2020 NBA Draft: The Wild Cards

We all know the phrase: high risk, high reward.

Like many aspects in real life, there are decisions that an NBA general manager can make to live on the wild side. They’ll swing for the fences on a prospect with tantalizing upside and clear, plausible downside.

These prospects are polarizing and likely have a wide range of selection spots and future scenarios on draft night.

Here are four such guys whose draft stock is all over the place. Whether due to a crazy-high ceiling or questionable NBA fit, a consensus hasn’t been reached about where these talented players may land.

Jaden McDaniels – ATH, Washington

Coming into the season, Jaden McDaniels was a top ten prospect in my book. His combination of length, athleticism and fluidity checked so many boxes that it was difficult to ignore.

But McDaniels struggled during his lone year at Washington, and it’s gotten to the point where many scouts, including myself, have soured on his upside.

McDaniels can score, and do so in volume. He’s a pull-up-happy maestro with a seven-foot wingspan and some flashes of high-level ball handling.

In a draft without high-level, one-on-one scorers, McDaniels’ skills stand out more than usual. Transition finishes, difficult jab-step moves, a solid statistical output from behind the arc: The upside is there for him to be a three-level scorer.

Upside is the key word, however. For every great play McDaniels made at Washington, he made two negatives. He led the conference in fouls and was second in turnovers with 100.

His footwork in isolation was inconsistent. His decision-making somehow was worse. Little of what McDaniels does blends in well with others.

Essentially, for him to play the role he’s accustomed to on a winning team, he’ll have to drastically improve his efficiency and ball security so he’s deserving of that volume.

McDaniels will also have concerns around strength and defense hounding him on draft night, which is where the mystery comes in.

Skill on offense isn’t the only area for McDaniels to tighten. He must transform his body and become more functionally strong: Too often this year, his high center of gravity was used against him.

He’s also a bit of an unknown on defense after playing in Washington’s 2-3 zone the entire season.

As the draft approaches, guys with high risk like McDaniels tend to drop. He’s gone from a high-end lottery pick to a questionable first-rounder. The 2020 crop is weak on star power, which could help him, but he’s not a prospect in my top 50.

Yet, I do understand the attraction based on his physical profile and how fluidly he moves.

Alexsej Pokusevski – ATH, Olympiacos B

A 7’0″ 18-year-old with perimeter skill in a draft like this? Alexsej Polusevski isn’t just a tantalizing prospect, he’s this year’s International Man of Mystery.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of Pokusevski when he’s framed as a unicorn offensive prospect.

He’s got those rebound-and-run skills so coveted in a frontcourt guy, mostly because he plays more like a wing. He’s been deployed as someone who attacks closeouts, comes off screens and spends 90 percent of his time on the perimeter.

But here’s my question on Pouksevski: What skill does he have that gives optimism about his ability to put the ball in the hoop?

His highlight packages show unique flashes of skill, particularly in areas NBA teams like, but none of them have to do with scoring. Is he just a uniquely-sized role player?

Poku isn’t an elite athlete, and he’s thinner than a spaghetti strap. He’s a solid shooter but he isn’t consistent, and his form is a little rigid. His range is as wide as any prospect I’ve seen, yet he appears to be a first-round lock this year.

Guys with his perimeter skill and length don’t come along every draft.

Any team drafting Pokusevski does so with the understanding that it will be 2-3 years minimum before he makes an NBA impact. He’s a home run swing that could go in the top ten if someone is enamored.

I’m not as high on him as most, simply because I don’t see him becoming a reliable scorer, even if the skill package he’s flashed is understandably attractive.

Tyler Bey – F, Colorado

Mar 14, 2020; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Colorado Buffaloes guard Tyler Bey (1) shoots over Washington State Cougars forward Jeff Pollard (13) during the first half at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Bey bounces around on draft boards quite frequently, and it seems there are three divisive factors surrounding his draft stock.

The first: Shooting. He was 13-31 (41.9 percent) his junior year at Colorado, a solid percentage with really low usage. Bey was a putrid 5-28 his first two seasons, though.

