2015 Pre-season Rookie Update: #’s 1-12


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1. Karl Towns (Final Big: 1st, Drafted: 1st)

One problem with the exercise of ranking draft prospects is that it can result in a lack of attention to a consensus #1 overall pick. After a season where 5 or 6 players could be argued to deserve the #1 pick, I have yet to see a credible argument that Towns is not the best prospect in the draft. Consequently, nobody discusses his precise level of goodness.

He’s arguably the 3rd best prospect to enter the draft post Oden/Durant. Anthony Davis is #1, and I would have taken Joel Embiid ahead of Towns before he was revealed to be an incorrigible Shirley Temple guzzler.

The next tier of prospects includes Derrick Rose, John Wall, Blake Griffin, and Kyrie Irving. Rose did not dominate college enough, and Kyrie is a non-athletic non-defense PG so I wouldn’t even consider either of them ahead of towns. Griffin and Wall both dominated college and have extreme levels of athleticism that Towns lacks, but I wouldn’t take a non-shooting non-rim protecting Griffin over a center who does both. Wall had the strongest case as an elite 2 way PG (he could have become so much better than he is), but I still favor Towns. A two way 3 point shooting center with no significant leaks in his prospect profile outside of merely good not great physical tools is just too attractive to pass up.

Of course Towns had to get drafted to the team with the most pre-historic NBA offense, and consequently he has a mere 2 attempts from 3 in the pre-season as the front office is paying Kevin Garnett $17M to mentor Towns to take jumpers with his heels on the arc. So perhaps like Wall his potential will never be fully realized, but I nevertheless rate him as the 3rd best prospect in the last 8 drafts. He should be awesome in spite of his un-sharp environment.

Good Prospects Who Are Significantly Inferior to KAT
2. Justise Winslow (Final Big: 3rd, Drafted: 10th)

Winslow has been a passing machine in the pre-season, tallying 20 assists vs 10 turnovers. This is largely due to his inability to score, as he struggled to put the biscuit in the basket from all parts of the court this pre-season. He has the ability to create quality shots for himself, but it doesn’t show in his pre-season stats as he averaged a meager 8 pts per 36 minutes.

After shooting just 25/93 (27%) on non-rim 2’s in college, Winslow only converted 2/17 of two pointers 5+ feet from the rim in the pre-season. It seems unfathomable that he can continue to be this bad from short and mid-range, but it’s nevertheless concerning if the trend continues to hold. For now, Winslow is leaning heavily on rim attempts and free throws to get his buckets.

It’s possible that he’s a career eFG% disaster if he can’t convert non-layups. But I stand by my pre-draft assessment that he is awesome at everything other than shooting. He is only 19, and he has time to learn to score away from the hoop. If he does and develops his slashing ability, he has star potential. If he doesn’t he may fall well short of the lofty praise I heaped on him pre-draft. This is a weak #2 ranking, as Justise’s scoring concerns are real and he is closer to #10 than he is to #1.

3. Stanley Johnson (Final Big: 7th, Drafted: 8th)
4. D’Angelo Russell (Final Big: 2nd, Drafted: 2nd)

This may feel like an overreaction to pre-season and summer league, but the only reason Russell ever rated ahead of Stanley is because of a not large 35 game NCAA sample. Stanley was the #3 RSCI recruit vs. Russell’s #16, and statistically the two weren’t THAT far apart. They both had questionable athleticism and questionable splits vs. good defenses, and after summer league and pre-season Russell’s concerns are much more glaring.

After a dismal summer league where Russell posted 16 assists vs 26 turnovers, he cut the turnovers in the pre-season but offered little outside of a few mid-range jumpers made off the dribble and an 11 assist game vs. Maccabi Haifa. And it’s not encouraging that he landed with one of the worst coaches surrounded by chuckers in the backcourt, which is a terrible scenario for his development. This is not enough to cast aside his excellent skill level and vision, but my optimism is tempered.

On the other hand, Johnson quelled concerns about rim finishing concerns when he converted an awesome 25/40 inside the arc in summer league. He also showed an improved handle, as he was able to slash through the defense to create layups for himself on multiple occasions while still posting more assists (10) than TOVs (9). His pre-season 2P% was mildly disappointing at 42% (28/67), and he still looks a bit clumsy with the ball so minor concerns linger. But he finished rim attempts efficiently, and only struggled to make short-mid range 2’s as he converted just 11/41 of 2PA that were 5+ feet from the rim according to ESPN shot charts. He excelled at these shots in college and pre-season, so this is likely attributable to bad variance.

Johnson is so solidly good across the board at such a young age that it’s hard to envision him amounting to not much. He doesn’t specialize in any one skill, but being average or better across the board can sum up to a valuable player to give him sneaky upside. After resisting all NCAA season, I’m finally ready to hop on board with the Stanimal. He’s the most likely non-Towns prospect to become an above average player.

5. Mario Hezonja (Final Big: 11th, Drafted: 5th)

I wasn’t high on Hezonja entering the draft, but that’s mostly because I was too lazy to scout him and chalked him up as a mystery box. There’s a lot to like here:

-He’s the most explosive player in the draft class
-He has good size at 6’8″
-He is a good 3 point shooter and bombs away with decent volume.
-He is a willing passer
-He has good shot selection and better feel for the game than you’d expect

The only holes in his game is that his handle is somewhat limited and he is bizarrely turnover prone. But I don’t see any clear reason why his turnovers won’t be cut, and his handle is good enough to do this.

To the masses he has become a caricature of overconfidence, as his swagger has overshadowed his play. So while he has solidified himself as a source of entertainment, nobody seems to be predicting greatness. It’s hard to read his quotes and expect a good team player. But in summer league 31 of his 66 FGA have come from 3, and he converted 51% (18/35) of his 2PA. His shot selection seems generally good, and this is supported by his ACB and Euro stats. He hasn’t been perfect, as he did drain the shot clock to skip the 2 for 1 and take a long 2 off the dribble. But overall there were many more good attempts than awful ones.

It cannot be taken for granted that team player Mario will continue to show up over the course of his NBA career. It’s possible that once he is on track to greatness, his stubbornness causes him to regress to poor habits. But if he stays on track, he can be anywhere from an efficient 3 + D piece to a full fledged star. His personality risks are well worth bearing given his upside. There’s an argument that he belongs even higher, and he could easily close the season as the #2 rookie in the class.

6. Willie Cauley-Stein (Final Big: 6th, Drafted: 6th)

With all of the negative pre-draft reports and him landing on one of the most incompetent NBA franchises, there is a natural aversion to WCS loving. But this is the same league where Clint Capela inexplicably slid to 26th overall in 2014, and the Kings may have made a decent pick in spite of being themselves.

WCS quietly had a good pre-season and SL, and possibly earned himself a starting role. Offensively he is limited but he is a solid garbageman who avoids mistakes as he posted a microscopic 0.85 TOVs per 36 in 253 SL + PS minutes. Defensively he isn’t perfect, but he has good instincts poking away passes and his size, athleticism, and superhuman quickness gives him upside.

It’s hard to envision him not becoming a useful NBA player, and a Tyson Chandler-ish upside isn’t bad.

7. Kelly Oubre (Final Big: 8th, Drafted: 15th)

Oubre struggled to make 3’s shooting 8/32 in SL and 1/14 pre-season, but I suspect this is largely poor variance since there weren’t questions about his shot entering the draft. More importantly, he showed a better than expected slashing ability (especially in summer league), which is exciting for a player with his awesome tools. He also posted a monster free throw rate, continued to rack up huge steal totals with his excellent length and quickness, and kept his turnover total reasonably low.

He still needs to improve his passing ability, as his assist rate did not improve from his disappointing NCAA rate. And he needs to prove that he has the feel for the game to score and defend at the NBA level. These deficiencies are why he slid to 15th overall, and they could preclude him from becoming a good NBA’er. But his tools and overall statistical production are both good enough such that they could easily trump his flaws in the long run.

Wings with Oubre’s tools who can do a little bit of everything don’t come around often, and he was a great gamble for Washington at 15th overall.

8. Jahlil Okafor (Final Big: 4th, Drafted: 3rd)

Okafor was awful in both summer league and pre-season. His value is largely entirely tied into his ability to finish at the rim with his excellent length and touch, but in the pre-season he struggled to create attempts and has instead settled for mid-range shots. Consequently he shot 38.6 FG% (22/57) and drew a mere 9 FTA. He also had a terrible 4 assists vs 18 turnovers, as he did not display passing ability to offset his plummet in scoring efficiency.

Some blame can be placed on Philly’s poor guard play and spacing, and he still can become an efficient offensive weapon if he finds a way to get a higher volume shots at the rim. But thus far he has been a black hole of extreme inefficiency, and efficient scoring was his only real strength entering the draft. This is especially scary considering his poor shooting and lackluster defense, as his offense needs to translate to the NBA exceptionally well for him to have any compelling upside scenario.

I felt I gave Okafor the benefit of the doubt by ranking him 4th in the class, and now that all of his translation flags are glaring it is hard to feel optimistic. How excited would you be if your favorite team drafted a one trick pony who may not be able to translate his one trick to the NBA level?

9. Emmanuel Mudiay (Final Big: 5th, Drafted: 7th)

A number of intelligent people think highly of Mudiay, as he has great tools and legitimate PG skills. But he still has a long road to go to become a good NBA player, and it starts with his shooting. Combining SL, PS, China, and high school all-star games he has shot 28% (22/79) from 3 and 58% (55/95) FT. It’s hard to project his shot confidently from a mish mash of small samples, but it looks bad.

There’s a short list of PG’s since 2000 who have been successful with a FT% < 70%: it’s mostly a bunch of Rondo seasons and a smattering of young Baron Davis and Tony Parker before they graduated to consistent 70%+ shooting. This is for good reason– a point guard that runs frequent pick and rolls is inevitably going to pull up for jumpers and floaters, and an inability to convert will tank his efficiency. Even Rondo was a respectable 40% career shooter from 16-23 feet. If Mudiay doesn’t learn to shoot, the rest of his game needs to be pristine to become a good starting PG

In PS + SL, Mudiay’s rebounds, steals, and blocks totals were all decent but unspectacular. He was given a large role offensively and permitted to take his lumps, and lumpy it was. He barely posted more assists (50) than TOVs (44) and his scoring was hyper-inefficient. There is clear room for improvement as he trims the fat, but there sure is lots of fat to trim. While he has potential on defense, he doesn’t have the best fundamentals and it’s unlikely that he becomes lockdown while shouldering such a big offensive load. And even though he’s athletic, he’s not on Westbrook, Wall, or Rose’s level of explosiveness. Perhaps his handle, passing, vision, and tools are enough to muster a respectable career as a non-shooting PG, but I don’t see how he is amazing enough to buck historical trends and become anything near a star without learning to shoot.

