Up first is Part 1: a 50 player NBA Draft Big Board.
Despite the NBA world mostly taking a pause last week for other major events happening in the United States, there was one major piece of NBA news: the 2020-21 season will start on December 22nd, last 72 games, and run through July to finish up right before the Olympics next summer.
For many, this is great news. The NBA just finished on October 11th, less than a month ago. The turnaround is quick, but fans have to be excited to see their favorite teams suit up so quickly. Quarantine due to COVID-19 has been difficult for many, and basketball in the bubble went a long way in helping fans refocus their emotions on something more positive.
It’s not entirely great news though. For NBA players, coaches, and front offices, the turnaround is lightning quick, most likely too quick to become fully prepared for the events of the next few weeks. The 2020 NBA Draft is schedule for November 18th. Free agency will follow just days after. The trade moratorium will be lifted a few days prior to the draft. Training camp for the 2020-21 season starts in 22 days. The regular season starts in just over six weeks.
There’s a lot going on, and Denver Stiffs will do its best to keep fans updated on all of the latest news and analysis regarding the Denver Nuggets and the NBA. That process gets ramped into high gear today.
Daniel Lewis released his NBA Draft Big Board 2.0 on October 24th, and as we move closer to the draft, it’s time to add my own opinions to the board. Today is Part 1 of my two-part offseason mega primer, and it’s focused on the NBA Draft. Here are the top prospects on a Nuggets centric big board:
Tier 1 - Possible cornerstones
1. Anthony Edwards - SG, Georgia
2. Onyeka Okongwu - PF/C, Southern California
When evaluating purely based on talent, there may not be a single player in this draft class with solid cornerstone potential. There are possible stars, but no probable stars, and certainly no LeBron James, Anthony Davis, or Zion Williamson level prospects.
However, when viewing prospects through the lens of the Nuggets, two players emerge in my estimation: Anthony Edwards and Onyeka Okongwu.
Edwards is a shooting guard prospect that wants to be the next elite perimeter guard and has the physical tools necessary. Unfortunately for many teams, taking a chance on his talent might lead him down more of an Andrew Wiggins path than a Dwyane Wade path. Both are players he has been compared to, and the differentiating factor may be team fit. With Jamal Murray already established and Nikola Jokić the center around which everything operates, Edwards would immediately be asked to play a supporting role while letting his primary ball handling take a backseat. At 6’5” and 230 pounds, Edwards has the potential to be an elite defender, rebounder, and glue guy. To become a star on the Nuggets, Edwards would have to commit himself to that end. It’s a question Denver will never have to answer, but the theory of it is there.
Okongwu is an interesting prospect who draws comparisons to Bam Adebayo for good reason. He’s slightly undersized for a center but is very physical, uses his frame well grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, and defending in space. He’s an efficient scorer around the rim who has potential to become more, and that will likely be the sticking point on his offensive value. Can he become an Adebayo level passer and DHO specialist? If so, he has a path to become one of the most impactful big men in the NBA. The Nuggets would do well with having someone like that to play next to and behind Jokić as a complementary piece to a rotation.
Tier 2 - Trade up for these guys
3. Devin Vassell - SG/SF, Florida State
4. LaMelo Ball - PG, International
5. Isaac Okoro - SG/SF, Auburn
6. Patrick Williams - SF/PF, Florida State
7. Deni Avdija - SF/PF, International
This tier is the blending of players with a high ceiling and potentially an ideal fit in a Denver Nuggets lineup featuring Jokić and Murray. Every player is wing or forward sized, and most offer switch-ability and complementary skills on the defensive end.
Devin Vassell is my favorite realistic prospect for the Nuggets in this draft. Two straight years as a productive wing at Florida State while also possessing he physical tools to defend small forwards and both guard positions. Vassell shot 41.7% from three in college, and though he shot 72% from the free throw line, I believe his jumper will translate to the next level. He’s the ideal player to slot in between Murray and Michael Porter Jr. long term.
LaMelo Ball is probably the most polarizing player in this draft, and the reason he’s in this tier is the elite level of facilitation and size to play next to Murray. The Nuggets won’t have to make this decision, but a hypothetical quartet of Murray, Ball, Porter, and Jokić would be an absurd offensive unit.
