Here is my big board updated for all NCAA prospects, including those returning to school. Once the early entry list is set, I will update my board to make it specific to the 2014 draft and include ESPN/DX rankings for comparison.
Here is my big board updated for all NCAA prospects, including those returning to school. Once the early entry list is set, I will update my board to make it specific to the 2014 draft and include ESPN/DX rankings for comparison.
As a Duke alum, I watched nearly every Duke game this year and have a number of thoughts on Jabari Parker, yet have refrained from writing about him. This is largely because I see an interesting blend of positives and negative and had been reticent to commit to a strong opinion either way. Now that the season is over, I’d like to lay out some troubling trends I have noticed as well as why they may not be fatal flaws.
First I would like to initiate a narrative that has gone largely unnoticed this year: Jabari Parker was a straight up chucker as a freshman. It’s not that people failed to notice that he took a ton of shots; after all his most common comparison is Carmelo Anthony. The fact of the matter is that when you launch a high volume of shots with the efficiency of a player like Carmelo, people are not going to complain about your chucking ways. But I do believe that Jabari’s inefficiency flew a bit under the radar for a number of reasons. First, let’s see how his usage and efficiency stats compare to those of his teammates as per sports-reference.com.
On one hand, a 115 offensive rating on a 32.7% usage is impressive vs. the caliber of opponent Duke played. On the other hand, it is not as if he was surrounded by garbage and Duke needed him to take every shot he could possibly get off. Duke’s other top rotation players all had a significant advantage in offensive rating, and it would be nice if Jabari had a better assist rate considering all of the shooting surrounding him. Other than Jefferson who did not attempt a 3, his other most common teammates all shot 37%+ from 3 with 4 of them hitting 41%+.
It’s easy to see why Parker took so many shots: he is the perceived best player on the team and carries with him a strong alpha male mentality. It is clear he believes that it is his role to carry the scoring load, so it stands to reason that he should be taking the lion’s share of shots for his team. But he took this to an extreme level. Nobody ever accused Carmelo Anthony of being unselfish, yet he took on a less gargantuan role as a freshman for Syracuse (note that I am now taking usage/o-rtg from statsheet.com, which is why Jabari’s figures are different from the prior table):
Carmelo played on a much more defensive oriented team where taking a high volume of medium efficiency shots carries more value. For reference, Duke’s team schedule adjusted O-Rtg was 123.5 vs. Syracuse’s 113.5, but their defense was much worse (102.3 vs. 91.3). Further, Carmelo was surrounded by significantly less 3 point shooting as he only had two regular teammates who made 3′s, shooting collectively 35% behind the arc. Yet he nevertheless posted a comfortably lower usage rate and higher assist rate. Once you consider context, Jabari almost makes Carmelo Anthony look like Steve Nash.
The other disconcerting trend is that Jabari Parker was significantly more efficient against bad defenses. While he is a good shooter for a freshman and has solid perimeter skills, he also operated quite a bit in the low post as he often played center for Duke. His best performance of the season came against Boston College’s swiss cheese defense, as they start bigs listed at 6’8 219 and 6’7 207. They have the #298 defense and are 238th in opponent 2p%. Naturally Jabari bullied them to kingdom come, as he finished with 29 points, 16 rebounds, and 12/17 FG in a performance that included 6 dunks. It was an entertaining show to be sure, but at the same time it was not against competition that remotely simulates NBA defense. If you break up his performance to teams that are top 100 in opposing 2p% and played a top 150 schedule (essentially weeding out Vermont who was impenetrable by pitiful America East offenses), here are how his per 40 minutes stats look:
|not top 100||27.1||17.8||59.4%||14.5||58.7%||8.3||1.9||2.9|
Note that the sample includes 500 minutes vs. good defenses and 574 vs. bad ones. Granted, we are taking a small sample and breaking it up into two smaller samples, and one of his best performances barely misses the cutoff as UNC only has the #102 2p% defense in the country. But even if you move his two UNC games in the tough sample, he still only musters a 44.2% eFG as compared to 59.6% in the weak sample. And the fact that the performance drop off is largely driven by a drop off 2 point efficiency makes it less likely to be largely due to fluke.
The bottom line is that Jabari bullied bad teams and he bullied them hard. This inflates his stats in a way that is not necessarily predictive of NBA performance. He will still be an issue for smaller matchups in the pros, but they will become less common and there will almost always be a bigger help defender on the floor. He still needs to develop his decision making and perimeter skills significantly to become an efficient scorer against NBA defenses, because his bullying did not work so well against tougher NCAA opposition.
For reference, here are Carmelo Anthony’s per 40 splits given the same criteria:
|not top 100||25.3||18.7||53.5%||13.1||53.2%||7.5||3||1.7|
Note that Carmelo also faced a higher % of good defenses, with 842 minutes in the tough sample vs. 432 in the weak sample. Naturally Melo’s performance fell off vs. serious defenses, but he padded his stats less vs. weaker teams and did not have a massive eFG% or 2p% chasm between the two splits. Also while his assists and turnovers both suffered against tougher teams, his ratio in the tough sample is still much better than that of Jabari which implies that he may have a superior feel for the game.
Again, take these splits with a grain of salt due to sample size issues, but it aligns with my perception. Jabari relied moreso on rim scoring against undersized competition whereas Melo’s midrange dominance translates to higher levels of competition with ease.
While they appear to be similar prospects at a glance, freshman Melo is comfortably superior to freshman Jabari. There is the possibility that Jabari merely needs time to adjust to being stoppable at the rim and adapt his game accordingly, but I would have felt better about this hypothesis if he had displayed some level of improvement down the stretch. Instead he shot 6/16 on 2′s vs Clemson, 7/20 vs Virginia, and 4/11 vs. Mercer as Duke was upset in round 1.
Mercer is hardly a challenge in the paint, as they posted the 112th best 2p% defense playing the 197th toughest offensive schedule. Yet they unwisely insisted on playing zone defense vs. Duke to stop Jabari, and it sort of worked. I say sort of because Duke shot 15/37 on 3′s and rebounded 16/40 of their own misses, and they should be unbeatable by Atlantic Sun competition when this happens. But Duke also punted defense this year in favor of a super offense, and allowed a 122 O-Rtg to Mercer. So when Jabari shot 4/11 on 2′s with 0 assists and 4 turnovers (the rest of the team attempted just 14 2′s and committed 8 turnovers), I think it’s fair to pin a significant amount of blame on him for the loss. Duke was given an all-you-can-eat buffet of quality 3 point looks for their 40% shooters, and Jabari diluted this by insisting on [not] getting his inside vs. the zone instead of trusting shooters to make shots. I understand that it’s part of the alpha dog mentality, but it would have been nice if he had displayed a bit more macro level perception instead of going full cancer and playing his team out of the tourney against a vastly inferior foe.
So why am I not screaming at the top of my lungs that Jabari will be a bust? There are a myriad of slippery aspects to any Jabari analysis, and I am not certain that these issues are indicative of any fundamental flaw that will invariably undermine him throughout his career. He still has an intriguing blend of size and skills, and he will be forced to improve his decision making when he learns that trying to repeatedly dunk on players such as Roy Hibbert is difficult. He’s such a fiery competitor that it’s not difficult to envision him finding a way to make his offense work in the pros, especially if he lands with a good coach. And while his defense was not great, he did post excellent rebound numbers and solid steals and blocks. So I am reticent to sour too heavily on Jabari, as there is much to like. But I also think he has a wider range of outcomes than common narratives dictate, since he does need to overhaul his offensive approach to succeed as a pro. It’s possible that he doesn’t peak any higher than a Jeff Green level combo forward who is a solid scorer but does not bring enough else to the table to be particularly valuable.
If he does elect to stay at Duke, I believe his sophomore season will be illuminating for his NBA future, as he will be forced to share the paint with possible 2015 #1 pick Jahlil Okafor. He should spend more time on the perimeter, and he will no longer have the excuse of limited experience vs. defense that can physically match up with him.
Throughout the season I had Jabari in a close battle for the #2 slot on my big board with Dante Exum, but after a disappointing postseason I rate Exum comfortably ahead of him. Now the question becomes whether I prefer Parker over a prospect such as Marcus Smart, and I am leaning in the direction of Smart for now. There is enough to like such that Jabari will eventually settle into my 3-5 range, but his selfish ways and issues vs. stingy defenses remove some of his luster as a tanking prize.
