At this time last year, RJ Barrett was nearly the consensus favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Beneath Barrett in his own tier was Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish, followed in some order by Nassir Little, Romeo Langford, Bol Bol and Quentin Grimes.
Of those seven blue-chippers, only five were first-round picks earlier this summer. Bol was a mid second-rounder, Grimes returned to college, Little dropped to the late first-round. And by season’s end, the prevailing preseason thought — that Barrett was in his own tier ahead of Williamson — had flipped entirely. Instead, by March Madness, Williamson was clearly in his own tier unto his own. Barrett, meanwhile, was drafted No. 3 and was leap-frogged in the process by Ja Morant, the Murray State sophomore star who began the season off the lottery radar and wound up as the No. 2 pick.
So let’s let last year be a lesson for this year: a lot can change. Actually, let last year teach us this lesson with confidence: a lot will change. Because unlike the 2019 draft class, the 2020 draft crop has far more questions than answers at the same time. There is no consensus No. 1 player. Even the top group of players can vary dependent upon preferences and projections. That’s why there’s intrigue, perhaps more so this year than in recent years, about how the upcoming season might shape next year’s draft. The talent being spread from Duke to Memphis, to the NBL and to Tel Aviv only further muddies a draft class that at this stage appears to be quite difficult to forecast.
But forecast we shall. In the debut of our NBA Draft Prospect Rankings for 2020, North Carolina freshman Cole Anthony is No. 1, narrowly edging out Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards, international player RJ Hampton, Memphis freshman James Wiseman and Arizona freshman Nico Mannion. The combination of Anthony’s scoring, handles and sheer athleticism earned him an edge over the competition, and he has a chance to build that lead at Carolina where he figures to be the heir apparent to lottery pick guard Coby White in UNC’s guard-friendly system.
Below that first tier of stars in our rankings is a pair of guards who this season may be the most polarizing: Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey and Illawarra’s LaMelo Ball. Both were top-10 in my published earlier this summer, and even after a recent report from ESPN claiming Ball could be a No. 1 pick contender, he remains just outside the top five for me. But at 6-foot-6 and with his combination of scoring and play-making, he’s a name to keep tabs on as a potential mover this season in the NBL.
Enough talk. Let’s get to the debut of our 2020 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings.