We’re back with the next round of my first NBA Draft Big Board of the season. As a reminder, I broke my top 50 players into 6 tiers and gave a little bit of information on each of them, as well as listing some honorable mentions and even players to look out for next season. We’ve looked at Tiers 1 and 2, and today we’ll be looking at Tiers 3 and 4.
Reach out to me @AneeshNamburi for any questions or in the comments below and I would be happy to answer them. Please do it. I’m very bored right now.
12) Devin Vassell (Florida State, Wing, Sophomore)
Vassell is most likely never going to be a star, but man I would bet a lot of money that he is going to be a really good NBA player. For the Seminoles, Vassell shot 42% from three this season. While they were mostly on catch and shoot attempts, he did show projectable flashes of movement shooting. Defensively, not only has Vassell posted high steal and block percentages during both years of college, but his ability as an ELITE team defender is significantly ahead of the rest of his class, almost seeming to be one step ahead of the offense at times.
While Vassell’s stats scream 3 and D wing, they even underscore the value he provides teams on the court, specifically on defense. Every team needs these type of winning players that can make an impact without the ball, and Vassell could be someone taking a late lottery team over the edge with his two way proficiency even if he never develops significant skills on the ball.
13) Obi Toppin (Dayton, Big, Sophomore)
Toppin’s season as arguably the best player in college basketball has propelled him to draft prominence. Some have him just outside the top five, and others don’t even have him in the lottery. I end up falling in the middle. Toppin is going to be a beast offensively. He is deathly in a pick and roll, leveraging his athleticism and touch into becoming one of the best finishers in the class, and is an underrated passer. He is shooting a very good number from 3 (39%) on a lower number of attempts, and with more refinement on his shot, Toppin can turn into a viable threat from deep. The issue really holding him back is defense, as Toppin’s ability to stay on the floor varies his role from an offensive minded 3rd big to a very good starter. My thinking is that the team that selects him will have significant weight into what kind of player he turns into.
14) Patrick Williams (Florida State, Forward, Freshman)
Williams is a very raw prospect, averaging just 22.5 minutes and coming off the bench for Leonard Hamilton’s squad. As the season has progressed, his role has increased (played more than 25 minutes in 4 of the last 5 games of the season) and he has ended up showcasing a bevy of skills that all seem reasonably translatable to the NBA as a power wing. Williams probably is not yet quick enough to guard smaller 3’s, but he is active on ball and effective enough to guard most forwards and solid off ball. Offensively, Williams is an excellent passer for his position, especially within transition. His shot is definitely his swing skill, but good finishing percentages around the rim and a decent shot foundation offer hope for teams looking at a long term prospect.
15) Saddiq Bey (Villanova, Wing/Forward, Sophomore)
Bey is another one of those interesting 3 and D wings, shooting 45% from 3 this season on 5.6 attempts per game while almost always guarding Villanova’s best opponent on a game by game basis, whether that be a guard or big. Since the Wildcats have been playing a sort of position less lineup, Bey has flashed real passing skills, and has also given some real value off ball by cutting. However, there are concerns that he does not meet the unofficial athletic threshold required to become a successful NBA player. I believe his skill level masks that issue, but it is something to note at the combine (if there even is one).
16) James Wiseman (Memphis*, Big, Freshman)
While Wiseman is still at the top of draft boards by most national sites, I can’t find the upside with him. Yes, his 7-foot-1 frame and array of potential skills is tantalizing, he is fast for his size, and he could turn into a very good defensive player in time, but how realistic is it for most of these skills to actually manifest? I have confidence in his ability as a rim runner and play finisher offensively. Wiseman’s defensive instincts are not great despite his potential as a shot blocker, and I am lower than most on his jump shot.
17) Josh Green (Arizona, Wing, Freshman)
Green is a supremely versatile defensive prospect that needs to catch up a little offensively. He is a high IQ player, specifically on defense, where he always seems to be in the right position and making plays (2.8% steal percentage and 1.6% block percentage). His combination of size, length, and solid build also project well as a wing defender.
Green is continuing to develop offensively and is no sure bet to end up as a classic 3 and D wing, but he has a fun tool box of skills. Green is excellent in transition, using his elite athleticism to finish at the rim or finding teammates like he did here. His shot is by no means great in terms of form and gravity, but his touch on floaters offers hope in conjunction with his 78% mark from the free throw line.
