2021 Final Big Board

Ranking everybody in the draft is such a challenging exercise. This year I watched more film on the lottery guys than any other draft since 2014, and it’s still so hard to parse through these guys.

And this is after having experience ranking guys for 7 past drafts, and getting feedback from being right sometimes and wrong other times, and somewhere in between the vast majority of the time.

Every draft is such a small sample of players who become quality pros, and it is such a slow feedback loop afflicted with so much invisible randomness. What was the correct valuation of Giannis in 2013? He clearly had some mystery box upside, but he also bad in his limited sample of statistics available. How foreseeable was it that he would grow 2 inches, fill out like a tank, and max out his athleticism on top of developing his game at an outlier rate? Was this his 90th percentile outcome or 99th percentile outcome? How good would he have been if he hit his median– would he even still be in the league? Nobody knows the answer to any of these, which makes even the sparse and slow feedback difficult to decipher.

It’s all so murky and random, and it is difficult to find many significant edges over consensus. But it is also a fun analytical exercise, and since I have put in the work and feel I have a better grasp on this draft than most others, here is a big board. Some of these takes may seem hot at a glance, but the goal was to be as accurate as possible:

Tier 1: Likely Star:

1. Evan Mobley, 7’0 PF/C, USC

Mobley offers a rare intersection of athleticism, skill, and basketball IQ for a 7 footer. He is one of the best passing big man prospects of all time, which not only makes him easy to fit in offensively and capable of playing the perimeter, but also correlates with his high IQ defense where he was an excellent rim protector who fouled at an extremely low rate for USC. He has clear defensive player of the year upside.

Offensively, he can handle, pass, and is passable shooter who appears likely able to make an open NBA 3 pointer. He is also efficient and good at avoiding mistakes, with excellent upside on this end as well.

He is slightly older for a freshman, having already turned 20 in June, and has a slight frame that limited his rebounding. This precludes him from being a generational prospect. But slight frame often works out when it comes attached to plus athleticism, as it did for Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, and many others.

The best comparison for him is Chris Bosh but being taller and slightly better at passing gives him a nice upside tail to possibly be even better.

Tier 2: Possible Stars

This tier is extremely difficult to rank, as these prospects all have a unique distribution of strengths and weaknesses and it is difficult to discern how they will all shake out in the NBA. Let’s run through them:

2. Jalen Suggs, 6’4 PG/SG Gonzaga

Suggs has good athleticism and excellent basketball instincts, which gives him an easy path to a valuable NBA career.

The big question for him is– is his skill level good enough to run an NBA offense for a 6’4″ guard who already turned 20? He is a decent but not great shooter making 76.1% FT and 33.7% 3P as a freshman for Gonzaga. And he is capable of getting to the rim and finishing off the dribble, but his handle is somewhat limited and most of his best passes were in transition as he shared the PG load with multiple other handlers. Can he handle well enough to create for himself and teammates off the dribble with consistency against NBA offenses?

If his skill does come around, then he has a nice upside tail as he is similar to Jrue Holiday and has a better first step. But if it proves to be limited, he may be more of a role player like Marcus Smart with a bit less defense and more offense.

Whoever drafts him is getting a quality player, but there is some risk he is more of a boring role player than a true star.

3. Scottie Barnes, 6’8 PG/SF/PF FSU

Barnes is a high variance prospect and one of the trickiest in the class to pin down. He has a unique intersection of dimensions, handling, and passing for a teenage prospect, as he is 6’8″ with a 7’3″ wingspan. As a freshman for FSU, he averaged more assists per 40 (6.6 vs 6.0) and fewer turnovers (4.0 vs 4.1) than Steve Nash over his entire 4 year career for mid-major Santa Clara.

He also has good agility, and is able to create and use his length to finish at the rim proficiently. And he plays with energy and intensity on defense, where he takes pride in his defense and uses his length to get in passing lanes and get a high rate of steals.

But he isn’t a good shooter, making just 27.5% 3P and 62.1% FT at FSU. He had a better FT% in a bigger pre-NCAA sample, making 67.4%, but he attempted a low rate of 3’s per game at FSU and has a slow release and his shooting is a major work in progress. And even if he learns to spot up, will be be able to use his length to shoot off the dribble or is he trigger too slow?

He does not have that much burst or a good eurostep, and cannot get to the rim that consistently. Right now he only has a bad floater when he doesn’t make it all the way, so a pullup jumper would be extremely useful in rounding out his offensive game.

And while he tries hard on defense and is capable of making plays, his fundamentals on this side are currently poor as he hops rather than slides on defense and is frequently blown by, on top of being prone to lapses and making questionable decisions in help defense. He also is a poor defensive rebounder for his size, which makes it unlikely he is ever a Draymond Green or Kawhi Leonard level on defense.

But he nevertheless has an easy path to being a solidly good defensive player with decent NBA coaching, and he has upside to be considerably better than Draymond offensively as he is well ahead in terms of a creator offensively at the same age, and has the possibility of becoming a better shooter.

Much of his value is placed in the 10-15% chance that he becomes an above average shooter, in which case the sky is the limit for him and he can potentially be one of the best players in the NBA if his creation and defense come along as well.

In the more likely case that his shooting remains subpar, it is more difficult to say what to expect. He can be likened to a smaller Giannis, but since he doesn’t rebound, protect the rim, or dominate scoring in the paint that is a vastly different player. He could also be likened to a longer Evan Turner, but his ball skills were well ahead of Turner at the same age, and 7″ more wingspan is nothing to scoff at.

Perhaps his middle ground is something akin to a Pascal Siakam who plays less like a big and more like a guard. But it is difficult to say with his unique distribution of highs and lows.

The only thing that can be said for certain with Barnes is that he is a high variance, high upside player. If he misses he can be a frustrating player that is difficult to build around, but when he hits he can hit extremely hard.

4. Franz Wagner, 6’9 SF/PF, Michgan

In spite of being a sophomore, Franz is only one month older than Cade Cunningham, one month younger than Scottie Barnes, and 3 months younger than Jalen Suggs. And he is undoubtedly the best college player of the bunch, while fitting a perfect archetype for NBA role player.

He has ideal dimensions for a wing listed at 6’9″ with a long wingspan that was measured as +3 years ago but looks more like +4 or +5 now. His defensive fundamentals are pristine, as he moves his feet better than any wing prospect in recent memory, has exceptionally quick hands, and excellent IQ and awareness. His potential as a versatile switching defender in the NBA is excellent.

Offensively, he is more of a role player, but he he can handle and pass competently. He had more assists per 100 possessions (5.6 vs 5.4) than Cade Cunningham with a microscopic turnover rate (2.4 per 100 vs 6.2 for Cade). He does not score a high volume, but the low turnovers speak to his unique ability to avoid mistakes.

He made 83.5% FT in his NCAA career, but currently his jump shooting is a work in progress. He attempted a decent rate of 3PA, but only made 34.3% as a sophomore and 32.5% in his career. He should at minimum be able to make an open shot in the NBA and could be a very good shooter if his 3P% catches up to his FT%, but his shooting is currently a work in progress.

The main question with Franz is how much upside does he really have? He has a slight frame and is not particularly explosive, and is not going to score a high volume of points in the NBA. His closest NBA comp is Otto Porter Jr., who had two excellent role playing seasons at ages 23 and 24 before getting de-railed by injury. How highly should an elite role player like that be valued?

There’s an argument to be made that should have an elite value, because guys who play near perfectly off the ball fit perfectly in almost any lineup, and they give the most potential to build an overpowered lineup around a star much like Golden State did surrounding Steph Curry with Klay, Iguodala, and Draymond.

And if Franz upside is something like +5 points per 100 compared to say +6 points for the other players in this tier, and has the highest median and best odds of attaining his upside on top of the versatility to fit into any NBA lineup, is there not a realistic case for him to be the 2nd best prospect in the draft?

His only real concern is his lack of physicality, as he did not crash the offensive rebounds or drawing many fouls. This is enough to worry that his elite NCAA defense peaks at merely good in the NBA, and that he may struggle to stay healthy in the NBA much like Otto Porter given his slight frame.

This is enough to make ranking him higher feel like a hot take in tandem with his slightly limited upside, but if he stays healthy he is going to be a highly useful NBA player with the lowest bust risk of anybody in the draft outside of Mobley.

5. Alperen Sengun, 6’9 PF, Turkey

Sengun is statistically the best player in the draft, as he dominated Turkey to win the MVP of a good professional league at age 18.

He fits an old school PF mold, but he wasn’t just a bruiser who scored in the post at an elite rate and reeled in rebounds. He also showed a promising stroke, making 79% FT with a nice looking shot that should eventually be developed into a + NBA 3 point shooter. And he showed point forward skills, with enough handle to occasionally score off the dribble from the perimeter, and good passing with more assists than turnovers.

Defensively he is highly enigmatic. He had a decent block rate in Turkey, in large part due to his propensity to hustle back for chasedown blocks. But he doesn’t have the reach or athleticism to be a rim protector, and his help defense is currently not particularly good as he makes odd decisions and often does not help when he should.

While he is an excellent offensive rebounder, on defense he does not rebound out of area particularly well and he is prone to taking bad angles on closeouts to result in getting beat off the dribble.

Arguably the greatest strength of his defense is his ability to defend the perimeter. He moves his feet decently well and has done reasonably well switched onto guards, and he certainly does not look like a lead footed Enes Kanter type big to say the least. He complements this with a strong steal rate for a big, as he reads the passing lanes well and is capable of getting deflections.

While his fundamentals and decision making need improvement, and he is not physically built to defend the rim, he does have potential guarding wings on the perimeter in the NBA. His mobility and athleticism seem decent enough, and his vision and instincts give him more sneaky potential on defense than you would expect from a slow footed power forward.

And if he eventually develops into a player who can pass, handle, shoot, and defend the perimeter, you are left with a big wing who happens to also be an elite garbageman and post scorer and can eat opposing wings alive in the paint.

The best comp for him would be Kevin Love with more perimeter skills, which would be a really awesome NBA player. There’s a good argument to be had that he is actually the 2nd best prospect in the draft, and everybody is overthinking his mold and sleeping on his sneaky ability to play on the perimeter.

6. Cade Cunningham, 6’8 SF/PF Oklahoma St.

This is what most people would call a hot take, but that is based largely on the narrative that Cade is the obvious #1 overall pick. If we look at the facts of the situation, Cade’s goodness is offset by extreme warts that make everything murky.

He has an excellent mold with good wing dimensions, excellent shooting, and good passing. He is the prototypical wing creator who can also space the floor that everybody would love to build around.

But being in a good mold does not ensure a good player, and there are a number of warts that caused Cade to perform well short of hype. He is a decent but not great athlete, and does not have the first step to blow by opponents. This results in a lot of ugly bully ball and contested shot attempts, and a lower NCAA 2P% than any other player to get drafted in the top 3 in the past 20 years.

He also has a weak motor and makes limited effort off ball. While he has the tools and instincts to be a good defensive player, he is lackadaisical on this end and prone to getting beat off the dribble and missing rotations.

He also has an anemic offensive rebounding rate– lower than any other player in the past 20 years, and almost never scores off screens, cuts, putbacks, or handoffs. If the plan is to let Cade dominate the ball, and he is going to be lackadaisical about moving off the ball, how much spacing gravity does his shooting really provide?

And while he was advertised as an elite creator and passer, he was merely good for Oklahoma State as his loose handle and non-elite decision making resulted in more turnovers than assists.

Those are some nasty warts for a guy projected to go top 5, let alone #1 overall.

The common narrative is that he was held back by his poor teammates at Oklahoma State, but plenty of prospects do better in similar situations (such as Khris Middleton at Texas A&M). It can at best play a minor role in his 2P% and AST:TOV ratio, and has no bearing on issues such as his lack of burst, motor, or effort.

Perhaps the pandemic caused him to play uncharacteristically different than his natural self. But the most likely explanation would be that his flaws that were not as clear pre-NCAA are becoming more as he faces tougher competition, as is common for highly touted high school players who fall short of expectations.

His arc is eerily similar to that of Andrew Wiggins, where he came in with elite hype, and lived up to expectations in a few ways and fell massively short in others. But extra weight to his priors led to frequent excuses for his underwhelming NCAA performance, and he went #1 and was massively overpaid with a max contract extension while disappointing the whole way through.

It is worth wondering if it is actually correct to err on the side of pre-NCAA ratings when a prospect looks so ordinary after coming in with such extreme hype. If Cade disappointed this hard as an NCAA freshman, should we not fear that he will continue to disappoint through his entire career, much like Wiggins?

This is especially true when he is getting rewarded in spite of his shortcomings, and may not have as much pressure to develop his defense and off ball play as prospects drafted later who do not get every benefit of the doubt based on high school play.

Which is not to say that he will necessarily develop as poorly as Wiggins. But once you strip away the hype and all of the golden child narratives, and actually look at what he did on the court for Oklahoma State, he does not stand out from the rest of this tier in any clear way.

He also isn’t clearly a notch down from anybody else in the tier, and he realistically may deserve to be the #2 prospect in the draft. He could easily be a Khris Middleton or Jayson Tatum type which is a nice return on such a high pick.

But he is #6 on this board because his warts seem a bit grosser than everybody else, and he seems slightly more prone to disappointing in a different flavor of Wiggins, similar to a taller OJ Mayo.

Tier 3: Possible All-Stars but with more warts to stomach

7. Josh Giddey, 6’8 PG, Australia

Giddey is the Harry Potter of basketball, as he looks like and passes like a wizard as a 6’8″ boy wonder from Australia.

He is likely the best passing prospect of all time for his height, as at the tender age of 18 he posted a monster 36.3% assist rate while smashing the eye test to boot. Aside from making excellent reads and quick decisions that put his teammates in excellent position to score, he also is incredibly crafty and accurate with his passes, as if he has the ball on a string.

That alone gives him monster upside, but the big mystery is whether he offers enough else to complement his passing. He has short arms with a 6’7.5″ wingspan, and is not particularly strong or athletic and got roasted on defense playing alongside grown men in the Australian league.

And most importantly, he needs to learn to be able to create for himself off the dribble to unlock his passing potential. Or like Lonzo Ball he may be relegated to an ordinary role player whose passing value is not fully realized.

His advantage over Lonzo is that he moves more fluidly, and at his age has time to learn to improve his pedestrian 29% 3P and 69% FT from Australia. If he can develop into a good shooter and learn to pressure the rim to some extent, he has significant offensive upside, and could be something akin to 6’8″ Steve Nash.

But if he does not develop the scoring ability to set up passing opportunities, it’s difficult to know how good he will be. He may not be as good defensively as Lonzo, although his intelligence and height give him potential of becoming decent on that end in spite of his physical limitations. And he did show improved defense in Australia’s matchup vs Nigeria earlier this month.

Giddey is a high risk, high reward prospect. His passing, youth, and height give him immense upside, but his flaws give him greater bust risk than everybody in the higher tier.

8. Jalen Green, 6’5 SG, G League Ignite

Green offers impressive athleticism and scoring ability for a shooting guard that gives him upside to be a Zach LaVine, Devin Booker, or Bradley Beal type.

His flaw is that he is small for a shooting guard with a thin frame and mediocre dimensions, and plays small. This limits his defensive versatility, as he is too small to guard most players and is going to be prone to getting hunted.

And there is only so much he can make up for this offensively with scoring, as he is a decent passer but not a true floor general. This means he likely will need to be pair with another guy who can play floor general, which tends to skew toward the smaller side which leaves two little guys for defenses to hunt.

Ultimately this mold tends to be capped at low end all-star and is difficult to build around, as it pairs poorly with other stars.

The common perception is that elite first step + scoring ability yields high upside, but that simply is not the case. Creation upside that comes in a well rounded package with defensive versatility is what truly offers high upside, and Green simply does not complement his scoring with enough supporting traits to justify his hype.

Rating Green this low may seem like a hot take, and it may look bad if he hits his upside of low end all-star that casual fans will inevitably overrate. But in reality, this mold should be valued lower and elite role players like Franz Wagner should be valued higher. The idea that creation needs to be given priority over well roundedness and versatility is an inefficiency in the NBA draft as well as the trade and free agent market.

9. Moses Moody, 6’6″ SG/SF, Arkansas

Moody fits an ideal 3 + D archetype, as he has a smooth shot with a quick release, and his 7’1″ wingspan and solid frame gives him defensive versatility.

He is not an elite athlete, creator, or passer right now which calls his star potential somewhat into question. But he moves the ball, doesn’t turn it over, and gets to the free throw line inordinately often– more than any of Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, or Jalen Suggs where he made 81.2% as an 18 year old freshman.

His defense is also a bit of a question mark, as in spite of his excellent length he had the lowest steal rate of Arkansas top 6 rotation players and his defensive instincts and fundamentals are currently limited. He is physically capable of being a decent defensive player if he develops well with NBA coaching, but right now that is a bit of an uncertainty.

Having only turned 19 at the end of May, it is difficult to say where he will land on a scale of Gary Trent Jr. bench player to Reggie Miller or Klay Thompson level spacer. Or if he perhaps has potential to develop into a bit more of a creator, even though most of his creation is currently from the mid-range. But he is a nice player in a nice mold, and worth considering once the high upside players start coming off the board.

10. Jalen Johnson, 6’9″ PF, Duke

If somebody wants to gamble on a high variance mystery box once the safer bets are off the board, Johnson is the guy to look at.

He only played 278 minutes in 13 games for Duke, but posted a rare intersection of bulk box score numbers in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.

He is still incredibly raw, as while he has point forward skills, he had slightly more turnovers than assists and relied a bit too heavily on pullup jumpers for a subpar shooter.

Defensively, he is currently a mess as he has questionable IQ and shies from contact. But he has a number of highly impressive steals and blocks that hints at good potential on this end if he pulls it together.

The question for whoever drafts him is how confident can they be that he will put it all together? He unexpectedly left Duke’s team midseason, which may make teams question his off court intangibles, and whether he is a decent bet to undergo the immense development necessary to reach his upside.

He may slide in the draft if questions about his intangibles inspire limited confidence in him. But he is an incredibly talented player, and if he is able to develop into a more polished player he can be a big time steal.

11. Jaden Springer 6’4 SG, Tennessee
12. Keon Johnson 6’5 SG, Tennessee

The Tennessee boys are incredibly similar in a number of ways. The main difference is that Springer is 6 months younger and more polished with respect to shooting, defense, and decision making whereas Keon is much more athletic.

Springer is currently slotted at #30 on ESPN’s latest mock, which is difficult to comprehend. He is small for a SG with questionable creation, as he relies heavily on ugly bully bull and mid-range chucking. But he super young, not turning 19 until September with a well rounded package. He has a similar 3 + D package to Gary Harris, and is a better passer and handler, which is worth something regardless of how ugly his NCAA creation was. It’s unclear how much upside he has, but young and well rounded is going to amount into a useful player fairly often.

Keon likely has more upside with nuclear athleticism, but also comes with more bust risk as he struggles with efficiency more than you would hope from a small SG prospect. His athleticism gives him potential to make bigger leaps than average, but if he progresses at a slow rate he simply isn’t going to be useful.

Keon is in a bit of an odd mold as it is not clear what he will exactly amount to in the best case, but there is some high risk high reward potential with him and he is an interesting gamble if he slides out of the lottery as currently projected.

13. Sharife Cooper, 6’1 PG, Auburn

Sharife is capable of creating a massive amount of offense, as he had more 2P, FT, and assists per 100 posession as a freshman than Trae Young with fewer turnovers.

His downside that sets him below Trae is that he has a broken jump shot, as Trae attempted nearly twice as many 3’s and made 36% vs the lowly 22.8% by Cooper.

But Cooper did make 82.5% of his free throws, and seems to have a natural touch which give him potential if his jump shooting mechanics can be fixed. And if he can learn to make pullup shots and score from every level, his offensive potential is through the roof.

He is small and will likely be a liability on defense, but his defense does not seem as bad as Trae’s at the same level and Cooper was the slightly better rebounder between the two.

Really it’s crazy how much lower he is valued than Jalen Green. He is smaller and a bigger defensive liability with a less reliable jump shot, which is why it is understandable to have Green a bit higher. But Cooper can create just as much from a scoring perspective with vastly superior passing ability. Unlike Green, the sky is the limit for Cooper offensively if he fixes his shooting.

Tier 4: Possible Solid Starters

14. James Bouknight, 6’5 SG, UConn

Bouknight is a good athlete with a good motor who is a talented scorer, getting buckets in a variety of ways.

He rebounds well, moves off the ball, and is a good shooter, so it is easy to see him becoming a quality player.

His downside is that he is undersized for a SG at 6’5 with a 6’8″ wingspan and a somewhat slight frame. He makes a good effort on defense and isn’t particularly bad on this end, although his size limits his versatility which means he will be a below average defensive player in the NBA more often than not.

And for such a high volume scorer, Bouknight seems better scoring off ball than with the ball, where his handle is somewhat limited and he is prone to playing out of control at times. Consequently, he averaged a poor 1.8 assists vs 2.8 turnovers as a 20 year old sophomore who turns 21 in September, and he may be unreliable as an on ball player in the NBA.

This makes him difficult to unpack, as he can still be useful as an off ball scorer who can space the floor, create in a pinch, and attack closeouts while not being a disaster on defense. But it is difficult to see where his upside to justify his #6 overall slot in the current mock comes from without his creation ability panning out, which seems like a dicey proposition right now.

Further, there is some risk that he attacks off the dribble too frequently in the NBA and does not do well, which will cut into his efficiency.

There are a number of things to like about Bouknight, but it’s tough sledding to become great in the NBA as a small SG without elite ball skills.

15. Jonathan Kuminga, 6’8 SF/PF G-League Ignite

Kuminga is incredibly slippery to evaluate, largely due to the slippery point of his unconfirmed age.

It’s a sensitive point that isn’t comfortable to discuss, as it is unfair to accuse him of having a false age with no strong evidence, nor is it fair to punish him for growing up in the harsh Democratic Republic of Congo for having poor documentation (only 25% of children have birth certificates) if his age is indeed accurate. But there is no consensus agreement on how old he truly is, and whether it is politically correct or not it has a massive bearing on his value as an NBA prospect.

He has excellent physical tools with a reported 6’8″ height and 7’1″ wingspan, which are ideal dimensions for a wing even if they are slightly optimistic as well as great athleticism.

His skill and basketball IQ are both a work in progress to say the least. He has a weak handle and cannot offer more than straight line drives, and typically pulls up for elbow jumpers. His shooting form looks OK but does not go in, as he shot just 24.6% 3P and 62.5% FT in his G League stint.

Defensively, he struggles. Although he has the tools to be an excellent defensive player, his instincts, effort, and fundamentals are all currently subpar which make him a liability on that end at this juncture.

On the plus side, he is a decent passer for his size, as he is unselfish and capable of making the simple pass, with slightly more assists (2.7) than turnovers (2.6) per game in his G League sample.

