As the college basketball season rolls on, we’ve seen a strange similarity between the top teams across the nation and the top players: a theme of parity, a topic that we touched on here on a recent article. There’s been a number of teams ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, with very few teams truly starting to separate themselves from the pack, like Gonzaga and Baylor. With the players, there hasn’t been a clear-cut top guy like there was last year in Zion Williamson, or two years prior in Markelle Fultz. While those guys were definitely assured top draft picks in their respective draft classes, all the top lottery players this season have their own unique strengths and weaknesses that make it tough to project them. In this piece, we discuss the players that have stood out and have solidified themselves as lottery picks, along with some late-round sleepers that have the potential or skillset to become positive contributors in the NBA.
Lottery Pick Predictions
Obi Toppin, Forward, Dayton
Toppin, a 6’9” wrecking ball of offensive efficiency, has been the driving force behind the Dayton Flyers and their dominance over the Atlantic-10 Conference. After a standout freshman season where he led the team in scoring and was second and fourth in the nation in dunks and field goal percentage respectively, he worked out for a handful of NBA teams before returning to school to continue to hone his craft. After being projected to land between the late first-round and early second-round last season, he has skyrocketed into the projected top 10 of the 2020 NBA Draft.
NCAA players to ever shoot 70% from 2, 35% from 3, post a BPM above 10 and sport a usage rate above 25:
Weird parameters and not sure it means much, but Toppin is still having a really, really impressively unique season.
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 13, 2020
Toppin has been insanely effective since he’s stepped foot on campus and this season he has shown tremendous improvement in his three-point shooting since last year. While there are some weak spots in his game, like his draft age as a sophomore due to an academic redshirt, and some defensive concerns, he has shown that he can contribute on the offensive end from all three levels on the court. That is a trait every team covets and he’s a top-10 lock, without a doubt.
Onyeka Okongwu, Forward, USC
Onyeka Okongwu has been a surprise in college basketball this year, propelling his name into the national spotlight as a player that could go anywhere between first and seventh in the draft. In high school, Okongwu was temporarily swept into the Chino Hills madness caused by the three Ball brothers and their father LaVar, as they won the California state title in 2016. However, once the Ball family had enough of the coaching and his son LaMelo was removed from the Chino Hills roster a few years back, they were expected to fade into nothingness. Okongwu must not have gotten the memo as he led the team to their third state title in four years and repeated as California’s Mr. Basketball. Now, he continues to bring that hustle and intensity to the Trojans as he puts up highlight after highlight.
According to the statistics below, Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, and Karl Anthony-Towns are the only four players to put up higher box plus-minus metrics than Okongwu in their respective freshmen years of college basketball.
Okongwu has played his brand of basketball, with tenacious effort and ferocity, and as a result, has parlayed himself into the lottery of the 2020 draft for sure.
LaMelo Ball, Point Guard, International
Lamelo Ball is an extremely talented guard who has great size and strength but can also provide lights-out shooting efficiency at any given moment. He is effective off the dribble and off the pass and can either take a defender to the rim or show off his endless range. His playmaking ability is also a plus to his game as he is able to get his teammates involved and display his vision. His quickness and elusiveness while entering into the lane is fun to watch and also something very few draft prospects have when entering the league. After a short stint in the NBL out in Australia, where he averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7 assists per game, Ball is ready to prove he is more than just the hype that surrounds the Ball family as a whole. With a 6’8″ frame, LaMelo Ball has a chance to have a larger impact than his brother Lonzo Ball did when he initially entered the league.
Anthony Edwards, Shooting Guard, Georgia
Edwards is the epitome of an athletic combo guard. He is an extremely competitive guard who uses his strength to finish around the basket even when he faces contact from defenders. Like Ball, Edwards is extremely capable of making three-point shots consistently from NBA range and should be looked at as one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the draft. Whenever he has the ball, he is a threat to score and has a great step-back jumper that dooms defenders. Not only is Edwards an efficient shooter, but he is also explosive off the bounce and can punish big men with dunks that are electric. Edwards continues to impress scouts on the court while also improving his strength and frame off the court so that he can last with the stronger, more athletic NBA players. With mock drafts showing he will most likely be a top-three pick, there is a likely chance he can go to a team with solid cornerstones such as the Golden State Warriors or Atlanta Hawks.
Potential Sleeper Picks
Cassius Stanley, Shooting Guard, Duke
While certainly not a “nobody” in college basketball this season, Stanley is not projected to be anywhere close to the lottery right now. Even though Stanley is not projected a high pick, he is still one of the most athletically gifted players in this class. He has great size and length and is one of the most explosive dunkers in the 2020 class. His bounce and power are unmatched and he really can jump out of the gym on any given night. Stanley continues to work on his handles and is also great at penetrating the lane and finding the open man, after drawing defenders in on the offensive end. He is a terrific player to have for a fast-paced team looking to get out into transition and is also a lockdown perimeter defender. His competitive nature will set him up perfectly in the NBA and prove to be a perfect tandem with his impressive athleticism. With improvement to his shot, Stanley can turn out to be a steal in this year’s draft.
Jahmi’us Ramsey, Shooting Guard, Texas Tech
Ramsey is slowly starting to grab the attention of college basketball fans everywhere. With Texas Tech getting off to a tough start with a rather difficult schedule, Ramsey has still put up great numbers. He is a great playmaker who can create his own shot, whether it’s driving the lane or pulling up a contested jump shot. Ramsey is a terrific ball-handler and with great energy and hustle, Ramsey will be an impact player whenever he is on the court in the NBA. His ability to come up in the clutch is also one of the keys that shows his confidence and reliability. In addition to his attacking abilities, he is also an impressive rebounder for his size and works hard on the defensive end, making him a complete player. Ramsey is filling the bucket in college this year and there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to replicate that in the NBA.
Grant Riller, Guard, Charleston
Grant Riller has been a favorite of NBA Draft Twitter for the past two seasons, and after watching some film of his, it’s easy to see why. For starters, he’s been unstoppable in the CAA for the last three years, playing a large part in Charleston’s run to the NCAA tournament after winning the conference in 2018. Dominating the record books at Charleston and all-time in the league, even racking up a triple-double in January, he’s catapulted his way into the projected late first round in more than a few mock drafts. Below are some clips where he shows his explosiveness and quick feet on a drive to the hoop:
There aren't many prospects who have a better first step than Grant Riller pic.twitter.com/1oO2BssCWd
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) February 11, 2020
Basically, there’s a bit of Myles Powell in Riller’s game, another example of a dynamic shot creator that can beat double teams with his passing. The major difference between Powell and Riller, however, is that Powell’s strength is pull-up shooting, whereas Riller is more comfortable driving to the basket. It shows in Riller’s field goal percentage as he’s shooting almost 70% at the rim at 6’3”, with less than 14% of his makes being assisted and having less than 10 dunks so far this season. Riller has shown most of the tools needed to excel at the next level, besides defense. Despite the weakness on that end, he definitely deserves some first-round looks.