The Detroit Pistons ran roughshod over the Eastern Conference in the early to mid 2000s, but have been largely irrelevant in recent years. Detroit’s drama has ranged from poor free agency signings to constant head coach shuffling, which essentially throttled any forward momentum the franchise could occasionally muster.
But for the first time in nearly a decade, the Pistons will head into training camp under the pressure of heightened expectations. Detroit is coming off their lone winning season since the 2007-08 campaign, posting a 44-38 record and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2009. While the team was ultimately swept in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit’s brass is hoping the taste of success is enough to inspire the team’s young core to push even harder.
Rather than rest on their laurels, president of basketball operations and head coach Stan Van Gundy was extremely aggressive in free agency by bringing in intriguing veterans Ish Smith, Boban Marjanovic and Jon Leuer. The Pistons also locked up All-Star center Andre Drummond to a five-year max deal, following guard Reggie Jackson’s lucrative deal last summer.
Pistons owner Tom Gores has continued to publicly speak about returning the franchise back to prominence. If the old adage “put your money where your mouth is” proves to be true, then he has been passing with flying colors as of late. This unit has the potential to flirt with 50 victories and there’s no question that Van Gundy’s squad is making progress in Motown.
Basketball Insiders previews the Detroit Pistons’ 2016-17 season.
FIVE GUYS THINK
It’s hard not to love where the Detroit Pistons are after another successful offseason that brought in even more talent to a team that was already one of the better young groups in the league. Boban Marjanovic and Ish Smith were two of the more underrated acquisitions of the summer, but what really matters is another year of watching Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson grow together and having Tobias Harris for a full offseason and training camp to find his way with this core. The Pistons are deep, well-coached and primed for a breakout campaign. I have them ranked fourth in the Central here, but they shouldn’t end the season too far behind Chicago and Indiana, if at all. Those three teams could easily be separated by a small handful of games, though Detroit admittedly has a much higher ceiling than at least Chicago – both this season and beyond.
4th Place – Central Division
– Joel Brigham
I’m a huge Stan Van Gundy fan and believe he’s one of the best coaches in the NBA. I’ve felt this way for quite some time and my stance isn’t changing anytime soon. He’s terrific with Xs and Os and in-game adjustments. He knows how to motivate his players and instill a winning culture (which is why it’s relatively common to hear Van Gundy’s former players reminisce about the good old days when they suited up for him). Also, he has a ridiculous wealth of knowledge when it comes to the game’s history (down to even the most random, obscure things). All of this is to say that Detroit’s future is in extremely good hands with their president of basketball operations and head coach. Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Henry Ellenson is an amazing young core, and Van Gundy is just the guy to maximize their potential. Last year, we saw this group get their first taste of the playoffs. If all goes as expected, it’ll be the first of many appearances for this squad.
3rd Place – Central Division
– Alex Kennedy
The Pistons returned to the playoffs last season after a six-year drought, driven by president of basketball operations and head coach Stan Van Gundy’s aggressive roster reshuffling since taking control. The Pistons will be an intriguing club this season because it’s always entertaining to watch how young teams deal with any sort of success. Will Detroit sit back and admire their work from last season and struggle out of the gate? Or will the Pistons ride their momentum from this past season and use it to catapult themselves higher into the Eastern Conference’s hierarchy? The team was extremely active this summer, locking in All-Star center Andre Drummond to a long-term deal and reinforcing their overall depth in free agency. Let’s see how this young core handles success.
2nd Place – Central Division
– Lang Greene
It’s not every day that you see a team opt to pay a fringe All-Star talent to walk away. Stan Van Gundy did that and, since then, the results have been impossible to argue with. Since taking over in Detroit in May 2014, Van Gundy has outdone most of what Joe Dumars did in term of roster assembly. Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Greg Monroe were among those who were shown the door, and now, the team appears to be on the right path led by Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a player I have fallen in love with as well, so I really like the pieces that the franchise is building around. My only concern is that sometimes, when we see a glimpse of potential, we begin to expect too much, too quickly. Look no further than the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards. In other words, just because the Pistons won 44 games last year doesn’t mean they’re going to win 50 this year. The conference around them has gotten tougher and I expect the Pacers to rise up as the second-best team in the Central. After the Cavaliers and Pacers, though, I think the Pistons will be right there. They’re a rising, middle-of-the-pack team in the East, and I am happy for Van Gundy and for the fans of the proud franchise.