If he is truly 18, he is an interesting gamble on pure physical tools as his skill and IQ have time to develop, and with a strong rate of development he can grow at a much faster rate than a physically inferior prospect. If his age is taken at face value, he is clearly worth a top 10 pick and there is a case to be made that he belongs above his G-League ignite teammate Jalen Green due to being in a vastly superior mold. Jaylen Brown would be a reasonable upside comp.

But if his age is off by a year, he loses a crucial year of development and his skill and IQ limitations weigh significantly heavier. If his age is off by two years or more, then he may be too far behind the curve for his age to merit a 1st round selection. There has arguably never been a prospect from a country with poor documentation whose value is so sensitive to any minor inaccuracy in his age.

So what can be concluded about him? Not much with any confidence. There’s no clear evidence supporting either his true age or his ability to play basketball, which makes him an unnecessarily risky pick. It feels like a fool’s errand to try to rank him with such thin information on him on multiple levels. He has nice upside if it hits, but all of the uncertainty creates too much bust risk to be comfortable taking him in the top 10.

16. Quentin Grimes, 6’5″ SG, Houston

Grimes is a fairly straightforward roleplaying SG. He started off his career as the #8 RSCI recruit at Kansas, and after a disappointing freshman year he transferred to Houston where he made a nice leap as a sophomore. This past season as a junior he made a massive leap to full fledged flamethrower, as he made 40.3% 3PA on a massive 15.3 3PA per 100 possessions.

He still only made 78.8% FT while shooting 64% over his first two seasons, which makes it a bit scary to invest in his shooting. But he has a lightning quick release, moves well off the ball, and has a nice step back off the dribble to enable himself to get a huge volume of attempts off.

While he has slightly small dimensions at 6’5″ with 6’8″ wingspan, he has a nice strong frame and good athleticism that he uses to rebound and defend well for his size. And he has a decent basketball IQ and is a willing passer, with slightly more assists than turnovers in all 3 years of college.

This was enough to make him a reasonable choice in the late 1st, but then he looked by far the best player on the floor in his two combine scrimmages. This suggests that his junior breakout was no fluke or product of Houston’s system, and he appears to be living up to his initial RSCI hype as he improves at an exceptional rate.

Grimes has some shades of Buddy Hield, as they have similar physical profiles, monster 3PA, and insane rates of improvements after mediocre starts to their NCAA careers.

It may be a slightly hot take to rank Grimes this high, but at this point most of the star upside is off the table anyhow and he seems like one of the best bets to be a quality NBA role player of the guys remaining.

17. Isaiah Jackson, 6’10 C, Kentucky

Jackson is a late lottery talent who seems to be sliding due to intangibles concerns.

Listed at 6’10” with a thin frame, he is a bit small for a center but he atones with a reported 7’5 wingspan with good athleticism and mobility. He rebounds, blocks shots, has potential to switch, and made a respectable 70% FT in his freshman sample for Kentucky.

Statistically, he is similar to a freshman Al Horford and if he develops at a strong rate like Horford he has the athleticism to be as good. But if his intangibles are flagged, it seems unlikely that he hits the Horford upside and is more likely to be similar to his fellow Kentucky alum Willie Cauley-Stein.

18. Jared Butler 6’3 PG, Baylor

Butler is essentially a super role player at PG, as he can handle, pass, shoot, and defend, but doesn’t have the burst or shake to consistently get to the rim for a little guy which limits his upside.

He likely won’t be able to be the primary handler for an NBA offense, which means that he will be best paired with a bigger ball handler like Giannis Antetokoumpo or Luka Doncic. But in the right situation, he can be a highly useful role player due to his well roundedness.

He is also young for his class– Butler and his teammates Davion Mitchell are both juniors, but Butler is nearly 2 full years younger.

The murky point is his heart condition. He was cleared to play, but if team doctors yellow flag it, are teams going to run the risk of an outside chance that a player dies on their team? It’s a unique and difficult point to size up. Hopefully being cleared means that he should have a long and healthy career, but it doesn’t mean that teams will necessarily ignore it now.

19. Usman Garuba, 6’9″ PF, Spain

Garuba offers a nice defensive package as he is 6’8 with a 7’3 wingspan, rebounds well, and shows capability of switching.

Offensively he doesn’t offer that much as he was a low usage player who could only vaguely shoot making 31.6% 3P and 65.9% FT. And he isn’t particularly explosive and does not have much room to grow on that end.

He can be useful as a defensive specialist if his shooting and offense come around, but he is a somewhat boring role player mold with limited upside.

20. Day’Ron Sharpe, 6’11 C, UNC

There seems to be an unwritten rule that it is illegal to take a center who is neither a great athlete nor shooter in round 1 in 2021, which certainly describes Sharpe who only made 50.5% FT and had a 5.1% block rate which is underwhelming for a center.

But the guy is a beast rebounder, passes well, and has decent feet on the perimeter and a good steal rate for a big. That’s a unique intersection of strengths that could sum to an interesting player.

It’s difficult to envision exactly what his upside tail is like, but this late in the draft it is reasonable to gamble on a guy like Sharpe with weirdo upside.


21. Ziaire Williams 6’10 SF, Stanford
22. BJ Boston, 6’7 SF, Kentucky

Boston and Williams were the #4 and #6 RSCI recruits who looked like possible top 5 picks entering the season, and then both heavily disappointed as freshmen.

They share the commonality of being super skinny wings– it is worth pondering whether the pandemic affected their ability to get proper strength and conditioning to be in shape for the season.

Williams is 3″ taller but they both weighed in at 188 pounds and Boston has 0.5″ more wingspan 6’10.75″ vs 6’10.25″. They both shot well from the line Boston 78.5% and Ziaire 79.6%, but were brick machines from the field– Boston with 40.7% eFG and Williams 43.1%.

Both guys are willing passers. Williams created for his teammates more frequently, but Boston managed to to have a positive assist (3.0 per 100 possessions) to turnover (2.7) ratio while Williams was an ugly 4.5 vs 6.0. Both guys were soft at the rim and chucked a number of questionable shots, but Williams was perpetually out of control.

Now with the draft approaching, Williams seems to be convincing teams that he is more redeemable due to superior shooting and interviews as he flirts with lottery consideration while Boston is mired in round 2.

And this may be a fair assessment, but Boston does fit a more natural role player mold, whereas Ziaire is more of a terrible offensive hub who needs to transition to a secondary player. Boston may have an easier time finding an NBA niche.

Perhaps the gap in their value is more than one slot apart, but they seem close enough and it is easier to write about them side by side since they are such similar value propositions.

23. Miles “Deuce” McBride 6’2 PG, West Virginia

Deuce is a former quarterback with excellent 3 + D potential for PG, as he measured 6’2.5″ in shoes with 6’8.75″ wingspan.

He is a limited athlete and does not pressure on the rim, but he made 81.3% FT 41.4% 3P as a sophomore at West Virginia with a solid 4.8 assists vs 1.8 turnovers per game. He did not take a high rate of 3PA (6.3 per 100 possessions) and seems a bit more comfortable in mid-range at this time, but he has clear potential as a shooter and passer who avoids mistakes on offense.

He could be similar to a Patrick Beverley type of role playing PG.

24. Josh Christopher, 6’4″ SG, Arizona State

Christopher is essentially Jalen Green lite, as the #10 RSCI freshman is an athletic SG with mediocre dimensions.

Christopher is stronger and plays slightly bigger than Green, but Green is more skilled with the better shooting, passing, and creation ability.

The offensive disparity is significant which is why Christopher’s stock is so much lower. But he is a 1st round talent and it is curious that he is currently slotted to go #34 in ESPN’s latest mock.

25. Ayo Dosunmu, 6’5″ PG/SG, Illinois

Ayo has a nice skill package for a SG as he can handle, pass, and shoot, and has a solid 6’10.25″ wingspan.

He isn’t the quickest or most athletic player, so the concern is that he is bad on defense and cannot get to his spots offensively.

But his dimensions, skill, and IQ give him potential to be a Spencer Dinwiddie type, which would be a nice haul in late round 1 or early round 2.

26. Charles Bassey, 6’11 C, Western Kentucky

Big men are rapidly going out of style, but Bassey offers quite a bit of basketball playing ability to let him slide out of round 1 as currently projected.

He is an excellent rebounder who can protect the rim and score efficiently in the low post. And he is a decent shooter, making 76.8% FT 31.9% 3P in 3 years at Western Kentucky, while attempting over 2 3PA per game as a junior.

He is slightly undersized measuring 6’10.25″ in shoes with 7’3″ wingspan, but he plays big and with so many smaller lineups his dimensions should be sufficient to be a starting center.

Going small is all the rage now, but teams still start a center and it helps to have one who can do all of the big man things as well as make an open 3. How many mediocre guards and wings can really be justified going ahead of Bassey?

27. Bones Hyland, 6’3″ SG, VCU

Bones is an excellent shooter, as he made 82.7% FT and 39.9% 3P on high volume in his two years at VCU.

He is small for a SG at 6’3.5″ with a slight 169 pound frame (thus his nickname), but he has a 6’9″ wingspan which he uses well to make plays defensively.

He isn’t a natural floor general nor does he do well scoring in traffic in the paint, but he is an interesting flyer as a combo guard based on his length and shooting.

28. Trey Murphy, 6’9″ SF/PF, Virginia

Murphy is a weirdo that is super difficult to pin down. He is an excellent shooter with a quick release, good dimensions at 6’9″ with 7’0″ wingspan, good athleticism, and he seems to have good intangibles.

Then everything else is a weakness. He is skinny, rebounds like a guard, does not create off the dribble at all, and is poor defensively as he has questionable awareness and is easily bullied due to his slight frame. Virginia often hid him on the opponent’s weakest offensive player, and this was with their defense being much weaker than typical.

On one hand, it is rare to find guys with Murphy’s dimensions who can shoot and are not molasses slow. So it is difficult to find comps for him, and the two most similar past comps are Cameron Johnson and Duncan Robinson, who are both quality NBA role players. So perhaps the most likely conclusion is that guys with his intersection of strengths have an easy path to NBA success, and that he should be one of the top guys to look at once the high upside lottery talents are off the board.

But there are so many different things that can go wrong for Murphy that didn’t for Johnson or Robinson. He could be a sieve defensively, he may happen to be a worse handler to the point where it is a fatal flaw, he could be worse moving off the ball and shooting around movement as most of his offense at Virginia was stationary catch and shoot.

With all of his weaknesses, he needs to make a huge volume of 3P at 40%+ to be useful, which gives him little margin for error.

He could work out the same way Duncan Robinson worked out for Miami. Or he could fail for the flaws that caused Duncan Robinson to go undrafted to begin with. It’s all so unclear and difficult to discern.

Tier 5: Role Players:

29. Joe Wieskamp, 6’7″ SF, Iowa

Wieskamp has good dimensions for a wing at 6’7″ with 6’11” wingspan, decent athleticism, and is a very good shooter to make him an ideal role playing archetype.

When you compare his stats side by side with projected lottery pick Corey Kispert, it is unclear why Wieskamp is slotted so much lower in round 2:

30. Herbert Jones, 6’7″ SF, Alabama

Jones offers an excellent intersection of physical tools and defensive ability, as he has a 7’0 wingspan, good athleticism, and was a perimeter stopper for Alabama.

He is projected for round 2 because his offensive is not quite as good. He only shot 28.8% 3P on scarce attempts and 60.4% FT for his college career, although he made a leap as a senior with 35.1% 3P and 71.3% FT– showing some prayer of being able to make an open 3 in the NBA.

His hope on offense is that he had a solid creation and passing ability, although he did not do so efficiently as he is turnover prone and struggles to finish for a prospect with his physical tools.

He is one of the best defensive wing prospects in the draft, and if he finds a way to become passable offensively in the NBA he will be a nice return on a 2nd round flier.

31. David Johnson, 6’5 SG, Louisville

Johnson has good physical tools for a SG, measuring 6’4.75″ with 6’10.5″ wingspan to go with a solid frame and good athleticism.

He also has good vision and instincts, and showed quite a bit of potential as an NCAA freshman off the bench including a monster breakout game at Duke.

But his skill level is the big question, as he has a shaky handle and a mediocre shooting ability. And he followed up his promising small freshman sample with an inefficient sophomore campaign after getting COVID.

If his sophomore performance was uncharacteristic due to COVID, he has nice upside for a 2nd round flier.

32. Santi Aldama, 6’11 PF, Loyola MD

Aldama is a highly skilled and coordinated big man, which gives him interesting offensive upside.

His physical tools leave much to be desired as he is skinny and lacking in length and athleticism, which makes his ability to fit in defensively in the NBA a big question mark. But if he can survive based on height and intelligence, and hits his offensive potential, he can provide a nice payoff for a late round 2/UDFA guy.

33. Corey Kispert, 6’7″ SG/SF, Gonzaga

Kispert is an excellent shooter for his height and plays with efficiency, so it is not difficult to see him being a useful role player.

It is difficult to see him living up to his lottery hype, as he has a short 6’7″ wingspan and is painfully one dimensional as a shooter.

34. Cam Thomas, 6’3″ SG, LSU

Thomas can get buckets and that’s about all that he brings to the table, as he offers anemic rebound, assist, steal, and block rates with terrible defense.

He is an excellent shooter making 88.2% FT with a low turnover rate as he attempt and make a high volume of shots off the dribble. But he is painfully one dimensional for a small SG, which makes it tough for him to be good.

Perhaps he can be a bench microwave, or a more athletic version of Seth Curry. There is some talent to work with. But his mold is too weak to get too high on him.

35. Justin Champagnie, 6’7″ SF, Pittsburgh

Champagnie is somewhat lacking in the skill department as he only made 28% 3P and 74.5% FT in his 2 years at Pittsburgh, and isn’t particularly adept at creating off the dribble.

But he has solid tools for a wing, and just knows how to play. He is a good rebounder, passer, moves well off the ball, and generally has an easy path to being a useful NBA player if his shooting comes around.

He is also young for a sophomore, having just turned 20 in late June.

He is currently slated to go undrafted and it is not clear why, as on paper he seems to deserve late round 1 consideration.

36. Joel Ayayi, 6’5 SG, Gonzaga

Ayayi was diminished to a low usage role playing on Gonzaga’s stacked offense, but he did so extremely efficiently with a good assist to turnover ratio and a whopping 68.3% 2P% which is essentially unheard of for a guard.

He is also a solid shooter, making 36% 3P 77.6% FT in his 3 years at Gonzaga while also being a good rebounder and a solid defensive player for his position.

He upside is capped as a role playing SG in the NBA, but he has potential to play the role well.

37. Chris Duarte, 6’6″ SG, Oregon

Duarte has a good 3 + D skill set, but he is already 24 years old and a fairly limited role player.

First his dimensions are 6’6″ with 6’7″ wingspan which are not enough to defend wings– he is a SG. And he does not offer much creation or passing ability, which is enigmatic because his lack of size limits his defensive versatility.

Further he is only a good but not great shooter. He made 38% 3P 80% FT in his two seasons at Oregon, which is far from special given his age.

It seems some teams are treating his age as a feature rather than a bug, since he will be ready to immediately contribute. But he won’t contribute much, as his upside is sorely capped and he will begin to decline a year or two after his rookie contract runs out.

His closest NBA comp is likely Damion Lee, and he is a horribly inefficient use of a first round pick, let alone a lottery pick where he is currently rumored to go.

He could be a decent bench player but he isn’t going to make or break a team’s championship hopes. Why not try to sign an international FA on the cheap to fill out your rotation and instead try to draft somebody with more potential and a longer shelf life of usefulness?

Duarte’s hype is incredibly difficult to comprehend. Why does everybody want this guy so much? Are they that desperate for a cheap SG to fill out the rotation?

38. Neemias Queta, 7’0″ C, Utah State

Queta is a legit center prospect who can rebound, protect the rim, and score inside.

He also has decent handles and good passing for a big man, averaging more assists (2.7) than turnovers (2.4) as an NCAA junior, and Utah State’s offense was much better with him on the floor than off.

He only attempted 8 3PA over his 3 years in college, but his shooting is not totally broken as he made 67% FT as a soph and 70.7% as a junior.

Queta has the foundation for a well rounded rotation big.

39. Tre Mann, 6’4 PG, Florida

Mann is a shifty guard that can make shots, shooting 40.2% 3P 83.1% FT as an NCAA sophomore.

But he has poor physical tools, with 6’4″ wingspan, a slight frame, and underwhelming athleticism that gives him limited versatility. And his PG skills are also somewhat limited, he has decent shake but doesn’t have the athleticism to get to the rim and finish with consistency, and heavily depends on his floater game. And he is not a true floor general, averaging 3.5 assists vs 2.8 turnovers as an NCAA sophomore.

He does enough things to find a niche as a role playing PG in the NBA, but with his limited ability on defense and inability to lead an NBA offense, it is difficult to get too excited for him in round 1.

40. Davion Mitchell, 6’1 PG, Baylor

Mitchell has good quickness that he uses to pressure the ball very well on defense, and that is about where his strengths end.

He entered the draft with extreme levels of hype being projected as a mid-lottery pick, which seems to be cooling to late lottery as teams have decided they don’t want to overinvest in a 6’1″ one way defensive player.

Further, it is not even clear how good his overall defensive impact will be, as he has a pedestrian 6’4″ wingspan and does not play physically with underwhelming rebound and FT rates, even for his size.

It’s difficult to see what makes him better than a Chris Duhon or Earl Watson type who both went in round 2 and became fringe NBA starters.

He has excellent intangibles and work ethic, but there is only so much that can do for him when his skill level is so limited at his age, as he still looks unnatural off the dribble at age 22, and his 64% FT imply that his breakout 44.7% 3P was heavily driven by luck.

Perhaps he carves out a niche as a fringe starter with diligent work and continued improvement, but he is simply not a first round talent, let alone lottery caliber.

41. Daishen Nix 6’4″ PG, G League Ignite

Nix has good size and passing for a PG, but his lack of athleticism inhibits his scoring and defense.

He probably isn’t that exciting, but he is a 5* recruit and you gotta respect the potential for passing, dimensions, and youth to surprise in the NBA.

42. Jason Preston, 6’4″ PG, Ohio

Preston is a fascinating mid-major prospect as he has excellent dimensions, passing, and basketball IQ.

He also has enough skill level to have a chance offensively. He has a funky looking shot that goes in decently enough, as he made 35.4% 3P 70.5% FT in his 3 years at Ohio.

He does not have a quick first step, but he handles well enough to get to the rim at times, and he posted a monster 31 point 6 rebound 8 assists 0 turnover game vs Illinois and 11 pts 13 rebound 8 assists vs Virginia in the first round tournament upset.

He is one of the highest IQ players in the draft, and he may have just enough skill to make it offensively in the NBA. But he is outright terrible on defense, and his thin frame and lack of athleticism inhibit his upside.

He still could be a fun flier since his dimensions and IQ give him a chance of figuring out things on defense. But in all likelihood his talent is just a bit short of being a useful NBA player.

43. Aaron Henry 6’6 SG/SF, Michigan St.

Henry is a bit short for a wing and a bit inefficient to be enticing on the perimeter.

But he has a 6’11” wingspan, good athleticism, and is a capable shooter making 72.9% FT 33.3% 3P in his 3 years at Michigan State to go with solid passing and defense.

There’s enough to work with for him to find a niche in an NBA rotation.

44. Matthew Hurt, 6’9″ PF, Duke

Hurt has underwhelming physical tools with a 6’9.5″ wingspan, a doughy physique that measured 15.2% bodyfat, and subpar athleticism.

But the former top 10 recruit is exceptionally skilled as a shooter and scorer. If he can find a way to hang defensively on height and intelligence, he can be a decent value in late round 2/UDFA.

45. Kai Jones, 6’11 PF, Texas

Jones is in a funky mold of 6’11” guy who tries to play like a guard and does so poorly.

He has a background in track and field and only started playing basketball at age 15, and it shows on the floor. He is athletic and does well in the open floor in transition with his long strides, and occasionally has an impressive take from coast to coast.

But in traffic he looks unnatural and clumsy with the ball, and his poor instincts and lack of experience result in bad decision making off the dribble, as evidences by his 1.1 assists vs 2.4 turnovers per 40. He does not project to be a capable creator off the dribble against NBA defenses.

He has some semblance of shooting hope, making 34.5% 3P 67.7% FT in his 2 years at Texas on 1.1 3PA per game. And some semblance of switchability hope, with 2% steal rate in the two years and decent mobility. There are traces of perimeter hope.

The problem is that he does not do big man things well, as he rebounds like a wing and protects the rim like a PF. He can’t be played at center defensively, and the traces of perimeter ability are not enough if he needs to be played as an oversized and underskilled wing.

It’s difficult to see how his lack of experience can be a benefit when he looks this unnatural and behind the curve at age 20. Perhaps he can find a way to amount to a really weird rotation player, but it is difficult to see how his first round hype is justified.

46. JT Thor, 6’9″ PF, Auburn

Thor is very young, turning 19 in August with a 7’3″ wingspan and some hope of being able to hang defensively on the perimeter and make shots as he made 74.1% FT 29.7% 3P as a freshman for Auburn.

His issue is similar to Kai Jones in that his traces of perimeter skill are not enough to be interesting when he lacks the necessary ball skills to be a full time wing, averaging 0.9 assists and 1.6 turnovers as a freshman.

And unlike Jones, Thor is lacking in athleticism as he rebounds like a wing and protects the rim like a PF, and shot only 53% inside the arc which is poor for a big prospect in the NBA.

Even though his youth and length give him some mold, Thor is stuck in an awkward mold where he more of an underskilled and oversized wing than a big with perimeter versatility.

47. Austin Reaves, 6’6″ SG, Oklahoma

Austin Reaves can handle, pass, and shoot at a decent rate which gives him good odds of being a useful NBA player offensively.

The trouble is whether he can hang on defense, as his wingspan, frame, and athleticism are all underwhelming and he struggled badly on this end as an NCAA senior. Having turned 23 in May, there is some chance he is hopeless on that side of the ball.

48. Isaiah Livers, 6’7″ SF, Michigan

Livers has solid dimensions for a wing at 6’7″ with 6’9″ wingspan, and made 41.2% 3P and 85.6% FT over his 4 years at Michigan.

He doesn’t offer much else, but that alone gives him a chance of sticking in an NBA rotation.

49. Josh Primo, 6’5″ SG, Alabama

Primo is super young at good at shooting, but his dimensions limit his defensive versatility on top of being bad at defense.

He also is sorely limited with the ball and athletically, which gives him limited room for growth offensively.

It’s difficult to see him justifying a 1st round selection unless he grows another inch or two and fills out well, because in spite of his youth there is not much to build on as of right now.

50. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 6’9″ PF, Villanova

JRE is a solid, well rounded college player who likely lacks the physical tools to be more than a role player in the NBA.

Tier 6: Longshots

No need to bother ranking these guys because they all are very quick and superficial analyses. Just going to share some basic thougths and move on.

Isaiah Todd, 6’10 PF, G League Ignite

Todd is a stretch 4 in an era where all non-bigs are required to shoot. Except he likely doesn’t have the handle, passing or perimeter defense to stick in the NBA. But he is 19 years old and was a 5* recruit, so he nevertheless has a chance.

McKinley Wright, 6’0 PG, Colorado

Wright is a little guy who has a solid 6’5″ wingspan and is a pure floor general.

He is not comfortable from 3, having only made 32.8% 3P in 4 years at Colorado on middling attempts, but made 80.3% FT.

He isn’t particularly explosive or good at getting to the rim for a small guy who limits his upside. He needs to develop his shooting and rely on his floor general skills to carve out an NBA niche.

Raiquan Gray, 6’8 SF/PF, Florida St.

Gray offers a bit of everything as a thick wing with solid athleticism who can rebound, make plays defensively, and create and pass in a pinch.

He is a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none, and his 26.2% career 3P on low volume is a bad sign for his ability to play the perimeter in the NBA. But he made 73.2% FT, and if his shooting comes around he can be a guy.

Trendon Watford, 6’9″ PF, LSU

Watford isn’t particularly good at anything, but he is 20 years old with a 7’2″ wingspan and can do a bit of handling, passing, and shooting. If he develops well he can find a niche as a versatile role playing wing.

Kessler Edwards, 6’8 SF/PF, Pepperdine

Edwards is 6’8″ with a 6’11” wingspan and a solid shooter, making 39.5% 3P and 78.9% FT in his 3 years at Pepperdine

There seems to be a belief that he can play defense and is a solid 3 + D sleeper. But his rebound and steal rates for a mid-major prospect suggest otherwise.

If he proves capable on defense he can be a rotation player, but laws of averages say that he will not be able to create or defend well enough to stick in the NBA.

David Duke, 6’6″ SG, Providence

Duke offers solid passing and shooting for a guy with SG dimensions.

His malfunction is that he struggles to get to the rim and finish, and shot 40.4% inside the arc in 3 years at Providence that was a miserable 38.6% as a junior.

Perhaps some of his bad attempts can be trimmed out and he can find an NBA role, but that will be a fatal flaw fairly often.

Filip Petrusev, 6’11 C, Serbia

Petrusev is a big who does not protect the rim, and his lack of defense will make him difficult to build around. But he is skilled offensively, and can pass and shoot which makes him possibly something.

Sandro Mamukelashvili, 6’10 PF, Seton Hall

Mamu has decent skill for a big, as he shows traces of handling, passing, shooting, and perimeter mobility.

He is PF sized at 6’10 with 7’1 wingspan and does not rebound or protect the rim like a center. So he will need to function as more of a perimeter PF these, and he does just enough of everything to have a chance.

Isaiah Miller, 6’0″ PG, UNC Greensboro

Miller is a super athletic small PG, who is pesky on defense and can get to the rim and create for others offensively. He is also an exceptionally good rebounder for a little guy.

His achilles heel is that he cannot shoot a lick, making 23.9% 3P and 57.8% FT in his 4 years at UNC Greensboro. He turns 23 at the start of the NBA season in November and it is likely too late for him to figure it out.

But for an UDFA he could be a fun experiment on a player with an odd distribution of strengths and weaknesses

Terry Taylor, 6’6 SF, Austin Peay

Taylor has shades of a mid-major PJ Tucker. Could be a decent UDFA flier.

Matt Mitchell, 6’6 SG/SF, San Diego State

Mitchell overs fat potential as a perimeter player who do can do a bit of everything. But he is likely too small and unathletic to cut it in the NBA.

Sam Hauser, 6’8″ SF/PF, Virginia

Hauser is an elite shooter at 6’8″, having made 43.9% 3P 88% FT in his 4 college years while being generally efficient overall with a good assist:TOV ratio.

The guy is a solid basketball player. His fatal flaw is that he is very slow, which likely kills his chances of fitting in an NBA defense.

John Petty Jr. 6’6″ SG, Alabama

Petty fits a mold for a 3 + D SG, but nothing about him is exceptional and he made a pedestrian 70.4% FT in his NCAA career

Greg Brown, 6’8″ SF/PF, Texas

Brown has excellent dimensions and athleticism for a wing with a 7’0 wingspan to go with a passable jump shot at 33% 3P 70.8% FT.

But he simply does not have the ball skills to play wing and has one of the all time worst basketball IQs. He averaged 0.4 assists vs 2.3 turnovers as a freshman for Texas, and it is difficult to find any past non-big prospect to have an NBA career with such a horrendous assist:TOV ratio.

Vrenz Bleijenbergh, 6’10 SF/PF, Belgium

Vrenz is a draft twitter darling, as he offers a rare intersection of height and passing, which typically is a good indicator for sneaky upside.

The trouble is that every other signal suggests that he isn’t good enough for the NBA. He is very skinny with poor athleticism, and plays in the Belgian League which is not a historical source of any NBA players.

Further, he is 20 years old and will be 21 in October for the start of the NBA season. Yet in Belgium he averaged a meager 9.5 points per game on 45% 2P, 33.5% 3P, 67.5% FT with a high turnover rate. He isn’t a particularly good rebounder or shot blocker, and in all likelihood doesn’t have the skill or athleticism to fit in the NBA.

Let’s Talk About All of the Little SG’s

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This draft seems to have an inordinate amount of undersized shooting guards in round 1, so let’s sort through them:

Jalen Green (#2 ESPN)

2021 NBA Mock Draft 8.0: Jalen Green No. 2, Evan Mobley No. 3 if picks  based on highest upside - CBSSports.com

Green is the headliner of the class, currently projected to go #2 overall with outlier elite athleticism and highlight reel scoring ability.

His big flaw is that he is tiny for a shooting guard. He is listed at 6’6″ for G League Ignite, but so is Jonathan Kuminga. Based on any image of them standing next to each other, Kuminga is at least 2″ taller.

The most recent measurements available from Green came 2 years ago from Nike Skills Academy.

For a quick and dirty estimate, we can compare these measurements of a number of these players to their combine measurements to see how much these prospects grew on average:

If we use the laws of averages from this sample, Green would be 6’4.25″ in shoes with 6’7.5″ wingspan and weigh 180 pounds. That is a small player.

He is 3 months younger than the average player age in the sample, but he is also smaller and it seems less common for little guys to big growth spurts at this age. Further, the only two non-lotto picks from this sample to opt out of measurements were Sharife Cooper and Cam Thomas who measured 5’11.5″ and 6’1.5″ respectively, which indicates that they likely did not have significant growth spurts to show off to NBA teams.

His G League Ignite teammate Daishen Nix measured 6’4.25″, and in photos where they are next to each other it is difficult to tell who is the taller player.

If Green measured a fraction of an inch above 6’5″ in shoes, that would give him the biggest growth spurt in the class, which doesn’t seem likely. And he certainly doesn’t look like he filled out much in terms of strength.

Let’s err on the side of generosity and give him an extra half inch relative to his law of averages dimensions and his listed weight at 180. Here are the NBA players who he is most physically similar to:

HeightLengthWeight
Jalen Green6’4.756’8180
Devin Booker6’5.756’8.25206
Zach LaVine6’5.756’8.25181
Bradley Beal6’4.75″6’8202

He even skews slightly smaller on this scale, as LaVine is 1″ taller and Beal + Booker are significantly beefier. Beal also played much bigger in college, with 4.7% and 18.2% offense and defense rebound rates and 2.6% block rate compared to Green’s 1.9%/11.6% OR/DR and 0.8% BLK.

This trio also indicates approximately the peak of goodness for smaller SG’s. All time greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Vince Carter were all listed at 6’6″ with 6’11” wingspans and clearly stronger frames than Green. It doesn’t seem like ~1″ height, ~3″ length, and ~15 pounds of muscle should make the different between all-time great and low end all-star like Zach LaVine, but based on NBA history it seems to have a substantial impact on attainable upside.

James Harden measured 6’5.25″ with 6’10’75” wingspan and 222 pounds, and was a megastud college player who is essentially a point guard in a SG body.

Dwyane Wade measured 6’3.75″ without shoes with 6’10.75″ wingspan and 212 pounds. He was a better college rebounder than 6’11.5″ Kai Jones and is the best shotblocking SG in NBA history, and functioned as much bigger than his size.

Ray Allen was 6’5, and there is no information on his wingspan but he rebounded similarly to Bradley Beal in college and became one of the greatest shooters in NBA history.

Essentially almost every great non-PG at 6’4 or 6’5 both was functionally bigger due to frame + length and played bigger in terms of rebounding and/or shotblocking, and Green fills none of these boxes. This makes his size a major red flag, even with his 99th percentile athleticism.

It makes sense, as these small guys can be bullied and hunted on defense, and by not being a floor general they often need another ball handler on the floor who tends to skew small. And it is difficult to consistently score over bigger players, so there is a cap on scoring efficiency for these little guys.

Athleticism is an extremely important physical tool, but it can only do so much for a player whose size and mold essentially caps his upside at low end all-star such as LaVine or Booker. The optimistic argument would be that Green is better than Zach LaVine at the same age, so maybe he can be better than LaVine longterm and be the best player in NBA history in this mold.

Yet that can all come to fruition and he can still not be a hall of fame caliber player, which is why it is difficult to see the case for him as a top 3 pick.

How Good are LaVine and Booker?

This is especially true when players like LaVine and Booker are extremely difficult to build around. Take the Phoenix Suns for instance–they have built around Booker perfectly, with Chris Paul finishing 5th in MVP voting, former #1 overall DeAndre Ayton blossoming into a quality NBA big this playoffs, and a cast of quality role players with no weak link. Yet they needed heavy injuries to opposing stars to even make the finals, and now that they are here they are down 3-2 with their game 2 win being massively luck driven shooting 20/40 from 3 vs 9/31 from the Bucks in a 10 point win. Game 2 could have easily been a double digit loss with neutral shooting luck.

And while Milwaukee is likely the 2nd best team in the NBA and a worthy champion, Phoenix was able to avoid playing the best team in Brooklyn after injuries to James Harden and Kyrie Irving caused them to fall short to the Bucks in 7.

Phoenix is around the 5th or 6th best team in the NBA and good enough to sniff a title with enough luck on their side. And if they win this year, it will have been due to extreme luck and they will be one of the weakest champions in NBA history.

On the bright side, you could say that Booker is good enough to be the 2nd best guy on a fringe NBA contender that isn’t exactly loaded with star power, and if they had correctly taken Luka Doncic over DeAndre Ayton, they would have enough star power to win it all.

But if they had Doncic and Paul, what is the value of having Booker? If they have the option of a Doncic or CP3 pick and roll, Booker’s ability to score in isolation and make difficult shots is not particularly useful as it is the least efficient option and comes with by far the weakest passing. And it is not worth paying him a max deal to stand in the corner and play like a glorified Anthony Morrow in a 3 minus D role.

This is the problem with this mold. Being small enough to get hunted on defense without being a natural floor general on offense is a massive double hit to a player’s value. Booker is talented enough to be perhaps the 3rd best player on a good NBA champion, but to maximize his value he needs to be taking the most shots, which makes him incredibly difficult to build around. He essentially needs to be surrounded with the perfect blend of role players, and it is difficult to offer him a much better cast than Phoenix has without having star(s) that render his creation ability redundant.

Having a Booker type makes it easier to win 50+ games and be a threat to win a playoff series or two. But if you are picking top 3 and looking to change your franchise’s fortunes and maximize future championship odds, how can you justify taking somebody who maxes out somewhere in the vicinity of Devin Booker’s level? This badly caps your upside with a flawed player who is difficult to build around, while having bust risk just like anybody else.

Are We Sure he is not an Outlier?

One final sanity check for Green is to compare his G League #’s to Kobe Bryant’s NBA rookie season. They are essentially the same player, except Kobe is 6.5 months younger and playing in the NBA instead of the G-League. And that is forgetting Kobe being in the minimum tier of dimensions and strength to be a hall of fame SG while Green misses the cut across the board.

Even if they seem close enough physically, Kobe has a sneakily significant size advantage. And that 6.5 month age gap is not trivial either at such a young age.

If Green is an undersized G League knockoff of Kobe, it is difficult to see how that amounts to a top 3 pick.

Granted, he could seem like a fine choice in retrospect if he becomes as good as Booker and LaVine and becomes a low end all-star. And perhaps he develops into a slightly better passer and defensive player than either and is the GOAT score first little guy. There aren’t that many stud athletes who are competent at the G League level at a young age such that we can completely write him off.

But given the limited value of the mold and its difficulty to build around, Green is not a favorable valuable proposition relative to prospects like Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, or Alperen Sengun.

Green is still likely the best small SG in the draft, but it is not by as significant of a margin as his consensus rating will have you believe.

The Tennessee Boys: Jaden Springer (#29 ESPN) and Keon Johnson (#9 ESPN)

Tennessee's Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer project as first-round talents

These two share a number of striking similarities. Johnson measured 6’4.75″ with 6’7.25″ wingspan, Springer 6’4.25″ with 6’7.75″ wingspan. Springer is beefier weighing in at 202 vs 185 pounds, while Keon has nuclear powered calves as he smashed the combine record for standing vertical leap by 2″ at 41.5″ with Nick Young and Kenny Gregory being 2nd at 39.5″. This is inflated due to him tanking his standing reach measurement by 3-4″, but the guy can nevertheless jump.

Statistically they also are near twins in many ways:

AgeUSGOR%DR%AST%TOV%STL%BLK%FTr
Keon18.826.84.810.920.722.42.520.409
Jaden18.326.14.610.92420.62.720.44

Springer is 6.5 months younger and had slightly more assists and fewer turnovers, but otherwise they are twins. And if that’s not enough, check their distribution of shots per 100 possessions:

2PA2P%3PA3P%FTAFT%
Keon16.80.4924.10.2718.50.703
Jaden16.30.4754.10.43590.81

Both guys also love to pull up for mid-range shots. It is almost eerie how they are nearly the same exact player, except Springer has more offensive polish, strength, and youth while Keon can jump to the moon.

They should be likely be valued in the same tier, and it is outright crazy that ESPN mocks Springer at #29 currently. He will likely get picked higher in reality.

Springer

Intuitively, the younger guy with more polish seems like he should trade over, but Springer’s creation is very ugly as he relies on heavy dribbling as he bullies his way for incessant mid-range jumpers. Johnson’s creation is ugly too, but if he develops his skills over time, he has the athleticism to blow by his opponents for more easy buckets.

Springer’s ideal path as an NBA player will likely be as a 3 + D role player like Gary Harris who plays as a secondary handler rather than a lead guard. They are similar physically with the only difference being Springer 1″ longer, so let’s make Springer sandwich with Gary Harris’s two college seasons:

AgeUSGOR%DR%AST%TOV%STL%BLK%FTr
Harris18.320.63.76.29.815.22.80.70.298
Springer18.326.14.610.92420.62.720.44
Harris19.325.4410.216.812.73.41.60.312

Springer was the better FT shooter making 81% as a freshman vs Harris 78.8% over two years. But Gary Harris attempted more 3’s at 9.7 per 100 as a freshman and 12.3 as a sophomore, making 37.6%, compared to a measure 4.1 3PA/100 for Springer.

Harris started as a good NBA 3 + D role player until he was plagued by injuries and stopped making 3’s. Ideally, Springer wants to cut out his dribbling for mid-range jumpers and replace them with spot up 3’s, which he should be able to do given his excellent FT% and youth.

Then the question is whether Springer can be better than Harris due to playing slightly bigger at a young age in terms of rebounds and blocks, and if his creation ability amounts to any substantial advantage. It is difficult to have much confidence in his creation, but he is so young it has to be valued as worth something.

In retrospect, Harris was a decent return on a 19th overall pick, and Springer is a slightly suped up version of Harris and it would make sense to value him as a late lottery choice

Johnson

Keon is more complicated to evaluate. Simple logic would be that a small guard with bad offense should not work out most of the time. The bad comp for him is Archie Goodwin:

Goodwin was 0.5″ taller and 2.25″ longer, and a good athlete in his own rite albeit not on Keon’s level of elite athleticism.

AgeUSGOR%DR%AST%TOV%STL%BLK%FTr
Keon18.826.84.810.920.722.42.520.409
Archie18.427.55.610.416.8212.110.594

Granted, Archie slid to the late 1st at 29th overall and perhaps there was good reason for that. He shot 26.6% from 3 and 63.7% FT in college so perhaps GM’s thought his shot was irreparably broken, maybe his athleticism did not inspire enough upside excitement, or maybe they did not believe he was committed enough to work and improve his game to invest a better pick.

If we look at lottery picks, Kris Dunn or Emmanuel Mudiay may seem like reasonable downside comps. Except Mudiay didn’t have a college sample to compare to, and Kris Dunn was an even more limited offensive player than Johnson at the same age posting a similar efficiency (96 ORtg vs 95.5) on a far lower usage rate (16.3 vs 26.8). Dunn was a more natural PG, but because he couldn’t score he wasn’t a much more prolific passer than Johnson with a relatively minor advantage in AST% at 22.8 vs 20.6. Dunn improved substantially from his freshman to junior and senior seasons, but perhaps an elite athlete like Keon Johnson would have as well.

Now if we shift to positive comps, we can start with arguably the most nuclear athlete in the NBA: Russell Westbrook. Westbrook measured 1.25″ shorter but 0.5″ longer. Let’s take his career per 100 possession stats at UCLA because his minute weighted age is similar to Johnson’s:

Age2PA2P%FTAREBASTTOVSTLBLK
Keon18.816.80.4928.585.762.51
RWB1915.20.4916.96.97.34.52.90.3

Russ is clearly a more natural point guard, with a better assist rate, lower turnover rate, and more steals. This is with sharing the load with Darren Collison, and he likely could have done even more playmaking if he had complete control of the offense during his sophomore year.

But Keon played slightly bigger, with more rebounds and blocks, and scored a slightly higher volume, had a slightly higher 3PA rate (4.1 per 100 vs 3.8) and FT% (70.3 vs 68.5). These are relatively small advantages compared to Westbrook’s more natural floor general skills, and it is difficult to imagine a version of Westbrook that is less point guardy but slightly better in other areas would look like. But it would be something, to say the least.

Another comparison may be surprising. Brandon Roy was not drafted until he made significant leaps as a junior and senior, and he measured 1.5″ taller and 0.75″ longer than Johnson. But he had a surprisingly rocky start to his NCAA career that parallels to Johnson. His 224 minute freshman sample was really bad, so let’s compare his sophomore season to that of Keon:

Age2PA2P%FTAREBASTTOVSTLBLK
Keon18.816.80.4928.585.762.51
Roy19.415.80.5057.89.55.94.92.20.7

Roy’s shooting signal looked similar as well, as he made just 9/37 3’s and 72.1% FT in his first two seasons at UW.

His extra SG size cannot be ignored, nor can his massive leap over the two following seasons as well as a better than expected NBA translation. But Johnson is the clearly better athlete between the two, and it’s probably worth something to note that how similar they were at a young age.

The other elite athlete to pop up as a statistical comp is Zach LaVine. LaVine is 1″ taller and longer, and played a different role in college as more of a spot up shooter with Kyle Anderson, Norman Powell, and Jordan Adams leading the UCLA offense. LaVine was arguably the worst player in the NBA as a rookie, but through hard work and elite athleticism he made an all-star team.

Ultimately, it’s complicated for Keon Johnson. On one hand, it seems that his offense is far too inefficient to fit in the NBA as a little guy. But then when you dig through past examples, the high tier athletes who fill up the stat sheet decently enough in all categories like Keon tend to make greater progressions than expected. But there isn’t one truly satisfactory comp to look back on, and it is difficult to envision his NBA role. His size limits his defensive versatility, and while he has some PG skills it is difficult to see him blossoming into a true floor general.

It is difficult to get excited by the idea of drafting him, but it is similarly difficult to criticize the idea of drafting him once the top tier guys are off the board.

Springer is more simple because he has more polish and fits more of a role player mold, and it is easier to see him fitting into an NBA lineup. But he likely doesn’t have the same upside tail as Johnson.

These guys are both fairly weird. It is difficult to say which one should be valued higher with any confidence, as both belong in a similar tier. It seems fair to value them in the back end of the lottery as the 2nd and 3rd best small SG’s in the draft.

James Bouknight #8 ESPN
Quentin Grimes #28 ESPN

Houston's Quentin Grimes Named Finalist for Jerry West Award - American  Athletic Conference

Grimes is 0.5″ taller at 6’5.25″ vs 6’4.75, Bouknight is 0.25″ longer at 6’8.25 vs 6’8, and Grimes has an extra 15 pounds of beef at 205 vs 190 pounds.

Bouknight is rated much higher for his superior off the dribble creation ability, whereas Grimes is more of a pure spot up shooter.

Grimes has had a particularly interesting career arc. He started his NCAA career in Kansas as the #8 RSCI recruit, and after a dreadful freshman year transferred to Houston where he had a solid sophomore season. After shooting a pedestrian 33.3% 3P and 64% FT to start his career, his shooting completely blasted off as a junior making 40.3% of his 3PA on a massive 15.3 3PA per 100 possessions, and backed it up with a 78.8% FT. He also saw significant leaps in rebounds, steals, and blocks.

It is generally prudent to be wary of taking major NCAA leaps at face value due to small sample noise, but then Grimes proceeded to be the best player on the floor in the two combine scrimmages by a comfortable margin.

In two games, he was able to make 9/16 from 3 in 50 minutes of play, as he showed off a lightning fast release to go with good off ball movement and a good step back 3. He also showed off impressive athleticism, a bit more drive and dish game than he did at Houston, and he abused Austin Reaves off the dribble on a couple of occasions. His defense looked solid, he moves his feet well, his frame makes him difficult to push around, and he seems to have decent awareness. Everything about him looked good, and he should find a role in the NBA as a 3 + D role player.

Granted, this was only two games of unorganized basketball, but it appears that Grimes is finally living up to his top 10 recruiting hype. Between his combine performances and RSCI, it seems relatively safe to take his breakout junior season at face value.

Bearing this in mind, Grimes and Bouknight have some interesting similarities in terms of box score production this past season:

AgeOR%DR%AST%STL%BLK%FT%
Grimes20.75.414.112.72.61.10.788
Bouknight20.35.415.112.82.20.90.802

Defensively they both do fairly well for their position, but Grimes eye tests as slightly better and his stronger frame makes him difficult to push around. If one prospect gets a slight edge for defense, it is Grimes.

