Categorizing Predictions And Post-SL Re-rank

After fervently scouting summer league and trying to update my perceptions on players, I have to admit that I am completely overdosed on information. I don’t currently feel pressure to have awesome rankings, because I feel it’s an impossible task to correctly weigh this information during the first year that I have complete access to such in depth observations. So I’m going to do my best to rank players anyway, but I think it’s more important to categorize my predictions to track which pieces of information tend to carry the most weight. I suspect it’s going to take a few years of doing this before I am actually qualified to speak with the hyperbolic confidence that I naturally convey, so as usual I’m going to note that I’m probably wrong about lots.

My process has constantly evolved over the course of the season. I started off trying to blending stats, physical profiles, an intuitive understanding of the NBA, and whatever extra details I noticed by watching into efficient evaluations.  But trying to do this for players that I have barely watched feels like complete guesswork on my end, and I don’t think it’s ultimately going to yield significant edge over what anybody else is doing. Compare Rudy Gay and Paul George: they play the same position, they have similar physical profiles, they had similar statistical ratings based on Layne Vashro’s EWP formula, and they were chosen at similar draft spots. On paper they were more or less the same level of prospect. But one developed into a top 5 NBA player within a few years of being drafted, whereas the other was consistently a black hole who underachieved on defense and sucked the life out of his team’s offense. I don’t accept that this is solely due to random variance and/or differences in the environments where they developed. There had to have been a signal in their respective play as 20 year olds that indicated that George was on a better developmental path than Gay.

My goal in Las Vegas was to watch players through the lens that style mattered more than stats, and to try to pinpoint the indicators that *might* suggest whether players are on a good or bad developmental path. I feel that I found some relevant stuff, but I shouldn’t invest much confidence in it until I have tested some of these hypotheses a bit more. So in spite of my hot fireballs of disdain for Jabari Parker’s summer league performance, I am not going to rank him hilariously low. He still can be a good fantasy player and he has as good of odds as anybody of winning ROY, and I doubt many people will be inclined to take me seriously if they see that I ranked the #2 pick who won ROY like 25th on my post-SL big board. On the other hand if I rank him 11th and he becomes the worst player in the history of bad players, I doubt anybody will accuse me of going too soft on him. So I’m going to scale my rankings back into more level headed territory for this iteration:

1 Joel Embiid
2 Marcus Smart
3 TJ Warren
4 Dante Exum
5 Aaron Gordon
6 Andrew Wiggins
7 Elfrid Payton
8 Jusuf Nurkic
9 Mitch McGary
10 Zach LaVine
11 Jabari Parker
12 Bruno Caboclo
13 Noah Vonleh
14 Clint Capela
15 Nik Stauskas
16 Tyler Ennis
17 Dario Saric
18 James Young
19 Kyle Anderson
20 KJ McDaniels
21 Jarnell Stokes
22 Jordan Adams
23 Gary Harris
24 Julius Randle
25 Damien Inglis
26 Bogdan Bogdanovic
27 Spencer Dinwiddie
28 Nick Johnson
29 Nikola Jokic
30 Alec Brown
31 Jerami Grant
32 Doug McDermott
33 Adreian Payne
34 Vasilije Micic
35 Tyler Johnson
36 Rodney Hood
37 Walter Tavares
38 PJ Hairston
39 Roy Devyn Marble
40 Russ Smith

Stud
Joel Embiid is the stud of the draft. His talent is in a completely different stratosphere from everybody else and the only thing that can slow him down (or stop him altogether) are injuries. I really hope he stays healthy, but who knows if he can.

Feel For The Game
This is where I think I can find edge that isn’t detected by stats or scouts. It’s the area that is slippery and difficult to pinpoint, so it largely goes ignored. But I think this is likely the area that can enable the trained observer to separate the Rudy Gays from the Paul Georges, so I’m really excited to see how these work out. I should note that “feel” is a vague generalization and some indicators of good/bad feel should carry different weight than others, so not all of these carry equal weight. The ones that stand out as particularly noteworthy to me:

Good Feel
Marcus Smart is my #2 prospect, which seems a bit wild and crazy for a PG that can’t shoot, can’t consistently get to the rim, and isn’t that athletic. On paper he appears to be on a crash course to become Tony Allen or slightly better, which is not somebody you take 2nd overall in a loaded draft. Also his feel for the game isn’t pristine, as on occasion it seems to pop into his head that it’s bucket o’clock and he’ll chuck up a bad contested shot. But other than that he fills me up with warm and fuzzy feelings. He sees the floor exceptionally well, especially on defense. He has lightning quick reactions that make him an awesome playmaker on that end. He doesn’t have super athleticism to be the best man to man lock down defender of all time, but I think his advanced defensive stats are going to be surprisingly good throughout his NBA career. In summer league his feel showed in his ability to see the floor, make smart passes, protect the ball, and err on the side of bricking 3′s instead of long 2′s. I’m not sure precisely how high his upside goes but I have a feeling he will be better than people anticipate.

TJ Warren is my #3 prospect, which might be overreactive to summer league since he was clearly at the peak of his game and it’s the only environment in which I scouted him. He had some bad games against tougher defenses in college, and maybe his flaws will become clearer against NBA defenses. Further he sounds like a completely blah prospect on paper, since he’s a wing who doesn’t pass, doesn’t make 3′s, and has questionable defensive acumen. But I’m completely and utterly captivated by his approach to scoring, as he displays both unique talent (touch within 15 feet, coordination, footwork) and feel for utilizing it (he has a knack for getting easy buckets from transition + putbacks as well as minimizing his turnovers in the half-court). So I’m gambling on this to mean that 1) his inside the arc scoring will translate much better than expected 2) his defense, passing, and shooting will develop better than expected. The latter is a bit shaky because who even knows if he’s interested in anything other than getting buckets, but I feel he has the ability to develop better than random.

Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis are the players who have good feel but have limited quickness to capitalize on this. Ennis never blew me away when I watched him, but I felt he had some really cool statistical splits that may be indicative of uniquely good feel. Stauskas had less attractive stats but a more attractive eye test, as his ability to handle is not captured by any statistical measure. These are the two prospects who are leaning hard on skill and feel to overcome physical deficiencies, Ennis is team stats and Stauskas is team eye test.

Doug McDermott has good feel but stands out neither statistically nor to my eyes. I remain bearish on him because his limitations are plentiful.

Bad Feel
Andrew Wiggins went #1 since he is oozing with potential due to athleticism, but he screams “underachiever” to me. He seems either less interested or less good at developing his game than his peers, as evidenced by 1) his disappointing freshman production and 2) observing his progression from freshman year to summer league. His stepback jumper looked notably improved, and it’s clear that he was putting work into it leading up to the draft. But it also appeared that he’s more enamored with his ability to make stepback jumpers than he is his ability to create for others and be great defensively, which are the high leverage areas for him to become a winning player. He has the talent to leverage his athleticism to be good at all aspects of the game, but I didn’t see him moving in this direction either at Kansas or in Vegas.

The interesting caveat with Wiggins is that people commonly argue that underachievers just need good coaching and everything will be peachy. Wiggins seems to have landed in an awesome situation with LeBron and Blatt. If he doesn’t get traded, I am interested to see how much coaching and a good developmental environment can help overcome his past developmental deficiencies and move him down the correct path at an accelerated rate. I suspect that they won’t be a panacea, but if nothing else it gives him a much better shot of making me look silly for doubting him than he would by taking endless stepbacks for Flip Saunders in Minnesota.

Jabari Parker I believe takes a barbaric approach to offense, and I don’t think he has the quicks, athleticism, or shooting touch for this to end favorably for him. He doesn’t seem adaptable, he doesn’t seem aware of the relationship between his play and his team’s success, and I can’t fathom that his method of scoring translates to efficient play against NBA defenses. Maybe he has more talent than Evan Turner and Derrick Williams which will enable him to look like a fine pick in the early going, as well as a legit fantasy basketball commodity. But I believe his impact on his team’s bottom line will always be worse than the box score stats suggest. I don’t see him as player who makes plays that lead to wins. I do think he wants to win, so maybe he will leverage this desire into becoming solid defensively, creating for others, and scaling back the chucking.

Julius Randle seems more adaptable than Parker, but I don’t think he’s as talented. He’s strong, quick, and good at making difficult shots in the paint, but he has some serious deficiencies working against him. I believe mediocre PF height + length along with lackluster explosiveness and slow instincts make it nearly impossible for him to be a solid defensive player and also limit his offensive upside. If he proves me wrong and turns out better than expected, I am upgrading the importance of adaptability.

Noah Vonleh I can never bring myself to watch for more than a few minutes at a time, but he probably has bad feel based on his assist:TOV and the amount of bricks he chucks up near the rim. This is a low confidence read since it is supported by far less observation than the others.

Mystery Boxes
Dante Exum and Aaron Gordon are the mystery boxes who have great physical tools and seem to have the smarts and feel to make winning plays. But Exum has limited repetitions against respectable competition and struggled in summer league, and Gordon’s offensive game is a major work in progress. I still believe they both have loads of upside and hope they become awesome, but they also both could fall well short of expectations.

Zach LaVine was a mystery box since nobody really knew whether he can handle the ball or not, and I tried to cheat and short him based on statistical indicators. This might have been a mistake, as his summer league play makes me feel less comfortable about the idea of heavily extrapolating based on statistics. He appears to be trying hard and taking his pro career rather seriously, which I imagine is how the players like DeRozan, Lance, and Bledsoe became much better than expected after a few years of development. He still has the issue of a rail thin frame and mediocre length that prevent his upside from being boundless, but I suspect that he might progress at a faster rate than his peers.

Bruno Caboclo could be anything, he could even be a completely broken floor spacer with his long arms. He could also be somebody who never develops the instincts to be a useful NBA player. His feel does not appear to be good now, but he is so young with such a unique combination of strengths that I want to believe he can become good.

Nurkic, Capela, Saric, Inglis, Bogdanovic, Jokic, and Micic are all players who I’m just straight up guessing on based on how good they sound on paper and where they were selected. I expect these rankings to be largely inefficient, but I’m at least going to try.

3 minus D types
I recently realized that James Young and Rodney Hood are exceptionally similar prospects. They both are good, lefty shooters who are willing passers and don’t try to force the issue inside the arc. They are also both bad defensively with similar steal and block totals, and they even make similar mistakes trying to defend the perimeter. Hood is better and more polished now, but Young is almost 3 years younger with better strength and length and clearly has more upside. I don’t know that Young quite has Hood’s offensive feel, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he develops it by the time he’s Hood’s age. His assist rate wasn’t bad for an 18 year old freshman, and he definitely did try to create for his teammates off the dribble. Hood translated to summer league a bit better than I expected due to not forcing the issue on offense, and I feel Young might have done likewise. He was always the player who managed to get buckets for Kentucky against long, athletic defenses, and it might be a sign that he has better feel than he’s given credit for. I think both players landed in good situations and I’m most interested to see if 1) their offense can become good enough to justify their defense or 2) their defense can improve enough to make it possible to get their offense on the floor.

Others
I’m not sure Payton has the athleticism or shooting to become a superstar, but he has the talent to become above average on both ends which would make him a good player.

I have a good feeling about McGary. He’s a funky prospect who handles well for a big and gets more steals than most centers in spite of getting few blocks. I don’t think he has boundless upside since he’s already 22, but it probably gives him a bit more potential than you’d expect from a 22 year old #21 pick.

Kyle Anderson is incredibly smart, skilled, and long, and he gets to play for the best coach in the history of sports. But he’s also ridiculously slow and seems lazy. He didn’t look that good when I watched him in Vegas, but everybody else seems to think he looked great. Maybe I just caught him at the wrong times. At this point I’m more interested in observing than chipping in new predictions for him and his UCLA teammate Jordan Adams.

KJ I’m starting to lose a bit of faith in. I’m not sure what his offensive contribution is going to be in the NBA. He was able to do it all for a bad NCAA offense, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be competent in the NBA. Also I think his defense will be good but may not fully translate without great size or quicks. He can be a good role player for sure, but I might have slightly overrated him pre-draft.

