We’re 10 or so games into the college basketball season, which means NBA fans have had glimpses of players who might join their favorite teams next season. The top three players currently project to be James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards. Wiseman is currently serving a 12-game suspension, LaMelo Ball thinks he’s the No. 1 pick, and Edwards is just starting to pick things up.
With Wiseman out, reports have surfaced that Warriors general manager Bob Myers is heading to Australia to scout Ball and R.J. Hampton in the coming weeks. Dozens of other NBA teams have made their way to Australia and New Zealand to check out the two American point guards playing in the National Basketball League.
There will be late risers and tournament heroes in March that will undoubtedly shake up the draft, but for now, let’s take a look at the first round and where the top prospects stand.
(Draft order for the first round is from Tankathon.)
1. Golden State Warriors
C James Wiseman, Fr., Memphis, 7-1, 240
Through all the drama surrounding Wiseman, he’s stayed focused and continues to work each day in practice. Wiseman is the most NBA-ready prospect in this class, and it’s a shame we’ll see him for only half the college season. He’s a force in the lane and can extend his game to the perimeter when needed. Wiseman is a low risk at No. 1 because teams know what they’re getting with him.
2. New York Knicks
G LaMelo Ball, Illawara (NBL), 6-7, 180
There is a very good possibility that Ball could go No. 1 overall, but the main reservation for most teams is his defense. During his game against the NZ Breakers and RJ Hampton, he was challenging shots but guards could blow by him when he faced up one-on-one and tried to guard off the dribble. Ball has the tightest handle I’ve ever seen for a player his size, and unlike his older brother, Lonzo Ball, LaMelo has a strong pick-n-roll game, which you need at the NBA level. So far his dad, LaVar, has stayed quiet and out of the spotlight, which is a positive for LaMelo.
3. Atlanta Hawks
G Anthony Edwards, Fr., Georgia, 6-5, 225
Edwards had one of the best halves of basketball this season at the Maui Invitational, scoring 33 points (with seven threes) in 20 minutes against Michigan State. (He finished with 37 points in 38 minutes.) His 7-foot wingspan makes him a threat on defense and able to guard one through three. His shot release is so high and almost impossible to guard, and his speed and explosiveness is very similar to Donovan Mitchell’s.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
G Cole Anthony, Fr., North Carolina, 6-3, 190
The son of former NBA player Greg Anthony, Cole is a scoring guard who is putting up big numbers consistently at North Carolina. He’s not as long as other guards in this class, but he scores with ease and isn’t afraid of big moments. Anthony was the MVP at the McDonald’s All American Game and co-MVP of the Nike Hoop Summit. He’s averaging 20 points and 6.6 rebounds at North Carolina.
5. New Orleans Pelicans
G Deni Avdija, Maccabi Tel Aviv , 6-9, 215
The best European player to enter the draft since Luka Doncic, Avdija has a lot of upside. He was the MVP of the FIBA U20 European Championship and has the size of a modern-day NBA wing. He moves well in transition and can knock down the three with ease.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
G Nico Mannion, Fr., Arizona, 6-3, 190
Born in Italy, Mannion has the best feel for the game of anyone at the top of the draft. He was co-MVP (along with Cole Anthony) at the Nike Hoop Summit, which was the first time NBA scouts really got a chance to see what he could do up close. He’s a true floor general and has a smooth jumper from deep. I once saw him score six points in six seconds at the end of a half during an AAU game.
7. Washington Wizards
F Obi Toppin, So., Dayton, 6-9, 220
Toppin had an Anthony Davis-like growth spurt, growing six inches since his high school junior year. He is the breakout player of the season so far, averaging 22.1 points and 8.6 rebounds. He also took a 22-foot fallaway three with a Kansas defender in his face and turned to stare down the bench before the ball went through the hoop, so there’s that too.
This Obi Toppin stare down of the Kansas bench after stepping back and before hitting the 3 is one of the coldest things I've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/euE2ArKFd2— A10 Talk (@A10Talk) November 27, 2019
8. Detroit Pistons
G Tyrese Haliburton, So., Iowa State, 6-5, 175
It’s still early in the season, but Haliburton is one of the most complete and consistent guards in college hoops. He’s averaging 16.1 points, 8.6 assists and six rebounds, and shooting over 52.1 percent from the field. Haliburton is one to watch this season, especially once conference play heats up.
9. San Antonio Spurs
G RJ Hampton, NZ Breakers, 6-5, 185
Hampton elected to play in the Australian National Basketball League instead of going to college. The lengthy guard is quick, good at reading defenses and has a killer crossover. He’s averaging 10 points per game in a league where almost all the players are five to 10 years older than him.
10. Chicago Bulls
G Jaden McDaniels, Fr., Washington, 6-9, 200
McDaniels has a tall, lanky frame similar to Kevin Durant’s and hasn’t approached his ceiling yet. McDaniels really came on the scene in the spring of his junior year in high school and almost every major program got involved in his recruitment. If he continues to stay consistent under coach Mike Hopkins, he could shoot up to the top five by June.
11. Charlotte Hornets
F Vernon Carey Jr., Fr., Duke, 6-10, 270
It took a few games, but Carey has hit his stride with a couple of 25-plus-point games. With a few nagging injuries in high school, NBA scouts were cautious about the center out of Florida. If he can stay healthy and productive, Carey is definitely a lottery pick.
