Even though we still haven’t seen a lot of head coaches be really aggressive phasing out point guards and big men to go with all-wing lineups for big chunks of games, which looked like would be the endgame of the smallball Era a few years ago, the NBA remains starved of wings.
By my estimation, 37 of the 60 picks in this year’s draft can be labeled wings.
Shot creation remains the most important skill and the league compensates for it properly. Heading into the 2019-20 season, point guards are responsible for nine of the top 25 salaries in the NBA. The remaining 16 are wings or big men who can create for themselves and others in pick-and-roll or through the post in volume, with Klay Thompson standing out as an exception – considering he doesn’t post up as much as he used to when Mark Jackson was the coach.
Some expect the demise of the Warriors to result in the more prototypical lineups with two standard big men coming back to prominence. Perhaps with that in mind, only 24 of the 60 picks on ESPN’s way-too-early mock draft can be labeled wings.
But surrounding those shot creators with capable perimeter-oriented shooters and defenders is still right behind finding elite level ball handlers in the pecking order and one can argue it to be just as crucial as searching for an upgrade in shot creation. All you need to do to understand its importance is take a look at LeBron James’ career. He is almost certainly the greatest or second greatest player of all time, but doesn’t have enough titles to show for it because he didn’t have the right combination of wings around him for most of his years.
The stats and measurements in this post were researched at our own stats’ database, unless mentioned otherwise.
ESPN’s mock draft was used as the guide for the rankings cited.
Let’s dive into the introductions.
Deni Avdija (Ranked 5th, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 18 years old, 6’8’’, 210 LBS)
Deni Avdija is coming off a season where he got to experience the pro level for the first time – logging 349 minutes with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli BSL and the Euroleague, while also spending parts of the year with the junior squad participating in a couple of stages of the Adidas Next Generation Tournament.
As a pro, the six-foot-eight combo forward acted more as a floor-spacer with little shot creation responsibility. Though he’s shown some versatility in his release, in terms of being able to take shots off light movement, Avdija is more of a shot taker than a shot maker at this point of his development.
He has a fluid shooting motion, fully extends himself for a high release, rises in good balance, doesn’t need to dip for rhythm and tends to get a good arc on his shot but the ball isn’t going in at a decent clip yet, as Avdija missed 72.3% of his 130 three-point shots last season, at a pace of 8.1 such attempts per 40 minutes.
This summer, the 18-year-old led the Israeli National Team to the title of the FIBA U20 European Championship in home soil, matching up against players on average a year-and-a-half older than him.
He was the focal point of the offense – logging 28.6% usage rate and 27.6% assist rate in the event, with the chance to create on post-ups, in isolation and middle high pick-and-roll against a set defense.
His court vision stood out, as Avdija can see over the top in a crowd and impressed with his dexterity delivering passes in a multitude of ways – with his back-to-the-basket to the opposite wing, with skip passes to the stretch big in the pick-and-pop, with darts to shooters sprinting to the corner in transition and with well-timed jump-passes to the roll man.
He wasn’t as impressive as a scorer, though. His average of 22.8 points per 40 minutes was achieved on just 48.6% effective shooting. There were some glimpses of three-level of scoring, as Avdija made pull-ups against the on-ball defenders going under the screen in pick-and-roll, flashed the ability to over-extend finishing around rim protectors and flashed a floater to score from the in-between area.
But he doesn’t have a quick first step, is not particularly fast with the ball, has a fairly basic handle for the most part and hasn’t yet developed advanced footwork to get his pull-ups off via step-backs or side-steps. Avdija is not very shifty, looks to gallop into two-foot leaps in traffic and hasn’t shown much body flexibility to adjust himself mid-air in a crowd.
With that as the case, the most developed dimension of his scoring profile is his post-up, as he’s shown an arsenal of moves operating with his back-to-the-basket – patient approach, power moves to back his way into short toss-ins, head fakes to bait his man out of position and short turnaround jumpers over the defender.
On the other end, Avdija does not project as an ace defender capable of picking up star opponents for the entire game but impressed with his awareness as a help defender and proved himself capable of hanging with smaller players out in space from time-to-time.
He was particularly impressive with his activity rotating off the weakside and surprised with his quick leaping ability off two feet to not only challenge shots via verticality but act as a constant shot blocking threat as well – averaging 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes at the U20 European Championship.
