NBA draft intel: Lottery details, No. 1 pick race and big questions

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What's next for the 2020 NBA draft now that the league and the players' union have approved a 22-team return-to-play plan?

The league has set tentative dates for the draft lottery on Aug. 25, with the draft itself on Oct. 15, following the completion of the NBA Finals.

What does the lottery picture look like heading into the seeding games in Orlando, Florida, and what can still change? What's the latest with the No. 1 pick race? And will there be some kind of draft combine given the coronavirus pandemic?

Our draft experts Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz answer the big draft questions and break down what's still unknown.

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What does the lottery picture look like right now? How can it change?

The eight teams with the best lottery odds -- all of whom were not invited to Orlando -- are locked in based on their records when the season was suspended on March 11.

Here's what that looks like:

The rest of the lottery is also nearly set. If the Memphis Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic hold on for the final playoff spots in each conference, here's how slots nine through 14 will look -- with the non-playoff teams sorted by their March 11 records:

If any of those teams currently outside the playoff picture make it into the postseason -- via a play-in series or not -- their pick will be slotted outside of the lottery. And if the Grizzlies, Nets or Magic slide out of the playoffs during the seeding games, they would enter the lottery based on their March 11 record. That means the Grizzlies would be slotted 14th if they don't make the postseason.

As an example, here's one unlikely but technically plausible scenario: The Wizards and the Suns get hot and take the final playoff spot in each respective conference, with Memphis and Brooklyn falling out. The teams playing in Orlando would bump up a slot in the lottery, with the Nets taking the No. 13 slot (based on their March 11 record) and the Grizzlies taking No. 14.

Here's how the lottery would look in that case:

Note: The league will need to institute a tiebreaker between New Orleans and Sacramento if neither makes the playoffs. These odds reflect Sacramento winning the tiebreaker.

The draft order outside the lottery will be determined by winning percentage after combining the regular season records as of March 11 with the eight seeding games in Orlando. If the standings do not change -- with Memphis, Orlando and Brooklyn holding onto their playoff spots -- this would be the rest of the first-round draft order (assuming a couple tiebreakers based on a random drawing):

  • 15. ORL

  • 16. MIN (via BKN)

  • 17. BOS (via MEM)

  • 18. DAL

  • 19. BKN (via PHI)

  • 20. MIL (via IND)

  • 21. DEN (via HOU)

  • 22. PHI (via OKC)

  • 23. MIA

  • 24. UTA

  • 25. OKC (via DEN)

  • 26. BOS

  • 27. NYK (via LAC)

  • 28. TOR

  • 29. LAL

  • 30. BOS (via MIL)


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What traded picks are at stake in the Orlando games?

Memphis and Brooklyn are both on the playoff bubble, and they both owe protected first-rounders this season.

If the Nets slide out of the playoffs during the seeding games, they'll keep their lottery-protected pick (owed to the Timberwolves), giving them another key asset to use this offseason to improve the roster around Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The pick would remain lottery-protected next season if not conveyed.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies owe the Celtics their pick with top-six protections, and it's unprotected next season. If the Grizzlies make the playoffs, it's likely that Boston will get the No. 17 pick this year. If Memphis falls out, the Celtics are looking at the No. 14 pick. Memphis would have only a 2.4% chance of jumping up into the top four and keeping the selection in 2020.

Also pay attention to the Thunder, who owe their pick to the Sixers if it falls outside the top 20. OKC enters the seeding games tied for pick No. 21 (with Miami). The Thunder can't fall out of the playoffs, but if they lose enough of the seeding games, they could slip in the standings and keep their pick this season. That's important because the pick converts to two second-rounders if it doesn't convey.

Is the No. 1 pick still up in the air?

Absolutely. There remains no consensus top prospect in this draft, and the No. 1 pick will come down to how the lottery shakes out, with team needs coming into play more than usual at the top.

