May 8, 2020, 2:58 pm
With things coming to a screeching halt in the NBA, all eyes in dynasty-land turn to next season. A big part of that will inevitably be a rookie draft, so what better way to spend my quarantine time than digging into the 2020 draft class and putting together some initial rankings? As you have likely heard at this point, this is going to be a very, very weird draft class, and a really tough one to pin down. With no clear-cut top of the class, and a large, yet very flat second tier, there will inevitably be some huge misses in the lottery and likely even more surprises coming out of the late-first and second round.
Rather than putting out a pure list, I’ve decided to break this class into tiers and organize players a bit within. Players near the top of tiers are ones that I generally prefer to others down lower, but if I put two guys in the same tier it means that I can see a compelling reason for drafting any one of them at the top of that tier. We already covered the first tier a few weeks back (LaMelo Ball, Onyeka Okongwu, Killian Hayes, James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards), so let’s get a little bit deeper now and check out the second tier of dynasty prospects in the 2020 rookie class.
Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State, 19 years
Per 40 Stats: 16.6 PTS, 2.6 3P, 6.4 TRB, 7.0 AST, 2.7 STL, 0.7 BLK, 3.0 TOV
Percentages (FG%/3PT%/FT%): (50.4%, 41.9%, 82.2%)
Haliburton’s stock continues rise following a breakout season from the sophomore guard. He has shown huge improvement across the board, and is reminiscent of a Grant Williams type player that doesn’t do a ton for the highlight reels, but is a high IQ player with great vision that excels in playing within himself.
On offense, he is about as steady as it gets as a facilitator. His passing touch is right up there with LaMelo Ball and Killian Hayes, and looks to be one of the more NBA-ready guards in the class from a playmaking perspective (half-court and transition). He isn’t an explosive athlete, but he is slippery in the lane and uses a combination of exceptional handles and a long frame to get to the rim. At the rim, Haliburton is an efficient finisher, converting 74.2% of his looks at the rim (with roughly 25% of his shots coming from this area). He has a very unorthodox jumper, but projects to be a solid long-range shooter at the next level given his combination of efficiency from deep (41.9% on 5.6 attempts per game) and the line (82.2% on 2.0 attempts per game).
Defensively, Haliburton again excels at playing within himself and fitting well into the team defensive scheme. His long frame and sound defensive fundamentals/instincts make him an appealing prospect defensively at the next level, but his slender build and lack of explosiveness might limit his ceiling in the NBA one-on-one against more athletic guards. His defensive smarts are exhibited by a 3.8 steal percentage and 2.0 block percentage – strong numbers for a guard and solid indicators for a translation to NBA success.
He may lack the explosive panache of other guards in the class like Anthony Edwards, but Haliburton’s combination of IQ (on both sides of the ball), length (stands 6’5” with a near 7’ wingspan), and scoring efficiency gives him one of the higher floors in this class. Advanced numbers don’t tell the whole story, but Haliburton grades out very well across with board with a 25.9 PER, 2.33 assist/turnover ratio, 9.1 OPBM and 3.1 DBPM, giving me a high degree of confidence that his college success will translate. I love his fantasy potential with a floor of assists, steals and efficient threes, with the added potential for out-of-position boards and blocks.
Deni Avdija, F, International, 19 years
Per 36 Stats: 14.1 PTS, 1.6 3P, 7.4 TRB, 3.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.1 BLK, 2.3 TOV
Percentages (FG%/3PT%/FT%): (51.4%, 33.6%, 52.0%)
Deni Avdija’s stats don’t necessarily pop off the page, but he is widely considered one of the top wing prospects in the draft thanks to an advanced basketball IQ for his age, tremendous court vision, and “point-forward” skills of initiating and ball-handling. He has a ways to go as a floor-spacer, but is a strong finisher in contact, has a very nice touch around the rim, and enough speed and vision to create offensive opportunities in transition.
Avdija will be 19 years old on draft night, but has been playing professionally since he was 16 and saw consistent rotation minutes this season in EuroLeague (the highest level of competition outside of NBA basketball). All reports seem to indicate that Avdija is a true pro’s pro, and has an undoubtable work ethic and competitive drive. Avdija’s offensive and defensive IQ, passing ability and general feel for the game likely stem to an extent from his veteran status as a teen tested against some of the best players outside of the NBA. I point all of this out before really dissecting his strengths and weaknesses as a fantasy prospect to note that there are some pretty legitimate holes in his game offensively. However, he is the type of prospect for whom I am willing to afford a larger than average benefit of the doubt in terms of progression.
