2020 Draft Re-Grade: West

2020 Draft grades, one season later, for every team in the Western Conference

Last week, I handed out new 2020 NBA Draft grades for every team in the Eastern Conference .

This week I’m turning my gaze toward the Western Conference.

In November, The Athletic’s Tony Jones and I recorded a podcast in which we each gave out grades to every team in the Western Conference.

As noted in the previous edition, giving draft grades on the day after the draft is a bit like giving grades after the first day of class. You can have some general sense about how prospects will project in the NBA, and knowing the team that drafts them helps, but there is so much we don’t know.

It typically takes three full seasons to have a good handle on what a prospect will do in the NBA. Sometimes it takes even longer. 

Nevertheless, it’s worth checking in on the draft class of 2020. Here are my old and new draft grades for every team in the Western Conference by draft order.

Also: Listen to the latest NBA Big Board podcast where the Athletic’s Tony Jones and I debate these Western 2020 Draft Grades one season later.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Draft Class:
Anthony Edwards (1)
Leandro Bolmaro (23)
Jaden McDaniels (28)

2020 Grade: B+
2021 Grade: A

On draft night I dinged the Wolves for passing on what I thought would be the best player in the draft -- LaMelo Ball -- for the player I deemed the best athlete in the draft. Whether Edwards was going to develop as more than an exciting dunker and low-efficiency scorer was a serious question.

Fast forward a season, and Edwards has the trappings of a superstar. While his advanced analytics still looked pretty bad because of a rocky first half of the season, he caught fire after the All-Star break, averaging 23.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.4 apg and shooting a very respectable 45% from the field and 35% from 3. While I still see LaMelo have a slightly higher ceiling, if Edwards keeps improving at this rate, they both look like surefire NBA All-Stars who could become top-10 players in the NBA. I didn’t have either of them as Tier 1 players, but clearly, after Year One, they both look like they belong there.

I was a fan of the Bolmaro pick at No. 23 and the McDaniels pick at No. 28 (acquired via trade after the draft) and a year later, both look like good moves for the Wolves. Bolmaro is playing a supporting role on one of the best teams in Europe, FC Barcelona, and has shown significant improvement as a shooter. McDaniels didn’t wow in his rookie year, but he has enough talent, especially on the defensive end, to make the Wolves feel good about where they got him in the draft.

Golden State Warriors

Draft Class:
James Wiseman (2)
Nico Mannion (48)
Justinian Jessop (51)

2020 Grade: A-
2021 Grade: B-

I was really high on Wiseman before the draft, and he was just a shade below Ball on my Big Board. While it was clear that Wiseman was going to be a bigger project than other players on the board, I appreciated the Warriors taking the long view. I would’ve preferred the Warriors take Ball here, but was fine with Wiseman.

A year later, the choice looks more questionable. Wiseman opted out of most of his freshman year at Memphis, and the question was always how steep his learning curve was going to be. It was steep. The raw talent is clearly there, but Wiseman’s feel for the game on both ends was lacking. The season was filled with frustration for both Wiseman and Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who struggled to figure out how to put him in the best position to succeed. A season-ending injury temporarily solved the dilemma.

I think it’s way too early to write him off. It typically takes bigs longer to adjust, and Wiseman joined a team with high expectations and lots of veterans. He has the physical tools to succeed. While I doubt his ceiling is going to be particularly close to that of Ball or Edwards, he’s far from a bust. We are just going to have to be patient. 

As for the rest of their draft, Mannion was about what we expected, an interesting but inefficient offensive player who gets roasted regularly on defense. Jessop has played in Australia this year, where he’s averaging 14 ppg and shooting 38 percent from 3. The Warriors feel that he could eventually help them stretch the floor for them with his shooting -- potentially a great outcome for the 51st pick.

Phoenix Suns

Draft Class:
Jalen Smith (10)

2020 Grade: D
2021 Grade: D

This pick surprised everyone on draft night. Smith was rated No. 17 on my final Big Board and some teams had him considerably lower. 

The bigger news is that the Suns passed on Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton here. Haliburton was ranked No. 4 on my board, and he looked like a great fit for Phoenix as a third guard behind Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Alas, the Suns chose for need over talent, and it cost them. It was one of the biggest missed opportunities of the draft.

In the regular season, Smith ended up playing the fewest minutes (by far) of any player taken in the top 25. When he has played, it has been challenging to see how he’s going to fit on this roster.

You never want to write off a player during his first season. Smith might end up transitioning into a face-up power forward as the Suns envisioned. But can he defend 4s? Nothing we’ve seen so far says yes.

San Antonio Spurs

Draft Class:
Devin Vassell (11)
Tre Jones (41)

2020 Grade: B+
2021 Grade: B+

I am sounding like a broken record, but passing on Haliburton was a mistake for the Spurs. Yes, they already had a backcourt of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV, but Haliburton has the potential to be better than all of them and he was a Spurs player all the way.

