NBA Draft 2020: Where players would go if they were assigned to the closest NBA team to their college

Put your imagination into hyperdrive and picture with me an alternate universe. One in which Kevin Durant, after an epic season at the University of Texas in 2006-2007, goes on to become a multi-time All-Star for the San Antonio Spurs. One in which Anthony Davis, on the heels of a brilliant and brief Kentucky career, goes on to enjoy the same success with the Indianapolis Pacers. A universe where Ben Simmons lands not with the Philadelphia 76ers out of college, but with the New Orleans Pelicans.

That's a reality that could exist if college stars who entered the NBA Draft were automatically assigned to the NBA team nearest their institution of higher learning.

An obvious spoiler alert: this will never happen. The Charlotte Hornets would be loaded with Duke one-and-done phenoms. The Pacers would become Kentucky North. And ultimately, college recruiting would get even more nefarious, the spread of talent in the NBA wouldn't properly address and reward successful or unsuccessful teams, and the league as a whole would be imbalanced. Luck and geography would play a bigger role in franchise success than forethought. It'd be the lottery system in bizarro world on steroids, skewed to accommodate teams in favorable regions. Sure, it'd be fun for a bit. But when the Boston Celtics are suddenly stuck building around Jayson Tatum with ex-UMass and Rhode Island standouts it may quickly wear on folks.

Nevertheless, I know you've got your imagination in high gear, and so do I. So let's picture that alternative universe, shall we? Here is where the top NBA Draft prospects -- based on my updated Top 100 Big Board -- would land in this year's class if this was indeed a reality and prospects were assigned to the NBA team nearest their college. For this exercise, international players with ties to the U.S. are assigned to the franchise nearest their home town, and international players with no direct U.S. ties are assigned to the franchise nearest the international team they last represented. Every top-60 player in our rankings found a destination, but due to geographic locations, not every NBA team was awarded players. (Sorry, Knicks. There's always next year.)


  • No. 5 Anthony Edwards, SG (Georgia)
  • No. 7 Isaac Okoro, SF (Auburn)
  • No. 17 Kira Lewis Jr., PG (Alabama)

Whoo boy, what a draft haul this would be for Travis Schlenk. Thanks to some stars staying close to the ATL to play their college ball, the Hawks would add Georgia's Anthony Edwards, Auburn's Isaac Okoro and Alabama's Kira Lewis Jr. to its ever-growing stockpile of young talent. Talk about a coup. All three are top-20 prospects on our Big Board. It's clear the Hawks will need to address the wing spot in this draft to upgrade depth and defense, and getting Okoro and Edwards -- plus a young point guard in Kira Lewis Jr. -- would be a massive win to help push forward one of the East's most electric young collection of players led by Trae Young.

  • No. 4 Deni Avdija, SF (Isreal)
  • No. 11 Theo Maledon, PG (Villeurbanne)
  • No. 15 Aleksej Pokusevski, C (Greece)
  • No. 57 Abdoulaye N'doye, SF (France)

Boston strikes out on the college scene, but absolutely hits the jackpot with the international stars of the class. Not only do the Celtics get Israel's Deni Avdija in this exercise to add to their depth and playmaking in the frontcourt, they also get Theo Maledon to give them a reliable point guard behind Kemba Walker. And one of the most intriguing late-risers in the draft, 7-foot Aleksej Pokusevski, falls to the C's, too. In terms of plugging roster holes this is about as perfect as things could fall.

  • No. 14 Cole Anthony, PG (North Carolina)
  • No. 21 Cassius Stanley, SF (Duke)
  • No. 29 Vernon Carey Jr., C (Duke)
  • No. 35 Tre Jones, PG (Duke)
  • No. 37 Grant Riller, PG (Charleston)

So Charlotte basically turns to Duke in this exercise. The Hornets get three former Blue Devils in Cassius Stanley, Vernon Carey Jr. and Tre Jones, and also add UNC's Cole Anthony and Charleston's Grant Riller to the mix to boot. Three point guards, a forward and a center. It's an odd combination of talents but the scoring Anthony and Riller could contribute specifically would be a win for Michael Jordan's Hornets, no question

  • No. 34 Paul Reed, PF (DePaul)

Though the quantity is small, the quality in this class is good for Chicago here in landing Paul Reed -- one of the draft's most versatile defenders. There's some upside here as well as an offensive player for Reed, who shot 40.5% from 3-point range two seasons ago before tailing off last season. Reed ranks No. 34 on the Big Board.

  • No. 24 RJ Hampton, SG (Little Elm, Texas)
  • No. 38 Jared Butler, SG (Baylor)
  • No. 39 Desmond Bane, SF (TCU)

Put simply, this class would be about as on brand as I hope the Mavs actually go in this class. With Luka Doncic, they already have a foundational piece. So getting shooters to surround him with will be key. This class would absolutely accomplish that mission, with Bane shooting better than 42% from 3-point range last season. Butler and Hampton have real shooting potential as well, and both can get their own shots off the bounce. I'm very much in on this.