He is young enough to have a chance of developing into a respectable shooter, and this is largely where all of his upside lies. But he will almost certainly never become an above average shooter. Even if progression slightly below average shooting is guaranteed, he still has a long way to go to develop the rest of his game into a star. I see his upside as John Wall-ish, and a number of things need to go right for this to be achieved. It’s a good upside, but it’s not great and it’s dragged down by a boatload of bust equity.

Stretch 5’s
10. Bobby Portis (Final Big: 14th, Drafted: 22nd)

Portis is in a different vein from Porzingis and Turner, as he is slightly undersized for a center and not explosive enough to be a prolific shot blocker. But his mobility, high basketball IQ, and non-stop motor make him ideal for a defense that switches heavily. Given questions regarding Porzingis’s instincts and rebounding and Turner’s ability to defend the pick and roll, it wouldn’t be shocking if Portis ended up as the best defensive player of the trio.

It was a stretch to call Portis a stretch big entering the draft, with just 8% of his college FGA coming behind the arc. But playing for 3 point happy Fred Hoiberg, Portis increased his 3PA rate to 15% in his combined PS + SL sample in spite of the greater distance. It is too soon to tell how reliably he will make these, but merely attempting them is a good sign.

His biggest flaw remains his lack of explosiveness. Consequently he struggles to finish in traffic, and his 43% preseason 2P% is not inspiring. But he gets most of his shots in the flow of the offense, which keeps his turnover rate low. He also posted monster rebound numbers, and overall he had a reasonably efficient pre-season on above average usage.

Halfway through his freshman season, I wrote about the curious lack of draft hype for Portis. Some level of skepticism made sense, as his lack of burst is a genuine damper on his upside. But he is also overlooked due to lacking sex appeal in his game (i.e. a turnaround jumpshot) that he doesn’t need to be effective. His edge lies in size, mobility, effort, smarts, rebounding, shotmaking ability, and fitting in well with the team concept. It is not certain that this will sum to much, but it looks like it will amount to something. And based on pre-season something could be more than most are expecting.

11. Kristaps Porzingis (Final Big: 12th, Drafted: 4th)
12. Myles Turner (Final Big: 20th, Drafted: 11th)

Has anybody noticed that Porzingis and Turner are nearly the exact same thing? Both are awkward bigs who offer shot blocking, shooting (including turnarounds!), and not much else.

Porzingis’s hype train is comical. Knick fans are so starved for any ray of hope that every minutely positive Staps play gets blown out of proportion as if he just cured cancer. There are things to like– he is a giant with decent mobility, and is comfortable operating behind the arc with 22% of his PS + SL FGA coming from 3. He also posted more cumulative assists (13) than turnovers (11) in spite of being flagged for a poor ratio in Europe, so his feel for the game may not be that bad after all.

The downside is that he is not Dirk. Not even close. As expected for a 7’2″ player, he is neither fluid nor coordinated. This doesn’t mean he will be bad on offense, as he spaces the floor and his quickness comes in handy when he gets a clear lane against a mismatch. And if he continues to move the ball and limit turnovers, that’s a nice offensive piece for a rim protecting giant. But his value could be diminished if the Knicks expect him to create regularly. He doesn’t have the fluidity or burst to regularly attack off the dribble with efficiency and his shot isn’t good enough to score efficiently on regular mid-range attempts.

Defensively is where Staps has the most potential, as his size and length enables him to protect the rim, and his mobility enables him to defend the pick and roll and hold his own on switches. But he is nevertheless difficult to project on this end as his lackluster instincts may prevent him from becoming a great defensive piece. Also his poor rebounding detracts from his strengths on this end and puts pressure on the PF to pick up his slack on the glass.

Staps has an interesting blend of forces working in his favor opposed by flaws working against him. In the best case he becomes a quality 3 + D center who can also exploit offensive mismatches, and in the worst case he becomes a black hole on offense who never becomes a positive defensively in spite of his physical advantages. He definitely has some compelling upside, but his upside is vastly overstated by ESPN/NYC and he has clear bust risk. Also he is the type of player who could get a big boost from coaching, so it is unfortunate that he was drafted to the Knicks.

Turner lacks confidence in his NBA 3 pointer, as just 7 of his 76 SL + PS FGA came beyond the arc. Larry Bird said that Turner might be the best shooter on the team, and this is supported by his 84% college FT’s. But his 27.4 NCAA 3P% along with his scarce 3PA rate in the NBA bodes ill for the current state of his shooting range. He has a nice turnaround mid-range jumper, but he loves it so much he may as well marry it. 28 of his 37 pre-season FGA came on non-rim 2PA, and 22 came on 2PA that were 11+ feet from the hoop. In a related story, he posted a putrid 43.3% TS. This figure suffers from poor shooting variance, but it is nevertheless challenging to score efficiently with such an extreme rate of mid-range attempts. Extending his range beyond the arc and displacing a portion of mid-range attempts with 3 pointers would do a world of good for Turner’s value.

The upside is that Turner rebounds reasonably well and he blocks shots at an insane rate. There are questions about his ability to defend the pick and roll given his poor lateral quickness, and he isn’t fit for a defense that heavily switches. But Frank Vogel has already built an elite defense with an immobile big swatting away shots at the rim, so Indiana is a great landing spot for Turner to thrive on D.

2015 Pre-season Rookie Update: #’s 13-40


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13. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Final Big: 9th, Drafted: 23rd)

RHJ has the best overall tools of any wing in the draft, as he boasts elite athleticism with a 7’2″ wingspan and elite frame. As expected, he badly struggled offensively in SL and pre-season as he’s nowhere near an NBA 3 point threat and doesn’t have the handle to do much off the dribble. After shooting 5/21 from 3 in summer league, he didn’t attempt a single 3 in 85 pre-season minutes, which is a bad sign.

His strengths stood out as much as his weaknesses though: he racked up loads of steals, blocks, and rebounds while posting slightly more assists (27) than turnovers (25) in the combined summer league and pre-season sample. He’s such an elite and versatile defensive player he has awesome upside if he somehow develops a 3 point shot. As it is, he looks like he will be an MKG type with less inside the arc scoring. He has a long way to go to fit in offensively, and Brooklyn is not the sharpest team to put him in a position to succeed on that end.

His tools and defense are so outlier good I remain fond of him. Any level of passable offense can make him a highly useful NBA player.

14. Devin Booker (Final Big: 22nd, Drafted: 13th)

Booker is a weird player to evaluate. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft and could become one of the most accurate shooters in NBA history. But he has not gotten off a huge volume of 3PA in college, SL, or pre-season. He has short arms and his trigger isn’t the fastest, so his volume of 3PA may always be light.

The most interesting comparison for Booker is Arron Afflalo, as they share similar surprisingly low output in 3PA rate, rebounds, steals, and blocks. Booker is a superior draft prospect to Afflalo, and a rich man’s Afflalo is obviously a useful player. It’s just not teeming with upside, and Booker needs to find his calling card to exceed that.

Booker has a surprisingly decent handle, moves reasonably well, and is super young (doesn’t turn 19 until Oct 30) so he has potential to develop a much more diverse and efficient offensive repertoire than Afflalo. Phoenix’s hope is that if he works diligently, he has a sliver of equity to become a Ray Allen or Reggie Miller type down the road. It seems like a long shot since he is currently so far away, but it cannot be completely ruled out since time is on Booker’s side.

15. Frank Kaminsky (Final Big: 10th, Drafted: 9th)

Frank the Tank had a disappointing pre-season, converting just 34% of his 2PA (13/38). This follows a decent but unspectacular 46% (21/46) in summer league. His most common comparison of Kelly Olynyk dominated both samples shooting 67% in SL (34/51) and 57% PS (28/49) as a rookie. These small samples do not mean that Kaminsky cannot be as good or better than Olynyk, but it dims his upside as he should be held to a higher standard than his younger, rawer, and more athletic peers.

16. Sam Dekker (Final Big: 19th, Drafted: 18th)

Dekker struggled to make outside shots in his 148 pre-season minutes, but otherwise performed decently. He should be a nice fit in Houston, as he can play both SF/PF and pairs well with both Howard and Capela as a stretch 4. Also, being surrounded by shooters should help his slashing game as he has the athleticism to get to the rim and the size to finish.

Dekker’s parallels to Chandler Parsons are hard to ignore, as they have similar size and college shooting %’s (Dekker: 59%/35%/70% two/three/FT vs Parsons 58%/34%/61%). The key advantage for Parsons is his PG skills, as he had more advanced handles and a much higher NCAA assist rate. But Dekker is a bit more athletic, and if he develops into a reliable NBA 3 point shooter like Parsons he could become a decent offensive weapon in his own rite.

17. Trey Lyles (Final Big: 15th, Drafted: 12th)

Lyles showed some positive signs pre-season (14/29 2PA and 6 AST vs. 4 TOV), but he struggled in his larger summer league sample and was dragged down by his inability to make 3’s in both samples. After shooting 4/29 from 3 in college, he made just 6/27 in pre-season and summer league and needs significant improvement to justify his lottery selection.

In the instance that Lyles does become an adequate 3 point shooter, he’s an interesting piece. He has a nice first step and handle, and a stretch 4 who can also slash from the perimeter is an intriguing piece. But since he’s not that explosive, he often pulls up for floaters when his drives get cut short. He has good offensive upside, but he still needs a fair amount of polish on that end for a player who will likely be a defensive liability.

18. Cameron Payne (Final Big: 23rd, Drafted: 14th)
19. Tyus Jones (Final Big: 17th, Drafted: 24th)

In the high skill low tools PG category, I could never reconcile how Payne’s stock rose so much higher than Jones. Jones was the #4 RSCI recruit, he won MOP of the final 4, and almost every stat model rated him higher than Payne. Yet Payne went 14th to a team that normally drafts well, and Jones was passed on by a number of good GM’s as he slid all the way to 24th. Payne has slightly better physical tools with 2 inches great length and superior quickness, but he still doesn’t have the body or burst of a prototypical NBA PG.

I believe Payne vaulted ahead of Jones simply because he stylistically looks more impressive. He has a better handle and has more shake to overcome his lack of burst. He can also make a number of difficult shots of the dribble from pull-ups between pull ups, stepbacks, and floaters. Payne also plays with a swagger that is intoxicating to watch when he is running well. In contrast, Jones is more of a steady hand guiding an offense that surrounded him with elite talent. Stylistically he was much more boring, as he thrived off of avoiding mistakes and making open shots.

On one hand, Payne has a bit more meat in his game to build around as a primary ball handler, so his advanced standing may be justified. On the other hand, Jones is 1 year 9 months younger and has time to catch up, and it is possible that Payne earned more attention simply because he has a fun factor to his game that will not translate into NBA success. I am not sure which side of the argument is truer, and neither player received enough playing time in pre-season to shed much light on the subject. This comparison will be interesting to re-visit in a few years.