After eking out four close wins against quality competition, UK finally fell into a first half deficit that they couldn’t entirely overcome, as they lost to UConn 60-54. It was an interesting tourney run for the Wildcats, and I would now like to comb through the details to point out what changed from the regular season to the postseason that propelled them this far. They started playing well in the SEC tournament, so I will split each player’s stats per 40 minutes into the 9 SEC/NCAA tourney games vs their regular season performance. Note that they tended to both run into better defenses and play at a slower pace down the stretch, so naturally everybody will have rosier regular season per 40 minute stats.
Cauley-Stein’s postseason sample is too small to be particularly meaningful, but he did rack up a boatload of steals and blocks and only turned it over once in 120 minutes of play. More notable is how the UK defense struggled without him. They did not perform at a high level vs. any of Louisville, Michigan, Wisconsin, or UConn, and their adjusted defensive rating dropped to 41st in the country as per kenpom.com. Last year’s UK team bottomed out after the Noel injury and finished with the 129th defense, but among Calipari’s successful teams this is his worst defense that he has assembled. From 2006-2012 all of his defenses finished top 15, and the 2010-11 UK team was the only iteration that was not top 9. Cal’s last defense to perform this poorly was the 2004-2005 Memphis team that missed the tournament and finished with the 43rd defense.
For all of Kentucky’s size and athleticism, they are not particularly effective at preventing opponents from scoring. This is largely why I am not exceptionally high on this year’s crop of Kentucky prospects. Their success down the stretch did not stem from suddenly pulling things together and playing great defense: it was almost entirely derived from decreased turnover rates and timely shot making.
Randle’s big progression down the stretch was cutting down on his turnover rate. I have not charted statistics for this, but my suspicion is that this largely stems from fewer post up attempts, as he often coughed the ball up in traffic. Regardless of the precise reason, this was a significant development for UK as their offense is difficult to stop when they aren’t turning it over. They rebounded 41.9% of their own misses, so turnovers are especially costly in comparison to missed shots. This is a positive sign for Randle, as he needs to find a way to score without being a turnover machine to succeed as a pro.
On the other hand, Randle’s warts persist and I still struggle to get excited about the prospect of drafting him in the lottery. He drew 3 favorable defensive matchups in the tournament, as Kansas State, Michigan, and Wisconsin are all undersized, lack shot blocking, and are vulnerable inside. Naturally Randle posted his three highest scoring totals of the tournament vs. these three defenses. He had his lowest scoring output vs. the long and athletic UConn defense, finishing with just 10 points on 3/7 FG. And his lower turnover rate is somewhat diminished by the fact that it came in tandem with poor shooting from the field. He is still prone to defensive lapses, and there are still questions about his ability to translate offensively. While I appreciate his competitiveness and growth throughout the season, he did not make a convincing case that he will be able to score effectively enough vs. NBA defenses to justify a lotto pick. He has enough strengths for a freshman to be worth a flier in the 15-20 range, but I have a hard time envisioning him becoming a true impact player.
James Young had a solid two games in the Final Four, and his performance reinforced my perception that he is the Kentucky player who should most seamlessly translate to the NBA. He doesn’t bully smaller competition to the extent his teammates do, and he is able to get his shots off vs. defenses of UConn’s caliber with his combination of size, length, a quick trigger, and a knack for hitting contested shots. His increase in eFG% down the stretch was largely driven by his 3′s finally starting to fall, as he shot 33.7% from 3 in the regular season vs. 41.7% in tournament play. His 2p% only fell off from 47.8% to 44.8% in spite of higher volume (8.0 2PA/40 vs 6.2) and tougher opposing defenses, and he finally started to make his free throws hitting 83.3% after a 67.4% regular season.
The shooting upticks are a welcome sign for Young. His regular season shooting stats were surprisingly mediocre considering how nice his form looks, and his NBA success hinges largely on him becoming an effective shooter. He is still only going to be 18 on draft night, and between his age, form, and ability to get shots off vs. good defenses, he has quite a bit of room to grow offensively and could become a good offensive player in the NBA.
That said, there are reasons to temper expectations. Like his teammates, his defense is not particularly good. He has the tools to be good on this end, but seems to lack acumen. And in spite of his ability to translate and room to grow offensively, he did not have a particularly effective season for a one way scorer. If his shot doesn’t develop well, he might be an Austin Rivers level flop. Even if his shot does develop well, he may not become significantly better than Nick Young. He is likely worth a late 1st round pick for the scoring upside, but he has plenty of bust equity as well.
I’m including Aaron Harrison’s shooting splits to show that there was exactly one thing he did well this postseason: make 3′s. His increase in eFG% and decrease in assists and turnovers is rooted in the fact that he attacked less and was used as a spot up shooter more, hitting 48% of his 3′s including a plethora of clutch shots. He earned casual fan acclaim for his timely shot making, but overall I was not impressed by his tournament showing.
I was somewhat hopeful for Harrison earlier in the year because I felt his 3P% was suffering from bad luck, and that his overall game might look quite good once his 3′s started falling. So while it is nice for his 3′s to violently progress to the mean, it isn’t encouraging when his production otherwise fell off a cliff. And I do not believe that his clutch shooting is indicative of any innate ability to score against tight defenses – he simply spotted up for 3′s and happened to make them. If anything I have cooled on him after his tourney play and do not feel that he is worth a 1st round selection. He’s a 2nd round pick in my estimation.
With his brother taking on more of a spot up role, Andrew Harrison took on a greater portion of the PG duties and it shows with significant upticks in both assists and turnovers. I strongly dislike almost everything about his game, as his sole strength appears to be bulldozing to the rim and drawing FT’s. He is a horrible decision maker, as evidenced by his turnover rate and eFG. There is plenty of room for him to improve as a college player if he elects to stay, but I simply don’t see his feel for the game ever becoming good enough for him to be a useful pro. Somebody will try to salvage him with a 2nd round flier, but I wouldn’t bother with him.
Poythress was UK’s unsung hero of the tournament, as he hardly missed down the stretch. He shot 14/15 inside the arc in UK’s final 5 games, providing significant unacknowledged value. It does not appear he will be entering this year’s draft, as his stock has eroded with his regression this year. I am not particularly high on him but he may become worth drafting before all is said and done.
UK’s offensive rebound expert finished the season with a staggering 17.0% ORB rate. This exceeds his 15.0% DRB rate. His tournament was up and down, as he had some efficient games and other quiet ones. He is draftable but I suspect he will stay in school for his sophomore season.
It’s not even worth posting his stat lines with just 156 minutes on the season. He had a great 24 minutes vs. the soft interior defenses of Wisconsin and Michigan, and then posted goose eggs in 6 minutes vs. UConn’s significantly tougher defense. There’s not enough information to have much of an opinion on him at this point.
Andre Drummond is quickly becoming a classic example of a player whose RSCI rating seems to be more indicative of his pro value than his freshman performance. Whenever a highly touted freshman underwhelms and his draft stock drops, it’s fair to posit whether that player might experience a career arc similar to that of Drummond. Drummond is an outlier in that his circumstances that caused him to become so undervalued will likely not be replicated, but it is worth trying to learn from his situation to look for signs in 5 star recruits before souring on them too quickly. So first I’ll walk through the qualities of Drummond that caused him to slide and how that changed in the NBA.
1) Unfavorable Circumstances
Drummond joined his UConn team late, and then coach Jim Calhoun was suspended for the first 3 games of the Big East season and later had to take a leave of absence for health reasons. It is difficult to estimate the level of impact these circumstances had on Drummond’s performance, but it is easy to see how they may have been harmful. Perhaps he would have gotten off to a hotter start if he had more time to prepare with his team in the offseason, perhaps he would have had a stronger finish if Calhoun was healthy and present to offer feedback on Drummond’s non-conference performance.
2) Trimming The Fat
One of Drummond’s greatest warts was his 50.9% TS, which is appallingly low for a man with his size and athleticism. Yet as an NBA rookie he was able to skyrocket his TS to 57.8% without seeing a drastic drop off in his usage rate (21.7 > 17.2). How is such a thing possible in a single season after the huge increase of level of competition? Drummond simply stopped trying to score away from the hoop. As a college freshman he shot 130/185 at the rim and 27/107 away from the rim. As an NBA rookie he shot 204/318 at the rim and 4/24 away from the hoop. This simple tweak had a huge impact as it increased Drummond’s eFG from 53.8% to 61.0%.