3rd Place – Central Division
— Moke Hamilton
Stan Van Gundy has rebuilt the Pistons over the last few years, with an emphasis on young talent headed by Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. How the Pistons do this upcoming season will largely depend on internal development since none of their offseason additions are necessarily game-changers. Jon Leuer, Boban Marjanovic, Ray McCallum and Ish Smith are all capable of filling a role and contributing, but this team’s success will be determined by players like Jackson, Drummond, Harris, Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson and Marcus Morris. Van Gundy is a top-notch head coach, so I expect this team to be more comfortable playing his system as the season goes along. Assuming that happens, I think the Pistons take a significant step forward.
2nd Place – Central Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Reggie Jackson
When Jackson was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, most balked at the notion that the former Boston College standout could be the primary offensive option on a playoff team. But Jackson had a strong belief in his skill set and became rather vocal in his desire to be a full-time starter. That wasn’t happening in Oklahoma City with All-Star guard Russell Westbrook in the mix, which is understandable, but he hasn’t disappointed since arriving to Detroit. Last season, the guard averaged 18.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 79 appearances. Jackson has now improved his scoring every season he’s been in the league and the 2016-17 campaign may see him break the 20-points-per-game barrier for the first time.
Top Defensive Player: Andre Drummond
Drummond isn’t the strongest one-on-one defender and his shot blocking production isn’t elite, but the first-time All-Star led the Pistons in defensive rating and defensive box score plus-minus last season. Plus, Drummond led the league in rebounding (14.8 boards per game) this past season, which led to the Pistons allowing the least amount of offensive rebounds to opposing units in 2016.
Top Playmaker: Ish Smith
The natural instinct would be to deem starting point guard Reggie Jackson as the team’s top playmaker, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that newcomer Ish Smith may be the better dime dropper in a very tight decision. Smith finished sixth in assist percentage (37) among players who appeared in at least 50 games last season, showing a knack for keeping teammates involved (Jackson finished 11th, LeBron James 14th). Smith will be entrusted to keep the offense flowing for the team’s second unit and it wouldn’t shock if Van Gundy plays him beside Jackson at times in order to allow the team’s leading scorer to go to work.
Top Clutch Player: Reggie Jackson
While Drummond is the team’s best overall player, there were times last season when Van Gundy kept the big fella on the bench during pivotal situations late in games. When the game gets tight or the team needs a quality offensive possession, the ball will undoubtedly be in the hands of Jackson and he will be entrusted to get the job done.
The Unheralded Player: Marcus Morris
Morris served as one of Van Gundy’s workhorses last season, averaging a whopping 36 minutes per game, finishing fifth in the league in minutes played. The former University of Kansas standout averaged career-highs in points (14.1), rebounds (5.1) and assists (2.5). Morris proved to be one of the better glue guys in the league last season, but his minutes may be in for a decline with second-year forward Stanley Johnson looking to take on a bigger role and the further integration of swingman Tobias Harris.
Top New Addition: Boban Marjanovic
The Pistons signed Marjanovic to a three-year, $21 million deal early in free agency and the San Antonio Spurs opted not to match the offer for the restricted free agent. During Marjanovic’s lone season with the Spurs, the 7’3 center averaged 5.5 points and 3.6 rebounds on 60 percent shooting – quickly becoming a fan favorite in the process. Those numbers don’t immediately grab your attention, but his per-36-minute averages of 21 points and 13.7 rebounds should make everyone curious about what the big guy could potentially do with extended minutes.
