This draft is brutally bad. Last year’s draft was bad, but this year is worse as there is no prospect near the level of Ja Morant, let alone Zion Williamson. And it’s not dense with interesting guys after the top either.
But it’s nevertheless an interesting challenge to dive in and see if there are a few hidden gems in the mix, so here’s my top 30:
1) Anthony Edwards, 6’5″ PG/SG Georgia
Edwards’ most exciting point is his youth, as he doesn’t turn 19 until August after the draft.
He most closely reminisces of Markelle Fultz and D’Angelo Russell, as a 6’5″ point guard with excellent pull up jump shooting ability.
Granted, his passing skills are not fully developed at this stage, and he may be more similar to another ex-Georgia player Kentavious Caldwell-Pope if they don’t develop over time.
But he is young, toolsy, and good at multiple things, and if he improves his game at a good rate, he could be what NBA teams hoped Fultz and Russell could have been.
He is far from a guarantee to be good, which makes him weaker than the typical #1 overall. But he at least has a strong upside tail in the event that he does become good, which makes him the clear #1 choice right now.
2) LaMelo Ball, 6’7″ PG Illawara
LaMelo is difficult to evaluate, as he is playing in a low tier professional league in Australia. But he seems highly similar to his brother Lonzo, as he is a big cerebral point guard with excellent passing vision and he struggles to score, as his shooting %’s in Australia are not good at all.
This makes him slippery to evaluate. Lonzo posted absolutely overpowered #’s at UCLA, yet seems to be on track to a good but not great NBA career as a funky role player.
LaMelo is reputed to be the better scorer of the two, which would give him potential to surpass Lonzo, but he hasn’t shown strong evidence of it thus far in Australia play. Ultimately, there is a concern that he is similar or worse to Lonzo which would be a disappointing use of #2 overall.
But with lack of other exciting options on the board, it’s worth taking another pull on a Lonzo type that may have just enough nuanced advantages to be a star.
3. James Wiseman, 7’1″ Memphis
Wiseman is arguably the toughest prospect in the draft to evaluate, as his AAU #’s conveyed some extremely scary red flags with poor rebounding, passing, and steal rates, with few prospects succeeding with such significant statistical flags.
But he is young, toolsy, and has reportedly excellent intangibles, and seems to be improving at a fast rate. He had an excellent Hoop Summit, and so far his 3 game NCAA sample has lived up to the hype.
Right now we need to see more from him to have an idea of how much is genuine improvement vs good games at the right times, but for now he slides in as the default #3 overall.
4. Tyrese Haliburton, 6’5″ Iowa State
Haliburton is a weirdo prospect, as he reminisces of the long lost Ball brother.
He has some pretty big warts, as he is rail thin, and his shooting ability is a big question mark, as is his general scoring ability as he posted a paltry 10% usage rate as a freshman.
But he seems vastly improved as a sophomore, and in 5 games against major conference teams he is posted a 23.4% usg with a hyperefficient 131 ORtg. The possibility of him having developed an ability to score off the dribble is enticing, as it gives him a sneaky sliver of star potential.
More likely he will be a Delon Wright type, which is useful but often overlooked. But probably useful and possibly great isn’t a bad type to target outside the top 3.
5. Patrick Williams, 6’8″ Florida St.
Williams has been the most pleasant surprise in the freshman class, as he is a prototypical NBA 3 + D wing at 6’8″ with good strength and athleticism.
He is also super young, as he doesn’t turn 19 until August after the draft.
It still remains to be seen precisely how well he can shoot, and his rebounding has been underwhelming considering his size, but he has posted well rounded production for a player who is that young and in such a good mold.
6. Isaac Okoro, 6’6″ Auburn
Okoro is in the same category as Pat Williams, as young, pretty good, and great mold. He isn’t quite as exciting as Williams, as he is 2″ shorter and 6.5 months older. But he’s the type of player that if he pans out he will be very useful to have around.
7. Nico Mannion, 6’3″ Arizona
Nico is a tricky one, as PG’s like him can be extremely boom or bust. He has 0 blocks on the year and anemic rebound rates, calling into attention his sorely limited physical tools. But he has been an offensive stud, and Arizona’s offense has been great with him on the floor, and it’s hard to not see similarities between him and Steve Nash.
