NBA Draft 2020: Team-Specific Big Boards and This Specific Pistons Team (Big Board 5.0)


There are two kinds of teams in the NBA: those who employ a wing-sized superstar who is good enough to lead them to title contention, and everyone else. Unfortunately, the Pistons have been in the latter category for the entirety of the post-LeBron giant point-wing revolution.

Suffice to say, I am violently opposed to a team which lacks a wing star wasting scarce high draft picks on small guards or centers, beyond rare exceptions that I don’t think apply to any of the players in those categories this year. I would be viewing this draft class through an entirely different lens if I was a fan of the Bucks or Mavs, and still another if my team’s superstar was old, like the Lakers or Warriors. (If I was a Lakers fan, I would (a) have Grant Riller and Isaiah Joe in the top 10, and (b) hate myself.)

The term "heliocentric basketball" has been making the rounds on Twitter; a team like the Pistons need to find their "sun" (not "Sun" like Phoenix Suns, but let’s all take this opportunity to laugh at them once again for not drafting Luka) before anything really good or exciting can happen, and should thus exclude from consideration specific types of players early in the draft.

As we all know, 9 is the lowest in the draft order that the Pistons could possibly end up.

1. Anthony Edwards

The conventional wisdom seems to be that Anthony Edwards is purely a shooting guard. To me, this seems at odds with the overarching star-seeking that should define draft strategy for teams like the Pistons who lack an on-ball offensive star to build around going forward. The best "shooting guards" these days are either elite (and very tall) 3-and-D specialists like Klay Thompson and Danny Green, who have combined to start at that position on five of the past six title winners, or else they are their team’s de facto point guard like James Harden, Brad Beal, and Donovan Mitchell. This latter category is what I see Edwards doing, too. I continue to believe that any team who would pick Edwards #1 overall should view him as an on-ball player, at least eventually, and be coaching and teaching accordingly.

If Edwards can in fact simply be a point guard, it would create ancillary benefits regarding team-building strategy. It would abdicate the necessity of considering small guards for a major role on the team, which is preferable given the incredibly high bar for efficacy which has been set by Steph Curry and Damian Lillard. It would just be easier to build the all-giants Monstars team of the future to battle the Bucks and Sixers in the east playoffs.

A high-end outcome would involve Edwards absolutely running amok like Megatron doing Lillard cosplay, with per-game averages of around 30 and 7 and 6, and joining Harden on a list of the only players to ever average over 10 three-point attempts and 10 free-throw attempts per game, while also utilizing his considerable athletic gifts on defense. As Mike Gribanov of the Stepien pointed out on Twitter, "Anthony Edwards led all freshmen with 36 unassisted three pointers. I didn't look through EVERYONE but the second most I could find was Cole Anthony with 21." Given that Harden’s game relies more on the dark arts of deceleration and footwork and foul-drawing, there hasn’t been one of these yet who is as big as Harden and an all-world vertical and lateral athlete.

Edwards remains at the top of my list for this draft class as I attempt to envision the future. If you think his most likely outcomes more closely resemble Mitch Richmond, whose best statistical season was 26/4/4 on a trash team as a 31-year-old adult, rather than something more Hardenesque in terms of higher-volume creation for both self and others, then you should read this list as LaMelo Ball being the clear #1 pick, both for the Pistons and more generally, regardless of team context.

2. LaMelo Ball

There are a lot of apparent conflicts to address here. If you are thoroughly convinced that he will be a good three point shooter, AND you think he will improve as a finisher around the rim once he is older and heavier and stronger, then he should go #1. If you don’t, that’s where it gets interesting.

Genius passer. Way ahead of schedule manipulating defenders in the half court and creating windows. (Taller = more windows.) The fact that there are lots of video examples of bad defensive positioning, awareness, and effort is well documented, making the juxtaposition with other clips of good instincts and decisions all the more confounding. No other prospect this year seems to have such a yawning chasm between how bad what "is" often is and how good "might be" might be.

A lot of the ongoing analysis of his offensive game addresses potential shooting gravity more than efficacy, which I think is entirely appropriate. It was recently mentioned on the Lowe Post that Eric Gordon still attracts hard closeouts in spite of some stretches of streaky/bad/unreliable shooting over the past two seasons, thus achieving the goal of enhanced half-court spacing even if the shots aren’t going in as often as desired. LaMelo has the brain to attack space in real time; will there be enough space? Will he score enough to be a franchise-lifting superstar?

My current hunch is that if in the future I regret anything from this cycle of draft taeks, it will probably be not having LaMelo at #1 overall. I still might change my mind; for now, given my uncertainty, I would be excited for my Pistons fandom with either Edwards or LaMelo. Scouting is hard!

3. Aleksej Pokusevski

I don’t know what so many observers are missing about my very tall adopted son from Serbia.

"Poku" is seven feet tall and the youngest player in the draft and can already do basketball things. The highlights are absolutely delightful, and present a seemingly endless list of very fun questions. My favorite is "what if Rip Hamilton was 7 feet tall and chucked deep treys?" Others include:

"what if Texas Kevin Durant threw behind-the-back bounce passes in traffic?"

"What if Andrea Bargnani was really fast and not stricken with a problematically desultory attitude about rim protection?"

"What if Brandon Ingram had a longer neck but was otherwise basically the same?"

