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2020 NBA Draft Guide: Bigs

by Josh Mullenix | @TheJMULL_

In the final part of the 110 Sports NBA Draft Guide, let’s take a look at the top 10 big men in this year’s draft. It starts with two high-energy guys and has intriguing stretch bigs, defensive specialists and gifted athletes throughout. 

Starting with a Washington one-and-done prospect, let’s take a look at the best of the bigs in this year’s draft class. 

10. Isaiah Stewart, Washington, 6’9, 250lb

First on our list is a powerful, physical big from Washington, Isaiah Stewart. In his one season with the Huskies, he averaged 17 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. The All-Pac 12 selection stuffed the stat sheet. 

The story with Stewart starts with brute force. He’s just a lot to handle in the post on both ends of the floor. On the offensive end he has a lot to offer. He’s got a nice collection of moves, most of them going over his left shoulder. He’s assertive, but he’s not explosive and having a set of post moves pairs well with those sort of physical attributes. He has soft touch and his 7’4 wingspan helps him get a lot of shots off, even over taller defenders. Of course, the knock on his offensive game is his inability to stretch the floor. If Stewart was in the draft 15 years ago he’d be much higher on this list than he is in 2020. But the reality is he was just 5-of-20 from beyond the arc at Washington and every scout is tasked with finding the next stretch five, not the next brute force post player. His touch suggests he could develop a mid-range and 3-point shooting game but that’s certainly up in the air.

On the defensive end, Stewart has an incredible motor coupled with great defensive positioning and strength, leading to a very good defender. He rebounds extremely well on both ends of the floor due to his effort and long arms. He can hold his own with pretty much anybody and that 7’4 wingspan makes getting shots off over him a challenge. He’s not an explosive blocker, but his long arms and positioning set him up to alter a lot of shots. While he’s not the quickest big in the draft, he should be able to hold his own in those situations where he has to switch on to a smaller guard.

At the next level, Stewart is going to bring energy and strength to any team. He’ll defend well and always be in good positions. However, his game in its current state would be much more sought after 10 years ago than it is right now.  

9. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State, 6’8, 245lb

There are some players who are going to get into the NBA because of their overwhelming talent, ridiculous measurements, or blow you out of the water college performances (a.k.a. Trae Young). Then there are players like Xavier Tillman who are 6’8, 245 pounds, don’t possess the skills of a perimeter player and will always be undersized on the interior, but what Tillman does is work hard. On the defensive end, he works. On the glass, he works. Even in pick-and-rolls, he works and he does all of that with a very high basketball IQ. Work ethic matters and Tillman separates himself from the rest with that intangible. 

Tillman averaged 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in his junior season at Michigan State before foregoing his senior year to enter the NBA draft. He was the 2019-20 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as well as being named to the 2019-20 All-Big Ten team. Everything about his defense screams effort. He’s not the longest or tallest guy, but he averaged over two blocks a game and 1.2 steals per contest. Both are a result of effort and understanding how to be in the right spot at the right time on the defensive end. He’s not explosive, but his lateral quickness is functional and he can stay with a perimeter player in most situations when he switches on to a guard. And he finishes off all of that with being a really good rebounder because, you guessed it, he rebounds with effort and he’s in the right position.

On the offensive end, Tillman runs hard in transition and showed that with a good point guard he can have value on the offensive end. He got to play with Cassius Winston at Michigan State, who is very good at putting his teammates in good positions. Tillman is a smart pick-and-roll player that is aware of the right place to roll and where he is on the court. At the rim, he lacks explosiveness but makes up for it with soft touch and an ability to finish with both hands. He’ll, of course, need to improve from the perimeter as an undersized big. He took just 77 threes at Michigan State and 50 of them came in his final season. Shooting just 27.3% from range, that part of his game will need to improve to make him as productive as possible on that end of the floor.

At the end of the day, Tillman clearly has some holes in his game (especially on offense), but what NBA teams can count on is a guy who is going to come in and work every single day. That’s pretty attractive, if you ask me.   

