The 2020 NBA Draft stands to be the most unorthodox in its history, and this has nothing to do with what occurred between the lines. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the NBA has moved the draft back to October 16, with the draft lottery scheduled for August 20. What’s also of concern for many prospects, and the teams that could potentially draft them, is the yet-to-be-determined status of the NBA Draft Combine. Between that and a possible absence of pre-draft workouts, teams will be even more reliant upon game tape and scouting networks as they attempt to determine which players to select.
While the timing is never good when it comes to a worldwide health issue, this is especially problematic with regard to evaluating this year’s draft class. Unlike the 2019 crop, which boasted a clear top pick in Duke’s Zion Williamson, there are a host of players who can make that claim this spring/summer. And in the case of two of those players, point guard LaMelo Ball and center James Wiseman, they didn’t play much basketball before being shut down for either health (Ball) or NCAA (Wiseman) reasons.
Having looked at some of the top point and shooting guards in this class back in April, we’re finally back (and will revisit those positions in the near future). Today’s installment focuses on the small forwards, a spot headlined by one lottery prospect whose season has resumed and another whose season ended back in early March. Note: The NCAA’s early withdrawal deadline is set for August 3, and the NBA's deadline is August 17.
1. Obi Toppin (Dayton): Toppin had a special season for the Flyers, as he took home nearly all of the major national Player of the Year awards. The ultra-athletic Toppin, who was used quite often at the center position by the Flyers, posted averages of 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers in 31.6 minutes per game this past season. The shooting percentages were good as well, with Toppin shooting 63.3 percent from the field, 39.0 percent from three and 70.2 percent from the foul line.
With an average of 2.6 3-point attempts per game, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound power forward did not spend a great deal of time putting up those shots, but he’s athletic enough to play comfortably away from the basket on offense. Defensively he’ll need to get more comfortable working on the perimeter; Dayton’s rotation allowed for Toppin to be used as a de facto center, and while there may be smaller lineups in which the same approach can be taken in the NBA he’ll likely spend the majority of his time at the four. That can all be improved upon; there is a lot to like about Toppin, who should be a top five pick (to be conservative) come October.
2. Onyeka Okongwu (USC): After years of being underrated (in my opinion) nationally, which may have come as a result of his playing on a Chino Hills HS team headlined by the Ball brothers, Okongwu is finally getting his just due. In his lone season at USC the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Okongwu averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. He shot 61.6 percent from the field and 72.0 percent from the foul line, doing the majority of his damage around the basket (65.5 percent of his field goal attempts were at the rim per hoop-math.com). Could Okongwu, in time, expand his offensive repertoire? I wouldn’t put it past him, but to the freshman’s credit he has a good sense of what his strengths are as a player.
Defensively he’s very good, not just as a shot-blocker but as a positional defender as well. Okongwu moves his feet well on the perimeter when involved in ball-screens, and he rebounds well both within and outside of his area. If there’s a concern on that end of the floor it’s dealing with more physical pivots, but that may be a product of his youth/need to mature physically more than anything. Okongwu will be USC’s first lottery pick since DeMar DeRozan, and he could threaten O.J. Mayo’s status as the highest pick in program history (third overall in 2008).
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3. Precious Achiuwa (Memphis): James Wiseman only playing in three games did the Tigers no favors when it came to contending both nationally and in the American. But what his absence did do was clear out even more room for Achiuwa to operate, and the 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward took advantage. In 31 games he posted averages of 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.9 blocks in 30.4 minutes per outing. Percentage-wise Achiuwa shot 49.3 percent from the field and 59.9 percent from the foul line, and the 3-point shot (13-of-40) really isn’t used all that often at this stage in his career.
Achiuwa is an athletically gifted talent, possessing a 7-foot, 1.5-inch wingspan and the ability to finish above (and through) traffic with authority. Those tools served him well defensively, as Achiuwa performed well in both ball-screen and one-on-one situations. As he gains more experience, the former Tiger should be even better on that end of the floor. The defensive and rebounding abilities are Achiuwa’s big selling points at this stage in his career, which will give him time to sharpen up his offensive tools.
4. Jalen Smith (Maryland): After playing well as a freshman when he shared the frontcourt with Bruno Fernando, Smith took a significant step forward in his development as a sophomore. In 31 games the 6-foot-10, 225-pound Smith accounted for 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.4 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers in 31.3 minutes per, while shooting 53.8 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from three and 75.0 percent from the foul line. In addition to doing a better job of avoiding silly fouls, Smith improved his 3-point and free throw numbers by nearly ten percentage points.
