2019 Draft Preview

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Here’s my quick and dirty preview of next season (not including internationals). It looks like a relatively weak freshman class outside of Barrett, although there are some interesting weirdos and under-hyped returning players. There are also some fraudulent hype trains that I want to debunk so here we go:

1. RJ Barrett, 6’7″ SF, Duke

Barrett is the obvious #1 for this class, as he is the only prospect with clear star potential. He is a 6’7″ point forward who is smooth, explosive, and cerebral, and he has a pretty good track record of beating team USA in basketball.

He led Canada to a 99-87 victory at FIBA u19 weeks after turning 17, posting a monster 38/13/5 line with just 1 turnover.

Then in the 2018 Nike Hoop Summit, he led World team to a decisive 89-76 victory with 20/9/6/5 and just 2 turnovers. He had only one teammate projected in ESPN’s 2019 Mock (#19 Charles Bassey) vs team USA whose featuring 4 projected lotto picks and Tre Jones (who could go lotto).

Barrett’s one weakness is shooting. But he is so good otherwise it’s hard to see him failing because of this. Barrett is a unique player and it’s hard to find a perfect comp for him, but optimistically he will be a hybrid of Grant Hill, Andre Iguodala, and Penny Hardaway.

2. Jontay Porter 6’11” PF/C, Missouri

Jontay Porter won’t actually go #2 overall. He may not even go in the first round. But he is awesome and underrated because his combination of size, vision, IQ, and shooting is unprecedented. He may be the best player in the NCAA next year, and he will still be younger than plenty of true freshman.

I am ranking him this high because the freshman class doesn’t have any sure bets after Barrett, and at this juncture Jontay’s higher floor makes him overall more valuable

3. Nassir Little 6’6″ SF, North Carolina

Little is being hyped as the #2 guy to challenge Barrett. He is extremely athletic with a long 7’2″ wingspan and has potential to be highly disruptive on defense.

But he had a terrible AAU assist to turnover ratio for a 6’6″ player, and likely does not have the basketball IQ to be a transcendent star. He has improved quite a bit since then, so it will be interesting to see how he performs at North Carolina. But he may not perform as well vs NCAA defenses as he did in an all-star game setting like McDonald’s All-American.

4. Cam Reddish, 6’9″ SF/PF, Duke

Reddish has excellent wing size and tools to be a lockdown defensive player. He needs to improve his shooting, but if he does he has some nice two way point forward potential.

5. Romeo Langford 6’6″ SG, Indiana

Romeo is a silky smooth scoring SG with good size and athleticism for the position.

He has decent enough rebounding, passing, and defense to justify a top 3 pick and be a Brad Beal type. But he is likely not well rounded enough to genuinely challenge Barrett for #1 overall.

6. Bol Bol 7’2″ C, Oregon

Bol is talented enough to contend with RJ Barrett for #1 overall, as he offers an incredibly rare intersection of shooting (44% 3P and 82% FT in small NCAA sample) and shotblocking to be a unicorn stretch 5.

But he has a reputation for apathy and low effort, which makes him less shiny as a franchise changing star. He will likely be one of the most polarizing prospects in the class.

 

7. Simi Shittu, 6’9″ PF, Vanderbilt

Shittu currently is recovering from an ACL tear and does not have much draft hype, but the #10 recruit in the class may be the biggest sleeper. He is 6’9″ swiss army knife big with point forward potential.

Shittu is more interesting than most of the highly rated freshmen at this juncture.

 

8. Quentin Grimes, 6’5″ SG, Kansas

Grimes is an undersized SG who is a good but not great athlete, and may struggle to consistently make 3’s. It is not a good mold for the NBA.

But he starred for team USA in both the Nike Hoop Summit and FIBA u18 tournament. He offering good passing and defense and is a good slasher with decent point guard skill. Grimes offers shades of Marcus Smart

9. JA Morant, 6’3″ PG, Murray State

Morant is easily the best returning college player that nobody is talking about. He is an extremely quick PG with good height and excellent vision. He was an excellent rebounder for a skinny 18 y/o guard as a freshmen.

He is essentially a rich man’s version of Cam Payne. Payne was a lottery pick, and if Morant continues to improve his game he should be too.

10 Daniel Gafford, 6’11” C, Arkansas

Gafford is an athletic big who fits a sort of Clint Capela mold. He is not as athletic as Capela, but nevertheless has an easy path to usefulness as a pro.

11. Zion Williamson 6’6″ SF/PF, Duke

Zion is extremely thick, jacked, and athletic and looks more like a tight end than a basketball player. He bullied high school opponents effectively, but it remains to be seen how well he translates to playing the perimeter against higher levels of competition.

He isn’t a very good shooter, so who knows what to expect. He is an extremely weird player.

12. Naz Reid 6’9″ PF/C, LSU

Reid is a defensively disruptive big who gets loads of steals and rebounds and a fair amount of blocks.

Offensively he has a weak assist:TOV ratio, but an acceptable shot and smooth footwork give him potential to develop into a 2 way player.

13. Devon Dotson 6’2″ PG, Kansas

Dotson is a weirdo. He’s 6’2″ and not the most natural PG, but he racks up a ton of steals and rebounds and he can score.

If he develops his floor general skills, he has potential to be a two way PG. If not he could be a SG in a PG body.

14. Darius Garland 6’3″ PG, Vanderbilt

Darius Garland isn’t that strong or athletic, and will likely be bad on defense. But he makes up for it with great passing and shooting and decent enough PG size at 6’3″. He may be one the most one way prospect in the draft.

15. Tre Jones 6’2″ PG, Duke

Jones currently has no draft hype because he has limited physical tools and not a great shooter, but he has excellent point guard instincts.

If his shot comes around, he will be a serious prospect. His brother Tyus was underrated in the draft, and it looks like Tre will be as well.

16. Darius Bazley, 6’9″ SF/PF G-League

Bazley is taking a non-traditional route to the NBA by going through the G-League instead of college. He is one of the youngest players in his class, having just turned 18 in June which may indicate that he is underrated.

 

17. EJ Montgomery 6’10” PF, Kentucky

Montgomery has an interesting blend of height, shooting, and passing and moves fairly well. He doesn’t have hype now but has clear potential to rise into the top 10 with a strong freshman year.

18. Jarrett Culver 6’5″ SG, Texas Tech

Culver is a skilled and cerebral shooting guard.

He isn’t big or quick enough to have elite defensive potential, although his excellent steal, block, and rebound rates as a freshman indicate some upside on that end.

19. PJ Washington 6’7″ SF/PF, Kentucky

Washington’s freshman year was a disappointment, but he is strong and athletic and had performed much better at the AAU level. It’s likely that he is actually better than his freshman performance indicates.

20. Isaiah Roby 6’8″ SF/PF, Nebraska

Roby is the prototypical big wing in the modern NBA, as he can rebound, pass, defend, and is developing into a capable shooter. If his shooting further improves as a junior, he has some of the sneakier upside among upperclassmen.

21. Ethan Happ, 6’9″ PF Wisconsin

Happ is an incredibly cerebral player that stuffs the box score and can do everything but shoot. He is also getting fairly old, and if he fails to show progress as a shooter this year he may be destined to forever be a bricklayer. But he has a fascinating combination of outlier strengths highlighted by excellent handling, passing, and defense. He has potential to be a round 2 steal.

22. Andrew Nembhard 6’4″ PG, Florida

Nembhard was the star of the show for team Canada in the FIBA u18 championship, averaging 16/9/4/3. He isn’t particularly athletic or good at shooting, and his performance in a blowout loss vs Team USA could have been better. But it’s rare to have his combination of size and point guard skill, and if his shot comes along he could rise into the lottery.

23. Dedric Lawson 6’9″ PF, Kansas

Lawson is the poor man’s Jontay of the class– a highly cerebral big man who can shoot and pass but is too slow to truly excite scouts.

 

24. Aric Holman 6’10” PF/C, Mississipi State

Holman is tall and athletic, and can rebound, block shots, dunk, and is developing into a capable shooter. That is everything that you hope for in an NBA big man, and if he builds on his junior breakout he will be one of the more interesting upperclassmen in the draft.

25. Nickeil Alexander-Walker 6’5″ SG, Virginia Tech

The rising sophomore SG has a kind of boring profile as a jack of all trades but master of none without having special size or athleticism.

But Buzz Williams has a special power of making good pros look ordinary statistically, as Wes Matthews and Jimmy Butler were two players who had little signal for future goodness at Marquette but became good pros. So it’s reasonable to take Walker seriously as a prospect.

26. Ky Bowman, 6’1″ PG Boston College

Bowman is not the most natural point guard for a 6’1″ player, but he is extremely athletic with an excellent motor. He plays bigger than his size and is a strong rebounder and a good shooter.

If he can improve his floor general skills, he has the athleticism, shooting, and IQ to thrive as a little guy in the NBA.

27. Killian Tillie 6’10 PF/C, Gonzaga

Tillie has excellent IQ and skill for a big, and will be one of the best players in NCAA. Only question is whether he has the quickness and strength to succeed in the modern NBA.

28. Charles Bassey 6’10” C, Western Kentucky

Bassey is an athletic big who had a whopping 16 rebounds in 24 minutes at the Hoop Summit.

But he is also unskilled and may be slightly undersized to be a true center, and his basketball IQ remains to be determined.

29. Michael Weathers 6’3″ PG, Oklahoma State

As a freshman, Michael Weathers was the Russell Westbrook of the MAC as he posted stuffed the box score with points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers, and bricks.

Now after transferring and sitting out a year, we get to see how he performs for a major conference team.

30. Khavon Moore, 6’8″ SF/PF Texas Tech

Moore is one of the biggest wildcard freshmen. He is 6’8″, young, and athletic with vision and point forward skill, and could easily rise into the top 10 with a strong freshman year.

But he is raw and erratic and extremely turnover prone, so he also may not sniff draft radar.

31. Anfernee McLemore 6’7″ SF/PF, Auburn

McLemore offers an intriguing combination of shooting, size, athleticism, and IQ. He is only 6’7″ but posted a monster block rate for Auburn. He may be an undersized big who fails to translate, but he is interesting as a wing convert.

32. Xavier Sneed 6’5″ SG, Kansas State

Sneed is a quick and cerebral 3 + D wing who is very good defensively and rarely makes mistakes on offense.

He isn’t much of a scorer and he needs to further improve his shot to be a 1st round value, but if he makes a shooting leap as a junior he will have an easy path to NBA usefulness.

33. Ayo Dosunmu, 6’3″ PG/SG, Illinois

Dosunmu is an undersized combo guard who isn’t a great shooter, but nevertheless has interesting role player potential.

He is exceptionally quick and is very good perimeter defender. And has some budding PG skill, if he can build on that an improve as a shooter he could be a nice PG prospect.

34. Charles Matthews, 6’6″ SG/SF Michigan

Matthews is athletic enough to play for Calipari and smart enough to play for Beilein, and it shows in his performance as he is an excellent defensive wing with tools to translate to the NBA.

But he is a really bad shooter, and unless he makes a massive leap in this regard his upside will always be capped.

35. Ty Jerome 6’5″ PG/SG, Virginia

Jerome is a fascinating sleeper because he is the least vertically explosive athlete in the draft. But he moves his feet well and is incredibly intelligent with good PG size, making him one of the best defensive guards in the NCAA.

His athleticism will always limit his upside, but he has potential to be a good 3 + D role player in the NBA.

 

36. Jaylen Hoard 6’8″ SF/PF, Wake Forest

Hoard is old for his class and will be a sophomore aged freshman, and will need a strong freshman performance to justify much draft hype. But he has good wing size and solid rebounding, passing, and shooting, and this is a package that easily sums into a good prospect.

37. Tres Tinkle 6’8″ SF/PF Oregon State

Tinkle is a big swiss army knife wing who shot 84% FT and 33% 3P as a junior. If his 3P% catches up to his FT% as a senior, don’t be surprised to see Tinkle get first round hype.

38. Kris Wilkes 6’8″ SF, UCLA

Wilkes has good tools for a big wing and was decent enough as a freshmen. He’s interesting if he makes a sophomore leap

39. DeAndre Hunter 6’7″ SF, Virginia

Hunter is currently being hyped as a top 10 pick as a swiss army knife 3 + D wing.

But he isn’t particularly good at any one thing, he only has good but not great size and athleticism, and was a sophomore aged freshmen. Everything about his profile screams ordinary round 2 flier, so it’s hard to see why people are so excited over him.

40. Keldon Johnson 6’6″ SF, Kentucky

Johnson is the most obviously fraudulent freshman who currently has lottery hype. He has meh size for a wing, is more strong than explosive, and is highly inefficient on offense. In all likelihood he is a bully who developed before the rest of his class and has limited value as a prospect.

Other Names to watch:

41. Javin DeLaurier
42. Zach Norvell Jr.
43. Cole Swider
44. DeJon Jarreau
45. Jahlil Tripp
46. Trent Forrest
47. Jalen McDaniels
48. Terence Davis
49. John Konchar
50. Markis McDuffie
51. Tremont Waters
52. Saben Lee
53. Quinton Rose
54. Shakur Juiston
55. Yoeli Childs
56. D’Marcus Simonds
57. Cassius Winston
58. Bruno Fernando
59. Devon Daniels
60. Josh LeBlanc

Do Not Draft

Rui Hachimura, 6’8″ SF/PF, Gonzaga

Hachimura is athletic but has bad feel and skill. He wasn’t even a good college player at age 20, and unless he has a major breakout as a junior he will likely be a toolsy guy who doesn’t put it together

Herb Jones, 6’7″ SF Alabama

Herb Jones is a toolsy prospect who plays great defense, but he is a complete and utter abomination on offense. He cannot score from any level and he is horribly turnover prone, and frankly it’s hard to see him ever improving enough to justify an NBA rotation role.

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Draft Takeaways

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1) Dallas Steals Luka from Atlanta in the most lopsided trade in NBA Draft History

Doncic is the best prospect since Anthony Davis and Trae Young has no business going in the top 5. This will be known as an infamous robbery before long.

Not only did Dallas steal a rare prospect from the #5 overall slot, but they did so at a reasonable cost of a top 5 protected pick. It’s less valuable than the pick that Boston received to swap Fultz for Tatum, and even less valuable than the pick that Philly received to move down from just #10 to #16 in this draft.

With a fairly pedestrian price to move up, this is BY FAR worst draft day trade in NBA history for Atlanta. It crushes Ty Thomas for LaMarcus Aldridge, as Thomas was the better talent who developed much worse. Trae is worse than Luka in every regard.

2) Travis Schlenk is a Terrible GM

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It’s obvious Schlenk’s strategy is to copy the Warriors in Atlanta, and it shows with his draft night strategy taking Trae Young (Steph), Kevin Huerter (Klay), and Omari Spellman (Draymond).

