Billy Donovan: NBA Coaching Prospect

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With recent news that the Thunder have focused their search on Florida coach Billy Donovan, it is worth reviewing his NCAA performance to assess his upside as an NBA coach.

Donovan peaked when his Gators won back to back championships in 2006 and 2007 with the elite core of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer. Of course any coach would excel with that trio staying until their junior seasons, so it is more interesting to assess how he fared following their departure:

Season final kenpom rank Recruiting class rank
2015 45 13
2014 3 6
2013 2 24
2012 11 24
2011 16 9
2010 48 20
2009 42 2
2008 44 3

It is fair to expect a bit of a down year following a max exodus of talent, but given the quality of talent he brought in with perennial top 25 recruiting classes four seasons outside of the top 40 is rather alarming.

His loaded 07-08 recruiting class included current NBA players Nick Calathes and Chandler Parsons and he also returned sophomore Marreese Speights. Succeeding with youth can be difficult, but it is not like he was working with a bunch of talentless duds. Meanwhile, Florida failed to reach the NCAA tournament with three future NBA players.

The following season Florida lost Speights to the NBA but returned Calathes and Parsons for their sophomore seasons (along with #53 RSCI player Alex Tyus from the same class) and with another loaded recruiting class still missed the tournament.

In 2009-10 Florida finally returned to the tournament as a 10 seed in spite of Calathes departing for Europe, but still could not crack the top 40. It was not until Parsons’s senior season that Florida finally returned to the top 25 making an Elite 8 run before losing to Brad Stevens’s Butler squad.

The whole Parsons era looks bad for Donovan’s record– in four full seasons with the player and plenty of access to other elite talent Florida only cracked the top 40 once and never made the top 15. While the #16 team that went Elite 8 may seem like it saves some face, that team was loaded with experienced talent. The starting lineup:

Player RSCI rank Season PER WS/40
Vernon Macklin 16 Senior 22.2 0.16
Erving Walker 79 Junior 20 0.177
Chandler Parsons 39 Senior 19.7 0.163
Alex Tyus 53 Senior 18.7 0.145
Kenny Boynton 9 Sophomore 17.5 0.155

This is the type of talent that a good coach should be able to convert into a top 5 contender. Forget that Parsons is the only NBA player on the roster– in spite of being a senior he completely blends in with the rest of the starters statistically. Not only did Donovan underwhelm with a collection of upperclass 4 and 5 star talent, but he also failed to maximize Parsons’s talent. His value as a second round steal was evident from his rookie season where he finished 9th in ROY voting and 5th in rookie win shares. It is not difficult to envision a superior coach making Parsons an obvious first round selection after four seasons.

The counterpoint this is that coaches improve, and the Gators certainly took a leap forward after Parsons’ departure. In 11-12, Florida replaced their three departing senior starters with freshman Bradley Beal, sophomore Patric Young, and junior Erik Murphy and finished 11th and once again lost in the Elite 8, this time to Louisville.

The appealing part of Donovan’s post-repeat resume comes in the 12-13 and 13-14 seasons, as Florida finished with back to back top 3 kenpom teams without a single NBA draft pick on the roster. He did it with defense: After ranking 123rd, 113th, 91st, 41st, and 90th in schedule adjusted defensive rating in the prior five seasons, Florida leapt forward to the 4th and 2nd defenses. They did this with a middling block rate as well, as the defense delivered a strong balance of forcing opponents into difficult mid-range shots, forcing turnovers, rebounding, and limiting free throw attempts.

The timing of the spike in defense is no coincidence either, as it coincided with Donovan becoming analytically enlightened and placing an increased emphasis on defense. That said, the article does not cite any example of Donovan using analytics to improve the defense. It only states that analytics were employed to bring Donovan to the obvious realization that defense is important, so there is little evidence to suggest that he developed into a defensive mastermind. If anything the writeup implies that Donovan takes an overwhelmingly simple minded approach to analytics, focusing on the result rather than the process.

The common link to the great defensive teams was the elite 2014 graduating class of Patric Young, Will Yeguette, Casey Prather, and Scottie Wilbekin. While none of them were noteworthy NBA prospects by the time they graduated (Young had lottery hype as a sophomore), they were all high quality NCAA players who made strong contributions on both ends of the floor.

Give Donovan credit for maximizing returns on the talent of his class of unheralded college stars, but he was unable to sustain any of their success once they left. This was not for lack of talent either. In 2014-15, Florida was ranked 7th in both the AP and coaches pre-season polls, projected to finish 7th by kenpom and team rankings projection models and 6th by Dan Hanner’s model. The team suffered their share of bad luck, especially with injuries. #31 RSCI freshman Brandone Francis missed the entire season due to academic ineligibility, rotation guard Eli Carter missed 5 games, and Florida’s two best players Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith missed 7 and 5 games respectively. But injuries were not all that went wrong: 5 star sophomores Chris Walker and Kasey Hill both had vastly disappointing seasons. Hill regressed statistically from his freshman season and Walker fell from a possible lottery pick to likely undrafted after finally getting consistent playing time. Further neither #20 RSCI freshman Devin Robinson, #49 freshman Chris Chiozza, or Duke transfer Alex Murphy were able to play well enough to atone for their deficiencies.

Donovan’s newfound defensive obsession enabled the Gators to maintain the #11 kenpom defense, but their offense plunged to #151 after ranking #12 and #18 in the prior two seasons. This supports the narrative that Donovan merely gives most of his attention to defense rather than having concocted a strong defensive scheme. There is no reason for the offense to be so woefully bad other than punting on that end to meet arbitrary defensive benchmarks that Donovan deems necessary to contend. A good coach should aim to balance both ends for the optimal bottom line, not go all in on one side of the ball no matter the cost to the other.

Florida had the depth and talent to sustain a bit of injury misfortune and still have a top 25 team, but they finished as the #45 kenpom team and missed the tournament with a below .500 record. It is as if the Parsons era was starting to repeat itself all over again– Donovan gets acclaim for thriving off an exceptional class and then fails to maximize his incoming talent and disappoints. This is why he is a middle of the road NCAA coach: when he has the right collection of players he can thrive, but he is also prone to big disappointment in other scenarios where it is easy to envision a great coach excelling.

It is somewhat baffling that any NBA team is interested in Donovan after his most recent season, let alone the team with the best collection of young talent in the league. Dipping into NCAA ranks for a coach with elite recruiting pedigree and average coaching acumen is a tried and true formula for NBA coaching failure, and there is no reason to expect Donovan to buck the trend. This is especially true with the recent influx of strong NBA coaches, as the bar for good NBA coaching gets higher every season. While there are some legitimately good NBA coaching prospects in the NCAA (namely Fred Holberg), Donovan does not even sniff the radar as a coach with upside. Perhaps he can learn to use analytics to a more useful degree and avoid being a colossal failure, especially with a lackluster predecessor in Scott Brooks. But there is no way that of all of the coaching candidates in the basketball world, he is the candidate most likely to succeed at one of the most desirable NBA coaching jobs.

Which 2015 Prospects Get To The Rim The Most

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After my 2014 iteration appears to have shown some level of predictive power at the tails, it is worth examining which guards and wings have created their own shot at the rim the best. Using hoop-math.com’s splits, I take unassisted rim FG in the half-court minus putbacks to approximate who had the most frequent success of slashing through a set defense and finishing. This could also include post-ups and the splits are at the whim of NCAA play by play keepers, so this should not be treated as gospel. But it is an interesting perspective that can illuminate why an otherwise weak prospect like Jordan Clarkson might have value to NBA teams. I am splitting up the sample into point guards and wings since I found last season that point guards tend to get to the rim more often since they have greater ball handling responsibility.

Point Guards:

Player UA Rim FG Minutes UARF/40
Olivier Hanlan 47 1204 1.56
Delon Wright 43 1165 1.48
Kris Dunn 39 1123 1.39
Yogi Ferrell 40 1186 1.35
Cam Payne Fresh 37 1111 1.33
Jerian Grant 45 1408 1.28
Tyrone Wallace 30 1152 1.04
D’Angelo Russell 25 1188 0.84
Briante Weber 11 529 0.83
Cam Payne Soph 23 1127 0.82
TJ McConnell 23 1158 0.79
Terry Rozier 22 1260 0.70
Tyus Jones 23 1322 0.70
Andrew Harrison 15 994 0.60
Shannon Scott 11 1068 0.41

Olivier Hanlan leads the pack, and this might be a hint that he is worth a mid-late 2nd round flier.

Delon Wright is the real winner of this analysis in my mind. Not that his grade is exceptional, but I perceived him as a player who would struggle to create against superior defenses since he is neither a high usage scorer nor is he a great athlete. But this suggests he has more slither than I had credited him for in my mind, and with his length, sharp instincts, and stellar NCAA production he may be the hidden gem of the draft.

Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant are right around where I expected them to be. If anything I am slightly disappointed that neither showed much more slashing potential than expected.

