The 2019-2020 NBA Season was proof that in the right conditions, young players who may not have been seen as top draft picks can shine as contributors on contending squads. Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and even Luguentz Dort were among the rookies who made contributions during certain stages of the postseason, while Brandon Clarke and Eric Paschall provided solid regular season contributions for the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors, respectively.
While the 2020 NBA draft is not projected to have a sure-fire star and with LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and James Wiseman taking much of the spotlight, this year’s rookie class is full of solid rotation pieces that could emerge as valuable contributors on the biggest stage.
The players below are just some of those that could eventually break out and find themselves playing against those they watched a year before, but while these players have the tools to be contributors from the get-go, the team that selects them still remains to be the major catalyst to whether they’re a contributor or a spectator.
It may be a stretch right now to say that Onyeka Okongwu has the capability to join the aforementioned big men, but it’s safe to say that he isn’t a black hole in the frontcourt. He finished his shortened freshman year with 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds through 28 games in USC, barging into the conversation of the best big man in the draft. His 1.1 assists per game don’t do justice to his ability to make plays on the post. His ability to score from the post and his soft hands will further add to his complementary game.
The knock on him has been his measurements are not at par with Davis, Jokic, and Adebayo, all of whom measure at least 6-10, so matchups against Karl Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid may prove to be tough early on. Defensively, his ability to cover the pick-and-roll will keep him on the floor and his presence of mind at such a young age will allow him to be there when the game goes down the line.
Haliburton has had comparisons to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lonzo Ball, a thought that can be intriguing and at the same time give NBA general managers some cause for pause. Perhaps it’s the stats they finished with prior to entering the NBA Draft:
|Final College Season Stats
|Minutes Per Game
|Points Per Game
|Rebounds Per Game
|Assists Per Game
|Steals Per Game
|Blocks Per Game
|Turnovers Per Game
|Field Goal %
|Free Throw %
Compared to Ball and Gilgeous-Alexander, Haliburton spent two years at Iowa State, but he was a prominent figure throughout his stay with the Cyclones. As a freshman, he played 33 minutes per game and started all but one game. The following year, he more than doubled his scoring output, but also saw a big jump in his turnovers. His solid free throw shooting should also help assuage any fears of translating to the NBA level.
The comparisons placed on Haliburton are fair and his growth during his collegiate career shows that he has that potential to get better in the next stage. Opposing teams will attack his lack of athleticism and poor defensive fundamentals, but his knack for doing a little of everything could help compensate for those shortcomings.
Deni Avdija is ironically a complete player with a glaring hole: he’s a 52 percent free throw shooter and that may not figure well in the NBA. Other than that, the Israeli is an effective playmaker, a fearless driving threat, and a capable help defender that will fit well with a team with established first options on offense.
Players with European basketball roots grow up to be multi-dimensional players that can take on varying roles once they climb up the professional ranks and Avdija has had a wealth of experience in Europe at a young age. He makes the right play and has no problem being a facilitator or (at the junior international level) shouldering the entire team.
For him to really unlock his game, he will really need to work on his shooting. Playing on a team with potent offensive options will help him ease into improving his shooting, but he will be targeted on offense and will remain a vulnerable spot if he does not make the necessary adjustments. Improving his scoring ability will unlock his playmaking and force defenses to adjust their strategies on containing and preventing him from getting good looks from both a shot and passing standpoint.
Malachi Flynn is a prospect that has flown under the radar yet has been one of the more steady players in this draft class. What he lacks for with athleticism he makes up for with steady playmaking that has made him a late-round teams that are looking for battle-tested rookies that can contribute from the jump.
Through two years in Washington State and a shortened season in San Diego State, Flynn was able to improve on nearly every statistic while playing the same amount of minutes in both stops. The 12 point jump in his free throw percentage through three playing years and the steady increase in assists (and downtrend of turnovers) are areas that stood out considering that he took on a larger role on offense with each passing year.
His ground bound game is perhaps his biggest weakness but his activity on both ends of the floor and his ability to keep the play alive will be crucial. The 2020 NBA Playoffs were defined by shooters and playmakers and Flynn is capable of taking on both roles when called upon.
There’s been growing interest in the freshman from Stanford and while critics have said his consistency has yet to catch up to his Steph Curry-like shot selection, he nevertheless provides the shooting ability that teams crave for.
Terry averaged 14.6 points and 3.2 assists for a Stanford Cardinal squad that ended the season at 20-12. Most of his points came off screens and plays inspired by the Golden State Warriors playbook and this has helped him draw defenders and whip out passes to his open teammates. He’s also an energetic defender despite his physical limitations and he’s not afraid to sacrifice his body just to make the right play.
Whether or not he will get Curry-esque looks will depend on the team that drafts him, but he will need to work on his strength and conditioning considering that he will be a favorite target of opposing teams on defense.
Not all is lost when a squad fails to garner a top-5 pick or even a slot in the lottery. Rather than focusing on the slot, finding great players by focusing on strengths and team needs will maximize the draft slot over picking the best available (unless of course the best available is the top ranked player on the draft board).
A victory in the NBA is part star power, part circumstance, and part team makeup. The first two are well-documented in various ways, shapes, and forms, but team composition has rarely been the exact science many claim it to be. Savvy and proven veterans will always have a place in the squad, but rookies can also take on prominent roles and prove that age is just a number.