How Good is Deni Avdija?

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NBA teams have historically had a spotty record drafting Euros, with Darko Milicic being chosen over Carmelo, Bosh, and Wade as one of the most infamously bad choices in NBA draft history.

Conversely, future stars have sliped and provided excellent value such as Dirk Nowitzki at #9 overall, Giannis 15th, Nikola Jokic sliding to round 2, and Luka Doncic curiously being passed up for Ayton, Bagley, and Trae in spite of clearly being a generational talent.

Historically, euros drafted in the lottery have been very hit or miss. But when NBA teams miss, they miss hard:

Year Player pick
2002 Nikoloz Tskitishvili 5
2003 Darko Milicic 2
2006 Andrea Bargnani 1
2011 Jan Vesely 6
2015 Mario Hezonja 5
2016 Dragan Bender 4
2017 Frank Ntilikina 8

This could be expanded to include Yi Jianlian, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Dante Exum if we include all internationals. But the benefit of comparing European prospects is that most of them play in Euroleague, which presents us with an apples to apples statistical comparison.

19 year old Israeli Deni Avdija is currently projected to go 5th overall in the NBA draft. Israel offers a low tier of competition, but fortunately he played 26 games and 371 minutes in Euroleague to see how he stacks up to recent successful Euros picked in the high lottery in their final pre-draft season:

Year # Player Age PER
2001 2 Pau Gasol 20.5 29.4
2008 6 Danilo Gallinari 19.4 19.3
2009 5 Ricky Rubio 18.2 18.6
2011 5 Jonas Valanciunas 18.7 25.2
2015 4 Kristaps Porzingis 19.4 23
2018 3 Luka Doncic 18.8 22.9
2020 ? Deni Avdija 19 10.5

Note: Porzingis played in Eurocup which is a 2nd tier version of Euroleague, and Rubio includes ACB stats with only 5 games in EL.

Right off the bat, we can see one of these guys is not like the other. They are all approximately the same age, and all of the guys stuffed the stat sheet, outside of Deni who was a scrappy low usage role player with mediocre efficiency.

This is a huge red flag. PER is far from a perfect stat, but it’s rare for prospects to contribute so little at a young age and nevertheless become stars. Even if we look at his 910 minutes in the much weaker Israel BSL, he only posted 17.1 PER– still weaker than any of the success stories in Euroleague!

Granted, there are a number of reasons to value Deni beyond the box score. He has good wing height at 6’9″, he has decent athleticism, and he has good IQ and work ethic. And in spite of his poor shooting #’s, his shooting form looks good and the percentages may improve over time.

This makes him salvageable as a prospect, as it’s easy to see him becoming a useful NBA role player. But his physical tools aren’t good enough to offer much upside as he has just 6’9.5″ wingspan and below average frame. And there is major risk that he joins the initial list of top 10 picks who busted completely.

Comparisons

Dragan Bender

Deni built most of his hype with an excellent performance for FIBA u20 in 2019, leading Israel to gold while being just 18 years old. In this regard, he is similar to Dragan Bender who had an excellent u18 performance in 2014 while being only 16.

Incidentally, they also both played for Maccabi Tel Aviv after FIBA. Bender’s PER was slightly worse in Israel (16.8 vs 17.1) and Euroleague (6.0 vs 10.5) while being 10.5 months younger. Statistically they are in the same tier, and it’s plausible that Deni flops just as hard as Bender.

Deni has a number of advantages that give him potential to be much better than Bender– better athleticism, better passing, and the possibilty of developing into a better shooter. He is likely a better prospect than Bender at the same point as he is in a more useful mold, but the parallels are strong enough to place caution on caring much about his FIBA sample which generated his hype to begin with.

Mario Hezonja

Hezonja played just 86 minutes in Euroleague when he was 2 months younger than Deni, but if we combine his ACB (just slightly softer than Euroleague) he posted 14 PER with similar assists, rebound, steal, and block rates to Deni. He also has similar dimensions at 6’8″ with 6’10” wingspan.

Hezonja scored more volume with better athleticism and much better shooting, and was hands down the better talent at the same age.

Granted, he didn’t progress to the next season posting just a 13.3 PER, and then his shooting didn’t translate to the NBA, and he has overall been a disaster.

