The 2020 NBA Draft process continues to provide twists and turns. After originally being rescheduled for October 16, the NBA decided to push the start of the 2020-21 season back again and has tentatively rescheduled the already rescheduled draft for November 18. The league is hoping that date will allow them to have a two-part NBA Combine – one for drills and one for interviews – over the next two months.
That means there is still the opportunity for players to increase their draft stock with more time for teams to evaluate these prospects but, as we’ve hit the six month mark since the college basketball season ended, it doesn’t feel like there will be any significant movement.
So, based on their current projected draft standing, who could be the biggest steals of the 2020 NBA Draft and why? Here are five prospects to keep an eye on:
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Desmond Bane, SG, TCU
Bane’s career at TCU didn’t end with a lot of hype, but he has been one of the biggest risers throughout the pre-draft process thanks to his reliable shooting stroke and defensive upside.
Vanderbilt guard Aaron Nesmith is expected to be a lottery pick because of his shooting prowess – 52.2 percent from three in 14 games last year – but Bane is actually a better three point shooter over their careers (Bane is 43.3 percent over 141 career games, Nesmith is 41 percent in 46). The TCU product averaged over four threes attempted per game as well, so it’s not like he was shy with his attempts, and they came in a myriad of ways.
As seen in the video below, Bane is an effective shooter on the move, in spot-up situations, and can create for himself off the bounce. He’ll mostly be asked to spot up in the NBA – he won’t be the focal point of an offense like he was at TCU – which is the area he was most efficient in.
That ability along with his size (6-6, 215 pounds) makes him a good bet to succeed as a high-level role player at the next level. Some scouts/analysts may view his short wingspan as a major negative when it comes to his defensive upside (it certainly doesn’t help), but his strength and height offset some of those concerns as a larger guard.
Considering the relative weakness and lack of star power in this draft class, prospects with a defined role and high floor should carry more weight, and Bane certainly falls into that category. NBA scouts believe he can be a Joe Harris-type in the 3-and-D role that has become so valuable in today’s game.
Payton Pritchard, PG, Oregon
I firmly believe that Pritchard would’ve been right at the forefront of the National Player of the Year conversation alongside Obi Toppin and Luka Garza this past season if he didn’t play on the West Coast. He showcased the entirety of his skill set during his senior year at Oregon, and I think he’ll have an impact at the next level sooner rather than later because of the different ways he can contribute.
Offensively, Pritchard is as good as they come. His ability to run a team and make plays for others (5.5 assists per game, 63rd in assist rate) allowed him to start 140 games during his Oregon career. yet it’s Pritchard’s scoring ability – namely his shooting – that makes him exciting to me.
A career 37.9 percent three-point shooter, Pritchard made 41.5 percent of his attempts from deep as a senior – and some of them were deep. He created a majority of those shots for himself, too (Oregon needed him to have the ball in his hands as much as possible), and was even more efficient when able to spot up.
Throw in the way he excels at attacking the rim in transition, and you had a guy who was extremely tough to stop at the college level.
From an NBA Draft standpoint, there isn’t a ton of buzz about Pritchard. He isn’t anything more than an average athlete, which will limit his ability to get to the rim and limit him defensively. That said, he has an extremely high basketball IQ and works well in the pick-and-roll, which will create opportunities for him.
What will allow him to contribute in the NBA sooner rather than later, though, is his ability to play both with and without the ball thanks to that combination playmaking and shooting. And I haven’t even mentioned that he’s a great rebounder for a guard (4.3 per game last season)! Projected to be a late first- or early second-round pick, expect Pritchard to vastly outperform his draft status.
Cassius Stanley, SG, Duke
We all know how athletic Cassius Stanley is. We’ve seen the video of his 46.5-inch vertical leap, breaking Zion Williamson’s vertical record at Duke. We’ve seen his highlight reel dunks, which I’ll gladly show you below because, well, they’re fun.
That elite athleticism makes him a terror in transition. His impact in that area will only be greater in the NBA, where the pace of play is naturally greater with more opportunities in transition.
Stanley’s floor as a prospect is relatively high because of his abilities as a transition scorer and on the defensive end, yet there are also signs his ceiling could be really high as well. Despite not being a great three-point shooter at Duke (36 percent), he did rank in the 93rd percentile in spot-up three-point shooting last season. Teams will be looking for spot-up shooters/3-and-D prospects late in the first round and early in the second, and that makes him a viable option to fill that role with an added element – elite athleticism – others don’t have.
The 6-6, 193-pounder is still raw offensively, yet he brings the kind of upside that’s hard to come by outside the lottery (especially in this class). With the worst-case scenario for Stanley being an uber-athletic spot-up shooter and average defensive player, he’s a prospect some team will be happy to take a gamble on.
Nick Richards, C, Kentucky
Looking for a sure thing? Nick Richards won’t be a star in the NBA, but he is an athletic shot-blocker who can adequately fill a Clint Capela/Tyson Chandler/DeAndre Jordan-type role for a team at the next level. And, considering he isn’t expected to be selected until late in the second round, he would be a steal for whichever team gets him.
It’s obvious why he won’t go before then. He’s still limited to the paint offensively and isn’t really a threat outside of 5-10 feet. He’ll really only be utilized in a lob-catching offensive rebounder role in the NBA, but he can do both of those things at a high level.
Richards will make his mark on the defensive end. The 6-11, 250-pounder was among the nation’s leaders in block rate and altered just about every shot at the rim with his 7-4 wingspan and quality athleticism.
Two bigs could go late in the first round in Vernon Carey Jr. and Isaiah Stewart, but neither player is an elite rim protector. Most are looking at Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike as the best shot-blocker in the class and expect him to go early in the second round, but Richards’ athleticism and foot speed may make him a more viable fit for an inside presence in today’s NBA.
Malachi Flynn, PG, San Diego State
Every draft class seems to have some mid-major guard that produces at a high rate in college only to be drafted in the second round – if they get drafted at all – before making a significant early impact in the NBA.
Fred VanVleet is the most obvious recent example of this, but there are plenty of others. SMU’s Shake Milton was a second round pick in 2018 but started for the Philadelphia 76ers in the playoffs. Matthew Dellavedova helped the Cavs win a championship as an undrafted player I could keep going, but the bottom line is that there are gems to be found from the mid-major ranks.
Malachi Flynn could be that guy this year.
After starting his career at Washington State, Flynn transferred to San Diego State and led the Aztecs to the best regular season in school history (30-2). They were projected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before it was cancelled, and Flynn’s play was the driving force behind that.
Want a true point guard who can create for others and make them better? Flynn ranked 14th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio despite having a high usage rage. And, you know, he led the Aztecs to 30 wins. I’d say that’s making a team better.
Want a guard who can shoot? Flynn averaged 2.2 made three-pointers per game on 36.3 percent shooting for his career.
Want a quality defensive player? He won’t blow you away on that end, but Flynn’s defensive rating was among the nation’s best last year and he was in the top 150 in steal rate.
There’s nothing in Flynn’s arsenal that will blow you away, which you need if you’re a 6-1, 185-pounder going in the first round. But Flynn does everything well and that will make him a contributor sooner rather than later for whichever team is able to land him.
Brian Rauf is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and FanSided, among other publications. Rauf is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.