Is Trae Young the Next Stephen Curry?

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

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

What If He’s Not Steph?

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

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

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

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

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns

Trae and the Sooners

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 Swooners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

Realistic Comps

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

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

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

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

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We Need to Talk about Jaren

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

Physical Profile

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

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

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

Skill Level

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

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

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

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

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

IQ and Instincts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chip Off the Old Block?

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

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

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

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

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

What Does This Mean For Jaren Jr.?

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Big Board

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

Missed the Cut

Khyri Thomas (#23 ESPN)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyus Battle (#27 ESPN)

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

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

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

Aaron Holiday (#19 ESPN)

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

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

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

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

Udoka Azubuike
Jaylen Barford
Brian Bowen
Ky Bowman
Desonta Bradford

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

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

Tier 4: Fliers

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

These are my favorite UDFA targets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. Isaiah Roby

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

25. Elie Okobo

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

Tier 3: Solid prospects lacking elite upside

24. Jarred Vanderbilt

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

20. Kenrich Williams

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

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

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

19. Mikal Bridges

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

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

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

Is Mikal Ottomatically going to be a good pro?

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

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

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

Points Rebs Assists
Otto 18.3 8.5 3.1
Mikal 12.5 6.3 1.7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. Jacob Evans
17. Kevin Huerter

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

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

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

16. Robert Williams

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

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

Tier 2: Possible All-Stars

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

15. DeAnthony Melton

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

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

14. Troy Brown

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

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

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

13. Josh Okogie

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

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

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

12. Michael Porter Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

11. Jontay Porter

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

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

10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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

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

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

9. Mo Bamba

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

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

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

 

8. Trae Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Trae an Elite Passer?

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

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

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

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

7. Miles Bridges

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

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

6. Wendell Carter Jr.

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

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

5. Marvin Bagley

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

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

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

4. Zhaire Smith

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 1: Tanking Prizes

3. DeAndre Ayton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Luka Doncic

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

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

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

1. Jaren Jackson Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Does He Have No Hype?

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

3 + D

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

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

Kawhi Not?

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

Could Shai Gilgeous Be the Best PG in 2018?

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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is rising on draft boards, as the Kentucky point guard has ascended to #14 in ESPN’s top 100 with his hot recent play. He is currently rated as the #3 PG in the class behind Collin Sexton (#8) and Trae Young (#9).

Shai’s main selling point is that he is a lead guard who can create for himself and others while defending multiple NBA positions, as he is 6’6″ with a 7’0″ wingspan. His primary concerns are average athleticism and limited shooting range, as these arguably prevent him from being more than an intriguing role player. Let’s explore the nuances of his game to determine which side carries more gravity.

Can Shai run an NBA offense?

The most significant anti-Shai point is he is an average athlete posting a mere 23% usage rate. There is no public narrative that he could be an elite point guard, as he is not even in the conversation as best PG in the class with Trae Young and Collin Sexton.

But his recent performance suggests that he may have more lead guard potential than common narratives suggest. After carrying a 22% usage rate for the first 29 games, it has spiked to 27% in the past 7 and the results have been excellent (stats are per 40 minutes):

FGA FTA 2P% AST TOV
First 29 gms 11.9 4.6 49.4% 5.8 3.2
Last 7 gms 13.0 8.2 54.9% 7.2 2.9

He is clearly performing at a different level than early in the season. And this is in spite of a slightly tougher average defense over the recent span than the earlier one.

And it’s not just Shai– the entire Kentucky offense has completely transformed with his emergence:

2P% 3P% TOV% Pts/Poss
First 29 50.9% 34.3% 19.1% 1.082
Last 7 53.2% 42.5% 15.5% 1.189

Kentucky  is clearly a different beast from early in the season. They are an incredibly young team that was a dumpster fire for most of the regular season, and this obscured much of Shai’s goodness.

Now that the Wildcats have found their groove with Shai leading the way, they are performing as efficiently as any Calipari offense is capable. This offers a good argument that Shai has the IQ to run an efficient offense, and that his early season performance vastly undersells his upside on this end.

How Will This Performance Translate?

There are inevitably doubts that a non-elite athlete can translate scoring from NCAA to the NBA. But it could translate well, as Shai has an elite euro-step to compensate for his average athleticism. He is incredibly shifty and is deft at stepping his way around defenders to atone for his inability to explode past them.

In this regard he is similar to James Harden who is also an average athlete that has thrived on dimensions, instincts, skill, and outlier coordination. Shai is clearly an inferior prospect to Harden, as he is a clearly much worse shooter and likely has other nuanced disadvantages. But Harden was considered a clearly inferior prospect to the more athletic Blake Griffin, and even Hasheem Thabeet was taken ahead of him due to athleticism concerns.

Dejounte Murray is another average athlete who appears to be a late 1st steal due to good dimensions and shake. I rated Murray as a lottery pick at the time, and perceive Shai as superior.

The tall, long, and shifty lead guard mold is rare, but Murray and Harden show that it is a type that has been wildly underrated in the past. This may be a signal that it is underrated once again with Shai.

Defense

Shai is not a lockdown defensive player at this stage, but his potential is clear. His dimensions and solid quickness give him potential to switch onto multiple positions. Also he has shown ability to use his length to make plays on D– here is how his steal, block, and rebound rates stack up vs other Kentucky guard prospects under Calipari:

ORB% DRB% BLK% STL%
Shai 3.1 10.1 1.7 2.9
John Wall 2.6 10.2 1.5 2.9
De’Aaron Fox 2.1 12.2 0.7 2.7
Eric Bledsoe 1.9 8.6 1.1 2.6
Tyler Ulis 1.7 7.1 0.3 2.3
Archie Goodwin 5.6 10.4 1.4 2.1
Andrew Harrison 2.4 8.1 0.8 1.7
Marquis Teague 1.6 6.7 0.8 1.7
Malik Monk 1.1 7.2 1.5 1.6
Jamal Murray 4.9 11.1 0.9 1.6
Devin Booker 2.6 7.8 0.3 1.3
Brandon Knight 2.1 10.4 0.6 1.1

His rates are nearly identical to John Wall. Although Shai is not nearly as explosive as Wall, his other advantages help compensate. No other Kentucky guard prospect matches Shai’s steals and blocks, and nobody outrebounds him by a significant margin. There is a good argument to be made that he has as much defensive potential as any Kentucky guard prospect in recent memory.

There is no guarantee that Shai will be a positive defensive player, but he has clearly attractive upside on this end.

Summary

At a glance, it is not obvious that Shai has two way potential. He is not a super athlete, he doesn’t score a boatload of points, he is not considered an elite passer, he is prone to getting beat on defense, and he is not a reliable 3 point shooter. Thus it is understandable why he has yet to garner top 10 attention.

