Predicting a Path Through the 2020 NBA Draft

On Thursday evening, the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery in history was held, yet another twist in a draft lead up that was already anything but certain.

This is not a draft for the risk adverse, as literally none of the top prospects come without a clear cut level of level of it. Not only is there nothing close to a consensus top pick, it is hard to even make out a clear top five. Beyond that point, you have to squint feel lottery comfortable at all.

Overall, it is a peak, on-brand 2020 scenario. Very little certainty and ton of risk. This could be one of the most unpredictable, wild draft nights in history. One that leaves as many questions in play after as there are headed towards. What lies ahead is likely the most random draft in years, supplemented with trades up, down and out.

With the slots assigned and picks in place, here’s a look at a handful of options in play for each lottery team.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Draft: Anthony Edwards, SG (Georgia)

Is it too cliché to say Minnesota hit the lotto with this one? Well, they definitely did because they are in range to add a player in Edwards that fills all of their needs. Edwards is a dynamic scorer that fills in a major need for a Wolves team desperately in need of scoring from the wing (19.1 PPG as freshman).

Trade for: Jrue Holiday

The Wolves need to get better defensively in the backcourt and Holiday is a quick way to get there. He can co-exist next to DeAngelo Russell easily and would give the Pelicans a chance to have a grab bag of talents that make sense for them with a second consecutive #1 pick.

Another option: LaMelo Ball

There is always the option to take the biggest star in the draft, especially in a place like Minnesota. While he brings a skill set that duplicates what Russell already brings, figuring out things between two is a good problem to have. Especially in the position-less era of the game.

2. Golden State Warriors

Draft: LaMelo Ball, PG (Illawarra Hawks)

“Draft”, in heavy parenthesis. It’s not that Ball is the best fit for Golden State here. Rather, it is more than this is the slot where he will be picked and the Dubs will leverage his presence to create a trade. Staying in the top two was essential for the Warriors to maximize their lost season with draft pick leverage, so mission accomplished.

Ball is arguably both the most talented player and its biggest enigma. What is inarguable is that he is the biggest star in this low-profile draft class. There could be some trepidation about move up in such a lackluster draft, but if there is a guy a team could move for, it’s Ball (because names sell jerseys). One way or the other Steve Kerr, Bob Myers and company certainly should be able to find exactly what they want throughout the league with this pick in their arsenal.

Trade for: Bradley Beal

Bringing Beal to the Bay would give the Dubs arguably one of the greatest collections of guard talent ever assembled on one roster. Eight years into his NBA run — and with another three years left on his contract — Beal has recently gone on the record in stating how losing is getting old. With a deal built around Andrew Wiggins’ contract, the #2 pick and next year’s top three protected Timberwolves pick, the Warriors are in position to make an offer that can’t be refused.

Another option: Shock the world

The Warriors didn’t get to where they are in a conventional way. In many ways, are the dynasty that no one saw coming. With everyone already (including me) expecting them to trade out, they could opt to stand pat… and take someone shocking even in this wide open field. Kerr is a fan of versatile wings that can shoot, which could make Florida State’s Devin Vassell a candidate to head to Oakland.

3. Charlotte Hornets

Draft: James Wiseman, C (Memphis)

The Hornets have some of the worst depth/talent in the league at center. Although the position isn’t as valuable as it has been in the past, Wiseman represents both the clearest need and best talent on the board for where they are as a team. The 7’1 lefty can change the game around the rim on both sides of the court and has enough of a mid-range and perimeter game to not clog up the lane for DeVonte Graham and Miles Bridges.

Trade for: Zach LaVine

While they have needs at center to address as well, landing a shoot first (and second) talent like LaVine would be a major coup. The Bulls may not be so inclined to trade their star wing just to move up one spot, but if Michael Jordan could somehow work this agreement between the franchise he owns and the one he made iconic, it would be major.

Another option: Take the best player available

If some situation happens where Wiseman doesn’t land in Charlotte’s lap, there are plenty of other guys on the board that meet their needs. Both Obi Toppin and Onyeka Okongwu would make an immediate difference, while if either Edwards or Ball fell that’s an easy decision as well.

4. Chicago Bulls

Draft: Obi Toppin, PF/C (Dayton)

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

New Bulls shot-caller Arturas Karnisovas recently said he is prepared to take the best available player, regardless of position. If that is the plan, taking the National Player of the Year in Toppin is the move to make. Although Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markannen occupy the front court as recent top 10 picks, Toppin’s athleticism and finishing ability is a new — and needed — touch for the team.

Trade for: Aaron Gordon

Another option would be to bring aboard a more experience version of what they’d be landing via Toppin, while still staying close to lottery range. This deal would require moving either Otto Porter or Thad Young, in addition to the #4 pick, but they would get a pick still within the top 20 back as well to round out their core.

