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2020 NBA Draft Board: March Update

A top 60 ranking following the cancellation of March Madness amid the coronavirus outbreak

NBL Rd 8 - Illawarra v Cairns Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Despite the postponement of nearly all basketball across the globe and uncertainty regarding the 2020 NBA draft, I’ll still be creating draft content, starting with an update to my top 60 rankings. My board is split into four tiers, with a clear top tier emerging in this poor class and ambiguity increasing beyond. The intro of my first board has more notes on the class and my general scouting philosophy.

The full extent of coronavirus on the NBA Draft is yet to be seen. No March Madness means no breakout stars, which likely leads to less underclassmen declaring and a shallower draft overall. The cancellation of Portsmouth and likely the combine is massively important for senior evaluation. We still have nearly a season of tape and past seasons to use as evidence, which is plenty.

The class is fairly uninspiring as a whole and projects to get worse as players return. New Orleans projects to pick somewhere in the mid-teens and will be in a good spot due to the lack of consensus in this class. Prospects who fit the Pelicans beautifully who are out of their range by my board should be available.

Tier I

1. LaMelo Ball

2. Killian Hayes

3. Anthony Edwards

4. Tyrese Maxey

At this point, my tier I has taken shape as the top four initiator bets in this draft class. Ball and Edwards are the two highest upside swings, both presenting considerable downside: Ball’s physical traits and Edwards’ handle and decision-making. However, both have the highest ceilings of any initiators in the class, Ball’s virtuoso passing and Edwards’ physical tools and shotmaking fueling their high-end outcomes.

Killian Hayes has improved drastically this season, his touch and shooting indicators materializing into pull-up shooting and making significant strides to his handle and defense. While Hayes lacks the burst and dynamic on-ball scoring of an offensive engine, he’s a strong bet to shoot the ball, he might be the best functional passer in the class and he’s legitimately big at 6-foot-5. Similar is Tyrese Maxey, whose elite shooting and driving projections mitigate some of his playmaking woes.

The NBA draft is about upside and finding stars, especially so at the top of the draft. However, there becomes a point where the probability of a star outcome is so low that it may be wiser to draft a prospect with a lower ceiling. Philosophically, I will bet on ceiling and guys with high ceilings generally have higher floors than they get credit for.

Tier II

5. Cole Anthony

6. Kira Lewis

7. Devin Vassell

8. Isaac Okoro

9. RJ Hampton

10. Deni Avdija

11. Onyeka Okongwu

12. Patrick Williams

13. Tre Jones

14. Tyrese Haliburton

15. Tyrell Terry

16. Josh Green

17. Leandro Bolmaro

18. Obi Toppin

19. Keyontae Johnson

Riser: Devin Vassell

Most in the draft community agree on Devin Vassell’s defensive acumen. The near-consensus best team defender draft has skyrocketed up boards and frequents the top 20 of most draft rankings at this point. However, Vassell’s offense has kept him from the upper tiers of most boards, his lack of burst and decision-making warts holding him back.

Vassell’s offensive upside, though, is underrated to me due to the possibility his difficult shotmaking translates, offering an avenue to legitimate offensive upside. On the surface, Vassell’s shooting profile looks quite good, a career 41.7% shooter from three on 7.9 attempts per 100 possessions and a career 72% free throw clip.

What often is under discussed is his current difficult shotmaking ability and indicators of that translating to the next level. Though star level decision-making is a near pre-requisite for most high impact players, stars can add that kind of value through elite difficult shotmaking. Take 2019-20 Khris Middleton, who ranks ninth in PIPM in large part due to his shotmaking. Engulfed in flames, Middleton is shooting almost a quarter of his shots from the long mid range and hitting 54% of them.

Predicting this type of shooting greatness from Middleton coming out of college would have been difficult; he never shot above 78% from the line in any of his three college seasons. However, Middleton was prolific on two-point jumpers in college, making 113 in his final two college seasons, which proves to be a strong indicator of shotmaking goodness in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam both made a high volume of unassisted two-point jumpers and have become elite scorers despite never shooting 80% from the line in college.

