Christmas is nearly here and, while the NBA is ramping up for its showcase games, some of the league’s teams are already looking ahead to the 2020 NBA Draft. While it’s still quite early in the process, this year’s class seems to be flying under the radar, with prominent players electing to skip college entirely — or in the case of James Wiseman, leaving suddenly — and others battling high-profile injury issues. As a result, there is a bit of a jumble materializing, but, with plenty of time to iron things out, it is time to weigh in on the class for the first time in mock draft form.
As a reminder (more than anything else), team fit is a very small part of the calculus for a mock draft in December, even if it is taken into account to some degree. Things will become clearer as we move through the basketball calendar but, for now, let’s partake in some hypotheticals with talented prospects joining non-playoff teams … with one trade-based exception.
Note: Draft order reflects FiveThirtyEight projections as of Dec. 19
1. New York Knicks – Anthony Edwards (G, Georgia)
At the moment, the Knicks don’t have the worst record in the NBA and it’s quite likely that they don’t land this pick, especially when remembering there is a lottery process in the offing. Still, New York would have the keys to the draft in this scenario and, in short, that allows them to take my No. 1 overall player. There is still time for Edwards to be unseated, but the 6’5 power guard holds quite a case for No. 1 overall status. He’s operating in the shadows for a pretty bad college team, but Edwards has the ability to create for himself and others offensively, while bringing the traits that you’d want to see defensively. He isn’t on the level of Luka Doncic or Zion Williamson as uber-elite prospects, but Edwards checks the most boxes right now and gets a bump for positional versatility.
2. Golden State Warriors – James Wiseman (C, Memphis)
It wasn’t jarring to see Wiseman choose to forego the rest of his college career this week but it does mean that NBA teams (and outside analysts) won’t have a ton to go on with the talented big man. Wiseman’s allure comes with elite-level defensive potential and, in today’s NBA, center prospects almost have to be elite on one end of the floor to earn this kind of top billing. Offensively, it remains to be seen as to what Wiseman will look like but, provided he capitalizes on the flashes of rim-running at Memphis, there is a top-five player in this class in his profile. Oh, and the Warriors pretty much can’t take a point guard, so he lands here for that reason.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers – LaMelo Ball (G, Illawarra Hawks)
We’ve come to the portion of the mock draft where team fit is going to be big. Ball is, in my mind, the best player available here but the Cavs would have a very tough time taking yet another lead guard. For the sanctity of the mock, we’ll send Ball to Cleveland, highlighting his size, passing vision, and big-time ball-handling. The biggest swing skill (by far) for Ball will be his jumper and, right now, offensive efficiency is a large concern. Still, the overall package is very intriguing and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to an injury that currently has him sidelined.
4. San Antonio Spurs – Cole Anthony (G, North Carolina)
Knee surgery is going to keep Anthony sidelined for a few weeks and his college experience isn’t going according to plan on a shaky UNC team. He is a big-time NBA prospect, though, and that is what matters here. San Antonio isn’t quite as guard-heavy as Cleveland but, again, this is not an ideal fit. He just happens to be No. 4 on my board and there is something of a drop-off after Anthony. There are well-founded concerns with his finishing but, if Anthony can assuage them, he could rise from here.
5. Atlanta Hawks – Tyrese Maxey (G, Kentucky)
In a lot of ways, the Hawks are the most interesting team so far. They’d have a hard time selecting Ball or Anthony to pair with Trae Young and it isn’t as if Maxey, at 6’3, is an ideal backcourt partner in terms of size. With that said, he’s almost in a tier of his own right here and the Hawks could make it work. He has proven himself as an offensive threat at Kentucky and, unlike Anthony and Ball, he is probably not a point guard in the NBA. His defensive tools, particularly in terms of strength and tenacity, are there and the Hawks could really use another scoring option.
6. Charlotte Hornets – Jaden McDaniels (F, Washington)
I don’t have McDaniels this high on my big board but, in short, there is no evidence that a franchise owned by Michael Jordan will draft anything but a major college player with this pick. It’s certainly possible that I’m proven wrong but, even this early, I just can’t assign one of the international players to Charlotte. As for McDaniels, the 6’9 forward is more of a wing than anything else right now, but he has an intriguing defensive upside with length and athleticism. Throw in the potential that he shoots it, to join with his already established ball-handling and feel, and this is an intriguing pick.