Assuming Green’s defense translates to the NBA, he just needs to continue to tweak his jumper. Combining the threat of an outside shot with his outside athleticism and IQ will allow him to stay on the floor and provide valuable minutes.
18) Theo Maledon (AVSEL, Guard, 2001)
Playing at Tony Parker’s club in France, Maledon has shown scoring and play making chops as a pick and roll guard with good shooting indicators, giving potential for a role both on and off the ball. Furthermore, his passing has continued to improve over the season. Continuing to develop his physical tools and his defense (both effort and technique) could make him a really nice scoring 3rd guard and maybe even a starter in the right situation, but even if those do not develop he should still be a productive NBA player.
19) Aaron Henry (Michigan State, Wing, Sophomore)
In theory, Henry is as good of a 3 and D prospect as they come. He is one of the better defenders in college basketball, and projects to be versatile who can provide value both on ball, as a team defender, and creating turnovers. The issue comes on the offensive end of the floor. Henry has shown the ability to shoot from 3 (36% in his college career), but his shooting comes and goes. This season, Henry has had 12 games of at least 40% shooing from deep, but also 11 games below 25%. He also provides some great passing flashes with the ball in his hands, but he does not currently have creation skills or handle, which limits his ability in that space.
I tend to buy that Henry’s role will develop offensively. While he is shooting 70% from the foul line, he has really good touch and his shot looks good as a whole. Henry is a high IQ player and he is the type of player I am willing to take a chance on in this class.
20) Tre Jones (Duke, Guard, Sophomore)
Jones’ upside is relatively limited, but it is tough to imagine a scenario where he does not find a role in the NBA. Even in an era where on ball point guard defense are not valued that highly, Jones is probably going to be one of the best ones in the NBA. He has already shown some solid play making chops over his two seasons at Duke and his improving jumper gives confidence that he will be able to eventually gain enough credibility for defenses to respect his shot.
21) Nico Mannion (Arizona, Guard, Freshman)
Mannion has had a roller coaster season in terms of his place on NBA big boards. He entered the season with questions about his size and athleticism, and how effective he could be with NBA size and physicality defending him. While those concerns subsided early in the year due to his shooting, those numbers have come back to Earth recently, and the worries have popped up again. This doesn’t seem to help Mannion’s case as a lottery pick, but he still could provide value as a high level backup with his play making and ability to shoot both on and off the ball.
22) Aaron Nesmith (Vanderbilt, Wing, Sophomore)
A season ending foot fracture prevented a full deep dive into Nesmith’s game, but he showcased himself as the draft’s best shooter. Usually those types of titles can be argued ad nauseam, but when you shoot 52% from three on just over 8 attempts per game, you’ve got that title locked down pretty securely, even if the number will most definitely regress and it was over a limited sample size. His frame is also tailor made for a 3 and D wing, and Nesmith sports a steal and block percentage over 2%. He might not be able to do much else, but he probably will not need to based on how elite and well rounded of a shooter he is.
23) Xavier Tillman (Michigan State, Big, Junior)
Tillman is about everything you can want in a modern low usage big. He can finish at the rim, shoot threes, find open teammates, defend both the perimeter and the rim, and is one of the strongest players in college basketball. His upside is probably a low end starter at best and he is only 6-foot-8, but I can guarantee you that almost every team would love to have a plug in play big of Tillman’s caliber on their roster.
24) Jalen Smith (Maryland, Big, Sophomore)
Smith has been a big riser for me over the past month or so. A McDonald’s All-American in 2018, the talent has always been there, but it seemed to take slightly longer for his physical tools to come around. Smith has the opportunity to provide a very rare set of skills for a center: space the floor both as a catch and shoot AND movement shooter while also protecting the rim defensively. He isn’t a good passer, can struggle guarding on the perimeter due to stiff and high hips, and (despite the progress he has made) he might always be undersized for his position, but those unique skills are tantalizing enough to take a chance on him any time after the lottery.
25) Precious Achiuwa (Memphis, Forward/Big, Freshman)
With former teammate James Wiseman only playing in 3 games for Memphis, it allowed Achiuwa to show his best NBA skill. Despite being the size and build of some NBA small forwards, Achiuwa has the potential to guard 4-5 positions as a small ball center. With him in the lineup, you are not going to lose much in terms of rebounding, and he has the perfect combination of length, quickness, and strength to provide value all across the floor. The concern is his offense, where at best he probably is just a finisher around the rim and a just average spot up shooter, but those tools defensively are intriguing.