I showed Cameron Payne’s freshman and sophomore split to display how wonky a single season sample can be. Payne actually showed large upticks in his two point volume and efficiency from freshman to sophomore season, yet fell off a cliff with respect to this specific split. Perhaps the Murray State play by play keeper became much more stingier with the definition of a rim attempt, as Murray State went from 42% rim, 22.6% mid-range splits to 34.9% rim, 31.4% mid-range splits with almost entirely the same roster. Payne does throw up a bunch of short range floaters so it would stand to reason that he would have a number of FG’s on the border between rim and non-rim attempts. Either way this is a bit of a red flag, he is a sophomore playing in the Ohio Valley Conference and probably will not be a lock down defensive player in the pros. And even if he gets to the rim in the NBA, he may not have the size or athleticism to consistently finish. This is a friendly reminder to not get too carried away with the mid-major sweetheart as draft sleeper.

D’Angelo Russell’s split is a big disappointment, and the only major red flag in his draft profile. He is only a freshman, and he does appear to have the handle and shake to become a decent slasher in the NBA. But perhaps this is a sign that his lack of burst outweighs his shifty ways, and that he will struggle to create rim attempts the same way that James Harden does. Harden overcomes his lack of burst with an elite euro-step, and if Russell is only decent at stepping through the defense he may be a big disappointment. Perhaps this stat is a fluke, or maybe Russell overcomes it as he adds bulk and continues to polish his skill set. He still does have a stellar skill package and this is not necessarily reason to disregard that. But it explains his shaky splits vs. good competition and it prevents him from being a guaranteed stud like Karl Towns and Justise Winslow.

Tyus Jones also has a disappointing split. He is a freshman projected to go in the mid-late 1st round, so this is not quite cause to firesale his draft equity. But it is worth pondering what his edge will be over the other talented PG’s in the NBA as a small jump shooting PG.

Terry Rozier’s splits show why I do not perceive him to be much of a prospect. He is 6’2″, just turned 21, and is below average at slashing, passing, and shooting. At best he is a late 2nd round pick.

Andrew Harrison is not an NBA caliber basketball player. Not much new to see here. He would be a waste of a draft pick.

Wings:

Player UA Rim FG Minutes UARF/40
Norman Powell 55 1244 1.77
Dez Wells 31 853 1.45
Sam Dekker 44 1239 1.42
Rashad Vaughn 22 742 1.19
Tyler Harvey 33 1182 1.12
Wesley Saunders 28 1032 1.09
Justise Winslow 30 1135 1.06
Justin Anderson 17 724 0.94
Buddy Hield 22 1135 0.78
Michael Qualls 21 1086 0.77
Caris LeVert 12 645 0.74
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 19 1090 0.70
Anthony Brown 23 1320 0.70
Josh Richardson 19 1162 0.65
RJ Hunter 21 1294 0.65
Jarell Martin 17 1159 0.59
Stanley Johnson 13 1081 0.48
Aaron Harrison 12 1004 0.48
Kelly Oubre 7 756 0.37
JP Tokoto 8 1106 0.29
Devin Booker 4 816 0.20

Norman Powell and Dez Wells stand out as possible round 2 sleepers as both are toolsy wings who may be solid roleplayers with some 3 point shooting upticks. Powell is especially intriguing as he is a great athlete who measured to have a monster 6’11” wingspan 5 years ago.

I called Sam Dekker a boring prospect, but this is one area where he stands out. He has the athleticism and handle to get to the rim, and the size to finish over anybody. I am warming up to him after seeing him beat Willie Cauley-Stein off the dribble and finish over him, which is something that happens approximately never.

Rashad Vaughn continues to strengthen my belief that he is an underrated one and done due to playing for arguably the worst NCAA coach in Dave Rice. He can probably get buckets at the NBA level, and it’s only a matter of gambling on his BBIQ and feel developing into a complete player. The latter is not likely to come to fruition, but in the late 1st it is worth a shot.

Justise Winslow grades out extremely well for a freshman SF who was alleged to lack creation skills. His explosiveness paired with a nice euro-step gives him sneaky upside as a slasher, especially if he continues to polish his handle and finishing ability. His draft profile is completely loaded with green flags, and he is at worst my #2 prospect in the draft behind Karl Towns.

Stanley Johnson does not assuage my creation concerns for him with his score, as some of his buckets could even be from post-ups. But Kelly Oubre ranks even worse, which throws cold water on my affinity for him as a sleeper, even though I knew that he does not have much shake in his game.

Devin Booker did not get much ball handling responsibility sharing the floor with the Harrisons and Tyler Ulis, but this is a red flag nevertheless. He has solid 2p% statistics but it is not because of his ability to create for himself. Without athleticism, length, defense, rebounding, or creation I simply do not see how he is worth a look in the lottery.

Updating My Prospect Perception

I posted my reactions to 2014 draft rookie seasons, and if there is one point to be gleaned: I underrated athleticism. The players that I overrated are all non-leapers and the players the I regret bashing the most (Wiggins and LaVine) are the top two athletes in the draft. Rodney Hood is not an exceptional athlete, but among the players that I graded as bad defensive prospects (McDermott, Napier, Hood, Stauskas) he comfortably has the best first step and delivered comfortably the best offensive performance as a rookie.

I had an inkling that athleticism was overrated since I am a habitual fader of hype, and athleticism seems to correlate with hype. But there are plenty of non-athlete prospects that were overhyped, and after witnessing my predictions in motion I believe athleticism might actually be underrated.

The other issue is that I was far too wary of statistical performances in my rankings. Sometimes NCAA statistics will call to attention relevant details that receive too little attention from scouts and GM’s, such as Adreian Payne’s age and poor feel for the game. But they often reflect success that does not directly translate to the NBA, and paying it too much regard led me down the wrong path a handful of times. While statistics are a helpful tabulation that should always price in, it is impossible to form efficient draft rankings without the aid of physical profiles and the eye test.

If I wanted to have more efficient rankings, I could have taken fewer risks and shaded my disagreements a bit moreso toward consensus. But I am a habitual upstream swimmer and it helped illuminate the flaws in my thought processes to really go out on limbs, so I gambled away. Ultimately it resulted in a messier final big board than necessary, but this was also an inevitable result of experimenting with a wide range of ideas that were not all good.

On the positive side of the equation, my idea to track who creates their own half-court buckets at the rim appears to be a possibly relevant one. The players who excelled all appear to be great draft values: Elfrid Payton, TJ Warren, and Jordan Clarkson. Austin Rivers is there as a friendly reminder that you need to do things other than slash to the rim to become a good NBA’er. Conversely the players who ranked horribly tend to be busts: Cleanthony Early, Shabazz Napier, CJ Wilcox, Kyle Anderson, and Gary Harris stand out. Zach LaVine is a player who might buck the trend due to his inexperience and lack of ball handling duties, and Marcus Smart may not be a bust but it certainly is not because of his slashing ability displayed as a rookie.

My first writeup was entitled “The Draft Starts With Defense” and it is not the worst motto. After parsing through my defensive cliff notes, there appears to be a correlation between defensive aptitude and value with respect to draft slot.

Because I am addicted to making lists, this is what my pre-draft rankings should have been strictly based on pre-draft information. There may be a hint of hindsight bias involved, but it’s not like this ranking counts for anything anyway. I am leaving out Bruno Caboclo because there is no way I could have accurately assessed him without knowing he existed:

1. Joel Embiid

2. Aaron Gordon
3. Andrew Wiggins
4. Marcus Smart
5. Dante Exum

6. TJ Warren
7. Elfrid Payton
8. Jabari Parker
9. Jusuf Nurkic
10. Clint Capela

11. Noah Vonleh
12. Mitch McGary
13. Damien Inglis
14. KJ McDaniels
15. Tyler Ennis
16. Spencer Dinwiddie
17. Dario Saric
18. James Young
19. Nikola Jokic
20. Jarnell Stokes
21. Julius Randle
22. Zach LaVine
23. Kyle Anderson
24. Nik Stauskas
25. Jordan Adams
26. Vasilije Micic
27. Bogdan Bogdanovic
28. Gary Harris
29. PJ Hairston
30. Jerami Grant
31. Walter Taveras
32. Adreian Payne
33. Rodney Hood
34. Doug McDermott
35. Jordan Clarkson
36. Glenn Robinson
37. Dwight Powell
38. Semaj Christon
39. Alec Brown
40. Nick Johnson

2014 Draft Class Rookie Year Review

Now that we have a full season of new information for the 2014 draft class, it is time to update my beliefs. It will still be a while before we have a clear image of who should have been picked where, but the new information is also not trivial so I can offer some tentative self assessments with draft slot, my final big board rank, and my post summer league rank.

Players I overrated:

Dante Exum: Drafted: #5, Final Big: #2, Post-SL: #4
Nik Stauskas: Drafted #8, Final Big: #14, Post-SL: #15
Tyler Ennis: Drafted: #18, Final Big: #9, Post-SL: #16
Kyle Anderson: Drafted: #30, Final Big: #15, Post-SL: #19

Interestingly I cannot find many players that I badly overrated. Part of this is that it remains to be seen whether my optimism for players such as KJ McDaniels, Jarnell Stokes, and the entire international class was warranted. So for now these prospects are the focal point.