3) College Defense
UConn entered the season ranked #4 in the polls and 6th by kenpom.com, then losing in the first round of the tournament as an 9 seed. They finished as just the #41 kenpom team with the #65 defense. So it is easy to blame some of the disappointment on Drummond and assume that he did not make the expected defensive impact. But at a closer look, he seemed to do quite well. He had more than twice as many blocks as any of his teammates, and UConn finished the season with the lowest opponent FG% at the rim in the country. They finished with the 3rd lowest 2p%, and the 5th lowest FT:FGA rate, all of which are excellent and largely attributable to Drummond who finished with more blocks than fouls. UConn did have plenty of other size and athleticism, but their weaknesses came from poor perimeter defense, as they finished with the 319th defensive TOV% and opponents hit 34.4% of 3′s on above average volume. Of course sacrificing in these areas makes it much easier to dominate paint defense, but the fact remains that the team succeeded in the areas where Drummond was expected to make an impact barring one:
4) Defensive Rebounding
Defensive rebounding is much more difficult to predict than offensive rebounding since it is largely context dependent, but Drummond’s turnaround is astonishing. UConn had the 276th best defensive rebound% in the country and Drummond corralled just 15.5% of d-rebs, and then went on to rip down 27.2% of defensive rebounds as a pro. Given his 14.2% o-reb rate in college, we shouldn’t be surprised that he upticked defensively as a pro but I am not sure that there was any signal that he would start pulling them down at nearly double the rate. Perhaps this can be attributed to good scouting by the Pistons, perhaps it can be attributed to bad luck or bad assistant coaching at UConn. But it is nevertheless an outlier event that gave Drummond a nice value spike as a pro.
5) Passion Questions
After Drummond’s somewhat underwhelming freshman year, scouts started to question his passion for basketball. His explanation was that he simply was not the type to go out and beat his chest, but he nevertheless loved the game of basketball. Whether it was a poor inference from observers or NBA money ignited his passion, it seems to not be a problem as a pro.
Now let’s look at some of the top freshman and see whether any similar circumstances may apply.
Andrew Harrison: Do any of these conditions apply to Harrison? No, they do not – he is merely horrendous at the game of basketball. We can safely move along.
Jabari Parker: He was likely in the best scenario of all freshman as he was able to play the 4/5 for Duke. This was healthy for him in almost every regard since he was constantly surrounded by ball handlers and shooters and finished with more blocks and rebounds that he would have surrounded with more size. That said he exceeded expectations so it is difficult to gripe.
Julius Randle: His coach normally sets up players for the pros quite well, his defense was horrendous, his defensive rebounding was top notch, and his passion seems to be present. The one area where he may gain is from (literally) trimming his fat and slimming down physically. Also he has trimmed a bit of turnover fat down the stretch which is encouraging.
Zach LaVine: None of these conditions apply to him, although his circumstances were unfavorable in a different way since he was buried behind superior players and seemed to have a poor relationship with his coach. Perhaps he has more to flaunt than he was permitted to show at UCLA, so he may exceed expectations in a different way than Drummond.
Andrew Wiggins: People want to blame Wiggins’ lack of dominance on Bill Self, which is silly. What is most important for Wiggins is that Kansas played an up tempo style and capitalized on his sole offensive strength: transition scoring. The only unfavorable aspect for Wiggins is that he was surrounded by mediocre guards and spacing, which was certainly sub-optimal. But I do not believe that this had a high leverage impact on his performance given his lack of offensive skills in the half-court. And it is worth noting that Self has made past players such as Ben McLemore, Thomas Robinson, and Cole Aldrich look like college studs and consequently over-inflated their draft stock.
Kansas had their worst defensive season under Bill Self’s tenure, and that seems to be everybody’s fault but Wiggins. Embiid was inexperienced and played a lower minute total than prior rim protectors Jeff Withey and Cole Aldrich. The defense suffered with Embiid out and Wiggins appeared to be the only good defensive guard/wing on the roster. I believe his NBA defensive projection is often overstated but he did perform well on this end in college. And since all of his competent teammates were bigs, he was rarely used as a small 4 and may be slightly underrated by his d-reb% among other stats.
Wiggins does have questions with respect to his passion. According to DraftExpress, from age 17 to 18 he grew an inch without gaining a single pound. This would not be a big deal if he had instead focused on developing his skills, but they too are less developed than scouts had hoped they would be by now. In tandem these are red flags that call his work ethic into question. But the flip side is that perhaps he will put passion questions to rest by significantly improving his work ethic given the allure of NBA money. This is the area in which he has the most potential to mirror Drummond.
Overall I do not believe that Wiggins has a boatload of Drummond equity, but he isn’t completely bereft of it either.
Aaron Gordon/Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: I am grouping these two together because all conditions apply identically to them. These two players likely have the most fat to trim offensively because they threw up so many bricks from midrange. Gordon shot 129/177 at the rim and 44/160 on non-rim 2′s. RHJ shot 83/113 at the rim and 36/124 on non-rim 2′s. I am fond of Sean Miller and think he is one of the best college coaches in the country, but he has an curious willingness to permit his players to fire away from midrange. Their top 6 rotation players all took at least 40% of their FGA from midrange, well above the NCAA average of 29.3%. I have questioned Gordon’s BBIQ for his shot selection, but at a closer look it may simply be a byproduct of coaching. Granted, this doesn’t entirely parallel to Drummond as it is much easier to operate strictly around the rim as a center than it is as a forward, but both players can see nice efficiency upticks by passing up long 2′s more frequently.
Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson also deserve a ton of credit for Arizona’s leap defensively. After swapping Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Kevin Parrom for them and TJ McConnell, Arizona spiked from the #47 kenpom defense to #2. And while the departed players were better offensively than defensively, Arizona only dropped from the #10 offense to #20. It helps that players such as Nick Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski had an additional year of seasoning, but Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson played large roles in Arizona having one of the more dominant defenses in recent memory. They simply did not allow easy shots, boasting the best defensive eFG% in the country.
I would rate Gordon as superior to Wiggins in terms of NBA defensive potential, as he anchored a truly dominant defense. Give Sean Miller credit for maximizing his talent, but this was by far his best defensive team ever. Gordon appears to play defense with more intensity than Wiggins does, and while he may not be as fast or quick, he is much stronger. It is simply much easier to feel great about the player(s) who led a coach’s all-time best defense over one who led a coach’s all-time worst defense.
Overall I’d say Gordon (and on a slightly smaller scale, Hollis-Jefferson) clearly has the most Drummond equity of any freshman in the class. It isn’t a perfect parallel as shooting is more important for wings and defense is more important for centers. Even if he mirrors Drummond’s arc, the impact will be lower leverage. Again, this goes to show that Drummond is a unique case, so optimism for 5-star freshmen making huge rookie rebounds should always be tempered. But considering both his strong finish to the season and his potential for further upticks, I am quickly reversing my stance on Gordon and once again believe he merits a top 10 pick.
This past weekend a number of players improved their draft stock, but nobody skyrocketed their value like Frank Kaminsky did. After scoring 19 points against Oregon’s mediocre defense to help Wisconsin advance to the sweet 16, he faced off with Baylor’s twin towers: 6’9 Cory Jefferson and 7’1 Isaiah Austin. Baylor plays a zone defense that is not particularly effective as a whole considering their talent (77th best defense in the country according to kenpom.com). But they do have the 20th highest block rate which posed a prospective challenge for a player like Frank Kaminsky who has questionable tools and is most effective in the paint. After all, Baylor did limit Doug McDermott to just 15 points in a 85-55 shellacking of his Creighton team. Kaminsky had a nearly mistake-free game with 19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 6 blocks, and 0 turnovers on 8/11 shooting en route to a 69-52 Wisconsin victory. All 8 of his FG’s were made at the rim, and 4 of them came with the 7’1 shot blocker Austin guarding him.
The amusing part is that I had mentioned in my podcast with Brew Hoop that Kaminsky was a player I valued above Doug McDermott, and then their results vs. Baylor emphatically supported that claim. Baylor beat Creighton by 30 and lost to Wisconsin by 17. While there is a fair bit of variance involved (for instance: Baylor shot 11/18 from 3 vs Creighton and 2/15 vs Wisky), the different results are indicative of the disparity between Kaminsky and McDermott’s NBA values. Baylor shot just 16/42 from 2 vs Wisconsin and 19/29 vs Creighton. Kaminsky made a clear impact on this end by blocking 6 shots. That exceeds McDermott’s season total of 5 blocks, which is also his career high. Height matters, and Kaminsky being 7’0 to McDermott’s 6’8 makes an enormous difference on both ends.
