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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 8 Picks

Matt John checks out a decade’s worth of No. 8 overall picks in the NBA Draft.

Matt John

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If you’ve been tuning in, Basketball Insiders has been looking into how each lottery pick has fared in the league since 2009. We’ve categorized each player as a hit, miss, in between or a role player. We started at the top with the first overall pick and we’ve been making our way down since. At the top of the draft, the criteria for what makes a pick a hit was tougher. Being picked at the top or near the top means you’re supposed to be the face of a new era of basketball for your franchise. Now that we’re going lower and lower in the draft, the bar starts to lower. In short, the lower the pick, the lower the expectation.

That brings us to who we’re looking at today — the eighth overall pick. Midway through the lottery, the eighth overall pick is expected to be good, but the likelihood nor the ceiling is nearly as high as those taken earlier. And that couldn’t be more apparent when taking a gander at how the eighth overall picks have fared since 2009.

In short, it’s far from impressive.

This particular group of players had some who were out of the league at one point but have since either found their place in the league or look they are about to. There are others who were on an upward trajectory then came crashing down. The eighth overall picks really are something to behold when you put them all together. Let’s take a look.

The Hits

Terrence Ross – Toronto Raptors – 2012

If the standards were higher, Ross probably wouldn’t be considered a hit as much of an in-between type — more proof of how mediocre this group has been. Anyway, Ross came into the league as an explosive athlete, which made for some very entertaining highlight reels. But, as fun as it was to watch him jump out of the building, it seemed at first as if that’s all he was good for. And being described as “fun” is not always the same as being described as “good.”

But, while he was the former with Toronto, Ross could be described as both since being traded to Orlando.

A fair amount of guys fold when they have more opportunities with the ball in their hand. But Ross hasn’t been one of them. Over the last two years, he’s put up career numbers with the Magic, averaging nearly 15 points per game. While he’s not one of the league’s premier go-to scorers, Ross has shown that he can alter the game by himself when he’s feeling it.

The shame of it all is that Orlando puts the middle in “middle-of-the-pack”. So, while his contributions have been strong, they’re not going into a particularly special product right now. If he were on a better team, his numbers probably wouldn’t be as good, but he’s done enough to prove that he could change a team’s chances.

It’s good to see Ross find his niche in the NBA. Reading it again, however, his claim to fame as a hit from this group is that he’s evolved into one of the league’s better sixth men. Good for him. Bad for pretty much everyone else this list.

Collin Sexton – Cleveland Cavaliers – 2018

No matter how well this group had turned out, Sexton would be labeled a hit no matter what. He hasn’t taken the league by storm since coming in, but he has done his part since arriving in Cleveland. This season alone, Sexton is averaging nearly 21 points on 47/38/86 splits. Factoring in the turmoil the Cavs went through this season, it’s hard not to be impressed by his progress.

It also makes you wonder how the issues going on behind the scenes affected Sexton’s production on the court. Did the internal tension between the players and John Beilein hinder Sexton from being better or are his stats just another example of good-stats/bad-team numbers? The more we see from the Cavaliers post-Beilein, the better picture we’ll get.

Sexton came into the NBA with a good amount of excitement centered around both his speed and his scoring abilities. He’s proven that he can definitely score at an NBA level. It’s the rest of his game that needs some fine-tuning. His assist-to-turnover ratio is horrid, while his defense, much improved in his first two seasons, is still going to need significant work.

Those issues aside, Sexton’s biggest task ahead is simply winning games. Cleveland had seen some good stretches this season, even more post-Beilein, but they need to see it on more of a consistent basis. And that starts with Sexton.

And hey, all things considered, at least something good came from the Kyrie trade.

The Misses

Jordan Hill – New York Knicks – 2009

Was Hill a miss or more of a role player? He had an eight-year career in the NBA, which is solid. But, as the eighth overall pick though, he never played good enough to justify the selection. It doesn’t help that he was taken one spot ahead of DeMar DeRozan, either.

Hill put up solid numbers for a couple of seasons here and there, his best coming with the Los Angeles Lakers between 2012 and 2015. But, at arguably the lowest point in the history of the franchise, does that production really count for anything? Or were his numbers simply inflated because somebody (read: anybody) had to go out there and play.

The only good teams he played a somewhat prominent role were with the Lakers and the Indiana Pacers, and they didn’t really play him that much when the stakes were higher. It was tough to label him as a miss, but he just didn’t really leave much of a legacy on the NBA.

