LaMelo Ball rises for a layup last season

Five-minute draft guide: Playmakers

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Is there a more talented position in any sport than NBA point guard? For example, on The Athletic’s recently-released best NBA players list, 10 of the top 37 pros are floor generals, a group that includes Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Jamal Murray, Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, Ja Morant, Russell Westbrook and Trae Young. There are no nights off at the “1” spot in the NBA, with virtually all 30 franchises being led by a point guard who can threaten a defense by scoring or distributing.

The 2020 NBA Draft promises to be yet another opportunity for teams to upgrade or add depth at point guard, particularly since three players at the position are deemed virtual locks to be chosen in the top 10 (LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes). Here are a handful of highly-touted point guards who’ve demonstrated potential as dual threats who can get buckets or hand out dimes to teammates:

Cole Anthony, North Carolina freshman guard

Scoring average (2019-20): 18.5 ppg. Assist average: 4.0 apg.

Whether it was his natural style or what was needed by the struggling Tar Heels, the 6-foot-3 Anthony emerged as a score-first guard last season. NBA.com describes him as “an instinctual scorer who is extremely aggressive looking to find ways to make things happen off the dribble... he put considerable pressure on opposing defenses when he ran hot from the perimeter but was more prolific as a playmaker some nights than others.” NC was 3-8 when he had fewer than four assists (7-4 with more).

Current projections: He’s occasionally listed as a late-lottery pick, but recently shows up more often in the late teens or early 20s. The Athletic’s mock draft would allow Anthony to remain in his hometown of New York City (No. 19 to Brooklyn), while CBSSports.com and SI.com place him 15th and 21st, respectively.

LaMelo Ball, Illawara (Australia) Hawks guard

Scoring average (2019-20): 17.0 ppg. Assist average: 6.8 apg.

Known partly for prolific scoring as a high school player, draft analysts now talk much more about his passing ability. As NBA.com notes of his excellent court vision – a trait he shares with older brother and Pelicans starting point guard Lonzo Ball – “he has the tools to be able to make a variety of passes over the top of the defense. This couples with his most NBA ready skill, which is his ability to see and read the floor at a level beyond his years.”

Current projections: Based on mock drafts, Ball seems destined to land in either Minnesota (No. 1 pick) or Charlotte (No. 3 pick), with Golden State (No. 2) obviously not needing any help in its starting backcourt.

Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State sophomore guard

Scoring average (2019-20): 15.2 ppg. Assist average: 6.5 apg.

Draft analysts are optimistic about Haliburton’s offensive versatility and knack for being able to thrive both on and off the ball, something that would benefit him in the NBA, particularly depending on his role. SI.com on Haliburton: “(He) is seen as one of the safest bets in the draft to return value, with the type of preternatural feel and passing ability that should keep him in the NBA for a long time, and an unusual degree of selflessness.”

Current projections: A series of Eastern Conference lottery teams are expected to be in the hunt for a promising backcourt player, which could directly affect Haliburton’s landing spot. The Athletic and SI.com tab him at No. 6 to Atlanta, while CBS projects him a pick later to Detroit.

Killian Hayes, France guard

Scoring average (2019-20): 11.6 ppg. Assist average: 5.4 apg.

The 6-5 Hayes is generally described as a conventional point guard, with NBA.com noting that last season he spent “as much time on the ball as almost any young guard in the world.” He’s regarded as a good passer, but his assist-to-turnover ratio needs to improve, after he committed 3.2 miscues per game in Germany’s pro league. Hayes shot 48 percent from the field but just 29 percent on threes.

Current projections: Very similar to Haliburton’s range, but perhaps slightly later in the lottery. SI.com predicts Detroit to take Hayes at No. 7, while CBS lists him one spot later at No. 8 to New York. The Athletic places him 10th (Phoenix).

Kira Lewis, Alabama sophomore guard

Scoring average (2019-20): 18.5 ppg. Assist average: 5.2 apg.

Lewis made improvements across the board in his second Crimson Tide season, but particularly as a passer, nearly doubling his assist average from 2.9 to 5.2, despite only increasing his minutes average from 31.6 to 37.6. Analysts describe him as one of the fastest players in this draft class, a strength that generated optimism about his defensive potential. As NBA.com notes, “(Lewis has) the quickness and instincts to be a factor in the passing lanes and guarding the ball.”

Current projections: Several are at or around when New Orleans picks at 13. CBS has Lewis going to the Pelicans, with the site noting, “Lewis is… a blur in transition and can finish at the rim, things that would serve a fast-paced team like the Pelicans well.” The Athletic and SI.com place him at 14 and 15, respectively.

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