Another option: Killian Hayes

Although they just added Coby White in last year’s lottery, adding another versatile ball handler isn’t a bad idea. The pair learn to play off each other’s strengths and create formidable duo, in time.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

Draft: Deni Avdija, SF (Maccabi Tel Aviv)

After two consecutive years of taking essentially the same player in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, the Cavs have to turn their attention improving on the wing. Avdija is a versatile, big teenage forward with a lot of high-level international experience. He would both fill a need and have a ton of projectability as well.

Trade for: a higher pick

They have a ton of money locked up in Kevin Love and Andre Drummond, but could still stand to get better for the future with either Wiseman or Toppin. There is the chance that either could fall to them here, but there will certainly be suitors that would listen to let them move up as well.

Another option: Issac Okoro

Okoro’s versatility is going to make him a much-mentioned name throughout the top 10. But he also fills a day-one need at small forward, but also could be a needed bigger guard as well alongside their double PG backcourt.

6. Atlanta Hawks

Draft: Killian Hayes, PG (Ulm)

Hayes is an ultra-skilled point guard that can also play off the ball as needed. He fits in well next to Trae Young, as his ball-handing abilities could let Young take some time off of being so heavy on the ball and run around some to get free on the court, a la Allen Iverson.

Trade for: Buddy Hield

Hield is a true shooting guard that could still find his place playing alongside Young. It would take the pick and likely another add-in piece such as Clint Capela (and his contract) or Kevin Huerter to make it work, but Hield is a solid young veteran who could help the Hawks mature quickly.

Another option: Onyeka Okongwu

He is a better natural defender than either John Collins or Clint Capela and would bring some much-needed defensive support at the rim for a Hawks defense that often resembles a revolving door.

7. Detroit Pistons

Draft: Onyeka Okongwu, C/PF (USC)

Via USC Athletic Dept.

This is latest that the talented big man could go, as he could be viable as early as #3. His physical abilities around the rim are exactly what the post-Drummond Pistons need next to Blake Griffin, especially if Christian Wood leaves town this winter as well. Okongwu was the best full-season freshman in the nation last year has some shades of Bam Adebayo that would be beloved in the D.

Trade for: The Warriors pick

Dangling Luke Kennard at heart of a deal that keeps them in the top 10 could be enticing for the Warriors to add to their treasure trove of shooters. In order to trade up to #2, they would likely have to include an additional talent (Christian Wood, perhaps) along with the #7 pick, but it would be absolutely worth it. They could also make a bigger splash by putting Blake Griffin in the mix, if taking back Andrew Wiggins’ remaining $92 million is a possibility.

Another option: Tyrese Halliburton

Detroit needs to pair a younger point with Derrick Rose and Halliburton would be a big upgrade. The multi-talented, 6’6 guard could play alongside Rose, as well as be their day-one starter.

8. New York Knicks

Draft: Tyrese Halliburton, PG/SG (Iowa State)

While the plan is to let the offense run through R.J. Barrett long-term, having a talent like Halliburton alongside him could force them to think re-think that approach. The Iowa State product is a much more naturally inclined facilitator, who can also be a valuable spot-up shooter as well.

Trade for: a top-3 pick

Aside from Barrett, literally everything on the Knicks roster is in play. Especially if the possibility to land the potential superstar they have been starving for in LaMelo Ball is a possibility. That could very well require trading all the way up to the top of the draft. But some combination of Julius Randle, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, some expiring and future #1s. Basically, the whole damn buffet.

Another option: Cole Anthony

Anthony has all of the peripherals that would make the Knicks jump at a chance to add him. He’s a local kid with a popular name and has the biggest potential still to fulfill after having his stock slide during a year at North Carolina. It’s not the craziest idea at least and also feels like a very Knicks thing to do, even under new management.

9. Washington Wizards

Draft: Isaac Okoro, SF/SG (Auburn)

Picking up Rui Hachimura last year gave the Wiz a versatile, active forward that is a high upside role player. Armed with the ninth pick for a second consecutive season, there’s a chance to do the same thing again with the versatile Okoro. It’s not the sexiest way to use a lottery pick, but it is among the most effective.

Trade for: Myles Turner

Somehow, Turner has become somewhat of an afterthought in Indiana. But he is just one year removed from leading the league in blocks per game and is only 24 years old. If the Wiz turn out a deal based around this pick to add him to their frontcourt, it could shore them up in the middle for years to come. Not a bad outcome from this range of such an uncertain draft.

Another option: Devin Vassell

If the Wiz do end up moving on from Beal — and even if they don’t — they need more scoring threats from the perimeter. The 6’7 Vassell could be a nice fit here at either the 3 or 4 and would immediately expand the offensive potential of a team that needs more options.

