Michael Woods/Associated Press
Defense doesn’t win NBA championships, not by itself at least.
The true test of a contender is two-way balance, but that doesn’t make for as catchy of a slogan.
What that oft-repeated coachspeak does remind us, though, is that even in an offense-crazed era, defense plays a major part in team success. That will put the three perimeter stoppers below on the draft radar of any club struggling to contain defensive leaks.
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): Precious Achiuwa, PF/C, Memphis
18. Dallas Mavericks: Patrick Williams, PF, Florida State
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): Tyrell Terry, PG, Stanford
23. Miami Heat: Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL
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): Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State
Top Perimeter Defenders
Isaac Okoro, SF/PF, Auburn
Want to know a tip for spotting an elite stopper? If a perimeter player emerges as a lottery prospect after a one-and-done season in which he didn’t average 13 points or shoot 30 percent from three, there’s a decent chance his bread gets buttered at basketball’s less glamorous end.
That’s the case for Okoro, who has plenty of room for offensive growth but could handle multiple NBA-level defensive assignments right now.
“Okoro, 6’6″, 225 pounds, already possesses a convincing mix of power, quickness and focus for defense and guarding multiple positions,” B/R’s Jonathan Wasserman wrote. “He matched up with bigs, wings and guards all season, showing the ability to wall up inside and smother around the perimeter.”
Okoro isn’t a lost cause on offense. He’s a savvy off-ball mover, a capable secondary playmaker and a good finisher around the basket (60.7 percent shooting inside the arc). But he’s in the lottery discussion for his defense, and if Okoro ever nears his peak, he could be an annual All-Defensive honoree.
Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State
On first glance, Vassell can seemingly thank his three-point stroke for his surging draft stock. Clear 41 percent from three in two consecutive seasons as he did with the Seminoles, and modern NBA evaluators are sure to take notice.
While that steady stroke is part of his appeal, the real draw is his potentially dominant defense. The first three strengths on his scouting report from the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor all center around Vassell’s defense.
It opens with the phrase, “elite team defender who will immediately help any NBA rotation.” Words like disrupt and deter are used, along with the following three words sure to gain the affection of any coach, “never stops hustling.” Finally, O’Connor dubbed Vassell an “impactful on-ball defender with the right blend of agility and length to defend guards and wings.”
His per-40-minutes marks across two collegiate campaigns included 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks. Even that might shortchange his defensive instincts and ability to maximize the impact of his athleticism.
Josh Green, SG, Arizona
While Green didn’t set the college hoops world ablaze during his lone season with the Wildcats, it’s important to remember he shared the floor with two other potential first-rounders: Nico Mannion and Zeke Nnaji, both of whom got up more shots than Green.
That not only leaves Green with substantial room for improvement—think of all the Kentucky alumni who could only spread their wings after leaving the college’s loaded program—it also means he could fully lean into the defensive end.
With turbo-charged explosiveness and lateral quickness, he can probably check the 1 through 3 spots most nights in the Association, and he can handle 4s in a pinch. His reflexes are razor-sharp, and he’s a fast mover with his hips and his feet. He’ll get his hands on the ball early and often as an on-ball best and an off-ball pest in passing lanes.
His offensive outlook is murky enough to bump him down the board on draft night, but his defense should keep him in the first round, and he’ll be among the biggest steals if he realizes his chance to become elite at that end.