– Lang Greene
WHO WE LIKE
- Stan Van Gundy
The arrival of Van Gundy signaled the dawn of a new era in Detroit and the executive/coach hasn’t disappointed, leading to the club back to the playoffs in year two of his reign. Van Gundy hired a strong staff of assistant coaches to implement his system and philosophy, and the talent he’s acquired during his short tenure has been impressive. The Pistons, at Van Gundy’s direction, are slowly building a team that will eventually compete for Eastern Conference supremacy. Key word: eventually.
- Tobias Harris
The Pistons acquired Harris at last season’s trade deadline from the Orlando Magic in exchange for veterans Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. The Magic subsequently traded Ilyasova to Oklahoma City and allowed Jennings to walk in free agency to New York. But Harris will be a focal point of Detroit’s retooling project and he averaged 16.6 points on 48 percent shooting in 27 appearances with the Pistons last year. With a full training camp, Harris should be ready for an even larger role in Detroit’s talented rotation.
- Henry Ellenson
It remains to be seen if Ellenson can crack Detroit’s nightly rotation as a rookie, but the Pistons were able to get solid value with the No. 18 pick of the draft in the former Marquette University standout. During his lone collegiate season, Ellenson averaged 17 points and 9.7 rebounds on 45 percent shooting from the floor. At 6’11, Ellenson possesses the ability to put the ball on the floor and has range on his jumper out to the NBA three-point line, making him one of this year’s most intriguing rookies.
- Duo of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson
Drummond emerged as an All-Star last season and was named to the All-NBA Third Team after playing at a very high level. The team locked Drummond into a new five-year deal this summer and the center’s free agency process was devoid of any real drama. Jackson’s growth in his first full season as a starting floor general was promising. Now, the question is can Jackson follow Drummond’s footsteps and enter the All-Star discussion? Either way, the Pistons are anchored by their talented duo and with both guys just scratching the surface of their potential, good times are ahead in Detroit.
– Lang Greene
SALARY CAP 101
The Pistons went under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to sign players like Ish Smith, Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic before re-signing Andre Drummond to a five-year, $127.2 million deal. While the team still has its $2.9 million Room Exception, Detroit is well over the cap with 14 guaranteed players. Lorenzo Brown, Ray McCallum and Trey Freeman (reportedly) will fight for the one remaining roster spot.
Looking ahead, the Pistons do not project to have spending power next summer, under a projected $102 million cap. That assumes the team takes Stanley Johnson’s rookie-scale option before November. The team also has until the end of October to extend Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and/or Reggie Bullock.
– Eric Pincus
Led by Drummond, the Pistons ranked second in the league in rebounding last season, pulling down 46.3 boards per contest. The team features plenty of wing guys who are capable of pulling down five or more rebounds on any given night such as Harris, Johnson and Morris. The addition of Marjanovic and Leuer add even more guys cable of cleaning the glass next season.
– Lang Greene
Three-point shooting and ball distribution are two areas of weakness for the Pistons heading into the season. Detroit shot just 34.5 percent from long range last year, which put them in the bottom third of the league. The Pistons also ranked near the bottom of the league in assists (27th). The addition of Smith will help the team’s playmaking ability, but long-range marksmanship is still an area that needs to improve.
– Lang Greene
THE BURNING QUESTION
How will the Detroit Pistons handle success?
The Pistons experienced some success last season by securing a playoff berth, which has heightened expectations and put pressure on this unit. The franchise won’t have the cloak of anonymity this season, as opposing teams around the league will take the club a bit more seriously. But success isn’t guaranteed moving forward. Plenty of teams over the years have seemingly experienced a breakthrough season only to crash back to earth with a resounding thud the following campaign. Success has a way of corrupting and when teams start reading their own press clippings, disaster typically follows shortly thereafter. But the Pistons have assembled a mostly blue-collar bunch that takes pride in rolling up their sleeves to grind out victories. If the team is truly ready to take the next step in their development and avoid the trappings of success, there’s no reason why an Eastern Conference Semifinals trip shouldn’t be considered an achievable goal.
– Lang Greene
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
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