Atlanta Hawks small forward DeAndre Bembry is arguably one of the most NBA-ready players from this year’s draft class.
Not only is the 22-year-old more experienced than many of his fellow rookies, he’s also mature beyond his years and has the kind of basketball IQ rarely seen in a first-year player. Because of his versatility and ability to produce on both ends of the court, it’s possible that he could crack Mike Budenholzer’s rotation sooner than later in Atlanta.
Bembry was the No. 21 overall pick in the draft, and he likely would’ve gone higher had he been a bit younger. During the draft process, teams often fall in love with a player’s potential rather than their college production, which tends to hurt older prospects like Bembry. But after doing very well in pre-draft workouts and impressing NBA decision-makers in face-to-face meetings, Bembry solidified himself as a mid-first-round pick and is now determined to make every team that passed on him pay.
He seems to have found a perfect situation in Atlanta since the team is in win-now mode. After adding Dwight Howard in free agency, the Hawks are hoping to contend in the Eastern Conference, which is relatively wide open after the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Budenholzer and his staff want contributors, not projects, so it’s no coincidence that both of the team’s first-round selections (Taurean Prince and Bembry) are 22-year-olds who are ready to play now rather than needing years of development before making their mark.
Bembry may have flown under the radar a bit while at Saint Joseph’s, but there’s no question that he was one of the most productive players in the nation. As a sophomore, he led the Hawks in scoring (17.7), rebounds (7.7), assists (3.6) and steals (1.9). Last year, as a junior, he averaged 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals and .8 blocks while shooting 47.9 percent from the field. Bembry finished the campaign with an offensive rating of 113.1 and a defensive rating of 97.7. He played the third-most minutes of any player in the nation (1,341), showing just how important he was to the Hawks.
He was named the 2016 Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Player of the Year for his efforts, while also earning a spot on the All-Atlantic 10 First-Team (for the second straight year) and the conference’s All-Defensive Team.
Perhaps the best example of Bembry making his presence felt all over the court when his team needed it most was this past NCAA Tournament. In Saint Joseph’s first-round win over Cincinnati, Bembry filled the stat sheet to the tune of 23 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks (while shooting 57.2 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range). In the Round of 32 against Oregon, Bembry had 16 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals. Unfortunately for the Hawks, Bembry received little help and Oregon managed to win the close game by seven points.
Now, Bembry is hoping to use his well-rounded game to continue filling the stat sheet at the pro level. The Hawks won 48 games last season (fourth-best in the East) and are looking to make a deep postseason run after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago. Atlanta has made the playoffs in nine straight seasons and all signs point to that streak continuing.
Basketball Insiders caught up with Bembry to discuss his transition to the NBA, what he has seen from his Hawks teammates in offseason workouts, his lofty Rookie of the Year goal, how he plans to honor his late brother, Adrian, and much more.
Alex Kennedy: You’ve been described as one of the most NBA-ready players in this draft class. Do you think you can make an impact right away in Atlanta and what can you provide the Hawks this season?
DeAndre Bembry: “I definitely feel like I can impact the game right away. I feel like it just depends on what the coaches need me to do in my rookie year. Whether it’s me needing to score or if it’s just needing me out there to guard the best player on the floor, I’m open to it. I’m a very versatile player; I can play with the ball in my hands and can play off the ball if that’s what Coach Bud wants. I can pretty much guard the one, two and three, so I can affect the game in many different areas. It just depends what the team needs me to do or what my coaches want me to do.”
Kennedy: You mentioned being able to play three positions and defend three different positions. You ranked 17th in the nation in Defensive Win Shares last season. How much does your versatility help you and, in today’s NBA where we see position-less basketball more and more, how important is that?
Bembry: “Rather than just being a one-dimensional player, Coach can throw me out there to do multiple things. Rather than just being a defensive player or just being able to throw up shots, I can always find a way to make an impact since I play hard on both ends. The NBA is definitely moving toward more versatile players. These days, the four will bring the ball up the court sometimes, like Draymond Green does. Even the fives are trying to dribble more than they used to. Being versatile can definitely help a player get more minutes, and I feel like that will help me get out there more.”
