With March only a month away and various tournaments rapidly approaching, the 2020 NBA Draft is starting to crystallize. This freshman class is probably one of the least inspiring in recent memory, but players like Anthony Edwards, Cole Anthony, Nico Mannion, and Onyeka Okongwu have staked their claims to be lottery players, and should hear their names called in the first half of the first round come June.
After that, there’s kind of a large, teeming mass of 50-60 players, all of whom seem more or less as good as one another, vying for those next spots. This is a notoriously flat draft class, with few true top-5 picks but a strangely strong top-45. Teams that know what they’re looking for should be able to do pretty well in finding guys who can stick in the NBA. Here’s a few that you’re not likely to see on most mocks, but have what it takes to play in the league for a long time.
DeAndre Williams, Evansville, forward
The first thing to mention about Williams, a 6’9 sophomore, is that he hasn’t played since Jan. 4 with a back injury. The second thing is that he’s absolutely ancient for a sophomore — he turns 22 this year. The third thing is that he’s one of the best players in the entire country. While Kansas transfer Sam Cunliffe was the star for EU when they knocked off then-No. 1 Kentucky, Williams has been the engine ever since.
Williams is shooting 70 percent from the field, 48 percent from three, and just under 79 percent from the line, currently sporting a sweltering 76.6 true shooting percentage on a strong 24.8 usage. He’s 11-for-11 on dunks this season and is shooting 54-for-62 at the rim (87.1 percent). Of the 28 players since 2008 to tally 60 TS%, 25 AST%, 2 STL% and 2 BLK% — a list which includes Lonzo Ball, James Harden, Ja Morant, Jeff Teague, Jeremy Lin, Delon Wright, and Derrick White — he’s the only one to shoot 80 percent at the rim.
Perhaps the best stat to prove just how important Williams has been to his team this season is that since he got hurt against Valparaiso, the Purple Aces are 0-9 and have lost all but two of those games by double-digits. If he were still playing and putting up the numbers he had before getting hurt, I’d have Williams as a no-doubt All-American. As he is now, he’s still mostly unknown, and while I doubt three weeks of concentrated play is enough to get him drafted, he should at least consider testing the waters. I am, it should be noted, going to say that about all of these players…
Grant Riller, Charleston, guard
…except this one. Riller is a senior, one of the most accomplished in the country. A two time All-Conference and mid-major All-American performer and one of the top scorers in College of Charleston history, Riller is in the midst of his best year yet as the best slashing guard in America. Having upped his percentages from all over the floor to go along with more consistent playmaking and even more free throw attempts, Riller is about as dominant as a college guard can be under the rim — he’s only dunked six times this year. He’s scored in double figures in every game in 2019-20, and has scored 20 or more in 15 of them.
What makes Riller stand out for a 6’3 player is his skill and power around the rim. He’s shooting just under 70 percent from within three feet this season, being assisted on only 11 percent of his makes (a mere nine buckets). That’s an incredible amount of self-creation in the lane for a sub-6’5 player (Anthony Edwards, for example, is around 39 percent), and it’s the core of what makes Riller one of the better upperclassman guards in this draft class. It’s a signature skill he has that very few of the other second and third-level guards have, and it should be enough to get him drafted.
David Johnson, Louisville, guard
Now we arrive at the crown jewel, possibly my favorite player in college basketball. After missing the first few games of the season due to offseason shoulder surgery, the 6’5 freshman point guard has worked his way into Louisville’s regular rotation, bursting onto the scene in ACC play with a monster game against Duke in the Cardinals’ signature victory this year. He’s only scored in double figures once since then, but the signs of a potential lottery talent are there, and part of the reason for Johnson’s inconsistency is the fact that he’s playing behind three upperclassman guards on a good team that has aspirations of winning a national championship. The level of production he’s hitting despite that hangup is startling.
Here’s the list of freshmen since 2008 who, like Johnson, registered a 25 AST%, 2 STL%, 1 BLK%, and a BPM (Box Plus/Minus) of at least 5: Lonzo Ball, D’Angelo Russell, Marcus Smart, Ben Simmons, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Markelle Fultz, John Wall, Michael Carter-Williams, Andrew Jones, and Dennis Smith Jr.
Everyone one of those guys has made some noise in the NBA, save Jones (who is currently still playing at Texas after missing a year due to a leukemia diagnosis). I’m not saying Johnson is a sure thing, but if he decides to test the waters this season, any team who needs a 6’5 guard should be very interested in him at the back end of the first round.
Tyler Bey, Colorado, forward
The best player on one of the most surprising top-25-caliber teams, Bey is an all-world defensive center stuck in the body of a 6’7 wing. Ten years ago, I doubt he’d even be considered a prospect, but with the emergence of more switch-heavy team defense concepts and the importance of deflections in the NBA, a player like Bey could carve out a long, productive career as a small-ball big in the same mould of a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Offensively, Bey is a rebounder, screener, and iso attacker with a huge Free Throw Rate (exactly .720 at the time of this writing). He won’t be a high usage guy in the NBA, but should succeed in the same ways as guys like Maurice Harkless or Dorian Finney-Smith inside the arc: off of cuts and on garbage plays. It’s hard to define a fake shooter in college, but I’ve seen enough of Bey to say that his 75 percent from the line and 50 percent from three are not bankable number at the next level, but there’s at least something to build off of, unlike MKG.
Defensively, his thin frame belies his incredible strength and timing as a paint protector. One of only five players in the country with 4 BLK% and 3 STL%, he’s a king of deflections, with great hands and great rotations. Whether or not he can really contain guards and smaller wings will determine what kind of pro he is whenever he decides to declare. It should probably be this year.