It’s difficult to analyze this draft without getting frustrated by the lack of exciting prospects. Like any draft, there are inevitably a few hidden gems. But looking through ESPN’s current top 10, half of them do not belong in a typical lottery.
I recently wrote no hot takes this year, but before diving in, let’s clarify the definition. I will still share my contrarian views, and rank the prospects different from consensus accordingly. But the goal is to be more level headed while trying to consider how I may be wrong, and only stray heavily from consensus when it seems painfully obvious.
Anyhow, here are 6 players slated to go top 12 that my past self would call lock busts who belong nowhere near round 1. As of now I am still trying to discern exactly where to rate each of them, and perhaps in this draft a few of these guys might actually belong in the lottery.
So for now let’s list them out by ESPN ranking and walk through the causes for concern and possible paths to quality NBA careers in spite of their flaws:
4. Obi Toppin
Obi has one really big strength– he is an explosive athlete and finisher, making 69% of his 2P in two years at Dayton.
And that’s his only real strength. His passing and shooting are OK, and his 7’2″ wingspan and explosiveness give him a chance at defensive competence. But there are a number of concerns.
First, he was playing in an ideal system to post the statistics he did. Even during his redshirt year, Dayton had the 2nd best 2P% in NCAA led by freshman PG Jalen Crutcher. It’s not just Obi– the whole team feasts on easy interior shots. Obi is a great finisher regardless, but he likely would have posted a less outlier 2P% in a different offense playing against tougher competition.
While he shot 41.7% from 3 in his two years at Dayton, that was only over 103 attempts. He didn’t have a great 3PA rate and his 70.6% FT is only OK for a prospect who turned 22 in March.
Similarly, he has nearly as many assists as turnovers which is decent for a 6’9″ big, but considering his age it’s only OK.
And in spite of his physical tools, he may be an absolute turnstile on defense. He doesn’t move well laterally, and has underwhelming blocks for a big. He may be too stiff to guard the perimeter and too small to guard the paint.
Toppin had a curiously low 6.4% offensive rebound rate for a player with his size and athleticism. It’s worth wondering if he is lacking in motor and/or toughness, as he also has a pedestrian free throw rate.
Toppin played in a highly favorable environment to pad his stats and has a number of scary flaws. Considering that he redshirted as a sophomore aged freshman for a rebuilding mid-major team, there’s a serious concern that he’s an ordinary offensive prospect who is a disaster on D.
What is especially crazy is that he is currently ranked above Onyeka Okongwu. They have similar dimensions, but for a prospect who is 2 years 9 months older and played in a much more favorable offense, his offense isn’t that much better. It really isn’t clear who is the better offensive prospect between the two: 26.4 usg 122 ortg vs 23.4 usg 119 ORtg.
Even if we give Obi a slight offensive edge, Okongwu easily makes up for it with a monstrous advantage on defense. There is simply no defense for choosing Obi over Onyeka.
Where does this leave Obi? It’s tough to say. He has similar #’s to Montrezl Harrell with slightly better passing and shooting but worse ORebs, FT%, and 2″ less length. If you get a different flavor of Harrell in this lottery, that’s a favorable outcome.
That said, Harrell went in round 2 in a much deeper draft, and there’s no clear reason to value Obi higher as he is not guaranteed to share similar success. Harrell was great value in round 2, and there’s a good chance Obi would be as well, but his true value likely lies somewhere in the middle of where he is rated and Harrell was chosen.
Edit: Obi’s wingspan is actually 6’11”, not 7’2″ which is being commonly reported. This explains his pedestrian steal + block rates, and puts a dent in the likelihood he can overcome his lateral issues defensively.
5. Deni Avdija
Deni’s appeal is that he brings a little bit of everything. He is 6’8″, can shoot a little, handle a little, pass a little, move reasonably well on defense, and just turned 19 in January.
But on the flipside, he doesn’t bring much of anything. He has a meager 6’9.5″ wingspan, is lacking in strength, and is only an OK athlete. He doesn’t get many steals or blocks, and there’s a limit to his defensive upside even though he is considered solid on that end.
And there are major concerns about his shooting. He takes a good rate of 3PA, but only has made 33% while shooting a gross 59% from the line. If we include his 18-19 numbers drop to 31% 3P and 55.6% FT. He is still young with time to improve, and he may be better from three than free throws, but there is serious concern that he will never be a decent shooter.
His best quality is likely his passing, with a good assist to turnover ratio for his size and youth, averaging 3.7 assists and 2.9 turnovers per 40 this season. But his passing impact is limited by his low usage rate, as he posted just 21% usage in BSL and 15.6% in Euroleague.
