Recently it was revealed that Brandon Miller got a hockey assist on a fatal shooting where he drove the gun to teammate Darius Miles, who gave it to shooter Michael Davis, who then killed Jamea Jonae Harris.
Based on descriptions it seems like Miller should be an accessory, but he isn’t being charged and coach Nate Oats said he was merely at the wrong spot at the wrong time.
What’s not clear is how naive Miller was to the situation. It is not clear whether he is avoiding charges because he was going to pick up his teammate without being aware of the situation vs getting preferential treatment for being a star basketball player and cooperating with the police.
Twitter seems to err on the side of this being nefarious, as most people believe this should lead to a significant decline in his draft stock:
Subverting Expectations On the Court
Miller entered the season as #11 RSCI, and seemed to fit a good NBA mold as 6’9 defensive oriented wing. But his upside seemed limited, as he was sophomore aged turning 20 in November, and averaged 13 points per game on pedestrian shooting percentages in AAU.
Most of the bigger freshman surprises tend to come in younger players. For instance– it is less surprising that Ja Morant ended up at Murray State considering that he was a year younger than his peers, and it is difficult to stand out as a 16 year old competing with 17 year olds. But as a 18 year old competing with a 17 year old, it is hard to *not* stand out as a future NBA player.
OJ Mayo was hyped as the next LeBron in high school, but had a lackluster NBA career after getting picked 3rd overall. Shabazz Muhammad was #1 RSCI and completely flopped as the #14 overall pick in the draft. Like Brandon Miller, both of these guys turned 20 in November of their freshman seasons. They built hype based on dominating younger competition at a developmental age where one year makes a huge difference, and it is incredibly difficult to live up to that hype as the younger peers catch up and surpass the older prospects in college and the NBA.
It is difficult to think of older prospects who have crushed expectations like Miller has. Chet Holmgren lived up to the hype last year, but he entered as a strong #1 overall candidate and was 6 months younger for his class than Miller. Prior to that, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs were pleasant surprises, but they were both 7 months younger than Miller. Joel Embiid might be the strongest recent example, as he was only 4 months younger than Miller as a freshman and absolutely smashed expectations. But Embiid was also slightly different in that he had a late start, and an obviously huge upside.
There’s not enough information to draw firm conclusions that he will be an Embiid level overachiever in the NBA, but Miller’s performance thus far hints that he may have special off court intelligence.
Learning to Score Inside
Miller didn’t enter the season with much hype, but he was able to build it with hot 3 point shooting in his early games. However, he was not reputed as a shooter coming into college, and he also showed some nasty warts in his first 3 games against high major competition at the Phil Knight invitational, as he shot 8/34 (23.5%) inside the arc against Michigan St, UConn, and UNC.
He had a knack for driving directly into shot blockers, and even when he found space at the rim he did not seem to have the body control to finish. He followed it up with 0/3 @ Houston shortly thereafter, and it seemed that he may be another overhyped old guy who was getting overrated based on unsustainably hot shooting.
But in 18 major conference games since then (counting Memphis + Gonzaga), he is 67/112 (59.8%) inside the arc to raise his 2P% on the season to a solid 50.6%. This is in part due to beating up the weaker SEC teams, but if you limit the sample to top 100 kenpom teams he is 43/76 (56.6%) in 13 games. This is in part because he has been attacking a lower volume, but has nevertheless been an impressive adjustment from early season where he looked woefully bad attacking off the dribble.
Further, he has continued to shoot well, making 43% 3P, 83% FT thus far on good volume. And perhaps most impressive has been his impact on Alabama, who has been a major overachiever in the midst of their best season ever. And Miller seems to be the primary driver of their success, especially when you look at his on/off splits per hooplens.com:
College on/off splits are extremely noisy, and that team defensive 3P% with Miller on the court is benefitting from a significant chunk of luck. But it is a nice bonus that not only is Alabama bigly overachieving, but all of their success is coming when Miller is on the court.
There is some downside to all of this surprise goodness– namely that he could be due for regression, especially in his shooting with his NCAA sample size still being limited. Cade Cunningham and Jabari Smith are two high profile prospects who recently surprised with elite NCAA shooting and have struggled to make 3’s early in their NBA career. They still may become good or great 3 point shooters, but it’s always a bit scary when a player has so much stock hinging on his shooting ability without a limited sample of success.
But the upside is that he seems to have some unique level of intelligence and work ethic. And for a guy who fits such a coveted NBA mold of 6’9 athletic shooter, he seems like a good bet to be a useful NBA player.
What does this incident mean for Miller’s future?
It’s difficult to say. Some people may argue that criminals have lower intelligence, which give them lower odds of long term success on top of bad optics that may not make them worth rostering.
The Spurs recently released Josh Primo after allegations of sexual misconduct, and Miles Bridges turned himself from a hot free agent target to out of the league (for now) with his domestic violence charges.
This would present multiple layers of risk in drafting somebody with higher risk of criminal behavior. They may lack the intelligence and focus to reach their upside, and even if they become good they can nuke their value at any moment with a big enough mistake.
But the trouble with applying this logic to Miller is that he is not a criminal. He is neither being charged with anything nor punished by his team. And his off court intelligence certainly does not seem subpar based on his outlier exceeding of expectations for an older freshman.
The simplest answer here is that he is only getting prosecuted by people with limited information on social media, and this should not heavily price into his NBA valuation without any clear evidence he did something wrong.
But since so many people seem to believe he is an accessory to murder getting preferential treatment, let’s put on our tinfoil hats and assume the worst by seeing how he compares to past athletes who have been connected to a killing.
Between NFL and NBA, there are 5 players who have been connected with killing somebody
Javaris Crittenton Rae Carruth Aaron Hernandez OJ Simpson Ray Lewis
But Crittenton and Hernandez were highly erratic guys in a way that does not seem consistent with Miller. Carruth killed his girlfriend who was 8 months pregnant with his son, which is the opposite behavior of Miller showing up to support his teammate. OJ Simpson killed his ex-wife who he obsessed over (he was acquitted but if you watch ESPN’s excellent documentary “OJ: Made in America” it’s clear he did it), again the opposite behavior of Miller.
Ray Lewis is probably the most similar situation to Miller, where him and his two companions got in a fight with another group of people resulting in two stabbing deaths. All three were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges, but Lewis got his charges dismissed in exchange for testifying against his friends (who were eventually acquitted) and a guilty plea to misdemeanor obstruction of justice.
This was Lewis’s only legal issue in a hall of fame career as one of the best defensive players in NFL history. He was elite value for the #26 overall pick in his draft, and makes a strong case against doubting an athlete who hangs out in a group capable of killing. Imagine if this happened pre-draft and caused him to slide— lots of teams would be feeling silly down the road.
This is not to say that Miller’s involvement should be seen as a positive. But it is a reminder that a player doing something morally wrong is not always predictive of failure. Miller’s incident was far more mild, as Lewis was actually charged and a victim’s blood was found in his limousine. Further, Lewis’s white suit he wore that night was never recovered. Even if Miller should have been charged as accessory, his involvement seems significantly more limited than that of Lewis who went on to win numerous accolades in a hall of fame career.
The most similar NBA incident to Miller was perhaps Tyreke Evans being the unwitting driver in a drive by shooting. He wasn’t charged and went onto a decent NBA career, although it was underwhelming for a #4 overall pick and ended prematurely when he was suspended for 3 years for violating NBA’s anti-drug program. Evans showed immense potential early in his career winning rookie of the year over Steph Curry, but then failed to progress. Between his underwhelming development and suspension, he is an example of how being present but not culpable for a shooter could be a badge signal.
Also similar was Tony Allen’s involvement in a shooting where a member of his entourage shot a man twice. Allen was never charged, but the victim’s lawyer claimed that Allen urged the shooter to “fuck him up” shortly before the shooting. Even though the victim survived, Allen was more directly involved in the altercation. It is difficult to say what is worse between his situation and Miller’s.
Allen had a solid NBA career and was a good return on a late 1st pick, and provides a positive counter example to Evans. And when you factor an outlier success case in the NFL such as Ray Lewis, it’s difficult to conclude that this incident is any sort of clear negative signal for Miller.
Now some may argue the above section misses the point, and that it is not a matter of whether Miller is likely to succeed, but that somebody even loosely involved in a murder is not fit to play in the NBA.
But the irony of killing is that even though it is arguably the worst crime, it is also the most commonly portrayed as badass or cool in pop culture. It’s difficult to think of any TV show or movie that ever portrayed a rapist or wife beater as a likable protagonist, but it happens all of the time with killers, especially when it comes to mobster or gangster culture.
Of course this isn’t the case with the majority of murders. There is nothing redeemable about an OJ or Carruth killing a loved one, and an erratic thug like Hernandez or Crittenton at best gets portrayed as an entertaining side character who eventually dies due to lack of intelligence.
In this instance, there is nothing redeemable about Miles or Davis who are actually being charged. They somehow let getting rejected by a woman escalate into a beef where they killed a single mother, which is ridiculous and not cool in any way. But Miller had nothing to do with the altercation, and likely was not privy to the details. He wasn’t even out partying. He was just down to get his teammate’s back when he needed help.
The worst thing that can be said about him is that he *might* be somewhat of a gangster. This may be a turn off to some NBA fans, but it resonates with another large subset of fans. Players such as Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, and Zach Randolph all portrayed gangster images and were all time fan favorites. Would their fans turn on them if any of those guys were there when one of their friends killed somebody but they weren’t charged? It’s extremely unlikely given that their fans never expected them to be choir boys to begin with.
As mentioned earlier, nobody cared when Tony Allen was directly involved in an altercation that led to a non-lethal shooting but didn’t get charged. He later got in a fight with teammate OJ Mayo where he punched him in the face and was considered the protagonist of the story. Even though he was merely a defensive role player for the Grizzlies who never averaged double digits scoring, he remains one of the franchise’s all time fan favorites as he embodied the team’s grit and grind culture.
Even assuming the worst about Miller’s involvement, it’s highly unlikely this prevents him from being beloved by NBA fans. And in reality, most people will not care, forget about this, or never even know it happened since he’s a 20 year old who was neither charged nor punished by his team.
While Miller’s involvement with the shooting looks a bit shady, people are currently overreacting to the situation.
Most importantly, there is no clear evidence he did anything wrong. He isn’t being charged, his coach says he did nothing wrong, and his lawyer insists that he has exonerating video evidence.
Social media is an inherently judgmental environment, and to tank his stock people are making the judgment that the details are much worse than law enforcement and his coach are letting on as well as the judgment that this is predictive of turbulence in his NBA future.
Given his surprising NCAA performance, it’s hard to buy any narrative that he is prone to underachievement. The biggest concern would be this makes him more likely to have legal issues in the pros, but this is not a significant enough concern to drastically affect his stock.
It’s really difficult to spin this in a way such that it’s a major concern. The most common outcome will be that this quickly becomes a distant memory of the past, and that teams will feel silly if they pass on him for prospects like the Thompson twins.
Personally I was leaning toward him being the #3 prospect in the draft before this news broke, with Gradey Dick and Anthony Black being right behind him. The news did not affect my rating, and then he followed it up with a monster performance against South Carolina that suggests that he is cool under pressure and adds further evidence that he is very good at basketball.
It makes sense for teams to have some minor apprehension about future legal issues, and do their due diligence on Miller before drafting him. But given that his coach and AD are going out on a limb for him, and his outlier progression, odds are that the intel on him will be good enough to draft him so long as he is the best player available.
Based on box score numbers, Wemby looks to be in a similar tier with Luka Doncic as a generational prospect. Thus far this season he is posting a 26 PER in France’s Jeep Elite, compared to 22.8 PER for Luka who was ~2 months younger in his final pre-draft season against more difficult ACB + Euroleague competition. Wemby’s better PER approximately cancels out with Luka’s tougher schedule, so it’s difficult to pick one over the other from strictly box score production.
What is interesting is that Luka slid to #3 behind DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley, and the Hawks electing to trade down for Trae Young for a nominal fee of a future pick that became Cam Reddish. Meanwhile Wemby is getting hyped as the best prospect since LeBron, or by some as even a better prospect than LeBron.
The logic behind this is simple– he is 7’4 high volume scorer who can shoot over anybody and accrues a massive block rate. It is easy to envision what if he is a rim protecting Kevin Durant who breaks the NBA by making massively positive impact on both ends of the floor.
But the issue with this logic is that it hinges upon Wemby’s weirdness working in his favor rather than against it. On average weirdos have higher error bars, and if you want to call somebody the best prospect in 20 years, they better be guaranteed studs. And there are a few questions to answer with Wemby:
First– how tall is too tall? Kareem Abdul -Jabbar is the tallest example of a player to have a long and healthy career at 7’2. Above that height injury issues are more common. The career leader in minutes played for 7’3+ players is 7’4 Mark Eaton, who had less than half of Kareem’s 57446 career minutes with 25169.
The best players at that height have been Yao Ming whose career was cut short by injuries, and Arvydas Sabonis who played a less physically demanding game in Europe for most of his career and didn’t debut in the NBA until age 30. Both were substantially thicker than Wemby.
Kristaps Porzingis has similarities to Wembanyama, and after showing promise defensively early in his career as a rookie, injuries have limited his availability as well as defensive impact when he does play.
Remembering Ralph Sampson
Ralph Sampson was nearly a doppelganger to Wemby both physically and in terms of pre-draft hype. He went #1 overall and was elected to 4 straight all star games to star his career in spite of being a merely average player statistically, before getting derailed by injuries. Over a 40 year stretch of #1 overall picks from 1977 to 2016, Sampson has the 5th lowest career win shares ahead of only Anthony Bennett, Michael Olowokandi, Greg Oden, and Andrea Bargnani and slightly behind famous busts such as Kwame Brown and Pervis Ellison.
Granted, Sampson had some major red flags in his statistical production in his 4 years at Virginia, including a lackluster career 157 assists vs 342 turnovers while averaging a pedestrian 16.9 pts on 56.8% FG and 65.7% FT. He did average 11.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks while the team had an excellent 4 year run, but he was obviously overrated with a quick glance at the stat sheet in a way that Wemby is not.
But Sampson is at minimum a sign that being a 7’4 stick monster is not the ideal physical profile for a long and healthy career. And it may not be ideal for NBA translation. Especially for a prospect like Wemby who plays a more perimeter style offensively. While he has the reach to shoot over anybody, who knows how he fares handling the ball vs. guards a foot or more shorter than him. Durant can already shooter over almost anybody at 6’10, so perhaps Wemby’s 6 inches of additional height only make it easier to pick his pocket since he needs to dribble further from the ground.
Wemby vs. Luka
The other issues compared to Luka are that Wemby plays on a much worse team. Luka won the Euroleague championship with Real Madrid and was the Final Four MVP. Real Madrid had +6.4 PD in EL that season, whereas Wemby’s French team is +3.8 in Jeep Elite.
There are two Jeep Elite teams also competing in EL: AS Monaco is +8.9 Jeep -0.2 EL, and ASVEL Basket is +5.7 Jeep -4.8 EL. If EL is approximately 10 points harder than Jeep, then Wemby’s team would be around -6 EL and approximately a +12.5 neutral court underdog to Luka’s Real Madrid team.
Luka had more talent around him, but it is nevertheless better to lead a higher level team against higher level competition. And he was in an elite star mold of a big wing that can run an offense.
Luka also looked like a generational prospect in his second to last pre-draft season, whereas Wemby did not. Luka posted 17.9 PER between ACB and EL, whereas Wemby posted a 17.7 PER in the soft Jeep Elite and a meager 12.5 PER in his 13 Euroleague games.
Wemby was just a skinny kid at that time and has made the desired leap this season. But needing that year to adjust may be a sign that his physical profile is not quite as optimized for higher levels as Luka. Wemby is going to be a skinny kid when he enters the NBA, and it is not clear how well he fills out over time, and he definitely is not going to become a tank like Giannis in time.
Luka was obviously great through and through. There were essentially no holes to be poked in his profile, although 3 NBA GM’s somehow managed to do so by passing on him. On the other hand Wemby is probably great, but there is so much more weirdness and question marks and doubt, that it is simply wrong to rate him as the better prospect.
He is still a legitimate #1 overall prospect because his production and upside are too great to ignore. But he should be perceived as more a Zion type of prospect than a can’t miss star. Wemby and Zion share monstrous production, but an odd distribution of traits and atypical physique that collectively add downside risk that does not come with LeBron and Luka type prospects.
He definitely has a chance of living up to the hype. There is no reason why he cannot be as good as or better than Yao Ming, who is in the hall of fame. But the level of froth that puts him as a LeBron level prospect is too much. The masses have already been duped by a giant stick monster 40 years ago in Ralph Sampson. Wemby is more exciting than Sampson, but merits a bit of caution in hyperbolic declarations before letting history repeat.
2. Scoot Henderson
I don’t have the best read on Scoot at this time. He seems good to be sure, but it’s difficult to say how good. 6’2 PG isn’t the best mold in the world. My best guess is that he projects to be a slightly better version of De’Aaron Fox, which is much better than any of the NCAA prospects but not enough to usurp Wemby’s slot at #1.
Tier 2: The Decent Guys
Honestly it feels wrong to rate anybody #3 in this draft because nobody stands out as particularly exciting after Scoot and Wemby. Instead let’s just rate five people at a tie for #7 because all of these guys feel too high with a top 5 rating.
7. Gradey Dick
Dick has checked all of the boxes for an NBA 3 + D wing thus far for Kansas, let’s jump straight into the obvious optimistic comp of Kyle Korver per 100 possessions:
Looking back at Korver’s stats it is *insane* he slid to 51st overall. He was so obviously good, and while he was playing for mid-major Creighton they made the tournament in each of his 4 seasons. He should have been a lottery pick, but people weren’t that smart back then.
Dick’s shooting percentages are a bit lower and his 3PA rate is somewhat significantly lower, although that is hardly a knock on him as Korver had outlier good shooting in college. Dick compensates for this by having half as many freshman turnovers with only slightly lower assist rate while also being an inch taller at 6’8 vs 6’7.
And looking at Korver’s 4 year averages, he did not see any growth that would be unattainable for Dick to match.
Dick’s shooting is still a small sample, so we will see where his percentages settle after a full season. But even if he is not quite a Korver level shooter, he has a clear path to being an efficient 3 + D wing that is heavily coveted in the modern NBA
7. Cason Wallace
Cason is a Jrue Holiday-like prospect, as he is a defense first PG with solid size for the position. That said he is likely not quite on Jrue’s level. At Kentucky’s Pro Day, he measured 1″ shorter than Jrue (6’3.25″ w/ 6’6 wing vs 6’4.25 w/ 6’7 wing). And while his defense looks intelligent and fundamentally sound most of the time, he is somewhat prone to getting blown by. So calling him Jrue level seems optimistic.
He also curiously measured with small hands at 7.5″ length and 7’5″ width. The last prospect to have such small hands at the combine was 5’8 Tyler Ulis. And the last prospect to have small hands and succeed was TJ McConnell who was 0.5″ less wide. Wallace is 3″ taller 4″ longer and more athletic than McConnell, but they did have similar freshman statistics per 100 poss:
A range of TJ McConnell to Jrue Holiday isn’t super exciting, especially after Jalen Suggs has failed to live up to the Jrue comp early in his career. But it’s about as decent as you can hope for after Scoot and Wemby. And there is always the bonus that Calipari prospects often perform better in the NBA than their NCAA stat sheet suggests.
7. Brandon Miller
Brandon Miller is a 6’9 wing having an excellent shooting season for Alabama. It’s difficult to come up with an adequate comparison of somebody his size with his shooting. Jabari Smith is the closest comp, except Jabari was 1″ taller, 1.5 years younger, and eyetested better defensively for Auburn. Through that lens it is scary to get high on Miller, but it’s also too soon to get too down on Smith. He is still young and in a bad situation playing alongside the worst backcourt in the NBA.
Conversely his numbers are similar to Cameron Johnson’s output as a 5th year senior for UNC when he was 2 years 8.5 months older.
Like Dick, he projects to be a solid 3 + D role player. Per 100 poss:
Dick is a full year younger with better FT% and better shooting reptuation entering school, as well as better assist:TOV and steal rates. So it seems like Miller should be rated worse. But he is 1″ taller, more athletic, and better rebounding, so he may not be too far behind.
Miller also has excellent on/off splits for an overachieving team, especially offensively for a player who has limited creation value. It will be interesting to see if this holds up over the remainder of the season.
7. Kyle Filipowski
Flip is a strange prospect. It’s not easy to comp him. For 7’0 big lacking pop, BartTorvik.com seems more interested in comping him to athletic wings. His top 10 statistical comps include Al-Farouq Aminu, James Johnson, Kawhi Leonard, Precious Achiuwa, Terrence Jones, Jabari Parker, and Jayson Tatum. His top 20 includes Cade Cunningham, Tobias Harris, Blake Griffin, and Josh Jackson.
The defining characteristics that gets these comps are that Flip has a high usage rate, gets a load of rebounds, and has a good steal rate. He is also a capable shooter making 77% FT and attempting 3.6 3PA/game at 29%. He checks most of the boxes that you would want from a star wing, except he is 7′ tall which makes him super interesting.
What makes him less interesting is the lack of grace to his game. He will inevitably get compared to Lauri Markkanen, but he does not share Lauri’s fluid coordination. Offensively he tries to barrel his way to the rim and throws up an off balance layup that misses a bit too often. Further, while he seems to have a nice handle and is capable of making impressive passes off the dribble, he has barely half as many assists (32) as turnovers (63). His game can get sloppy.
On the perimeter he has surprisingly decent mobility and quick hands, and holds his own on switches. That said he is beatable, sometimes in comical fashion. Sometimes he gets juked badly because of his poor balance. Against Wake he fell down and conceded a layup to Cameron Hildreth, and 165 pound Terquavion Smith easily discarded him and probably set the record for the biggest size disadvantage to make the “too small” gesture.
Collectively, Flip has an odd distribution of traits. He has a tantalizing intersection of strengths, but his funky array of flaws makes it difficult to know what it will sum up to in the NBA. He certainly has a nice weirdo upside tail, but it is difficult to be extremely confident in his goodness with such an unique profile.
7. Anthony Black
Black offers a bit of everything for a wing. He can handle, pass, make plays on D, and his shooting is not broken with 30% 3P and 71% FT so far this year.
The only issue is that he does not have one major strength to get excited about. He can create some offense, but not a high volume. He is somewhat turnover prone and not that efficient. And while he has a good steal rate and defensive instincts, he isn’t an elite stopper on D.
In some ways he reminisces of Cade Cunningham with mediocre shooting. Which is somewhat boring, but still can be a decent player.
8. Taylor Hendricks 9. Jarace Walker
6’9 Hendricks and 6’8 Walker are a couple of small NCAA bigs that will be likely converted to big NBA Wings. Based on the statsheet, Jarace is the slightly more productive of the two:
Walker has a bit more productivity across the board, although Hendricks has a slightly lower turnover rate and better shooting signal. Walker is making 42% from 3P but that’s a tiny 22/52 sample and based on his 3PA rate and FT% it is not to be trusted. Hendricks is making 38.5% on a decent 3PA rate with a solid FT% to back it up, and is the better bet to be a good NBA shooter.
On paper Walker has some promising defensive indicators, as his rebound, assist, steal, and block rates for a top 10 defense and the #1 kenpom team in the country to go with a strong frame and great dimensions at 6’8 with 7’2 wingspan. But he does not move well laterally, and is prone to jumping at everything defensively. He has made a positive impact on Houston’s offense, but the defense has been better with him on the bench. He does have good instincts at jumping the passing lanes for steals, and is far from hopeless on D, but there should be some concerns about his ability to defend the perimeter in the NBA.
Conversely, Hendricks moves well on defense, and in tandem with his shooting signal, 6’9 height, and positive assist:TOV ratio, he is a solid bet to seamlessly fit into NBA lineups as a big wing. He also blocks enough shots to possibly work as a small big, but his rebound rate is a bit underwhelming to project him as a full time center.