8. Killian Tillie, Gonzaga, 6’10, 220lb

Tillie’s career at Gonzaga was peculiar. Not because of the product he put on the floor necessarily, but because he has trouble staying on it late in his career and that’s where you have to start. Throughout his four years, he dealt with lower body injuries of all kinds, whether it was his knee, foot or ankle. They all played a role in him only playing 39 games over his last two seasons. It’s a fair question to wonder whether or not Tillie’s body is capable of holding up for an entire 82-game season. Without those injuries, Tillie has the game to be a first round pick, no question.

No ifs, ands or buts, Tillie is the most skilled big man in this draft class. He won’t be a defensive stopper like Wiseman, he won’t be as well-rounded and defensively versatile as Okongwu or as athletic as Achiuwa. However, he does have the best and most NBA ready offensive game in this draft. Tillie is going to space the floor. He’s going to knock down 3-point jump shots with incredible regularity and he’s going to excel as a stretch forward in the pick-and-roll in todays’ NBA. Over four seasons at Gonzaga, Tillie was 106-of-239 from beyond the arc (44%) both as a tremendous catch-and-shoot guy and in pick-and-pop situations. His shooting stroke is rare for someone of his size. I have not seen a big in college basketball have a quick, smooth release like he does in quite some time. It looks so natural and that means a lot when trying to gauge effectiveness at the next level. 

Tillie is also solid with the ball in his hands. He makes good decisions when he is in the post both as a scorer and a passer and is a solid ball handler for someone of his size. His good touch stretches beyond the 3-point line and extends to the paint area where he exhibits it on the floaters and other shots that someone who isn’t a lob threat has to show. He’s very good in the post with an advanced set of skills. Just 33% of his at-the-rim shots last season were assisted, but he shot nearly 72% from that area of the floor. 

On the defensive end, Tillie is limited. He’s not the most physical, powerful big man in this class and he’s also not all that quick laterally. Teams are going to want to avoid him switching on to small guards at all costs. They just cook him with his slower footwork on that end of the floor. Even though he’s 6’10, he’s not much of a rim protector and his rebounding needs to improve. With all of that being said, he’s able to guard other bigs in space, which is the most important part of a stretch big’s defensive job. Every NBA team is looking for an interior player who can stretch the floor and Tillie should be a serviceable defender in those situations. 

I like Tillie a lot, but I understand the concerns and that’s why he’s not higher on my list. If he doesn’t have an extensive history of injury, he’s easily higher on my list (and higher on scouts’ lists). He’s a high-risk, high-reward guy and it’s not hard to imagine him being a bust due to injury, or an impactful NBA big. 

7. Paul Reed, DePaul, 6’9, 220lb

Even when DePaul has potential first round picks on its roster, the Blue Demons can’t find a way to be relevant in the Big East. Now that I’m done making the Blue Demons the target of a ricochet shot, let’s talk about a really talented big man in Paul Reed. 

The story with Reed starts on the defensive end. He was one of the best defenders in the Big East last season. He was second only to St. John’s Nick Rutherford in defensive BPR, according to EvanMiya CBB Analytics. He’s a long, athletic 6’9 forward with a wingspan over seven feet. He blocked almost three shots per game and added another two steals per contest last season. He was the main reason the Blue Demons were second in block percentage in the Big East and third in steal percentage. 

Reed is quick laterally, making him one of the more versatile big men on this list. If he has to switch onto a smaller guard, you just don’t feel about it and that in and of itself makes him a valuable NBA prospect. To a larger point, his on-ball defense is very good, especially on the perimeter. At only 220 pounds, he’ll need to add some weight in order to effectively guard some of the heavier bigs in the post. His shot blocking abilities will probably be more effective in a help defense setting rather than actually fighting with some of the more traditional bigs down low. But one thing is for sure, he’s a dynamic, versatile defender that is going to give perimeter players and modern NBA bigs alike a lot of trouble on the defensive end. 

Right now, Reed is pretty raw on the offensive end. He and the next guy on this list are going to be NBA players because of their defensive first and foremost. He’s just not very skilled right now and a lot of his success in college on offense was due to his athleticism. His shooting mechanics are questionable, at best and will need to improve. He has the potential to space the floor, shooting 30% from beyond the arc last season. The potential seems to be there, it just needs to be optimized and that starts with mechanics. He’s not a great ball handler, which isn’t great for a guy who needs to be able to use his athleticism to get to the rim. Early in his NBA career, he’ll probably be a pick-and-roll guy as well as a weak side player who always has the potential to go up for an alley-oop or make a backdoor cut. His ceiling at the next level is a question, however, and will depend on how much he improves in those more skilled areas.

