NBA Draft 2020 team grades: Warriors draw aces; Hornets, Cavaliers produce some questionable answers

By | November 20, 2020

We have firmly established the 2020 NBA Draft will not be one of the most productive in the league’s history in terms of generating future stars. So acing this test wasn’t like scoring a 1550 on one’s SATs.

But this might turn out to be a draft deeper than many in terms of rotation-type NBA players. The teams that chose the right ones will be rewarded in the coming years.

GREER: Analysis, more grades from Round 1 of the 2020 NBA Draft

And now, as well, in the form draft grades from Sporting News:

2020 NBA Draft grades

Atlanta Hawks: B+

The Hawks’ top five scorers last season all were 22 or younger, so it’s not like they needed an infusion of youth in choosing to select Onyeka Okongwu. They could have had a more experienced and developed offensive player in Obi Toppin, but one could say he’s a bit too much like John Collins. Okongwu became more attractive to teams when Bam Adebayo showed how deep an ideal small-ball center could carry a team. Okongwu could bring definition to a defense that lacks in some key areas. LSU’s Skylar Mays is a solid athlete and capable shooter who was a worthy second-round pick.

Boston Celtics: A-

It’s not as simple as, “If you can shoot, you can play.” But if you can shoot and play, you are going to be in demand in this league. Aaron Nesmith was the best available shooter in the draft and still was available when the Celtics chose at 14. It was a perfect opportunity for the Celtics, still searching for that last one or two pieces that can push them into the NBA Finals. Their second first-rounder, Payton Pritchard of Oregon, is a warrior whose dynamism is underrated and who will, at worst, be an ideal backup point guard. Second-rounder Yam Madar figures to continue playing overseas as he develops.

Brooklyn Nets: B+

With only a single pick to spend, and that one being four from the very end of the draft, it would have been difficult to do much better than add, in Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry, a big, productive, committed power forward. He has played internationally for USA Basketball’s U19 world champions and was part of two successful Bulldogs teams. He will rebound his position and compete and has shown some perimeter shooting skill. The question will be how comfortably he defends on the perimeter.

Charlotte Hornets: C+

They had most of the draft universe available to them at No. 3 and they opted to select, in LaMelo Ball, a player with massive holes on his resume and in his game. I heard an analyst say he will be among the best passers in the league the moment he steps on the floor. That’s true. So was Ricky Rubio when he joined the Timberwolves in 2011, and he’s got 4,387 career assists and 11 career playoff appearances. (That’s games, not seasons). Ball has the same issues as Rubio: not a defender, not a shooter. Ball made 25 percent of his threes and 45 percent of his twos in Australia’s NBL. He can be spectacular, but it’s often in defeat. The Hornets get upgraded to a “plus” because of sharp second-round picks Vernon Carey of Duke (a wide-body with a shooting touch), Nick Richards of Kentucky (a versatile, dynamic big) and Grant Riller of Charleston (an elite shooter).

Chicago Bulls: C+

The Bulls certainly made the surprise pick of the draft. Patrick Williams was a reserve at Florida State in his only season who scored in single digits in the majority of ACC games. It’s hard to remember a player who came off the bench in college who became a top-5 NBA draft pick and then the smash hit such a selection would portend. Forward Marvin Williams went No. 2 to the Hawks in 2005. Bulls fans at least can relax in the knowledge that there was no Chris Paul or Deron Williams available in this draft.

Cleveland Cavaliers: C-

Is defense a luxury or a necessity? For a team looking to build something resembling an NBA rotation, it’s hard to understand why the Cavs would invest in a player with such a limited offensive game as Auburn’s Isaac Okoro — even if he almost certainly was the best perimeter defender in the draft. If he were joining a functional team looking to add the final touches to a playoff-bound roster, his selection would have been ideal. But the Cavs were terrible last year, and now they’ve got to figure out how to incorporate someone who opponents will dare to take long-distance shots.

Dallas Mavericks: B

I’ll be honest: I watched a lot of Arizona last year, Josh Green’s only season in college. I rarely saw a difference-making player, particularly as it got close and contentious, as so many of the Wildcats’ games did last season. He shot only 36 percent from 3-point range on low volume. He obviously is dynamic, and there’s nothing wrong with his shooting form so there should be potential to become effective in that area. It just seems that there ought to have been more there for a first-round wing. Tyrell Terry, though, is a first-round talent available in the second.

Denver Nuggets: B

I thought Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji made an error in leaving college for the draft because he left much of his potential unexplored and risked dipping into the second round. It worked out for him, and now he joins a high-functioning organization and will not be required to immediately perform as a complete player, which he is not. Nnaji enters an elite defender and, if he’s never more than that, he’ll be useful to the Nuggets. The Nuggets could afford to take a chance on RJ Hampton, a promising talent whose best position remains somewhat at issue.

