The End of 2017 Awards
Given that the new calendar year is upon us, its only seems fitting to do something campy and end of the year themed, so lets spend a few minutes and hand out some end of 2017 awards.
Keep in mind, we’ve already seen the 2016-17 award winners, so those are done, but who are some of the notables so far into the 2017-18 season as we end 2017?
Executive of The Year
There are a few names to mention in this discussion, some that pulled off incredible roster moves, some that stole value in the draft and some that have simply put together dominating rosters.
You can make a case basically every year for Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. This summer he convinced basically the entire team to come back and keep the championship train rolling, and when you look at the Warriors league-leading 29-8 record, it hard to argue against the results.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey deserves a nod here, despite their recent struggles, the Rockets have been impressive all year. When you consider Morey turned roster parts into Chris Paul and the Rockets are still one of the elite teams in the NBA; Morey deserves a lot of credit.
New Cavalier GM Koby Altman deserves a nod as well. The Cavaliers have assembled arguably the most complimentary roster to surround and amplify LeBron James as any they have had in modern history. Not only are the Cavs and James surging, but their second unit has found some defense that was sorely lacking for the past couple of seasons.
While there are several deserving candidates, it’s hard to argue that Celtics president Danny Ainge doesn’t deserve the award this far. Not only did he flip roster parts into guard Kyrie Irving in trade, but he also lured in free agent Gordon Hayward, drafted rookie of the year candidate Jason Tatum, and has seen recent draft wildcards blossom into bona fide NBA stars like Jaylen Brown and reserve point guard Terry Rozier.
The Celtics stand at 29-10 on the season and are as good as anyone in basketball on both ends of the floor.
Most Improved Player
This award is always tough, because of how subjective the nature of measuring Most Improved.
There are a few players to mention in this discussion.
Boston’s Jaylen Brown is a deserving candidate. If you look at his progression as a player and his role on the team with Gordon Hayward going out to injury, he has seen his numbers jump up but more importantly his efficiency as a player on both ends of the floor has improved dramatically.
Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie deserves a nod as well. Dinwiddie was a castoff just a season ago and with the injury to Jeremy Lin he has found himself not only starting games for the Nets but really leading the team as a floor general. Dinwiddie’s production is up all over the board, and his efficiency is impressive as well.
There are a number of qualified candidate for the award all over the NBA from Chicago’s Kris Dunn to Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb to Houston’s Clint Capella, but its hard to argue the biggest leap so far has to be Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.
Not only has Oladipo emerged as Indiana’s go-to guy, he posting career bests from the field and the three-point line while averaging almost 25 points a game. Oladipo is making a solid case for All-Star consideration, and that’s a huge jump for after-thought player in Oklahoma City a season ago.
Sixth Man of the Year
Again, there are some notable names to put into this crowded and always contentious discussion.
There are the mainstays of this conversation like Minnesota’s Jamal Crawford, and Clippers reserve turned starter Lou Williams. Both are having solid seasons. However there are a few new names in the field that seems to be getting better as the season moves on.
Memphis’ Tyreke Evans has seen a resurgence in his career in Memphis. Evans is posting his second-best scoring season as a pro for the Grizzlies while posting career highs from both the field and the three-point line. The problem for Evans is he has played so well he’s been in the starting line-up and may start his way out of qualifying.
Denver’s Will Barton has been in this discussion for the past two seasons, but this might be his most convincing season. He is averaging a career high in points and field goal percentage and his second best from the three-point line. Barton has become a force for the Nuggets and has started just eight games on the season.
Brooklyn’s Caris LaVert is also posting a pretty impressive case for the sixth man, although his numbers are not nearly as impressive as some others in the discussion.
The name that continues to be interesting in this discussion is Cleveland’s Dwyane Wade, mainly because the Cavs were a dumpster fire before Wade moved to the reserve role and anchored the second unit. Wade has started just three games for the Cavs and is posting 11.2 points per game on 44.5 percent field goal shooting and 36.5 percent three-point shooting. His raw numbers are not nearly as impressive as say Evans or even Barton, but its hard to argue with the results in Cleveland. That combined with the fact that Wade has the clout as a future Hall of Famer to force his way into the starting lineup if he really wanted to, makes him the award winner at this point in the season.