Nik Stauskas – Sacramento Kings – 2014

We already dove into why Stauskas busted in Sacramento. So, without trying to repeat what’s already been said, let’s start with this: the Kings taking Stauskas made absolutely no sense back in 2014, while the pick has looked even worse in hindsight. Not only had Sacramento taken a sharpshooter the draft prior in Ben McLemore, but, looking back, Gary Harris, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson or Bogdan Bogdanovic (whose rights they already owned), would have been better choices at shooting guard.

Getting back to Stauskas, it’s safe to say that he basically became Jimmer Fredette 2.0 in Sacramento, if not worse. A sharpshooter that proved to not really have the sharpest NBA shot. Unlike Jimmer, Stauskas was only with the Kings for one season, and he never really got his game going even when the opportunity to prove himself came with other teams.

Much like Jimmer, you have to wonder if maybe Stauskus’ career turns out differently if it didn’t start with the Kings period.

Stanley Johnson – Detroit Pistons – 2015

Johnson is another example of why entrusting a young prospect with raw potential is never a foolproof plan. No one had any qualms with Detroit taking Johnson when they did in 2015. He even looked like his career had a fair amount of promise following an okay rookie campaign. That predicated from his excellent defense, which was on full display when he matched up against LeBron in the playoffs that same year.

“If he could just learn to shoot” was always what followed any discussion around Johnson — and he had the potential to play an elite 3-and-D role. Sadly, his rookie year was as good as it got for him. The complete lack of any progress in his offense saw Johnson’s numbers stagnate. Soon enough, it had him shipped out of Detroit entirely.

Johnson now resides at the end of the Toronto Raptors’ bench. And, while getting another go-round in the NBA next season isn’t completely out of the question for him, the odds wouldn’t appear to be in his favor for sticking it out longterm.

Frank Ntilikina – New York Knicks – 2017

Frank Ntilikina is to Knicks fans what Dante Exum was to Jazz fans. Those who believe in him believe that he has the potential to be special but he just hasn’t been given the opportunity to prove himself. Those who don’t believe in him think that the lackluster numbers he’s put up speak for themselves.

The similarities between the two are quite stunning, actually. Both are good defenders whose question marks specifically come from the offensive side of the ball. Both occasionally flash on that side of the ball, but their inconsistency has prevented their teams from trusting them completely.

The difference between them — aside from Exum’s demonstrably higher expectations — is that Exum played for a franchise that knows what it’s doing and has always had a good direction. The Knicks, suffice it to say, do not know what they’re doing. Of course, there is nowhere to go but up; if their next head coach can chart a new course and elevate the team’s play Ntilikina just might turn it around.

The Middle of the Road

Brandon Knight – Detroit Pistons – 2011

Knight’s career, to some degree, is a tragedy that doesn’t get talked about enough. When his name was brought up in his early days as a pro, he was usually the butt of the joke because of how often he was involved in several rather unfortunate plays. Not too long after that, injuries took him off the court for what seemed like an eternity. He’s since gotten past that, but now he is barely still in the NBA. All of that has overshadowed the fact that, at one point, Knight’s potential career looked promising.

Before Giannis Antetokounmpo became the MVP we see today, it could be argued that Knight was the Milwaukee Bucks’ best player. Not only that, but he was the best player on a playoff team, a team that regressed after they traded him to Phoenix for Michael Carter-Williams and used the money saved to sign Greg Monroe.

Since then he’s been a ghost. He was brought onto a dysfunctional Phoenix Suns organization, suffered a slew of injuries, and has been a journeyman over the last year and a half, going from the Houston Rockets to Cleveland and back to Detroit. At every stop, he made minimal impact. It just doesn’t sound possible for a man’s career to fall this far at 28-years-old.

Had he stayed healthy, Knight could have been the best pick in this group. Of course, there’s still time for him to reclaim the title. Since returning to Detroit, he’s started to look like his former self, so that’s something. Unfortunately, it’s Detroit.

Marquese Chriss – Phoenix Suns – 2016

For a while there, it looked like Chriss was the worst-case scenario for a boom-or-bust prospect. His potential impressed enough scouts at the combine that he could have been picked third overall in 2016. Unfortunately, that potential never came to fruition — he bounced from Phoenix to Houston and Cleveland, playing so poorly that he appeared to be quick flameout.

