We’re gonna be talking draft for four more months, so I might as well start doing Big Boards. You know how a big board works. But, unlike SOME people (glares at ScottFL), I only go nine-deep on this version of the Big Board. Why?
Don’t get me wrong, the 9th pick in this year’s draft would be a disaster, as lamented when I tweeted about getting the 8th pick. However, it means my big board only has to go to nine, and I don’t have to dive super deep on, say, Aaron Nesmith (no shade to Nesmith, literally just the first guy I thought of).
So, without further ado:
Laz Jackson Big Board 1.0
1) Killian Hayes
Strengths: Size, Point Guard Things
Weaknesses: Not Overtly Athletic, using his non-dominant hand
Longtime listeners will not be surprised here. I’m going to put together a full rundown on Killian Hayes sometime in the future, but the short version is that Hayes is the highest-floor guard prospect in the class AND also has a tremendous amount of upside (which will be keyed by improving as an off-the-dribble shooter).
A fluid athlete with excellent size (6’5, 215 pounds) and skill, Hayes also has an All-NBA basketball brain - only one or two other others in the class see the floor as he does. There’s nothing to dislike about his game. On Day 1, Hayes would be the best passer on the Pistons, would actually get some burn under Dwane Casey because of his defense, and forms a French (Lob) Connection with Sekou Doumbouya.
Other prospects may be ... flashier, but no one else in the class brings both the floor and the ceiling. Hayes is the guy.
2) Anthony Edwards
Strengths: Makes Tough Shots
Weaknesses: Likes To Make Tough Shots
Anthony Edwards can make any shot, and that’s the problem.
Blessed with a potentially dominant combination of size and strength, Edwards too often leverages those gifts into pullup 20-footers with 10 seconds on the shot clock. Weaning him off those mid-range shots and lightening the load he has to carry on offense night-in-and-night-out is the prescription for maximizing his talents. A lower utilization on offense is also a recipe for making him a more consistent defender - perhaps even an impact defender, which he flashes embers of when engaged.
Even with his sub-optimal shot selection, the ease with which you can envision Edwards as the longtime offensive engine of the Pistons gives him the edge over the next player on my board.
3) LaMelo Ball
Strengths: Basketball Genius...
Weaknesses: On one side of the floor
LaMelo Ball is the “JFC” player of the draft. One moment, he’s casually flipping a 50-foot outlet pass for a layup - JFC. Next moment, he gambles for a steal 30 feet from the rim, taking himself out of the play and scrambling his defense - JFC. One moment, he uses his 6’7 frame to grab a miss and glide coast-to-coast for a layup before the opponents know what hit them - JFC. Next moment, he walks the ball up into a 29-footer that doesn’t hit the rim - JFC. One moment, he keeps two defenders occupied before unleashing a no-look righty whip pass directly into the shooting pocket of a teammate - JFC. Next moment, he gets screened back to Lithuania and his guy walks into the paint for free - JFC.
If you cut out all the defensive miscues and ill-advised shots, LaMelo is easily - EASILY - the best player in this year’s draft. Unfortunately, he did all those things, they are on tape, and it is unclear when, or if, or how he will exorcise them from his game. For that reason, he’s no. 3 here.
4) Devin Vassell
Strengths: Elite team defender, 40+% from three both years at Florida State University
Weaknesses: Nascent self-creation, passing ability purely theoretical
Devin Vassell is the best version of a 3-and-D wing this draft class has to offer. An anticipatory defender with the length to get into ballhandlers and passing lanes, and a good-to-great shooter from three off the catch and off movement, Vassell is a plug-and-play role player for 30 NBA teams.
However, whether or not he will grow his game beyond the (extremely valuable!) skillset he has now is murky, at best. He’s not a strong driver, preferring to attack with straight-line drives. He’s not an amazing passer - he can make basic reads but not much more. If you’re feeling charitable, his self-creation ability is... burgeoning. Still, though, he’s a valuable plug-and-play role player at the most important position in basketball on Day 1, which elevates him above the other names on this list.
5) Tyrese Maxey
Strengths: Self-creation ability, good shooting indicators
Weaknesses: 6’3 shooting guard in the NBA in 2020
Tyrese Maxey is a rim-attacking guard with good shooting indicators (touch around the rim, FT%) who also looks like an impact defender. Although he shot a low percentage from three on low volume, there is nothing is “wrong” with his shot mechanics - he has a fluid catch-and-shoot stroke. The Pistons are missing guys who can do what he does well - create and convert looks in the paint from the perimeter.