Coach of The Year
This one is also tough because there are three or four coaching jobs this season worth talking about in this context.
Indiana’s Nate McMillian is doing a tremendous job this season and it hard to argue with the results considering most expected this to be a rebuilding season.
Chicago’s Fred Hoiberg has found a groove in Chicago despite Bulls fans wishing for losses. Hoiberg’s system has allowed Kris Dunn to flourish, along with rookie Lauri Markkanen.
Neither are really the coaching award-winning kind of storyline but absolutely worth acknowledging.
You can toss Warriors coach Steve Kerr into this discussion virtually every year, but this year more so because of the injuries and slow start. What the Warriors have done so far is impressive but easy to dismiss because of the quality of the roster. But it’s not easy to keep that many star players happy and focused, and Kerr does not get nearly enough credit for how seamless he makes it look.
Houston’s Mike D’Antoni won this award last year and is posting an equally impressive campaign to be a “back to back” winner. The Rockets, despite their recent struggles, have been lights out offensively and have steadily improved defensively (which no one gives him credit for).
Toronto’s Dwane Casey is justified in this discussion as well. The Raptors have gone 13-1 at home which is tops in the NBA. They are third in the NBA in point differential. Fourth in the NBA in points per game and they have a 24-10 record. He may not win the award, but he should be mentioned in the discussion.
While there are several worthy and justified candidates is there really anyone who’s done a better coaching job than Boston’s Brad Stevens? He was a legit candidate for the award last year, and given all that played out in Boston, the job he has done is remarkable.
Not only are the Celtics 29-10 on the season, but they are also allowing the second-fewest points in the NBA while leaning on a roster loaded with players on rookie scale contracts. When you factor in losing Gordon Hayward 5 minutes into the season and the way the team has rallied, it might be one of the best coaching jobs of the decade, and as such gets the award at this point in the season.
Defensive Player of The Year
Normally there isn’t a lot of star power on the defensive side of the ball, or at least they don’t get a lot of credit for it. Normally any defensive player list is filled with specialists or centers that block a lot of shots or carry the title “rim protector.” This season might be the first time in a while that several of the NBA’s brightest stars could be in serious consideration for Defensive Player honors.
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is making a pretty good case to be in this discussion in a serious way. The big challenge for Embiid is the minute restrictions and the games the team seems to be forcing him to miss. His defensive production is incredible when he is in games, however, if others play more, it’s going to be hard to justify giving him the award, but he is absolutely in the discussion.
Lost in the struggles to find their way offensively is the pretty impressive season Oklahoma City Thunder swingman Paul George is posting defensively. George has been a monster in the deflections per game category leading the NBA with 4.9 per game. He also among the league leaders in loose balls recovered at 1.9 per game. The Thunder have one of the best defenses in basketball and George is a big reason why.
The Warriors could have two players in the running for Defensive Player this year with last year’s winner Draymond Green again making a case for DYOP honors, but the winner at this point in the season has to be Kevin Durant. Not only has Durant held things down in the Bay Area while Steph Curry recovered from an ankle injury, but he is also posting some of his best stats defensively.
Durant on the season has become one the more effective isolation defenders, as well as putting up some impressive defensive field goal percentages. There is a strong case for a number of players in this category, but what Durant has done this far earns the nod.
Rookie Of The Year
This award is 76ers guard Ben Simmons to lose, so there may not be much to debate on this one.
That said there are a couple of other rookies posting crazy seasons worth mentioning, even though Simmons seems to be the far and away winner.
Utah’s Donavan Mitchell continues to bring it at an incredible clip, leading all rookies in points per game. Mitchell has quickly become the Jazz’s go-to guy on a lot of fronts, and he delivers night after night. Not only is Mitchell breathtaking to watch at the basket, but he’s also becoming an interesting defender as well. We’re not putting him in the DYOP discussion, but for a player drafted 13th overall, he’s been extremely impressive.