After disposing of Baylor, Kaminsky faced a tougher test vs. Arizona. I had picked Arizona to win it all in my bracket because I am in love with their defense. They simply do not allow easy baskets – they play elite transition defense, they close out on 3 point shooters, and they use their quickness and athleticism to cut off drives to the rim and funnel everything to the mid-range. According to hoop-math.com, 48.8% of their opponents’ shots are non-rim 2 pointers, the best mark in the NCAA. Putting this in perspective, the NCAA average is 29.3% and the second best team, UNC, is forcing teams to take 46.8% of their shots from mid-range. But what is truly amazing about Arizona is that they do not cede high quality looks, as opponents shoot just 32% on these non-rim 2 point attempts whereas UNC opponents hit 40.9% (NCAA average: 35.7%). They are custom built to expose any players who pad their stats vs inferior competition, and provide a matchup nightmare for most good college offenses.
In the end, though, the only person who is going to have nightmares from this matchup is Wildcats’ coach Sean Miller. In spite of his facial deficiencies, Frank Kaminsky could not be stopped in Anaheim. 7’0 center Kaleb Tarczewski struggled to guard him out to the perimeter due to Kaminsky’s quickness, and 6’9 Aaron Gordon struggled to bother his interior shot attempts due to Kaminsky’s height. Arizona’s defensive goal of forcing difficult shots could not be achieved against Kaminsky because he can score from anywhere and is tall enough to shoot over all of their players. He finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 1 turnover on 11-20 FG while his teammates were limited to just 34 points on 13-41 FG and 8 turnovers. He singlehandedly put the Badgers in a position to upset Arizona, and in my opinion this was the most impressive individual performance of anybody this NCAA season.
His offensive game is reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki – they are both 7’0 players who can score efficiently from 3, the mid-range, and the low post and are nearly indefensible once they catch the ball. Which is not to say that he will ever be nearly as good as Dirk, but his performance vs. Arizona speaks strongly in favor of his ability to translate to the pros.
The primary concerns for Kaminsky’s pro prospects lie on the defensive end, where he does not project to be good. That said, he is not necessarily going to be a sieve either. Much like Michigan, Creighton and Duke, Wisconsin values floor spacing and prefers to play with at least 4 shooters. Incidentally, these are also the top 4 offenses in the country. Wisconsin starts 6’7 Sam Dekker as a small ball PF, and Kaminsky is their only true starting big man with 6’7 Nigel Hayes backing him up. Yet Wisconsin’s defense (97.1 adjusted d-rtg as per kenpom.com) is much more effective than that of Michigan (102.1), Duke (102.3) and Creighton (104.1). They do have the weakest offense of the quartet by 2.5 to 3.8 points, but Kaminsky nevertheless deserves some credit for keeping their defense respectable as the sole rim protector. The Badgers are barely worse defensively than Kentucky (96.6) in spite of Kentucky’s elite size and athleticism.
Kaminsky’s monstrous tourney performance has enabled him to finally crack ESPN and DX’s top 100, but they still only rate him 52nd and 48th respectively. It seems certain that their rankings reflect a general bias against his physical appearance. While he may look like an uncoordinated accountant, he is an exceptionally smooth and skilled basketball player. I have him locked in as a 1st round value and believe he may merit late lottery consideration, even in the face of this loaded draft.
I have written about his warts as both a horrific shooter and a tweener in the past, but his performance down the stretch and in the tourney has caused me to warm up to him. While his warts remain present and enigmatic, his strengths are so appealing that they may be nevertheless worth stomaching in the top 10. Gordon’s tournament included two excellent performances against top 15 defenses, shooting 8/10 vs Gonzaga and 7/9 vs San Diego State. He struggled vs. Wisconsin shooting just 3/11, but he still managed to tally 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks all while competing hard on defense. He may not have epic steal and block rates, but he deserves a healthy portion of credit for helping Arizona rise from the #47 to #2 kenpom defense. And he even offered a glimmer of hope for his shooting ability, finishing the season 35.6% (16/45) from 3. I will be writing about him in more detail going forward – he is one of the more fascinating prospects in this draft.
For all intents and purposes, Hollis-Jefferson is a slightly older and shorter doppelganger of Aaron Gordon. He shares Gordon’s shooting woes on non-rim 2′s (29.0% vs 27.5%), is much better on FT’s (68.2% vs 42.2%), and made fewer 3′s (2/10 vs 16/45). Otherwise their stats are frighteningly similar, and Hollis-Jefferson also deserves some credit for Arizona’s defensive leap. He had a solid tourney showing, playing well in all 4 games and boosting his FT% by shooting 20/23 at the line.
This shouldn’t be a surprise since Stauskas played well against solid defenses throughout the regular season, but he continued to do so against three solid, athletic defenses in the tournament. Against Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, he cumulatively racked up 55 points and 13 assists while turning it over just 4 times. He also showed off his intelligence and creativity by making this pass vs. Tennessee:
Napier turns 23 in July, and a player of his age should dominate 18-21 year old competition if they are going to become a quality pro. In the tournament Napier has done precisely that, racking up 93 points on 63.9% TS vs. four top 75 defenses. UConn’s strength has been in their half-court defense, as on offense they do not seem exceptionally well coached. They have plenty of shooting surrounding Napier, but their half-court offense seems to entail standing around and hoping Napier figures something out. Thus far it has worked for them. I am still not sure that Napier merits 1st round consideration, but if nothing else he is piecing together a reasonable argument in his favor.
Harris largely vanished vs. Virginia’s exceptional transition defense, finishing with just 6 points and 3 assists on 2/5 FG in 29 minutes. He redeemed himself vs UConn with 22 points on 8/14 shooting, but he scored largely off of jumpshots which mostly came in transition. While I still have him as a mid-1st round pick, his tourney performance casts doubt on his potential as a half-court slasher in the NBA.
Payne is a 23 year old 6’11 man, and while he dealt with injuries throughout the season he was finally healthy for the tournament. This was his opportunity to crush the younger competition he faced in the same way that Napier did, and he came up underwhelming. He had his best performance vs 15 point underdog Delaware, scoring 41 points highlighted by his 17/17 FT shooting. But then in the real matchups, he never shined. Against Harvard, Virginia, and UConn he finished with just 41 total points on 13/36 shooting. While he offers some prospective value as a role-playing stretch 4, it’s hard to get excited about a player of his age that isn’t flat out dominating the opposition. I do not believe he belongs in round 1.
Dekker has been rated as the consensus top prospect on Wisconsin all season long, but this acclaim now appears to be unjustified since he has been badly outshined by his teammate Frank Kaminsky. He scored just 7 points in each of his games vs. Arizona and Baylor, and that includes a banked in 3 pointer vs. Arizona. Perhaps he merely happened to go cold at the wrong time, but it would be encouraging if he could step it up with a strong Final 4 performance or two.
What about Kentucky?
Now that the Wildcats have finally pulled themselves together and vanquished 3 top 10 teams that all made last year’s Final 4, it seems inevitable that somebody must have improved their stock. Their most consistent performer has been Aaron Harrison, who has averaged 16.6 points in his past 7 games scoring at least 12 in every game. This largely stems from him hitting 22/44 3 point shots, including the game winners vs. both Louisville and Michigan. His 3p% has jumped from 30.6% to 35.7% during this stretch, but the other aspects of his game have not followed suit. He is averaging just 1.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and shooting 14/35 inside the arc in those same 7 games. His taking and making more 3′s has helped the team immensely, but I had already assumed he was suffering from bad variance on 3′s so this does not significantly alter my perception of him as a prospect.
Julius Randle has been steadily inching back up my board, as he seems to have cut down on his turnover issues by posting up less frequently. He has posted a double-double in every tournament game averaging 15.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, and just 2.0 turnovers. This sample includes solid games vs top 11 defenses Louisville and Wichita State, but he also drew favorable matchups in Michigan and Kansas State as their lack of size and shotblocking is directly in his wheelhouse. He has made the greatest genuine improvement of all Kentucky players, and has boosted his draft stock in my eyes more than any of his teammates. I stand by my central critiques of his game, but he will likely end up in the top 20 of my final big board.
Marcus Lee might be the player who helps his stock more than anybody if he turns in a strong Final 4 showing with Willie Cauley-Stein doubtful to play. He made a huge impact vs. Michigan, finishing with 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 15 minutes largely stemming from his 4 putback dunks. This should be taken with a grain of salt against Michigan’s undersized defense, but Kentucky would not have won without Lee’s effort. If he builds on this opportunity, he could bolt for the NBA instead of staying another season at Kentucky battling for minutes in a crowded frontcourt.
