In 2019, the race for the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft wasn’t really a race at all. With all respect to Memphis Grizzlies and former Murray State point guard Ja Morant, the lead up to the 2019 draft was all about Zion Williamson and, after only a handful of his games at Duke, a general consensus formed that the bouncing of ping-pong balls would almost fully determine where the freakishly powerful forward would begin his NBA journey. Fast-forward to 2020, though, and consensus simply isn’t a word that you will hear used about the incoming class.
Part of the divide stems from several prospects not actively participating in competitive basketball for most, or even all, of the season. James Wiseman shut it down after a suspension and some uncertainty, LaMelo Ball has battled injuries abroad, Cole Anthony missed extended time with an ailment of his own, and now Tyrese Haliburton is also out for the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign. That only scratches the surface of the uncertainty because, even if all of the players were healthy and playing, the race for the top pick might still be wide open.
As the NBA takes its All-Star break and the stretch run arrives, much will be said about this class, particularly with March Madness looming to form opinions for many observers. At this stage, however, it would almost be a surprise if a clear No. 1 emerged, leaving the mess at the top of what is widely considered to be a below-average overall class. Teams with investment in the lottery process will still be eagerly evaluating the best of the best, though, and our latest DIME mock draft is here.
Note: Draft order reflects FiveThirtyEight projections as of Feb. 16
1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Anthony Edwards (G, Georgia)
As noted above, there isn’t a clear No. 1, but many have Edwards sitting in the top spot. He hasn’t lit the world on fire at the college level despite good counting stats, struggling mightily with efficiency. The flashes have been there, though, and he brings the kind of upside that many teams would want with the top pick. Cleveland just picked back-to-back point guards, too, which could be a tiebreaker if they evaluate a lead guard like LaMelo Ball at the top of the draft.
2. Golden State Warriors – LaMelo Ball (G, Illawarra Hawks)
Candidly, I have no idea what the Warriors would do with this pick. Golden State would seemingly be a team primed to trade it but, with the value placed on 2020 picks, they might not get as much as they’d like for a top two pick. If that’s the case, Ball would be the next player in the line, but is he a perfect fit with the Warriors? I’ll stick him here for now, banking on his combination of length and acumen to carry the day. Ball’s biggest questions (shooting, defense) would be mitigated a bit playing with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and his talent is off the charts.
3. New York Knicks – Killian Hayes (G, Ulm)
Hayes has real size at 6’5 and has the skills to be a big-time piece as a lead creator. He is already someone who feels the game at an impressive level and, combined with ball-handling and play-making, that is an intriguing skill set. Hayes has come a long way within the last year and, with that improvement bringing more reason to believe in his shooting, he could be the best player in the class.
4. Detroit Pistons – James Wiseman (C, Memphis)
It’s still early but, given that I’ve heard Wiseman is the No. 1 center on the board for most teams, he lands here in place of Onyeka Okongwu. For me, Okongwu is clearly the better player at this stage, but Wiseman has the measurables that make teams comfortable. After walking away from Memphis mid-season, Wiseman will have some work to do in pre-draft settings, but he’s 7’1 with a 7’6 wingspan and boasts elite defensive potential as a result.
5. Charlotte Hornets – Cole Anthony (G, North Carolina)
The Hornets like to take players from blue blood programs and, uh, North Carolina has a particularly special place in Michael Jordan’s heart. It would be a bit odd for the Hornets to take a guard given the rise of Devonte’ Graham but Charlotte doesn’t always do things that make sense. Remember, this is a mock draft and not a big board.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves – Deni Avdija (F, Maccabi Tel-Aviv)
There is a lot of buzz about Avdija right now, and he’s always been a favorite in this space. He does a ton of things well, operating as a playmaker and defender (at least off the ball) with real size and solid enough athleticism. The big swing skill is his shooting and, ultimately, that will probable decide where he lands in June. If you believe in his shooting at all, he’s a no-question top-10 guy in this class.
7. Atlanta Hawks – Isaac Okoro (F, Auburn)
There are players with more offensive upside available, but Okoro checks a ton of boxes. The Hawks kind of followed this mold a year ago with investments in De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, but Atlanta is a team that almost can’t have too many wings. Okoro is one of the best defenders in the draft and he really understands how to play on the offensive end. His shooting is a big question but, provided he becomes even adequate as a catch-and-shoot option, his elite attributes everywhere else should make for a well-rounded player that turns into a valuable asset.