For some teams, Anthony Edwards' combination of physical tools and scoring instincts give him the highest ceiling. For others, James Wiseman's elite measurables, rare agility, defensive upside and budding offensive skill set are too tantalizing to pass on. For me, LaMelo Ball is the best talent with the most star power as an ultracreative 6-foot-7 point guard.

But if a team such as the Golden State Warriors wins the lottery and opts to keep the pick, does Edwards, Wiseman or Ball fit their timeline? Some teams think the real strength of the draft lies outside of our projected top three. To me, the top of this draft is made up of two groups. You have the swing prospects and the surefire prospects.

The swing prospects are Ball, Edwards and Wiseman. They're loaded with talent and star upside, but they'll need to be in specific situations to maximize their potential.

Ball will be at his best if given the keys to the offense and freedom to take risks, with shooting and defenders around him, plus veterans to hold him accountable. Wiseman will be helped by focusing on becoming an elite finisher, defender and rebounder first, with less pressure to score or facilitate at a high level. For Edwards, it's a situation that will keep him focused defensively while allowing him time to fine-tune his shot selection and build winning habits.

On the flip side, you have lottery prospects such as Isaac Okoro, Onyeka Okongwu, Deni Avdija, Obi Toppin and Tyrese Haliburton. Each of these surefire prospects is a proven winner -- a plug-and-play guy with the ability to fill a role early on while also possessing some upside. There's a real chance that several of these seemingly surefire prospects end up as better pros that the swing guys projected for the top three.

With that in mind, if the Warriors do end up with the No. 1 pick, they can really shape how the rest of the top five shakes out, since they're in a completely different situation than a typical lottery franchise. They might decide that someone outside the projected top three is a better fit on a more beneficial timeline.- Schmitz


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What's changed about the draft process for prospects and teams?

The pre-draft process usually involves a substantial amount of commercial travel for both NBA executives and prospects. That's been completely eliminated so far due to the risks associated with COVID-19, with every event scheduled since Rudy Gobert tested positive on March 11 either canceled or indefinitely postponed.

NBA front offices have been preparing for the possibility of making decisions about prospects without the usual access to workouts, a combine or pro days. That's led to a huge increase in watching video -- including full college, international, high school and AAU games. Many players have been conducting interviews virtually, primarily by Zoom, but team sources say they have had a difficult time scheduling interactions with projected first-rounders. Instead, executives have spent time getting to know players who are candidates for later in the second round or two-way contracts. Many players not in our top-100 draft rankings say they have been invited to interview for more than half of NBA teams.

The real question is what will happen once the U.S. starts to open up more fully and commercial travel becomes a more viable option. The NBA informed teams in a memo sent in early April that they are prohibited from conducting in-person workouts or interviews with draft-eligible players until further notice. Teams are also prohibited from requesting video of recent workouts that players might conduct outside of a team environment. Teams can study only film -- such as college games and practice sessions -- that occurred before the NBA's suspension of play.

NBA team executives told ESPN that they think it's unlikely they'll be able to conduct workouts for prospects even in September or October due to liability concerns. However, it's not out of the question that they will be allowed to travel to major cities such as Los Angeles to watch multiple prospects work out and conduct in-person interviews. Some teams might be willing to charter private planes for their front-office executives in order to avoid commercial travel. But for now, NBA teams are barred from any such activity. - Givony

Will there be a draft combine? What might it look like?

The league has not announced any plans for a combine.

Multiple team sources told ESPN that preliminary discussions are underway for some type of draft prospect gathering in Orlando during the last week of August. This would include medical testing, player interviews and, possibly, measurements. The exact format, including how many players would be invited, is still under consideration, though workouts or scrimmages would be unlikely.

NBA team sources are under the impression that the league prefers to first see how the initial weeks in Orlando go before they pursue bringing in more people for draft activities. But, again, these are only initial conversations. The situation is fluid, and completing the full postseason will take priority for the league. - Givony

Are prospects testing the draft waters more likely to go back to college given the later draft date?