7. Chicago Bulls – Deni Avdija (F, Maccabi Tel Aviv)
I really, really like Avdija, but there are questions. He’s not a fantastic athlete and, beyond that, his shooting is a legitimate concern. In fact, it is hard to see him being anything more than a role player without substantial gains on the perimeter. He’s still incredible skilled and has a basketball IQ that rivals anyone in this class. The statistical translations also like him but this is a simple evaluation. If you think he can shoot, this feels right. If you think he can’t, it’s too high.
8. Washington Wizards – Theo Maledon (G, ASVEL)
Maledon is averaging paltry per-game numbers with ASVEL and most people haven’t seen him. The 18-year-old is pretty talented, though, and he brings an intriguing blend of size and skill as a potential lead guard. Maledon is 6’4 and I think he’ll shoot. He’s also shown plenty of flashes of craft and creation ability, and there is athletic upside. A lot of players in this tier are interchangeable, and he’s included in that, but I like the idea of him next to Bradley Beal eventually.
9. Boston Celtics (via Memphis) – RJ Hampton (G, New Zealand Breakers)
Hampton is yet another player battling injury, as he is expected to miss several more weeks with a hip ailment. That, combined with his presence in the NBL, means that most people won’t have a chance to really see him. Hampton was a huge high school recruit and, at 6’5, there is a package of skills, combined with size, that is easy to like. The biggest question with Hampton, especially when compared to the top guards, is with his feel and creativity. He is a great athlete and has skills, but the natural basketball IQ stuff doesn’t always pop.
10. Detroit Pistons – Nico Mannion (G, Arizona)
If Hampton has feel concerns, Mannion is the opposite. That is one of his big selling points and, quite honestly, you could sell me on him being one of the highest-IQ players in the country. He’s a great passer already and, when it’s going well, it goes really well. The shot looks good as well and, in short, Mannion isn’t shy about getting up attempts off the dribble. The problem is that Mannion doesn’t really do anything inside the arc right now aside from the occasional floater and he really doesn’t appear to be a threat to get to the rim. Combine that with questionable defense and it’s possible it just never works as a full-time starter. I’m intrigued enough by the upside to have him here but there is fluidity.
11. New Orleans Pelicans – Tyrese Haliburton (G, Iowa State)
For the record, it would be kind of a surprise if the Pelicans were drafting outside of the top-10 at this point but, hey, the projections are the projections. It’s also very early in the process. At any rate, Haliburton is a polarizing prospect and we’re kind of splitting the difference. He’s been wildly fun to watch with the ball in his hands, flashing elite-level passing and combining it with size. He is also very productive as the best player for Iowa State and his basketball IQ really pops in the college setting. I just don’t know if he can score and create for himself at the NBA level. It definitely feels like Haliburton is safe as a quality role player but, in the lottery, some teams will want more.
12. Phoenix Suns – Killian Hayes (G, Ulm)
People are very split on Hayes and at least some of that likely comes from the unknown. His shooting is a big-time question mark but, at 6’5, there are lead guard traits that are easy to like. He definitely looks like a young player, which can be a plus or a minus, but he is one of the younger guys in the class anyway. It’s an upside play, to be sure, but the Suns don’t have their point guard of the future yet.
13. Sacramento Kings – Obi Toppin (F/C, Dayton)
Toppin is not an upside play. He’ll by 22 in March and is the oldest player in my top 25. With that said, he’s been obscenely productive in a pro-like system at Dayton. He knows what to do on the offensive end of the floor, using his body effectively and operating in an efficient manner. He’s kind of a “tweener” but, right now, that is perfectly fine in the NBA when you are as efficient and effective as he is. Offensively, I think he’ll help an NBA team pretty quickly. The big swing is defense and, if he can’t hold up in a major role, he might just be a bench big. That’s a risk in the lottery.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves – Isaac Okoro (F, Auburn)
Okoro fits into a player archetype that I love. He’s got one big-time question mark in his perimeter shooting and, if it doesn’t click in that particular area, the upside is relatively low unless he’s an uber-elite defender. However, Okoro might just be that, combining a strong frame with hyper-athleticism and feel. At the end of the lottery, there is absolutely nothing wrong with drafting a player that doesn’t have star upside offensively and, in my mind, Okoro doesn’t have it. I do think he can be a starter-level player offensively, though, and if he hits that benchmark, No. 14 is too low for what he’ll produce.