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2020 NBA Draft grades

by Josh Mullenix | @TheJMULL_

After all the speculation about the 2020 NBA Draft, things were relatively predictable. Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball went one, two and three. There were some surprises like Florida State forward Patrick Williams going fourth to the Chicago Bulls. 

Ultimately, this draft didn’t especially stand out from the rest. Some picks were surprising and some were spot on. Some players went higher than predicted, some dropped lower than they should have and there were a collection of second round picks that everyone really liked.

It’s impossible to actually grade the decisions NBA franchises made last night without actually seeing the product on the floor. However, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try. Let’s give every team a grade based on who they picked, what draft night trades they made and the players they left with at the end of the night. 

Atlanta Hawks

Picks: Onyeka Okongwu (No. 6 overall), Skylar Mays (50)

Okongwu has plenty of upside but does many of the same things Clint Capela does, which makes this pick a little curious. It’s hard to ever fault a team for taking whoever is the best player available though. Mays has the ability to carve out a role as a bench player after a fine career at LSU. The Hawks were in a position to take a long-term view with their top-10 selection and understandably did so. 

Grade: B

Boston Celtics

Picks: Aaron Nesmith (14), Payton Pritchard (26), Yam Madar (47)

Acquired via trade: Future draft considerations

Adding the best shooter in the draft is never a bad idea. Boston made up for just missing out on Tyrese Haliburton and Kira Lewis Jr. by taking Pritchard, who is NBA-ready and fills a need if he’s able to take the backup point guard spot from Brad Wanamaker. In a perfect world, the Celtics are able to grab a big at 47 rather than a draft-and-stash guy. 

Grade: B-

Brooklyn Nets

Picks: Reggie Perry (57)

Acquired via trade: Landry Shamet

A mid-first round pick is not an exceptionally high price to pay for a proven contributor like Shamet. That being said, the pick Brooklyn traded became Saddiq Bey, who is exactly the kind of player the Nets could use. Perry is a nice get so late on and could see real playing time if a James Harden deal materializes. 

Grade: C+

Charlotte Hornets

Picks: LaMelo Ball (3), Vernon Carey Jr. (32), Nick Richards (42), Grant Riller (56)

Charlotte desperately needed an infusion of talent and that is what it got. Michael Jordan obviously approved the Ball pick and will be there to hold him accountable in a way nobody on that roster can. Carey Jr. was a top-10 recruit coming out of high school, so talent is not the question there. Even Riller is an intriguing addition. Now was not the time to get conservative, and to the Hornets’ credit, they didn’t.

Grade: B+

Chicago Bulls

Picks: Patrick Williams (4), Marko Simonovic (44)

With the consensus best three players in the draft off the board, the Bulls decided to go with the uber-athletic Williams, who did not start a game in his brief college career at Florida State. His physical tools will allow him to be a good defender from day one and he has the potential to become elite on that side of the court. The question is whether he can do anything else. Simonovic is a mobile big who will be kept overseas for at least this season. For rationale on Chicago’s grade, see this factoid courtesy of ESPN stats and info. 

Grade: D

Cleveland Cavaliers

Picks: Isaac Okoro (5)

The Cavaliers’ taking Okoro with Obi Toppin still on the board signals a fundamental shift — at least temporarily — in their approach. The former Auburn Tiger is never going to be a high-volume scorer but immediately becomes arguably the best defender on Cleveland’s roster. Any team will benefit from his skill set, especially one that already employs Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. 

Grade: B+

Dallas Mavericks

Picks: Josh Green (18), Tyrell Terry (31), Tyler Bey (36)

Acquired via trade: Josh Richardson

Dallas added two versatile defenders in Arizona’s Josh Green and Colorado’s Tyler Bey. The pair of wings immediately improve the defense in Dallas and both can play complementary roles around Luka Doncic and the rest of Dallas’ weapons. Josh Richardson also joins the ranks and all of a sudden the Mavs might have one of the better perimeter defenses in the NBA.  Tyrell Terry might be the steal of the draft. The Stanford sharpshooter fell out of the first round due to being just 6’2 and 174 pounds. If nothing else, he has potential to change games as a shooter.