This brings us to the more complicated offensive comparison per 100 possessions, where we will include Grimes’ sophomore season to get a feel for his junior transformation:

Age2PA2P%3PAFTAASTTOV
Grimes ’2019.711.30.5389.27.45.55
Grimes ’2120.710.90.4115.373.63.4
Bouknight20.318.30.5289.510.33.45.3

As a sophomore, Grimes was more of a playmaker who created more for his teammates and drew more free throws, but still had a fairly high turnover rate for a guy who did not create Bouknight’s scoring. As a junior, he fully embraced his role as a spot up guy and focused on getting as many 3PA as possible.

Bouknight may be best served to make a similar adjustment to his offensive approach. While he is capable of creating his own shot at the rim and finishing, he is not particularly efficient at it as he has a rudimentary handle and is prone to playing slightly out of control.

He nevertheless creates an impressive volume of 2PA that he converts at a good %, but this is largely due to cuts, putbacks, and transition play. If he is collectively creating an extra 7 2PA and 3 FTA compared to Grimes at a higher %, but at the cost of ~2 TOV and ~6 3PA without any additional assists is that really a favorable tradeoff? Do you really want your tunnel visioned and slight framed 6’5″ guard consistently trying to score inside arc against NBA defenses instead of playing within the flow of the offense and getting off a massive volume of 3PA?

It’s a difficult question to answer. Bouknight still is a more natural scorer with a better career FT% than Grimes (80% vs. 70%). And he does play well off ball. If he is willing to transition to more of an off ball player in the NBA, and finds a way to get off a big volume of 3PA, he should surpass Grimes offensively.

Bouknight could also make his shot creation work, but that is an extremely dicey proposition for a guy who had such a poor assist:TOV ratio at age 20 and is merely a good athlete as opposed to nuclear like Jalen Green or Keon Johnson. At this stage, his on ball play is more likely to be a bug than a feature.

Bouknight is a confusing guy, as he does a number of things well and it is easy to see him being useful to an NBA team. But it is hard to see a big upside tail for him, and things can go wrong if he tries to force the issue too much against bigger and more athletic NBA defenders.

Summary

Grimes gets a tiny edge on defense, and has figured out how to play an offensively style tailor made for an NBA role player which makes him a safer bet on offense. Bouknight has more longterm upside on offense, but is currently a chaotic ball of energy that needs to be refined and could prove to be frustrating on that end as well.

Ultimately, Bouknight is a weird guy who is difficult to pin down. It is difficult to know how his offense will translate to the NBA, and how good he can really be in his best case. But it is tough to see his star upside, and it is unclear whether he is actually a better prospect than Grimes.

The safest thing to say here is– why pick Bouknight in the mid-lottery when you can have Grimes in the late 1st?

I would currently rank these two not too far behind Springer and Johnson as the #4 and #5 SGs in the draft that belong somewhere in the mid-1st.

Josh Christopher (#34 ESPN)

ASU basketball: Josh Christopher declares for 2021 NBA draft

Christopher is the discount version of Jalen Green, as he was the #10 RSCI freshman this past season.

He is not quite the athlete, passer, or shooter that Green is, but he is an impressive athlete in his own rite. You can see the offensive disparity with Green being better across the board in spite of playing the tougher schedule in the G League:

Age2PA2P%3PA3P%FT%ASTTOV
Green18.99.90.5507.30.3580.7863.83.4
Christopher19.110.50.4965.30.3050.82.63.2

Christopher atones by being functionally larger with ~1.5″ more length and ~35 pounds more muscle, and functionally playing bigger:

OR%DR%STL%BLK%
Green1.911.62.40.8
Christopher2.416.22.71.9

Again, not a perfect comparison in terms of league difficulty, but NCAA and G League are close enough such that it seems fair to give Christopher the edge here.

Green’s superior offense and athleticism should weigh significantly heavier than Christopher’s size advantage. But this doesn’t seem like such a blowout to justify the difference between a top 3 overall choice and a 2nd round pick.

Christopher should be valued somewhere in the back end of round 1.

Ayo Dosunmu #32 ESPN

3 best teams suited to pick Ayo Dosunmu in the 2021 NBA Draft

Ayo is a good handler and passer for a SG, and could pass for a big PG as much as a small SG at 6’5″ with 6’10.25″ wingspan.

His limitation is that he is not the quickest or most explosive guard, and could end up getting beat often on defense while struggling to get to his spots offensively.

But he has a nice intersection of size, skill, and athleticism, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him develop into a Spencer Dinwiddie caliber role player. He is worth a shot in the late 1st.

Bones Hyland #30 ESPN

Bones Hyland breaks VCU freshman 3-point record | Plus | richmond.com

Bones is a unique guy. He is an excellent shooter, and is capable of getting off shots at high volume and efficiency. In his two years at VCU, he averaged 13.8 3PA per 100 possessions making 39.9% while backing it up with 82.7% FT, and he also was effective scoring in his one game at the draft combine.

He measured only 6’3.5″ in shoes and weighs 169 pounds, which makes his size a significant concern. But he has a 6’9.25″ wingspan, and excels at making plays with his length to give himself a chance of hanging defensively.

His other concern is that he is not the most natural with the ball for a little guy. When he was asked to increase his usage rate from 21.1 to 28.6%, his assist to turnover ratio took a dive from 1.58 to 0.68. And he did not look particularly better off the dribble in the NBA combine scrimmage.

His flaws are scary, but he has some unique strengths to make him an interesting flier in the late 1st or early 2nd.

David Johnson (#40 ESPN)

Louisville G David Johnson declares for NBA Draft - Card Chronicle

Johnson is only 6’4.75″, but he has a nice 6’10.5″ wingspan to go with a solid frame and good athleticism.

He showed loads of promise as a freshman bench player, including a monster game at Duke. He looked like he may be in the discussion for a lottery pick entering his sophomore season, but he just couldn’t figure out how to do offense as his usage dropped and he saw major declines in his 2P% (54.5% to 42.6%), assist rate (35.9% to 18.8%), and FT rate (.278 to .183).

If there was a glimmer of hope, he did show a capable outside shot making 38.6% from 3 and 70% from FT after looking relatively busted as a freshman.

In the combine scrimmage he showed off impressive passing in his first game but was hesitant to attack off the dribble, and then he didn’t play the second game.

There’s a good chance he can’t handle well enough to make it in the NBA. But if his sophomore season was some fluke affected by COVID, and he figures out his handling, and his shooting comes around, he has a tantalizing combination of physical tools and vision for round 2.

He is a bit of a longshot, but there is some nice home run upside for a 2nd rounder. He is arguably even worth considering in the late 1st.

Cam Thomas #25 ESPN

LSU's Cameron Thomas, Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart earn All-SEC acclaim –  Crescent City Sports

Thomas is a unique guy, as he is exceptionally good at scoring without contributing anything else to the team. He might have the record for the highest ratio of points per game to the sum of rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals of any player who has ever been drafted. Based on a quick and dirty search that is probably not comprehensive, here is a list for comparison from the past 20 years:

ProspectYearPtsRebAstStlBlkRABSRatio
Cameron ThomasFR233.41.40.90.25.93.90
John JenkinsJR19.92.91.20.80.35.23.83
John JenkinsSO19.531.20.80.35.33.68
Jodie MeeksJR23.73.41.81.30.16.63.59
Seth CurrySR17.52.51.50.90.25.13.43
Salim StoudamireSR18.42.32.20.80.15.43.41
Malik MonkFR19.82.52.30.90.56.23.19
Joe YoungJR18.92.81.91.3063.15

There’s a clear brand here– little guys who can shoot and do not much else. Meeks and Curry have had careers as NBA role players so he can be something. But overall this list is fairly weak, and Thomas may not buck the trend as he is probably 6’2 or 6’3″ and one of the worst defensive players in the draft.

His closest comparison is Malik Monk, and he is a slightly worse pull than Monk who was ranked a bit higher RSCI at #9 vs #22 and at least had the excuse that maybe John Calipari was suppressing his numbers, as he showed more hope as a passer and shot blocker.

Thomas does have good wingspan (measured 6’6″ in 2019) and frame and if he does start caring about defense and becomes passable, he can fit in some NBA lineups that have a bigger shot creator as a more athletic Seth Curry. There is something to be said for him to have scored so much as a freshman, and he did so with a microscopic turnover ratio while making 88.2% FT. So he may be a justifiable choice around the turn of round 1.

But it’s just so hard to win with this brand, as historically it either ends in complete bust or flawed bench player, so he probably belongs moreso in early round 2 than late round 1.

Chris Duarte #22 ESPN

Why the Memphis Grizzlies should avoid Chris Duarte with No. 17 pick

Duarte is the senior citizen of the draft, having turned 24 in June.

He fits a nice 3 + D archetype, and he can possibly give whoever drafts him a rotation player for cheap for 4 years as his rookie deal will essentially cover his prime.

But he is so limited with the ball and so low upside, it is difficult to see how he is adequate value for round 1. His best comp is likely Damion Lee who went undrafted and was acquired on the cheap by Golden State, and still was cheap to retain after finding a rotation role.

Searching for a cheap 8th man is such a suboptimal use of a late 1st round pick when there are guys who can be better right away and solid for years to come still on the board.

Duarte did do really well for Oregon and can be a bit better than Lee, and is likely fine in round 2. But capping your upside this badly in round 1 is just wrong. You can find similar caliber pulls to fill out the bench on the scrap heap and aim higher with your first round pick.

Josh Primo #26 ESPN

Primo is very young, not turning 19 until December. But he is also very bad at basketball, and his first round hype is not justified.

This Draft Feels Like 2014 All Over Again

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2014 was the first draft I blogged about, and I started this blog largely because it was so much fun to analyze that crop. Now 2021 is loaded with parallels with makes it similarly exciting to analyze.

It started with Andrew Wiggins being hyped as the next LeBron, and then massively disappointing as a college freshman while his teammate Joel Embiid looked like a mega stud out of nowhere as an exceptionally coordinated 7 footer.

But in spite of his disappointment, Wiggins still went #1 overall as his freshman performance was good enough to not wash away the shiny hype he entered the season with, and the prospect of improvement based on his elite athleticism.

Now this year, Cade Cunningham was hyped as a Luka Doncic type generational prospect, but has performed more on Wiggins’ level while Evan Mobley has been the elite, athletic 7 footer who stuffs the stat sheet. Yet Cade’s preseason hype has helped him maintain the consensus #1 overall status.

In fact, Cade’s hype has held up even stronger than than Wiggins, as at least there were genuine discussions as to whether Embiid should go #1 before his medical red flags caused him to drop to #3. In this case, Cade is still holding strong as the consensus #1 overall in spite of Mobley being completely healthy.

The Cade/Wiggins comparison has been commonly dismissed as Wiggins being an athlete who has no idea how to play, and that Cade’s passing and shooting means that he won’t fail. But that ignores the fact that Wiggins was not any worse of an NCAA player than Cade, while also being 5 months younger. Let’s look at a quick and dirty spot check of NCAA goodness with Box Score Plus/Minus

AgeBPM
Mobley19.613.7
Embiid19.811.9
Wiggins18.98.3
Cade19.38.3

In retrospect is is easy to reduce Wiggins to an athlete who has no clue how to play, but it just was not that apparent at the time. He had decent scoring ability offensively, averaged 17 points on solid shooting %’s, drew a ton of free throws, and was a good defensive player due to his excellent athleticism.

Now people may lament that Cade’s teammates were the worst thing since sliced bread, while Wiggins played on a perennially great Kansas team. But then when we look at their on/off splits, Wiggins is the one who made a clearly positive impact on his team. From hooplens.com:

Wiggins not only had a major impact on the defense as a long, athletic player who could defend multiple positions, but he also had a more clearly positive impact on the offense where he could at least use his athleticism to get some easy shots, crash the offensive glass, and draw a high volume of free throws. Whereas in spite of his passing, Cade’s team seemed to get more easy 2 pointers with him off the floor.

Of course this doesn’t prove that Cade will be as bad as Wiggins, as college on/off stats are very noisy and plenty of players with lower freshman BPMs have gone on to be all-stars. On average, Cade should be better than Wiggins. But it is enough information to at least start questioning what makes Cade’s floor necessarily higher than Wiggins.

The common answer would be that athleticism is overrated, and Cade’s shooting and passing is what is actually the more valuable trait. But that isn’t necessarily the case– athleticism is and always has been an incredibly valuable NBA trait. Further, OJ Mayo could shoot and pass as well as Cade and had a pedestrian NBA career. The real lesson from Wiggins should be that being well rounded with limited flaws is predictive of NBA stardom– not checking a few magical boxes regardless of the flaws that come with it.

One funny commonality is that both were arguably better as role players. Wiggins had a narrative that worst case he would be a great role player as he could make an open 3 and be a defensive stopper. But Minnesota had different plans for him to relentlessly chuck stepback jumpers from mid-range instead, and it did not amount to a good player.

There seems to be a similar notion with Cade, that worst case he can be a more athletic Joe Ingles who provides excellent 3 + D support. But Joe Ingles wouldn’t be Joe Ingles if he was drafted #1 and expected to carry the offense like Luka Doncic, because he would do very poorly in that role.

Cade may do a better job of it than Joe Ingles would, but that doesn’t mean he will necessarily be an adequate primary creator in the NBA. And if he always has the ball in his hands– how much value does his shooting *really* carry? Being able to make pullup 3’s is a helpful skill, but if he is still collectively inefficient and his shooting is not often being used to provide spacing gravity to his other teammates, it diminishes the value of it.

Maybe Cade Turns Out Better than Wiggins

But does it really matter? This kid from USC is an obvious stud and everything about him is wired for efficiency. You would think that with the advent of statistics that qualities like elite efficiency, passing, defense, in a player who is also taller, longer, and more athletic than Cade would be valued higher. But the level of analysis has gotten so basic that all that matters are checking the magical boxes of being a wing creator (doesn’t matter if you are good or bad at it as long as you tried!) and being able to shoot. Conversely being tall makes you automatically bad, even if you are capable of doing perimeter things like handle, pass, shoot, and switch onto smaller players.

It is such a basic level of analysis, it is like watching everything go backwards. At least in 2014 teams were open enough to bigs for Embiid over Wiggins to be a realistic discussion before Embiid’s injury flags mucked everything up. Now we have a stud in Mobley who isn’t even in the conversation with a clean bill of health.

It makes sense to place an additional emphasis on speed and skill over taking whatever big stiff is available to fill the middle. But this has gone overboard. Being tall always has been and always will be an incredibly useful trait for basketball. And momentum can always shift back toward bigs– for instance the coming rule changes to reduce cheap fouls on shooters adds just a bit more value back toward bigs and away from guards and wings.

And regardless, a tall guy like Mobley who can protect the rim and do perimeter things like handle, pass, and shoot are going to give you a ton of lineup flexibility.

And the #2 pick is even worse than #1

As flawed and overhyped as Wiggins was, he still fit a quality NBA mold and had enough strengths such that in his mid 20’s, he has finally become a useful NBA player. And he still has room to grow into a solidly + player, much like Rudy Gay who was his negative comp, but ended up having a better than expected second act for the Spurs.

On the other hand, Jabari Parker was the ultimate empty calories scorer, and he is so one dimensional with such bad defense that he is nothing more than a cheap flier for his 6th team in Boston as he enters his prime age.

Granted, there is no reason to believe Jalen Green will necessarily be that bad. His athletic scoring off the dribble looks quite a bit more aesthetically pleasing and should have better NBA translation than Parker’s bully ball. Perhaps he can have a career closer to his physical doppelganger Zach LaVine, who was chosen later in the 2014 lottery.

But Green is much smaller than Parker and there are so many scenarios where he is just dreadful on defense without offering much more than scoring offensively, he has a nasty downside tail and his upside is capped at the Zach LaVine/Devin Booker tier, which is not good enough to win a championship as your best player.

Booker needed MVP candidate Chris Paul, a quality big in former #1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton, and a strong cast of quality role players just to be a 2nd tier contender who was able to make the finals when every star player in their path got injured. He is a good player and contributed to the run to be sure, but you want to aim higher than a Booker best case at #2 overall, especially when it comes attached to a fair amount of bust risk.

The Rest of the Draft May Be Even Better

It would really be something to see a top 3 of 1. Cade 2. Green 3. Mobley perfectly mirror the Wiggins, Parker, Embiid top 3 of 2014. And even after that, there are some similarities.

Scottie Barnes, like Aaron Gordon is the big, toolsy wing with questionable shooting. Gordon is the more explosive athlete, but Barnes is longer with better PG skills. I would rate Barnes as the better prospect between the two based on pre-draft.

Jalen Suggs is the high IQ combo guard, similar to Marcus Smart. But he has a better first step with more offensive potential, which makes him the better pre-draft prospect than Smart.

We even have a young, tall point guard from Australia in Josh Giddey, who hopefully has a better NBA career than Dante Exum. Giddey is stylistically closer to Lonzo Ball than Exum, but is smoother with his movement as well as being the more skillful passer. He has a certain wizardry to his passing, as he not only is exceptionally high IQ with great vision, but is also highly accurate and passes like he has the ball on the string. He has limited tools and scoring which give him a wide range of future outcomes, but his passing is so outlier good for his height and youth he clearly has a nice upside tail.

Later in the lottery, we have a one dimensional mid-major shooter Corey Kispert playing the role of Doug McDermott being slotted far above where his talent level merits.

International Man of Mystery

The 2014 draft was also loaded with awesome international bigs. I ranked Jusuf Nurkic and Clint Capela 5th and 6th ahead of Parker and Wiggins, and Nikola Jokic 16th. This year there is only one elite big but he is better than all of them: Alperen Sengun.

But the trouble is that they were all true centers, whereas Sengun is more of an old school PF. Is he more of a Julius Randle, who in spite of quality box score production, does not fit the modern NBA and will turn into a pumpkin in the playoffs?

In some ways Sengun is similar to Randle, but he also offers more than 2x the steal and block rates (2.6/5.9 vs 1.0/2.6) almost 2x the assist:TOV ratio (1.11 vs 0.57), a wetter jump shot (79.4% FT vs 70.6%), and much better interior scoring (67.4% 2P vs 51.7%) on higher usage (26.7 vs 25.5). All while playing in a better league at 8 months younger.

At the time I argued that Randle is just not an interesting mold, and even if he posts good stats he may not be that useful in the NBA. And it is an interesting debate where he should rank in a re-draft. I ranked him #22, which feels too low based on his recent season in NYK. But that was after his initial team let him walk for nothing when New Orleans signed him for the mid level exception. So perhaps it was a reasonable place to rate him, as there is no clear answer.

Regardless, it’s fascinating how much the market has adjusted since then. Randle went 7th overall and was considered a reasonable or even good pick by most at the time. Now Sengun is a massively suped up version with much more perimeter qualities and hope on defense, yet he isn’t even projected to go in the lottery.

At this point it doesn’t seem that most people are critically thinking about the ways in which Sengun can provide value to a team, and are just blindly fading him based on his perceived mold.

It is completely reasonable to dock his value for having questions about how he fits into the modern NBA, but based on just the #’s he is the clear #1 pick in this draft. You are heavily shorting his mold just by dropping him out of the top 5. Dropping him out of the top 10 seems like a clear overreaction to the recent trends in the modern NBA.

Trends Don’t Last Forever

It is crazy how much has changed in the past 7 years after the Warriors built the death lineup around Steph Curry and Draymond Green, and the rest of the league started adapting to combat them. Now that the Warriors are no longer a contender, the small ball trend has continued, and may continue indefinitely.

But that doesn’t mean that the momentum cannot slightly swing back toward bigs whether it be with small rule changes such as reducing fouls on non-basketball moves. Or perhaps a new super team emerges, which causes a shift back the other way.

Imagine if Mobley and Sengun were paired together. They would be a perfect duo on defense– Sengun cleans up the glass and puts a body on stronger bigs in the post, while Mobley handles the rim protection. Offensively, you have two bigs who can handle, pass, shoot, and score inside. Sengun should be an especially good floor spacer, while Mobley can at least make an open shot.

When you have that level of creation, passing, finishing, and shooting from your two bigs, it is ridiculously easy to build a good offense. It will be especially difficult for small lineups to match up with them, even though Sengun is short for a 5 and Mobley is skinny, their passing and interior scoring could collectively provide nightmares for a team that needs to put a big wing on either one of them. As of now almost every starting lineup in the NBA would need to do this.

It may be hard to believe that a great offense can come from somewhere other than wing or guard with a great first step, but let’s bear in mind that the Nuggets won a playoff series against Portland with a monster 123.4 ORtg in spite of having a guard rotation of Austin Rivers, Facundo Campazzo, Monte Morris, and Markus Howard. Michael Porter Jr. is a great shooter but nothing close to a point forward, and Aaron Gordon is not a volume creator.

Jokic is the MVP and one of the best offensive bigs of all time, but based on pre-draft Sengun clearly has more offensive talent and Mobley arguably does too. Even without either peaking nearly as high as Jokic, you can still build a really awesome offense around those two. Sengun may give a decent bit back on defense, but if he proves adept at guarding the perimeter, it would be over for the rest of the NBA.

And if teams are forced to match up with two bigs who provide those sort of matchup issues offensively, playing two bigs may start to become more commonplace once again. And if it does not, they can destroy the rest of the league with any decent supporting guards and wings.

Summary

By far the two drafts that I have been most motivated to scout film and generate content for have been 2014 and 2021, and there is a good reason for that– because they had the biggest inefficiencies at the top.

And the source of current inefficiencies is this obsession with mold. Which matters to some extent, as I noted in my 2014 writeups on Julius Randle. But at this point it has gotten so extreme that a significant portion of the basketball world is lazily grouping players into buckets without any further analysis for what they actually do on the floor.

Even though consensus should be getting sharper 7 years later, in certain ways it may be getting duller.

This is especially the case since at least Wiggins in 2014 had a clear argument for #1 with Embiid’s injury. He was actually better than Jabari Parker. Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart proved to be better, but they are still mere role players.

Now this year, Mobley is healthier than Embiid, Suggs has more potential than Smart, Barnes has more potential than Gordon, Giddey may be better than Exum, Sengun is drastically better than Randle, and there isn’t even a Franz Wagner super role player in the mix. So the prizes at the top all offer possibly much richer payoffs, yet Cade is even more firmly entrenched in #1 than Wiggins was. This is not an efficient market.

At this point you cannot get ahead of the curve by going all in on wing creators and all out on anybody over 6’9. The recent trends toward small ball have been so fast and furious, at this point lineups cannot plausibly trend any smaller. And even if they tread water at current levels, elite bigs are still elite and mediocre wings are still mediocre.

The NBA has been a big centered game for 60+ years. There has been a vicious correction over the past 7 years, which should stay to a significant extent. But at this point it is safe to say that the correction is over, and even after all of that elite bigs are still elite and mediocre wings are still mediocre. At this point you cannot get ahead of the curve by overvaluing wings and disregarding bigs, but you can create elite opportunities for other teams who are interested in elite basketball players.

