October 27, 2020, 6:58 am
Do you hear that? Wait. Shhh! Be quiet or you’ll miss it. Yes, that’s correct, you’re hearing the buzz of crickets while the NBA offseason is upon us. On the bright side, news has come out that the league is targeting a December 22 opening night, almost a month from the original plan of January 18, 2021, Martin Luther King Day in the U.S.
Well, now here we are, just a few weeks removed from the Lakers’ celebrating their NBA championship and the NBA draft is less than a month away. While not much has happened, news-wise, just coach and assistant coach signings so far, we at Hoop Ball have been hard at work and have been getting ready for the upcoming 2020-21 NBA season.
But before we get into that, I’d like to give you all an update on what I’ve been up to lately. Normally, during the NBA offseason, I usually do some reading on the upcoming rookie class, which is something that I do in preparation for my dynasty league drafts. Being from outside of the U.S. my exposure to college hoops is pretty limited, so I’m forced to do a lot of reading and watching (YouTube). Aside from that, I’m also currently in the middle of two slow drafts. One is a “way too early” industry mock draft that I’m doing with some of the Hoop Ball big wigs like Dan Besbris, Mike Passador, and recent “free agent signing” (relatively), Adam King. The other is for a REAL league. Yep. You heard it correctly. It’s for a $20 entry, 14-team 9-cat H2H league. I just happen to have the distinct pleasure (and accompanying torment) of knowing a bunch of Fantasy Hoop Heads who simply CANNOT wait to draft for the upcoming season. Don’t worry, I’m definitely going to write about both those drafts for you to peruse and get an early feel of where players are getting drafted.
Just a bit of a heads up, I’m not too thrilled with some of my draft choices in the industry mock. Hindsight has got me second-guessing a few choices. But yes, this is exactly why we decided on this exercise, to get a better feel of what the draft market is for players.
As far as I’m concerned the signal for a fresh start of a new NBA campaign always begins with the NBA Draft. So with that in mind, let’s focus a bit on the upcoming draft and I will share with you a few of my thoughts as well as a number of rookies who I have my eye on, both in redraft and dynasty leagues.
But before we get into that, I’d like to share a bit of knowledge regarding rookies. You really need to determine, first of all, if you’re assessing them for a dynasty or redraft league and this is mainly because we assess them differently. For dynasty, you have to think in the long term, pick a rookie whom you think will have the best career overall. On the other hand, in redraft leagues, we’re looking for the most NBA-ready rookies, those who are most likely to find themselves to make a big impact for their teams from the get-go, so much so that they are able to provide fantasy value than some of the lower-tiered veteran players.
Some of you may have heard or read that the 2020 NBA Draft class as being described as “flat.” What does that mean? Unlike previous seasons where there was a clear cut “best player” or consensus top pick, this class doesn’t Other classes have a clear(er) hierarchy of player valuation. Player A is the hands-down best of the lot, while players B to D belong to the second tier of value and are solid even though they may not be unique physical phenoms or purported generational talent, and so on.
Before we jump into some fantasy talk, let’s chat a bit about who I think is going to end up being selected first overall in the upcoming draft next month. Mind you, not all first-overall picks end up being the best players in fantasy or even have the best pro careers. But for the sake of the guessing game aspect of it, let’s play expert and figure things out.
The Minnesota Timberwolves own the first overall pick in the draft. They’re a relatively young team with Karl-Anthony Towns and his buddy, D’Angelo Russell as the core players, both of whom are under the age of 25. The team can select a player who can complement the “dynamic duo” and further build a competitive franchise for years to come. That said, we did mention that this is a “flat” class, so who will they end up picking? Or will they end up trading the pick for a more established but still young, up and coming player? On draft day, anything can happen, as they say. For the sake of assumptions, let’s say that the Wolves end up keeping the pick and will make a selection. Who are they picking?
There are a couple of names who have been in the discussion for that first overall pick. First, there’s Anthony Edwards, a six-foot-five, 225-pound shooting guard from Georgia. There’s also LaMelo Ball, who comes to the league by way of the Australian NBL. He’s the younger brother of the Pelicans’ Lonzo Ball and is a 19-year-old point guard, who measures at six feet and seven inches and weighs 182 pounds.
Edwards has an NBA-ready body and is able to use his high level of athleticism and strength to score in bunches. He’s been compared to many players, ranging from Victor Oladipo, Andrew Wiggins and Paul George. A solid defender, Edwards has the makings of a potentially effective two-way player. That said, he has his fair share of drawbacks and is not that great at playmaking.
Now we’ve also got LaMelo Ball, who fits the new NBA mold of big point guards in the positionless era of the game. He’s a talented passer and similar to his brother Lonzo, has an excellent feel for the game and possesses a high basketball I.Q. The problem with Ball is that he’s not a great shooter and suffers from poor shot selection, leading to less-than-ideal shooting percentages. Hey, it’s likely a family trait. In that same vein though, the Ball siblings have a great basketball pedigree and live and breathe the game. The problem with Ball is that the Wolves already have D’Angelo Russell, who is expected to run the offense for the team. He has been able to play off the ball back when he was with the Nets, when they experimented with a backcourt of him and Spencer Dinwiddie. Now LaMelo and Russell are theoretically talented enough to be able to share the rock and even play off each other, however with the departure of Andrew Wiggins, whom the team had to trade away in order to acquire Russell, the Wolves find themselves rather thin at the wing position.