Deni should progress better than Hezonja due to his allegedly good work ethic, but he is the inferior raw talent and there is no guarantee that he has a better NBA career.

Omri Casspi

Casspi is also a native Israeli who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, and is physically very similar to Deni as he measured 6’9.25″ in both height and wingspan with similar athleticism.

He was 6 months older in his first Euroleague season posting 15.8 PER and then 18.6 PER the following year before getting drafted. Combining the two samples, he was approximately 1 year older on average.

Casspi showed greater ability to score inside as he had more than twice Deni’s 2PA per 40 (10.7 vs 5.1) with a slightly worse % 55.6 vs 59.6. He also got to the line much more frequently with .355 vs .191 free throw rate.

Also Casspi shot 38.2% from 3 vs 27.7% for Deni. This is an area where Deni needs to catch up to succeed longterm.

Deni’s key advantage is a much better assist rate per 40 at 3.2 vs 1.5 for Casspi. This indicates that Deni has a high IQ that can help him on both ends. Although Casspi negates some of that edge with a better steal rate with 1.5 vs 1.1 per 40.

Overall these guys feel like similar tier prospects with maybe a small edge to Casspi due to better shooting signal. Casspi was a solid return on #23 overall, but definitely not a player to target in the top 10.

Dario Saric

Saric is an inch taller at 6’10” with a similar t-rex wingspan about equal to his height.

He was 9 months older than Deni in his last pre-draft season. He posted 15.8 Eurocup PER with better rebounds, steals, blocks, and usage than Deni, and similar assist rate.

He only shot 4/13 from 3 in 10 games, but his shooting has developed nicely as a pro with 35.8% career 3 and 83.7% FT.

He is a rich man’s version of Deni in about every sense, and still the Timberwolves couldn’t wait to ship him out for the small move up from #11 to #6 overall in a crappy draft to take Jarrett Culver in order to avoid paying him as an RFA.

Deni is likely a better athlete and may have more success switching onto perimeter players than Saric, but that’s his only discernible advantage at this stage.

Boris Diaw

Diaw was 1.7 years older than Deni in his draft year, and had two seasons of Euroleague where he posted a 13.1 PER then 14.7 in a similar low usage, high assist role to Deni. He struggled shooting similarly making just 29% from 3 and 63% FT over the two years.

Diaw has better length (7′), strength, and lateral quickness, but Deni is more explosive. Overall Diaw’s physical tools seem better, and it shows in his steal and block rates as he posted 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per 40 compared to 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks for Deni.

Diaw had a good career as a role player picked 21st overall. He was overall likely the slightly better prospect given his physical and steals/blocks advantages, but Deni isn’t far behind and it’s plausible he could have a similarly good career.

Diaw seems to be near the pinnacle of optimism for Deni.

Hedo Turkoglu

Hedo has been tossed around as an upside comp. It’s hard to compare because he doesn’t have any Euroleague stats on record.

Deni is young, and if he works hard *maybe* he can improve both his handle and shooting enough to maximize his passing ability in a point forward role a la Hedo.

But his handle is just so weak at this stage it seems far fetched. Especially since Hedo is an inch taller and Deni doesn’t have any clear physical advantages over him. It feels like a massive longshot, and is a shoddy comparison to justify Deni as a high lottery pick.

What is Deni specifically lacking?

Statistics aren’t everything, but most of the people who overperform statistics tend to have great physical tools. Deni has decent athleticism, but overall his physical tools aren’t that good outside of his height for a wing.

Giannis averaged 8 pts, 2.2 assists. 2.8 turnovers on 36% shooting in his FIBA u20 pale sorely in comparison to Deni’s numbers at the same age.

But Giannis has massive genetic advantages, as he is taller, longer, stronger, and more athletic. Outlier improvements to his game resulted in a huge upside that prospects like Deni don’t remotely share.

The white European prospects who became NBA stars like Luka, Jokic, and Dirk all shared the qualities of exceptional basketball skill to go along with excellent basketball IQ and good height.

Deni has good height and high IQ, but his skill level is a poor right now, which is why his stats are so weak. He can sometimes make 3’s and is an intelligent cutter, but he is sorely limited at creating his own shot and only made 59% of his free throws in 19-20. Those are some massive skill flags for a guy with a pedestrian physical profile.