It’s not hard to understand why someone as athletic and gifted on the defensive end as Reed is attractive to NBA franchises. The verdict is still out on the rest of his game. 

6. Precious Achiuwa, Memphis, 6’9, 225lb

There is no one on the planet who benefited more from James Wiseman leaving Memphis than Precious Achiuwa. The 6’9 forward from New York was going to join Wiseman at Memphis and play in his shadow and be the No. 2 to Wiseman’s No. 1. Then Wiseman left before 2019 was over and all of a sudden it was Achiuwa’s team. And he took full advantage of it. He finished the season averaging 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while taking home AAC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. 

Achiuwa is everywhere on the defensive end, whether it’s blocking or altering shots or using his quickness at 6’9 to be a very versatile defender. He’s active in the passing lanes, adding 1.1 steals per game thanks to his activity and 7’2 wingspan. His biggest asset early in his NBA career is going to be his physical dimensions coupled with his motor on the defensive end. His motor is one of the best in this draft class and he just so happens to be quick on his feet, 6’9 and have a wingspan that should translate to him being a high-level defender at the next level as long as he gets a little more disciplined and can grasp NBA defensive schemes (like a lot of young shot blockers, he gets a little excited when he sees a pump fake). 

I would be willing to bet a considerable amount of money on Achiuwa being a good defender in the NBA, I’d be more conservative if you asked me to bet on his offensive abilities. In a word, they are raw. He has the foundation of a formidable pick-and-roll player. He rolls to the rim hard and can even put the ball on the floor if he needs to in order to get to the rim and finish with athleticism. Similarly, he runs the floor well thanks to his quickness. 

That’s where the offensive attributes you feel good about come to a stop, the rest is a work in progress. He was an O.K. shooter at Memphis, making 13 of his 40 3-point shots but made just 59.9% of his free throws, which doesn’t suggest good things when it comes to shooting it well in the NBA. While he finishes well thanks to his athleticism, it’s clear that his touch around this rim needs improvement when it comes to playing in the post, finishing in traffic and not just rolling to the rim with a head of steam.  

We’ve seen some players on this list with more offensive potential than Achiuwa, but the Memphis standout is one of the most versatile defensive bigs in this class and I’ll take his motor and ability to operate in the pick-and-roll while rolling the dice on the rest of his offensive game. 

5. Aleksej Pokusevski, Olympiacos B, 7’0, 201lb

I will admit, I didn’t know a whole lot about Pokusevski before writing this story. After researching him, he’s one of my favorite prospects. Not necessarily because I think he’ll be one of the best players in this draft, but because I just find him so intriguing. First, his dimensions; he’s seven feet tall, but he weighs only 201 pounds. He’s just so, so skinny. Can you name a seven footer who is only 200 pounds that has found extended success in the NBA? I can’t and that’s going to be the Serbian’s biggest hurdle is finding a way to fill in his body and become a respectable defender.

With that being said, boy does he have an intriguing skillset. He’s 7’0, but he plays like a score first wing and has the passing ability of a guard. He’s got incredible playmaking skills that I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like at his size. Of course, Kevin Durant is the most skilled player around this height of all time but you wouldn’t describe Durant as an incredible passer. Pokusevski can pass like a guard, can shoot like a wing and has the playmaking ability of a beautiful mix of both. He definitely has shooting potential to accompany his rare agility for a seven footer, as well. 

As intriguing as Pokusevski is on the offensive end, the defensive questions are just as intriguing. First of all, who is he going to guard? Yes, he’s agile but probably not agile enough to stay in front of more traditional wing players and certainly not guards. He’s got nowhere near the strength to be able to really defend any other big man in the NBA, at least not one that is going to post him up. He might be able to spend his time on the longer, skinnier fours and fives that spend all of their time on the perimeter but his current physique greatly limits him on that end of the floor.  

