The NBA’s predraft process is going to be very different this season.
There is no guarantee that there will be a combine. No one knows if teams are going to be able to fly prospects in for workouts or for interviews. Hell, we don’t even know when (or if) the NBA is going to finish the season.
As of today, the draft is scheduled for June 25th. It seems fairly likely that will end up getting pushed back for the simple fact that the draft order cannot be determined until the season itself is complete.
That puts prospects that are testing the waters into a difficult spot. They are not going to be able to earn themselves a bump in the eyes of NBA GMs with impressive showings at the combine or in workouts. They are going to have to rely on the tape that they put together during the season itself and quite a bit of misinformation that is going to be floating around throughout the process.
Will it be worth it to go pro without knowing exactly what the league is going to look like next season? Will there be players that decide to return to school and try to play their way into being a higher pick next year? How much will the 2020 recruiting class — which is much more talented than this year’s class — factor into these decisions?
There are a lot of players that have quite a bit of soul-searching to do over the course of the next three months.
These 12 will have the biggest impact on the 2020-21 college basketball season.
These are the most influential NBA draft early entry decisions.
(One programming note: We only considered players that we think have real decisions. Dayton would be awesome if Obi Toppin comes back to school. Obi Toppin isn’t coming back to school.)
1. MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State
The Aztecs went 30-2 last season, and while they lost Yanni Wetzel and K.J. Feagin, they are on track to return enough talent that they should be considered the favorite to win the Mountain West regardless of what happens with Flynn. Matt Mitchell is coming back. Jordan Schakel is coming back. Nathan Mensah, who started over Wetzel before getting hurt, is coming back.
Flynn is the guy that’s up in the air. A redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Washington State, Flynn — who is projected as a second round pick — was the engine of SDSU’s high-powered offense. Brian Dutcher schemed him into ball screen after ball screen after ball screen, and he was one of the best players in the country at executing those actions. His situation reminds me a little bit of the spot that Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss was in after the 2017 season. He, too, was a redshirt junior coming off of an All-American season that was not guaranteed to be drafted, let alone drafted in the first round. But he opted to leave school, was the 55th pick in the draft and spent a couple of years playing at a very high level overseas before getting his shot with the Jazz this season. Flynn could end up following a similar path.
If he returns, the Aztecs will be a top ten team. If he opts to go pro, San Diego State will plummet out of the top 25.
2. LUKA GARZA, Iowa
This one should be obvious. Garza is coming off of a season where he averaged 23.8 points and 9.8 boards for a top 25 team, was named a first-team All-American and put himself alongside Dayton’s Obi Toppin in the race for National Player of the Year.
But he’s also in a unique spot where he doesn’t really project as a great pro because of his lack of athleticism and mobility. How often is a player that is that unquestionably good returns for another year in the collegiate ranks? Cassius Winston did it. Doug McDermott did it. It’s a big deal having him on the floor, to say nothing of the impact that he has on everyone else on that Iowa roster. The only reason he’s not No. 1 on this list is that Iowa has enough of a supporting cast that, without Garza, I still think they’re a tournament team.
They can win the Big Ten and a national title.
3. JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL, Villanova
Robinson-Earl is not the biggest name on Villanova that has a decision to make — that would be Saddiq Bey, who would be a preseason first-team All-American if he opted to come back to school — but I think his decision is much more influential on Villanova’s season than that of Bey.
The Wildcats have so many good guards. They are going to be absolutely loaded on the perimeter next year. Collin Gillespie is perennially underrated. Justin Moore was the most underappreciated freshman in America. Bryan Antoine should finally be healthy and ready to contribute. Caleb Daniels is going to be very, very good for Villanova. Brandon Slater. Cole Swider. Jeramine Samuels can even play the three is need be.
What they don’t have is much up front behind Robinson-Earl, who averaged 10.5 points and 9.4 boards while shooting 32.5 percent from three last season. Projected as a second round pick, Robinson-Earl is the kind of player that might be hurt by not being able to have workouts and get in front of NBA execs thanks to the coronavirus shutdown around the country.
If he does opt to leave, the Wildcats will be forced to play with either Dhamir Cosby-Rountree or Eric Dixon at the five. With Robinson-Earl I think Villanova is the favorite to win the national title. Without him, I think they’re more of a top 6-8 team in the country.
4. XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State
Michigan State is going to take a hit next season because they are losing Cassius Winston, but the Spartans will still have a chance to win the Big Ten title if they bring back Xavier Tillman. For my money, Tillman was an All-American this past season. He’s the anchor of Michigan State’s defense, a leader in the program and an underrated weapon offensively because of his ability to pass the ball. He’s the piece that brings everything else together for this roster.
And there are going to be some weapons there. Rocket Watts will be a year older, as will Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham. Joey Hauser will be eligible to play, and there’s a chance that Josh Langford will be back for his final season. But none of that really matters if Tillman isn’t there.