  • No. 48 Tyler Bey, SF (Colorado)

Not super athletic, not ultra-skilled offensively, but Tyler Bey's 3-point shooting and defense should give Denver some juice at the forward spot to help it compete for the top of the West. He shot 41.9% from 3-point range last season and was fifth in the Pac-12 in steals per game.

  • No. 42 Cassius Winston, PG (Michigan State)
  • No. 25 Xavier Tillman, PF (Michigan State)

Detroit gets the core of a Michigan State team that was preseason No. 1 in college basketball last season. Neither Winston nor Tillman are particularly flashy players in their own right, but Winston's an underrated lead guard who can shoot it -- like, really shoot it. And Tillman's a do-it-all forward who makes winning plays. The type of big who analytics love because he screens hard, rebounds well and embraces his ability to defend from the post to the perimeter.

  • No. 20 Tyrell Terry, PG (Stanford)
  • No. 53 Malik Fitts, SF (Saint Mary's)

Tyrell Terry is the crown jewel of this class. He's an elite shooter who, as a freshman at Stanford last season, rated out in the 95th percentile in off-screen shooting situations. He also hit on 40.8% of his 3-pointers for the year. There's perhaps no one-and-done player whose stock has seen a more rapid incline than his, and he gives the Dubs another lethal offensive weapon to the arsenal. Malik Fitts, a 6-8 forward, falls into the same category, too, having shot a combined 40.7% from 3-point range the last two seasons.

  • No. 6 Obi Toppin, PF (Dayton)
  • No. 19 Tyrese Maxey, PG (Kentucky)
  • No. 30 Jay Scrubb, SG (Louisville commitment)
  • No. 44 Immanuel Quickley, SG (Kentucky)
  • No. 46 Jordan Nwora, SF (Louisville)
  • No. 47 Ashton Hagans, PG (Kentucky)
  • No. 55 Ayo Dosunmu, PG (Illinois)
  • No. 59 Naji Marshall, SF (Xavier)

The Pacers benefit more than any other franchise by their locale, getting a whopping eight (!) prospects -- including the entire Kentucky backcourt of Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley. Oh, and to top that, Obi Toppin is included in the package as the bow on top of an impressive haul. Somewhere, Pacers GM Chad Buchanan is, probably lobbying for this whole assignment universe to be put into motion immediately given this impressive haul.

  • No. 3 Onyeka Okongwu, C (USC)

Google Maps tells me the distance between USC and both the Lakers and Clippers practice facilities is close enough that it takes almost the same time to drive to each facility from the Galen Center depending on traffic. And since the Lakers are still the clear winners of this exercise in the L.A. area, more on that next, we're going to share the wealth and award Okongwu -- an elite defender with massive offensive upside -- to the Clips. Okongwu is the No. 3 prospect on our board.

  • No. 1 LaMelo Ball, PG (Chino Hills, California)
  • No. 45 Malachi Flynn, PG (San Diego State)

The Lakers snagged No. 1 prospect LaMelo Ball by way of this exercise, just narrowly edging out the Clippers, whose practice facility is 1.1 miles further away from Chino Hills than the Lakers' training facility. Ball would become the second NBA prospect from his own family to join the Lakers organization, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Lonzo, who was the No. 2 pick in 2017. In addition to Ball, they also grabbed San Diego State star Malachi Flynn -- a high-level pick-and-roll facilitator who projects into the NBA as a reliable backup guard in large part because of his shot-making versatility.

  • No. 8 James Wiseman, C (Memphis)
  • No. 10 Aaron Nesmith, SF (Vanderbilt)
  • No. 31 Precious Achiuwa, PF (Memphis)
  • No. 43 Robert Woodard, SF (Mississippi State)
  • No. 58 Reggie Perry, C (Mississippi State)

Someone call the authorities. This is an absolute heist. The most physically gifted big man in this class in Wiseman? Memphis-bound. The best pure shooter in this class in Nesmith? Memphis-bound. Two freakishly-talented forwards in Achiuwa and Woodard? Yeah, you know the deal. Have mercy. The Grizz are already well-positioned to be one of the most fun teams of the decade with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., and these additions would only solidify their standing in that regard.

  • No. 28 Leandro Bolmaro, SF (Argentina)

The Heat get depth at the wing spot with the addition of Leandro Bolmaro, a 6-8 forward with great positional size, fluid athleticism and untapped potential. He's more of a wait-and-see prospect -- extra seasoning overseas could do him well -- but the physical tools could net Miami a big payoff down the road if they're patient.