Jaden McDaniels (Ranked 8th, Washington, 18 years old, 6’10’’, 200 LBS)
Jaden McDaniels has enjoyed quite a leap in status over the last year-and-a-half. 247 Sports ranked him only 77th midway through his junior year of high school but the subsequent 18 months saw Juwan Howard’s nephew develop into a blue-chip prospect with expectations to be one-and-done in college, as he enters Washington ranked eighth in his incoming class and slotted in the same spot on ESPN's way-too-early 2020 mock draft.
The most tantalizing aspect of his overall profile is his combination of agility and height. McDaniels projects to get most of his touches out of triple threat position on offense and he looks very smooth putting the ball on the floor to attack a scrambling defense. Given his thin frame in the context of his height, he struggles to play through contact at this point of his development but can get by big men with his quickness and has long strides to get all the way to the basket.
McDaniels lacks strength to complete reverses regularly but proved himself a powerful leaper off two feet in a crowd, has the flexibility to adjust himself in the air for double clutch finishes around rim protectors and showed great touch on finger-roll finishes with his strong right hand. He’s also flashed a runner to act as scoring threat from the in-between area on the move.
The 18-year-old showed glimpses of shot making ability creating his own shot against a set defense but doesn’t project as a ball-handler responsible for running offense and creating for others. He can push the ball up the court on grab-and-go’s and find shooters sprinting to the corner but hasn’t yet shown anything particularly impressive in terms of court vision.
As a self-created scorer, McDaniels figures to need to be given the ball in his spots for isolations or post-ups against higher levels of competitions and has shown a preference for setting up jumpers – hang-dribbling or jab-stepping into pull-ups and spinning into turnaround fadeaway jumpers off a hiked leg.
The endgame will probably be him becoming a floor-spacer, though.
Like most teenagers, the results aren’t there yet but McDaniels has a very projectable shooting stroke on spot-ups. He catches it on the hop, rises in great balance, fully extends himself for a high release, gets his shot off over closeouts comfortably and tends to get a good arc under his shot.
His expected role on defense is a little bit more unclear at this point. He can block a shot and jump a passing lane when well positioned, which should be enough for him to be a productive part of Washington’s zone at the NCAA level. But as far as the things the NBA demand from a wing like either playing ace defense on the ball or executing the scheme picking up the roll man and then closing out to the three-point line hard or switching on the fly or protecting the rim in help defense, it’s tough to say where McDaniels projects as a fit.
Scottie Lewis (Ranked 9th, Florida, 19 years old, 6’5’’, 180 LBS)
Scottie Lewis really impressed with his defense on Josh Green and on Nico Mannion in this year’s edition of the Nike Hoop Summit.
He has a thin frame for someone his height and can’t contain dribble penetration through contact but bends his knees to get down in a stance and showed great agility moving side-to-side to stay in front in isolation.
When he moved on to Mannion in the third quarter, after Cole Anthony struggled to stay in front in the first half, Lewis showed a good deal of tenacity defending on the ball by proving himself to able to get skinny through screens at the point of attack and hustling in pursuit to discourage or block shots from behind.
He excelled off the ball as well:
- Showing activity with deflections and denying easy handoffs;
- Showing awareness rotating in to pick up the roll man;
- Showing hustle on hard closeouts and chasing Mannion around screens.
At the high school level, Lewis flashed the ability to rotate off the weakside and go up explosively off two feet to block shots too.
On offense, the 19-year-old is known for his scoring prowess in isolation. The way he moves has drawn comparisons to Kobe Bryant and they aren’t unfounded.
Lewis has a quick first step out of triple threat position or a standstill position and can go up with power off one foot in traffic, go up with explosiveness on two-foot leaps off a spin move or adjust his body mid-air for double clutch and reverse finishes with either hand around rim protectors.
His pull-up arsenal is versatile as well, as he’s shown the ability to nail pull-ups off spin moves, step-backs, crossovers and going behind the back with suddenness.
Lewis hasn’t yet shown to be as adept operating in pick-and-roll, though.
With that as the case, for now he is expected to develop into more of a 3&D wing.
The New Jersey native has a projectable shooting stroke on spot-ups – catching it on the hop, going through a pretty fluid release, fully extending himself and getting monster elevation for a high launch point to get his shot off comfortably over closeouts. But the ball doesn’t go in a whole lot just yet.