I think that he is a first round pick, especially in a year like this, and with a wife and two children already, I would not be surprised in the least to see him keep his name in the draft — he announced his intention to declare for the draft this week.
5. IMMANUEL QUICKLEY, Kentucky
The Wildcats are going to have an absolutely loaded freshman class in 2020-21. Terrence Clarke and B.J. Boston are the biggest names, but Devin Askew should have an impact at the point and the likes of Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware will push whoever is left in the frontcourt by the time things are settled in Lexington.
But what the Wildcats seem likely to lack is going to be any kind of veteran presence in their backcourt. I’m expecting Tyrese Maxey to declare and sign with an agent right away. Things should be more up in the air for both Nick Richards and Ashton Hagans, but I do think both will be drafted high enough that staying in the draft is the right decision. Quickley is more of a question mark. I think he’s legitimately 50-50 right now. He was the SEC Player of the Year as a spot-up shooter this season, and if he returns I would not be surprised to see him take over the point guard role.
That said, there’s still a chance that he is drafted anyway this year. If he leaves, Kentucky is a back-end top ten team in my mind. If he’s back, however, they’re a top five team and a very real title contender.
6. JALEN SUGGS, Gonzaga
Suggs is in a different situation than everyone else on this list. He’s an incoming freshman, but there has been some scuttle that he could end up going to Australia for his one-and-done season instead of playing college basketball. As a dynamic lead guard that can create for himself, he is precisely the piece that the Zags are going to need next season.
Now, he’s not the only guy weighing professional options. Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Filip Petrusev all will have a decision to make. Oddly enough, the guy most likely to leave — Petrusev — is probably the guy that Gonzaga can most afford to lose. With a backcourt of Suggs, Kispert and Ayayi, the Zags will be a top three team in the preseason regardless of who starts at the four and the five.
7. JARED BUTLER, Baylor
I currently have the Bears sitting as the No. 3 team in my preseason top 25, and that’s assuming that Butler is coming back to school. That, however, is not a guarantee. Butler showed enough as a scorer this past season that he could end up getting picked in the second round of the draft, and that has been enough to make worse players opt to leave school.
The big issue with Baylor this past season is that they went through stretches where they just couldn’t score. Butler is, by far, their best scorer. Without him, how long will those scoring droughts last?
8. AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
At this point, I don’t think that Ayo Dosunmu is coming back to school even after the season that he had. That doesn’t mean that he is a lock to be a top 45 pick. He’s a 6-foot-5 slasher that isn’t great creating for others and actually saw his three-point shooting dip as a sophomore. He is, however, a terrific talent for Illinois, and if he does end up coming back to school, the Illini will work their way back into my preseason top 25 somewhere.
9. WENDELL MOORE, Duke
This one is pretty simple. Assuming that Vernon Carey Jr. and Cassius Stanley follow Tre Jones to the NBA, Duke could end up starting four freshmen next season. Wendell Moore could end up being the veteran on this roster, if he opts to return to school. After a rough start to his freshman season, he came on strong towards the end of the years, and his slashing skill-set should fit really well next to Jalen Johnson and D.J. Steward. With him back, I think Duke is a borderline top ten team.
Without him, they are very, very young. Or playing Joey Baker.
10. YVES PONS, Tennessee
Pons is definitely not a guy that is going to make any preseason All-American lists if he opts to return to school, but he may just be the best defensive player in all of college basketball. At 6-foot-6 and easily the best athlete in the sport, Pons can quite literally guard anyone from a point guard to a center. And he can make a step-in three. His presence will allow the Vols to play all kinds of small-ball lineups, which is exactly what they need to do with the number of talented guards on their roster.
He is a borderline first round pick in my mind, although I would expect him to go in the second round if he leave. With Pons back, I have Tennessee at No. 14, and that may be too low.
11. JAY SCRUBB, Louisville
Scrubb is a shooter than can handle the ball at 6-foot-6, and given that he performed well at the Nike Basketball Academy over the summer, there will be some legitimate interest in him as a prospect. How much interest is a question that might have been answered better if he had a chance to workout and interview with NBA teams. He is a JuCo transfer that is scheduled to enroll at Louisville this summer. As of now, if NBA teams are basing decisions off of a camp from last summer and tape of JuCo games, that may push him towards playing a season in the ACC, and with Scrubb on the roster, I think the Cards are a top 25 team once again.
12. TRENDON WATFORD, LSU
The Tigers are already losing Skylar Mays to graduation, and it would not be surprising to see Javonte Smart and Emmitt Williams at the very least test the waters, but with five-star Cam Thomas headlining a solid crop of newcomers, Will Wade should have a pretty solid team. Watford, a bucket-getting combo-forward, could end up being their best player if he comes back to school.