It’s about the time of year that fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves typically give up on hopes of contention and decide to “wait for next year,” hoping against hope that this will be the year that the team will move up in the draft and acquire a star to lift them out of the wintry doldrums. Not this year, however! Not because of any stretch of sustained excellence on the court, but as a result of the weakness of the 2020 draft, making it a near certainty that no one at the top of the draft will have a reasonable expectation of changing the trajectory of their franchise with a player like Luka Doncic or Ja Morant.
With that in mind, let’s look at a consensus big board (not mine) to throw cold water on our collective dreams in a seasonally appropriate preemption of reality.
(All stats and analysis as of January 20th. SMILODON explanation at bottom of article.)
- Anthony Edwards, Guard, Georgia
Edwards is a big, strong, skilled guard who is shooting 29% on jumpers and has made 11 unassisted baskets at the rim in the halfcourt in 17 games. In comparison, Ja Morant, an athletic guard who would easily be the number one pick this year, made 73 such baskets in 33 games. On the bright side, Edwards started off the year with some impressive steals and blocks totals. Because this is the 2020 draft though, he has a grand total of one steal and one block over his past seven games.
2. James Wiseman, Center, Memphis
Wiseman is an athletic big man with a high school reputation for inconsistent effort who put up some eye-popping stats in three collegiate games thanks to a completely dominating performance against South Carolina State, a school with the 340th rated defense in the NCAA (out of 353 schools total). But I’m sure those weren’t empty stats and that Wiseman has the skill and awareness to perform as an offensive hub in the NBA. After all, he put up one whole assist and an entire steal in 69 very nice minutes before being declared ineligible. Oh.
3. LaMelo Ball, Guard, Illawarra
The youngest Ball brother decided to forgo NCAA eligibility to go play in Australia, where he signed with the worst team in the NBL, put up a cool 39/28/70 shooting line with a meager free throw rate, and got hurt after 13 games. All similar to struggles, of course, that have limited his brother Lonzo in the NBA. But drafting a Ball brother who can’t shoot in the top 5 will provide more than a role player who is good at passing this time, right? What’s the apocryphal definition of insanity again?
4. Tyrese Haliburton, Guard, Iowa State
One of the most improved players in the NCAA, Haliburton can pass, defend, and shoot a little bit. The issue is that lead guards in the NBA need to be able to pressure the rim and Haliburton is posting a historically low free throw rate. He is averaging 2.0 free throw attempts per 40 minutes. Here is the entire list of NCAA perimeter players in my system (top 100 or so each year) going back through 2012 at that number or worse: Dakota Mathias, Pat Connaughton, C.J. Williams, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick, and Troy Daniels. That’s it. Out of hundreds of players. Even Lonzo Ball, who never got to the rim in college, averaged 2.9 FTA per 40. So, that’s worrisome.
5. Deni Advija, Forward, Maccabi
It’s been four years since the Dragan was unleashed, so it’s time for another tall, skinny prospect who plays for an Israeli team, excites draft twitter with his passing, and posts a pathetic usage rate in Euroleague competition. Avdija is currently shooting under 54% from the line. His defenders may justify that on the grounds of a small sample size, to which I would retort, “why does he have such a small sample size of free throws in 33 games?” For what it’s worth, his shooting was even worse in previous years, so it’s not even a Cole Anthony situation (more on that in a minute).
6. Tyrese Maxey, Guard, Kentucky
I’ve come to accept that many prospects look worse at Kentucky than they end up performing in the NBA. That being said, Maxey’s stats are really bad. He’s billed as a shooter...who is taking a small number of threes and is hitting 34% of his jump shots on the season - after a hot streak. His percentages at the rim are ok...but only on mediocre volume. He’s not getting many assists and his defensive numbers are a bright red flag. Statistically, he’s Collin Sexton without actually making shots at the rim or getting to the line. Or maybe a better comparison is Malik Monk without the high volume from three.
7. Cole Anthony, Guard, North Carolina
Anthony is a very old freshman (red flag #1) who is shooting 38% from two point range (red flag #2) and 68% from the free throw line (red flag #3) while posting more turnovers than assists (red flag #4). He has also faced questions about his athletic burst and has already suffered a knee injury (red flag #5). On the other hand, he hit over 80% of his free throws in high school and took a lot of threes in his first nine games, so if he comes back and plays moderately well, he could still go number one as an inferior version of Ohio State D’Angelo Russell. This class, man.
8. R.J. Hampton, Guard, New Zealand
Playing in the NBL, Hampton has recently recovered from an injury and is rounding back into form as that most intriguing of player archetypes, a shooting guard who can’t really shoot. He is hitting 29% of his threes and 74% of his free throws on the season while accumulating an acceptable number of assists, steals, and blocks. How high do you really want to take a skinny guard without a defined offensive skill set? In this draft, it will probably be in the top ten.
