Tue. Jun 15th, 2021

The 2020 NBA Draft class has long been viewed as relatively weak, particularly at the top, where there is no Anthony Davis-type prospect that is as close to a sure thing as one can get in the game of predicting athletic futures. 

The three names we’ve heard most at the top are 6-foot-8 point guard LaMelo Ball, built-like-a-strong-safety wing Anthony Edwards, and seven-foot athletic specimen James Wiseman, each of whom has been reported as the potential No. 1 pick at one point or another. 

That’s still true. Nobody knows for sure who’s going to go No. 1 on November 18th, partly because we still don’t know if the Minnesota Timberwolves will ultimately trade down or keep the pick. 

There has been talk that the Hornets could move up to take Wiseman. But now that feeling is reportedly changing. Whether it’s Minnesota or another team that trades up, most front offices are now “operating under the assumption” that Ball will be the first name to come off the board, per ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. 


Unless a surprise trade completely disrupts the top of the draft, LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman are likely to make up the top three in some order, according to conversations with multiple team executives, scouts and agents. Most NBA front offices are operating under the assumption that Ball is going No. 1 — either to the Minnesota Timberwolves or a team that trades up to select him.

Some popular picks among executives to make such a move for Ball at No. 1 include the Chicago Bulls (currently holding the No. 4 pick), Detroit Pistons (No. 7) and Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 25, plus a stash of future firsts).

Ball’s upside is perhaps the highest in the draft, which would be the rationale for taking him No. 1. He’s a wizard passer with rare positional size and deep shooting range, though the confidence he has in his shot hasn’t yet matched his actual results; Ball shot just 25 percent from beyond the arc in his short stint playing professionally in Australia. The thought is if the shooting improves, which, in part, might be as simple as better shot selection, then Ball has all the markers of an elite offensive player. 

The defense is another story. Ball statistically ranked as literally one of the two or three worst defenders in the NBL, and it’s not just the stats. You don’t have to watch much film to see how out of touch Ball is on that end. His instincts are bad. His effort is even worse. He’s not a top-tier athlete in terms of being able to move laterally and stay in front of elite NBA guards. 

But again, Ball does have the length to give you hope on that end. At 6-8, he should be able to switch across three positions, and the optimistic approach would be that his heretofore defensive disinterest can be at least partially attributed to the AAU-type upbringing he had as a player. His high school literally cherry picked. Stops in Lithuania and Australia didn’t demand he commit defensively. He’s been a highlight-reel prospect to this point. 

Should the Timberwolves keep the pick, there’s also a question of fit. They just traded for D’Angelo Russell last season, and we know he’s best with the ball in his hands running pick and roll, which is also Ball’s bread and butter. Neither of them can play a lick of defense at this point, and it’s hard to imagine how the two of them together in the backcourt wouldn’t have offenses putting on nightly fireworks displays. 

That said, if Ball turns out to be as great as a lot of people think he has the potential to be, that’s a good problem, and you can always trade Russell down the line. As for the teams Givony mentioned as possible trade-up partners, the Bulls just drafted Coby White last year, while the Thunder have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and, at present, Chris Paul. Detroit is the team in most desperate need of a lead guard. 

But in the end, when you have the No. 1 pick, you take the best player and worry about fit later. From the sounds of this report, that’s what one of these teams — whether it’s Minnesota or someone else — plans on doing with Ball. 

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