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NBA Daily: Trade Targets – Northwest Division

The Northwest Division has quite a few players who could alter the playoff race should they be traded before the deadline. Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ “Trade Targets” series.

Matt John

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Monday morning, Jack Winter started Basketball Insiders’ newest series titled Trade Targets, where he looked at the best players that could potentially be on the trade market when the fateful Feb. 7 deadline arrives.

Today, we take a look at the Northwest Division. Before we get to it, we need to set the stage. With the exception of the Oklahoma City Thunder, every single team in the Northwest came into the season aiming to make the playoffs. Since the season began, everyone’s seasons have been pretty topsy-turvy.

Up until the last few weeks, there were red flags everywhere concerning the Utah Jazz’s season outlook. Now, there’s red alarms everywhere concerning Utah’s potential. Coming off their run to the Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers’ injury-plagued roster has put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. The Minnesota Timberwolves were turning some heads early on. Then, those heads instantly turned back after a miserable December. The Denver Nuggets are the one team that’s looked like a great team from the get-go, but it’s odd that they managed to keep things afloat while Nikola Jokic got himself into game shape.

The one team that’s shown consistency has oddly been the one team that didn’t have much current aspiration to begin with — Oklahoma City. With the season entering its halfway point, teams are going to look wherever they can to add to their playoff hopes. The Northwest Division has quite a few of those.

If you’re familiar with our guys up in the Northwest, then you probably know who’s going to show up on here.

Let’s just get this out of the way — this is going to be very Thunder-centric because they could very well dominate the trade buzz from here on from now until the deadline. If we’re being honest, they’ve taken over the rumor mill ever since the Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul swap, so seeing their name in any new buzz shouldn’t send any shockwaves.

We should rename the Thunder, “The Oklahoma City Clash” because the title of OKC’s season right now is “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” Even though the plan reportedly has been to trade away what they can to start fresh, they have a likable winning team on their hands.

They have all the makings of a squad who would give any contender fits in the playoffs. Yet, as much of a fun story that they’ve been, their play hasn’t deterred the front office from their original objective. Their most recent loss at the hands of the LeBron James-less and Anthony Davis-less Los Angeles Lakers served as a good reminder that they’re not going anywhere near a title.

From the looks of things, Oklahoma City is going to cut ties with all of its best players not named Shai-Gilgeous Alexander. To evaluate this fully, we have to do this in order from most expendable to least expendable. Usually, that starts with the player whose contract is the closest to expendable

Danilo Gallinari — $22,615,559

Gallinari’s return to full health is one of the stories that doesn’t get enough attention around the league. Over the years, we’ve forgotten about what he can do on the court because of both his prolonged injury history and playing for irrelevant Denver teams between Andre Iguodala’s departure and pre-Nikola Jokic.

He had quite the resurgence with the Los Angeles Clippers last season, and that’s only continued since playing for the Thunder. While Gallo has not been able to maintain the same efficiency he had in LA last season — averaging almost 20 points on 46/43/90 splits — his numbers this season, 18.3 points on 43/40/90 splits, should make him a desired asset on the market.

Plenty of teams can use a feared scorer like Gallo. His scoring abilities won’t make him an alpha dog but a very respectable secondary scorer. Teams like Toronto, Phoenix, and, for some reason, Boston, have expressed interest in Gallinari and for good reason. His ability to score from just about anywhere can make a huge difference in the playoffs.

The only qualm is the expiration date. Teams don’t usually pay top dollar for an expiring deal. As good as Gallinari is, OKC shouldn’t expect much of a haul for him since he’ll be looking for a new deal six months from now. Then again, their ship already came in from the deals they made last summer, so they won’t lose much sleep over it.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s best option might be just to wait it out until the summer then work out a sign-and-trade with Gallinari. That’s what Denver did back in 2017, and it got them Paul Millsap. Presti doesn’t have to get a Millsap-type to cash in on Gallo. He just has to add to an already strong foundation of assets.

Steven Adams — $25,842,697

Adams has been through it all with the Thunder. He was there when they came within inches of returning to The Finals. When they almost upset the Warriors. When they lost Kevin Durant. When Russell Westbrook had his MVP season. When Paul George came to town. When Carmelo Anthony followed. When the team bowed out in disappointing fashion. When they somewhat blew it up.

Adams has been there to witness it all.

Now, it looks like his time might be up in OKC. What’s somewhat sad about this is that Adams has been a good soldier throughout all the turmoil. He always kept his head up and did his job no matter what changes he had to go through with the Thunder. That’s one of his more subtle appeals. Adams is a presence in your locker room.

The main appeal to the New Zealander? He’s pure beef in the frontcourt. The guys clogs up the paint. Any team who needs an upgrade in the frontcourt will get its money’s worth. This season, he’s putting up a respectable 12/10, as well as putting up his usual fantastic rim protection. Adams is currently is surrendering a respectable 54.2 shooting percentage at the rim. Should he make his way to a contender, he can change the equation when defending the post.

The only teams who have been linked to Adams have been Sacramento and Atlanta. Neither team exactly fits the contender profile, but their youth movement could be a suitable change of pace for Adams, who’s only 26. It wouldn’t be the worst fate in the world, but NBA fandom would prefer to see him on a contender again.