That said, I did like Vassell and felt he had a great long-term future as a 3-and-D wing, a need for the Spurs. His play has been solid, though a little stronger on the “D” than the “3” so far. But he shows terrific potential to become the player they thought they were getting. If anything, the Spurs need to give him more playing time. I think he’s a keeper.

Sacramento Kings

Draft Class:
Tyrese Haliburton (12)
Robert Woodard II (40)
Jahmi'us Ramsey (43)

2020 Grade: A+
2021 Grade: A+

I was baffled on draft night that Haliburton fell this far, but he landed in a really good situation as a backcourt mate to De’Aaron Fox. 

Haliburton was rated No. 4 on my final Big Board, and he played like the third-best prospect in the draft behind Ball and Edwards. His super-high basketball IQ, court vision, shooting ability and versatility may have not translated to the high ceilings of players like Ball or Edwards, but I thought he had the highest floor of any player in the draft and he’s played that way.

The Kings got a top-4 player in the draft at No. 12. That alone earns them an A+.

I liked Woodard and Ramsey as second-round picks, but neither has played enough minutes to provide any strong conclusions about their future in the league. 

New Orleans Pelicans

Draft Class:
Kira Lewis Jr. (13)

2020 Grade: A-
2021 Grade: B+

I really liked this pick for the Pelicans on draft night. I was skeptical that Eric Bledsoe and George Hill would stick around (I was half right) and believed that Lonzo Ball would thrive with another ballhandling guard next to him. Lewis was the fastest player in the draft with the ball, and given his age, I thought he had the potential to be really good.

He didn’t light the world on fire in the 15 minutes a night he got. He struggled with his jumper, which is concerning. On the other hand, his assist-to-turnover ratio was good, and he showed ability on the defensive end. I think this will end up being the right pick for New Orleans.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Draft Class:
Aleksej Pokuševski (17)
Théo Maledon (34)
Vít Krejčí (37)

2020 Grade: B
2021 Grade: INCOMPLETE

I feel less qualified now to grade the Thunder’s 2020 draft than I did on draft night.

The worst-kept secret in the draft was that the Thunder were high on Pokuševski. Maledon was a surprising draft-night slide, and Krejčí was a young rising star for Zaragoza in the ACB.

I thought Poku was a legit prospect, but years away from playing meaningful minutes in the NBA because of his skinny physique. I was both wrong and right. Poku played more than 1,000 minutes for the Thunder this season -- way more than I thought he would earn (and 400 more than Obi Toppin, who I thought was the most NBA-ready player in the draft).

What he did with those minutes was fascinating. Poku could look like a future NBA All-Star one night and a bust the next night. There was no real pattern to it all season, though on some nights he was the worst player getting regular minutes in the league. Then again, in the last game of OKC’s season, the Thunder played him at point guard and he went off for 29 points, grabbed eight rebounds and shot 6-for-9 from 3 against the Clippers.

He ranked last among rookies in win shares, last among all players in the league in 538’s RAPTOR rating, second-to-last in WAR and sixth-worst in the league in the LEBRON rating.

He desperately needs to gain weight and improve his shot selection and accuracy. But I don’t know any scout in the league who is ready to write him off yet. He could be awful. But maybe he’s going to be a star. Anyone who tells you they know which outcome it will be is a prophet, not a scout.

Maledon’s story isn’t far off. On certain nights, he looks like a second-round steal. Other nights he looks like he was drafted too high. The advanced stats don’t love him, as he ranked dead last in the league in LEBRON rating and second-to-last in RAPTOR.

Krejčí tore his ACL in September.

Dallas Mavericks

Draft Class:
Josh Green (18)
Tyrell Terry (31)
Tyler Bey (36)

2020 Grade: A
2021 Grade: B

There was disagreement in the Mavericks’ war room on draft night. The Mavs’ scouts favored Saddiq Bey. The analytics crew favored Green. Mavs owner Mark Cuban sided with the analytics crowd, and so far the results have been mixed.

I liked the Mavs’ draft on draft night. I thought Green had terrific upside and really liked their second-round picks. I also loved the draft night move of trading Seth Curry for Josh Richardson. A season later, I’ve cooled on the moves a bit.

Bey went on to have one of the five best rookie seasons this year. Green struggled to get regular minutes on the Mavs but showed enough flashes, especially on defense, to be more than a washout. While Bey significantly outperformed Green in most of the advanced analytics, Green did finish significantly higher in one: the LEBRON rating. 

For this season, given the Mavs’ challenges with health, Bey would’ve been a better choice. There is still plenty of time for Green to close the gap eventually, however.

