We at Basketball Insiders are torn over the COVID-19 pandemic and basketball: We badly want to get back to at least watching games – if not attending them – but fully understand the need to do so as safely as possible for the sake of the players, coaches, league and team personnel, fans and us – the media.
Considering that there are no concrete updates pertaining to re-starting the 2019-20 regular season, we will continue to analyze what we know by taking a look back at various facets of the game.
Today, let’s continue gauging each pick in the past 10 NBA Drafts, turning our attention to the fourth overall pick.
The fourth pick in the NBA Draft seems to carry its share of challenges. Considering the talent taken after the fourth pick, the lack of All-Stars coming from this spot is pretty shocking. Granted, teams typically miss on the headliners of a given draft at four, but there has been real talent available after the top three picks in each of the last 10 drafts. How did each fourth pick perform? Let’s look back through 2009 to decide.
Kristaps Porzingis – New York Knicks – 2015
Sorry in advance Knicks fans, but Porzingis is probably the best and more appropriate selection of all of the fourth overall picks taken in the last 10 years. He entered the draft as 2015’s mystery man. Outside of international scouts, all we knew about him came from EuroLeague highlights and a workout tape. But that was enough. In said footage, we saw a 7-foot-3 center who could shoot it like a guard, as well as run and leap like a wing. The lanky Latvian won over many prior to draft night – and the rest shortly after.
Porzingis averaged an impressive 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 33.3 percent on three-point attempts as a rookie. Fast forward to the 2019-20 season and he averaged an impressive 19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks on 34.9 percent shooting from deep. And remember, Porzingis was still working his way back to form following a major knee injury suffered in the 2017-18 season – which he’d seemingly done successfully, having averaged 24.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game with 36.7 percent shooting from three in the most recent two-month stretch (14 games in February and March).
Porzingis is about as good as it gets with the fourth overall pick. He should inspire hope for the Timberwolves, who will pick fourth if the NBA chooses to skip the Draft Lottery.
Jaren Jackson Jr. – Memphis Grizzlies – 2019
Jackson Jr. appeared as safe a pick as possible. He’s big, stretches the floor, defends multiple positions and seems to be a genuinely nice guy. But teams have been fooled by all of those attributes before.
Only Jackson Jr. has been everything the Grizzlies hoped he’d be – and more. He was fifth overall in scoring per game amongst rookies (14.8 ppg). He was also second in blocks, and he shot 35.9 percent on three-point attempts. And that was before he paired up with rookie phenom Ja Morant.
Alongside Morant, Jackson Jr. averaged 16.9 points and 1.6 blocks per game, and he shot 39.7 percent on three-point attempts. He’ll have to improve his rebounding, but Jackson Jr. looks like a star in the making. He and Morant should be among the best one-two punches in the NBA for years to come.
Tyreke Evans – Sacramento Kings – 2009
Evans was perceived far differently just a few short years ago. He looked the part of a borderline star early on in his career, and he even secured the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 2009-10. And while he’s never been able to re-capture the magic he produced in his rookie season – Evans is one of five rookies in NBA history to average 20-5-5 (Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Luka Doncic) – he still put forth a number of successful seasons, including averaging 15-plus points per game seven times.
So why is Evans headlining the misses section of this article? Namely, because he got himself suspended for two years in the spring of 2019 for violating the league’s drug policy. And while he’s put up nice numbers: he only made it to the playoffs twice, went right before Stephen Curry (No. 7) and DeMar DeRozan (9), while Jrue Holiday (17) and Ricky Rubio (5) also had better careers.
So while Evans looked like a hit in the making, his inability to develop on his phenomenal rookie season along with his poor decision-making render him the most disappointing miss.
Dion Waiters – Cleveland Cavaliers – 2012
Waiters was selected in a weird draft – one in which we saw probably the biggest bust of the decade in Anthony Bennett taken first overall. The selection of Waiters wasn’t initially seen as unfavorable – he averaged 12.6 points and shot better than 36 percent from long range during his sophomore season at Syracuse.
