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Zeke Nnaji is first Arizona player taken in The Athletic’s new NBA mock draft

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 29 Arizona at UCLA

Zeke Nnaji wasn’t as heralded out of high school as Josh Green or Nico Mannion, but he outshined them with the Arizona Wildcats and could be the first one taken in the 2020 NBA Draft.

At least that’s what Sam Vecenie of The Athletic thinks. He has Nnaji going 21st overall to the Denver Nuggets in his updated mock draft. That is a fitting destination since Vecenie told us earlier in April that Nnaji reminds him of a bigger, more skilled version of Kenneth Faried, who was picked 22nd overall by the Nuggets in the 2011 draft.

Vecenie has Green going 25th overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Mannion going 29th overall to the Los Angeles Lakers, one spot ahead of Stanford point guard Tyrell Terry.

It would be the first time in NBA Draft history that three Arizona players are selected in the first round. Here is what Vecenie wrote about them.

On Mannion: “More and more evaluators are getting skeptical of Mannion’s long-term future. His inability to get penetration consistently this year was a real problem for Arizona, and often led to its offense stagnating. Despite having three projected first rounders and shooting solidly from 3, Arizona still finished outside of the top 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency. It also doesn’t help Mannion that there’s no pre-draft process for him to wipe clean the bad images he left in evaluators’ minds over the last month of the season.”

On Green: “The idea behind Green is that he can be a 3-and-D guy. He averaged 12 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists, and does play very tough, physical on-ball defense. He also has the athletic tools to be able to translate into playing as a high-level defender. But I’m a little worried about the offensive side of the floor. He hit 36.1 percent of his 3-point attempts, but I’m pretty skeptical of the jump shooting mechanics, especially early on in his career. He has an exaggerated elbow bend that he’ll need to fix to get a consistent release.”

On Nnaji: “He’s a fluid, can move his feet really well and is stronger than his slender frame looks. His body control is also terrific, and that bears itself out around the basket. He’s an elite finisher and has terrific touch. That touch also extends out into range, where most teams believe Nnaji has real potential, even if he didn’t showcase it much during the season.

“The conversation with Nnaji that I have with NBA executives typically revolves around “what is his role? Is he a 4 or a 5? I say a 5. Unless he develops requisite ball skills, it seems like it would be hard to get him on the court next to another center and have the right amount of playmaking necessary. He also lacks great interior defensive awareness and is often late on rotations.”

Be sure to check out Vecenie’s full two-round mock draft HERE.