8. Chicago Bulls – Tyrese Haliburton (G, Iowa State)
This mock (one that is too early to really gauge) wouldn’t fall in great fashion for the Bulls. Chicago would have a tough time taking the best player available in Onyeka Okongwu, and the Bulls probably don’t want to draft a small point guard after the investment in Coby White. Haliburton is something of a compromise, with decent size and a bizarrely intriguing skill set. The jury is mixed on Haliburton, but he knows how to play and he fits almost anywhere.
9. Washington Wizards – Onyeka Okongwu (C, USC)
It wouldn’t be insane to argue that Okongwu is the best player in the draft. He has been incredible on a per-minute basis for USC and, if he was 6’11 instead of 6’9, NBA teams would probably have him in the top three, or even as a clear No. 1. Still, he measures at only 6’9 and, almost without fail, players fall too far because of a specific weakness in a measurable category. In 2019, it was Brandon Clarke’s height and wingspan, and he fell more than 10 spots too far. Okongwu probably won’t slide into the 20’s, but the Wizards should be thrilled if he’s available here.
10. Sacramento Kings – Jaden McDaniels (F, Washington)
Remember when I said that this was a mock draft and not a big board? McDaniels has been brutal at Washington, to the point where it should be in doubt as to whether he’s even a first-rounder, much less a lottery pick. NBA teams still seem to like him for the mythical potential that a 6’10 forward with his theoretical skill set can provide. The Kings are also… capable of just about anything. Who knows?
11. Phoenix Suns – Tyrese Maxey (G, Kentucky)
This is a “best player available” pick for the Suns, and Maxey honestly shouldn’t fall this far in a perfect world. Phoenix could also make it work from a fit perspective, with Devin Booker handling the ball quite a bit and Maxey operating as more of a combo guard that could take on the more difficult defensive assignment. It would be great value for Phoenix.
12. San Antonio Spurs – Obi Toppin (C/F, Dayton)
Toppin has been lights-out at Dayton this season, carving out a clear path to a top-15 selection in this year’s draft. Offensively, he is rivaled only by Okongwu in terms of effectiveness and efficiency for a big man, and Toppin’s offensive skill set is varied and impressive. In San Antonio, he’d fit a role immediately with room to grow beyond that, and they don’t shy away from taking older players when needed.
13. Boston Celtics (via Memphis) – Theo Maledon (G, ASVEL)
Boston doesn’t have a ton of “needs” outside of a top-end center in the future, and that player just isn’t available here. Maledon would definitely be a gamble but, from a raw talent standpoint, the Celtics can afford to take a swing. He’d also be a pretty good fit on the roster long-term if it worked, and Marcus Smart could teach him the dark arts.
14. New Orleans Pelicans – Nico Mannion (G, Arizona)
Mannion’s offensive talent is quite appealing, especially if you buy his three-point marksmanship improving. He isn’t a massive value here, but it is hard to ignore the potential of Mannion-to-Zion lobs in the near future. The Pelicans are also set up to mask his defensive vulnerability, and having a pass-first point guard of the future to keep things working would be nice.
15. Orlando Magic – R.J, Hampton (G, New Zealand Breakers)
This would be really nice for the Magic. Hampton’s stock didn’t really tumble during his NBL stint, but he didn’t pop either. There were plenty of encouraging signs, but there is uncertainty on what his optimal role is. To be safe, he’s probably a combo guard with some defensive potential, and the Magic could use more on the perimeter, even as Markelle Fultz rounds into form.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Brooklyn) – Saddiq Bey (F, Villanova)
Bey is so, so good. It’s a hard balance between falling in love with him as a prospect and projecting how early he could actually go. He is a better player than several prospects selected ahead of him here, with Bey taking very little off the table as a 6’8 forward that can defend and space the floor. Every single team needs that, and the Wolves could certainly use someone with those traits to complement Karl-Anthony Towns.
17. Portland Trail Blazers – Isaiah Stewart (C, Washington)
Stewart is a tricky evaluation coming out of Washington, especially on the defensive end. Going back to high school, he was never known for his defense, and he’s definitely more of a “traditional” big in an offensive sense. Unlike his teammate in McDaniels, Stewart has actually been good at Washington, but he’ll need to find a team that values his skill set. Portland might fit the bill with their drop scheme defensively.
18. Milwaukee Bucks (via Indiana) – Aaron Nesmith (G/F, Vanderbilt)
The Bucks don’t “need” much as the best team in the NBA, but they held on to this pick from the Malcolm Brogdon deal. Nesmith is perhaps the draft’s best shooter, and there is a path for him to take on a big role in the NBA as a result. You can never have enough shooting around Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nesmith is an appropriate investment in the top 20 of this class.