20. Justin Anderson (Final Big: 18th, Drafted: 21st)

After a terrific summer league, Anderson had a horrid pre-season on the Mavericks’ depleted roster. With a lack of shot creation on the team, Anderson struggled to make 3’s (4/25) and had a poor assist to turnover ratio of 7 to 16. He gets a bit of a pass because the entire team struggled, and he does fit the 3 + D archetype rather well. He isn’t the defensive beast that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is, but he nevertheless has good D potential and is a much easier fit into NBA offenses with his superior shooting.

21. Kevon Looney (Final Big: 13th, Drafted: 30th)

His injury means no instant gratification but rookies are terrible anyway. He should be worth the wait for the value he provides at 30th overall. His main concern is that his lack of explosiveness and ball handling prevent him from living up to his statistical adoration.

22. RJ Hunter (Final Big: 25th, Drafted: 28th)

Hunter struggled to score in pre-season, but other than that he crushed the eye test. He has a great passing ability, and played good defense for a rookie showing solid fundamentals and using his length to create a whopping 11 steals in 132 pre-season minutes. He racked up impressive steal and block totals playing in Georgia Stat’s zone defense, and it’s encouraging that he has transitioned nicely to man to man at a higher level. Hunter should have a career in the NBA as a prototypical 3 + D wing, and could end up finding rotation minutes as a rookie for the Celtics.

23. Jordan Mickey (Final Big: 38th, Drafted: 33rd)

Mickey has been one of the biggest surprises of the pre-season, leading all rookies in PER. Granted, his 68 minutes largely came against garbage units of the Knicks, 76ers, Nets, and foreign teams, but he looked good and earned praise from Brad Stevens.

Mickey is one of the funkier prospects in the draft– he has excellent quickness, athleticism, and length, and is a good shot blocker. He is extremely versatile and has loads of defensive upside in a scheme that switches heavily.

His problem is that at 6’8″ he lacks height to play center, and he lacks the passing ability and shooting range to play PF. He didn’t show much promise in these areas with 6 assists and 1 3PA in 293 combined minutes between summer league and pre-season. But he did show potential as a pick and roll finisher with surprisingly smooth footwork and finishing, and he also has a respectable mid-range shot. Consequently he  scored with better volume and efficiency than expected in both summer league and pre-season.

Given trends toward smaller lineups and heavy switching, perhaps he can be a great defensive center in spite of his height. His other tools help compensate, and there aren’t many centers who can really punish shorter matchups. His lack of passing and range inhibit his offensive upside and ability to fit in a wide range of lineups, but his strengths are unique and strong enough to overcome his warts. Pair him with a PF like Kelly Olynyk and give him a coach like Brad Stevens and his impact could be surprisingly good. I didn’t think much of him before the draft, but he is quickly winning me over as a second round steal.

24. Jerian Grant (Final Big: 21st, Drafted: 19th)
25. Delon Wright (Final Big: 16th, Drafted: 20th)

As the oldest players drafted in round 1, these players have more pressure to contribute immediately to maintain their value as prospects. Grant was mediocre and Wright was bad, playing a meager 72 minutes while posting more turnovers (8) than assists (7) or 2 pointers made (7).

I liked both pre-draft, but with so many younger players outperforming them they get ticked down a few slots.

26. Terry Rozier (Final Big: 50th, Drafted: 16th)

Rozier is an undersized SG who atones with good length and athleticism to be a pesky defender at both guard positions. He doesn’t have much in the way of PG skills, but he has been more than competent making 3’s at 46% (18/39) between SL and PS. In other words, he’s roughly an Avery Bradley doppelgänger which makes him a puzzling selection at 16th overall.

Danny Ainge gambled on him working hard enough to leverage his great first step into shades of a real slashing game, giving him theoretically high upside. His first step enables him to get past his man, but he doesn’t have the handle or shake to consistently get past the help defense and he often pulls up for mid-range shots when his drive gets cut short. Incidentally his efficiency suffers, as he shot just 33% inside the arc in SL (19/58) and 43% in a smaller pre-season sample (9/21).

This sets him behind Avery Bradley, as he may match Bradley’s mid-range volume at a much lower efficiency. A less efficient Bradley is not a useful player, so Rozier needs to drastically reduce his pull-up attempts and increase his layups to become a more useful player. In theory this is possible, but he looks very unnatural navigating through the teeth of a defense for a 21 year old. It’s hard to envision a good work ethic being enough to turn this weakness into a strength.

I can see Rozier having a decent career in the league, but I just don’t see the upside to merit a 16th overall selection.

27. Norman Powell (Final Big: 33rd, Drafted: 46th)

I rated Norman Powell as one of my top 2nd round sleepers before the draft, and he justified that rating with a great summer league and pre-season. He is a freak athlete with long arms who can get to the rim and play defense. If he ever develops an NBA 3 point shot he’ll be a big time steal.

28. Nikola Milutinov (Final Big: 28th, Drafted: 27th)

I still haven’t seen him play, but the Spurs drafted him– how bad could he be?

29. Larry Nance (Final Big: 32nd, Drafted: 27th)

I’m one of the few people who had him as acceptable value in the late first round, and this is why.

30. Josh Richardson (Final Big: 30th, Drafted: 40th)

I pegged Richardson as a 2nd round sleeper based on his defense, and he was a steal and blocks machine in SL/PS. He’s not much of a scorer, but he moves the ball and if he learns to make NBA 3’s he will have a career as a rotation player.

31. Chris McCullough (Final Big: 27th, Drafted: 29th)

This guy hasn’t played in forever bc of a torn ACL but he was a 5 star recruit who got loads of stocks as a freshman so let’s not forget him.

32. Rashad Vaughn (Final Big: 26th, Drafted: 17th)

The Good: He is super young and can get buckets.

The Bad: He doesn’t do anything else. In 139 pre-season minutes tallied just 9 rebs, 6 assists, 0 steals, and 0 blocks.

His tools are pedestrian with a 6’7″ wingspan and not great athleticism, so it’s hard to get too excited about his one dimensional scoring.

33. Jarell Martin (Final Big: 34th, Drafted: 25th)

Martin missed the entire pre-season with a broken foot. He didn’t seem like a great value at 25th overall to begin with, so it’s hard to feel excited for him. He is athletic and his LSU teammate Jordan Mickey looked better in an NBA system, so maybe Martin translates better than expected too.

34. Montrezl Harrell (Final Big: 36th, Drafted: 32nd)

Harrell was an effective garbage man in SL and pre-season, I’m just not sure how much it matters. He only attempted 1 three in spite of wearing a Houston uniform, and he doesn’t have the defensive aptitude to play center. I don’t see how he he fits next to Howard or Capela, so this was a semi-odd pick to me. I suppose Morey just decided to draft his top player and sort out the details later.

35. Richaun Holmes (Final Big: 37th, Drafted: 37th)
36. Pat Connaughton (Final Big: 44th, Drafted: 41st)
37. Cedi Osman (Final Big: 48th, Drafted: 31st)
38. Arturas Gudaitis (Final Big: N/A, Drafted: 47th)
39. Christian Wood (Final Big: 25th, Drafted: undrafted)
40. Branden Dawson (Final Big: 27th, Drafted: 56th)

Here are some guys to round out the top 40 since 34 is a weird amount of prospects to rank. Christian Wood might make the 76ers’ roster to the delight of draft nerds, as bad interviews caused him to go undrafted in spite of a profile that made him a clear 1st rounder.

Making Sense Of Statistical Models And The Celtics



The Boston Celtics’ 2015-2016 season expectations has been a point of contention between qualitative and quantitative fans. Many subjective fans are estimating that they will hover around .500 and battle for the 8 seed in the East. On the other hand, quant models are projecting the Celtics to flirt with the 2 seed in the East. Let’s explore both sides of the argument.

Why the Celtics Might Be Stuck In Neutral:

The Celtics won 40 games last year, but they so handily overachieved that perhaps their success was in part due to luck. Amir Johnson is a nice role player, and Marcus Smart should be better, but the team still lacks the star to take them to the next level. Amir does not have the athleticism that he did in his prime, and Smart does not have the burst or handle to become a stud scorer. While the roster is generally young, it lacks standout athletes and it is fair to expect whatever slight progressions made to simply overcome the regression to the mean. After all, it is commonly doubted that the Celtics have a single above average starter.

Vegas’s Westgate tends to agree with this narrative, as they set the Celtics’ regular season win total o/u at 42.5.

Why the Celtics Might Be Poised For a Leap

First, let’s look at the key returning pieces and their bb-ref ages from last season:

Player Minutes Age
Avery Bradley 2428 24
Evan Turner 2260 26
Marcus Smart 1808 20
Tyler Zeller 1731 25
Jared Sullinger 1566 22
Kelly Olynyk 1423 23
Jae Crowder 1382 24
Isaiah Thomas 545 25
Jonas Jerebko 527 27

The average minute weighted age of this group is 23.8. Suffice it to say that all key returning pieces are more likely to improve than they are to regress. This also applies to their 38 year old coach, as Stevens is likely still improving as he enters his 3rd NBA season.

The piece with most growth potential is Smart. He does not appear on track to become an offensive star, and I do not anticipate that he will suddenly be able to run an efficient NBA offense at age 21. But he did have an outlier good defensive season for a rookie (as predicted by yours truly), and a healthy leap forward on defense complemented by mild to medium offensive improvements is plausible. RPM rated him as the top rookie last season, and a moderate sophomore leap will make him a solidly good player.

Key departed players:

Player Minutes
Brandon Bass 1929
Jeff Green 1093
Rajon Rondo 699

Rondo and Green were widely presumed to be the Celtics’ best players among casual fans entering last season, until Boston became better after dealing them and their respective new teams got worse. Their level of harmfulness to the Celtics can be disputed, but at worst the Celtics shed almost 1800 slightly bad minutes that will be comfortably upgraded this season.

That leaves Brandon Bass as the only noteworthy loss. Bass is a perfectly decent rotation player, but he is slightly undersized as a PF and is neither a rim protector nor floor spacer. There is no argument subjective or quantitative that he will be missed, as consensus is that his replacement Amir Johnson will be a clear upgrade.

Johnson has long been a darling of advanced stats. His bad ankles have caused his athleticism to wane, but at age 28 he still has enough left to contend for most valuable player on the Celtics. Here are his early blurbs from training camp (as per Rotoworld)

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said that Amir Johnson looked “terrific” during his first practice with Boston.

Amir Johnson has shined on defense in practice so far.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens praised Amir Johnson for his defense again on Tuesday:

“First of all, he’s 6-9, he’s long, he’s athletic,” Stevens said. “But then I think there’s not a lot of people like that generally, but there’s a lot of people like that in this league. But his mind is excellent for defense and he really prioritizes it. And then his motor is extremely high. So I think that all that factored in is why he’s separated himself as helping your team win when he’s on the defensive end of the floor.”