Evan Mobley Moves and Thinks with Surgical Precision

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Evan Mobley is currently projected to go #3 overall, as he is a fluid and mobile 7’0 that offers a bit of everything.

The areas where he stands out in particular are with his passing and defense. He reads the defense very well, and every time he is double teamed he quickly swings it to the open shooter. And he was rim protector for the 6th best defense in the NCAA, and did so with an unprecedented ability to avoid fouls.

Let’s take a look at how his passing, rim protection, and foul rates compare to past top 5 big prospects at a similar age:

AgeAST%A:TOBLK%PF/40BLK:PF
Evan Mobley19.614.11.208.82.11.64
DeAndre Ayton19.510.20.836.12.80.81
Jaren Jackson Jr.18.39.30.6314.35.90.95
Karl Anthony-Towns19.111.60.8311.550.77
Kristaps Porzingis19.45.20.385.24.90.40
Joel Embiid19.811.50.5811.76.30.77
Anthony Davis18.87.51.2213.72.42.38
Greg Oden18.950.3312.73.81.21
Al Horford19.615.11.046.94.50.70
Tyrus Thomas19.410.40.7111.951.21
Andrew Bogut20.118.20.856.25.80.83
Emeka Okafor19.34.40.5712.73.51.57
Chris Bosh18.87.90.536.730.92

Mobley is in the conversation for best passing big of the top 20 years, as he only gets edged out in assist rate by sophomores Horford and Bogut, and atones with a better assist to turnover ratio.

He does not have quite the block rate as most of the stud rim protectors, but atones with his lack of fouling. The only prospect who showed a better ability to block without fouling is Anthony Davis, who was a clear top 3 prospect of the past 20 years.

Davis was also younger with better steals and rebounds and more explosive athleticism, so Mobley isn’t on his level of generational prospect. But he holds up well when compared to everybody else on the list.

Among the other prospects who were able to accumulate more blocks than fouls: Greg Oden, Emeka Okafor, and Tyrus Thomas, none were close to Mobley as a passer or a shooter.

Mobley gives some of his goodness back by having a thin frame and being weaker on the glass than everybody on this list other than JJJ. But you can see he has some unique strengths to make him exciting

Team Success

Andy Enfield’s tenure at USC has been decent but unspectacular. He was hired in 2013-14, and after two rebuilding seasons he was able to get the Trojans perennially to the NCAA tournament bubble, ranging from #49 to #82 kenpom ranking among D1 teams for 5 seasons in a row. And the 20-21 season appeared to be no different, as they lost their top 4 players ranked by win shares from the 19-20 season with Evan’s brother Isaiah as the only decent returner. They replaced everybody else with a glut of ordinary low and mid-major role players, and their perimeter creation appeared to be sorely lacking.

But it worked for a couple of reasons. They had the 6th best defense in NCAA, in large part because having two intelligent bigs makes for a strong defensive foundation. And they overperformed their #24 block rate with the #2 defensive 2P%– a sign that Mobley’s good but non-elite block rate may understate his rim protection. Similar to Tim Duncan and Andrew Bogut, he prioritizes forcing difficult shots over trying to send every opponent shot attempt into the stands.

They also had the 14th best offense, which was particularly shocking for a team with such pedestrian perimeter talent. But mid-major transfers Drew Peterson and Tahj Eaddy were able to sustain similar usage and assist rates as they did for their mid-major teams in 19-20 with a slight bump in efficiency for Peterson and a huge jump for Eaddy.

This is incredibly rare as most mid-major transfers see a significant drop in offensive output when they move up to high major. Peterson and Eaddy deserve credit for improving, but this level of performance likely would not be possible without two intelligent passing big men to make life easier for the guards and wings.

Consequently, USC ended up with by far the best team in Andy Enfield’s career, finishing as the #6 kenpom team and making a surprising elite 8 run.

Everybody talks about how bad Cade Cunningham’s teammates are, but every half-decent computer model rated Oklahoma State as the better team entering the season as he had relatively decent high major teammates. Evan Mobley was the top prospect who had the clearly most flawed cast, yet he was able to carry them much further than expected by several orders of magnitude.

Comps

Chris Bosh

The most obvious comp to Mobley is Chris Bosh, who shares a similar physical profile and looks like he could be Mobley’s biological father:

AgeUSG2P%FT%OR%DR%AST%STL%BLK%
Mobley19.623.60.6150.6949.718.914.11.48.8
Bosh18.822.50.5760.7310.820.87.91.86.7

Bosh was 9 months younger and showed slightly better rebounding and shooting (also attempted 1.9 3’s per 40 vs 1.4 for Mobley), but otherwise Mobley looks good with better passing, rim protection, and slightly better usage and efficiency.

Mobley is right on the cusp where he can maybe develop into a good shooter or maybe not, and this will obviously make a significant swing on his NBA value. But Bosh never became a reliable NBA shooter until his final few seasons. Mobley’s passing and rim protection advantages are so significant, if they were both in this draft he would likely deserve the edge as the better pick.

It’s close enough such that it’s not clear whether his median outcome will be better or worse than Bosh. And when that can be said about a comparison to a hall of fame player, that’s a good sign that Mobley is a worthy #1 overall.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

Another recent skinny big prospect who has some parallels is Jaren Jackson Jr.

AgeUSG2P%FT%OR%DR%AST%STL%BLK%
Mobley19.623.60.6150.6949.718.914.11.48.8
JJJ18.322.90.5960.7978.719.79.31.614.3

They are similar rebounding, and JJJ is the better shooter with better FT% and a higher 3PA rate of which he made 39.6% while being more than a full year younger. JJJ had more blocks, but Mobley had a small fraction of the foul rate, fouling 2.1 times per 40 compared to 5.9 for JJJ..

Personally I was extremely high on JJJ, and with his youthful upside it would have been difficult to take Mobley ahead of him. Especially since prospects with NBA fathers tend to out perform their draft stock, and Jaren Sr. outperformed himself going from undrafted free agent to useful rotation player for the championship Spurs.

Jaren Jr.’s rebounding, assist, and foul rates were all flags, but it made sense that he should improve his rebounding as he filled out and improve his assist and foul rates with repetition and experience, but none of that has happened.

In part this may be attributed to being hampered by injuries, and he at least showed an improved rebounding rate this past season. And he is not a bust by any stretch, as he is still a useful 21 year old player with plenty of upside to grow.

Mobley at least offers a safer and more polished prospect. He won’t be the same shooter as Jaren, but his superior passing and ability to avoid fouls are nice features that should make his NBA translation more seamless.

It is difficult to draw any strong conclusions from Jackson thus far, but he is a bit of a cautionary tale to show that Mobley is not a lock to be a stud– especially if he struggles to rebound in the NBA as much as Jackson has.

Joel Embiid

Embiid is much bigger and bulkier than Mobley, but they both have the coordination of ballerinas which is especially enticing in a talented 7 footer:

AgeUSG2P%FT%OR%DR%AST%STL%BLK%
Mobley19.623.60.6150.6949.718.914.11.48.8
Embiid19.824.70.6390.68512.727.311.52.211.7

Embiid’s major strength advantage shows in his vastly superior rebound rate, and he is no doubt the better raw talent than Mobley in a vaccum.

But Mobley makes up for this by being better at playing under control, with a significantly lower turnover (3.9 vs 5.9) and foul rate (3.1 vs 8.5) per 100. This is what him makes such a rare prospect– he is both physically capable of moving under control, and mentally capable of playing under control. In tandem this lends itself to elite levels of efficiency and positive team level impact.

Assuming full health, it is close between the two. But given Embiid’s significant health flags, Mobley would be the easy choice on draft night.

Tim Duncan/Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett is more physically similar to Mobley, but Duncan is the one with the college sample thus he will be the one who gets compared. Amazingly, Duncan was the same age as a junior as Mobley was as a freshman, so let’s compare that season, as it relatively falls in line with his overall college trajectory. Stats per 40 minutes:

Age2PA2P%FTAFT%TRBASTTOVSTLBLKPF
Mobley19.610.80.6156.90.69410.22.82.60.93.42.1
Duncan19.7130.577.30.68713.33.13.50.742.4

It’s stunning how similar these guys are. Timmy has a bit more post game and edges out scoring volume at 20.6 pts per 40 vs 19.3 for Mobley. But Mobley compensates with better 2P%, lower TOV, and slightly better shooting.

Their assist, steal, block, free throw, and foul rates are more or less identical, and really the only area where Duncan stands out is due to his superior rebounding. In tandem with his thin frame, it is Mobley’s one nagging flaw and it is difficult to assess how much it matters.

On the bright side, Duncan never improved as a shooter, making 69.6% FT and 17.9% 3P in his NBA career. If Mobley develops into a real NBA 3 point threat, he can help atone for his lack of beef and rebounding.

The Rebounding Conundrum

Mobley’s only flaw is his thin frame and lack of rebounding, and there are different ways to look at it.

The downside is that Jaren Jackson Jr. posted similar NCAA rebound rates to Mobley, but has been an anemic 4.6%/14.4% O/D rebounder in the NBA thus far. If Mobley proves to be as soft inside as JJJ, he could be disappointing.

The upside is the two recent USC bigs to make the NBA have seamlessly translated their NCAA rebounding to the pros in limited NBA samples thus far: Onyeka Okongwu 12.4/18.4 NCAA to 12.0/17.9 NBA (including playoffs), Chimezie Metu 7.8/18.6 NCAA to 7.7/19.4 NBA.

So if we are being optimistic: Kevin Garnett was a month older as NBA rookie than Mobley as a USC freshman and posted slightly worse rebound rates: 9.1/17.0 that dipped further as sophomore to 7.6/16.8, before creeping up as he filled out and eventually became a very good rebounder in his prime.

If Mobley both sees his rebound translate well to the NBA and he consistently improves over time like Garnett, he can be a top 10 all-time great like Garnett and Duncan. This is an unlikely outcome, but in tandem with the possibility that he can also shoot 3’s better than Garnett and Duncan, this level of greatness cannot be ruled for Mobley.

The more realistic outcome is that he is a slightly different version of Chris Bosh, which is still a hall of fame level player worthy of a #1 overall choice.

And even if he falls short and is closer to a Jaren Jackson Jr. type– that is still a highly useful NBA player.

It is difficult to see how anybody else can be justified as the #1 overall pick. Mobley has the highest upside, median, and floor of anybody in the draft. His current ESPN projected at #3 overall is starting to feel like 2014 again– as the warty and overhyped wing Cade Cunningham plays the role of Andrew Wiggins and empty calories volume scorer Jalen Green plays the role of Jabari Parker in Zach LaVine’s body.

Cunningham and Green can have much better careers than Wiggins and Parker respectively, but you cannot take either over the elite 7 footer who moves like a ballerina and expect favorable results. At least in 2014, GM’s had the excuse of fretting over Embiid’s foot injury that delayed his eventual NBA debut by 2 seasons. In 2021 there is no injury excuse– you either take Mobley, or run the risk of setting your franchise back for years to come.

Four Factors of Cade Cunningham’s Offense

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Any generational prospect should be able to compare favorably to other similar prospects. Cade Cunningham has great dimensions, frame, and shooting ability, but let’s see how he stacks up to past top 3 picks who were teenage offensive hubs at wing or guard.

In this case we will look at 2P% since that is more predictive of creation ability and less noisy than eFG%, assist to turnover ratio which more informative than raw TOV%, as well as offensive rebounding and free throw drawing over the past 20 drafts.

YearProspectAge2P%AST:TOOR%FTr
2021Cade Cunningham19.30.4610.862.30.39
2021Scottie Barnes19.40.5611.667.40.339
2021Jalen Suggs19.60.5881.552.70.367
2020Anthony Edwards18.40.5041.052.50.338
2019RJ Barrett18.50.5291.334.80.319
2019Ja Morant19.40.5451.954.10.51
2019Zion Williamson18.50.7470.8712.70.467
2017Jayson Tatum18.80.5040.824.80.381
2017Markelle Fultz18.60.5021.8540.383
2016Ben Simmons19.40.5611.429.60.769
2016Brandon Ingram18.30.464160.351
2016Jaylen Brown19.20.4820.654.50.574
2015D’Angelo Russell18.80.4791.723.60.303
2014Andrew Wiggins18.90.4930.688.40.538
2012Bradley Beal18.50.5411.054.80.44
2010John Wall19.30.5041.622.60.53
2009James Harden19.30.5641.255.40.597
2008Derrick Rose19.30.5211.7750.47
2008OJ Mayo20.20.4640.933.90.284
2007Kevin Durant18.30.5050.4690.396
2003Carmelo Anthony18.60.49618.90.389
Average19.00.5251.215.60.435

These guys are all in a roughly 1 year age range outside of old man OJ Mayo, and Cade is in the upper portion of that range. Among this group he rates dead last in 2P% and offensive rebounding rate, and is solidly below average in assist to turnover and free throw rate.

Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs are both projected outside of the top 3 in this year’s draft but they absolutely destroy Cade as efficient offensive hubs in terms of 2P% and assist:TOV ratio.

Even prospects seen as decidedly non-elite such as Anthony Edwards and RJ Barrett were better at everything except having a slightly lower free throw rate while being nearly a full year younger. Cade is bigger and better at shooting, but his basketball playing ability is not clearly above these guys by any means. Yet neither received a fraction of the hype and adoration that Cade has garnered.

Cade has been compared to Ben Simmons with a jump shot, which is ridiculous since Simmons demolishes him in all 4 categories.

Cade has also been compared to a bigger James Harden, which is also comical since Harden destroys him in all 4 categories. And Harden also destroyed him in all 4 as a freshman when he was nearly a full year younger.

Athletic guards like Bradley Beal, John Wall, Derrick Rose, and Ja Morant topped him in all 4 categories and Markelle Fultz was only a hair behind in FT rate.

Jayson Tatum is the only player that Cade edges out in 2 categories with better assist to turnover and free throw rate by a hair each while being about half a year older. And unlike the rest of the list, Cade is not bigger or better at shooting than Tatum. And Tatum was not perceived as a can’t miss star entering the draft by any stretch.

Brandon Ingram has similar dimensions and was a full year younger than Cade trumping him at all categories except slightly lower free throw rate, and he still was bad at NBA basketball for 3 seasons before figuring it out.

Jaylen Brown is an outlier NCAA statistical overperformer, yet he still trumps Cade in 3 of 4 categories.

Cade was a better NCAA shooter than Tatum, Ingram, and Brown, but each of those three makes 38-40% NBA 3P– what are the odds that Cade is significantly better than them as a pro? He could be one of the all time great NBA shooters, but it’s very rare for high usage guys outside of Steph to make > 40% from 3.

OJ Mayo is a bit older than this group, but his statistical profile to highly similar to Cade. He dominated high school by being physically developed early, then showed up to NCAA with less athleticism than anticipated but still did fairly well by being an OK enough creator and knockdown shooter at 41% 3P 80% FT. If Cade is a bigger OJ Mayo, that’s a useful NBA player, but is it really a guy you take top 3?

Carmelo Anthony profiles similarly to Cade physically and stylistically as an iso scorer who relies on his jump shooting. But he crushes Cade on rebounds, with solidly better 2P% and assist:TOV while being 8 months younger and leading Syracuse to an NCAA title. Melo wasn’t the most efficient fellow in the NBA, so if Cade is a less efficient version of the same thing– is he really worth a top 3 pick?

The Limit of Shooting

While shooting is a vitally important part of basketball, it is its own skill in isolation and does not connect to other parts of the game. Especially not the physical or cerebral ones that lend themselves to greatness.

Players like Dirk and Durant have been able to dominate with shooting using their elite height and reach to get their shot off whenever they want. But Cade doesn’t have that same reach, and is going to need to rely on his basketball playing ability.

And if you watch him play, there are multiple issues that come up. He is not crafty or explosive enough to create many easy attempts for himself, and often bullies his way as close to the rim as possible until pulling up for a difficult contested shot.

While he is a willing passer who moves the ball in transition and sees the floor well, he is only a good but not great passer and detracts with turnovers as his loose handle often gets stripped and he frequently throws sloppy passes away.

He has a rudimentary approach to offense where he loves to spam the pass or shoot button without putting much thought into the quality of shot that ensues. In tandem with his loose handle, this leads to frequent turnovers for himself as well as his teammates who often receive his passes in difficult 1 on 2 situations.

These flaws would all be easier to forgive if he was more physically dominant, but he rebounds offensively as well as a small guard and gets to the line at an ordinary rate. He does not have the best motor or effort, and does not atone for his offensive mistakes with defensive dominance, and it is not clear that he is on track to become an above average defensive player in the NBA.

These sum to fairly significant flaws, and are not typical concerns for a top 3 pick let alone a consensus #1 overall.

Do the Numbers Reflect Reality?

To some extent he was in a suboptimal situation playing for a not so good NCAA coach surrounded by mostly defensive talent, but that is the case for most elite prospects. NCAA coaches and offenses are typically not good, but the true studs find a way to stuff the stat sheet anyhow.

There is some small possibility that he was affected by the pandemic, which caused him to underperform in the mental aspects of the game relative to his prior expectations. You would need to strongly believe that some combination of COVID and suboptimal situation dimmed his output to even think about him at #1.

But there is the other possibility that the guy has a basic operating system that was in effective in high school where he physically developed sooner than his peers and often was playing on all-star teams that could outrun everybody in transition. And now taking the step up to NCAA against guys physically closer to him, his limited basketball IQ is getting exposed. This is something that happens much more frequently to hyped prospects than having their talent hidden by poor NCAA situations, so it is the most likely explanation for his performance.

Also it is worth noting that if you want to give extra weight to his priors for other aspects, it is also worth considering he significantly outperformed his expectation as a shooter. If he shoots like his NCAA self and plays like his high school self he will be very good, but if he shoots like his high school self and plays like his NCAA self, he is going to be massively disappointing.

Is Cade Obviously Top 3 in this Draft?

Cade offers some major warts that are not typically stomached by top 3 picks, so why is beyond the shadow of a doubt in the top 3 in this draft? Because his shooting is THAT valuable? Because we are that certain that his situation dragged down his numbers in a way that has yet to happen with past top 3 picks? An explanation would be nice, because there is nothing on film or in his stat sheet that makes anything obvious other than he has a fairly easy path to a decent NBA starter.

But even that is far from a lock if he is going to be developed into a suckier Carmelo Anthony rather than a bigger Klay Thompson who provides elite 3 + D support.

Evan Mobley plays with a surgical precision in terms of his movement and decision making that obviously trumps Cade’s style of bludgeoning you to death with difficult shot attempts. He is hands down the better prospect.

It seems that some people have accepted that Mobley is better or it is close. But that’s where it ends. The idea that Cade might not be top 2 is a taboo idea in a world where prospects like RJ Barrett and Anthony Edwards were relentlessly bashed for warts arguably less significant than what Cade brings to the table.

Why do we need to take him over Jalen Suggs, who is cerebrally multiple tiers above Cade as well as more athletic and efficient? Cade is bigger and better at shooting, but it is not clear that this is more valuable.

Why do we need to take him above Scottie Barnes who is physically superior with slightly better dimensions, and far better offensive efficiency and defensive effort? Cade has a major shooting advantage and Barnes has nasty flaws in his defensive fundamentals that need improvement, but you are more likely to get a superstar from a guy like Barnes who needs to learn to shoot than a guy like Cade who can already shoot but needs to learn how to play.

Even after those guys, Franz Wagner offers pristine decision making and defensive play while having better dimensions than Cade and not being clearly worse at shooting. Cade had a better shooting signal this season, but Franz has made > 80% FT and taken a decent rate of 3PA since he was 16, and this is the first season that Cade did either.

Cade theoretically has more upside because of his creation that is less efficient than any top 3 pick basically ever. But why do we NEED to gamble on inefficient creation just in case it becomes efficient, especially in a non-elite athlete lacking a strong first step. They are the same age, and there is zero question that Franz is the better player right now. Per 100 stats:

2P2PA3P3PAFTFTAASTTOV
Franz5.910.52.36.84.45.35.62.4
Cade6.5143.68.97.68.95.46.2

You are basically stomaching an extra 3.8 Cade turnovers and 3.5 2PA than mostly brick for what? 2.1 more 3PA and 3.6 FTA? It’s not apples to apples since Michigan is a better offense with a better coach and Cade is playing a more difficult role, but come on now. Cade’s creation is mostly just more bricks and turnovers than Franz, and Franz is essentially a lock to be better defensively. If Cade isn’t a significantly better shooter who figures out how to navigate defenses that can match up with him athletically over time, he isn’t going to be a more useful NBAer than Franz.

I have already written about Cade’s numbers paling in comparison to those of Alperen Sengun, but let’s revisit since looking at their numbers side by side is so fascinating

ProspectAgeeFG%A:TOOR%FTr
Cade19.30.5150.862.30.39
Sengun18.40.6411.1117.50.61

It is inherently more efficient to run offense through a perimeter ball handler like Cade rather than a post player like Sengun, but can anybody look at these numbers with a straight face and say that Cade is a clear favorite to be the better offensive player in the NBA?

And the crazy thing is Sengun isn’t even that far behind as a shooter and has superior steal and block rates. It is not clear who projects to be the better defensive player. Frankly is it not clear that Cade projects to be better at Sengun at anything outside of shooting, where Sengun could close the gap in time.

Wing Creators are Only Valuable when they are Good

There seems to be an assumption that because Cade was the #1 RSCI that he is an elite wing creator, and that all of his shortcomings can be attributed to bad teammates. But that is just not something that happens to prospects who are good enough to run an NBA offense based on every comparison that can be found in the past 20 years.

The most analogous prospect to Cade in terms of both distribution of strengths and weaknesses and playing situation is likely Khris Middleton. He played for Texas A&M who thrived on bully ball and defense, as their offense was driven by offensive rebounds and free throws with mediocre shot making and turnover rates during his sophomore season– much like Oklahoma State.

ProspectAge2P%A:TOOR%FTr
Cade19.30.4610.862.30.39
Khris19.40.4921.048.20.418

Yet Middleton was slightly better across the board at the same age and still slid to round 2. This is in part because he was hidden by starting college early as a young freshman and battling injuries and bad 3P% variance as a junior when he missed 12 games and shot 26% behind the arc.

Cade was a much better NCAA shooter, but Middleton is a career 40% 3P, 88% FT shooter in the NBA, and it is not likely Cade is better by any significant margin.

But even based on his NBA success, he definitely was never a #1 overall talent. He is a highly useful secondary piece who provides a nice intersection of shooting, passing, and defense to be a low end all-star, but is only in the NBA finals because he is playing alongside 2x MVP Giannis.

And based on the numbers, Cade is a clear underdog to be as good as Middleton in the NBA. If you give extra weight to his priors and slightly better dimensions, then perhaps he is only a small underdog to be Middleton, but that is not the type of player you target at #1 overall.

