THE 2020 NBA LOTTERY IS IN THE BOOKS, and the Minnesota Timberwolves are the big winner. The Wolves moved up in the lottery for the first time in franchise history and they’ll pick #1, ahead of the Golden State Warriors. The Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls were also big winners, moving up from outside the top-6 to #3 and #4, respectively.
With the lottery order set, it’s a great time for our first mock draft of the year. The picks below are not what I predict. It’s way too early for intel. These are the picks I’d make based on my draft board, plus how I’m thinking about each draft slot as teams start to formulate their plans going forward.
Let’s start with Minnesota at #1 and run through the 2020 lottery…
1. Minnesota Timberwolves — G/F Anthony Edwards
I’m a Timberwolves fan. I haven’t decided yet if we won or lost the lottery on Thursday. I’ve spent hundreds of hours scouting these players leading up to the draft. I have two names atop my draft board, neither of which I particularly like, both vying for the #1 spot sort of by default. I’ve even wondered out loud if the #1 pick this season might just be a bad contract.
Remember, Minnesota didn’t win a free player. They won the right to pay that player a heap of money. Zion Williamson made almost $10 million. He’ll make over $13 million in Year 4. And he’s worth it! But this year’s #1 pick might not be. In fact, he’s very likely not to be. Minnesota just “won” the chance to commit over $45 million (NBA teams don’t get to negotiate much with rookie contracts) to a player who probably won’t be good for a couple years.
The NBA is a superstar league. And the NBA Draft is about star hunting.
One thing this draft does have is a bunch of quality “role players,” winning guys who will help NBA teams. This year’s draft is fascinating because teams like Minnesota, Golden State, and Atlanta picking near the top of the draft already have star power and may not need to hunt for stars when they can strengthen an already existing core with a great role player like Devin Vassell, Isaac Okoro, or Tyrese Haliburton.
As a Wolves fan, I was kind of hoping we’d land at #6 and draft Vassell, who might honestly be my preferred #1 pick for Minnesota anyway — and would have cost about half the price in salary cap.
Now, the Wolves are up a crick. The consensus top three are LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and James Wiseman. Minnesota is committed to two players: C Karl-Anthony Towns and PG D’Angelo Russell, who they traded half their franchise for. That takes Wiseman and Ball completely off the table. Wiseman is a center and Ball is a point guard, and they dare not risk angering KAT after they just appeased him trading for his buddy.
The best value for the #1 pick was always going to be a trade down. But this is a bad scenario for Minnesota on that front too. The Warriors pick #2 and are an even more obvious candidate to trade out. Everyone else knows what I know — that Minnesota can’t take LaMelo or Wiseman. So unless some team desperately wants Edwards, why trade up to #1 when you can just trade with the Warriors, and maybe get rid of a veteran contract in the process?
Minnesota is probably stuck at #1. There will be stars in this draft, somewhere. Now it’s Gersson Rosas’s job to find one.
As things stand, Anthony Edwards is the pick. In a twist of fate, I spent my Thursday writing 4500 words on Edwards, talking myself into him as a real possibility at #1 in a top-light draft. A few hours later, my Wolves won the rights to draft him. Edwards fits the team as an off-ball scorer with DLo and KAT. Looks like I may get my wish.
2. Golden State Warriors — PG LaMelo Ball
The Warriors looked set for a top pick all season, and at no point have I ever expected them to make it.
Steph Curry will be 33 for next year’s playoffs. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson will be 31. This team is only getting older, and the window is closing quickly. And though the Warriors would surely love to stay #lightyearsahead and draft a star for the future, the NBA is about title windows, and the Ws may never get another window like this. They can’t, they won’t, draft some 19-year-old and pretend he’s going to make a winning impact next June. It’s just not happening.
The Warriors could trade down and draft a role player. A cheap rotation-ready player would certainly help the team from a cap standpoint. Why take James Wiseman at #2 when you could potentially trade down with the Knicks and pick at #8 and get Mitchell Robinson, a better Wiseman who can play now? It just doesn’t make sense.
James Wiseman will not be playing important Warriors minutes next June.
I’m projecting a trade. I don’t know who, but I think LaMelo Ball will wind up at the top of most teams’ draft boards and that some team will want Ball as the face of their franchise. I don’t see him falling past #2. He is the one guy in this draft that looks like the potential engine of an NBA offense.
3. Charlotte Hornets — G Tyrese Maxey
The Hornets were the real lottery winner, not Minnesota. The Wolves and Warriors were always going to pick near the top. The Hornets should have traded Kemba Walker instead of letting him leave as a free agent and should have tanked this season but didn’t lose enough. Now they lucked into a top-three pick in what many consider a three-player draft.
Charlotte got nice seasons from Devonte’ Graham and P.J. Washington, but neither is a franchise cornerstone. Charlotte needs a star and does not have one. They need to take the starriest prospect on the board. If I’m Charlotte, I am definitely calling up Minnesota and Golden State to see about moving up a spot or two and getting my #1 prospect. LaMelo Ball makes a ton of sense for the Hornets, if they like him. The Wolves or Warriors could conceivably move down a spot or two, pick up an asset, and get the guy they want anyway.
In this scenario, Ball and Edwards are gone and I’m not a believer in Wiseman as even a top-10 pick. Tyrese Maxey is next on my board, with a high floor and a possible best player in the draft. I had him #1 on my board heading into the season and he still has a shot to end up there by the draft.
4. Chicago Bulls — PG Killian Hayes
Chicago finally moved up in the lottery after a decade at #7, but don’t worry, Bulls fans. There aren’t any top-3 players in this draft. So if there’s no top-3 picks and you’re #4… welp, do the math. Right back at #7.
Chicago’s in a better spot than Charlotte but I’m still taking the best player available and looking for a star. Zach LaVine is not a franchise player, and though I like Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr., they aren’t either.
The Bulls are in a strange spot. They have good enough players that the right pick could help Chicago contend for one of the final few playoff spots in the terrible East. First-round exits do not inspire me. I’m not sacrificing the future for the now with this team.
Chicago needs a swing. Killian Hayes is a bit further down my draft board, but he’s at the top of the board for some of the draftniks I trust most. I campaigned against drafting Coby White and Darius Garland a year ago because neither looked like a franchise PG, and I still think that’s the case. Coby was good this year but feels like a bench scoring guard.
Killian Hayes is an all-around player that defends well, creates, should hit shots in time, and helps the team in most facets. His all-around game also gives him to have value off ball. I like him next to LaVine for now and think he could play with Coby White down the road too.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers — F Isaac Okoro
The Cavs have a zillion veteran bigs I don’t want around plus a bunch of young me-first players that haven’t hit yet. Collin Sexton is another bench scoring guard, and Darius Garland was miserable this year. I like Kevin Porter Jr. best of the bunch but he’s still raw. Would Cleveland dare use a third straight top-7 pick on another point guard? It will be fascinating if they’re faced with the choice if LaMelo or Killian fall.
I’m just taking the best player available for Cleveland. That just happens to be at a need position too with Isaac Okoro, who projects as a stud wing defender and might have some latent offense to develop too.
6. Atlanta Hawks — G/F Devin Vassell
I’d be absolutely drooling at this pick if I were the Hawks. Devin Vassell might be my favorite player in the draft. He looks like a prototypical NBA wing, someone who helps every franchise in the league.
You’re going to hear Vassell described as a 3-and-D wing, and those two things are true. He’s an elite team defender and good on the ball, and he projects as a very good shooter. But I think we undersell players sometimes by calling them 3-and-D. The Houston Rockets need 3-and-D players, guys who literally do nothing but shoot wide open jumpers and play gritty defense.
Vassell is more than that. Remember how everyone was gushing over Mikal Bridges when the Bubble Suns went 8–0? Bridges is not just 3-and-D. He offers franchise-changing defense as a team cornerstone. All season long, I’ve called Vassell “Mikal 2.0.” He doesn’t have the length to match Mikal’s on-ball defense but I think there’s much more there on offense than just hitting an open jumper. Vassell can create his own shot and has a nifty little one-step pull-up midrange that reminds me of Khris Middleton.
I would legitimately consider Vassell at the top of the draft. Atlanta will laugh all the way to the bank if they get him here.
7. Detroit Pistons — C Onyeka Okongwu
The Pistons are the biggest loser in all this. Detroit lost nine of 10 games before the pandemic shut the season down and never got another chance to tank. Had the season played out, the Pistons probably finish with one of the worst records in the league and pick top-2, a godsend for a team with no player on next year’s roster that even looks like an NBA starter in three years.
Instead Detroit had the fifth best odds, then fell two spots in the lottery, and now it has no real shot at a franchise player at #7. I tried to talk myself into a wild swing here in Aleksej Pokusevski, but Detroit already took a complete unknown international player in Sekou Doumbouya one year ago.
I’m not excited about Okongwu’s star potential, but he’s an efficient scorer and excellent defender, the best big man on my board. With Detroit finally moved on from Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin next to go, Okongwu is a new building block. He fits well with Christian Wood too.
8. New York Knicks — G Cole Anthony
It’s genuinely hard to imagine a more Knicksy pick. Cole Anthony is a presumed star from a blue blood school and was a potential #1 pick a year ago, and his papa Greg Anthony was a well known Knicks player.
New York badly wants a face of the franchise and needs to take a swing on a superstar since they lose the lottery every year. I’m not particularly excited about Cole Anthony as a star. I think he’s more likely to end up as a nice combo scoring guard. But it’s the Knicks! Why not?
9. Washington Wizards — G Tyrese Haliburton
The Wizards are in an interesting spot. They barely even won a game in the bubble but don’t have much youth to develop. Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans sat out the bubble but will play next year, and John Wall might even be back from the dead. Washington will pay those three a heap of money so they’re not particularly a rebuilding team, but rather a fringe playoff contender.