Dakari Johnson had a big game vs. Louisville but has otherwise been quiet. James Young has been alternating between good and bad games. While Andrew Harrison had a decent game vs. Louisville, his 20 point game vs. Wichita State included 6 turnovers and he was nothing short of atrocious vs. Kansas State and Michigan. He has improved, but I still do not believe he is going to become a useful NBA player and would not draft him.
Earlier today, Zach LaVine decided that he isn’t particularly fond of playing for Steve Alford at UCLA and declared for the NBA draft. LaVine’s primary qualms with Alford were that he was not entrusted with enough ball handling duties, and that he did not receive enough feedback from the coach. So instead of spending another season at Alford’s whim, LaVine decided to test the NBA draft waters. I strongly agree with LaVine’s decision to leave for a number of reasons. NBA teams are going to offer players superior development in general, and that’s doubly true for LaVine based on his role at UCLA and reported relationship with Alford. Further, he has the hype to go in round 1 based sheerly on potential, and it would have been an uphill climb to elevate his draft stock any higher. I believe his stock would be more likely to plummet if he stayed in school, so it’s best for him to get guaranteed money while he can.
As for his NBA prospects, scouts are high on him for precisely two reasons: he can make 3′s and he can jump through the roof. Having both traits is a sure way to become overrated by scouts, as both are immensely valued and do not come in tandem exceptionally often. The hope would be that he develops his passing and ball handling to become a versatile offensive threat, and that he develops his defensive acumen to become an athletic stopper as a 6’5 combo guard. It is easy to imagine this developmental when these two strengths jump out in your face by watching him. The more subtle skills such as handling, passing, and rim touch are more difficult to assess, as are quickness and defensive instincts on the other end. But before we get too excited for his NBA prospects, it is worth exploring where they may lie based on available info.
Chad Ford emphatically kicked off the Zach LaVine hype machine after his hot start in non-conference play, rating him as a top 10 pick and noting that scouts perceive him as “Russell Westbrook with a jump shot.” Apparently scouts who watched him in high school believe that he has the PG skills to develop into a Westbrook type in the pros. I already partially debunked this, but I will post some of the noteworthy stats now that UCLA’s season is complete. UCLA rotates 5 guards/wings, here are their respective assist rates, half-court rim scoring splits, and complete half-court scoring splits. Note that LaVine is the best transition scorer on the team so this angle undersells him a bit, but the half-court provides the more pertinent sample toward NBA projections:
|Player||AST%||Rim FGA/40||Rim FG%||FGA/40||eFG%|
This isn’t necessarily proof that LaVine cannot be a PG, rather that he does not play like one at UCLA. Whether this is a greater indictment of LaVine’s skill level or Alford’s usage of him is up for debate. It’s likely a combination of both, and if nothing else it does make it difficult to feel confident about his current level of PG skills. Jordan Adams and Norman Powell do not have significant ball handling roles either, but it hasn’t stopped them from posting similar assist rates and drastically better half-court scoring splits than LaVine, especially at the rim. In my sample of watching LaVine, I have not been impressed with his handle, court vision, or passing. That said, he has also had few opportunities to show them off and he has shown a few glimmers of hope. When Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams were suspended for a game vs Oregon, he played 46 minutes in a double OT affair and finished with 18 points 7-17 FG 5 assists 0 turnovers in 46 minutes. Oregon’s defense is mediocre and the bulk is not staggering for such a high minute total, but the 0 turnovers is encouraging. And while his box score vs Florida in UCLA’s Sweet 16 loss does not look good, he did penetrate through Florida’s stingy defense and get to the rim on two occasions, finishing 1/2 on his layup attempts.
His PG skills are not his only ability in question. His rim finishing also appears to be lackluster, as he converted just 55.4% of rim attempts in spite of the majority coming in the open floor in transition where he can do things like this:
In spite of his electric open court dunks and infrequent half-court attacks, he still hasn’t been a prolific finisher. And it’s not like he’s making up for it by drawing fouls: he attempts just 0.23 FT’s per FGA. This likely has something to do with his lack of bulk, as he is only listed at 180 pounds. This can be somewhat mitigated by hitting the weight room and adding muscle. But his strength will likely always be lacking, and he will only face bigger and stronger opposition in the paint in the NBA.
Even if we solely analyze the scenario where he develops his handles, passing, and body better than expected, that still doesn’t necessarily mean he will be a good player. His decision making, court vision, and defense all remain unproven. His vision and decision making are difficult to assess without many attempts at penetration, and defense is difficult to assess with UCLA primarily playing a zone. If there is a signal forecasting his future, steal rate would likely be the best indicator. After all he is an elite athlete and plays in UCLA’s gambling zone defense that finished with the 46th best defensive TOV% and 178th eFG%. Any sort of elite instinct or feel for the game should result in a high amount of turnovers created considering the circumstances, so let’s see how he fared in comparison to his fellow perimeter players:
This is not particularly encouraging. Jordan Adams is a player with lackluster tools and great feel for the game, and you can see that it resulted in over twice the steal rate as LaVine. Kyle Anderson also has poor speed and athleticism, but was able to generate more steals with his length and anticipation. Norman Powell is a raw athlete who had just a 1.8% career steal rate before having the chance to play in Alford’s zone. Bryce Alford is a 6’3 untoolsy player whose value lies in his skills, and the fact that he is narrowly behind LaVine in both blocks and steals does not speak well for LaVine’s defensive playmaking ability. While LaVine’s steal rate is the same as Andrew Wiggins and higher than that of Aaron Gordon (1.8%), that must be taken with a grain of salt since they play in conservative man to man defenses.
One LaVine pet peeve on mine is that he simply does not grasp that 3 > 2. He takes off the dribble jumpers with either his toes or his heels on the arc regularly. While this is something that can be coached out of him, it comports with the notion that his feel for the game is questionable.
Overall LaVine reminesces of slightly smaller Gerald Green as a prospect, and that can be seen as both a positive and a negative. On one hand Green appeared to be a complete bust early in his career, as he contributed approximately nothing his first 4 seasons and then fell out of the league for 2 years. On the other hand, at age 28 he has resurrected his career and proven to be a reasonably useful player under Jeff Hornacek. I believe that current Gerald Green is LaVine’s realistic upside, where he is placed in a situation to accentuate his strengths rather than developing an entirely new dimension to his game. One positive is that he has excellent body control and can stop on a dime to hit catch and shoot jumpers coming off of curls. Further, he does appear competent at shooting off the dribble, although I may be mistaken without having seen his off the dribble splits. And it is possible that I am underselling his PG skills, and he will get a chance to show off his ball handling ability in workouts.
Overall his two positives are worth something, especially with the possibility that the unknown aspects of his game prove to be stronger than expected. However, it is worth noting that his laundry list of negatives places a significant damper on his overall value as a prospect. Just because his strengths stand out does not mean that his warts are non-existent: they are present and they are plentiful. He likely will get drafted in round 1, but I believe he is overrated and is at best a fringe 1st round pick.
Now that it’s March and the tourney is full swing, many people get their first look at prospects. There will be plenty of overreactions to players who happen to have good or bad days. That said, the tournament still should carry an extra degree of weight due to the increased relevance of games and quality of competition. Coaches will pay extra attention toward exploiting the weaknesses of opposing stars, and some bad performances will show a glimpse of struggles to come in the NBA. It is worth taking every game in context and deciding whether there is any particular meaning to be gleaned. Since I haven’t updated my big board in over a month, I figure I should clue everybody in on my thoughts regarding recent play:
Andrew Wiggins: Wiggins likely hurt his stock more than anybody else in the tourney. He simply had the worst stat line of any expected 1st rounder en route to his team getting upset. 4 pts 1-6 FG 4 rebs 2 assists 4 TOV’s is not what people want to see out of a top 3 pick. Stanford did a great job of getting back in transition and showing a variety of defensive looks to take away Wiggins’ driving ability, and Wiggins predictably disappeared. If anybody has wondered why I have been harping on his half-court splits and poor skill level so loudly this is why. Wiggins leans heavily on transition opportunities and free throws to get his points, and those both translate poorly to higher level of defenses. Once Stanford took those away, Wiggins was relegated to an OK but not great jump shooter, and Kansas finished with just 57 points on 67 possessions in the loss.