Isaac Okoro is in a similar mold to Vassell but slightly thicker. It’s a good sign that he shot 60.7% on two-pointers, but 28.6% from three and 67.9% from the free throw line are red flag indicators for complementary wings. His physical frame and burgeoning playmaking skills have given both Andre Iguodala and Justise Winslow comparisons in the draft process. Teams are hoping for the former. The Nuggets could use a complementary piece who defends and doesn’t need to score to be impactful.
Patrick Williams has risen up draft boards after coming off the bench the entire season for Florida State. He’s a physical forward with tools the NBA is looking for as a willing role player who will do the things teams need to reach the pinnacle. The majority of his game is a work in progress, but teams will be willing to bet on the flashes he had in a smaller role. The Nuggets might be willing to do the same.
Deni Avdija is another polarizing international player whose lack of jumper has caused teams to question their belief in the rest of his skill set. It’s difficult to be a star level contributor as a forward without a reliable outside shot, and while Avdija is a good defender, he isn’t a great one. Still, he’s a piece who fits the mold of a Denver player as a guy who, while Jokić, Murray, and Porter cover the majority of the scoring, Avdija does everything else.
Tier 3 - Draft at 22 and be ecstatic about it
8. James Wiseman - C, Memphis
9. Killian Hayes - PG, France
10. Precious Achiuwa - PF/C, Memphis
11. Tyrese Haliburton - PG/SG, Iowa State
12. Obi Toppin - PF, Dayton
I’m not going to write about every player in each tier going forward, but I will discuss three players specifically: Precious Achiuwa, Tyrese Haliburton, and Obi Toppin.
Achiuwa is a guy I believe will flourish in an NBA role as a 4th or 5th option in a starting lineup rather than as the first option for Memphis after Wiseman was suspended. I wrote about Achiuwa for Denver Stiffs last week, and what stood out most to me were translatable skills on the defensive end that will help him guard almost every position. He captained one of the best defenses in the country while maintaining a heavy workload offensively. As that workload lightens, I think his efficiency will jump and his glue guy skill set will shine through.
Haliburton is the classic mid-first round pick in most drafts that goes later than he should because of his skill set and style as a role player type. In this draft class, he’s projected to go top 10 and might sneak into the top five. I don’t see him as the ideal fit next to Jamal Murray in the backcourt, but they have enough complementary skills that I could see Haliburton working well as a bench combo guard in Denver. He probably won’t drop to 22, but much like Monte Morris, he’s a winning player out of Iowa State and should stick in the league for a long time.
Toppin is interesting because of his positive metrics and production at Dayton, but as a position locked power forward in an era where the traditional power forward position is basically dead, it’s difficult to identify the right fit for his services. Denver is not that place either, at least not as a starter. Projecting a defense featuring Porter, Toppin, and Jokić going forward is a scary proposition, and not in a good way. Toppin makes sense in a bench role though, and his talent as a versatile frontcourt scorer and playmaker would shine through in a reduced role.
Tier 4 - Draft at 22 and be happy about it
13. Saddiq Bey - SF/PF, Villanova
14. Aleksej Pokusevski - ???, International
15. Desmond Bane - SG, TCU
16. Tyler Bey - SF/PF, Colorado
17. Josh Green - SG, Arizona
18. Tyrese Maxey - PG/SG, Kentucky
19. Paul Reed - PF/C, DePaul
20. Xavier Tillman - PF/C, Michigan State
This part of the list is mostly players I have discussed in depth in podcasts or articles, and this particular range of players is filled with player profiles we have done on Denver Stiffs. Check all 2020 Player Profiles out here. Let’s discuss four of the players in this group: Saddiq Bey, Aleksej Pokusevski, Josh Green, and Xavier Tillman.
Bey is a versatile forward out of Villanova who fits the mold of previous Villanova draft picks with his pro ready game, versatility, shooting profile, and role player potential. At 6’8”, Bey shot 45.1% from three-point range in college, though his 72.8% free throw percentage leaves his pro three-point projection a lot lower. His athletic indicators leave a lot to be desired, but for a versatile bench forward who could play either spot next to different kinds of players, he could be a piece in a playoff rotation for sure.