Grade: A

Denver Nuggets

Picks: Zeke Nnaji (22), RJ Hampton (24)

At first, I was surprised by the Nuggets’ move to pick Nnaji at No. 22, but it’s hard to argue with Nnaji as a prospect. He’s a good finisher that has the potential to extend his range to the 3-point line. He rebounds it very well and runs the floor hard, but he’s not going to help with interior defense immediately. Hampton might be the best athlete in the draft and the skill is there; he just needs to develop a jump shot to really unlock all of that athleticism at the NBA level.

Grade: B+  

Detroit Pistons

Picks: Killian Hayes (7), Isaiah Stewart (16), Saddiq Bey (19), Saben Lee (38)

Acquired via trade: Tony Bradley, Rodney McGruder, Trevor Ariza

The Pistons had their choice of point guards with the seventh overall pick and opted to take the crafty Frenchman Hayes. He addresses a clear area of need and has a relatively high ceiling, two attributes most good selections possess. Stewart was a bit of a reach and offers a physical presence on the interior. Bey, on the other hand, had a chance at going in the top 10. Getting him at 19 is a steal. Any kind of meaningful contribution from Lee would be an added bonus. 

Grade: A-

Golden State Warriors

Picks: James Wiseman (2), Nico Mannion (48), Justinian Jessup (51)

There was a lot of speculation about what Golden State was going to do with the No. 2 pick. They went with Memphis big James Wiseman. He’s a freak athlete who is great on defense and runs the floor extremely well. He fits in the Bay Area. Nico Mannion was once-upon-a-time a lottery pick who fell to 48th after a relatively disappointing year at Arizona. Nonetheless, he’s a phenomenal pick-and-roll guard with great court vision and passing abilities. Jessup is a 6’7 sharpshooter from Boise State who has already signed a deal with the Illawarra Hawks of the NBL. He’s a draft-and-stash guy. Unfortunately, anything good about draft night was overshadowed by the news of Klay Thompson’s lower leg injury. The picks were good, but they ultimately lost draft night with the confirmation of Thompson’s torn Achilles. 

Grade: A-

Houston Rockets

Picks: Kenyon Martin Jr. (52)

The Rockets traded the 16th pick and Trevor Ariza to Detroit for a future first round pick but moved into the second round in a trade with Sacramento to draft Kenyon Martin Jr. KJ is the son of former NBA All-Star Kenyon Martin. The Rockets took a shot on an IMG Academy prospect who is an explosive forward at 6’6 that averaged 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds for IMG’s post-grad team. At the end of the night, Houston traded Ariza and a first rounder for a heavily-protected 2021 pick and another second round pick. 

Grade: C

Indiana Pacers

Picks: Cassius Stanley (54)

Stanley had a rather underwhelming year at Duke, averaging 12.6 points and just 1.0 assists per game. From the Pacers’ perspective, acquiring someone with the raw physical tools Stanley has that close to the end of the draft is absolutely worth the risk. There are only a handful of players with his explosiveness that come along every year. 

Grade: B+

Los Angeles Clippers

Picks: Daniel Oturu (33), Jay Scrubb (55)

Acquired via trade: Luke Kennard

The Clippers made a move to acquire Luke Kennard and ultimately sent Landry Shamet to the Clippers. They also acquired the No. 33 pick in a trade with the Knicks that they used to draft Oturu. The Minnesota big is a high-energy defensive force who can protect the rim and rebound very well. The Nuggets shined a light on a hole in the Clippers roster in the playoffs, and Oturu addresses that to a certain extent. Scrubb is a junior college star from John A. Logan College. He’s a silky smooth scorer that needs to improve on defense. He’ll be a project that has some upside. The Clippers came to the table with just the 57th pick. Tthey made some noise and addressed some holes.

Grade: B+ 

Memphis Grizzlies

Picks: Desmond Bane (30), Xavier Tillman Sr. (35)

Acquired via trade: Future considerations

Bane slipped to the end of the first round and Memphis made a trade with Boston to acquire the 30th pick and draft him. The TCU wing shot 44% from three last season and should have an immediate impact in the second unit. Tillman is one of the best defenders at his position in the draft and excels in the pick-and-roll as a finisher with a playmaker. These two picks fit the Grizzlies type: hard working, high basketball IQ.