But when he is given a closer look, he is dripping with two way upside. His length and coordination give him slashing potential, Kentucky’s recent offensive performance shows his playmaking potential, his defensive stats and length show his defensive potential, and the only significant concern is his shooting. But even that has hope between his 81.5% FT and 71st percentile off the dribble shooting per synergy.

There are enough questions to rule him out as a possible top 3 selection, but there are enough answers to arguably give him as much upside as anybody once Doncic, Jackson, and Ayton are off the board.

If nothing else he should be in the conversation for best point guard prospect in the class. It would be an unequivocal error to draft Collin Sexton ahead of him. Sexton is more athletic and talented at scoring, but is too small and one dimensional to have as much upside as Shai and has significantly more bust risk.

It’s not as clear who is superior between Shai and Trae Young, as Trae is too weird to assess with high confidence. But almost every guard with Trae’s physical tools outside of Steph has failed, and Shai is about as likely to be Harden as Trae is to be Steph. Shai at least has the success of Dejounte Murray to suggest a solid floor without the best possible NBA translation and development, which is a good reason to give him the edge.

In my eyes Shai has cemented himself as a clear top 10 pick. It will be interesting to see if he can continue his recent level of play into the Sweet 16, but as of now I’d rate him as the #1 PG in the class with a solid case for a top 5 selection.

Did The Celtics Overpay for Kyrie Irving?

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In a mega deal, the Boston Celtics sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets’ 2018 1st round pick for Kyrie Irving. I will break down this deal piece by piece:

Kyrie Irving vs Isaiah Thomas

These two players are near doppelgängers in the regular season, as they are both efficient scorers who give back much of their goodness on defense. But there are a few key factors in Kyrie’s favor that make him more attractive to the Celtics:

–Being the #1 pick vs Thomas’s #60, he has more natural talent that a coach like Brad Stevens may be able to help realize
–He is a bit more than 2 years younger and under team control for an additional year
–He has a stronger track record in the playoffs and clutch moments
–He is not coming off hip surgery

How much can Stevens help Kyrie?

The Celtics must believe Kyrie will explode under Stevens’ tutelage, as he already brought out the best in Jordan Crawford and Isaiah Thomas. And it is reasonable to expect some uptick, but how much upside is there?

Kyrie has been the same player for his 6 year career in Cleveland, and playing alongside LeBron he wasn’t leaving a bad situation. He has always struggled with passing and defense, and even if those improve slightly under Stevens it is difficult to envision those weaknesses going away entirely. And the shortest player on the floor cannot be elite with subpar passing and defense.

Further, it’s not like he is surrounded by a perfect cast of defense and shooting to maximize his scoring. This is especially true since they traded their best 3 + D player to acquire him.

In Boston’s favor, this is the most slippery aspect of the trade. Kyrie is outlier elite at creating his own offense efficiently, and his instincts are not broken. I was super high on him pre-draft, and he has been consistently above average without ever playing for a good coach ever since his 19 year old rookie season. He is still 25 and has some untapped potential, so there is some realistic chance he blossoms into a true star playing for Brad Stevens.

That said I wouldn’t bet on Kyrie being a top 5 PG next year, as he will likely remain inferior to Curry, Paul, Westbrook, Harden, Lowry, and Wall.

But He’s Clutch!

Kyrie’s isolation scoring ability tends to translate well to high leverage situations, and he has more potential to play competent defense in tense moments than Thomas who is 6 inches shorter. But in his 6 years with Cleveland, the Cavaliers overachieved at end games by a total of 3 wins, i.e. half a win per year. This is a nice tick to have but not overwhelmingly significant.

Further, the Celtics are left with a cast that has no prayer of winning a finals, let alone against a team like the Warriors. So whatever extra degree he has in the playoffs is hardly relevant as the base talent is not good enough to be a clutch play or two away from a championship.

At Least The Celtics Do Not Need To Max Isaiah

Giving Isaiah Thomas a big contract next offseason would have been a disaster, as he is not great now and speedy 5’9″ players do not age well. But Boston was never required to do so– they could have let him walk or traded him without including elite assets.

They only get 1 additional year of Kyrie under team control (at the cost of $33M extra since IT is discounted at $6.3M for 17-18), and then will need to offer him a max contract to keep him. That is not a favorable deal for Boston. He will not be a top 5 PG or top 25 player, and the Celtics will commit nearly $100M to Kyrie, Horford, and Hayward, which is a good but not great trio. They will likely not be able to add any meaningful pieces, and may have to let some current useful pieces go. Thus they are all in on their current personnel, which is not championship caliber.

How much more valuable is Kyrie?

Kyrie is an upgrade over IT in a handful of small ways, that collectively add up to a decent but not exceptional margin. Now let’s analyze the price paid:

Jae Crowder

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There is an underlying assumption that Jae Crowder cannot be as good as his elite RPM suggests, as multi-year RPM rates him as the #21 player in the NBA. It is plausible that he is merely the 30th-60th most valuable player, but that is nevertheless very good:

–He can rebound and defend multiple positions well
–He moves the ball and avoids mistakes, with an excellent 1.8 assist:TOV ratio during his Boston career
–He has developed into a good shooter and is an efficient shot maker from 2, 3, and FT
–Advanced stats have ALWAYS suggested he is wildly underrated– from his college career to the draft to his Maverick days. It’s not like his RPM is a recent fluke.

Crowder’s sole weakness is that he cannot create a high volume of offense, so his strengths are less perceptible to casual fans. And while he is not a franchise centerpiece, the teams involved already have the necessary centerpieces.

When you factor in that he is wildly underpaid at $7M/year over the next 3 years, when he should be making $20M+, he is the ultimate asset for a contender. He fits perfectly within a star cast while tying up minimal payroll and flexibility.

Even if he comes in a less sexy mold, Crowder is similarly valuable to a contender as Kyrie Irving. And he will cost slightly more than a quarter of the price over the next 3 years. In this vein, his less attractive mold is more of a feature than a bug.

IT and Crowder on their own for Kyrie would be a bad trade for the Celtics and a good trade for Cleveland.

But Wait, There’s More!

The Celtics also gave up the Nets’ 2018 first round pick! There are ways to look at this as selling high on the pick. It is plausible that the Nets are much better than last year, and that this year’s draft class is much less hyped in a year by the time the draft rolls around.

A significant % of the time, this pick will fall in the #3 to #8 range and be used on a non-star.