Stevens’s instant adoration for Amir is a solid checkmark in favor of the verity of advanced stats painting him in a favorable light. He is in decline due to his ankles, but he gets a boost by transitioning from an average coach to an elite one and should seamlessly fit into any Celtics lineup.

The Celtics also get a full season of availability from two of their more important players in Jae Crowder and especially Isaiah Thomas. Crowder has impressed at least one basketball expert:

Mavs also gave up a really good player in Crowder. Great defender and has developed into a decent offensive player.

Haralabos is one of the few NBA fans who works to precisely discern the value of players, and he has become a millionaire by succeeding at this. Like Smart and Johnson, Crowder is piece underrated by the masses as his value stems from defense and intelligence to avoid mistakes offensively. Having him for a full season where he possibly starts and displaces lost Jeff Green minutes will certainly be healthy for Boston.

Isaiah Thomas can nearly be treated as a new acquisition, as he only played in 21 games for the Celtics and averaged 26 minutes per game coming off the bench. He gave the roster of one way perimeter defense studs a sorely needed ball handler, and led the team in a myriad of advanced stats as he played a huge role on offense and did so efficiently. Here’s the split from Isaiah Thomas’s first appearance in a Celtics uniform. Note that PD = point differential:

Sample W L PD
Pre-Zeke 20 32 -1.6
Zeke 20 10 3.2

The +3.2 PD during the Thomas era puts them right at a 50 win expectancy over a full season. And he only played 37.5% of possible minutes over this stretch as he missed 9 games.

The +3.2 was likely unsustainable over 82 games, as Thomas is not LeBron James and the prior 52 games cannot be entirely neglected. But given that Thomas and Crowder are better than Rondo and Green (small sample support: units with IT and Jae were +7.4 per 48 in 440 mins, Rondo and JG were -2.2 in 568 mins together), it intuitively makes sense to give less weight toward the earlier sample. It follows that the end year Celtics were likely better than their 40 win bottom line (41.4 wins derived from PD).

This is all one sided arguing in favor of the Celtics being better, so let’s discuss why they might be worse. It is not clear that any of their young guards among James Young, Terry Rozier, or RJ Hunter will be above replacement level, so the Celtics may be unable to stomach serious backcourt injury issues without trading for a guard.

The other risk is that new acquisition David Lee is a clear downgrade from the other 5 bigs on the roster. If he carves out a significant rotation role, this could harm the Celtics’ team output. But other than that, the Celtics are clearly trending in the positive direction.


People are not hardwired to intuitively assess the precise impact of each player and coach, let alone the summation of these over a full 82 game season riddled with variance. Most fans tend to overrate scoring, underrate defense, and have a skewed perception of what constitutes a valuable player. Thus it is easy to describe the Celtics as a team with “no above average starters” and resonate with casual fans, but there is no substantial evidence to support this claim. Even if the claim is humored and the Celtics only have 5 average starters and a good bench, why is it difficult to believe that Brad Stevens can elevate such a roster to 48-50 wins in the East?

Stat models like the Celtics because the team is loaded with subtle edges in their favor. Every key data point suggests improvement, and there is little to no clear force pushing the Celtics in the negative direction. While basketball stats have their limitations, they have the advantage of objectivity and freedom from cognitive biases.

On the other hand, the subjective arguments against the Celtics are entirely founded on cognitive biases since they center around lack of perceived star power. It would be compelling to make a case that last year’s playoff appearance was heavily fueled by luck, that the Celtics’ advanced stat stars have holes in their game that stats fail to capture, or that the pieces on the roster will fail to mesh. But a central argument that the roster looks underwhelming to your unscientific eye is the level of approach that caused the masses to initially believe the Celtics lost the Rajon Rondo trade with Dallas.

I am on #teamstats. In this instance, they present a reasonable approximation of the truth, and people who enjoy money can freely bet Boston o42.5 wins.

2016 Preseason Big Board (#’s 1-20)

1. Dragan Bender (ESPN: 7, DX: 5)

Dragan Bender is the 2016 poster child of being far more beloved by stats than scouts. He is not an elite athlete nor does he have a go to scorer skill set, so DX and ESPN rate him below the top freshmen and Chad Ford goes as far as to rate him below Malik Pope. But his 261 minute FIBA u18 sample nets him a historically elite 17.4 according to Layne Vashro’s EWP model, which is 4th all time behind Shaq, Anthony Davis, and Nerlens Noel.

His EWP score comes with an large shaker of salt since it is such a small sample, and  FIBA has a smaller sample of future pros than NCAA to project from. But his performance is nevertheless intriguing– in 29 mins/game he posted good statistics across the board with an especially impressive 4.9 assists vs. 1.7 turnovers per game, which is amazing for a 16 year old 7’0 prospect. One of his main critiques is that he is too passive, but his stats suggest that he may have a better feel for optimal team play than scouts who criticize him.

Even without elite explosiveness, he has the size and mobility to become an elite defensive player. And even without an elite scoring skill set, his passing ability and tendency to avoid mistakes gives him a high floor and high ceiling offensively. He seems destined to be perpetually under appreciated by casual fans, but I love his potential as a player who makes intelligent, winning plays. One of the top freshmen may vault ahead of him with a strong NCAA performance, but based on current information he is the highest floor highest upside prospect in the draft.

2. Ben Simmons (ESPN: 1, DX: 2)

There are four prospects who can be argued as the top incoming freshman, but I easily favor Simmons. He has the quickness, athleticism, skill level, and (reported) intelligence to thrive as a point guard, except he has a power forward body. His physical tools and passing both look great to my eye. His primary critique is that he is a mediocre outside shooter, but he has hope of becoming a competent 3 point shooter so this is not a backbreaking flaw. Simmons stands out as Hoop Summit player with the biggest upside tail, as well as the one I am most excited to watch this season.

3. Brandon Ingram (ESPN: 4, DX: 4)

Ingram appears to be Kevin Durant lite. His level of dilution compared to the real thing remains to be seen, but he is more than 1 year younger than Simmons and 1.5 years younger than Labissiere. His mold has plenty of upside and I am putting him above Skal because I have an inkling that there is an age bias that causes scouts to underrate the age gap as these players are all being evaluated side by side. And his intersection of reach and shooting mesh for an awesome upside tail, especially given that he appears to have good feel for the game.

4. Skal Labissiere (ESPN: 2, DX: 1)

He is an explosive 7’0″ and based on John Calipari’s recent history with elite big recruits of Karl Towns, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins, Labissiere will probably have an awesome freshman year. But at the Hoop Summit he only measured 216 pounds and 7’1.5″ long, and as an older player he has less room for growth in these categories than his peers. And while it is a useful skill, I believe his mid-range shooting tends to get overrated since scouts often use it as a proxy for overall skill level which is simply wrong.

Labissiere nevertheless seems very good, as his mediocre length does not appear to inhibit his shotblocking as he racked up 6 in the Hoop Summit. And based on his tools and short-mid range scoring, he has easily enough positives to ultimately end up #1 on my big board. He just doesn’t glow with upside the way Simmons does. I could go either way with Skal vs. Ingram, and I erred on the side of youth for a slightly contrarian perspective.

5. Jaylen Brown (ESPN: 3, DX: 3)

Brown has the necessary tools, skills, and (reported) intelligence to become the #1 overall player in the class. But he also is the player who has the greatest risk of falling flat as a disappointment. He was unimpressive in the Hoop Summit– this could have just been a bad game, but Brown may not be as good as a tabulation of his strengths would suggest. It is possible that I am being overreactive to one performance, but I rate him as clearly the weakest of the top 4 freshman at this stage.

6. Cheick Diallo (ESPN: 12, DX: 12)

Diallo is a bit undersized for a center and underskilled for a PF, but I am a buyer nevertheless. He has an awesome intersection of motor and coordination, and this enabled him to stuff the stat sheet in all three all-star games. I anticipate an awesome statistical freshman season from him. There will be some minor translation concerns, but his footwork gives him sneaky upside.

7. Jakob Poeltl (ESPN: 10, DX: 10)

The mobile 7’0″ big showed strong potential as an NCAA freshman with elite finishing, offensive rebounding, and defense. His offensive game is limited to work inside the paint, as he shot 44% FT and averaged just 1.2 assists per 40. But his finishing ability yielded a 68% FG on slightly above average usage– his offensive rebounding and pick and roll finishing nicely complement his ability to anchor the defense. There’s clear upside for him to make a positive impact on both sides of the ball.

8. Henry Ellenson (ESPN: 8, DX: 9)

Ellenson is a mobile and athletic big with perimeter skills as he can handle, pass, and make 3s. There are questions about his defense, but based on his physical profile and skill level he easily has the upside to become a star while being a defensive liability. On paper he sounds like a slightly lesser version of Ben Simmons who could easily vault into the #1 conversation, so the main question is whether he has the feel for the game to parlay his skills into production.

9. Jamal Murray (ESPN: 5, DX: 6)

The skilled combo guard skyrocketed his value with a strong Hoop Summit and Pan-American games. He can handle, pass, and shoot, and he looks like he may be this year’s (likely inferior) version of D’Angelo Russell. His primary deficiency is that his average athleticism inhibits his slashing upside in the NBA, and e has mediocre length at 6’7″. It is worth wondering whether a few strong recent performances are causing draft consensus to overlook his pedestrian physical tools, but either way he is one of the more appealing incoming freshmen.

10. Kris Dunn (ESPN: 13, DX: 8)

He has great tools, floor vision, and defensive potential. His stock is slightly hurt by the PG depth in the NBA, but his 6’4″ height and 6’9″ length give him the versatility to defend either guard position. The main concern with Dunn is if he is good enough to be a primary ball handler at the next level, as he does not have best handle and is also turnover prone. He needs the ball to capitalize on his vision, and his limited shooting range calls into question how effective he will be off the ball.

11. Zhou Qi (ESPN: 21, DX: 14)

I do not understand how we live in a world where Kristaps Porzingis is seen as an acceptable selection at #4 overall but Zhou Qi is seen as a mid-late 1st rounder in a weaker draft. He has monster measurements at 7’2″ with a 7’7″ wingspan as well as a good skill level, so he has loads of upside. He warrants some level of skepticism due to being rail thin, but he doesn’t *need* 30 to 40 pounds of muscle to succeed if his strengths outweigh his literal weakness. I haven’t scouted him enough to rank him higher, so I am being conservative by ranking him 11th for now.

