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NBA Daily: 50 Predictions Revisited From The 2018-19 Season

In October 2018, Drew Maresca made 50 predictions before the NBA season. Now, he’s back to lament his poor foresight by taking a look at the results.

Drew Maresca

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August is traditionally a quieter sports month, especially as it relates to basketball news. So what better time to revisit our 50 Predictions piece from 2018-19 than right now? While we typically review our predictions in late June, we decided to wait a bit longer this season in order to have a complete picture of 2019 free agency, trades, etc.

Back in October, my fellow Insiders and I made a number of predictions about the NBA season and the surprises it had in store for us. This was my first year taking over the Predictions piece from the great Joel Brigham. Having spoken with Joel, I was aware that this process would be humbling – I didn’t realize the extent to which it would be, though.

Unfortunately, narratives and rumors permeate all of our thought processes. Thus, some of these predictions were entirely my own and some were influenced by talking heads – my colleagues included – like many of the falsehoods about Anthony Davis’ all-time great 2018-19 season. But fear not, I will be better in this regard come 2019-20.

Some of my predictions were spot on – albeit not too many – and others are laughable. Either way, please read on and enjoy everything that follows – most of which will be at my expense. And now, without further ado, here are my 50 predictions for the 2018-19 NBA season, revisited:

Award Predictions:

  1. Anthony Davis will be the 2018-19 MVP – Incorrect. And I wasn’t even really that close as he didn’t even finish in the top 10. Still, I stand by this pick. He was a popular pre-season selection. Unfortunately, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the other popular pick. And he won.
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo will win Defensive Player of the Year – Incorrect, but close. Antetokounmpo finished second and was a world beater in pretty much every way. So this one nearly came to fruition.
  3. Zach Lavine will be named Most Improved Player – Incorrect. I really thought there was a chance entering December. But guys like Pascal Siakam, D’Angelo Russell and De’Aaron Fox did too much to separate themselves. And LaVine came back to earth. He averaged 28.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in October and 27 points per game through the Bulls’ first 14 games. But he settled back in to more traditional performances – which are good, but not necessarily MIP-worthy.
  4. Nikola Jokic will be finish in the top-five in MVP voting – Correct. Jokic had an incredible year and led the Nuggets to the second seed in the Western Conference. Jokic’s 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game were more than enough to generate national attention.
  5. Nick Nurse will win Coach of the Year on the back of a franchise best season – Incorrect. Mike Budenholzer was named Coach of the Year given an impressive campaign in which he modernized the Bucks’ offense and led them to an NBA-best 60-win season. Nurse finished ninth and led the Raptors to 58 wins and their first ever NBA title.

Other Individual Predictions:

  1. Anthony Davis will lead the NBA scoring – Incorrect again. Davis finished 10th in points per game and 34th in overall points scored.
  2. For the first time since 2013-14, Blake Griffin will play in 70+ games – Correct. Griffin played in a shocking 75 games this past season – significantly more than he’s played in since 2013-14 (80).
  3. Lonzo Ball will post increased scoring and three-point percentages in less minutes per game – Partially correct. Ball scored 0.3 points per game less; however, he shot better from long-range (.329 up from .304) in four minutes less per game.
  4. Kristaps Porzingis returns to Knicks lineup after the All-Star break, the Knicks play above .500 with him in the lineup and they avoid the lottery – Incorrect. Instead, Porzingis didn’t play a single game in 2018-19, demanded a trade from the Knicks and now plays for the Mavericks. Do I lose points if I’m really, really wrong?
  5. Three players will average 15+ rebounds – Incorrect. Only Andre Drummond averaged more than 15 rebounds per game.

Rookie Predictions:

  1. Luka Doncic will be named Rookie of the Year – Correct. I understood the hype around DeAndre Ayton and Trae Young, but Doncic was too good and too experienced to overlook.
  2. Trae Young will end 2018-19 in the top-three Rookie of the Year ranks with at least 16 points and 7 assists per game – Correct. In fact, Young finished second in ROY voting and averaged 19.1 points and 8.1 assists per game.
  3. Alonzo Trier will average more points per game than Kevin Knox – Incorrect. Knox averaged 12.8 points per game versus Trier’s 10.9; but the fact remains that Trier surprised pretty much everyone by carving out a role in the NBA.

Trade Predictions:

  1. Jimmy Butler will be traded before the All-Star break – Correct. Thankfully, I neglected to name a team to which he would be traded.
  2. Kevin Love will not be traded – Correct. This was 50-50 for me. I simply didn’t see a team willing to take on Love’s deal with the requisite cap space and need.
  3. Tristan Thompson will not be traded either – Correct.
  4. George Hill and Kyle Korver will be traded – Correct on both. They were the obvious guys for the Cavs to move, both of whom add significant value without being overly ball dominant.
  5. Terry Rozier is traded before the deadline – Incorrect. I couldn’t imagine a world in which the Celtics let an asset walk for nothing. This one should have happened.
  6. Damian Lillard to the Lakers rumors will persist, but a deal will not be made – Correct. With the luxury of hindsight, this one seems pretty obvious.