Despite some confidence in his offensive game expanding, we need to point out that he is not a reliable shooter yet, and leaves a lot to be desired as a floor spacer. The three-point percentage listed above is a bit misleading, as it includes both his EuroLeague and Israeli League (considerably lower-end competition than EuroLeague) numbers. Looking only at his 26 games of EuroLeague play this season, Avdija shot 27.7% from deep on 1.8 attempts per game. Efficiency from the floor in college/overseas play is a pretty poor indicator of efficiency in the NBA, but things get more concerning when we look at his free throw percentage.
Free throw percentage (combined with an overall view of efficiency from mid-range and three) is considered to be a solid indicator of shooting potential in the NBA. That is not great news for Avdija, who has yet to shoot over 60 percent at the line in any season as a professional. He doesn’t get to the line a ton given his playstyle, so from a fantasy perspective he won’t likely be a huge detriment in the FT% category, but his persistent struggles at the line give me some concern about his offensive ceiling as an NBA wing.
Defensively, I really like Avdija’s potential as a versatile plug-and-play defender on the wing and down low. His combination of size, quickness, IQ and strength makes him an a very switchable combo forward pick and roll defender who won’t be easily bullied down low by most NBA 4s, but is quick enough to defend 3s (and some 2s) on the perimeter. From a statistical perspective, he isn’t likely to post huge steal or block numbers, but again, his versatility and defensive IQ means he could be reasonably expected to post above average steal and block numbers without being a huge contributor in either category.
As long as he stays away from the free throw line, Avdija has a very well rounded and roto-friendly stat set. I love his versatility as a player and fantasy contributor. In H2H formats, know that he won’t likely provide a huge lift in any one category, but also doesn’t have any major holes in his stat set. Offensively, it is hard to see him ever becoming a primary option, but he doesn’t need the ball in his hands every possession to make an impact. In a very uncertain draft class, Avdija probably has one of the highest floors in the lottery even with his limitations.
Cole Anthony, G, North Carolina, 19 years
Per 40 Stats: 21.2 PTS, 2.6 3P, 6.5 TRB, 4.6 AST, 1.5 STL, 0.3 BLK, 4.0 TOV
Percentages (FG%/3PT%/FT%): (38%, 34.8%, 75%)
Grouping Haliburton and Cole Anthony in the same tier brings us to an age-old debate. In a vacuum, do you lean toward the blue blood “high upside” prospects with disappointing box score numbers and advanced metrics or go with the analytics/box score darling prospect with less shine from a “potential” perspective due to age, level of competition, lack size or athleticism, etc.?
As discussed above, in Haliburton you have a pretty safe bet on a high floor player, albeit with a potentially limited ceiling compared to other lottery guards. With Anthony, things get complicated. He entered the season at (or very near) the top of the list of incoming freshmen, and was presumed a lock for the lottery in the NBA draft by most before even playing a game in Tar Heel blue.
Much of the hype was centered on the fact that Anthony is a very talented scorer. He’s an explosive enough athlete with a really nice handle – allowing him to get downhill in a hurry. His shooting splits don’t necessarily show it, but he is a talented outside shooter and has a strong mid-range game. As a playmaker, he is passable but not great. He can hit the open man consistently enough and do some offensive orchestration, but is a few tiers below most other guards at the top of this class in that regard (with the exception of Anthony Edwards).
Defensively, he has the quickness and athleticism to keep up one-on-one with NBA guards. Standing 6’3” with a 6’4” wingspan, he doesn’t have the length of Haliburton to lean on (meaning he may be more of a one- or two-position defender), but his motor and athleticism more than make up for it. His steal percentage (2.1) is a bit lower than I would have expected, but is not necessarily something to be overly concerned about given his motor elsewhere (5.7 rebounds per game from a 6’3” guard is great).
So, now we have to get to the smudges on his resume from this season. For how much his scoring was touted, Anthony posted a pretty paltry 53.6 percent conversion rate at the rim and also struggled from deep, shooting 34.8 percent from beyond the arc. Advanced stats don’t look too kindly on Anthony this season either. He posted a pretty sub-par PER of 17.5, a poor (for his skillset) OBPM of 3.6, and decent 1.3 DBPM. Combine that with his efficiency woes and lack of playmaking ability, and his NBA translations look a bit bleak.