Kennedy: I love this fit in Atlanta for you. You’re unselfish, you defend, you like to facilitate for your teammates and you’re mature. A lot of times during the draft process, people focus on what number you get selected, but the specific situation and fit is probably more important. How great of a fit is this for you?
Bembry: “It’s a great fit. Being a team player is one of the things Coach Bud is really high on. Also, being able to share the ball, making the right play at the right time and being able to read and react much faster than others. It’s definitely a good fit for me because those are some of the things that I do very well. When I played in the Summer League, there wasn’t one play we drew up; it was just all read and react and that’s one thing I’m pretty much use to doing, making the right play at the right time and finding open teammates.”
Kennedy: What kind of interactions have you had with your teammates so far? Have you been working out with guys and getting the chance to pick their brains yet?
Bembry: “Yeah, definitely. I’ve been on the court with them and working out with them a lot. I’ve been working out with Dwight [Howard] a lot. [Paul] Millsap has been around. [Thabo] Sefolosha has been around. Pretty much everyone who’s been here for the summer, we’ve all been working out and just getting used to each other. The same goes for the coaches as well; I’ve just been trying to learn things from the coaches because they’ve been around the NBA for years. I’m just trying to soak in everything.”
Kennedy: The addition of Dwight Howard was huge for you guys. His move home made headlines and now people are curious to see how he’ll produce. What have you seen from Dwight in your workouts and, at this point in his career, what kind of impact can he have on both ends of the floor?
Bembry: “He can still obviously dominate the game if, mentally, he gets his mind right and if, physically, he’s healthy. From what I’ve been seeing though, Dwight has been killing it. He’s been shooting a lot of mid-range shots and they’re going in. He’s making them more consistently. I mean, everyone knows what Dwight can do though; we just need him when the season starts. He has to just block everything out and just do what he normally does. I feel like this year will definitely be a year where he does great things. He could be the top guy here, and I feel like that’s something he needed. He’s been trying to lead the team, and just doing little small things talking to me and Taurean [Prince], the two rookies. Even if it’s the older guys, he’ll talk to them as well. He’s definitely trying and we’re really looking forward to see what he’ll do for us.”
Kennedy: You and Taurean Prince have quite a bit in common in addition to being the two incoming rookies. You’re both 22 years old who are versatile swingmen who can make an impact on both ends of the court. How have you guys gotten along so far?
Bembry: “Well, Taurean and I have a similar background as far as how we got here. We were both underrated – not in the top 100. I met him at the Nike Skills Academy last summer and after that, we always had this respect for each other because whenever we went out there, we were just dogs and played hard against each other. Then, entering the NBA draft, we always matched up with each other somehow [in pre-draft workouts]. We were just going against each other a lot and just respecting each other’s game, so I feel like we got a feel for each other. He was cool off the court as well, so we developed somewhat of a bond. It was just funny how we ended up getting drafted together and ended up staying in the same condo and stuff like that. So yeah, Taurean and I are very close. We’re too close (laughs).”
Kennedy: That’s awesome. When you have another rookie who is there with you every step of the way and can relate to what you’re going through, how much easier does that make this transition?
Bembry: “I mean, it definitely helps to have somebody out there that you’re cool with, can talk about whatever with and things like that. I feel like we’re both mentally prepared, and we’re both mentally strong enough to come into the league prepared to dominate and go at whomever. That’s one of the things I like about Taurean; he has the same type of attitude that I have coming into the game. Right now, of course, he’s the one guarding me so we’re going hard at each other, like we’re enemies. (laughs) But that’s how I play and that’s how I like my teammates to play. We’ve looked really good playing against each other and alongside each other this summer. I can’t wait to see how we play against players from other teams.”
Kennedy: You had a very interesting journey to the NBA. In high school, you had a ton of doubters and you flew under the radar. One prominent scouting service had you ranked No. 224 in your class and Rivals didn’t even give you a single star, if I recall. How did that motivate you and how nice is it now to silence some of those detractors with your success?
