The NBA was thrown into uncertainty along with much of the rest of the world by the coronavirus. By the end of March, the league's regular season remained suspended, with no clear time table for a return, as the pandemic raged on across the US and abroad.
While the NBA season was put on hiatus, the NCAA Tournament was cancelled outright, in an unprecedented move. In the face of a devastating contagion with no discernible end in sight, it was the only sensible choice.
The tragic and awkward situation has upended nearly every facet of life, including the sports calendar. The NBA Draft appears next in line. Recent reports suggest it will be postponed from June 25 until after the season concludes, either after play is resumed on a modified schedule, or the balance of games is cancelled outright.
What does this mean for how the draft plays out when it's finally held? It's hard to say. Obviously, there was no March Madness to boost or sink a player's stock. There's no game tape on players beyond March 11. Teams will have to do their due diligence in new ways, under new circumstances.
On that uplifting note, we've taken a crack at a mock draft (order simulated at Tankathon). What are drafts about if not fresh hope and new beginnings?
1. Atlanta Hawks - LaMelo Ball, PG, National Basketball League (Australia)
We had the Hawks taking Ball in our first mock, when the draft simulator put them at third overall. They pick first this time around, and there will be pressure to go a different route, but our instinct is that Ball is the best fit.
The x-factor here is the presence of Anthony Edwards, a Georgia native who played his lone year of college ball with the Bulldogs. Obviously there will be calls for the Hawks to take the homegrown talent. Edwards let his feelings be known, telling 92.9 The Game in Atlanta that he would love the opportunity to be Bradly Beal to Trae Young's John Wall.
The Hawks would be tempted, but with no obvious backup point guard on the roster after Young, Ball's ballhandling and playmaking on the second unit might be of greater use to them.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves - Deni Avdija, F, Israeli Premier League
The Wolves are in a tricky spot, looking to build around young veterans Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. The window to win with those guys is relatively wide open, with both under contract long-term, but expectations are higher now that the good friends have been united on the same team.
It would be difficult to pass on Edwards, the best all-around prospect on the board, but in what is being billed as a weak class, conventional wisdom might go out the window. The Wolves already have a toolsy young scoring guard who needs development, in Jarrett Culver. Avdija is a big with a versatile offensive game that could set up some interesting pick-and-roll opportunities with Russell, and frustrate defenses as a second big man who can handle the ball and create offense.
3. Charlotte Hornets - Anthony Edwards, PG/SG, University of Georgia
The Hornets would surely be elated to have Edwards fall to them at the third pick, which was a long shot given the many teams with worse records than theirs. Alas, the lottery gods smiled on them in this mock.
Edwards' physical tools are apparent in his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame. His athletic gifts stood out in his only season in the SEC, when he started and averaged over 30 minutes per game as a true freshman. The main concern is his shooting, which came in at an underwhelming 40 percent, including an ugly 29 percent from deep. As well, his assist-to-turnover ratio was nearly 1:1.
Despite the poor shooting, Edwards' stroke passes the eye test, so perhaps the benefit of maturing and getting coached at the highest level will see those percentages come up. He's too coveted a commodity to fall very far, if at all, on draft day.
Though we've gone contrarian in some of our mocks, don't be surprised if Edwards' name is called first on draft night.
4. Golden State Warriors - James Wiseman, C, University of Memphis
Wiseman is arguably the most polarizing prospect in this draft. In his favor are his incredible size and athleticism, but working against him is his limited experience and the NBA's continued trend favoring big men who can shoot.
Wiseman's lone year at Memphis ended prematurely after he was dealt a 12-game ban by the NCAA. He promptly chose to leave school rather than wait it out and return, leaving teams only a three-game college sample to pour over.
He stands at a mammoth 7-foot-1 and over 250 pounds, with shocking agility for a man his stature. He looks more like a traditional big man than a modern center, so he might not be every team's cup of tea. But the Dubs could use more of the kind of interior presence Wiseman brings, especially with the team expected to be back at full health in 2020.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers - Isaac Okoro, F, Auburn University
The Cavs are deep and young in the backcourt, and deep and old in the front court. There's a lot of directions they could take here, including targeting a wing or just going for the best overall player available.