The Wizards need help on the wing and could use some guard depth with Wall’s history. They badly need a defensive center too, and Okongwu would have been perfect. Haliburton is a nice halfway option. He can play off the ball as a useful wing and, though he’s not athletic enough to be a franchise point guard, can certainly run the bench unit.
10. Phoenix Suns — Aleksej Pokusevski
No team deserved to move up in the lottery more than the Suns after their bubble performance. The way Phoenix sees it, this is the last time they expect to pick in the lottery for awhile. The Suns think they have a playoff team now, and for the first time in a long time, there’s no real glaring need.
Add it all up, and I’m taking a shot. Could Aleksej Pokusevski be this year’s Giannis Antetokounmpo? This does feel like the 2013 draft, with no star at the top of the draft (Anthony Bennett?!) but plenty of good players and an unknown international future MVP at #15. It’s not particularly fair to compare Poku to Giannis, but he does have Best Player in the Draft potential if he hits that upside. Why not take a shot?
11. San Antonio Spurs — C James Wiseman
The last time the Spurs had a lottery pick, they lucked into a generational big man in Tim Duncan and never missed the playoffs again until this season.
I’m not a Wiseman fan — I don’t even have him in my lottery — but the Spurs need upside, and the thought of NBA fans going absolutely bonkers about this team of all teams landing Wiseman makes me absolutely giddy.
Personally, I love Pokusevski here if he falls. Pop plus a raw international talent? A match made in heaven. San Antonio needs to take a swing.
12. Sacramento Kings — PF Patrick Williams
I haven’t given up on Marvin Bagley, and I still think he’s best as an offensive center for a team that should run and gun at every opportunity with De’Aaron Fox. Bagley won’t be good on D, so you need to pair him with one of those rare power forwards that defends hard, protects the rim, and doesn’t need the ball.
That Patrick Williams prototype is becoming more and more valuable in the NBA with the rise of “unicorn” big men, 7-footers who stretch the D and score with ease but don’t play a ton of defense. Think Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, or Kristaps Porzingis. I’d kill to put PatWill next to one of those guys. He has some real latent offensive potential he could develop in time, too.
I loved Brandon Clarke as this type of player a year ago. Williams isn’t as good but he’s another great role player target.
13. New Orleans Pelicans — PG Kira Lewis
The Pelicans had a rough season end but there’s plenty to look forward to. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are the franchise cornerstones. Jrue Holiday probably won’t be around long, but don’t forget about Lonzo Ball, Jaxson Hayes, Josh Hart, and other youngsters, plus the slew of draft picks New Orleans has stashed. The Pelicans are just getting started.
Ingram and Zion are the two guys I’m planning around. I like Lonzo enough but he’s not a franchise point guard, and he’s versatile enough to play either guard position. I’m intrigued by James Wiseman cleaning up behind Ingram and Zion, but New Orleans already invested in Jaxson Hayes to do that.
Instead, the Pelicans swing on a talented point guard to push the pace for this team. Kira Lewis is De’Aaron Fox fast. He can really shoot and is still quite young, and the idea of Kira, Lonzo, Ingram, and Zion running in transition is just incredible. The Pelicans have a ton of upcoming picks and are years away from peaking. I’m swinging on upside.
14. Boston Celtics — F Josh Green
The Celtics need a big man, and Okongwu or Wiseman would be a dream. Boston has three first-round picks and surely won’t keep all three, so they’re an obvious candidate to trade up a few slots if they like one of these big men.
Josh Green to the Celtics just feels unfair. Boston is incredible developing wings, and Green has mammoth defensive potential with athleticism and length for days. Plus, it’s the Celtics and the dude’s name is literally Green. Some draft picks just make themselves.
A FEW OTHER MISSING NAMES…
F Obi Toppin, Dayton
If you watched any college ball this year, you’re probably flabbergasted Toppin wasn’t in my lottery. Obi was the best player in college basketball. He was also 22 years old and dominated a mid-major conference against younger, inferior competition. The NBA lottery is littered with older college players that didn’t cut it. Toppin is a bad defender and projects as a nice bench offensive weapon.
In this mock draft, Toppin to Portland at #16 would be delightful. In the real thing, he’ll probably just be another bad top-5 pick.
F Deni Avdija, Israel
I need to do more work on Avdija. I’m not super impressed with what I’ve seen so far, but he’s supposedly improved a ton in recent months. For now, I don’t consider him a lottery prospect, though he’d be a great fit to Minnesota at #17. Most mocks now have him as a clear top-10 pick but I don’t see much of a ceiling yet for a combo forward that doesn’t really defend or shoot.
G/F Leandro Bolmaro, Argentina
I actually might prefer Bolmaro among international wings, based on what I’ve seen. Bolmaro and Avdija are nice passers, but Bolmaro has the handle and ability to actually put that passing to use. These are two guys I need to look a bit closer at, but for now I prefer Bolmaro. I have both just outside the lottery until I learn more.
That’s enough picks for now. The 2020 draft is still a long ways away... ■