The downside of Hendricks is that he not does have any major strengths. He seems like he can be a capable NBA player on both ends, but there is no clear calling card to greatness. Realistically you are hoping for something like Jerami Grant when you take him. He likely will not be an all-star, but he is the type of player that every team will find to be useful.
Walker’s NCAA numbers are a near doppelgänger for Bobby Portis. He also projects as a solid role player type, and even if he is slightly better in NCAA the mobility concerns are enough to put him right below Hendricks for now.
10. Dereck Lively
Lively started the year injured and missed Duke’s first game, and struggled to produce upon his return. In ACC play he was relegated to a limited bench role, and was hardly looking like a relevant prospect.
But then he was re-inserted to the starting lineup against Georgia Tech, and has had an excellent 4 game stretch where is finally starting to live up to the #2 RSCI hype. His numbers across the board look like a completely different player than his lackluster first 18 games:
Lively’s primary selling point is his defense. He has monstrous dimensions at 7’1 with 7’7 wingspan, and is fairly mobile for such a giant. Aside from being an excellent rim protector, guards have struggled badly against him on switches lately. He has blocked stepback 3 point attempts from Cameron Hildreth and Jordan Miller in recent games, and bothered others on contests forcing bad misses. Guards have had limited success trying to blow by him as well, and even if they get a step he can still recover and block their shot at the rim.
His other selling point is his excellent assist:TOV ratio for a shotblocking big man. He has 21 assists vs 17 tovs on the season, which crushes Rudy Gobert pre-draft who was a gross 11 vs 41 his final season in France in spite of being ~2.6 years older than Lively at the time. Mo Bamba has not fully lived up to pre-draft hype, and that may be related to his 15 assists vs 46 turnovers at Texas in spite of being 9 months older than Lively.
Even if we look at positive examples, his current ratio of 1.24 edges out Anthony Davis (1.22) and Evan Mobley (1.2). Given that passing correlates with defense, and he has the tools to be elite defensively, Lively has clear DPOY upside.
That said– it is not completely fair to compare Lively’s assist:TOV ratio to a guy like Mobley, who was actually capable of handling the ball and making plays offensively. Part of the reason why Lively has such a low turnover rate is because he does essentially nothing offensively outside of dunk and occasionally shoot a 3 where he is 1/9 on the season.
Most of his assists are simple kick outs to the perimeter for 3’s. While it is helpful that he is finding open shooters, his offensive game is painfully rudimentary. He does not appear comfortable with the ball anywhere outside of dunking range, which puts extra creation pressure on the perimeter players.
This is not necessarily a death knell as Rudy Gobert has made a major impact without much offensive skill, as well as other low usage bigs such as Tyson Chandler or Steven Adams. But it is worth noting that Lively is decisively a one way player.
His other issue is that he has been a massive foulbox, averaging 5.9 fouls per 40. He has avoided fouls a bit better since getting back into the starting lineup, so it would be nice to see if he can trim that rate down with the incentive to play heavy minutes. But this is another area where he pales in comparison to Mobley who had a microscopic 2.1 fouls per 40. Lively’s foul rate is currently approximately equal to that of Jaren Jackson Jr., which is not a death knell since JJJ might go on to win DPOY this season, but still would be preferred to see it trimmed down.
It would be nice to see Lively sustain his recent level of play for the remainder of the season before getting too high on him. But if he does, it will not be difficult to buy into his potential as a DPOY candidate who can be an efficient garbage man who avoids mistakes offensively.
Tier 3: Starting to get thin
11. Jett Howard
Jett has elite skill level for a 6’8 wing, making 39% 3P on huge volume with 80% FT, and is averaging an excellent 2.3 assists vs 1.3 turnovers.
He has in NBA dad in Juwan Howard which is historically a positive signal, and it’s hard to not get excited about the prospect of him playing in an NBA offense.
But he rebounds worse than a small point guard, pulling in just 1% of offensive rebounds and 8.3% defensively for a total rebound rate of 4.8%.
For comparison, Trae Young had a TRB of 5.8%. 5’8 Isaiah Thomas was 6.5%. 5’11 Shane Larkin was 6.3%. It’s difficult to find guards with lower rebound rates who were drafted. 6’2 Davion Mitchell and 5’9 Tyler Ulis were both barely lower at 4.5% for their career.
Jett is really pushing the bottom of the barrel for rebound rate in spite of having good wing height at 6’8. Perhaps he improves this by the end of the year, but time is running out.
Further, he has a poor steal rate, his defense eye tests badly, and his team has been a big underachiever so far this season.
Overall there is a decent amount of appeal here but Jett’s warts keep him out of the top tier of NCAA prospects for now.
12. Cam Whitmore
Whitmore is a young and dunky wing who is a capable shooter and racks up rebounds and steals.
His downside is that he averages a disgusting 0.6 assists vs 2.0 tovs, and after missing a few games to start the season a thin Villanova team has not noticeably improved from him replacing low tier minutes.
So he technically has “upside” but there are some concerning red flags that create a nasty downside tail. It’s tough to place him, so we’ll just stash him in the back of the lottery for now.
13. Trayce Jackson-Davis
At a certain point we need to pause from taking mediocre freshmen and take a good upperclassman.
Trayce is having a monster senior year for Indiana. He is currently posting the 7th best BPM in the past 5 years at 14.6. He turns 23 in February so he needs to be great, but he has some shades of Brandon Clarke who was also an old, undersized and highly productive big when he was drafted:
Clarke was one of the few players in the past 5 years to post a higher BPM than Trayce thus far at 16.3, and overall had a slightly more productive senior season on the heals of his insane efficiency inside the arc, making 70.5% from 2. But Trayce is a better rebounder and passer, and has a reported 7’2 wingspan compared to Clarke’s 6’8.
While he is not a guarantee to match Clarke’s productivity as a role player, there is no clear obstacle blocking him from success. He is long, smooth, athletic, and highly productive. It’s scary that he is a 23 year old undersized big who doesn’t shoot 3’s, but the same was true for Clarke and he was Memphis’s best player in their opening round playoff series win vs Minnesota last year.
It’s a limited mold, but it is not a fatally flawed mold. And at a certain point it is worth taking the good players in less desired molds over the bad players in highly desirable molds. Perhaps this is a bit too soon for TJD, but it is hard to underemphasize that the draft is mostly terrible at this point and there are not many compelling choices to rank above him.
14. Keyonte George
Keyonte George is basically OJ Mayo. He also has some shades of Coby White. He’s just a mediocre combo guard who can handle, pass, and shoot, but is not great at any and is also not a great athlete which leaves him with no clear calling card to success.
But who knows, maybe he develops well and becomes Jamal Murray. He is definitely less appealing than Murray at the same age, but has shown enough to not quit on him entirely.
15. Brice Sensabaugh
Sensabaugh has been a scoring machine for Ohio State, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 23.9 minutes on 51.9% 2P, 46.6% 3P, 80.8% FT.
Based on that he is more interesting than most of the other guys in the draft. But it comes attached with a few flags. First he is a black hole offensively, averaging 1.0 assists and 1.8 turnovers per game at 6’6. Second, he does not put much pressure on the rim and is highly dependent on midrange scoring. And his steal and block rates are low and he has a high foul rate that has limited his minutes to 24 per game. There is serious concern he is a sieve on D.
Personally I have not gotten around to watching him yet. So no strong opinion at this time. But at a glance his shooting and scoring make him semi-interesting, but that interest is limited by an overall profile that suggests he is a one dimensional chucker.
Clowney is 6’10, athletic, and super young as he does not turn 19 until shortly after the draft on Bastille Day.
In spite of his youth, Clowney is averaging 10 pts and 8.3 rebounds in 25.3 minutes starting for one of the best teams in the country in Alabama.
He is also a somewhat capable shooter, at least for his height and age making 27% 3P on 3.4 3PA per game and 61.3% FT.
But he is still incredibly raw, and has disappointingly low steal and block rates for his physical profile. He is prone to being jumpy on defense as well, as he occasionally will have lapses where he yields a clear path to the rim for the opposing ball handler. To some extent this can be forgiven for youth, but it is somewhat of an odd flaw that makes it difficult to get too high on his upside.
That said, Clowney is nevertheless a reasonable upside swing compared to everybody else on the board.
17. Nick Smith
Smith has been limited by injuries to just 5 games so far this year, so of course somebody will draft him high since NBA teams love to gamble on mystery boxes.
But his pre-NCAA profile was not particularly strong. At 6’5 185, he is a small SG whose main selling point is his ability to score on mid-range pullup jumpers and floaters. This is pretty much the worst and most overrated brand in the draft.
He had poor rebound, assist, steal, and block rates in AAU, and they have not been better in his 5 game NCAA sample.
So he’s probably not very good. And with two separate injuries limiting his season so far, he also may be fragile to boot. In a normal draft he should likely be rated lower, but this draft is super thin so let’s stash Smith right outside of the lottery just in case this mystery box contains a boat.
18. Brandin Podziemski
Podz was the #79 RSCI freshman last season, but could only manage 66 total minutes on an experienced Illinois team. So he hit the transfer portal and has spent his sophomore season at Santa Clara where he has flourished.
He is a 6’5 SG with a crafty offensive game where offers a bit of everything. He can handle, pass, and shoot, and has been highly efficient as a lead guard for a solid Santa Clara team.
His downside is that he is not particularly quick or athletic, and may struggle to defend quicker guards in the NBA. But he does have good instincts that have helped him generate a good 3.1% steal rate, and he has a strong frame and excellent motor that has helped him rebound exceptionally well for a guard. He is constantly chasing loose balls and diving on the floor.
He may be a liability on defense, but he has enough redeeming qualities such that he may not necessarily be a disaster on that end. His team defense has been much better with him on the floor, and he is not that bad of an athlete. For instance– he has 5 dunks and 10 blocks on the season compared to projected lottery pick Keyonte George who has 1 dunk and 4 blocks, but nobody is questioning George’s athleticism.
It’s easy to fall into the mindset that a not super athletic mid-major player has limited upside. But let’s take a moment to compare Podz to the best Santa Clara alum in NBA history at the same age, per 100 possessions:
They aren’t exactly the same mold– Nash higher assist rate shows that he was more of a pure PG, and his higher 3PA rate and FT% suggests that Podz isn’t quite on his level as a shooter.
But on the flipside, Podz creates offense in the arc at a higher volume and efficiency, and in spite of his lower assist rate and higher scoring output, he has a better assist:TOV rate than Nash. He has been excellent at avoiding turnovers in spite of his large offensive role, and his passing looks better than his assist rate suggests. He likely could play a more PG type role if he was willing to make more risky passes that may result in a turnover.
And of course this doesn’t even touch on Podz being 2″ taller with more steals and blocks and more than 2x times as many rebounds.
Granted, this doesn’t mean that he is necessarily going to be as good or better than Nash. He hardly looked like a future NBA star at this stage, and there are plenty of mid-major prospects who posted similar or better numbers to Nash at this age who failed to amount to anything in the NBA.
But this should dispel the notion that Podz is a low upside player because he plays for a mid-major. There is a reasonable case to be made that he is the highest upside SG in the draft. Nick Smith (#6) and Keyonte George (#9) rate much higher than Podz (#84) on ESPN’s board, but outside of being 5* recruits and almost a year younger, there is not much to point at that gives them more potential.
As mentioned earlier, his greater dunk and block total suggests he may be a better athlete than George, and on the court George does not do anything that Podz does not. Podz may be a bit less athletic than Nick Smith, but not by a huge margin as Smith is often pulling up for floaters and mid-range shots instead of getting all the way to the rim. And Podz atones with a stronger frame and better basketball IQ.
And even though they have better recruiting pedigree, Podz was a 4* who initially committed to a good high major team. He had good pedigree himself.
The only real concern is if his inability to get any minutes as a freshman for Illinois is indicative of some deeper flaw. So let’s see how the rest of the season unfolds before actively declaring him as the best SG in the class. But if he sustains his current level of production down the stretch, he has a serious case as being the best SG in the class and one of the few interesting non-freshmen in this draft crop.
19. Julian Phillips
Phillips is hardly a world beater as a fairly bland role playing SF, but it is difficult to reconcile why he is slotted at #44 in ESPN’s rankings.
He is 6’8 with decent athleticism, makes 80.9% FT, has more assists than turnovers, and is starting for the #1 Kenpom defense in the country with solid on/off splits.
His downside is that he struggles to make shots from the floor making just 43.8% 2P and 27.8% 3P on 1.6 3PA/game. But his FT% offers enough hope that he can eventually become a decent 3 + D wing in the NBA, so it’s tough to see how he belongs in round two.
20. Zach Edey
At this point the draft is more or less out of guys that have decent odds of providing NBA value in a traditional mold, so it’s time to get weird.
Edey is currently rated as a late 2nd round pick at ESPN at #58 overall, and the reasons are fairly straightforward. He is a 7’4 giant who excels in the low post and is too slow to chase guards around the perimeter in the NCAA, so he is simply entering the league at the wrong time.
But it is unfair to lump him in with every other productive but slow college big in recent memory. In 14 years that sports-reference.com has been tracking PER, Edey currently is posting the best PER this season. The second best PER over that span was Edey last year. He is an incredibly rare talent.
Slow giants are dying out because they typically cannot punish smaller bigs on offense as efficiently as well spaced offenses can punish them on switches defensively. But how does that value proposition play out if a slower but more skilled version of Shaq entered the league?
Shaq should have been in high school for his freshman year of college, so let’s compare his sophomore and junior seasons to Edey’s career stats. Age weighted by minutes, pace adjusted per 40:
Offensively Edey has slightly better output across the board, although Shaq was slightly younger on average. For the sake of argument, they are approximately equal offensively except Edey is a better FT shooter and can punish teams for defending him by hacking.
Shaq made just 52.7% FT in the NBA. If he made 72.7% instead, he would average an extra 1.8 points per game and his career TS% would leap from 58.6% to 63.2%– a major improvement in efficiency that roughly comes out to an insane +2.7 pts per 100. Edey is shooting 73.2% FT this year, so 72.7% is a fairly conservative longterm target– there is some chance he eventually makes 80%+ in time.
Stylistically, it’s not clear whose style translates better to the NBA. Shaq’s strength and athleticism made him essentially unstoppable in the post, but Edey is 3″ taller and more skilled. He could be unguardable in the way that hasn’t been seen since Kareem’s skyhook by being able to consistently make short range shots over any defender.
The area where Edey falls flat is defensively, where Shaq crushes him with steals, blocks, and athleticism. Edey’s defense would have likely been fine or even good in the 90’s, but nowadays the prospect of him defending a well spaced offense is almost certainly disastrous. UNLESS we see a shift in momentum away from extreme small ball trend and the game regresses slightly back toward bigball.
Why would this happen? For starters, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid are perennial MVP candidates who both play for contending teams. If they match up in the finals, and smaller bigs have a bad time defending them in the playoffs, teams may decide to compromise a roster spot for a traditional big to dust off just in case of such a match up.
Edey could also force teams to roster such a player if he plays a major role on a contender (sound crazy? I’m sure it sounded crazy to the 40 teams that passed on Jokic as well). After all, if he has a Shaq level offensive output that is +2 to +3 points better because of superior free throw shooting AND teams make it worse by trying to defend him with an undersized big, it’s not going to be super easy to make those points back up on the other end. And if teams end up dusting off their archaic big to limit his offensive dominance, he is already helping neuter the opposing offense.
So it’s not as cut and dry with Edey that he is too slow and should be a late round 2 flier like Luka Garza. He is an incredibly rare talent that is so dominant in the low post that he may help regress the game a bit away from the extreme small ball it has become.
And even without that, there is no rule that teams must play switching defense if they want to contend. Perhaps a creative coach can come up with a successful zone defense that hides Edey’s flaws defensively while he posts MVP caliber offensive output.
Edey is undoubtedly risky, there is a reasonable chance he does not fit in as more than a Boban type of big who eats occasional bench minutes. But he has serious upside that is getting massively disrespected with his current late 2nd ranking. Honestly ranking him 20th is erring on the side of caution. Most of the guys ranked higher are going to be bland rotation players or worse.
Edey might be the most efficient low post scorer in NBA history, so don’t be surprised if he roasts 6’10 bigs more aggressively on offense than modern NBA offenses can roast him on defense.
21. Terquavion Smith
Terq’s miniscule 165 pound frame at 6’4 puts him among the lightest NBA players in the league, especially relative to height. This will limit his defensive impact, but outside of being far too slight his defense is pretty solid and he has some PG skill and attempts a boatload of 3PA. He could be a Bones Hyland type and is a reasonable pick in the back end of round 1.
It’s hard to fill out this list with 30 solid prospects. After this the draft gets super fringey. There are likely some decent prospects outside this list, and hopefully I can discern them by draft time. But for now, most the guys outside this list appear to be limited in their appeal. I would probably look at upperclassmen like Oscar Tshiebwe, Jaime Jaquez, Oso Ighodaro, and Josiah Jordan James next.
Do Not Draft List
I wrote about the Thompson Twins and how their top 4 hype is massively unjustified given their low tier competition. I simply would not draft them because it is anti-meritocracy to take 20 year olds playing high school competition over guys who are actually testing themselves against their peers. There is likely a certain point in the draft where it is a reasonable value proposition to take them, but that point is almost certainly going to be after their actual selections since the market seems to massively overvalue them. So the efficient thing to do is to pass and draft somebody who actually has evidence of competent play against their peers.
Lewis checks a few baseline boxes for an NBA wing, as he is 6’7 and has baseline of NBA skills with 36.5% 3P and 83% FT in his two seasons at Pepperdine. He also is a smooth scorer who is capable of creating his own shot off the dribble, and a decent passer. Collectively his size and skill for a wing have earned him #16 spot on ESPN’s board.
But in spite of his skill, he has not been efficient offensively because he turns the ball over far too often. And his defense is bad, as he has bad feel on this end and is frequently out of position. He also plays for a mediocre mid-major team that is currently 1-10 in conference play, which does not inspire confidence.
Statistically he is like a slightly worse Terrence Ross who played college basketball for the same coach. He is not as explosive as Ross, and likely won’t be as good in the NBA, but he has some outs of having a similar NBA career. Ross was never a particularly useful player, but he was competent enough to hang around NBA rotations for 11 seasons, which is something.
More likely he is a Chandler Hutchison type with more 3 and less D. Hutchison is another mid-major type of fluid 6’7 wing who was inefficient in a high usage role and was overdrafted in round 1 at 22nd overall. He never was able to find a niche in the NBA and retired 4 years after being drafted.
The odds of being a T Ross type might be decent enough to justify a selection somewhere in round 2, but he is more likely to bust like Hutchison which makes round 1 seem like a clear reach.
GG is the youngest player in the draft so he has “upside” in the sense that if he makes gargantuan improvements every season he can eventually be good. But right now he is horrendous.
He has good wing size at 6’9 with decent athleticism and 6’11 wingspan. His game hinges mostly on him dribbling around a bunch and then taking mid-range pullups that he makes at a low % of the time. He is shooting 42.2% from 2P on the season, 34.4% 3P, 62.9% FT.
He offers little in the way of passing with an abhorrent 0.8 vs 2.6 turnover average. He is also terrible on defense, and his team has been an unmitigated disaster. They have the 2nd worst kenpom rating of an SEC team in 22 years of kenpom history thus far, narrowly edging out 2012-13 Mississippi State. In terms of SRS, this is the worst South Carolina team since 1964-65.
Recently on social media GG complained about not getting a clutch time touch on offense in spite of having a horribly inefficient season. He later apologized for his comments, but it’s not a great look to have that sense of entitlement without nearly justifying it in terms of his play.
There really isn’t much to like here. GG has been a full fledged disaster on the court and is probably not good enough for the NBA. Somebody will inevitably gamble on him because of his youth and physical profile, but it’s a high risk gamble that is unlikely to yield any significant reward.
JHS offers a bit of everything at 6’6. He can handle a bit, pass a bit, shoot a bit, defend a bit, and he is currently rated #20 at ESPN. Whoever takes him in round 1 would likely be hoping he develops into a Malcolm Brogdon type of versatile guard who fits into most NBA lineups. After all, his freshman stats are not too different from Brogdon.
The difference is that Brogdon made a huge leap after his freshman year, and helped turn Virginia into a top tier program as he won ACC defensive player of the year as a junior and senior and ACC player of the year as a senior. After all of the gains he still went in round 2 and needed better than expected NBA translation as well as unexpected NBA leaps to become as good as he has been.
So basically if JHS takes like 5 major leaps in his play, he can eventually become Malcolm Brogdon. Right now he is vaguely competent at a number of things, but he is still far from good at any of those things. His 39.4% 3P seems tempting, but he is only making 70.8% FT and has a mediocre 3PA rate. He lacks burst to blow by any opponents and often settles for difficult mid-range shots, resulting in 42.3% 2P. His passing is decent but he is not a true PG, and his defense is OK but he is far from a stopper on this end.
The overarching theme is that while JHS doesn’t have any fatal flaws, he does not have any clear strengths either. He is on the older side for a freshman turning 20 shortly before draft night. It is easy to get captivated by his mold but right now he is not a good NCAA player, and it is a risky endeavor to draft somebody who has such underwhelming production.
Emoni is currently rated #42 in ESPN’s ranking, as his hype has massively died down from his hype as the next Kevin Durant from his high school days.
Now at a true freshman age for Eastern Michigan he is averaging 21 pts and 5.5 rebounds per game, and somebody will likely get tempted by his “upside” and end up drafting him or giving him a 2 way deal as UDFA.
But Emoni is hardly making a positive impact at EMU. Coming off it’s all-time worst kenpom rank of #316 last season, Emoni has elevated the team all the way to…#302 at this point. Further, if we check his on/off splits at hoop-lens.com, he hardly seems to be making a positive impact:
Eastern Michigan has the #354 of 363 kenpom defenses, and in spite of being 6’9 it has actually been significantly worse with Emoni on the floor. The offense is better with him on the floor, but it is a relatively small boost given his scoring ability, likely because of his selfish play where he barely has half as many assists (31) as turnovers (56) this year.
He is a skilled shooter making 50.5% 2P 36.7% 3P 79.2% FT, but that’s not enough for a successful NBA career if he is terrible at the team aspects of the game.
Even though he is listed at 6’9/6’10, he is functionally much smaller given his rail thin frame and negative wingspan which most recently measured at 6’7.25″. Do NBA teams really want to buy into a player who is a good but not great pullup jump shooter chucking shots all day while not passing or playing defense at all?
The argument would be that he is young and still may figure it out, but after reading about his offseason arrest, who would really want to bet on his offcourt intelligence? He might be bottom 1% in both on-court and off-court intelligence in NBA draft history.
RSCI hype machines who fall from grace are typically not where value is found in round 2/UDFA. The steals tend to be overlooked hoopers. Given that Emoni has red flags on red flags on red flags, teams are better off if they just ignore him.
Grant Nelson is not currently in ESPN’s top 100 rankings, but there have been viral tweets about him being a sleeper in the draft which is an interesting choice to say the least.
The logic seems to be that he looks somewhat saucy off the dribble for a 6’11 mid-major prospect, and that’s where the appeal starts and ends.
The first issue is that low-major teams rarely have NBA prospects, and North Dakota State is a mediocre low major team. They are currently in the midst of their second worst season in 18 years in D-1, and even their good teams have yet to have an NBA player. In 2014 Taylor Braun looked like he had a chance as a 6’7 do it all wing after leading the Bison to a first round tournament win over Oklahoma, but he never got a chance. So it is especially unlikely that one of their worst teams will have a future NBA player.
Further, it’s not clear exactly how Nelson may contribute to an NBA team. He has a decent handle for his size, but he is not efficient because he turns it over far too often and he is a mediocre shooter making 27% 3P 68% FT on the season.
Granted, his shooting is slightly better based on his career numbers at 31% 3P 70% FT, but that’s still not good. This season he is averaging 1.8 assists vs 2.7 turnovers as a junior, so it’s not like he has secret potential as a passer. He was anemic as a rebounder until this season where he is now decent, and he is likely bad on defense because he is slow and his team is bad on defense.