12. Furkan Korkmaz (ESPN: 11, DX: 13)

Korkmaz is a skilled, athletic wing who performed well for Turkey in FIBA u19 games. He has a well rounded offensive repertoire as his shooting and cutting makes him a great option off the ball, and his passing ability and athleticism gives him creation upside. His defense is currently a weakness but he at least has the instincts and athleticism to generate a high steal rate. He has a strong complementary skill set with star upside with significant improvements to his defense and ball handling.

13. Nigel Hayes (ESPN: 20, DX: 21)

Hayes measured 6’7.5″ in shoes and 7’2″ long in 2011, which makes him slightly undersized for a PF and earns him the dreaded tweener label. But he likely has the quicks and perimeter skills to play SF, so I prefer to qualify him as a versatile combo forward. With lineups trending smaller, he could be nice value if his height deficiency receives too much attention.

14. Ivan Rabb (ESPN: 25, DX 23 in 2017)

I am a bit confused by Rabb’s standing– after the Hoop Summit his draft stock crashed as there appeared to be consensus that he is not as good as expected. Yet in the recruiting world, he remains the #5 RSCI prospect ahead of consensus lottery picks Cheick Diallo, Malik Newman, Diamond Stone, and Henry Ellenson. Further, Jaylen Brown did not tumble nearly as much in the draft world with an even worse Hoop Summit.

There are concerns about his value as a pro, as he is a dreaded PF in a C body. He currently is 6’10” with 7’2″ wing and weighs 216. But his height/length is only slightly small for a center– given that he still has room for growth, the NBA is trending small, and skinny centers often thrive defensively, Rabb has hope to thrive as an NBA 5.

What he does offer is shot blocking, rebounding, and a smooth finishing ability. He does not have the perimeter skill set of Henry Ellenson, but he does have soft hands, smooth footwork, and good touch near the rim. He has potential to be a suped up Tyler Zeller which would be a nifty asset.

I am not certain that the draft consensus is wrong. But it is so sudden and drastic, I want to see hard evidence that he merits such a fall before following suit.

15. Demetrius Jackson (ESPN: 16, DX: 15)

An athletic, skilled point guard, Jackson finally gets to show off his ability to run the offense with Jerian Grant departed to the NBA. At 6’1″ he is too small to guard NBA SG’s which places a damper on his stock and is a key quality setting him behind taller PG’s such as Kris Dunn. But unlike Dunn, he does not have concerns over ability to play off the ball after a highly efficient sophomore season sharing the backcourt with Grant. The key for his 2016 draft stock is how well he performs running the offense by himself, as big spikes in his assist and usage rates are expected.

16. Caris LeVert (ESPN: 26, DX: 19)

LeVert is not the sexiest prospect, but between his defensive versaility, outside shooting, passing, and small doses of creation he has potential to be a highly useful 3 + D wing.

17. Malik Newman (ESPN: 9, DX: 7)

By all accounts he is a Monta Ellis doppelgänger, and I do not see why NBA teams should be enthusiastic to spend a top 10 pick on a chucker whose arms are too short to defend anything but PG’s. It does sound like he will be a better shooter than Monta, so maybe he finds a way to justify a lottery selection. But his hype is likely a simple example of scoring being overrated and defense being underrated.

18. Diamond Stone (ESPN: 14, DX: 11)

I am shading Stone down from consensus because his main selling point is low post scoring, which is overrated by traditional scouts. On the flipside, it is possible he nevertheless lives up to or exceeds the hype. ESPN’s list of his strengths make his game sound well rounded in the vein of a poor man’s DeMarcus Cousins who is incidentally his NBA role model.

19. Taurean Prince (ESPN: 45, DX: 27)

Baylor tends to recruit top 100 prospects that disappoint, but Prince bucked the trend as a 3 star recruit with a surprise breakout last year. He stuffed the stat sheet in an 868 minute sample, with his PER jumping from 16.2 as a sophomore to 25.6. It will be interesting to see how well he sustains his surprising success as a senior, but he certainly is on the map as a 3 and D prospect. He alleged locked down DeMar DeRozan among other perimeter players at the Nike Skills academy this summer, and he has prototypical SF size. His defensive versatility for a competent 3 point shooter is the highlight of his prospect profile. The only question is how much his lack of elite explosiveness, creation, and passing ability will detract from his NBA performance.

20. Domantas Sabonis (ESPN: 24, DX: 22)

Sabonis displayed excellent interior scoring and rebounding as a freshman, and complements this with great mobility. His main concern is that in spite of being 6’10”, he has questionable PF size with a 6’10.5″ wingspan and limited offensive ability outside the paint. A favorable comparison would be Mitch McGary, except McGary had slightly superior measurables and over double the NCAA steal and block rates. As nice as his freshman stats are, Sabonis’s warts temper his appeal.

2016 Preseason Big Board (#’s 21-60)

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

Note that while the top 20 includes the top international prospects in this year’s draft class, this list excludes the second tier internationals.

21. Theo Pinson (ESPN: 44, DX: 31 in ’17)

The #15 RSCI recruit in 2014, Pinson is the 3rd highest rated returning sophomore behind Justin Jackson and Isaiah Whitehead. He had limited opportunity to showcase himself as a freshman coming off the bench behind Jackson and JP Tokoto, and then a foot injury sidelined him for the majority of the 2nd half. He is skinny but otherwise he has ideal tools to defend either wing position, and he used his athleticism to fill up every non shooting/scoring stat category in his freshman sample with exceptional passing for a wing. With Tokoto gone, Pinson figures to play big minutes next year and has strong breakout potential.

22. Troy Williams (ESPN: 41, DX: 20)

Williams has a good base of athleticism, quickness, ball handling, and passing ability for a wing. There are questions about his shooting ability, as he only attempted 0.6 3P per 40 minutes as a sophomore. But he was also playing PF/C for a small Indiana team, and he did shoot 74% FT. If he can develop 3 point range, he has nice upside with the tools to be a good defensive wing and the ball skills to play on the perimeter.

23. Malik Pope (ESPN: 6, DX: 30)

Pope had a decent season for a toolsy 18 year old freshman, and he has clear breakout potential as a sophomore. He missed significant time in high school with injuries, so he may have extra sneaky upside if he can finally stay healthy for an extended time frame. But he did not excel at anything as a freshman and is merely a good not great athlete, so Chad Ford should probably relax before ranking him ahead of Dragan Bender.

24. Wade Baldwin (ESPN NR, DX 39 in ’17)

In 2012, Baldwin measured 6’1.5″ without shoes and a 6’10” wingspan. His length explains how he amassed a 3.1% steal rate for a typically low steal coach, and it gives him the versatility to defend either guard position. Offensively he posted a solid assist rate with a 2.3 assist to turnover.

The main question for Baldwin is: can he score? He is a decent but not elite athlete and did not get to the rim with overwhelming frequency. While he shot 44% from 3 and 80% from FT, his shooting was considered a weakness as a recruit and he did not attempt a high volume of 3’s. It is too soon to anoint him as a legitimately good prospect, but he is one of the top returning players to monitor in 2015-16.

25. Damian Jones (ESPN: 15, DX: 16)

He is 7’0, strong, athletic, and young for his class as he only turned 20 at the end of last June. This is a great foundation for a prospect, but the rest of his profile is lackluster. He has a highly underwhelming rebound rate for a player with his tools, and his block rate is only OK. He hardly ever gets steals, and while he vastly improved his assist to TOV rate as a sophomore it was still a paltry 0.34. His 60% sophomore FT% is not bad for a 19 year old big, and he does have a semblance of a short to mid range scoring game. But without outlier athleticism and an average 7’2″ wingspan, he did not show the skill or BBIQ to be worth more than a late 1st based on his first 2 seasons at Vanderbilt.

26. Gary Payton II (ESPN: 61, DX: NR)

The Mitten is a fascinating prospect– on one hand he is undersized to play SG at 6’2.5″ with a 6’6.5″ wingspan and an underskilled PG with many offensive limitations as an athletic 22 year old. On the other hand, he had higher block and defensive rebound rates than Jahlil Okafor last season to complement the 2nd highest steal rate in the NCAA behind Corey Walden. His measurables understate his possible defensive impact, and he is roughly next draft’s version of Terry Rozier with bigger defensive upside.

27. Jalen Brunson (ESPN: 23, DX: 27 in ’17)

Brunson seems all sorts of awesome in terms of basketball playing skills, as he is a pure point who is a smooth slasher and finisher, can shoot, plays pesky defense, and has good basketball IQ. But he is 6’2″ with a lackluster 6’3″ wingspan and average athleticism, which makes it hard to succeed in a league loaded with talented and toolsy point guards. Brunson strikes me as the type who has a shot to overcome the odds after watching him dominate FIBA u19, but I would prefer to see a signficant sample of NCAA success before getting too giddy over the possibility.

28. Chinanu Onuaku (ESPN: 27, DX: 26)

He is a completely one way defensive prospect, as he is young, toolsy, and has shown the ability to rack up steals and blocks on defense. He is a zero offensively outside of O-Rebs, but he was one of the youngest players in NCAA last year, so there is room for him to grow into a useful garbage man. He is poised for a big sophomore leap and is a player to monitor next season. The only reason I am not higher on him is because his measurables of 6’10” with a 7’2.5″ wingspan are weak for a one way defensive center.

29. Stephen Zimmerman (ESPN: 31, DX: 8 in 2017)

Zimmerman looked good in the Hoop Summit. He is a reasonably athletic 7’0″ with a balanced array of strengths who has clear potential to contribute on both ends. He is a jack of all trades and master of none, and is one of the more appealing non-lotto freshmen.

30. Keita Bates-Diop (ESPN: NR, DX: NR)

Last year’s #29 RSCI recruit only played 10 mins/game as a freshman on a team driven by D’Angelo Russell and upperclassmen. But he has nice tools for an NBA SF as he is 6’7″, long, and athletic. He can rebound, block shots, make 3’s, and he posted more assists than turnovers as a freshman. He is skinny and doesn’t seem to offer much shot creation, but he has breakout potential and I am not sure why he is completely off the radar.

31. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (ESPN: 17, DX: 17)

Mykhailiuk struggled as an 17 year old freshman, posting a 7.2 PER in 291 minutes. Now as a sophomore he will still be one of the youngest players in the NCAA, so it would not be fair to hold his small freshman sample against him given his athleticism, basketball IQ, and shooting. But he is not a great shooter (31.3% 3P% in 288 career attempts according to DX) and his short arms prevent him from being much of a playmaker defensively. He has struggled badly inside the arc his whole career, as he is not comfortable finishing in traffic and tends to throw up wild shots in the paint. He has potential for significant improvement in this area, but DX and ESPN are taking a large progression for granted in ranking him as a mid-1st rounder.

32. Grayson Allen (ESPN: 18, DX: 32 in ’17)

He is small for a SG, but his athleticism gives him upside as a scorer as he has the skill to both slash and shoot. His championship game performance blew his ESPN hype a bit out of hand, but it’s feasible that he eventually lives up to it.