The Spellman and Huerter picks were fine, but that’s sheer luck that the players who vaguely reminded him of Warrior starters happened to be decent.

The more important decision was at #3 when there were two possible franchise changing stars in Luka and Jaren, and instead he traded down for a fairly low price to reach for a guy who had no business being in the top 5. This is the type of stuff that makes or breaks franchise, and Schlenk destroyed the Hawks’ future upside with this decision.

There will never be another Steph or another Draymond, and it’s senseless to try to build a team around finding one. Travis Schlenk is going to learn this the hard way, as this trade horribly sets the franchise back.

3) Philly Gets More In Return For Mikal Bridges Than Atlanta For Luka Doncic

Zhaire Smith is a better prospect than Trae Young, and the 2021 unprotected Miami pick is MUCH better than the top 5 protected Dallas pick.

The one and done rule is going to be eliminated in 2021, which means there will be twice as many lotto prizes as normal. Picking #19 in that draft will be like picking #10 in a normal draft, picking #13 will be like a normal #7, and so on.

Not to mention that Miami does not have the best longterm current roster, and has sneaky downside to be a lotto team.

That pick is worth more than Mikal Bridges, and so is Zhaire Smith. Not to mention that Zhaire is an excellent fit in Philadelphia, this trade was an incredible coup for the 76ers.

4) What is Phoenix Even Doing?

I have no idea. I like Ayton, but it is definitely a mistake to take him over Luka and Jaren who every smart person agrees are the top 2 in this draft. And other than that, they seem to be willing to mortgage the farm on Mikal Bridges who they see as the final role player piece to their core of Booker, Jackson, and Ayton.

As it is they have 3 talented but badly flawed “stars” and invested some serious assets in a pure role playing wing. If Ayton pans out this could be a perennial 45-50 win roster, but there isn’t really championship upside here and there is downside for things to go quite a bit worse.

And not that it really matters at #59 overall, but George King is a hilarious waste of a draft pick.

5) Denver Gambles On Injured Players

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If Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt never got hurt this year, they could have been the #1 and #10 picks in the draft. Getting talents like that at #14 and #40 can only be a good thing.

I am unsure what to expect of Porter, and gun to my head I would have rather taken Zhaire Smith with the pick. But it’s hard to knock the gamble– players with Porter’s talent are never available at #14.

But the pick I absolutely LOVE Is getting that sweet, sweet Vandy Candy in round 2. Vanderbilt is an absolute steal, as he is a 5* recruit who was star of the Hoop Summit, is a monster rebounder who can pass off the dribble, and if he stays healthy is the favorite to be the best player who wasn’t drafted in the top 20.

6) Pop Has Lost His Edge

It’s been a rough year for Gregg Popovich, as he lost his wife and he will likely lose his star player in Kawhi as well. He is getting old at age 69, and is near retirement, and he just doesn’t have the edge he used to.

Lonnie Walker was a fine pick at #18, but Kevin Huerter or Josh Okogie who went at 19 and 20 would have been more exciting + traditional Spurs-y type picks. Chimezie Metu at 49 overall is a waste of a draft slot.

It’s sad to see such a prolonged era of excellence come to an end, but nothing lasts forever. Pop will retire soon, and the Spurs will have a long climb back to relevance. He was the best coach in the NBA for almost 20 years, but now his time is coming to an end and the Spurs are just another mediocre team.

7) Minnesota with a pair of value picks

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Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop were two of the better value picks in the draft. They both have solid role player potential that can solidly upgrade Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Crawford longterm.

I’m also a buyer of Tyus Jones, and if Thibs can refrain from investing in too many flawed talents and gets rid of Wiggins, the Wolves could end up with a solid cast around Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler.

8) Cleveland is awful

LeBron is going to leave, Collin Sexton is going to be awful as a rookie, and the Cavs are going to be mind numbingly bad once again. They will contend for #1 overall pick in 2019.

9) Daryl Morey Stays Amazing

The Rockets entered the draft with one pick at #46 overall, and they came away with a top 20 prospect in Melton, one of best under the radar sleepers in Vince Edwards, and everybody’s favorite sleeper in Gary Clark.

It’s possible that these prospects all amount to nothing. I similarly lauded Morey in 2016 when he nabbed Chinanu Onuaku and Zhou Qi. But these are such low cost acquisitions it hardly matters. When they work they will work better than most other 2nd rounders or late 1sts.

10) Jaren Jackson Jr. will forever be underappreciated

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Jaren is a really amazing prospect who deserves a good team, and he ended up in a terrible situation.

Most distressing is he will play for a terrible coach in JB Bickerstaff who likely fails to maximize his elite defensive prowess. And to make it worse, the Grizzlies have zero young talent, owe a future 1st to Boston, and Conley and Gasol will both be well past their primes by the time Jaren can legally buy alcohol.

This badly reminisces of KG’s team situation in Minnesota, where he had an MVP level season in 04-05 and only finished 11th in MVP voting because his team was so bad they missed the playoffs.

Jaren is an elite prospect but his goodness will likely never be fully appreciated in Memphis.

2018 Mega Board

This is my finest work yet. Still not perfect, but I’d bet these rankings look fairly accurate in 5 years.

1a. Luka Doncic 6’8″ PG/PF, Real Madrid

Doncic is a point guard in a power forward body, as he is 6’8″ with a strong frame and at age 19 was able to lead Real Madrid to Euroleague championship while winning MVP.

His only flaw is that his athleticism is merely decent, but this will be of little concern if he proves to be both a skill wizard and a basketball genius. He can shoot, score, pass, rebound, draw free throws, and is an intelligent defensive player and he has clear potential to be an all-time great.

The only concern is that his shot is currently only good but not elite, as he shot 32% from 3P (on high volume of attempts) and 80% FT. If his shot does not improve, his athleticism may inhibit him from being more than Hedo Turkoglu. But he is almost certainly going to be good with strong odds of being an all-time great.

1b. Jaren Jackson Jr. 6’11” C, Michigan St.

JJJ is custom built to be a defensive stud in the modern era, as he is an elite rim protector with mobility to switch onto the perimeter. He has a good defensive IQ, a monster 7’5″ wingspan, and can cover a ton of ground making him by far the best defensive prospect in the draft.

Offensively he is more raw, but showed good shooting and handling ability for an 18 year old big. His shot has an awkward form and low release, but he gets it off quickly and it was accurate as a freshman. He is still prone to sloppy turnovers and limited creation, but he showed a budding ability to attack off the dribble from the perimeter.

At worst JJJ is an ideal 3 + D big man like a modern Serge Ibaka, and if his offense develops well he has potential to be an all time great superstar.

It’s really close between Luka and Jaren. I rate them as the top 2 prospects of the past 6 drafts.

3. DeAndre Ayton 7’1″ C, Arizona

Ayton has excellent tools for a center at he is tall, strong, long, mobile, and smooth. He is also an efficient offensive player as he uses his elite frame and body control to create easy shots inside, and is a competent shooter and an unselfish passer. He will be an interesting counter to small ball centers, as he can absolutely eviscerate smaller competition in the post.

The big concern is that in spite of ideal physical tools, he was a poor defensive player at Arizona. He had bad instincts and awareness, was often beat when he should not have been, and did not make the impact you would expect from a physical beast like himself.

But historically speaking, consensus #1 overall picks with elite stats tend to do well in the NBA. Ayton should have a really good career in spite of his flaws.

4. Wendell Carter Jr. 6’10 C, Duke

WCJ is essentially good at everything but defending the perimeter, which makes him enigmatic in an era where big man are being asked to hold their own on switches more frequently. There is some risk he is a Greg Monroe type who can not hold his own on the defensive end.

But he is not that slow, and given his high IQ it would not be a surprise if he figures out how to be good defensively. He compares statistically to players such as Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh, Karl Anthony-Towns, Kevin Love, and Al Horford so if he improves his perimeter defense enough he can be an excellent pro.

5. Zhaire Smith 6’4″ SG, Texas Tech

Zhaire is an undersized combo guard who can barely dribble, but he is by far the most athletic player in the draft and may be the best athlete in the NBA.

He has a good 6’9.75″ wingspan, good feel for the game, and a budding shooting ability. Historically nuclear athletes do not require an elite handle to make a big scoring impact, and even if his scoring does not develop well he can be a very good role player.

Zhaire is dripping with potential as an elite high floor, high ceiling sleeper.

6. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 6’6″ PG/SG, Kentucky

SGA is a tall, long, silky smooth point guard who is an incredibly unique prospect.

He is excellent at running the pick and roll, as he is always in control and uses his high IQ and elite body control to either get to the rim and finish or create a quality look for his teammate with his passing. But he has a thin frame and limited athleticism, so there is some doubt as to how well this will translate to the NBA level.

Similarly he made 82% FT but his slow release and low 3PA rate makes it unclear how good he will shoot.

On defense his height, 6’11.5″ wingspan, and solid lateral mobility gives him upside as a switchable defensive player, but he was not consistently good on this end for Kentucky.

He is on the fence where it’s unclear whether he will be above or below average in creation, shooting, and defense, which makes him hard to predict. But he has excellent intangibles and a high IQ, which could be just enough to pay off the team that errs on the side of optimism.

7. Mo Bamba 7’1″ C, Texas

Bamba offers a monstrous 7’10” wingspan, decent mobility, great rebounding, and a developing 3 point shot to give an interesting 3 + D profile.

But at this moment in time his game is full of holes– he often gets beat on the perimeter, makes bad decisions in pick and roll defense, and his offensive game is limited to using his reach for easy finishes as he is raw and does not pass with a currently limited shooting ability.

Teams are betting on his off court intelligence enabling him to develop into a better pro than he was NCAA player, but there is some risk he is only slightly better than Alexis Ajinca.

8. Marvin Bagley 6’11” PF Duke

Bagley is an old school garbage power forward who has excellent athleticism and motor to rebound and finish very well. His developing shooting ability and good quickness gives him some hope of fitting in on the perimeter.

The trouble is that he had horrible defensive instincts as a freshman, and with a somewhat limited wingspan he is not a true rim protector who can block shots to atone for his mistakes.

Bagley could be the next Amar’e Stoudemire, but it’s worth wondering exactly how much that is worth. Stoudemire’s defense made him difficult to build around and Phoenix and New York had some of their best playoff runs when he was injured. Even if he stuffs the stat sheet with points and rebounds, it may not amount to wins.

9. Michael Porter Jr. 6’11” PF, Missouri

MPJ is the most polarizing player in the draft. He is a big athletic scorer who posted monster EYBL stats and may be in the mix for #1 overall had he stayed healthy and played a full season for Missouri.

But instead he had a back injury and played 2 games like a black hole, shooting 10/30 FG with just 1 assist. Even prior to these two games he had struggled to get past his man off the dribble, and looks awkward navigating through traffic and relies heavily on stepback jumpers. He is also not great laterally or smart defensively,

Nevertheless his talent cannot be ignored. He is a huge wing, and if his shot develops well he will be able to get it off at a high volume. He also uses his size to rebound and make plays on defense.

His upside is a sort of Carmelo/Durant hybrid, where it depends heavily on his shotmaking and ability to stay healthy. MPJ is a true mystery box who is one of the toughest prospects in the draft to predict.

10. Kevin Knox 6’9″ SF/PF Kentucky

Knox is a prototypical stretch 4, as he is a big wing with good shooting, handling, and switching tools. He is more of a fluid athlete than explosive, but at age 18 still has plenty of room to grow.

The main concern for Knox is in spite of his physical profile, he had a disappointing amount of rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, although this may be in part chalked up to playing in a supersized lineup for a bad coach in John Calipari. He has played better both in AAU and workout settings.

The Celtics’ recent success with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum may inspire other teams to gamble on young, big wings who were highly touted pre-NCAA, and Knox fits the mold as he has star scoring potential as he is a good shooter with a nice floater.

Knox is a gamble and there is no guarantee he amounts to anything as a pro. But if he does pan out the payoff can be rich.

11. Miles Bridges, 6’7″ SF, Michigan St.

Miles is the prototypical 3 + D wing, as he is strong and athletic with good switchability potential, rebounding, passing, shooting, and secondary creation.

The only question is how much star upside Miles offers. He has somewhat short arms with a 6’9.5″ wingspan, did not rack up many steals, and went to the line surprisingly infrequently for a player with his physical tools. He doesn’t always play like the great athlete he is, which causes some concern for his feel for the game.

Nevertheless Miles has an easy path to usefulness. And given his athleticism, star upside cannot be ruled out.

12. Robert Williams 6’10” C, Texas A&M

BobWill is a good target for a team that is feeling Clint Capela FOMO, as he has elite length and athleticism that gives him elite finishing + switchability potential in a big who rebounds, passes, and protects the rim.

But there are some questions about his feel for the game, as Texas A&M’s defense performed better with him off the court, and he needs to improve his defense for his impact to match his potential.

13. Josh Okogie 6’4″ SG/SF Georgia Tech

Okogie’s 6’4.5″ height may seem underwhelming for a wing, but he makes up for it with a monster 7’0″ wingspan, strong frame, and excellent athleticism. He also has a non-stop motor and lockdown potential as a man to man defender against multiple positions.

Offensively he is a good shooter and a decent passer, and has a good first step and handle to create shots but struggles to finish at the rim with poor body control.

Okogie projects to be a versatile 3 + D wing, and if he can improve his finishing he has sneaky upside.

14. Kevin Huerter, 6’7″ SG/SF, Maryland

Huerter is everybody’s favorite sleeper, as he is an excellent shooter with enough height, athleticism, and basketball IQ to become a solid defensive player.

He is limited by short arms, a somewhat narrow frame, and isn’t much of a shot creator or rebounder. But he may have the highest IQ in the draft, and it’s worth giving him a shot of figuring out a way to populate the rest of his game to complement his shooting. He also has excellent body control that enabled him to finish 60% of his 2P as a sophomore at Maryland.

Huerter does not have much star potential, but could have sneaky upside as a well rounded floor spacer like Kyle Korver or Klay Thompson. Even if not he still can easily be a solid role player.

15. Trae Young, 6’2″ PG, Oklahoma

Trae Young posted insane box score stats for Oklahoma, as he has a rare combination of shooting, handling, and vision and racked up monstrous point and assist totals.

But unfortunately his box score stats did not amount to major team level impact, as he gave back much of his offensive production with horrific defense and often played out of control taking a number of bad shots and attempting low IQ passes.

His lack of defensive effort and out of control style pair poorly with his awful physical profile, as his short arms, narrow frame, and merely good but not elite athleticism demand a high basketball IQ to have a great pro upside. Thus far Young has not shown nearly the level of IQ to merit a top 10 pick.