This is especially true that when he is being drafted to be a primary creator instead of a complementary piece, which makes it more likely that he follows a suboptimal developmental path. This is what happened to Andrew Wiggins when he was overused as an inefficient high volume creator.

So when you are running the risk of getting a guy who is technically NBA caliber but somewhat gross to max like a different flavor of Andrew Wiggins, taller OJ Mayo, or less efficient Carmelo Anthony in the hopes of landing Khris Middleton or at best Jayson Tatum, but zero chance of Luka or Harden. That is not a guy who obviously belongs in the top 3, let alone #1 overall.

This Lottery is Good

It would be one thing to lock in Cade as #1 in a draft like last year where nobody really stood out in a sea of mediocrity. But this year has so many more interesting options at the top. Mobley is a legit #1 candidate, and then Suggs, Barnes, Franz, and Sengun are all nice consolation prizes.

Cade’s priors should count for something, especially in light of the pandemic adding randomness to the season. We cannot assume his NCAA performance was indicative of his precise self, so perhaps he is the correct #2 overall.

But at the same time, his NCAA warts were so nasty both on the stat sheet and on film, that it is difficult to treat his goodness with any certainty. It is simply not clear that he is one of the best 5 prospects in a talented lottery.

This may sound like a hot take at face value, but the only past top 3 pick who really shared his distribution of strengths and weaknesses was OJ Mayo, and he even pales in comparison to 2nd rounder Khris Middleton. So the real hot take is consensus’s idea that he is a clear #1 overall, as there is no information that even remotely supports the notion.

Is Alperen Sengun Too Old School to Succeed or Too Talented to Fail?

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Alperen Sengun is one of the most fascinating prospects in the draft, as he won Turkish League MVP at age 18 and stuffed the stat sheet in every way conceivable. Turkey has one of the best professional leagues in Europe, and the past 4 MVP winners were all NBA players at a prime age in their mid-late 20’s: Shane Larkin, Brad Wanamaker, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Gigi Datome. Yet Sengun did it while being more than a full year younger than Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs.

And he wasn’t just MVP by being a one dimensional post up player and gobbling rebounds– he also was a good passer with more assists than turnovers, made 79.4% FT, and had a better steal rate than Cade Cunningham and a better block rate than Kai Jones. Based on his #’s, he appears to be an elite all round player who should be the runaway choice for #1 overall in the draft.

But he is nowhere near that conversation for valid reasons, currently projected at #16 in ESPN’s mock. He is undersized for a center at 6’10” with a ~7’1″ wingspan, and is not particularly quick or explosive to guard the perimeter, and there are major question marks how he will fit into an NBA defense. And even if he is passable in the regular season, will he get hunted and played off the floor in the playoffs?

It is also difficult to gauge how much value to place on his elite interior scoring. He shot at staggering 67.4% inside the arc on 26.7% usage, but it is worth pondering how well that will translate vs bigger and stronger NBA bigs. And even if he is effective, how badly do NBA teams want to run the offense through the low post given all of the turnovers and time consumption that comes with feeding the post.

Comps:

Sengun has one clear and obvious comp, and that player is Kevin Love. Let’s compare Sengun’s Turkish performance to Love at UCLA:

AgeUSG2P%OR%DR%AST%A:TOSTL%BLK%
Sengun18.526.70.67417.523.418.21.112.65.9
Love19.327.10.61115.628.514.10.961.55.1

Right off the bat you can see how special Sengun is– at nearly a year younger in a better league, he was slightly more impressive across the board with better scoring efficiency and assist to turnover ratio. And what is really juicy is his huge advantage in steal rate– perhaps this indicates some subtle cerebral or athletic advantage that will enable him to be better than Love on defense.

Sengun also likely has slightly better dimensions. There are no official measurements on him, but the most common ones say that he is about 0.5″ taller than Love with ~1.5″ more wingspan, and he is young enough such that he may not be done growing, or may have grown since his last measurements.

Love was a better 3 point shooter in college, making 35.4% on 2.1 3PA per game vs Sengun 20% on 1 3PA per game. Sengun was better on FT% making 79.4% vs 76.7% while also being younger, so it is not clear whether he will be a better or worse NBA shooter than Love.

What is clear is that if they were in the same draft, Sengun should get picked before Love. And it’s not like Love wildly overachieved in the NBA– he crushed stat models and was the 5th overall choice. So there is no clear reason to expect Sengun to be worse than Love in the NBA on average.

The trouble is that it is incredibly difficult to evaluate Love, as he ranged from posting insanely good stats for a terrible Minnesota team to solidly good stats starting for a championship team in Cleveland. He did have issues staying on the floor in the playoffs at times for the Cavaliers, so his box score production cannot be taken at face value. But he also was a 5 time all-star and an NBA champion, and cannot be devalued too aggressively for his flaws.

Sengun is currently projected to go #16 overall. If we knew for a fact that he would be the next Kevin Love, is it actually reasonable to let him slide out of the lottery?

And if he overperforms Love’s NBA career to the extent he overperformed pre-draft, and is a slightly better shot maker, passer, and defensive player, is that not an immensely valuable NBA player?

Love is clearly his top comp. The next closest one is based on postup PF archetype is Domantis Sabonis:

AgeUSG2P%OR%DR%AST%A:TOSTL%BLK%
Sengun18.526.70.67417.523.418.21.112.65.9
Sabonis19.726.10.61511.628.211.40.71.12.7

Sengun also had a better FT%, 3PA rate, and FT rate (0.61 vs 0.51) and 2″ more wingspan while being more than a full year younger. Sabonis is nowhere near the same league as Sengun as a prospect.

Sabonis is another guy who is tricky to evaluate, as he is a 2x all-star but it is unclear what value his bruising offense and defensive limitations will provide in the playoffs. But being massively better than a regular season all-star at the same age is a good start, as it is not clear precisely how much value these PF’s lose in the playoffs.

Now we are veering to a slightly different archetype, but just for fun let’s compare him to some fat kid from Serbia who slid to round 2:

AgeUSG2P%OR%DR%AST%A:TOSTL%BLK%
Sengun18.526.70.67417.523.418.21.112.65.9
Jokic18.920.20.63810.919.918.11.61.93.4

Jokic is a true center at 6’11” with a longer wingspan at 7’3″ which makes this comp a little weird. But he was 5 months older than Sengun, playing in the slightly weaker Adriatic League, and gets largely dwarfed by Sengun. Sengun also crushes him at FT rate (0.61 vs 0.19) and FT% (79.4% vs 65.6%). Joker was taking more than 3x the 3PA and making 31.5%, but collectively Sengun was the better shot creator, shot maker, rebounder, and defensive play maker.

And he even had a slightly higher assist rate than the best passing big of all time! Joker had a better assist:TOV, but this was in part due to his lower usage so let’s not rule out the possibility that Sengun becomes an elite passer that completely picks apart opposing defenses.

It’s difficult to say how good Jokic would be with PF dimensions, but he would still certainly be valuable. And Sengun is so young with such dicey measurements, what if he grows another inch and peaks at say 6’11” with 7’2″ wingspan? Are we safe from ruling him out from being a future MVP? Probably not!

The Funniest Comp in the History of Comps

AgeUSGeFG%OR%DR%AST%A:TOSTL%BLK%
Sengun18.526.70.64117.523.418.21.112.65.9
Cade19.329.20.5152.316.220.80.862.52.3

It’s easy to get focused on the fact that Cade Cunningham fits a better mold of point forward with better odds of defending the perimeter. But when we look at these numbers side by side, it is worth wondering if he really does.

Cade is the better 3 point shooter, making 40% on a much higher rate than Sengun. But Sengun is 10 months younger, and Cade’s AAU FT% was less good than Sengun’s, and he did not have a particularly higher 3PA rate pre-NCAA either.

Then we look at Cade’s point forward skills, but Sengun’s assist rate is right behind him with a better assist to turnover ratio.

In terms of perimeter defense, Cade should be the favorite to be better, but he doesn’t have the best foot speed or athleticism and is prone to getting beat, and Sengun actually edges out steal rate which is somewhat predictive of perimeter defense.

Even if we completely ignore Sengun’s obvious big man advantages of blocking shots, finishing inside, drawing free throws, and being massively better on the offensive glass. There isn’t a clear signal that he is inferior to Cade as a point forward or perimeter defensive player, and he could easily catch up to Cade as a shooter.

This is not meant to imply that he is necessarily better than Cade as he is likely the inferior athlete and playing a different role and a different situation, and it is far from an apples to apples comparison. But it is interesting food for thought. Are people so hung up on how archaic Sengun’s mold is that they are overlooking how many things he does well (or at least possibly well) outside of big man things?

What Exactly Does Sengun Offer?

It is difficult to say since he spends so much time down low and we only see glimpses of his perimeter play in film. But his post game is definitely worth something. He may struggle vs elite centers like Joel Embiid, but if a team tries to play small ball Sengun will absolutely feast inside.

He also is an excellent garbage man and pick and roll finisher, as he has excellent hands and touch around the basket.

His 3 point shooting is not a guarantee with limited attempts from that range, but based on his FT% and age he does project to be an above average shooter more often than not.

And he shows a capable handle and occasionally has an impressive drive from the perimeter. In tandem with his passing, there is some potential that he can eventually learn to run pick and rolls as a handler and well as the finisher.

Defensively, he shows the occasional flash of better than expected mobility or burst, and makes a nice play. He also shows good intelligence and understanding of position. But there are plenty of other times where he gets beat comfortably, and it is difficult to imagine any future for him other than getting played off the floor in the playoffs.

Offensively he offers so much, it is difficult to see him being less than good and he can possibly be an elite weapon. Defensively…it is complicated.

Is There Hope for Sengun on Defense?

It seems like the safe assumption is that a PF with mediocre athleticism and foot speed should be a bad on defense. And without any tangible proof on film that he is good, why risk wasting a pick on him? But let’s take a trip down memory lane to a certain prospect who DraftExpress shared concerns on in each of his two final pre-draft seasons:

“Unfortunately, [21 year old prospect]’s defensive deficiencies have become even more pronounced as a senior. At 6’7, he is too small to guard elite post players, and lacks the lateral quickness to defend perimeter players, even face-up power forwards at the NCAA level. While his effort and aggressiveness will never be questioned, it is difficult to project him as an adequate NBA defender at this time.”

“Unfortunately, [20 year old prospect]’s physical limitations make it quite difficult to project him as being anything more than a liability on this end of the floor in the NBA. His lack of size means he’s quite easy to post up and just shoot over the top of even at the NCAA level, and his poor lateral quickness makes it tough to envision him being able to guard most power forwards on the perimeter or even less likely small forwards, which his height suggests he’d have to. This will be a major hurdle for [prospect] to overcome, and it’s not quite clear whether a NBA team will be able to get past this issue, despite what he contributes in various other facets of the game”

To make it even spicier, this player is one of a few on a short list of players who share Sengun’s statistical intersection of 15%+ rebounds, 11%+ assists, 2.1%+ steals, and 2.5%+ blocks as an NCAA freshman for a high major conference in the past 20 years:

AgeTRB%AST%STL%BLK%
Alperen Sengun18.520.518.22.65.9
Joel Embiid19.820.311.62.311.5
Kawhi Leonard18.519.412.732.7
Blake Griffin18.819.116.22.23.1
Ben Simmons19.518.227.43.12.5
Draymond Green18.816.914.132.5
Kyle Anderson19.315.720.83.42.8
Zion Williamson18.515.614.53.95.8

By now you may have guessed the aforementioned player is 2016-17 NBA defensive player of the year Draymond Green. If scouts were saying that about Draymond at ages 20 and 21, how can we be remotely confident that Sengun will be below average at age 18? Instead of spending so much time fretting about drafting him and having him played off the court in the playoffs, should we not spend a moment to worry about passing him and watch him be a stud on both sides of the ball who becomes a future hall of famer?

Zion, Kawhi, and Simmons are much more athletic than Sengun, and Embiid is much bigger. But you have to be either a physical freak and/or exceptionally good at basketball to check these boxes at a young age.

Kyle Anderson is 2″ longer than Sengun, but he definitely is not quicker or more explosive. And he is also a good defensive player in the NBA. It may be a bit much to hope for Draymond’s defense from Sengun, but a player with Kevin Love’s offense and SloMo’s defense would be worth a #1 overall choice.

The only player on this list who is not so great on defense is Blake Griffin, who was slightly worse than Sengun in all 4 categories and also has perhaps 1.5″ less wingspan at 6’11.25″. Griffin is an odd case with exceptional vertical explosion but limited lateral movement, and as a 6 time all-star he isn’t the scariest cautionary tale.

The closest prospect to a negative example is Greg Monroe, who missed the cut with 13.2% TRB as a freshman, which is surprisingly soft for a slow big. But if you include his career averages over his 2 NCAA seasons, he does make the cut at 15.5% TRB, 20.8% AST, 2.9% STL, 4.9% BLK. He is a friendly reminder that checking the boxes for different statistics do not ensure success on their own.

But conversely, who can look at this and be confident that Sengun is not going to be good on defense? He has some very promising signals for an 18 year old.

Bottom Line

Sengun is an enigma wrapped in a mystery, and we have really never seen anything like him. Offensively he is highly similar to Kevin Love, and possibly even better.

Defensively he is a mystery box. He could be too slow and played off the floor in the playoffs, or he could be OK, or he could be surprisingly good and massively punish everybody who doubted and passed on him. For the sake of argument, let’s err on the side of negativity say this is his distribution of defensive outcomes:

10% Draymond Green
20% Kyle Anderson
20% Blake Griffin
20% Greg Monroe
30% Kevin Love

That seems like a prospect who should at least be considered at #1 overall.

It is scary to gamble on the law of averages without any clear evidence on film, but everybody thinks Cade Cunningham is a lock #1 pick without a lick of visual evidence he can play efficiently, rebound, or defend. We are always making a guess and taking a leap of faith in drafting, and it can be easy to glaze over important signals while latching onto arbitrary points.

In this case it seems that consensus is too eager to put Sengun in a box of slow PF who doesn’t fit in the modern NBA rather than a versatile + outlier talent unlike any prospect we have ever seen in our lives.

His weirdness makes him difficult to peg with any confidence, but it seems the concern is that he is merely a regular season all-star whose value erodes in the playoffs. Which is still better than the upside of many of the boring role players projected ahead of him such as Davion Mitchell, Corey Kispert, and Kai Jones.

And there are so many different things that can go surprisingly right for him, and we cannot rule out the possibility that he becomes an MVP candidate and future hall of famer.

The most bearish position that can reasonably taken in light of his weirdness and unclear NBA role is that he is the clear top choice after the top 5 guys go off the board. The most bullish position is that we should be debating him vs Evan Mobley for #1 overall because he is currently better at basketball than Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green by a ridiculous margin.

Thus far I have erred on the side of caution and leaned toward the bearish route, simply because he is such a difficult prospect to understand with any confidence. But the least that can be said is if Sengun eventually becomes the Jokic to Cade’s Wiggins, it is going to seem like it should have been extremely obvious in hindsight.

Is Trey Murphy a Stretch 4 Sleeper?

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Virginia guard Trey Murphy to sign with agent, forgo eligibility

Trey Murphy has been skyrocketing up draft boards, rising from a largely unknown mid-major transfer from Rice last offseason to #21 overall in ESPN’s latest mock after an impressive junior season with Virginia.

At a glance, it is easy to see why. He shot 92.7% FT and 43.3% from 3 for the Cavs with a lightning quick release, he has excellent wing dimensions at 6’9″ with 7’0″ wingspan, and NBA athleticism with 23 dunks on the season out his total 32 made shots at the rim. He also seems to have good intangibles on top of checking some major boxes for a modern NBA 3 + D role player.

After seeing the success of Cam Johnson and Duncan Robinson, it makes sense why he would be an appetizing target after the high upside lottery picks are off the table.

But he also comes with some frustrating warts which makes him enigmatic. He is extremely skinny, and in spite of his dimensions and athleticism he rebounds like a guard. He also has close to zero ball skills, and is almost a complete non-threat to attack off the dribble.

Now one may say– who care if he creates? You can have your guards create shots for him and he will provide elite spacing gravity to help them out. But it isn’t that simple. In the last 5 possessions of Virginia’s 1 point loss to Duke, he was guarded by Duke’s worst defensive player 6’1″ Jeremy Roach. Virginia didn’t even attempt to attack the possible mismatch once, and they struggled to create offense, scoring only 2 points in the final 5 possessions.

This raises the question– how valuable is his spacing gravity if he cannot even exploit a mismatch by a bad defensive NCAA PG? If his shooting is going to turn games into a 4 on 4 minus the other team’s worst defensive player, that negates much of the value of his shooting ability.

The other concern is that whether he can actually hang defensively in the NBA. He is mobile and active, but Virginia often tries to hide him on the worst opposing offensive player. Which may seem OK since Virginia has historically elite defenses, but this is the first time in 8 years that they had a defense rated lower than #7 in Kenpom as they dropped all the way to #36 overall with more offensive minded personnel.

Murphy seems to have been one of the weaker links, as he rebounds like a guard with pedestrian steal and block rates. He also was prone to lapses in awareness, as he was caught napping for backdoor cuts, including a crucial bucket with Virginia’s season on the line. He moves his feet well defensively, but he was not often tested by quality matchups as Virginia often hid him on weak opponents, but his thin frame makes him prone to getting bullied. If he has to match up with NBA wings, how much does it help to move his feet well if they can push him around at will?

Also he struggled to figure out how to guard a shooter like Buddy Boeheim, often getting blown by out of respect for his shooting ability, even though Boeheim is not known for his first step or creation ability.

Before anybody drafts Murphy in round 1, they need to seriously consider the risk that he is bad at all aspects of the game other than shooting. How sharp can it be to draft a prospect in round 1 who as an NCAA junior often matched up with the opponents’ worst offensive player AND worst defensive player?

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Murphy can’t eventually become a useful NBA player. Let’s compare him to Duncan Robinson and Cam Johnson at similar ages:

AgeUSGORtgOR%DR%AST%STL%BLK%
Duncan21.717.4123.62.512.112.11.31.2
Cam20.816.4120.72.512.814.41.71
Trey20.517.3127.92.811.78.21.81.8

They are all very similar, and we definitely cannot rule out Murphy becoming that level of role player. But if there is one signal that enabled Cam and Duncan to make it in the NBA that may preclude Murphy, it’s their relatively significant advantages in assist rate indicating superior ball skills. Even though they are not often asked to create off the dribble, being able to attack closeouts and exploit mismatches is a crucial baseline skill to function in an NBA offense, and there is some clear risk that Murphy is so poor at this that it detracts from all of the positive value his shooting offers.

Both Duncan and Cam stayed for two more years, and Cam continued to improve while Duncan saw a dip in both his rebound and assist rates, as he was relegated to more of a spot up role once Michigan improved their creation in the backcourt. So it is not clear that Robinson is a better prospect than Murphy, as Trey could feasibly catch up to his ball skills in time. But Robinson also went undrafted for good reason, as there was no clear signal that he would be a useful NBA player at the time.

Further, Murphy’s assist rate for mid-major Rice was a paltry 8.5% last season, so he cannot share the excuse that he was surrounded by too much offensive talent to show off his creation ability. He needs to improve, possibly by a significant margin.

Collectively, it’s difficult to make the case that Murphy is on the same level of prospect of Cam Johnson. And even though it worked out, it still can be questioned whether Johnson was an intelligent gamble at #11 overall. He hit his absolute upside and is still just the 7th man for Phoenix, and hardly an integral piece to their playoff run.

Duncan Robinson’s level of goodness seems more clearly attainable for Murphy, and even then it’s worth questioning how good exactly that may be. Robinson looked like an UDFA steal last season making an otherworldly 44.6% from 3, this season after dropping to an ordinary level of elite at 40.8%, it is not clear that he is more than an ordinary rotation player.

And without many examples of similar one dimensional shooters making themselves useful NBA players, there is the substantial risk that Murphy is outright busts like everybody imagined Duncan Robinson would.

If we say Murphy’s range of outcomes is likely somewhere on the scale of bust to being a role player on the level of a one of a kind UDFA, is that really worth investing a first round pick?

Who is the real stretch 4 sleeper?

It is interesting that a mid-major transfer is getting first round hype, while there is a similar prospect projected to late in round 2 at #55 who was a former 5* recruit: Matthew Hurt.

Hurt’s stock suffers because of his limited physical tools, as he is below average in quickness and athleticism, and measured with a wingspan equal to his height at 6’9.5″. He also has a doughy physique with 15.2% body fat, and physically does not look the part of NBA player. But him and Trey have some strong similarities in statistical output:

AgeUSGORtgOR%DR%AST%STL%BLK%
Trey20.517.3127.92.811.78.21.81.8
Hurt20.621130.15.317.18.61.32.1

Hurt’s big advantage here are competent rebounding and a semblance of offensive creation ability. His offense off the dribble is largely based on mid-range pullups and turnarounds, which is not the most exciting offense. But he nevertheless shot a higher 2P% than Murphy (63.9% vs 62%) on approximately double the 2PA, and has shown he can at least do something to punish the opponent if they try to hide an undersized guard on him.

Murphy is no doubt the better shooter. Hurt has the higher career 3P% (42.1 vs 40.1) but Murphy has a better 3PA/100 (12.3 vs 9.3) and FT% (81.9 vs 73.7) as well as a quicker release. But if Hurt is a bigger threat to attack off the dribble, and can sustain a similar efficiency on higher usage, it is difficult to argue that he is not the superior offensive prospect collectively.

Defensively, Hurt’s lack of physical tools could make him a major liability and keep him off the NBA court. But he is a better rebounder than Murphy, less liable to get pushed around, and is also a higher IQ defensive player as he has better awareness and understands how to position himself to contain penetration better. He definitely won’t be a good defensive player, but he has some chance of becoming passable on that end.

If we are comparing the two defensively, it’s fuzzy and unclear who will be better between Hurt or Murphy. Both guys have a range of unplayably bad to passable. Perhaps it is right to give Murphy the edge based on his 2.5″ better length and athleticism and mobility, as he could close the gap on Hurt’s defensive IQ but Hurt is always going to be limited physically. It stands to reason he has more outs to land on the passable side of the spectrum.

But it’s difficult to make Murphy any more than a slight fave to be better on defense with all of his warts, whereas Hurt’s case to be offensively superior is a bit more clear.

Ultimately it is fairly close between the two. Both guys have a shot of becoming useful rotation players, and neither guy is going to be a star. But it is difficult to make a clear case for Murphy being the better prospect, so why expend a first round pick on him if Hurt can be had in mid-late round 2 or possibly even UDFA?