I just like Jarnell Stokes. He fills me up with fuzzy feelings inside. I could qualify this as good feel, but I’m not even sure that he has the best feel for the game. I think he’s a hard worker who is committed to being good and is already better than his 2nd round draft slot suggests.

I have given Gary Harris some flack for being bland and lacking in upside, but he makes 3′s, plays defense, and passes the ball. It’s not hard to see that adding up to a useful player. I still like Mario Chalmers as his upside (and I like Chalmers as a role player), but he’s so young maybe he can surpass that projection and be a rather attractive role player. His lack of size reflected in his summer league 2p%, but he did draw a surprising amount of FT’s.

Nick Johnson looks like a solid 3 + D PG who meshes well with James Harden.

Alec Brown intrigues me. Between him and Adreian Payne, his shooting release appears a bit quicker. He shot a slightly higher % from 3 over a slightly larger sample over the past 2 years, and while I imagine both of them will have their 3 point volume stretched in the pros I have an inkling that Brown has a bit more upside since he’s also 1 year and 5 months younger. Also Brown is taller and got more blocks in college. Payne is stronger, longer, better at rebounding, and better at finishing. I’m not sure Brown has the strength to finish at all in traffic vs. NBA bigs, but that’s probably for the best since he’s not much of a passer either. I assume that the Suns are going to try to groom him to become the Channing Frye replacement, and I can’t think of a reason why he can’t produce similar to Frye. That doesn’t mean that he necessarily can, but he’s a nice flier at 50th overall.

Tyler Johnson was probably the 2nd best player in Las Vegas after TJ Warren. I’m simply amazed by him. The fact that he was able to get as many assists, buckets in the paint, and FTA’s as he did while only turning it over 5 times in 10 games is truly amazing. He definitely goes in the good feel pile. His only good tool seems to be his athleticism, but he applied it relentlessly on the floor and really looks like he belongs in the NBA.

PJ Hairston appears to be a chucker who punches high school kids in the face, which is not the best combination of traits. I’m not completely giving up on him, but I don’t like all of his summer league 2 point bricks. Stick to your strength of 3 point bombing, Peej.

Summer League Scouting: The Rest

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I already wrote my detailed scouting reports on Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Doug McDermott, and TJ Warren as those were the players I felt I got to know the most intimately in Las Vegas. But I watched enough of other players to have observations I’d like to share.

Zach LaVine

Of all the players I was bearish on, Zach LaVine appears to be the strongest bet to prove me wrong. He was a mystery box that I assumed contained nothing substantial, but now that we got to see him run an offense and play man to man defense, he demonstrated much more ability than I anticipated.

In the first game, it stood out that Gal Mekel tried to drive past LaVine on 3 occasions and couldn’t get by once. I wasn’t sure whether to be sad for Mekel or happy for LaVine, but then Mekel blew by Glenn Robinson and got to the rim 3 times in a row. Even though Robinson is a SF, he’s not athletically challenged. Then Mekel tried to go at LaVine one last time, put a nice crossover on him and tried to shift directions a couple of times, but LaVine diligently shuffled his feet and forced him into a tough fadeaway jumper that badly missed.

I expected LaVine to be clueless on defense due to bad high school and college steal rates. He finished with 4 steals in 5 games, and 2 of them showed quick hands to strip the ball that you never see from McDermott or Randle types. I don’t think his defensive instincts are that bad, he just didn’t get many steals because he doesn’t have long arms and he is rail thin (I am starting to believe strength plays a significant role in steals). He still can’t fight through a screen to save his life and doesn’t always seem certain of where he’s supposed to be on defense, but he definitely showed enough potential to make me believe he can possibly become a positive on this end.

Offensively, we finally got to see LaVine run an offense and it wasn’t too bad. He doesn’t seem like a natural PG, and in the first game he appeared uncomfortable whenever Dee Bost applied pressure. He also isn’t the best passer, as he doesn’t see the floor all that well and he didn’t appear to be particularly accurate with his passes. But once he settled in his handle didn’t look too shabby, as it was good enough to get him wherever he wanted to go with his elite explosiveness and quicks. The issue was that it’s difficult for him to get off passes in the post because of his short arms, and he struggles to finish due to his lack of strength, so he was fairly reliant on his jumper and free throws. But he did a couple of shots to go at the rim when he found daylight, including some highlight dunks. His feel for the game didn’t look great, but at the same time it was much better than expected for a guy who hasn’t run an offense above the high school level. It will be interesting to see how much he can improve with hard work and repetitions. His final counting stats weren’t too shabby for such a raw prospect: 15.7 pts 2.8 asts 3.3 tovs in 6 games– his turnover rate is especially mild given all of the slashing, passing, and scoring LaVine was asked to do given his age and experience.

LaVine is pretty much Nik Stauskas if you traded a healthy portion of skill and feel for elite quickness and explosiveness. Stauskas was a lower RSCI recruit than LaVine who rose due to working diligently on his skills and body. I now understand why LaVine wasn’t top 50 RSCI: there’s a bias toward players who dominate high school due to physically developing sooner such as Jabari Parker, Shabazz Muhammad, and Julius Randle. LaVine’s rail thin frame is still a concern, as he is uniquely underweight and may never add enough muscle to accomplish much inside. But I get the impression that he is taking his NBA career seriously and is going to work hard and listen to his coach (if only his coach wasn’t Flip Saunders). I don’t know how high he’ll peak or if he’ll even necessarily become good, but he inspired a ton of hope in Las Vegas and he shot up my rankings. I feel he justified his lottery selection.

Dante Exum

Exum looked awesome the first game, as he was getting to his spots offensively, dishing beautiful passes to his teammates, and protecting the ball with just one turnover. I don’t know if he was feeding off of the crazy pro-Utah energy (the crowd was going crazy over every tiny pro-Jazz event) or if he faced a horrible defense, because he completely disappointed in the following games.

He still showed good quickness, good vision and passing ability, and playmaking instincts defensively to suggest that he has plenty of upside. He is young and toolsy enough such that he didn’t need to have a great summer league. Frankly he looked uncomfortable adjusting to the higher level of competition after not playing above Australian HS level for the past year. It would have been nice to see him show some progress toward the end, but maybe he just needs to get repetitions and work on dribbling with his left hand. Also it appears his conditioning may be a bigger issue than expected, which explains why he conserved so much energy on defense in high school.

His defense looked as bad as anticipated and he couldn’t buy a bucket in the paint over length. He had some sexy finishes in FIBA, but it’s possible that he can’t consistently finish at the rim off the dribble in the NBA.

Altogether there is nothing about his summer league that suggests irreparable flaw or makes his upside unattainable. But he could have shown more and we do need to brace for the possibility that this mystery box does not contain a boat. I don’t drop him heavily though, he’s still top 5 to me.

Julius Randle

I like the way the Lakers were using Randle. He often slashed from the perimeter, where I felt he was at his best in college. And unlike Jabari and Wiggins, he doesn’t attack exclusively for himself, as he makes a conscious effort to create to teammates. I don’t think he sees the floor all that well, but he is mindful of where his teammates are hanging out and he tries to dish to them when he can. He had one excellent pass where he threaded the needle inside and created FT’s.

And even though he’s bad on defense, it’s not because he doesn’t care. He shows competitiveness on this end, he just is naturally bad at it due to short arms, lack of burst, and slow reactions. I think this is just a killer triumvirate of weaknesses, but he works hard and he can at least become good man to man with his quick feet and great strength.

Randle is definitely less talented than Wiggins and Parker but it feels like he’s on a better developmental path than either of them. I’ve always had the impression that he really does want to be good at as many things as possible to win, and he will sacrifice touches and shots for the good of the team. He still doesn’t naturally play efficiently, and he struggled to finish some of his postups which involved a bit too much dribbling. But he still is so good at finishing circus shots that his shooting percentages didn’t look horrible at the end of the day.

I think he has an uphill climb to become great and I will always perceive him as an underdog in spite of his recruiting ranking and draft slot. I could see him overachieving my expectations for him through hard work and adaptability. It will be interesting to monitor Randle vs. Parker– I feel that Parker has naturally sharper instincts, but Randle is more in tune with the overall health of the team, but they are otherwise largely similar players.

Tyler Ennis

Ennis was a disappointment for me. I didn’t watch a ton but from what I can tell he’s too slow to get to the rim and could only get close enough to get off floaters. He made some sharp passes and showed quick hands that suggest he might have had a good steal rate even without the zone. Also he might be much better in the NBA since he was awful against bad teams his first few college games before everything clicked. But I might just have been too much of a sucker for cerebral PG’s and need to upgrade the value of athleticism + quicks for the position. I can still see him as a Mark Jackson type.

Rodney Hood

I didn’t like Hood as a prospect at all, but he had a solid showing in Vegas. His offensive package isn’t shabby: he makes 3′s, he sees the floor, he passes well, he can exploit mismatches to get to the rim with his decent athleticism and handle, and he doesn’t force the issue and make mistakes. That’s a solid supporting role player, and 11 assists vs 5 turnovers is nice. If he could even be neutral defensively I’d say that’s a solid pick in the late 1st. Unfortunately given his poor strength, short arms, and bad instincts defensively I still think he’ll offset the good but not great offensive skill set. But who knows, maybe he’ll overachieve enough on both ends to become an alright role player.

Kyle Anderson

I am big time disappointed in Kyle. He couldn’t get to the rim and finish, he couldn’t get to the line, he didn’t rebound, and he didn’t get many assists because he couldn’t get to his spots offensively. Further when he played Utah, Rodney Hood absolutely abused him and was able to blow by him at will. Against New Orleans there were 2 occasions on which Kyle was near the rim but didn’t rotate to help, although on one occasion he reached in to commit a weak foul and got pulled. I have heard that he did well defensively against some of the other top players, but whenever I happened to notice he was not getting to the rim and not doing anything of value on defense.

The slomo nickname is all fun and games until Kyle actually needs to match up against NBA athletes. He’s the smartest player in the draft, but smarts won’t be enough when he’s weak and slow and going up against elite athletes. He was drafted to the best possible situation to succeed, but I’m starting to fear he’s just a bit too slow and lazy.

Bruno Caboclo

Caboclo’s rawness was on fully display with his 2 assists and 18 turnovers. He didn’t seem to be that sure of where he was supposed to be defensively when I watched either. His rawness is a thing, his feel for the game is a work in progress. But it’s still easy to see why he was such a tantalizing prospect: just look at those arms and his shooting touch. He had one possession where he splashed a stepback 3 and it looked especially nice. Near the end of a half he was standing covered in the corner and caught the ball, fired, and hit at the buzzer. It’s such a broken weapon if he can get off corner 3′s whenever he wants– there was no off ball movement necessary to create that shot. He might not be good at all, but his upside is obvious so I can’t hate on the selection.

Summer League Scouting: Doug McDermott

His name is Dougie, he gets McBuckets, and he does so with his special power of literally every single spot on the court being a hot spot for him. He appends this power with good feel for the game, as he’s in touch with his plentiful limitations and uses his smarts to be as good as he can be in spite of them. This is enough good stuff to dominate summer league, and McDermott obliged with an efficient 18 points per game.

I had questions about how much McDermott could translate his college scoring to the pros, but there was no question that he could drain 3′s and space the floor. This is where he thrived during summer league, as 50% of his points came from behind the arc as he shot 12/27 from 3. Further, he was fouled shooting three 3′s, and 62.5% of his points came from deep if you include those in his beyond the arc tally. McDermott moves well off the ball, and he has a quick release and deep range that implies he should be able to get off his fair share of 3 point shooting volume in the pros in spite of questionable foot speed.

McDermott also showed good feel for the game, as he made the simple pass when he didn’t feel he had an angle to attack. Some of his passes to teammates cutting to the rim were impressive and accurate, and it’s worth wondering whether McDermott can leverage his elite shooting touch to become a pinpoint passer as well now that he will be depended upon to score less and move the ball more. He also did a solid job of avoiding mistakes, finishing summer with 11 assists and 12 turnovers.