He nevertheless could be a skill wizard with enough instincts and vision to be an Isaiah Thomas level impact, but he will come with the same fit issues and playoff limits as IT as his physical limits make him easier to slow down and he can be hunted on defense. In reality he will likely be more like Trey Burke.

Trae has huge downside risk and a badly flawed upside, thus I am lower on him than consensus.

16. Troy Brown 6’7″ SF/PF, Oregon

Troy is a big, young, wing who can pass, rebound, handle, and maybe shoot.

His flaw is that he has limited athleticism and was not efficient as a freshman for Oregon. But he is still 18 on draft night, and if his skill develops he has intrigue as a versatile, multi-positional 3 + D wing.

Troy could be a good role player with sneaky weirdo upside, or he could never put an NBA career together. He is one of the trickier players in the draft to peg.

17. DeAnthony Melton 6’4″ PG/SG, USC

Melton is a combo guard with amazing vision and instincts, decent athleticism, and sorely limited skill level.

As a freshman he did most of his damage in transition, and was badly inefficient in the halfcourt. Statistically he is a doppelganger for Jrue Holiday’s freshman performance at UCLA, but his handle and shooting may not match Jrue and could result in an offensive player more like Marcus Smart.

But in the event that Melton’s skill develops well, he could be an interesting 3 + D combo guard who can play some point guard as he does have the vision and passing ability.

18. Mikal Bridges 6’7″ SF, Villanova

Bridges offer a good combination of shooting, team defense, and efficiency to fit the modern archetype for 3 +D role player.

He has decent athleticism + mobility, but there is some risk he will struggle with switching as he often gets burned by quicker wings and bullied by bigger ones. He is not much of a rebounder, passer, or shot creator, which at age 21 puts a cap on his long term upside.

Bridges should be a useful role player in the NBA, although he likely will not be much better than Justin Holiday or James Ennis. It makes him a decent mid-late 1st round choice, but there just is not enough upside to justify a lottery selection.

19. Dzanan Musa 6’8″ SF/PF

Musa offers an intriguing blend of size, skill, and instincts in the late 1st. He just turned 19, and young, big wings who can pass and shoot are often great upside targets.

That said, he has short arms (6’9.5″ wingspan), average athleticism, and idolizes Kobe Bryant. Playing like Kobe without having Kobe’s talent is not ideal. He takes bad shots and is mistake prone on defense.

Musa is one of the more intriguing talents in the late first, but if he insists on playing like Kobe it will undermine his ability.  But if he can be coached and improves his basketball IQ with age, he can provide a nice payoff for a late 1st gamble.

20. Collin Sexton, 6’1″ PG Alabama

Sexton is an elite scorer as he has great athleticism and body control to be able to get to the rim and finish. The trouble is that he does not complement this with much else, as he showed disappointing passing and defense at Alabama and is not a great shooter.

Most of his upside comps are not inspiring– Iverson with less athleticism or Kyrie with worse shooting are not the most exciting players to target. Those players are flawed to begin with, and take away part of their specialness and you are left with Jeff Teague. And there is some risk Sexton’s instincts and IQ aren’t good enough to justify getting his scoring on the floor.

Ultimately Sexton’s upside is attractive on paper, but most of the time he is going to disappoint and be a challenging fit into NBA lineups.

 

21. Lonnie Walker 6’4″ SG, Miami

Lonnie has nice length, athleticism, shooting, and man to man defense, and projects to be a JR Smith type role playing SG.

In theory he has upside to be more, but it is hard to see his ticket there. He isn’t that skilled, that smart, or that athletic, and he plays smaller than his size as he is allergic to rebounds and free throw attempts.

22. Elie Okobo 6’3″ PG, Pau-Orthez

Okobo emerged out of nowhere to be a quality prospect, as he went from a low usage combo guard to a full fledged point guard at age 20. He has good length, athleticism, and shooting, and the parallels to Damian Lillard cannot be ignored. He has upside if a GM wants to swing for the fences in the late first.

But he also has immense risk, as he is still turnover prone, has a lower steal rate than most elite PG’s, and his 19 year old limits cannot be ignored. Okobo is a classic boom or bust who is worth a look once the lottery talents are off the board.

23. Keita Bates-Diop 6’8″ SF/PF

Bates-Diop has excellent switching tools, as he is 6’8.5″ with 7’3.25″ wingspan, and good quickness. He can shoot, rebound, and protect the rim, and is ideal as a versatile 3 + D role player similar to Al-Farouq Aminu.

But at age 22 he has limited upside, as he does not have much ball skills and his feel for the game is only OK– he has a disappointing steal rate in spite of his monster length and has shown limited vision and passing.

He has good odds of being a useful role player, but upside concerns keep him out of the lottery conversation.

 

24. Jarred Vanderbilt 6’9″ PF Kentucky

Vanderbilt is a functional shot and healthy foot away from being a top 5 talent. Multiple injuries to his left foot prevented him from playing much at Kentucky, and his shot is also broken.

After that he has shades of Draymond Green, as he is a point forward who is a beast rebounder and was the star of the Nike Hoop Summit. He just turned 19 in April, so if he can somehow stay healthy and develop a workable shot, he has clear potential to be the steal of the draft. Or if he stays healthy and doesn’t learn to shoot, he may be able to carve out a useful niche in the NBA.

Those are two major forces working against him, but at a certain point his strengths make him a worthwhile gamble. Major potential for a 2nd round steal.

25. Bruce Brown 6’5″ SG, Miami FL

Bruce Brown has barely acceptable wing dimensions at 6’5″ with a 6’9″ wingspan, and isn’t much of a shooter in spite of turning 22 in August.

But he is arguably the 2nd best athlete in the draft behind Zhaire Smith, and his strength helps him atone for limited dimensions to play bigger than his size.

Offensively he is further behind than you would hope for a prospect who is as old as some seniors, but he can run the pick and roll and pass.

Given his excellent athleticism there could be a nice payoff if he proves to be an adequate shooter as a defensive specialist who can provide secondary creation.

26. Donte DiVincenzo, 6’5″ SG, Villanova

Donte has a limited skill package for a 21 year old combo guard with a 6’6″ wingspan, but he is an excellent athlete and decent enough at all of the role playing things to succeed as a pro.

27. Gary Trent Jr. 6’6″ SG/SF, Duke

Gary Trent Jr. is an incredibly selfish player who often elected to take contested long 2’s rather than passing at Duke, which is why he may slide to round 2.

But he is an excellent shooter with size to guard multiple positions, and at age 19 it is tantalizing to envision how well he may thrive as an NBA role player if he proves to be coachable.

28. Jacob Evans 6’6″ SG/SF, Cincinnati

At 6’5.5″ with a 6’9.25″ wingspan, Evans has SG dimensions with underwhelming athleticism and skill level. He is a decent shooter and passer with a trace of creation ability, but he is a 2nd round talent in terms of physical profile and skill level.

He makes up for it with his excellent basketball IQ, as he is one of the smartest players in the draft. He is a good defensive player, and in spite of his physical limitations has just enough tools to hold his own on switches.

His talented is limited enough such that he can bust like RJ Hunter, but Evans has decent odds of sticking as a role player.

29. Landry Shamet 6’4″ PG/SG, Wichita State

Shamet is a big point guard who can shoot the lights out.

He isn’t much of an athlete, which limits his rebounding, defense, and slashing. But he may have enough smarts and skill to overcome his limits and be a useful pro.

30. Omari Spellman 6’9″ PF/C, Villanova

Spellman is PF sized but is strong, long (7’2″), and athletic and may be able to play some center in a pinch.

He is old for a freshman as he turns 21 in July, but he can shoot and rebound and could be a decent pro if the rest of his game develops well.

31. Isaac Bonga, 6’9″ SF/PF, Frankfurt

Bonga is a frightening combination of skinny and slow, but he is incredibly cerebral for a 18 year old 6’9″ point forward.

He reminisces of a poor man’s Kyle Anderson. Anderson has provided good value for a late 1st round selection, so Bonga may be a good value in the 2nd.

32. Kenrich Williams 6’7″ SF, TCU

Kenrich is the ideal role playing wing for the modern NBA. He is not explosive, he has short arms, and is not a high volume scorer even at age 23. But he excels at every role player aspect: rebounding, passing, defense, efficiency.

He is a decent but not great shooter, but he makes up for it with his defense. His excellent basketball IQ translates to very good team defense, and his height and lateral mobility gives him potential as a switching wing.

His warts will likely cause him to slide to round 2, where he has potential to be an elite steal.

33. Anfernee Simons, 6’3″ SG, IMG Academy

Simons is undersized for SG but not a natural PG, but helps make up for it with long 6’9.25″ arms and good athleticism. He is a good shooter, but in AAU struggled to finish inside, draw free throws, and had barely more assists than turnovers.

He has potential to be a Lou Williams type, but is going to flop fairly often.

 

 

34. Mitchell Robinson 7’1″ C, No Team

MitchRob is the most enigmatic combination of elite talent and terrible intangibles since Michael Beasley. He 7’1″ with a 7’4″ wingspan and elite athleticism, and has major potential on paper as a Clint Capela type.

That said MitchRob just might not care about being good at basketball. He committed to Western Kentucky twice and then decommitted, canceled on the combine, canceled workouts, and has generally showed little inclination to actually show up and play basketball to prove to NBA teams that he is worth millions of dollars.

If he cannot show up at this point with so much money on the line, how wise is it to worth investing guaranteed money in him? Even if he succeeds at some juncture because of his talent, he does not seem like a reliable target for any sort of max contract.

He has an excellent theoretical upside, but extremely slim odds of reaching it. He has some of the most toxic intangibles of recent draft memory, and disappointment seems inevitable with him.

 

35. Jevon Carter 6’2″ PG, West Virginia

Carter is a tiny point guard (6’1.5″ with 6’4.25″ wingspan) who isn’t a natural at running the offense, as he didn’t play full time PG for West Virginia until his senior year at age 22.

But he is an absolute pest on defense, rebounds much better than his size, and developed into a good shooter making 82% FT and 39% 3P in his final 2 seasons of college.

Carter is in a bad mold but has rare strengths that may enable him to succeed in a Patrick Beverley type role.

36. Kevin Hervey 6’8″ SF/PF, UT Arlington

Hervey is a prototypical stretch 4, as he has a monster 7.3’5″ wingspan and can rebound, pass, handle, and shoot.

He is not that athletic and there are questions about how well he can defend as a pro, but if he finds a defensive niche he is an ideal role playing big wing.

 

37. Rawle Alkins, 6’4″ SG, Arizona

Alkins is slightly undersized for a SG, but makes up for it with 6’8.75″ wingspan, a strong frame, and good athleticism. He has a good 3 +D skill set.

38. Trevon Duval 6’3″ PG, Duke

Duval has a broken shot, is highly turnover prone, and has a bizarrely low rebound rate for a player with his physical tools.

But he has good length and athleticism, sees the court well, and at age 19 still has a prayer of putting things together to become a decent pro. He is likely going to bust, but if everything goes well he has more upside than most 2nd rounders.

39. Shake Milton 6’6″ SG/SF, SMU

Milton can shoot, handle, and pass and has an excellent 7’0.75″ wingspan, but is extremely slow. He will be banking hard on his long wingspan helping overcome his athletic issues as a pro.

40. Alize Johnson 6’8″ SF/PF, Missouri St.

Johnson is an interesting prospect as a wing convert. His short arms (6.8.75″) prevented him from getting steals and blocks in college, but he moves his feet well enough to possibly convert to a big wing. He can rebound, pass, and sort of shoot which makes him a compelling flier.

 

41. Xavier Cooks, 6’8″ SF/PF, Winthrop

Cooks likely isn’t getting draft because he is old, skinny, and inefficient with a funky shooting form.

But he is a unicorn point forward who can handle, pass, rebound, and protect the rim with sneaky good athleticism.

 

42. Melvin Frazier 6’6″ SF, Tulane

Frazier has super long arms at 7’1.75″ and is a pretty good athlete, but was a complete disaster offensively until his junior season at Tulane. He never made a discernible impact on Tulane’s success in on/off splits, which is a concern for an upperclassman on a bad mid-major team.

But he has NBA tools and a workable jump shot, maybe an NBA team can squeeze more value out of him than he showed in college.

 

43. Vince Edwards 6’8″ SF/PF, Purdue

Edwards is a big wing who can rebound, pass, handle, and shoot. He may not have the athleticism or defense to fit in the NBA, but he led Purdue to a boatload of wins over his 4 years and was a criminal exclusion from the combine.

44. Yante Maten, 6’8″ PF, Georgia

Yante is likely too slow and unathletic to find an NBA niche, but his strength, smarts, and shooting ability give him a chance. His excellent IQ enabled him to be a very good defensive player in NCAA, so it is plausible he overachieves his expected defensive performance in the NBA as well.

45. Chandler Hutchison 6’7″ SF/PF Boise State

Hutchison has a long 7’2″ wingspan and is a pretty good athlete who can get to the rim and finish, is a willing passer, and a developing shooter. It is easy to see why he has first round hype.

But he was a complete disaster on offense until his junior year. In his first two seasons he was inefficient on low volume and hardly attempted 3’s. And he still has a sloppy handle, is prone to turnovers, has bad touch on floaters, is not a natural passer, and is not a defensive stopper either.

He has a chance of success as a pro, but his feel and skill level may be too far behind for a 22 year old with good but not great physical tools.

46. Hamidou Diallo, 6’6″ SG/SF, Kentucky

Diallo showed very little to get excited about at Kentucky, but he has long arms at 6’11.5″ and is a solid athlete. Maybe an actual NBA coach can make better use of him than John Calipari did.

 

 

47. Gary Clark 6’8″ SF/PF, Cincinnati

Clark was arguably the best NCAA player in the nation, as he was a hyperefficient garbageman for an excellent Cincinnati team.

His NBA translation is enigmatic because he is wing size, but likely lacks the quickness to defend wings or handling ability to be an offensive wing.

Clark may have enough basketball IQ to find an NBA niche, but he turns 24 in November so he has limited time to figure things out.

48. Keenan Evans 6’3″ PG, Texas Tech

Evans is a neat flier. He is a senior who is still 21 on draft night, has decent PG size, good athleticism, good shooter, and a good slasher who draws a ton of free throws.

He is not a pure PG and did not rack up many assists at Texas Tech, but had a low turnover rate, and could easily become a rotation guard in the NBA.

 

49. Aaron Holiday 6’1″ PG, UCLA

Holiday is a good shooter with a 6’7.5″ wingspan, solid athleticism, and flashes of creation, defense, and passing. But he is nevertheless below average at all three, and for a 21 year old 6’1″ prospect that isn’t good enough to succeed as a pro.

There is some chance he develops into a Mo Williams level low end starter or bench sparkplug, but most 6’1″ players fail and it is not great to bet on one who lacks exceptional skill, athleticism, and feel for the game.

