Grading The Early-Season Performance of The Top 5 Picks From The 2020 NBA Draft

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Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) brings the ball up court against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half at the American Airlines Center.

With a little less than a quarter of the season gone, rookies have had time to adjust to the pace of play in the NBA. Each player’s scenario has been different depending on the team’s goals and aspirations. Some rookies have played big roles in their teams’ opening games (Wiseman and Williams), while others have yet to see the floor. However, for the top 5 overall picks from the 2020 draft, we have seen enough play to assess their performance so far. Here are the grades for the top 5 picks of the 2020 NBA Draft.

Anthony Edwards (Minnesota Timberwolves, G/F, No. 1 Pick)

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (1) shoots in the second quarter against the Orlando Magic forward Dwayne Bacon (8) at Target Center.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Like the Timberwolves season so far, Edwards’s inaugural season has been turbulent. While everyone expects some inconsistency out of a rookie, Edward’s play so far has been underwhelming given the opportunities the Wolves coaching staff has given him.

Edwards is averaging 12.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game while averaging 24.8 minutes per game. Given the circumstances, it is a competent line for an incoming rookie. However, given Edwards’s usage, which is the second-highest on the Wolves, it would be encouraging to see better numbers.

Edwards’s jump shot has also not translated well to the pros. His percentages during his time at Georgia were not stellar. However, with no glaring issues with his shot mechanics, the thought was that his numbers would improve once he made the jump to the league. He is currently shooting 27.4% from three on 5.3 attempts per game. According to NBA Stats, Edwards is shooting 28.3% on all jump shots. Unless he is finishing at the hoop, the former Georgia man has failed to find a rhythm with his jumper through these first games.

His on-ball defense and overall effort on the defensive end have been sharp. Edwards retains the third-lowest opponent field goal percentage among all rookie guards (min 13 games). He was also seen earlier in the season giving Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic a run for his money with aggressive and active defense.

The low efficiency and rookie mistakes were to be expected. With the jump shot still a work in progress, Edwards has a long way to go to live up to the first overall billing.

Grade: B

James Wiseman (Golden State Warriors, C, No. 2 Pick)

Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman (33) goes up for a dunk against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter at Chase Center.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors stuck to their man when selecting Wiseman before the eventual third pick, LaMelo Ball. Ball appeared to be the more natural fit in the Warriors system, but Golden State passed on him in favor of the Memphis big man. There has been a lot to unpack from Wiseman’s season so far.

Wiseman Offensive Outlook

Offensively, Wiseman has been proficient, averaging 11.9 points per game so far this season. It is important to account for Steph Curry’s role in Wiseman’s production. Like every other Warriors player, he has benefited from more time and space due to Curry’s offensive gravity. He also has shown the ability to hit the outside shot, going 3-4 from beyond the arc in his debut. While he has only hit six triples so far this season, the development of his jump shot is intriguing and something to keep an eye on.

Wiseman’s Best Shooting Game from 3 (75% from beyond the arc)

The former Memphis big man has a long way to go on the defensive end, but the early signs are encouraging. He is averaging 1.4 blocks per game (2.4 per 36 minutes). Wiseman has used his wingspan effectively on the perimeter as well. Opponents are shooting an average 35% on perimeter shots guarded by Wiseman. Foul trouble has limited Wiseman’s playtime, as the Warriors big man is tied for ninth in the league in personal fouls.

Wiseman has also benefited from having Draymond Green as a teammate, who has been coaching up the young big man at every opportunity. While there remains the mystery of what could have been with LaMelo Ball on the Warriors, Golden State should be feeling good about Wiseman moving forward.

Grade: A-

LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets, G, No. 3 Pick)

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) drives to the basket past Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) during the first quarter at Spectrum Center.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The most polarizing rookie has been just that since his debut in Charlotte. From highlight-reel passes to foolish turnovers, the LaMelo experience has been a rollercoaster.