My unqualified (in both definitions of the term) adoration has been met with some justifiable skepticism from the European desk of the DBB Global Scouting Network, most of which has been related to competition level and current physical limitations. I have also encountered what I would characterize as some semi-"diva" whispers elsewhere on the series of tubes. I remained blithely unconcerned about these critiques, as a lot of teenagers in a lot of walks of life need to learn how to put in the proper work, and some degree of physical development is virtually assured given how young he is.

Let’s move on before I spend several thousand more words waxing rhapsodic about lateral agility and movement shooting and weakside rim protection and advanced passing reads. Just remember two things: he is a wing who needs to add upper-body strength while maintaining his outrageous movement skills rather than a big who needs to pack on fifty pounds, and the intersection of dribble + pass + shoot + lateral agility + stocks + 7-3 #wingspan + 18.5 years old just doesn’t happen very often.

4. Patrick Williams

First, a note on physiology. The team that drafts Williams should hire @abovethebreak3 as a consultant. He seems to be the foremost biomechanics theorist on Draft Twitter, and has described extensively, both in his long-form writing and as a guest on the Prep2Pro podcast, that Williams "recruits muscle too efficiently" (as Laz put it "HE’S TOO YOKED FOR HIS OWN GOOD") and is presently limited by his overdeveloped quads; the argument that has been presented is that targeted exercise in the interest of muscular re-balancing will improve his hip flexibility, resulting in enhanced lateral movement skills.

What happens then? THICC PAUL GEORGE HAPPENS THEN! (Somewhere along the line I became aware that the young people are intentionally misspelling the word "thick" these days.)

Stats filtering for possible intersections of goodness, part 1: 83+ FT%, 5+ BLK%, 2.5+ STL%, since 2009: Matisse Thybulle as a senior playing in a zone; Robert Covington as a senior at Tennessee State; two other random small-school players you have never heard of (one as a junior, one as a senior); and Patrick Williams, as a freshman!

Other positive indicators:

probably second only to Tyrese Maxey in this draft in terms of "great kid great attitude great motor" shout-outs on the internet;

likes to cock it back and try to yam on fools whenever possible;

youngest American college player in the draft;

excellent defensive instincts also extend to occasional flashes of advanced passing acumen, albeit not so much while on the move just yet;

seriously, how many gigantic freshman shoot 84% from the foul line?

A scoring 4 who can shoot and pass, defend monster 3’s, and play up at the 5: that’s about as futuristic as it gets. I have gradually come to believe in very high-end outcomes which combine sufficient offensive volume with enormously helpful defensive impact. I also think the combination of presumptive future physical advantages and unanimously glowing character reviews provides a level of confidence with regard to future developmental trajectory.

5. Isaac Okoro

Point Winslow, but healthy, and with cooler dunks. That’s the elevator pitch.

Stats filtering for potential intersections of goodness, part 2: 4.5+ FTA, 13+ AST%, 3+ BLK%, power-5 conference freshmen, since 2009: Zion Williamson, Josh Jackson, Markelle Fultz, and Isaac Okoro.

Rare physical tools for multi-position defense. Flying truck. Plays hard. But to reiterate, the argument for considering him so high in the draft relies upon a future on-ball role which would necessitate further skill development; can you squint and see Point Jimmy Butler in the playoffs for the Sixers last year?


6. Killian Hayes

Covered extensively by Laz, and elsewhere…but mostly by Laz. I want to like Killian Hayes just because I am a lefty and I love lefties.

More dependent upon #measurables than anyone else in this class: given his projected role as a primary creator, I think that idea becomes more viable the closer he is to Luka and Harden in size. (What I said about Poku earlier applies here as well: some degree of physical development is virtually assured given how young he is.)

If you think he is merely a floor general who will average 17 and 7, you shouldn’t want him in the top 10, and are doing this wrong if you still do. If you genuinely believe he can average 25 and 10 on Harden usage, you almost certainly have him higher on your board than I do here. Once again, scouting is hard!

7. Deni Avdija

I have him this high on the list just in case I am wrong about him being more of a 4 than a 3 (and without the physical advantages of Patrick Williams), and more like Dario Saric than Magic Johnson. I will probably end up being right about at least one of those things.

8. Saddiq Bey

Awesome shooter, competent team defender, nascent point-forward vibes, proper wing size. Lacks the top-end athleticism, and concomitant free-throw and rebound rates, which typifies most star players.

(Fun fact: this past season Isaiah Joe had a higher free-throw rate than Saddiq Bey, Devin Vassell, and Tyrese Haliburton, despite the fact that 76% of Isaiah Joe’s total field-goal attempts were treys!)

This is certainly a valid concern, but at the same time I think unexpected future development can have more of a disproportionately meaningful effect for wing-sized players than for normal-sized guards, who have to be already really amazing just to merit draft consideration at all, and for whom any future marginal improvements are still unlikely to result in star-level impact. (I recommend @anocturnalduck on Twitter, who wrote about this idea recently.) Saddiq Bey probably won’t turn into Khris Middleton, but him not being able to do that would be an absolute certainty if he was 6-2.

9. Devin Vassell

I have him this high on the list just in case I am wrong about him being too small to be Klay Thompson, and too limited as a self-creator to allow for the emergence of other paths to stardom. If a team takes him in the top 5, I am going to laugh at that team; obviously I hope it’s not the Pistons, and beyond that, I hope it’s the Hawks, as that would be the most comedically satisfying outcome. And, as always, I might end up being wrong. That’s kind of what this is all about!

Stay home, everybody!

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