Dennis Schroder – 15,500,000

It’s depressing that on his second team, Schroder is again playing the perfect role for him — the very overqualified backup point guard — on a team that again is facing its final days. It’s not his fault that much like how it was in Atlanta, there isn’t much use for him now in Oklahoma City.

Much attention has been given to OKC’s three-point guard lineup containing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Schroder. Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander get the most attention for that because one is a star veteran while another is a star on the rise. Not enough is being put on Schroder, which honestly is kind of unfair.

The three of them together are plus-29 when they share the court, which has the highest net rating among any Oklahoma City three-man lineup that has logged 200 minutes or more. If you don’t think Schroder has a lot to do with that, check out the net rating of the next five three-man lineups.

Chris Paul-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-22.2
Chris Paul-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-20
Danilo Gallinari-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-19.5
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-17.2
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-16.9

Seeing a pattern?

For the duration of his entire career, Schroder’s developed a reputation for being the league’s best backup point guard. On his next team, wherever that is, Schroder should slide in just fine whether if he’s starting or coming off the bench. Let’s just hope he stays there when that happens.

Chris Paul — $38,506,482

*Hot Take* Chris Paul is still an elite player.

He’s still an excellent floor general. He’s still capable of taking over games. He’s killing it from mid-range. He’s still a reliable three-point shooter. He still plays great defense. He’s no longer the very best in the league — if he was, Oklahoma City would probably keep their squad together — but his play this season has been so good that just about everyone in the league is begging for his services to be put on a contender.

It’s just the elephant in the room that’s been there since last year. As his game continues to age, his contract further plummets as an albatross. There is some draw to that, though, when you look at what he’s still able to do. He’s very available right now. Oklahoma City will do just about anything to get off his deal. As bad as that contract is, Paul has plenty of playoff experience on his belt, and he’s even proven from his time in Houston and Oklahoma City that he can adjust accordingly as his prime dwindles.

The options are limited. Only teams like Miami and Dallas have the expendable contracts to acquire Paul. Those teams have been better than advertised, yes. Are they winning a championship with their current squads? No. Does acquiring Paul change that? It’s possible. Of course then, they have to consider cap flexibility and all, which is hard to give up. This writer has also written about where he thinks CP3’s ideal team would be.

Even if he’s badly overpaid, a player with as much talent as Chris Paul can basically be had without having to exchange any valuable assets. If getting him on your team gives you a championship window, then what does it matter how much you have to pay him for the next two years?

Robert Covington — $11,301,219

The Wolves are at a crossroads right now. They could roll with this crew if they’d like. They can fight tooth and nail for a playoff spot, and maybe even get one. Doing so would make the season a success. It would probably lead to a sweep in the first round, but expectations were low coming into this season. They should be proud of themselves if they make the playoffs.

Or, they can punt on the season. Is it worth fighting that hard for such little reward that is the last playoff spot? If they decide to tank, there’s only one other team in the Western Conference that’s all but out of the playoffs right now — the Golden State Warriors. The opportunity to increase your lottery odds has never been bigger.

If they choose Option B, then Robert Covington easily becomes one of the most coveted players at the trade deadline. RoCo has one of the most desired skillsets a team vying for a championship could want. He’s an All-NBA Defense alum and has shown that he can’t be left wide open from three.

Covington’s already been in a fair amount of trade rumors. The worse Minny plays, the likelier they are to trade him because a win-now veteran like Covington doesn’t have a place on a team like that. Someone like him should be put on a team that’s fighting for more than just a playoff spot.

The upside for the Timberwolves is, because of what he does and because of how cheap his contract is, Covington should fetch some good value back. For the Timberwolves, he might be better as an asset than as a player.

Malik Beasley — $2,731,714

It’s not often you see a productive player on a rookie contract get mentioned among the more valuable trade targets. If all the buzz surrounding the Denver Nuggets and Beasley is true, then we’ve got a potential steal in the works.

After taking a leap in his third year as a pro, Beasley’s seen his minutes take somewhat of a dive this season. Going from an average of 23.2 minutes to 16.7 shouldn’t come as a welcome development for Beasley. He established himself a long-range threat last season, shooting 40.2 percent from three. While his minutes and point average have declined, Beasley’s ability to stretch the floor has not wavered, as he’s still shot 38.6 from deep on the season.

It may only get worse. Michael Porter Jr’s development is starting to get some great results. He and Beasley don’t play the same position, but as Porter gets more minutes, more players in the active rotation are going to have their minutes adjusted to make room for him. Beasley might just be the odd man out.

If that turns out to be the case, expect teams in need of a three-point shooter — or really, anyone trying to win it all — to come calling Denver. They’d be foolish to trade Beasley to a rival, so don’t be shocked if they trade him somewhere in the east if it comes to that.

He will be a restricted free agent this summer, so it’s not like the Nuggets are caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. If they trade him, it means they don’t see him as a building block going forward. If they don’t, then they clearly see value in him.

There was some temptation to put Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore on this list, but at this point in time, if they were to get traded, teams that would trade for them would pull the trigger more for matching contract purposes than to acquire their talent.

The race to the championship should only get tighter as the season goes on. If trade season plays a major role in shaping up who wins the championship this season, don’t be too shocked if the players in the Northwest Division have something to do with it.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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NBA

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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NBA

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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NBA

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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