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2020 NBA Draft: Ranking the Small Forwards

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: August 1, 2020, 5:48 pm ET

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. And before anyone gets upset, Devin Vassell and Aaron Nesmith are listed with the shooting guards.

1. Deni Avdija (Maccabi Tel Aviv): With the college basketball season coming to a screeching halt in March and the pre-draft workout circuit being virtually non-existent thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, prospects that have to rely on those platforms to improve their draft prospects lack the opportunity to state their cases on the court. That isn’t an issue for the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Avdija, who has helped lead Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Israeli Basketball Premier League championship. He's very good with the ball in his hands, be it as a scorer or distributor

In the spring perimeter shooting was viewed by many as a point of concern when it comes to Avdija’s NBA prospects, and it still is even with his hot start to the playoffs. He eventually cooled down, ultimately making one-third of his 3-point attempts. That's about where Avdija has been throughout the course of his career to this point. So while he managed to show the potential to be a proficient perimeter shooter there's still work to be done on the consistency part of the equation, which isn't a shameful development for a 19-year old. Expect Avdija to hear his name called within the top ten picks. 

2. Isaac Okoro (Auburn): At the beginning of the pre-draft process many viewed Okoro as the top small forward in this class. His being second isn’t an indictment of the Auburn sensation, but rather a validation of what Avdija has managed to do in Israel. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Okoro brings an NBA-ready body to the table, and he’s coming off of a freshman season in which he averaged 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks and 0.7 3-pointers per game. With an overall field goal percentage of 51.4 percent, Okoro made nearly 68 percent of his shot attempts at the rim according to hoop-math.com.

If there’s a concern regarding the freshman’s transition to the NBA it would be his perimeter shooting, as he connected on just 29.0 percent of his 3-pointers with an average of 2.5 attempts per game. Add in a 67.2 percent figure from the foul line, and it’s clear that shooting is the area in which Okoro will need to make strides. He’s plenty tough, has a high basketball IQ and also has the size/athleticism required to defend multiple positions. But Okoro’s full value as a pro will depend upon the strides that he’s able to make as a shooter.

 

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3. Saddiq Bey (Villanova): After serving in a supplementary role as a freshman Bey moved into the spotlight as a sophomore, and he had a very good year for the Wildcats. The 6-foot-8, 216-pound sophomore started all 31 games, posting averages of 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks and 2.5 3-pointers in 33.9 minutes per game. Bey shot the ball well at all levels, finishing the year with splits of 47.7 percent from the field, 45.1 percent from three and 76.9 percent from the foul line. Playing in an offensive system that affords players freedom to make plays as he did at Villanova should serve Bey well at the next level. 

As for the defensive end, while the steals/blocks stats don’t jump off the page he’s versatile enough to take on multiple assignments. Bey feels like the kind of prospect that lands on a playoff team and immediately carves out a spot for himself in the rotation. 

4. Patrick Williams (Florida State): The 6-foot-8, 225-pound wing didn’t put up the most impressive numbers during his one season in Tallahassee, but that’s due in large part to how deep the Florida State rotation was (and generally has been recently under Leonard Hamilton). Williams didn’t start any of the 29 games in which he appeared but still averaged 22.5 minutes per night, contributing 9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals on a team that won the ACC.

A 45.9 percent shooter from the field overall, Williams connected on 32.0 percent of his 3-point attempts (0.7 made per game) and 83.8 percent of his free throw attempts. That latter percentage shows that there’s room for him to develop into a dependable perimeter shooter, and Williams has the athleticism/length that many teams are looking for in prospects who could potentially be used at either forward spot. He’s further along defensively than offensively at this stage in his career, but the former (and his physical ability/upside) make Williams a player who will likely be off the board by the middle of the first round. 

