In an anonymous poll of 35 NBA executives conducted by Stadium, James Wiseman has emerged as the frontrunner for the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
The 7-foot-1 center, who played just three games at Memphis this past season prior to withdrawing from school amidst an NCAA suspension, received 20 of the 35 votes (57 percent).
“I wouldn’t even want the No. 1 pick,” one NBA general manager told me. “If I have it, I’m trying like hell to trade it.”
But the issue will be whether the pick commands enough value to trade out of the top spot.
“It’s not an easy decision,” another NBA GM added. “And even though the NBA doesn’t value bigs like it used to, there just aren’t a lot of 7-footers who can run and jump like Wiseman can out there.”
The long and athletic Wiseman scored 28 points and had 11 boards in the season-opener against South Carolina State on Nov. 5. He followed it up with 17 points and nine rebounds in a win over UIC before finishing his college career with 14 points and 12 boards in a loss to Oregon.
“I love his size, length and ability to run the floor,” one NBA general manager said. “The knock on him is that he’s soft, but the bottom line is he has all the measurables, and he can really impact the game on the defensive end.”
“This is an underwhelming draft at the top,” added a high-ranking executive. “It’s as difficult for the No. 1 pick as I’ve seen in a long time.”
Georgia freshman guard Anthony Edwards was second among all vote-getters with 10 executives (29 percent) choosing the big, strong and athletic 18-year-old as the most-likely No. 1 pick. Edwards averaged 19.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, but shot just 40 percent from the field, 29 percent from 3-point range, and his team was just 16-16 overall and 5-13 in SEC play.
“All you had to do was see the second half against Michigan State in Hawaii,” said one scout who was in attendance to watch Edwards hit 7-of-13 shots from deep and score 33 of his 37 after the break.
“No one else has shown anything like that,” added an assistant general manager. “He couldn’t be stopped.”
The only other player to receive multiple votes besides Wiseman and Edwards was LaMelo Ball, the 6-foot-7 younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans floor-leader Lonzo Ball.
The youngest Ball brother has bounced around since his father, LaVar, pulled him from Chino Hills High. LaMelo played in Lithuania and the now-defunct JBA before joining the Spire Institute in Ohio. He played this past season in Australia for the Illawarra Hawks — where he averaged 17 points and seven assists in 12 games before shutting it down.
“He’s versatile, has size for his position, and can handle and pass it,” said one GM. “I’d go with LaMelo, especially with perimeter guys — and guys who can make plays — so valuable in today’s NBA.”
“I love his playmaking, but he has questions with his commitment on defense,” added one scout. “I’m not worried about his dad at all. I’m worried about his maturity.”
The only other player to receive a vote was former Dayton star and National Player of the Year winner Obi Toppin, who received a single vote. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this past season.
“He’s athletic, older, and I think he can play the small-ball four or five,” one scout said. “He shoots it well enough. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”
The NBA Draft is set for June 25, but that date is expected to be pushed back by the NBA after the league announces a plan to resume its season. The NBA Draft lottery system is expected to remain in place, which would mean the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves have the highest odds of landing the No. 1 pick — each at 14 percent.