Nick Wass/Associated Press
NBA draft orders might seem critically important in the moment, but history has shown time and again how stars can rise from any point on the board.
That’s probably more true in 2020 than most years, since the class lacks a consensus, surefire star at the top. While Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball might have the best odds of enjoying that kind of ascension, the gap between them and the field is a lot narrower than it was between Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and the others last summer.
After running through our latest mock first round, we’ll take a closer look at three fringe first-rounders who could make major noise at the next level.
2020 NBA Mock Draft
1. Golden State Warriors: Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia
2. Cleveland Cavaliers: James Wiseman, C, Memphis
3. Minnesota Timberwolves: LaMelo Ball, PG/SG, Illawarra Hawks
4. Atlanta Hawks: Obi Toppin, PF/C, Dayton
5. Detroit Pistons: Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, USC
6. New York Knicks: Killian Hayes, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm
7. Chicago Bulls: Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State
8. Charlotte Hornets: Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State
9. Washington Wizards: Isaac Okoro, SF/PF, Auburn
10. Phoenix Suns: Deni Avdija, SF/PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
11. San Antonio Spurs: Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina
12. Sacramento Kings: RJ Hampton, SG, New Zealand Breakers
13. New Orleans Pelicans: Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt
14. Portland Trail Blazers: Saddiq Bey, SF/PF, Villanova
15. Orlando Magic: Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Brooklyn Nets): Tyrese Maxey, SG, Kentucky
17. Boston Celtics (via Memphis Grizzlies): Patrick Williams, PF, Florida State
18. Dallas Mavericks: Tyrell Terry, PG, Stanford
19. Milwaukee Bucks (via Indiana Pacers): Leandro Bolmaro, SG/SF, Barcelona
20. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia 76ers): Jaden McDaniels, SF/PF, Washington
21. Denver Nuggets (via Houston Rockets): Robert Woodard II, SF, Mississippi State
22. Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City Thunder): Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL
23. Miami Heat: Precious Achiuwa, PF/C, Memphis
24. Utah Jazz: Josh Green, SG, Arizona
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Denver Nuggets): Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech
26. Boston Celtics: Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Olympiacos B
27. New York Knicks (via Los Angeles Clippers): Jalen Smith, PF/C, Maryland
28. Toronto Raptors: Xavier Tillman, PF/C, Michigan State
29. Los Angeles Lakers: Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
30. Boston Celtics (via Milwaukee Bucks): Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington
Jalen Smith, PF/C, Maryland
If there’s still such a thing as a ‘tweener in the increasingly position-less NBA, it probably describes a player like Smith. He’s not the quickest defending perimeter player nor the strongest to battle bigs up front, so there are some legitimate questions about his defensive identity.
But there’s a chance he becomes capable of defending frontcourt players of all sizes, and in that universe, he likely emerges as the biggest steal in this draft. He already looks like he’ll give all kinds of defenders fits.
“Though his shot is his clearest NBA tool offensively, Smith does show some promise both posting up and facing up,” NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Noah Levick wrote. “He can drive past slower defenders and create separation with spin moves and hesitations.”
Smith’s sophomore season with the Terrapins put him in the first-round discussion. He averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.0 threes, while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from range.
Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
One of three Wildcats getting first-round consideration—along with Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji—the beauty of Mannion’s one-and-done run in Tuscon is in the eye of the beholder.
The believers are drawn to his distributing and shot-making. The doubters are disinterested due to underwhelming physical tools and how they could limit his ability to separate on offense and hold up on defense.
“Scouts started jumping off Mannion’s wagon as his percentages gradually fell at Arizona,” B/R’s Jonathan Wasserman noted. “He’s turned into a potential value pick, still with plenty of ball skills, passing IQ and shooting versatility. It’s his limited blow-by burst and defense that raise the most questions.”
Mannion’s numbers don’t do much to quiet these debates. On one hand, he averaged the second-most points (14.0) and more than doubled his turnovers (2.6) with assists (5.3). On the other, he shot just 39.2 percent overall and 32.7 percent from deep, and he never blocked a shot in 32 contests.
Grant Riller, PG/SG, College of Charleston
Talking yourself into Riller as a first-round prospect isn’t difficult.
Over 132 career contests, he averaged 18.7 points with a 61.6 true shooting percentage. He routinely ditched defenders off the dribble, had no trouble finding and hitting shots and he packed a mean scoring punch around the basket.
So, why isn’t Riller included in our mock first round? Because it’s not hard talking yourself out of him in that draft range, either. He is 23 years old, didn’t face the highest competition and is more like a 6’3″ scoring guard rather than a primary offensive initiator (3.9 assists against 3.1 turnovers this past season).
Few prospects boast a deeper bag of scoring tricks, though, and that might convince a club to take him inside the top 30. If he lives his best NBA life, he could be leading a bench mob for the next decade.