Babcock Hoops Roundtable: Simulated NBA Draft Lottery
The Babcock Hoops team simulated the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery and provided selections and analysis for each draft slot.
For the latest edition of the Babcock Hoops Roundtable, we mixed it up by working with Tankathon.com to simulate the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery. Subsequently, our group of seasoned basketball veterans made selections for each team and provided expert analysis. Our group includes former NBA agent Matt Babcock, former college head coach and current ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, and former NBA scouts Doc Martin and Jason Filippi.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves - Obi Toppin
Matt Babcock: I must admit I was happy to see the Timberwolves with the first pick in this simulated lottery, as I knew Obi Toppin would be the right man for the job. I have been intrigued by Toppin since last season. However, once I was able to see him up close for several days at the Maui Invitational in November, I was completely sold. Since then, some of my colleagues have suggested that I’m not only on the Obi Toppin bandwagon but that I’m driving it — and I’m ok with that. That said, it only seems fitting that I have the Minnesota Timberwolves taking him with the first pick.
A dynamic high-flying power forward that seems to always be just a moment away from making his next spectacular play, Toppin has drawn comparisons to former NBA star Amar'e Stoudemire. While constantly filling the highlights with uber-athletic plays, Toppin is also a reliable outside shooter, making 32 three-pointers while shooting 39% from beyond the arc for the season. These are just two elements that make him a prototypical modern-day power forward, in my opinion. I think he would be a perfect fit for the Timberwolves’ long term plans, as he could be slotted in next to All-Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns with D’Angelo Russell at the helm and young wings Malik Beasley and Jarrett Culver as valuable pieces as well. In this hypothetical scenario, President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas would give the Timberwolves fan base a lot to be excited about going into only his second season in Minnesota.
2. New York Knicks: Anthony Edwards
Fran Fraschilla: First, the good news. Edwards has the elite size, strength, and athleticism for a guard with future NBA All-Star potential. Along with incredible physical gifts and the skills to be a great shot-creator, he is only 18 years of age. He has a lot of room to grow as a player, both physically and mentally.
On the downside, his shooting accuracy and shot selection is a concern. In addition to making only 22% of his threes in the final 10 games of the season, he only made four field goals a game inside the arc all year. The other concern for the Knicks drafting in this spot is that he has not yet won big at any level. He would be a big bet, with a big upside, in a big place, New York City.
3. Atlanta Hawks: James Wiseman
Doc Martin: James Wiseman is a potential franchise changer. Although we only have a small sample size, there's not much, if anything, not to like about Wiseman. He's a versatile, big athlete that can rim run with the best in the game today. He establishes position in and around the paint for easy buckets. He's got solid footwork and transitions well from setting screens to rolling to the basket. He has good hands and instincts and rebounds outside of his area.
If this gem of a player falls into the laps of the Hawks, they could potentially revamp the way they play, surround this young man with as many shooters as possible and play 4-out, 1-in motion. Pick and roll action with Wiseman and Trae Young could become one of the hardest duos to defend, at least in the East. Now that forward John Collins has begun to expand his range, these two could easily co-exist on the floor. They will have to iron out chemistry issues, and it's going to be a process, but by year two or three, if they trust the process and keep the core together, seeing the fruits of their labor won't take long.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Deni Avdija
Jason Filippi: Sources say the Cavs have heavily scouted Deni Avdija this season, so this pick makes perfect sense. Deni is projected to be more of a small-ball four long term in the NBA but he can play both forward spots and has proved to be a better wing defender than we originally thought. Cleveland can definitely use an upgrade at small forward and adding a versatile player like Avdija also gives them some insurance at power forward for when Kevin Love eventually leaves the team. Deni Avdija needs to improve his three-point shot but the rest of his game is well polished and NBA-ready. In addition to his versatility, he brings toughness and the winning attitude that comes from playing for a perennial title contender in Europe like Maccabi Tel Aviv.
5. Golden State Warriors: Onyeka Okongwu
Matt Babcock: The Golden State Warriors are in a unique situation, having the worst record in the league, but are likely to re-emerge as contenders next season once they “get the band back together”, reuniting Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, while also adding newly acquired Andrew Wiggins to the group. Opportunities for NBA teams to compete for championships do not come around very often and shouldn’t be taken for granted. With that said, basic logic would suggest that they should target a prospect that could be a valuable building block for their long term planning while also being able to contribute right away. They need to value talent and upside while also prioritizing a player that can complement their current players.