So it just doesn’t make sense how he fits. He is subpar at both 3 + D which largely dooms his ability to fit in the NBA, so what is his role as a pro? As a 6’11 isolation big who is a subpar passer and can’t find his teammates? There is no angle that makes sense.
Further if we look at his performance in 3 games against top 50 teams in Kansas, Arkansas, and New Mexico, he averaged 10.3 pts 5.7 rebounds 0.3 assists 3.3 tovs on 46.1% TS. There is simply no indication that he does anything at all at any NBA level.
The viral adoration for him is curious to say the least. At best he is a summer league flier, but even then there are plenty of unheralded high and mid-major players who are better college players and fit better NBA molds to take a stab at.
Amen and Ausar Thompson are taking a unique path to the NBA with Overtime Elite, and have generated enough hype to currently be rated #3 and #4 on ESPN’s board.
Their selling point is straightforward: they are athletic 6’7 players who stuff the statsheet in a way similar to Andre Iguodala. But a direct statistical comparison to Iggy does not make sense, because at their age he was the best player on Arizona playing against major conference NCAA competition.
Overtime Elite plays against high level high school competition. The Thompsons’ team is 12-1 and they are the two best players in the league, but they are also college sophomore aged competing against high school competition. Given how steep the age curve is from ages 16-18 to 20, it is incredibly difficult to estimate how this compares to NCAA performance.
But let’s see how they compare to some of their peers, to get a feel for what they are going up against. They are currently 6th and 7th in scoring in the league, this is how their overall numbers compare to the top 5. For HS players recruiting rank is from 247sports:
Note that this minutes are not adjusted per minute or possession, and the Thompsons do play fewer minutes than these players which hurts their bulk output. And the Thompsons are clearly the best players of the bunch, as they do have a more well rounded output than most of these players while playing for the best team in the league.
But the downside is they are not competing against likely 2024 lottery picks. The top two scorers aren’t even ranked in the top 100 in the current high school senior class. Nobody is ranked in the top 25, and the highest ranked player Jayden Quaintance is a young sophomore who is 4.5 entire years younger than them.
As for the 18 year old players, it is plausible they are undervalued in recruiting and sneak into round 1. But for better or worse look like 2nd round/UDFA types with Quaintance being the one other serious prospect on this list.
From the #’s, the Thompsons appear to be clearly better than Quaintance, but not to a dramatic extent. Once you consider the gargantuan age gap at a steep part of the age curve, it should be fairly obvious that Quaintance is the best prospect in this league.
It is likely Quaintance is underrated at #30 on 247sports and #27 ESPN, and it is plausible that he is even the 3rd best prospect in 2025 class behind Cam Boozer and Cooper Flagg as this is highly impressive production against older players.
Conversely, it is worth pondering if two top 5 picks should be destroying this level of competition more extremely than this. Sharing touches is likely holding them back to some extent, but their minute totals are low enough such that only about half of their minutes should be together if rotations are staggered.
And we did get a brief glimpse of how a true star prospect performs in this league. Cam Boozer who is a week younger than Quaintance and 4.5 years younger than the Thompsons played two games against YNG Dreamerz who are 9-2 and Cold Hearts who are 4-7. The Thompsons’ City Reapers squad has played these teams collectively 5 times out of their 13 total games, and their only loss of the season came against YNG Dreamerz.
Boozer posted a couple of monster stat lines in both games, including 28/20/5 in a 14 point win vs the Dreamerz. Let’s average out his numbers between the two games and compare it with the Thompsons:
It’s a joke how dominant Boozer was. He had some slight turnover issues, but otherwise blows the Thompsons out of the water in spite of being relatively infant aged. Not only does he get more dunks and rebounds than them combined, but he also appears to be a much better shooter. Boozer 3/8 3P and 13/13 FT, which is a major area of struggle for the twins with Ausar making 24.3% 3P 62.4% FT and Amen 22.4% 3P 65.5% FT on the season.
Granted, it’s only two games. But if you had to pick two stars to build an OTE team around, and the choices were Boozer and Quaintance vs Amen and Ausar, that is a difficult choice. And it cannot be overstated how ridiculous it is that this is even close given the massive disparity in age.
As an aside– this is incredibly exciting for the 2026 draft. Cam Boozer continues to look like a GOAT-ish prospect. Even though he is much further away from being NBA ready which gives more time for things to go wrong, I would still pick him over Victor Wembanyama because he fits such a higher floor mold and it is difficult to recall a 15 year old ever showing this much promise. And with Cooper Flagg looking like a formidable #2, and a guy like Quaintance lurking on the fringes of the top 25. There is serious potential for 2026 to go down as the best draft ever if things go well.
Back to the Thompsons
It is not so thrilling that most of the guys they are beating up on are much younger + fringey prospects, and they aren’t clearly outclassing the actual prospects who are far younger than them.
Of course this does not mean that they cannot succeed in their own rite. The 2023 draft gets so weak after Wemby and Scoot, it is plausible that their OTE production translates better than expected and they turn out to justify top 4 selections in the draft. But it is not sharp to bet on this happening.
The best way to predict a prospect’s upside is with proven performance competing against their peers or more difficult competition. The Thompsons have yet to do anything but beat up on high school kids. Without any precedent of 20 year olds going from high school competition to NBA, it is incredibly risky to bet on them succeeding in the NBA, and betting on them in the top 5 is sheer lunacy.
Even without the competition concerns, there are concerns about their mold. They are listed at 6’7 with a 6’9 wingspan for Amen and 6’10 for Ausar. But if they officially measure at 6’6 with 6’9 wingspan, those are SG dimensions for two players who likely have broken shots. It would be easier to stomach these warts with confidence that they are actually good in their good areas, but it is impossible to be confident without having any real test.
In general, it would be more efficient for teams to pass on players who shied away from facing real competition. James Wiseman left the NCAA after 3 good games and has been a disaster for the Warriors. Shaedon Sharpe never played for UK, and while he is still very young the early NBA returns are not great as he has arguably been the worst player in the league as a rookie. And now instead of playing any proven route of NCAA, G-League, or international, the Thompsons have chosen to see if they can beat up 100 kindergarteners.
How Good Are the Thompsons?
How can anybody know? There is definitely some appeal there but there is no real way to estimate its magnitude with any accuracy.
More front offices should adopt the viewpoint if you aren’t going to prove yourself vs. real competition, you aren’t going on their draft board. Far too many GM’s get seduced by the appeal of the mystery box, when mystery boxes tend to have tickets to a crappy comedy club much more frequently than a boat.
And frankly it’s a waste of energy to even try to figure it out. You can watch every minute of every OTE game and learn absolutely nothing from seeing a twin blow by a 17 year old three star prospect and dunk on him. It simply is not relevant to ability to perform at the NBA level.
At this point, my inclination is to make a special “Don’t know, don’t care” tier for the Thompsons and save my analytical energy for actual prospects. Based on the hype to evidence of goodness ratio, it seems impossible they will be undervalued in the draft. So what difference does it make if they should actually be ranked 10th or 20th or 50th? I wouldn’t pick them and it isn’t necessary to watch low tier basketball to try and elaborate further.
The efficient thing to do is to cross them off draft boards and let somebody else take the gamble, while focusing on scouting the players who are actually performing against a fair level of competition.
Traditional NBA draft wisdom dictates that teams should place a large emphasis on prospect upside. Championship runs are typically driven by star players, and stars are rarely available in trade or free agency. The draft is the best place to gamble on star upside, so why not roll the dice and hope to get lucky on a high risk, high reward prospect over a presumed solid rotation player?
Kuminga over Franz
The best recent example of this logic failing was in 2021 when the Warriors drafted Jonathan Kuminga 7th overall over Franz Wagner. Kuminga had perceived higher upside due to his elite frame and athleticism which Franz sorely lacked. But Kuminga was coming off a mediocre season for G-League ignite, whereas Franz was elite for Michigan.
Conversely, Kuminga had flags on flags on flags. His handle and shooting were subpar. His defensive IQ was questionable. He had questions regarding his work ethic and the company he kept. And while he was listed as one of the youngest players in the draft, there were questions about whether he was actually his listed age.
There were loads of questions marks that needed to go his way to succeed. It is like he needed 5 or 6 different coinflips to fulfill his upside, which is not great odds for a mid-lottery pick (1.5-3%).
And even then that still may only amount to a fringe all-star like Jaylen Brown. To be a top 5 MVP candidate perhaps he needed 9 or 10 successful coinflips to fulfill that upside (0.1-0.2%). It’s impossible to estimate the exact percentage odds, but this should be a basic framework for visualizing upside tails. The more question marks a player has, the more coinflips need to be parlayed for his upside to be hit.
For the sake of argument, let’s there are 9 high leverage coinflips that determine Kuminga’s outcome. 9 successful flips yield 1st team all NBA (0.2%), 8 yield Jaylen Brown (1.8%), 7 yield an average starter (7%), 6 yields an average rotation player (16%), and 5 yields fringe rotation (25%), and 4 or less is a replacement player or bust (50%).
What is particularly frustrating how much more likely middle ground outcomes which teases enough hope of potential getting fulfilled are (48%) than actually being an all-star (2%). Granted these percentages are conjecture and conceivably could be harsh– but the idea is that by parlaying too many things that need to go right for upside to hit, you are left with a poor range of outcomes.
NBA Teams Err on Side of Sunk Cost Fallacy
Andrew Wiggins disappointed in his first few NBA seasons for a #1 overall pick, but not enough to stop the Timberwolves from extending him for 5 years @ $146.5 million. Then when he continued to disappoint, they paid a 1st round pick (that was coincidentally used on Kuminga) to swap him for D’Angelo Russell. His redemption arc in Golden State ultimately made this extension not bad value for his new team, but he nevertheless signed his next extension for a more economical 4/109 in spite of a significant cap increase coming.
Phoenix recently re-signed DeAndre Ayton for 4/133, only to watch their talented but enigmatic player regress in the first season of his new deal. Atlanta traded picks #8, 17, and 35 to move up in the draft for DeAndre Hunter, and then committed 4/90 to essentially a 25 y/o replacement level player. Zion Williamson got 5/193 after playing a total of 85 games in his first 3 seasons.
NBA teams regularly fall victim to sunk cost fallacy. They will continue to invest in the upside of their prospects so long as they don’t completely bust. This makes it dangerous to gamble on upside players who need too many things to go right to fulfill their upside.
Right now Kuminga is in this zone of mediocrity where he has shown enough potential to maintain intrigue, but he may never actually be a useful NBA player. It would not be a surprise if he gets overpaid in his first major contract, and then fails to live up to the value.
But what about Giannis?
Once in a while a mystery box prospect will grow two inches, fill out from a skinny kid into an explosive tank, and make major leaps in his game every season and become Giannis. But it may be another 100+ drafts before we see another young + toolsy mystery box succeed like him. Much more commonly you end up with either a bust, or a somewhat useful but flawed player who the team continues to over-invest in.
And as great as it is to hit on a Giannis in the mid-1st, it is even better to land a Nikola Jokic in the mid-2nd. Jokic required a much less valuable pick, and based on pre-draft info he clearly had a better median outcome than Giannis.
Jokic slid a full round later than Giannis due to his perceived lack of upside in spite of having excellent performance as a teenager in the Adriatic League, while Giannis struggled in his small samples of lower Greek Divisions. Yet they have had similarly valuable NBA careers.
Given the superior cost efficiency of Jokic and that no mystery box has provided close to the value of Giannis, it is difficult to argue that pure upside swings actually offer more upside than perceived low upside players who are clearly good.
The Best Predictor of Upside is Floor
Looking back at Franz Wagner, there were such few questions marks about his game. He had been shooting 80%+ from the line since he was 15 years old. He had elite wing dimensions, excellent lateral mobility, and his defense was fundamentally near perfect. He could handle and pass and had a pristine basketball IQ. The only real question was how much offense could he create in the NBA as a 19.2 usage college player who averaged 12.5 points as a sophomore.
The answer turned out to be as good as anybody could have hoped, as he is now a 24.4 usage NBA player averaging 19.9 pts on 59.7% at 21 years old. The odds of this happening based on pre-draft info seemed fairly low, but he did show competent NCAA penetration with excellent coordination to step through defenses. In tandem with his skill level and basketball IQ, he was able to succeed at this in the NBA much better and faster than expected.
Given how awesome he was in all other aspects of the game, perhaps this should not be such a large surprise. Regardless, it is just one thing that went unexpectedly right and suddenly he is looking like a future star.
Consider all of the aforementioned points that needed to go right for a prospect like Kuminga to even become a Jaylen Brown type. After *one* point that went right for Franz, he is now rated higher than Jaylen in metrics such as EPM (+3.6 vs 2.8) and RAPTOR (+3.2 vs +0.2). Also Haralabos Voulgaris has mentioned the model he used to make millions betting on the NBA rated Franz 15th in the league.
There are other metrics that rate Brown higher, so it is not crystal clear that Franz is the better player at this time. But he is 5 years younger at age 21 vs 26, and it is only a matter of time before Franz becomes the clearly superior player.
This is the magic of having a high floor. A quality role player may only need one or two things to go right to become a star. And it is more comfortable to pay to extend a young player who is already valuable. If Franz “only” peaked as a pre-injury version of Otto Porter Jr, that would still be a great return on a mid-lottery pick. Even if he disappointed and hit my floor comp of Mikal Bridges, you’re still getting a solid guy. Nobody objected to Phoenix extending Mikal for 4/90.
Why is Floor so Commonly Underrated?
The main issue is that draft consensus is bad at estimating floor. Older prospects who simply aren’t good enough for the NBA often get the “high floor” label. Then when they bust, it makes the label seem meaningless. If high floor and high ceiling players both are capable of busting, why not just swing for the upside fences?
In reality, high floor should mean high confidence that a prospect will be a useful NBA player. And high confidence that a prospect will be a useful NBA player strongly correlates with that player having a high upside. Younger prospects will typically have higher error bars in both directions.
It’s not always a perfect correlation. There are players who have higher error bars due to being obviously talented but swing heavily based on murky shooting and defense outcomes. Scottie Barnes and Alperen Sengun are two examples of this from 2021. But they still had high floors in their own rites– Sengun has been disappointing at both shooting and defense and still appears to be a steal at 16th overall.
Draft concepts such as floor and ceiling are often applied inaccurately and lead to inefficient decision making. But if one of them should be given more weight when accurately measured– it is floor.
It is difficult to trump a high confidence that a prospect will be a valuable NBA player. That way you maximize outcomes where you get positive value out of a pick, and minimize outcomes where you end up committing longterm money and a significant role on the team on a player who never provides close to the desired outcome.
And most importantly, confidence in a prospect’s ability to be valuable in the NBA is one of the best predictors of upside as well.
It can be fun to imagine “what if everything goes perfectly in this prospect’s development,” but outside of Giannis this essentially never happens. Flaws from a young age often persist through a player’s prime, at least to some non-trivial extent. It is far more efficient to focus on the likely outcomes.
Upside deserves some consideration, but not as much as it commonly receives. Much like construction of a building, the foundation of efficient draft analysis starts at the floor.
There are no obvious stars in this class at this time, but there is a DEEP cluster of interesting guys who could emerge between now and the draft. Info on most of these guys is still fairly thin, but it is an interesting class.
The #3 through #20 range is particularly interesting because it could end up re-arranged in any order (with inevitably some guys falling out) after a full season of additional information.
I don’t think these guys are quite as locked into the top 2 as everybody believes, but they definitely have the inside track at this time with no clear cases to leapfrog them without quality NCAA performance.
Scoot is a tough evaluation at this stage because there are still such few prospects to start off in the G League as teenagers, let alone at age 17 like he did last year. But he definitely seems good.
First his physical tools are awesome as he is listed at 6’3 with an alleged 6’9 wingspan and excellent athleticism. He also seems to be a real PG with 2:1 assist:TOV ratio and had good rebound and steal rates. His shooting is the biggest question mark as he only shot 11/51 from 3, but his 77.8% FT (42/54) helps that from being a major concern.
A conservative comp would be Derrick Rose, where he is a fine #1 overall pick that could look good if he develops well (pre-injury Rose) or be merely fine if not (post-injury Rose). But if we do a quick and dirty comparison of their per game stats:
They are nearly twins in spite of Scoot being 16 months younger playing against grown men. I am not sure he is quite as explosive, but he seems close enough to not sweat it.
Through this lens there is a decent case that Scoot is a generational PG prospect. The last PG prospect who was clearly above him was likely Magic Johnson. Jason Kidd + Kyrie Irving have arguments to be better (IMO Kyrie NBA career was a disappointment relative to his talent level). But if he makes a significant leap next year it will be difficult to put those guys above him decisively.
So right now I believe he is the best prospect in this draft.
Wemby the Weirdo
Wemby appeared to be a generational prospect last summer as a 17 y/o competing in FIBA u19, but that did not translate to playing against adults as he struggled in both Euroleague and Jeep Elite.
Granted, Euroleague is the toughest non-NBA league in the world and he was starting the season as a 17 year old, but the warts he showed were fairly gross. He carried a high usage offensively but had terrible efficiency.
He badly struggled to finish inside the arc with a stomach churning 37.2% 2P, and had a poor 6 assists vs 17 turnovers. He did block 1.9 shots per game in 17.5 mins, but his rebs (3.9) and steals (0.4) were a bit underwhelming.
His main selling point is his shooting ability, but he only made 27.5% 3P 68.4% FT. Historically he is a low-mid 70’s FT shooter, and the shooting potential is real given his age, but he still has a ways to go.
It was only 228 minutes in 13 games, but in the much softer Jeep Elite he showed similar flaws over 347 minutes.
He should be better next year, especially if his frame fills out a bit, so we will have more information then. But at this time there is no clear evidence that he is going to be significantly better than Kristaps Porzingis.
And even if he does make a major leap, he is so tall at 7’3 that it is a concern that he cannot stay healthy in the NBA. Ralph Sampson is a physically similar prospect who went #1 overall in 1983, had a few decent years, and then got derailed by injuries.
Currently there is not enough information to project Wemby’s NBA future with high confidence since he has such a polarizing profile and is still so young. But the one thing that is clear is that he is not a generational prospect, and is definitely not even the best international in recent memory as Luka Doncic was clearly superior.
There is some chance he re-claims #1 with a strong season next year, and there is also a chance that he slides further (at least in my eyes) if his flaws continue to linger too strongly
3. Nick Smith
One of the biggest surprises of the Nike Hoop Summit was Nick Smith’s defensive activity and disruption.
He is reputed as a scoring SG, which at 6’4 is not my type. But he was all over the place on defense with strips, deflections, and contests of shots.
It’s still not clear exactly how good on defense he is, or whether he will live up to his offensive reputation. Is he going to be a two way star? Or will he be a big time scorer with OK enough D? Or a Jrue/Smart type who has great D while falling short of offensive reputation? Or is he just another overhyped undersized SG recruit who disappoints?
He does not turn 19 until shortly before next draft in May, so for now we will err on the side of optimism until getting to know him better for Arkansas next year.
4. Cam Whitmore
Whitmore is one of the youngest prospects in the draft, as he doesn’t turn 19 until July after the draft.
The defining feature of his game is that he loves to dunk. He dunked a ton in both the Hoop Summit and FIBA u19 this summer.
The question mark for him is whether he has enough well rounded goodness to be a complete player, or if he just a one dimensional dunker at 6’6 or 6’7.
If he shows a well rounded skill set and has good measurements, he is one of the more exciting prospects in the class. If he is only 6’6 with meh length and doesn’t do much else it may be hard to quit him entirely but that is a weird mold to get too enthusiastic over.
5. Kyle Filipowski
Filipowski is exceptionally good at passing and moving his feet defensively for 6’11. He does not seem to be much of an athlete or scorer which should limit his draft stock, but seems like the type of guy who inevitably gets underrated in the draft. He has shades of Mike Dunleavy Jr. (who ironically did not get underrated in the draft) but is 2″ taller.
6. Cason Wallace
Wallace is an athletic 6’4 PG who seems to do a bit of everything based on his AAU stats where he averaged 15.2 pts 6.9 rebs 4.8 asts 2 tov 1.2 stls 1.4 blks with solid small sample shooting percentages.
Maybe he shows some weakness once he starts playing games for Kentucky but based on the limited evidence available it is hard to pinpoint anything clearly lacking with him.
7. Amen Thompson 8. Ausar Thompson
I do not understand Overtime Elite. It seems conceptually stupid since they play almost nobody– for prospects who want to skip college what advantage does it offer over G League or overseas?
But the Thompsons are interesting talents. They are super athletic and fill the stat sheet with rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Their shooting is a work in progress, but they are high upside molds if they are 6’7 with 6’10 to 6’11 wingspans as reported.
The frustrating part is discerning whether they are actually good, but they did well performing against top AAU teams together in high school and this weekend they play in the The Basketball Tournament against a bunch of former college players. They open vs. a Creighton team that has no quality big men so it will be interesting to get some real info on them (albeit small sample) before they go back to playing nobodies.
The risk here is that they both could be non-shooters so you need to really be confident in their hooping ability to take them this high.
9. Dereck Lively 10. Kel’el Ware
The big boys of the class.
Lively was the best player to my eye in Nike Hoop Summit. He only played 14 mins but scored 8 pts on 4/4 shooting with 3 rebs 1 assist 1 steal 1 block 2 turnovers with at least one of the TOVs being Dariq Whitehead’s fault.
He looked fundamentally sound in the post with impressive passing and is huge and capable of rim protection. And it is only a matter of whether he can shoot and hold his own matched up with perimeter players, both which seem like somewhat dicey but plausible propositions.
The big question for him is whether he is just another Jahlil Okafor or Vernon Carey who does not fit in the modern NBA or a legit good player.
Ware is an explosive finisher with traces of shooting ability, and seems active at stuffing the box score. He is young for the class not turning 19 until April, and there is definitely upside there. The only apprehension is that he seems a bit awkward and uncoordinated at times. He was 0/2 finishing lobs in Hoop Summit and he struggled to corral a loose ball.
But he had an excellent summer in FIBA u18 Americas so there seems to be some clear potential there.
Both of these guys are on the fringe between really good and exciting vs. boring bigs that don’t fit the modern era.
11. Dariq Whitehead
Dariq managed to be Nike Hoop Summit MVP while also being the worst player on the floor and being responsible for about 5 of the 10 worst plays in the game.
How? He got hot from 3 making 5/7 but otherwise was mediocre at best shooting 1/5 from 2P with 4 assists and 3 turnovers, which seems like a minor miracle that he only had 3 turnovers with all of the poor decisions he was making. Although a number of them were taking awful shots that had zero hope of going in.
That said he did have 3 steals and a couple of them were fairly nice. He definitely has some natural processing power in his brain, he is merely a terrible decision maker.
But it is difficult to skewer him too badly since he is the youngest prospect in the lottery turning 19 in August after the draft. And he averaged 3.0 assists vs. 1.7 TOVs EYBL, so perhaps he is not always this sloppy and dumb with the ball.
He reminds me quite a bit of RJ Barrett. 6’6 guy with some PG skill, some shooting ability, a young birthday, and a frustrating amount of shortcomings. On average I would anticipate that he is less good than RJ, but he does have outs to be better if the Hoop Summit is not indicative of his typical self. We’ll see what he has to offer for Duke this year.
12. Dillon Mitchell 13. Anthony Black 14. Jordan Walsh
These are the super role playing wings who do a bit of everything but shoot and score. All are roughly in the Dalen Terry mold but with (hopefully) more upside.
Walsh is a fascinating sleeper with an ’04 birthday at 6’7 with 7’3 wingspan. He averaged 12.2 pts 7.4 rebs 3.2 ast 2.1 tovs 2 stls 0.3 blks in EYBL. It does not look bad compared to Dillon Mitchell who is a few months older and averaged 12.2 pts 4.3 rebs 2.5 asts 1.1 tovs 1.5 stls 0.5 blks.
But Mitchell was a more efficient finisher shooting 76.7% 2P vs 50.8% for Walsh. That is likely playing a role in his higher draft rating.