10. Phoenix Suns

Draft: Cole Anthony, PG (North Carolina)

Coming off one of the greatest runs to close out a season of all time, the young Suns have put the Western Conference on notice: they’re coming. This a bit of a leap for where Anthony’s stock has slid to from where it started headed into the year, but he’d be a fantastic for the Suns, both from a fit and opportunistic drafting perspective. But his presence would add yet another explosive offensive talent and allow Devin Booker to abdicate some of the on-ball responsibilities he has had to take on.

Trade for: Aaron Gordon

Yep, this guy again. He would bring an explosive element that Phoenix doesn’t currently possess from its forwards, nor could they find at this range in the Draft. If you’re knocking on the door in the West, getting aggressive to break through it is required work.

Another option: Aaron Nesmith

A supremely talented shooter that can also create his shot, adding the Vanderbilt product would continue down the path Phoenix started with their surprising pick of Cam Johnson last year. Adding another floor spacing option to create more room for Booker and DeAndre Ayton is far from a bad thing.

11. San Antonio Spurs

Draft: Precious Achiuwa, PF (Memphis)

The Spurs are back in the lottery for the first time since Bill Clinton was in office, but it shouldn’t be a space they inhabit for long. A quick path back to the playoffs would be to add more frontcourt explosiveness via Achiuwa, who is arguably the top pure athletic talent in the entire class.

Trade for: Spencer Dinwiddie or Caris LeVert

A pick outside of the top 10 for one of these ultra-talented guards may not be enough to entice the Spurs, but if they can sweeten the deal bit more with future picks, by getting a third team involved or potentially dangling DeMar DeRozan to help Brooklyn build a (kinda) Big Three with DeRozan, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. If DeRozan is gone, either Dinwiddie or LeVert can immediately step into his role.

Another option: Al Horford

Horford never quite fit in with the 76ers this year, but that wouldn’t be the case as a Spur. His game has always seemed to be perfectly aligned for Gregg Popovich’s plan and he would also add some needed veteran presence alongside DeRozan.

12. Sacramento Kings

Draft: Devin Vassell, SF (Florida State)

While the Kings continue to try to get over that underestimated hump that is edge of the Western Conference playoff scene, they need to add the best available talent at the moment. If Vassell slips this far, he is a no-brainer. He is an immediate successor to Bogdan Bogdanovic if he decides to skip town via free agency this fall.

Trade for: a top five pick

The Kings have the perfect recipe to move into the top five, if they want to. They have a pick still in the lottery and have desirable pieces to include (Nemanja Bjelica, Buddy Hield) and have salary relief vets to help a win-now situation along (Jabari Parker, Cory Joseph).

Another option: Patrick Williams

A young, versatile forward that has talent that outweighs his stat line at Florida State, Williams fits in well to the flexible type of roster the Kings are projected to have. He’s a big wing who could become a matchup problem on a team that already boasts more than a few as is.

13. New Orleans Pelicans

Draft: Aaron Nesmith, SG/SF (Vanderbilt)

This would be a perfect example of the stars aligning for the Pelicans. They need both shooting and guys that can create their own shot. Check and check for Nesmith, who hit 52.2% (!!!) of his threes as a sophomore at Vanderbilt. Opening the floor up for Zion Williamson is a must and this is a guy that does it right away.

Trade for: Buddy Hield

NOLA needs to add another level to its offensive potential. Zion has the inside held down, while Brandon Ingram takes care of the mid-range. Adding Hield would open up an entirely new element to the team and bring them firmly into the playoff picture they ran out of gas pursuing this year. Plus, if Sacramento can add another first round pick, it could really help to fuel their ability to climb the charts and bet in better position to pick from this class.

Another option: Tyrese Maxey

The explosive Kentucky guard would fit in nicely with a team that likes to get out and run like the Pelicans. He’s a shoot-first, tweener of a guard that will require a bit of development, but the upside is there to make this an exciting and projectable pickup.

14. Boston Celtics

Draft: Kira Lewis Jr, PG (Alabama)

Lewis is a blur on the court and can push the tempo to relentless levels. He also has a nice enough outside touch to remain dangerous around the perimeter. There’s a chance he does well enough in workouts (however those go this year) to rise some from this point. But if he stays in play, he’d be a nice compliment/successor to Kemba Walker.

Trade for: Nemanja Bjelica

The Celtics need size and a big that can knock down jumpers. The big Serb can do that, as he bested 40% from three for the third consecutive season in route to a career-best 11.5 points per game. He also hit 82% of his free throws, which makes him playable during the clutch as well.

Another option: R.J. Hampton

Another former prep superstar who took his game abroad (Australia) instead of to college, there’s a lot of upside to realize here. He’s a big (6’6) point guard, who loves to attack the basket while still keeping an eye out for his teammates. It is really easy to see him fitting in alongside the rangy perimeter guys in Boston.

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