Grade: A+

Miami Heat

Picks: Precious Achiuwa (20)

There is not a better marriage of player and franchise in this draft than Achiuwa and Miami. He is not all that different from Bam Adebayo, though he won’t be the same kind of playmaker. Working hard and playing defense will not be an issue. Achiuwa can contribute right away but has the luxury of being able to grow into his role. This pick has long-term success written all over it. 

Grade: A

Milwaukee Bucks

Picks: Jordan Nwora (45), Sam Merrill (60)

Despite not making a selection until pick 45, Milwaukee walked away with a third team All-American in Nwora and a career 42% 3-point shooter in Merrill. Nwora provides the Bucks with additional bench scoring, something they don’t have much of at the moment. There will always be a place for guys like Merrill in the NBA, assuming his shooting ability doesn’t leave him. It’s somewhat hard to believe these guys were there for Milwaukee to snag in the latter part of the second round. 

Grade: A

Minnesota Timberwolves

Picks: Anthony Edwards (1), Leandro Bolmaro (23), Jaden McDaniels (28)

Acquired via trade: Ricky Rubio

Minnesota completely re-defined its perimeter on draft night. The Timberwolves drafted Georgia guard Edwards first overall, unsurprisingly, but then made a trade to reunite with Ricky Rubio, who does way more than just add another guard to the roster. He will be an integral part of helping Edwards acclimate to the NBA while also being impactful on the floor. Bolmaro is a great passer and one of the best playmaking shooting guards in this draft, but he needs some work and the same can be said for McDaniels. The Washington product is uber athletic but has some growing up to do and lots of room to grow as a player.

Grade: A

New Orleans Pelicans

Picks: Kira Lewis Jr. (13)

Acquired via trade: 2024 second round pick, future second round pick, cash considerations

The Pelicans were busy on draft night, but they only walked away with one player. I love the idea of Kira Lewis Jr. in New Orleans. The speedy point guard is so exciting to watch and will be fascinating in the open court with Zion Williamson. He’s a good shooter as well, but needs to develop a little more as a facilitator. He should also be able to work in the backcourt along with Lonzo Ball, especially if the two can knock down enough threes. All things considered, it’s a solid pick for New Orleans that fills a role. 

Grade: A-

New York Knicks

Picks: Obi Toppin (8), Immanuel Quickley (25)

Acquired via trade: 2023 second round pick

Rumors were flying prior to the draft that the Knicks had their sights set on Toppin and were interested in moving up to get him, so it was no surprise he was the choice when he fell to them. He has one of the most intriguing offensive repertoires in this draft class and the ability to develop into an above-average defender. Quickley fills a position of need and the primary reason Kentucky was considered among the favorites to win the national championship before everything shut down. While there is risk associated with both, they are dynamic talents who will be fun to watch if nothing else. 

Grade: B+

Oklahoma City Thunder

Picks: Aleksej Pokusevski (17), Theo Maledon (34), Vit Krejci (37)

The Thunder did exactly what you thought they would do: draft players who need time to develop into productive NBA players. Pokusevski’s skill set is the most intriguing in the class, but his body isn’t NBA ready and it’s not clear how he’ll translate to the league. Maledon is a seasoned, but young, French guard that can play on and off the ball. Krejci is a combo guard that will probably spend the next couple of years in Europe. Presti stayed the course on draft night.

Grade: A

Orlando Magic

Picks: Cole Anthony (15)

Nobody can honestly say they have any idea what to expect from Anthony at the next level. He was brilliant at times during his stop in Chapel Hill and infuriating with his shot selection at others. The existence of Markelle Fultz complicates things to a degree, but the Magic aren’t in a position to be worrying about that. Anthony is going to score the ball and do so in exciting fashion. Anyone drafting outside the lottery would’ve been justified in taking a chance on him. 