The conversion rate at the rim is concerning — I can’t sugar coat it, particularly from a PG prospect who’s playmaking is average at best. However, we need to look a bit more at the roster around Anthony for some context. Anthony was really the only floor spacer (and facilitator) in the Tar Heels starting lineup, leaving him to deal with packed driving lanes and extreme focus from opposing defenses. I’m not totally sold on him as a fantasy prospect, but it really is hard to discount just how disadvantaged he was this season (combined with a minor meniscus tear mid-year) by the roster around him.
If you want to swing for the fences on upside, I’d lean toward Anthony over Haliburton as I think he has a greater chance of blossoming into an All-Star like player. However, I’m really uncertain about how likely that is, and wouldn’t fault anyone not needing a total home run in this year’s rookie draft for choosing the safer option on paper in Haliburton.
Obi Toppin, F, Dayton
Per 40 Stats: 25.3 PTS, 1.3 3P, 9.5 TRB, 2.7 AST, 1.2 STL, 1.5 BLK, 2.8 TOV
Percentages (FG%/3PT%/FT%): (63.3%, 39%, 70.2%)
Regardless of whether you are looking at traditional box score stats or place more emphasis on advanced metrics, Obi Toppin grades out as an absolute stud. He wasn’t anywhere near the top of most draft boards prior to this season (or even in the first round), but thanks to a tremendous breakout sophomore season he is now considered a lock to go in the lottery. At 22 yearsold, Toppin is by far the oldest top prospect, which might put a slightly lower cap on his NBA ceiling. However, as I’ve discussed before with players like Brandon Clarke, draft age can be dramatically over-emphasized as a condition of eventual fantasy success.
The first thing that jumps out in Toppin’s offensive profile is efficiency, efficiency and more efficiency. He didn’t take a ton of his shots from downtown (16% of his shot attempts), but converted a very respectable 39% of his shots. That conversion rate, combined with 70% efficiency from the stripe, leads me to believe that he can be a threat from deep at the next level. Where Toppin really excels is finishing at the rim, converting a ridiculous 82.7% of his shots at the basket. He boasts a ton of versatility on offense, and is able to score in the post, off the bounce, and on pull-up jumpers, all within the flow of things both on and off the ball. If advanced stats are more your cup of tea, Toppin is top-10 in the nation with an offensive box plus/minus of 7.4.
On defense, things get a little but murkier for Toppin. His struggles are pretty well documented, as many have pointed to the fact that opposing offenses can go right at Toppin as he struggles to stay in front his man. While he may not be a great team defender, from a fantasy perspective he still does get it done statistically, averaging over a steal and block per 40 minutes in both of his years at Dayton. He is an average rebounder, and will need to work on technique/positioning in the NBA where he won’t be able to overwhelm guys athletically to make up for falling asleep at times. He has a really solid frame, great wingspan and a ton of athleticism to spare, so I think it is foolish to write Toppin off already as a negative defensively at the NBA level before we see what he can do with some coaching.
His offensive skillset is tailor-made for the modern NBA, and I feel pretty comfortable assuming that Toppin will fit offensively regardless of where he is plugged in. He will probably be best utilized as a rim-running stretchy four, but could potentially plug in as a small-ball five in some lineups if teams are willing to live with what he will probably give up defensively as a five. As a fantasy prospect, I think his high water mark is probably pretty close to 2018-2019 John Collins with fewer rebounds. A top-50ish guy who can give you hyper efficient scoring with roughly one triple, half a steal and half a block per game.
Devin Vassell, G/F, Florida State
Per 40 Stats: 17.6 PTS, 2.0 3P, 7.0 TRB, 2.3 AST, 1.9 STL, 1.3 BLK, 1.1 TOV
Percentages (FG%/3PT%/FT%): (49%, 41.5%, 73.8%)
In such an uncertain draft class, Vassell rises above some of the higher profile names I have in lower tiers due to confidence in his strengths as a player translating immediately to the NBA. He has a legitimate claim to the title of best defender in this class, while also being one of the more reliable shooters from a number of spots on the floor.
