Going into the 2019 NBA season, it wasn’t tough to know whose cards you wanted. Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were the runaway favorites of the rookie class, the guys whose rookie cards were gonna blow everyone else out of the water. That held true all year, but there were some sleepers who were worth investing in. Tyler Herro played a key part in Miami’s run to the NBA Finals, and his stock rose tremendously because of it.
Now that the 2020 NBA Draft is in the books, there’s a new crop of players who are ready to make a splash at the next level. This article won’t be about the Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Balls of the world, though. You already know that they’re some of the most-hyped prospects of the year. Instead, we’re going to try to nail some under-the-radar picks who might turn out to be 2021’s Tyler Herro.
Malachi Flynn — Toronto Raptors
We’re going to start with the guy who I’m personally most excited about. Malachi Flynn was drafted 29th overall out of San Diego State. Playing in a mid-major conference probably didn’t do his stock any favors, even though Flynn led the Aztecs to the number 6 spot in the national rankings before the season was canceled. (They peaked at 4, which they held for five weeks.)
Flynn is an absolute sniper from three-point land, and he’s elite coming off the pick-and-roll. He won the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Longtime Raptor point guard Kyle Lowry isn’t getting any younger. He’s heading into his age 35 season, and he still leads the team in minutes. He’ll need breaks, and Flynn poised to get some minutes. After Lowry moves on (he’s headed into the last season of his contract), Flynn will probably take over the starting position. The stars are aligning perfectly for Flynn to have a huge career in the NBA.
Kira Lewis Jr. — New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans took Kira Lewis Jr. out of Alabama with the 13th overall pick. Lewis Jr. became the fifth point guard on the Pelicans roster. That alone should tell you how much New Orleans executives believe in him.
Shortly thereafter, Lewis Jr. rose to the probable second on the depth chart. The Pelicans sent George Hill packing in a trade, opening up space for Lewis Jr. to run free and get the minutes he needs behind Lonzo Ball.
Running free is exactly what New Orleans wants. Lewis Jr. is a high energy player who will push the pace with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson playing forward — assuming the Pelicans are able to re-sign Ingram (which might’ve happened by the time this article goes live). There’s a foundation for a very scary offense in New Orleans, and it might run through Kira Lewis Jr. in the near future.
Jaden McDaniels — Minnesota Timberwolves
I think I like Jaden McDaniels. I know, that hardly sounds convincing.
McDaniels fell to 28th in the draft, mostly thanks to an unconvincing one-and-done season at Washington. He has the raw talent to be a real threat in the NBA, though. He’s a 6’10” 200lb power forward who has drawn comparisons to the Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. — another player who had a huge breakout during the bubble-clad NBA playoffs.
Really, McDaniels’ potential for a good rookie season lies in the fact that Minnesota is a perpetually rebuilding team who won’t shy away from giving minutes to their projects. McDaniels needs experience (and no one’s denying there will be growing pains), but he only has Juancho Hernangomez standing in his way on the depth chart. Playing alongside guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell should prove valuable, and it might lead to McDaniels having one of the more productive offensive seasons among this year’s rookies.
Tyrell Terry — Dallas Mavericks
Our only second-rounder. Tyrell Terry went 31st overall to the Dallas Mavericks, which is quite the fall considering a lot of big boards had him ranked around 10th overall.
It’s easy to envision Terry thriving in Dallas, though. He’s a guard who’s best at moving off the ball, finding open spaces, and getting off quick shots. He’s a smart player — this Stanford product reportedly broke records for pre-draft IQ tests — and that’s a necessity for the league’s little guys. His craftiness and high basketball IQ will help him adapt to the next level.
But it’s who he’s playing with that’s most exciting. Getting minutes alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis should allow Terry to get as many open looks as he can find. Defenses will collapse on those two guys, and sharpshooters like Terry should reap the benefits.
RJ Hampton — Denver Nuggets
RJ Hampton is yet another guy who fell further than his draft profiles suggested he would. Taken 24th overall, Hampton is one of the first-rounders who’s most ready to immediately contribute at the pro level.
That’s largely because Hampton has already played as a pro. Instead of going to college, he went to play in New Zealand. Unfortunately, Hampton hasn’t had a ton of playing time as of late, because New Zealand shut everything down because of COVID-19. He hasn’t played in nearly a year at this point.
However, Hampton profiles as an explosive player who plays with the turbo button held down. He hustles, loves to drive to the basket, and is an athletic passer. Experts think he’ll need to develop a better jumper to stay in the league for a long time.
That being said, Hampton has a headstart on being able to hold his own in the NBA, and he could prove valuable on a very talented Nuggets team. He has a lot of upside, but he’s also kind of a gamble. But hey — aren’t all these guys gambles at this point?