The trouble is that I expected his inside the arc scoring to translate poorly, and his limitations were painfully evident throughout summer league. His most glaring limitation offensively is that he can hardly dribble. He isn’t completely worthless handling the ball, he hit a couple of shots off the dribble, and he was able to draw FT’s inside by attacking off the dribble. One time he almost got all the way to the rim with a couple of dribbles and a spin move, but his shot attempt was violently rejected. This also inhibits his passing upside, as he shows nice promise as a passer but is never going to break down the defense and create for his teammates. The only pass attempt that I recall coming off the dribble (I’m sure there were others but I’m too lazy to review) was a lob in transition that was badly off the mark and deflected for a turnover.

This makes shot creation an issue for him. He’ll get off his fair share of 3′s but nobody can carry an offense with 3 point shooting alone. The non 3 point shooting attempts that he generated were mostly in the mid-range. He had some catch and shoot attempts, a step back jumper off the dribble (which he hit), a 10 foot floater off the dribble (which Nerlens goaltended), and even a couple of one legged fadeaways of which he hit at least one. But as a college player he was highly dependent on rim scoring, and I only counted two clean looks at the rim this summer: 1 breakaway dunk in transition, and 1 layup he converted on a backdoor cut. He thrived on cuts in college and needs to convert them at a higher rate to maximize his offensive skill set as a pro. Further, once you take away his FT’s from technicals and being fouled on 3′s, he only generated 3 FTA per game. He was called for a few charges and often turned it over when he tried to attack, and when he did get to the line he was normally dribbling into a crowd with not much good stuff brewing without the benefit of a whistle.

McDermott finished summer league 7/16 inside the arc, which is a stark constrast to Jabari Parker’s 24/51 or TJ Warren’s 34/64. Based on college stats they all appeared to be strong interior scorers, but it’s clear based on both stats and observation that TJ’s game translates awesomely, Jabari’s translates decently, and McDermott’s barely at all. You can discount the transition buckets that Warren and Parker got all you’d like, but they have the handles and physical capacity to look comfortable taking the ball coast to coast and finishing. Whenever McDermott handled the ball in the open court, he looked completely uncomfortable and would give it up before he crossed inside the 3 point arc. It seems that McBuckets just aren’t as easy to come by for his style of play against tougher competition. He’ll still get some mid-range shots off, and maybe he just needs to catch up to speed to get more rim shots off of cuts, but the early returns are fairly gloomy.

Defensively, I spent much of this past season trying to glean what McDermott’s non-existent steal and block totals mean, and I finally understand. In spite of his horrible physical tools, he does a surprisingly good job of staying in front of his man. He does so by giving enough space to make it hard for his opponent to blow by him. Consequently he never applies any pressure on the ball, and because he’s not long enough to deflect passes or strong enough to rip the ball away, he pretty much only gets steals when it falls into his lap. And even though he’s not crazy unathletic or laterally challenged, he still is rather slow to rotate and he pretty much never blocks shots playing help defense. He also rarely blocks shots in man since he gives space to the ball handler, but all of his whopping 3 summer league blocks came in man to man (although one of them appears to be due to generous scoring).

I think he’s smart enough, works hard enough, and moves his feet just barely well enough to not be the worst defensive player of all time. He definitely has a puncher’s chance of being passable enough to justify his offensive goodness. But at the same time he’s still going to be bad. He gets beat off the dribble plenty, and NBA players should be able to get off easy 3 point shots with the space he gives. He will be a liability in both man and team defense and it really puts the pressure on him to bring offensive goodness to the table to truly be a valuable piece.

The biggest problem with McDermott is that he just doesn’t have a single physical tool to lean on. He’s slow and unathletic, but he would have some intrigue if he had really long arms or was chiseled like Wally Szcerbiak. Unfortunately he has short arms and is about as muscular as the Pillsbury Doughboy. With his physical deficiencies it’s hard to see him thriving without a really unique offensive package, and the court being one giant hot spot just doesn’t seem like enough. He’d carry more intrigue if he had really slick handling and passing ability like Nik Stauskas, but man are his handles bad for a 22 year old lotto pick projected to score a bunch.

One note is he is definitely a SF in the NBA. He doesn’t have the size or strength to spend any time at all in the post, and he will get destroyed if he ever has to try to match up with Zach Randolph or Blake Griffin. The Clippers were highly physical with him and really pushed him off his spot at will, and he didn’t start playing well until he was able to match up with the soft defenses provided by Denver and Minnesota. But he moves his feet just barely well enough to give hope that he can hold his own on the perimeter, so that’s his best bet.

I feel like my pre-draft analysis was spot on and I’m sticking to my story. In fairness to McDermott, he gets compared to Adam Morrison quite a bit and he does seem to be a much better prospect since he’s a great shooter and Morrison was just a decent shooter who chucked. I had given McDermott an upside of SF version of JJ Redick, and that seems accurate. His features are that he spaces the floor, can probably develop a bit of a mid-range game, move the ball, and try his best to not be a disaster on defense. If he has any edge over Redick it’s that he can use his size to finish with greater frequency on cuts to the hoop, but based on his summer league showing I really would not be optimistic in McDermott’s ability to score frequently in the paint. Also he may become substantially worse than Redick, as his inability to dribble will likely impede him and at age 22 he doesn’t have a long window to get better. I stand by my assertions that McDermott can become something, but he’s a long shot to become something that is worth more than the MLE on the open market. That’s simply not something that you draft for in the lottery, as he’s at best worth a late 1st round or early 2nd round pick. He’s fun and has some compelling strengths, but his glaring limitations place a hard cap on his upside which is a really big deal in the draft.

TJ Warren Operates With Surgical Precision

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TJ Warren’s pre-draft scouting report was that he is unathletic, can’t hit 3′s, plays questionable defense, never passes, and scores loads of buckets inside the arc for a SF punctuated by his incredible floater. This didn’t strike me as a lock bust because I have a soft spot for weirdos and you never know how they are going to translate. But I simply couldn’t envision how an unathletic wing dominates inside the arc against NBA competition without any other notable strengths, so I paid him little regard. This was a mistake, as the correct approach should have been to figure out how an unathletic wing dominated inside the arc in the NCAA. I finally got to scout him in summer league and I am completely captivated by his game.

The reasons why weird prospects have appeal is because they normally are doing something right that nobody else is, and you never know how their special skill interacts with NBA competition. This is especially true for scoring, as scoring comes in a wide range of styles and requires scouting to understand each player’s method of attack. This is triply true for TJ Warren, who has the most beautiful scoring game of any prospect I have ever watched.

You need to have some sort of special powers to dominate inside the arc the way TJ did, and it’s clear that his special powers are excellent footwork, coordination, and body control to go with feathery touch anywhere within 12 feet, especially when he’s on the run. He by far the most polished scoring prospect in the class. But what makes him exceptionally appealing is that he hardly ever wastes any time or motion at all with the ball. He has a knack for catching the ball in a position to score, as he can get where he’s going and get his shot off in 0 or 1 dribbles most of the time. If he’s taking 2 or more dribbles it’s because that’s the required amount of dribbles to get to the rim. Every time he dribbles it’s with direction and purpose. The one time I saw him dribble more than 2 times in the half-court: he tried to go left, it wasn’t there, he pulled back and waited for a screen, and then went right and crisply got off his floater. Even though plan A wasn’t there, he did no aimless dribbling, just pulled back and executed plan B. But every other time plan A worked for him and he got his shot off.

The precision that he operates with is stunning, and it also applies to his shot creation. He never wastes an opportunity to get off a quality shot. It has been noted that he racked up lots of transition baskets and putbacks, but that’s not a coincidence. He doesn’t crash the offensive glass for rebounds, he crashes for putbacks. He was able to get putbacks by tapping the ball in, catching the ball and putting it back while hanging in the air, and he even had a perfectly timed tip slam where the unathletic label appeared to be dead wrong.

I have been a common critique of transition scoring, but it doesn’t mean it should be totally discounted. If somebody dominates in transition there is a reason for it, and TJ’s offensive excellence shines through in transition. He bolts up the floor as soon as his team procures the defensive rebound, and once he catches the ball he is deadly. He doesn’t need to beat the defense down the floor, he gracefully steps around whatever defender is in the paint and lays it in. His floater helps as he can always find a way to get off a shot, and he’s so good on the run that he doesn’t require a getting all the way to the rim for a look to be good for him. This is a stark contrast to Andrew Wiggins’ style of beating his opponent down the floor for an uncontested dunk in college which did not translate to summer league.

In the half-court, he moves exceptionally well without the ball and scored on a handful of cuts to the rim. He excels at getting to spots on the floor where he can score as soon as he receives the ball. This is a stark contrast to Jabari Parker’s style of catching the ball, dribbling aimlessly, and chucking whatever comes his way. Other times he’ll attack and when he gets as far as he can he throws up a floater. It seems that he can get off a high volume of 40%+ shots without turning it over, and his floater is so good now who knows how high it peaks. Maybe he is able to generate an endless stream of 45-50% shots in his prime to make him an elite weapon in both transition and the half-court. His college mid-range scoring stats are phenomenal– he made 43.4% of non-rim 2′s as a sophomore and 45.3% for his career. That’s better than any other prospect in the draft, and way better than non-Doug McDermott prospects. It’s hard to say how many of these are on 5 foot runners that will be harder to create in the NBA vs. the widely available mid-range shots and 12 foot floaters, but it’s clear that his mid-range potential is pretty awesome. He also only had 1 shot blocked in summer league, and even without great size or length he has a feel for finding daylight in traffic.

He does take a fair amount of mid-range shots, and it’s not always in the smartest spots. For instance he took a pullup jumper one foot inside the arc in transition, and while he made it that’s not the best shot. While his level of efficiency with respect to movement and motion is pristine, he does not appear to have a machine like level of efficient decision making on the court.

Further, the concept of creating for others off the dribble appears to be a foreign concept to him. When he catches the ball on the perimeter and has nowhere to go he will quickly swing it to a teammate. And when he gets the ball in transition and feels a teammate has a better path to attack, he will give it up. His lone assist was on a transition alley oop to Archie Goodwin. He also had a nice pass in transition where he found his teammate two dribbles from the rim, although he did not get credited for the assist. But when he attacks off the dribble he’s doing it for himself, much like Andrew Wiggins. That said I don’t find it to be nearly as much of a turnoff, because I can’t say that this is an inefficient means of attacking. Wiggins can stagnate the offense and drain the shot clock by taking 10 dribbles before he decides he’s going nowhere and then kick it out. He can also turn it over by taking 10 dribbles, because that amount of motion creates a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong. But because Warren is so quick and incisive with his moves, he almost never turns it over, he almost always gets his shot off, and it appears to rarely have a worse outcome than a 40% floater. Warren’s form of black holing does not appear to be particularly harmful.

Defensively, it’s hard to say whether Warren will be above or below average for an NBA wing. He appears to be competent defensively, and he appears to want to be good. Jeff Hornacek noted that in their drills he successfully stopped a point guard, a small forward, and a center, showing off his versatility. He had a good steal rate in college and it shows as he has good anticipation in the passing lanes and quick hands. His size is solid for a SF: he is 6’8.25″ with somewhat short arms at 6’10.25″, but he’s a lean 220. I can’t definitively say he’s strong, but strength did not appear to be an issue for him as he proved adept at finishing through contact and never really got pushed around the same way that 6’8″ 218 pound Doug McDermott did. His athleticism appears to be solid. It stood out that he is quick to recover when beat. On one play he was beat on a backdoor cut and recovered for a block. On another play he went for a steal 1 on 2 in transition, and he even though he failed and the ball was passed forward to the rim, he was somehow able to recover for the block. I don’t really have much of a feel for his quickness, as he was certainly getting to his spots offensively but that may just be due to his precise movement. DX’s video shows him getting beat a number of times on the perimeter for NC State, although in fairness he was carrying an insane 35.5% usage. I feel like he has good defensive potential, but could also turn out to be not good at all on this end.