But that is a the DOWNSIDE of the pick. High lottery picks are still valuable assets, and if it is a #1 or #2 pick and one or two of Doncic, Bagley, Ayton, or Porter performs better than expected, this suddenly is an elite asset that waffle crushes the value of Kyrie on his own.

It is more likely that the pick is merely a good asset than an elite one, but they are adding it to a deal that is already losing. Even if it was top 2 protected it would be an awful inclusion, the fact that they are selling some non-trivial % of monster upside is indefensible.

Ante Up!

Also Ante Zizic was included for some reason. He didn’t look great in summer league, but  he didn’t look awful either. He looked like a late 1st round pick who may be decent or may not be, but either way he is under cheap team control for the next 4 years and is a useful flier when loads of money are tied up in three players. There was no reason for the Celtics to include him when they were already crushing all other offers against a team with no leverage, but they did.

Where Does This Leave Both Teams?

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The Cavs looked like they were doomed with LeBron likely to leave, but this rejuvenates everything. Crowder gives them a ray of hope vs. Golden State this year, and the Brooklyn pick is an excellent asset that can append the run and possibly entice LeBron to stay. If I were the Cavs, I would try to line up the best trade available and tell LeBron that it will be executed if he opts in for 18-19.

Meanwhile the Celtics are left with  4 above average players for ’17-18: Kyrie, Hayward, Horford, and Smart. And none of these players are top 20 stars, so even with a great coach like Brad Stevens optimism should be tempered.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be 19 and 21 this year, and neither are ready to be positive players this season, nor are they guaranteed to ever be. Tatum has star potential but it is unlikely he will carry a franchise on his own, and Jaylen Brown will be fortunate to peak as an above average NBA player.

I would guess the Celtics are building for 2020-21 when Tatum is 22, Brown is 24, Hayward is 30, Kyrie is 28, Smart is 26, and Horford is off the books. LeBron will be 36 and past his prime, and the Warriors may be vulnerable by then. And frankly things *COULD* work out for them at that point, as they get a few years where the beginning of Tatum + Brown’s prime intersect with the tail end of Kyrie + Hayward’s.

But why they would want to commit to 28 year supermaxed Kyrie 3 years in advance at the cost of an inferior current product, a possibly elite pick, and extremely limited roster flexibility over the next few years is beyond me. Danny Ainge normally trades well, but he completely bungled this deal and set back the franchise while possibly saving the Cavaliers from their imminent doom.

2018 Preview: Is Michael Porter a Future NBA Star?

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Now that the 2017 draft is over, attention shifts to 2018 where Michael Porter Jr. is battling Luka Doncic for #1 overall, where league executives are allegedly split. I decided to get a taste of Michael Porter Jr. by watching the Nike Hoop Summit where he led team USA with 19 points.

Michael Porter Jr. Scouting Report

Porter is a 6’10” knockdown shooter who rebounds well and has decent athleticism. So it is easy to see why he is labeled as a possible #1, as that baseline of skill makes it sound like he has Kevin Durant upside.

But his warts are apparent in watching him play. He is not particularly smooth, explosive, or advanced with the handle so he struggled to get by defenders and often drove directly into the crowd and hoisted some awkward looking shots. On several occasions he was able to flail and draw free throws, but it appears that and pulling up for jumpers are the only creation he can muster off the dribble.

He does not have good passing instincts, as while he is a willing passer it is with the objective of moving the ball rather than setting up a teammate. For all of the goodness that his shooting presents on offense, his shaky instincts shown in his slashing and passing are going to detract from his shooting goodness.

Defensively he has the size and mobility to make an occasional play, but his awareness is not great as he had lapses where he got caught watching the ball or out of position. On the upside has has great height and moves well and was able to use his tools be useful at times, so it is difficult to judge his defense as either good or bad based on this game. But based on his limited instincts he does not appear to be a stopper on this end and has clear downside.

Overall Sentiment

Porter strongly reminisces of my first time viewing Andrew Wiggins, where it stunned me that people viewed him as a tanking candidate. They have a number of marked similarities as prospects, as Porter essentially has two inches of height and better shooting in lieu of Wiggins’ otherworldly athleticism.

This was just one game, and I cannot yet rule out that he will be good. But elite stars normally stand out to my eye immediately: Joel Embiid and Lonzo Ball were love at first sight, and Karl Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz were extremely attractive at first blush (even if I have my doubts about the latter two, their talent is undeniable).

Porter is in a class with Andrew Wiggins of putting me in shock that people can look at a prospect like this and somehow believe he is better than prospects like Luka Doncic or Lonzo Ball. I would bet every dollar I own that he is not.

I am not going to call him a likely bust based on a one game eye test, as Andrew Wiggins could have been pretty good if he was able to develop better from his rookie year. But it is difficult to argue that the hype machine be given any benefit of the doubt to treat Porter as anything remotely special this early.

No Proof of Goodness Means More Downside

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The fact of the matter is that the draft hype machine has not exactly been nailing NCAA top 3’s a year ahead of time lately

2014: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle
2015: Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson
2016: Ben Simmons, Skal Labissiere, Jaylen Brown
2017: Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson

8 of those 12 have playing at least one NBA season, and all look disappointing relative to hype. Simmons, Tatum, and Jackson are the only ones with clear star potential, and none of them are guarantees.

If you randomly select a player from this pile, he is more likely than not to be an ordinary, meh NBA player. It is extremely difficult to predict NBA success without observation vs. NCAA or professional competition. Intuitively Porter, Ayton, and Bamba do not seem any better than prior early top 3’s, and are each more likely to be below average NBA players than good starters.

How Does Porter Compare to 2017?

Everybody who thinks Porter should go #1 in 2017 is crazy. It would be terrible if any of Porter, Ayton, or Bamba were chosen in this year’s top 6, as it was a especially good top 6 (Fultz, Ball, Tatum, Jackson, Fox, Isaac) who all showed strong potential vs. NCAA competition compared to 19 y/o’s who have been feasting on 17 and 18 y/o’s.

I would also take Real Madrid star Luka Doncic over all 3 prospects combined, as he has been one of the best players in the second best professional league behind the NBA, all at a younger age than these guys as high school seniors. It may seem crazy now, but in a few years it will not.

I know these are many piping hot takes at once, but if nothing else they will be fun to re-visit in a few years. On to the rankings:

Tier 1: Basketball God

1. Luka Doncic 6’8″ Real Madrid

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I still need to watch him before singing his praises too loudly, but he is 6’8″, athletic, super skilled, and smart and has clear GOAT potential. It is difficult to see him failing, and there is no reasonable argument that anybody else should even sniff #1.