Detroit Pistons: A-

Analysts were falling more in love with point guard Killian Hayes of Germany’s Ulm the closer we came to the draft, even though he wasn’t able to do much to address the two biggest concerns about his game: overreliance on his left hand and a suspect jumpshot. The Pistons chose him over Tyrese Haliburton, who had fewer such concerns. Center Isaiah Stewart of Washington offers rim protection and physicality without sacrificing the ability to move defensively on the perimeter. Villanova forward Saddiq Bey, an elite shooter and competitor, should be the steal of the draft as the 19th overall pick.

Golden State Warriors: A

The Warriors picked two extremely talented teens, but they’ll have work to do to push both Memphis center James Wiseman and Arizona point guard Nico Mannion to reach their potential. Mannion routinely dissolved at crunch time for the Wildcats, a significant factor in his team’s inability to win big games. Wiseman didn’t even stick around for any of those, leaving the Tigers after playing three games and serving most of an NCAA suspension. Wiseman is the best pure talent in the draft, and Mannion would have been a first-round lock were it not for all those meltdowns. It’s possible they drafted two long-term starters.

MORE: Biggest steals, worst reaches from the NBA Draft’s first round

Houston Rockets: B-

The Rockets did not pick until the draft nearly was over. Second-round choice Kenyon Martin Jr. cut short his development by choosing to spend last year at IMG Academy instead of enrolling at Vanderbilt, which produced a first-rounder and two draft picks overall. He’s a powerful, electric forward who has much work to do to become a long-term pro.

Indiana Pacers: B+

The Pacers spent their first-round pick as part of the trade to acquire point guard Malcolm Brogdon, leaving them with only the 54th overall selection. But, what do you know? Everyone else ignored elite athlete Cassius Stanley of Duke, and there he was for the Pacers to steal. Stanley is an above-the-rim wing who shot 31-of-86 on threes in his only college season, which is not Steph Curry territory but neither does it indicate that there’s no hope.

Los Angeles Clippers: B

The Clips were another team without a first-round pick, but they got a first-round talent in center Daniel Oturu of Minnesota. Oturu has the sort of perimeter offensive skill that teams demand from a modern big man. Is he mobile enough eventually to be a starter? That’s the question that kept him on the board for the Clips to land at No. 33 overall. I wonder if some confused fluidity with mobility.

Memphis Grizzlies: B+

If TCU’s Desmond Bane can carry with him the shooting touch that allowed him to shoot .433 from distance for his career, it’s hard to see him not being at least a useful player. He’s comfortable enough with the ball in his hands to perhaps function as a second-unit point guard. The Grizzlies got a steal in the early second round when they grabbed Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, who can guard all three frontcourt positions and has a complete package of face-the-basket offensive skills.

Miami Heat: B+

The Heat had only one pick in the draft. For a team that took a young group to the finals, adding a second-round rookie seemed unnecessary, anyway. For a team that excels at developing young players and can use a dynamic big man to supplement Bam Adebayo, Precious Achiuwa was an ideal choice at No. 20. He’s overwhelming physically and plays with passion. If he wants to become a starter here or elsewhere, he’ll need to improve as a free throw shooter.

Milwaukee Bucks: B

In a five-game playoff series loss to the Heat, the Bucks’ most productive 3-point shooter was center Brook Lopez. If you want to understand why the team with the NBA’s best record went no farther than the conference semifinals, there’s your answer. And the Bucks acknowledged this by grabbing the best shooters available to them at No. 45 (forward Jordan Nwora of Louisville) and 60 (guard Sam Merrill of Utah State). They’ll get their chances to find a way into a rotation that has lots of everything else except shooting.

Minnesota Timberwolves: C+

If first overall pick Anthony Edwards of Georgia plays regularly the way he did against Michigan State in the Maui Invitational consolation round, it will not matter whether the T-Wolves misspent their two subsequent picks. Edwards was the perfect picture of the dominant wing scorer that day. There were few like it, though. Edwards’ desire to be great has been questioned by many since he was a high school player, though, and joining an organization that has made losing such a habit seems unlikely to change whatever mindset he carries in. Draft-and-stash choice Leandro Bolmaro of Barcelona in Spain’s ACB was a reach, and forward Jaden McDaniels of Washington evinces even less desire to excel than Edwards.

New Orleans Pelicans: A-

When you’re talking about a player draft, teams aren’t so much graded on a curve as on taking advantage of opportunity. The Pelicans were fortunate that a first-rate point guard prospect such as Alabama’s Kira Lewis was available to them at No. 13. The way to earn a great grade is to seize the opportunity. OK, so the Pels already have Lonzo Ball, and they’ve not been so successful to afford stacking players at one position. They’ve also not been so successful with their current group to decide that it can’t be improved with competition for positions or perhaps a subsequent move. Lewis can run a team, defend and is a developing shooter.