It is worth pondering the opportunity cost of his style of play. He consistently crashes the offensive boards, which is certainly worthwhile considering how good he is at putbacks. But it detracts from transition defense when he chooses to do that instead of hauling back the other way. And while he doesn’t seem to regularly cheat with his transition leaks, it might happen on occasion and be correlated with his lackluster DRB%. Also he only shot 31.5% from 3 and 65.4% from FT in college: it’s not certain that he can space the floor from beyond the NBA arc. If he’s playing on the perimeter without spacing or creating for others, how much does that adversely affect his teammates? I don’t think he’s wrong to constantly be seeking buckets since he’s so uniquely talented at it. But he may be a player who posts awesome stats but in reality is slightly less awesome due to all of the minor tradeoffs in his approach. It doesn’t make me like him any less, it is merely an idea to consider as he progresses.

The reason why this isn’t a particularly big deal to me is because it doesn’t impede his upside. He achieved such mastery of 2 point scoring at such a young age, it’s worth wondering if he can apply whatever talent helped him in the process to fill out the other areas of his game. For all of the perfect efficiencies of his interior attacking, his 3 point shot has poor mechanics as he doesn’t square up and often dips the ball down to his knees before releasing. If a shot doctor worked with him, why wouldn’t the coordination and precision that enables him to be so lethal also expedite the growth of his 3 point shot? Can he apply it to passing and defense as well? If so I would say his upside is exceptionally high.

He’s difficult to project, because players that take a lot of shots have large swings based on how many they make. It seems somebody who has a knack for creating high % garbage buckets and doesn’t take many shots worse than 40% or turn it over a bunch will likely score efficiently, but who knows how he will actually look in the NBA. Kelly Olynyk had a similarly feathery touch in the paint that dominated summer league, and it took him a couple of months to get up to speed with the NBA game. Perhaps Warren struggles similarly or never gets fully up to speed at all. Also it’s hard to say what to expect of his 3 point shooting, passing, and defense. He is right on the fence where he could become a spacer, or he could not. He appears to have the smarts to become a good passer, but I’m not sure if it’s something that will actually happen or is even necessary given his style. His defense is a bit of a mystery too. If it becomes good he can more than offset the opportunity cost of his o-reb crashes and transition leakouts. But if he becomes bad he could be a Kevin Martin type player who isn’t good due to offsetting his scoring efficiency by being bad at everything else.

Overall I feel that he’s probably going to be good, and he has a realistic possibility of becoming great. Whether his approach is conscious or natural, his ability to maximize easy buckets and minimize wasted motion to create endless 40%+ shots requires a truly elite feel for the game. He is a unique player with a unique talent, and if he becomes great he will provide a hopelessly optimistic comparison for every crappy mid-range gunner prospect that ever enters the draft in the future. He’s clearly the best scoring prospect in the draft, and he is an awesome value at 14th overall that makes me like Ryan McDonough and want to forgive him for taking Alex Len over Nerlens Noel. I think Sam Hinkie made a big mistake by taking Dario Saric over Warren, and the Bulls made a bigger mistake by drafting Doug McDermott to be fix their scoring woes when such a superior scoring prospect (who also might play defense!) was available. I don’t know precisely where I’d re-rank him on a re-draft, but the only player who I’m certain is more talented is Joel Embiid. I think TJ is good and Suns fans should feel good and I feel bad that I didn’t bother to scout him before the draft. All that’s left now is to root for him to rock and spread the nickname of “The Surgeon” since that’s how he handles his business on offense.

Summer League Scouting Report: Andrew Wiggins

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Wiggins’ strength is the same as it was before: he has super athleticism. He has used this to develop an effective step back jumpshot, as his athleticism makes it so easy for him to create separation with the defender that he can get this whenever he wants. He showcased this move a bit in college, but it appears to be notably improved with the help of P3. And while his handles aren’t reliable enough to get to the hoop at will, his first step is so explosive that he can still get there sometimes. Against the Rockets he had two attacks that stood out: he crossed up Nick Johnson and he put a ball fake on Robert Covington, both times he went straight to the rim and got fouled for free throws. He still didn’t show much ability to finish off the dribble other than his vicious dunk against Philly, but he seems to be fine finishing at the rim when he isn’t dribbling. This is a good sign for him playing in an offense that stresses ball movement and cutting with LeBron James as the primary handler. He didn’t score a ton of buckets off of cuts, but he was moving off the ball and he did get at least a few assisted rim FG’s.

It’s clear that he is uniquely talented at getting where he wants to go on the court. This is especially true on defense where he doesn’t need to dribble a basketball in the process. He finished summer league with 5 steals and 6 blocks in 4 games, and his ability to get places combined with being 6’8″ and a 7’0″ wingspan makes it easy for him to make plays on that end. He’s in a similar boat to Marcus Smart and Aaron Gordon in that his offense is a work in progress, but he has an easy ticket to usefulness on the defensive end.

In spite of his tantalizing athleticism, I always felt Wiggins had underachiever written all over him and the warning signs were apparent in summer league. If I was coaching him, I would forget the idea of using him as a ball handler and tell him to focus on moving off the ball, passing to his teammates, launching 3′s, rebounding, and defense. I’d make him watch endless film Kawhi Leonard and channel him on the floor. But because everybody loves scoring so very much, the folks at P3 just HAD to find a way to leverage his athleticism into scoring ability. So they equipped him with a step back jumper which Wiggins can make and seems to love taking. There is value to getting off a 38% shot whenever you want, but it is dangerous to rely on heavily. This is especially true when Wiggins literally never tries to create for his teammates off the dribble, which isn’t good for somebody who dribbles often.

His decision tree once he catches the ball appears to be 1) try to get to the rim and flail for free throws 2) if he can’t get to the rim launch a step back jumper 3) if he’s not feeling the step back, swing it back out to the nearest player on the perimeter. None of it flows within the team concept, and it’s highly Rudy Gay-ish. Rudy Gay is one of the all-time NBA cancers since he pounds the ball into the ground, doesn’t see his teammates, and launches too many step back jumpers. Wiggins has been compared to him in terms of temperament, and it is not a good sign that he appears to enjoy Rudy’s style of play in summer league. It doesn’t mean that he necessarily will be as bad as Rudy Gay, since he is more athletic and they are not the precisely same person. But more athleticism and a few extra free throw attempts still don’t make Rudy Gay a useful basketball player since he plays a losing style. The Cavaliers offense looked notably better and more efficient with awesome ball movement in the game Wiggins missed. He simply needs to be directed away from the Rudy Gay style and toward the Kawhi Leonard path. A good start would be developing an interest in creating for his teammates, since every great offensive wing ever has learned to do this. The good news is that if he stays in Cleveland with LeBron and Blatt, he probably isn’t going to launch endless stepbacks and he might develop in the good areas. But the warning signs are there and of course I am going to make note of them.

I get that people want to mold Wiggins into T-Mac due to the athletic similarities, but T-Mac had a much more natural feel for the game and it’s wrong to force Wiggins down that path. T-Mac was younger as an NBA rookie than Wiggins was as an NCAA freshman and posted a better ORB%, DRB%, stl%, blk%, and greater than a 2x better assist:TOV rate playing against vastly tougher competition. My personal opinion: the vision, feel, and willingness to create for others plays a large role in the difference between T-Mac and Rudy Gay, which is why it feels icky to move Wiggins down this path. He can still be a tremendously useful NBA player without offering much isolation scoring.

The other issue for Wiggins is that his defense was not good in the game I scouted vs. the Rockets. He had a nice chase down block of Nick Johnson after a turnover, but other than that here are the plays on which he was tested:

-He cuts off Nick Johnson in transition. Johnson instead circles back and goes around a screen which Wiggins gets caught on trying to go over, and Johnson gets off uncontested floater from mid-range that he makes.
-He is isolated vs. 6’0″ Isaiah Canaan in transition. Canaan goes straight at Wiggins, pump fakes in mid-air, and puts the ball in over him.-Wiggins tries to stop Geron Johnson in transition, but runs into his own teammate in the process and watches Johnson get uncontested layup
-Geron Johnson blows by Wiggins on perimeter, dishes it to teammate underneath the hoop who kicks it out to open 3 point shooter who hits.
-Luke Hancock gets ball underneath the rim. Wiggins rotates as sole help defender but doesn’t contest. Just stands behind him and lets him get shot off. The layup badly missed, but that’s an area where Wiggins could have gotten a block with more aggressiveness.
-Isaiah Canaan isolates onto Wiggins in half-court near the end of the game. Goes right at him, gets all the way to the rim and finishes over Wiggins.

When I watched him in college it wasn’t that he didn’t try on defense. He executed his assignments and he was woefully difficult to get past off the dribble since he moves so well laterally. But I feel like he kind of floated and didn’t bring a playmaking fervor that indicated that he wants to get a stop at any cost. I felt it reflected in his steal and block rates, it reflected in his team success, and the narratives that he is a lock ++++++ defender were completely silly. He is so athletic that he didn’t get exposed a whole bunch, but now that he’s facing better athletes his lack of intensity on that end is starting to show a bit.

This is not to say that he will necessarily be a bad defensive player as a pro. With his athletic ability he doesn’t need perfect effort and instincts to make a positive impact, and he has plenty of time to improve. Also I may have happened to catch his worst defensive game, as everybody who watched his prior game gave him rave reviews and he obviously made more good plays with 3 steals and 2 blocks. This is just a friendly reminder that there isn’t a 100% correlation between athleticism and defense, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves locking him in as a super elite wing stopper. And the expectations that he will be a stud defensive player as a rookie are completely unrealistic. Isaiah Canaan is a 6’0″ 2nd round pick who thrives on shooting and is 13/32 inside the arc in his NBA career– if he can beat Wiggins off the dribble (which is what he thrived at preventing in college) then a whole bunch of other NBA players probably can too. Wiggins is only 19 and has plenty of room to learn and catch up to speed, but rookies are generally bad defensively and it doesn’t appear that Wiggins will be an exception.

Another defensive note is that Wiggins struggled to corral defensive rebounds, accruing just 6 in 120 minutes. He wasn’t a great defensive rebounder in college, but I felt that had something to do with Kansas being heavy on bigs who stole rebounds from him. He was a pretty good offensive rebounder in college, so I still think he should be fine defensively in the pros. I did notice him trying to leak out in transition too soon, watching the rebounding action from 8 feet away, and getting a defensive rebound knocked away due to his lack of strength. But Kevin Durant also struggled to rebound during summer league, so I’d rather wait to see him rebound over a larger NBA sample before reading into it. It may just be bad variance.

Overall I feel like Wiggins’ summer league perfectly displayed why his is so polarizing as a prospect. He showed what he can do athletically, as he racked up steals, blocks, and effortlessly created space to get off his jump shots. He also was able to use his athleticism to draw a high volume of fouls as well as have an explosive finish on a drive to the hoop. But he also showed signs of disappointment, with the complete disinterest in creating for others and the lack of domination defensively and rebounding. And while I loved him attempting 8 threes in his first game, I hated that he only tried 5 and operated more heavily in the mid-range in the following 3. It’s pretty obvious why there is such a wide range of opinions on him, and who knows what will win out between his super tools and his Rudy Gay like tendencies.

I don’t have any new predictions to add, he’s roughly treading water in my mind. I will add that Cleveland seems like an exceptionally favorable environment for him to develop in, since I doubt he will be allowed to chuck endless step-backs with LeBron and Kyrie in place as superior ball handlers. Blatt seems like a possibly good coach, and I’m interested to see how well he develops playing off the ball in an offense that stresses ball movement and cutting with two good shot creators. It seems that should force him to develop his Kawhi skills, and even if he never becomes a true go to star he could still land in the clouds as an awesome role player. On the other hand, if he gets traded to Minnesota and plays for Flip Saunders on a lottery team I do not like his odds of succeeding. He will almost certainly be pushed down the T-Mac path, which isn’t right for him.

I still have Wiggins as my #5 prospect behind Embiid, Smart, Gordon, and Exum. I feel I witnessed both the ways in which he can exceed my expectations and the ways in which my initial hypotheses may be proven correct. To me the interesting bits to track are 1) how high does he peak defensively 2) does he ever develop into a quality passer and 3) how much do LeBron and Blatt aid his development? I’d also like to see how much his free throw drawing translates to the NBA and whether he can learn to consistently get to the rim and finish off the dribble. But those are less interesting than his ability to become a super role player, which is where I believe the real value lies within him.