The second: Age. Bey is 22 years old, and an unproven shooter at his age rarely sniffs the first round, regardless of how projectable his role might be.

The third: Position. Bey is only 6’7″, so belief in his perimeter skill is essential to buying him as a long-term prospect. He doesn’t have great assist numbers or a track record of creating for others. His primary spot on offense at Colorado was with his back to the basket, as 29.1 percent of his usage came in post-up situations.

Sometimes, the simplest answers to the doubts are just diving into the film and seeing what a player actually does well.

Bey’s game is indeed pretty simple: He’s a monster defender, an elite athlete and he scores around the bucket. Those skills never go out of style:

Bey is a defensive specialist who crushes guys in isolation, moves his feet well, would be an excellent rebounder at the forward spot and can, in small stretches, guard 5s. Taking him means feeling comfortable with the contributions he can make on the other end, or lack thereof.

It’s not that Bey isn’t a good scorer, it’s that he’s an unproven commodity and an odd fit. What he was asked to do at Colorado, and what he did well, are different than what his NBA role will be.

He wasn’t a great creator on the perimeter, he wasn’t frequently a spot-up threat, and the Buffaloes didn’t pound the ball through the pick-and-roll to show off his finishing skills there. These become wildcards when envisioning him within the Association.

Bey’s been all over big boards and mock drafts, but this is a guy who can lock down multiple positions, a reliable skill that he’s elite at in this class.

He could knock on the door of the first-round as a result, or he could slip far later thanks to concerns over his shooting, age and true position.

Reggie Perry – F, Mississippi State

Feb 25, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Reggie Perry (1) handles the ball while defended by Alabama Crimson Tide forward Javian Davis (0) during the second half at Humphrey Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

About a year ago, Reggie Perry turned heads with USA Basketball and became a trendy prospect to watch. He returned to Mississippi State, guiding the Bulldogs to back-to-back 20-win seasons in a difficult SEC.

Under the tutelage of head coach Ben Howland, (the former UCLA coach who has helped produce quite a few NBA All-Stars), Perry has prepared himself as a unique frontcourt prospect. He’s not an elite scorer or defender, but he’s pretty well-rounded, shoots it effectively for his size and has the potential to be a gold mine of frontcourt playmaking ability.

Part of what garnered Perry MVP honors with the FIBA U-19 Games last summer was his elite rebounding prowess. He looked like a man among boys, and he backed up that showing by averaging a double-double at Mississippi State, (17.4 ppg. and 10.1 rpg.).

He’s the perfect person to resurrect an old debate about positions and how the discussion is framed: Perry is 6’10” with a seven-foot wingspan, slender build and a heck of a lot of athleticism. Scouts differ on whether he’s a 4, a smaller 5, has the ability to play both or is caught in-between in a negative way.

In essence, he can be seen as “multi-positional” or a “tweener”, which are the same term with wildly different connotations.

This mostly comes into play on defense, as how a player is deployed on the other end is due to the skills they have. Perry is an outstanding passer and appears comfortable beyond the 3-point line.

The upside of his offensive game has some blending of Pascal Siakam and Paul Millsap to it, which is certainly high praise:

If we’re to dive into his defense, there’s a worry about how he moves his feet when guarding the perimeter. Perry is a tad slow once he arrives to his closeouts and is a serial over-helper. Defense is a huge part of whether he’s a 4 or a 5, an important part of his evalution.

The other is how consistent his perimeter offense is. There’s a good deal of volume to playmaking and shooting evidence in Perry’s college film, but he struggled with turnovers and didn’t shoot the highest percentage.

Front offices will have to feel comfortable that he can make the shots, not just take them.

Perry has been a sleeper favorite for some and an end-of-the-2nd-round prospect to others. His range is wide, albeit consistently outside the top 20.

He’s an interesting name to watch as the draft approaches either way. I have him right on the border of being a first-round pick and think his best days are as a 5, just like he showed in the FIBA World Games.