26) Leonardo Bolmaro (FC Barcelona, Guard/Wing, 2000)
A big guard who has flashed a nice handle, vision, and defensive tools, Bolmaro is another player whose upside projects to the future. Having these set of skills are very valuable in an NBA that relies so much on wing ball handlers. He has played mostly for Barcelona’s B team, meaning that he will likely need to spend additional time overseas before he is ready to contribute consistently, but that time could be used to iron out his inconsistent jumper and scoring creation.
27) Tyrell Terry (Stanford, Guard, Freshman)
Terry’s been one of the more effective freshman guards in the country this season, but physical tools drop him from what would probably be a lottery talent people. He is a serious shooter, shooting 41% from beyond the arc this season while incorporating a decent number of off the dribble and pull up attempts. Terry’s passing is needs some work, but he has shown positive flashes in that department. The physical issues come with his defense and finishing. At 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds with not elite quickness, Terry will need to spend serious time in the weight room in order to even belong on the court physically, but if his body catches up with his potential, Terry could be a real steal in the draft.
28) Paul Reed (DePaul, Forward/Big, Junior)
I have not had a chance to watch Reed since early in 2020, but what he showed at the beginning of the season is an intriguing set of skills and physical tools that could turn him into a viable rotation player. Reed finishes really well around the hoop, and has been shooting around 75% from the foul line over the last two years. While he might classify as a 4/5 tweener, his steal and block percentages are sky high for a big. Maybe in another class I would not have Reed this high, but this would be the year to take a chance with so many intriguing skills.
29) Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova, Forward/Big, Freshman)
Robinson-Earl’s numbers (10.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game) don’t necessarily pop off the page, but that doesn’t really accurately define the value he has provided Villanova. He has done a nice job defending opposing 5’s despite his lack of size and length due to a really high basketball IQ and strength, and has shown the potential to shoot from outside. It’s tough to overlook that he probably is not a forward and is too small to be a true big, but he could thrive as a small ball 5 in the right situation.
30) Grant Riller (Charleston, Guard, Senior)
A dominating force in the lower levels of college basketball, Riller is one of the most exciting players to watch in the draft. He might be the most explosive player in this class, as well as the best finisher around the rim for guards. Riller’s shooting has gotten better as his college career has progressed, turning into a little bit of a pull up threat this season. He needs to work on his lackluster play making, but his other offensive skills, specifically his ability to draw in defenses, should make decisions easier for him.
31) Skylar Mays (LSU, Guard, Senior)
Mays is a bit of an under the radar prospect in my eyes. He is a very talented scorer in the half court, with 49/39/85 shooting splits in 2019-20. At 6-foot-4 and a body that resembles someone that has been in a college weight room for 4 seasons, Mays leverages his size and uses angles well to get to his spots even without great explosiveness. He isn’t a true point guard, but sees the floor and makes enough reads to be a play maker from the wing. Mays does enough things well to warrant a flyer by a team who could expect him to provide really nice offensive value off the bench.
32) Aleksej Pokusevski (Olympiacos, Forward/Big, 2001)
I haven’t been able to find full games of Pokusevski yet, but based on what I have seen and smart people that I read and/or talk to, he is a very interesting draft and stash prospect. He’s seven feet tall and moves like a guard, but at 18 years old is frighteningly physically underdeveloped. Throw in spurts of handle and shooting, and you have an interesting set of skills for a prospect. The question is whether he can ever add the requisite strength in order to be physically ready for the NBA. As I’ve mentioned before, this is the year to take a chance on someone like Pokusevski.
33) Killian Tillie (Gonzaga, Big, Senior)
Tillie is only this low due to health concerns: he has missed significant chunks of his college career with injuries, notably his lower body. Taking that out of the equation, you have a big that probably would have gone in the 1st round last season, let alone in 2020. The senior from Gonzaga can dribble, pass, and especially shoot (44% from three during his college career) while offering passable NBA defense due to solid lateral quickness on the perimeter for a big and a high basketball IQ.
Check back later for Tiers 5 and 6, plus honorable mention.