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Kalemkerian: Sizing up the 2020 NBA draft

| Friday, October 23, 2020

October is a month that should have seen the tip-off of the 2020-21 NBA season. Instead, the pandemic-postponed season finally concluded on Oct, 11, with the Los Angeles Lakers being crowded as NBA Champions. A hard-earned and well-deserved fourth title (and Finals MVP) for LeBron James over his former team was a fitting way for the season to end. Now attention turns to Nov. 18 for the 2020 NBA draft, the biggest day of the year for fans of the bottom-feeding teams. This draft class features strong prospects but none are as sure of a thing as Zion Williamson was last season, making draft projections murky at best, but I’ll do my best to predict what each of the first eight teams will choose to do with their top picks.


1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Edwards, G, Georgia

With its second number one overall pick of the last six years, Minnesota needs a player to spark its team. Edwards, a flashy combo guard who has drawn Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo comparisons, will be able to provide just that. There is a lot of hope within the Timberwolves organization for the upcoming season, and pairing Edwards with both D’Angelo Russell and Karl Anthony-Towns could vault the Timberwolves into the playoff picture.


2. Detroit Pistons (projected trade from Golden State): LaMelo Ball, G, International

Ball is the most intriguing but also polarizing player in the draft. In his one year playing professionally in the NBL in Australia, he combined a highlight reel of flashy plays with uninspiring and inefficient play. He also drew the ire of teammates due to his unwillingness to pass the ball, something he’ll need to sort out at the next level. The Pistons have been mired in mediocrity for the past decade but trading up to draft Ball will definitely revitalize the franchise and give Pistons fans hope for the 2020s.


3. Charlotte Hornets: James Wiseman, C, Memphis

Similar to the Pistons, Hornets fans haven’t had much to root for in recent years. Wiseman offers a rare combination of size and skill, standing at 7-foot-1 with the agility of a small forward. His shot-blocking and defensive prowess is impressive, but his offensive skill set offers even more potential. He only played three games at Memphis due to injuries and run-ins with the NCAA violations, but he averaged 19.7 points on an absurd 76.9% shooting. The Hornets will likely miss the playoffs again no matter what direction they go with this pick, but Wiseman offers long-term potential for this star-starved franchise.


4. Chicago Bulls: Deni Avdija, F, International

The Bulls have hit on their first rounders in the last two drafts, as Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White have carved out starting roles, albeit on a weak Chicago squad. Avdija fills a void at the small forward position, in addition to being the highest-upside player left on the board after the somewhat-contentious top three. Avdija has played internationally in Israel for two seasons and, despite not quite following in Luka Doncic’s MVP footsteps, has shown respectable promise as a two-way wing player. He’ll fit well into the Bulls’ young lineup and could potentially reach borderline All-Star level in the NBA.


5. New York Knicks (from Cleveland): Killian Hayes, G, International

Is Hayes, a 6-foot-5 point guard, New York’s savior? They certainly need something to cheer about at Madison Square Garden, and teaming a pick-and-roll maestro in Hayes up with last year’s top-three pick RJ Barrett and the rim-running Mitchell Robinson is a good place to start. Hayes has a full pro season in Germany under his belt and trading up to snag him would be a very wise move on the Knicks’ part, likely won’t have many point guard options left by their original pick at eight. 


6. Atlanta Hawks: Devin Vassell, G, Florida State

The Hawks are on the brink of contention in the weaker Eastern Conference and adding the best 3-and-D player in the draft will go a long way toward helping rising star Trae Young towards his first playoff appearance. Vassell, who ranks top five among all draft prospects in both offensive and defensive rating, will provide much-needed sharpshooting (over 40% from behind the arc in college) to Atlanta’s roster. Perhaps more importantly, he’ll be able to take the toughest defensive guard assignment every game, which should shore up a backcourt that was horrendous on that side of the ball last season.


7. Golden State Warriors (projected trade from Detroit): Onyeka Okongwu, F/C, USC

The Warriors are the rare team drafting in the top two that actually has title aspirations in the coming season. In this scenario, they trade down with Detroit and acquire Derrick Rose in a sign-and-trade in the process. They also are still able to draft Okongwu, an in-state prospect who can play either the 4 or 5 and, at 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, should be able to hold his own defensively against the top big-men in the league. He won’t be asked to do too much on offense besides compliment Golden State’s star backcourt in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, which is good since he shot only 25% from 3 on limited attempts in college.


8. Cleveland Cavaliers (projected trade from New York): Obi Toppin, F, Dayton

Winning National College Player of the Year certainly looks great on a draft resume, especially when it entails leading a small school to the top of the rankings, poised to make a deep tournament run. That’s exactly what Toppin did in his senior year at Dayton, doing everything on both ends of the court for the Flyers. He won’t fall further than Cleveland, who will be happy taking him at eight after trading down with the Knicks. Kevin Love is an old relic of better times on an old Cavaliers team, and Toppin will be his heir apparent at power forward. Already 22 years old, he’ll likely claim a starting role early on in his NBA career and restore Cleveland to its former glory alongside former first-round guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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