5 under-the-radar rookies to watch entering the 2020-21 NBA season
This year's draft class wasn't as highly regarded as previous ones, but there are numerous prospects who are ready to carve out an immediate role.
From 3-and-D wings to reliable floor generals, expect plenty of draftees from outside the lottery to contribute to their respective teams this season and beyond.
Here are five under-the-radar rookies who are poised to make an impact over the 2020-21 campaign.
Saddiq Bey, Pistons
Villanova has produced some solid wings over the last few seasons, and Bey is set to become the next success story out of the Wildcats' esteemed program. The 21-year-old was one of the top 3-and-D prospects available on draft night and is the reigning Julius Erving Award winner as the top men's collegiate small forward.
Bey's 45.1% clip from deep ranked fourth in the NCAA over the 2019-20 campaign. His outside efficiency should help a Detroit Pistons squad that was middle-of-the-pack in 3-point shooting last season and lost the bulk of its long-distance threats - Luke Kennard, Tony Snell, and Langston Galloway - from a year ago.
Additionally, Bey's ability to guard multiple positions will be music to the ears of Pistons head coach Dwane Casey, who's known for his defense-first mentality.
Malachi Flynn, Raptors
Flynn's physical profile doesn't exactly spell defensive stopper. He's got average size at 6-foot-2 along with a 6-foot-3 wingspan. But those numbers go out the window once Flynn gets on the floor. The San Diego State standout is a pesky on-ball defender, as he shows great anticipation and uses his quick hands to create turnovers.
He was also a meaningful offensive contributor throughout his collegiate career. He's an effective pick-and-roll operator, a reliable 3-point threat, and led the Mountain West Conference with a 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. If the NCAA Tournament wasn't canceled, there's a good chance Flynn wouldn't have slipped to the Toronto Raptors at No. 29.
The 22-year-old should be a fixture in Nick Nurse's two-point guard lineups. Flynn can facilitate the offense and play off the ball thanks to his efficient outside stroke. His tireless defensive work will fit seamlessly on one of the Association's stingiest units.
Payton Pritchard, Celtics
Few players entered the draft with Pritchard's big-game experience. The 22-year-old started as a freshman when Oregon reached its second Final Four in program history. Two years later, Pritchard was named MVP of the Pac-12 Tournament after he led the Ducks to an unlikely spot in the Big Dance.
Pritchard carried his strong play into the 2019-20 campaign as he established himself as one of the nation's best players. As a senior, he averaged a conference-leading 20.5 points and 5.5 assists while also winning numerous accolades, including Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, the Bob Cousy Award as college basketball's top point guard, and an All-American first-team nod.
With starting point guard Kemba Walker out indefinitely, Pritchard may be called upon as the first guard off the Boston Celtics' bench. The Oregon standout brings a lot to the table, but it's his defensive tenacity that will initially earn him playing time. Marcus Smart, who is the heart of the club's defense, already sees a lot himself in Pritchard.
Precious Achiuwa, Heat
The absence of James Wiseman accelerated Achiuwa's development at Memphis. The 6-foot-9 forward became the offense's focal point and anchored one of the NCAA's top defenses. Achiuwa averaged 15.8 points, 10.8 boards, 1.9 blocks, and 1.1 steals during his lone season in a Tigers uniform.
He gained some valuable experience as a small-ball five and showcased the ability to guard every position. The American Athletic Conference Player of the Year's defensive versatility fits perfectly into the Miami Heat's style of play and addresses the club's need for size, which hurt the Heat in last season's Finals.
Achiuwa's 3-point shot is a work in progress, though there are few teams with a better player development program than Miami's. For now, he'll get most of his offense around the rim on putbacks and as a roll man. The Heat finished 29th in offensive rebounding last season and will make use of his high energy on the glass.
Theo Maledon, Thunder
Plenty of minutes should be up for grabs this season on a rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder squad. Extended looks will be given to young players, including Maledon, who should find consistent playing time due to the offseason departures of Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder.
The 19-year-old spent the past three seasons playing in France's top professional basketball league. During the 2018-19 campaign, Maledon became the youngest MVP in French Cup finals history and joined the likes of Tony Parker and Boris Diaw when he was named Best Young Player in the LNB Pro A.
Maledon should be well-prepared to run the Thunder's reserve unit thanks to his EuroLeague experience last season. But his solid 3-point shooting will allow him to play off the ball when he shares the floor with starting point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With their combination of height and length, they could form quite a formidable defensive backcourt.