Of course the odds that he becomes Nash are not too high, and most of the time he will be something along the lines of DJ Augustin, which make it difficult to get too excited over him. But that sliver of elite upside is worth a significant boost to his value, and cannot be overlooked just because it feels too optimistic.
8. Cole Anthony, 6’3″ North Carolina
Cole has been a massive massive disappointment thus far, as he has essentially been a brick and turnover machine, making just 38% of his 2PA with more turnovers than assists.
This is especially damning as he is sophomore aged, will be 20 on draft night, and is merely a good but not great athlete.
There is still time for his shot to start falling, but he’s not a true PG and just isn’t in an exciting mold. Right now he is looking very similar to Jeff Teague, which isn’t the type of player you want to target with a top 5 pick.
Of course he could still be better than Teague, and his median outcome may be slightly better than Mannion, but it’s hard to see him having as big of an upside tail as Nico which is why I rank him one slot lower.
9. RJ Hampton, 6’5″ NZ Breakers
10. Deni Avdija 6’8″ Maccabi
11. Killian Hayes 6’5″ Ulm
Because the NCAA class is so weak, it would be a decent thought to target internationals, but they are fairly boring this year as well.
RJ is 6’5″ and does a bit of everything. So far his New Zealand performance hasn’t been particularly exciting or damning, so it makes sense to stash him somewhere in the back end of the lottery and move on.
Deni is 6’8″ and does a bit of everything, except his shot is broken and he doesn’t excel at any one thing. So he has some appeal but not too much. Another international who belongs somewhere in the back end of the lottery.
Hayes is a 6’5″ jack of all trades PG, but lacks the athleticism or one elite skill to have great upside.
12. Jaden McDaniels 6’9″ Washington
Jaden is the Cam Reddish/Kevin Knox of the draft where is he probably bad, but in an awesome mold of mobile 6’9″ guy with perimeter skills. So at a certain point you gotta stomach the likely badness and take him just in case he develops into a Khris Middleton or Paul George type.
13. Onyeka Okongwu 6’9″ USC
Okongwu has shown loads of appeal out of nowhere, as an athletic big man who can rebound, finish, block shots, and has made a solid 71% of his free throws thus far.
But it remains to be seen whether he can produce vs top tier opponents. In his 3 games vs tougher opponents, he has struggled badly, with an 88 ORtg on 22.6 usg compared to his excellent overall #’s of 122 Ortg on 25.4 usg.
He is only 6’9″ and a good but not elite athlete, so he needs to produce more against quality opponents to be truly exciting. But he does so many things well and appears to have velcro on his hands, his intrigue cannot be ignored. If he can translate his goodness to quality opponents, he becomes super interesting.
14. Tre Jones 6’3″ Duke
It seems wrong to have a boring game manager with little upside in the lottery, but Tre is extremely likely to be useful and that’s worth something.
He is similar to his brother Tyus with more defense and less shooting. It’s difficult to discern his fate from Tyus career, as Tyus showed great potential in years 2 + 3 and hasn’t been as good since.
But Tyus has shown enough potential such that it is difficult to justify a similar player slipping too far in the draft. And Tre does have sneaky upside, as any critique that can be made toward him could have also been made toward John Stockton pre-draft. It’s not that likely, and the risk that he is a worse shooting version of Tyus takes away appeal, but it’s worth noting before writing him off.
15. Vernon Carey 6’10” Duke
Vernon Carey is a dinosaur big man who is a beast in the low post, and is going obsolete by modern NBA standards. But he can play, and at this juncture the draft is running thin on guys who fit that qualification.
And it’s worth noting that just because the game is currently shifted toward small ball, doesn’t mean that at some point it could shift back toward bigger lineups working. It’s not something to strongly expect, but an idea worth considering.
Anyhow Carey is strikingly similar to Jahlil Okafor, who was picked #3 overall by a highly intelligent team in 2015. It seems Okafor failed for reasons unrelated to talent, so if he slides due to unfairly getting equated to Okafor, he could be value.
16. Josh Green, 6’6″ Arizona
From one angle, Josh Green is the perfect NBA wing. He is 6’6″, athletic, and can do a bit of everything.
From another angle, he should ideally be an inch or two taller and he doesn’t really excel at anything, which makes him somewhat boring. There’s some concern he’s simply a more athletic Jacob Evans, which may be something but it’s not something exciting.