Poku is extremely difficult to project, and given the gap between his ceiling and floor, this feels like a reasonable spot to gamble. There are safer prospects to go after, but a unicorn wing prospect that shoots, passes, and moves the way he does at over 7’0” is a perfectly reasonable gamble to make at 22. Are there too many unicorns on Denver’s roster? Maybe, but it’s still fun to think about, defense be damned. He’s a project and wouldn’t play for at least a season.
Josh Green out of Arizona is a classic 3&D wing prospect who is rising up some draft boards later in the process because of his physical profile and positive reports on his jumper. I’m skeptical, but it’s difficult to deny his potential as an off guard in Denver’s offense. He’s a smart cutter, moves well without the ball, defends his position, could be another Arizona draftee who looks better at the next level with more space to show off his physical gifts. At 6’6”, it’s a reasonable gamble to project him between Murray and Porter on the wing.
Finally, there may not be a better plug-and-play option at backup center out of this draft class than Xavier Tillman. His ability to patrol the middle of the floor, stonewall bigger players in the post, and make plays as the roll man in pick and roll situations should be tantalizing for teams looking to shore up the center position with a role player. He reminds me of the way the Boston Celtics use Daniel Theis: surround him with perimeter talent and ask him to make simple plays/reads and he will do that. The question is whether he can play next to Nikola Jokić, and on that I am skeptical.
Tier 5 - A reasonable first round selection if the above players are gone
21. Aaron Nesmith - SG/SF, Vanderbilt
22. RJ Hampton - SG/PG, International
23. Robert Woodard - SF/PF, Mississippi State
24. Kira Lewis Jr. - PG, Alabama
25. Tyrell Terry - PG, Stanford
26. Jalen Smith - C, Maryland
27. Isaiah Stewart - C, Washington
28. Leandro Bolmaro - PG/SG, International
29. Jaden McDaniels - SF/PF, Washinton
This is the group of players where, for the Nuggets this season and going forward, the cutoff of talent, fit, and team impact starts to waver. This is where projected point guards for Murray start showing up more frequently, as do backup centers for Jokić.
Kira Lewis Jr. and Tyrell Terry are two of the smallest point guards in the class, but each possesses significant talent to impact the game in different ways. Lewis played two seasons at Alabama, taking on a larger role in his sophomore season and showed he could run NBA level offense. He’s a starter at the next level based on talent but maybe profiles as a backup point guard for a championship caliber team due to his size, similar to a slightly worse Mike Bibby. Terry is similar in stature, but his appeal at the NBA level is more about his elite shooting than his playmaking for others. He’s dangerous on and off the ball, has limitless range, and will be a rotation player at the very least. Think Seth Curry.
Jalen Smith and Isaiah Stewart are two bigs that I believe with flourish at the center position and will spend most of their time at center, thus limiting their ability to impact Denver’s rotation while Jokić is on the team. Still, with Mason Plumlee and Paul Millsap facing free agency, it’s possible that the Nuggets prefer to fill their backup center position in the draft. Smith is a pick and pop big man who can defend at the rim and rebounds reasonably well. Stewart is more of a roller to the rim who adds physicality when he’s out there as a worker on the interior. He wasn’t a three-point shooting threat at Washington but shot 77.8% from the free throw line and has decent form and touch on his jump shot. Both would be solid additions.
In between the point guards and centers are wings with varying concerns. Aaron Nesmith is a shooter who does little else while he’s on the floor at this point. RJ Hampton is a project player who has elite athleticism and star potential as a ball handler but needs time to develop an extremely raw game. Robert Woodard is the opposite as a physical forward who will likely be a rotation player at the next level as a physical 3&D forward but little more.
Leandro Bolmaro is a classic draft and stash guard from Argentina who played in Spain this past season. Jaden McDaniels played next to Stewart at Washington and checks a lot of physical boxes at 6’9 as a ball handling forward but has questionable decision making.