By far the biggest surprise among players I liked was Dante Exum, and I was even prepared to be surprised for him. While he gets some slack for being young and having a steep rise in competition, it is difficult to envision him becoming a star after his rookie season. To some extent it is acceptable to say he was a worthwhile gamble that did not pay off as hoped and move on. But it is worth noting 2 key details that could have received more attention pre-draft

1) My motto is that upside is all that matters in the draft, and it is worth stomaching downside to get a healthy slice of it. But without the proven competence against NCAA competition, a mystery box like Exum loses a chunk of upside since he is less likely to hit his theoretical upper bound than the players who passed that check point.

2) Exum has awesome size and quickness, but his lack of burst did not receive much attention. It seemed that it would be outweighed by his good tools, but his disappointment suggests that explosiveness is particularly important for any high usage slasher.

Tyler Ennis can still go on to have a perfectly decent career, but I only rated him highly because his statistical splits piqued my interest. He never stood out when I watched him play, so this is a simple error of getting too intrigued by a statistical trend that I could not directly explain.

Kyle Anderson had great stats and skill, but moving in slow motion on top of having a questionable work ethic appears to be a problem for him. I do not feel I badly overrated him, but I should have docked him more for being historically unathletic.

Nik Stauskas I correctly pegged as having bad tools and being a guaranteed bad defensive player, but he had qualities I subtly liked enough to not drop him significantly below consensus. I should have ranked him slightly lower because his sophomore year was not offensively dominant enough to brush off his physical and defensive shortcomings.

Players I underrated:
Andrew Wiggins: Drafted: #1, Final Big: #7, Post-SL: #6
Zach LaVine: Drafted #13, Final Big: #35, Post-SL: #10
TJ Warren: Drafted #14, Final Big: #28, Post-SL: #3
Mitch McGary: Drafted #21, Final Big: #25, Post-SL: #9
Rodney Hood: Drafted #23, Final Big: #57, Post-SL: #36
Jordan Clarkson: Drafted: #46, Final Big: #52, Post-SL: NR

Andrew Wiggins has surprised me in a few regards: he fixed the rim finishing woes in a hurry, and he seems to have become less passive as he went from never dunking in the half-court to routinely trying to dunk on giant rim protectors such as Omer Asik and Rudy Gobert. There were a number of subtleties I disliked about him, but it appears that I underweighted his super athleticism. I am not convinced that he is a future star, and I still believe it was insane to take him ahead of Embiid but I should have been less bearish on him.

Zach LaVine is still a bit of a mystery box after finishing his rookie season with negative win shares, but he showed enough potential such that I should have rated him as a 1st rounder.

TJ Warren and Mitch McGary were simple cases of weirdos that I failed to scout and then immediately regretted it as soon as I watched them in summer league. They are going to put big dents in the quality of my final big board, but it merely goes to show that weirdos need to be scouted to be evaluated accurately.

Rodney Hood I am not sure why I dropped all the way to 57th, as I noted that he had potential to be solid offensively in spite of his woeful defense. His post-SL ranking of #36 seems much more reasonable. I could have given his good first step more attention as it has aided his translation to the NBA.

Jordan Clarkson makes a strong case for scoring at the rim unassisted in the half-court being a relevant split as it was his only unique feature.

Players I (hopefully) rated approximately correctly:
Aaron Gordon: Drafted: #4, Final Big: #4, Post-SL: #5
Marcus Smart: Drafted: #6, Final Big: #3, Post-SL: #3
Doug McDermott: Drafted: #11, Final Big: #34, Post-SL: #32
Adreian Payne: Drafted: #15, Final Big: #32, Post-SL: #33
Jusuf Nurkic: Drafted: #16, Final Big: #5, Post-SL: #8
Gary Harris: Drafted: #19, Final Big: #24, Post-SL: #23
Shabazz Napier: Drafted: #24, Final Big: #37, Post-SL: NR
Clint Capela: Drafted #25, Final Big: #6, Post-SL: #14

Aaron Gordon is so young and funky that it is hard to say exactly what he will become as a pro. But he showed enough promise as a rookie to make me feel good about altering my opinion from bearish to bullish.

Marcus Smart has been a disappointment as a slasher, but he has atoned by shooting better than expected from 3 with more spot ups and fewer off the dribble attempts and having sharp passing vision. And as I repeatedly mentioned, he is a stud on defense. He may never become much of a scorer, but he is going to be an awesome role player.

Doug McDermott is the first prospect I wrote about on this blog, and it was for good reason. He never belonged anywhere near the lottery, and after his rookie season I would say that I nailed my analysis of him.

Adreian Payne was a prospect that sounded sweet on paper but was loathed by every statistical model in the world. It was a surprise to see one of the better organizations draft him so early, but it appears that stat nerds have won this debate.

Jusuf Nurkic disappointed a big down the stretch of his rookie season, but overall showed enough promise to verify that he was a top 10 prospect in the draft.

I could have ranked Gary Harris a bit lower, as he seemed to have lots of downside and little upside. But I feel that this is one of my more perceptive positions, as this was a rare case where statistical models and scouts agreed but I did not.

Shabazz Napier was free money to fade. Poor Miami drafted him to impress LeBron and LeBron left them anyway.

There is no evidence to justify my bullishness for Clint Capela yet, but I am merely reinforcing my opinion. This seems like a case where the behind the scenes information caused him to slip, but the fact of the matter is that he was toolsy and productive and the behind the scenes info was likely noise clouding the signal. I look forward to seeing what he can accomplish in a real role next season.

Post-Hoop Summit Freshman Rankings

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After seeing the top 2015 NCAA recruits in their only real game prior to the NCAA season, we finally have a taste for what they have to offer. So it is time for me to publish a way too early 2016 NCAA freshman prospect ranking. Note that this list omits the top recruits that were not in the game such as Diamond Stone and Henry Ellenson, as well as returning upperclassmen and internationals.

#1 Overall Contenders
1. Ben Simmons
Before the game, I was skeptical of Simmons living up to his #1 RSCI hype because of his age and unconventional mold. But after seeing him in action, he won me over as the top prospect in the class. He has uniquely good ball handling and passing skills for a forward and with the size to defend PF’s and quicks to defend SF’s, he offers excellent defensive versatility. This is a trait that projects to become coveted in the near future as defenses that switch relentlessly gain popularity.

He displayed sharp instincts on both ends with his passing vision and anticipation to jump in passing lanes for steals. His only noteworthy warts are his length (6’11) (which is not much to fuss over since he is 6’10” with elite PG skills and quicks) and his lackluster outside shot. Since I am a habitual buyer of prospects who provide everything but shooting, I am happy to roll with Simmons as my early #1 prospect in the class. He reminds me of Lamar Odom with better intangibles.

2. Skal Labissiere
The other consensus contestant for #1 also lived up to the hype, as he displayed great shooting touch from mid-range for an athletic 7 footer and also blocked 6 shots. I rank him below Simmons because he is 4 months older and his underwhelming 7’1.5″ wingspan directly detracts from his strengths of rim protection and shot making. He nevertheless has the necessary height and athleticism to become a good 2 way NBA big man, and is a strong candidate for #1 overall as rim protection and shooting are always a coveted combination of traits.

3. Brandon Ingram
It remains to be seen whether Ingram is actually good at basketball, but he showed enough promise at the Hoop Summit to maintain my interest. Ingram displayed solid feel to avoid mistakes, as he scored 12 points on 5/6 FG’s with 1 assist and 0 TOV’s. He also made some disruptive plays with his length defensively, as he was credited with 1 steal and 1 block and arguably deserved credit for a 2nd steal that went to Isaiah Briscoe.

The tantalizing aspect of Ingram is that he is a rare prospect in the Kevin Durant mold of tall (6.9.5″), lengthy (7’3″), and elite at shooting (42% 3’s 79% FT’s as HS senior). Given that he doesn’t turn 18 until September and is 13.5 months younger than Simmons and 17.5 months younger than Labissiere, he still has time to catch up to Durant’s pre-draft measurements of 6’10.25″ and 7’4.75″. Of course there is more to Durant than being exceptionally lanky and good at shooting, but having go go gadget arms to get off efficient shot attempts at will as well as make plays on D offers unique upside that is missing from other prospects in this class. Ingram appears to have much better feel for the game than Bruno Caboclo, and he can easily prove to be the best prospect in the class after a full NCAA season.

I do not see any clear reason why Ingram is significantly behind Labissiere or Simmons other than him being a late bloomer due to his young age. I believe he has a similar amount of #1 overall equity as the two consensus favorites, and this is more or less a 3 horse race for the top slot.

