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As much as fans and analysts tend to focus on upside at the NBA draft, most executives would be overjoyed if they could add a guaranteed contributor.
Granted, that never happens. Poor coaching fits, a failure to translate skills to the big league, uninspired player development and any number of other factors can send a prospect’s career the wrong direction.
Saying that, some prospects seem safer than others due to things such as reliable production and projectionable fits. After our mock first round, we’ll spotlight three of the safest selections in this draft.
2020 NBA Mock Draft
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: LaMelo Ball, PG/SG, Illawarra Hawks
2. Golden State Warriors: Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia
3. Charlotte Hornets: James Wiseman, C, Memphis
4. Chicago Bulls: Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Deni Avdija, SF/PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
6. Atlanta Hawks: Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State
7. Detroit Pistons: Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, USC
8. New York Knicks: Killian Hayes, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm
9. Washington Wizards: Isaac Okoro, SF/PF, Auburn
10. Phoenix Suns: Obi Toppin, PF/C, Dayton
11. San Antonio Spurs: Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt
12. Sacramento Kings: Patrick Williams, PF, Florida State
13. New Orleans Pelicans: Jalen Smith, PF/C, Maryland
14. Boston Celtics (via Memphis Grizzlies): RJ Hampton, SG, New Zealand Breakers
15. Orlando Magic: Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama
16. Portland Trail Blazers: Josh Green, SG, Arizona
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Brooklyn Nets): Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina
18. Dallas Mavericks: Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Olympiacos B
19. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia 76ers): Tyrese Maxey, SG, Kentucky
20. Miami Heat: Precious Achiuwa, PF/C, Memphis
21. Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City Thunder): Tyrell Terry, PG, Stanford
22. Denver Nuggets (via Houston Rockets): Grant Riller, PG/SG, Charleston
23. Utah Jazz: Saddiq Bey, SF/PF, Villanova
24. Milwaukee Bucks (via Indiana Pacers): Leandro Bolmaro, SG/SF, Barcelona
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Denver Nuggets): Zeke Nnaji, C, Arizona
26. Boston Celtics: Jaden McDaniels, SF/PF, Washington
27. New York Knicks (via Los Angeles Clippers): Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech
28. Los Angeles Lakers: Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State
29. Toronto Raptors: Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL
30. Boston Celtics (via Milwaukee Bucks): Xavier Tillman, PF/C, Michigan State
Safest Draft Prospects
Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State
Haliburton’s path to the lottery admittedly doesn’t scream “Safe!” on first glance. He arrived at Iowa State as just a 3-star recruit who didn’t rank among the top 150 in his class, per 247Sports.
But he quickly ingrained himself in almost everything the Cyclones did and functioned like a walking adhesive. From dime-dropping to versatile defending to spot-up shooting, he fit exactly where needed and usually elevated those around him while doing so.
Now, there are some questions about how much of an impact he can make at the NBA level. He’s not a dizzying dribbler and doesn’t have blow-by burst, so he could have trouble consistently creating his own shots. His funky shooting mechanics also take time to get rolling, so he might need to rework his form if he ever wants to be a pull-up threat.
Saying that, teams in search of safety can live with a few weaknesses if the strengths are good enough, and his are. He works on or off the bench, as a starter or with the second team and contributes at both ends of the court. Teams won’t have trouble finding a significant role for him right out of the gate.
Isaac Okoro, SF/PF, Auburn
It’s important to remember safety is a subjective trait that may differ from one evaluator to the next.
For instance, some might be concerned with Okoro’s offensive outlook. He shot worse than 30 percent from three and sub-70 percent at the line. He also doesn’t overwhelm opponents with his off-the-dribble burst.
His believers, though, would say that take is focused on the wrong things. Maybe he’ll never be a dynamic offensive weapon—though he flashed handles, sound decision-making and soft touch around the basket, so who knows—but he’ll be a lockdown defender as soon as his NBA debut tips.
“He probably could defend 1-to-4 without an issue,” ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg told Marc Berman of the New York Post. “He’s physically strong. … He’s got some similarities to Jaylen [Brown]. Physically strong, really defends and a toughness about him. High energy. Relentless work ethic.”
Multipositional defenders are a must in the modern NBA, and Okoro already looks up to the task. The added bonus is in addition to having a high floor on defense, he also intrigues at the offensive end, especially if he can ever iron out a reliable three-ball.
Obi Toppin, PF/C, Dayton
If you watched college basketball at all last season, then you understand why Toppin must be mentioned.
The bouncy big man swept the Player of the Year awards after powering Dayton to a 29-2 record with nightly contributions of 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 blocks. His explosive athleticism should make him an active and efficient finisher at the basket, and if his three-point shooting holds up (39.0 percent, though fewer than three attempts per outing), he offers major mismatch potential.
“Most scouts expect Obi Toppin to go in the top four, with a perception that he offers both limited risk and potentially star upside,” B/R’s Jonathan Wasserman wrote.
It isn’t entirely clear where Toppin fits defensively at the NBA level, and he doesn’t have the tightest handle. But every prospect has areas where they can improve. What most don’t have, though, is a bag of offensive tricks as deep as his.