With any selection in a draft, a given team must weigh the pros and cons of players who figure to be ready to contribute right away, versus guys who will undoubtedly require some time to develop before they can help their teams win games. Let’s take a look at 5 players who should be ready to contribute to winning basketball from the jump versus 5 players who are long-term plays.
5 Immediate Contributors
1. Obi Toppin
One of the more underrated prospects on the board, there is a case to be made that Obi Toppin is the best offensive player in this draft, and he will be ready to contribute on day one for whoever selects him. Toppin is a 4/small-ball 5 with a rare combination of skills and athleticism at his size. He is a dominant threat in the pick and roll in all areas: an elite lob-catcher, good role man, and a developing pick and pop shooter. While his age (22) has rightfully been thought of as a knock on his draft status, it should aid him in his transition to the league, as he has had a relatively long and successful collegiate career, and is mostly developed at this point as an athlete. I feel Toppin could provide teams with tremendous versatility on the offensive end, as he can score inside and out, attack from every aspect of the pick and roll, and is an explosive threat in transition.
2. Onyeka Okongwu
Okongwu figures to be an immediate contributor largely because his selling point as a player is largely centered around one area: rim protection. Okongwu is a bouncy quick-twitch big man who was a menace inside all season at USC. Offensively, he figures to play a simple role early on as a rim runner, lob threat, and cleanup big, so the adjustment on that end shouldn’t be too daunting for him either. Lottery teams looking to make a playoff push this season (Golden State, Washington, Phoenix) should certainly take a long look at Okongwu, who will be able to step in immediately and bolster a team’s interior defense
3. Aaron Nesmith
Arguably the best shooter in the draft, Aaron Nesmith brings a ready-made package of 3 and D skills that could be of assistance to any team in the league. A pure shooter with consistent NBA range, Nesmith lit up the SEC to the tune of 51/52/82 splits this past season. He has a complete arsenal as a spot-up weapon, who can shoot off the catch, in tight windows off screens, as a trailer, etc. He also has good length for a wing, and should be a solid on-ball and off-ball defender right out of the gate. For teams near the end of the lottery looking to bolster their playoff push (New Orleans, Sacramento, Phoenix), Nesmith could slide into a rotation and contribute immediately
4. Desmond Bane
Similarly to Nesmith, Bane brings NBA-level shooting with him to the league. Possibly the best off-ball player in the entire draft, Bane is fundamentally sound at getting in position, using screens, and finding open areas to get his shot off. He has textbook footwork and great balance, and uses these to almost always be in the right position to attack from deep. He is a marginal athlete with only decent size, so his impact on the game aside from shooting may be limited, but you truly can never have enough shooting in today’s NBA, and teams picking in the 20-30 range can add that right away with Bane.
5. Deni Avdija
A skilled forward with intriguing playmaking chops, Avdija brings a mix of high floor and high ceiling projection with him to the league. I feel Avdija will be able to step in right away in the NBA and execute the fundamentals of team basketball to a high level, be that as a cutter, team defender, and secondary playmaker. The skills on tape and basketball IQ Avdija possesses are simply too high for him to fail in the league, and he should provide a steady reliable presence immediately in whatever rotation he ends up in. However, if he continues to develop as a shooter and offensive creator, that’s how he could turn into a true franchise building block-type player.
1. Aleksej Pokusevski
The ultimate swing for the fences pick in this draft, Fran Frascilla’s infamous “two years away from being two years away” tied to Bruno Caboclo could certainly be applied to Pokusevski as well. He’s essentially a stretch 4, but he really doesn’t have a regular position right now. He’s a seven-footer with a 7’3” wingspan with excellent shooting touch and a high, quick release, who can also put the ball on the floor and create offense off the dribble. Additionally, he possesses seriously impressive vision and playmaking abilities for a player of his size at his age—he won’t turn 19 until December. It’s a package of skills that bears resemblance to very few players in the league currently, and if everything clicks, whoever takes a chance on him could possibly wind up with a special player.
However, it will undoubtedly take several years of skill development and weight training for this to be a possibility. He’s listed at 200 pounds right now, and even that seems generous after watching his tape. He has extremely narrow shoulders and a worrisome frame; there is so much work to be done on him physically before he’d even be ready for G-league-level competition. His on-court skills are also in need of real polish. His technique on his jumper can get sloppy at times, as he doesn’t always hold his follow-through, and doesn’t jump straight up and down much of the time. There was also an alarming amount of ugly turnovers and head-scratching decisions in his tape. His effort on defense comes and goes as well, as he can oftentimes use his size and length to deflect shots from behind as a get out of jail free card of sorts when his man beats him off the dribble; this obviously won’t work if/when he makes it to the league.