Bembry: “The way I’ve always thought about it is I know what’s right and what’s wrong about my game. Even when I was in high school, I would just go out there and play basketball; that’s how simple it is for me. You could say whatever you want about me, but I’m going to go out there and play hard every possession because that’s something I know how to do. I’m going to go out there and play defense. I’m going to play my game. That’s just how I do it. That’s how I’ve always done it and that’s how I got here. Each game, I would just go out there, play hard and that’s pretty much what would shut everyone up. I always loved the game, so getting motivated wasn’t hard for me. But I did use it and let it motivate me even more.
“I’ve never been someone who hypes myself up, and maybe that [affected me] in the draft. I still feel like I should have gone higher, but that’s just another chance for me to show people what I can do. I want to show people why I really should have gone higher in the draft. But I’m just excited to be in the NBA. I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing against these guys.”
Kennedy: What are some of your individual goals for this upcoming season?
Bembry: “Well, I always set my standards very high. This year, I’m obviously going to say win Rookie of the Year, but other than that [my goal is] just to get as many minutes as I can as a rookie. I know Coach Bud doesn’t really play younger guys a lot, but I feel like me and Taurean are two very different younger guys coming into the NBA. I’m just trying to go out there and play my game, but I’ll definitely try to win Rookie of the Year.”
Kennedy: Who are some NBA players who you’ve studied and who have influenced your game a bit?
Bembry: “There are a lot of people. I try to pick little pieces from different players when I notice something that looked good or worked well. Take someone like Dirk Nowitzki, for example. I’m always learning how to do the little fade-away jump shot. I do a lot of Eurosteps, so I look at Manu Ginobili and James Harden. I look at Tracy McGrady a lot. It’s just taking little things from different players. I’ll look at Magic Johnson running the point as a 6’8 guard. If you’re a good basketball player and something that you’re doing is working, then I’ll definitely try to pick it apart and learn from it.”
Kennedy: Are there any defensive-minded guys you watched, maybe because of their motor or their ability to lock guys down?
Bembry: “I like people who are mentally and physically in tune to the game, so I’ll start with like a Dennis Rodman type of player. That’s how I try to come into every game. Like Rodman, I won’t let anybody just keep scoring on me. In today’s game, I’d say someone like a Jimmy Butler or Tony Allen – guys who can actually defend and do a good job at it.”
Kennedy: We talked about your individual goals, so now let’s talk about team goals. After the Cleveland Cavaliers, the East is pretty much wide open. How good can the Hawks be this season?
Bembry: “I feel like if everybody brings their ‘A’ game, we should be good. The bond is there; I know a bond when I see them. I’ve been on a lot of teams, especially in high school, where we started with a strong bond and went on to win championships. That’s what I’ve been a part of, and it all starts off with the bond. Our bond [in Atlanta] is already good. Then, you always need to have superstars. Dwight Howard is our superstar, Paul Millsap is our All-Star. As long as our top guys always bring their ‘A’ game and we just do what we’re supposed to do, then we will be pretty good this year. Like you said, nobody else in the East is as dominant as the Cavs, so it would definitely be fun to play in the playoffs my rookie year.”
Kennedy: You are going to wear No. 95 to honor your younger brother, Adrian, who was shot and killed two weeks before the 2016 NBA Draft while trying to break up a fight in Charlotte. You’re doing this because Adrian was born in 1995. I know you also want to use your platform as an NBA player to speak out against gun violence and hold events in a number of large cities. I’m so sorry for your loss. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. For those who don’t know, can you explain what you’re planning to do to honor Adrian?
Bembry: “I’m wearing No. 95 for him. Also, we’re going to do events about [preventing gun violence] in a number of cities. We’re still doing all of the paperwork, and I’m trying to find different foundations to get involved with. I’ve just been talking with my mother about what we want to do and talking to my lawyers as we try to get all the paperwork done. In addition to here in Atlanta, I want to do something in Philly, New Jersey and Charlotte because those are all areas where I actually lived in and got to see a lot of different things. I’m just trying to get that all finalized and I’ve been talking to the National Basketball Players Association about it as well. I think I’m going to try to get it going after my first season so that people know who I am a bit more and know my story. I think that’s better rather than me just trying to do it now and nobody understands what’s going on.”
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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