5. Jaden McDaniels (Washington): This is the part of the list where the word “upside” gets tossed around quite often, beginning with the 6-foot-9, 200-pound McDaniels. In his lone season at Washington, the Seattle native (and younger brother of Hornets wing Jalen McDaniels) posted averages of 13.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 3-pointers in 31.1 minutes per game. Consistency will be critical for McDaniels as it pertains to adjusting at the NBA level, as flashes of brilliance were at times countered by stretches in which he failed to have any impact on the action. 

Another concern has to be the turnover column, as he averaged 4.2 per game last season. If that number is being put up by a true center, it’s a bit more acceptable than if a wing is the culprit. McDaniels is the kind of talent that, under normal circumstances, could blow up on the pre-draft circuit and land in the lottery. That may not be the case this year, but it could pay off in the long run if he lands with a stable franchise. 

6. Leandro Bolmaro (Barcelona B): Bolmaro is an interesting case, in that the 6-foot-8 wing has been at his most impactful when playing with Barcelona’s B side. He had more responsibility offensively as a result, and the Argentine is an effective playmaker. Where he’ll need to improve is as a perimeter shooter, as Bolmaro made less than 30 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc this season. Defensively he’s solid, more of a positional defender rather than one that produces highlight-worthy blocks and steals. Going in the first round could ensure that he comes over immediately, but a lot will depend upon which team selects Bolmaro. 

7. Corey Kispert (Gonzaga): The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Kispert has yet to make a decision regarding his NBA Draft status, and his skill set is a good fit for the next level. Last season he posted averages of 13.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.4 3-pointers per game, with shooting splits of 47.4 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from three and 81.0 percent from the foul line. Kispert is an efficient scorer, and he has a build that should make for a seamless transition to the NBA from a physicality standpoint. If he returns to Gonzaga that makes an expected national title contender even better. Kispert's decision is one of the bigger ones to track ahead of the withdrawal deadlines. 

8. Jordan Nwora (Louisville): After being named the ACC’s Most Improved Player as a sophomore, Nwora earned first team all-conference honors for the second consecutive season as a junior. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound wing accounted for 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks and 2.5 3-pointers in 33.1 minutes per game last season, while shooting 44.0 percent from the field, 40.2 percent from three and 81.3 percent from the foul line. 

And it’s worth noting that 44 percent of his field goal attempts were 3-pointers per hoop-math.com, with more than 81 percent of his makes being assisted. Nwora’s more than capable of being an effective catch-and-shoot option, which may be the best role for him at the next level. However, in order to be a rotation 3-and-D option strides will need to be made defensively.   

9.  Lamine Diane (CSUN): Despite not offering much in the way of a perimeter shot, the 6-foot-7, 205-pound Diane was a dominant scorer in his two seasons at CSUN. As a sophomore the two-time Big West POY posted averages of 25.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 2.0 blocks and 0.8 3-pointers per game, while shooting 48.0 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from three and 66.3 percent from the foul line. The absence of a consistent perimeter shot is something that Diane will need to address if he’s to stick as a pro, but the athleticism and motor can’t be ignored. Those attributes will get him in the door, but the goal is to stay. 

10. Tyler Bey (Colorado): More often than not, the questions surrounding 3-and-D prospects come on the defensive end of the floor. That isn’t the case for Bey, who was elite defensively for the Buffaloes last season. With a full stat line of 13.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, the 6-foot-7, 218-pound forward won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Bey can defend multiple positions, and with his length he can be a problem either challenging shots or jumping passing lanes. 

He’ll need to do a bit more as a shooter, as he averaged just one 3-point attempt per game (making 41.9 percent), but the overall field goal (53.0) and free throw (74.3) percentages show that there may be something to work with here. The prediction here is that Bey’s defensive acumen gets him into a rotation next season. 

More to Know: Yves Pons (Tennessee), Naji Marshall (Xavier), Tres Tinkle (Oregon State), Kristian Doolittle (Oklahoma), Abdoulaye Ndoye (Cholet), CJ Elleby (Washington State), Kenyon Martin Jr. (IMG Academy).

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.