Aside from his deficiencies being on full display, this also dispels the notion that he suddenly discovered how to fulfill his potential around the West Virginia game. Further, Kansas struggled mightily without Joel Embiid. They blew out hapless TCU and mediocre Texas Tech at home, but those were their only good performances without their starting center. They lost @ West Virginia by 6 as 5.5 pt faves, they needed OT beat a banged up + tired Oklahoma State team as 3 pt faves, they lost by 11 to Iowa State as 5 point faves, they struggled a large portion of the Eastern Kentucky game and only won by 11 as 13 pt faves, and they lost to Stanford by 3 as 6.5 pt faves. Overall they went 1-3 against KenPom top 70 teams in spite of being clear faves in all 4 games, with the sole win coming in overtime. Joel Embiid was comfortably the best player on that team, and his team’s performance without him helps cement that notion.
Doug McDermott: Truthfully, his box score vs. Baylor wasn’t that bad. He shot 7/11 on 2 pointers and only turned it over once. But when you factor in that he only finished with 15 points due to 0/3 3 point shooting and 1/2 FT shooting and contributed in no other areas as per usual, it’s easy to see how Creighton was blown out. A large part of this is that Baylor made every shot imaginable and Creighton only shot 5/24 from 3, but this nevertheless illuminates concerns about Ougie’s NBA future. This is the 3rd year in a row in which McDermott has failed to exceed tourney expectations, losing by 16 to Duke last year and 14 to UNC as a sophomore (both after winning in round 1). The fact of the matter is that in spite of his gaudy scoring numbers, it did not translate to winning high leverage games vs teams with NBA prospects. This is because defense matters, and it’s much easier to have your dad draw up play after play for you effectively against mid-major competition than it is against future NBA talent.
Rodney Hood: Does anybody still think he’s a good prospect? I gave consideration to the idea that he may justify a late 1st round pick, and now I am quite confident that he is not. He flat out does not bring enough to the table other than shooting to make his horrible defense worth keeping on the floor, and I don’t see how he’s better than a mid-late 2nd round value.
Jarnell Stokes: He is a 6’9 PF who is a bully in the paint, and while I am not particularly fond of the mold his current level of play cannot be ignored. He has played exceptionally well as of late as Tennessee is destroying every team that crosses its path. He is not much of a shot blocker, but he does have solid length and an exceptional combination of speed and strength. Between his rebounding, passing, finishing, ball handling, and improved FT%, he is showing enough skill to merit late 1st round consideration.
Jordan Adams: The statistical beast of the draft that is sure to translate poorly keeps making a case that he just may bring enough to the table to be worth something as a pro. He lacks athleticism, he gets a ton of his points in transition, his steals are padded by UCLA’s zone, and he is a questionable defensive prospect, so inevitably it’s best to not get too carried away with his numbers. But at a certain point you need to start wondering whether his skill level and feel for the game are good enough to become a good pro nevertheless. He had an excellent Pac-12 championship game vs Arizona and followed it up with 2 strong showings vs Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin. Now Adams and his teammate Anderson get another big test vs Florida to further boost their stock. Even if he doesn’t have a good game Adams has likely done enough to establish that he’s worth a 1st round selection.
Frank Kaminsky: He keeps failing the face test and passing the basketball playing test. After a big game vs Oregon’s soft defense, he gets to match up with Baylor’s beasts Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. If Wisconsin can get past them, he gets another big test as Arizona or San Diego State lies next and they both have elite defenses.
Rock Solid Performance
Nik Stauskas: Pop quiz for Rick Barnes: how do you slow down an elite shooter and passer with questionable speed and quickness when you have a roster full of athletes? If you answered “zone defense” (spoiler alert: you did!) it’s no wonder why you are regarded as a horrible coach and your team got sent home early. Stauskas’s big day vs. Texas comes as no surprise, as he finished with 17 points, 8 assists, and 0 turnovers in Michigan’s 14 point win. On one hand he didn’t hit a single 2 point shot, but on the other hand he didn’t need to because he was so dominant with his shooting and passing, as he was making exceptional deliveries to his teammates all game long. This game was definitely good for his draft stock, but I don’t believe it proves anything about him that wasn’t already known. A big game vs Tennessee would be more meaningful, as their defense is tailored to take away Michigan’s strengths.
Jabari Parker: His game vs. Mercer certainly doesn’t help his standing, but I do not believe that it is necessarily anything more than a bad game. Mercer is not a particularly strong defense, and he had plenty of good games vs better competition so I do not believe Mercer exposed any new flaws. Also it’s worth noting that Duke hit 15/37 3 pointers against Mercer’s zone, which was the hefty price paid by Mercer to slow down Jabari in the paint. But it does illuminate some translation concerns that I have been monitoring, as his rim finishing has been lackluster against good competition. He isn’t particularly athletic but is aggressive nevertheless, and often runs into trouble trying to finish against players who can physically match up. While I greatly enjoyed watching him dunk all over Boston College’s woefully soft defense, that performance is less predictive toward his NBA success than other games and need be given limited weight. It looked like he may have been ready to turn a corner with a big performance vs North Carolina in Duke’s regular season finale. But then he struggled in the ACC tourney against Clemson and UVA’s stout defenses followed by the Mercer game, which largely dispels that theory. He still has the skills and attitude to become a great NBA scorer, but he is a bit more reliant on bullying smaller players in the post than people realize. I am going to keep him as the #3 prospect for now, but this is why I had him below Exum to begin with, and I now feel particularly good about ranking Exum higher.
Montrezl Harrell: He is an exceptionally fun college player, but what does he bring to the table other than dunking? He hasn’t shown much in the first two rounds of the tourney, as Manhattan and Saint Louis both limited his dunking opportunities and he struggled to produce in both games. To his credit he finished the weekend with 24 rebounds and 5 blocks so he wasn’t completely taken out of the games, but it would be nice to see him do some damage in the half-court this tourney.
Aaron Gordon: His shot is still a major, major wart, but he is trending in the positive direction nevertheless. His steal and block rates have seen big upticks lately, with 11 and 10 respectively in the past 5 games. This makes it a bit easier to feel good about him as a defensive stopper, as they were surprisingly low entering the Pac-12 tournament. He’s so young and brings so many positive qualities to the table, I really don’t feel comfortable writing him off entirely due to his poor shooting. He will still be a pain to fit into NBA lineups, and he badly needs to ditch the long 2′s, but he still makes for an interesting project nevertheless.
Greatest Failure to Solidify himself as a Prospect
Taylor Braun: He had two chances to show the world that he can do more than style on inferior Summit league competition, and he failed twice. Taylor Braun finished the weekend with 18 points on 5/25 FG with 4 assists and 5 turnovers against Oklahoma and San Diego State. It is possible that he just happened to have bad games, but he turns 23 in July and his upside did not appear to be exceptionally high to begin with. He still does have 21 points vs Ohio State earlier in the season to hang his hat on, but this clearly hurts his odds of getting drafted.
Julius Randle: I have to give Randle credit- he has cut down on his grotesque turnover rate big time down the stretch, and it has vastly improved his team’s play as Kentucky is finally starting to play as well as everybody hoped that they would. But he cut his turnover rate by drastically cutting down on his post-up attempts, when that was intended to be his main appeal as a prospect. If he is at his best not posting up, then what purpose does he serve to an NBA team? He still does have an interesting blend of passing, handling, and shot making ability to work with, but he is also still prone to defensive lapses. He needs to make a significant impact on the offensive end to make his defense worth stomaching, and it is difficult to envision him achieving that goal if he is only going to be a medium usage player for his college team. I still have him as a 1st rounder and perceive his adaptation as a positive development, but I won’t be skyrocketing him too far up my board because of it.
In spite of being one of the best teams in the country, Florida doesn’t have much in the way of prospects. They are led by a great senior class and Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, and Casey Prather all have shots of latching on to NBA rosters. But Young is the only draftable one of the bunch and barely at that. Florida achieves greatness with experience, coaching, and teamwork moreso than NBA talent.
After losing Spencer Dinwiddie to an ACL injury, Colorado became a pretty weak basketball team and they really don’t belong in the tourney. But sophomore Josh Scott is having a good year nevertheless, and might get drafted whenever he decides to leave Colorado. The strongest prospect of this quartet is Lamar Patterson of Pittsburgh. He is a 5th year senior who project to go in round 2 this year. While he isn’t particularly toolsy, he is a skilled wing who shoots, passes, and rebounds well.