His Euroleague performance is especially concerning when you consider the low level of competition in BSL. He has posted merely a 10.5 PER in 371 Euroleague minutes this year, raising the concern that he may lack the skills and physicality to make any significant impact against higher levels of competition.
Ultimately it seems like the hope is that he improves his shooting and provides quality defense and a willingness to move the ball and avoid mistakes as a 6’8″ wing role player. And it’s easy to see him develop into a passable role player, especially as wings become more essential toward filling out NBA lineups.
But he has a huge downside tail if his defense and shooting flop, he is not going to be playable. And even if they become decent, what other meat is there on his profile to make him collectively above average? He needs to vastly improve his handle and scoring, otherwise he’s a very boring 3 + D prospect who may not even be good at either 3 or D.
8. Isaac Okoro
Okoro’s selling point is that he is custom built to guard James Harden 1 on 1. He has a great frame and quickness, and projects to be a good man to man defensive player. He’s like a bigger and better Luguentz Dort, who seems like possibly good value for an UDFA.
I say “possibly” because who really knows how to value Dort. He’s a guard who posted 7.6 PER and -3.7 BPM as a rookie. He may stick around for an NBA career, but there’s still a relatively low cap on his upside, even though his man defense thus far has looked about as good as one could have hoped.
Further, there is more to defense than locking down Harden. Okoro is only 6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan, which makes him a bit too small to guard stars like LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and Giannis. His lack of length shows in his pedestrian steal rate, and his team defense likely doesn’t measure up to his reputation as a man defender.
And curiously, he has a terrible 8.8% defensive rebound rate which looms as a stain on his resume for a player with his tools. Although this is somewhat mitigated by a solid 6.4% offensive rebound rate, it doesn’t sit well for a prospect who projects to be a one way defensive guard.
So he really needs to amount to *something* offensively to justify a top 10 slot. As a freshman for Auburn, he had an average usage rate, barely more assists than turnovers (2.6 vs 2.5 per 40), and mediocre shooting 29% 3P on low volume, 67% FT. There’s not much to work with on this end.
If there is something to build on, it’s his 60% 2P and good free throw rate. He has a limited ability to attack off the dribble, but when he did he showed good footwork and finishing, and didn’t shy from contact. He is a good athlete and still only 19– perhaps building on this is his path to offensive decency.
But it’s a relatively thin path for a top 10 pick. He is similar physically to Justise Winslow who was clearly better as an NCAA freshman yet hasn’t been able to amount to much offensively in the NBA. Okoro’s only real advantage over Winslow is better interior scoring, so perhaps he can parlay that into a similar or slightly better NBA player in spite of his disadvantages. But lots of times he’s going to be a dud offensively who just doesn’t bring enough size to the table defensively to make his offense worth stomaching.
9. Precious Achiuwa
Achiuwa’s Memphis team summarizes his NBA prospects– very good defensively, awful offensively, and ultimately overhyped.
He is 6’9 with 7’1.5″ wingspan with good athleticism. He was a very good rebounder with good steals and blocks for the #5 defensive team in the country. There’s quite a bit of potential for him on this end as a small center or a big wing.
But the only problem is that you need to stomach his offense. He only made 60% FT, and shot a low rate of 3PA (13/40). He also had a horrible 1.3 vs 3.7 assists vs TOVs per 40. And in spite of his size and athleticism he posted a pedestrian 51% 2P because he loves to chuck mid-range shots. Collectively he was a high usage player with dreadful efficiency.
And to make matters worse, he is an old freshman, turning 21 in September. This makes it difficult to forgive his flaws and gamble on his tools and defensive playmaking anyway.
Even if develops a passable shot, that assist:TOV likely rules him out from being an adequate perimeter player offensively. Precious needs quite a few things to go right to be able to fit in an NBA offense without being incredibly harmful.
And the thing is it’s not like he’s a GOAT tier defensive prospect. He has merely shown good playmaking potential, but still is prone to getting lost.
One interesting aside: Okungwu, Toppin, and Achiuwa all have similar physical profiles and are projected to go in the #4 thru #9 range. Except Obi and Precious are one way prospects, and if you combine their good side of the balls into one prospect, it’s STILL not clear if that prospect is better than Okongwu. Onyeka is the such the obvious gem in the rough here.
Anyhow, at some point it makes sense to roll the dice on Precious tools and hope he learns how to not trainwreck the offense whenever he steps on the floor and live up to his defensive potential. Where that it is hard to say, because his offense looks very rough right now.