Tier 2: Regular Basketball Players

2. Collin Sexton, 6’2″ Freshman, Alabama

Sexton is the only player in the Hoop Summit who glowed to my eye. He is incredibly athletic, smooth, and shifty, and has strong potential as a slasher. He also showed legitimate passing and vision, and can be a pest on defense and was willing to battle with bigs for rebounds.

It is difficult to get too excited for a 6’2″ player this far from the draft, and Sexton does seem to be a risk of taking poor shots and over gambling on defense. But he is the only player in the Hoop Summit who looked like a possible future star, so he gets my #2 slot.

3. Wendell Carter, 6’10” Freshman, Duke

Carter was more quiet than I had hoped in the Hoop Summit, but it is still easy to see him being good. He has a 7’3″+ wingspan which gives him potential to play center in the NBA, and he seems to be above average at everything.

The main thing holding him back from top 3 hype is lack of elite explosiveness, but he is a good, well rounded basketball player who is almost a year younger than each of Ayton, Bamba, and Porter.

4. DeAndre Ayton, 7’0″ Freshman, Arizona

Ayton did not play in the Hoop Summit, so my eyes have yet to qualify him. I have my doubts about him as he has a reputation for not caring a ton, but he has monster height and a 7’5″ wingspan with real talent, so I will see how he looks for Arizona before passing firm judgment.

5. Mohamed Bamba, 7’0″ Freshman, Texas

Bamba has a 7’9″ wingspan and projects to be a force defensively, and he did look impressive on that end at the Hoop Summit. Unfortunately, he looked like a zero offensively as he cannot handle and his touch around the rim looked bad.

On the upside he can make FT’s and the announcers were saying his touch is normally good, so if he can at least make shots offensively he has upside to be a Rudy Gobert or Tyson Chandler type.

6. Michael Porter Jr., 6’10” Freshman, Missouri

As I have detailed, I do not believe he is great. Maybe he is nevertheless good, but at this juncture there is no compelling reason to believe that he is anything other than an ordinary top 10 prospect.

That said this is a low confidence opinion, and it will be easier to have a grasp on him when he plays for Missouri. By draft time it is possible I will move him up into the top 3, or he may be out of the top 10. It could go either way.

7. Ethan Happ, 6’9″ Junior, Wisconsin

Happ hardly has any draft hype, as he is only ranked 36th on DraftExpress. The knock on him is that he is a traditional white PF who cannot shoot and lacks explosive athleticism, so he is getting overlooked as a draft prospect.

But people are wrong to overlook him, as he is a stud at everything but shooting. He may not be a leaper but he moves his feet well, and at 6’9″ he is an elite handler, passer, rebounder, and defensive player who excels at everything except scoring from a distance. At age 21 with a 57% FT you have to be worried about his shot, and it is genuinely a major wart.

But given how elite the rest of his profile is, I would happily gamble on it all working out.

8. DeAnthony Melton, 6’4″ Sophomore, USC

DeAnthony Melton completely stuffed the statsheet as an 18 year old freshman, as he racked up rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. He has exceptional instincts to go with great length and quickness, and has the foundation to be a star combo guard.

The downside is that he still has a long way to go to fit in offensively as he posted just a 33rd percentile half court efficiency on low usage as a freshman. He still is not a reliable 3P shooter at 28% and he cannot yet create against a set defense.

If Melton makes a major offensive leap as a sophomore he has star upside, otherwise he is an intriguing role player.

While Melton and Happ have their share of flaws, they also have unique strengths to help them overcome. Don’t be surprised when one of the duo is a better pro than Michael Porter Jr.

9. Robert Williams, 6’9″ Sophomore, Texas A&M

The Aggies had no point guard this past season and all of their returners badly regressed. Now that they have help at the position, Williams who excels at moving off the ball and finishing may see a big sophomore breakout.

10. Miles Bridges, 6’6″ Sophomore, Michigan St.

Bridges is smooth and athletic, and coming off a good freshman season for Michigan State where he did a bit of everything.

The only worry with Bridges is that his dimensions are a bit weak as he last measured 6’6.25″ with a 6’8.75″ wingspan. Given that he also had a mediocre efficiency, he will have extra worry about his ability to be an efficient NBA player without better combine measurements.

11. Jarred Vanderbilt, 6’9″ Freshman, Kentucky

Vanderbilt was the surprise star of the Hoop Summit, and he has strong feel for the game with excellent rebounding and passing. He also is able to make plays on defense and is one of the younger members of the class having recently turned 18.

His downside is that he is a poor shooter, and does not look like an elite defensive stopper to make his shot worth stomaching. But I would nevertheless not be surprised if he emerges as the best freshman in the class.

12. Jaren Jackson Jr., 6’10” Freshman, Michigan St.

Jackson is still just 17 and has good physical tools for a big, and made a number of impressive finishes and defensive plays in the Hoop Summit. He also has traces of an outside shot, and is another player who has potential to climb my board by the draft. While the freshman class lacks a likely star, there is a significant cluster of players that have a chance of shining in NCAA.

I only have Jackson 12th because he appears to be a role player with questionable instincts, but he could just as easily be argued to be much higher.

13. Troy Brown, 6’6″ Freshman, Oregon

Brown is the super role player of the class, as he has a 6’11” wingspan and made some impressive passes for a wing in the Hoop Summit. He also competed and moved his feet well defensively and at 17 is one of the youngest players in the class.

He is a prototypical 3 + D wing, as his only weaknesses are lack of elite athleticism and scoring ability. This does inhibit his upside, but if teams pay this too much attention he could be a steal in the back end of the lottery.

Overall I believe the freshman class should be seen as 5 good but not great prospects battling for #2 (Sexton, Carter, Ayton, Bamba, Porter) with Vanderbilt, Jackson, and Brown right behind them as role players with sneaky potential.

Tier 3: The Rest
14. Mikal Bridges, 6’8″ Junior, Villanova
15. Bruce Brown, 6’4″ Sophomore, Miami FL
16. Andrew Jones, 6’4″ Sophomore, Texas
17. Hamidou Diallo, 6’5″ Freshman, Kentucky
18. Emmanuel Akot, 6’8″ Freshman, Arizona
19. Mitchell Robinson, 6’11” Freshman, Western Kentucky
20. Markis McDuffie, 6’8″ Junior, Wichita St.
21. Jacob Evans, 6’6″ Junior, Cincinnati
22. Rawle Alkins, 6’5″ Sophomore, Arizona
23. Tyler Hall, 6’4″ Junior, Montana St.
24. Shamorie Ponds, 6’0″ Sophomore, St. John’s
25. Gary Clark, 6’7″ Senior, Cincinnati
26. Trent Forrest, 6’5″ Sophomore, Florida St.
27. Bryant Crawford, 6’3″ Junior, Wake Forest
28. John Petty, 6’6″ Freshman, Alabama
29. Kevin Huerter, 6’6″ Sophomore, Maryland
30. Kevin Hervey, 6’7″ Senior, UT Arlington

Draft Reactions

Winners

Los Angeles Lakers:
2. Lonzo Ball
27. Kyle Kuzma
30. Josh Hart
42. Thomas Bryant

After a questionable trade of D’Angelo Russell prior to the draft, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka absolutely crushed their first draft ever.