  • No. 9 Tyrese Haliburton, PG (Iowa State)
  • No. 41 Daniel Oturu, C (Minnesota)
  • No. 56 Ty-Shon Alexander, SG (Creighton)

Minnesota gets a splash of everything here with a three-position class, but the obvious windfall is with Tyrese Haliburton. Some talent evaluators believe he'd be best positioned to succeed in a place where a primary initiator is already in place, and voila -- Minnesota with D'Angelo Russell makes perfect sense. He shot better than 42% from 3-point range in his two-year career at Iowa State, has tremendous size and length, and plays with the IQ to match the production.

  • No. 49 Trendon Watford, SF (LSU)
  • No. 54 Skylar Mays, SG (LSU)

In the 2020 draft, the Pelicans have three second-rounders to spend. So this two-person LSU class is actually a quite realistic one. In Watford they'd get a combo forward with good size and rebounding skills. And in Mays, they'd get a combo guard with great bounce and feel whose 3-point shot really came together in his final college go-round last year. Neither are going to be game-changing adds in their own right, but for New Orleans, quality pieces to surround Zion Williamson with.

  • No. 18 Jahmi'us Ramsey, SG (Texas Tech)
  • No. 36 Devon Dotson, PG (Kansas)
  • No. 50 Isaiah Joe, SG (Arkansas)

Devon Dotson would give the Thunder a reliable ball-handler who can play both ways and provide relief as a backup. Isaiah Joe and Jahmi'us Ramsey would give them two elite perimeter shooters who have the chops to become two of the best 3-point shooters to come out of this draft class.

  • No. 2 Killian Hayes, PG (Born in Lakeland, Florida)
  • No. 12 Devin Vassell, SF (Florida State
  • No. 23 Patrick Williams, PF (Florida State)
  • No. 60 Kenyon Martin Jr., SF (IMG Academy)

The steal of this four-man class is Killian Hayes, the French point guard who was born in Lakeland. He's a 6-5 lead guard who can create for others with good vision and also for himself with a shifty stepback move, giving Orlando a real primary guard to push Markelle Fultz. Florida State products Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams are classic Magic adds that would make sense, too, both being long and rangy defensive menaces.

  • No. 16 Saddiq Bey, SF (Villanova)

The Sixers drafted Villanova 3-and-D wing Mikal Bridges in 2018, but ultimately traded him to the Suns an hour later in a draft-night stunner. This time, they draft their Villanova man, Saddiq Bey, and keep him. Bey is an ultra-versatile defender who can guard 1-4 and can shoot the lights out from 3-point range. He's coming off a breakout sophomore season in which he shot 45.1% from distance.

  • No. 13 Josh Green, SG (Arizona)
  • No. 32 Nico Mannion, PG (Arizona)
  • No. 40 Zeke Nnaji, PF (Suns)

DeAndre Ayton went from the University of Arizona to the Suns, and so here the three draft-eligible Wildcats of this class -- Josh Green, Nico Mannion and Zeke Nnaji -- follow suit. The trio would help bolster Phoenix's backcourt, and Nnaji would give the team a high energy big who would really complement Ayton in the frontcourt.

  • No. 27 Isaiah Stewart, C (Washington)
  • No. 33 Jaden McDaniels, PF (Washington)
  • No. 51 Payton Pritchard, PG (Oregon)
  • No. 52 Killian Tillie, PF (Gonzaga)

The Pacific Northwest, it turns out, is quite a fine area from which to cultivate talent. So that's to the Trail Blazers' benefit here as they land one-and-done Washington stars Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, and also bring in Gonzaga's Killian Tillie and Oregon's Payton Pritchard. Stewart and McDaniels are first-round ilk, and Tillie is, too, health willing. I'd argue Tillie's impact of this quartet would be greatest on this team if healthy. Skilled bigs who can shoot the lights out the way he does don't come around often.

  • No. 22 Elijah Hughes, SF (Syracuse)

In Elijah Hughes, the Raptors get one of the most underrated wings in this draft class out of Syracuse. Hughes averaged 19.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game as a junior last season while shooting 34.1% from 3-point range on high volume as the team's No. 1 option. He has a big frame, can create shots for himself, effortlessly knocks down shots off the bounce, and gets to his spots at will. The perfect fit for a Raptors franchise that prioritizes smarts and shooting.

  • No. 25 Jalen Smith, C (Maryland)

The list of second-year college players who boosted their NBA stock significantly in 2019-20 begins and ends with Jalen Smith. He needed to become a more aggressive rebounder, to improve as an outside shooter, and to tune up his shot-blocking in a frontcourt without Bruno Fernando. Check, check and check. He averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 boards, 2.4 blocks and shot 36.8% from 3-point range -- up from 26.8% a season ago. He's now longer just a big man with floor-spacing potential. He's a floor-spacing big man. Period. There's room for him to thrive in the NBA and enjoy a long career with that skill set.

Teams that missed on the regional draft: Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz

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