But the problem with the Waiters choice is his lack of development in the NBA. He averaged essentially as many points per game in his rookie season (14.7) as he did in the fifth year – which was his most successful at 15.8. And he never really committed himself to getting or staying in shape.
This season has been especially rocky for Waiters. He averaged a career-low 9.6 points per game – only the second time in his eight-year career he’s scored less than 10. And that doesn’t get into his three suspensions (for failure to adhere to team policies, violation of team rules, continued insubordination, unprofessional conduct and allegedly ingesting a marijuana edible prior to boarding a team plane) either.
To make matters worse, Waiters was selected ahead of Damian Lillard. He’s been inconsistent at best and teams expect more from a fourth overall pick than what any of his three employers received.
Dragan Bender – Phoenix Suns – 2016
Bender was unfairly compared to Porzingis in the pre-draft analysis based entirely on the fact that they were both skilled European bigs. The comparison wasn’t fair to Bender, who struggled to secure minutes in his rookie season. He averaged just 3.4 points over 13.3 minutes per game. And his production hasn’t really picked up.
There is a functional glimmer of hope – Bender played his best basketball with Golden State to close the 2019-20 season by averaging 9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 21.7 minutes per game. But function and expectations are usually not aligned, and Bender hasn’t come close to living up to the hype associated with the fourth pick in the NBA Draft.
And what’s more, lots of athletes selected after Bender have prospered: Buddy Hield (No. 6), Jamal Murray (7), Domantas Sabonis (11), Caris LeVert (20), Pascal Siakam (27) and Dejounte Murray (29). Granted, there is typically a consensus of players that’ll go as high as Bender did, but, needless to say, the Suns would have been thrilled with any of those other options. He’s a 7-foot small forward, so teams will continue being intrigued by him – but he hasn’t done enough to be classified as anything but a miss.
Josh Jackson – Phoenix Suns – 2017
Nevermind the players who Jackson was taken before – a number of whom possess far more potential than does Jackson after just two seasons. But the selection of Jackson is a bad miss because his negative attributes might have been identified if the Suns were more critical.
Jackson was seen as a versatile prospect. He put up 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while establishing a reputation as a hard-nosed defender. But he did not come without his share of baggage. The 6-foot-8 forward was suspended by Kansas head coach Bill Self for “duty upon striking an unattended vehicle, inattentive driving and improper backing” on campus in 2017. He was also charged with criminal property damage in 2016.
The Suns have a poor draft history in recent years, botching multiple selections (see: Dragon Bender). This seems to be a top-down, organizational issue, described in this 2019 ESPN article.
Jackson’s critics have been vindicated since draft night, three years ago. The youngster has been arrested at least twice since that occasion – once for felony escape and resisting arrest and another for allowing his child to become intoxicated. He’s also been fined $35,000 by the NBA for making a “menacing gesture” and again by the Suns for missing an autograph appearance.
Despite posting decent stats –13.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals and .5 blocks per game as a rookie – Jackson was dealt to Memphis as part of a deal that returned Kyle Korver and Jevon Carter. Phoenix was clearly just fed up with Jackson’s behavior.
He’s since turned his career around to some degree, staying out of trouble and establishing himself as an effective weapon in the G-League – so much so, that he was recalled to the Grizzlies on January 29 for the final 18 games played in 2019-20.
Still, Jackson’s among the most disappointing fourth picks in recent memory – mostly because his issue has been more about maturity than talent.
Middle Of The Road
Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic – 2012
Aaron Gordon is a strange case. He was definitely viewed as the best remaining player at No. 4. And he’s mostly lived up to the billing. He’s arguably the best player taken in the entire draft not named Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic – and, of course, the latter was drafted in the second and wasn’t getting serious first-round consideration.
If he had he taken another step forward in 2019-20, Gordon may have made the hits list. Instead, his output took a hit as his scoring average dropped to 14.4 points per game, with his three-point and overall field goal percentages falling along with it.