Okoro might actually satisfy both needs. He has 3-and-D written all over him as a long, versatile and persistent defender with a high basketball IQ. The issue is with his offensive game--particularly the "3" part of the equation. Okoro shot a respectable 51 percent from the field, but that was weighed down by his ugly 29 percent mark from deep and mediocre 67 percent from the line.
The defensive versatility and two-point efficiency will get Okoro a long look. He'll have to develop his shot to become an impact player.
6. Detroit Pistons - Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, University of Southern California
Okongwu dominated the Pac-12 as a true freshman, somewhat unexpectedly given he didn't turn 19 until December. He averaged 8.5 boards and 16 points per game while shooting over 61 percent from the field, almost exclusively from the paint, while racking up nearly three blocks and over a steal per game.
That's basically Okongwu's game in a nutshell--defense, rebounding, and easy buckets. It's unclear whether he can develop beyond that offensively, though he flashes decent post-up moves and the ability to finish with both hands at the rim, suggesting some upside on that side of the floor. At only 6-foot-9, he'll have to rely on his agility and jumping ability to get around and play over bigger players.
The Pistons have a big man who can shoot from the outside in Christian Wood. Okongwu could be a sharp add to do more of the dirty work inside.
7. New York Knicks - Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State
The Knicks are certainly hoping for a better draft position than what the simulator gave them here. But even in this less-than-ideal scenario, they get an intriguing player who addresses one of the team's many needs.
Haliburton is a lanky, thin combo guard at 6-foot-5, with an awkward but effective shooting stroke that saw him drain over 50 percent of his shots, including 42 percent from deep and 82 percent from the line. He's silky smooth and calm with the ball in his hands, and is effective as a distributor, but his modest speed makes it tough for him to get to the rim with regularity, as evidenced by only two free-throw attempts per game. To compensate for this, Haliburton has developed an impressive array of floaters and tear drops to finish over shorter defenders in the paint.
Taken in total with a high basketball IQ and above-average length that resulted in excellent steals rates in college, Haliburton looks like a strong pick here.
8. Chicago Bulls - Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky
In an uncertain draft class, why not look to college hoops' premier NBA factory? Maxey looks at first glance to be the prototype prospect, from an elite program in Kentucky, though it didn't exactly translate into efficient production in his lone season there.
Most of Maxey's measurables tick the right boxes, but nothing really consistently jumps out at you when he's on the floor. His basketball IQ and anticipation are the more encouraging aspects of his development, an odd twist given his above-average toolset with respect to his size, length and athleticism.
The Bulls could use help in the backcourt after Zach Lavine. Maxey could be a nice project pick if he can consistently harness the flashes he shows, and tighten up his decision-making and focus.
9. Washington Wizards - RJ Hampton, G, National Basketball League (Australia)
Like Ball, Hampton took his talents abroad rather than play a year in the college ranks. The final stats were mediocre, but most reports suggest he showed enough flashes--as an 18-year-old against veteran players in their 20s--to warrant a top-15 selection.
In the NBL, Hampton looked at times like the fastest player on the floor, which is his calling-card tool and speaks to his overall athleticism. With a knack for finishing at the rim and ability to play above it, Hampton is a 6-foot-5 athletic dynamo that could be looked at as a long-term development project.
The Wizards probably wouldn't expect much production from him early on, but Hampton could develop behind John Wall in a thin backcourt.
10. Phoenix Suns - Obi Toppin, F, Dayton
Toppin is another wild card in a draft that promises to be full of them. Boasting arguably the highest floor in the class, the 22-year-old sophomore has come on strong as a late-bloomer with efficient scoring in the paint -- shooting nearly 70 percent on twos, mostly on a barrage of dunks -- and from beyond the arc, shooting 39 percent from deep.
Toppin is an awkward defender with no clear role on that side of the floor yet, though he did show some flashes as a rim protector. He probably won't fall to 10, but if he did, he'd be a good pick for the Suns, who are thin at power forward.