2020 NBA Draft Primer

In most years, the NBA Draft goes down a few days after the NBA Finals end, a few days before free agency begins, and then NBA fans have the entire summer to think about roster construction and rotation options. But as we all know, 2020 is not most years. After months of fighting a pandemic and an NBA season that started strong, came to a complete stop, then finished in October inside a bubble, the NBA is currently prepping to start a new season by Christmas.

So, the 2020 NBA Draft will happen on Wednesday, November 18, giving us all something to be thankful for. Even so, with this year’s draft there may be more uncertainties than there are absolutes. Let’s take a look at five burning questions as we get ready for Wednesday night…

Who’s Up First?

This may be the most-analyzed draft class of all-time. While the players may have had their college seasons shortened due to the COVID pandemic, the delay in the draft date and extension in prep time gave teams much more time than usual to sift through the draft data.

Despite all that time, as I write this, no clear-cut first overall choice has emerged. For everything that stands out about each member of the consensus top tier of players—a group that includes LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman—their shortcomings have also been identified and picked over ad nauseum.

With Minnesota, Golden State and Charlotte holding the top three spots, in that order, they each have some potentially franchise-changing decisions to make. While all three are physically elite, will Ball’s inability to shoot from distance keep him from going first overall? Will Edwards’ lack of range and defensive indifference work against him? Will Wiseman’s obvious upside, which we saw (briefly) here in Memphis, push the T-Wolves to tab him first?

Or, of course, could a team not in the top three see something in one of these guys that makes them believe they’re their franchise player, something that convinces them to trade up into the top three?

Who’s Got Next?

After that top three, it gets even murkier, as a large pool of players seem to be interchangeable through the next dozen or so picks. There are players like USC C Onyeka Okongwu, who might be the best big available after Wiseman; smooth playmaker Deni Avidja, who has played professionally in Israel; Auburn wing Isaac Okoro, who has the physical tools to have a long career at the next level; Dayton’s Obi Toppin, last year’s college player of the year, who at 22 years old is one of the older players in the draft; big (6-5) point guard Killian Hayes, who played professionally in France and turned heads across the Atlantic.

There are a few other players in this tier—I particularly like Iowa State combo guard Tyrese Haliburton—but this group has mostly separated themselves due to their ability to contribute right away. This doesn’t mean they are going to immediately start for their NBA teams and average double-doubles, but this tier of players could be rotation pieces at the next level, and provide various levels of instant relief to the teams selecting in the lottery.

Anyone Else?

There are plenty of other talented players in this draft, but their success in the NBA will be largely dependent on the system they get drafted into, as well their commitment to the player development process. I really like Vanderbilt guard Aaron Nesmith, who draft experts seem to knock for a perceived lack of athleticism, but who connected on over 50-percent of his three point attempts in college. There are several big point guards in this draft, including RJ Hampton, who we saw in person last season, when his New Zealand Breakers played an exhibition against the Grizzlies. Hampton has all the physical tools, he just needs time to develop. And speaking of close to the 901, former Tigers forward Precious Achiuwa is projected to go in the middle of the first round, as an athletic big who more than anything needs reps against elite talent.

We Have A Trade?

With so much uncertainty in this draft, even among that top tier, don’t be surprised to see a few teams try and make some moves. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team already jammed with prospects, such as Atlanta, try and move their pick in exchange for some veteran help. Boston may also be worth keeping an eye on, as they currently have three first round picks (14, 26, 30). Or will a team just outside the top three, like a Chicago or a Detroit, try and jump up into the top spot?

When Are The Grizzlies On The Clock?

The Grizzlies currently have one selection in the 2020 NBA Draft, a second round pick (40th overall); the Grizzlies’ first round pick (14th overall) belongs to the Boston Celtics, the result of the Jeff Green trade made back in 2015. The good news is that if there was ever a season the Grizzlies probably didn’t really need to add another rookie, now might be that time. The Grizzlies already have the youngest roster in the NBA, and if anything, the Grizzlies might be more involved in the free agency market than the Draft during this truncated offseason.

But there is the matter of that second round pick, which can be a perfect place to find a diamond in the rough, a player who perhaps needs a little seasoning but has tremendous upside. In 2010, for instance, the Indiana Pacers used the 40th overall pick on Lance Stephenson, who had a great high school and college career, but was mostly overlooked by NBA teams. Stephenson would play in the NBA for a decade, including a stop here in Memphis. There are a couple of players with local ties who have some history with the 40 spot. In 2012, Memphis Tigers guard Will Barton was drafted 40th by the Portland Trail Blazers, and is still in the Association today. In 2015, the Miami Heat selected Josh Richardson out of the University of Tennessee at 40, and he’s developed into one of the best wing players in the NBA. More recently, in 2018, the Brooklyn Nets took Rodion Kurucs out of Latvia, and he’s been a big part of their rotation the last two seasons.

The takeaway? Just because you’re picking a player after 39 others have been taken, doesn’t mean you can’t find value. I do think it’s interesting that all of those players mentioned in the previous paragraph are basically wing players, which seems to suggest that could be a position the Grizzlies could target. With three-point shooting at a premium in today’s NBA, I wonder if the Grizz would have interest in a shooter like Isaiah Joe, who played across the river at Arkansas? Or maybe they keep it in the family, literally, and take a flyer on Duke guard Tre Jones, brother of our own Tyus? (And for what it’s worth, I’m totally spitballing, since nobody tells me jack around here.)

Meanwhile, I know who I’m rooting for the Grizzlies to grab: There’s a projected second-round guard prospect born in Senegal who immigrated to Canada, named Karim Mane, who could be available with the 40th pick.

What, are you telling me you wouldn’t buy a Grizzlies jersey with “Memphis” on the front and “Mane” on the back?

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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