But he’s still viewed positively around the league as both a versatile defender and a unique offensive talent who can bang down low and help initiate the offense. He’s probably due for a change of scenery, but he’s still viewed as a unique talent with untapped upside.
De’Andre Hunter – Atlanta Hawks – 2019
Hunter is the most recent fourth overall pick, so it’s tough to impart too much judgment. He came in with relatively high expectations, with the Hawks sending the eighth, 17th and 35th overall picks to the Pelicans (via the Lakers) for the rights to Hunter. All of those picks turned into Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Didi Louzada (did not play in NBA in 2019-20).
While Hunter’s 3-and-D skill set was badly needed by Atlanta, this writer can’t help but think that he might have been better served to land on a team with fewer wings. He’ll never maximize his potential in Atlanta splitting time with Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter.
But he didn’t even get to finish his rookie year due to a now-shortened NBA season. In 63 games, he averaged a respectable12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists, posting a below-average PER (8.6). Hunter’s biggest let down was probably his three-ball; he shot 41.9 percent on 2.8 attempts during his sophomore season at Virginia, compared to the 35.5 percent on 2.7 attempts with the Hawks.
Hunter’s story is still mostly unwritten. He seems to have the right attitude and skillset to succeed – but he’ll probably struggle to gain any real traction in the near future. It’s unlikely that he’ll go down as a miss, but his path to a hit is a tough one, too.
The Role Players
Wesley Johnson – Minnesota Timberwolves – 2010
Johnson is best known for getting crossed out of his shoes by James Harden. But he was selected over DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward and Paul George. He was also taken ahead of Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and Avery Bradley. A recent Bleacher Report article that re-drafted the 2010 NBA Draft slotted Johnson at No. 19 overall.
Prior to leaving the NBA for the EuroLeague in 2019, Johnson was good for 7.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He never broached the 30 minute per game mark across an entire season, and he never cemented himself as a full-time starter. Calling Johnson a role player might seem a tad generous, but he played a consistent role for four of his six teams – which can’t be said for all of the guys on this list.
Tristan Thompson – Cleveland Cavaliers – 2011
Thompson is the hardest fourth pick to classify. By some measures, he’s a hit – e.g., he averaged a double-double in each of the last two seasons. By others, he’s… less of one as he failed to break double-digit points per game in five of his nine NBA seasons, four of which were played alongside LeBron James.
Ultimately, he’s probably an upper-echelon role player. He’s been around for long enough to know what you’ll get from him. He’ll work his butt off rebounding the ball and defending. But he’s not a versatile enough defender to stay with faster stretch-fours (e.g., Jayson Tatum), and his shooting – while adequate – leaves something to be desired.
What makes this pick truly hard to classify is the fact that the Cavaliers passed on Klay Thomson, Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard to select Thompson – but he was also an integral part of the franchise’s first NBA championship.
Maybe he belongs in multiple categories.
Cody Zeller – Charlotte Hornets – 2013
No one saw Zeller as a franchise-saver. Still, he probably could’ve been more successful had he been drafted into a better-run organization. Instead, he was selected by Charlotte, who really only had a young Kemba Walker to build around. They needed a savior. Instead, they got a role player.
Zeller was – and remains – an athletic big man who can run the floor extremely well. He registered career highs in point (11.1) and rebounds (7.1) in 2019-20 – so it’s great that he’s still getting better. But after seven seasons in the league, we probably can’t expect much more. Further, the 2013 NBA Draft saw the Hornets pass on CJ McCollum, Steven Adams, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dennis Schroder – so it’d be really hard to pass Zeller off as a hit. But he is still playing for Charlotte, so at least there’s that.
To say that the NBA Draft is an inexact science is a huge understatement. Some franchise cornerstones never pan out, while unknown prospects become stars. The fourth pick clearly presents its own unique challenges, mixing pressure with fewer prospects. Ultimately, teams understand the risks associated with picking so high. But there is still no way of guaranteeing a successful pick – it’s what makes the NBA Draft the event that it is.
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