As advertised, Ball has brought spectacular court vision and play-making ability to the franchise. He has formed a strong alley-oop partnership with Hornets small forward Miles Bridges and has improved others’ play with second-to-none court vision. His 37.4 assist percentage ranks 8th in the league and first on the Hornets. While he is shooting 33.3% from three, his form is more compact and fluid than his time in Australia. As his shooting improves, it will open up more passing lanes with teams forced to respect his shot.

On the flip side of the positives, his offensive efficiency has not been the best. Ball ranks 6th-worst in points per possession as the pick and roll ball handler (min 4 possessions per game). While he is capable of making the inch-perfect pass on occasion, he attempts it too frequently. This has led to turnovers and easy transition buckets for opposing teams. The high volume of turnovers was one thing Hornets head coach James Borrego said was holding Ball back from more minutes. 

Ball has played solid defense thus far this season. His opponents shoot just 41.2% against Ball, one of the lowest clips amongst all rookie guards. His defensive effort fluctuates, and he is still caught ball-watching from time to time. However, his post defense has improved, and he still has good defensive instincts. While he has yet to start a game this season, the Hornets should be pleased with Ball’s performance so far this season. 

Grade: A

Patrick Williams (Chicago Bulls, F, No. 4 Pick)

Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams (9) defends Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the first half at United Center.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

While this was a questionable pick at draft time, Williams has made a name for himself in the league after just a few games. While he was one of the more raw prospects in the draft, Chicago has opted for learning through experience route with the former Florida State forward.

Williams has started every game he has appeared in this season. While 9.4 points and 4 rebounds per game aren’t the most eye-popping stats, Chicago will be pleased with how his skills have translated to the NBA. Through 29 games in his lone collegiate season, Williams attempted just 50 threes. Through 16 games so far this season, he has attempted 36, making 16 of them. While this is a small sample size, the rapid development of a perimeter shot is the best-case scenario for the Bulls.

Defensively, Williams has been as advertised. Opponents 33.8% field goal percentage, when defended by Williams, is one of the worst in the league. He has had a rude awakening to the league in terms of superstar matchups. In the games against the Clippers and Lakers, Williams has been tasked with guarding LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. However, with 12 steals and 11 blocks so far this season, Williams has been a huge contribution to a Chicago team that needed a defensive savant to match up against the opposing team’s best player. At 19 years old, Williams is barely scratching the surface of his potential, and Bulls fans should be excited about his future.

Grade: A-

Isaac Okoro (Cleveland Cavaliers, F, No. 5 Pick)

Cleveland Cavaliers Isaac Okoro (35) jogs after a basket during the first quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

Like Williams, the Cavaliers determined that the best thing for Okoro’s development was to give the former Auburn forward meaningful minutes early on. The results have not been as promising as Williams.

Offensively, Okoro has struggled to get his outside shot going. Okoro’s main concern coming out of Auburn was his perimeter shot. While the shot mechanics look good, Okoro has not gotten it to fall at a consistent rate so far this season. He is currently shooting 29% from beyond the arc. Like in college, most of his three-point field goals have been catch and shoot opportunities. According to NBA Stats, 24 of his 29 attempts have been “wide open” (no defender within 6+ feet). Again, the shot itself looks good. Cleveland will hope that, with time, the three balls will start falling with more consistency.

While the offensive side of the ball has been a struggle, Okoro has lived up to his defensive potential so far. He has active hands and moves his feet well when guarding on the perimeter.

Cleveland has matched Okoro against some of the best players in the league. Okoro has guarded All-Stars like James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, and LeBron James. While the stats from those respective games suggest that these players outplayed Okoro, he held his own very well against many of them. Like his teammate Collin Sexton, Okoro plays tenacious and physical defense, which is disruptive no matter who you are. In many of the plays Okoro got scored, there was not much he could do to stop it. Take this possession against LeBron as an example:

While Okoro’s offensive performance leaves a lot to be desired, his defensive impact and overall contribution to the Cavaliers have been impressive, given that he is still a rookie.

Grade: B+

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