12 Stephen F Austin
UCLA boasts 3 solidly draftable NBA prospects in Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, and Zach LaVine. While Zach LaVine received the majority of the hype, Kyle Anderson is the gem of the bunch as he is a large and skilled wing who runs the UCLA offense with a tremendous feel for the game. He is having an excellent year and may rise up boards circa draft time. Jordan Adams is likely UCLA’s most unheralded prospect, as he posts staggering stats for somebody who is still only 19 years old. He has athletic limitations but the man is skilled and merits more 1st round consideration than he has fetched thus far. Do not be deceived by Tulsa’s seed, they can play defense and will give the UCLA prospects a real test.
VCU has one shiny object, which is junior Briante Weber. He is an athletic PG capable of highlight reel dunks, and also has a completely absurd steal rate that will be sure to break predictive models. VCU’s defense is centered on their full court press which is tops in the country in forcing turnovers. Once the press is beaten, they do not pose much of a challenge in terms of shot prevention. I actually beileve that Tulsa’s defense is going to be a better litmus test for the UCLA player NBA prospects than the VCU defense, even though the VCU defense is rated higher.
6 Ohio State
14 Western Michigan
Ohio State is led by senior Aaron Craft and junior LaQuinton Ross, who qualify as prospects loosely speaking. I would not draft them, however. Dayton is prospectless.
Syracuse has expected lottery pick Tyler Ennis. You can either watch him play well vs Ohio State’s great defense or poorly vs Dayton and Western Michigan’s mediocre defense. This Syracuse team has a special talent at playing to the level of opposing defenses. Syracuse also boasts impressive putback dunker Jerami Grant as their other prospect who projects to go in round 1, although I believe he is overrated. CJ Fair is also part of the team and some mistakenly believe him to be an NBA prospect. But he does nothing that is discernibly useful to an NBA team, so try not to get too excited if his incessant midrange jumpers happen to fall in a particular tourney game.
7 New Mexico
15 Eastern Kentucky
If you enjoy fringey upperclassmen prospects, New Mexico vs. Stanford is the game for you. New Mexico boasts three fringey prospects in PG Kendall Williams and big men Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Williams is the one player who should realistically be drafted of the trio. Stanford counters with big man Dwight Powell, who has an interesting blend of athleticism and skill. But he is also a senior who is not particularly efficient and he may go undrafted because of this.
Kansas has no Joel Embiid this weekend, so that means that we get a healthy dose of Andrew Wiggins taking shots. Sophomore Perry Ellis may also be drafted some day, although I do not believe he is particularly useful to NBA teams. Even though I am not a fan, Wayne Selden is the 2nd best prospect on Kansas with Embiid out. Eastern Kentucky is a fun underdog, as their defense is based on pressing and giving up wide open layups and 3′s in the event that this fails. Their rim defense is so bad that even Andrew Wiggins should be able to make a layup against them. But Wayne Selden’s issues with the press are well documented, so perhaps Eastern Kentucky can get some good bounces in generating turnovers and keep this game interesting.
The second round matchup poses a more serious test for Wiggins. Both Stanford and New Mexico have good size and solid defenses, and New Mexico is especially stingy in the paint. Will Wiggins continue to be a jumpshooter or will he ventures into the paint and finish amongst the trees?
16 Coastal Carolina
9 George Washington
This isn’t a particularly interesting region with respect to prospects. Memphis and George Washington is by far the worst 8/9 matchup. The player most closely resembling a prospect is Memphis sophomore big man Shaq Goodwin.
Virginia earned their 1 seed with elite team defense, and like Florida do not have any prospects of particular note. They are led by sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, who was non-descript both as a freshman and as a sophomore during non-conference play, and then had a huge breakout in ACC play. He is the most likely NBA prospect on the team, followed by sophomore big man Mike Tobey who played for Team USA in the FIBA u19 games and anchors their defense as their leading shotblocker.
4 Michigan State
Michigan State’s feature prospect is sophomore guard Gary Harris, who does a little bit of everything and projects to be a lottery pick. They also boast Adreian Payne who is an excellent college player as a big man who hits 3′s, but before you get too excited about his NBA prospects bear in mind that he is already 23. Their unheralded prospect is Branden Dawson, as he is a SF that cannot hit 3′s. But he is strong, athletic, and brings some interesting production to the table nevertheless.
Cincinnati is led by 24 year old man Sean Kilpatrick, who is a college star. But if you are 24 and not approximately the best college player of all-time, you are probably not much of an NBA prospect. Harvard doesn’t have any prospects of note, but they are a good and well balanced team that is a particularly strong 12 seed. This should be a close, competitive game, even if lacking in prospects.
3 Iowa State
14 NC Central
James Michael McAdoo used to be a prospect for UNC, but then he grew up into a mediocre college player with a horrible beard. He has had a mini-resurgence in ACC play and might find himself sneak back into the 2nd round, but I am not particularly enthused for his future. The slightly more appealing prospect is sophomore PG Marcus Paige, who likely will stay 4 years and then get selected in the 2nd round. Fun fact: after some strong 2nd half performances, his teammates came up with the exceptionally creative nickname of “2nd half Paige.” Of all of the wordplay that his last name offers, they opted for the most flavorless nickname in the history of that is what they came up with.
Really the most interesting prospect of this quartet is not a player, but a coach. Fred Hoiberg coaches Iowa State and he’s awesome at it. He stands out as the NCAA coach with the strongest odds of becoming a good NBA coach. If you want to tune in to see how his team plays, the game vs NC Central might actually be interesting as it is only an 8.5 pt spread. Iowa State is led by seniors DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim who are a bit too old to be drafted, especially Kane who turns 25 in June.
10 St. Joseph’s
UConn is led by senior PG Shabazz Napier who projects to be a 2nd round pick and the best Shabazz in the NBA. They also have an interesting project in 7 foot freshman Amida Brimah, who is a incredibly raw shotblocker. St Joe’s is led by senior 3 point bomber Langston Galloway, who is not quite a prospect.
Villanova is another pesky team that excels with good coaching and teamwork as opposed to NBA talent, and doesn’t have much in the way of prospects. Their most intriguing player is sophomore big man Daniel Ochefu. He is limited offensively and turns it over far too much, but he is a good passer and an excellent rebounder and defender. He’s worth keeping tabs on.
16 Weber State
9 Oklahoma State
Arizona is rife with prospects, notably their freshmen forwards Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Gordon gets the bulk of the hype, but Hollis-Jefferson isn’t much worse and could sneak into the 1st round. Both are athletic SF’s who shoot poorly but launch away from midrange anyway. Most of their value derives from their finishing and defense. Nick Johnson is also an intriguing flier, as he also plays a large role in Arizona’s defensive dominance but is a SG stuck in a PG body so will likely end up getting picked in round 2. I think he has decent potential to be a rotation player nevertheless, and he is quite the spectacular dunker. Sophomore big man Kaleb Tarczewski also has some appeal as a prospect, and if you look at his stats and wonder why his block rate is so low it’s because Arizona’s guards and wings don’t let anybody get to the rim. They take on Weber State led by senior wing Davion Berry who likely will not get drafted, but could catch on as an undrafted FA.
Marcus Smart and company take on the new look Gonzaga Bulldogs. After perpetually being an offensive powerhouse, they now have an elite defensive team anchored by sophomore center Przemek Karnowski. He appears to be unskilled and uncoordinated which limits his offensive value, but he’s 7’1 and his team is playing well on the end that matters for him so he will inevitably get draft consideration when he chooses to declares. Other than Smart, Markel Brown is the Cowboys’ other prospect of note as the senior guard has a solid shot of getting drafted in round 2 as he brings solid passing, shooting, and athleticism to the table. Le’Bryan Nash was a 5 star recruit and had 1st round hype once upon a time, and even though he has improved into a good college it’s probably too little too late. He is 6’7, can’t hit 3′s, and does his best work scoring in the low post against small college bigs and I simply don’t see how he fits in on an NBA roster. If the Cowboys can sneak past Gonzaga’s defense, they get the privilege of facing Arizona’s #1 defense. Marcus Smart can do wonders for his NBA draft stock with solid performances this weekend.
4 San Diego State
13 New Mexico State
12 North Dakota State
San Diego state is led by senior guard Xavier Thames, who unexpectedly blossomed into a star after 3 average seasons to start his career. He suddenly is looking draftable as he has improved his entire game and gone from a bit player to the offensive centerpiece of another great defensive team. Sophomore forward Winston Sheppard also loosely qualifies as a prospect. The Aztecs will face New Mexico State led by 7’5 355 lb center Sim Bhullar, who is not much of a prospect in spite of being a giant.