As for Terry and Tyler Bey, they barely made it onto the floor during the regular season. Terry was ranked No. 23 on my final Big Board and looked like one of the best shooters in the draft, but he has had injury issues, got a total of just 56 minutes and didn’t make a 3 all season. Bey didn’t fare much better, getting just 71 minutes. 

Denver Nuggets

Draft Class:
Zeke Nnaji (22)
R.J. Hampton (24)

2020 Grade: B-
2021 Grade: B

I feel pretty much the same way about the Nuggets’ draft as I did on draft night. Drafting Nnaji at No. 24 looked like a reach (he ranked No. 30 on my Big Board), though the early returns are slightly more encouraging than my initial analysis. He wasn’t much of a rebounder or shot blocker this season, but he did surprise with some solid 3-point shooting.

I had Hampton ranked No. 12 on my final Big Board, so this looked like a steal, especially after he went to Orlando in the Aaron Gordon trade. Give the Nuggets credit for drafting a player at No. 24 who could help them land Gordon. Hampton has gotten a significantly bigger role in Orlando and he’s played really well, averaging 11 ppg, 4 rpg and 3 apg for the Magic. He has significant upside if he can hone his 3-point shooting.

Utah Jazz

Draft Class:
Udoka Azubuike (27)
Elijah Hughes (39)

2020 Grade: B+
2021 Grade: C+

I gave the Jazz a B+ primarily because they drafted a Kansas player (kidding/not kidding). Actually, the thinking was that the Jazz needed an upgrade behind Rudy Gobert in the middle. Tony Bradley had looked like the weak link for Utah in the playoffs, and Azubuike’s elite size and athleticism for his size were intriguing. Alas, after the draft, the Jazz signed Derrick Favors in free agency. Injuries and a lack of opportunity left Azubuike with just 57 minutes in the regular season.

It’s hard to believe that the Jazz didn’t know they had Favors in the bag as a free agent before drafting Azubuike, which makes me wonder if they regret not using the pick to add another sharpshooting wing defender like Desmond Bane.

Hughes has also struggled to crack the rotation and received limited minutes. The team is still high on him, but it’s unclear what he’ll have to do to earn significant minutes down the road.

The Jazz also ended up signing Trent Forrest, a senior from Florida State, later in the season and he ended up being a very solid contributor off the bench, especially as an athletic defender.

Memphis Grizzlies

Draft Class:
Desmond Bane (30)
Xavier Tillman (35)

2020 Grade: B+
2021 Grade: A

The Grizzlies skipped upside and drafted two seniors to contribute immediately to their push for the playoffs. Memphis got its wish and then some. 

Bane and Tillman tied for fifth among rookies in win shares. Tillman was 5th in VORP while Bane landed at 8th. While their upside might be limited, their immediate contributions were a major reason that the Grizzlies made the play-in this year. 

Tillman’s gritty defense and ability to guard multiple positions and Bane’s shooting (43% from 3 this year) should keep them both in the league for years as key rotation players. 

LA Clippers

Draft Class:
Daniel Oturu (33)
Jay Scrubb (55)

2020 Grade: A-
2021 Grade: B

Oturu and Scrubb have played very limited minutes, though both have shown promise very late in the season, including two double-digit scoring performances from Scrubb and a crazy final regular-season game for Oturu in which he took 21 shots -- nearly half of the shots he had taken the entire season. Both appear to have enough talent to warrant another look next year.

Portland Trail Blazers

Draft Class:
CJ Elleby (46)

2020 Grade: B
2021 Grade: B

The Blazers traded their first-round pick on draft night for Robert Covington -- a strong move that solidified their playoff chances. Elleby wasn’t in my Top 60, and based on his limited minutes this season, it’s not clear that he should’ve been.

Houston Rockets

Draft Class:
Kenyon Martin Jr. (52)

2020 Grade: D
2021 Grade: B+

The Rockets were in a tough situation on draft night. James Harden wanted out. Russell Westbrook was still on the team. Should they keep acting like a contender, or was it time to blow things up?

They sent Covington to the Blazers and their 2020 first-round pick to Pistons for Christian Wood and two lottery-protected 2021 first-round picks. 

Before long, Westbrook was on his way to the Wizards for John Wall. Then, in January, the Rockets decided to completely blow things up, sending Harden to the Nets and getting back Victor Oladipo and an abundance of first-round picks.

That left them with Martin as their only 2020 draft prospect. Martin has gotten a lot of playing time in the second half of the season and played like a top-10 rookie. Jae'Sean Tate, an Ohio State senior who went undrafted, might be the even better get. He had the second-highest win shares rating of any rookie in the draft and was top 10 in VORP. He looks like a real keeper.

While the journey was messy, the Rockets ended up doing pretty well for both the 2020 and future drafts. 

Note:The LA Lakers traded away both of their draft picks on draft night.

What grade would you give your favorite team? Click the Leave a comment button below to tell us!

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