33. Chase Jeter (ESPN: 51, DX: 17 among freshmen)

Jeter could be the Bobby Portis of the class, as scouts are glazing over him due to not being a great athlete or having a standout skill in spite of his #14 RSCI rating. But between his youth, size, quickness, rebounding, basketball IQ, and budding offensive skill he has a number of small edges that could add up to a quality player.

34. Jake Layman (ESPN: 35, DX: 24)

I am not sure that he has the perimeter skills to be an NBA SF, but in round 2 it is worth gambling on the possibility that he does given his athleticism.

35. DeAndre Bembry (ESPN: 42, DX: 38)

Bembry stuffed the statsheet as a sophomore for an inexperienced St. Joseph’s team, racking up a healthy share of points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. His efficiency was mediocre and he is only a career 33.5% 3P 61.1% FT shooter. But he has solid size for an NBA SG (6’6″ tall 6’8″ long) as well as the athleticism, quickness, and ball handling skills to succeed at the position should his shooting and decision making improve.

36. Justin Jackson (ESPN: 22, DX: 23)

Last year’s #9 RSCI freshman is the top rated returning sophomore. Jackson is the anti-Moreyball player: he is lethal from mid-range, which makes up a big portion of his offense. He lacks the athleticism to create layups and FT’s, and has limited shooting range as he shot just 30.4% from 3 on low volume as a freshman. He is also limited defensively as he does not have the size to make a big impact. His redeeming qualities outside of mid-range dominance are that he has nice size for a SF and is a good passer with good feel as he posted an elite assist:TOV rate as a freshman.

He has an interesting blend of strengths, but the trouble is figuring how this amounts to a useful NBA player. Mid-range shooting is not that valuable for an off the ball wing, so to become a good NBA’er he needs to develop 3 point range as well as ball skills to justify regular touches.

37. Isaiah Whitehead (ESPN: 77, DX: NR)

Whitehead had a horribly inefficient season as an old freshman PG (he turned 20 in March), as he shot just 38% on 2P and posted nearly as many turnovers as assists. But in spite of limited athleticism and quicks he showed defensive potential and is a decent shooter– if he cleans up his decision making on offense he will emerge as a viable prospect.

38. Monte Morris (ESPN: NR, DX: 39)

Morris has fairly average tools for a PG, is not a volume scorer, and even his assist rate is not stellar. But the smooth operator has posted a stunning 4.7 to 1 assist to turnover rate in his 2 years at Iowa State while making 40% 3P, 80% FT, and posting great steal and block rates for a player of his physical profile. He is a unique prospect that seems to have an outlier intersection of coordination and feel for the game.

39. Michael Humphrey (ESPN: NR, DX: 71 among sophomores)

This is my shot in the dark super draft sleeper. There is limited information on him, as I cannot even find his birthday. What I do know is that he was the #60 RSCI freshman and is an athletic 6’9″ PF. He played a bit role for Stanford last season until he was inserted into the starting lineup near the end of Pac-12 play. In 6 games and 126 mins as a starter, he averaged 15.9 pts 13.0 rebs 2.5 blks per 40 shooting an awesome 67% inside the arc before spraining his ankle and missing the majority of the remaining season. He also posted nearly as many assists (13) as turnovers (15) over the full course of the season. He is a skinny PF who shot just 11/22 FT and 0/2 3P, so he could be perceived as a very undersized center. But between his assist rate and acceptable scoring on non-rim 2’s (15/33), he appears to have hope to develop an acceptable PF skill package. The main caveat is this is all a very thin slice, and more information is needed before any strong conclusions are drawn.

40. Isaiah Briscoe (ESPN: 19, DX: 18)

Briscoe is a big, strong guard who appears to be the second coming of Andrew Harrison. He is not athletic or quick, and is bad defensively even though he has the measurables to defend SG’s. He also is a mediocre shooter. His saving grace is that unlike Harrison he appears to be a legitimate point guard with floor vision and passing skills. Overall he is bleh to me, and I am not convinced that he will prove to be the 3rd best freshman prospect on Kentucky ahead of #50 RSCI Charles Matthews.

The Rest

41. Ray Smith
42. James Webb III
43. Derryck Thornton
44. Daniel Ochefu
45. Buddy Hield
46. Denzel Valentine
47. Melo Trimble
48. Brice Johnson
49. Tim Quarterman
50. Fred Van Vleet
51. Deonte Burton
52. Devin Robinson
53. Kennedy Meeks
54. Thomas Bryant
55. Malcolm Hill
56. Allonzo Trier
57. Justin Simon
58. PJ Dozier
59. Mike Tobey
60. Gary Clark

Post-Draft re-rank

So now that the draft is complete, it is time to re-rank the prospects with new information that has come to light:

1 Karl Towns
2 D’Angelo Russell
3 Justise Winslow
4 Jahlil Okafor
5 Emmanuel Mudiay
6 Mario Hezonja
7 Kristaps Porzingis
8 Willie Cauley-Stein
9 Stanley Johnson
10 Frank Kaminsky
11 Kelly Oubre
12 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
13 Trey Lyles
14 Myles Turner
15 Delon Wright
16 Bobby Portis
17 Sam Dekker
18 Devin Booker
19 Kevon Looney
20 Cameron Payne
21 Tyus Jones
22 Justin Anderson
23 Jerian Grant
24 RJ Hunter
25 Terry Rozier
26 Nikola Milutinov
27 Rashad Vaughn
28 Chris McCullough
29 Larry Nance Jr
30 Josh Richardson
31 Jarell Martin
32 Richaun Holmes
33 Norman Powell
34 Montrezl Harrell
35 Jordan Mickey
36 Olivier Hanlan
37 Cedi Osman
38 Dakari Johnson
39 Arturas Gudaitis
40 Pat Connaughton

I imagine that most sharp NBA teams had 1. Towns and 2. Russell, and I agree with that.

I am all in on Justise Winslow. Even if his height was mildly disappointing and he shot poorly in workouts, there is still so so much to like about his profile. It was mostly bad GM’s that passed him up while one of my fave GM’s in Danny Ainge was trying to trade up for him every step of the way starting at #4. He has such clear two way upside with a high floor to boot, I cannot fathom that it was remotely correct for him to slide that far.

I softened my anti-Hezonja and Porzingis stance because they both do have great tools and I don’t feel strongly enough any of my 8-12 prospects to place them ahead of either. I still have my doubts about them, but there’s no reason they cannot be real good. I wish I could have stronger feelings on these two and Mudiay, but all I can do is stash the trio in between the big 4 NCAA studs and everybody else.

I dropped Kelly Oubre to 11. I believe he is underrated due to his combination of freshman stats and physical tools, but there is little that stands out about him other than his superficial appeal. He cannot create his own shot and he does not have good basketball IQ, so I have slightly tempered my expectations of him.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the second biggest steal in the draft behind Winslow. His offensive limitations are a big concern, but his combination of physical tools and defensive acumen is so elite that they are worth stomaching. I am surprised at how many smart FO’s passed him up with non-lotto picks, but once upon a time Daryl Morey drafted Marcus Morris ahead of Kawhi Leonard so I’m sticking to my guns that RHJ slid way too far.

Myles Turner still feels bleh to me but I’m interested to see how well Frank Vogel can mitigate the limitations of his gait by playing him in the Hibbert role. I could see him having a successful career in Indiana.

It feels like no matter who I rank 22 or 23 it feels too low. I ended up placing Justin Anderson and Jerian Grant in those slots, and both are solid prospects to me. Truthfully you could rank my 13-23 tier in any order and it would seem fine to me.

RJ Hunter feels perfect at 24. I could jumble up my 5-12, 13-23, or 25-40 in any number of orders but RJ makes the perfect dividing line to bridge the gap between my top 23 and the rest.

I bumped up Terry Rozier a long way from 50 to 25. I remain unimpressed with his offensive skill set, but he does have the length and frame to guard SG’s. Further, it is possible that the Celtics can parlay his elite first step into a nice slashing game with better coaching, spacing, and skill development. I appreciate the athleticism + defense strength tandem in prospects so this pick may not be historically bad. That said, his current offensive package is highly worrisome for a 21 year old 6’2″ player, and I suspect the Celtics are being overly optimistic about his growth potential by taking him at #16. So it’s still a reach in my book.

Everything else is generally smoothened given NBA opinions. I figure this will look better than my average big board because I am not taking huge positions for no reason and am focusing on my more confident reads. So we’ll see how this works. Really don’t feel like I have much insight to offer this year other than it being comical that Winslow slid to #10 and RHJ being a possible big time steal late. All of the prospects are at least decent and I don’t think consensus is all that far off base.

2015 Draft Recap

One of the best parts of the draft is that no matter how advanced statistical predictions become, there will always be a slippery human element that cannot be perfectly priced. This is a downside to making at home evaluations as interviews and workouts are needed for full information, and three first round talents in Christian Wood, Cliff Alexander, and Robert Upshaw went undrafted. But it also makes for stunning surprises on draft night that are fun to assess in retrospect, and it is new information that can be used to re-assess pre-existing perceptions. Here is my recap of the draft:

1. Minnesota: Karl Towns

Timberwolves convert the layup and suddenly their future is not looking bad.

2. LA Lakers: D’Angelo Russell

The Lakers nail the most important decision of the draft. They could have bungled this pick by taking any of Okafor, Porzingis, or Mudiay, but they made the correct pick who was not obvious to everybody. These are the type of decisions that can alter a franchise’s future, so the Lakers are the big winners of the draft by getting this one right.

3. Philadelphia: Jahlil Okafor

The Lakers’ gain comes at the expense of the 76ers, who were set to draft D’Angelo Russell #3 overall. Instead they settle for Jahlil Okafor, who crowds their big man rotation and is an inferior prospect. Sam Hinkie is not building a team, he is assembling a portfolio of liquid assets and Okafor will maintain trade value if he scores efficiently as a rookie. I would have preferred to see Philly trade down for Winslow+, but it would have been difficult to execute for a substantial haul, and it is possible that Hinkie perceives Okafor as the superior prospect independent of trade value.

4. New York: Kristaps Porzingis
5. Orlando: Mario Hezonja

I don’t want to be too aggressively anti-Euros because I am not certain that neither of these guys are really good, but I feel like they are both big mistakes to take over Justise Winslow among a handful of other prospects. If I had to pick one to excel, it would be Hezonja. While Mario seems a bit overhyped to me, I cannot pinpoint anything that strongly caps his upside and it is fine to take him over any non-Winslow prospect. Porzingis has more disconcerting red flags, less upside, and more potential to look like a comically bad pick a few years down the road.