Lonzo Ball was the best pick in the draft– both Boston and Philadelphia had the option to take him and both opted for inferior players, and the Lakers ended up with the #1.

Kyle Kuzma has appeal as a tall, fluid, point forward who is rumored to be better at shooting than his NCAA stats suggest. He was a solid choice at #28.

Then Magic channeled his inner Hinkie to trade #28 to Utah (who drafted Tony Bradley) for a nice haul of #30  who he used on one of my favorite sleepers in Josh Hart as well as Thomas Bryant at #42. Bryant will struggle to survive defensively as a pro, but he had good stats and is a decent flier in the mid-2nd.

Toronto Raptors
23. OG Anunoby

A 19 year old freak with Kawhi’s physical profile tears his ACL, and he drops all way to 23 because of it. Yes, he is raw offensively and may never be decent on that end. But I had him as the #9 prospect and he has far more upside than most of the players that were taken ahead of him. He should not have slid outside of the lottery.

San Antonio Spurs
29. Derrick White
59. Jaron Blossomgame

Every year the Spurs take a guy that I rate as a late 1st steal, and every year it makes me second guess whether I didn’t rate him highly enough. White does a little bit of everything, as he has legit point guard skills to create his own shot at the rim, pass, shoot, and he’s a great shot blocker with SG size. Easy to see him as a big steal.

Blossomgame is fine at #59 but this draft is all about White.

Portland Trailblazers
10. Zach Collins
26. Caleb Swanigan

The Blazers had a pretty good night as traded #15 and #20 for my clear best player available at #10 in Zach Collins, and then also took my best player available at #26 in Caleb Swanigan.

Factoring in Jusuf Nurkic’s, they are a bit heavy on bigs but it is no matter. They have plenty of room to develop all three and then decide who to hold and who to deal.

Orlando Magic
6. Jonathan Isaac
33. Wesley Iwundu

Isaac was a great steal at #6 and the 2nd best value pick in the draft after Ball. This alone makes Orlando’s night great.

And it better because the rest of their draft was weak. They traded #25 for an OKC 2020 top 20 protected 1st, reached for Wesley Iwundu at #33, and then traded #35 for something.

Golden State Warriors
38. Jordan Bell

Of course the best team makes the best possible use of $3.5M to buy into the second round and draft a great value and perfect fit. Bell is an incredibly versatile defensive piece who can do it all from protect the rim to switch onto LeBron. He’s raw offensively but he fits well on GSW’s shooting heavy roster.

Losers

Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Butler and #16 (Justin Patton) for #7 (Lauri Markkannen), Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn

I don’t know how the Timberwolves convinced them to send #16 back for a package centered around Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. Kris Dunn is a 23 year old defensive specialist at PG who posted an 8.1 rookie PER, and is worth about a late 1st pick. LaVine has developed into a solid offensive threat, but is still hardly a centerpiece for the deal.

I had Markkanen as the best player available at #7, but that’s after the draft fell off a cliff with the 6 great talents off the board. He should be a useful role player with a bit of sneaky upside, but he’s too one dimensional to be a justifiable centerpiece for Butler.

The fact that the Bulls sent #16 back is just insanity. They got crushed in the deal for just #7, LaVine, and Dunn, and somehow Minny convinced them they were getting such a great haul they needed to balance it out by throwing back a mid-1st.

Of course Minnesota completely blew the pick on Justin Patton, a big reach who doesn’t fit with KAT. But Minny is nevertheless a clear winner and Chicago is a big loser.

Boston Celtics: 3. Jayson Tatum
Philadelphia 76ers: 1. Markelle Fultz

It’s hard to say who will look better on the Fultz for Tatum and LAL/SAC pick swap. I may slightly favor Boston, simply because Tatum gets to play for Brad Stevens while Fultz is stuck fighting for touches on a team over indexed on ball dominant players. But overall the deal is close, and it could go either way.

Where both teams failed is that they both had the chance to draft Lonzo Ball, and they both failed. The #1 pick is a crucial decision for the franchise, and neither team made the correct choice here.

They also picked other guys later, but who cares. Both teams had access to a stud at #1, and both teams blew it.

New York Knicks
8. Frank Ntilikina
44. Damyean Dotson
58. Ognen Jaramaz

The Knicks got off to a bad start when Phil Jackson publicly suggested that Kristaps Porzingis needs to be traded, then failed to do so.

Then he reached for Frank Ntilikina with Dennis Smith Jr. at #9 and Zach Collins at #10 being clearly superior options. Damyean Dotson isn’t good value at #44, and I don’t know who Ognen Jaramaz is but I highly doubt he redeems the draft whatsoever.

The Knicks are a joke. They have an awful owner who is paying a senile Phil Jackson $12M/year to throw his stars under the bus and make awful decisions, and they are going to stay awful as long as Dolan owns the team. The rest of the NBA is rapidly getting smarter while Dolan stays as out of touch as ever, and as bad as I feel for Knicks fans I would just quit.

If I lived in NY, I’d start caring more about Brooklyn as they are somehow rebuilding faster without having any veteran talent or draft picks.

Detroit Pistons
12. Luke Kennard

Stan Van Gundy is really struggling to both GM and coach the Pistons. If he wanted a quality role playing SG, Donovan Mitchell was on the board as the glaringly obvious best option. There was also a slew of more interesting players at other positions.

Instead he took a one dimensional shooter who doesn’t have the tools to defend anybody in the NBA, but at least he has great intangibles.

Detroit is doomed until they find somebody new to build the roster.

Milwaukee Bucks
17. DJ Wilson
46. Sterling Brown

Jon Horst had his first draft as Bucks GM, and DJ Wilson is not an inspiring first decision. He is tall, long, can shoot, and move, but doesn’t really stuff the statsheet in any bulk category and does not feel like a sharp pick at #17 with players like OG Anunoby, John Collins, Harry Giles, and many other better gambles on the board.

It’s not super harmful, just bodes ill for the future given that Horst was a questionable hire to begin with.

