Obi Toppin was drafted by the New York Knicks. (Image via Wikipedia)

Which 2020 NBA Lottery Picks Have Struggled the Most This Season?

Some of the most coveted young players coming out of last year’s draft have yet to find their footing in their first professional basketball season

Andrew Martin
Feb 25 · 4 min read

The 2020–2021 NBA regular season is now officially more than a quarter over. There’s little time for veteran players to adjust, especially playing in the pandemic-adjusted conditions, so imagine what it’s been like for this year’s rookies as they try to get their feet under them. This is especially true of the lottery picks, including these top selections from the most recent draft who have struggled mightily thus far during their first professional season.

Isaac Okoro, Guard- Cleveland Cavaliers: Okoro was a mixed bag last year at Auburn during his first and only college season. Using his great size as a swingman, he averaged 12.9 points while shooting 51.4% from the floor. However, his perimeter game was very much a work in progress, as he knocked down an alarming 28.6% of his threes. Nevertheless, Cleveland loved his potential and nabbed him with the fifth pick.

Okoro has started all 27 games he has appeared in with Cleveland but has seen very modest results. He has averaged a surprising 33.4 minutes but has lacked production almost across the board. In addition to his still developing defense (no biggie considering he is just 20), he has averaged a pedestrian 7.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists. His shooting has also not yet taken off, as his 39.4% on field goals and 28.9% from threes is not what a team wants to see from one of their wing players.

Onyeka Okongwu, Forward/Center- Atlanta Hawks: While still raw, Okongwu dominated last year during his freshman season at USC. Averaging 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks, he intrigued scouts despite having the game of a more traditional big man (think anchored in the paint) than what most teams seek in this age of reliance on three-point shots.

Already possessing Clint Capela and still in rebuild mode, the Hawks were in a position to gamble on a project with the kind of raw talent like the 20-year-old. Although he has missed some time with Achilles soreness, he has spent the bulk of his time anchored to the Atlanta bench, racking up DNPs. He has appeared in only 11 games, averaging 3.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 10.6 minutes per contest. He hasn’t earned the playing time thus far, so he will have to fulfill a lot of his need to learn by observing from the sidelines.

Obi Toppin, Forward- New York Knicks: Although he was drafted eighth overall, it was assumed playing time would likely be gradual, as the team’s star player, Julius Randle, plays the same position. Toppin impressed collegiately at Dayton, averaging 20 points and 7.5 rebounds last year before going pro as scouts believed his talent superseded his playing in a lesser conference. New York was a good destination for him to break in gradually.

To say Toppin has been brought along slowly by the Knicks would be an understatement. He has played in 22 games, all off the bench, and averaged just 11.9 minutes per contest. He has impressed few with his 4.9 points and 2.4 rebounds but the area that has been particularly disappointing has been his three-point shooting. After converting nearly 42% of his shots beyond the line for Dayton, only 12 of his first 39 NBA attempts from deep (30.8%) have found the bottom of the net.

Jalen Smith, Forward- Phoenix Suns: The big man rocketed up draft boards following two strong seasons at the University of Maryland. Last year, his sophomore season, he dominated the Big Ten, averaging 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.

The 20-year-old was taken by the Suns with the 10th overall pick. Even though the team has a rather crowded front court, especially at forward, Smith has struggled to find time on the court. He suffered a nagging ankle injury and also missed time after testing positive for Covid.

When available, he has hardly played, logging a paltry 50 minutes in eight appearances off the bench. His averages of 1.8 points and 1.3 rebounds have reflected him playing almost exclusively in garbage time, and unsurprisingly, he has also logged a number of DNPs. He was recently assigned to the NBA G-League where he will get a chance to play more and prove that he was deserving of not only his lofty draft status but also making his way back to a Phoenix team that’s in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt.

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Andrew Martin

Written by

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports, investing and education.


Original reporting and curated sports data journalism. Actively looking for additional writers.

Andrew Martin

Written by

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports, investing and education.


Original reporting and curated sports data journalism. Actively looking for additional writers.

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