Remember the good old days when your kindergarten class would have a Valentine’s Day celebration? Everyone would bring in a decorated shoebox with a slot in the top, as well as a massive bag of valentines to deliver. We’d go around the room and slip them to our friends and classmates, then anxiously open them later to read what our peers would write in a personalized manner.
The adult world doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. But on this Valentine’s Day in 2020, we need a little injection of love. So I’m going to slip these nuggets into the decorated shoeboxes of four of my favorite NBA Draft prospects. Hopefully, they feel the adulation and enjoy their Friday just a little more.
At the very least, we can share in the admiration for good basketball. Currently, none of these four prospects are widely considered lottery picks, although a few isolated posts may select them as such. I’m crushing on them, though, and they could be poised to climb draft boards if someone else looks at them the way I do.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – F
The 2020 draft class is enigmatic and lacks high-level stars. There are no runaway top picks without major flaws, and there are no franchise-changing scorers outside of possibly Anthony Edwards or potentially Tyrese Maxey.
If one characteristic exists in this class, however, it’s depth. There aren’t many talents worth of being in the top-ten, but there are plenty of first-round talents available—particularly at the big spots.
NBA general managers picking in the mid-to-late lottery will be on the clock for an intriguing case study in how to handle weak drafts. Do they trade down and try to maximize bites at the apple, acquiring multiple picks from a team who does feel certain about one guy? Do they take a safer bet player because so many prospects have question-marks and franchises cannot afford to get burned? Do they gamble on a high-risk, knowing the field is so volatile that they might as well take a shot this year?
If there’s one player to gamble on, it should be Precious Achiuwa.
The Memphis Tigers’ tumultuous season under Penny Hardaway has been a drain on Achiuwa, but he’s still averaging around 15 and 10 as the focal point of their attack. What intrigues me is the notion of drafting Achiuwa and developing him as a mobile 5-man, a relatively weak position in this draft. His former teammate James Wiseman is likely a lottery pick due to his freakish athleticism, which cannot be turned down, but if viewed through the lens of putting him at the 5, Achiuwa is the next best prospect at the position.
Achiuwa’s best games come in the pick-and-roll, where he’s able to use his athleticism to abuse his covers. He’s a long finisher, particularly off the short roll whe has at least ten feet to glide to the hoop.
He’s also able to beat switching defenses with tight seals and has shown a propensity to make smart reads off the pick-and-pop:
The perception of Achiuwa as a screener will likely make or break his draft stock. Someone who sees him as a 5 likely views him more favorably than someone who thinks he’s more of a mismatch-4 and occasional 5.
The Wiseman suspension and subsequent departure from school may have done wonders for how scouts view Achiuwa as a long-term prospect under the right lens.
Devin Vassell, Florida State – W
Meet the NBA’s next defensive stopper.
Vassell is long, lean and skilled with moving his feet. But it’s his instinctual defense and off-ball rotations that make him such a high-level prospect. He flashed them all against Duke earlier in the week:
Vassell’s depth of impact on a game is insane. He flies all around the floor, making plays both captured by the box score and unquantifiable. His length is an asset but not the crutch he leans on for effectiveness. He moves his feet, is positionally sound and knows when and how to gamble.
He’s a winning player, pure and simple
There are some flashes of offensive upside that should make Vassell difficult to pass on. He’s a strong 3-point shooter and has even shown a glimpse of some creativity one-on-one. A sure-thing role player should be highly touted in a weak draft, and I’d have a difficult time accepting Vassell as less than a lottery pick.
Jalen Smith, Maryland – ATH
Since January 1st, Jalen Smith is averaging 17.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while shooting 46.2 percent from 3-point range on 3.5 attempts per game. The Terrapins have won seven in a row in Big Ten play, and are up to ninth in the country.
Earlier this week against Nebraska, Smith saved the game with a game-winning block:
The biggest tests for their team—and for Smith individually—are upcoming, as Maryland plays Michigan State twice, Michigan once and Ohio State, all of whom feature NBA prospects at the center position.
Smith has long intrigued me as a small-ball 5 due to his shot-blocking instincts, stretch-shooting ability and insane athleticism. He garnered a top-five prospect on my preseason list and, while that may have been overambitious, there’s plenty to love about Smith.
If he can keep this streak rolling against some of the more anchored, physical bigs like Xavier Tillman (Michigan State), Jon Teske (Michigan) and Kaleb Wesson (Ohio State), Smith should be one of the hotter names to watch heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Kira Lewis, Alabama – CG
A few names are in the class’ top tier of playmaking guards.
Anthony Edwards of Georgia is on his own plane with his superior physical gifts. Tyrese Maxey of Kentucky, Arizona’s Nico Mannion and even LaMelo Ball receive praise for how they run the show. Following that group is a large glut of international names and a few fringe collegiate guys pushing for the best-guard-on-the-board slot outside the top ten.
That designation should go to Kira Lewis Jr. of Alabama:
Lewis is breathtakingly quick in the full-court and is one of the few players who can create a shot at any time for himself or his teammates. His finishing package must improve a bit, though the natural ability to get into the lane is something that cannot be taught.
He’s a solid shooter and can pull-up whenever he’d like. While a tad right-hand dominant, he’s quick enough that he gets past most defenders who play his strong side.
Perhaps his best trait is his defensive impact.
Lewis can keep elite guards in front and has some of the quickest hands you’ll see. He’s a pest if he wants to be and, yes, that’s a backhanded compliment. Lewis has to be more attuned as an off-ball defender, feel a bit more onus to help on the glass and improve his overall strength… Actually, it’s a must considering he lacks truly elite verticality.
But Lewis can be taught to improve many of his shortcomings. The natural gifts are there, and he’s already exhibited high-level playmaking, three-level scoring and quality on-ball defense. It just needs to be harnessed consistently.
Lewis is still only 18 years old despite this being his sophomore year at Alabama. His relative youth despite two years of playing at a high level in the SEC uniquely positions him to be a well-known high-upside prospect. He’s shown enough in bursts to make me comfortable with calling him the best long-term creator outside that top tier.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of NBA.com, Sports-Reference or Synergy Sports Tech, and are current as of February 13, 2020.
Adam is a TBW staff writer and college basketball coach at Dickinson College. He loves watching for offensive schemes while specializing in individual skill development, shooting technique and coach-speak. Born in New Hampshire, Adam grew up as a Celtics fan but now claims to just love “good basketball”, which does not include mid-range jumpers.