2017 Mega Board

Tier 1: Star

1. Lonzo Ball, 6’6″ PG UCLA

Ball is a basketball genius who has elite PG size and skill and could be one the best passer in NBA history. He also is an outlier of offensive efficiency, both at the individual and team level.

There are doubts about his ability to get to the rim off the dribble, and it is a valid weakness. I believe his strengths are so outlier good that they will comfortably outweigh his flaws, and he is the clear #1 in the class.

Tier 2: Possible Stars

2. Markelle Fultz, 6’5″ PG Washington

Fultz is a do it all scorer with great vision and instincts and a 6’10” wingspan that gives him James Harden-esque upside. The only flag is that his basketball IQ and defense are not elite, and his team woefully underperformed for a major conference team with a #1 overall pick.

He could be really great, or he could be an empty calories volume scorer.

3. Jonathan Isaac, 6’11” SF/PF, Florida St.

Isaac is a unicorn of elite perimeter defense, rim protection, and rebounding who also is great at playing off the ball offensively with good shooting, cutting, and finishing.

His major flaw is that he is extremely limited off the dribble, and also is an average passer. But he could be an elite role player that fits well in a heavy switching defense that is becoming so prevalent in the NBA.

4. Jayson Tatum, 6’8″ SF/PF, Duke

Tatum offers passable PF size and SF quickness, and fits the mold for a small PF that is becoming the standard in the modern NBA. He has potential be a two way star, as he can create his own shot, passes decently, and his 85% FT gives him elite shooting upside for a player that can switch onto multiple positions and make plays defensively.

But he has a number of minor flaws that could preclude him from being good: he lacks explosiveness, a strong handle, and he is often stripped or blocked and plays inconsistent defense. He could also be below average on both ends.

5. Josh Jackson, 6’8 SF/PF, Kansas

Jackson is the ultimate role player, as he rebounds, defends, passes, moves well without the ball, finishes, and is incredibly competitive. He is also 6’8″ and an explosive athlete, and with good intangibles seems likely to be a useful NBA player.

But does he have star upside? He is sophomore aged with an ugly hitch in his shot and 57% FT, a loose handle, and short arms and tiny frame that may limit his ability to guard PF’s. He has clear limitations offensively and his body may preclude him from being a beast defensively. His star upside is limited, although his competitive spirit gives him some small chance of being great.

6. De’Aaron Fox, 6’3″ PG, Kentucky

Fox is as super quick, super smooth slasher who gets wherever he wants to go and finishes well. Of all of the PG’s in the class, he is easily the most prolific at creating his own shot at the rim against set defenses. He also is a good passer and a pest defensively, and has a good baseline to become a 2 way PG.

But his big flaw is that he cannot shoot, making just 25% of his scant 3PA. His 74% FT gives him some hope for future improvement, but he struggled badly off the dribble and his shot clearly needs work. Also his thin frame makes it unlikely he can guard most SG’s, and even though he has upside on defense he is not a lock to be a positive on that end either.

7. Lauri Markkanen, 7’0″ PF, Arizona

Markkanen shot 83.5% FT and 42% 3P for Arizona, and the only NBA 7 footer with a higher career FT% is Dirk Nowitzki. Markkanen is also smooth and fluid with flashes of ability to create his own shot off the dribble and he holds his own on perimeter switches. He is somewhat one dimensional, but being a non-statue makes it worth wondering how much an NBA team can build on his unicorn combination of height and shooting.

His downside is that he is not long or explosive and is a bit passive. He had anemic block and steal rates defensively, mediocre rebounds, and a surprisingly moderate usage given his offensive talent. He also posted a low assist rate, and will need to develop his passing to be more complete offensively.

The traces of Dirk cannot be ignored, although he is far more likely to mirror players like Ryan Anderson and Channing Frye. This is nevertheless useful as 7’0″ with elite shooting gravity are few and far between, so it is worth gambling on the his rare intersection and seeing what happens.

8. Zach Collins, 7’0″ C, Gonzaga

Collins was the #28 recruit in the class who came out of nowhere to be an elite bench player for the Zags. He scores inside and out and can rebound and block shots, which is a nice combination of strengths.

His passing instincts are limited and he does not project to be elite defensively, but he nevertheless offers an intriguing gamble in the back end of the lottery.

Tier 3: Fun Gambles

9. OG Anunoby, 6’8″ PF, Indiana

Anunoby is the most intriguing upperclassmen, as he has similar measurements and athleticism to Kawhi Leonard and monster steal and block numbers to imply strong defensive upside for a prospect who is still just 19.

The only question is whether he can play offense. He is an elite finisher with 65% 2P in 2 years at Indiana and improved his passing as a sophomore, but his medium usage and 52% FT make him a possible liability on offense. And in spite of his defensive upside, he is still not consistent enough to be a guarantee to be great like Kawhi.

He is coming off an ACL tear that may hurt his stock but really should not factor in heavily.

10. Dennis Smith Jr. 6’3″ PG, NC State

Smith checks all of the boxes for a star PG: handle, athleticism, quickness, strength, the ability to score inside and out and the vision to rack up assists.

The only problem is that all of his stat stuffing and athleticism failed to add up to wins for NC State, as he struggled to be an efficient floor general and played exceptionally lazy defense.

I personally do not believe he will live up to his theoretical upside.

 

11. Donovan Mitchell, 6’3″ SG, Louisville

Mitchell is the prototypical 3 + D combo guard. His 6’10” wingspan, quickness, and competitiveness gives him the potential to defend both guard positions at a high level. He pairs this with a solid shot as he made 35% 3P and 81% FT as a sophomore. He does not have the ball skills to be a lead guard, but is decent enough across the board to be a positive player overall.

Mitchell is not likely to be a star, but he has great odds of being a useful player who fits in a wide range of lineups.

12. Malik Monk, 6’3″ PG/SG, Kentucky

Monk is a hyperathletic shooter who can make shots of any difficulty both off the dribble or spot up. And he flashed a bit of passing ability, and it is possible that he has some PG skills that were masked by sharing the backcourt with non-shooting PG’s De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe.

That said, he doesn’t rebound, he doesn’t defend, he can’t get to the rim against a half court defense, and he may not have the vision to be a full time floor general. Those are a lot of strikes for a one dimensional shooter, and without surprise floor general skills he is unlikely to be more than a Lou Williams type.

13. Harry Giles, 6’10” C, Duke

Giles is coming off back to back ACL tears and an additional knee surgery that caused him to miss the early part of Duke’s season. Then he was a disappointment in the 300 minutes he played for the Blue Devils, as he looked lost on the floor.