Looking at Vassell’s stat profile, he’s transformed his offensive role from year one to year two. In his freshman season, 52.1% of his shots were threes (all assisted) and 16% were two-point jumpers. This season, 36.1% of his shots are threes (86.4% assisted) and 39.1% are tw-point jumpers, shooting 42.6% on those. Only 22.4% of his 49 jumpers are assisted, meaning he’s made 39 assisted two-point jumpers.

Vassell’s numbers there are indicative of future difficult shotmaking upside. Though he struggles to create separation with his burst or handle, Vassell’s touch is good and his high release means he can shoot and score over contests:

Because Devin Vassell projects as a potential All-NBA level defender, the offensive impact required to add All-Star level impact lowers. Even if Vassell is never more than an ancillary offensive piece, his defensive upside likely warrants a lottery pick. But if Vassell can hit a higher offensive outcome as a high volume and efficiency scorer, he could end up as one of the better players from this class.

Tier III

20. James Wiseman

21. Aaron Nesmith

22. Theo Maledon

23. Devon Dotson

24. Aaron Henry

25. Oscar Tshiebwe

26. Romeo Weems

27. Nico Mannion

28. Xavier Tillman

29. Grant Riller

30. David Johnson

31. Jeremiah Robinson Earl

32. Aleksej Pokusevski

33. Killian Tillie

34. Desmond Bane

35. Skylar Mays

36. Paul Reed

Faller: Nico Mannion

Once in the top five or 10 of many draft boards, my own included, Mannion has seen his stock fall steadily after an abysmal stretch of conference play. PAC-12 opponents have exposed all of Mannion’s flaws: his lack of size and burst compromising his scoring threat ability and troubling decision-making to boot. Despite being an intelligent player and a good passer out of the pick and roll, Mannion’s shot selection is poor as his profile is littered with long twos and contested runners.

With elite touch, pick and roll passing prowess and real pull-up shooting upside, Mannion still has some initiation upside but has to hit a ridiculously high degree of goodness in each of those areas. Betting on a small guard who doesn’t get to the rim and doesn’t finish when he gets there – 11.5% of Mannion’s half court shots come at the rim and he shoots 46.9% there – is difficult. Nico still retains value for his shooting and playmaking upside, but he’s not a viable initiator and his secondary creation projection isn’t special.

Tier IV

37. Tyler Bey

38. Jalen Smith

39. Saddiq Bey

40. Darius Days

41. Joe Wieskamp

42. Spencer Jones

43. Kaleb Wesson

44. Robert Woodard

45. Jaden McDaniels

46. Saben Lee

47. Jahmius Ramsey

48. Miles McBride

49. Trayce Jackson Davis

50. Scottie Lewis

51. Terrence Shannon

52. Precious Achiuwa

53. Mamadi Diakite

54. Tres Tinkle

55. Matthew Hurt

56. Myles Powell

57. Isaiah Joe

58. Vernon Carey

59. Malachi Flynn

60. Nate Hinton

Faller: Precious Achiuwa

Precious Achiuwa’s appeal isn’t difficult to see: a freak athlete at 6’8 with speed, strength and explosion for days. Playing the five has been a boon for Achiuwa, where his athletic tools are a mismatch for most bigs and he’s been able to thrive as a rim protector and play finisher. In the NBA, his ideal role is as an energy small ball five.

Where Achiuwa falters are his decision-making and shooting projection, two critical pieces of the NBA puzzle. Achiuwa is shooting under 60% from the free throw line and has only taken 40 threes. He routinely makes maddening decisions, missing wide open teammates and shooting awful shots:

Sporting an assist to turnover ratio of 0.3 and a free-throw clip of 60%, he’s in uninspiring company of non-true centers in terms of decision-making and shooting. Excluding players 6’10 or taller (screening out true fives), the list of drafted players with seasons of below an 0.5 assist to turnover and below 60% free throw shooting is grim, including Kenneth Faried, Rakeem Christmas, Gani Lawal, Alex Oriakhi and Dwayne Collins. Eliminating the height prior adds Andre Drummond, Jakob Poeltl, Jarrett Allen and Hassan Whiteside to the list, but all of those players were bigger than Achiuwa or had significant skill development.

At some point, Precious is likely worth a pick due to his tools alone. Having two major weaknesses as debilitating as his, though, make him a back end rotation player to me with downside to be out of the league soon.