Black is a complete weirdo in his own rite. For FIBA U18 Americas this summer he averaged 4.7 pts 7.8 rebs 4.2 asts 1.8 tovs 1.8 stl 2 blks on 36.4% TS and his only FGA in Hoop Summit was an open dunk attempt that he badly missed getting rejected by the rim. He is elite at everything basketball related but seems to have some major scoring issues, so he will be a slippery guy to evaluate.
15. Julian Phillips 16. Jarace Walker
Don’t know much about either but they both seem to have solid wing tools.
17. Keyonte George
George is an undersized SG at 6’4. Maybe he can play but he is a worse mold so he needs to get in line behind some other better molds until he proves that he can.
18. Amari Bailey
In the Hoop Summit Bailey looked like a really good player who just cannot shoot, which is a problem at 6’4 but also makes him a somewhat interesting sleeper.
19. Sidy Cissoko
One of the funnest players in the Hoop Summit. His offense was a largely disaster although he had some nifty passes and a few too many spin moves. But his defense was absolutely smothering.
He only measured 6’7.25 with 6’9.25 wingspan so it would be more exciting if he was just a bit bigger. He had just turned 18 in April during Hoop Summit, so perhaps he can still grow a bit more.
But he had a couple of good possessions vs 6’11 Kyle Filipowski and seems like he may be super switchable regardless. My interest is piqued.
20. Chris Livingston
It’s hard to find anything exciting to grasp onto about Livingston, but he is a 6’7 5* freshman playing for Kentucky which is enough to make him worth keeping an eye on.
Hunter’s freshman offense was raw for a little 6’0 guy, but he is highly athletic and capable of making plays on both ends of the floor. He is also still 19 years old, so if he makes a big sophomore leap he will be somewhat interesting.
23. Trayce Jackson-Davis
An awesome dunker– perhaps TJD has a bit of Brandon Clarke upside?
24. Colby Jones 25. David Jones
A couple of well rounded 6’6 SGs who rebound exceptionally well for their size. They are a bit boring, but this is the part of the draft where exciting players are off the board
26. Jaime Jaquez 27. Coleman Hawkins
Both well rounded and solid dudes to help round out round 1.
28. Henri Veesar 29. Mark Mitchell 30. Gradey Dick
A few more young guys round out round 1.
Henri Veesar had a pretty good 5 game run in FIBA u18 Challengers with 16.2 pts 11.6 rebs 2.6 ast 2.2 tov 1 stl 3.8 blks 3.6 3PA 71.4% FT. That is a complete profile for a big, and he committed to play for the best big man coach in college basketball in Tommy Lloyd. I would bet on him making it onto draft radar at some point or another.
No idea what Mitchell is but he is 6’8 and 5* committed to Duke so seems like the type of guy who can leap up the rankings if he randomly plays well and can still be a solid late 1st prospect if he plays merely decently.
Gradey Dick was one of my least favorite players in the Hoop Summit because he had a horrendous defensive play where he helped and jump at a pump fake when his teammate was already there jumping at the pump fake. The result was two players jumping at a pump fake and a wide open layup for Dick’s man. Perhaps he is not always so overzealous, but it was really bad. He also missed a wide open layup.
Can’t be all the way out on him because he is 6’7 and can allegedly shoot, but if his shooting proves to be fake (which is common at this age) and that one play is indicative of his typical BBIQ then he could be really terrible.
31. Brandon Miller
Miller is technically a freshman but he is sophomore aged with a late ’02 birthday. He is actually a pretty decent mold of 6’8 who got rebounds, steals, and blocks in EYBL, but he was not a scorer in spite of being a year older than everybody.
If he can play the age cannot be sweated too hard because he is the right NBA mold…but the age should inspire skepticism that he really can play. We will see.
32. Pete Nance
Pete Nance seems probably too slow for an NBA big, but he can handle, pass, and shoot well and overachieving in the draft runs in the family with his dad Larry and brother Larry Jr.
33. Kevin McCullar
McCullar is 6’6, athletic, and does a bit of everything.
34. Norchad Omier 35. Terry Roberts
A couple of interesting mid-major guys who transferred to high major for this season. Omier is 6’7 and stuffed the stat sheet with all sorts of steals, blocks, and rebs for Arkansas State. His top 2 kenpom comps are Kenneth Faried and Brandon Clarke, so he is definitely a guy to keep an eye on this year for Miami FL.
Roberts is an athletic 6’3 PG who transferred from JUCO and was a stud for Bradley stuffing the stat sheet with a bit of everything and playing excellent D. The main issue is that his offense may be too raw for his age to make it far in the NBA, he is fairly turnover prone and his shooting of 34% 3P 70% FT is OK but less than you would hope for his size and age. He plays in the SEC for Georgia this year, so let’s see how his offense translates to a higher level of athleticism.
36. Zach Edey
Is Edey too slow of a giant 7’4 monster to fit in the NBA? Probably. But he is too much of an elite outlier to write off entirely. At minimum he can be a Boban type, and possibly quite a bit better.
37. Harrison Ingram 38. Matthew Mayer 39. Azuolas Tubelis
Not much to add about these guys, they are all on the fringe of not good enough vs maybe slightly interesting if they hit.
40. Leonard Miller
I think Miller just doesn’t know how to play, but he is young and toolsy and has a chance to prove me wrong in G League this year.
41. Marcus Sasser 42. Terquavion Smith
It’s funny I was thinking Sasser may be a decent UDFA in this draft, and then suddenly he pops up at #27 in ESPN’s mock for next year. I guess they really just need some warm bodies to fill out round 1. It’s hard to figure out what returners are good.
But him and Terq are roughly the same thing. They are undersized 3 point bombers. Sasser is older and less athletic, but also has a higher BBIQ.
It seems like a terrible decision for Terq to return to school. He had all of the undeserved hype in the world, and he goes back to a bad NC State team that will likely be bad again next year. And what is there for him to build on his game?
He really needs to show some semblance of PG skills and make FT’s. But he really seems like an inefficient chucker who can’t guard anybody in the NBA, and if he looks that way at age 20 and NC State still sucks teams may need to question whether he belongs in round 1.
Rating him lotto ahead of some of these talented freshman is really bad. He probably just isn’t good enough for the NBA as a one dimensional shooter who only made 69.8% FT as a freshman.
Off the Board Arthur Kaluma
ESPN has him #31 while CBS Sports has him #13 and the Athletic has him #15.
At a glance you may say well he is 6’7 and could be in line for a big freshman leap after having a career game in the tourney vs Kansas scoring 24 pts 12 rebs 3 assists. But looking at the big picture he has flags on flags on flags.
First– he was a sophomore aged freshman who turned 20 in March. He isn’t that young.
Further, every indicator for NBA perimeter ability looks bad for him. He had half as many assists as turnovers, an anemic 1.3% steal rate, and shot 26.5% 3P 67.1% FT.
So to stomach all of this weakness there should be a unique selling point. Which in his case I guess it’s that he has OKish wing tools? He is 6’7 with 6’11 wingspan and OK-ish athleticism. But he isn’t much of a rebounder, shot blocker, or interior scorer, so how does he make his bacon in the NBA?
The answer is he doesn’t. Don’t be scammed into drafting this guy, let him be somebody else’s mistake.
Hickman doesn’t have that much hype being just #32 ESPN #29 CBS…but it is difficult to see how he belongs on draft radar at all. He is 6’2 and averaged 5.1 pts 1.5 rebs 1.3 ast 0.6 stl 0.2 blk with 30.8% 3P 66.7% FT in 17.2 mins as a freshman for Gonzaga. He is young and did not turn 19 until after the season, but he is a little guy with practically nothing to build on.
It is difficult to see how he should ever be valued above fellow Zag Julian Strawther who is far from a world beater, but is 6’7 and can at least somewhat shoot.
It is crazy how much Bates hype has evaporated as he has gone from the next Kevin Durant to #33 in ESPN’s latest mock.
Honestly that’s still probably too high. The fact that he transferred all the way down to a terrible Eastern Michigan program likely indicates that he has some major red flags and just is not good enough for the NBA.
Big boards are not the most efficient method of sharing draft predictions, simply because it is painfully difficult to have a precise opinion on everybody in the draft. On average all you really need is to know who you would target in any particular range.
The other issue is that it is difficult to measure big board success based on final rankings. Mostly because there are too many boards to analyze, and also it may look like somebody has a strong take when it may just be misplacing somebody they randomly guessed on.
For instance last year I had Sharife Cooper 13th on my board because of a random late thought that maybe his creation is getting undervalued. In general he is not my type because I believe creation is abundant and typically overvalued, and small guys with terrible defense are not ideal molds. I did not spend much time watching or analyzing him, and I know if I worked for a team that was not into him (basically every team) I could have easily been convinced to drop him heavily on my board with further analysis.
But on my final board, he was the best player available for a longer stretch where I may not have necessarily taken him in reality. This is what happens when you need to make thin sliced decisions for an entire board of players that are mostly half analyzed.
Let’s Try Something New
I am going to audit the teams that blew it, and make their drafts better. Then we can go re-visit and 5 years and see how my strategy would have fared compared to theirs.
I also included some light retrodictions from drafts further in the past, doing my best to be honest about who I would take based on the predictions I had publicly made at the time.
I made trash efforts on my boards in 2019 and 2020 so I don’t want to focus on them too much, but it is fun to see how I could have ended up with a few home run picks that other teams missed anyway. This audit will mostly be about 2022 with some of the stronger opinions I had at the top of 2021 draft factoring in as well.
Then going forward we will track the picks moving in trades and once they settle I will make my fake selections to see how it would all work out.
Orlando is actually on a nice run of agreeability with my rankings in the lottery, taking the exact guys I would take with their last 3 high picks in Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, and Paolo Banchero.
I have some light disagreement with their round 2 picks this year. I would not have taken Caleb Houstan with a Koloko or Keels on board, with a lean toward Keels as the correct play to re-unite with his Duke buddy Paolo.
So let’s quick Orlando a big thumbs up with the only minor correction being Keels over over Houstan.
For OKC let’s go back to 2021. I liked the Josh Giddey pick, but I would have personally taken Franz Wagner there who was #4 on my board and seemed like a stone cold lock to be a good NBA player.
I also would have kept Alperen Sengun at #16 overall instead of trading him to Houston, as I had him as by far the best player available. This would have caused us to miss out on two of the picks that were later traded for Ousmane Dieng, and we would get to keep Denver’s 2023 lotto protected 1st rounder which was the third pick in that trade.
At #18 I would have taken Jalen Johnson (#10) or Jaden Springer (#11) over Tre Mann. Then in round 2 they consolidated #34 and #36 on #32 to take Jeremiah Robinson Earl. I would have passed on that trade and just sold #55 overall which was used on Aaron Wiggins.
Not sure who I would have taken at 34/36– I gave “A” grades to Deuce McBride, Ayo Dosunmu, Joe Wieskamp, and Sharife Cooper, A- to Neemias Queta, and B+ to Herbert Jones so probably one of those guys. I also had Jared Butler (#18) and BJ Boston (#22) high on my board, but since they slid largely due to heart condition and being a knucklehead respectively they likely would have been easy passes. I would not have seen a need for Sharife with Shai already in place as a lead guard, and the next two highest rated guys on my board were Deuce (#23) and Ayo (#25) so let’s roll with them. I would like to think that in reality I would have given Herb Jones a closer look and possibly settled on him, but based on what I had at the time it would be cheating to say that I would take him over Deuce or Ayo.
Now this year I am snapping up Jabari Smith at #2, Jalen Duren at #12, and definitely passing on trading 3 picks for Ousmane Dieng. Then we turbo snap Trevor Keels at #34.
Net difference: Shai/Ayo/Franz/Jabari/Sengunwith Keels/Deuce/J Johnson/Duren bench + Denver’s 2023 1st vs Shai/Giddey/J Williams/Dieng/Chet with Mann/JRE/Wiggins/Jaylin.
We will be back to make that Denver pick next year. But I believe my OKC team crushes the league. Shai as lead handler with two super sized wings in Jabari + Franz who can handle, pass, shoot, and defend would be a dream come true. That seems clearly better than Shai/Giddey/Chet, and then Sengun + Duren are better prospects than anybody outside of the current OKC big 3 and then we have plenty of pulls at guards to fill out the rotation.
The Rockets are on a streak of highly agreeable draft picks, but I still believe they firmly screwed the pooch last year when they took Jalen Green over Evan Mobley.
Loved the Sengun trade, and then at #23 and #24 I would have taken Jaden Springer (#11 on my board) and Quentin Grimes (#16). I had Sharife Cooper a bit higher than Grimes at #13, but as aforementioned that was a zero conviction ranking and I would like to think I would have not reached for him 25 slots too soon over either guy that I actively was bullish on.
Now this year I largely agreed with their Jabari + Eason picks. Although in retrospect I would be terrified to draft Eason because of his frequent mental lapses, I would consider Jake LaRavia ahead of him for a safer bet to be a role playing wing. I did have Eason as clear BPA on my board so let’s keep him. I believe TyTy Washington at #29 was a reasonable pull, but I would have preferred Trevor Keels who is younger by almost 2 full years in spite of being in the same class.
Keels/Grimes/Jabari/Sengun/Mobley with Springer/Eason vs Green/Christopher/Eason/Jabari/Sengun with TyTy/Garuba
My Houston team still needs a primary ball handler to run the offense with Keels + Springer being the only two pulls at it, but in general it’s not that hard to find a competent floor general and our frontcourt is completely stacked.
Our Kings tale starts in 2020, where hope springs eternal and they take the exact same two guys I would have drafted in Tyrese Haliburton and Jah’mius Ramsey.
Then last year we are taking Sengun over Davion Mitchell so we never feel the need to trade Haliburton for Sabonis.
Now this year, man #4 is a terrible pick. I would not want to sit there, and would trade down for such a nominal fee. If Indiana is offering Terry Taylor and #6 for #4, I am snap calling that and taking Dyson Daniels #6 since he seems like he should pair better with Sengun than Sochan. If not I will take Daniels straight up at #4.
So instead of Davion/Keegan/Sabonis we are rocking with Haliburton/Daniels/Sengun and hopefully Terry Taylor.
The first thing we are doing is trading Dame to the Knicks. Of course I do not know exactly how much the Knicks would pay for Dame. But given that is the Knicks and they are perpetually thirsty for a big star name, they likely would pay the piper for him.
I would really like to pry Quentin Grimes from them since I liked him pre-draft and he had a solid rookie year. I also would like their entire haul from the Ousmane Dieng trade since 1st round pulls are good and they got 3 of them that they likely do not mind parting from in order to get a star. And we would be willing to take on all of the bad contracts they want to send– something like Fournier, Noel, Kemba, and Grimes would work.
That is a fairly modest return on Dame given his star profile, but given his age + salary + complete lack of a cast, that’s enough for me to do the deal as Portland. I would try to get as much future Knicks draft equity with as little protection as possible as well. Who knows how much they would be willing to share.
I would have also passed on the Jerami Grant deal, and instead used the pick to deal for Jalen Duren as Detroit did. And I would have taken Jeremy Sochan or Dyson Daniels at #7 overall over Shaedon Sharpe. I am not sure which one. I have not analyzed them as much as I would if I actually had to make the pick. Let’s pencil in Sochan since Daniels has already been audited onto other teams.
Then I take Trevor Keels over Procida at #36.
This leaves us with
–Keels/Grimes/Sochan/Duren –2025 Bucks’ 1st (top 4 protected), Detroit 1st (Top 18 protected in ’23 and ’24, top 13 in ’25, top 11 in 26, top 9 in ’27), Washington 1st (Top 14 protected in ’23, Top 12 in ’24, top 10 in ’25, top 8 in ’26). –All of the 2nd rounders Portland traded for Jerami Grant –Whatever future Knick draft equity we can get. Our humble request would be 2026 unprotected pick swap
None of the assets we get are super valuable in a vacuum, but Portland seems like they are giving themselves such a short window to have such a low upside with the status quo. At least getting some young guys now, some future draft pulls, and setting ourselves up for a top 5 pick in next draft gives us a head start on the rebuild instead of dying a slow and painful death.
Starting with last year, hated the Primo pick. Would have taken Sengun instead. Liked the Wieskamp pick.
This year, liked the Sochan pick. Two meh SG’s at #20 and #25 in Branham and Wesley are not inspiring, I would have copied Minnesota’s picks made shortly after with Walker Kessler and Wendell Moore.
Then at #38 instead of trading Kennedy Chandler for a future Memphis 2nd and cash, we would have kept the pick and taken Trevor Keels to unite him with his Duke backcourt mate Moore.
Keels/Moore/Sochan/Sengun/Kessler vs Wesley/Branham/Primo/Sochan and future 2nd (not sure of details).
They really are stockpiling mediocre SG prospects over in San Antonio. Lonnie Walker too from a bit further back. My young core is better.
The Wizards are quickly becoming the most boring drafting team in the NBA. Under Tommy Sheppard, their last 4 first round picks have been Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert, and now Johnny Davis.
Using my big boards, I would have taken PJ Washington (#4 on my board) over Hachimura, Tyrese Haliburton (#6) over Deni, and Alperen Sengun (#5) over Kispert as my clear BPAs at all slots.
Haliburton/Washington/Sengun would not be a bad start. If we had those 3 instead of Deni, Kispert, and Rui, we probably make the 2022 playoffs.
But we are still likely not ready to contend. I would try to dump Bradley Beal on the Knicks for Quentin Grimes, Trevor Keels, and all of the Ousmane Dieng picks if we can get them. His window does not align with our young core, and we are not going to pay a maximum extension to an SG as he ages from 30 to 33.
#10 overall this year is a tough pick. First choice would likely be to trade the pick to OKC for all of the Dieng picks, but we already let the Knicks send us those picks for Beal. Duren is BPA, but between Sengun, Washington, and Gafford we already have enough bigs in the mix. Let’s say for the sake of argument we ended up with the #16 pick due to superior drafting over the real life Wizards, and we take Tari Eason.
This nets us with Haliburton/Grimes/Eason/Washington/Sengun + Keels + Dieng picks instead of Johnny Davis, Beal, Kispert, Avdija, and Rui.
Starting in 2021
This team is good for going back further bc I had such clear BPA vs such meh actual choices, but everybody else’s audit starts in 2021 so let’s run through that for the Wiz.
We start with the obvious Sengun over Kispert pick. Then #10 this year is brutal, having just missed out on the two interesting guys Daniels + Sochan at #8/9. I would trade Rui Hachimura or Isaiah Todd to move up a slot or two for either of them, but probably not Deni.
If we are standing pat, I don’t like anyone here really. Duren + Eason are fine, but I would much rather snipe New York’s Dieng trade and trade the pick for 3 future 1sts.
Then I still trade Beal to NYK for Grimes, Keels, 2026 unprotected NYK 1st, and whatever filler salaries NYK wants. If NYK insists on light protection on the pick I’d still accept it and ask for maybe 2024 DET 2nd rounder.
Keels, Grimes, Sengun, and a hoard of future picks vs Beal, Johnny Davis, and Kispert. We are fast tracking the asset collection while the current Wiz seem married to mediocrity forever.
If we go back to the LaMelo pick in 2020, my board has some embarrassing advice because I rated Onyeka Okongwu #1, James Wiseman #2, and then LaMelo #3 and Ant #4. Oops!
But this couldn’t be further from a high conviction read. I hardly watched any of these guys and tossed out some different ideas for fun. After the draft I even called Charlotte a winner and acknowledged they likely made the right play for LaMelo.
This is not generally how I talk about hot takes around draft time when I truly believe in them. Not all big board rankings should be judged the same since they are not all backed by the same levels of confidence and conviction.
So let’s start the audit in 2021, where I hated the Hornets draft. We kick it off by taking Sengun over Bouknight at #11 in an easy decision.
Then we probably don’t trade for #19 that was used on Kai Jones. It only cost an OK-ish future 1st (top 16 protected in 23 and top 14 in 24/25), but the #19 wasn’t full of great choices. Top 2 on my board were Jalen Johnson and Jaden Springer in terms of upside, and I would have given Quentin Grimes a look as a lower upside pull that was a safer bet. But nobody stood out enough to be worth trading in.
At #37 we take Ayo Dosunmu (#25 on my board) or Joe Wieskamp (#29) over JT Thor.
Now this year at #13 and #15, it’s a tough decision. We could just grab Duren at 13 + Eason or LaRavia at 15 and call it a day. I would consider trading out but the return Charlotte got for #13 was none too inspiring.
Mark Williams at #15 is fine, but he has less upside than Duren and not as good as trading #15 to Memphis for 22 + 29 and taking Walker Kessler and anybody else. I would have probably taken Keels at #29 but would have looked at TyTy, Peyton Watson, and Koloko as other options. Double dipping on bigs with Kessler and Koloko would be an interesting strategy bc odds are at least one of them turns into a defensive beast with better overall value than Williams.
But the simplest path leaves us with:
Dosunmu, LaRavia, Sengun, Duren and keep the future 1st that was traded to Knicks instead of Bouknight, Kai, Thor, and Mark Williams and getting Denver’s 2023 first and a handful of mid 2nds.
This team needs wing help so badly, I definitely would have taken Tari Eason or Jake LaRavia over Ochai Agbaji at #14. It would have been a tough decision because LaRavia has less scary flaws and seems like a safer bet, but he also has less big strengths and is more boring.
This is a tough decision. LaRavia seems like a fairly low variance and boring guy who is a solid bet to provide decent filler minutes at wing. Eason is more of a high variance guy who could flop completely, be the steal of the draft, or anything in between. If the Cavs already have an elite young core with Garland, Mobley, and Allen, do they really need to gamble here? If they get a couple of league average 3 + D wings they are likely going to become perennial contenders.
This would be an agonizing decision but ultimately I believe I would play it safe and take LaRavia.
At #39 I would have taken Trevor Keels or EJ Liddell. Keels is rated higher but not sure he is really needed with Garland in place, and the team still badly needing wings.
Then will still draft Isaiah Mobley at #50 for the brotherly love.
Ultimately we take LaRavia and Liddell over Ochai and Diop.
Golden State had a couple of slots I loved last year that they did an alright job with taking Kuminga and Moody, but personally I am taking Franz + Sengun with those picks 100% of the time.
This year at 28 they took Patrick Baldwin Jr. who is nearly certain to bust. I would take Koloko, Peyton Washington, or Keels in front of him. Let’s say Koloko in this instance because I am pretty sure I have audited Keels onto every other team so far, and GSW could use a rim protector. Then at #44 Ryan Rollins would have been my pick as well.
Franz/Sengun/Koloko vs Kuminga/Moody/PBJ. Not even a contest, Franz is going to be better than those 3 combined and would have been helpful during their recent championship run.
Ousmane Dieng Challenge
The challenge will be to see how many of my top choices among the 3 picks that Oklahoma City traded for Ousmane Dieng become better than Dieng himself. I believe I should be able to get at least one, and possibly two or three. The picks in question are:
–Denver 1st (top 14 protected ’23 thru ’25) –Detroit 1st (Top 18 protected in ’23 and ’24, top 13 in ’25, top 11 in 26, top 9 in ’27) –Washington 1st (Top 14 protected in ’23, Top 12 in ’24, top 10 in ’25, top 8 in ’26)
It could take a few years for those Detroit and Washington picks to go into effect and then a few more years for my picks to hit.
But this is a long term exercise so we will slowly make these picks this over time and see how things look 5-10 years down the road.
Hard to love this pick more. I had Paolo as the best player available, the best fit, and they completely tricked Woj and the rest of the NBA media into believing they wanted Jabari.
Jabari would have been a fine choice, but it would have left the team lacking a primary creator. Franz showed surprising creation potential as a rookie, but still may be more of a #2 guy with elite role player skills.
Paolo has clear #1 creation upside, and does not come attached to a small size and huntability which is neat because it can enable Orlando to build a super switchable defense with one or no guards while still having a potent offense.
If they develop well, Paolo and Franz are a championship level top 2 with Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter Jr., and hopefully Jonathan Isaac if he can ever get and stay healthy as some nice pieces to fill in the gaps.
After a decade mired in mediocrity, the future finally looks bright for the Magic.