Grade: B

Philadelphia 76ers

Picks: Tyrese Maxey (21), Isaiah Joe (49), Paul Reed (58)

Acquired via trade: Seth Curry

Daryl Morey got right to work in Philly, sending Josh Richardson to Dallas for Seth Curry in addition to the three picks and the Al Horford trade. Maxey was good value at 21 even if he’s not exactly what the Sixers needed. They got that in the form of Curry and Joe, who make them an exponentially better shooting team. Reed should never have fallen as far as he did. In a matter of hours, Morey transformed the jumbled mess that was Philadelphia’s roster into a fairly logical collection of pieces. That is no small feat. 

Grade: A+

Phoenix Suns

Picks: Jalen Smith (10)

Phoenix came to the table with nothing but the 10th pick. They exercised the right to use that pick and called it a night, drafting Maryland big Jalen Smith. With other 3-and-D wings on the board and backup point guards like Tyrese Haliburton still available, this wasn’t what I expected the Suns to do. However, it solidifies the interior for the Suns and opens up a door for a pretty scary front court featuring Smith and Deandre Ayton.

Grade: B+

Portland Trail Blazers

Picks: CJ Elleby (46)

Portland used their draft capital to get Robert Covington in a trade with the Rockets. As a result, draft night was relatively uneventful for the Trail Blazers. They drafted Washington State guard CJ Elleby, who will make it in the NBA on his high motor, instinctive rebounding and hard work on the defensive end. Hopefully, he can establish himself as a perimeter threat and improve in a good development system in Portland.

Grade: B

Sacramento Kings

Picks: Tyrese Haliburton (12), Robert Woodard (40), Jahmi’us Ramsey (43)

Acquired via trade: 2022 second round pick

The Kings got a really good player in Haliburton at 12. He’ll be able to function as a lead guard but also play off the ball with De’Aaron Fox and knock down shots. His 6’5 frame with long arms will allow Luke Walton to play both guards at the same time. On the perimeter, the Kings got two solid shooters in Woodard and Ramsey that should raise the level of play on the defensive end. Neither player was supposed to fall as far as they did. 

Grade: A-

San Antonio Spurs

Picks: Devin Vassell (11), Tre Jones (41)

Vassell is a true 3-and-D guy who excels at both. If he develops as a playmaker he could be awesome. If not, he’ll be an impactful defender both on the ball and in passing lanes and he’ll knock down shots. Pretty fool proof in today’s NBA. Jones just feels like a point guard that fits in San Antonio. He’s also an elite on-ball defender and should be a solid backup point guard that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. The backcourt is now even more crowded in San Antonio, but Jones is a safe pick.

Grade: A- 

Toronto Raptors

Picks: Malachi Flynn (29), Jalen Harris (59)

With Kyle Lowry turning 35 in March and Fred Van Vleet an unrestricted free agent, point guard was going to be a position of interest for Masai Ujiri. In Flynn, the Raptors found the player who most closely resembles Van Vleet coming out of college. He’s intelligent, good with the ball in his hands and able to hold his own defensively. Much like Achiuwa, Flynn is entering a situation where he will have every opportunity to succeed. There’s not much more you can ask for at the end of the first round. Taking a flier on a guy who scored 21.7 points his final year in college is never a bad idea either. 

Grade: A

Utah Jazz

Picks: Udoka Azubuike (27), Elijah Hughes (39)

Acquired via trade: Future draft considerations

I wasn’t in love with the Jazz picking Azubuike so high, but maybe they are preparing for a world in which they aren’t going to pay Rudy Gobert what he wants in free agency. Similarly, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion Hughes would be drafted but they picked him at 39th. Utah is in win now mode, so hopefully one of these guys will help immediately, but I don’t love it.  

Grade: C

Washington Wizards

Picks: Deni Avdija (9), Cassius Winston (53)

Acquired via trade: Future considerations

Potential disaster was averted when Avdija was available for the Wizards after they missed out on Okongwu. His playmaking ability will take some of the pressure off John Wall and it does so without creating a log jam at the guard position. Once Okongwu wasn’t an option, Advija projected to go as high as fourth in some mock drafts became the best-case scenario. Winston should be able to have a long NBA career as a backup point guard who makes everyone around him better.

Grade: A-

Photo by: Gamecock Central / Wikimedia Commons

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