50. DJ Hogg, 6’9″ SF/PF Texas A&M

Hogg is a big wing who can shoot and pass and may have had his talent suppressed at Texas A&M playing in huge lineups with a bad PG for a bad coach.

He is limited as an athlete and shot creator, but has a good role playing skill set.

51. Moe Wagner, 7’0″ PF/C, Michigan

Wagner is tall with an excellent shot and not much else to write home about.

He is a decent athlete who has flashes of ability to create off the dribble, but isn’t much of a passer and is soft inside as he struggles to stop opposing bigs in the paint and corral offensive rebounds.

His one saving grace is that he may have good enough feet to hold his own on switches. But he is definitely not a rim protector and is fairly one dimensional on offense.

52. Issuf Sanon 6’4″ PG/SG, Olimpija Ljubljana

Sanon is one of the youngest players in the draft and a pretty good athlete, but is more or less a pure gamble on youth. Right now he has the physical tools to be disruptive on defense, but is a complete disaster on offense and has a long way to go to become NBA caliber.

53. Ray Spalding 6’10” C, Louisville

Spalding fits an interesting mold as a skinny center, who makes up for his lack of height and weight with an excellent 7’4.75″ wingspan and good athleticism + mobility.

He lacks the height, girth, and IQ to be a true impact player on defense, but could be a switchable rotation big who finishes lobs and putbacks on offense.

54. Tony Carr 6’4″ PG, Penn State

Tony Carr is similar to Shamet– good PG size, passing, and shooting, but may be too slow and lacking in strength to survive in the NBA. He isn’t on Shamet’s level as a shooter, but may atone for it with slightly better rebounding and passing.

55. Desonta Bradford 6’4″ SG, East Tennessee St.

At this point the options on mainstream radar are so painfully limited, why not take an athletic mid-major star who is only slightly undersized for combo guard. If his shot comes along he can be a solid rotation guy.

56. Khyri Thomas 6’4″ SG, Creighton

Khyri is an undersized SG but makes up for it with long arms with a 6’10.5″ wingspan and good basketball IQ enabled him to be Big East defensive player of the year for back to back seasons.

But he was a dubious selection for that award, as Creighton’s defense was better with him off the floor than on over his three seasons. This isn’t an indictment of Khyri’s defense so much it is the ability of any 6’4″ non-elite athlete to make a major defensive impact at even the NCAA level.

Maybe he can find a niche as a 3 + D shooting guard, but his shot is merely good not great and he is sorely limited as a ball handler for a 22 year old guard prospect. More likely than not his offensive badness with outweigh his defensive goodness.

57. Devonte Graham 6’2″ PG, Kansas

Graham is a combo guard in a PG body. It is fairly disconcerting that he was a low usage role player until his 23 year old senior season, when he took on a bigger role and shot 39% on 2 pointers.

He is a good shooter with good intangibles, and there is some chance he finds a pro niche. But he has strictly bench player upside.

 

58. Jerome Robinson 6’5″ SG, Boston College

Robinson has mediocre length and athleticism, is bad defensively, and was horribly inefficient on offense until his junior season.

As a junior he made a major shooting leap and improved his %’s across the board. He also shot well off the dribble, ranking 91% percentile in synergy points per possession. But even a slight regression toward his prior performance and he isn’t nearly good enough on offense to justify his defense.

Teams are giving him too much credit for improving over his career, and not enough concern for lacking the natural talent to even vaguely resemble a prospect until he turned 21. He will be a major mistake in round 1.

59. Zach Thomas, 6’7″ SF/PF, Bucknell

Thomas is a big wing who can rebound, shoot, pass, and draws a ton of free throws. His physical profile is decent for a low major senior, and he could easily stick as a 3 + D wing.

60. Tryggvi Hlanison, 7’1″ C, Iceland

Need a big, warm body to cozy up to at the end of round 2? If so then Trygg is your guy!

He does typical big person things and is not overly skilled or young as he turns 21 in October. But he may just just agile enough to fit in the NBA, thus his appeal as fringe draftable.

61. Theo Pinson 6’6″ SF/PF, North Carolina

Pinson is a 6’6″ swiss army knife wing who does a bit of everything. He may not be able to shoot well enough to stick in the NBA, but is a semi-interesting role player if his 3P% catches up to his FT%.

62. Desi Rodriguez 6’5″ SG, Seton Hall

Desi is a smooth wing with a nice frame and 6’10” wingspan who can do a bit of everything with a role player skill set. He’s a sort of jack of all trades master of none, but has a decent shot of sticking.

63. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk 6’8″ SF/PF Kansas

Svi Rex almost impressively has a wingspan 3 inches shorter than his height.

He is a knockdown shooter who is otherwise sorely limited offensively, but has enough height and mobility to develop into a 3 + D if he can develop his ball skills. He only turned 21 the week before the draft, so he has a glimmer of hope of doing so.

 

64. Jalen Brunson 6’2″ PG, Villanova

Brunson is a tough PG who can shoot and played with good efficiency for Villanova. But his physical tools are sorely limited, and it shows in his lack of rebounds, steals, and blocks. Further, he is a good but not elite passer and there is only so much scoring impact for a player with Brunson’s physical limitations.

Maybe he sticks as a backup PG, but his upside is badly limited.

65. Grayson Allen 6’4″ SG, Duke

Allen is a good athlete in the open floor and shoots very well, and that’s about all he has to offer as a prospect.

He is slightly undersized for a SG, does not move well laterally, and struggles to explode in traffic which is why he was relegated to a spot up shooting role as a senior. He will likely get torched on defense without providing much use on offense beyond pure shooting, and would be a terrible mistake to take in round 1.

66. Bryant Crawford, 6’3″ PG Wake Forest

Crawford has solid PG tools and can do a bit of everything with nice shooting upside as he made 83% FT’s as a sophomore and 87% as a junior.

67. Justin Jackson 6’7″ SF/PF, Maryland

Jackson has a workable jumpshot and his 7’3″ wingspan and strong frame give him a clear niche as a 3 + D wing. But he isn’t that athletic or creative offensively, and he struggles to finish in the paint.

He has some chance of sticking, but will be limited as a somewhat ordinary role player.

 

68. Jordan McLaughlin 6’1″ PG, USC

McLaughlin is an undersized PG who makes up for it with speed, vision, shooting, and pesky defense. He has a chance to be a Fred VanVleet-ish undrafted steal.

 

69. Brandon McCoy 7’0″ C, UNLV

McCoy is the dinosaur of the draft, as a 7’0″ post-up big man. But he was a 5* guy who is an excellent rebounder and showed some shooting promise with 73% FT. There is likely some path where he turns into a serviceable stretch 5.

 

70. Daryl Macon 6’3″ PG/SG, Arkansas

Macon is a combo guard who is nearly identical to Aaron Holiday as a prospect. He is slightly older and less natural at PG, but makes up for it by being a better shooter. Why waste a 1st rounder on Holiday when you can get the same thing as a UDFA?

Others

After this there aren’t many interesting players left. Among players currently in ESPN’s mock who were excluded:

Malik Newman (#47) is a one dimensional shooter in a PG body.

Chimezie Metu (#52) is PF sized and soft inside without the skill or IQ to be interesting.

Rodions Kurucs (#38) can barely get minutes in Europe and he is already 20.

Arnoldas Kubolka (#59) is a painfully one dimensional shooter

Kostas Antetokounmpo (#58) is an abomination at basketball and would be nowhere near draft radar if not for his last name.

A few more UDFA stabs in the dark: Chima Moneke, William Lee, Jaylen Adams, Ajdin Penava, Darius Thompson, Chris Cokley, Tyler Rawson, Jaylen Barford, Malik Pope, Dakota Mathias, Braian Angola-Rodas

 

Digging for Deep Sleepers– Best Players Not Invited to Combine

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Most of these guys are going to amount for nothing, but just for fun I am going to take a stab at some deep sleepers who were not invited to the combine that nobody is talking about. I excluded Gary Clark who is widely considered a snub, and am focusing on players who are actively underrated in my estimation.

1) Xavier Cooks 6’8″ SF/PF Winthrop

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Cooks is the ultimate unicorn of under the radar players. I doubt there was ever an undrafted player who can handle, pass, rebound, and protect the rim like he can. He is not super athletic, but he has a nice first step and is highly cerebral, which enables him to stuff the stat sheet at his height.

In the past 8 NCAA seasons, here are the players who had 15%+ TRB, 16%+ AST, 3%+ BLK, were 6’6″+ and had at least 10 possessions as a PnR Handler (per synergy):

Player Class TRB% AST% BLK% PnR poss
Xavier Cooks SR 16.6 25.4 7.7 79
Xavier Cooks JR 17.4 21.2 6.1 58
Frank Kaminsky SR 16.1 18.4 4.5 23
Draymond Green SR 19.8 24.2 3.3 20
Royce White SO 17.7 34.5 3 11
Draymond Green JR 16.6 30.6 4 10

This includes two first round picks, an all-time round 2 steal, and Cooks. And he runs the pick and roll far more often than any of them with quite a few more blocks. This is arguably a product of playing against low major competition, but there are no other low or mid major players in his stratosphere. He is an incredibly rare prospect.

Cooks’ biggest flaw is efficiency. He posted a weak 103 ORtg as a senior against low major competition, which is a major flag. But his passing was good enough to help balance the scales. Here are his senior synergy efficiency percentiles as a scorer vs. scoring + passes:

%ile %ile including passes
PnR 77% 91%
Iso 41% 70%
Post-up 88% 90%

His splits plus passes are likely bolstered by luck to some extent, but it is easy to see how he may offer enough value to overcome his efficiency woes. Also worth noting that Winthrop had a monstrous split with him on the court vs. off.

His other issue is that he may not be able to shoot. His career 68% FT 35% 3P inspires hope, but he has an ugly tornado form that reminisces of Joakim Noah.

Cooks has incredibly outlier strengths for a player that will likely go undrafted. His shooting and efficiency woes will be his undoing as a pro fairly often, but he is absolutely worth a summer league flier and 2 way contract. I would even take him in the 2nd round.

2) DJ Hogg 6’9″ SF/PF Texas A&M (ESPN: #66)

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Hogg is a not great athlete with relatively short arms (6’10.5″ wingspan) who averaged a modest 11 points and 5 rebounds per game as a junior, so it is easy to write him off at a glance. But there are reasons for optimism:

At 6’9″ he is a big wing, which is quickly becoming the prototypical PF mold. He has good vision and is a good shooter, and enough athleticism to average nearly a block per game. This is an excellent baseline for a 3 + D prospect.

The problem is that his overall scoring and rebounding leaves much to be desired, but there are a number of factors stifling his production:

  1. He was forced to play the 3 with Texas A&M rotating three bigs– he would have been a 4 on almost any other team
  2. He had the worst coach of any major conference player
  3. He had the worst PG of any major conference player

His creation is nevertheless a flag for even a 3 + D role player, as he rarely even attacked closeouts. But for a player with such a good baseline of role player abilities, there could be a nice payoff if he translates well to a more favorable environment.

3) Vince Edwards 6’8″ SF/PF Purdue (ESPN: #72)

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All Edwards did in 4 years at Purdue was win win win no matter what. He was an instant contributor from his freshman year, and the Boilermakers were a mainstay at the top of the Big Ten standings during his tenure.

He is 6’8″ and can rebound, pass, and is a great shooter with 39% 3P and 82% FT over his career. He also can handle a bit, which puts him in a mold that has an incredibly easy path to success as a pro.

His main question is whether he has the quickness and athleticism to defend at the NBA level. Given his size, IQ, and skill level it is worth gambling that he can in the 2nd round.

4) Desi Rodriguez 6’5″ SG/SF Seton Hall

Rodriguez had an interesting career arc at Seton Hall. As a freshman he was a pest on defense and a beast on the glass, but too raw to contribute much offensively. Over time he added polish to his skill level, and his steals and rebounds declined as his offensive role grew.

His shot is a bit of a question mark, but at 37% 3P and 74% FT as a senior he has improved enough to have potential. And his 6’10” wingspan and strong frame gives him potential to switch onto bigger players.

Desi’s ability to provide secondary creation ties everything together. It is a common misperception that 3 + D players only need to make 3’s and play defense. Low usage NCAA players have a terrible NBA track record for a reason. Competent shot creation is a necessity for even low usage NBA role players, as players who cannot punish the defense on easy scoring opportunities are major offensive liabilities.

In the NBA he will likely mirror his freshman role where he can focus on defense and rebounding, while his performance as a junior and senior proves that he has the offensive competence to succeed in a low usage NBA role. If he can combine the best of both worlds and develop into a reliable shooter, he should be a useful NBA role player.

5) Zach Thomas 6’7″ SF/PF Bucknell

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Thomas offers passing, rebounding, and shooting with ideal wing size and good feel for the game. He has a shot distribution that would make James Harden blush, as he attempts an inordinate amount of threes and free throws. And he has a solid frame and athleticism to give him a chance of translating to higher levels.

An encouraging point is that he scored an efficient 27 points in 29 minutes against Michigan State in the tournament before fouling out.

6) Desonta Bradford 6’4″ SG East Tennessee St.

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Bradford has a Tyler Johnson-ish profile, as he did it all for a very good ETSU team as a junior and senior. He is a bit undersized for a SG at 6’4″, but he makes up for it with excellent athleticism.

He does not quite match Johnson’s elite NCAA efficiency, but is nevertheless a solid flier. There are not many better UDFA gambles than an athletic mid-major star.

7) Chima Moneke 6’6″ SF/PF UC Davis

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At a glance Moneke does not seem like a prospect, as he is an undersized chucking PF who posted a 1:3 assist:TOV ratio in 2 years at UC Davis and is now 22 years old.

But he is very athletic, excellent on the glass, has good steal and block rates, and UC Davis defense was great with him on the floor and significantly declined with him off both years.

Moneke has a workable shot– he made 67% FT and 9/23 3P in his 2 years at Davis. He has also been able to score in his two games against elite major conferences defenses– posting 24 points on 10/15 shooting vs Ivab Rabb’s Cal team and 20 points on 8/13 vs Kansas in the tournament.

Moneke needs to develop an NBA 3, become a more willing passer, and successfully convert to the perimeter.  This is a bit of a longshot parlay, but the baseline talent is there and how can you not love that headband + goggles combo?

8) Bryant Crawford 6’3″ PG Wake Forest

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Crawford has solid PG tools, as he measured 6’3.5″ with a 6’6″ wingspan in 2014 and has solid strength and athleticism. He has good vision, can create off the dribble, and his 83% FT as sophomore and 87% as a junior conveys excellent shooting potential.

His only weakness is that he doesn’t have a major strength. All of his tools are decent but not great, and the same can be said for his basketball IQ and skill level. But if he develops well, he has an easy path to NBA rotation guard.