2. Oklahoma City: Chet Holmgren C-
Chet can work out totally fine here, he is an elite role player who fits well alongside Shai and Giddey. But they passed up Jabari Smith who was a more elite role player and fit just as well, which is a dubious decision by Sam Presti.
Jabari has potential to be somewhat blah and Chet can be great in his own funky way so it would be unfair to skewer Oklahoma City too hard, but this does not seem like the correct choice.
3. Houston: Jabari Smith: A+
Draft grades are hard. Are you supposed to grade picks based on the skillfulness of the pick or how much bottom line value he provides to the slot?
Smith is not a difficult pick to make, I would imagine that most or all of the 30 teams would have taken him here. But he is great value for #3 overall as I rated him as an average #1 overall, so regardless of the difficulty of the pick this was a big W for the Rockets.
4. Sacramento: Keegan Murray C-
It’s somewhat unfair to skewer the Kings here. I personally had Murray 12th on my board, and would not have considered him this high. But it is a relatively flat tier and an incredibly difficult slot to choose in, and there was pretty much nobody who was a big win on the table.
In some regard you could blame the Davion Mitchell pick for being a low upside guard alongside De’Aaron Fox and eliminating the next three SG picks from fitting in Sacramento’s young core. But even without Mitchell I would not like the Ivey/Fox backcourt since it offers two small guys to hunt while still being light on shooting.
Personally I would have taken Dyson Daniels or Jeremy Sochan ahead of Murray, but regardless the Kings were choosing from a tier of boring role players and going to get an underwhelming result. This was a no win slot for them so not much to be done.
5. Detroit: Jaden Ivey B
I am fairly bearish on Ivey, but it is difficult to knock him as the choice here. I rated Mathurin, Daniels, and Sochan as all a bit higher, but those were all somewhat hot takes and none of them trump Ivey by a comfortable margin.
Ivey fits especially well with Cade Cunningham, as they make a pretty good backcourt duo helping atone for each other’s weaknesses.
Ivey needs another handler by his side because he is not a floor general, but having a small guard like De’Aaron Fox is tough because then there are two small guys to hunt. In that regard, Cade is a great fit.
Cade needs another handler by his side because his creation is fairly inefficient, and if he had lower responsibility and can spend more time spotting up to maximize his shooting ability his overall efficiency should get a boost.
I don’t really like Ivey that much and am not convinced he amounts to anything in the longterm, but the same could be said for anybody available at this slot. Perfectly reasonable pick here.
6. Indiana Pacers: Bennedict Mathurin B
Between Mathurin, Duarte, Hield, Brogdon, and Haliburton the Pacers really love SG’s a bit too much.
But Duarte is a bench player and Brogdon + Hield are at the end of their primes, so this is all about finding a sidekick for Haliburton. Him and Mathurin can be a fun backcourt duo that provide great shooting and efficiency and hopefully do not give too much back away on defense.
Personally I would have taken Dyson Daniels or Jeremy Sochan but this pick is perfectly fine.
7. Portland: Shaedon Sharpe D
Portland took the bait on the mystery box. They need to hope he is better than free tickets to a crappy comedy club.
8. New Orleans: Dyson Daniels A
Daniels was the best player available on my board and fits nicely with the Pelicans. Jaxson Hayes is not the right 5th wheel for their lineup, they needed somebody more perimetery and Daniels is the perfect replacement.
Now even without Zion they can put out a lineup of CJ/Daniels/Ingram/Herb/JV which is actually pretty good. And if Zion can stay healthy and effective that is an awesome top 6. Either way this is a good pick.
9. San Antonio: Jeremy Sochan A
Sochan was my best player on the board. Good pick for the Spurs and good landing spot for Sochan
10. Washington: Johnny Davis D-
The Wizards cannot get enough of low upside guys in the late lottery. In the past 4 years here are their top choices:
And now Johnny Davis this year. 6’5 SG who has no PG skill, struggles to get to the rim, struggles to make 3’s, but has a nice midrange pullup and that midwestern toughness.
These guys are all mediocrities with low upside. The Wizards are quickly becoming one of my least favorite drafting teams.
11. Oklahoma CityOusmane Dieng F-
Man did Presti fumble the bag this draft. Taking Chet over Smith was a mistake but they nevertheless got a good prospect that could work out. But here they really add insult to injury by diving into their bag of picks and setting 3 of them on fire.
Let us revisit Sam Presti’s international picks since hitting on Serge Ibaka in 2008:
His only other first round choice is Aleksej Pokusevski who he traded up for at #17 overall in 2020. Poku is still only 20 and has some potential to stick around for an NBA career, but the early returns are underwhelming and NYC and Minnesota who traded down for Immanuel Quickley and Jaden McDaniels respectively seem to have gotten the better end of the deal.
Other than that he has taken 5 pulls in round 2 that all completely flopped: Tibor Pleiss (#31), Alex Abrines (#32), Theo Maledon (#34), Vit Krejci (#37), and Petr Cornelie (#53). It’s tough to hit on 2nd rounders but that is four pulls early in the round who look nothing close to NBA players, and Maledon came one slot before Xavier Tillman who an actually sharp Memphis team drafted after Presti’s blunder.
And then last year, Alperen Sengun falls into his lap at #16 and he trades out of the slot for additional future picks. Sengun still has longterm questions to answer, but has already shown far more potential than Poku and all of the 2nd round picks combined.
Now this year he takes the two picks acquired from trading Sengun and throws in a 3rd lottery protected Denver first rounder to trade for Dieng, who is painfully obviously a weaker prospect than Sengun.
I get that OKC had way too many future picks and needed to consolidate on somebody, but it really should have been anybody but this guy.
OKC is putting far too much faith in their terrible international scouting with this pick, and it will likely result in 3 picks spent on a guy who is not an NBA player.
Conversely, this was a great trade for the Knicks to scoop up so many first rounders for such a weak #11 pick.
12. Oklahoma City: Jalen Williams D
After making two blunders to start the draft, Presti figured why not have a 3rd and reached for a random 21 year old mid-major guy who had a junior year breakout.
The last mid-major prospect that Presti took lottery was Cam Payne, and while he has settled into a nice backup player for his fourth team in Phoenix, he had a disastrous start to his career and OKC sold low on him in a trade halfway through his second season.
Why should Williams provide any better of a return? He had a nice combine but taking him all the way up in the lottery seems like a big overreaction. Mid majors are historically not a source of NBA talent, and Williams seems like he could be an exception in the sense that he may be a decent rotation player. But he simply does not have the upside or the median to be worth a lottery pull.
13. Detroit: Jalen Duren A
Detroit had a great week of trading, shipping Jerami Grant for a Milwaukee 1st and three 2nds, and then re-routing that first for Duren and Kemba Walker $9M expiring contract.
People were laughing at the Pistons for an underwhelming return on Grant after rumors of getting #7 overall, but then they ended up swinging the return into a prospect who is better than the guy Portland actually took at #7.
Which is not to mention that Grant should have a limited trade value as a solid but not great player on an expiring deal who will likely need to be overpaid as a free agent to retain from ages 29+.
Meanwhile the Knicks pulled off some sneaky good work as the middle man here. They paid Denver’s lottery protected first round pick for next year (likely in the 20s) and three 2nd rounders for Milwaukee’s 2025 top 4 protected pick and a dump of Walkers $9M cap hit.
The picks all look like approximately mid-2nd rounders, two in 2023 and one in 2024. Seems like a reasonable price to unload Walker’s expiring, and then that Milwaukee pick is better than the Denver pick since it is only top 4 protection instead of top 14, and the 2022-2023 Nuggets are faves to be better than the 2024-25 Bucks.
As for Charlotte, flipping this year’s #13 into next years #25ish pick and three seconds is not thrilling, but it is fine since this year’s #13 is a relatively weak slot and they need to save cap space to pay Miles Bridges.
14. Cleveland: Ochai Agbaji D
Defensive versatility and switching defenses is all the rage in the NBA right now, but the Cavs can not remotely be bothered to care.
To add to their core of 2 bigs and one small PG, the Cavs picked a SG and still have zero long term wings on the roster. Even if you like Okoro, he is SG size.
They have pretty much have nobody to match up defensively with stars like Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Luka Doncic, etc. This would have been a nice time to take a stab on somebody who has a chance of doing so such as Tari Eason or Jake LaRavia, but instead they needed to take an old low upside SG and how need to pray that his shooting is actually good.
15. Charlotte: Mark Williams A-
Williams is a nice value, a great fit with LaMelo as a lob finisher, and may be an instant upgrade over Mason Plumlee at center.
This pick made sense in all levels for Charlottes.
16. Atlanta: AJ Griffin B
Griffin is fine here, but likely slid a bit due to medical flags so hopefully he can stay healthy and hopefully his shooting is real.
17. Houston: Tari Eason A
Eason is a gamble to be sure as his foul and turnover rates are disgusting for a relatively old prospect. But his physical tools and defensive potential are off the chart, and he has far more exciting upside than anybody else on the board.
Another clear great selection for Houston
18. Chicago: Dalen Terry B-
I like Terry, and I championed him as a value pick when he was not projected to be drafted. But it seems that NBA teams may have fell a bit too hard in love here, as he is a somewhat boring role player and I am not sure he is quite worth #18 overall.
But he a fun guy with a relatively easy path to usefulness at the wing, so it is difficult to criticize this pick too harshly.
19. Memphis: Jake LaRavia A-
LaRavia is a nice pick who seemed like a Memphis guy all along, so this is a nice choice for them.
The only downside is that 22 and 29 is a steep price to pay to move up 3 slots, but I suppose they have so much young talent they don’t mind consolidating some assets a bit.
20. San Antonio: Malaki Branham C+
I don’t know. I didn’t strongly watch Malaki film but he seems like a boring SG whose defense is more bad than his offense is good. He is a guy where if his freshman shooting percentages overstate his shooting, he could be really disappointing for his drafting team.
21. Denver: Christian Braun B
Braun is a little bit boring in the upside department, but the Nuggets already have their star power and just need cheap useful guys to eat minutes and they are a real contender.
Braun could be their version of Pat Connaughton who is simply less bad than Austin Rivers, and not bad and not expensive is all the Nuggets need around Jokic and a healthy Murray.
22. Minnesota: Walker Kessler A
Not sure how Kessler fits with KAT but he is a nice value choice here.
23. Memphis: David Roddy B–
Trading 24 year old Melton for a late first is a disappointing outcome when he is still locked up for two more cheap years, but it seems that he wanted out of Memphis and they obliged him by sending him to Philly who is starved for depth and needs a guy like him more badly than the Grizzlies. This trade is a clear win for Philly, but it is tough to win with a player who wants out that will only be fully appreciated by other analytics teams.
As for the pick. I don’t know. Roddy is a tough one for me. He is highly intelligent and fairly well rounded on the court, but just seems a buck short of having much NBA upside in terms of dimensions, skill, and athleticism.
But there is no strong reason why he cannot be a useful pick in the late first, so I don’t have anything too bad to say about the pick. It is mostly unfortunate that he had to cost them Melton
24. Milwaukee Bucks: Marjon Beauchamp C
Beauchamp is a reasonable choice here for his defensive versatility, but he is fairly old with badly limited offense and an unorthodox path to the NBA. He may be fine but this pick is just meh to me.
25. San Antonio: Blake Wesley C
Wesley is young with a bit of potential but is also really meh.
26. Minnesota: Wendell Moore B+
Moore is a bit boring but he nevertheless seems like a solid role player and solid value here.
27. Miami Heat: Nikola Jovic C
Jovic is a boring international but is probably fine to take this late.
28. Golden State: Patrick Baldwin Jr. D-
Baldwin was absolutely terrible for an awful low major team as a freshman, he struggled with injuries, and he is horribly unathletic, and the most likely conclusion is that the guy is not an NBA player.
But of course the Warriors take him in round 1 to prove that they are light years ahead.
29. Houston: TyTy Washington B+
TyTy is a bit boring but a pretty solid gamble this late.
Gotta LOVE Houston’s draft. They got a big prize in the lottery and two quality pulls in the late first. They are on a roll drafting between these 3 picks and Sengun.
That said I think people are going a bit too far praising Rafael Stone for being some drafting savant. Smith completely fell into his lap and Jalen Green over Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes is still a historical mistake so let’s not pretend that didn’t happen.
The Rockets future is looking bright but I think people get too excited to praise teams for making a few nice picks when everybody makes some major blunders over a large enough sample.
30. Denver: Peyton Watson A-
Pre-draft I wasn’t sure where to rate Watson because his offense is so bad and his defense is so good.
I stashed him #34 after watching zero film and putting close to zero analytical effort into him. Why? Because as fun as draft analysis is, it is merely a hobby and it takes significant energy to thoroughly analyze every second round talent. This is why big boards are a brutal exercise to try to precisely rank EVERYBODY.
My main hang up with him is that it was difficult to think of anybody who was that bad offensively and worked out in the NBA…but then I remembered Herb Jones was a disaster offensively his first two years of college.
Granted, Watson likely does not make the shooting and overall offensive leaps that Herb did. But if he does he is a really nice payoff for the last pick in round 1 as an excellent role playing wing.
This is the pick the Nuggets got along with two 2nd rounders from OKC in exchange for their top 5 protected 2027 1st and OKC absorbing $8M JaMychal Green expiring to save on luxury tax.
OKC gets some upside with mid-late lotto potential, but not that much upside with top 5 protection. Denver benefits from getting cheap pulls on talent to help their team that can help them win it all in the short term future. In terms of pick quality it is close to break even, given that this fits their window better and they shed luxury tax it was a really good trade for the Nuggets, and Watson caps it off with a solid pick.
31. Indiana: Andrew Nembhard C+
Kinda boring but it’s fine
32. Orlando: Caleb Houstan C+
Also kinda boring but fine. If he does work out he would make an interesting 5th wheel for a lineup like Suggs/Franz/Houstan/Paolo/WCJ.
33. Toronto: Christian Koloko A
This is a really awesome pick for Toronto for a team that whose only rim protector is 29 year old free agent Chris Boucher.
Koloko is super switchable and super good on defense, and gives the Raptors a vertical spacer.
Between Barnes, Siakam, Anunoby, Precious, and Koloko, Toronto is really hoarding some elite defensive pieces to build around.
34. Oklahoma City: Jaylin Williams B
Williams is a bit boring but he has decent odds of being a useful rotation player.
35. LA Lakers: Max Christie D-
Christie is terrible and so are the Lakers, so at least it is a good fit.
36. Detroit: Gabriele Procida C+
Procida is a generic role playing international SG, but if you want to draft a stash he is fine.
37. Dallas: Jaden Hardy C-
Small chance of Anfernee Simons 2.0, big chance of bust.
38. Memphis: Kennedy Chandler A-
Chandler is the type of prospect that is always difficult for me to pin down. He is small and athletic and does some really nice things, but how excited can you be for a 6’0 guard who shot 60.6% FT? I seriously don’t know.
Gotta be worried that he is this year’s version of Jawun Evans or Sharife Cooper as the little guy who everybody loves and slides and then is not good value. But little guys are weird– when they bust they bust really hard, but sometimes they hit harder than you would think.
Overall I’m going to say this the Grizzlies made a nice gamble here.
39. Cleveland: Khalifa Diop C-
I don’t really know much about Khalifa Diop. I just know that there was a decent 6’7 guy on the board in EJ Liddell that the Cavs could have drafted, but of course that is against their religion so they take a random international big. Maybe they just wanted a stash, I don’t know. I just wish they would let Mobley have a single wing by his side when some teams are trotting out 4-5 wing lineups.
40. Minnesota: Bryce McGowens C-
Seems like guys like this hit in round 2 pretty much ~never
41. New Orleans: EJ Liddell A–
Liddell is really weird and I am not certain what to think of him but it is tough to see how he is not a good pull this late.
42. New York: Trevor Keels A+
Man it is INSANE Keels slid this long and so many turds went ahead of him. This includes Dieng who the Knicks swindled 3 future picks from OKC for.
Keels is my most underrated player on my board. He is not an athlete but he is young and knows how to hoop, which is a much better pick to make that an international like Dieng who is not an athlete but is young and has no idea how to hoop.
43. LA Clippers: Moussa Diabate D+
Don’t see it with this guy
44. Golden State Warriors: Ryan Rollins A-
Fun round 2 pull
45. Minnesota: Josh Minott B+
Not a bad pull here.
46. Denver: Ismael Kamagate B
I had said that Kamagate was undraftable based on a look at the stats…but he is a late starter and very toolsy and making rapid gains. And he was DPOY in his French league. So maybe I sold him short. Still think he is kinda boring but he is a reasonable stash candidate in round 2.
47. Memphis Grizzlies: Vince Williams B
Vince seems kinda boring to me but everybody loves him and it’s the Grizzlies so it’s probably fine.
48. Indiana Pacers: Kendall Brown B
I love me some Kendall Brown but I have a feeling he slid due to insurmountable red flags rather than a misevaluation of his talent.
49. Cleveland Cavaliers: Isaiah Mobley A
As much as I would like to criticize the Cavs for once again not taking a wing, I like this pick. You want to keep Evan as happy as possible, and Isaiah may be a decent value this late in the draft as high basketball IQ runs in the family. He certainly has more potential than Thanasis Antetokounmpo.
50. Minnesota Timberwolves: Matteo SpagnoloB
A fine choice to stash
Rest of the picks are do not care:
The big winners of the draft are Orlando and Houston who got the two possible franchise changing talents on the board. Houston taking some good pulls later in the first on Eason and TyTy are a nice bonus.
The Knicks did not get to make any franchise changing moves, but Keels could be the steal of the draft in round 2 and they really swindled Presti badly in the Dieng trade. They scooped some nice chunks of expected value tonight.
New Orleans had a sneaky good night with Daniels + Liddell, as did Minnesota with Kessler, Moore, and Minott. Toronto did very well with Koloko as their only pick at 33.
Denver also had a solid draft. They got some nice pulls at wing between Braun and Watson with Braun being more likely to be useful right away and Watson being a higher upside gamble long term. Their trade with OKC to acquire Watson is better than it is getting credit for. Kamagate is a decent round 2 stash, as he could match up with Victor Wembanyama next season and pump up his trade value if he plays well against him.
Spurs got off to a good start with Sochan but then took a couple of meh SG’s in round 2 in Branham and Wesley. But they nailed the important pick and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the SG’s hit, so overall their draft was net good.
As for Detroit I am not in love with Ivey like everybody else, but he is a fine choice and being able to convert an expiring Jerami Grant into a pull on Jalen Duren is a nice maneuver. Good night overall.
Philly needs to be happy they plucked a DeAnthony Melton from thin air.
Memphis needs to be sad they had to deal Melton, but LaRavia, Roddy, and KC are some decent pulls collectively so it was an alright night for the Grizzlies all things considered.
The biggest loser was OKC. They were a team with such an exciting hand to play with their war chest of future picks, infinite cap space, and Giddey + Shai. But they took the wrong guy at #2 in Chet, they used three of their future picks to take a pull on a terrible french guy Dieng, and they took a dubious mid-major talent at #12 in Jalen Williams.
They are still in not bad spot with Giddey, Shai, Chet, and likely another high lottery pick next year and still a whole lot more picks to take bad shots with. But they could have instead had a core of Giddey/Shai/Jabari/Duren with 3 extra first rounders to use on pretty much anybody else other than Ousmane Dieng.
Portland would be an incredibly frustrating team to root for now. Dame is going to be 32 coming off by far the worst season of his career and is due $137M over the next 3 years. He should rebound next year, but he likely is past his prime and they have too little help around him to have much potential. Maybe they can sneak into the playoffs next year, but it is difficult to see them winning a series.
They really should be unloading Dame while he still has trade value. For instance, if the Knicks are willing to offer Keels, Grimes, all of the picks from Dieng trade, and a future NYK unprotected 1st, that is a snap yes. And even if the Knicks are not THAT generous with draft picks, it will still be worth doing simply because Dame’s prime is over and they need to reset.
I would have also taken Dyson Daniels or Jeremy Sochan over Shaedon Sharpe, and traded for Jalen Duren instead of Jerami Grant. That gives us Keels/Grimes/Sochan/Duren with a slew of extra future 1sts in the bag.
Now instead the Blazers get to try to build around Dame, Josh Hart, and Jerami Grant. We will see what they can do, but most of the time they are likely destined for the play in tournament, and there is some small risk that Dame has another bad year and goes from being a coveted star to an albatross contract. And then Grant will be a 29 UDFA that will be risky to pay longterm, and the team is left with essentially nothing of value after missing the playoffs.
They still have an entire offseason to field a competitive cast around Dame. But they are choosing the path of most resistance when instead they could have just cashed in on Dame, scooped a bunch of neat young guys, and gone into tank mode.
Kings didn’t blow the pick as bad as everybody thinks they did, simply because the pick wasn’t good enough to have much at stake. Taking Murray over Ivey could look like the right pick in retrospect and still be an underwhelming outcome for #4 overall.
Everything went downhill for them from that Davion Mitchell pick. If I was their meddlesome owner, I would have forced the GM to draft Sengun at #9 and keep Haliburton. Then this year we would have traded down for whatever nominal fee we could collect to draft Dyson Daniels or Jeremy Sochan. Fox/Hali/Daniels/Sengun would be something to build on. Fox/Mitchell/Keegan/Sabonis? Not so much.
Wizards continuing their tradition of wasting lottery picks on mediocre low upside guys continuing cannot bode well for the franchise.
Dallas only had a couple of low leverage plays, but there are a number of players I would have taken a pull on at #26 over an expiring Christian Wood– such as Moore, TyTy, Watson, Keels, and Koloko. At #37 Hardy is a fine pull but likely doesn’t amount to anything. Meh night for them.
Cavs got meh value with their picks and didn’t pick a single capable wing.
Warriors made a really bad PBJ pick but somewhat redeemed it with Rollins.
Big Boards are hard to do. But I watched a decent amount of film this year. I will inevitably regret some of these rankings, but they should prove to be reasonably efficient in time.
Tier 1: Lottery Prizes
I have written in depth about Paolo and why I believe he is the #1 choice, but the short version is that he has the best creativity and passing. He is 6’10 and while he is not the explosive athlete, he is highly fluid and capable from scoring at all levels of the floor.
He is also an excellent passer and big enough to play PF and possibly work in some lineups as a small center.
There are some concerns about his defense, but size + intelligence is a fairly common intersection that leads to players overachieving defensively. He is not great laterally, but he is decent enough and while he has some risk of being a liability, he also has potential to be solid on that end of the floor.
It’s incredibly rare to see such offensive versatility in such a large player, and this gives Paolo the clearly best upside in the draft.
There is some risk that his shooting and defense are on the mediocre side which make him a slightly awkward fit in some lineups, but Paolo has a good median and good upside and is collectively around an average #1 overall prospect.
2. Jabari Smith Jr.
Jabari Smith is a close second because of his excellent shooting and defensive versatility. This gives him elite role player skills that will enable him to fit in any lineup.
Most 3 + D players are good at one of shooting or defense and merely OK at the other. It is rare to get somebody who is solidly good at both, but that seems to be what Smith is on track for.
He shot 42% 3P on high volume and 79.9% FT as an 18 year old freshman, and for a 6’10 player he excels at moving his feet and containing penetration. His versatility as a man to man defensive player is elite.
He also had more assists than TOVs, indicating a solid intersection of perimeter skill and basketball IQ for his size and age. It is difficult to see how he would not be a welcome addition to any NBA lineup.
The one concern is whether he has the ability to create at a superstar level. He lacks athletic pop and struggles to get to the rim and finish, and most of his two point attempts came from midrange, resulting in a 43.5% 2P.
On one hand, he has excellent height and shooting at 6’10, and with competent ball handling he should at least be able to shoot over most defensive players. He only turned 19 in May, so he has plenty of time to develop some creation package.
But he does not have nearly the length or athleticism of Kevin Durant, so it seems optimistic to expect him to create at anywhere close to KD’s volume or efficiency. Rashard Lewis may be a more realistic comp for his creativity, as he seems more like a #2 option. That said given his youth and talent capping his creation potential at Lewis seems harsh– perhaps his scoring upside is somewhere halfway in between Lewis and Durant. It is difficult to say.