4. Cheick Diallo
Diallo falls into the dreaded category of 6’9″ player with center skill, but I am nevertheless enamored with him. Between the Hoop Summit and McDonald’s game, Diallo has now posted 30 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 assists, and 1 turnover in 33 minutes. The McDonald’s game is not to be taken seriously as it is more of an all-star showcase than serious basketball, but the man appears to have a knack for stuffing the statsheet. His excellent motor, length (7’4″), and timing enable him to rack up blocks and rebounds, and he has been a putback monster in the two games.

Diallo’s most impressive superpower comes from his beautifully fluid footwork as he is able to race to the rim with impeccable coordination. This reminisces of the smoothness displayed by Joel Embiid, which is a scarce quality in big man prospects. Diallo lacks the height and skill that makes Embiid such a stellar prospect, and this places a damper on his home run upside. But his skill level is not necessarily bad– he appears to be a solid passer for a big man and with his fluidity perhaps he will outperform his projected skill level as a freshman. His oddball mold limits his #1 overall equity, but I envision him dominating NCAA basketball and having myself and statistical models consistently rate him above his perception among scouts.

5. Jaylen Brown
Brown has the physical tools to become a prototypical two way NBA wing, but his disappointing Hoop Summit made it clear that his basketball playing ability and feel are lagging behind his physical gifts. He still has a year to turn things around and prove that he belongs in the #1 conversation, but this could be an early warning sign that he is a bust. He has a wide range of possible rankings at the end his freshman season.

Lotto One and Dones
6. Zhou Qi
Even though he will not be an NCAA freshman, Qi is one of the more fascinating prospects in the game. Qi’s features are that he is 7’2″ with a 7’6.5″ wingspan and is a decent shooter. Reach and shooting are an awesome tool/skill pairing that creates a nice upside, but Qi still needs to improve his 3 point shot to truly capitalize. In the game he did little to stand out in his 12 minutes and somewhat resembled Myles Turner stretched 2 inches upward. But in fairness he did not get much of a chance to show off his offensive skill set, and based on his DX scouting report he has more offensive skill and polish than Turner. I buy that he has plenty of upside, but he will remain a mystery box come draft time with only a Chinese League sample.

7. Stephen Zimmerman
Zimmerman played like a solidly well rounded 7 foot prospect in the Hoop Summit. He has decent length (7’3″), mobility, and athleticism and used his tools to play well defensively. He was disruptive with 2 steals and 2 blocks and also played solid post defense. He also showed a bit of offensive skill as he hit a couple of mid-range jumpers and also beat Labissiere off the dribble and finished over him. Zimmerman does not have any overwhelming strength, but he also lacks glaring weaknesses and his strengths could add up to a strong player.

8. Malik Newman
I entered the Hoop Summit as a Newman bear, as any Monta Ellis shaped chucker is going to pique my short selling interest. But he only played 17 minutes and did little to either win me over or fuel my desire to smash the sell button. He scored 10 points on 4/8 FG and did not display an appalling level of shot selection. Even though he finished with 0 assists, he had an awesome floating pass to Ivan Rabb in transition that Rabb could not finish. Monta Ellis is not a good NBA player, but he has also not been bad playing for Rick Carlisle. If Newman is a more athletic and better shooting version, he can be pretty good. I will wait for a significant sample of NCAA play before I take a position on Newman.

9. Jamal Murray
While Murray is technically a member of the 2016 recruiting class, he is considering reclassifying to 2015 and after his MVP performance in the Hoop Summit I do not see why he would not. He was ranked #16 Rivals and #27 Scout due to largely pedestrian tools as he is 6’5″ with 6’7″ length and average athleticism. But he blew away expectations by flashing shades of D’Angelo Russell en route to his 30 point, 5 assist performance. Much of his production was accrued from jumpshots and transition, so it should come with a grain of salt. But it also cannot be dismissed as sheer variance. Murray showed excellent skill and feel as well as better than advertised athleticism, and his performance could be an early warning sign that he was criminally underrated entering the game.

10. Ivan Rabb
Rabb falls into the same PF/C category as Cheick Diallo, as he is a bit undersized for a center (6’9.75″ w/ 7’2″ wing 215 lbs) and has a questionable skill level for a PF. His powers are that he is smooth and explosive with nice touch around the rim. Unfortunately he only played 8 minutes in the Hoop Summit, and he was one of the players I most looked forward to watching. I remain cautiously optimistic for him for no real reason, his NCAA sample could shift him in either direction.

Late 1sts/Players Who Will Spend > 1 Season in College
11. Chase Jeter
Jeter is type of recruit who keeps Duke locked into the top 10 every year, as he does not have the flash or upside to draw significant interest as an elite pick but has strong potential as a useful role player. He was the youngest player on team USA, edging out Brandon Ingram by 2 weeks. He did not show much burst or skill, but he has good quickness for his size. He used his mobility to stay active on defense and tied for the team USA lead with 5 rebounds. Much like Diallo and Rabb, he is undersized for a center and his NBA stock hinges on the development of his skill level. But Jeter is also a bit less shiny, and Coach K has a knack for coercing late 1st rounders to stick around. It’s possible that he sneaks into the back end of the 2016 lottery, and it’s also possible that he spends 4 quality years at Duke.

12. Allonzo Trier
Trier is the type of recruit who has turned Arizona into a perennial powerhouse. He is a prototypical 2 way NCAA wing who offers athleticism, shooting, defense, and sharp instincts. At the end of the 1st quarter he made an exceptional play where he quickly corralled a long offensive rebound and whipped a pass to Caleb Swanigan for an easy layup a hair before time expired. Most prospects would have chucked a mid-ranger to beat the buzzer, and this is the type of heady play that cannot be learned. Trier negated this with some frustrating plays in transition, as he had a tendency to attack out of control and would barrel into the defensive player and get swatted or lose the ball. These are the type of plays that can be weeded out with further repetitions, but it is disappointing that an athletic wing does not have more shake in the open floor, especially considering his age as the oldest member of team USA. There is enough to like such that he has a strong shot of getting drafted in the round 1, but his age and short arms (6’6″) temper his upside.

13. Jalen Brunson
Brunson was quietly hyperefficient in the Hoop Summit, scoring 12 points on 2/4 FG 8/8 FT with 7 assists and 1 TOV. He is tiny and not exceptionally athletic, but he has some sneaky upside as he has awesome skill and plenty of shake to get to the rim. Also he is creative at getting off rim attempts over the trees in spite of his diminutive size.

14. Thon Maker
How bearish is it right to be on an allegedly skilled 7 footer who in spite of his pathetic offensive showing still corralled 10 rebounds in 14 minutes? I am not sure, but watching Thon Maker try to play basketball resembled a drunk baby trying to walk for the first time ever. He consistently fumbled loose balls, tossed passes that missed his teammate by a mile, left his feet without a clue of what to do with the ball, and attempted shots directly into the hands of the opposing defender. He was clumsy with horrific feel for the game. While the latter may be improved with repetitions against quality competition, the former figures to persist as a thorn in his upside. He looked like he will be lucky to become as good as Byron Mullens and I am really not sure how much his size and alleged skill can overcome his warts. And frankly I am befuddled by the narrative that he is highly skilled since he appears to operate with four hooves instead of two hands and two feet. It still is just one game so I will leave my mind open to it being fluke for some reason but at this point I could not be more bearish on Maker.

15. Isaiah Briscoe

While Briscoe had a good line of 9 points, 9 assists, 3 steals, and 2 turnovers, I cannot help but feel pessimistic for his NBA upside. For starters it is impossible to not compare him to Andrew Harrison as he is the prototypical under explosive bully who will struggle to translate to higher levels of competition. His big advantage over Harrison is superior vision which should help ease his transition to college. But he has no burst and little shake to get to the rim, and he seems like he will be attempting far more mid-range shots and floaters than layups against set defenses. Further he showed poor shot selection as in a crucial possession in the final 2 minutes he attempted an off the dribble mid-ranger following a spin move with 6’10” Ben Simmons blanketed over him, which is pretty much the worst possible shot imaginable. He was bailed out by a foul but then went on to miss both free throws including an airball. Also he is one of the older members of the class as he turned 19 several days after the game. His size and PG skills give Briscoe equity to amount to something, but I do not see anything special to give him enticing upside.

16. Luke Kennard
After a surprisingly fun and likable collection of one and dones made Duke’s 2015 championship run less loathsome to the casual fan, Luke Kennard should restore order to the program’s hatable nature as he has strong potential to be a prototypical Duke villain. His tools are only average for an NCAA wing, which means that he should stick around for a while and with his skill level and knack for scoring he could give JJ Redick’s school scoring record a run for its money. Kennard impressed in the Hoop Summit scoring 22 points on 9/18 FG’s with 0 turnovers, and it is hard to not compare him to Redick with similar physical profiles and styles of play. He could eventually become a first round pick.

