Not every NBA Draft prospect is created equal.
Some have the potential to be multi-time All-Stars as the face of a franchise. Others have the potential to be high-end role players, adding value outside the surface level of statistical production.
Both are necessary to succeed. There is no right or wrong spectrum on which to favor between the two. The Bulls dynasty perhaps never happens without Dennis Rodman, a quintessential role player. Maybe the Warriors dynasty doesn't happen with Draymond Green -- a defensive dynamo who does all the little things to impact winning.
But at the end of the day, star power in the NBA is a rare and precious commodity. Spend a top pick on anything other but a swing to get one, and you may as well trade down to get better value. Having a star can separate the difference between a title contender and a lottery team. If you have it, you've got a chance to really build something. If you don't, chances are you might be the New York Knicks, toiling in mediocrity (or something beneath it).
With that in mind, I've compiled -- and ranked -- the players with the most star potential in the 2020 NBA Draft class. The prospects with the potential to be true difference-makers. I landed on eight.
Think of this not as a Big Board (which you can find here), but as a power ranking of potential for the upcoming draft class. Let's go.
1. LaMelo Ball, Illawarra Hawks
Big Board rank: No. 1
There are few more polarizing prospects in this class than Ball. It's impossible to overlook his talent with the way he sees the court and navigates it, which is tops among all in this class. And that combination suggests his game is tailor-made to succeed in the space-and-pace heavy NBA, where his feel, vision and creation abilities will come to light.
But the red flags are equally as glaring. From his diminutive frame -- (he's 6-foot-7 but a listed 181 pounds, and quite clearly needs to add muscle) -- to his shooting struggles (25% from 3-point range in the NBL), there's reason to believe I should tap my brakes a bit here. But I just fueled up and hit the accelerator. As he grows into his frame and develops as a shooter he has a chance to be the superstar of this class.
Big Board rank: No. 5
Like Ball, Edwards is a divisive prospect with incredible tools mixed in with some imperfections. On one hand, he's an explosive athlete and leaper who can create his own shot at a high level, with the physical tools teams prioritize in a modern-day guard/wing.
On the other hand, putting it all together effectively and efficiently may be years away from taking shape -- if ever. He was an inefficient volume scorer at Georgia on a bad team, and his shot selection was ... not great (but voluminous nonetheless!) Even with all the physical gifts, some evaluators see him as a good-stats-bad-team type project who needs to develop significantly as a decision-maker if he's going to max out his potential. The fit and situation he enters will be key to his success.
Despite all that, the positives and the upside will outweigh many of the negatives as teams evaluate him. There are simply too many tools to pass on, and teams always believe no matter the imperfections, they are correctable. Plus, he doesn't turn 19 years old until August, making him one of the youngest and most explosive athletes in the entire class. In this draft especially, where star power is at a premium, all of that should make Edwards one of the most tantalizing prospects in the draft.
3. James Wiseman, Memphis
Big Board rank: No. 8
Here's the deal with Wiseman: there seems to be Wiseman fatigue. He was hyped up for months after signing with Memphis as the No. 1 recruit, only to play in just three collegiate games before bowing out amid an NCAA scandal, putting a wet blanket on the hype machine that was the 2019 college hoops offseason. In the end, we never really got to see him become the superstar we thought he'd be.
That shouldn't preclude us from buying the hype that's trailed him throughout his high school and college career, though. We're talking about a 7-1 center with a 7-6 (!) wingspan who can run the floor well, operate as a pick-and-roll savant, and clean up around the rim on both ends as both a lob finisher and shot-blocker.
The value of big men in the NBA is decreasing by the year, but a center with Wiseman's physical tools and size don't come around every year.
4. Obi Toppin, Dayton
Big Board rank: No. 6
Toppin, the reigning Naismith National Player of the Year from Dayton, is an athletic vortex. He sucks you in with his high-flying antics but keeps you coming back with his skill and versatility. That's what NBA teams will love about his game -- and why he'll almost certainly be a top-10 pick.
Defensively, don't think there's any question he will struggle; he has a hard time moving laterally and probably won't be able to defend much, if any, on the perimeter. But his scoring threat and ability to act as a versatile offensive weapon who can drill 3-pointers, pass out of the short roll and finish lobs is going to have an instant impact for a team in need of frontcourt help. Playing above-the-rim the way he does is going to make him one of the most thrilling watches in the NBA right away.
5. Killian Hayes, France
Big Board rank: No. 2
There's nothing flashy about Hayes in particular: he's an average athlete with no real bounce who can't quite blow bast defenders with speed. Yet everything he does, he does well. From reading and reacting on the fly, making plays for himself and for others, and scoring at every level, he feels like one of the safest gambles (air quotes) among lottery prospects this year.
And he's not even 19 years old.
Hayes' game has really evolved offensively over the last year, too. He's always been an incredible passer with good touch around the rim, but he's improved his consistency from outside and added some tools -- like a Harden-esque stepback -- to his arsenal to make him even more difficult to defend.
Big Board rank: No. 10
There's endless value in the modern NBA in wings who can score it, and whoo boy, can Nesmith do that. Before a season-ending injury last season he was leading the SEC in scoring, averaging 52.2% from the 3-point line. And check how he compared nationally as a shooter, per Synergy:
- 95th percentile as a spot-up shooter
- 97th percentile off screens
- 96th percentile off hand offs
The array in which Nesmith can score is as impressive as the volume in which he can fill it up. He is the best shooter in the 2020 NBA Draft class, and despite limitations he may have right now as a pure creator, the skill of scoring should carry him far.
Big Board rank: No. 14
Anthony was the all-everything initiating presence for an underwhelming North Carolina team short on talent last season, a role that masked his real potential as a spark plug scorer who can catalyze an offense.
The Tar Heels product fits the archetype of a score-first lead guard who can capably quarterback an offense, but will really thrive as a scorer in the NBA. Just how prosperous he'll be in that role, however, is subject to a variety of debate. Some see him as a potential combo guard worthy of a top-10 pick given his scoring upside. Others, as a lethal bench shooter who can add value in a smaller role ... and not much else. If he develops into more of the former he could become a star.
8. Aleksej Pokusevski, Serbia
Big Board rank: No. 15
Serbian big man Pokusevski is cloaked in mystery, having been stowed away last season on Olympiacos' B team. And because of that, his exposure has been minimal, making his draft stock even more difficult to parse since the predraft process has effectively been stalled.
But here's no mystery: NBA teams are going to see a 7-footer who, while skinny as a twig, moves like a forward and shoots like one, too. He's raw, sure, and skinny, yes, but he's also brimming with potential. For the right team willing to invest in his physical and on-court development it could be a major success story down the road.