The Rookie of the Year for the 2013-14 NBA season was Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-5 guard drafted with the 11th overall pick. In that same draft, Victor Oladipo went second, Otto Porter Jr. went third, NBA champion Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went eighth, CJ McCollum went tenth, and Steven Adams was drafted 12th. Rudy Gobert was drafted 27th.
Who went first overall? A guy named Anthony Bennett, one of the most severe draft mistakes in NBA history. We shouldn’t blame Bennett; after all, he was just trying to be an NBA player, it’s not his fault that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ front office erred monstrously in their analysis of him. (Bennett hasn’t had a real NBA job for several years now.)
The Cavs’ mistake was even worse because of the player who was drafted with the 15th pick in the 2013 draft: MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
I point out this particular NBA draft because this year’s draft feels similar: anything could happen, and there’s plenty of room to screw up or get lucky. (I think we can agree that drafting Giannis was “risky,” plus anytime you draft a future MVP, I think we can also agree that you’ve been fortunate.) There’s a big guard at the top of the prospect list (LaMelo Ball), but he has his faults, and he’s not proven he can be an NBA-level scoring threat (though, scouts disagree on his shooting acumen).
So, what are we really hoping for when we look at draft prospects? Are we looking for All Stars? Generational talents? Or, just useful players who won’t lose you games?
Here are the seven NBA prospects who interest me, and who aren’t expected to go in the top five. As always, I consider name coolness to be a significant factor in my analysis. None of these guys will go #1 (although, to be honest, anything can happen in 2020), but maybe they’ll end up being better than the first overall pick in a couple years.
(By the way, I’m not considering trades or rumors because who the hell knows with that stuff. I’m just thinking of the draft as if every team will use their pick, and then adjust with any IRL changes that may occur.)
Tyrese Haliburton, Guard, Iowa State
His name sounds like he’s the main character in a sci-fi movie. Consider me convinced!
Haliburton is a 6-foot-5 guard, projected to go in the five to 10 draft pick range. He’s got good size, he’s smart with a high basketball IQ, and he has skills that translate well to the pros, including good court vision and passing. Is his man defense an issue? Yes, but criticizing an NBA baby’s defense is a little disingenuous when there are some NBA vets who still can’t play competent defense. Defending NBA players is hard! Besides, Haliburton was second in steals rate in underclassmen, so he’s at least got busy hands (which is a good sign for future development), and he’s a capable off-ball defender. His shooting was efficient, but he’s not some slasher who drives to the rim, so don’t look for him at the free throw line.
Haliburton strikes me as a guard who’d play well as the complement to a higher usage backcourt partner. Could that be Trae Young on the Atlanta Hawks? Zach LaVine in Chicago? Devin Booker in Phoenix? I don’t think he’ll be a star, but I do think he’ll be above-average, and can develop into the type of player who won’t lose you games. That may sound damning with faint praise, but those guys end up being hella valuable.
Isaiah Joe, Wing, Arkansas
I flat out admit it, sans regrets: I love this kid’s name. “Isaiah Joe” sounds like a dude who does things well. His name sounds like the Isaiah is a title or a nickname, and Joe’s his real first name. There are players with incredible names every year, and every year I believe in the power of sick nomens. Sometimes, that means Rakeem Christmas; sometimes, it means Ed Davis (I believe there are Ed Davises all over the place: in every pro sport, in every municipal government, in every large university, in every police force AND in every fire department, and they’re all just solid dudes who work hard. I bet there’s an Ed Davis near you right now. I bet he’s a nice guy. I believe in the Eds Davis of this world.) And, sometimes, that NBA player with the incredible name is Rajon Rondo. Rondo doesn’t get enough credit for having an ultra-cool name.
Isaiah Joe is a classic 3-and-D prospect on the wing. He isn’t projected to go in the first round, let alone the lottery. But, he’s a smooth shooter with room for improvement: his efficiency went down when he was tasked with shooting waaay more in his sophomore year, something that won’t be an issue on an NBA team, where he’ll be more comfortable in a catch and shoot roll on fewer attempts (I assume). He’s 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, which seems essential for perimeter players these days.
I don’t accept arguments like “he’s too thin,” because that’s what people said about Kevin Durant. We know that professionals fill out and put on more muscle, so why am I going to sweat some non-thiccness from the kiddos? Y’know who else was thin when they were drafted? Giannis.