New York Knicks: A-

As we were saying: The Knicks got a huge break when the seven teams choosing ahead of them left Naismith Award winner Obi Toppin of Dayton on the board. But who didn’t think for at least a moment, even with a new basketball operations group in place, that a franchise with the Knicks’ history would blow it? Toppin is not a perfect player, but there were none in this draft. He’s ready to be an NBA starter. If the Knicks are ready to be an NBA team, it should work out well. Immanuel Quickley as a second first-round pick seemed a stretch, but Quickley does have elite jumpshooting ability. Even if he’s only a Microwave-style sub, that’s not a bad return on the 25th pick.

Oklahoma City Thunder: D+

Yes, the Thunder have a great reputation for their drafts. Well, the Pittsburgh Steelers have spent second-round picks on such players as Limas Sweed and Senquez Golson, so even the team that picked T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree is not perfect. Grabbing Aleksej Pokusevski with the 17th overall pick seems more reckless than visionary. He’s not ready now and might never grow into an NBA body. Vit Krejci averaged 3.2 points in Spain last year. And that whole age thing can’t explain everything; he’ll be 21 by the end of this season.

MORE: Complete results, list of selections from Rounds 1 and 2

Orlando Magic: B+

There are lots of areas to wonder about with Cole Anthony. But there’s no question that he’s a baller. He fought to return to North Carolina’s lineup last season after injuring his knee when so many others in his age group just packed it in and let their tape do the talking. He did this even though it was obvious that his North Carolina team wasn’t good and wasn’t NCAA-bound with or without him. There are issues with his game. Can he defend? Will he connect when surrounded with high-level talent? But good things tend to happen when the ball starts with him. Orlando got itself a top-10 talent with the 15th pick.

Philadelphia 76ers: A

From where they were positioned in this particular year, the Sixers had a perfect draft. At No. 21, they got a point guard in Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey, who is not a pure playmaker but does not have to be when lined up alongside Ben Simmons. He has to make buckets, and that’s what he does. At 49, they got a shooter in Isaiah Joe who topped 200 career threes in just two seasons. And before the draft wrapped, they were lucky to find 6-9 Paul Reed who, honestly, might have been a borderline first-rounder if he’d played in a program with a better pedigree than DePaul. Even though the Demons went 3-15 in Big East play last season, he still powered forward for 23 points and 12 rebounds in a Big East Tournament first-round game that meant little. But DePaul won.

Phoenix Suns: B

Is Jalen Smith a bad pick? Oh, heck no. A franchise that has wandered aimlessly for most of the past decade is starting to understand what a difference it makes to have high-character players on the roster who play winning basketball. Smith was so committed to Maryland’s success that he never complained about being deployed out of position at center, and it paid off in a Big Ten championship. And he was a pain for opposing bigs in that role, because he guarded his position and he was exceptional at pick-and-pops. The only question is whether Phoenix could have traded down and still gotten him.

Portland Trail Blazers: B-

The Blazers only had a second-round pick, which they used to select high-scoring Washington State wing CJ Elleby. He has the chance to be an exceptional shooter but will have to prove he can defend at the NBA level.

Sacramento Kings: A-

Especially in such a suspect draft, it was a gift for Tyrese Haliburton still to be available at No. 12. He’s a dangerous shooter, an elite passer and an extraordinary teammate. The Kings’ two second-round picks were advised choices: wing Robert Woodard of Mississippi State and guard Jahmi’us Ramsey of Texas Tech. Ramsey seemed to lose appeal as a prospect as the draft approached, but his numbers were solid across the board. He would have been wise to spend another year with the Raiders, but his mistake could pay off for the Kings.

San Antonio Spurs: A

The Spurs have one of the best organizations in professional sports, let alone the NBA, so it is no surprise that they would make just the right moves: shooting guard Devin Vassell of Florida State at No. 11 overall and point guard Tre Jones of Duke at No. 41. Each is a top defender. Each can hit from 3-point range. Each will fit comfortably into the Spurs’ operation.

Toronto Raptors: B-

Is Malachi Flynn a starting point guard in the NBA? Possibly not, but the Raptors don’t need one at the moment. Is Flynn capable of serving as an elite backup at the position? Absolutely. He controls a game, can read defenses and make whatever play develops, and he wins. There might have been better players available than Nevada’s Jalen Harris, but at pick No. 59 that becomes pretty much a matter of personal taste.

Utah Jazz: B-

It’s so hard to know what sort of player Kansas center Udoka Azubuike will be in the modern NBA. He is a mountain. He is a mountain who can sky. He is a physical force unlike pretty much anyone in the league. He also has a limited offensive game, questions about his ability to defend on the perimeter and no ability at all as a foul shooter. Utah believed in him, so it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

Washington Wizards: A

There was some thought that wing Deni Avdija could go as high as No. 4, so his availability at No. 9 was great fortune for the Wizards. At 6-9, Avdija has some of the playmaking ability at forward that you see (at a far higher level) from Simmons and Luka Doncic. If Avdija becomes a reliable jumpshooter, he could be a star. Getting Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston at 53 overall will have less impact but was perhaps even a greater stroke of luck, because Winston easily could have been the sort of late-first pick that Flynn and Pritchard were.