It’s great to land a Duncan Robinson out of nowhere, and Murphy is live to be just as good. But it seems like an unnecessarily risky proposition to use a first rounder on him when Duncan himself was UDFA and we have shooting prospects like Hurt and Joe Wieskamp (#54 ESPN) projected in the late 2nd this year.

Capture the Flag: Which Prospects Are Riskiest to Draft in 2021?

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It’s all fun and good to try to predict the sleepers and value picks in the draft, but it is very difficult to know how players will develop. Even the top prospects with nasty warts such as Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green have clear all-star potential. The easiest way to get an edge in the draft is to just not draft the guys who aren’t talented enough to have any real upside and take anybody else projected in that range, so let’s run through them here.

Reddest Flag: Davion Mitchell 6’1″ PG Baylor, ESPN: #7

Know The Prospect: Davion Mitchell - Posting and Toasting

Currently projected to go #7 overall, Mitchell is considered a defensive stopper in the Patrick Beverley mold. He is nicknamed “off night” for his propensity to shut down his opposing matchup, and he has a quick first step, passable floor general skills, and showed off an improved 44.7% 3P shot as a junior, playing an integral role on Baylor’s championship teams.

But there are a few problems. First– there is a very low cap to the defense that 6’1 players provide. It is insane to target a Patrick Beverley in the lottery, because that just isn’t a high enough upside compared to the other players available. Second– if you are comparing a prospect to a one of a kind player like PatBev, they better measure similarly based on pre-draft.

Both guys are 6’1″, but Mitchell’s wingspan is 3″ shorter than PatBev’s at 6’4″ vs 6’7″ which is a bad start. Now let’s compare some of their college stats that indicate defensive potential based on Mitchell’s 2 seasons at Baylor vs PatBev’s 2 seasons at Arkansas:

AgeOR%DR%STL%BLK%FTr
Davion21.81.48.331.30.254
PatBev194.114.52.61.30.396

Aside from the fact that Davion is 3 years older during this sample, he also gets destroyed at the physicality aspects of the game in rebounding and drawing free throws. While their steals and blocks are similar, if you look at Davion’s 19 year old freshman season when he was a similar age he was much worse at 1.7% STL 0.2% BLK.

Right away this makes it ridiculous to project a strong defensive output– if you are a small guy you need every factor in your favor to make an impact on this end. 3″ less length with significantly less physicality is enough to completely nullify this comparison. But let’s keep going, just for fun.

Now let’s compare PatBev’s 18 year old freshman season to Davion’s 21 year old junior year:

AgeUSGORtgAST%A:TOTS%
Davion21.319.1100.522.31.700.503
PatBev18.520.2114.318.21.570.582

Beverley is not known for his offense, but at 3 years young absolutely destroyed Davion offensively. He took a step back as a sophomore, but was still 2 years younger and clearly better. He was painfully obviously the better prospect on both ends, yet he still slid to #42 overall because a 6’1″ 3 + D guy is a low upside target. Davion somehow being projected to go top 10 based on this comparison is nothing short of madness.

The counterargument in Davion’s favor is that he has A+ intangibles and made a big senior leap, so perhaps he can catch up over time. But a big part of that leap is his 3P% increasing from 32.4% to 44.7%, while his FT% slightly dropped from 66.2% to 64.1%. He improved his shooting to some extent, but it still not clear he is even an average NBA shooter.

It’s extremely difficult to find players as limited as Davion at age 21 who ended up becoming good NBA players. Most guys who break pre-draft stat models are young, physical monsters like Giannis or Jaylen Brown, not old 6’1″ guys with a large sample of being subpar by NBA standards.

The most offensively challenged upperclassman to become an NBA starter may have been Eric Snow who averaged just 6.8 points as a junior and 10.8 as a senior in seasons that straddled Davion’s junior age. If you average those seasons he is about 2 months younger than Davion, and he averaged 10.8 pts and 9 assists per 40 compared to 12.2 pts and 4.7 assists for Mitchell. He only scored slightly less, but had nearly double the assist rate on top of being 2″ taller and better rebound, steal, and free throw rates.

Snow isn’t a realistic Davion comp as he had significant size, passing, and defensive advantages and his lack of scoring was largely due to terrible shooting that he eventually improved.

If we are looking for 6’1″ offensively challenged guys, the best comps are Earl Watson and Chris Duhon. In this case we will be as generous as possible to Davion, and compare their per 40 minute senior seasons to the mean average of his junior and senior years:

AgePtsREBASTTOVSTL2P%FT%FTr
Duhon21.311.34.66.93.22.50.5140.7220.292
Watson21.616.94.263.92.20.5560.6360.401
Davion21.814.63.35.42.92.10.5190.6530.254

First, both guys were better rebounders, got to the line more frequently, and had slightly higher steal rates which all imply better physicality and defense. Then if we disregard Davion’s fluky 3P%, his offense does not stand out as superior to these guys in any way. Further, Watson was creating this level of offense for 2 prior years while Duhon was a top 10 recruit who was churning out this production all 4 years at Duke, which implies they have stronger baselines of talent level and are more natural floor generals.

If all 3 of these guys are in the same draft, it should be a clear Duhon > Watson > Davion ranking. Both Duhon and Watson went in round 2, and peaked as fringe starters, which is about the pinnacle of optimism for Mitchell. And even that is a bit of a stretch since these are the most optimistic possible comparisons from the past 30 years of the draft, and Davion STILL has some clear disadvantages with no real advantages.

It’s a great story that this kid worked his way up from a terrible NCAA freshmen to an OK-ish redshirt sophomore to a good junior who played a major role on a championship team, but that just isn’t a formula that produces NBA players in general, let alone good ones.

His hype is so mindblowing that it’s hard to know where to rank him. It is not even clear that he is one of the top 60 prospects in the draft. He definitely should not be going in round 1, let alone the top 10.

Draft Instead: Miles McBride (#33)

His teammate Jared Butler would have been one clear answer, but it seems that he may not cleared to play in the NBA due to a heart condition.

Instead, we can look at early round 2 where Miles McBride is projected to go #33 overall and completely waffle crushes him at all basketball related abilities.

McBride measured 1.25″ taller and 4.5″ longer at 6’2.5 with a 6’8.75″ wingspan, which actually gives him slightly better PatBev dimensions and makes that comp reasonable for him. Second, if we compare their output on the floor, it is not close between the two. Per 100 possessions:

AgePtsREBASTTOVSTL2P%3P%FT%FTr
McBride20.126.36.5833.10.4390.4140.8130.338
Davion21.821.54.88.34.230.5190.3760.6530.254

Once again we are mushing together Davion’s junior and senior seasons, which may seem unfair since it disregards his improvability. But college seasons are small samples littered with variance, and 6’1″ players like Mitchell simply do not go on parabolic trajectories once they are legal to drink alcohol. Further in an odd season afflicted by pandemic, there should be an advantage to being an upperclassmen on an elite team that returns most key players. You cannot accurately analyze him based on his senior season in a vacuum.

Davion has a better first step and creates his own shot at the rim at about double the rate of McBride: 1.32 per 40 vs 0.65. This is reflected in his clearly superior 2P%. But that’s where the fun ends for Mitchell. McBride is almost 2 full years younger, a significantly better shooter, and beat Davion in the physical categories of rebounds and free throw rate (this is becoming a consistent theme in guys who succeeded in the NBA). He also is a better floor general, with a significant AST:TOV edge in spite of his youth.

If you want to target a guy to fill the PatBev role, McBride is clearly the guy. He is likely slightly underrated and should be valued somewhere in the 20’s, and Mitchell should be valued considerably lower.

If you take Mitchell in the lottery when McBride is available on the fringe of round 1, you failed at drafting.

If you want to make one tweak to the consensus board to be +EV, just take Davion Mitchell off your board and congratulations: you are now ahead of the curve!

Red Flags:

Corey Kispert 6’7″ SF Gonzaga, ESPN: #13

After that wall of text breaking down Mitchell, Kispert is an easier task:

Most people agree that Joe Wieskamp is the better prospect on paper than Kispert, and he is available in round 2! In reality they are closer than this poll suggests, as Kispert has a quicker release and a better looking shot. But Wieskamp has a significant 4″ reach advantage with better rebounds, steals, and blocks, which gives him more defensive potential.

There is no reason why Kispert cannot be an NBA rotation player as a 6’7″ efficient knockdown shooter, but his upside is far too limited to take in the lottery. He is currently projected at #13 and Wieskamp at #54. If you want a shooter on the wing, it’s a clear moneyball play to target Wieskamp in round 2 and take somebody with much more upside than Kispert in the late lotto.

Kai Jones, 6’11” Texas, ESPN: #14

At a glance Jones has appeal as an athletic 6’11” who can finish lobs, and has a passable outside shot making 38.2% from 3 an 68.9% FT as a sophomore for Texas.

But if you give him a closer look, you run into the enigma that he doesn’t know how to play basketball and it is not clear how he fits into a NBA lineup. He has the skill level of a center but plays more like a big wing defensively, which is not ideal.

Even though he seems like a guy who can make an open shot, he has a low 3PA rate of 3.3 attempts per 100 and at 67.7% FT from his career he still projects to be more of a barely passable shooter than an actively good one. And he is a non-handler with a bad assist to turnover ratio at 0.6 vs 1.4 per game, which strongly implies that he will struggle to play the perimeter in the NBA.

Defensively he cannot really play center. His 5.3% blk rate is more like a PF than an NBA rim protector, and his 8.9%/14.4% rebound rates are more like a SF.

Even if he can make an open shot he is going to depress an NBA offense with his lack of creation. If you are hoping for the next Jerami Grant, he had a higher usage (21.6 vs 18.2) and much better assist (1.4) to turnover (1.2) as a 2 month younger sophomore. And in spite of being 3.75″ shorter, he measured with 1″ better wingspan (7’2.75″ vs 7’1.75″) and is the more explosive athlete. He made 0 three pointers as a sophomore and then developed into a solid NBA 3 point shooter and now you have a decent perimeter player. That is not a possibility for Kai.

If you are hoping for the next Christian Wood, then good luck with that. Let’s compare their sophomore seasons per 100 possessions:

AgePtsRebsAstTovStlBlk
Wood19.329.618.72.44.50.65.1
Kai19.922.312.21.53.52.12.3

Wood completely destroys him across the board outside of steals, while being 8 months younger and 1.5″ longer. He also had the better career NCAA FT% (74.7 vs 67.7) and 3PA rate (5.7 vs 3.3), and he somehow went undrafted.

The draft can be strange and funny how randomly guys get hyped out of nowhere. A projected lotto pick shouldn’t get crushed this hard by a past undrafted free agent, but here we are with Kai looking like a homeless man’s version of Christian Wood. And what makes it even stranger is that he didn’t even play a major role for his NCAA team, as he only started 4 of his 26 games as a sophomore.

If we are being optimistic, his steal rate is a bit of a saving grace, and maybe he can be some sort of wing stopper defensively who can squeak by as a small 5 on occasions. But his ball skills are just so so bad for a guy who is not a full time center on D, he simply does not belong in round 1.

Draft Instead: Alperen Sengun (#16 ESPN), Usman Garuba (#17 ESPN), Day’Ron Sharpe (#31 ESPN), Charles Bassey (#35 ESPN), Santi Aldama (UDFA)

Everybody is so down on drafting bigs, you can pretty much throw a dart at any random tall person in the draft and they are going to be a more attractive value proposition than Jones.

First let’s discuss the high comedy that is that rating Jones above Alperen Sengun who won Turkish League MVP at age 18. He has similar dimensions to Jones, and posted better steal and block rates at 2.6/5.9 vs 2.0/5.3. Jones is more athletic, but Sengun has a much higher IQ and every question that is directed toward Sengun’s defensive ability needs to be asked about Jones just as strongly. His athleticism may give him a bit more hope on this end, but he is at best a slight favorite to be better than Sengun defensively.

And outside of that Sengun destroys him to a comical extent. Sengun nearly doubles him up on the glass at 17.5/23.4 vs 8.9/14.4 in ORB%/DRB%. He is an obviously better shooting making 79.4% FT vs Kai’s 67.7%. And he has a higher usage at 26.7 vs 18.0 yet he STILL has a much better assist:TOV at 2.7 vs 2.4 compared to 0.6 vs 1.4 a higher 2P% at 67.4 vs 64.2% all while being an entire 1.5 years younger.

The disparity in skill and IQ between Sengun and Jones is so preposterous such that Jones’ superior athleticism is practically trivial. They are clearly multiple tiers apart as prospects.

Then we can move onto Usman Garuba, who is slotted in a reasonable range and has similar steal, blocks, and shooting rates, But has maybe 0.5 to 1″ better wingspan, better assist:TOV, and better rebounding.

Day’Ron Sharpe is a different type of big but he is also better, so why not throw him a shout out.

Charles Bassey is in a similar boat of shooting, perhaps slightly better with career 76.8% FT, excellent 2P%, and shoddy assist:TOV. But he actually rebounds and blocks shots like a big man, and you just can’t take the guy who defends and rebounds like a wing above him.

Then if we want a skinny 6’11” guy who probably gets destroyed on D, let’s roll with Santi Aldama in the undrafted pile over Jones. Aldama is definitely less athletic than Jones, but has similar steal (1.7) and block (5.6) rates and is much more intelligent and skilled offensively. He only made 68.6% FT 38.6% 3P as a sophomore and 63.9% and 30.6% for his career, but he attempted 3PA at nearly triple the rate of 9.4 per 100 vs 3.3 for Jones and his stroke looks smoother.

Aldama is likely the better shooter and is far more skilled overall on offense as he is super coordinated for a big man and carried 30.5% usage with an efficient 58.5% 2P and 2.3 assists vs 3.2 turnovers per game. His D is a greater cause for concern than Jones as he is skinnier and less athletic, but it’s just a more interesting flier to bet on the highly skilled and coordinated guy with good feel than it is to bet on the athlete with sorely limited skill and IQ.

Tre Mann, 6’4″ PG Florida, ESPN: #23

At a glance Mann seems like an interesting combo guard prospect, as he offers a bit of everything from creation to passing to shooting, as the former 5* recruit had a breakout sophomore season for Florida.

But digging deeper there are a few causes for concern. First– his physical profile is littered with flags. He has a t-rex wingspan at 6’4″ and he is skinny and not athletic, which basically makes him a PG sized defensive player with no + tools.

These players can be useful if they are wizards offensively, but Tre is merely pretty good in terms of skill level. He has enough handle and shake to get to the rim in a pinch, but his creation largely hinges on making floaters, as he lacks the burst to blow by more athletic defensive players. And he is more of a combo guard than a true point as he had only slightly more assists (3.5) than turnovers (2.8) as a sophomore.

He did shoot very well as a sophomore, making 40.2% from 3 and 83.1% FT, but that’s not much to complement a physically deficient PG with only a pinch of creation.

He also had a terrible freshman season, which is scary. As mentioned regarding Davion Mitchell, big leaps are a stronger signal of limited baseline talent than they are outlier improvability. If a guy has bad tools and isn’t a skill wizard, there are only so many gains to be made. If he needed a year to adjust to the physicality of college, that may be a sign that he will never adjust to the physicality of the NBA.

And it is maddeningly difficult to find a comp. Randy Foye got off to a similarly inefficient start to his college career and is 1″ shorter, but is 2″ longer, much stronger, and more athletic which gives him more potential to capitalize on gains throughout his career.

Luke Kennard has physical similarities, but is 1.25″ taller and longer and was just better at basketball as both a freshman and sophomore.

When it feels like we are reaching to compare Mann to fringe starters, that’s a good sign that he doesn’t belong in round 1. The nicest thing that can be said about him is that if Bryn Forbes and Seth Curry can be rotation NBA players, he can too as he does offer a bit more creation than those guys.

But it is far from a guarantee that he is a great shooter, as he shot poorly as an NCAA freshman to dock his two year %’s to 34.9% 3P 78.8% FT. Curry and Forbes were knockdown shooters as freshmen, and they were also undrafted free agents. You don’t chase this archetype in round 1 or early round 2. Maybe in mid-late round 2 it is fine since he can be a slightly better version of Forbes or Curry, but it’s tough to get too excited.

Draft Instead: Jaden Springer (#29 ESPN), Cam Thomas (#25), Quentin Grimes (#28), Bones Hyland (#30), Ayo Dosunmu (#32), Josh Christopher (#34), Jason Preston (#43), Joel Ayayi (#49)

The one player that would be a glaring error to pass in favor of Mann is Jaden Springer. They measured at the same height of 6’4.25″, but Springer is functionally bigger with 6’7.75″ wingspan and stronger at 202 vs 177 pounds. Further, Springer is the better defensive prospect posting 2.7%/2.0% stl/blk vs 2.2%/0.4% for Mann while also eye testing as the better defensive player. Springer is still undersized for a SG, but he can at least hang with SG’s defensively on top of being the better player on this end, which sums to a healthy chunk of value in Springer’s favor.

Offensively, they have strikingly similar outputs:

AgePtsAstTov2P%3PA3P%FT%
Jaden18.328.16.65.40.4754.10.4350.81
Tre19.928.16.150.4948.20.4020.831

Springer creates his own shot at the rim slightly more (1.23 vs 1.03 per 40), and otherwise these guys are basically twins. Tre loves to pullup for floaters, Jaden loves to pullup for midrangers. Tre has double the 3PA rate and may be the slightly better shooting prospect, and it may seem reasonable to give him the slight advantage on this end.

That is until we remember that Springer is 1 year 8 months younger, and this completely disregards Mann’s disastrous freshman year. Let’s see what happens when we smush Mann’s two seasons together

AgePtsAstTov2P%3PA3P%FT%
Jaden18.328.16.65.40.4754.10.4350.81
Tre19.524.34.64.50.4778.60.3490.788

Now Jaden is clearly better offensively, still more than a full year younger, physically superior, and better on defense and all we can really do is feel sad if any team actually drafts Mann higher.

Everybody else is a major step down from Springer who is criminally underrated at #29 and belongs in the lottery. But we can run through them quickly:

Cam Thomas may be slightly overrated at #25 as a 6’3″ one dimensional shooter, but he made 88.2% FT as a freshman and got off a huge volume of shots without turning it over. And he measured with a +4.5″ wingspan in 2019 and has better strength and athleticism. Ultimately he has more unique selling points that make him a better value proposition than Mann.

Quentin Grimes is a former top 10 recruit who is also a good shooter making 40.3% 3P 78.8% FT as a junior with a monstrous 15.3 3PA/100. He also has much more defensive potential with an extra 1″ height, 4″ length, and 32 pounds of beef. He carries a high usage and positive assist:TOV ratio, and fits a stronger 3 + D archetype than Mann. Mann’s creation advantages with his floater game just don’t shift the scales back enough in his favor.

Bones Hyland is a similar mold to Mann as a combo guard who can shoot, but he has a stronger shooter making 86.2% FT as a sophomore with a massively better 3PA rate at 14.3 per 100 and a better career 3P% at 39.9 vs 34.9%. He is nicknamed Bones due to his skinny frame, actually weighing 8 pounds less than Mann at 169 but his 6’9.25″ nevertheless gives him more defensive potential.

Dosunmu offers more creation, less shooting, and much better physical tools with 1″ height, 6″ length, and better frame.

Christopher fits the common trend of being 5″ longer, 37 pounds stronger, more athletic, and not particularly worse at basketball.

Jason Preston is a unique flier as his defense is very bad and he is similarly skinny to Mann, but at least he has 6’8.5″ wingspan and wizard like passing ability to make him an arguably more interesting flier.

Joel Ayayi rounds this out unsurprisingly as a guy who projects to be an efficient role player but is bigger than Mann with more defensive potential.

Josh Primo, 6’5″ SG Alabama, ESPN: #26

Primo is the youngest player in the draft, not turning 19 until December. He also boasts a promising outside shot, making 38.1% from 3P and 75% FT as an NCAA freshman.

And that’s about where the good news ends. He has mediocre physical tools for a SG at 6’5″ with 6’9″ wingspan and average at best athleticism. He isn’t much of a rebounder or defensive playmaker, and his ball skills are vastly subpar for a SG as he averaged a miserable 1.5 assists vs 2.4 turnovers per 40, which is brutally bad for a 17 usg spot up SG.

Granted, his extreme youth gives him hope of improving, and through that lens he may not be completely screwed as a ball handler. But he is off to such a poor start it is difficult to get excited. We don’t have many examples of players who started school this young, but the most similar comparison may be Svi Mykhailiuk who actually was 6 months younger when he enrolled at Kansas.

Svi had odd dimensions with 3″ more height and 4.5″ less wingspan, but let’s say they are functionally the same size and make a Svi sandwich out of his freshman and sophomore seasons the bread to Primo’s freshman meat:

Age3PA3P%FTAFT%TRBASTTOVSTLBLK
Svi17.510.70.291.20.836.43.53.11.60.2
Primo1890.383.50.75823.41.40.7
Svi18.511.80.403.20.6864.13.31.50.6

Svi only played 259 minutes as a freshman, but you can see his rate stats were fairly stable to the next year and his main difference is that his shots happened to fall in the next year.

Primo played larger with slightly better rebounds, blocks, and free throws draw, but Svi had a notable advantage in assist rate and approximately 2x’d Primo’s assist:TOV ratio in each of his first two seasons.

Primo could develop his ball skills to catch up with Svi in time, but with such a poor starting point he will almost certainly be worse than the Svi Rex. And for a perimeter player, this is a far more significant handicap than Primo’s physicality edge.

It’s tough to make any bold proclamations about somebody as young as Primo. Maybe he has an outlier skill curve, and becomes an adequate passer and handler and historically good shooter. Maybe he still has a little growth spurt remaining, maybe his body and athleticism develop better than expected with age. He isn’t drawing dead to surpass Svi and become something useful over time.

But his trajectory currently looks weaker than Svi at the same age, and Svi went 47th overall and is a fringe NBA rotation player. So how is taking Primo in round 1 anything other than wishful thinking with so many limitations and such little to build on at this stage? He is going to be fringey or worse a huge % of the time, and even when he hits he is likely to be an ordinary role player.

Draft Instead: All of the same guys listed above Mann

Jalen Green vs. Franz Wagner: How Much Should Creation Be Valued?

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Shot creation is a vital part of basketball, as any NBA offense needs at least one guy who can be relied on to create offense for the team off the dribble.

But at the same time, it is prone to being overrated by casual fans who can discern scoring more easily than nuanced abilities such as passing, defense, and efficiency.

Let’s explore the topic through the lens of two polar opposite prospects– Jalen Green whose value largely centers around shot creation, and Franz Wagner who offers everything but volume scoring.

Jalen Green

Green’s appeal can be summarized with this one highlight where he crosses his defender and then dunks on 3 help defenders shortly after turning 19. He is exceptionally athletic and shows scoring potential rarely seen that young. He also showed promise as a jump shooter, making 35.8% 3P and 78.6% FT in his small shooting sample for G League Ignite.