Precious Achiuwa (Ranked 10th, Memphis, 19 years old, 6’9’’, 225 LBS)
Precious Achiuwa is one of five top 100 recruits joining Memphis, with coach Penny Hardaway landing the top-ranked class in the country.
The six-foot-nine combo forward has the perfect combination of frame and length the NBA looks for in its big wings these days but has some way to go in terms of the skill level needed on offense to excel in that role.
He has shown decent moves to create his own shot out of ball reversals or slow transition into an isolation off a grab-and-go – flashing an in-and-out dribble to shake his defender off balance, pivoting into a well-coordinated spin move to get into the lane or crossing over into a pull-up – but hasn’t yet developed the handle and the court vision needed to create in middle high pick-and-roll.
For now, Achiuwa mostly projects as a floor-spacer who will operate out of triple threat position, though he needs a lot of development as a shooter to have the chance to put the ball on the floor often.
He can make a shot with time and space to go through his shooting motion but was still a hesitant shooter for the most part in his senior season at Montverde Academy. His release is somewhat slow and not all that fluid, but his touch is probably the biggest cause for concern, considering he shot poorly on free throws in AAU and the All-Star events.
If he develops as a shooter to command hard closeouts or at least gets the chance to attack a scrambling defense a fair amount, Achiuwa figures to impress with his athleticism on hard drives to the basket. He can get to the rim with balance and explosiveness on a straight line, go up with power off one foot with momentum and can finish through contact or adjust his body in the air to score in traffic.
On the other end, the Bronx native was active rotating off the weakside to make plays at the basket. He is a quick leaper off two feet to challenge shots via verticality or block shots – averaging 3.5 blocks per 40 minutes in eight appearances in the Under Armour Association last season. Achiuwa was pretty active on the glass as well – collecting 23.1% of opponents’ misses in 194 minutes.
That said, he wasn’t as active flying around to get steals and deflections in the passing lanes and hasn’t yet developed a feel for leveraging his length into clogging driving lanes and making plays from the side on occasion.
The 19-year-old can hold up well one-on-one when engaged – bending his knees to get down in a stance, moving his feet to stay in front for a few slides and putting in the effort to contest shots, though it’s somewhat surprising that he isn’t as adept at containing dribble penetration through contact as his frame suggests he should.
Achiuwa picked up smaller players on switches on a few occasions and proved himself capable of staying attached on straight line drives, even putting in the effort to try going over picks at the point of attack, though his hustle in pursuit to try discouraging or blocking shots from behind left something to be desired.
Tyrese Maxey (Ranked 12th, Kentucky, 18 years old, 6’3’’, 198 LBS)
According to d1circuit.com, Tyrese Maxey averaged 20.1 points per game in 19 appearances at the Nike EYBL Circuit last season.
The six-foot-three gunner was a potent scorer at the youth level and figures to play a similar role to Devin Booker, Jamal Murray and Tyler Herro at Kentucky – curling off pindown screens and taking three-pointers off handoffs.
Maxey has a low release, launching the ball from almost in front of his face, but gets great elevation off the ground and tends to get a good spin on the ball. He nailed just a third of his three-point shots at the Nike EYBL Circuit but on 145 such attempts and at a pace of 5.5 of them per game.
The Dallas native has a quick first step to get into the lane curling around picks. He has a runner to score over length from the in-between area, a lefty scoop and a reverse to score around length at the rim, and some bulk in his 198-pound frame to score through contact at rim level.
Maxey has a quick first step out of a standstill position as well and good speed with the ball to blow by man in isolations. He has shown more of a preference for relying on his pull-up package, though – rising in balance off side-steps, rhythm dribbles and jab steps.
Maxey can make a pass ahead in transition and has proven himself to be a willing passer off drawing two to the ball but is yet to show particularly impressive court vision in the half-court.
When engaged, he can lock up opposing wings defending on the ball. Maxey has the lateral quickness to stay in front, chests up to contain dribble penetration through contact and can hold his ground in the post against similarly sized wings.
He even flashed some ability to hustle in pursuit to contest shots from behind while crossmatching onto Nico Mannion in the second half of the Nike Hoop Summit, which could be key for his future in the pros. Considering he has below average height for a wing, having the versatility to defend smaller players and perhaps transition into a role as a 3&D point guard who supplements a ball dominant wing might be a swing skill in terms of how he is viewed heading into the NBA.