He also could be compared to Klay Thompson, who similarly struggled inside the arc as an NCAA freshman at 42.7%. He likely will not make 42% 3P on high volume like Klay, but you cannot rule out the possibility and he has potential to be much better on defense due to his 4″ height advantage. If he comes anywhere close to Klay’s shooting with better and more versatile defense, that is a valuable player regardless of whether he becomes a good creator or not.
Ultimately I rank Smith slightly behind Banchero because his upside is a bit lower, but he atones by fitting a lower friction mold that fits awesomely into any lineup. It is a very close decision between the two, and I flipped back and forth between them all season. I also rate Smith as approximately an average #1 overall.
3. Chet Holmgren
Chet is a distant third because he is the oldest of the three (a full year older than Jabari) and his skinny frame gives a weird flaw that you do not need to sweat out with the other two who fit more typical star molds. It may not hurt him that much in light of his unique strengths, but it adds a layer of uncertainty that makes him less comfortable investing in than the other two, on top of possible extra injury risk to boot as we have seen with other physically atypical prospects like Zion Williamson.
Except the difference is that Chet is not a generational talent like Zion, and nobody has been more than a low end bench player with his frame as Manute Bol + Aleksej Pokusevskis are the only guys who have made the NBA being that skinny.
While his dimensions, IQ, and skill could yield a highly useful NBA career for Chet, it is difficult to justify how he should go ahead of the two guys who are more typical #1 overall picks.
It is almost impossible to find a comp for him. He has similarities to Jonathan Isaac and Evan Mobley, but those guys are more athletic and less deathly skinny.
The player he most reminds me of is a big man version of Lonzo Ball. Both great dimensions + IQ for position, plus shooters, limited self creation, elite efficiency, both gangly and awkward looking. Both elite freshman stats, both projected #2 overall in their drafts. I could envision his NBA career being something like Lonzo’s, where he does not completely live up to the hype, but nevertheless is a highly useful role player, but also may have inconsistent availability because he is too fragile to handle the physicality of the NBA (or maybe not, but it is difficult to look at him and not assign greater than random probability of struggling with injuries).
It seems ridiculous to take him over either Jabari or Paolo as both are typical #1 overall picks and Chet is atypical in a way that opens the room for more extra downside than extra upside. But he is still really good at basketball and #3 is as low as one can reasonably get on him.
Daniels glows with the most goodness out of anybody in this tier. He looked awesome last summer against team USA for Australia, then he proceeded to do great in the G League, grow 1.5″, and then (hopefully) made a shooting leap in time for the draft.
He is likely a somewhat boring role player in the Kyle Anderson or Boris Diaw mold, but he is young and can play which is about the nicest thing you can say about anyone outside of the top 3.
5. Jeremy Sochan
Sochan is not quite as attractive as Daniels as he does not have the same passing and his shooting is likely weaker as well. But he is a bit bigger with great defensive potential, and has a good assist:TOV for a young big wing and a chance of learning to shoot.
Every team could use a versatile wing like Sochan, and the cherry on top is that he is somewhat dirty player. And perhaps this is a bad heuristic, but it seems like dirty players hit in the draft at a very high rate. So this cements him as the second most glow in the tier, and then things get murky.
6. Jalen Duren
Jalen Duren is so slippery to peg. He has such optimal center tools outside of missing a couple inches of height. It is so rare to see his strength, length, and athleticism, and it makes it so easy to find an NBA role without any skill.
Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan were both unthinkably bad in college, clearly worse than Duren, and both went on to have acceptable NBA careers. Jordan had a brief but good peak, and Drummond was more of a perennial mediocrity but nevertheless had a decent outcome relative to NCAA production.
Duren is definitely better than those guys at the same age, but it is not clear he will necessarily be better on average in the NBA. He is really leaning on his nuclear upside of Dwight Howard or at least Alonzo Mourning to hit for his drafting team to truly emerge as a winner. It’s definitely somewhere in the realm of possibility, but how thick are the odds? Your guess is as good as mine.
More likely he will be a Derrick Favors type of solid big that is useful but not so highly valued in current NBA climate. And there is some chance of being a Drummond level of meh. It’s not that thrilling but hey the upside tail exists, and that’s a fairly exciting pitch compared to the rest of the class.
Overall Duren is difficult to rank, but he is the youngest and most physically elite prospect in the draft and nothing is fundamentally broken about him. So why not err on the side of optimism with him.
7. Bennedict Mathurin 8. Jaden Ivey
Mathurin and Ivey are the two most athletic SG’s in the draft, and make for an interesting comparison.
Ivey has all of the hype because he is the more elite athlete and uses his athleticism more functionally in creating his own shot at the rim.
But his flaw is that he is a SG, not a PG capable of running the offense. There is a limit to the value of slashing to the rim if it is paired with lackluster decision making and floor general skills.
Even though Ivey played more as a primary handler for Purdue, he still had a slightly worse assist TOV ratio than Mathurin (1.17 vs 1.42) and to my eye has worse feel for the game and makes more painfully bad decisions on offense.
Meanwhile Mathurin is 2″ taller, 4 months younger, plays more within the flow of the offense, and is the better shooter making 38.3% 3P 78.9% FT vs 32.2% 3P 73.9% FT for Ivey, both on similarly high 3PA rates.
Both are bad defensively, but given Mathurin’s height advantage and that he played for a solid NCAA defense (#21) while Ivey played for a bad one (#93) and the defense was notably worse with him on the floor both seasons. Further, Ivey’s defensive mistakes seem a bit worse to my eye. These are all relatively minor points, but it seems Mathurin should have a small edge defensively in terms of NBA projection.
All things considered, it seems like Mathurin is a slightly better prospect than Ivey. There is some boring element to his game, where he could be an athlete who doesn’t use his athleticism functionally and is a boring spot up shooter like Terrence Ross, but Ivey can be bad in a Dennis Smith Jr. or Jordan Crawford sort of way.
And in spite of being the better athlete who is foraying to the rim more frequently, Ivey had fewer dunks at 1.5 per 100 possessions this past season vs 1.75 per 100 for Mathurin. It really does not seem like the gap is significant enough to move the needle in a major way, and if Mathurin randomly makes some major leaps in ball handling ability he is equipped to be the more complete player with slightly better height, shooting, and feel for the game.
It is strange that more people are not questioning Ivey’s goodness
Maybe this qualifies as a hot take to rank Ivey all the way down here, or perhaps the real hot take is everyone locking him in as the #4 player in the draft. Given that there are three #1 talents in this draft, Ivey somewhat functions as a #2 pick in this draft and may shed light on why #2 picks seem historically cursed. Once the obvious stud(s) are off the board, teams seem to feel the need to target big upside with their high lottery pick. Except the high upside guys who aren’t obvious studs normally have some debilitating wart that causes them to disappoint, thus the #2 pick curse.
It is a simple heuristic to say that the most athletic guy has the most upside, but that’s not always the case. My preferred heuristic is that dimensions and basketball IQ yield the most upside, but Ivey has the smallest dimensions and arguably the worst basketball IQ in this tier.
Another way to discern upside would be to look for players who are productive players and young. Ivey is the 6th oldest in this tier, and older prospects such as Keegan Murray (15.7), Tari Eason (14.7), Walker Kessler (14.1), and Mark Williams (12.5) all had vastly better BPM’s than Ivey this past season (7.2). Jake Laravia is only 3 months older and was nevertheless higher (8.5). Then among younger players: AJ Griffin (8.1), Sochan (8), Mathurin (8), Kendall Brown (7.4) all were higher, Jalen Duren (7.1) is a hair lower while being 21 months younger, and Trevor Keels (4.2) is the only much lower player who is 1.5 years younger and vastly underrated by BPM.
There is no stable floor to Ivey’s profile. People are latching onto one big strength in speed/athleticism and one basketball skill in getting to the rim and finishing, and somewhat glazing over how little else he has to offer. There is some chance that he develops great and becomes a Zach LaVine, but more commonly he will be something like Jordan Clarkson and he has some risk of being not good at all.
Overall the other choices aren’t great and it is not crazy to consider Ivey at #4 overall. But it is crazy to not consider that he should actually be rated solidly lower than #4, and it seems that most people are failing to give this concern it’s due.
9. Tari Eason
This may regrettable to rate Eason this high, as he has an incredibly polarizing set of traits. He likely has the second best physical profile in the draft after Jalen Duren, as he is 6’8 with 7’2 wingspan with wiry strength and great athleticism.
Eason is a buzzsaw defensively, as he can physically match up with almost anybody, has a great motor, and is natural at pressuring the ball and forcing turnovers. The downside is that he fouls approximately as much as a buzzsaw might, and is massively turnover prone offensively.
Offensively he is a capable shooter and can create his own shot and finish. He makes decent passes at times but is definitely a score first player, and because he is prone to playing out of control and attacking at inopportune times he had a terrible assist:TOV ratio of 0.45 for LSU.
He seems to have an excellent intuition for basketball but a questionable IQ– many of his fouls are sloppy and lazy reaches. It is not clear if the fouls are turnovers are stomachable errors can be cleaned up over time, or indicative of a fundamental lack of intelligence that will lead to overall disappointment over time. But it needs to be a major concern how frequently his mental lapses occur on both ends.
Drafting Eason this high is a big risk. Fouls and turnovers can typically be reduced over time, but it is not common for prospects with such high rates as an old sophomore who turned 21 shortly after the season to enter the draft. They need to be treated as possible fatal flaws, as players with foul rates that bad typically stay bad forever.
So this makes it a challenge to rank Eason. His strengths are tantalizing, but he has some disgusting warts as well. It’s tough to place him with any confidence, but his strengths are so much more exciting than anybody else outside of the top 3, it seems worth erring on the side of optimism.
10. Mark Williams 11. Walker Kessler
Both Williams + Kessler have somewhat limited excitement as role playerish bigs, but they both have fairly easy paths to useful NBA player and are going to get drafted behind a whole bunch of perimeter players who amount to nothing.
Both are efficient garbagemen and rim protectors. Williams is a bet on physical tools and offense, whereas Kessler is more of a bet on instincts and defense.
Williams eye tests as one of the best pick and roll finishers and vertical spacers for a big in recent memory. He is incredibly long at 7’6.5″, reasonably bouncy, and extremely fluid in the paint. He dunks at a massive rate and rarely turns it over with almost as many assists (35) as turnovers (36) on the season for Duke.
His shooting has some inkling of hope as well, as he made 72.7% FT as a sophomore and 66.1% for his NCAA career. He only went 0/1 from 3 in two seasons, but he has some outs of learning to make an open 3 in the NBA in time.
Defensively he uses his reach to block a high rate of shots, and he is decent enough on this end, but is not as good as the other top bigs in the draft. His reaction times are a bit slow as is his lateral movement, and consequently his impact was not great as he anchored a decent but not great Duke defense, with the defense performing worse with him on the floor. Most notably he struggled to defend Zed Key in the post, who had BY FAR his highest scoring game of the season vs. Duke with many of his buckets coming isolated vs Williams in the post. But he also dominated Drew Timme 1 on 1 in a much more difficult matchup vs Gonzaga, so his defense is more of a mixed bag than an active weakness.
Kessler’s offense is not quite as aesthetically pleasing as Williams, he is nevertheless highly efficient as a low usage garbage man. His FT% is not as good making 59.6% as a sophomore and 57.7% career, but he did attempt 50 3 pointers on the season as a sophomore. He only made 10 of them, but the fact that he is trying conveys some inkling of hope for eventually learning to shoot.
What is special about Kessler is his defensive instincts. He has the highest steal rate of any big in the draft, and the highest block rate of any NCAA player ever. For a 7’1 guy he is fairly mobile and seems to always be in the right place at the right time and blocks almost everything.
He has clear potential to be best defensive player in the draft, and a DPOY candidate if he gets enough minutes for his NBA team.
There is a case to be made that Kessler belongs slightly ahead of Williams due to defense being higher leverage than offense for a rim protecting big. But DeAndre Jordan has shown that elite vertical spacers who can dunk every pass in site provide good offensive value, and Williams’ offense looks so aesthetically great it is difficult to be confident in rating Kessler higher.
As it is, they both seem like solid big prospects in a similar tier.
12. Keegan Murray
Keegan is a painfully boring top 5 choice, and I honestly would like to rank him lower but there just aren’t many guys to put ahead of him.
He is an old 3 + D wing who turns 22 shortly after the draft and may not be good at either 3’s or defense. He only made 74.9% FT in college and his 37.3% 3P was on middling volume, so he is a capable shooter but it is unclear if he is good or not.
Defensively he gets steals and blocks, but played for a soft Iowa defense and appeared to be soft on this end himself. He is not particularly quick and can be beat off the dribble, and most egregious he was bullied for layups three times in the second half of Iowa’s tournament loss to Richmond by a 6’7 mid major PF Nathan Cayo averaging 9 pts/game. It was a bad look for such an old prospect in a matchup that should not have been a challenge for him.
Outside of that, Murray excels at making shots in the paint at a high % without turning it over. In this regard he has a bit of TJ Warren potential. But TJ Warren looked aesthetically better scoring, and Murray may be more of a wing version of Frank Kaminsky that is a product of an NCAA system moreso than a high level NBA scorer.
Ultimately, there are some decent points to like regarding Murray but nothing stands out as special, and all of his strengths have enough asterisks such that there is no guarantee he amounts to anything at all in the NBA.
But everybody else in this draft is really bad, so how low can we get on him? Perhaps a bit lower would be reasonable, but we’ll keep the spice levels on this take mild and stash him here with the understanding that he is not a prospect I would be excited to draft.
Tier 3: Solid Role Players
13. Trevor Keels
Keels is a massive weirdo as an unathletic combo guard. But he is one of the youngest players in the class, not turning 19 until after the draft in August and has some funky gravity to him.
In spite of his lack of burst, he has decent craft at getting to the rim and finishing. He is also a good passer and decision maker and posted an excellent 2.18 A:TO ratio as an 18 year old freshman.
His freshman shooting was underwhelming at 31.2% 3P 67% FT, but he took a high rate of 3PA and looks like a confident shooter. In light of his age, it seems like he should be a capable 3 point shooter in the NBA and he has some potential to be a good shooter if he develops well over time.
Defensively he has questions as he is slow and beatable off the dribble, and does not always have the best awareness. But his instincts and intuition are overall decent, and he is capable of getting in the passing lanes and being disruptive. He definitely has a risk of being a liability defensively in the NBA, but he also has clear outs to figure it out and be competent.
Keels’ main selling point is his ability to create a moderate volume of offense without turning it over. In this regard he is like a Monte Morris who is 2.25″ taller (6’4.75″), 3.25″ longer (6’7.25″) and 49 pounds heavier at a beefy 224 in spite of his youth. That’s some significant size boosts to a decent rotation player.
If we really want to turn up the optimism, it is difficult to find a strong comp considering how unique his distribution of traits are. But he has some parallels to Tyrese Haliburton. Keels is beefier, not as athletic, and has a long way to go to catch up as a shooter, but Haliburton did not get much draft hype either as a freshman who averaged 6.8 points 3.6 assists 0.8 turnovers for Iowa State. But then Haliburton made a sophomore leap, and he was a steal at #12 overall in the draft.
14. AJ Griffin
AJ Griffin projects to be an efficient player offensively if he develops smoothly. But there are a couple of issues that could put a hitch in his development.
First he missed major time in high school with injuries, and may have some medical flags lingering. You need to be worried that he just is not durable enough to be available with any consistency in the NBA.
Second he *seems* like an elite shooter after making 44.7% 3P as a young freshman for Duke, but a small sample of good NCAA 3P shooting does not always predict NBA success. Xavier Henry shot 41.8% 3P as an NCAA freshman on slightly more attempts than AJ (165 vs 159), and had a similar FT% (78 vs 79). Yet in the NBA he only shot 32.5% 3P 63.5% FT on tiny volume and flamed out of the league at age 24.
Aaron Nesmith another example of a prospect who shot 52.2% on 115 attempts with 82.5% FT and has a 30.6% 3P in his first two NBA seasons including playoffs. Sometimes guys make 3’s in college but not in the NBA.
AJ really needs to shoot well too, because he is not a great athlete, shot creator, or passer and his defense is actively bad. If he shoots as badly as Nesmith or Henry, he will likely disappoint in the NBA as much as they did. And even if those guys did not completely flop and shot 35-36% from 3, they still would not be particularly useful.
But IF he can shoot and if he stays healthy, there are reasons to be optimistic for Griffin. He is the son of former NBA player Adrian Griffin, which tends to be predictive of draft success. He could be something like a fellow NBA junior such as Gary Trent Jr. or Tim Hardaway Jr. And there is some scenario where he is even better than them and more like a Desmond Bane.
Griffin is a reasonable gamble on him at some point mid-1st, but there is a scary downside tail here that makes him a somewhat murky value proposition.
15. Jake LaRavia
Laravia is an extremely young junior, being just 12 days older than freshman TyTy Washington.
He fits a nice 3 + D mold as a 6’8 wing who excels at moving his feet and defending the perimeter. His post defense is not quite as good, and may limit LaRavia from being a full stopper, but in two games at Duke Paolo Banchero badly struggled to get past him on perimeter drives.
But he is nevertheless looks like a solid defensive prospect who can make an open 3, making 38.4% 3P 77.7% FT this past season for Wake Forest. That said he has a slow release on his shot and took a low volume of 3PA which badly needs to increase in the NBA. And while he is a good passer with solidly more assists (3.7) than turnovers (2.7), he does not create a high volume of offense off the dribble.
He has enough skill to fit as an NBA role player, but his offense is fairly limited and he is a good but not great defensive prospect. This makes him collectively a bit boring, but he has an easy path to being average or a bit above average 3 + D wing, which is a relatively good prize in this draft.
16. Shaedon Sharpe
Shaedon Sharpe has pretty decent upside as an athletic SG who can potentially score a high volume, the only issue is that his odds of hitting is fairly long due to lack of evidence that he actually knows how to play.
There is some chance he happens to succeed and becomes something like a Jason Richardson or Michael Redd and this ranking looks harsh, but most of the time he is going to be a mediocre bench player or bust.
17. Christian Koloko
Koloko has great dimensions at 7′ with 7’5 wingspan and good mobility for a big man. He can protect the rim and switch onto the perimeter, he has elite defensive potential as a big man who does it all.
His issue is that he is 22 years old a few days after the draft and does not bring much offensive value. But between 64.2% 2P, 73.5% FT, and almost as many assists as TOVs this season he has a basic competence on this end.
The way that Koloko turns into a big draft win is if he develops into a DPOY candidate. Which seems plausible, as there are a number of quality big men in this draft but it is not clear that any of them have higher defensive potential than Koloko.
Kessler, Chet, and Duren all have big defensive potential, but I don’t think any of them are clear favorites to be better defensively than Koloko as he has the strongest intersection of switchability and on court goodness between the group. He is also the oldest and those guys can conceivably pass him, but there is a ton to like about his defense.
If he is an efficient vertical spacer in the NBA and elite defensively, that adds up to quite the prize in round 2.
18. Kendall Brown
Down to #34 on ESPN’s mock seems unnecessarily harsh. He is frustratingly passive but is he that bad? He must exude a lackadaisical energy throughout his interviews and workouts as well for teams to be this low on him.
He has elite wing tools with 6’7.5″ height, 6’11 wingspan, and explosive athleticism that offers solid defensive versatility. He was a top 10 freshman recruit who is still young, having just turned 19 in May.
He also has a decent enough basketball IQ with more assists than turnovers and he rarely takes bad shots or does anything dumb on defense.
But this is somewhat tied to his weakness of rarely doing much at all. While he is physically capable of being an ideal NBA wing, he is too passive to inspire much confidence.
He reminds me somewhat of Andrew Wiggins, Harrison Barnes, and Rudy Gay but without the ability to make pullup jump shots which considerably lowers his scoring output.
But if he can learn to make an open NBA 3, you really don’t need him pulling up from mid-range to be a decent role player.
His low stock also may be a product of injury concerns as he had an injury in high school and Baylor prospects seem to have medical flags fairly often. But it is difficult to reconcile how he actually belongs in round 2. He is boring in many ways but his intersection of elite tools, youth, and basic competence at playing basketball makes him sliding that far somewhat puzzling.
I hate having to rate this guy. He is a sophomore aged PG who had a decent but unspectacular season for Kentucky in an unspectacular mode of unathletic jump shooting combo guard. But he isn’t even that good of a shooter, he only made 35% 3P 75% FT.
But he may have sneaky PG potential, he had a good assist (3.9) to TOV (1.6) ratio while sharing PG duties with Sahvir Wheeler. Maybe he is more of a floor general than he was able to show at Kentucky, and perhaps he can score more too. It happened with Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Tyrese Maxey, and Immanuel Quickley, so why not TyTy?
The reason why not is also because Cal gets plenty of guards who are not good, and lots of times he is Brandon Knight or Andrew Harrison. He is an entire 23 months older than freshman Devin Booker so that is probably an unrealistic hope.
So let’s not overthink him too much, he is going to be nothing fairly often and when he is something it will typically not be something great. Let’s just stash him here and move on.
21. EJ Liddell 22. Malaki Branham
No strong opinion on the Ohio State guys. Liddell is weird, last year the NBA told him he should go back to school because he was not athlete enough, and now after a fairly typical year of development he is a 1st round choice. Tough to reconcile the inconsistency, but my inkling is that he is a decent enough pull in the late first for a guy with good wing dimensions and a well rounded set of strengths, including uniquely good shot blocking for 6’7.
Branham is younger and skilled but seems like a boring SG who is a decent scorer but a bit too dependent on mid-range shots and likely gets roasted on defense. I can’t get excited about him but maybe he’s alright.
23. Kennedy Chandler
Kennedy Chandler is slippery to rank, because he checks so many upside boxes. He is fast, can create for himself, pass to teammates, has a big steal rate, has a +5″ wingspan, and is fairly young…but he is a 6’0 who shot 60.6% FT. How excited can get you get over a guy like that? I am seriously asking because I do not know.
24. Jalen Williams 25. Christian Braun
Christian Braun masterfully toes the line between painfully boring and great at nothing and solidly well rounded and not bad at anything.
At 6’7 he has t-rex arms at 6’6.5″ but he is a good athlete and has a solid basketball IQ. It seems like he is always trying to make something happen on the court, and while his talent has his limits he does a good job making the most of them.
One comp that could be made for him is a slightly bigger Donte DiVincenzo. It is difficult to see a big upside tail, but it is not hard to see a reasonably useful rotation player.
26. Blake Wesley
Wesley has excellent mobility and decent enough steal, blocks, and rebounds for his size to be a solid defensive player in the league. But he is 6’4.25″ with 6’9.25″ wingspan, and his indicators look clearly inferior to Jrue or Smart so there is only so much impact he can conceivably make on defense.
Offensively he has a semblance of passing, shooting, and scoring ability for a freshman who only turned 19 in March. He can get to the rim in doses, he had a slightly positive assist:TOV ratio, and he shot 30.3% 3P 65.7% FT on a high volume of attempts.
If he can make a shooting leap and cut down on bad decisions offensively, it is easy to see him as a guy who is decent on both ends of the floor.
But the downside is that he is currently undersized and highly inefficient. And he blew Notre Dame’s tournament when he got stopped in dominant fashion 3 times in a row in the last two minutes vs Texas Tech with two turnovers and a layup attempt blocked.
On one hand, Wesley’s youth makes this semi-forgivable, but on the other hand– how aggressively can you really invest in an inefficient 6’4 guy simply because he covers ground defensively?
27. Dalen Terry
Terry is a funky weirdo who is long, lanky, and does not score much but is a great passer for a 6’7 wing. He is so unique he is difficult to pin down, but the concern is that he is a 3 + D wing who is not guaranteed to be positive at either shooting or defense. There is some fun appeal with him but also a healthy amount of blah, so perhaps late first where he belongs.
