While traditional big men are a dying breed in today’s fast-paced, spread-out game, there are still a number of skilled bigs making an impact in the NBA. Superstars like Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, and Bam Adebayo are just some of the best giants the NBA has welcomed through the draft over the last decade. While this year’s incoming crop of young talent doesn’t have the same hype and star power as previous drafts, the 2020 NBA Draft still has a couple of noteworthy bigs to choose from.
Let’s rank five of the best big-man prospects who will enter the league on Nov. 18.
5. Isaiah Stewart
It’s baffling how Isaiah Stewart’s name has dropped so low mock drafts in recent weeks. Once viewed as a consensus five-star recruit from high school and top-five player in the 2019 class, NBA Draft experts now have him going late in the first round or a steal for one lucky team in the second round.
Stewart’s stock probably dropped because he plays like a throwback center, as opposed to the ever-growing trend of bigs spacing the floor. The 6-foot-9 banger gets most of his points in the low post with his wide array of moves. He is strong as an ox, capable of bullying bigger competition once he gets to his sweet spots.
When he is not trying to outmuscle opposing bigs, Stewart makes them pay with his lethal face-up game. The 19-year-old has a sweet stroke around the perimeter. With proper training in the pros, there’s no reason why he can’t extend that range to 3-point territory.
Stewart was a walking double-double for the Washington Huskies in 2019-20, putting up 17.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game in 32 contests. His game certainly shows shades of Zach Randolph, who evolved from a bruising post player to an effective floor spacer as time went by. Like Z-Bo, Stewart must also compensate for his below-average athleticism and find a way to remain effective against bigger and stronger competition in the NBA.
4. Jalen Smith
Jalen Smith might not get the same hype as the first three names on this list, but no doubt he is another intriguing NBA Draft prospect to watch out for. The 6-foot-10 stretch big gave Maryland a reliable interior presence last season after showing massive improvements in his second year. The 20-year-old Virginia native possesses the skill set of a modern-day big with his ability to protect the paint on one end and knock down 3s on the next possession.
After making just 26.8 percent of his triples in his freshman season, Stix improved his efficiency to 36.8 percent last year. Smith also upped his averages across the board, averaging 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 31 games for the Terrapins.
Furthermore, scouts have lauded Smith as an underrated screen-setter, who understands where to position himself after picks. He is often compared to a younger version of Serge Ibaka, while some think he can develop into a Brook Lopez-type player. Mock drafts currently have him as a mid-to-late first-rounder.
While his length allows him to block shots and catch lobs at an effective rate, Smith really isn’t an elite athlete like James Wiseman, Onyeka Okungwu, and Obi Toppin. Smith worked hard to improve his body in his sophomore year, and he might need to get even stronger to prepare himself against more physicality in the NBA.
3. Obi Toppin
Obi Toppin is more of a power forward, but he could be used as a small-ball center in today’s modern NBA. The Dayton star took a massive leap in his second season for the Dayton Flyers, which endeared him greatly to NBA Draft scouts. The 6-foot-9 pure bundle of athleticism is indeed a highlight reel waiting to happen. The 22-year-old posterized a lot of hapless defenders last year who were overwhelmed by his unique blend of power and grace.
Apart from finishing lobs, Toppin racked in a lot of easy buckets from full-court runs, off-ball action, and easy putbacks. But perhaps Toppin’s greatest advantage is that he developed a consistent stroke from beyond the arc. Toppin made 39.0 percent of his attempts from downtown in 2019-20 for Dayton, averaging 22.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.2 blocks in 31 games.
Toppin could find himself going in the top five, with the Chicago Bulls (No. 4 pick) and Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 5 pick) as possible landing spots. Fans and pundits already see him as the second coming of Amar’e Stoudemire. But like STAT, Toppin needs to shore up his defense to be successful at the next level, especially if he’s going to be playing small-ball 5.
2. Onyeka Okongwu
Rim protection is a premium in the NBA these days, and Onyeka Okongwu is undoubtedly the best shot blocker from this group. The lanky 6-foot-9 center may not be as big as James Wiseman, but he is viewed as a complete defensive player who would provide an immediate impact on that end right away. The former USC Trojan’s stock has skyrocketed in the weeks leading up to the draft, with some pegging him to go in the top three of this NBA Draft.
Like Wiseman, Okongwu’s offensive repertoire also needs some polishing, but his explosive athleticism opens up a lot of possibilities on both sides of the ball. While obviously a gifted athlete, the 19-year-old Nigerian-American is also a smart player who reads opposing sets quite well. The First-Team All-Pac-12 member could be DPOY material in the near future, judging by how well he read passing lanes and provided weak-side help in his one-and-done year with the Trojans.
Okongwu normed 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.2 steals, and 2.7 blocks per game for USC. Early comparisons have likened his game to Bam Adebayo, and it’s not hard to see why. Even Okungwu himself revealed that he hopes to follow Bam’s footsteps when he finally enters the league.
1. James Wiseman
While there’s still no consensus No.1 pick heading into the NBA Draft, most pundits believe James Wiseman’s name will be among the first ones off the board.
One look at the 7-foot-1 behemoth shows he has all the physical tools of a dominating center at the pro level. Wiseman complements his athletic 240-pound frame with a chiseled NBA-ready body, an impressive 7-foot-6 wingspan, and a terrific motor needed to succeed in the big leagues.
While we didn’t get a chance to see a lot of him during his brief college stint with the University of Memphis due to that messy eligibility dispute, Wiseman left quite the impression in those three games he played.
The 19-year-old behemoth averaged 19.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks for the Tigers. He is a phenomenal rebounder, a great finisher underneath, and, of course, an intimidating shot blocker.
Moreover, Wiseman has great hands, which could come in handy for those lobs, and he is an excellent rim-runner in the open court, especially for a man of his size.
The only knock on his game so far is that he has limited post moves and range. But given how young he is, those skills can be developed.
Wiseman has the makings to be what DeAndre Jordan was in his prime. Teams who have him on their radar, however, would like to see him provide the same interior presence that Rudy Gobert has been giving to the Utah Jazz.