10. Aaron Nesmith
Nesmith has an NBA body at 6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan, is a good shooter, and has good intangibles, and that’s about the extent of his goodness.
He isn’t a good ball handler or passer, and he isn’t a good athlete or defensive player. He’s just a shooter, so how far can that really go?
It depends on how good he becomes at shooting. With modern emphasis on 3’s, it has become increasingly common for players to make a high rate of 40%+ 3PA.
I had a similar critique of Buddy Hield, and this past season he made 39.4% 3P on 15.1 3PA per 100 possessions. Reggie Miller in his career made 39.5% from 3 on 7.1 3PA/100. Miller. 15 years ago Miller was the all time 3 pointer leader, now we have Hield more than doubling his rate of attempts at a similar percentage. That can atone for quite a few deficiencies.
Hield isn’t the only one. Steph Curry is the obvious example of an overpowered 3. Seth Curry and especially Duncan Robinson have gone on to improbably useful NBA careers because of their elite 3P% on high volume. JJ Redick has aged very well into his 30’s by increasing both his 3PA rate and 3P%. Even Doug McDermott finally had a good season this year by posting a career his 3P% with a huge spike in his 3PA rate.
In recent years, making an outlier impact on shooting with a great 3P% and 3PA rate is becoming increasingly possible, so being a one dimensional shooter doesn’t cap a player’s upside as much as it used to. So the big question is– how likely is Nesmith to become an outlier shooter?
Shooting is difficult to predict with loads of randomness, so the short answer is “not very likely”. But it’s worth discussing the possibility. If we stick to the Hield comparison and look at their career college shooting numbers, they are very close:
And it looks even better for Nesmith considering that he is leaving for the draft at 2 years 10 months younger than Hield. Buddy was a huge underdog to become an elite NBA shooter based on his NCAA statistics, but his elite work ethic enabled him to make a huge leap as an NCAA senior and continue to build on that in the NBA.
Nesmith is also known for great work ethic and leadership, so why can’t he follow Buddy’s trail of defying the odds to become a great shooter?
The major concern is that Nesmith has a relatively slow release, whereas Buddy had a lightning quick trigger. This is going to make it difficult to consistently get off quality attempts vs NBA defenses, let alone at the insane rate that Buddy attempts and makes them.
Further, the bulk of Nesmith’s good shooting came against horrible competition. As a freshman he shot 33.7% on 11 3PA per 100, and as a sophomore he shot 52.2% on 13.1 3PA/100. This may indicate some level of improvement, but Vanderbilt played one of the softest non-conference schedules in the country, and then after one SEC game vs Auburn Nesmith injured his foot and missed the rest of the season.
It’s difficult to say how much was genuine improvement vs simply happening to get hot vs weak low major opponents who don’t have the size or athleticism to challenge his slow-ish release.
While his intangibles and work ethic cannot rule out the possibility that he learns to be a 40%+ NBA shooter on good volume, it’s not necessarily something that is wise to bet on. And if he becomes a 37% shooter on an ordinary 3PA rate, he’s not going to be more than a fringe rotation player because he doesn’t offer enough otherwise.
12. Saddiq Bey
Rodney Hood’s long lost twin brother enters the 2020 draft with similar stock to Hood in 2014, since going #21 in 2014 is similar to #12 in 2020.
Both guys are 6’8″ with good efficiency and shooting in medium usage roles, great assist to turnovers, and underwhelming rebounds, steals, and blocks.
Even though Hood was a solid return on the #21 overall pick, it’s still arguable that he was overdrafted. For Utah he worked out about as well as he possibly could have, and he was still merely a decent role player. On other teams he has regressed and become an ordinary bench player.
Now Bey’s best case scenario is likely around the Utah version of Hood. But his worst case is quite a bit lower, because he is slow and his shot is a big question mark. He made 41.8% of his career 3P at Villanova, but his 3PA rate was pedestrian, as was his 72.8% FT. He has wonky shooting mechanics, and there’s some risk his 3 point shooting at Villanova was largely luck. Hood has become an above average NBA shooter, and the same cannot be assured for Bey.
Bey’s biggest advantage over Hood is 2.5″ greater wingspan at 6’11”, and Villanova tends to produce intelligent role players. So it’s not difficult to envision him as a useful pro like the Utah version of Hood. But that’s not the sexiest upside given his risk of having below average shooting and lacking the athleticism to guard anybody in the NBA.