6. Sacramento: Willie Cauley-Stein

Even though I rated Cauley-Stein above Porzingis and Hezonja, this pick is arguably even worse. He is not a good pairing with DeMarcus Cousins, and if the pick was only made because Cousins is going to be traded that does not make the situation any rosier. Further it sounded like everybody was scared off by his ankle and he would have slid to the teens– if they are so locked in on him, why not trade down? Horrible pick by a horrible organization.

7. Denver: Emmanuel Mudiay
8. Detroit: Stanley Johnson

These picks were fine values in a vacuum, but it was nevertheless a mistake to pass on Winslow. Mudiay is the most defensible pick in the 4-9 range, it is possible my critique of this pick will look bad in the future. Stanley over Winslow is more clearly bad– Stanley is a better shooter but Winslow is better at everything else.

9. Charlotte: Frank Kaminsky

Michael Jordan allegedly turned down a massive haul of picks from Boston for this pick. It is amazing that after all of his awful draft picks that he hasn’t reduced his self-confidence in his talent evaluation skills. I wonder if it ever occurred to him that his draft picks consistently bust and that maybe this one is not all that special when he is getting offered way too much from a successful GM who wants somebody else. He should have taken Winslow before whatever Ainge offered, but doing neither and taking Kaminsky is laughable.

If the Pistons took Winslow, this pick would actually be pretty good. Since they instead took Stanley, the Frank pick was a big failure.

10. Miami: Justise Winslow

Miami wins the draft.

11. Indiana: Myles Turner

If Hibbert is on the way out, this is a great landing spot for Turner since Vogel has proven capable at maximizing the shot blocking ability of a center with mobility challenges. I still don’t love the pick, but I can see Turner succeeding in Indiana so I am now less bearish on him than I was pre-draft.

12. Utah: Trey Lyles

Lyles is a fine pick here. As a Jazz fan I would not be particularly excited nor disappointed.

13. Phoenix: Devin Booker

After making my favorite pick in the late lotto last year in TJ Warren, Ryan McDonough followed up with a pick that I don’t like as much. But even though I ranked him #22 on my big board I don’t hate the pick, I would have ranked Booker 6 slots higher before 2 slots lower. Just goes to show how much vastly reasonable minds can differ when the draft runs so deep and there are so many angles of information to examine.

14. Oklahoma City: Cameron Payne

Much like the Devin Booker pick, I have this as a reach by 9 slots according to my big board but I don’t necessarily hate it for OKC. I feel that it’s a slightly bad pick but Payne does have a uniquely appealing flavor to him, and I am more interested in seeing how he pans out than I am making confident projections of his future. I suspect he’s overvalued here but I am a fan and don’t want to root against him.

15. Washington (via ATL): Kelly Oubre

I had Oubre as the BPA and I do not believe he would have slid to 19, so I like the Wiz giving up two 2nds to move up for him. Good move, good pick.

16. Boston: Terry Rozier

Danny Ainge’s biggest draft strengths and weaknesses were on full display last night. When there is a slam dunk pick to be made, he makes it and he correctly tried to pay up to acquire Justise Winslow in a trade every pick from 4 to 9. But once Charlotte declined, Ainge showed his weakness of reaching for busts when no clear BPA exists (see: Marcus Banks, Fab Melo, JR Giddens, maybe James Young). I rated Rozier 50th on my big board, and in retrospect that is far too low given his athleticism and defense baseline to go along with a competent jump shot. He is 1″ shorter with 1″ longer wingspan than Avery Bradley, and it is well within reach for him to become a similar caliber player which is not a terrible outcome for the #16 overall pick.

Of course the point of the draft is not to avoid bad outcomes, it is to achieve great outcomes. The Celtics already have two young, undersized 3 + D SG’s and adding a third one who upgrades neither is of little value to a team that got swept in the first round. It’s clear that they are gambling on Brad Stevens being able to parlay Rozier’s great first step and work ethic into an effective NBA slasher. The value of Rozier as a prospect largely hinges on the value of his slashing upside, and there is a coherent argument to be made that he has enough to be an acceptable selection at #16 overall. I still believe it was a reach given how limited his PG skills and decision making are for a 21 year old, but a less egregious one than my initial big board would indicate.

17. Milwaukee: Rashad Vaughn

This pick is a bit of a reach and I do not particularly like it, but Vaughn is young and can score. I suppose the Bucks believe a likely inefficient chucker has more value on a team with great defense and horrible offense.

18. Houston: Sam Dekker

This pick is solid– Dekker was on the short list of best players available and he fits well as a smallish 4 next to Dwight.

19. New York (via ATL): Jerian Grant

It is hard to fathom how a FO that acquired 4/5 of a 60 win starting lineup with FA contracts all < $10M/year has blown consecutive mid-1st rounders so badly. After spewing the #15 pick on Adriean Payne last year, the Hawks one upped themselves this year by trading down to #19 and then shipping that for a player who is proven to be bad in Tim Hardaway Jr.

This is obviously nice for the Knicks since they clearly won the trade and then took a decent prospect in Grant. It slightly redeems the Porzingis pick.

20. Toronto: Delon Wright

One of the best FO’s in the draft takes one of my favorite sleepers in Delon to replace the recently dealt Greivis Vasquez. This is a nice pick, Masai Ujiri just vacuums free pennies and nickels with almost every move he makes.

21. Dallas: Justin Anderson

Nice pick by the Mavs as they scoop a solid 3 + D wing.

22. Chicago: Bobby Portis

Great pick by the Bulls, Fred Hoiberg can do damage building an offense around a Mirotic/Portis big man tandem that provides elite spacing.

23. Portland: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Portland eventually traded this pick to Brooklyn for #41 and Mason Plumlee, and Mason Plumlee is quite the vig to just move up from 41 to 23. But RHJ is also a great pick, so this might be the one time ever that Billy King overpaying to get what he wants works out favorably for him. Still I’m surprised that RHJ fell this low, perhaps I’m underrating how detrimental he will be on offense in the NBA but it’s great value regardless.

24. Minnesota: Tyus Jones

31 + 36 is not a cheap price for 24, but with so many promising young players on rookie deals the Wolves were in a position to overpay for a slider. I like the move and I like the pick.

I don’t like Cleveland’s side unless Cedi Osman is much better than I am giving him credit for. The Cavs likely wanted to save cap room to help keep their roster together, but Rakeem Christmas was never good until he was a 23 year old senior. Also Tyus Jones, Kevon Looney, and RJ Hunter were some nice options to pair with LeBron.

25. Memphis: Jarell Martin

After going analytics heavy last year with Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes, Memphis went with traditional scouting and physical tools with Jarell Martin this year. This is a bit of a reach.

26. San Antonio: Nikola Milutinov

The Spurs went international to preserve cap space for FA, and they took the player I singled out as best international available who was also in the mix for best not injured player available. I’m always happy to see the sharpest team agree with me.

27. LA Lakers: Larry Nance, Jr.

I like gambling on Nance this late. He is an explosive dunker who stuffs the statsheet and I have mentioned a couple of times that overachieving draft slot runs in the family with his dad having 2nd highest all time win shares among picks outside of the top 16.

28. Boston: RJ Hunter

The Celtics vaguely redeem the Rozier fiasco by taking the best healthy player available, but the night is still overall bad.

29. Brooklyn: Chris McCullough

Solid pick by one of the worst FO’s in the history of life.

30. Golden State: Kevon Looney

Looney’s stock plummeted due to news that he may need hip surgery, but there’s no way this is not awesome value for the Warriors. Great pick by the defending champs.

32. Houston: Montrezl Harrell

I find this pick surprising. Harrell cannot be paired with Dwight Howard, and he doesn’t make sense as a backup between his lack of size and Clint Capela’s presence. I also don’t think he was great value, but I suppose Daryl Morey disagrees and either thinks Harrell has a chance of learning to make 3’s or might have trade value down the road since he was the only projected 1st rounder available. It’s just a second rounder so I don’t want to criticize this pick too harshly, it mostly just stood out to me as unexpected.

40. Miami: Josh Richardson

Not only does Miami get the steal of the draft in Justise Winslow at 10, but they take my favorite 2nd round sleeper at #40 who I wrote about when he was in neither DX nor ESPN’s top 100.

46. Toronto: Norman Powell

Masai scoops another penny by picking my other favorite 2nd round sleepers as part of a haul for Greivis Vasquez that also included a lottery protected Clippers’ 1st rounder. Raptors had a strong night as they clearly won the Vasquez trade and got good value on both draft picks.


The draft really fell off a cliff in round 2 after Looney went off the board, there are such few players I feel inclined to comment on. But round 1 was loaded with talent, almost everybody drafted has a strong chance of becoming at least a useful rotation player. I had a tough time finding first round picks to aggressively doubt this year, so this could go down as one of the deepest first rounds of all time.

2015 Final Big Board


Future Stars

1. Karl Towns

I have had Karl Towns as #1 all season long and now consensus is in full agreement. He has an elite combination of size, skill, and smarts and there is little to dislike about his profile. His biggest red flag is that his explosiveness and mobility are both average, so perhaps he never becomes an great NBA rim protector. But he has plenty of upside to be great on both sides of the ball, and high floor high ceiling two way centers are rarely regrettable choices at #1 overall.

2. D’Angelo Russell

Stat models love Russell, and Curry and Harden serve as two compelling upside examples. Russell is neither the level outlier shooter of Curry nor the level outlier slasher of Harden, but his overall skill package is outlier in its own rite and it is difficult to find a frightening negative comparison. Russell’s vision exceeds both of them and he was exceptional at making off the dribble 3’s for Ohio State. If his 3p% was heavily luck driven he could disappoint as a scorer, because he created and finished rim attempts for himself at an underwhelming rate. This is enough to rate him below Towns, but his studly skill package and statistical performance with decent enough physical tools offers plenty of upside to stomach the concern and take him 2nd.

3. Justise Winslow

I have written extensively about my affinity for Winslow. I moved him below Russell due to measuring 6’4.5″ without shoes and some reports of poor shooting in workouts, but his strong selling points all remain strong. He is much closer to #2 on my board than he is to #4.

Possible All-Stars

4. Jahlil Okafor

Okafor offers the super power of studly low post scoring as the foundation of his game, and with his elite strength, length, coordination to go with monster hands he projects to translate this to the NBA level. The downside is that he offers little other than low post scoring, with question marks regarding his defense, passing, and shooting. While he should be a productive NBA scorer, it will be a challenge to surround him with the correct combination of players to accentuate his strengths and mask his flaws. He faces the same challenges that prevent Greg Monroe from being an in demand asset in spite of being a highly productive player statistically, and for this I rate him clearly below each of my top 3 prospects. But his ceiling does extend higher than that of Monroe, and without another compelling prospect he slots in nicely at #4.

5. Emmanuel Mudiay

I offered thoughts on Mudiay on my last big board. The short version is that great tools to go with legitimate PG skills offer enough upside to place him in the top 5, but a broken shot, questionable basketball IQ, and a lack of proven production against noteworthy competition cast enough doubt to place him below Okafor even though Mudiay’s theoretical upside is more attractive.