So, as a matter of fit, I believe that the Wolves will end up selecting Edwards. He’s going to be able to grow into a third scoring option for the team and is someone who will be able to play on both ends of the floor.
One of the observations I’ve managed to make during my research is that I’ve found that this class is heavy on forwards, swingmen, and pretty much 3-and-D type of players. One thing is clearly in short supply, as far as talent is concerned, are centers. There aren’t that many. I have the third pick in my dynasty league’s rookie draft and my team is in need of a solid big man shore up rebounds and blocks.
Across all the research I’ve done, experts seem to be split as to who is the best. Half believe that Memphis seven-footer James Wiseman is the best and most NBA-ready. He’s been compared to the likes of Anthony Davis, Chris Bosh, and a more talented Tristan Thompson – which, if you think about it, is a pretty wide spectrum, really. He’s a strong rebounder, shot blocker, and rim runner. He’s shown a fondness for improving his shooting range, almost too much, allegedly. The biggest knock on him is that he has only three games of NCAA action under his belt as he chose to forego returning to his team after being suspended by the NCAA for 12 games after it was proved that his mother received $11,500 to pay for the family’s relocation from Nashville to Memphis in 2017. Wiseman’s decision to not play out the remainder of what would end up being an abridged 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic has been interpreted as a negative by experts and some scouts alike. There’s really not a lot to go on. He did play in three games before his suspension and he was a dominant beast, averaging 19.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG and 3.0 BPG. Still, due to the small sample size, you definitely need to put an asterisk next to those numbers.
The other top center option in this class is USC’s Onyeka Okongwu. He’s 6’9″ and weighs 245 pounds. While he may appear to be undersized, Okongwu does make use of his 7’1″ wingspan and athleticism to compete with and even dominate rival big men in the NCAA. In 28 games, Okongwu averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.7 blocks per game on 62% shooting from the field. His body type and defensive talent have earned him comparisons to the Heat’s Bam Adebayo, who has been a hot commodity in fantasy after a tremendous break out year in 2019-20. There’s a clear-cut difference between them, though. Okongwu is arguably the better defender but is nowhere near as good a playmaker as Adebayo. That said, almost any real-life and fantasy team could do worse adding his kit to their team for the long haul.
As far as I’m concerned, it is very close, but after having watched some of Wiseman’s workout videos, I’m convinced of his potential. Not only can you “not teach height,” but Wiseman’s soft touch and potential for an arsenal that could include a 3-point shot further down the road, something that isn’t in the cards for Okongwu, is enough to set him apart and give him that edge.
As I mentioned, the 2020 class is “flat,” which means you’ve got over a dozen players who are in a similar talent tier who could end up making a splash in the NBA. Don’t worry though, the Hoop Ball fantasy basketball draft guide, which will be available in a week or two, will have some in-depth profiles and analysis of all these rookies.
In the meantime, here are a couple of players who’ve managed to catch my eye during the course of my research.
Obi Toppin, PF (Dayton)
At six-foot-nine, 220 pounds, Toppin is considered to be one of the most NBA-ready players of this class. He’s hands-down the best power forward. The 22-year-old sophomore is coming off a breakout season in 2019-20, where he produced averages of 20.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG and 1.2 BPG on 63% shooting from the field in 31 games. He’s been compared to Amare’ Stoudemire, Tobias Harris and John Collins.
The only thing that’s holding Toppin back from being an undisputed top-3 pick in the draft is his lack of lateral quickness, something that NBA scouts and coaches alike value in a player. It’s important for switching on defense as well as being able to do moves like the “Eurostep” when attacking the basket.
Still, Toppin is one of the players whom I consider to be able to make an instant impact for almost any NBA team if given the minutes to shine.
Tyrese Haliburton, PG (Iowa State)
While I cannot and will not dispute the star-power potential that LaMelo Ball possesses, he’s not my preferred point guard to draft from this year’s crop of rookies. Atop of that list is Tyrese Haliburton. Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing in at 174 pounds, this 20-year-old has good size and is a versatile player, who has the makings of an efficient-scoring combo guard.
While Haliburton has the length, he’s a bit on the lanky side, which makes it difficult for him to score through contact. That said, he does possess a solid and efficient stat set. In his 22 games in 2019-20, Haliburton posted averages of 15.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 6.5 APG and 2.5 SPG on 50% shooting from the field, 42% shooting from downtown on 2.4 made 3s per game and 82% shooting from the line.
As far as I’m concerned the biggest risk for Haliburton would be his landing spot in the draft. He will need an ideal team situation in order for him to best transition into the pro league.
I’d like to leave you with a shortlist of names who I have my eye on. For more in-depth rookie coverage, be sure to check out Hoop Ball’s epic Fantasy Basketball Draft Guide (coming soon) for complete player profiles and analyses.
Killian Hayes, Isaac Okoro, Devin Vassell, Aaron Nesmith, Saddiq Bey and Aleksej Pokusevski