Isaiah Joe is the name of a blue collar basketball player who can grow into a dangerous shooter, and a clever defender. I feel like that’s worth a first round pick, TBH.
Cassius Stanley, Guard, Duke
When in doubt, never fuck with a guy named Cassius.
Stanley is 6-foot-6 and one of the most athletic players in this draft (44 inch vertical at the combine). He’s a good on-ball defender, he’s awesome in transition, he’s a great rebounder for his size and position (a little Westbrook-ian with the boards, if I do say so myself!), and he’s an okay shooter with room to improve (...just like every rookie…). Cassius is the kind of athlete who can blow your goddamn socks off with plays on offense; if he can keep that up and continue to get better at defense, then why the hell wouldn’t you want him on your team? He’s a second round pick, but he could end up having first round value if enough things click.
Xavier Tillman, Big, Michigan State
Tillman is a thicc forward or a short big who’s probably going in the second round. He’s 6-foot-8 but can play against the big boys with his sturdy 250-pound frame and his 7-foot-1 wingspan. His improvement in play from his freshman year bench role, to his sophomore starting role, was impressive. He’s the kind of player who doesn’t make mistakes and he’s become one of the best defenders in college. Can he start in the NBA? Only if his shot really develops; otherwise, I consider him to be a very useful bench player, a guy who can come in and defend hard/well, provide a stable presence while the perimeter players get to cook. He’s got the frame and mindset to be a PJ Tucker or Draymond Green, especially if he can continue to improve his good passing.
He shot poorly from three, but he sets good screens, so if his shooting improves, then another skillset will open for Xavier. Hell, there’s a chance this second round pick could become a seriously useful weapon in the art of war known as Basketball.
Devin Vassell, Wing, Florida State
Possibly my favorite player in the draft.
E-LITE defender, friends. Definitely a lottery pick, maybe a high one, but Vassell isn’t considered to be a top three pick (so far, we’ll see what happens come draft night). In a way, he’s kind of boring as a prospect, because his defense is projectable as above average, at least (good block rate, good steal rate), and his already capable offense will improve.
Vassell’s got a solidly high floor, but perhaps not so high a ceiling. No one’s expecting him to turn into the best player in this draft, but if he turns into the best 3-and-D wing, the type of player that every team needs every single year, then he’ll be plenty valuable, and worthy of a high pick. If I’m Minnesota, I might actually prefer to draft Vassell with a later pick than LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, or James Wiseman with the #1 pick. Malik Beasley is currently in legal trouble, and the best thing for Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell would be someone who can help on defense right away. Vassell may not be able to guard big wings in the NBA right away, but he’ll be able to cover for DAR’s defensive shortcomings, and that will help the Timberwolves A LOT. The Big KAT needs a reliable perimeter defender (they had Rob Covington, but traded him to Houston, alas) more than he needs a point guard with a shooting problem, a two-guard who won’t help DAR on defense right away, or a young big who won’t be able to help KAT on defense right away.
I know the TWolves can’t take Vassell with the first pick, his potential just isn’t as great as some of the players mentioned above. But, if the draft was only about drafting for positional need, instead of talent or potential, then I think Vassell to Minnie would be kind of an obvious fit.
Anyway, I hope the Pistons gets him at seven instead. Competent point guards and bigs are everywhere, people! A truly dominant wing is still the best player you can have in the NBA.
Patrick Williams, Wing, Florida State
Williams is a 6-foot-8 wing with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, and he looks like he can be an all-around solid player if his offense improves to average. If his defense improves, we’ll wonder why he didn’t go higher, but right now he’s projected to be in the latter half of the top 10, or later. Williams has translatable skills (good FT%, blocks, and steals), but he’ll need to stop the turnovers and poor decision making on offense if he really wants to be an effective player. At his apex, he could be a rangy, floor-spacing four who’s capable of defending 1 through 4. I’m intrigued by his defensive potential, but I’m a little worried about the offense.
Robert Woodard II, Wing, Mississippi State
6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan! Woodard’s shot improved massively from freshman to sophomore year (43 3PT% last season), and his (poor) free throw shooting also improved (...to 64 FT%). He’s a good passer but also makes a lot of turnovers. HOWEVER! Imagine a guy like this lasting until late in the first round and then the Bucks or the Celtics get him? Woodard going to a team where he won’t be asked to handle too much offensively would be ideal, I think: let his shot develop as he sharpens his defense, and in a few seasons, Big Bob Woodard might be a formidable force.