The last knock on the Serbian is his lack of high-level experience. He hasn’t even spent a lot of time on the Olympiacos main team and it’s not like he’s absolutely dominating lower tier leagues. However, it’s indisputable that he has a game that could fit in the NBA and it’s even less disputable that he’s a very interesting prospect. 

Everyone that came before Pokusevski I have questions about their ability to have a consistent impact in today’s NBA. Pokusevski could definitely do that, but he certainly has major questions to answer. And honestly, I find him fascinating and I want him to succeed.

4. Jalen Smith, Maryland, 6’10, 225lb

Maryland tied for the Big Ten regular season title last season thanks, in large part, to point guard Anthony Cowan and this guy, Jalen Smith. The sophomore took major leaps in pretty much every major category last season after the departure of Bruno Fernando. Here’s what we know about him: he can rebound it on both ends of the floor, he’s a high level rim protector and he has upside as a shooter (shot 37% at Maryland from deep). He can do all of that, and he can do it at 6’10 with a near 7’2 wingspan. Have I convinced you he’s a top five big man in this draft class for a reason? 

Smith can do quite a bit on both ends of the floor. On the offensive end, he’s going to be a great pick-and-roll player thanks to his ability to finish around the rim with touch or pop out and shoot the 3-pointer. Last season he shot just over 72% around the rim, according to Hoop-Math, and almost all of his success from the 3-point line came on assisted opportunities. There aren’t too many bigs on this list that I like their combination of size and developed offensive game more than Smith’s. He could get better as a post scorer but he has the touch to be an effective on the interior, especially if he adds some weight to a relatively wiry frame. To be honest, adding some weight to a guy with touch so he could be a little more effective inside is a much easier problem to fix than trying to develop a jump shot for a near seven-footer. 

He doesn’t facilitate it much, but that’s a result of a couple of things. First, he played with Cowan, who was one of the best floor generals in college basketball last season. Second, due to those aforementioned areas of improvement in the post, he got a lot of opportunities being set up as a scorer in the pick-and-roll rather than as a facilitator. 

There are a lot of teams that could use the services of Smith. He’s an athletic, engaged big man that rebounds it well in addition to being a rim protector. On the offensive end, he can be an aid in spreading the floor and should find a nice role for himself in a league that runs a lot of pick-and-roll and values bigs that can shoot. 

3. Obi Toppin, Dayton, 6’9, 220lb

Now, the 2019-20 AP Player of the Year and consensus all-american, Obi Toppin, enters the ring. Let’s take a moment to be impressed by Toppin’s numbers: 20 points, 7.5 rebounds, one steal, 1.2 blocks while shooting 63% from the floor and 39% from deep. The Flyers were one of the best teams in the country and Toppin was the best player in the country. 

There isn’t a whole lot Toppin can’t do on the offensive end. He has explosiveness that he used for some of the more exciting dunks in college basketball last season but that exciting ability is just the tip of the iceberg. He’s a 6’9 forward with nice handles on the perimeter that allow him to be a very versatile offensive player. He’s a major threat as the screener in the pick-and-roll due to his athleticism and ability to pass, shoot and finish around the rim with both hands. As a big who will be able to both roll and pop, it’s not hard to understand why he’ll go in the top 10 and maybe the top five of this year’s draft. 

He’s a very efficient scorer. He was the fourth most efficient player in college basketball last season of the players who were responsible for at least 24% of their team’s possessions. He accompanied that very functional 3-point shooting with shooting nearly 70% from two point range last season. 

The biggest knock on Toppin is his defensive ability. Yes he’s 6’9 with lots of athleticism so in theory he could guard multiple positions at the NBA level. However, his explosion doesn’t translate to the defensive end in the same way it does on the other end of the floor. First and foremost, he needs to develop his understanding of pick-and-roll defense and help defense in general. He’s really going to be picked apart in that position if he doesn’t improve and he’s often late on rotations. Right now, he’s not the strongest 6’9 guy in the world and powerful NBA bigs are going to be able to push him around. All of these problems go away to a certain extent if he does a little better job applying himself on defense. 

It’s not hard to understand why Toppin is a top prospect in this draft. He has incredible athleticism that excels in the open floor and in space. How much better he gets on the defensive end and how efficient he stays on the offensive end will dictate just how good he is at the next level. But there is a lot to like. 