Since the Golden State Warriors brought him in, however, optimism surrounding Chriss has been revived.

The Warriors brought in Chriss as a no-harm, no-foul experiment, one that could’ve gone in any direction. For Chriss, it has been a rebirth. Before the league’s hiatus, he’d put up arguably the best numbers of his career, averaging 9.3 points, 1.9 assists and 6.2 rebounds a game. He’s also been incredibly efficient from the field, shooting 54.5 percent.

If you at his play at more of a game-by-game basis, there’s even more progress from Chriss. Since Jan. 20, he’s come along quite nicely, having averaged 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds and shot 61 percent from the field.

What’s led to the uptick in production? It could be a number of different factors. Perhaps the move from power forward to center full-time, where Chriss rarely played in his earlier years, has something to do with it. And, for both Chriss and the Warriors, the best could be yet to come; Chriss has yet to play with Klay Thompson yet, while sharing minimal time with Stephen Curry. Next season, we might begin to see what Chriss truly is made of.

Jaxson Hayes – New Orleans Pelicans – 2019

Speaking of ultra-athletes, New Orleans definitely got two in the 2019 draft. We all know how good one of them is going to be, or, if we’re being fair, how good he already is. Then there’s Hayes.

There’s a lot to like about Hayes physically. He is long, athletic and can jump out of the gym. There may not be a player in the league who has made dunking look as effortless as Hayes has, though his own teammate Zion Williamson certainly could make a case.

Speaking of Williamson, prior to his return from injury, Hayes played a much more prominent role with the Pelicans. Since, however, Hayes has, for the most part, been riding the pine behind Williamson and Derrick Favors. As time goes on, we should see more and more of what Hayes is capable of. But the Pelicans, justifiably so, are playing the more talented rookie and the more dependable veteran.

That’s not a shot at Hayes. He’s young and oozes potential. Anyone with eyes can see that. There’s only one question. Can he and Zion mesh in the long-term if neither develop into floor spacers? If they don’t, New Orleans will have to make some changes, but that’s thinking way down the line.

The Role Players

Al-Farouq Aminu – Los Angeles Clippers – 2010

Aminu was another one of those players that had some trouble finding himself in the league. It didn’t help that in that time, Paul George, who was taken after him in their draft, had blossomed into one of the league’s best wings.

We know Aminu’s never going to justify that decision by the Los Angeles Clippers. But, eventually, he was able to prove his worth as a defensive specialist. His breakthrough with the Dallas Mavericks in 2014 led to a nice payday the following summer with the Portland Trail Blazers.

His defense, along with a freshly developed three-pointer, played a part in stabilizing the Blazers after they had lost everyone that made them a pseudo-contender the previous two seasons. And, considering the crazy contracts Portland handed out the next summer, Aminu was definitely worth his price.

Aminu fits with the modern NBA. What he does helps his team. Let’s just hope that next season, Aminu can continue to do so after a knee injury cut his most recent season short.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Detroit Pistons – 2013

Want to know something strange? Look at Caldwell-Pope’s numbers over the course of his career. They were better when he was in Detroit, and his scoring numbers were better his first two years with the Lakers than this year. Yet, everything would seem to indicate that the 2019-20 season was when he figured it all out.

Lakers’ fans didn’t take to Caldwell-Pope because of his salary and his questionable shot selection — his continued employment with the team was viewed as a sunk cost because of their affiliation with Rich Paul via LeBron James. Of course, if that’s what it cost to bring in James in the first place, it’s worth it, but that’s neither here nor there.

And, even if it once was the reason they kept him despite the price tag, it would no longer seem to be so. Efficiency wise, the 2019-20 season was the best of Caldwell-Pope’s career. The 47/39/78 splits, combined with the much-improved shot selection, have allowed him to play a role with the team. On the other end, he’s certainly been a factor for the Lakers and the league’s top defense.

As James and Anthony Davis gear up for a postseason run, they’re going to need every other hand on deck. And, so far, Caldwell-Pope has done his part.

The eighth overall picks have underwhelmed as a whole since 2009 —  they haven’t done themselves any favors, either. Most of the players either didn’t start out well, haven’t done well or have been strictly average. You wouldn’t expect that from a lottery selection, but that’s where we are.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

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

Matt John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

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

David Yapkowitz

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

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

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

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

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

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

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

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

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

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

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

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

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

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

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

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

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

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Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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