That's unclear. A few hours after the NBA board of governors approved a format to resume the 2019-20 season, the NCAA announced the postponement of its own withdrawal deadline for college players testing the draft waters. Originally slated for June 3, the new date is Aug. 3, which is certain to fall prior to any type of draft combine.

NBA executives do not expect any workouts to occur prior to Aug. 3, and if a combine does get greenlighted, it wouldn't happen until several weeks after the withdrawal deadline. That puts players testing the waters in a difficult position.

Only one player previously in ESPN's top 100 rankings (Alabama's Herbert Jones, then ranked No. 94) has elected to withdraw from the draft since the NBA's early-entry list was released. At least a dozen players whose decisions have major implications for the 2020-21 college basketball season are still gathering feedback, which will be difficult to find before Aug. 3 without a true pre-draft process in place.

This creates a gulf of approximately two months between when college players will be asked to withdraw compared to their international counterparts, who have until 10 days prior to the draft.

Not being invited to the combine sends a powerful message to college players testing the draft waters, as it's rare for non-international players not in attendance to be drafted. Several college coaches told ESPN that they expect players to keep their names in the draft even if they're not sure they'll be selected, due to a lack of information regarding their draft stock.

"I'm not sure what the rush was on the NCAA's part," one head coach with a player testing the draft waters told ESPN. "They should have waited to see what the NBA's plans were for the pre-draft process. If you are really looking out for the best interests of your student-athletes, you give them as much time as possible to explore their standing with teams and come to an informed decision. I think this makes my guy more likely to stay in the draft, despite not being a lock to be drafted. He's gonna want to see what's out there."

Complicating matters for fringe draft picks is the unusually long layoff for players on two-way contracts. With the 2020-21 NBA season pushed back until at least December, the G League might not start playing games until the 2021 calendar year. It will be difficult for players who participated in their final college games in March to wait 10 months to resume competitive action, without any real assurances they will be retained on guaranteed contracts. - Givony

Which prospects will the new timeline hurt and help, and will there be a trickle-down to the 2021 draft?

Among potential top-10 picks, a shortened timeline between the draft and the start of the 2020-21 season definitely benefits veteran prospects such as Toppin, Haliburton and Avdija. Avdija is also at a bit of an advantage because the Israeli Basketball Premier League is set to return to play later this month, with team practices already underway. He should arrive at NBA training camp in shape and with almost 100 professional games and 40 FIBA contests under his belt. And players with an elite skill such as Aaron Nesmith (shooting) or an NBA-ready frame such as Okoro should be able to contribute more quickly than others.

As for some of the elite prospects, the NBA transition could take a little bit longer than usual given the circumstances.

By the time the 2020-21 NBA season tips off, it will have been over a year since Wiseman played a competitive game, as his collegiate season ended on Nov. 12, 2019, after just three total NCAA games. Ball will face a similar challenge, as his National Basketball League season (12 games) was cut short due to a foot injury on Nov. 30. Edwards played basically a full collegiate season with some wow moments, but he has had his ups and downs with conditioning in the past and is still improving his feel for the game on both ends. A draft class like this filled with potential upperclassmen sleepers could certainly allow more NBA-ready prospects to jump out to a hot start and make a Rookie of the Year push.

And all of this bleeds into next year's draft. NBA team executives generally get familiar with first-round-caliber prospects during the Nike Hoop Summit week, McDonald's All American week and the Jordan Brand Classic. There's no better time to get an extended look at international sleepers than during FIBA tournaments in the summer. USA Basketball had just started allowing NBA scouts to attend training and development camps more regularly.

But with all of those events more or less canceled at the moment and teams still not allowed into high school gyms, the 2021 crop of one-and-dones could end up being scouted less than any other class. That is a class loaded with talent, so it shouldn't take scouts too long to recognize who the stars are, but there will be a trickle-down effect on future drafts as well. Plus, there still seems to be uncertainty regarding just what scouting staffs will look like next season following the pandemic and how aggressively teams will travel. - Schmitz