9) Jordan McLaughlin 6’1″ PG USC

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Small point guards are weird. Often times the most highly touted ones fail to translate to the pros, but occasionally a stud role player like Fred VanVleet goes undrafted.

After Jevon Carter (who was invited to the combine), McLaughlin is the best shot at a FVV level UDFA steal in this crop. He is a good shooter with elite floor vision, and an uncanny ability to be a pest on defense (77th best steal rate in NCAA) without fouling (6th lowest foul rate).

He overall had a less impressive career than FVV, but McLaughlin’s senior year breakout offers enough intrigue for the speedy PG to be a nice undrafted flier.

10) Malik Pope 6’10” SF/PF San Diego St.

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Chad Ford stanned so ridiculously hard for Pope as a possible top 10 pick that it became a running joke, especially without him ever putting it all together over his 4 year career.

But even if Ford’s optimism was highly unwarranted, there were non-trivial reasons to like him. There are not many 6’10” athletes with even possibly enough skill to play the wing, and Pope is still only 21 on draft night.

He never developed well enough to be truly exciting, but it is worth seeing if an NBA coach can find a way to get more out of Pope than he showed as San Diego State.

10 players I would disinvite from the combine to take a closer look at these guys: Malik Newman, George King, Allonzo Trier, Justin Jackson, Brian Bowen, Billy Preston, Austin Wiley, Devon Hall, Tyus Battle, Kostas Antetokounmpo

Zhaire Smith Has Plutonium in his Calves

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Zhaire Smith is one of the most unique prospects in the draft. He came out of nowhere to perform as one of the best freshmen in the NCAA in spite of being a 3* recruit. Let’s dive into his profile to estimate what to expect from him as a pro.

Profile

In spite of his 6’4″ height, he played like a power forward, using his nuclear athleticism to finish powerful dunks on cuts and putbacks. He also showcased his defensive potential by leading the #4 NCAA defense in both steals and blocks, and showed solid instincts for a young athletic freak.

He is limited offensively, as his shot and handle are a work in progress. But his 1.8 assists vs 1.1 turnovers indicates good feel for the game. While he has a slow release on his shot, his form is good and his 72% FT conveys decent shooting potential for an 18 year old.

The main concern is that he is a 6’4″ guard who showed limited ability to handle and create his own shot, and teams will be afraid of using a high lottery pick on his archetype.

Physical Comps:

Here are the recent prospects who have the most similar dimensions, athleticism, and NCAA statistical production to Zhaire.

Height Length Weight
Westbrook 6’3.5 6’7.75 192
Mitchell 6’3 6’10 211
Oladipo 6’4.25 6’9.25 213
Zhaire 6’4 6’9.75 199
LaVine 6’5.75 6’8.25 181
Shumpert 6’5.5 6’9.5 222

There’s a case to be made that Zhaire has the best physical profile of the bunch. He’s in the same tier of athleticism as Westbrook and LaVine but with better size. And the > 200 pound guys are all ~2 years older, he will likely weigh a similar amount by then and is likely more athletic than any of them.

Granted, athleticism is tricky to measure. There is no numerical way to pin it down, and it comes in various forms– first step, one foot leaping, two foot leaping, quickness, body control, etc. But to my eye Zhaire has special athleticism for two reasons

  1. It frequently appears he may hit his head on the rim when dunking
  2. He has elite body control to complement his elite explosiveness

The linked highlights are of impossible dunks that I cannot recall another player approximating. Zhaire has an uncanny ability to get way up while controlling his body to be able to smoothly finish from awkward positions.

But He Can’t Dribble!

UCLA vs Chico State. We won by a lot. Like 93 - 51.

To demonstrate how his handling ability compares to other players at the same age, I combined synergy iso and PnR handler stats into possessions used per 40 minutes and points per possession. And for a frame of reference, I threw in 2017’s elite scoring prospects to show how much top lead guard prospects normally produce as NCAA freshmen (and young sophomore Westbrook):

Age Poss/40 PPP
DSJ 19.1 10.3 0.85
Fultz 18.6 10.0 0.95
Fox 19.0 8.8 0.88
Mitchell 19.3 3.8 0.73
LaVine 18.8 3.1 0.61
RWB 19.1 2.4 0.72
VO 18.7 2.0 0.86
Zhaire 18.6 1.8 0.64
Shump 18.5 5.5 0.58

Zhaire has the lowest volume of this group and lower efficiency than everybody but LaVine and Shumpert. But his physical comps were all in the same tier of non-scorer at the same age, as you can see relative to the actual scoring prospects who crush the raw athlete wings in both volume and efficiency.

Westbrook set the record for highest single season NBA usage rate with above average efficiency. Oladipo scored 23 points/game in 17-18 with above average efficiency. Mitchell scored 24 pts/game in the playoffs as a rookie. LaVine went from worst player in the NBA as a rookie to solidly efficient scorer in his 3rd season.

Beyond the numbers, DraftExpress expressed doubt about the limited ball handling of both Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook.

The point is clear– a limited handle at a young age does not limit NBA scoring upside for a nuclear athlete with good basketball IQ and combo guard dimensions.

Zhaire is slightly behind his peers at this stage, but he is nevertheless showed flashes of impressive creation ability and easily roasted Mo Bamba twice. Perhaps he does not share the same creation success as the aforementioned comps, but he has enough baseline ability to build on.

So How Good Will Zhaire Be?

It is important to note that I did not try to cherrypick the most successful NBA players for this comparison. Shumpert and LaVine were my best attempts at comps that did not wildly succeed as pros, and they are both above median mid-1st round picks. And LaVine was clearly well below the group statistically as an NCAA player.

The intersection of elite athleticism and NCAA statistical production rarely fails, and often yields a high upside. It’s hard to find a truly pessimistic comp.

The only catch is that Zhaire is stylistically different than these comps. He was the tallest player on his high school team and often played center, which explains why he slid through the cracks as a recruit. This reflects in his Texas Tech performance where he played more like a garbageman PF than a guard.

Who Does He Actually Play Like?

Zhaire is statistically most similar to a pair of 4″ taller players: freshman Otto Porter and junior Jimmy Butler. Per 100 possession stats:

Age PTS 2P% 3PA FT% AST TOV
Otto 18.6 20.7 61.1 3.4 0.702 3.3 2.4
Zhaire 18.6 23.2 57.4 2.2 0.717 3.7 2.3
Jimmy 20.3 26.6 53.4 1.7 0.766 3.6 2.1

The similarities are uncanny as the offensive output is nearly identical. Jimmy did a bit more than the other two being older, but it worth noting I chose his best NCAA season as he slightly regressed as a senior.

STL BLK TRB
Otto 2.4 1.7 14.5
Zhaire 2.3 2.3 10.3
Jimmy 2.4 1.1 11.5

Otto + Jimmy show their superior size with better rebound rates, but Zhaire shows his superior athleticism with a better block rate.

Efficiency translates well to the NBA when it comes with the necessary physical tools to succeed. Even though Zhaire is 4″ shorter, his athleticism, length, and strength should make up for it.

Bottom Line

Zhaire is a weird prospect. He plays like a hybrid of Otto Porter and Jimmy Butler in Russell Westbrook’s body. I am not sure what that will amount to in the NBA, but I would bet it is good and it might be really awesome.

Of course this is looking at him through a rose colored lens that assumes he will develop reasonably well. If his shot, handle, and defensive instincts do not develop well, he could be an awkward role player who is not particularly useful. But the same can be said for any prospect who isn’t a #1 overall candidate.

History tells when things go well for nuclear athletes, they tend to go extremely well. Zhaire already made teams pay for sleeping on him as a recruit, now the same may happen in the draft as ESPN currently projects him to go 16th overall. I rate him as an obvious top 10 prospect in the draft with a strong case for top 5.

Is Trae Young Getting Overhyped?

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Everybody loves Trae Young, as he is a skill wizard that reminisces of Steph Curry.

But he is not Steph, and I have expressed this sentiment in a data driven analysis of his team’s performance. But since not everybody is into data, let’s key in on qualitative factors that are being overlooked:

1) He is really, really small

Trae measured just 6’1.75″ in shoes with a 6’3″ wingspan at the combine. This is shorter than Steve Nash, Steph Curry, and Chauncey Billups who are all listed at 6’3″.

The vast majority of good players listed at 6’2″ or less have had elite athleticism on their side. Chris Paul, Kemba Walker, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Tony Parker, and Ty Lawson were all described as elite athletes in pre-draft scouting reports at DraftExpress.

Trae may have underrated quickness and speed, but nobody believes it is top shelf. He is in a physical tier where nobody has been elite.

The only player who *maybe* had similar physical limitations and excelled was John Stockton. He is before my time, and I do not have a strong grasp on his athleticism. But for the sake of argument we will say he is physically similar to Trae. Except there is one key difference

2) Trae’s Defense Is Awful

John Stockton was a 5 time NBA all-defense selection. If you are 6’1″ without freakish athleticism, you need to make a positive impact in every possible way to sum to elite production. And Trae is downright abysmal on defense, where it is not clear that he even cares to get stops.

Oklahoma’s defense declined from 39th best to 85th best returning almost everybody after adding Trae. He rates as by far the worst defensive guard in the class via Jacob Goldstein’s PIPM metric, and his defense is visibly terrible in this scouting video created by @GuillaumeBInfos.

He is probably going to be the worst defensive player in the NBA as a rookie, and there is not a ton of room for improvement. His physical profile makes his defense risky enough even with good effort, and he has such a low starting point it is hard to see him ever becoming decent on this end.

If Trae is 3 or 4 points worse than Stockton or Curry on D, that puts a ton of pressure on his offense to merely achieve goodness, let alone greatness.

3) Will he perform better in a smaller role with less of an offensive burden?

He played AAU with the Porter bros Michael and Jontay, and did not show clearly better efficiency in a more limited offensive role. He also shot poorly playing for Team USA in FIBA u18 championship in 2016, as well as the Nike Global Challenge in 2015.

There is some possibility that he lacks the basketball IQ to be an efficient scorer in a medium usage role. He appears to be an extremely skilled chucker who was able to succeed early in his Oklahoma career when he was hot against soft defenses.

Maybe he can learn to be more efficient over time, but based on current information there is limited reason for optimism.

4) Trae fell off a cliff vs better defenses

Most of statistical goodness came against soft defenses. When he faced good defenses his production fell off a cliff. Compare Trae’s per 40 stats vs. top 60 defenses to Steph Curry’s 5 career NCAA tournament games:

Pts eFG% AST TOV Opp DRtg
Steph 33.6 56.3% 3.6 1.9 89.5
Trae 27.7 47.7% 7.9 6.3 95.8

People commonly lament the attention Trae drew from defenses, but Steph got the same attention vs much tougher defenses in the tournament and he shined.

These splits were a signal that Steph had some cerebral advantage to translate his goodness to higher levels while Trae did the opposite. It would be a good idea to stop making this comp forever.

5) Is Trae a High IQ Passer?

Trae has excellent vision, and Chris Stone made a reasonable case that he made a positive effect on his teammates. But the vast majority on his effect came on Brady Manek– a 3* recruit who was much better than expected and happened to specialize in offense. Once you give most of the credit for Manek’s performance to Manek, Trae’s effect on his teammates is only slightly positive.

When you factor in his high turnover rate, and his inability to punish defenses for the insane attention he saw, it’s hard to argue that Trae is an elite passing prospect.

Trae’s passing was good this year, and he could eventually blossom into great. But there is no clear signal that he is a historically elite passer (as I argued for Lonzo Ball last year).

If Trae merely becomes an 85th percentile passing point guard in the NBA, he will likely stick in the league. But it will not be enough to be great in spite of his disadvantages. He needs to be a crazy outlier in this regard, and the early signals say that he is probably not.

6) Is He Actually An Elite Shooter?

Trae has never shot above 36% from 3 at any level. Just in case you needed another reason to know why it is a bad idea to compare him to a player who makes 44% of his NBA 3’s at a high volume.

Part of this is due to awful shot selection and poor size, and he has some non-zero chance of becoming the 2nd best shooter in NBA history. But he has a long way to go, and his shooting may always be undermined by his inability to get clean looks.

7) Does Trae deserve excuses?

It’s amazing how commonly people excuse Trae’s flaws by explaining how bad his teammates were and how many triple teams he saw.

These type of excuses should be reserved for an elite talent like DeAndre Ayton who is so physically gifted that he has significant margin of error for his NBA success.

Trae Young is in a physical tier where almost nobody succeeds in the NBA and he needs to be essentially *perfect* to be great. Yet he has the following flaws:

–Doesn’t play defense
–Awful shot selection
–No history of efficient play
–Struggles to get shot off against tough opponents
–No clear positive effect on his teammates’ performance

His skill and vision is rare enough such that he can nevertheless find an NBA niche. But does he actually sound like a player that is an intelligent gamble in the high lottery?

Bottom Line

I don’t see a path to him sniffing Steph Curry’s level of goodness. Maybe he can become a low end all-star like the Dallas version of Steve Nash, but he needs a ton to go right for that to happen. If he falls short of Nash, he is going to be a difficult fit into a good starting lineup. He can be a bench microwave, but as lead guard his team will have limited playoff upside.

The realistic upside comp for him is Isaiah Thomas. IT drew some MVP chatter for his box score stats in Boston, but ultimately did not help the offense drastically more than he hurt the defense, translated poorly to the playoffs, and the Celtics became a better team after parting ways with him. That is not a player worth targeting in the lottery– Thomas slid to last pick in the draft for good reason.

In reality, Trae will likely be worse than Thomas. As special as his vision and skill are, he has even more qualities that are especially bad to drag them down.

He has such a weird and polarized profile, it is difficult to say exactly where he should rate. He has some non-trivial value. But there is currently too much wishful thinking that he may be Steph, and I would bet that anybody who drafts him in the top 10 will be disappointed with the result.

Is Trae Young the Next Stephen Curry?

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Trae Young has gained immense hype as an outlier PG, as he posted monster freshman stats for Oklahoma averaging 27 points and 9 assists. He thrives on his excellent shooting, as he made 3.7 three pointers per game and backed it up with 86% FT.

His main weakness is poor physical tools, as he is just 6’2″ with a 6’4″ wingspan and limited athleticism. But Stephen Curry has overcome similar physical limitations, so it’s worth considering whether Trae has similar upside before writing him off.

What If He’s Not Steph?

There isn’t a strong middle ground for small and unathletic players to succeed as decent starters when they fall short of being an elite outlier. After Steph the next best diminutive non-athletes currently are bench players such as Tyus Jones, Shabazz Napier, and Trey Burke.

Steve Nash provides another example of an elite past PG, but him and Steph are rare breeds. They establish that a small non-athlete can be an MVP candidate if he is either

1) The best shooter of all time with elite passing and IQ or
2) The best passer of all time with elite shooting and IQ

Anything less than that, and you are probably a bench player. It’s a steep curve with little margin for error.