28. Johnny Davis
Johnny Davis is such a boring prospect in the lottery. He is a small SG with mediocre skill, efficiency, and athleticism who thrives on toughness and defense even though he doesn’t get nearly enough steals to suggest that his defense is uniquely good for his size. He is not great at getting to the rim, he is not great at making 3’s, and he is definitely not a floor general with more turnovers than assists. His main value offensively for Wisconsin was to make pull-up mid-range shots
29. Ochai Agbaji
There is so much to dislike about Agbaji. He is 22 years old and getting drafted for his spot up shooting when it is not even that obvious he can shoot. He only made 74.3% FT as a senior and 71.2% for his career. This makes it difficult to fully trust his 40.7% 3P on high volume as a senior.
Further he is a 6’5.5″ SG with mediocre feel for the game, does not create much offense for himself or teammates, and may be a significant liability on defense.
But he had really good on/off splits for the champion Jayhawks, he has decent man to man defensive abilities because of his length, strength, and athleticism, and it is possible that he is a good shooter after all.
So it wouldn’t be a shock to see him reach a basic level of usefulness, which is more than can be said for most guys still on the board this late. But it also wouldn’t be a shock to see him amount to nothing, and his upside is fairly limited.
Tier 4: Getting Thin:
30. Alondes Williams
Alondes seems a bit too unpolished and a bit too old to be good, but his creation ability for a 6’5 PG is too good to sleep on entirely. He is super athletic and extremely saucy with the ball. He can create his own shot at the rim at a monster rate, has excellent passing vision and creativity, and his shot is not completely broken.
He is prone to getting sloppy and turning it over and his shooting is rather meh for his age, but it just seems like there is a bit too much strength to go undrafted.
Has some potential to be something like Jordan Clarkson or Derrick White if Derrick White played like Russell Westbrook.
31. Darius Days
Days looks the part of a role playing NBA wing.
First physically he is a beast. 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan and a strong, thick frame. He isn’t an explosive athlete but moves decently enough to have a chance of hanging on the perimeter defensively. This is especially given his exceptionally quick hands that he uses to pick guards clean in a way that is rarely seen for guards his size. His perimeter D is somewhat of a mixed bag
He also has good post defense, where he does not yield deep position and is not easy to back down. It would not be a surprise if he turned out to be sneaky good at defending Giannis because of his strength with decent enough dimensions and mobility.
Offensively, Days is limited with the ball but is a decent shooter who takes a high rate of 3PA. He will not require much defensive attention in the NBA, but if you try to hide a guard on him he can punish them in the post and on the offensive glass.
Days does not offer much upside but if you are looking for a 3 + D wing to fill out a rotation with decent minutes, Days seems like a solid candidate for that role. If I ran a team I would absolutely be trying to get him as an UDFA on a 2 way deal.
32. Ryan Rollins
I wrote in my combine review that he was too much of a mixed bag to justify a round 1 choice, but there aren’t that many guys to rank above him and he misses the cut here by two slots. Rollins has his flaws and reasons to doubt him, but also some interesting strengths. He has great length, a young birthday for his class, and fairly well rounded box score production.
He showed some flaws in the combine scrimmages but also showed some funky goodness that is difficult to pin down. He has a chance of being alright.
33. MarJon Beauchamp
I don’t know what to do with this guy. He seems really bad on offense for his age. But good dimensions + defensive versatility is worth something. Shrug.
34. Peyton Watson
Watson has one of the most polarizing profiles in recent memory, as his intersection of dimensions, steal, block, rebound, and assist rates imply a wing that is highly likely to be useful in the NBA.
But for the life of him he could not put the biscuit in the basket as an NCAA freshman for UCLA. He made 35.6% 2P, 39.4% TS while averaged 3.3 pts in 12.7 minutes per game.
On one hand– this is a small sample where he was limited by being on a good team deep with talented players, and if he simply happened to have bad luck shooting and does better in the NBA, then you are left with a likely steal in round 2.
On the other hand– him not spending more time on the court implies that he was more likely to be bad than unlucky, and it is extremely tough to find an example of somebody who became a useful NBAer with THAT bad of a 2P% in college.
So it’s tough to place him. He has a somewhat compelling upside argument, but in all likelihood he is not good enough.
35. Jaylin Williams
Williams is a bit undersized for a big at 6’10 with 7’1 wingspan, and is not that quick or athletic. Where he shines is with his defensive fundamentals, as his dad taught him positioning at a young age and he is a master at drawing charges, drawing 54 in 37 games this season for Arkansas.
Unfortunately, this will not fully translate to the NBA where his lack of speed will weigh heavier with greater space, and he will draw fewer charges, but his strong fundamentals could nevertheless make him a useful role player.
He is a good passer with a great assist:TOV (2.6 vs 1.8), and has outs to develop an NBA 3 with 1.9 3PA/game as a sophomore with 73% FT. He also has a young birthday for his class, turning 20 several days after the draft.
It is easy to see him as a 3rd big who is solidly useful in certain situations, but will not be ideal in every matchup.
36. Michael Foster
Seems like an old school PF but sometimes a good old school PF can be better than a bad modern player. Which is not to say Foster is necessarily good. Just that he might be.
37. David Roddy
Roddy has a nice intersection of brains and brawns as he has a strong thick frame and a good basketball IQ.
Unfortunately he may not have enough talent otherwise. He is only 6’6 and not all that athletic or good at shooting. He seems like more of a mid-major star than a guy who can convert to NBA wing like PJ Tucker. But there is enough there to take a stab on his funky mold working out in round 2.
38. Josh Minott
Minott seemed like an interesting candidate to be a nice piece if he learns to shoot based on his freshman small sample playing 14.6 mins/game off the bench for Memphis.
But his skill level looked painfully raw in the combine. Worth considering that if he played 30 mins/game for a full season his numbers may not look as impressive.
But his freshman production along with youth and dimensions are worth something. He’s tough to rank but somewhere in first half of round 2 seems right.
39. Caleb Houstan
Houstan is painfully meh but he is 6’8, young, and decent at shooting, so if he finds a way to stick in the NBA it would hardly be surprising.
40. Nikola Jovic 41. Ousmane Dieng
This international class sucks, but Jovic is has an inkling of hope of being something between his height, youth, passing, and shooting. Perhaps he can be something of a Jonas Jerebko in the NBA.
Jovic is certainly going to be better draft value than Dieng, who for some reason is getting drafted in the lottery. Dieng has a good height at 6’9 for a young wing with some semblence of shooting and handling, but he is otherwise horrific at basketball.
He is incredibly soft, plays with no force, dies on every screen and has no physicality whatsoever to his game.
He is also slow and unathletic, cannot get past anybody off the dribble, and likely will struggle to defend the perimeter in the NBA.
He occasionally makes an impressive pass, but overall he averaged 1 assists vs 1.4 turnovers for by far the worst team in Australia.
In theory he has “potential” but in reality he is really bad at basketball now, has some horrible flaws that likely will not change, and likely does not have enough time to improve into a useful NBA player. He would be a big mistake in the lottery.
42. Jaden Hardy
Maybe this is too low. I don’t have the best read on these G League guys. But a 6’4 inefficient gunner is not my type. Maybe he develops into Anfernee Simons or something but he is probably bad.
43. Andrew Nembhard
Maybe this is a bit low on Nembhard. 6’4.5 PG who can shoot isn’t bad. But he is so old and unathletic and kind of boring.
This 30-43 range is difficult in general for me to rank and pretty much somebody needs to go in the back and feel like they may be too low.
44. Ron Harper Jr. 45. Jabari Walker 46. Scottie Pippen Jr.
These guys all had NBA dads so maybe they overachieve. Or maybe they aren’t good enough. Who knows.
47. Jamaree Bouyea
Bouyea is old but an athletic buckets getter and that is worth respecting.
The one domestic who misses the cut is Max Christie. He may not be as hopeless as some of these internationals, but there is close to nothing to like about him outside of making 82.4% FT on 74 FTA. But he still only shot 31.7% 3P on mediocre volume of 3.5 3PA/game, which is not what you want out of your one dimensional shooter who is bad and undersized on D at 6’5.75″ with 6’8.75″ wingspan.
He is also inefficient on offense, with low volume and low efficiency and it is difficult to see what may be his ticket to NBA success. The consensus draft twitter big board ranked him ahead of Keels, which may age really badly in time.
Shaedon Sharpe is the big mystery box of the draft, as he was #1 RSCI in the 2022 high school class before re-classifying to spend last season on Kentucky’s bench. Now he is a top 10 prospect in this year’s draft, with limited information to discern his true value.
Here is the list of the last 19 #1 RSCI prospects coming out of high school.
LeBron James Dwight Howard Lou Williams Josh McRoberts Greg Oden OJ Mayo Brandon Jennings Derrick Favors Harrison Barnes Anthony Davis Shabazz Muhammad Andrew Wiggins Jahlil Okafor Ben Simmons Josh Jackson Marvin Bagley RJ Barrett James Wiseman Cade Cunningham Chet Holmgren
LeBron and Dwight were obvious #1 overalls straight out of high school. Anthony Davis and Ben Simmons were obvious #1 overalls after a year of college. Andrew Wiggins, Greg Oden, and Cade Cunningham were not obvious #1 choices after a year of college, but wrongfully went #1 because of all of their RSCI hype.
Everybody else went #2 or later, including a high number of mediocre careers in the high lottery. Bagley and Wiseman were both major mistakes at #2 overall, with Wiseman sharing a commonality with Sharpe of low information. He had 3 good games in college and then seemed eager to not play anymore to preserve the draft hype he had attained. This worked to perfection, as he tricked the Warriors into drafting him over LaMelo Ball among other more capable prospects on the board.
The problem with low information is that it gives an aura of infinite upside, but in reality is more indicative of a weak median outcome. The draft is hard enough to predict working with full seasons of high major NCAA play, but if we are working with AAU data it is far more difficult. This is why top RSCI’s are so boom or bust– high school scouts can discern if somebody is in a good mold, but being able to tell if they are NBA caliber is much more difficult for 16 and 17 year olds.
Let’s talk about long armed SG’s
And if there is one player on this list that Sharpe stylistically compare to, it is Shabazz Muhammad. They have similar dimensions as long armed SG’s with 6’11 wingspans (Muhammad is an inch taller at 6’6 vs 6’5), and the strength of both players is being able to get buckets without turning it over. Muhammad did this capably in the NBA, but he was too selfish and one dimensional and fizzled out of the league after 5 underwhelming seasons.
Granted, Muhammad somewhat tricked RSCI by being secretly a year older than listed. But Sharpe is no spring chicken himself, as he was only 6 months older relative to his HS class where he was ranked #1. It is important to be leery of older prospects beating up on high school opposition that may happen to be less developed.
Long armed guards is a fairly common mold for draft disappointment among high RSCI’s. Xavier Henry (#6 RSCI) and went 12th in the draft after shooting 41.8% 3P and 78.3% FT for Kansas, and then completely forgot how to shoot in the NBA and badly busted. James Young (#9 RSCI) showed promise due to his youth and length but failed in the NBA due to lack of maturity.
Markelle Fultz is a famous example of a #1 pick SG who was heavily dependent on his shooting but only made 64.9% FT in NCAA. Sharpe only made 63.5% FT (33/52) in EYBL, so there is good reason to worry he could have similar issues as he is the same age as Fultz on draft night in spite of moving a class up and not playing and did not show nearly the same PG skills in high school.
Romeo Langford, Rashad McCants, and Lonnie Walker are a few other examples of long armed scorers who flopped in the NBA.
The last hit was on Anthony Edwards, who was outlier young for his class. He was a few months younger than Sharpe even after Sharpe reclassified. He also has outlier positive energy, whereas Sharpe seems to have a terrible attitude based on interviews floating around.
And prior to Edwards it is tough to find a top 20 RSCI SG with long arms hitting. Lance Stephenson had a couple of decent years, but was not consistent enough to be a major draft prize. Gerald Henderson did not bust but never became better than mediocre. James Harden and Tyreke Evans are moreso PG’s and not the same mold. The best example of a win may be Jason Richardson who was ranked #14 RSCI all the way back in 1999.
Ultimately this mold is dense with busts, and every once in a blue moon you get a Jason Richardson who never made an all-star game or an Anthony Edwards who seems on track to become an all-star, but his career is still TBD. If we go back a few years further to the days before RSCI there are more inspiring examples such as Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter, but anybody who has been chasing one of those guys over the past 20+ drafts has experienced mostly pain and frustration.
Where Are Shaedon Odds of Success?
This is difficult to say, as we have not gained much information to work with this draft process. But the Sacramento Kings did share this interview clip:
This might be the worst pre-draft interview clip I have ever seen. First, he does not seem to know a single player on the Sacramento Kings, including De’Aaron Fox who played for the same school and coach as Sharpe.
Most star players are big fans of the NBA entering the league, but it seems that Sharpe instead believes that the NBA should be a big fan of him. In spite of his highest level of basketball played being the EYBL Peach Jam, he believes he can come in and give proven NBA players like De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis “their little shine” by finding them when they are open.
This is a wild intersection of bad awareness and gross arrogance, as if he is above the NBA without even proving that he can be a competent college basketball player.
Typically focusing too much on interviews over on court performance is going to lead to more bad opinions than good ones, but there is no on court performance for Sharpe to analyze. If the only bit of information that Sharpe provides this draft process is a transparently awful attitude, why should that be taken lightly when there is close to zero information suggesting that he will be a useful NBA player.
Even without this video it seemed most likely that he would be a Shabazz Muhammad, James Young, Romeo Langford, or Xavier Henry type with just a tiny shred of hope that he would be Kobe Bryant or Vince Carter.
But while Sharpe is a good athlete, he is not a generational athlete like Kobe or Vince and needs to develop perfectly to achieve that level of greatness. This video should disqualify him from that, as those guys entered the league with far more humble mentalities. This pre-rookie video from Kobe conveys the opposite mentality of having studied all of the great NBA players and being excited to learn from them.
So now we are hoping for something more like Jason Richardson, which is a nice payoff on a mid-lottery pick but far from franchise changing, and even still it is difficult to imagine J-Rich having such a bad attitude. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Sharpe’s distribution of NBA outcomes is something like
10% Jason Richardson 10% Lance Stephenson 80% Bust
Is that really worth a lottery pick? It is not a particularly exciting distribution of outcomes, and 10% odds of becoming J-Rich may be too generous for Sharpe.
Where Does Sharpe fit in 2022 Class?
This year is full of SG’s in a similar mold to compare Sharpe to, so let’s run through them.
Bennedict Mathurin is an inch taller at 6’6 with 2.5″ less length at 6’9, but is the better athlete, more proven shooter, and more proven basketball player having won Pac-12 player of the year for Arizona this past season. Sharpe is only 11 months younger– if he transferred to Arizona to play next season, it is unlikely that he would win 2022-23 Pac-12 player of the year. Sharpe has clearly inferior median outcome to Mathurin without any reason to believe in more upside.
My first impression was that Sharpe was a better gamble than Jaden Ivey who showed myriad warts on the floor for Purdue. But Ivey nevertheless showed some baseline competence offensively that Sharpe may have not matched, and there is no strong reason to expect Sharpe to be any less bad on defense. Further, Ivey is the clearly more explosive athlete and seems to be much more coachable than Sharpe. For all of my doubts about Ivey and his bust risk, he seems clearly above Sharpe.
AJ Griffin is another SG worth questioning given his reliance on shooting with unorthodox shooting mechanics. But he still has a bigger sample of better shooting numbers than Sharpe, he has proven to be a useful NCAA player who was efficient and avoided turnovers, and he is 0.5 to 1″ taller and longer. He is also 3 months younger than Sharpe. Sharpe is the better athlete, but everything else points toward AJ being the better value proposition.
Malaki Branham has similar dimensions with 1.5″ less length, and proved to be a competent player for Ohio State with an intriguing shooting making 41.6% 3P 83.3% FT. He still likes the mid-range a bit too much and needs to stretch his range to NBA 3, but he nevertheless has more evidence suggesting he can shoot than Sharpe does. And they have the same birth month, even if Sharpe is a little bit longer and a bit more athletic, there is not a clear reason to value him higher.
Johnny Davis and Ochai Agbaji are the tougher comparisons as they have more transparent offensive limitations and lower upside, but they likely do have better median outcomes than Sharpe. You could debate whether it is worth gambling on Sharpe’s upside when the odds of it hitting since fairly bad, but it is safer to instead just not draft any of these guys since they are all unlikely to provide any sort of compelling payoff in the lottery.
It’s difficult to rank Sharpe with precision based on the low information. It seems like a fairly safe assumption that he is not going to be useful, but there is still enough intrigue to take a punt on him at some point in case it works out. But even in late round 1 or early round 2 I would rather take a high IQ non-athlete like Trevor Keels over a dunce like Sharpe.
Median vs Upside
Everybody is obsessed with upside in the draft, and for good reason. Most of the value of a prospect comes in the scenarios where he hits his upside and provides a major payoff to his drafting team.
But upside is heavily tied to median. Let’s say that hypothetically, Bennedict Mathurin and Shaedon Sharpe have similar upside scenarios if they max out their development. But let’s also say that Sharpe has a 50% chance of being a significantly worse shooter, 50% odds of translating to NCAA play poorly, and 50% odds of underwhelming development due to his bad attitude. Odds are that 7/8 times, one of those things will undercut his value and make him at least a notch less good than Mathurin.
So if we believe that Mathurin is going to be an all-star 15% of the time, that means that Sharpe will be the same all-star less than 2% of the time. Who cares about theoretical upside if it does not hit?
It is already a difficult parlay for most players with solid information to hit their upside, but for a mystery box like Sharpe the parlay requires additional legs that make it even further unlikely and make the median bad, which places a major hit on the expected value of their draft rights.
Perhaps these are harsh estimates on Sharpe’s odds of falling short, but even if we say he has 30% odds of disappointing in each category, he is still just 34% to match Mathurin overall. That is really bad relative to a guy that he is currently mocked just one slot behind.
Ultimately it is difficult to rank Sharpe with precision, but the safest thing to do is to simply not draft him. It’s a pure degen variance fest praying that he hits his mysterious upside when there is not much information suggesting that he is likely to hit. You are basically playing a parlay with multiple legs that are unlikely to hit and your reward is a fringe all-star at best.
The smart move is to let somebody else gamble on the mystery box and end up with tickets to a crappy comedy club.
Draft rankings are brutally difficult to execute with consistent accuracy. This year it was season long challenge for me to decide between Paolo and Jabari for #1, and even though I settled on Paolo and would take him in Orlando’s shoes, I still have no criticism for Orlando if they choose Smith at #1 as reported since he is an excellent wing prospect.
And even though I have been firm on Chet being #3, it also is not a clear mistake if OKC choose him over Paolo at #2. I would still take Paolo even if he is an odd fit with Shai + Giddey as it leaves too many offensive hubs who need the ball. You can always trade one of the three for 3 + D help down the road, and the main priority should be to try to hit on a future top 5 MVP candidate which Paolo has better odds of than Shai, Giddey, or Chet.
But if OKC chooses Chet, they are nevertheless left with an excellent trio of potentially 3 future all-stars, with Chet being a perfect 3 + D fit next to their guards. While Chet has less creation upside and a bit more weirdly skinny frame downside than Paolo, he still is an excellent player in his own rite and could be the best player in the draft long term.
But it is not clear that swinging for the fences with an Ivey, Sharpe, or Duren at #4 is necessarily the correct answer, as it is difficult to be confident that any of them are going to be good at all. Let’s discuss all other options, and try to estimate how closely they compare to one another.
Last summer when Australia played USA in FIBA, Dyson Daniels was the clear 2nd best prospect on the floor behind Chet with 18 pts 5 rebounds 4 assists 1 turnover. Australia lost by 21 but was only -6 in Daniels’ 25 mins on the floor.
Since then Daniels has grown 1.5″ to solid SF size at 6’7.5 with 6’10.5 wingspan, and had a productive season for G League Ignite averaging 31.6 mins 11.6 pts 6.8 rebs 4.7 ast 2.7 tov 2 stl 0.7 blk with 53% 2P. His sole weakness was in his mediocre shooting at 30% 3P on 3.4 attempts/game and 53.3% FT on a small sample of 45 attempts.
But apparently he shot the lights out during his pro day. It is a slippery point to read too heavily into, but he is making a number without touching the rim and goes on a few long streaks without the camera cutting away. We should not expect him to be an actively good shooter based on this, but it does mitigate some concern raised by his G League shooting %’s.
He was already the non-top 3 prospect who had the highest odds of being a useful NBA player. And he isn’t lacking in upside– his passing and defense are both great for a young SF. If his shot creation and shooting progress well he can be an all-star.
If we want to turn optimism to the max, there is nothing disqualifying him from being a Scottie Pippen. It would require almost everything to go right, but it is more realistic than Jaden Ivey becoming Russell Westbrook.
A more common outcome would be something along the lines of Boris Diaw as a versatile role playing wing is more of a passer than a scorer. Diaw would not be a thrilling outcome for a top 5 pick, but it will be better than most of the guys who go outside of the top 3 this year, and there is still arguably as much (or more) upside for Daniels as there is for anybody else.
Hard to see him disappointing unless he simply cannot make an open 3, which is still of some concern. But collectively Daniels seems to have the highest odds of being decent of anybody outside the top 3, and he seems to have as much upside as anybody outside the top 3, and I would currently lean toward him being the correct choice at #4 overall.
Sochan has been frequently compared to Dennis Rodman for changing his hair color, and his pest like approach to the game where he regularly irritates his opponents. But stylistically, his freshman numbers are more similar to another player with a colorful personality. Per 100 possessions:
Draymond was a bit better rebounding and passing, but Sochan 2.5 months younger and played a bigger freshman role averaging 25 mins/game compared to 11 mins for Draymond. Sochan also attempted substantially more 3PA, but that may be a product of the modern era more than anything.
Sochan didn’t get measured at the combine, but is listed at 1.5″ taller than Draymond at 6’9 vs 6’7.5 with less wingspan at 7′ vs 7’1.25″.
In all likeilhood Sochan will not be as good as Draymond, but anybody who is that similar at a young age is automatically interesting in this year’s lottery.
More commonly he will be a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson type who hopefully learns to make an open NBA 3 pointer in time. This may seem boring to most, but RHJ was legit good for a non-shooter, and at least Sochan believes in his shot enough to chuck up attempts at a moderate rate. RHJ with a competent outside shot would be a solid NBA role player.
Sochan has excellent wing dimensions, a great motor, his gets good rebound, assists, steals, and blocks, and he is a somewhat dirty player who gets under opponents’ skins. It seems like players like this are almost always good on defense, where he can possibly make a major impact.
Sochan’s lack of offense is likely getting in the way of him generating much draft hype, ranking 15th on ESPN’s latest big board and 18th on their most recent mock. But his positive assist:TOV ratio, efficiency inside the arc, and not completely hopeless shooting given his youth could sum up to a decent player offensively in time.
There is a decent case to be made that he is one of the top 5 prospects in this draft. Perhaps it is too much of a gamble on his dicey shooting ability and limited offensive package, but most everybody outside of the top 3 have major warts on at least one side of the ball.
Between him and Dyson Daniels, I would lean toward Daniels having the edge. Sochan is 1.5″ taller, but Daniels is a better passer and better bet to shoot.
If we are putting him against guys like Mathurin, Ivey, Sharpe, Duren, etc it becomes a fuzzier comparison but it just doesn’t seem that crazy to project Sochan a bit more valuable than all of those guys. You cannot have enough versatile defensive wings in the modern NBA, whereas there is a limit to how many bigs and chucking SG’s you can play at a time (one).
Mathurin makes for an easy comparison to Shaedon Sharpe and Jaden Ivey because they are all athletic SG’s. This is especially the case for Ivey since they have high major NCAA samples at a similar age. Per 100 possessions:
Ivey is higher in the public eye because he is the more outlier elite athlete, and uses it more functionally to pressure the rim and create a high volume of offense. This led to a higher scoring and assist output than Mathurin. But he also turned it over much more, and Mathurin has the better assist:TOV ratio (1.42 to 1.17).
In spite of being the less explosive athlete who attacked the rim and scored in the paint less frequently, Mathurin dunked slightly more often than Ivey. This is likely in part to his 2″ height advantage, and that Mathurin is an excellent athlete in his own rite.