19. Oklahoma City Thunder – Josh Green (G/F, Arizona)
Green feels like a player the Thunder would target. He’s long and athletic, with high-end defensive potential and the chance to return value here. There is also real skepticism about his jump shot, which also makes sense in OKC.
20. Dallas Mavericks – Paul Reed (F, DePaul)
I’ll admit that Reed wasn’t really on my radar a few months ago, but he’s been tremendous. Reed has been a solid (or better) offensive player for Depaul and, on the other end, few can replicate his impact, particularly in the havoc categories. He’s 21 years old, which might bury him on some evaluations, but the Mavs need defensive talent and he brings it. This would be good value.
21. Miami Heat – Tre Jones (G, Duke)
Jones has been a divisive figure for more than a year in NBA circles, which is part of the reason why he returned to Duke for another run. If anything, Jones has been better in year two, showing off his defensive ability when needed and running the team in an effective manner. If teams buy his jump shot at all, he’s a first-rounder. Either way, he’s probably a backup and the Heat value the toughness he brings.
22. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia) – Devin Vassell (G/F, Florida State)
After coming into the season much lower than this for almost everyone, this might be too low for Vassell, both based on his play and what people are saying about his stock. It’s an easy sell in that he’s a 6’5 with the ability to shoot and defend. Every team needs that. The rest of the evaluation determines where scouts see him, with relatively limited athleticism and at least some concern about whether he’ll create for himself and others at the NBA level. He’s a guy that could be in the lottery and few would bat an eye.
23. Utah Jazz – Precious Achiuwa (F/C, Memphis)
The Jazz aren’t the easiest team to pick for, but they’ve gravitated to combo bigs in the past. Achiuwa hasn’t been as good as the season has gone along and, as you can see here, his stock has tumbled from lottery buzz early on in the process. He’s still been productive, though, and he’s a big-time athlete that should test well in the pre-draft process.
24. Denver Nuggets (via Houston) – Xavier Tillman (C, Michigan State)
Tillman would look great in Denver if they move on from Mason Plumlee. He does a ton of things well and I’m a sucker for a big man that can pass, shoot and defend with versatility. If he had better measurables and/or wasn’t 21 years old already, he’d be even higher and, if it was just me talking in big board form, No. 24 would almost be a floor.
25. New York Knicks (via L.A. Clippers) – Kira Lewis (PG, Alabama)
The Knicks should be in best player available mode and, even with this projection sending Killian Hayes to New York, it isn’t as if they are overflowing with long-term backcourt options. Lewis is a very interesting prospect, with a skill set that is easy to buy. He’s very small (170 pounds or so) but has been highly productive this season, which probably leads him to a first-round landing spot.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Denver) – Vernon Carey (C, Duke)
Carey is an incredible college player and his numbers reflect that. If anything, though, this might be too high for him given his limited projection in the NBA. Can he be a quality backup center with his offensive capabilities? Absolutely, but you probably don’t use a first-round pick on that. The league does seem to be higher on him than I am, for the record.
27. Boston Celtics – Daniel Oturu (C, Minnesota)
Enes Kanter is hitting free agency and Oturu could be his “replacement” of sorts. He’s been ridiculously productive at Minnesota and, while defensive concerns are real, the Celtics have shown an ability to maximize a player of this archetype in a specific role. It’s easier to do that when you have Marcus Smart and an endless line of defense-capable wing players. Oh, and Grant Williams is there, too.
28. Toronto Raptors – Jalen Smith (C, Maryland)
The Raptors have a couple of title-winning big men hitting free agency in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Smith has been a divisive guy in some NBA draft circles but, at the same time, he’s been unambiguously awesome this season at Maryland. By the time you get to the end of the first round, his profile makes a ton of sense, and he fits a need in Toronto.
29. Los Angeles Lakers – Isaiah Joe (G/F, Arkansas)
Joe hasn’t been as good as many thought he’d be this year, but everyone agrees he can bomb away from long distance. With LeBron and (presumably) Anthony Davis in the fold, the Lakers can always use more shooting on the wing.
30. Boston Celtics (via Milwaukee) – Patrick Williams (F, Florida State)
Boston probably isn’t going to make all three picks in the first round, just because their roster might explode at some point. The Celtics could do much worse than Williams, though, with the hyper-athletic forward potentially playing an intriguing role if he can figure out his place offensively.