Although LaMelo Ball would likely get some consideration in this scenario, ironically, I think Ball’s former high school teammate, Onyeka Okongwu, from USC, fits the bill better. The powerful scoring big man possesses dazzling footwork and touch around the rim, reminding me of a more athletic Al Jefferson. Okongwu could be penciled in as the team’s starting center right away. He would provide another scoring punch while also providing rim protection, rebounding, and physicality.
Could the Warriors win it all in 2021? Maybe.
6. Detroit Pistons: Isaac Okoro
Fran Fraschilla: Right off the bat, Okoro has the NBA wing athleticism, work ethic, physical maturity, and character to step onto an NBA court immediately and guard three, and some nights, four positions. His defensive versatility becomes an instant weapon. In addition, he has excellent open court and slashing ability to the rim that will create some “wow” plays early in his career.
While there are zero “red flags” off the court and his attitude has been raved about by former coaches, there is one area of concern: his shooting. Okoro made only 29% of his threes this season and only 16% of his two-point jump shots, according to hoop-math.com, as well. If a minor shooting flaw can be corrected, he’s off to the races. He made only 20 threes this season but, ironically, it’s the same amount Jimmy Butler made in his final season at Marquette.
7. Chicago Bulls: LaMelo Ball
Doc Martin: He's the youngest of the Ball brothers but an immensely talented combo guard that is still trying to distinguish himself as a point guard. With his size and skill, the offensive-minded guard could be a difficult matchup for some NBA point guards. He has a creative handle with a good burst of acceleration off the dribble and can finish with either hand. This past season with the Australian NBL’s Illawarra Hawks, Ball had a solid assist to turnover ratio at 2.72, and given the spacing and better players in the NBA, he could potentially make himself even harder to guard. He will add ball-handling depth to an already solid young nucleus in Chicago. This team could be fun to watch in transition.
On the other hand, he still has a lot to learn about being an elite NBA point guard. He needs to live in the weight room to add more strength to his slight frame. He must prove he can be more disciplined on both sides of the ball. He has to limit the amount of off-balanced long-contested three-point shots he takes. Defensively, he has to give a better effort to contain the ball. LaMelo going to the Bulls could work out for all parties involved. It provides the organization with a positive buzz and excitement amongst fans to see this young and talented group healthy and on the floor.
8. Charlotte Hornets: Killian Hayes
Jason Filippi: This may not address a big need for the Hornets but Killian Hayes is the best player available, in my opinion. He is a combo guard with positional size who has really improved as a playmaker this season, as he has shown the ability to create for others off the dribble and displayed unselfishness. His three-point shooting percentage may not be very high, but he has shown the ability to get a bucket whenever his team needs one. Possessing positional size and length, Killian can defend both guard spots and will definitely help bolster the Hornets’ backcourt depth. He will also give them some flexibility when deciding who among their current guards they should retain long term.
9. Washington Wizards: Aaron Nesmith
Matt Babcock: I have a lot of questions with the Wizards roster as they look to rebuild. First of all, will two-time All-Star Bradley Beal be content with a rebuilding plan during the prime of his career? Also, what will the Wizards do with John Wall? A five-time All-Star, Wall is recovering from a season-ending achilles injury and is owed more than $40 million per year in the next few years. It does not seem as if Wall is the long term answer for the Wizards at point guard, however, his contract creates a tricky situation for the team. If they would like to move in a different direction, it would be next to impossible to move his massive contract. Furthermore, due to the amount of money that's owed to him, it would probably be in the Wizards’ best interest to maximize production rather than give up on him. These concerns made me eliminate two players I would have strongly considered for this pick, R.J. Hampton and Tyrese Haliburton, as they would likely be in reserve roles for at least a couple of years, which doesn’t seem to make sense for a pick this high. I decided to go with the sweet-shooting wing from Vanderbilt, Aaron Nesmith, instead.