Whoever drafts Pokusevski is essentially getting a blank slate, who is undoubtedly at least a couple years away from playing meaningful minutes in an NBA game. This is the ultimate risk/reward play in this years’ draft, and I’d be on the lookout for teams like the Bucks, Thunder, and Nuggets, who have proven in the past they’re willing to take risks like these, to have an eye on him with their respective first round picks.
2. James Wiseman
Everyone knows the story on Wiseman, from his days as the #1 high school player in the country, to the debacle he faced at Memphis, to leaving school after three games to start his preparation for the draft. The tools and talent on tape are obvious: striking physical dimensions, elite athleticism for his size, surprisingly nimble footwork and open-court quickness, and good touch around the rim and on jumpers.
But Wiseman obviously comes with risks and unknowns, as he essentially hasn’t played above the high school level, and therefore hasn’t really ever faced competition that can match up with him physically and athletically. Many analysts have speculated that Wiseman could have a relatively easy transition to the league rooted in rim running and rim protection, and over time he could hone in his full skillset and become a true franchise player. Yet even in that simplified role I feel he will have a steep learning curve. All the tools are there for him to dominate defensively, but the intangibles need real work. He’s often out of position on the interior, and bites on pump fakes far too frequently. His motor also tends to run hot and cold, a tendency that bigs playing the rim runner/protector role simply can’t have. Expectations will be high for Wiseman, and if he ends up in Golden State, his development leash will undoubtedly be shorter than many of his fellow top picks.
3. Leandro Bolmaro
One of my favorite players in this draft, Bolmaro is an oversized guard with a high basketball IQ and all the intangibles you can ask for. Bolmaro’s game pops on both ends. Offensively, he’s a high-IQ playmaker who knows how to pick his spots and get to the right places on the floor. On the defensive end, Bolmaro brings elite intensity and awareness, combined with quick feet and great size for a guard.
Yet Bolmaro will have to make strides in some areas to become a key piece for an NBA team. At 185 pounds, he’s a bit underweight, and will need to continue to bulk up to utilize his large frame to guard 1-3. His handle is pretty rudimentary at the moment, and he lacks a real arsenal of go-to moves to create offense off the dribble. His jumper also needs some attention, as he is inconsistent with his follow-through, often angling his wrist to the left while releasing the ball. Bolmaro seems like a solid draft-and-stash candidate, and whichever team selects him will look for him to improve on these shortcomings—likely with Barcelona for a year or two. If all goes well, the play could yield a versatile and steady backcourt piece to whoever takes the chance on him.
4. RJ Hampton
RJ Hampton is something of a post-hype prospect who’s been slipping a bit in recent draft boards after receiving a lot of hype out of high school. He’s a quick-twitch combo guard with elite run/jump athleticism—athleticism he knows how to put to use in half-court settings. He’s an active cutter who can finish around the basket and convert layups from tough angles. Defensively, he has the tools to be a versatile backcourt defender, with super quick feet, active hands, and a frame that looks well-positioned to continue bulking up after the progress he’s already made since high school.
Hampton’s postgraduate season in New Zealand showed some promising moments, but also a lot of causes for concern; there is a lot of work to be done for Hampton to become a real weapon at the next level, starting with his jumper. He posted some poor splits (41/30/68) in his season abroad, and his release is relatively slow right now. He has the tools to be a disruptive defender, but the advanced numbers do not back it up right now. He’s very much a score-first guard at the moment, who gets tunnel vision and struggles to adapt and find open teammates or change course when the defense gets position on him. If Hampton is able to progress and iron out these kinks at the next level, he could become a real impact guard, but whoever takes him on will have to be patient, and likely accept some frustrating inefficiencies and slip-ups on both ends while Hampton works on his weaknesses.
5. Jaden McDaniels
Another post-hype guy, McDaniels came into this season as a projected early 1st round pick, largely due to his excellent physical tools. He’s a 6’9” wing/big hybrid with a nearly seven-foot wingspan; his size really leaps off the screen on tape. He uses this size to be a tremendously disruptive defender, who can guard 1-4 and be a menace in the passing and on switches. He also has a soft shooting touch, and projects to be a reliable threat from deep in the league.
Unfortunately, the skills and hype simply didn’t translate to much production in McDaniels’ lone collegiate season. He struggled with the physical adjustment from high school to college, and wasn’t able to finish effectively at the rim due to his slender frame and hesitancy to initiate contact. He also developed some sloppy tendencies on the defensive end, leading to an alarming 3.3 fouls per game. McDaniels will come into the league with a wide range of projected outcomes as a player. If he can hone in on his inefficiencies and develop his body, he has a chance to be a real impact player, but he undoubtedly has to work to do to make that happen. I’d look for him to be taken late in the 1st by a team who can afford to be patient with him, perhaps the Nuggets, Celtics, or Raptors.