2. James Wiseman, Memphis, 7’1, 237lb

Wiseman’s measurables are laugh out loud funny. He’s the most gifted athlete in this class at 7’1, 237 pounds with a 7’6 wingspan. He runs the floor extremely well and has an explosive first and second jump. His athleticism, and what it translates to, is the reason that he’s slated to be a top-three pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. 

He’s an elite shot blocker and rebounder. He averaged 10.7 rebounds and three blocks during his short time at Memphis but it was quickly clear just how impactful Wiseman is in altering shots and cleaning up the glass. He’ll need to get more disciplined about choosing what shots to try to block but he’s been able to get to everything since he started playing basketball so that’s an understandable area of improvement. He runs with a high motor as well, which might be the foundation of all great rebounders and shot blockers. He’s got the physical attributes like no one else as well. 

That lack of discipline can be seen in his team defense, too. He’s just never had to be in the right position to make an awesome play thanks to his length and athleticism. That will need to change in the NBA where his athleticism will only get him so far. 

On the offensive end, Wiseman does a lot of things pretty well, but nothing great. He has a nice post presence and nice touch for a young big man of his size, but his ball handling is pedestrian at best, which limits what he’s able to do when creating his own shot with his back to the basket. His shooting form is solid and at the very least leaves potential for him to become a perimeter threat of some sort. As previously mentioned, he runs the floor really well with long strides and can be a problem as a screener in the pick-and-roll, which will probably be the bulk of his role early in his career.

It’s obvious why Wiseman gets scouts excited. His physical attributes are second to none. He has a high motor and doesn’t seem to have reached his potential in other skilled areas. For me, it will always rub me the wrong way that he once left his Memphis team when he had no injuries and no real reason other than “to get ready for the NBA draft” for leaving. By most accounts, he’s a high-character person who is very intelligent and works hard, but how he ended his college career matters in my opinion. 

Whether or not Wiseman is the best big man in this class will ultimately depend on just how much better he gets on the offensive end of the floor, but athleticism, rebounding and shot blocking certainly have a place in today’s NBA. 

1. Onyeka Okongwu, USC, 6’9, 245lb

On almost every mock draft, you will find James Wiseman as one of first three players picked in the 2020 NBA Draft. While I have no issue with that (and he would probably be in my top 3 as well), Wiseman is not my favorite big man in this year’s class. That honor goes to USC big man Onyeka Okongwu.

In his one season at USC, Okongwu averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. It’s obvious, but his NBA profile starts on the defense end. At 6’9, 245 pounds, he has rare versatility for a big man. His 7’1 wingspan makes him an elite shot blocker that can get to balls you think he has no chance of getting to. His athleticism, length and hustle are going to allow him to be the most versatile big man in this class on the defensive end of the floor. Of course, he won’t be asked to guard wings all that often, but if he switches onto a quicker perimeter player, he’s going to be able to stay in front of them.

His athleticism and quickness for a big makes him a very good pick-and-roll defender. He’s quick enough to hedge ball screens and still get back to his man and alter shots around the rim. Along with his versatility on the defensive end, he does a lot of the little things right. He finishes possessions well on the glass on both ends of the floor and never gives up on a play, which is an important attribute for a rim protector.

On the offensive end, his game is much more polished than Wiseman’s, which is part of my reason for picking Okongwu ahead of the Memphis big. He’s a good post scorer that can handle the ball really well for his size, making his options in the post aplenty. He can play above the rim in the pick-and-roll and is really hard to stop if he gets going downhill. He made just one three in college, but he only took four. His 72% from the free throw line and his touch around the rim suggest that there might be a perimeter jumper to unlock, but that is very much still up in the air.

Here are two reasons why I like Okongwu more: First, he’s the big in this draft that I see the most of Bam Adebayo in. Adebayo is a model of the modern NBA center. One that might not be 7 ‘0 but does so many things well and is so versatile on both ends of the floor. I see that in Okongwu way more than I see it in Wiseman. And, to be frank, Wiseman quit on his college basketball team. I’ll take the guy who is more well-rounded as of right now and didn’t leave his college teammates hanging.

Photos by: susanswong / Wikimedia Commons

The Hoosier / Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Jonesi / Flickr

Alexander Jonesi / Flickr

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