He’s grown increasingly comfortable on the perimeter, showing off the ability to pop and knock down shots when the opportunities arise. There’s still room for him to grow in that area but the potential is there, as evidenced by the numbers above. Defensively Smith was very good in one-on-one scenarios, and was solid when it came to moving his feet on the perimeter as well. If there’s an area that he’ll need to work on it will be to get stronger in the lower body, as there were times when opposing bigs were about to move him in the jostling for rebounding position.
5. Xavier Tillman (Michigan State): Tillman has yet to decide what he’s going to do when it comes to the draft, but if he were to keep his name in the pool the Spartan would be the best defender in this class. Be it a post-bound big or a more versatile player, there was no frontcourt defensive assignment that Tillman couldn’t handle, and he also moves his feet well on the perimeter when involved in ball-screen actions. Listed at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds Tillman has the size and strength needed to handle himself against many bigs, but his ability to read the game should not be overlooked either.
As a junior he posted averages of 13.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.1 blocks per game, shooting 55.0 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from the foul line. Tillman is a capable distributor out of the post, as evidenced by the assist number, and he was given more opportunities to make plays as his career progressed. If he stays in the draft, Tillman is the kind of mature, tough player that fit into a playoff-caliber team immediately.
6. Paul Reed (DePaul): After being named the Big East’s Most Improved Player as a sophomore, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Reed was even better in 2019-20. Playing a shade under 32 minutes per outing, he posted averages of 15.1 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.6 blocks per game. Reed was an effective shooter overall, boasting percentages of 51.6 percent from the field and 73.8 percent from the foul line.
Where he’ll need to become more comfortable shooting-wise is from beyond the arc, as he made just 30.8 percent of his attempts (1.8 3-point attempts per game). Reed’s slim frame and mobility stand out on both ends but especially defensively, as he can block/alter shots and disrupt passing lanes. He’ll need to get a bit more comfortable when it comes to dealing with physicality, but that should come as his body continues to mature.
7. Robert Woodard (Mississippi State): After filling a reserve role as a freshman, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Woodard started all 31 games that he played in last season. He posted averages of 11.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers per game, with shooting splits of 49.5 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three and 64.1 percent from the foul line. The 3-point percentage is certainly a number that jumps off the page, but it came on an average of 2.3 attempts per game.
A plus defender, continuing to hone his craft as a perimeter shooter and creator will determine how successful a transfer from combo forward to wing will go for Woodard. He's listed with the power forwards here, but a good argument can be made for him being a small forward. The 7-foot-1 reach stuck out on the defensive end of the floor, and playing for a defensive-minded coach in Ben Howland helped Woodard as well.
8. Killian Tillie (Gonzaga): A first team all-WCC performer as a senior, Tillie’s biggest issue heading into the draft may be his medical history. After playing in 69 games during his first two seasons in Spokane, the 6-foot-10, 220-pound native of France was limited to 15 games as a junior and 24 as a senior. This season he started all 24 games in which he played, posting averages of 13.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.5 3-pointers per game.
Tillie finished with shooting splits of 53.5 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from three and 72.6 percent from the foul line, and he was especially comfortable playing away from the basket. Tillie reads the game well defensively, is effective when switched onto smaller players in ball-screen situations and doesn't lack for athleticism either (he also played volleyball before joining the Gonzaga program). He fits the stretch four mold, and may even be useful as a face-up five depending upon the opposition.
9. Yoeli Childs (BYU): A two time all-WCC selection, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Childs was effective on multiple levels throughout his time in Provo. As a senior he averaged 22.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.9 blocks and 1.2 3-pointers per game, with shooting splits of 57.4 percent from the field, 48.9 percent from three and 53.8 percent from the foul line. The free throw percentage is a concern, especially when it comes to determining Childs’ viability as a consistent stretch four at the pro level, but he can clearly knock down perimeter shots when given the opportunity. What would also help would be Childs blocking shots at a level similar to what he produced as a sophomore (1.8 bpg).
10. Lamar Stevens (Penn State): Stevens could be listed with the small forwards, as his size would be a better fit for that position at the next level. As a senior the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Stevens averaged 17.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.2 blocks and 0.8 3-pointers in 31.1 minutes per game, shooting 42.3 percent from the field, 26.3 percent from three and 71.9 percent from the foul line. The perimeter shooting ability is a concern, but Stevens is a tough player capable of contributing to winning teams in a variety of other ways. The four spot isn’t the deepest in this draft class, and it’s possible that his name isn’t called come October.
More to Know: Anthony Lamb (Vermont), Mamadi Diakite (Virginia), Vit Krejci (Zaragoza).