The 2020 NBA Draft is right around the corner even if it doesn’t feel that way. Unfortunately, we will miss March Madness this year. However, plenty of armchair coaches and scouts are evaluating talent right now. Here’s Lineups’ own evaluation for some of that talent. Specifically, for players who boosted their stock the most this season. The biggest factor considered for making this list are the perceptions of these players before the season started compared to where they stand now in mock drafts.
Obi Toppin – Dayton
It seems pretty obvious now that Dayton’s best player in Obi Toppin should be a top 10 pick. However, that didn’t become evident until he put on a show against the competition in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. He had 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks against Kansas in the championship game that went to overtime. He also scored a combined 49 points against Georgia and Virginia Tech in that tournament as well.
Toppin was on people’s radars as a late first rounder, but they didn’t fully understand just how good he would be. Now he’s helped the Flyers to dominate the A10 on their way to an undefeated record in the conference and only two total losses on the season, with the other coming in a close one to Colorado. He’s averaged 20 points, 1.2 blocks, one steal, 2.2 assists and 7.5 rebounds while shooting the ball at a 63.3 percent clip. If he falls past being a lottery pick, that would be a major upset of its own.
He’s a strong, 6-foot-9 forward who understands how to play the game and is a little bit older than his draft contemporaries. He redshirted his freshman year and he got started in college a year later than normal because he spent a season at a prep school. Toppin just turned 22 and might be old for usual top picks, but he still has plenty of upside to build on with his shooting ability and versatility.
Aaron Nesmith – Vanderbilt
The 6-foot-6 sharpshooter started his sophomore season as a fringe second round pick. He shot himself into a first rounder and possibly a lottery pick despite playing at the worst program in the SEC right now. In the 14 games he was able to play in, Nesmith was almost the entire Vanderbilt offense. He averaged 23 points while playing about 36 minutes a game. He also shot a blistering 51.2 percent from the floor and 52.2 percent from three.
Any team looking for a pro-ready shooter and bucket getter should be looking at Nesmith. His season came to an early end because of a foot injury, but he should be good to go by the time the combine and workouts come around. He’s almost a Ray Allen-type in that he moves well off screens and finds ways to get open for his shot, no matter what it takes. He’s also a solid defender with a good basketball IQ that teams should appreciate in younger talent.
Devin Vassell – Florida State
The lanky and athletic forward went from near-unknown to being on the forefront of every mock drafter’s mind. He led the Seminoles in three-point shooting as a freshman last year, but that wasn’t quite enough to catch the attention of scouts and other decision-makers as he didn’t start and barely played over 10 minutes a game. Now he’s unmistakable and is shooting over 40 percent from three-point land while taking 3.5 shots from there a game.
The 6-foot-7, 194-pound Vassell is undoubtedly lacking some strength and muscle needed to last in the NBA, but much weaker guys have been drafted and done well. Vassell is tracking as a first-round pick that should go no later than right after the lottery. His upside and clear shooting ability make him attractive to teams that need a prototypical 3-and-D player on the wing.
Kira Lewis Jr. – Alabama
Lewis was the youngest player to step foot on a court last season (he was only 17 all season) and is still a young prospect despite being in college for two years already. The 6-foot-3, 165-pound point guard has gotten considerably better from freshman to sophomore season and is now a likely first round pick. He was getting some looks as a late first-round pick last season, but people were unsure how he might look in Nate Oats’ system in Tuscaloosa. It’s gone pretty well as Lewis has flashed some other NBA skills he didn’t get the chance to in Avery Johnson’s point guard-dominant offense.
As a result of the system switch, Lewis has shot the ball better on more attempts, rebounded the ball better and dished out more assists this season. He is a decent pull up jump shooter who should actually do that more often rather than try to drive to the hoop and not finish in traffic. His strength and height is a bit of a limiting factor on defense as far as switchability goes, but he is a good help defender that digs in on post ups and helps his big men.
Onyeka Okongwu – USC
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound freshman came in as a five-star recruit for coach Andy Enfield. However, he was always overshadowed by the Ball brothers while playing at Chino Hills. He was thought to be too raw to enter the NBA Draft after one year, but he has proven that to be an inaccurate assessment. While his offensive game still needs tuning, his defense can be thrown into an NBA game right now and be effective. He is a great rim protector with his length, athleticism, and explosive leaping ability.
Okongwu has shown that he has the potential to step out and shoot it from deep down the road thanks to a solid free throw shooting form. He can play as a small-ball center in today’s league thanks to his strength and ability to guard both big man positions right now. Okongwu is a perfect example of a guy who will take advantage of a weaker draft class to boost himself to the top and he has played great all season to do just that.
Saddiq Bey – Villanova
Bey was considered a middle second round pick and wasn’t even on some people’s big board before the season started. The sophomore has destroyed those expectations and has been a key cog for the Villanova Wildcats on their way to sharing the regular season Big East crown. He’s drastically improved his shooting stroke and percentages from beyond the arc and at the free throw line.
The 6-foot-8, 216-pound forward is excellent at posting up smaller players, shoots the ball well off the dribble or in spot up situations, and is a high IQ player. He can play a little point-forward when needed and is a versatile defender to boot. He can guard three or four different positions and that is part of what is making him such a valuable pick heading into the NBA Draft season.