Team Predictions:

  1. The Raptors will win at least 60 games and finish first in the East – Technically incorrect. I should have just predicted that they would win the NBA Championship.
  2. Utah will also finish 2018-19 with 60+ wins – Incorrect. In my defense, my objectivity ceased to exist after chatting with fellow Insider Jordan Hicks, who spoke so highly of his hometown team.
  3. The Warriors will also win 60 games and three teams will finish with 60 wins – Incorrect. Only one team (Bucks) finished the season with 60 wins. And to be fair, three teams haven’t finished with 60 or more wins in the same season since 2008-09.
  4. The Nuggets will win 55 games – So close, but incorrect. Denver ended with 54 wins, which marks a huge leap for the franchise. Note: I will make this prediction again in October.
  5. The 76ers finish in the bottom five in three-point shooting – Incorrect. I clearly failed to examine rosters around the league.
  6. The Bucks will finish in the top five in three-point attempts – Correct. Lots of credit here to Coach Budenholzer, who modernized an offense that launched the second-most three-pointers in the league – up from 25thoverall in 2017-18.
  7. The Lakers will fail to make the playoffs – Correct. And this was a bold pick last October, I might add. LeBron James didn’t have enough help. And still, I was worried for a good part of the season. If James hadn’t been hurt on Christmas Day and maintained his output (27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game), I probably would have been wrong here, too. He’s still that good.
  8. The Pelicans will qualify for the playoffs thanks to Anthony Davis – LOL. Incorrect.
  9. The Hawks will end the season with the worst record in the league – Incorrect. It’s always hard to predict the order at the bottom of the league. But the Hawks were a pleasant surprise last season, playing quite well after the All-Star break.

Playoff Predictions:

  1. The Bucks advance past the first-round – Correct. They had the MVP and the Coach of the Year.
  2. The Wizards do not earn a top-four seed in the East – Correct. No one saw John Wall’s injuries on the horizon, though.
  3. And the Wizards get eliminated in the first-round – Incorrect, because they didn’t make the playoffs at all.
  4. The Pistons enter the playoffs as a top-four seed – Incorrect again.
  5. And the Pistons advance past the first-round – Incorrect yet again. I was supremely confident in Blake Griffin, who played very well. But he didn’t have enough support, and the East was even better than expected.

Coaching Predictions:

  1. Tom Thibodeau is fired shortly after the Timberwolves move on from Butler – Correct
  2. Scott Brooks is not fired during the season – Correct. But had I known how bad it would get in Washington, I might have predicted otherwise.
  3. Brooks is let go before June 1 following a first-round playoff elimination – Incorrect on two fronts. First of all, the Wizards didn’t qualify for the playoffs. But more importantly, Brooks is still their head coach – and I’m a little surprised by this. The Wizards moved on from general manager Ernie Grunfeld. And their star player is out for probably the entire 2018-19 season. Brooks enters 2019-20 on the hot seat. I don’t see Washington sticking with him if the team decides to trade Bradley Beal. So if that happens, look out.

Miscellaneous Predictions:

  1. The league-wide average will exceed 110 points per game (2017-18 average was 106.3) – Correct. The average score per game per team actually eclipsed 111 points.
  2. There will be a 10 percent increase in fouls per game due to rule changes regarding how freedom of motion fouls are called – Incorrect. The league average increased from 19.9 fouls per game to 20.9 – an increase of just over 5 percent.
  3. There will be fewer teams with 25 or less wins than there was last season in part because of the revised NBA Draft Lottery – Technically there was the same number of teams with fewer than 25 wins; however, there were more teams with 25 or fewer wins. So, Correct. And the effect of the revised draft lottery becomes even more evident when we expand the scope: nine teams had fewer than 30 wins in 2017-18, compared to only five in 2018-19.
  4. There will be at least five first-time All-Stars – Correct, but just barely so. There were exactly five first-time All-Stars this past season: Nikola Jokic, Khris Middleton, D’Angelo Russell, Ben Simmons and Nikola Vucevic.

Insiders Predictions:

Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA)

  1. The Warriors will not win the most games in the league – Correct

Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA)

  1. Eight teams will finish at .500 or one game below – Incorrect. Only one team finished with a 41-41 record and no teams ended the season with 40 wins.

Matt John (@MattJohnNBA)

  1. Kawhi Leonard re-signs with Toronto on a 1+1 – Incorrect

David Yapkowitz (@David_Yapkowitz)

  1. The Nuggets will enter the playoffs as a top-four seed – Correct

Shane Rhodes (@Shane_Rhodes1)

  1. The 76ers will enter the playoffs without securing a top-four seed – Incorrect

Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies)

  1. Tristan Thompson will average a double-double for the first time in his career – Correct

Lang Greene (@LangGreene)

  1. Carmelo Anthony will end the season with less than 13 points per game and worse than 40 percent shooting from the field – Incorrect on both counts. Anthony averaged 13.4 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting; however, he only played in 10 games.

Benny Nadeau (@Ben_Nadeau)

  1. Allen Crabbe will end the season in the top 10 for three-pointers made – Incorrect. Wrong Net, Ben. D’Angelo Russell finished ninth with 234.

Jordan Hicks (@JordanHicksNBA)

  1. Joe Ingles will lead the league in three-point percentage – Incorrect. In fact, Ingles finished 31st in three-point percentage with a 39.1 percent clip – which is worse than both of the previous two seasons.

Jordan Hicks (@JordanHicksNBA)

  1. Derrick Favors will be traded before the deadline – Incorrect, but fake bonus points because Favors starts the season with New Orleans after being traded for two second-round picks at the start of free agency.

Some of my predictions were terrible, and others were borderline prophetic. We will be back soon to see if the Basketball Insiders team and I can do better than we did last October.

For those of you keeping score, I got 19 correct and 21 incorrect, and my fellow Insiders had four correct and six incorrect. I sense major improvements on the horizon..

Basketball Insiders contributor residing in the Bronx, New York.

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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca

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The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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