But otherwise he is full of warts. He did not officially measure, but is likely around 6’5″ with a 6’8″ wingspan and a thin frame. He is a small SG who can only guard 1.5 positions, and not particularly well as his effort and fundamentals are both lackluster. And since he is being drafted to score and most of his energy will be devoted to doing so, he is not a strong bet to make major improvements on defense. He isn’t drawing dead to be a neutral or better defensive player in the NBA, but he is a clear underdog.

Further, he is not much of a passer averaging barely more assists (2.8) than turnovers (2.7), as he is clearly a score first guard. Passing is a significant part of creation, and being a non-elite passer puts a cap on his offensive upside. It also likely necessitates that he plays next to another distributor, which tends to skew small and further hurts the defense.

In terms of comps, Zach LaVine or Devin Booker are the guys that Green matches the most closely. Perhaps there is wiggle room for him to be slightly better than those guys, but it is difficult to find a clear example historically.

Vince Carter would be the highly optimistic comp, but he was approximately 1″ taller, 3″ longer, and much stronger and more capable of matching up with a wider range of opponents. That’s a significant enough difference in size such that it’s not a reasonable comparison to make.

Historically there is a cap on the upside of little guys who aren’t great passers, and it’s right around the Booker or LaVine level.

Franz Wagner

Franz lacks the explosive athleticism of Green as well as the volume scoring, as he posted a pedestrian 19.2 usage rate as a sophomore for Michigan.

But otherwise he is absolutely dripping with goodness. This lottery is loaded with good passers, but Franz has the best assist:TOV of the entire crop:

ProspectHeightAgeAST%AST:TOV
Franz6’919.317.32.33
Davion6’122.327.72.26
Giddey6’818.236.32.25
Barnes6’819.431.71.66
Suggs6’419.623.71.55
Mobley7’019.514.21.07
Green6’518.913.51.05
Cade6’819.320.40.86

He is better than Giddey who is a historically good passing prospect. He is above Davion who is 3 years younger, 8 inches shorter, and inexplicably projected to get picked higher than him. He is about 50% higher than Barnes and Suggs who are the same age and very good passing prospects. And he nearly 3x’s the rate of Mr. Cunningham, the consensus #1 overall point forward.

He has a lower volume of creation for both himself and teammates than most of these guys, but his turnover rate is microscopic. And this embodies Franz in a nutshell– the guy almost *never* makes mistakes. And even though his volume is low, he is not racking up easy assists– he often finds the big for a layup with an impressive wraparound pass off the dribble.

His lack of mistakes is also apparent in his defensive play. He moves his feet about as well as any 19 year old prospect ever, which is especially valuable given his excellent dimensions at 6’9″ with 7’0″ wingspan. He is also a highly intelligent defender and rarely makes mistakes on this end, and it shows in his ridiculous on/off splits:

Michigan had the #4 defense in the NCAA, and Franz was a heavy driving force behind their success.

This doesn’t necessarily mean he will be a generational NBA defensive player, as his lack of strength and athleticism led to pedestrian rebounding. But he is going to be good on this end and possibly excellent.

He only made 32.5% from 3 in NCAA, but he shot a decent rate of 3PA and made 83.5% FT. He should develop NBA 3 point range in due time.

And he isn’t a slouch at creating. He has a competent handle, and uses smooth footwork to step through seams in the defense and finish. Now let’s get on to comps:

Otto Porter

Porter and Franz are physically similar hyper-efficient wings with a similar statistical profiles in college:

AgeUSGORtgORB%DRB%AST%A:TOSTL%BLK%FTr
Franz19.319.2119.52.919.617.32.332.33.20.304
Otto19.623.4118.86.71918.51.793.330.449

At a glance, Otto seems slightly better across the board. But if we dig deeper, he has a few fake advantages over Franz. He has a significantly better steal rate, except everybody on Georgetown racked up steals whereas Juwan Howard massively suppresses steal rates of everybody who comes to Michigan:

PlayerStl% for Other CoachStl% for JuwanDifference
Zavier Simpson2.91.7-41.4%
Isaiah Livers1.61-37.5%
Mike Smith2.30.9-60.9%
Chaundee Brown1.10.4-63.6%
Eli Brooks1.81.7-5.6%
David DeJulius1.71.2-29.4%
Jon Teske22.15.0%
Average1.91.3-33.3%

Collectively Franz got 29.1% of his team’s steals vs 23.8% for Otto in spite of playing a slightly lower % of his team’s total minutes (15.8% vs 16.9%). He likely would have had a 3%+ steal rate playing for an ordinary college defense.

Otto has a slightly higher assist rate, but Georgetown ran the Princeton offense where *everybody* gets a boost to assists. He had a lower assist rate than starting center Nate Lubick (20.1%) while fellow frontcourt mates Nate Lubick (14.7%), Mikael Hopkins (13.7%), and Greg Whittington (13.2%) weren’t too far behind.

Meanwhile Franz had a higher assist rate than everybody but PG Mike Smith, and among frontcourt players only Isaiah Livers (11.6%) was in double digits. In tandem with his higher assist:TOV ratio, it seems reasonable to say that Franz was the better passer at the same age.

While Otto did have the slightly higher usage, Franz created his own shot at the rim in the halfcourt more frequently (0.99 per 40 vs 0.40). And while Franz ORtg doesn’t fully justify the the usage gap, Michigan did face better defenses by 3.6 pts per 100 and Otto shot 42.2% from 3 vs 34.3% from Franz. But if you look at their sum shooting stats from both years in school, Franz has the slightly better signal:

2P%3PA/1003P%FT%
Otto0.554.70.3550.751
Franz0.58380.3250.835

Eventually Otto developed into a 40%+ 3 point shooter and Franz is a clear underdog to catch him here, but he clearly has upside based on his FT% and 3PA rate.

Physically, Franz is ~0.5″ taller and Otto is ~1.5″ longer, and neither are explosive athletes. Franz was listed 15 pounds heavier (220 vs 205), and didn’t measure at the combine while Otto measured underweight at 197. In spite of that, Otto showed more willingness to mix it up on the offensive glass and drew more free throws, which is his one clear advantage over Franz based on the numbers.

Otto was an incredibly rare prospect, but after digging in Franz is similarly rare with a similar distribution of strengths and weaknesses. Both guys showed a unique ability to dominate with dimensions and outlier avoidance of mistakes. Porter is THE comp for Franz.

The next best comp is likely Mikal Bridges:

AgeUSGORtgORB%DRB%AST%A:TOSTL%BLK%
Franz19.319.2119.52.919.617.32.332.33.2
Mikal19.314.4125.25.712.47.51.463.13.6

Make no mistake about it– Franz is just better than Mikal at the same age as he is 3″ taller with better defense and more creation ability and no substantial advantages for Mikal.

Mikal eventually developed into a good shooter which is not guaranteed for Franz, but it is difficult to see how his shooting is bad enough to such that he is not at least as good as Mikal based on his passing, defense, creation, and size advantages.

Bridges is a good floor comp, although ultimately Franz is clearly better and closer to Otto Porter.

Otto Porter vs Devin Booker

If we assume that Franz is the next Otto and Green is the next Booker, then who should be valued higher?

The casual fan likely will say Booker because you need a star who can create to be an elite team. But there are a few reasons to believe otherwise

Lineup Friction

Once you have one undersized, one dimensional isolation scorer, there is no value in having another. Whereas you cannot have enough Otto Porters. You can comfortably play a lineup with 3 Otto Porters or maybe even 4 in certain occasions, as long as there is one star playmaker to facilitate the offense.

Further, if you have an actual superstar like LeBron or Luka or Giannis, you are better off pairing them with an Otto Porter than a Booker or LaVine. LeBron has shown that he provides maximum value surrounded by efficient role players. Then when he teamed up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami, adjusted plus minus essentially said that they were going to break NBA basketball. But because of their poor synergy, they were not even better than LeBron’s final 2 years in Cleveland in their first season together.

The 73 win Golden State Warriors were great because they had one elite creator in Stephen Curry and 3 excellent role players in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala who provided significant value without needing the ball. Harrison Barnes was a decent enough 5th wheel to round out the death lineup since he is big enough to match up physically with most opponents and capable of making open shots.

Let’s say we replace Barnes with a LaVine or Booker. That screws the defense, because it gives opponents 2 little guys to hunt and makes the overall lack of size weigh heavier. Second, it is questionable how much it helps the offense, because do you really want an isolation scorer taking away 3PA from Steph and Klay? Devin Booker’s career high eFG% is 54.4%, and the Warriors as a team shot 56.3% when they won 73.

But if you replace Barnes with Porter, you get a guy who fits the system and makes the team even more overpowered by doing everything Barnes did with much greater efficiency.

If you really want to break the NBA, you need to load up on elite well rounded role players. Isolation scorers provide diminishing returns and cap team level upside with too many of them

Creation is important but it is not scarce

There are diminishing returns to having too many shot creators, but it is still necessary to have at least one guy to be competitive. There is some value to having a Russell Westbrook keep your team out of the basement even if it results in a round 1 playoff loss.

But how many teams are sorely missing a shot creator and need a Booker type more than a Porter type? Looking at this year’s playoffs, the obvious answer is Philadelphia as they were sorely missing a perimeter creator which played a large role in their upset loss to the Hawks. After that, the Knicks could have used somebody other than Julius Randle to get buckets, although a Devin Booker still likely would not be enough to get them out of round 1.

But other than that? Forgetting injuries, the Nets obviously need a Porter type role player more than another star scorer. Ditto for the Bucks with Giannis, Middleton, and Jrue. Hawks already have Trae. You could argue that the Heat need more than Bam and Jimmy, but they were good enough to make the finals last year. Celtics have Tatum and Brown to create and a lineup with 3 big wings can create some interesting defensive possibilities. Wiz clearly need a role playing wing with two small creators in Russ and Beal.

Utah has Conley + Mitchell but could use an upgrade on Bojan or O’Neale. Suns already have 1 Devin Booker, no room for another. Nuggets already have Murray and Jokic. Clippers have PG and Kawhi to create and could use a Morris/Mann upgrade. Mavs have Luka. Blazers have Dame and CJ. Lakers have LeBron and AD. Grizzlies have Ja Morant.

Essentially 14 of 16 playoff teams already have sufficient creation and could use an elite role playing wing more than an undersized volume scoring SG. And even going slightly lower. The Warriors already have Steph and Klay, Spurs have Dejounte and DeRozan, Kings have Fox, Buddy, and Haliburton, Pelicans have Zion and Ingram, Hornets have LaMelo, Bulls have LaVine.

The Pacers could use a shot of creation to help Sabonis and Brogdon. But there are just such few teams like this that qualify outside of the really terrible bottom feeders like Orlando, Detroit, and Houston.

Why is creation valued so highly?

The fact of the matter is that creation is not that hard to find, and there are diminishing returns on it, yet teams often pay a massive premium to acquire it. Why?

The answer is likely because the best players are all elite shot creators, and it is an important part of team building to find a star who can do it efficiently. But the premium should be placed on finding a well rounded shot creator who provides value in the form of passing and/or defense, as that is what makes a superstar.

As good as Devin Booker has become, he is clearly not the best player on his team. The Suns didn’t have their breakout until adding MVP candidate Chris Paul. They also built around him perfectly with efficient guys who do not demand touches in DeAndre Ayton, Jae Crowder, and Mikal Bridges. Yet they are still a 2nd tier contender who needed massive injury luck to reach the finals.

Booker is a clearly good player and the Suns would not be as good without him. But he not some special prize that makes team building easier the way it would to land a hyper-efficient and versatile role playing wing like Otto Porter.

Back to Green vs. Franz

Bearing in mind that Franz is the more scarce commodity who fits into a wider range of lineups stylistically, let’s discuss who is more likely to provide raw value between him and Green.

It is not difficult to estimate Jalen Green’s offensive upside. Players of his size without elite passing typically cap out around +4 to +5 points per 100 offensively. Looking at 538’s RAPTOR, Bradley Beal is the gold standard with +4.3, +5.2, +5.4 in the past 3 seasons. LaVine is +1.3, +1.2, +3.9, Booker is +3.6, +4.8, +3.1, CJ McCollum is +3.3, +2.5, +3.7, Jamal Murray is +2.3, +3.0, +3.2. And all of these seasons range from like 0 to -3 defensively.

Even though his athletic scoring ability looks highly impressive, it is much more difficult to replicate consistently than somebody like Kevin Durant who can shoot over the defense with ease whenever he wants. There is a limit to the usage and efficiency a guy like him can realistically post. And he just is not going to be a Harden level passer to put him in the top tier of offensive upside.

Defensively, perhaps there is a chance he is average. He did lead his G League team in steal rate. But he is undersized with bad IQ and effort right now, and he is being drafted top 3 to get buckets. Most of his energy has historically gone toward developing his offense, why would that change now?

Green’s realistic upside is approximately +4/-1, and his optimistic upside is +5/0. But that’s REALLY optimistic since the more energy that goes into offense, the less likely he is to have acceptable defense.

Otto Porter peaked around +2 to +3 offensively during his best seasons according to RAPTOR– specifically +2.1/+1.2 and +2.9 /+1.5 which seems reasonable for him. It may be tough for Franz to match this given that Otto shot 43.4% and 44.1% from 3P in those seasons, but it was on low-ish rate of attempts and Franz may be the better creator and passer. And while I never scouted Porter’s defense in college, Franz is essentially pristine on that end and is only limited by his lack of strength and explosiveness.

So it’s really tough to say with Franz. He needs very little to go right to be +1 on either end, and +2 is clearly attainable as well. Being +3 on either end is a difficult ask for him, but he is so uniquely well rounded and good at avoiding mistakes you cannot rule it out.

Intuitively, these guys project to have similar raw values given an ideal lineup in their best cases…and it seems that Franz becoming +3/+2 is slightly more realistic than Green becoming +5/0, since he only needs to be half a point better on D than peak Otto, and when Beal and Booker get to +5 offense it tends to come attached with -2 to -3 defense.

Creation is a significant part of upside, but it is not everything. When it comes in an undersized and one dimensional player it does not necessarily create more upside than a perfectly well rounded role player.

And as another sneaky bonus– if they hit their boring outcomes, and Franz ends up as 0/+1 and Green +3/-2, Franz can be extended for a reasonable price whereas Green still likely commands a max deal for a player who isn’t that good and creates a TON of lineup friction.

Bottom Line

The narrative that shot creation yields big upside needs to be overhauled into being well rounded and versatile is important for high upside.

While creation is very important, there is only a finite amount that can fit onto any team. At any given moment, 90% of the players on the floor are not touching the ball, and to truly build an overpowered lineup like the Warriors’ death lineup, you need to load up on players who provide value outside of scoring.

Franz Wagner is uniquely good at defense, passing, avoiding turnovers, and is still a passable handler and creator. Jalen Green is the inverse player. This creates all sorts of subtle advantages for Franz.

He sneakily may have more upside than Green, he is easier to fit into a wider range of lineups, he is the more scarce commodity, and you simply have more potential to build an elite team with Franz.

Their overall values are still fairly close, and it is fairly likely that Franz will be the more useful player while casual fans believe that Green is better. Green will always have sexier highlights, and may end up with more all-star selections and jersey sales.

But if you want to build an NBA team that wins, Franz would be my choice and it would not be a particularly difficult one. Green being valued so much higher by consensus as a top 3 pick vs Franz currently at #11 is not just an inefficiency in the draft– it is an inefficiency in the common perception of basketball.

How Good Is Jalen Suggs?

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Suggs projects as a clear top 5 pick in this draft, as he is an athletic guard with excellent basketball IQ and a well rounded skill set with a clear path to NBA usefulness.

The big question is: for a PG sized guy at 6’4″ with 6’6″ wingspan, does he bring enough offensive upside to the table relative to his hype? In this regard he has a clear comparison to another recent high lottery pick: Marcus Smart. They have a number of statistical parallels:

AgeUsgORtgORB%DRB%AST%BLK%STL%AST:TOV
Suggs19.625.4110.72.71823.71.13.51.55
Smart19.830.3110.45.114.930.11.951.80
FTr2P%3PA/1003P%FT%HeightWing
Suggs0.3670.5886.40.3370.7616’46’6
Smart0.6480.5148.10.2950.7516’36’9

Right off the bat the upside concerns are apparent. Suggs does not have Smart’s length, and he is not as disruptive as Smart who posted better steal and block rates. Smart is also the more physical player drawing more free throws. Both players also excel defensively on film, although Suggs is slightly more mistake prone. Smart offers approximately the maximum defensive value for combo guard size, and while Suggs is not far behind, he does project to be at least slightly worse on this end than Smart.

This means that Suggs needs to pick up the slack on offense, and do so by a significant margin to be more than a quality role player like Smart. He had similar efficiency on lower usage, a lower assist rate, worse assist:TOV, and a similar shooting signal. At a glance, it is clear why Suggs is currently not projected top 3, as there is no guarantee that he has the offensive skill to offer a big upside tail for his size.

What is his path to greatness?

His biggest advantage over Smart is a better first step, that he uses to get to the rim with greater frequency. Based on play by play data, he created his own shot at the rim in the halfcourt 1.62 times per 40 vs 1.07 for Smart. Smart’s free throw rate indicates his physicality which is a strength on defense, but offensively he was more of a pure bully which is difficult to translate to the NBA for a guard.

Also, Suggs’ pedestrian assist rate may be deceiving considering he was playing on one of the best NCAA offenses of all time for Gonzaga that was absolutely loaded with ball handlers and scorers. They typically played 3 guard lineups, and everybody’s assist rate took a hit:

19-2020-21
SuggsN/A23.7
Nembhard33.120.2
Cook27.217.5
Ayayi16.612.6

Suggs also eye tests as much better than his assist rate, as he sees the floor well and makes excellent reads. He likely would have been able to successfully handle a bigger usage with a higher assist rate on an ordinary NCAA team that wasn’t insanely loaded with offensive talent.

The only cause for concern is that many of his best assists were in transition, and it is not clear if he has the handle to make advanced passes off the dribble against set defenses. But in terms of vision and IQ, he has elite passing upside.

He also should be a better shooter than Smart, as Smart’s outside shot has developed at a mediocre rate in the NBA while being slightly worse in college.

While he does not project to quite match Smart’s defense, Suggs should be better offensively, possibly by a significant margin.

Let’s Talk About Upside

It’s difficult to come up with perfect upside comps for Suggs, but he has one clearly attainable one that stands out: Jrue Holiday.

AgeUsgORtgORB%DRB%AST%BLK%STL%AST:TOV
Suggs19.625.4110.72.71823.71.13.51.55
Jrue18.620.7106.25.911.923.82.13.51.72
FTr2P%3PA/1003P%FT%HeightWing
Suggs0.3670.5886.40.3370.7616’46’6
Jrue0.2490.5285.70.3070.7256’36’7

Jrue shared the handicap of having to share ballhandling duties with another PG, as he played alongside senior Darren Collison at UCLA. He was significantly less effective on offense than Suggs, although much of this could be chalked up to his 1 year youth advantage as guards often make a big leap from age 18 to 19. Given that he was #2 RSCI and NBA ready as a rookie, it would be fair to expect him to post similar production to Suggs had he stayed for his sophomore season.

Overall they are similar as they thrive on defensive IQ with intelligent passing with decent enough skills offensively. And Suggs is the better athlete, so he does not need all that much to go right to become Jrue level or better.

But How Much Better?

This is where it gets murky, as it is difficult to find anybody with more than a vaguely similar distribution to Suggs. You need to go back to the 90’s to find any half decent upside comps, per 40 stats used:

Jason Kidd is an interesting comp as he was also an exceptionally cerebral player who thrived with transition passing and defense, and was an old freshman:

AgePtsRebsAstsStlsBlksTOVs2P%3P%FT%
Kidd19.816.46.29.64.80.34.90.5370.2860.657
Suggs19.619.97.46.32.60.54.10.5880.3370.761

Suggs was a better shot maker, but Kidd’s instincts were on a different level with much better assist and steal rates. Suggs could have maybe posted a better assist rate elsewhere as aforementioned, but that assist rate for Kidd is insane. Granted it dropped to 3.6 as a sophomore, but it still makes it difficult to project Suggs on Kidd’s level as a defensive player or passer. He can make up with scoring, but it is overall a highly imperfect perfect comp.

AgePtsRebsAstsStlsBlksTOVs2P%3P%FT%
Suggs19.619.97.46.32.60.54.10.5880.3370.761
Baron19.720.74.76.73.30.54.30.5480.3430.599

Baron Davis is a bit more athletic than Suggs, but Suggs is 1″ taller. And Baron’s better steal rate can’t really be glazed over. There are some clear similarities here, but once again not perfect.

AgePtsRebsAstsStlsBlksTOVs2P%3P%FT%
Suggs19.619.97.46.32.60.54.10.5880.3370.761
Payton19.515.23.57.82.40.43.60.5140.3970.699
Payton20.521.24.38.63.20.63.20.560.3850.677

Gary Payton’s breakout junior year is included as it is likely more indicative of his true value. It’s unlikely that Suggs’ passing is as saucy or that his defense is as elite as the glove, but they are the same height and athletically similar so it may be somewhere in his range of possibilities if we want to envision his most optimistic outcome.

Conclusion

Suggs is a relatively safe pick as he comes as a polished as a high IQ player who has the athleticism to make plays, and it is difficult to see him not being a useful NBAer.

Most likely he will be somewhere on a scale of Marcus Smart to Jrue Holiday level of goodness. But because he is more athletic than both, he should have upside to surpass Jrue if things go well for him.

But it is still unclear exactly how much upside he has. Both because it is difficult to find a satisfactory comparison for him, and because it is unclear exactly how good his passing would be if given complete control of an offense rather than sharing the load on an excessively talented NCAA team.

As far as this draft goes, the only guy he is clearly below is Evan Mobley who is super well rounded with more upside and fewer limitations.

After that, it’s difficult to compare Suggs to Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes. Cade and Barnes are in higher upside molds, but Suggs is a safer bet to reach his upside. We likely don’t have enough information to rank those 3 with any confidence.

It is easier to compare him to Jalen Green, also sized like a small SG. Green is a bit taller, longer, and more athletic with better shooting and creation ability. But Suggs is stronger with vastly better passing and defense, more potential to play PG, and should fit in a wider range of lineups. It’s understandable why many folks prefer Green, but Suggs feel, IQ, and well roundedness should give him the edge.

There is something to be said for a good median outcome with decent enough upside. Consider 2014– Marcus Smart arguably was the best non-Embiid selection in the lottery in spite of being somewhat of an unsexy role player. And he was retained for a reasonable 4 years @ $52 million compared to Andrew Wiggins’s ridiculous 5/147 extension.

Ultimately Suggs is a solid and safe pick, and once Mobley is off the board it is difficult to see how he could be a bad selection.