Rick Rycroft/Associated Press
While the NBA’s history books tell the story of countless underrated draft prospects, one doesn’t need to travel back in time to appreciate their importance.
One glance at the Miami Heat—one half of the 2020 NBA Finals—says it all.
Their two All-Stars were drafted at No. 30 (Jimmy Butler, 2011) and No. 14 (Bam Adebayo, 2017). Their primary support scorers are a former second-round pick (Goran Dragic, 45th overall in 2008) and the 13th pick from last summer’s talent grab (Tyler Herro).
Finding the proverbial diamond in the rough on draft night can have a transformational impact on an organization. The three prospects who follow our mock first round are all positioned to slip through the cracks and emerge as some club’s draft heist.
2020 NBA Mock Draft
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: LaMelo Ball, PG/SG, Illawarra Hawks
2. Golden State Warriors: Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia
3. Charlotte Hornets: James Wiseman, C, Memphis
4. Chicago Bulls: Tyrese Haliburton, PG, Iowa State
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Deni Avdija, SF/PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
6. Atlanta Hawks: Devin Vassell, SF, Florida State
7. Detroit Pistons: Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, USC
8. New York Knicks: Killian Hayes, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm
9. Washington Wizards: Isaac Okoro, SF/PF, Auburn
10. Phoenix Suns: Obi Toppin, PF/C, Dayton
11. San Antonio Spurs: Aaron Nesmith, SF, Vanderbilt
12. Sacramento Kings: Patrick Williams, PF, Florida State
13. New Orleans Pelicans: Jalen Smith, PF/C, Maryland
14. Boston Celtics (via Memphis Grizzlies): Saddiq Bey, SF/PF, Villanova
15. Orlando Magic: Kira Lewis Jr., PG, Alabama
16. Portland Trail Blazers: Josh Green, SG, Arizona
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Brooklyn Nets): Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina
18. Dallas Mavericks: RJ Hampton, SG, New Zealand Breakers
19. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia 76ers): Tyrese Maxey, SG, Kentucky
20. Miami Heat: Precious Achiuwa, PF/C, Memphis
21. Philadelphia 76ers (via Oklahoma City Thunder): Tyrell Terry, PG, Stanford
22. Denver Nuggets (via Houston Rockets): Grant Riller, PG/SG, Charleston
23. Utah Jazz: Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Olympiacos B
24. Milwaukee Bucks (via Indiana Pacers): Leandro Bolmaro, SG/SF, Barcelona
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Denver Nuggets): Zeke Nnaji, C, Arizona
26. Boston Celtics: Jaden McDaniels, SF/PF, Washington
27. New York Knicks (via Los Angeles Clippers): Jahmi’us Ramsey, SG, Texas Tech
28. Los Angeles Lakers: Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State
29. Toronto Raptors: Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL
30. Boston Celtics (via Milwaukee Bucks): Xavier Tillman, PF/C, Michigan State
RJ Hampton, SG, New Zealand Breakers
Brandon Dill/Associated Press
Bypassing the college ranks had a chance to boost Hampton’s ranking, but it didn’t play out that way.
Instead, last summer’s fifth-rated recruit, per 247Sports, headed to New Zealand and returned without solidifying a lottery spot. For someone who’s been knocked as not having a standout skill, he failed to quiet that concern by leaving his stat sheet without a standout category (8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists with a 40.7/29.5/67.9 shooting slash).
Really, though, the 19-year-old did nothing more than display some growing pains, which had to be expected. He was in a different country, on a roster built around older, more established players, and he was battling a hip injury.
In a class where even the top prospects raise red flags, Hampton’s stock seems unfairly lowered by an experience that might have done nothing other than accelerate his development. He’s already trained like a pro and been humbled by other professional athletes. He might be better prepared than most of his draft peers for the NBA experience.
As Hampton recently told the New York Knicks in a video call, clubs should be careful about overlooking him.
“I was a projected top-five pick last year. I went overseas, I learned a lot, I didn’t have superior numbers and I was kind of forgotten about,” Hampton relayed to SNY’s Ian Begley. “The message that I was trying to get across is, ‘I’m still that same player. I’m still that player that can get you 20-25 points, 6-7 assists, be that lead guard and a franchise changer.”
Hampton has been in the lab working on his three-point shot, and if he adds that to his bag, he could easily emerge as one of the best players to come out of this draft. He’s a 6’5″, athletic floor general who could be a buzzsaw in the open court, and the improvement of his shooting touch would increase his impact in the half court.
Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL
A professional since the age of 16, Maledon brings the basketball IQ and instincts to be an impact point guard right out of the gate.
For someone who just turned 19 in June, his game and approach have impressive, enviable polish. He was the youngest-ever LNB Pro A league All-Star in France and the youngest to be named MVP of the French Basketball Cup—which he did as a 17-year-old.
Maledon plays a smooth style. He operates like a traditional point guard, seeking out his teammates and finding them as soon as they’re open. But when the game dictates a need for more aggression, his touch, footwork and craft help him score from all three levels on the court.
He’s still working to harness his consistency, but that’s true of most NBA newcomers. His draft stock should be higher than this, but it was held down by an injury-filled 2019-20 season that also saw him given an inconsistent role. For savvy front offices, that makes him a top prospect hiding in plain sight.
“Maledon is a good shooter, plus athlete, and should be able to hold his own defensively,” SI.com’s Jeremy Woo wrote. “Although he lacks some dynamism off the dribble, he should do enough to fit into a rotation in some capacity. He’s also universally regarded as a hard worker with strong intangibles.”
A strong 2019-20 campaign could have propelled Maledon into top-10 consideration. He maintains the ability to become one of the top 10 players in this draft; he just won’t cost such a heavy premium.