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns

Trae and the Sooners

This past season Oklahoma returned all top 9 rotation players but PG’s Jordan Woodard and Darrion Strong-Moore. Overall they returned 79% of their minutes that rated comparatively well statistically, as 81% of their win shares and 80% of their minute weighted BPM came back.

The only significant additions were Trae Young and Brady Manek. You would expect that replacing mediocre PG minutes with elite ones while everybody else gained experience would catapult the Sooners forward. But they only gently crept up the standings.

The Sooners improved by 7.2 pts/100 on defense, but gave most of it back by regressing 4.6 pts/100 on defense. Overall they took a small step forward as they progressed from the #65 kenpom team to #48.

In spite of Trae crushing individual expectations, the Sooners underachieved pre-season expectations with every stat model and poll projecting them top 40.

When individual and team success misalign like this, it’s a flag to take the individual stats with a major grain of salt. Especially for a player with his monster assist rate, it is alarming that he may not have helped the team with his passing as much as he hurt it with his defense.

Big 12 Swooners

Everything was peachy for Trae entering January. He was on fire and so were the Sooners at 12-1 with the #13 kenpom rank. But they had yet to face a single top 80 defense, and unfortunately 16 of their 19 remaining games came against top 60 defenses.

Over the second half of the season, Trae came crashing to earth and so did Oklahoma. His per 40 minute splits tell the story:

Pts Ast TOV
vs non-Top 80 D 35.1 12.3 5.3
vs Top 60 D 27.7 7.9 6.3

This is ugly. Notably his assist rate fell off a cliff against better defenses. Trae has complained about seeing frequent double teams, but he could have done a better job of punishing them with his passing.

eFG% 3PA 3P%
vs non-Top 80 D 56.6% 12.6 39.7%
vs Top 60 D 47.7% 10.7 32.7%

Further, his shotmaking took a major hit against better opponents. He faced bigger defensive players, struggled to get his shot off, and forced low quality attempts that often missed. This is a major concern in the NBA, as most 6’5″ pros can easily stay in front him and tightly contest his shot.

Everybody wants to throw Trae’s teammates under the bus, but Oklahoma was 2.3 pts per 100 better in conference play in ’16-17 when the same players were less experienced than they were in ’17-18 with Trae.

Maybe we should focus less on Trae’s teammates being bad, and instead consider the possibility that Trae is the bad Sooner who will be bad in the NBA later.

Bottom Line

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In spite of his many flags, there is some hope for Trae. His individual stats cannot be completely ignored, as he has a rare combination of shotmaking ability and vision. He could become a very good pro if his decision making rapidly improves over time and he isn’t too bad on D.

But this is a long-shot gamble. He will likely be bad defensively, he will have trouble getting past most NBA defensive players, he will have trouble getting his shot off, and even though he sees the floor well he is not currently a high IQ passer.

He is such an outlier that it is fair to give him non-zero all-star equity. But this is a low % outcome, and there aren’t many cases where he falls short and is still useful.

Realistic Comps

The next tier of little guy after Nash and Curry includes Isaiah Thomas who a two time all-star. But he was a huge liability on defense, it’s hard to build an elite offense around him, and his performance fell off a cliff in the playoffs. After the Celtics traded him, he went from a likely max contract to a bench player who may never start again. This is why he slid to #60 in the draft– it only requires a small decline for his type to go from all-star to backup.

Trae has decent odds of being similar to IT. This outcome is better than nothing, but it’s such a difficult piece to fit into an elite contender, I would aim higher in the lottery.

And most of the time Trae will fall short of IT and be a Trey Burke or JJ Barea bench PG, which makes him far too risky to justify a top 5 selection. He is an underdog to be as good as Tyus Jones.

It’s fine to gamble on Young’s super-powered skill level working out in the back end of the lottery. But I prefer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the best PG in the class, as he has a higher IQ, higher ceiling, and higher floor.

We Need to Talk about Jaren

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Jaren Jackson Jr. is currently rated as the #4 prospect by ESPN. He is perceived as more of an elite role player than a true star with the upside of Luka Doncic or DeAndre Ayton, so let’s explore the validity of this narrative.

Physical Profile

JJJ measured 6’10” with a 7’4″ wingspan at Nike Hoop Summit at age 17, and he complements his strong dimensions with great mobility and athleticism. He is currently a bit skinny, but he has a nice frame that should fill out in time.

The only real flaw with his tools is that he’s not elite athletically, as he is more explosive in space than in traffic. But for an elite shot blocker, he covers a ton of ground defensively.

JJJ has a unique ability to both protect the rim and switch onto the perimeter. His physical profile is overall excellent, as it gives him endless defensive upside.

Skill Level

It’s difficult to predict NBA shooting from a small sample of stats, but JJJ’s shooting indicators are excellent for an 18 year old big. He shot 40% from 3 and 80% FT in a smallish NCAA sample and 40% on 84 3PA pre-NCAA according to DraftExpress (RIP).

His form is a slightly awkward push shot so these percentages should be taken with a grain of salt. But he also has a reasonably quick release, and there is some chance that he is a legitimately good shooter.

It remains to be seen how well he shoots from NBA 3 range.  But for a big with JJJ’s tools, having even a serviceable shot is highly valuable.

Further, he shows budding ball skills as he can attack from the perimeter off the dribble with surprising shiftiness and a good first step. He is still raw and often turned it over when he tried to attack, but his slashing potential is elite for an 18 year old big.

It’s hard to predict where his skill level will peak on the scale of decent to great, but he has rare skill potential for a toolsy, defensive minded big.

IQ and Instincts

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This past season Michigan State was nearly impossible to score on inside the arc, posting by far the best defensive 2P% in the NCAA. Here’s how they compared to stingiest interiors in kenpom’s database going back to 2002:

Year Team Def 2P% NCAA Avg Difference
2018 Michigan St. 38.4% 50.0% 11.6%
2015 Texas 37.7% 47.8% 10.1%
2017 UCF 39.9% 49.3% 9.4%
2004 Uconn 38.7% 48.0% 9.3%
2014 UC Irvine 39.2% 48.5% 9.3%

Texas boasted Myles Turner and fringe big prospects Cam Ridley, Prince Ibeh, and Jonathan Holmes. UCF and UC Irvine each had a 7’6″ big against mid-major schedules.  UConn had four (!!!) first round bigs: Emeka Okafor, Charlie Villanueva, Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong.

All of these past outliers had some unique interior presence(s), and Michigan State is by far the biggest outlier of the bunch. Their performance can in part be attributed to a wealth of quality bigs and never gambling for turnovers, but JJJ was the clear star of the show accounting for 42% of the team’s blocks. And unlike these other defenses being anchored largely by giant statues, JJJ is actually able to defend the perimeter as he led his team in steal rate.

Much of his dominance was due to his his tremendous close out speed, but these indicators are decisively positive indicators for his IQ. He has sharp instincts, excellent timing on blocks, and appears to be an intelligent defensive player who rarely yielded quality shot attempts near the rim.

Given that individual stats, team stats, and the eye test all paint a favorable picture for JJJ, optimism for his basketball IQ is warranted. But he was not perfect, as he was foul prone on defense and turnover prone on offense. And his rebound rate was slightly underwhelming, so there is no guarantee that he is cerebrally elite.

Perhaps the fouls and turnovers are a product of youth that will become a distant memory with more experience, or maybe they indicate some flaw that will never fully go away. Maybe the rebounds were a product of playing in a supersized lineup with a not yet developed frame, or maybe his toughness and motor are slightly lacking. These questions are difficult to answer with any confidence.

To some extent we are guessing how intelligent and instinctual a player is based on limited information. This is a major part of the variance in draft predictions. But in JJJ’s case we have a unique clue to work with: his father’s NBA career

Chip Off the Old Block?

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Jaren Jackson Sr. didn’t even start in his first three seasons at Georgetown, averaging 7, 11, and 18 minutes per game respectively. As a senior he finally averaged 27 minutes and cracked double digit scoring for the first time to finish his 4 year career with averages of 16.5 minutes, 7.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.2 assists.

Then he unsurprisingly went undrafted, and did not play more than garbage minutes in his first 7 NBA seasons. At age 29, he finally earned his first consistent rotation role playing 15 mins/game for Washington.

Then Jackson moved on to San Antonio where he became a part-time starter for  3 years, and played a significant role in their 1999 championship run. He brought almost nothing to the table outside of shooting and defense, but he did so effectively, as he rated as slightly positive by both BPM and RAPM metrics as one of the original 3 + D role players.

At 6’4″ with limited athleticism and skill, Jackson is one of the least talented players to ever become useful in the NBA. He couldn’t get real minutes in college, couldn’t get drafted, and couldn’t get real NBA minutes for 7 years, but he nevertheless found a way to positively contribute to a champion.

Jaren Sr. must have had subtle but significant cerebral and intangible advantages that the basketball world failed to discern until he crossed paths with Gregg Popovich.

What Does This Mean For Jaren Jr.?

While there is no guarantee that Jaren Jr. shares these advantages, he should be considered more likely than average to have the overachiever gene. After all, 50% of his genetics came from a extreme overachiever at professional basketball. And the other half of his genes came from a basketball mom, making him 7″ taller, more athletic, and more skilled than his dad.

Even without considering his father’s career, JJJ is legitimate candidate for #1 overall. If this point has no bearing on his career, he can easily be a perennial all-star similar to Chris Bosh. And if he overachieves as much as his father did, he has potential to be a Kevin Garnett level generational star.

It’s difficult to say exactly how much weight should be given to Jaren Sr’s career, but it is a nice cherry on top of a highly attractive profile. If it carries any serious gravity, the payoff for drafting JJJ will be immense.

I believe it is correct to place some positive skew on JJJ’s range of outcomes based on his genetics. If nothing else it is yet another positive point to add to the endless list of reasons to be optimistic for his NBA future.

Bottom Line

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JJJ is not excellent athletically like Ayton nor is he skilled as Doncic, but he has a nice blend of both on top of possibly elite IQ and intangibles. His talent level is excellent and highly underrated.

It makes sense that he would be underrated, as IQ and youth are commonly overlooked and he is among the youngest and smartest players in this draft.

And to cap it off he doesn’t have any frightening warts. His shooting form is slightly funky, and there is some dependence on him progressing his somewhat raw skills at a reasonable rate. But compare that with the flaws of other recent elite prospects

DeAndre Ayton– Appears to be completely lost on defense
Luka Doncic– Lacks burst + shake to get past defense, will rely heavily on shotmaking as pro
Lonzo Ball— Major flags in his handling and shooting for a guard who is non-elite athlete
Markelle Fultz— Shaky FT% and his NCAA team was awful
Ben Simmons— Broken shot, awful NCAA team, intangible flags
Karl-Anthony Towns— Too slow to be good defensively
Joel Embiid— Major health concerns. Also late basketball starting age may inhibit his ability to score efficiently as a pro the same way it is difficult to learn a second language if you do not start as a child

JJJ arguably has the least off-putting warts of the group. And his team defense and genetics are compelling reasons to be optimistic for his NBA upside. From almost every angle of analysis, he is dripping with goodness.

Ultimately I rate Jaren Jackson Jr. as the best prospect of the past 6 years. It’s not by a big margin, as Luka Doncic could also be argued to be the best recent prospect and Ayton is not that far behind either.  But JJJ at least belongs in the #1 conversation, and letting him slide out of the top 3 would be nothing short of a historic draft blunder.

2018 Big Board

I haven’t written much this year, so I am going to jam all of my takes into a giant mega-post. Note this list is missing every international prospect except for Doncic and Okobo because those are the only internationals I have looked at.

Missed the Cut

Khyri Thomas (#23 ESPN)

Khyri Thomas is a consensus first rounder as some project him to be an Avery Bradley-esque 3 + D prospect.

The first problem is Avery Bradley is not that good, and teams should aim for higher upside in round 1. The other problem is that even this may be optimistic for Khyri– Bradley was an elite athlete who was #3 overall recruit, whereas Khyri is a 2* who received only low major offers outside of Creighton.

It’s easy to see why Khyri was not coveted as a recruit. In spite of being 6’3″, he is a non-athlete non-creator. He mustered a modest 21% usage as an old junior with an inordinate 38% of his points coming in transition– a means of production which is not predictive of NBA success.

He could not run the pick and roll to save his life, posting just 0.6 PPP for 23rd percentile as per synergy as a junior. And this was actually an improvement over his 0.57 PPP as a sophomore. He turns 22 before the draft, and it’s hard to imagine that a 6’3″ player who is this inept at the pick and roll at his age providing NBA value.

And it’s not even like he’s a great shooter. He made 40.6% of his NCAA 3P, but that was with a somewhat low rate of attempts and 72% career FT. He will not make any special impact as an NBA shooter, and there is no guarantee that he is even above average.

His defense has some hope, as he has long arms, good steal and rebound numbers, and won Big East DPOY twice. But the potential defensive impact for a 6’3″ player is limited, and there is no guarantee Khyri is a positive on this end.

Ultimately Khyri has some hope of providing replacement level production, but is too limited offensively, athletically, and in height to have non-trivial value as a prospect.

Tyus Battle (#27 ESPN)

Why do people keep looking for mediocre Syracuse players to be draft sleepers? This happened when Malachi Richardson bizarrely was selected in the 1st round in 2016, and now ESPN has Battle projected #27 this year.

I am guessing there is some level of wishful thinking that a player will look great defensively once removed from the zone, but this has yet to happen for any player other than MCW. But Battle posted half the rebound rate of MCW in spite of being the same height, so he is a horrible bet to be anything other than lost on an NBA defense.

With a pedestrian offensive game to boot, it’s hard to see Battle providing value in the NBA.

Aaron Holiday (#19 ESPN)

If you are 6’1″ and can only defend one position poorly, you better have a special offensive repertoire to merit a 1st round pick.

Aaron Holiday has a completely pedestrian offensive game, so his hype train is bizarre. It may have something to do with his brother Jrue outperforming his #17 overall draft slot. But Jrue is 3 inches taller and significantly better at basketball, so the two cannot be compared.

Tier 5: Guys who almost may stick in the NBA, but aren’t special enough to get their own rank:

It’s really hard to differentiate #38 from #57. So here is a giant dump of players into the “maybe he sticks” tier

Udoka Azubuike
Jaylen Barford
Brian Bowen
Ky Bowman
Desonta Bradford

Bruce Brown
Jalen Brunson
Tony Carr
Jevon Carter
Gary Clark
Hamidou Diallo
Donte DiVincenzo
Trevon Duval
Bruno Fernando
Melvin Frazier

Devon Hall
Jaylen Hands
Chandler Hutchison
JP Macura
Charles Matthews
Ajdin Penava
Theo Pinson
Shamorie Ponds
Isaiah Reese
Jerome Robinson
Landry Shamet
Anfernee Simons
Omari Spellman
Gary Trent
Mo Wagner
PJ Washington
Kris Wilkes

Tier 4: Fliers

35. Vince Edwards
34. Alize Johnson
33. Kevin Hervey
32. Yante Maten

These are my favorite UDFA targets

Vince Edwards offers a good blend of passing and shooting for a 6’7″ player, and I am a bit surprised he wasn’t invited to the combine.