12. Sacramento Kings
G Theo Maledon, ASVEL (France), 6-4, 174
Maledon started playing professionally at 15 in France. The athletic point guard has a solid midrange game and appears to do all the little things well at point guard. Maledon is a good passer, limits turnovers and makes the right reads on offense.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
F Zeke Nnaji, Fr., Arizona, 6-11, 240
A little under the radar coming out of high school, Nnaji entered Arizona with the talented backcourt duo of Nico Mannion and Josh Green. A native of Minnesota, Nnaji has been a surprise early on and his draft stock is rising.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
G Killian Hayes, Ulm (Germany), 6-5, 176
Born in Florida, Hayes has spent most of his life in France. His dad played professionally overseas and has helped guide Hayes’ development through the professional league in Germany. Hayes has a strong downhill game and is extremely quick for his size.
15. Phoenix Suns
F Precious Achiuwa, Fr., Memphis, 6-9, 225
Achiuwa is a strong and flashy power forward who completed a dream frontcourt for head coach Penny Hardaway. Achiuwa is a little bit of a streaky shooter, but he’s so explosive in the lane and has great size, he won’t fall out of the lottery. He casually threw down the dunk below after a tough practice during McDonald’s All American week.
16. Orlando Magic
F Isaiah Stewart, Fr., Washington, 6-9, 250
There is no one stopping Stewart in the Pac-12 this year. He is built and is one of those players who just loves basketball. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 7.6 rebounds in eight games this season.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves
G Tyrese Maxey, Fr., Kentucky, 6-3, 198
Maxey made himself known on the national stage in the Champions Classic in New York, scoring 26 points the day after his 19th birthday. In high school, Maxey would let it fly from all over the court, but he’s been a little more conservative with his shot selection at Kentucky.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Brooklyn Nets)
F Jordan Nwora, Jr., Louisville, 6-7, 225
The Cardinals are the No. 1 team in the nation, and Nwora is leading the way. He’s averaging 21.9 points and 7.5 rebounds, including 22 points and 12 rebounds against a very tough Michigan team.
19. Utah Jazz
G Scottie Lewis, Fr., Florida, 6-5, 185
There’s a lot to love about Lewis’ game. He’s a freak athlete, once completing a windmill dunk over three people, he’s an excellent defender and he works hard. Lewis is off to a slow start, but the NBA potential is there to be a first-round pick.
20. Houston Rockets
F Trendon Watford, LSU, 6-9, 235
LSU is a fun team to watch this year with Watford and Emmitt Williams in the post. A skilled forward who can also step out and play the perimeter, Watford scored 38 points in a win against a very talented IMG Academy team his senior year of high school. All the tools are there for Watford to have a long NBA career.
21. Milwaukee Bucks (via Indiana Pacers)
G Josh Green, Fr., Arizona, 6-6, 210
The Australian native said recently that one of his goals is to be the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. That’s not something you often hear from players. Even with a defensive focus, he’s had some good offensive games early on, scoring 24 points in a close win over Pepperdine.
22. Miami Heat
F Onyeka Okongwu, Fr., USC, 6-9, 245
Okongwu had eight blocks and 33 points in his first game and continues to get better and more consistent. He’s put on some muscle and is looking more like a modern-day NBA big. Okongwu played in high school with the Ball brothers for two years at Chino Hills in Southern California.
23. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia 76ers)
F Isaac Okoro, Fr., Auburn, 6-6, 225
Okoro is a solid all-around player who does a little bit of everything. He is shifty in the lane and can step out and knock down the open three.
24. Dallas Mavericks
G Ochai Agbaji, So., Kansas, 6-5, 210
Agbaji has been a little up and down, shooting 11 of 35 from 3-point range. He has great size for a guard and is super bouncy. If his shots start falling, expect his stock to rise.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Denver Nuggets)
F Paul Reed, Jr., DePaul, 6-9, 220
Reed is leading an undefeated DePaul team to one of its best starts ever, including a thrilling overtime win against Texas Tech on Wednesday. He’s averaging 15 points and shooting 59 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from 3-point range.
26. Los Angeles Clippers
G Myles Powell, Sr., Seton Hall, 6-2, 195
Powell is off to a great start, leading Seton Hall to a 6-2 record. He’s scored more than 20 points in six of eight games this season and posted a season-high 37 against Michigan State. He’s a similar player to Carsen Edwards in terms of his size and shooting ability and could easily have a 50-point game this season.
27. Toronto Raptors
F Jalen Smith, So., Maryland, 6-10, 225
In high school, Smith’s nickname was “Stix” because of his skinny frame. Well, he looks like a completely different player now. Smith has filled out and put on muscle mass, and he’s averaging 13.6 points and 9.8 rebounds.
28. Boston Celtics
G A.J. Lawson, So., South Carolina, 6-6, 178
In his last three games, Lawson has averaged 19.3 points, scoring 24 against UMass on Wednesday. He is the No. 1 option on offense and is really taking on the team’s leadership role. A combo guard from Canada, Lawson looks stronger and more confident this season, shooting 45.7 percent from the floor.
29. Los Angeles Lakers
G Tre Jones, So., Duke, 6-3, 185
The younger brother of Memphis guard Tyus Jones, Tre decided to return to Duke for his sophomore season. He’s arguably the best on-ball defender in college basketball and is starting to find his 3-point shot.
30. Boston Celtics (via Milwaukee Bucks)
F Kahlil Whitney, Fr., Kentucky, 6-6, 210
Whitney has struggled at Kentucky, and it’s reminding some of what Nassir Little went through at UNC last year. Scouts know that with Whitney’s size and athleticism, there’s still a lot of upside to taking him in the first round.
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