Lock Bust
23423042. Caleb Swanigan
Swanigan only played 12 minutes in the Hoop Summit but that was enough to convince me to furiously smash the sell button. Not that he was considered much of a prospect anyway, but I am fairly confident that he never will be. He looked clueless on the floor as he stood and watched 6’10” Tai Wynard post up 6’3.5″ Isaiah Briscoe and easily convert a layup from two feet away without even thinking about offering help. Later he continued to make Briscoe’s life difficult as he neglected to call out a screen and watched Briscoe get blasted to the hardwood. Offensively he appears to subscribe to the Julius Randle school of blindly attacking double and triple teams and getting swatted or turning it over. At 6’7.75″ and 271 pounds he appears to be a bully who lacks the feel and IQ to translate his game to elite levels of competition. He does have exceptionally long arms at 7’3.5″ and is a beast on the glass, so perhaps Tom Izzo can find a way to make him a productive NCAA player. But the habitual conclusion jumper inside me says that it’s safe to declare that he’s not going to be a useful NBA player.

Serving Justice to Justise: Should Winslow Go #1?

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In spite of Justise Winslow having an insane tournament run where he has consistently been the best player on the floor while looking like a cyborg amongst boys, it has not been a common reaction to discuss him as the #1 pick. He has elevated himself from a mid-late lottery pick to #6 ESPN and #5 DX, but has yet to gain any traction as a possible top 2 pick. This is likely because he was only the #13 RSCI player, and the top two candidate for #1 have been performing as advertised all season. It feels overreactive to suddenly elevate Winslow above them based on a few strong tournament games. This is normally an acceptable line of thought to prevent draft assessments from going off the rails, but Justise is special and deserves special consideration.

First it must be addressed why he was only the #13 RSCI recruit. DraftExpress’s pre-season video lists his weaknesses as perimeter shooting, offensive creation, and limited upside. Perimeter shooting lingers as a question mark, as Winslow has only shot 96/149 (64.4%) on FT and 23/89 (25.8%) on non-rim 2PA. But this is mitigated by his 45/108 (41.7%) 3 point shooting. While it is not a given that he will be an adequate 3 point shooter in the NBA, his odds are strong enough such that this is not a glaring red flag.

Offensive creation is an area where Winslow has clearly exceeded expectations. His ball handling still needs polish, but this has not stopped him from creating his own shot at the rim in the half-court. He combines his great first step with surprisingly smooth footwork to be one of the most productive wings at creating his own shot at the rim in the half-court in the draft. Using hoop-math.com’s splits, he has 30 unassisted rim FG (not including putbacks). Looking at last year’s class, his per minute rate exceeds that of most NCAA prospects in the draft, including all of the top 6 picks. The players who graded exceptionally well such as Jordan Clarkson, TJ Warren, and Elfrid Payton all appear to be good draft values, so I believe this is a relevant split to examine. Winslow’s freshman rate is comfortably behind the three of them, but they were all upperclassmen and it would not be surprising to see Winslow get to the rim with extreme frequency if he were to return as a sophomore. He clearly has significant upside as a slasher, especially if he can continue to improve his handle at a brisk rate.

The limited upside criticism has always felt overplayed to me to see for a player as young, toolsy, and skilled as Winslow, but I will nevertheless entertain the logic. He does not have great height/length for a SF (measured 6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan at the Hoop Summit) and he was advertised as a good but not elite athlete. With a limited offensive skill set, it is understandable why he may have been seen as a 1 way defensive player. That said it is safe to dismiss the limited upside criticism with the promise he has shown as a slasher as well as his athleticism being better than advertised. He grades well athletically by every statistical measure from rebounds, steals, and blocks to rim creation and rim finishing splits. His athleticism also stands out by watching him play, especially with his monster transition defense.

I suspect that another factor plaguing Winslow’s upside perception is that there simply isn’t a superstar small forward that we can comfortably compare him to other than Kawhi Leonard who is much longer and a special snowflake that is generally an ill advised comp to make. On the other end, Chad Ford has been pitching Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as a Winslow comparison which is an extremely pessimistic projection for two reasons.

1) MKG had good tools, but explosive athleticism was not one of them. Elite strength with average burst is a common mold for disappointing translation from NCAA to NBA.
2) MKG’s NCAA statistics imply some hope for capable NBA 3 point shooting, but he has only shot 3/18 beyond the arc in his first 3 seasons. If Winslow is a complete non-threat from 3 then yes he will be disappointing, but this is the rock bottom end of his range.

As a cherry on top, VJL’s EWP formula ranks Winslow (8.7) ahead of MKG (7.0) entering the final 4. Winslow should be a better NBA player than MKG the overwhelming majority of the time. There remains a lack of a suitable upside comparison as one does not exist, so instead of forcing one it is better to evaluate Winslow on his own merits:

-His overall NCAA statistics are excellent. As a freshman he is filling every predictive part of the stat sheet other than FT% and mid-range shooting.
-His second half splits are staggering as he battled minor injuries earlier in the season and also has clearly improved his game as the season has progressed.
-Most of his monster games have come against the meat of the ACC schedule and tough matchups in the NCAA tournament.
-His athleticism, strength, and quickness are all big +’s. Height and length are not great, but they are not weaknesses if he has grown a half an inch or more since the Hoop Summit.
-He offers an elite defensive IQ and versatility. This is supported by Duke having the #12 kenpom defense while featuring offensive minded players as his primary support in Quinn Cook, Jahlil Okafor, and Tyus Jones.
-His individual dominance has correlated with team success as Duke has been smashing its competition during his 2nd half hot streak.

In short, Winslow’s statistics put him within arm’s length of the #1 spot when taken at face value. Every possible reason to value his statistics differently suggests that stats underrate him when taken at face value– physical tools, defensive reputation, second half splits, splits vs. top competition, team success, and rim creation splits/skills all grade favorably for him. The only possible hole in his game is perimeter shooting, but he nevertheless has a sizable slice of equity to become an average or better NBA shooter. Winslow glows with awesomeness from every angle and his draft stock should be valued tremendously high. He is a prototypical high floor, high ceiling two way wing prospect who is deserves consideration for the #1 overall selection.

Justise does not necessarily belong ahead of Karl Towns, as high floor, high ceiling two way center prospects are good too, and it is genuinely close between the two. The more important point is that Winslow’s perception needs to be updated from a solid consolation prize in the 4-7 range to a legitimate stud who is one of the top top prizes in this year’s draft and a favorite to become an all-star at some point in his NBA career. He really is that good, and it is time to treat him as such.

2015 Big Board– How Do We Rate Mudiay?

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Elite Tier

1. Karl Towns
2. Justise Winslow
3. D’Angelo Russell

These prospects are all high floor high ceiling studs. I would grade all of them in the range of a high end #2 pick to an average #1 in an average draft. Towns gets #1 because he’s a two way big prospect, and then Winslow and Russell are exceptionally close for #2. I favor Winslow because of his late season destruction and awesome tools, but Russell’s skill package is exceptional and he could be quite the offensive weapon. Whoever drafts these guys in the #3-5 range are going to be winners in this draft.

Note: I rate all three players below Joel Embiid and above all other prospects in the 2014 class.

Unique Blend of Elite Skill and Appalling Warts
4. Jahlil Okafor

Okafor is the most skilled low post freshman NCAA scorer I have ever watched, and I believe it will translate to the NBA given his monster size, length, hands, as well as footwork and rim touch. But he has holes in his game that the other top guys do not, and his lack of rim protection and shooting makes it difficult to place him in a lineup that maximizes his awesome low post scoring. He fits comfortably into the #4 slot on my big board, as there is a wide chasm between the top 3 and the rest of the class.

Upsidey Guys Who Are Starting To Get a Bit Warty
5. Emmanuel Mudiay

Assessing Mudiay’s draft stock is an interesting topic. I am a big advocate of swinging for the fences, since upside is far more important than downside and passing up a future star for a decent player is far more harmful than passing up a decent player for a bust.  But the mystery box factor actually puts a dent in a Mudiay’s upside, as passing the check point of NCAA competence makes a player more likely to achieve their theoretical upside.

If Mudiay had spent this past season in college, he may have been as disappointing as past prospects such as Andrew Harrison, Marquis Teague, Austin Rivers, etc. Based on descriptions that his game needs polish, it is highly unlikely that he would have outperformed his #2 RSCI pedigree and boosted his stock by any significant margin. The fact that he is being evaluated as if he played NCAA and lived up to the hype is insane, as he is avoiding the risk that he falls out of favor with scouts with his flaws under a microscope without any opportunity cost. Drafting him over Winslow or Russell would be an unequivocal mistake with so much more downside and little (if any) additional upside.

This point should be especially obvious with the rookie disappointment of Dante Exum, who I believe had a more compelling thin slice. Mudiay’s physical tools are slightly preferrable, as he is more explosive with a better frame but does not quite have Exum’s quickness and is an inch shorter. Both have a gaping wart in their shooting ability, with Mudiay’s being marginally more worrisome. The difference maker is that Exum was reputed as having a superior basketball IQ and feel for the game, which I agreed with based on the one game eye test. I do not believe Mudiay has a poor feel or basketball IQ like Andrew Harrison does, but his decision making has been called into question and nothing shines for him skill wise. Everything is sheer potential– he could be a great PG if he adds polish to his half-court skill. He could be a beast defensively, but I see little discussion of him actually showing noteworthy acumen or intensity on that end. Any discussion of his draft stock needs to come with the glaring red flag that he might be terrible at basketball.