Summer League Scouting Report: Jabari Parker

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I have been tweeting negative statements about Jabari all week, and after his 20 point, 15 rebound finale Bucks fans may be hoping I have some positive takeaway from the performance that he can build on. Unfortunately I do not. After watching him play against competition on his level of size and athleticism for 5 games, I have nothing but disdain for his summer league play. If you’re a Bucks fan who prefers to think happy thoughts, it may not be the best idea to read on.

Statistically, Jabari did alright. He only shot 2/11 from 3, but he made 47% of 2 point attempts and attempted 34 FT’s in 5 games. He finished averaging 15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.2 steals in 28.6 mpg which are all good numbers for a 19 year old. But I’m less interested in the stats themselves than I am how they were accrued, so let’s tabulate. He converted 24 FG’s inside the arc:

8 were in transition. 4 of them were breakaway dunks. 1 was a dunk after he blew by his man before the help defense was set. 2 of them were coast to coast finishes against Cleveland and he was fouled on one of them. The other was when he caught Phoenix napping on free throws by hanging by his basket and getting a layup with 1 second left in the quarter.

5 of them were halfcourt attempts at the rim. 1 was a dunk following an offensive rebound. 1 was him bullying Andrew Wiggins when they were isolated in the post w/ no help. 3 were nice attacks from the perimeter where he finished at the rim.

The other 11 were all mid-range shots. Most of them were ugly, off balance attempts preceded by too much dribbling. I believe he was fortunate to make as many as he did. Two of them were goaltended. This is also where most of his misses came from, although he missed some decent shots at the rim that were contested as well.

Let’s assess what talent went into creating these shots. The breakaway dunks are mostly because he is mindful to leak out when he sees the opportunity, and he also has the defensive instincts to pick off some passes and take it the other way and finish. The coast to coast attacks I feel exemplify his talent: he isn’t that athletic, but for a fat man he is fairly explosive and is comfortable handling the ball in the open court. These are baskets that somebody like Doug McDermott could never dream of creating.

This is further exemplified by his rim finishes. He didn’t excel at getting to the rim, but given enough attempts he got there a few times and was able to finish. Again, he has enough handling, athleticism, and scoring instincts to be a competent at creating and finishing quality shots on occasion. This isn’t exactly a foundation for offensive dominance, but it’s something to build on.

Bullying the 6’8″ 200 pound Wiggins was Jabari’s bread and butter in college, as some weaker opponents featured centers of that size and he beat them up and dunked all over them. Given that Wiggins is a SG/SF in the NBA, these opportunities dried up in summer league and Parker was only able to generate one bucket of this ilk. On most occasions when he gets matched up vs. a Wiggins type, help defense will be there to prevent it from being so easy.

His mid-range performance was particularly putrid. Parker would often catch the ball, attack, and when he could only get within 8-12 feet from the basket he’d launch off balance jumpers that normally brick. A number of them actually went in, but that was largely luck. He’s not creating 38-40% shots, these are at best low 30′s and sometimes even in the 20′s. Not to mention that he stops the ball and kills any flow of the offense to create these. He is big and athletic enough to get a number of these off, but they are such a horrible use of any possession that it’s a big drag on the offense if he insists on taking 5 per game. And it’s not like he can just cut these out and everything is peachy– these shot attempts are the opportunity cost of his attacks that actually made it all the way to the rim as well as his FT attempts. These shots aren’t only indicative of his willingness to submarine the offense by stopping the ball and taking poor shots, they are also indicative of his inability to create quality shots with any regularity.

Also a number of his FTA came from poor offense. Against the Cavaliers he was fouled on a couple of horrible mid-range shot attempts. Against the Warriors he had one foul where his opponent played perfect defense standing upright with his hands up while Jabari triple clutched and threw up a shot against the underside of the backboard and fell down. The official couldn’t believe that the #2 overall pick missed a shot that badly without getting fouled and blew the whistle. On another occasion Parker ripped down a defensive rebound, dribbled around for a while, and then attacked the rim where 3 defenders converged on him and one of them hacked him for FT’s with 11 seconds on the shot clock. While the outcome was good, he wasn’t getting anywhere without the fortunate foul and he took 13 seconds of dribbling in the process.

Further it’s a misnomer to call him a stretch 4. He takes 3′s sometimes, but he currently doesn’t take or make enough 3′s to be a spacer compared to how much time he spends inside or pounding the air out of the ball on the perimeter. He ran bad to only make 2 out of 11, but he needs to attempt more than two 3′s a game to truly space the floor. (EDIT: apparently this is wrong, since 1 3PA/100 possessions is all that is needed for bigs to space the floor. But his high ratio of poor mid-range shots to 3PA is currently looking like it will make it difficult for him to score with efficiency.)

Parker did show some willingness to pass. My perception is that he sees the floor fairly well and can tell when his teammates are in a favorable position to receive the ball, and he does enjoy occasionally setting up a teammate for an easy bucket. But his passing is also a work in progress, as a number of his passes ended up nowhere near his intended target for turnovers. And he still doesn’t pass nearly as much as he should, since he has a laser focused passion on getting buckets. He often decides to attack and shows no sign of reconsideration once he puts the ball on the floor. Consequently he finished with 7 assists and 25 turnovers.

I didn’t pay particularly close attention to his defense but when I did notice him on that end it was normally not good. He looks slow to rotate and his quicks caused him to struggle to stay in front of his man. Perhaps if I reviewed the tape diligently he wouldn’t look that bad. But given all of the energy he invests into his offensive game as well as his physical limitations, it’s hard to see him becoming a good pro defensive player and easy to see him becoming a sieve.

Ultimately it’s easy to see why Jabari was able to achieve such high RSCI and draft ratings: he is highly competitive with a superstar personality, a knack for scoring, and he’s capable of getting buckets from anywhere. But it’s also the same reason why he’s going to disappoint as a pro. I love competitive players, and it’s great when players like Marcus Smart channel their competitiveness to dominate defensively. But when Jabari gets mad and wants to win, he channels it by black holing it up and chucking awful shots, so his competitiveness works against him. While he is capable of scoring from anywhere he doesn’t have a single hot spot. And he creates cold spots by willfully launching the most difficult shots imaginable. Sometimes these go in, which make him seem all the more impressive when scouting him in HS/college when he has access to transition + bullyball buckets that make his overall stat line look good. So he gets 5 dunks, a 3 pointer, and an off balance Dirk shot from midrange as well as a handful of FT attempts, and he deceives observers into thinking that he’s a future NBA star. In reality he doesn’t really have a go to creation move. He doesn’t have Durant’s go go gadget arms, he doesn’t have Melo’s quick release, he doesn’t even have Wiggins’ super athleticism to create loads of space with step backs. He merely has the size, strength, and athleticism to get off a high volume of contested, off balance shots from mid-range that aren’t likely to go in. He still wasn’t the most efficient scorer in college, so as his volume of poor shots increases and his dunk volume decreases, it stands to reason that his NBA efficiency might get ugly.

Parker does have enough going on to become something, but I don’t think he’s a top 5 talent. While he’s decently explosive, his athleticism isn’t great and it’s largely offset by his lack of quicks that inhibit his perimeter defense and half-court creation. While his size and strength is good, he’s just barely big enough to play PF and this probably contributed to his deception. Much of his low level dominance can be chalked up to him physically developing sooner than his peers. His ability to score efficiently in the NBA largely hinges on the development of his shot making ability. But even if he becomes adept at making outside shots, he still plays an abhorrent style of offense that is not conducive to winning. He doesn’t seem to grasp that ball movement is a thing that matters on offense, and he also doesn’t seem to grasp that it hurts his team when he misses an awful shot or turns it over. As badly as he wants to win, he’s not going to succeed at it so long as he continues to go about it the wrong way. His style is the antithesis of what the Spurs do, which is a strong sign that it’s suboptimal. It’s nice that he’s a great rebounder for his size, but overall his non-scoring game isn’t too great considering his current lack of defense, passing, and floor spacing.

There is a case to be made that it’s just summer league, his teammates aren’t all that good, and teams are willing to let players play inefficiently to see what they have to offer. It’s just not a case that strikes me as likely to be true based on his college play. He started off by looking great in non-conference play: he was making his shots from everywhere, he was sharing the ball with his teammates, and none of his weaknesses were evident yet. But then he started to get exposed when conference play began, defenses became tougher, and games became tighter. Aside from the fact that his outside shots stopped falling, he started passing less and taking bad shots more. At first I thought maybe he was just adjusting to more athletic competition, or maybe he was just pressing due to being in a slump. Based on all of the reviews of his intelligence and feel for the game, I kept waiting for him to adjust to the tougher competition and adjust his game. It never happened, and by the end of the season I was done expecting good things from him. As a Duke fan, the toughest part of the Mercer loss was that I couldn’t place the biggest bet of my life on Jarnell Stokes and the Tennessee defense forcing Jabari into endless difficult shots and winning as a likely underdog. But instead Jabari turned on the cancer a game early when his teammates were creating an endless supply of 40% 3 point shots since he simply he had to get his 30% 2 point attempts off from mid-range. I was actually nervous that he was going to stay in college and ruin the 2014-15 team just like he did this past year’s team, so I decided to follow my strongly negative subconscious feelings and drop him on my draft board. Now that it appears that he’s taking the same hero ball approach to his NBA career that he did in college, I am done squinting for signs of change. Wake me up when it actually happens.

He still has some shot of becoming a useful fantasy player, but the combination of limited talent and horribly inefficient style of play is brutal for an actual NBA team that is trying to win. At this point I’d handicap his future to be something like this:

10% Carmelo Anthony
45% Glenn Robinson
45% Evan Turner/Derrick Williams hybrid

I would not take that player in the lottery. Aside from the fact that I feel I am stretching my optimism to its boundary by giving him 10% Melo equity, I believe it’s a crappy upside since I don’t think Melo is nearly as valuable to winning as his box score stats suggest. The other outcomes are completely worthless. Even though Glenn Robinson posted a 17.5 career PER, I don’t perceive him as a useful player since you need to be much more efficient than he was to black hole it up on offense, not play defense, and still make a positive impact. And if Jabari hits his downside, he’s contending for worst player in the NBA.

The only way Parker actually becomes a winning player is if he somehow sees the light and massively improves his defense, passing, and shot selection (which would give him value that the aforementioned comparisons lack), but he showed no signs of this at Duke and doesn’t seem that interested in it based on summer league. Perhaps he can be the one to prove me wrong, but I think this is just who he naturally is and I am not one to bet on a person changing his nature, especially not when his nature has earned him such positive feedback up to now. And even if that miraculously happens, I still don’t think he has crazy high upside like Andrew Wiggins would if he suddenly “gets it.” As of right now I feel that Jabari Parker was comfortably the worst pick in the draft, and he very well may be the most harmful player in the NBA in 2014-2015.

A few notes before Bucks fans hate and unfollow me

I assume I’ll get some comments like “cool out man, it’s just summer league.” My negativity regarding Jabari may not be fully warranted, he had elite recruiting pedigree, elite draft pedigree, and posted good stats at both Duke and during summer league. These signs generally point toward a player being good, and even the sideline reporter Alie LaForce was gloating about how big of a mistake it was for the Cavs to take Wiggins over Parker when Jabari went off yesterday (I’m a huge Wiggins critic but at this point I take Wiggins over Jabari in a heartbeat). But considering all of the macro information suggesting good potential for him, I just don’t feel it when I watch him play. I’m publishing this as a test of my scouting aptitude. I never watched Evan Turner or Derrick Williams much in college, but based on their stats they seemed like totally reasonable selections at #2 overall. But stats never tell the full story so I’d like to see if I can pick out these disappointments before they are obvious to the untrained eye.  And if Jabari actually becomes good, at least I will know in the future that these signs aren’t a full fledged death knell. But I’m a gambler and I like going out on limbs, and this is the one limb that I really feel like going overboard on from summer league. So let’s see how it all works out. In the meantime I wouldn’t mind hearing devil’s advocate cases in the comments regarding what lack of negatives or presence of positives set Jabari apart from the Williams/Turner types.