Lakers swingman Kyle Kuzma has also been explosively impressive in his 33 games as a Laker. He is the second leading scorer in the rookie class and has been posting pretty insane numbers for a player drafted 27th overall. Kuzma on the season has posted 17.7 points per game on 47.9 percent field goal shooting and an impressive 38.4 percent three-point average on better than five threes a game.
Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen is also making a compelling case for the Rookie of The Year race. He is the fourth leading scorer in the rookie class at 14.7 per game. Among the rookie class leaders, Markkanen is posting the lowest field goal percentages and three-point percentages, but he is still a name to mention when talking ROY.
While the award has to go to Simmons, there is a real case for Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum too. Tatum has emerged not only as being highly productive; he’s doing it on a winning team. Its one thing to post crazy stats on a team going nowhere that is building around you for the future, it’s another thing to be posting 14.2 points per game on a team that’s leading a conference.
Tatum is also producing the highest field goal percentage and three-point percent of any of the players in this discussion while having played the most games in the rookie class.
This race needs to be a lot closer than it seems at this point in the season.
The Must Watch Player of 2017
There are a few players that have become must-watch on a nightly basis. While this isn’t a traditional postseason award it is a designation worth talking about in this regard; there are a lot of NBA games in the regular season and to stop and watch all of them for any one team or player takes something special.
Its hard to argue that Boston’s Kyrie Irving hasn’t lived up to everything said about him this summer when news of him asking for a trade out of Cleveland broke. He has been breathtaking with the ball, incredible offensively and for all of those people who said he wasn’t a quality defender he’s on the team with the second-best defense in basketball.
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has become one of “must watch” players too. Unfortunately, he misses a lot of games, but when he does play he not only posts incredible numbers, he has become sensational at making each matchup a personal score to settle. His Twitter and Instagram handles have become epic, and he backs it up on the court.
The season LeBron James is having in Cleveland is unbelievable for a player that just turned 33. The notion that this might be his best season as a professional isn’t too far off when you consider he is posting 37.8 points per night which is 3rd best in the NBA and fourth most in his career. James has become the poster child for poise, power, and control all in one player and his sheer dominance this season is breathtaking.
But the winner for must-watch has to be Golden State’s Steph Curry. Maybe its because he missed so many games, but watching a healthy Curry drop 38 points in a single game while making it seem so effortless, it is impressive. The Curry show isn’t anything new, but the way he can create offensively is uncanny. While you can easily throw James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo in this list for the same reasons, there may not be a better show in basketball than Curry.
The Most Valuable Player
This award is always highly contested, and in recent years the quality of play at the top of the NBA has made picking just one player increasingly more difficult. This year is no exception.
It’s easy to talk about the front-runners. Houston’s James Harden was arguably the leader last season and again has posted a season that is so MVP worthy it’s hard not to see him gaining a lot of votes when the end of the season award ballots is cast. The Rockets and Harden’s recent struggles may put something of a dent in his campaign this season, but its hard to imagine that Harden isn’t going to find his groove again and remain towards the top of the list.
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is posting an incredible season for the Bucks too, and his 29.1 points per game put him second in the NBA behind Harden’s 32.1. He is also posting a scorching 54.7 percent field goal percentage and leads the NBA in minutes per game at 38.1. Antetokounmpo may get lost in the hype on this award when its all said and done, but he is deserving of mention.
Golden State’s Kevin Durant should also be in the discussion, not just because of his 25.9 points per game or his 39.5 percent three-point average, but because his team is at the top of the standings again and he’s lead the way with Steph Curry being sidelined without missing a beat. Durant’s defensive prowess has put him in the discussion as one of the game’s best two-way players. Durant will forever be dinged in the MVP talk because of the strength and depth of his team, but the truth of the matter is he’s posting as MVP worthy a season as anyone.
As for the winner at this point in the season, can you really argue that it’s not LeBron James? Maybe it’s the drama of him turning 33. Maybe it’s the romance some want to place on the situation, but the numbers paint a very real picture. Among the top ten scorers in the NBA, James ranks third in points, second in field goal percentage and second in minutes played among the top scorers. His team is 24-12 on the season.
You may not agree, but for my money, James has been the MVP so far, this season. We’ll see what the balance of the season brings, but that’s who gets the vote.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
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.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old