Johnson is a mobile 6’9″ PF who can pass, rebound, and maybe shoot.

Hervey is a prototypical stretch 4 at 6’9″ with a 7’3″ wingspan and the ability to pass, shoot, and rebound.

Yante is an incredibly intelligent player who was excellent defensively for Georgia and can rebound, pass, and shoot. He may be too slow and unathletic to translate his defense to the NBA at 6’8.5″, but his IQ gives him enough of a chance to be worth a flier.

31. Rawle Alkins
30. Lonnie Walker
29. Keita Bates-Diop
28. Shake Milton
27. Ethan Happ

Alkins has potential to be a decent 3 +D SG.

Walker fell flat as a freshman, but he is a 19 year old 5* recruit with good tools and frankly there isn’t much depth in this draft.

Keita Bates-Diop I don’t know why not stash him here.

Shake Milton also a why not. He lacks the athleticism and handling to be special, but could be a serviceable 3 + D.

Ethan Happ will likely be undone by his lack of athleticism and broken shot, but it cannot be ignored that he is a cerebrally gifted 6’9″ player with point center skills. He has special strengths for a non-lottery prospect, and should be valued as a real prospect in spite of his warts.

26. Isaiah Roby

Roby is a 6’7″ shotblocker with a glimmer of hope for perimeter defense and shooting ability. He could make for a late steal if he turns out well in these regards.

25. Elie Okobo

Okobo isn’t a freak physically, but he has pretty good length and athleticism for a point guard who can shoot. There are questions about whether he is cerebral enough to thrive as a pro, but he has enough upside to be worth a late 1st flier.

Tier 3: Solid prospects lacking elite upside

24. Jarred Vanderbilt

After a stellar Hoop Summit performance where he posted 19/10/3/2/2, Vanderbilt missed most of his freshman season with a foot injury. He was rusty in his first few games back, and then when he started to find his groove he re-injured his foot.

Vanderbilt’s appeal starts with his rebounding, as he posted a monster rebound rate. Here’s how it stacks up vs. past Kentucky freshman bigs

Player TRB% AST%
Jarred Vanderbilt 25.7 10.7
DeMarcus Cousins 22.5 9.2
Julius Randle 19.2 10
Anthony Davis 19 7.5
Karl-Anthony Towns 18.5 11.6
Nerlens Noel 17.4 9.5

It is probably a good idea to draft any Kentucky freshman who dominates the glass. And Vanderbilt easily had the highest rebound rate (albeit in a small sample), and the second highest assist rate behind KAT.

He isn’t as physically gifted as the other players in the table, but he’s 6’9″ and fairly athletic, and likely has some cerebral advantage to nevertheless be ultra productive. Given that he showed some scoring promise in the Hoop Summit and just turned 19, Vanderbilt clearly has a nice upside tail and is an exciting mystery box.

That said Vanderbilt has had a frightening amount of foot injuries for a player who just turned 19, so he also has plenty of downside. But he is a fascinating gamble for a player who is much more special than his draft hype implies.


23. Collin Sexton
22. Mitchell Robinson
21. Kevin Knox

This is the trio of talented young players all have some potential, but aren’t all the way there.

Sexton has an incredibly combination of coordination and explosiveness, making him an excellent isolation scorer. But his poor vision and dimensions make him a major liability with respect to passing and defense, and will always diminish his overall goodness.

MitchRob is big, athletic, and talented but has major intangibles flags, so who knows how to value him. Hassan Whiteside is a good comp for him.

Knox is super young and has a decent offensive skillset for a huge wing, but has a long way to go to become a good NBA player. That said I am interested to see how he develops as his frame fills out and he is freed from the shackles of John Calipari’s coaching.

20. Kenrich Williams

Kenrich offers everything you want in a 3 + D prospect. He is an excellent passer, rebounder, and team defender, and he can run the pick and roll in a pinch.

The only questions are about his actual 3 + D, as he shot 63% FT in college and may not be athletic enough to guard the perimeter in the NBA. But he has a decent chance to succeed at both, and this what makes him an excellent a 3 + D target.

Shooting and defense are hard to predict, so guys who are definitely good at other things and maybe good at 3 + D are better gambles than chasing the best 3 and best D. Which explains why I only have Mikal Bridges at #19 in spite of top 10 hype:

19. Mikal Bridges

Mikal’s NCAA 3P% (40%) and FT (84.5%) inspire promise for his shooting, while his steals, blocks, team success, and 7’2″ wingspan inspire promise for his defense.

But he was never reputed to be a great shooter, doesn’t have great form, and he lacks great strength, burst, and quickness on defense so it is easy to see him falling short of expectations in both areas.  If so, he will provide an awfully disappointing return on a top 10 pick, as he is not much of a creator, rebounder, or passer. And even if he can shoots and defends well, his upside is capped by limits in other areas.

Mikal clearly has a better shooting projection than Kenrich, but Kenrich’s superiority at everything else makes them similarly good prospects.

Is Mikal Ottomatically going to be a good pro?

Everybody loves to compare Mikal Bridges to Otto Porter, Rob Covington, and Danny Green with the hypothesis he is a solid bet to be on a similar level of goodness. The logic is that he mimicked their NBA role to be one of the most effective players in the NCAA, thus he should seamlessly translate to the same role as a pro.

This logic is dubious, as excellent NCAA play should be a pre-requisite for a 21 year old to be considered in round 1 at all. To deserve top 10 consideration, elite NCAA play at that age isn’t enough.

For comparison, he was the same age as a freshman as Otto was as a sophomore. As a quick and simple comparison, let’s see how the players fared in terms of points, rebounds, and assists per 40 minutes at the same age:

Points Rebs Assists
Otto 18.3 8.5 3.1
Mikal 12.5 6.3 1.7

Otto clearly waffle crushes Mikal, which is why stat models and scouts alike rated him as an elite prospect. It’s simply not realistic to comp Mikal to a player who was THAT far ahead of him at the same age. Even if they seem similar stylistically, Otto is flat out better at basketball.

Now let’s shift focus to more realistic comps such as Danny Green and Robert Covington, comparing career per 40 min samples for the trio:

Points Rebs Assists Blocks
Green 18.9 8.2 3.5 2.1
RobCov 19.8 9.9 1.6 1.7
Mikal 16.5 6.5 2.3 1.3

This is closer, but it is still clear that Mikal is behind.

Both Green + RobCov have superior rebounds and blocks to suggest nuanced physical advantages over Mikal. They also scored more, and superior creation may have subtle impact on their NBA success even in low usage roles. RobCov offers Mikal hope as a rare example of a good NBA defensive player with a low assist rate, but overall it’s clear that his natural talent lags behind this duo as well.

Essentially Mikal’s NCAA success came from limiting his mistakes and scoring efficiently playing in an elite offensive system for an elite coach. It is plausible that this translates to a useful NBA player, but it also may not. His weaknesses will be more frequently exposed, and his easy opportunities will dry up, and even if he does succeed it is unlikely to be to the same magnitude as the aforementioned trio.

While Mikal has *some* chance of achieving an Otto/RobCov/Green level of goodness, everybody in the lottery has some chance of reaching a greater upside.

Ultimately Bridges’s hype is based on the notion that he will mimic RobCov and Otto’s production as a pro, as their success in spite of low usage makes their success seem attainable. In reality it is not, as they are special in ways that Mikal and most other 3 +D prospects are not. He’s a solid 3 + D prospect in the back end of round 1, but he isn’t special enough to justify the top 10 hype.

18. Jacob Evans
17. Kevin Huerter

These 3 + D prospects also are much better passers than Mikal, and on a similar tier in spite of much less hype. Along with Kenrich, there are quite a few 3 + D players who should be valued similarly to Mikal that will be available much later in the draft.

Evans is a high IQ wing who does a bit of everything. He can be a good role player, but doesn’t have the shake or athleticism to have much upside beyond 3 + D.

Huerter is only 19 with a quick release and good lateral movement at 6’7″ gives him switchability potential. He has the most upside of the non-lotto 3 + D tier as he is strikingly similar to Klay Thompson.

16. Robert Williams

Robert Williams is long, athletic and statistically productive, but it seems like something is missing with him. His team defense was worse with him on the floor, and it’s a concern that he’s just an enticing talent who will never put it all together.

That said his talent is enticing, so it feels wrong to be totally out on him. He is a slippery prospect to evaluate, and it’s hard to know what to expect.

Tier 2: Possible All-Stars

This tier is really deep and really good, and can be re-shuffled to almost any order. I don’t see a huge difference between #15 and #4

15. DeAnthony Melton

Melton’s freshman season was a statistical doppelganger for that of Jrue Holiday.

There is no guarantee that his offense develops as well as Jrue did, but if so he can be special. He’s young, long, and athletic with exceptional vision and instincts. And if nothing else he can be useful as a defensive specialist.

14. Troy Brown

Brown has ideal role player traits for the modern NBA, as he is 6’7″ with a 6’11” wingspan with a good frame and the quickness to match up with guards on the perimeter. He has elite switching potential to defend 1-4, and he is also a strong rebounder and passer.

The big question is whether he can score. He was inefficient as a freshman, as he was turnover prone and only shot 29% from 3. But he has decent handling + shake, and 74% FT while only being 18 on draft night. There is hope that he develops well on this end. If so, he has star potential as a versatile wing who can do it all.

Or maybe he is a disaster on offense and does not amount to much, but his elite role player potential with sneaky star upside makes him worth stomaching that risk.

13. Josh Okogie

I have written about Okogie, and I am a firm believer in his goodness. Physically he is surprisingly switchable for a 6’4″ player due to monster 7’0″ length, a strong frame, and good athleticism and quickness. And his elite motor makes him a good bet to apply these tools effectively on D.

Offensively his game is a bit raw, but he is rapidly developing into a quality shooter and he is a good passer with a passable handle. He still struggles to finish near the rim, but he has a nice first step and if his handling and finishing improve he can be good offensively.

Okogie has good odds of becoming a Marcus Smart type with more 3 and less D, and he has plenty of potential to be more.

12. Michael Porter Jr.

It may be unfair to rank MPJ this low as he only played 2 NCAA games late in the season, and he posted great AAU stats as the #2 RSCI and had #1 overall hype entering the season. But RSCI has been on an extended streak of missing on top 3 guys, and MPJ showed some serious bust risk in the Hoop Summit as he reminesced of a hybrid of Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins.

For a player whose primary strength is scoring, Porter is not that good at creating quality attempts vs halfcourt defense. He’s not that explosive or shifty, and looks awkward navigating traffic. He nevertheless padded his Hoop Summit box score with breakaway layups + dunks, and this was likely a significant portion of his AAU production as well.

He cannot be firmly judged based on two NCAA games against good defenses after missing almost all of the season with injury, but he looked legitimately awful in those two games. He badly struggled to create quality shots off the dribble, and ended up settled for difficult jump shots that mostly bricked.

Given his one dimensional skillset, translation flags, and injury concerns, disappointment almost feels inevitable with Porter. But his talent cannot be completely ignored, and a Carmelo Anthony or LaMarcus Aldridge level outcome is firmly within his range. And if he hits the upper bound of his shooting potential, maybe he will be even more.

It’s possible I am underrating him at this slot, but he has so many flags and the other prospects in this tier are so good that placing him at #12 is not going out on a major limb.

11. Jontay Porter

It is really mindblowing that Jontay is brothers with Michael. They are completely opposite, as Michael is a heroball chucker who lives for buckets, and Jontay is the ultimate role player who is elite at everything but scoring.

Jontay is currently projected as a 2nd rounder (#36 ESPN) because he is a plodding big in a world where slow bigs are going extinct. This puts a dent in his stock to be sure, but he is too skilled at shooting and passing for the youngest player in the draft to be written off based on this alone. He is very similar to Nikola Jokic who slid to the 2nd round because of being a slow big, and this comp alone should be enough to establish Jontay as a lottery value.

10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

After I wrote a glowing review of Shai, he massively disappointed vs Kansas State, as he could not get past their guards and was roasted by Barry Brown for the bucket that ended Kentucky’s season.

After that performance it is hard to be convinced Shai is bound for NBA greatness, but I remain highly intrigued by what he has to offer. He has great PG dimensions and an elite euro-step to atone for his athletic deficiencies. He has a good feel for the game and while there are questions regarding his shooting, defense, and creation, there are enough possible answers to give him sneaky upside.

Most of the time he will be similar to Dejounte Murray with more offense and less defense.

9. Mo Bamba

Bamba is not that athletic, coordinated, cerebral, skilled, or really useful in any way outside of having a monster 7’9″ wingspan and standing reach. My eyes were really not fond of him, except he made use of his elite reach to post a statistically productive senior year, cleaning up with blocks, rebounds, and dunks.

He has recently shown an improved shooting form, and while there is little evidence that he will be a decent NBA shooter, it is nice to know he is at least working hard toward that goal. If his shooting develops better than expected, it’s easy to see him becoming a valuable pro.

I could see Bamba working out really well or really poorly. He is one of the tougher players in the draft to peg.

 

8. Trae Young

Trae Young is an outlier. His skill level is off the charts, and with monster scoring, shooting, and assist totals as a freshman, he has been rampantly compared to Stephen Curry. Let’s take a look at their freshman shooting stats (pace adjusted per 40):

3P 3PA 3P% FT%
Steph 4.7 11.4 40.8% 85.5%
Trae 4.0 11.0 36.0% 86.1%

This is really close. Trae had almost as many 3PA, and his lower 3P% could be due in part to bad luck in light of his elite FT%. Let’s move on to steal, block, and rebound rates:

ORB% DRB% STL% BLK%
Steph 2.6 12.8 3.6 1.0
Trae 1.3 9.9 2.5 0.7

This is where the comp falls apart. The two players have similar physical profiles, but Steph being superior across the board implies some subtle physical advantage and/or cerebral superiority.

My take is that Steph is in another league cerebrally. This manifests in him being surprisingly decent defensively as well as consistently finding space to get off quality shots in spite of his physical deficiencies and immense defensive attention.

With this in mind, I do not believe Trae’s 3P% was due to bad luck whatsoever. He was on fire during Oklahoma’s soft portion of the schedule, and then against Big 12 play he was often shut down by taller wings. He lacked the explosion to blow past them, and often settled for deep, contested 3’s. It is not surprising that he went through a major shooting slump because he was chucking low quality attempts.