9. Nico Mannion, Guard, Arizona
A ginger passing virtuoso, Mannion has made 8 of 14 shots at the rim in the halfcourt in 18 games - an impressively low figure. Just in case that has made you worried about his athleticism translating to the NBA, it should be reassuring to learn that he has grabbed four whole offensive rebounds and handed out zero blocks in 554 minutes this season. But his shooting will probably translate even if he’s not the most athletic though, right? Well, he’s made six three pointers total in five conference games (27%), so that’s something to keep track of.
10. Isaac Okoro, Forward, Auburn
Okoro has become the darling of draft twitter, with many self-styled scouts who normally profess to pay attention to analytics declaring him a top three pick. It has been a season of high praise indeed for an athletic wing who has made 19% of his jump shots this season and grabbed 3.2 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. While I am unaware of the reason that he cleans the defensive glass at the rate of an unusually slight point guard, he needs to dramatically improve as a shooter to become anything other than one of the worst offensive players in the NBA next year. If this summary is too glum, you can always look up the six second videos of him making a backdoor cut or throwing a hockey assist or some other offensive skill that’s about 5% as important as actually making shots.
11. Killian Hayes, Guard, Ratiopharm Ulm
This year’s analytics darling, Hayes shoots 32% on a low volume of threes, turns the ball over more than five times per 40 minutes, and faces questions about his athleticism and burst. And he still has the best SMILODON profile in the class. Why? He’s really young, big for his position, and he possesses great touch (88% FT) and awareness (8.8 AST, 2.7 STK per 40). If that has you feeling optimistic, take a second to reread the first sentence of this profile.
12. Jaden McDaniels, Forward, Washington
McDaniels is a lanky forward who is similar to Brandon Ingram as a prospect, by which I mean their silhouettes could be confused by a casual observer and McDaniels is worse at basketball in every way. McDaniels is somehow averaging under 16 points per 40 and over 4 turnovers per 40 without piling up that many assists. That is a level of commitment to the turnover rarely seen outside of stone handed big men. At least other high turnover prospects like Hayes and Theo Maledon have the excuse of playing against better competition and racking up large numbers of assists. He also has a 14.3 PER and a negative OBPM, which means that, by at least two statistical measures, he is a below average offensive player in college as one of the older freshmen in the class. The last high level wing prospect to come close to that level of inefficiency was Cam Reddish, who currently has a -5.5 BPM in his rookie season for the Hawks.
13. Precious Achiuwa, Forward, Memphis
Achiuwa reminds me most of Derrick Jones Jr among recent prospects, as an extremely athletic forward who can get to the rim at will and create defensive havoc against college players. Also like Jones, he has no skill or idea how to play basketball right now. Jones was waived by his first team before Miami figured out how to turn him into a contributor and I could see the same happening to Achiuwa, who is shooting 56% from the line with a 0.3 assist to turnover ratio. Of course, there’s also the matter of age to consider as Achiuwa, though a freshman, is only a couple months younger than Jones would have been in his junior year.
14. Obi Toppin, Forward, Dayton
Like previous Wolves forwards Derrick Williams and Jordan Hill, Toppin is a bit of a late bloomer. For various reasons of recruitment and eligibility, he turns 22 this year, the same age as most seniors, despite being considered a sophomore. Also like Williams, Toppin is an extremely effective scorer at the college level with some defensive question marks in the NBA. Toppin is a much more effective passer than ol’ Flipper, albeit at an older age, which makes me more sanguine about his eventual development, but he has the same mediocre three point volume (1.3 makes per 40) and free throw percentage (71%) that indicated Williams’ disappointment as an NBA floor spacer.
One trend the eagle eyed observer may comment upon is the lack of shooting in this draft. There are a lot of fake or questionable shooters at the top of the class, but surely there must be an elite shooter the Wolves can pick up in the mid-first? There is one. His name is Aaron Nesmith and he’s a 6’6 forward who compiled a total of 13 assists in 14 games, broke his foot, and is out for the year. And I don’t think I can encapsulate the 2020 draft any better than that.
Brief explanation of SMILODON ratings
Shooting combines free throw percentage, three pointers made per 40 (all per 40 stats are pace adjusted), jump shot percentage (NCAA only, Int’l players use three point percentage), and height.
Driving combines unassisted finishes at the rim, free throw attempts per 40, and height. For int’l players, I use free throw attempts and two point percentage.
Point Skills combines assists, turnovers (adjusted for usage), and height.
Do Shit combines steals, blocks, offensive rebounds, and defensive rebounds. Steals are weighted more heavily than blocks and offensive rebounds more heavily than defensive rebounds.
For big men, Awareness combines assists, adjusted turnovers, and steals.
Finishing combines halfcourt makes at the rim, halfcourt misses at the rim, free throw attempts, adjusted turnovers, and standing vertical (when available). For int’l players, I use two point percentage and volume instead of the halfcourt makes and misses.
Finally, Rim Protection is block rate adjusted by standing reach.