Summer League Observations: Orlando

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While it’s not wise to read heavily into 5 game samples of play vs. sub-NBA competition, summer league is an interesting scouting experience. All of the rookies who dominated NCAA opposition are now thrown onto rosters full of big, long athletes, and we get to see who can still do things on the court against more physically fit competition. It becomes harder to get to the rim in the half-court, easy transition buckets start to wane, and there aren’t any 6’8″ centers to be bullied. Consequently, most rookies look like rookies as their flaws are on full display.

The clearest trend I have noticed is that many rookies become jump shot taking machines. It naturally follows that summer league most heavily favors shooters, especially when they get hot. Josh Selby won summer league MVP by hitting 27/42 from 3, and then went on to post a 2.7 PER in 296 NBA minutes before washing out. Thus far among rookies, the biggest single game point totals have all come from shooters who heated up from distance: Gary Harris (33 pts), Doug McDermott (31), and Rodney Hood (29). While it’s nice when these guys get off and make a bunch of shots rather than not doing anything, they were also posted against horrible perimeter defense (at least McDermott and Hood were, I missed the Harris game).

This perception is reinforced by the list of all time worst PER’s tweeted out by Jonathan Givony. The players who performed poorly during summer that became something in the NBA: Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, Eric Bledsoe, Larry Sanders, George Hill, Greivis Vasquez, Josh McRoberts. Vasquez is the only player who thrives on neither defense nor athleticism that became something, and he only became a quality bench player. This is likely in part due to the fact that athletic types tend to enter the draft sooner than non-athletes, and rawer athletes have a longer window to improve their skill level. Players who are some combination of old, unathletic, and poor defensively all face extra pressure to produce in summer league.

Note that I believe rookies and only rookies are worth scouting in summer league. The 2nd and 3rd year players with NBA experience no longer suffer from the shock factor of the upgraded physicality compared to NCAA, so their performances can safely be ignored.

Since Las Vegas games are not yet complete, I will start by sharing my thoughts from the Orlando games. I’m not writing about Nerlens Noel or Nick Johnson since I didn’t watch enough to generate any unique perspective, but from what I have seen I agree with the consensus that they both look good and Noel should have gone #1 in 2013.

Marcus Smart
Smart started off summer league playing off the ball with Phil Pressey running the offense, and he spent most of his time bricking jump shots. When he did get the ball, it was a work in progress trying to get off shots at the rim as his first few attempts off the dribble were blocked. Eventually he was able to find daylight and have a few nice drive and finishes, but it’s clear that he’s going to struggle as a scorer early in his career. His handle, quicks, and athleticism are all solid but not great, and it’s going to be a work in progress for him to get to the rim with any sort of frequency. Until he solves that, he will likely be relying on his not so great jump shot so don’t expect a good rookie year eFG%. His summer league eFG% was a paltry 36.0%. The silver lining is that he correctly favors 3 pointers over long 2′s, which limits the damage that will be caused by his bricklaying ways.

But his summer league wasn’t all bad. As expected he provided good defense and solid rebounding. And the good news is that his TS% shouldn’t be as bad as his eFG% since he has the strength to draw FT’s and is able to knock them down at a solid rate. Most importantly Smart showed surprisingly good ability to both distribute and protect the ball. Whenever he did get the chance to run the offense, he did a good job of making the simple pass to set his teammates up for quality shots. Occasionally he showed off impressive vision and made a great pass. He is so good at reading the opposition on defense to play the passing lanes, it’s worth wondering if that translates to the offensive end for his ability to see the floor and find open teammates. One of the knocks on him was that he isn’t a true PG, but he didn’t play PG in high school and is still developing his floor general skills. Based on his summer league performance, his upside as a distributor seems better than advertised.

Also encouraging was his ability to protect the ball. Smart’s strength is a major advantage for his ability to operate in traffic. Even though he couldn’t quite get where he wanted on offense, he wasn’t at much risk of having the ball ripped away in the process since he’s so strong. He finished summer league with 21 assists and 9 turnovers, which is especially impressive considering his high volume of shot attempts.

Overall Smart played roughly as well as I expected. The development of his shot and ability to get to the rim should determine whether he becomes an all-star or plateaus as a PG version of Tony Allen. But that’s still the range of outcomes I expect from him, and I deem it to be a happy range for a #6 overall pick.

Aaron Gordon
Gordon’s summer league was a slight disappointment, but not a meaningful one. Given the importance of shooting, it stands to reason that the player with the most broken shot in the class would struggle the most. And while he has a good handle for an 18 year old SF, he can’t yet create much off the dribble to shine in spite of this.

I was a bit disappointed to see him not accrue a single steal in Orlando, but that could easily be a sample size fluke. Steals have a much lower correlation (.29) with regular season success than assists (.77), blocks (.80),  and rebounds (.63 off, .70 def). Given how good he was defensively in college and FIBA, it’s probably not worth fretting over.

I didn’t watch a ton of Orlando, so I didn’t generate any new observations on Gordon. He just isn’t ready to do much offensively and probably won’t have a great rookie year statistically. He is a strong candidate to eventually join the list of players who became great in spite of poor summer leagues, as he has youth, athleticism, and defense all on his side as well as the excuse of poor shooting. It would have been nice if he surprised with more polish than expected, but I’m not significantly docking Gordon for his performance.

Elfrid Payton
Payton is a player for whom summer league counts a bit extra since much of his college production entailed dominating weak competition in transition. I don’t think he could have looked much better. After a shaky initial outing, Payton turned on the good stuff and started aggressively flirting with triple doubles. He was able to penetrate through the defense, finish at the rim, create for his teammates, and rack up rebounds. He didn’t score a ton since he didn’t settle for many jumpers, but he is also a rare rookie with a high 2p% as he shot 15/25 (60%) inside the arc. This is indicative of the fact that he’s also a rare rookie with the ability to create high quality shots at the rim.

He also posted fantastic rebound and assist rates, which are two of the categories that correlate best with rookie regular season statistics. It’s possible that he has much more passing ability than he was able to show at Louisiana Lafayette with Shawn Long as his only teammate that could score at a competent level.

I regret ranking him behind Tyler Ennis, as I probably over-thought that one. The bottom line is that Payton can defend, he can pass, he can rebound, and he can get to the rim, and that adds up to pretty nice upside. I was concerned how much being a skinny, non-elite athlete would hurt him but it if nothing else it doesn’t seem like it will impede his ability to get where he wants to go on the floor since he has a good blend of quicks and handles. It may make it difficult to finish at the rim and protect the ball in traffic in the NBA, but I don’t believe that these are fatal flaws. The bottom line is that he has a good combination of strengths (quickness, length, ball handling, passing, rebounding, defense) and his weaknesses are all improvable (poor shooting, turnover prone, lacks strength).

My current perception is that this draft has a clear top 5 (the top 6 picks minus Jabari) and then Elfrid has as good of an argument as anybody for 6th best prospect in the draft. Hennigan overpaid to move up 2 slots, but it may not look all that bad through the results oriented lens once we get to see what Elfrid can do at the next level.

Mitch McGary
McGary was hurt early in the season before Michigan played their tougher competition, so he was somebody who I didn’t scout as much as I would have hoped. Now that I actually was able to watch him in summer league, he looks awesome. He is a center with poor height (6’10.5″) and length (7’0″) for the position, but he atones with strength, quickness, and athleticism. The athleticism is what surprised me, I was expecting a below the rim player but he showed a bit of explosiveness. This contributed to his 7 blocks in 4 games averaged 26 minutes. He’s not exactly an above the rim athlete, but he can get up enough to sometimes make athletic plays at the rim.

The other quality that I wasn’t expecting is that McGary has a fantastic handle for a big man. He looks completely comfortably pulling down a defensive rebound and then taking it all the way to the rim on the other end in transition. He is also impressed with his handling ability as he overdribbled a bit at times, but he didn’t get himself into too much trouble and finished with a solid 5 assists vs 8 turnovers while scoring with good volume and efficiency.

He is a health risk as he has back problems and ankle problems on his record, but he looked 100% healthy in Orlando. If he can stay that way, he should combine with Steven Adams to form a significant upgrade over Kendrick Perkins. He looks like great value at 21st overall. I am not sure precisely how much to weigh injuries, but if I could re-rank but I would place McGary in the back end of the lottery.

Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes
From my Grizzlies watching experience, I still have no idea what to think of Jordan Adams. He doesn’t look natural when attacking off the dribble, and occasionally his defense is lazy and bad. But he still has quick hands to be disruptive in the passing lanes, he doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, and when you add up all of the garbage buckets he gets the bottom line doesn’t look too bad. I feel like he will be an OK but not great role player, but I need to see him at the NBA level to feel comfortable with any assessment. He is a slippery one.

Stokes looks like a solid NBA role player with some sneaky upside to be a bit more than that. He beasted the glass and showed enough skill level and smarts to fit in offensively. He roughly performed as well as I expected and is probably going to be a good 2nd round value.

My perception of both prospects is largely unchanged by summer league.

Shabazz Napier
Napier was the sole first round draft pick in Orlando who looks like a complete bust. His physical tools have been as bad as expected, and he just doesn’t fit in athletically. He is not be quite as bad as his stats indicate, as he seems to be suffering from poor variance on his outside shot. But his shooting struggles may be in part due to his poor size and length combined with his low release. He is struggling to get to the rim, he is struggling to finish, and he struggles protecting the ball with more turnovers than assists. The one positive is that he has shown quick hands and good anticipation skills to rack up steals, but his poor tools will likely cause him to be a liability defensively anyway. For a point guard who also isn’t a great passer and is already 23, I’m not sure what his calling card is in the NBA. Given that he fits the intersection of old, unathletic, and suspect defensively his summer league is highly worrisome. He may still have an NBA career, but I doubt it will be a particularly good one. In spite of being one of the most intelligent players in the NBA, LeBron James is not a good GM.

Tyler Johnson
The Heat might have atoned for their former star’s poor scouting ability by uncovering this gem of an undrafted free agent. At a glance, it’s obvious why he didn’t get drafted: he’s 6’4″ with a 6’6″ wingspan and weighs 177 pounds. That’s really poor size for a SG, as he’s Gary Harris sized minus half an inch of length and 28 pounds in spite of being 2 years and change older. So maybe he’s just a summer league hero who can’t do anything in the NBA because he’s too small. And as a 22 year old player, he should look better than most of the younger guys.

But I can’t stress enough how awesome he has looked. He makes the plays you’d hope that 1st round picks would make, and he makes them over and over again. He has been getting to the rim, finishing, making plays on defense, and avoiding mistakes. Thus far he has played 172 minutes in 8 games, and here are his per 30 stats: 16.7 pts, 4.4 rebs, 1.7 asts, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks, 0.7 TOV’s. The turnover number is astounding considering is shooting 30/42 (71.4%) inside the arc and has 31 FTA to boot– he’s doing almost all of his damage by getting to the rim and finishing athletically. The only thing he’s not doing well is making 3′s, as he is only shooting 4/15 behind the arc. But as a college senior he shot 43.2% from 3 and as a junior he shot 40.2%. While he may still be adjusting to NBA range, it’s not like outside shooting is a weakness.

If Johnson was a 2nd or 3rd year player, it would be easy to shrug off his performance. But he’s a rookie who spent this past season playing mid-major NCAA basketball. When the Heat played the Wizards, it felt like he never went longer than a minute without making an athletic, NBA caliber play. It seemed that he could get to the rim and get his shot off whenever he wanted whereas Napier had no prayer of slashing through the defense. Against the Clippers, he cut off a Delonte West drive attempt and then blocked West’s mid-range jumper. Johnson fits in athletically and knows how to use his athleticism for his team’s benefit.

I’m not sure what to expect from Johnson in the NBA, but I’m on the bandwagon. He is the one undrafted free agent I have seen who clearly deserves a roster spot, and I am rooting for him to succeed.

What In The World Is Orlando Doing?

