Offensively, Sylla is mostly a catch and finish guy at this point. His perimeter flashes are where his intrigue stems from, as Sylla has flashed slashing creation from the perimeter and some solid decision-making and vision as a passer. The shooting is a major swing skill, as he hasn’t had the volume or accuracy from deep to confidently project him to shoot. If he can legitimize his flashes of perimeter skill, Sylla’s prospects as a versatile combo big are promising.
20. Bryan Antoine
Bryan Antoine is one of the more eye-popping prospects in this draft class: a dynamic athlete with a lightning first step and vertical explosion, advanced handling craft and pull-up shooting.
Antoine’s shortcoming come from his actual point guard skills: decision-making, passing vision, shot selection, defensive consistency. Playing under Jay Wright at Villanova, he’s in an ideal environment to improve as a decision-maker and a passer. Adding a real playmaking gene to Antoine’s already impressive profile would make him one of the draft’s better prospects.
21. Jaden McDaniels
Jaden McDaniels’ sales pitch as a prospect is simple: he’s a 6’10 wing who initiates offense, can create off of the dribble and shoot the three. Those are rare traits for a player of his size and undoubtedly valuable in the modern NBA.
However, McDaniels struggles in key areas, namely his feel for the game. Offensively, his decision-making is rough, missing open passes and forcing bad shots. His lack of strength or top-tier athleticism compounds this issue, meaning he has a tougher time making the difficult shots he often forces. Defensively, McDaniels struggles as a team defender, missing rotations and lacking awareness to take advantage of his size as a rim protector. McDaniels’ tools as a scorer make him worth a swing somewhere, but he has plenty to improve on before he can be worth a high draft pick.