Oklahoma doesn’t have much in the way of prospects, as sophomore big man Ryan Spangler is a good college player but is for all intents and purposes an undersized garbage man. Sophomore Buddy Hield is a great shooter but is also old for his class and is not a strong prospect. The star of this game belongs to the underdog North Dakota State Bison, led by senior Taylor Braun. Braun is more or less the Larry Bird of the Summit League, as he scores in a variety of ways and can also rebound, pass, and make plays defensively. He deserves round 2 consideration and may end up getting drafted.
Baylor is led by big men Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. Jefferson is the better college player, but is 23 years old and is a center in a PF body so he really is a late 2nd flier at best. Austin is a former 5 star recruit who is blind in one eye and his stock has eroded to the 2nd round, but somebody will likely gamble on him nevertheless and rightfully so. While he will likely not become a good pro, he is a 7’1 shotblocker with some semblence of a scoring and shooting ability. If he adds weight and develops into a more efficient scorer, he could be a solid roleplayer. The counter argument would be that having vision in just one eye inhibits his upside as a shooter, as he is just 31.3% from 3 and 65.5% on FT’s in his college career. You can watch him go up against the upstart Huskers led by sophomore Terran Petteway. Petteway may seem like a prospect but he turns 22 in October, so do not be deceived by the sophomore classification. He is fringe at best.
Creighton vs ULL is likely the first ever 3 vs 14 game where the two best prospects play for the 14 seed. OK, maybe it’s going a bit overboard to rate under the radar sophomore big man Shawn Long above projected lotto pick Doug McDermott, but they are much closer than public perception suggests and there is a case to be made that Long will be the superior pro. He is 6’9 and not much of a leaper, but he is strong and does have enough length to block shots in the Sun Belt conference. He is a solid 3 point shooter, a great rebounder, and a good low post scorer. The question is whether he will still be able to get his shot off vs longer and more athletic competition in the paint, and that question will not be answered in this game. Creighton has the 3rd lowest block rate in the country, so he should not have any problem getting shots off in the paint. But the real gem of the team is PG Elfrid Payton, who is tall, long, has weird hair, and does everything on the floor but hit outside shots. To me he’s a surefire 1st round value and has upside as a Rajon Rondo-esque two way PG. The Ragin Cajuns do not play particular good defense, so McDermott’s should be able to get McBuckets as per usual. The winner of this game will face a more stringest defensive test vs. Baylor or Nebraska.
Oregon is led by junior guard Joseph Young and senior forward Mike Moser. Moser had some prospect equity once upon a time, but did not develop as well as hoped and is now too old to have much value. Joseph Young’s value is inhibited by the fact that he is 6’2 and lacks PG skills, but he is one of my favorite college players to watch. He is a fantastically efficient college scorer, and he also has a permanent scowl on his face which I find to be endearing. His NBA prospects are fringey but he could be worth a late 2nd round flier. BYU is led by Tyler Haws who is too old and not toolsy enough to make an impact in the NBA.
Wisconsin has a surprising amount of prospects this year. The guys to watch are Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, both of whom belong in round 1 in my estimation. Dekker is the consensus late first pick, and Kaminsky is the one who is not getting much consideration and may always be underrated due to failing the face test. Also freshman Nigel Hayes is an intriguing player in a funky mold and may eventually become a solid prospect. American actually plays better defense than either Oregon or BYU, so the Wisky guys won’t be facing any NBA-esque tests in the first weekend.
1 Wichita State
16 Cal Poly/Texas Southern
9 Kansas State
Wichita State’s best prospect is sophomore Ron Baker, who got off to a fantastic start this season and then was slowed by an ankle injury and played hurt from the Tennessee game onward. He seems to have recovered to near full health, so we get to see how he does running through a possible gauntlet of Kentucky and Louisville. Also sophomore PG Fred Van Vleet is undersized but has fantastic efficiency and could be a 2nd rounder sleeper at some point. Senior Cleanthony Early is an exciting college player, but is likely too old to be worth drafting.
If you do not enjoy well coached teams that lack NBA prospects, Kentucky offers a poorly coached team that is full of future NBA busts! Willie Cauley-Stein is really the only prospect who is particularly enthralling at this point, as he uses his elite length, quicks, and athleticism to make impressive plays defensively. Offensively he is just an offensive rebounder and finisher. Julius Randle and James Young are still worth 1st round picks, although I am not particularly enthused about either. I had some hope for Aaron Harrison which is rapidly waning, and Andrew Harrison is simply the worst. Dakari Johnson still has some hope as a prospect and has not generated much discussion in spite of a mini-breakout in college. Kansas State is led by freshman shooter Marcus Foster, who could enter prospect radar with a good progression as a sophomore. Kansas State does not have the shot blocking to cause a world of grief for Randle and company, and if they should advance Wichita State’s defense will pose a much stingier test.
5 Saint Louis
12 NC State
TJ Warren is the prospect to watch in the 5/12 matchup, as he has drawn comparisons to Antawn Jamison. It seems like a reasonable comp to me, as he plays questionable defense and dominates with his floater. I am not a Jamison fan so I am not too high on Warren, but it is reasonable to include him in the 1st round nevertheless. Saint Louis plays great defense and offers a solid test.
Louisville is the best 4 seed of all time, as they are arguably the best team in the country. Their prospects are sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell and senior guard Russ Smith. Montrezl is an incredibly fun and exciting college player with questionable translation issues to the pros. He is a PF who is likely too small to play center, and he needs to develop into more than just a dunker to have a good pro career. He still merits 1st round consideration since he has expanded his game considerably as a sophomore, but still has a long way to go before becoming a solid NBA PF. Russ Smith is arguably the best college player in the country, and is worth a 2nd round pick as a possible poor man’s Kyle Lowry. He is only 6’0 but he is incredibly fast and has quick hands on defense, and he fills it up on offense as he has greatly improved his outside shooting, decision making, and PG skills over his tenure at Lousiville. He turns 23 in April so upside is limited, but he is a fun fun college player who could become a useful pro.
The Iowa/Tennessee play in game tonight features a number of fringe guys. The best prospect is Tennessee big man Jarnell Stokes, who has been playing great as of late and could sneak into round 1. Jordan McRae figures to get 2nd round consideration but is also quite old. Iowa’s best prospect is senior Roy Devyn Marble, who should be drafted in round 2. Junior Aaron White likely will not be drafted but has some small NBA equity. UMass is a mediocre A-10 team that has no business being a 6 seed and will be a clear underdog against either team.
Duke’s big time prospect is freshman Jabari Parker. Mercer should not be much of a defensive test, and neither should Iowa. But Tennessee is the exact type of defense that has given him trouble, so it is worth watching his performance in that game should Duke and Tennessee match up. Rodney Hood is considered a lottery pick by many, but I’m not sure he even belongs in round 1. He is a smooth shooter who doesn’t have the best tools and is awful defensively. Duke’s actual 2nd best player is sophomore Amile Jefferson, whose NBA prospects are limited by the fact that he is a skinny 6’9 garbage man, and he will likely stay 4 years and then get picked in round 2. Also sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon still has some lingering value as a prospect.
10 Arizona State
Arizona State is led by sophomore PG Jahii Carson, who really is vastly overrated as a prospect. I wouldn’t touch him anywhere in the draft since he’s undersized, bad defensively, and really not much of a college player considering he’s going to turn 22 in August. He will likely have trouble scoring in the paint vs Texas’s bigs. Texas’s best prospect is sophomore big man Cameron Ridley, who rebounds, blocks shots, and finishes in the paint.
Michigan boasts projected mid-late 1st round pick Nik Stauskas, who is a slick and talented offensive player. He went through a mini-rough patch since I wrote about him, but he has picked it up lately and can aid his stock with a strong tourney showing. Sophomore Glenn Robinson has seen his stock erode due to issues with his outside shooting and BBIQ, but he is an elite finisher converting 86.4% of his rim attempts on the season. He is still likely worth an early 2nd round pick.
I haven’t had time to post recently as I have been busy preparing for the conference and NCAA tournaments. I will try to create a prospect guide for the tourney before tip off Thursday, but for now enjoy parts 2 + 3 of my podcast with Brew Hoop:
Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of recording a podcast with Frank Madden and Steven von Horn of Brew Hoop. They are both sharp, perceptive basketball minds and it was rather enjoyable to discuss the draft with them. The podcast will be split into 3 or 4 parts that will be released over the course of this week. Here is a direct link to their site where you can stream part 1 (which focuses on Andrew Wiggins) and read more detail.