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Orlando GM Rob Hennigan has executed a series of puzzling moves this offseason, and consensus opinion is that the Magic are having a poor offseason. I decided to walk through move by move to share my perception of Orlando’s plan.

Arron Afflalo Traded To Denver For Evan Fournier and pick #56 (Roy Devyn Marble) in the 2014 Draft

Afflalo is owed $7.6M in 14-15 and has a $7.8M player option in 15-16 that will likely get declined. So he’s basically a $7.6M expiring with a small anti-freeroll for the Nuggets in case his value plummets in 14-15. Afflalo is underpaid at $7.6M, but for one season at that price he’s not underpaid enough to fetch a big haul.

Fournier isn’t great but he is a former 1st rounder entering the 3rd year of his rookie deal and he clearly has some value. The 2nd rounder isn’t much but I liked the Devyn Marble selection. Collectively these assets are likely worth somewhere in the $3-4M range, and I doubt that 1 season of Afflalo could have fetched more.

It’s clear that Orlando intended to draft a PG and SF and wanted to get a cheaper, younger wing to come off the bench rather than demote Afflalo and watch him walk after a season. I would say the move is neutral value-wise for Orlando and it makes sense for their intents, so I am fine with it overall.

Aaron Gordon drafted #4 overall, Eflrid Payton drafted #10 at the price of #12, 2015 Orlando 2nd, 2017 Philly 1st

Everybody expected Hennigan to take Dante Exum or Marcus Smart 4th overall, but he surprised by taking Aaron Gordon. This makes sense with the 12th pick in hand, as Elfrid Payton and/or Tyler Ennis projected to be the BPA (forgetting my Capela/Nurkic love which seems unshared by NBA GM’s). Essentially Hennigan is making a statement that the difference between Exum and Payton is smaller than the gap between say Aaron Gordon and TJ Warren. I am not sure I agree because Exum really glows with a unique upside to me, but he’s such a fuzzy prospect to peg that I can’t say for certain that Hennigan is wrong. Aaron Gordon was on my short list of 3 prospects who was in the conversation for BPA, and it’s far more important that they didn’t spew on say Julius Randle rather than taking my first choice who I’m not certain is even better than Gordon. Exum’s FIBA sample looks good, but it is completely waffle crushed by Gordon’s FIBA sample which portrays him as roughly the best prospect ever.

What I hated about Orlando’s draft was the willingness to give up all of those picks to lock in Payton. I had Ennis as slightly above him, but am not dripping with confidence in my assertion. I like both and believe it’s perfectly reasonable to prefer Payton. But at the price of a 2015 2nd rounder that will likely fall in the 30′s and a 2017 1st that is only top 11 protected (top 8 in 2018), I’d say Hennigan got tunnel vision on his guy and spewed too much value. He should have offered Hinkie much less and taken Ennis 12th if Hinkie said no.

Hennigan clearly believes that shooting is overrated in the draft (I strongly agree) and the way to go is to take toolsy defensive prospects with a good baseline of non-shooting skill (these are my type of guys too). I like his strategy and feel it’s safe to say that he’s taking a much sharper approach to prospect selection than most other GM’s. He gave some of it back by taking an unsharp approach to the Payton trade, but it’s far more damaging to draft a complete dud so I overall like Orlando’s draft.

Ben Gordon signs for 2/9, Willie Green claimed off waivers

Along with the rest of the world, I do not understand these moves. The Magic are burning roster spots and cap space on washed up veterans who are at best replacement level at this stage of their careers. I really hope that Hennigan does not expect either of these guys will contribute, because that would make me deeply fear for his ability to evaluate NBA talent. It’s possible that he’s just pals with their agents and wants some vets to balance out the youth of the roster while doing his buddies a favor. I don’t know. Making sense of these moves is a futile exercise. The bottom line is that they are completely pointless and the Magic burned 2 roster spots and $6M of cap space on deadweight. They could have just taken on Lou Williams and Bebe instead by one upping John Salmons’ $1M buyout with pure cap space.

These are painfully obvious mistakes, but the good news is that they are inexpensive ones.

Channing Frye signs for 4/32
I don’t like this move. Currently Oladipo is 22, Gordon is 18, Payton is 20, Vucevic is 23, and they have another handful of bench players in their early 20′s. So they target a 31 year old free agent and give him 4 years? That doesn’t align with their window at all. Why not offer that same money to 27 year old Josh McRoberts? I’d wager the extra $9M is more attractive to him than maybe getting to play with LeBron. Not to mention that giving 4/32 deals to 31 year olds is a bad practice in general. Hennigan definitely suffered from Wizards-esque myopia with this one.

That said I do find some aspects of the deal positively redeeming. First, it reinforces the fact that Hennigan perceives Aaron Gordon as a SF which is 100% correct. Also paying up for a FA shooter is far better than drafting shooting. Shooting is overpriced in the draft and somehow undervalued in FA, and Henny seems to have at least solved this. And Orlando does badly need a stretch 4 after drafting so many guards and wings who cannot shoot. I would have loved this move if it was for the younger McRoberts. Nevertheless the Magic’s presumed starting 5 of Payton/Oladipo/Gordon/Frye/Vucevic is interesting.

The first thing people may note are that they have poor rim protection, as neither Frye nor Vucevic is a defensive stud. But their perimeter defense is potentially awesome with Payton, Oladipo, and Gordon collectively providing a ton of upside on that end. This is a great way to build around Vucevic (which is no easy task. Vucci is a weird player to build around). Having elite perimeter defense to contain penetration and force jump shots is ideal since it mitigates his rim protection limitations and maximizes his strong defensive rebounding. Frye ties everything together by spacing the floor. It’s a funky lineup to be sure, but I am a sucker for weirdness and I like the way the pieces fit.

Given that Frye has the two best traits for aging well (height and shooting), it’s possible that Orlando ends up in the playoffs by year 2 of his deal and this doesn’t prove to be the worst signing in the world.

Conclusions

Overall it’s fair to question the upside of the roster since nobody is truly a world beater. Gordon is the only player with star upside and he’s at least a few years away from getting there. And if he becomes the SF version of Josh Smith or the next MKG, the Magic don’t have the brightest future. But I still like the way the pieces fit, and Orlando’s roster situation is clearly superior to a plethora of teams.

It seems that everybody is in a rush to hate on Orlando’s offseason, but the worst thing they have done is committed obvious but inexpensive errors (Green + Gordon). It’s painful how pointless these moves are, but other teams have done such worse damage with their bad moves. Are those signings nearly as harmful as the Cavs’ recent draft decisions? Or how about the Lakers paying washed up, injured Kobe 2/48 and then trying to pair him with Melo, while also taking Julius Randle 7th and likely making a horrible coaching hire? How does it compare to the Nets’ strategy of throwing ever last dollar and draft pick at whatever old players come available?

To me, Hennigan is a middle of the road GM having a middle of the road offseason. He’s made some clear mistakes, he has shown a classic case of desperation to win too soon, but at least he is doing some things right. He is taking a clever approach to the draft and he is assembling pieces that fit together in a sensible manner. I simply can’t think of as many nice things to say about half the GM’s in the league.

This could be perceived as commentary than half of the GM’s in the league are completely under-qualified and terrible moreso than Hennigan isn’t that bad. Henny does get blown out of the water by the Buford, Hinkie, and Morey types of the world by a wider margin than be beats out the bottom feeding GM’s. Whenever he makes a good move to set the franchise forward, there will likely be a bad move around the corner to impede progress. But in a world where Phil Jackson is paid $12M/year to make directionless moves while presumably listening to Glory Days on repeat, having an inkling of sense and direction on a macro level stands out to me.

So I’m ever so gently defending Orlando’s offseason. I do so with limited enthusiasm because who knows what other -EV moves they have in store. But I believe they are getting more disdain than they deserve. At least they didn’t enlist a random collection of nerds to ignore so the owner could play GM and make the draft pick himself.

Qualitative Draft Predictions

I have my final big board as my rough ranking of draft prospects, but I hate being evaluated purely numerically since some of my predictions are less confident than others. So I want to verbalize my most confident predictions since words tell a more specific story than my big board.

1. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker will not both be above average starters, and neither will be the best player in the class.

I think both prospects are overrated with both a lower floor and lower ceiling than the wisdom of the crowd suggests. Most likely outcome strikes me as one being good but not great and the other as a big disappointment.

2. One of Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, or Aaron Gordon will wildly overachieve expectations. There is at least one future top 10 player in this quartet.

These players all have hurdles to overcome. Embiid has his injury concerns, Exum plays questionable defense and isn’t a fully known commodity, Marcus Smart isn’t great offensively, and Aaron Gordon’s shot appears to be broken. I don’t know who will have a better fate than the others, and in all likelihood at least one of these guys will appear wildly overrated on my big board when all is said and done. But the draft is all about upside, and these guys have it.

Embiid’s upside stands out by far the most, he is going to be a stud if he stays healthy. He can so easily become an all-time great if his body cooperates.

Exum is more of a mystery as a talent, and the lack of hustle and defense in his game is a bit disconcerting. But his combination of physical tools, smarts, and vision create a ridiculous offensive upside.

Smart and Gordon are great defensive prospects with some workable amount of skill offensively.  They have the physical tools such that they can be good offensively if they develop their base skill well. They both have clear paths to 2 way playerdom.

3. Jarnell Stokes will become a better pro than Julius Randle

Stat models tend to rate the two exceptionally close with a slight edge often going to Stokes. They are both bruising SEC PF’s with similar measurements and less than a year in age difference.

My eye test says Stokes going to be better. Randle appears to lack an ability to quickly process his surroundings and make crisp decisions. I don’t know that this will completely submarine his NBA career but it might. He’s going to have a tough time keeping up defensively and operating in traffic vs. NBA defenses. I just don’t see how he becomes a good NBA player in spite of this, especially without long arms or explosive leaping ability. Best case he becomes an empty stats guy, but I could see him being real bad.

I don’t know how far Stokes will get. He may just be a 3rd big who brings energy + rebounding off the bench and is never that great. He isn’t in an ideal mold. But I don’t see a flaw as frightening as Randle’s slow decision making, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Stokes become a solid starter.

So I’m going out on a major limb and saying that in spite of being picked 35th to Randle’s 7th, Stokes will become a better pro.

4. Zach LaVine will not be good at all

On one hand his great athleticism and the fact that he (along with scouts) feels that he has some unproven PG ability made me not want to fade him too much. But since the draft I have been feeling like I may have given him too much benefit of the doubt. The “LaVine can play PG” narrative is all such a reach I’m calling BS. I don’t see a single shred of evidence that he is a PG, and I have no idea why high school scouts think this is a possibility. He averaged 28.5 pts 2.5 assists 0.6 steals (that steal rate is truly pathetic and it is common for even wings to average more assists) as a HS senior. Then for UCLA he never got to the rim in the half-court and had lackluster steal and assist rates in spite of a zone defense and ball movement offense that boosts both.

Once we get past the fact that he’s like 2% to have PG skills, he doesn’t even have good tools for a SG. He isn’t tall or long and is horribly skinny. I don’t know how well he moves laterally but I doubt it matters because he has horrible instincts defensively and in spite of his athleticism he couldn’t even rack up steals in high school or UCLA’s zone. Leaping isn’t everything and doesn’t atone for his horrible body and poor feel for the game.

He went from #52 RSCI player to lotto pick without even doing anything good at UCLA. There just aren’t enough NBA prospects outside the top 25 for that to happen and the fact that it did is baffling. Nothing about his ascent makes sense and I don’t buy the idea that he has upside. I think the RSCI rankings had it right and then Chad Ford messed everything up by noticing he has the intersection of the two most overrated draft traits ever: shooting and athleticism. Unfortunately everything else appears to be a glaring weakness. If I am drafting for worst NBA player in 2014-2015, LaVine is my first pick.

