2020 NBA Draft doesn’t lack for intrigue

The 2020 NBA Draft was anything but normal, beginning with the fact that it was being held nearly five months later than usual thanks to COVID-19. The limitations on travel and in-person workouts made this pre-draft process far more difficult than seasons past, not to mention the fact that NBA scouts and decision-makers were not able to use the NCAA tournament as an evaluation tool. Add in the fact that this class, while not lacking in the depth department, did not have a surefire talent at the top and Wednesday night was bound to get a bit crazy.

Anthony Edwards (Minnesota), James Wiseman (Golden State) and LaMelo Ball (Charlotte) were the top three picks, and that was the expectation. But the surprises began with the fourth pick, as the Bulls selected versatile Florida State forward Patrick Williams. Williams, seen by some as a late-lottery option at the start of this draft “season,” was a sixth man for the Seminoles but more often than not he was on the court to end games.

In that regard Williams has something in common with the recently retired Marvin Williams, who was picked second overall in the 2005 NBA Draft despite coming off the bench for a North Carolina squad that won the national title that season. The importance of positional versatility in the NBA has increased in recent years, and Williams fits that mold. Bulls president Arturas Karnisovas cited this as one of the reasons why Williams was the pick for Chicago, and given his age the athletic forward should continue to polish his offensive skill set.

The Williams selection was a harbinger of what was to come Wednesday night, as some players projected to go high in the draft slipped down the board while others who were expected to be second-round picks rose. Below is a look at some of the biggest storylines from Wednesday’s draft, beginning with a huge development that occurred hours before Adam Silver announced that Minnesota was on the clock.

Klay Thompson suffers a potentially serious right leg injury.
With Wiseman all but guaranteed to be on the board when it was time for Golden State to make the second overall pick, Wednesday was supposed to be a great day for the organization. Its star players were healthy, and in Wiseman the Warriors would be able to address that glaring hole in the middle. But Klay Thompson injured his right lower leg while playing pickup basketball in Los Angeles, and there’s concern that he injured his Achilles tendon. Thompson will undergo an MRI on Thursday, and what happens with those scans will have a major impact on Golden State’s 2020-21 season.

Team president Bob Myers said during his post-draft press conference that he does have the go-ahead to use the team’s traded player exception, which is worth a little over $17 million due to the Andre Iguodala trade executed last offseason. “It’s there. We got to find a way to make it work for us,” Myers said according to ESPN’s Nick Friedell. “Once we hear more tomorrow [on Klay], that might affect it, it might not.” Thompson’s injury wasn’t going to impact what the Warriors did with their draft picks because a player of his caliber can’t be accounted for via the draft, especially in this particular class. That is something that will be addressed via free agency or trade.

In addition to Wiseman the Warriors selected Arizona point guard Nico Mannion with the 48th overall pick, adding another primary ball-handler to the roster. Justinian Jessup, picked 51st overall, has already committed to play in Australia this season.

Philadelphia looks to address its perimeter shooting woes

Daryl Morey was busy Wednesday, as in addition to overseeing the draft he made two trades involving players who were apart of last season’s rotation. Al Horford, who wasn’t a particularly good fit in the 76ers frontcourt, was jettisoned to Oklahoma City along with a protected 2025 first, the 34th overall pick in this draft and the rights to Vasilije Micic in exchange for Danny Green. Morey wasn’t done there, as he traded Josh Richardson and the 36th overall pick to Dallas in exchange for Seth Curry.

Both Green and Curry are capable perimeter shooters, which is essential when taking into consideration the presence of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Far too often last season, Embiid had to serve as a floor spacer to accommodate for Simmons’ lack of a perimeter shot. While Embiid was still an immensely valuable player in all fantasy formats, spending too much time outside of the paint meant that he wasn’t as dominant as he can be.

In the draft Philadelphia selected Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey in the first round and Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe and DePaul forward Paul Reed in the second. Joe was an interesting pick, in that many had him pegged for Philadelphia in the mid-30s (the picks sent to OKC and Dallas, respectively) but the 76ers were able to get him at No. 49. Given Joe’s ability as a shooter, Philadelphia got good value there. The same can be said for Reed, who was one of the few bright spots for a DePaul team that struggled in Big East play. With free agency on the horizon it will be interesting to see what areas Morey and company look to address, but the 76ers are off to a good start in this abbreviated offseason.

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Phoenix reaches for the second straight draft

The Suns pulled off the biggest surprise of the first round last summer, as they selected North Carolina forward Cameron Johnson with the 11th overall pick. Despite his early struggles the decision to go after their guy ultimately paid off for Phoenix, as Johnson finished his rookie season on a positive note and stands to be a key part of their rotation for years to come. James Jones made another reach Wednesday, selecting Maryland center Jalen Smith with the tenth overall pick. Many had Smith down as a mid-first target, maybe sneaking into the back end of the lottery. Phoenix had other ideas, and in Jones’ opinion Smith can be used alongside current starting center Deandre Ayton because of his perimeter shooting ability.

“Stix” still has work to do if he’s to be a credible face-up five at the NBA level, but he did make strides as a shooter during his sophomore season. Also he spent his freshman campaign playing alongside another big (Bruno Fernando), so it isn’t as if Smith is being shoehorned into a potential role that he has no business attempting to fill. Smith has good physical tools, including a 7-foot, 2-inch wingspan, and he’s more of a rim protector entering the NBA than Ayton was when the Suns selected him first overall a couple years ago. Whether or not this pick works out will depend upon Smith’s ability to improve his lateral mobility, as there will be times when he’s asked to defend opposing fours.

