Grading the Top 10 Picks in the NBA Draft


Johnny Mambrino, Editor

The first-ever virtual draft for the NBA was full of emotions, trades, and uncertainty at the top of the draft. There wasn’t necessarily a guaranteed number one pick like years past, with prospects like Zion Williamson last year, Anthony Davis in 2013, and none other than LeBron James to the Cavaliers in 2003. With COVID ending college basketball before March Madness, we didn’t really get to see some college stars make a final statement in March to raise their draft stock, and there was also no Draft Combine. There also weren’t any March studs who came out of nowhere, like Donte DiVincenzo in 2018 when he scored 31 points to lead the Wildcats to a national championship victory and ended up being taken 17th overall. I have a lot of things to say about this draft class and I will be grading each of the top 14 picks in the draft.

1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves – B+

The Timberwolves have had the first overall pick 3 times in this decade and they only went to the playoffs one time since 2003. That came in 2016 and since 2015, General Manager Scott Layden hasn’t been shy about making trades for big names, and that’s what he did with Jimmy Butler, and that’s what he did a few months ago with D’Angelo Russell. Karl Towns and D-LO are both young all-stars who haven’t enjoyed a lot of success in their young careers but now teamed with newly acquired Anthony Edwards, success is inevitable. Edwards wasn’t necessarily the undisputed top prospect in this draft but he was the best fit alongside Russell in the backcourt. He can score from anywhere on the floor, he is a physical scorer around the rim, and he is an underrated defender who will add to this team’s already talented group of wing defenders like Jarret Culver, Malik Beasley, and Josh Okogie.

2. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors – A
After making 5 straight Finals appearances the Warriors sit at the top of the draft and not becauseof of lottery luck. The Warriors haven’t had a legitimate big man since the early days of the dynasty when Andrew Bogut was roaming the paint for Golden State. While he was productive he wasn’t a top-tier big man and with Wiseman, they get arguably the best player in the class who was the number one player coming out of high school. He is a towering 7 footer, who is an excellent shot blocker, and has modern-day big man skills, like great ball-handling and an above-average outside shot. The Warriors have lacked that dominant inside presence that Wiseman provides and with this team’s exceptional ability to shoot from three, he’ll be able to space the floor and make things easier for guys like Curry and Klay Thompson.

3. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets – A
The youngest of the Ball brothers has just joined his brother Lonzo in the NBA as he just went 3rd overall. The Hornets are undoubtedly a small market team and don’t necessarily have the ability to go after big-time free agents, seeing as they lost their long time all-star point guard, Kemba Walker. Getting high drafts picks like this is exactly what they need to rebuild this team and with LaMelo ball at the forefront of this team they can go a long way. Simply put he’s a 6’7 point guard who can shoot the three. He was certainly inefficient from three in his lone year in the NBL shooting 25% from outside but he did attempt almost 7 a game so with more shots he puts up the more he will improve. He has the most upside out of any player in this class and if he becomes what people think he can be he will most definitely be better than Lonzo, but he will also be the biggest problem for other teams in this league with potentially a Kevin Durant like presence. Possessing elite skills that a point guard would have while having the height of a forward is what could set him apart and make him one of the best players in the league.

4. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls – C+
Patrick Williams hasn’t had the same individual success as some of the other lottery picks as he was the sixth man at Florida State and averaged 9 points per game. Not to say the talent isn’t there but it is definitely a questionable pick, to say the least. He is a 6’8 athletic forward with a 7-foot wingspan weighing in at 225 pounds, which points to his potential of being an athletic freak. These measurables also help him on defense as with his quickness on top of those he can guard multiple positions. He showed signs of being a good pull-up shooter and a good inside scorer as his height and wingspan would suggest. The reason I’m grading this pick as low as a C is his because he’s pure talent and potential pick and doesn’t necessarily have a lot of production worthy of making him a top 5 pick. He’s very similar to guys like a more recent Florida State product, Jonathan Isaac, and Thon Maker who were both top 10 picks. Both have 7-foot wingspans with speed and quickness to keep up with guards on defense, but that potential died out quickly seeing as they didn’t have the necessary skills on offense to be legitimate difference makers in this league. This was more true for Thon Maker as Isaac has had solid production for the Magic especially this past season as he averages around 12 points per game along with 2 blocks and a steal and a half. He has fulfilled his defensive potential and has progressively improved his points per game from 5 in his rookie year to 9 and this year to 12. Progression is always a good sign, so it’s a matter of will Williams be a Jonathan Isaac or a Thon Maker. Taking him in the top 5 to me is a huge risk when he hasn’t proven himself to be an outstanding player or leader.

5. Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers – B+
Another unexpected one and done in the top 5 with Isaac Okoro coming out of Auburn as their first one and done draft pick ever. Okoro is your typical 3 and D dream prospect that we see every year get picked ahead of their projection. There isn’t necessarily a part of his game where he struggles mightily. Offensively he is especially good around the rim and is very physical when getting shots up in the lane which will be important when playing at the next level. His size and quickness will help a lot on defense and with his strength, he will be able to guard multiple positions. He did however shoot under 30 percent from three which points to the question if he can be a legitimate consistent shooter in the NBA, but if he can improve his shooting he will be a do it all wing for a long time who has the chance to be one of the best players in this draft class and the Cavaliers have lacked a legitimate wing player since LeBron James left-back in 2018.

6. Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks – C-
Taking centers in the top 10 if they can’t shoot the ball is risky as it is, but when you already have Clint Capela it makes even less sense. Onyeka is a very athletic big man who is an excellent rim protector and has the potential to be a Rudy Gobert like player defensively but the difference between Onyeka and the other top tier centers in the league is that he is only 6’9 which isn’t a huge deal but he is already giving up a few inches in size which can be made up for by his 7’2 wingspan but if he struggles to be a legitimate shooter outside of 10 feet he won’t be too hard to stop when he has the ball. On top of that, the Hawks already have a young big man in Clint Capela who can do all the same things Onyeka can do and is under contract until 2023. I feel like the Hawks would’ve been better off taking a guard or small forward to complement Trae Young like Tyrese Haliburton who can be a good defensive addition in the backcourt and can be a playmaker without always needing the ball in his hands. They could’ve also taken a guy like Deni Avdija who is a very versatile wing with size who can play almost any position on the court. Like Haliburton, he would’ve been a perfect secondary playmaker next to Trae Young.

7. Killian Hayes, Detroit Pistons – B+
The Pistons have been on a slow decline ever since they dealt Tobias Harris a few years ago and Andre Drummond this past trade deadline. They lack depth and talent at every position on the court so they couldn’t go wrong with this pick. Poing guard was probably their biggest need and Killian Hayes while picked very high I feel is one of the most underrated prospects in this draft class. He’s an American born kid who grew up and played professionally in France and that experience will do him well when adjusting to the NBA. He is a combo guard who has the ability to be a great point guard with his great ball-handling and court vision. He doesn’t turn the ball over much and with his ball-handling skills he can create shots for himself and his teammates. He can score from anywhere on the court and is an especially good three-point shooter. He doesn’t lack size either as he stands at 6’5 180. He is the ultimate package at the guard position and with his skill and size, I would compare to someone like D’Angelo Russell. Both leftie guards can create their own shot and shoot efficiently from three but can also be facilitators and get their teammates involved. With the rebuild in full effect in Detroit, having a primary ball-handler and point guard to start it off will be very important for the Pistons to preserve.

8. Obi Toppin, New York Knicks – B
Toppin was definitely the New York pick for sure, as he is a high-flying big man that can bring the house down with his impressive dunk package like we saw him do at Dayton last year, and he is also a Westchester County native from Ossining. Some people would’ve liked the Knicks to address the point guard position at 8 like taking Tyrese Haliburton or maybe even Cole Anthony but with the disappointing season from Julius Randle last year, Obi Toppin should be able to take over at power forward from Randle. Toppin is not only a high-flyer but he is also a very efficient scorer as he led the country in field goal percentage last year as he shot almost 65% from the field and almost 42% from three. He didn’t take many threes but it isn’t necessarily a weakness in his game, it’s just a matter of putting up more threes and improving from there. He measures in at 6’9 220 which makes him a threat in the paint as well as on the perimeter to opposing defenders as he is very athletic and has skills that allow him to stretch the floor. One of the biggest knocks on Toppin is that he isn’t a one and done 19 years old with lots of potentials, but there have been so many busts that have been drafted into the league under that label and with Obi Toppin, there isn’t much uncertainty.

9. Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards – A
Deni Avdija was the premier international prospect coming into this draft process and his skillset and highlights prove that. He is a 6’9 point forward who can shoot from the outside and can score in the lane at will. He isn’t necessarily elite in any specific area but there isn’t a single thing he can’t do on the court. He should take over as one of the premier playmakers alongside Bradley Beal and will make up a great young frontcourt with last year’s rookie Rui Hachimura. I expected Avdija to be taken a few picks earlier but he stayed in the top 10 and if he fell any lower I would’ve been very surprised. There is doubt because he is from overseas and doesn’t get the same American press as these other guys do but he should be able to adapt to the NBA rather easily as he played in one of the best professional basketball leagues in the world as a teenager.

10. Jalen Smith, Phoenix Suns – C
After trading for Chris Paul taking a point guard wasn’t an option anymore so the Suns decided to select their potential backup center. The Suns have acquired so much depth at every position that I feel like it would’ve made sense to try and trade the pick but selecting Smith should push former first overall pick Deandre Ayton to work even harder to solidify his starting spot. Jalen Smith is an athletic and lengthy big man who is a very physical scorer and defender in the paint. He is also a capable shooter from the outside, however, he isn’t necessarily a threat from three-point range which points to the fact of if drafting Smith was a great decision. With Chris Paul being almost 40 years old drafting a playmaking guard could’ve been a wise decision like taking Tyrese Haliburton but I feel like they weren’t set up to make a great decision at this pick.