5. At least 3 players drafted in the 30-45 range will peak higher than Gary Harris

I don’t doubt Gary Harris’s ability to be useful, but I do doubt his ability to have upside and man is this 30-45 range loaded with good prospects. KJ McDaniels, Jarnell Stokes, and Spencer Dinwiddie were 3 of my favorite role player prospects in the draft. Kyle Anderson going to San Antonio is just perfect in terms of both value and fit. Damien Inglis and Nikola Jokic seem underdrafted to me from afar. Nick Johnson, Jerami Grant, and Glenn Robinson are all athletes who did enough in college to possibly have solid pro careers. Dwight Powell could be something and Walter Tavares is an intriguing international flier.

Gary Harris could become a solid rotation player. But he’s so bland and the 30-45 range is so rife with underdrafted players that I think a few of them will inevitably turn out better than him.

6. None of Doug McDermott, Rodney Hood, or Shabazz Napier will become above average starters.

Maybe one of them becomes good enough to make their draft position look alright in retrospect, but the draft is all about upside and I don’t see it in these guys. They all have poor tools and aren’t world beaters offensively relative their age to truly have elite upside.

McDermott is probably the best prospect of the bunch. His shooting and scoring could amount to something, I could see him becoming the SF version of JJ Redick. But I don’t see him becoming better than that and he may become significantly worse. The Bulls were out of their minds trading 16 + 19 for him. This move might look decent in retrospect, but it’s far more likely to look horrible than it is to look great.

Napier had a good college steal rate to inspire some hope of defensive competence in the NBA, but he’s so small and unathletic it’s hard to get too optimistic. His tools are so lackluster and he’s so old and not great at passing, where does the upside come from? For a guy who plays the deepest position in the NBA, he’s not 1st round value. It’s great that LeBron likes him but he probably will be worse than Chalmers and LeBron might not be that excited to have him on the roster by the time summer league is over.

Rodney Hood would be a decent 3 + D prospect if he wasn’t one of the worst defensive prospects in the entire draft. His defensive instincts are just awful and his physical profile is not too great either. This is the prospect whose hype truly puzzles me. Guess everybody just wants a piece of Duke pedigree (which explains why Duke had a reputation for prospects busting until recently). I’d be surprised if he’s starting caliber at all.

7. Tyler Ennis will have an above median career for an 18th overall pick.

Median is difficult to define since a number of active 18th picks are due to move up the standings over the next few years, but right now Jason Collins is 11th out of the past 29 years with 20.1 win shares and he will be the approximate median once he gets passed by active picks. So let’s say that Ennis will have at least 20+ career win shares. I don’t see him falling flat on his face.

Interestingly the most career win shares for any #18 pick is Mark Jackson with 91.8. He shares all of Ennis’s deficiencies: not that athletic, not a great shooter, not a great scorer. But he was an assist to turnover hero in college and went on to have a long and successful NBA career. Ennis is 2 years and change younger as of their respective draft nights, and posted better college stats. So it’s within Ennis’s reach to have a better career than Jackson did and go down as the best 18th pick of all time. I think people slept on Ennis big time.

8. Neither CJ Wilcox nor Cleanthony Early will become starting caliber players

They probably won’t become useful at all, but I want to leave myself some margin for error here.

9. At least one of Jusuf Nurkic or Clint Capela will become a top 10 player in the draft class

This is a fairly conservative projection based on how good they seem to me, but I didn’t get to scout them to the extent I would have liked. Nevertheless, I don’t see how they can have the tools and stats they do and still not be top 10 prospects, so I’m sticking to my story that they were underdrafted.

10. There probably is not an all-star in the 46-60 range, but if there is it’s Vasilije Micic

Micic looms as the possible Dragic of the draft. It seems crazy that he slid to 52 and he probably won’t be all that good, but he definitely stands out to me as the upsidiest in the range.

11. Within 5 years I will be hating at least one of these predictions

I feel so good about all of my logic now, but how can I not have made any mistakes? This is the first year that I have gotten intimately familiar with all prospects, and I can’t exactly compare minute details with historical prospects. Watching the minutia play out will certainly enable more confident future projections from me.

My rules are that I’m OK with a guy I like becoming not much. GM’s get fired for drafting busts, but that’s backwards: they should really get fired for passing on stars. I’m OK with 1 or 2 of my top 4 becoming not all that much, I don’t think all 4 are going to become great and I can’t really fight the variance on this. But if any of them truly rock, I’ll be glad to have my nice words in their favor down on paper. Of course it is still possible that I overrated prospects that I like, and I will do my best to be mindful of situations when it was actually a bad idea to rank somebody high as opposed to a great idea that went horribly wrong.

What I’m most worried about is any of the guys I declared overrated drastically outperforming their upper bound in my mind. I’m betting against picks 1, 2, 7, 11, 13, 19, 23, 24, 28, 34 and one of them will in all likelihood hit a top 10% outcome. This is fine, since I can’t control for variance. But it’s also likely that I completely underrated the strengths of one of these prospects and they will exceed my mental boundary for their upside and force me to update my perception.

Between variance and imperfect reasoning I’m bound to feel silly about some of these. But by assigning precise words to my predictions, I am forced to be honest with myself 5 years down the road about where I was on the wrong track. So I’m just hoping to be on the right track with most of these and then I can use the feedback of being wrong to perfect my process down the road.

Exploring The Inefficiencies of the NBA Free Agent Market

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It’s now NBA free agent season, which means that we get to now discuss how badly teams overpay for every single player that signs other than LeBron. Nate Duncan recently made a good post about the remaining FA’s: once the stars land, there is a lot of money to be allocated to not many good players. This is how it always is, and it’s why everybody always seems so overpaid. Teams are basically filling their roster gaps by dumping whatever money they have on whoever is available, and the bang per buck is often uninspiring.

My feelings are that it is exceptionally difficult to find a worthwhile deal in the $3M-$10M AAV range. There are some situations where it makes sense, as I agree with the consensus that the Warriors signing Shaun Livingston was a good idea since they are so close to contention, and the move is especially good if it’s a prelude to a Klay Thompson for Kevin Love deal. They need somebody to fill out the backcourt minutes, and having it be Livingston instead of Steve Blake or Jordan Crawford is worth the $5.3M AAV for a team in their position.

Take the other signings: Ben Gordon 2/9 (lol), Jodie Meeks 3/19, CJ Miles 4/18, Avery Bradley 4/32, Marcin Gortat 5/60. Even forgetting the baffling Gordon signing, Meeks, Miles, Bradley, and Gortat would fill up half of a single team’s cap space without providing a world of talent. Suffice it to say that if the other half was filled with similar players, that team would lose many games the following season.

On average if you fill up a high % of your cap with mid-tier FA’s, it’s not going to result in a strong team. The Hawks seemed to somehow be incredible value hunters last offseason, as their starting playoff lineup of Teague/Korver/Carroll/Millsap/Antic nearly knocked off the Pacers in a 7 game series after costing a total of $27M of cap space on the open market. But Millsap, Korver, and Carroll were arguably the three best value signings of the offeseason, so the Hawks are an anomaly and they were still < .500 relying entirely on non-elite free agents.

I believe Danny Ainge is a good drafter, good trader, and makes good coaching hires. These are the qualities that make him an overall good GM, but he doesn’t do that well in free agency because he targets too many mid-tier players. In 2012 he spent $25M/year on 3-4 year commitments for Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, and Brandon Bass. They didn’t provide a world of help, as the Celtics finished 41-40 with aging Pierce and Garnett as comfortably their top two players and the pricey signings providing limited assistance. Collectively those players wouldn’t have even formed a great 2nd unit, and they were even selected by a comfortably above average GM.

Thus far my favorite move of this offseason has been Masai Ujiri trading John Salmon’s partially guaranteed contract for Lou Williams’s expiring deal and Bebe Nogueira. Atlanta gained just $4.3M of cap space, and Toronto got an expiring who isn’t much worse than the multi-year MLE signings and a free prospect on the side. Bebe has good tools for a center and has good stats in the ACB, the toughest European league. He seemed like great value at 16th overall and he is the type of player I would love to add for a small slice of cap space. The crazy thing is that Salmons had a $1M buyout, so any team with $5.3M+ of cap space could have one upped the Raptors and taken on the same package for air. Think about this: a single season of Jodie Meeks cost $2M more than a single season of Lou Williams…and a free mid-1st rounder on the side! Further you are required to commit to Meeks for two years beyond this one, which I perceive as a clear negative. And people don’t even hate the Meeks move that much!

Unfortunately opportunities to scoop up Bebe on the cheap are few and far between, and teams have to spend their money on something. If I was a GM, I’d diligently avoid mid-tier signings unless I felt the value was stellar along the lines of the deals the Hawks found last offseason. I would try to commit as few years and as little money as possible to fill out my rotation. If I was going to commit multiple years to a player, I would strongly prefer that I be committing to his 24-28 age span rather than his 30-34 age span. And if I was going to overpay, I’d do it on the best players I could attract rather than the middling players who fit the best. The best example of that this offseason is Gordon Hayward. While he’s a RFA and the Jazz can match any offer he receives, there is some doubt as to whether he’s good enough to merit a max.

Hayward is 24 years old and in my estimation a good player. He can handle, he can pass, he can shoot, and he works well as a secondary ball handler who can space the floor and create offense for himself and others. As far as I am aware he’s a decent defensive player (I am not a serial Jazz watcher), which means that there isn’t a significant cost to getting his offense on the floor. His 13-14 stats may not be stellar, but he was asked to carry the offense for a horribly coached, tanking team. Further his 3p% fell far below his career norm in which almost assuredly is due to poor variance and/or poor offensive environment. I expect his stats to take a clear step forward next year, especially if he lands with a good coach such as Jeff Hornacek or Brad Stevens. He is already a top 50 or so player and with minor improvements for season to season he could easily be top 30 by the end of the contract. Taking up 25% of the cap at the cost of no assets is not an expensive price to pay in a league where the 5 starters and the coach are what drive almost all of each team’s success.

This becomes especially true for a team like Philadelphia. Their roster is filled with cheap rookie contracts and they need to unload a huge chunk on something. Imagine if they maxed Hayward and outbid the Pacers’ 5/44 offer for Lance Stephenson (say 4/50). Their starting 5 would be MCW/Lance/Hayward/Thad/Nerlens. If Brett Brown can coach, that team is making the playoffs in the East. Granted, they could use a genuine center to fill out the rotation, they do have this Joel Embiid guy to eventually fill that role. And because Hayward and Stephenson are so young, they should get better in lockstep with the other young players. Philly doesn’t need to tank again, they don’t need to sell off Thad. They have a million 2nd round fliers to eventually become solid bench players, and rounding out the rotation with mini-MLE and vet’s min players isn’t the worst thing in the world. If just one of Embiid or Nerlens stays healthy and becomes good, that team may become unbeatable down the line. Their defensive potential would be absolutely stellar and that’s without any of their starters having an Avery Bradley level of limited box score stats.

The same goes for a team like Boston, who is loaded with rookie contracts and future Nets’ picks as cheap value and trade currency.Hayward is great for any team transitioning from tank to respectability.

When you are micro-analyzing bench players, the difference between the 200th and 250th best player in the league may seem immense. But in reality, it negligibly impacts the bottom line. Talent is valued on an exponential curve, so the value is all packed into the top end guys. Even though Gordon Hayward at $15.8M/year seems insane compared to LeBron at $20M/year, that’s because maxes are silly and broken for the super studs. Once you constrain to what is accessible for most, what is truly insane is Jodie Meeks at $6.3M/year compared to Hayward at $15.8M.

The optimal way to fill out your bench isn’t to pay a premium for your first choice of role player, it’s to get better at identifying the best players available for cheap. Sam Hinkie has tried to build his bench by overloading on 2nd round picks. The Spurs are constantly pulling players such as Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Boris Diaw off the scrap heap and turning them into legitimately good role players. It’s fairly amazing that the team that destroyed the Heat in the finals had that many players who were available for free once upon a time on top of not having a true superstar. Today they signed undrafted free agent Bryce Cotton to a partially guaranteed 2 year deal, and I like that move much better than jumping into the MLE donation party.

The bottom line is that the NBA salary curve is broken and teams could gain an edge if they pay attention to the inefficiencies. Thus far most of the early signings have failed to do so. Even if the overpays are the standard, they remain suboptimal and I take little issue with annual declarations of fringe players being overpaid as they always are.

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