Based on sophomore shooting stats Mathurin is the slightly better shooter at 36.9% 3P 76.4% FT vs 35.8% 3P 74.4% FT for Ivey. But if you include freshman #’s the gap widens, with Mathurin 38.3% 3P 78.9% FT vs Ivey 32.2% 3P 73.9% FT.
Both players project to be defensive liabilities, but Mathurin seems slightly better on D. His 2″ height advantage is significant, his NCAA team defense was much better, and he eye tests as a bit better.
So if we sum everything up, is it really clear that Ivey is better? He has a bit more athleticism and potential for a high usage role offensively, but it’s not clear that he has the basketball IQ to merit a high usage role for an NBA team. And if you are drafting somebody to be a #2 or #3 guy, Mathurin is a better fit since he has an edge in both 3 and D and scores more within the flow of the offense with fewer turnovers.
That said, Mathurin is not a world beater, he could easily be just a Ben McLemore or Terrence Ross. In slightly more favorable outcomes, he may be a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Tim Hardaway Jr. His more exciting outcome would be Jason Richardson, and perhaps he has some small outs to be a Devin Booker, although his shooting and scoring would need to take some major leaps to get there.
But it still seems like he has an easier path to decency than Ivey, who will have some bad common outcomes like Jordan Crawford or Dennis Smith Jr.
If Ivey makes a big shooting leap and figures out how to navigate NBA defenses, he could be a Zach LaVine. His more common useful outcome would be a Jordan Clarkson type.
Westbrook comps are ridiculous– Russ was 9 months younger posting 7.9 assists vs 4.5 turnovers per 100 for UCLA sharing the PG duties with junior Darren Collison compared to Ivey’s 5.8 ast 5.0 tov as the primary perimeter ball handler for Purdue. Russ may be wild and make questionable decisions at times, but he is a far more natural PG as well as likely the most explosive athlete in NBA history.
To my eye, Ivey’s basketball intuition is a buck short of what it needs to be for him to place in the top of this tier. You can argue a number of players belong ahead of him, and Mathurin has a fairly solid case of 4 months younger, 2″ taller, better shooter, less bad D, and plays better within the flow of the team while being only slightly less athletic.
Mathurin vs Sharpe
We can extend the comparison to Sharpe, who is stylistically more similar to Mathurin than Ivey. He is slightly shorter than Mathurin at 6’5.25″ vs 6’6″, but has a solid length advantage at 6’11.5″ vs 6’9″. Dimensionally they are similar tier, with perhaps a tiny edge to Sharpe for his length.
Both Mathurin and Sharpe are guys who rely on shooting and athleticism to score a high volume without turning it over. Neither guy gets many steals or blocks defensively, and you are drafting them mostly for their offense and hoping their D is not too bad.
Sharpe has that mystery box upside, but Mathurin likely has a better floor for his proven performance at Arizona. One concern with Sharpe is that while he made 36.4% 3P on 6.4 attempts/game in 12 EYBL games, he only shot 33/52 (63.5%) FT. This is a slightly uncomfortable point given how much he needs to be able to shoot to succeed. Mathurin is likely the favorite to be the better shooter with his 78.9% FT in 2 years at Arizona. And even though Mathurin was 2 classes ahead of Sharpe in high school, he is only 11 months older, Sharpe does not have that much of a youth advantage.
The advantage for Sharpe is simply that he has more upside to be a big time scorer. Mathurin showed good scoring capability and his athleticism leaves room for it to grow, but he will be a medium usage complementary scorer more often than he is the go to guy in the NBA.
Sharpe has more potential to be that #1 scorer, but has lower FT%, and unlike Mathurin did not prove he can be a quality NCAA player as he was Pac-12 player of the year at age 19.
This makes it tricky to pick between these two. Sharpe has higher upside but based on his AAU stats, age, and the way scouts talk about him he is probably not going to be Vince Carter or Ray Allen. There’s a clear case to be made that Mathurin’s proven performance is worth more than Sharpe’s extra sliver of upside, since there are decent odds Sharpe would not have been as good as Mathurin if he stayed for a year of college.
AJ Griffin is a close stylistic relative of Sharpe + Mathurin while trading athleticism for a bit of size. He is much less dunky with a mere 0.51 dunks per 100 possessions compared to Mathurin’s 1.75, and rarely creates his own shot at the rim.
He is presumed to be 6’6 with 7′ wingspan, although did not measure officially. He likely has a small dimensional advantage over Sharpe + Mathurin, and his main calling card is his efficient offensive play as he showed promising shooting making 44.7% 3P 79.2% FT with a microscopic turnover rate at the young age of 18. In spite of being a class ahead of Sharpe, he is actually 3 months younger.
But Griffin gets messy because there are a number of reasons to skew his projection in either direction. First his shooting just does not look that smooth, especially not relative to his #’s. On average I would trust the actual numbers over the eye test for shooting, but there have been guys who shot the lights out for small college samples that failed to do so in the NBA. For instance– Xavier Henry shot 41.8% 2P 78.3% FT on slightly more 3PA (165 vs 159) and solidly more FTA (115 vs 53) than Griffin and could not shoot a lick in the NBA. Aaron Nesmith made 52.2% 3P 82.5% FT as an NCAA sophomore, and has shot 31% 3P in 245 NBA attempts between regular season and playoffs.
Shooting is weird and difficult to predict, and for Griffin’s biggest selling point it is slightly uncomfortable that the eye test does not align with his relatively small statistical sample. His 3P%, FT%, and 3PA rate are all slightly better than Mathurin’s career numbers while Griffin is younger, but Mathurin has a bigger sample of attempts and looks smoother. Who is the favorite to be the better NBA shooter? It is not clear.
If Griffin’s shooting does prove to be a SSS ruse and he is average or worse shooting in the NBA, it is difficult to imagine him being a useful pro. He has an anemic steal rate considering his length, and he has mediocre defensive awareness and is often caught napping for backdoor cuts. Also for his size he is a mediocre rebounder and rarely gets to the line, and he seems to shy away from physicality a bit. He is physically capable of defending in the NBA, but he has clear risk of being a liability, and without official measurements he may be closer to a SG than a true wing size.
Another point for downside is that he missed large chunks of his last two high school seasons with injuries. Some people will argue that this gives him extra upside for future growth, but repetitions at ages 18-20 are not the same as repetitions from 15-17. It is difficult to see this as anything other than a flag that he might be made of glass.
So between his injury history and minor doubts regarding his shooting, there are a couple of ways that Griffin’s career can go sideways. But if he stays healthy and shoots as well as his freshman numbers imply, he is a nice offensive piece that can space the floor, avoid mistakes, and hopefully develop competent defense in time.
And having an NBA father in Adrian Griffin is a plus, as these prospects tend to work out with a higher success rate than average prospects. Tim Hardaway Jr and Gary Trent Jr are fellow NBA dad juniors with similar games who were not quite as strong as pre-draft, so there is no major obstacle that prevents him from being as good as those guys or even better.
If we are stacking him up against his fellow SGs in Mathurin, Sharpe, and Ivey we are left with more razor thin decisions. He is the youngest of the group, turns it over the least, has the best shooting %’s, and his NBA dad could easily propel him to be the best of the bunch. But he also is clearly the least athletic, has the lowest possibility of randomly expanding his offensive role in time, has the scariest injury history, and eye tests as a bit more wonky than that crew.
Analyzing the draft is really hard. Between Mathurin, Sharpe, and Griffin we could easily have one guy become a Michael Redd or Jason Richardson or even Devin Booker level hit, one could be a THJ or KCP type of kinda boring but kinda useful role player, and one could be a dud like Ben McLemore or Xavier Henry. But it’s really hard to know which ones are most or least likely to fall into each path, and most people will resort to ranking them based on some arbitrary heuristic and hope for the best.
Murray absolutely stuffed the stat sheet for Iowa this past year, but you would hope so given that he is by far the oldest player in the lottery and projected #4 in ESPN’s latest mock.
Murray turns 22 shortly after the draft in August, and his biggest issue is that he is a 3 + D wing who may not be good at either 3s or D. He has solid rebound, steal, and block rates, but his D does not always look as good as his statistics imply. His lateral quickness is only OK, and he is prone to being beat off the dribble. In the NCAA tournament he was bullied in the paint for an easy bucket 3 times in a row by 6’7 Nathan Cayo who averaged 9.1 points for mid-major Richmond. This is not the best look for an older prospect.
But presumably at 6’8 with 6’11 height he has pretty good wing dimensions and at least does some things on defense, so he has potential to be either a positive or negative on this end. I would lean slightly toward the negative side, but he is decidedly a mixed bag.
Offensively he made 39.8% from 3 as a sophomore, but backed it up with an unspectacular 74.7% FT. Over his two seasons at Iowa he shot 37.3% 3P 74.9% FT on a middling rate of 3PA, which is fine but not great for an older prospect.
His main value is his ability to score a high volume of 2 pointers with a microscopic turnover rate. He is a difficult player to finger. He has a number of statistical parallels to Frank Kaminsky, but is smaller and closer to Kyle Kuzma stylistically.
He’s a pretty decent wing prospect, but he is just too old with too many blah points in his profile to be a compelling choice in the top 5. He is likely worth taking somewhere near the end of the lottery, but his weirdness makes him difficult to predict with precision.
Eason is a fascinating weirdo who measured with dreamy dimensions for a wing at 6’8 with 7’2 wingspan.
He anchored LSU’s elite #6 defense, as he led the team in TRB%, STL%, and BLK%. He has a great motor and an excellent intuition for pressuring the ball on defense, and was able to use his length to force a boatload of turnovers for the Tigers.
Offensively he is a capable shooter making 80.3% FT and 35.9% 3P for LSU (32.7% 2P 75.7% FT for his 2 year career) and can create his own shot at the rim, making 56.4% 2P on high volume.
But he has major holes in his basketball IQ, as he is often sloppy and out of control. He only played 24.4 minutes per game for LSU because of foul trouble averaging 2.8 per game, and he had a poor 0.45 assist:turnover ratio. He frequently makes questionable decisions, and often attacks at bad times. This is exacerbated by being a relatively old sophomore, having turned 21 in May shortly before the combine.
This is a fairly significant wart, and puts him behind other wings with high defensive potential like Daniels and Sochan. But he also has bigger strengths than most of the prospects outside of the top 3, which makes for an interesting value proposition.
It is most interesting to compare him to Keegan Murray. Eason is 9 months younger and longer with clearly better defense, they are in a similar boat as shooters with perhaps a small edge to Keegan, and Keegan is far better at avoiding mistakes with drastically lower foul and turnover rates.
This is another close comparison. Perhaps it is wise to simply favor the guy who does not have bizarre warts for his age in Murray as consensus does. But Eason’s length + defense add enough sex appeal such that it’s crazy that one of these guys is projected inside the top 5 and the other out of the lottery. The sharp play is clearly to pass on Keegan earlier to take Eason later.
The Bigs: Jalen Duren, Mark Williams, and Walker Kessler
Duren is compelling for his physical tools and youth, and it is easy to get enthusiastic for his upside if he develops well. But he is so raw and his skill and decision making have a long way to go for him to sniff that upside, and he will have plenty of boring common outcomes like Derrick Favors or Andre Drummond. How much value can you place on hitting on a big like that when bigs are getting valued less and less?
So how high is it worth gambling on him hitting a big upside and becoming an Alonzo Mourning or Dwight Howard when most of the time he is not that interesting? And it is not even clear that he is a favorite to be better than Mark Williams who should be available later in the lottery.
Williams is a bit older and less strong and athletic, but has actual center dimensions and is much more efficient for Duke. There is a good case to be made that Williams has the higher median outcome while Duren has the higher upside, and it is not clear exactly who should have the higher draft value.
But the concern for Williams is that for a big who is largely a garbageman and rim protector– does he protect the rim at a high enough level? Duke’s defense was solid but far from elite at #49 in the nation, and it was slightly better with the 20 year old Williams off the floor.
Perhaps the galaxy brain take is that while Duren + Williams are perfectly solid prospects, it is pointless to take them lotto with Walker Kessler lingering in the 20’s. He is a bit weirder and less attractive as the not as athletic white guy, although you would never be able to tell by looking at the stats.
Kessler is only slightly behind Duren + Williams in dunks and rebounds, but dwarfs them in steals and blocks as he set the record for D1 block rate among players who played at least 400 minutes. He blocks almost everything, and is decently mobile for a 7′ rim protector. Offensively, he has the worst FT% of the 3, but is the only one of the group who regular attempts 3’s as he shot 10/50 as a sophomore, attempting 1.5 3P per game. Otherwise he is hyperefficient with an elite 70% 2P and microscopic TOV rate, much like Williams.
There is quite a bit of goodness in Kessler’s profile, and not really anything to strongly dislike. He seems to be getting the short end of the stick due to assumptions that he is a big white stiff, but he does not look stiff on the court and he has a unique intersection of strengths.
Ultimately I tend to agree with consensus ranking of Duren > Williams > Kessler, but disagree with the space between them in mock drafts. It seems pretty close to a three way coinflip between these guys, as any of them could be the best of the bunch or the worst.
Kessler being underrated should not be a huge knock on Duren and Williams, but he is indicative of the bigger trend that teams are averse to heavily investing in non-elite bigs, and it is an easier position to play moneyball since obviously good ones can fall through the cracks in the draft like Kessler. Duren + Williams both seem like reasonable top 10 picks, but given the market value of bigs, is it really necessary to draft them that high? It’s not clear.
The Weird Combo Guard: Trevor Keels
Keels is the one guy who is unique enough to be difficult to directly compare to anybody in this draft, because he ticks to his own beat as a prospect and it is tough to find a historical comparison for him.
On paper he seems extremely boring as an undersized SG at 6’4.75 with 6’7.25 wingspan. He also had some of the worst athletic testing for any non-big, as he graded similarly to the unathletic euro guards Hugo Besson and Matteo Spagnolo and well below any domestic guard. And he did little on the court as a Duke freshman to dispel any athletic doubts, as he finished the season with a mere 2 dunks and 2 blocks.
Let’s compare past NBA draft prospects who are somewhat similar to him with similarly low block and dunk numbers:
Pritchard has largely succeeded in the NBA because he became a 41% shooter through his first two seasons, but at the same age Keels was not far behind as a shooter. He is confident in his shooting and takes a good volume of 3PA in spite of only making 31.2%, and given how young he is he has plenty of time to become decent to good at shooting.
And even if he does not shoot as well as Pritchard, he had a similar assist:TOV while scoring at a much higher rate, and his greater size gives him more potential on defense.
Herro and Kennard are not quite the same because they are such obviously better shooters, but they nevertheless have had NBA careers without being overall more productive than Keels.
Cory Joseph is a fairly juicy comparison. He was a role player who was never that valuable, but he provided a solidly above average return on a late 1st pick at #29 overall as he consistently has found significant minutes throughout his career. And when you put him side by side with Keels, it is not close. Keels was a much more efficient and productive scorer at a full year younger, and has similar potential to be a pesky defensive player with slightly more versatility given his extra 1.5″ of height and length. It does not seem right to let Keels go as late as Joseph did in a weak draft.
Jalen Brunson is fascinating comparison because not only did he have 0 dunks and 0 blocks as an NCAA freshman, but he was similar to Keels with less size, a year older, and far more turnovers. His only significant advantage was in shooting. It’s crazy how well Brunson has done in the NBA– there was no clear signal of his potential statistically or athletically. In fairness he did quite a bit better than Keels in athletic testing, but there was no evidence of any athletic prowess on the court for him.
Austin Rivers is also interesting to compare to Keels, because he was essentially better at nothing as a freshman while having nearly identical dimensions to Keels and being a full year older. Rivers had a bit more volume scoring on mediocre efficiency, but Keels had significant advantages in assists and turnovers as well as more rebounds and steals while being a full year younger.
Rivers was a subpar return on #10 overall as he has never quite been useful, but he has been close enough to useful to hang around the NBA for a long career. If Keels can be a Rivers but with better efficiency, passing, and defense, that is a decent NBA player.
The big cautionary tale on the list is Tyler Ennis, who crushed with assist:TOV ratio while scoring a high volume and completely flopped in the NBA. His low athleticism likely played a role, but he also racked up stats in a dumb Syracuse offense where they jacked up a bunch of mid-range shots and then offensive rebounded them at a huge 38.1% rate. This is reflected in his 42.9% 2P and his team having the 2nd worst 2P% in ACC– it is easier to generate a high volume of offense without turning it over if you are settling for lower quality shots.
Granted, this does not completely negate his offensive production, he still had a compelling amount of output and his limited athleticism likely played a significant role in him succeeding. But as somebody who saw potential in Ennis at the time, I believe I gave his statistical production a bit too much credit given how much it centered around mid-range chucking.
Perhaps I missed a good example or two to compare, but overall this seems to be hardly a death knell. Granted, most of these guys either skipped athletic testing or scored better than Keels, but on court athletic performance should typically trump combine testing for athleticism.
And in terms of on court performance relative to age, Keels seems like he is better than all of these guys. Perhaps you could make a case for Herro or Ennis having a small edge on draft day, but Keels clearly performed better than everybody else as a freshman. And this group collectively performed fairly well relative to draft stock.
There are no huge wins who became stars, which is a reason to somewhat temper enthusiasm for Keels. But there is also no clear signal that limited athleticism should place a major pessimistic skew for young productive guards, and it would seem that with an ESPN ranking of #27 the pessimism for Keels’ athletic limitations has gone too far.
The Tortoise and the Hare
It is interesting how similar these two prospects are outside of being on opposite ends of the athletic spectrum. They have similar dimensions, similar shooting, play similar roles, and the main difference is that one of these guys has a massive speed advantage and the other has a massive IQ advantage.
At a glance you may think that any IQ disparity is likely not that big. Ivey plays a significantly bigger offensive role, and his additional turnovers are not so bad given the higher scoring and slightly higher assist totals.
But consider that Keels is 1.5 years younger and needed to share the ball with four other first round caliber prospects at Duke. It is exceptionally rare for a guard that young to create as much offense as Keels did for himself and his teammates while turning it over so rarely.
With an extra year of experience and more ball handling duties, Keels could see a significant sophomore leap if he returned to school. This would be especially true if he played in a favorable situation like Ivey at Purdue where he was always playing with an elite big man and 3 shooters.
It is difficult to overstate how favorable of a situation Ivey was in this past season. Purdue returned everybody from a top 25 team last year, and gave Ivey a bigger offensive role in more minutes. The team had major upside, but hardly even improved.
Part of this is because of a significant regression in their defense. The defense has simply been dreadful whenever Ivey has played over the past two seasons, and he seems really bad on this end. Keels is not an elite stopper on defense, but he is solid and in spite of being much slower than Ivey is overall a solidly better defensive player. Athleticism certainly helps on defense, but it is secondary to intelligence and Ivey’s defensive IQ is ultra bad where Keels is good.
Offensively Ivey’s IQ is decent enough since he is able to score with high efficiency and post more assists than turnovers for the #2 NCAA offense behind Duke. But he still made a few too many questionable decisions for a 20 year old– especially in Purdue’s tournament loss to Saint Peter’s, which may be the worst tourney performance of all time for a projected lottery pick.
Intuitively, I have a difficult time buying that Ivey has the basketball IQ to be trusted as a lead guard for an NBA offense. He seems more like a microwave scorer for a bench unit.
Meanwhile there has to be something special about Keels’ basketball IQ to have such solid creation as an infant aged freshman while managing to avoid turnovers.
Granted, athleticism gets valued more in the draft for non-trivial reasons. One because a significant percentage of stars are high end athletes, and two because it is easier to discern than basketball IQ.
For instance, it is easy to underrate the basketball IQ of Russell Westbrook who is prone to playing out of control and making bad decisions at times. This makes it easy to overlook his excellent basketball intuition and that he showed rare floor general skills for such an elite athlete at a young age.
Conversely, it is easy to overrate the basketball IQ of guys like Doug McDermott or Jimmer Fredette when they have a common level of NCAA success as non-athletes at an old age.
And this is where the draft gets tricky…Ivey gets top 5 consideration because it is difficult to discern that his basketball intuition/IQ is levels below that of Westbrook, and if you pass on him and he turns out to have similar intelligence and athleticism then you are risking missing out on a big time star.
Intuitively I believe Ivey’s basketball IQ is simply not good enough to run an NBA offense, and that anybody who takes him top 5 will feel scammed in due time. But I cannot assess his BBIQ with perfect accuracy, and there is some wiggle room that needs to be left that his intelligence proves to be decent enough for him to be a good NBA player, even if he is never an MVP candidate like Westbrook.
But most of the athletes that get picked highly in the draft and fail are due to a poor basketball IQ, and most of the best steals who slide out of the top 20 are non-athletes who just know how to play.
While it is difficult to directly compare two prospects with such athletic and intelligence disparities, it would be highly unsurprising if Keels turned out to be the solidly better pro than Ivey. Does this necessarily mean he is the better prospect? I am not sure. There is a reasonable case to be made for it, but it is unclear.
What is clear is Keels’ path to be solidly better at a fraction of the cost based on current draft consensus makes him a drastically better value relative to draft slot.
Brown is a curious case where I wonder what sort of terrible impression he must have made in interviews to be rated #28 on ESPN’s big board.
He has excellent physical tools for a wing as he is 6’7.5″ with 6’11” length and elite athleticism. He had the second highest max vertical leap in the combine behind Kennedy Chandler and 36% of his made FG this season were dunks.
He only turned 19 in May shortly before the combine, and has pretty decent statistical production for a young and toolsy prospect in the coveted mold of 3 + D wing.
Granted, he is not particularly good at either 3 or D. He made 34.1% 3P 68.9% FT which seems decent enough, except he sparsely attempted 3’s with just 1.2 attempts per game in 27 minutes.
His steal, rebound, and block rates are decent, but they nevertheless pale in comparison to fellow NBA prospect teammates Matthew Mayer and Jeremy Sochan. Baylor’s offense and defense were both solidly worse with him on the floor. While Brown has ideal physical tools to defend NBA wings, his defense is largely unrealized potential at this point.
He seems capable of scoring at a decent volume as well, as he has a basic ability to create off the dribble and finish as he converted an excellent 63.8% 2P. But he attacked oddly infrequently, and only averaged 9.7 points in 27 minutes for Baylor on the season.
You may be noticing a trend that Brown has significant potential across the board but his current output is underwhelming in all regards. He has this passive and floaty approach to the game which is frustrating– he should take more 3’s, he should attack the rim more, he should be more disruptive on D, but his mental approach cuts into all of this and leaves a mediocre imprint on the game.
It seems that draft consensus is so offput by this that he is at risk of sliding out of round 1, which seems a bit crazy. There have been floaty players in the past who were not nearly as punished for their limits:
You can see compared to Wiggins and Barnes that in spite of their floaty nature, they still scored considerably more than Brown and were better shooters, which likely played a role in help keeping their draft stock afloat.
But Brown was much more efficient inside the arc. He actually made slightly more 2P per 100 in spite of taking so many fewer attempts, and he had a better dunk rate than either. He also had a much better assist:TOV ratio, which is fairly important for predicting success for NCAA prospects to translate to NBA wing.
The main difference was really that Wiggins + Barnes were better shooters and shot far more frequently. But Brown’s shooting does not seem all that broken, he can close the gap by improving over time and simply pulling the trigger more often.
Richard Jefferson is an example of a prospect with a more similar distribution to Brown. They seemed pretty close as freshmen, but what is surprising about RJ is how his production barely improved over his three years at Arizona and in his final pre-draft season his production was essentially the same as his freshman year with more turnovers.
Perhaps there was some subtle nuanced advantage that drove Jefferson to be selected 13th overall while Brown likely falls to the end of round 1. Maybe Brown just doesn’t like basketball that much and it is apparent in his interviews with teams.
But it is odd that somebody with his physical profile, youth, and mold is getting such little love in the draft. He has a stench of mediocre underachieving that makes it difficult to have much faith in the guy, but prospects with his strengths are normally a lock for the lottery even with some nasty warts attached.
Personally I’m not sure what to exactly think about Brown, but it is difficult to see how he is valued appropriately in the late 20’s.