There is a point in the top 10 where it is worth taking the risk that he is bad at basketball given his physical tools, which are comfortably above average across the board. With height, length, speed, quickness, strength, and athleticism, he offers the whole package. But he nevertheless does not have the freaky nuclear athleticism of John Wall, Derrick Rose, or Russell Westbrook, which makes playing Mudiay roulette a bit less enticing. I am not sure exactly where to place him, but 5th is the maximum reasonable peak and he could be argued to go a fair bit lower. I am keeping him 5th for now because I don’t have any strong conviction that any of my lower prospects ran above him, but he is much closer to 10th in my book than is to the top 3.

6. Willie Cauley-Stein
7. Kelly Oubre
8. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
9. Stanley Johnson
10. Mario Hezonja
11. Kristaps Porzingis

These players all have arguments ahead of Mudiay. WCS offers the super power of elite footspeed and quickness in player with legitimate center size, which gives him tantalizing defensive versatility. Offensively he is strictly a garbage man, but he does not force bad shots and his FT% is improving, so he should at least be efficient in his limited role.

I already shared in depth thoughts on Kelly Oubre and Stanley Johnson. I noted in my writeup that I gravitate toward Oubre being the 5th best prospect, but I really don’t have enough faith in him being actually good at basketball to boldly place him above WCS and Mudiay. For now I am playing it safe and keeping him 7th.

On the other hand, I do have loads of faith in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He is the Marcus Smart of this draft who is a defensive stud and the type of player who will find ways to help his team win games. His lack of 3 point range or offensive creation skill places a damper on his stock. But he is not a complete zero offensively since he is a good passer, an electric finisher, and has a respectable FT%. With his awesome tools and defensive versatility, I believe it is wise to just take him in the lottery and gamble that offensive game fills out adequately one way or another.

Mario Hezonja is a mystery box that I have little grasp on. With his athleticism, I buy the narrative that he has upside so 10th feels like a good place to rank him.

‘Staps is also a mystery box, and with Layne Vashro repeatedly tweeting the Bargnani comparison I have a hard time getting excited for him. With rumors of questionable work ethic and Staps being soft on the glass, it feels like some form of disappointment is inevitable. But he’s young, tall, toolsy, he can shoot, and I have not scouted him so I can’t take a strong anti-Staps position with great fervor.

Quality Role Players
12. Kevon Looney
13. Jakob Poeltl Somehow Rhymes with Turtle
14. Frank Kaminsky
15. Tyus Jones
16. Myles Turner
17. Kris Dunn
18. Christian Wood
19. Delon Wright
20. Sam Dekker

Looney’s stats are nice and his tools seem decent enough. Same with Frank, although smoothness for his size is his calling card rather than physical tools.

I want to love Poeltl more, as he offers nice rebounding and defense. But to my eye his offensive game feels a bit choppy, and I am skeptical of his upside on that end. Still a solid guy to take in the back end of the lottery.

It’s worth worrying that Tyus Jones will struggle translating his NCAA production similar to Tyler Ennis and Trey Burke, as he is tiny and not exceptionally athletic. But he has awesome skill, razor sharp instincts, and a better first step than his fellow undertooled T’s, so mid-1st round seems like a good time to gamble.

Myles Turner offers a unique blend of size and shooting, but to my eye he appears to be a stiff. He doesn’t pass, doesn’t get offensive rebounds, and was oddly inefficient inside the arc given his size and shooting ability. And in spite of his stellar block rate, he is not explosive and does not have the monster size of less athletic rim protectors such as Roy Hibbert or Rudy Gobert. Unless he develops a good NBA 3 point shot that he can get off at a high volume with his reach, I do not see him amounting to much as a pro.

Kris Dun has solid tools + solid stats and his mid-1st round standing seem appropriate. But I haven’t scouted him much so my opinion currently lacks depth.

Christian Wood I have not scouted, but on the surface he is intriguing to me. He offers rebounding, shot blocking, and has potential to develop into a stretch 4. He dominated in UNLV’s surprise win vs. Arizona, and he was certainly not aided by playing for one of the absolute worst NCAA coaches in Dave Rice. I am not sure he is necessarily underrated, but he is a player I would give a long and hard look if I was an NBA team with a mid-late 1st round pick.

Sam Dekker has been receiving loads of hype for his NCAA tournament performance, but to me he is the most bland prospect in the draft. He does not have any gaping weaknesses nor does he shine at anything in particular. I believe he will be a decent rotation player in the NBA, but I don’t see all that much upside.

In contrast to Dekker, Delon Wright has all sorts of funky polarity. I suspect that his lack of strength, quickness, or explosiveness will prevent him from translating his stellar college production to the NBA. But with his awesome combination of height, length, skill, basketball IQ, and instincts, he is a unique prospect and it is difficult to place a hard cap on his upside with high confidence. Thus he trades over boring Dekker.

Boring Role Players
21. Jerian Grant
22. Devin Booker
23. Caris LeVert
24. Bobby Portis
25. Trey Lyles
26. RJ Hunter
27. Cameron Payne
28. Rashad Vaughn
29. Robert Upshaw
30. Josh Richardson

This tier is more boring Dekker-ish players. Jerian Grant has an intriguing blend of physical tools, shooting, passing, and shot creation. But he also is old and has an bizarrely low rebound rate which is a bit of a red flag. I like him but feel he is slightly overrated after Notre Dame’s tournament run.

Devin Booker is the youngest prospect in the draft and can shoot the lights out, but offers little else. His passing and BBIQ are both solid, but he is a t-rex who is not particularly athletic and has exceptionally low steal, block, and rebound rates. He does not figure to make an impact defensively or with shot creation. He is a bland floor spacer to me.

Caris LeVert does a little bit of everything and has decent tools. His value takes a small hit because he missed most of this past season with a foot injury, but he could become a nice role player for a late 1st round pick.

Bobby Portis had a highly productive sophomore year– he is skilled, smart, and he plays hard. He has potential to become a solid stretch 4 in the NBA. But his lack of athleticism prohibits him from making a big impact, although I do suspect that his pro defensive impact exceeds what you would expect given his physical tools.

Trey Lyles is similar to Portis, and has even better handles and creation ability. But Portis strikes me as the more intelligent player, so I’m giving him the slight edge.

RJ Hunter is a 3 + maybe D prospect. Josh Richardson is a maybe 3 + D prospect.

Cameron Payne is the funkiest and most unique prospect in this tier. While he has lackluster tools for an NBA PG, he atones with a strong skill set as he guided Murray State to the 14th best kenpom offense in the NCAA. He is somewhat intoxicating to watch, and I feel compelled to make an campaign that Cam Payne has sneaky upside. But I can’t place my finger on a strong logical reason behind this, and with such PG depth in the NBA I do not want to overrate an undertooled PG dominating weak college competition.

Rashad Vaughn was the #10 RSCI recruit. While he appears to be a chucker, he posted solid NCAA statistics for an 18 year old. Like Christian Wood I am intrigued to see what he can accomplish once freed from the shackles of his horrific coach.

Robert Upshaw has serious red flags in his intangibles since he has been kicked off two college teams, but he is such a monster rebounder and rim protector that I remain intrigued.

From Rags To Richardson: How an NBA Team Could Find a Late Draft Steal

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One of my favorite NCAA stories last season was the run of the Tennessee Volunteers. After fans started a midseason partition to fire coach Cuonzo Martin, the team suddenly caught white hot fire and started destroying everything in its path en route to a surprise Sweet 16 berth. In a season where a 7 seed beat an 8 seed for the championship, Tennessee was the sole team that finished with a better Kenpom rank (7) than tournament seed (11) (Correction– Louisville qualified too). This earned NBA attention for leading scorers Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae, but the unnoticed and unsung hero of this run was Josh Richardson.

Richardson had the reputation as the team’s best on ball defender. Whether this label truly belonged to him or McRae, the two wings were collectively doing something right on defense. Tennessee finished with the #19 kenpom D while neither forcing many turnovers nor having a rim protecting big with Jarnell Stokes and bowling ball shaped Jeronne Maymon patrolling the paint. McRae (3.3%) and Richardson (2.8%) both contended with Stokes (2.9%) for top block rate in the starting lineup. The collective defense was a team effort, but it speaks well for Richardson’s defense that he had a reputation as the stopper on a good defensive team with no clear playmaker on that end.

Offensively, Richardson’s role is approximately what it will be in the NBA, as McRae and Stokes carried the scoring load. Richardson posted a humble 17.3 usage rate, but with a good 2p% (54.4%) and assist:TOV (2.0 to 1.3) and an adequate 3p% (34.0), he led the starters in O-Rtg. This shows that he can fit in as an efficient role player, but does little justice to the havoc he wreaked during the tourney.