6. Willie Cauley-Stein

Cauley-Stein offers the defensive super power of elite quickness and mobility in the body of a giant. He also has great anticipation skills that enabled him to rack up steals and blocks in college. He is strictly a garbage man on offense, but has good enough feel to not force the issue with a good assist:TOV rate for a center. His upside is something along the lines of Tyson Chandler.

7. Stanley Johnson
8. Kelly Oubre

I already wrote about Oubre and Stanley Johnson. I have cooled a bit on Oubre since he likely does not have the shake to become a stud slasher nor the basketball IQ to become a guaranteed stud defensive player a la Hollis-Jefferson, but there is still plenty to like there and I believe he is underrated nevertheless. Conversely I still have concerns about Johnson’s leaks, but the more important point is that he is young and has a multitude of notable strengths, thus I am ranking him a slot above Oubre.

9. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Hollis-Jefferson is in contention with Winslow for the most underrated player in the draft. He has a unique defensive package, as his physical tools are great across the board and he complements this by also playing hard and smart defensively. He is a lock to become a good defensive player in the pros and could has upside to be the best defensive wing in the league. The downside is that he is a near zero as a scorer, as he was a non-threat from 3 (8/39 in two NCAA seasons) and has little slashing ability. But he showed good passing ability with more assists than turnovers, and his 70% FT shooting offers a glimmer of hope for his shooting ability. The risk is that he becomes an offensive drag a la Michael Kidd-Gilchrist by providing no spacing or creation, but if his offensive skill set develops better than expected he will be a big time steal given his smarts, tools, and defense.

10. Frank Kaminsky

Kaminsky is perceived as a low upside pick as a 4 year unathletic white college big, but he is so skilled for his size and mobile enough that he has sneaky upside to become a fringe all-star. Even though Porzingis has better tools and youth, I would rather gamble on Kaminsky’s skill and feel.

11. Mario Hezonja
12. Kristaps Porzingis

The Euros are getting aggressively hyped due to their combination of athleticism and shooting, which always piques the interest of scouts. I am skeptical of both, as they each have significant leaks in their game. Hezonja has a bizarrely high turnover rate for somebody who almost never scores inside the arc and Porzingis has a terrible assist:TOV rate, a poor rebounding rate, and is barely competent as a long range shooter. They both have upside as well because tools and shooting are important, and I don’t want to be too aggressively bearish without having much expertise in European basketball. But I really like the top 10 American players, and Hezonja and Porzingis have flags that are concerning enough for me to place them just outside of the top 10.

Possible Starters

13. Kevon Looney

Stat models love Looney, but scouts are skeptical given his lack of athleticism and creation ability. He has potential to be a good complementary piece who fits into the PF slot in a wide range of lineups. He is not precisely the same, but I see his upside as a Paul Millsap type who does a wide range of things well enough to add up to a highly positive player.

14. Bobby Portis

Portis is in a similar mold to Looney. He is not as adored by stat models but he atones with a great motor and defensive IQ. He has the size to play as a small 5 and the mobility to play as a 4, and will fit in well with defenses that demand frequent switching. His versatility should make him a useful cog in any lineup he enters.

15. Trey Lyles

Trey Lyles projects to be more of a defensive liability than Looney or Portis, but he is the most skilled offensive player of the trio. He sometimes played SF for Kentucky’s roster of Monstars, and he was not in an ideal situation to accentuate his skill set having to share the paint with so many other bigs. He is a candidate to vastly outperform his NCAA stat projections as a pro, but I nevertheless favor Portis and Looney due to their defensive advantages.

16. Delon Wright

Between his age, athletic limitations, frail frame, and questionable 3 point shot there are plenty of reasons to doubt Delon Wright’s NBA upside. He quells these doubts with unique positive qualities– he has great height and length for a PG and his elite feel for the game enables him to post elite block, steal, and rebound rates. He also has enough shake to slither his way to the rim against set defenses, and his vision and basketball IQ has resulted in a great assist to turnover ratio. His 3p% is marred by his poor off the dribble shooting, but his 81.4% FT suggest that he can become an adequate spot up 3 point shooter in the NBA. If he does develop a 3 point shot to complement his PG skills and defense, he can become a highly useful NBA player. He is the type of funky, polarizing player that can surpass his perceived upside with subtle strengths that go underrated by traditional scouts. If he slides into the late 1st as projected he could be a big time steal.

17. Tyus Jones

Tyus Jones was a top 5 RSCI recruit, stat models love him, and he won NCAA tournament MOP as an 18 year old freshman, yet he is projected to go in the back end of round 1. His poor physical profile and limited slashing and defensive ability are the primary culprits for his lack of draft hype. In a league loaded with PG’s, it will be an uphill climb for Jones to become an above average starter. He doesn’t share Wright and Grant’s size to guard SG’s, and he will be leaning heavily on his vision, instincts, and shooting to develop into quality starter.

18. Justin Anderson

Justin Anderson has limited creation ability, but offers passing, defense, smarts, and decent enough shooting to be a solid 3 + D prospect. Similar to most prospects who have more value on the defensive side of the ball, Anderson is underrated.

19. Sam Dekker

Sam Dekker boasts a good combination of athleticism and especially size for a wing, which he used to convert a high % of his 2 point shots in Wisconsin’s well spaced offense, where he often created his own shot. His value as a pro largely hinges on his ability to translate his rim scoring to NBA defenses, as he is otherwise a non-descript prospect.

20. Myles Turner

Turner’s combination of size, shooting, and rim protection makes him inherently upsidey, but his upside is somewhat based on wishful thinking since his profile is otherwise laced with warts. He has a number of alarming craters in his stats between 2P%, assist rate, ORB%, and steal rate. It’s difficult to buy him as a stud defensive player since his awkward movement makes him a liability on pick and roll defense, and his offensive game hinges entirely on his ability to develop into a lethal shooter. If his shot becomes great and he can get off a high volume due to his reach while also being an adequate rim protector, he can be highly useful. But smooth movement and coordination is an important trait, and there are plenty of prospects in the draft that make for better gambles.

21. Jerian Grant

Grant offers PG skills in a body with great size for a PG and solid athleticism. He has an alarmingly low rebound rate and his age somewhat limits his upside, but he offers versatility as a rotation guard that can pair with a wide range of back court mates. Even though I rate him slightly below consensus entering the draft I am fond of Grant as a prospect, I only rate him this low because this draft is loaded with depth and there are not enough overrated players at the top for me to drop behind him.

22. Devin Booker

Booker is a 3 point specialist that could become anything on a scale of Anthony Morrow to Kyle Korver. He is young and showed great shooting touch for Kentucky, good basketball IQ, and has adequate tools to become a passable NBA defensive player. The concerns are that his rebound, steal, and block rates were all exceptionally weak, and this is a better indication of defensive mettle than the agility drills that he crushed at the combine. Further there is no guarantee he either learns to move without the ball or shoot as well as Korver. He is comfortably overdrafted if he goes in the lottery as projected, but he can nevertheless pay solid dividends for a back end lotto pick if he does hit upside.

23. Cameron Payne

Entering this season I had Payne in my back pocket as my super secret sleeper, and then I never got around to writing about him and now everybody rates him higher than me. His game is aesthetically pleasing to watch, mostly because he has a distinct way of floating the ball to his target whether it be scoring on floaters or floating passes to open shooters. This gives him a unique skill to overachieve his perceived upside, but he does not have great upside as either a slasher or defensive player given his lackluster explosiveness. Ultimately his limitations outweigh his floaty appeal, which is why I would not take him over any of Delon Wright, Jerian Grant, or Tyus Jones.

24. Christian Wood

He’s an exceptionally young sophomore who offers athleticism, shot blocking, rebounding, and fringey long distance shooting. If he can develop an NBA 3 point shot, he can highly over perform his draft slot as a shot blocking stretch 4.  But the challenge of armchair draft analysis is that when Christian Wood’s stock freefalls due to interviews and workouts at the combine, I cannot assess whether teams are being overreactive or not. But he has been slightly underrated all the way through the draft process, and people are inherently overreactive to recent information. So I’m just going to stash him here at #24 and hope for the best.

25. RJ Hunter

Hunter is a perfectly decent 3 + D prospect, but nothing stands out about him to place him above the other top 25 guys in this loaded class.

Everybody Else

26. Rashad Vaughn
27. Chris McCullough
28. Nikola Milutinov
29. Cliff Alexander
30. Josh Richardson
31. Robert Upshaw
32. Larry Nance Jr.
33. Norman Powell
34. Jarell Martin
35. Dakari Johnson
36. Montrezl Harrell
37. Richaun Holmes
38. Jordan Mickey
39. Olivier Hanlan
40. Michael Qualls
41. Anthony Brown
42. Vince Hunter
43. Michael Frazier
44. Pat Connaughton
45. JP Tokoto
46. Dez Wells
47. Branden Dawson
48. Cedi Osman
49. Mouhammadou Jaiteh
50. Terry Rozier

Outside Hezonja and Porzingis, Nikola Milutinov stands out as the most compelling international prospect. His profile offers at least a little bit of everything except shot blocking, and it nevertheless sounds like he can be a solid defensive big man. Everybody else strikes me as underwhelming at a cursory glance. It is just a cursory glance so it is possible that I am overlooking a future useful NBA’er, but Milutinov is the only one who piqued my interest.

Fun fact: Larry Nance Sr. has the second highest career win shares among players drafted outside of the top 16, narrowly behind Terry Porter. Larry Nance Jr. now has a chance to prove that getting underrated in the draft runs in the family– he is an explosive dunker that carried Wyoming’s defense. He spent this season coming off an ACL tear and his team punted offensive rebounds, so his senior statistics underrate him. He is a great second round gamble.

Louisville boasts two of the most overrated prospects in the draft. Montrezl Harrell is an explosive athlete who is a hard worker, but his game encompasses little other than dunks. Terry Rozier is PG sized but lacks PG vision, a good outside shot, and the ability to slash through a set defense. He can be a pest on defense, but really needs to develop his offensive skills to be useful as the smallest player on the court in the NBA.

The springy dunker in a PF body to invest in this class before Harrell is Cliff Alexander. It was ridiculous when he was touted as a possible top 3 pick pre-season, but his freshman year was perfectly decent and he’s a hyper athletic #2 RSCI recruit. He offers better shot blocking, rebounding, and free throw shooting than Harrell, and it is puzzling why he is rated so much lower.

Josh Richardson and Norman Powell are my underrated defensive minded athletes in round 2, with Powell having the bonus of being a good slasher. Dez Wells and Olivier Hanlan are my Jordan Clarkson slashing candidates.

Billy Donovan: NBA Coaching Prospect


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.


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.


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