17. Devin Vassell, 6’7″ Florida St.
Vassell is 6’7″, he is still 19, and he can shoot and make plays defensively.
He still has a small sample of NCAA success, but he is one of the few capable wings in the draft, and with a strong sophomore performance could elevate himself to a lottery pick.
18. Reggie Perry, 6’9″ Mississippi St.
Perry is basically a slightly worse version of Wendell Carter Jr., which isn’t that exciting in an era where bigs are dying. But WCJ went #7 overall in a good draft and was a good pick at that slot, so it’s fair to say that any decent facsimile of him is a reasonable pick outside of the lottery.
19. Obi Toppin, 6’9″ Dayton
Obi is 6’9″, great at dunking, and has some vague hope of being able to shoot, which has the hype train going off the rails. His problem is that he is already 21 and not that good at basketball, and he plays with an elite PG in Jalen Crutcher where the whole team has been feasting on dunks for 3 seasons now.
He has some outs to be a Montrezl Harrell type, which is good but not the type of player you target in the lottery because you are more often going to end up with a Faried type who is a misfit in any modern NBA lineups. But it is enough upside to be worth a shot anywhere outside the lottery.
20. Trayce Jackson-Davis, 6’9″ Indiana
Dale Davis’s son is 6’9″ and plays very similar to his father, who was an excellent return on the #13 overall pick.
That being said, he is 2″ shorter which is fairly damning in an era where players like him are struggling to find a niche.
He’s another guy where the slippery question of being able to play vs fitting a poor mold is difficult to precisely assess.
21. Jordan Nwora, 6’9″ Louisville
Nwora is 6’7″, athletic, and can shoot, which means he probably belongs in the first round of the draft.
He has frustrating tunnel vision with his poor assist:TOV ratio not improving whatsoever thus far over his career at Louisville, which tempers his upside. If he were better in this regard he would be a lottery pick for sure.
22. Tyrese Maxey, 6’3″ Kentucky
23. Kira Lewis, 6’3″ Alabama
24. Devon Dotson, 6’3″ Kansas
25. Jared Butler, 6’3″ Baylor
I don’t really get where the Tyrese Maxey hype is coming from. He is a 6’3″ combo guard who isn’t great at anything, and doesn’t seem to have any sort of interesting upside.
Yes he was a top 10 recruit and Calipari sometimes suppresses the talent of his players. But Maxey seems to be in the Malik Monk + Brandon Knight mold of too one dimensional to be a good NBA player at 6’3″.
So just for fun, here’s a list of other guys who are more or less the same thing that will be available in the late first and early second round.
Jared Butler is somebody personally who I find to be interesting, as he is less of a creator and more of a 3 + D type a la Kirk Hinrich or Delonte West.
You rarely find contenders led by Brandon Knight, or even a rich man’s Knight such as Jeff Teague. But there are many contenders led by big wings who run the offense such as LeBron, Luka, Giannis, Ben Simmons. Jared Butler fits well in those situations, as he can defend PG’s without needing to play PG on offense.
26. Zeke Nnaji, 7’0″ Arizona
Nnaji has been incredibly efficient to start his career, but much of his production has come against poor teams, and he has posted some duds against major conference foes he has faced.
His #’s are collectively good enough to remain intriguing, but it’s worth fearing that he is nothing more than the TJ Leaf to Nico Mannion’s Lonzo Ball, and some team will get hustled by buying that the stats are real.
27. Jalen Smith, 6’10” Maryland
Smith is another somewhat misfit at PF, who is too good to not merit first round consideration.
28. Landers Nolley, 6’7″ Virginia Tech
Nolley is statistically frighteningly similar to Klay Thompson, and also shares the height of 6’7″
Also like Klay he is a below the rim athlete. But he may be even below-er the rim than Klay which prevents getting too excited over him as a sleeper, but maybe he has some funky advantages that enable him to succeed anyway.
29. Jahmius Ramsey, 6’4″ Texas Tech
Thus far Ramsey is looking like he is the prototypical 3 + D wing, except he is only 6’4″ which throws a bit of cold water on any excitement to be had over him.
30. Theo Maledon 6’5″ Villeurbane
Maledon has great size for a PG at 6’5″, and he’s young, but the downside is that he is currently bad at basketball and needs to improve a ton to be useful.
Anyhow, I would keep going but there are just not many more interesting guys to write about. This draft is thin from top to bottom.