Vassell appeared in 33 games last season at Florida State, only averaging 10.7 minutes of playing time per game. He returned to play another season and enjoyed a breakout campaign that sent him rocketing up draft boards. On paper, Vassell’s offensive profile appears to mostly that of a spot-up shooter. Roughly one third of all of his shots came from beyond the arc, and he was assisted on 86.4% of his makes from long range. Despite the high number of assisted looks from deep, this season Vassell demonstrated significant improvement in his ability to create his own shot.
Last year, Vassell was assisted on every… single… one… of his makes from deep. That’s right, literally 100% of his converted deep balls were assisted. In 2019, threes (41.9% efficiency) and shots at the rim (63.2% efficiency) consisted of 85% of his total shot attempts. In short, the numbers paint him as someone who rarely created his own shot. This season, Vassell’s shot chart is significantly more balanced with roughly 32.9% of his shots coming from deep (86.4% assisted), 35.7% coming from mid-range (22.4% assisted), and 31.4% of shots coming at the rim (62.7% assisted). The expansion of his mid-range game, and the limited amount of makes that were assisted demonstrates serious improvement in his pull-up game, and indicates to me that there is still plenty of runway for him to improve as a scorer with the ball in his hands.
With all of that discussion on Vassell’s offensive profile, that won’t necessarily be what gets him drafted. His efficiency from deep is a plug-and-play NBA-ready skill, but there are other really good shooters in this draft. His defensive versatility, however, truly stands out. Listed at 6’7” with a 6’10” wingspan, he has the length and quickness to disrupt passing lands and lock guys down on the wing. His combination of athleticism, length, and IQ also makes him a fantastic shot blocker despite generally living outside of the paint.
Sometimes box score stats can be misleading, but in Vassell’s case 1.5 threes, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game is exactly who he is, and likely something that we can reasonably expect to translate to the next level. Combine that with his above average rebounding for a wing (thanks to his fantastic anticipation, timing and motor) and he becomes one of my favorite fantasy prospects outside of the obvious lottery names.
Aleksej Pokusevski, C, International
Per Game Stats: 21 MIN, 10.8 PTS, 1.6 3P, 7.9 TRB, 3.1 AST, 1.3 STL, 1.8 BLK, 1.8 TOV
Percentages (FG%/3PT%/FT%): (40.4%, 32.1%, 78.3%)
I reallllly want to put Pokusevski higher than this, but he is just so much of a wildcard that it would be hard to justify. On one hand, in Poku you have a deep ball shooting seven-footer that moves like a wing, has a great handle, the ability to put the ball on the floor, and fantastic passing ability and court vision. Oh, and he is also a complete package in terms of defensive stat collection. Pokusevski shows strong defensive indicators as a rim protector with the versatility to switch on the perimeter and guard some wings, and disrupt passing lanes down low.
He is such a versatile player with such a well-rounded game that if Poku gets to the point where he is playing starter’s minutes in the NBA, there is little doubt in my mind he is easily a top-50 fantasy player, perhaps even top-25. However, and this is a big however, the odds of him playing big minutes any time soon are slim. A big reason for that is how slim Pokusevski is himself. Listed at 7 feet tall and only 205 pounds, he would be devoured down low by most NBA bigs (à la Chris Boucher). He also needs to add some consistency to his shot, but I’m decently confident his shooting can translate to the NBA and improve based on his shooting splits. He is raw, and would likely need time to adjust to the speed of the game in the NBA.
We are at a point where the term “unicorn” is thrown around all too often when discussing skilled bigs. However, Poku has the potential to be a true unicorn’s unicorn – a Swiss Army Knife on both sides of the ball with the basketball IQ to put that versatility to use. He is still very young and untested against high-level competition, so NBA and fantasy GMs alike will need to be patient, but he is one of the most intriguing players in this class this with the widest range of outcomes depending on where he lands and how steeply his development curve continues to rise.
From a fantasy perspective, if you are one of the top few teams in the league and have some space on your roster to stash a long-term prospect, look no further than Pokusevski. He might never make it as an NBA prospect, but if he hits there are only a handful of players in this class with the type of projected fantasy ceiling of Pokusevski. It may be two or three seasons before he sees consistent minutes (making him a great watch list guy as he may be added a dropped a number of times), but if he comes close hitting his ceiling, the combination of threes, assists, boards, steals and blocks makes him arguably the most fascinating player in this class from a fantasy perspective.