Tyrese Haliburton falls into Sacramento’s lap
After being the butt of jokes in the lead-up to the draft due to the failed Bogdan Bogdanovic trade, the Kings experienced some good fortune Wednesday night. Iowa State point guard Tyrese Haliburton, a player projected by many to be a mid-lottery selection, was available when it was Sacramento’s turn to pick. Had there being an actual podium to approach in order to turn in the pick, the Kings’ representative should have moved at a Usain Bolt-like pace. Incredibly good fortune for GM Monte McNair that Haliburton, a guard who defends well, can run a team and can be used either on or off the ball, was available at No. 12.

De’Aaron Fox is the franchise cornerstone and, as long as he and the Kings agree to a new contract, he’ll be running the show for years to come. But the addition of Haliburton is a much-needed upgrade to that second unit, especially with Bogdanovic appearing to have played his last game in a Kings uniform. And Buddy Hield will be back in his preferred starting role, which will improve his fantasy value.

New York stays put…and still gets its guy

There was some chatter before the draft that the Knicks were looking to move up in the draft, and things only picked up once New York made a deal with Utah to move from 27th to 23rd. Would Leon Rose look to make a big splash by dealing the 8th and 23rd picks in order to grab the Knicks’ top target higher in the draft? No. The 23rd pick, which ended up being Barcelona B forward Leandro Bolmaro, was dealt to Minnesota in exchange for the 25th and 33rd overall picks. At this point New York simply needs to stockpile talent, and let the resulting competition sort out the rotation.

As for the eighth pick New York stayed put, and Dayton’s Obi Toppin was on the board when it was their turn to pick. While there are concerns about Toppin’s lateral mobility, especially as a defender, he runs the floor well and is an excellent vertical athlete. The other two picks were used on Kentucky point guard Immanuel Quickley and Minnesota center Daniel Oturu. Oturu was highly productive as a collegian, but I would have gone with Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman instead if there was such as pressing need for another big as he’s the more versatile defender of the two. But all things considered, this wasn’t a bad night for the Knicks at all.

The Wizards should be very happy about how things played out

Washington still needs to address the center position, especially from a defensive standpoint, but that can be done in free agency. And even if the Wizards planned on using a draft pick on an interior defender, that plan likely went out of the window when Atlanta selected USC’s Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth overall pick (good move by Atlanta). Instead Washington ended up with versatile forward Deni Avdija, a player that more than a few believed would be a top-5 pick.

While he certainly can be used alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal as a starter, Avdija may be more effective (especially with regard to fantasy production) with the second unit to start. That would, in theory, give him more opportunities to make plays with the ball in his hands as opposed to being the third option (at best). And Washington managed to land one of the best leaders in the class with the 53rd overall pick, selecting Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston. Winston is very good working in pick-and-roll situations, and he’s very good at putting his teammates in positions where they can succeed.

Superlatives

Favorite first-round pick: SG Devin Vassell to San Antonio (11th overall)
There were a couple interesting choices made before the Spurs were on the clock, affording them the opportunity to take the most well-rounded 3-and-D prospect in this draft class. Adding Vassell to the team’s current crop of young perimeter players gives San Antonio additional flexibility when it comes to DeMar DeRozan, who has opted in to the final season of his contract.

Runner-up: PG LaMelo Ball to Charlotte (3rd overall)
He was the best available player on the board, so this was a no-brainer. And even with Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham on the roster, the Hornets are in a position where they need to add high-level talent regardless of position. Charlotte used Rozier and Graham on the court together for extended periods last season, and Ball can be used in a similar fashion. And given his court vision when in transition, Ball’s arrival could do wonders for the fantasy values of Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington.

Biggest first-round reach: PF Jaden McDaniels to Minnesota (28th overall)
Smith to Phoenix was also a reach. But he was considered to be a mid-first option at worst so the Suns making that move is understandable, especially if they looked to move back but couldn’t find any takers. McDaniels’ draft “stock” appeared to be far more volatile, and considering his occasional shot selection issues while at Washington that’s a concern given how young the Timberwolves’ roster will be.

Favorite second-round pick: SF Robert Woodard II to Memphis (40th overall)
Woodard’s length and athleticism are positive attributes, and his improvement as a perimeter shooting is worth noting as well. Memphis had a good night, as the Grizzlies also moved back into the first round to take TCU’s Desmond Bane with the 30th overall pick. Perimeter shooting was an issue for the Grizzlies last season, and they added two rookies capable of helping turn things around in that area.

Second-round steal: SG Sam Merrill, Utah State to Milwaukee (60th overall)
Given his perimeter shooting ability Merrill should have gone higher, and he’s a capable playmaker with the ball in his hands as well. With regard to Milwaukee the jump shot is his biggest selling point, and Merrill is the kind of player that the Bucks will need to find at they look to fill out their roster. Merrill’s two-year contract will guarantee him $1.5 million, which is a bargain. Maybe there was too much focus on his age (24), but I’d argue that Merrill being an older prospect makes him a good fit for a franchise that’s in “win now” mode.

Best suit: Tyrese Haliburton. Magnificent.

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