Additionally, defense is a big point in Maxey’s favor - he competes at point of attack despite his lack of “freaky” physical measurables. Casey’d love him, and let him cover for Luke Kennard like Bruce Brown Jr. does, or be paired with Bruce in a “Hellpup” lineup.
Lastly, a personal bias in my evaluation of Maxey: The Kentucky Bump. Frequently (Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, Tyler Herro), but not ALL the time (Archie Goodwin, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Hamidou Diallo) dudes leave Kentucky and show out after John Calipari’s limiters are removed. There was evidence at the high school level that Maxey was a much better passer than he got the chance to show at Kentucky. If he’s a good enough distributor to play point guard, that limits some of the concerns about his size.
6) Onyeka Okongwu
Strengths: Defensive ability, overt athleticism
Weaknesses: A 6’9 non-shooting center in the NBA in 2020
If the draft was only about “dudes we know will be good at basketball,” Onyeka Okongwu would be higher on this board. An athletic, intelligent, and proactive defensive player (he averaged almost three blocks and a steal-and-a-half per game), it’s VERY easy to imagine Onyeka as the focal point of an effective defensive unit, even as he’s slightly (SLIGHTLY) undersized for a center. And offensively, that same intelligence and athleticism makes him a lob threat in the pick-and-roll.
Unfortunately, the Pistons are too starved of ballhandling, playmaking, and bucket procurement to take full advantage of what Onyeka has to offer. But he’s SO DANG GOOD AT BASKETBALL that this is the lowest I can place him.
7) Deni Avdija
Strengths: Ballhandling / passing with size
Weaknesses: Not Overtly Athletic
On one hand, if you squint, Deni Avdija is a wing-sized-wing who can initiate his own offense, create quality looks for teammates, space the floor without the ball, and who won’t kill you on defense. Then you open your eyes a little wider and notice that a good chunk of his good tape comes against a low quality of opponent in the Israeli league (I forget which podcast it was, but some analyst said the Israeli league is a one-team league, and Deni played on the one team) and that he’s not exactly blowing away the competition even in his good clips.
Shooting a “meh” 34% from three and an eyebrow-raising 52% from the free-throw line over the course of play in the EuroLeague and Israeli league, Deni doesn’t have the shooting indicators you’d like to see from a high-level prospect. However, the ballhandling and passing look real. So, will he ever shoot well enough that defenses won’t play him to distribute? His next team certainly hopes so.
8) Cole Anthony
Strengths: Shot-creation, athleticism
Weaknesses: On-court production, injuries
Cole Anthony was one of the most sought-after recruits in recent memory after winning the MVP of the three high school all-star games you’ve heard of: the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Nike Hoop Summit, and the Jordan Brand Classic. Then, he actually stepped on North Carolina’s campus and struggled - with the lack of spacing around him, with UNC’s fairly stacked early schedule, and, most notably, with a partially torn meniscus that kept him out for roughly two months.
The projection is that with NBA-level spacing and coaching, he’ll get to the rim and not have two defenders waiting for him, which will help him shoot above 40% from the field. The reality is that he shot 38% from the field in more than 20 college games, which is... not good. Hey, it was working for Coby White!
9) Obi Toppin
Strengths: Vertical explosion, offensive versatility
Weaknesses: Lateral mobility, Age
Obi Toppin was the unquestioned Naismith College Player of the Year, a 6’9 destructive force of nature for Dayton. Playing in as reasonable a fascimile of an NBA system as you’re going to find in the Atlantic 10, Toppin unleashed all the offensive skills you’d want in a draft pick - he was a lob threat, a deadly pick-and-pop player, bullied guys in the post, would hit step-back threes, attack a closeout and finish... ALL the offensive skills.
So if he was so destructive, why do I have him 9th? Well... you would kind of hope a 22-year-old who spent his summer leveling up at the Mamba Academy would destroy the Atlantic-10. Toppin wasn’t exactly a standout defensive player - the explosiveness he shows as a lob threat disappears when you ask him to slide with a guard or rotate back to the roller. And, lastly, the Pistons already have a player who offers a lot of what Toppin does in Christian Wood. Two Christian Woods sounds nice, but is it the best use of development time for your guards and wings to have two offense-first big men on the floor?
Toppin is a very, very good player... who I don’t think is an amazing fit in Detroit.
Also receiving consideration:
Tyrese Haliburton (Extremely intelligent player whose athletic limitations give me pause), Isaac Okoro (Defense-first wing? Still scarred by Stanley Johnson), R.J. Hampton (Great open-court athlete, shot + defense needs work).
Who did I leave off? What didn’t I consider? Let me know in the comments.