But his medical reports are allegedly better than expected, and he was supposed to be a candidate for #1 overall before all of the injury noise. His instincts looked bad but it could be a product of rust and shaky confidence post-injury. Given that Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan both became all-stars without stellar instincts, is it plausible to believe Giles can as well.

He has stellar tools for a big man and while he has risk of both injury and poor skill and IQ, it’s worth the upside to gamble on him and see what happens once the prizes of the draft are off the board.

14. John Collins, 6’9 PF, Wake Forest

Collins stuffed the statsheet at Wake Forest with points and rebounds, as he posted a monster 36 PER as a 19 year old sophomore. He also has potential to develop a 3 point shot and pretty good athleticism, and his offensive upside is good for a PF.

That said his poor instincts and short arms caused his passing and defense to both be poor. Collins is a weird prospect with pointed strengths and weaknesses, and given his youth I like the idea of gambling on a polarizing weirdo in the back of the lottery.

15. Frank Ntilikina, 6’5″ PG/SG, France

Ntilikina boasts elite intangibles, IQ, and monster 7’0″ wingspan, and projects to be a 3 + D guard/wing.

He is listed as a PG as he reportedly has great vision, although he lacks the ball skills or burst to get to the rim and finish. And it’s not clear that he is great at either shooting or defense, as stat models are not particularly fond. That said he is incredibly young and as his adds bulk to his thin frame, he could develop into a useful rotation player.

Tier 4: Rotation Players:

Note that everybody in this tier is on a similar level

16. Caleb Swanigan, 6’9″ PF, Purdue

Caleb Swanigan is the Kyle Anderson of this year’s draft, as he has an elite statistical profile with gaudy rebound, assist, and scoring totals with good %’s from all levels.

But he had poor steal and block rates and is undersized for center and under quick for PF. He may not be able to fit on to an NBA defense without getting roasted.

But nobody else has nearly his offense and rebounding strengths, and he did manage to anchor the #23 defense as the starting center for Purdue. Maybe he continues to improve his body as he ages and just finds a way to fit and and make it worth all

17. Ivan Rabb, 6’10” PF/C, California

I don’t know why, I just like Rabb. He’s tall, smooth, and good at all of the role-player things.

He struggled to be the centerpiece for a dreadful California offense as a sophomore, but he fits best playing off the ball in the NBA as a cutter, rebounder, and pick and roll finisher. He is a former top 5 recruit who would have been a top 10 pick last year, and I feel that teams are overreacting to his sophomore performance.

18. Josh Hart, 6’5″ SG, Villanova

Hart is just a bit short of being a real prospect in terms of size, quickness, and athleticism. But he is not particularly weak in any of those areas, and he was an elite player for a Villanova program that was incredibly successful in his 4 seasons there.

He does a little bit of everything and has great IQ for making winning plays. He just feels like he is going to be a decent NBA rotation player, even if he cannot be a star.

19. Jawun Evans, 6’0″ PG, Oklahoma State

Evans did everything for the #1 offense in the NCAA as a sophomore. His lack of size and explosiveness prevents him from being a high upside prospect, but his length, quickness, vision, and basketball IQ gives him a chance at surprising as a better than expected floor general.

20. Ike Anigbogu, 6’10” C, UCLA

Anigbogu is a giant pile of tools in its fetal form as you are gambling on his monster 7’6″ wingspan to go with great length and quickness in the youngest player in the draft.

Anigbogu is a complete and utter mystery box. Right now is completely inept on offense, but his combination of tools gives him immense defensive upside. He’s a fine gamble somewhere in the late first.

21. Derrick White, 6’4″ PG/SG, Colorado

This division 2 transfer came out of nowhere to be a star for Colorado last year, and he can do a bit of everything: shoot, pass, get to the rim, and is an exceptional shot blocker for a guard.

At 23 he is on the older side of things but he does enough things well to be one of the more attractive late 1st/early 2nd gambles.

22. TJ Leaf, 6’10 PF, UCLA

Leaf is a skilled PF who does everything offensively, as he is a great cutter who scores inside and out and moves the ball well. But he also does nothing well defensively, as he lacks the length and athleticism to be more than a liability on this end.

It’s hard to say how much credit Lonzo Ball deserves for his draft hype, but he does have a nice skill level for a 6’10” player and that alone is worth a late 1st flier.

23. Frank Jackson 6’3″ SG, Duke

Jackson just turned 19 shortly before the draft and has good scoring upside for a young player. He is a good shooter and an athlete who can get to the rim, and his 6’7.5 wingspan gives him a chance to guard SG’s.

That said he is still in the awkward state of lacking vision to play PG and too small to defend SG’s, and projects to be a bit one dimensional in the pros.

24. Jordan Bell, 6’9″ PF, Oregon

Bell is a fascinating defense weapon, as his athleticism and quickness give him potential to be a versatile force as he is an great shot blocker that also racks up steals and rebounds.

The downside is that he is 22 years old and limited offensively. He mustered a 70% FT as a junior after 51% his first 2 years, so if he can build on that to somehow make 3’s he is an exciting piece, even if it is a long shot to happen.

25. Luke Kennard, 6’5″ SG, Duke

Kennard is a great shooter with excellent toughness, IQ, and intangibles, but is that really enough to overcome his weaknesses?

He has a poor 6’5″ wingspan and lacks the quickness or athleticism to get to the rim, and he also gets roasted on defense. Outside of shooting and moving the ball within the offense it’s not clear what value he offers.

He could surprise and become a decent role player like fellow Duke alum JJ Redick, but he does not have the upside to justify a lottery pick.

26. DJ Wilson, 6’10 PF/C, Michigan

Wilson offers good length, shooting, and efficient offense for a big. He also has solid quickness to switch onto perimeter players.

On the downside he is a poor rebounder for his height, and has a low usage rate and pedestrian steals and blocks. He has some role player potential for his tools and efficiency, but limitations are there.

27. Jarrett Allen, 6’10” C, Texas

Allen just turned 19 and has a monster 7’5.25″ wingspan to go with a pretty good interior scoring ability for Texas. He posted solid scoring numbers in spite of having no PG in a disastrous offense.

But he also seems to have broken instincts, as he posted an awful assist to turnover ratio and anemic steal and block rates for a player with his length.

There is enough hope for Allen to make his talent worth a gamble, but it is hard to ignore the fact that he profiles similar to a poor man’s Jahlil Okafor.

28. Bam Adebayo, 6’9″ PF, Kentucky

Bam offers interior scoring and the quickness to guard multiple positions.

That said he is undersized for center and his steal and block rates cast doubt on whether he actually can be a defensive weapon.