Tier 6 - Trade down and get in the second round
30. Theo Maledon - PG, International
31. Cassius Winston - PG, Michigan State
32. Grant Riller - PG, College of Charleston
33. Cole Anthony - PG, North Carolina
34. Isaiah Joe - SG, Arkansas
35. Jahmi’us Ramsey - PG/SG, Texas Tech
36. Udoka Azuibuike - C, Kansas
37. Tre Jones - PG, Duke
38. Zeke Nnaji - PF/C, Arizona
39. Immanuel Quickley - SG, Kentucky
40. Mason Jones - SG, Arkansas
I would be surprised if the Nuggets selected any of the players in Tier 6 or lower at the 22nd spot in the draft, and it’s very likely that a player in this tier can be had in the second round of the draft. Notice the sheer number of point guards in this draft class? 19 of the players on this 50 player board could conceivably play point at the next level. 11 of them are in this tier or lower. This is where teams find their version of Monte Morris, a solid backup point guard in the second round who has a lower ceiling but drastically outplays his draft position.
Theo Maledon is a solid international prospect who played in France and survived as an 18-year-old. He’s unremarkable but should be solid at the next level if given time to develop. The same can be said with other point guard prospects. Cassius Winston, Grant Riller, Cole Anthony, and Tre Jones are all 6’3 or under and don’t have a ton of physicality to their games (except for Jones on the defensive end). Any of them could pop, it’s just a matter of role, fit, and motivation.
The wing prospects are also interesting and possess entirely different skill sets. Isaiah Joe is a classic wing shooter who projects well on catch and shoot and quick dribble step back jumpers. Jahmi’us Ramsey is slightly smaller and projects as more of a ball handler that slasher that will be willing to attempt outside jumpers. Immanuel Quickley might be one of the best shooters in the class both on catch and shoot and off the dribble looks. Mason Jones played next to Joe at Arkansas and plays with a more refined scoring game while getting to the foul line consistently. He’s like a less athletic James Harden as a scorer whose outside shot may or may not translate.
Tier 7 - Flyer at the end of the draft
41. Malachi Flynn - PG, San Diego State
42. Devon Dotson - PG, Kansas
43. Nico Mannion - PG, Arizona
44. Cassius Stanley - SG, Duke
45. Sam Merrill - SG, Utah State
46. Nate Hinton - SG/SF, Houston
47. Daniel Oturu - C, Minnesota
48. Peyton Pritchard - PG, Oregon
49. Yam Madar - PG, International
50. Elijah Hughes - SG/SF, Syracuse
These are the flyers, the guys to select toward the end of the draft for the hope that they outperform their draft slot for different reasons. I’m not going to discuss all of them, but there are three that stand out for different reasons: Devon Dotson, Cassius Stanley, and Nate Hinton.
Dotson feels like the Monte Morris of this draft. There are reasons why he’s in this tier, namely his height, the inefficient outside shot, and the presence of Morris already on Denver’s roster. Despite those reasons, Dotson plays with an electricity in the half court and open floor that should help create easy baskets for his team. He has good vision, gets to his spots, and makes good decisions. If the outside jumper translates, he could become one of the better point guards in this class.
Stanley may be the best leaper on the wing in this draft class, and though he underwhelmed at Duke this year, he shot 36% from three and has some good athletic indicators for the next level. At 6’6” he’s an interesting player to take a flyer on.
Finally, one of my favorite players to watch game film on: Nate Hinton of Houston is a beast. At 6’5” and operating on the wing, he averaged 8.7 rebounds per game his sophomore season and was one of the toughest players in college basketball. He shot 36.6% from three and 80% from the free throw line in his two college seasons. He’s big, makes the right reads with the ball on offense, and flat out works on both sides of the floor. There’s little to no reason for him not to be drafted to become an elite role player at the next level.
There you have it. 50 players. It’s highly likely that whoever Denver drafts will be on this list in some form or fashion. Whether that player is selected 22nd overall or somewhere else around the first or second round remains to be seen. There are a lot of players who could help the Nuggets in their goal of winning a championship. It may not be this year or next year, but several players will be helpful contributors. A few may become more than that.
We will see what the Nuggets can accomplish on November 18th.