Curry has the most outlier combination of shooting accuracy in fast release in NBA history, and it is unrealistic to project anybody to match it. And even if Trae is a similar outlier, he will likely be a much worse defensive player who struggles to find space offensively, and it is really difficult to see him ever sniffing Curry’s overall level of goodness.

Is Trae an Elite Passer?

If there is a path to greatness, it will come through his passing. Young has excellent vision and posted a much higher NCAA assist rate than Curry. There is some scenario where he has a Steve Nash level impact with his passing on top of almost Curry level shooting, which is why he belongs in the top 10.

But Steve Nash is a one of a kind player, and this scenario is the pinnacle of optimism for Young. In spite of returning almost everybody from last season, Oklahoma barely improved and under-performed preseason statistical projections. Common narratives will blame this on Trae’s underwhelming teammates, but the same teammates were not that much worse with a year’s less experience and Jordan Woodard (pretty good) + Darrion Strong-Moore (pretty bad) splitting PG minutes.

In spite of excellent vision, Young seems to be lacking high end IQ and decision making ability. Perhaps these improve over time, but for a player with his physical deficiencies there are too many worrisome signals to be too optimistic. He has an elite skill level to be sure, but his instincts appear to be merely good but not great, and this creates significant downside risk.

Young has a weird + polarized profile, and it makes him extremely difficult to predict. I lean toward the side of pessimism, but there is clearly enough unique goodness to amount to a highly valuable NBA player. I’m not comfortable dropping him out of the top 10, but I believe it would be a reach to draft him top 5.

7. Miles Bridges

Miles fits the 3 + D archetype perfectly, as his strength, athleticism, passing, rebounding, and shooting suggest that he will be a versatile role player in the NBA. His dimensions are too limited for him to be a perfect 4, but he nevertheless may have the strength and hops to succeed in that role defensively.

As a bonus, his burst and shake give him creation upside and all-star potential. Versatile role playing wings are valuable enough on their own, and when they come with a nice upside tail it is correct to draft them early and ask questions later.

6. Wendell Carter Jr.

Carter is a tough prospect to rank. To some extent he is a plodding big in a world where plodding bigs are rapidly dying. But on the flipside, his mobility is not that bad and it is really his only weakness. Meanwhile he can pass, rebound, shoot, score inside, block shots, and being good at that many things can easily add up to a good player. If he can adequately defend in space, he can be a mid-lottery steal.

It’s easy to see Carter having an Al Horford-ish career. While Horford is not the sexiest player in the modern era, he is still a valuable contributor and a great return on a mid-lotto pick. And there is wiggle room for WCJ to be better than Horford, so it’s hard to argue he does not belong in the front end of the lottery.

5. Marvin Bagley

Bagley is an awesome talent in the wrong mold for the modern NBA. He is an elite garbage man as his motor + athleticism make him an awesome rebounder and finisher, and his handle gives him some creation ability.

That said, he does not have the dimensions to protect the rim or the skill for the perimeter, not to mention that his perimeter defense is a major question mark. This leaves him in an awkward disposition. There is some scenario where he succeeds on the perimeter and you are left with a really unique and valuable player who can also function as a small 5.

But there is also a scenario where he’s a productive player who is an awkward fit with weaknesses that get exposed in the playoffs. Ultimately Bagley’s talent cannot be ignored and he should be valued highly, but his warts are enough to temper optimism from being extreme.

4. Zhaire Smith

Zhaire Smith came out of nowhere as a 3* recruit to have a monster freshman season and lead Texas Tech to their first elite 8 ever. The most shocking part of him flying under the radar is that he is a nuclear athlete, which rarely gets overlooked. But Zhaire was young for his class and raw offensively, and went unnoticed until late in his high school career.

He was still raw offensively for Texas Tech, playing a low usage role where he rarely attacked off the dribble and attempted a low volume of 3’s. But he was highly efficient in this role, as he posted an excellent eFG% and assist:TOV with 72% FT to give hope for his long term shooting ability. He statistically profiles as similar to Jae Crowder.

In terms of recruiting rank and physical profile, he is similar to Russell Westbrook. Westbrook also slid through the cracks as a 3* recruit due to being young and raw, and Zhaire is arguably the most explosive athlete in the draft since Russ. Westbrook carried a higher NCAA usage, but even after his sophomore year DraftExpress believed he had a poor handle.

It’s not clear how Zhaire’s handle compares to Russ at the same age, but there is no evidence it is drastically worse. What is clear is that Zhaire is more selective about the occasions on which he attacks and is much less mistake prone offensively. So he will likely not stretch his usage to a monster rate a la Westbrook, but there is plenty of potential for him to stretch his usage while also having the instincts to play efficiently.

It’s hard to envision exactly what Zhaire’s NBA role will look like. He could remain a Crowder-ish role player, or his athleticism could enable him to develop into a star scorer in spite of his current limits as a ball handler. But it’s so rare for a player with his combination of youth, efficient production, and athleticism to be anything other than a #1 pick, it’s not worth sweating this point. Once the tanking prizes are all off the board, I believe it is correct to take Zhaire and see what happens.

Tier 1: Tanking Prizes

3. DeAndre Ayton

Ayton is ESPN’s favorite to be the #1 pick, but draft twitter is less enthusiastic bemoaning his poor defensive instincts as he posted underwhelming steals and blocks for a disappointing Arizona defense.

The truth likely falls somewhere in the middle. Let’s quickly compare him to a couple of past prospects who had similar instincts– DeAndre Jordan and Julius Randle:

Stl% Blk% ORB% DRB%
Ayton 1 6.1 13.5 28.2
Jordan 0.6 6.5 11.6 22.3
Randle 1 2.6 13.4 24.7

Jordan eventually developed into a good defensive NBA player in spite of this. Ayton may not be quite as athletic, but overall they have similar physical profiles and Ayton’s box score stats are slightly more impressive– so you cannot rule out the possibility that he is a significantly more skilled DAJ.

I was highly bearish on Julius Randle for his poor defensive instincts with mediocre PF dimensions, but he now has a chance of becoming a good NBA player in spite of this. If both Randle and Jordan can succeed and overachieve their draft position in spite of similar warts, Ayton likely can too.

Further, he has much stronger positives than DAJ + Randle without having worse flaws. He has a monster physical profile and was highly efficient in a high usage role offensively, posting a 98th percentile halfcourt efficiency per synergy. He had almost as many assists as turnovers, and showed traces of shooting ability with 73% FT and 12/35 3P.

In spite of his flaws, Ayton has monster upside and an easy path to all-star production. There’s some scenario where is merely a more athletic Nik Vucevic, which is disappointing but not bad enough to drop him any lower than #3.

His questionable instincts are enough to set him behind the creme de la creme prospects, but he has offsetting strengths to be a #1 or #2 overall pick in most drafts. The bottom line is that while he is flawed, DeAndre Ayton is an incredibly talented player and an elite prospect.

2. Luka Doncic

More than a year ago I pondered whether Doncic was a LeBron level prospect, offering a generational skill level on par with LeBron’s generational physical profile. Now after meditating on this point, I do not believe he can be valued similarly as LeBron definitely had a generational physical profile whereas Doncic only maybe has a generational skill level.

The chief concern with Doncic is that he is not particularly explosive or shifty, and will rely on outlier shotmaking to be an NBA star. Yet he is only making 30% of his three pointers so far this year, and if this is an issues that persists in the NBA he could disappoint similarly to D’Angelo Russell.

That said, Doncic still has a monster upside that cannot be ignored. He is a wizard with the ball and is also incredibly cerebral in a monster body that moves decently well, and if he develops into an elite shot maker he can be a special NBA player unlike anything we have seen thus far. I still rate him as a solidly good #1 overall pick, it’s just that he has the misfortune of sharing a draft with somebody who is just a bit more special

1. Jaren Jackson Jr.

This kid has special written all over him. He is one of the youngest players in the draft, and was arguably the best NCAA player this past season once you get past his minutes being limited by foul trouble and a risk averse coach.

The narrative is that he is an elite 3 + D role player who lacks the athleticism and scoring to be a true star. He is at minimum the former, as he shot 3’s and FT’s very well for a 18 year old big and has exceptional defensive potential.

JJJ offers elite length, mobility, and instincts to be incredibly versatile both defending the perimeter and protecting the rim, and he played a large role in Michigan State having the most outlier defensive 2P% in kenpom history dating back to 2002.

It’s worth noting that Jaren Jackson Sr. rated well by RAPM metrics and was a solid 3 + D player for the Spurs, and JJJ appears to have inherited his father’s basketball IQ with a 7″ height advantage and likely greater athleticism.

The really interesting point for JJJ is that he shows traces of ability to score off the dribble from the perimeter, as he has a surprisingly decent handle and ability to change directions for such a young big. He is still raw in this regard and often turned it over trying to attack, but if this develops well with age it could elevate him from elite 3 + D player to a traditional mold of superstar.

And he doesn’t have any real weaknesses. His turnover and foul rates were both high, but not particularly bad for an 18 year old big. His rebounding rate is mediocre, but he was sharing the floor with super sized lineups and this could improve as his frame fills out.

I just don’t see how JJJ ever fails. He’s going to be valuable no matter what, and has monster upside to boot. He should absolutely be valued on the same tier as KAT, Embiid, and Anthony Davis, and has clear potential to peak as the best of the bunch.

I will note that I’m not certain who should be valued higher between JJJ and Doncic– both are awesome prospects who are dripping with upside. But I feel a bit more certain in JJJ’s goodness, and if nothing else it’s worth considering the possibility that he deserves to be the #1 prospect in the draft, as it is a topic that has yet to receive fair consideration.

Who is the Best 3 + D Wing in the Draft?

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The 2018 draft has some good 3 + D wings outside of the top 10 such as Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges, Troy Brown, and Jacob Evans. But nobody is talking about Josh Okogie, who is only ranked #46 on ESPN and may be the gem of the class

Why Does He Have No Hype?

Because he plays for an awful Georgia Tech team. He didn’t get many high major offers as he wasn’t a top 100 recruit, so he settled for the major conference team close to home.

It’s easy to see why he wasn’t a top 100 recruit. He is super young for his class, and was less developed than his high school peers. He is only 6’4″, not super athletic, and not a big time shot creator. He doesn’t check the most easily discernible boxes, so it makes sense that recruiting services would overlook him.

Before his freshman year, Georgia Tech was considered a threat to go 0-18 in ACC play by stat models, common narratives, and yours truly. But 18 year old Okogie and junior Ben Lammers led them to the #6 kenpom defense, a respectable 8-10 ACC record, and a trip to the NIT finals. They deserve a parade for this, as the Yellow Jackets were one of the biggest overachievers in the 16-17 NCAA season.

As a sophomore the Jackets took a small step back, but that can be in part blamed on his coach, cast, and bad luck. Overall Okogie’s two years at Georgia Tech were a huge success given the circumstances.

Defense

Okogie’s physical profile is overall terrific, as he has a 7’0″ wingspan and a strong frame to go along with above average athleticism and good quickness.

His length and strength give him ability to guard NBA wings, and his quickness gives him the ability to defend guards. With the tools to hold his own against any position 1-4, he has elite versatility in heavily switching defenses that are prevalent in the modern NBA.

He is also disruptive as a team defender, as he uses his length effortlessly to deflect passes and block shots.

Granted, he is not guaranteed to be a lockdown defensive player. He is mistake prone as he makes unnecessary gambles and sometimes gets beat due to mental lapses. He’s not a Marcus Smart or Justise Winslow level defensive wizard. But he atones for this with an excellent motor, and often hustles his way back into the play after he is beat.

Okogie offers a rare intersection of switching versatility, disruptive playmaking, and non-stop motor.  Most of his mistakes stem from being too aggressive, and could be reduced over time with more experience and better coaching. Okogie has excellent defensive potential, and is firmly in the conversation for best defensive wing prospect in the draft.

Offense

Offensively Okogie is a work in progress, but one area where he shines is shooting. He made 78% of his FT’s (82% as a sophomore) and 38% of his 3’s during his two years at Georgia Tech. This is really good for an 18/19 year old wing who is younger than freshmen Michael Porter Jr. and Mo Bamba.

He has a rudimentary handle and a good first step, but is mostly limited as a creator. He led the Yellow Jackets in usage (27% both years) because the rest of the team is so dreadful they don’t have any better options.  Because of his limited handling and subpar body control, he struggles to finish near the rim on these occasions and had just a 43% 2P as a sophomore (45% overall).

He has a long way to go to become more than a guy who can move the ball, make 3’s, score off the ball, and attack closeouts. But at 19, he has enough physical advantages to have some creation upside if he develops better than expected.

3 + D

Josh Okogie is the quintessential 3 + D prospect. His 3 and free throw stroke are decisively good, and he has upside to be a great shooter. His release is slightly slow, but his form is good and his shot tends to fall. The same can be said for his defense. He is not GOATish in either area, but offers a rare intersection of good at both.

His creation upside spices up his prospect value with a nice upside scenario. Even if he seems like a boring non-creator who will likely not peak higher than players such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wes Matthews, or Danny Green, there is some potential for more. Nobody talked about Donovan Mitchell or Kawhi Leonard’s upside pre-draft, so why will Josh Okogie not surprise like them?

Kawhi Not?

Kawhi’s DX profile notes similar weaknesses to Okogie (non-elite athlete, struggles to finish off the dribble) and the only major difference is that Okogie is 3″ shorter in both height and length. This is a significant disadvantage, but Kawhi minus 3 inches would nevertheless be a great player.

This is not to say Okogie WILL be Kawhi minus 3 inches. He may not be on the same level cerebrally, and likely will not match Kawhi’s NBA defensive and creation value. But based on current information the possibility cannot be ruled out, and he at least has a small chance of becoming mini-Kawhi. The same cannot be said for Mikal Bridges, as his creation limits are far more significant given his meager 15% usg at ages 19/20.

Bottom Line

Mikal Bridges is considered to be the premier 3 +D prospect in the class. But Bridges is a bit more than two years older, not clearly better in either category, and does not have the same sneaky star potential as Okogie. Further, Bridges’ low freshman + sophomore usage may indicate subtle flaws that give him a lower floor than Okogie.

There are reasons to like Bridges, as he is hyperefficient in his low usage role and Villanova has been the #1 or #2 kenpom team in all three of his seasons there. He knows how to win, has solid role player potential, and is a fine choice in the 15-25 range.

But in terms of NBA upside, Okogie shines as the superior talent. He is the best 3 + D wing prospect in the draft, and is worth a lottery selection. I expect Okogie to rise up draft boards as he outshines higher rated prospects such as Tyus Battle, Khyri Thomas, and Aaron Holiday throughout the draft process.