29. Jonah Bolden, 6’10” PF, Radnicki BAsket

Bolden was really bad as a sophomore for UCLA and then really good in a season in the Adriatic league. I have no idea what he is but he is tall, can make 3’s, and has quickness to switch so he could be decent.

30. Tony Bradley, 6’10” PF, North Carolina

Bradley is long, smart, and an offensive rebounding machine. He lacks exceptional skill or athleticism, but could be a nice rotation big.

31. Tyler Lydon, 6’10” PF, Syracuse
32. Isaiah Hartenstein, 6’11” PF/C, Zalgiris
33. Anzejs Pasecniks, 7’0″ C, Gran Canaria
34. Sindarius Thornwell, 6’5″ SG, South Carolina
35. Monte Morris, 6’3″ PG, Iowa St.
36. Kyle Kuzma, 6’9 SF/PF, Utah
37. Semi Ojeleye, 6’6″ SF, SMU
38. Justin Patton, 6’11” C, Creighton
39. Cameron Oliver, 6’9″ PF, Nevada
40. Justin Jackson, 6’8″ SF/PF, North Carolina
41. Alec Peters, 6’9″ PF, Valparaiso
42. Johnathan Motley, 6’9″ PF, Baylor
43. PJ Dozier, 6’5″ PG/SG, South Carolina
44. Sterling Brown, 6’6″ SG/SF, SMU
45. Dillon Brooks, 6’6″ SG/SF, Oregon
46. Thomas Bryant, 6’9″ PF/C, Indiana
47. Edmond Sumner, 6’5″ PG, Xavier
48. Terrance Ferguson, 6’8″ SG/SF, Australia
49. Jonathan Jeanne, 7’2″ C, Nancy

I had Jeanne as a top 15 pick before news of his Marfan syndrome. Now I’m just guessing where he belongs– but obviously his value is crushed.

50. Mathias Lesort, 6’9″ PF, Nanterre
51. Nigel Williams-Goss, 6’4″ PG, Gonzaga
52. Jeremy Morgan, 6’5″ SG, Northern Iowa
53. Luke Kornet, 7’0″ C, Vanderbilt
54. Davon Reed, 6’6″ SF, Miami FL
55. Wesley Iwundu, 6’6″ SG, Kansas St.
56. Devin Robinson 6’8″ SF/PF, Florida
57. Jake Wiley, 6’8 SF/PF, Eastern Washington
58. Reggie Upshaw, 6’7″ SF/PF, Middle Tennessee
59. Derrick Walton, 6’0″ PG, Michigan
60. Charles Cooke, 6’4″ SF, Dayton

Just Missed Cut: LJ Peak, Malcolm Hill, Nigel Hayes, Paris Lee, Ben Moore, Lorenzo Bonam, James Blackmon, Frank Mason, Damyean Dotson, Antonius Cleveland, Jarron Blossomgame, probably some internationals I know nothing about

Is Dennis Smith Jr. a Loser?

dennis-smith-jr

Dennis Smith Jr. is a polarizing talent. His high end athleticism and handle is extremely  attractive for a PG who stuffs the statsheet. But his reportedly lackluster intangibles and awful team play has harmed his draft hype, as he may fall to the back end of the lottery in spite of many people believing he is a top 3 talent.

The Talent

Smith is 6’3″ with elite quickness, athleticism, and handle. This gives him an excellent foundation to carry a massive role offensively, as he did everything for NC State. He can get to the rim, finish, pass, and is a competent shooter making 36% of his 3’s and 71% FT as a freshman.

Also he has potential to be a good defensive PG based on his quickness, strength, and good rebound, steal, and block totals.

Smith checks all of the boxes of baseline talent for a star PG, and it is easy to see why piques everybody’s interest.

The Warts

It starts with Smith’s awful team production. On a team loaded with proven NCAA talent and top 100 recruits, NC State was one of the biggest underachievers this past season even though Smith lived up to expectations on paper.

This was coach Mark Gottfried’s worst team in 14 years of coaching at Alabama and NC State, and his worst offense in 6 years at NC State. The only other 1st round pick he has coached during that span is TJ Warren. Gottfried’s offenses normally perform well, and he could barely crack the top 50 with a roster loaded with size, shooting, and athleticism centered around a point guard who projects to be a top 10 pick. That does not bode well for Smith.

Limitations As Floor General

Smith’s problems start with his questionable basketball IQ. Point guard is a cerebral position which requires constant decision making that affects the offense’s likelihood of scoring. He sees the floor reasonably well, but he overdribbles, makes poor decisions with the ball, and often throws off target passes.

NC State posted by far their highest team turnover rate during Mark Gottfried’s tenure, which is the opposite effect that a high volume shot creator like Smith should have. His floor general skills comfortably trail behind his gaudy assist rate.

Can He Perform vs. NBA Defenses?

While athleticism helps players translate to NBA defense, intelligence is arguably more important for small guards who must constantly navigate through traffic. Here is how Smith compares to some of his volume scoring peers based on overall offensive rating, offensive rating vs top 50 teams (per kenpom), and half court points per possession (per synergy):

Player ORtg vs. Top 50 HC Pts/Poss
Tatum 108.8 105.6 0.931
Fultz 113.6 101.2 0.93
Jackson 108.2 108.7 0.926
Fox 110.7 104.6 0.885
Smith Jr. 109.5 94.1 0.862

He is in the middle of the pack in overall offensive rating, but when you take away transition opportunities and weaker opponents he is clearly the weakest link of the group.

Defense

The other problem for Smith is that offense was NC state’s strength. They had a dreadful defense, and in spite of his tools and steal/block rates he projects to struggle on this end. His 6’5″ wingspan prevents him from switching on to most SG’s, and he is incredibly lazy and over gambles and often does not try on defense. He has similar dimensions and effort level to Kyrie Irving, and will often be similarly bad without Kyrie’s offensive impact.

Bottom Line

On paper, Dennis Smith Jr. is definitely an NBA talent and has the ability to rack up points and assists as a pro. The best outcome for him would be that he develops his skill level well and becomes a high volume, moderate efficiency offensive centerpiece who improves his defensive habits enough to be adequate on that end.

Theoretically that outcome is within grasp, but I would bet heavily against it. While he has talent to fill the box score, he has shown poor intuition for making a positive impact on his team. Once you factor in his reputed poor intangibles, he starts to feel like an incredibly shaky bet to fix the many bad habits in his game.

He needs the ball to be useful, and I would not gamble on an average sized PG with a below average IQ and non-elite skill level to run an NBA offense for a winning team. Smith has a solid chance of becoming a good NBA fantasy player, but he is extremely unlikely to make a star impact. The narrative that he is a loser appears to be accurate.