Before a season-ending foot injury in January, Nesmith was playing terrific basketball, averaging 23.0 points and 4.3 three-pointers per game while shooting 52.2% from three-point range, making him the most highly sought out shooter in this year’s draft. Probably better suited to play small forward due to his limited ball skills, Nesmith could be penciled in at small forward right off the bat alongside guards Beal and Wall while also providing some backup minutes at shooting guard. Known to be impressive off the court with a near-perfect background check, Nesmith could be a great talent to snag with the ninth pick while also bringing the type of character to help create a new identity for the Wizards moving forward.
10. Phoenix Suns: Tyrese Haliburton
Fran Fraschilla: Tyrese Haliburton would be a nice fit in Phoenix with the Suns’ ball-dominant star guard, Devin Booker. First of all, he gives this team “lineup flexibility” because of his size and length. He uses that size and length on both ends of the court. He is an excellent passer and ball mover with great vision, accuracy, and no ego. On the defensive end, while possessing a slight frame, he is potentially an above average individual and team defender, as his instincts and anticipation are already beyond his years.
Haliburton is a good, not great, penetrator because of his average NBA speed and quickness. He is a “secondary ball-handler,” in my opinion, and would allow Booker to take a mental health break while staying on the court off the ball. While his set shot is unique and somewhat concerning, he has proven that when he is left open, he is highly accurate, even from NBA range. Lastly, his physical maturity is a concern right now but can be alleviated with time.
11. San Antonio Spurs: Vernon Carey, Jr.
Doc Martin: I love how he plays with a natural physicality. At 265 pounds, he's got functional mobility, but it will only get better once there is a strong emphasis on strength and conditioning. While he's still very raw, his offensive repertoire is improving, he's got a decent jump hook over his right shoulder, and he's not afraid to step away and shoot the 15-foot shot. The resources that will be at his disposal are second to none. I like the tandem that he and Aldridge could form. His low post presence could provide L.A. more opportunities to play a high-low action. The opportunity to learn from one of the best power forwards to ever play this game could speed up his development. If I'm San Antonio, I'm excited about what he brings to the table, but even more excited about what's awaiting him at the table.
12. Sacramento Kings: Isaiah Stewart II
Jason Filippi: I think Isaiah Stewart II from Washington would bring some much-needed toughness and physicality to the Sacramento Kings frontcourt. He would compliment franchise centerpiece Marvin Bagley well, who is more of a finesse player. At 6’9” and 250 pounds, Stewart is a prototypical power forward and perhaps modern-day center whose game is not pretty but effective. He can score inside as well as knock down some mid-range shots. On defense, he can guard both the power forward and center positions and is willing to do the dirty work to get the job done.
13. New Orleans - Zeke Nnaji
Matt Babcock: The Pelicans are in a good place with their roster moving forward. They have a solid core unit of budding stars, including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and of course, Zion Williamson, to go along with veteran combo guard Jrue Holiday, who is at the peak of his career. They also have several promising young players that are still on rookie contracts: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, and Jaxson Hayes. Even without adding another piece, it looks as if the Pelicans are well on their way to being a competitive playoff team in the Western Conference next season and for years to come. So the question is: who do they add to their core unit with the 13th pick?
The Pelicans could use some depth in their frontcourt, and considering that big man Derrick Favors is a pending free agent, I decided to go with Zeke Nnaji from Arizona for this pick. He seems to be a good fit, as he could play alongside either Zion Williamson or developing big man Jaxson Hayes, which would provide the team some depth and lineup flexibility. Nnaji had a terrific season for the Wildcats this year, averaging 16.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, leading him to be named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Despite being used primarily as a low post scorer, he has shown the capability of being able to stretch the floor in the past, which could be a key factor for a team like the Pelicans that could use some proper floor spacing to allow their young stars to operate.
14. Portland - Saddiq Bey
Fran Fraschilla: Assuming that the 6’8” Bey is in this NBA Draft, like most of Jay Wright’s players, he has the maturity, skill, toughness, and basketball acumen to make the transition to the NBA. Armed with an NBA body, he will have positional versatility on the defensive end of the court immediately. Offensively, his shooting, post-up game, and improved creativity off the dribble give him some nice weapons on that end of the court, as well.
The downside with Bey is that he is not an elite NBA athlete, which may affect his long-term ceiling. His ball-handling and decision-making can improve also. However, given his attributes both on and off the court, there is a high level of probability that he could stay in the league for quite a while.