In Tennessee’s 4 tournament games, Richardson averaged 19.3 points, 3.0 assists, and just 1.5 TOV’s while shooting an incredible 25/32 (78.1%!!!) inside the arc. In fairness, Tennessee face weak opposition by tourney standards before losing to 2 seed Michigan in a game where the favorite required 11/20 3 point shooting to win by 2. But he nevertheless put on his domination pants and dominated the hell out of the tournament.

Unfortunately for J-Rich, this wasn’t enough to garner scouts attention. This year he was the only returning player among Tennessee’s top 6, and they had a new coach to boot. So he was forced to carry a thin, under talented roster in obscurity, and he did an admirable job. Now the team’s primary playmaker, he led the team in usage and assist rate and did so efficiently leading the team in O-Rtg. With J-Rich doing everything, Tennessee finished respectably with the 68th best kenpom offense. Defensively, Tennessee now played a press-zone defense that was much less effective than Cuonzo’s man to man, but Richardson led the team in steal rate while having the second lowest foul rate ahead only of Robert Hubbs who avoided fouls by avoiding playing defense with 1/3 the STL/BLK rates of J-Rich. He also had the 3rd highest DRB% of Tennessee’s 9 man rotation, as he stuffed the stat sheet in every regard for the rebuilding Volunteers.

Of course stats only tell part of the story, and while there is not much visual evidence of Richardson on the Internet this highlight video gives a taste of how he appears in motion:

-He is clearly an above average athlete for an NBA wing
-He is 6’6″ with solid length, and while he is a bit wiry he has the size to guard SG’s and smaller SF’s
-There is no evidence of lateral quicks, but based on defensive reputation and athleticism it seems safe to assume that they are at least satisfactory
-He shows surprisingly smooth footwork with a couple of nice eurosteps at 2:37 and 2:53

There is little to dislike about J-Rich. He has good tools for an NBA wing, he has shown that he can play efficiently as a role player, he has adequate creation skill for a 3 + D wing, and all signs point toward him having a realistic shot of becoming a + defensive wing in the pros. His biggest knock is that he wasn’t a superstar as an NCAA senior, but this is mitigated by him being young for his class as he does not turn 22 until September.

The next worst thing to say about him is that he only shot 31.8% from 3 for his college career. He shot just 22.5% as a freshman and sophomore before improving to 35.1% as a junior and senior with 79.6% FT’s to back up his 3 point improvement. While this still may not make him quite the sharpshooter that teams seek in a 3 + D prospect, shooting is the most improvable skill and it’s certainly within his range to become a high 30’s NBA 3 point shooter. If nothing else it is much more efficient to seek 3 + D types in good defensive players who need minor shooting upticks over sharpshooting athletes who need to learn how to play D at age 23 (I am looking at you, CJ Wilcox).

Richardson currently ranks in neither ESPN nor DX’s top 100, but I believe he is a good target in the late 1st or early 2nd round. This year’s 1st round is deep and good, but looking at DX’s 2nd round mock draft there are very few players that I even consider over J-Rich. Perhaps his hype never picks up and he goes undrafted, but I am a fan and will be rooting for him to find a role on an NBA team.

Stanley Johnson vs. Kelly Oubre: Who is the #2 NCAA SF?

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Justise Winslow has locked himself in as my #1 NCAA SF with his beastly 2nd half, but there remains a compelling debate regarding the 2nd best NCAA SF between Stanley Johnson vs. Kelly Oubre. On the surface their per 40 statistics are nearly identical:

PTS 2PA 2P% 3PA 3P% FTA FT%
Stanley 19.4 10.1 0.478 4.3 0.371 6.6 0.742
Oubre 17.6 8.1 0.497 5 0.358 5.8 0.718
TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF
Stanley 9.1 2.3 2.1 0.6 3 3.7
Oubre 9.5 1.5 2.2 0.7 2.3 3.8

Stanley is 6 months younger, played more minutes per game (28.4 vs 21.0) and did so for a better team with a better defense. RSCI ranked Stanley #3 and Oubre #8, DX has Stanley 9th and Oubre 13th in the 2015 draft, ESPN has Stanley 11th and Oubre 12th, and Layne Vashro’s EWP grades Stanley (8.4) comfortably ahead of Oubre (5.4). All macro signs point toward Stanley Johnson having a small but clear edge as a prospect. But details are fun and occasionally illuminating, so let’s explore them before ending the article in agreement with consensus.

The biggest difference between the two players comes in their physical profiles. Stanley measured half an inch taller and 33 pounds heavier than Oubre at the Nike Hoop Summit, and has a big edge in physical strength. Oubre counters with go go gadget arms (7’2″ vs 6’11” wingspan), superior athleticism, and vastly superior quickness. Overall Oubre has a much more attractive physical package. While Stanley’s tools are not bad, they come with the red flag that average athletes with excellent strength often struggle to translate their NCAA production to the NBA.

Stanley Johnson somewhat reminisces of a SF version of Marcus Smart, minus the part where he is a defensive outlier. Johnson doesn’t have Smart’s defensive quickness as he gets beaten off the dribble much more frequently, and while he has a good steal rate (3.3%) it pales in comparison to Smart’s outlier rate (5.2%). And in spite of being 4 inches taller he somehow has a lower block rate at 1.6% vs 2.1%. As an NBA rookie, Smart has been an adequate floor spacer and passer, but has largely failed to get to the rim and finish or draw free throws off the dribble. As much as I love Smart, he would be a bland prospect without his awesome defense.

Stanley does not have an identical offensive skill set to Smart, so it is not a given that he will share the same translation issues. He is taller, has a better outside shot, and has a softer touch on short range floaters. But his half-court offense inside the arc is largely limited to driving halfway to the rim and then pulling up for short floaters. Other than that he has some frightening red flags. According to hoop-math.com, here are his 2 point attempts split between transition vs half-court and rim attempts vs mid-rangers:

2P 2PA 2P%
Trans Rim 30 40 75.0%
Trans Mid 17 34 50.0%
HC Rim 29 72 40.3%
HC Mid 55 128 43.0%

Stanley gets flack for his rim finishing, and rightfully so as his half-court splits are particularly ugly. It’s staggering that he is worse on half-court rim attempts than he is on non-rim attempts. For comparison, Marcus Smart shot 37/71 (52.1%) on half-court rim attempts as a freshman and 60/94 (63.8%) as a sophomore. Given Johnson’s size advantage, it is extremely disconcerting how badly he is struggling. This is slightly softened by his impressive half-court mid-range splits where Smart only converted 32.6% in his 2 years combined. So at least he may not be a complete zero inside the arc once he transitions to the NBA, but a good floater is a weak go to weapon in the NBA. It is a good plan B for the occasions when he can’t get all the way to the rim, but if he cannot get there ever and it becomes plan A then it does little to bolster his value.

Kelly Oubre has little in the way of a half court skill set, but in spite of his greater athleticism he is less reliant on transition scoring and his half-court splits are a bit stronger.

2P 2PA 2P%
Trans Rim 17 24 70.8%
Trans Mid 4 9 44.4%
HC Rim 27 49 55.1%
HC Mid 25 65 38.5%

Further troubling for Johnson is that Arizona only faced 11 of 38 opponents featuring top 100 defensive 2p% and top 120 blk%. In those 11 games, Johnson shot an appalling 23/88 (26.1%) inside the arc. Given his volume of mid-range attempts, the sample is likely hurt by bad variance. But it logically follows that floaters and short jumpers are less likely to be converted when contested by length, and his rim woes are obviously exacerbated in such matchups. In comparison, Kansas faced 17 of 36 opponents who fit those parameters and Oubre converted 33/72 (45.8%) of his 2PA in slightly more total minutes than Stanley (362 vs 347). And in spite of fewer 2PA, Oubre drew more FTA in the sample 82 vs. 68. Also Oubre played 3 games against by far the top 2 interior defenses (Kentucky and Texas) where he collectively shot 8/14 from 2 with 13 FTA in 66 minutes. No matter how you slice it Stanley’s statistics suffered significantly more against defenses that most closely approximate NBA caliber competition. This aligns with the narrative that he is a greater translation risk than Oubre.

Oubre does not have a sophisticated offensive game, as his creation skills are limited and he projects to be little more than a floor spacer early in his NBA career. But he shows flashes of ability to drive and finish that are absent from Stanley’s repertoire, and with his superior athletic package he may be able to build on this as he ages. Stanley is a better passer with a better floater, but there is no clear path where he surprises as a quality NBA scorer. Paul Pierce became an NBA superstar with average athleticism, but he had elite feel, handles, and footwork and as of right now Stanley does not shine in any of the three categories. So unless he progresses his skill level tremendously in the next few years, he likely will be limited to being an offensive role player.

With respect to defensive playmaking, the two SF’s are nearly identical:

PF/100p DRB% STL% BLK%
Stanley 5.6 19.1 3.2 1.6
Oubre 5.6 19.2 3.3 1.8

Both have great rebound and steal rates, and both have surprisingly low block rates. I believe that Oubre’s block rate is a bit of a fluke– he did not accrue a single block in his first 229 minutes while he was trying to solidify his role in Kansas’s rotation, and he ended up with a smaller sample of minutes than most lottery prospects. I suspect that his block rate would grow with a greater minute sample. Conversely this may indicate that his leaping ability pales in comparison to his stellar lateral quickness, and I could be overrating his athleticism advantage over Stanley. Either way I favor him as a defensive prospect because he is drastically tougher to beat off the dribble, and should have a much easier time guarding NBA SF’s. This is partially offset by his mediocre defensive awareness as he is sometimes prone to lapses, but his upside as a defensive wing is elite whereas Stanley is a mixed bag.

To narrow the gap, Stanley has equity to be a good defensive PF in the NBA once paired with a good rim protecting center. He rebounds well, he has enough strength to hold his own in the post, and he has quick hands to poke away entry passes. Further he might be perceived as a weak link in the defense when facing a slightly taller post-up PF, and less sharp coaches might try too hard to attack the “mismatch” and run highly inefficient post-ups against him. Even though he will likely struggle to contain quicker SF’s off the dribble, Stanley still could easily end up as a positive defensive NBA player. It would not surprise me if he became something along the lines of Draymond Green as a pro. In spite of all of the red flags, his stellar production at such a young age cannot be completely ignored and I maintain him as a clear lottery pick.

Oubre has a different flavor of red flags. He could barely get off the bench early in the season because he was so lost, and once he secured a starting role his inconsistency still resulted in a number of games where his minutes were limited with near empty stat lines. He does not have good feel for the game, as he would at times blindly barrel his way into the lane and get blocked or turn it over. He also has a mediocre assist to turnover ratio and questionable defensive focus. He is still learning how to play and I do not perceive him as a lock to become a good NBA player. But these flaws can partially be attributed to being an inexperienced freshman (Stanley was not immune to similar errors), and I feel that Bill Self was a bit overreactive in jerking his minutes around. And in spite of his warts, his bottom line looks good. He comfortably led the #10 kenpom defense in individual DRtg as a SF, he posted an above average ORtg on 23 usage, and his production did not drastically slip against the many stingy defenses Kansas faced. His flags are less worrying to me than those of Stanley, and I am more enchanted by his upside. I do not prefer Oubre by a landslide, but I clearly favor him as a prospect.

Oubre’s warts are enough to keep him outside of the top 4 conversation, but after that I gravitate toward him being the 5th best prospect in the class. He fits easily into NBA lineups as a 3 + D wing. He offers defensive versatility, as he has the quickness to guard SG’s and the height and length to play as a small PF, especially once he adds strength. Perhaps his basketball IQ and skill level never develop enough to become more than a mediocre 3 + D player, but I like enough about him to roll the dice on him falling somewhere on the spectrum of a quality 3 + D guy to all-star caliber.

Justise Winslow Has Been Breaking NCAA Basketball

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Justise Winslow has been gaining draft hype with an exceptionally strong NCAA performance, and I’m here to dump gasoline on the fire.

After losing at Notre Dame mid-way through the season, Duke looked like a slight disappointment with a 4-3 ACC record and a #8 kenpom rank after being rated top 5 preseason by every person and computer in the universe. But they followed up the Notre Dame loss with a win at then undefeated and 2nd ranked Virginia, the beginning of a vicious hot streak. Starting with the Virginia win, they have gone 16-1 with a 12-5 record against the gambling spread en route to a Final Four berth. If this hot streak were to be attributed a single reason, it would be that Justise Winslow has morphed into a superstar and put the team on his back. Here are his per 40 minute scoring splits with the first 20 games on the first line, and the latest 17 on the bottom line:

PTS 2PA 2P% 3PA 3P% FTA FT%
15.7 7.5 46.5% 5 37.3% 5.6 57.9%
18.7 9.8 55.7% 3.1 48.8% 4.7 69.4%

There is likely a variance involved in these splits, as it is unlikely that he suddenly became a much better shooter midway through the season. But he has upticked nevertheless, and his increase in both 2 pointer volume and with a huge spike in conversion is especially promising. Again there is variance involved as his early mid-range splits were horrific, but the fact that he has been able to increase his attempts against tougher defenses with such a big spike in 2P% suggests massive progression throughout the season. Now let’s look at his per 40 splits for other box score stats:

ORB DRB AST STL BLK TOV
1.4 5.2 2.7 1.3 0.9 2.4
2.2 8.7 3.2 2.4 1.4 2.6

Every stat is trending up, often by massive margins. It is common for freshmen to improve as the season progresses, but they normally do not see such massive statistical upswings because 1) competition tends to get tougher in the second half and 2) it is not normal to progress this much. For comparison, here are the splits for his freshman cohorts:

Jahlil Okafor:

PTS 2PA 2P% FTA FT%
24.6 15.2 66.2% 7.9 56.2%
21.2 14 67.5% 5.4 41.5%
ORB DRB AST STL BLK TOV
5.3 7.1 2.0 1.0 2.0 3.3
4.0 6.4 1.6 1.0 1.8 3.4

Tyus Jones:

PTS 2PA 2P% 3PA 3P% FTA FT%
14.4 5.0 47.4% 4.0 36.7% 5.9 88.9%
13.3 6.8 41.3% 3.6 37.9% 3.9 88.7%
ORB DRB AST STL BLK TOV
0.9 3.4 6.5 1.8 0.1 2.2
0.4 3.8 7.1 1.8 0.1 2.5

Both players tended to hold steady or slightly downtick with fewer weak opponents to feast upon. There is no obvious progression for either, which highlights how awesome Justise’s leap has been. It also suggests that the uptick in team success is largely due to his growth into a star.

It may seem overreactive to throw him into the top 3 discussion based on three great tournament games, but really this is an extension of a trend that has been ongoing for half a season now. Not only have his statistics been trending off the charts, but he looks like a beast while accruing them. The plays he makes on both ends in transition, on the glass, and in attacking the rim are plays that no NCAA player other than Kelly Oubre on a good day is physically capable of making. His physical profile is stellar with solid height (6’7″) and length (6’10”) and exceptional strength and athleticism, and if he continues to improve his ball handling and shot making there is not much impeding his upside.

At this point Winslow is at worst the 4th best prospect in the draft, and it would be nothing short of lunacy to take Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of him. Winslow’s physical tools are just as good as Mudiay’s, except he has dominated top end NCAA competition whereas Mudiay has played well in a league where 38 year old Stephon Marbury reigns supreme. It is highly unlikely that Mudiay would be notably better at the NCAA level, but possible that he would be drastically worse, so it is correct to value Winslow above him.

Winslow is still no threat to Towns at the #1 slot, but it is perfectly reasonable to take him at #2 or #3 overall. It may seem like insanity to value the 22 PER player over his 31 PER teammate who was the #1 RSCI prospect and has been the consensus #1 pick all season, but Winslow’s skill set is far more valuable at the NBA level. Jahlil Okafor is a stud low post scorer, but it comes at the expense of the neither 3 nor D stigma. This makes him difficult to build around since there are few stretch 4’s who are good enough to atone for Okafor’s rim protection shortcomings and pairing him with a rim protecting 5 prevents him from having optimal spacing to operate in the paint with maximum efficiency. I can see him becoming a more efficient version of Zach Randolph, which is certainly a valuable NBA player which is why I maintain him as a top 4 pick. But Zach Randolph was not considered good until paired with Marc Gasol who 1) is a good defensive center and 2) can make long 2’s and is a great passer from the high post. Even if he hits his upside, Okafor still needs to be paired with a fellow big with a unique blend of strengths to play a big role on a contender. Also his FT% looms as a major wart, as it bodes ill for his ability to operate outside the paint offensively.  If nothing else hurts his overall efficiency which is his principal selling point as a prospect.

In short, Okafor’s hype is based largely on scouts overrating the value of low post scoring, especially when it comes with neither rim protection nor outside shooting. While he has been as good as advertised, that is not good enough to be a top 3 pick in this class when he is such an awkward fit in the modern NBA.

This explains why the gap between Okafor (9.6) and Winslow (7.3) according to Layne Vashro’s EWP model was surprisingly slim entering the NCAA tournament. That gap should narrow given that Winslow has outshined Okafor thus far in the tourney. Further, if any player is underrated by EWP it is Winslow since he is far more athletic and has a significantly stronger split over the second half of the season. So according to math and logic and such, Okafor is at best is a narrowly superior prospect to Winslow. My gut feeling is that Winslow is a more valuable prospect that will become a more valuable pro. He is the player that I tune in to watch, he is the player with the killer physical profile, and he is the player that I would dream of building an NBA team around if he hits his upside.

I am unsure whether I take Winslow over Russell. I currently lean gently in the direction of D’Angelo, but Justise still has a game or two to change my mind. But more importantly, while watching the Final Four everybody should ask themselves: would you really be upset if you rooted for a team that picked Winslow over Okafor?

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