In Class Comparisons

Pat Williams

If you want to roll the dice on a young mystery box wing, Williams is obviously a better bet than Deni seeing that he is 8.5 months younger with better length, frame, athleticism, defensive playmaking, and much better FT% making 83.8% in 74 freshman attempts.

Deni has the better passing and IQ, but that’s not enough to make it defensible to value him over the much better physical specimen in Williams.

Saddiq Bey

Bey is one of the most similar prospects to Deni, as his main selling points are 6’8″ wing height and high IQ play.

Bey is a better handler, shooter, has 1.5″ more length, better frame, and more lateral quickness as he was able to switch onto guards with elite quickness like Devon Dotson.

Deni is 21 months younger and more explosive, but if you want a high IQ 3 + D guy, why not take the guy who has proven more ability in both 3 + D?

Between the two, Bey seems like the better bet to become a Boris Diaw type role player. Neither guy is exciting in terms of upside, but Bey feels safer.

Round 2

Even in round 2 there are guys like Jordan Nwora and Paul Reed who figure to be NBA role players. Nwora has similar athleticism but better length and frame, much better shooting, but worse passing and IQ and is 2 years, 3 months older.

Reed has much better physical tools, rebounding, and defensive playmaking, but is even more offensively limited than Deni while being 1.5 years older.

Perhaps Deni’s additional youth makes him feel like he has more upside, but without great skill or genetics to build on it’s hard to imagine that he would blow past these two guys in quality with two years more of development. In terms of raw talent, he seems to be in a similar tier to these guys.

Bottom Line

On paper, Deni seems to be a 2nd round talent. There are reasons why he may outperform his talent since he works hard, tries on defense, and his shooting may be better than his poor FT% implies. But how far can we reasonably elevate him based on this?

These are the sort of traits that can cause somebody to overachieve, but they are not the type of points that lead to stardom as they are relatively minor compared to the macro view of skill level and physical tools being the strongest predictors of NBA upside.

Especially given the NBA’s poor track record at evaluating internationals, there is no clear reason to give teams the benefit of the doubt in this particular instance.

It seems unrealistic to project his upside to be better than Omri Casspi, Boris Diaw, or Dario Saric types, and there is significant risk that he flops completely like Mario Hezonja or Dragan Bender. Even in a weak draft, it does not seem defensible to choose this player in the top 10.

Diaw went 21st and Casspi went 23rd. Deni seems slightly less talented, but if you want to argue that his intangibles make up for it, then why not rate him in a similar slot to these guys? It seems like a reasonable slot relative to his potential.

Ultimately this is the type of prospect that NBA teams have overrated in the past, and there is no clear reason to believe they are currently rating Deni accurately. He is reasonable in the mid-late first on the possibility he becomes a useful high IQ role player in the coveted 3 + D wing mold, but the raw talent just isn’t there for him to justify the high lottery hype.

More Round 2 Hidden Gems

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I have already written about my three favorite sleepers in round 2, but that’s just scratching the surface. Round 2 is littered with all sorts of interesting prospects this year. This draft may have the smallest disparity between prospects slated to go round 2 vs its underwhelming lottery picks that I have ever seen. Let’s look at a few more possible sleepers who may carve out solid NBA careers, once again sorted by current ESPN ranking:

33. Zeke Nnaji

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Nnaji is a somewhat boring big prospect, as he provides good interior scoring and rebounding, but has ordinary steal, block, assist rates to go with a pedestrian 7’1″ wingspan and decent but not great athleticism.

What makes him interesting is that his flaws run parallel to fellow Arizona alum Lauri Markkanen. Lauri had even worse steal, block, assist rates, and wingspan, but he made up for it with good lateral mobility. For productive big men, ability to potentially defend in space can help atone for lack of defensive playmaking abilities.

Obviously Nnaji doesn’t have Lauri’s elite shooting ability for a big man, and isn’t the same tier of prospect. But he does offer some shooting potential, making 76% FT and 5/17 from 3 as a freshman.

He also does traditional big man things like interior scoring and rebounding better than Lauri. He is smooth and coordinated which makes him a reliable interior finisher in spite of lacking high end explosiveness.

Even though he is boring on his surface, he has a number of strengths that accumulate and no glaring weakness. There are questions about his defense and shooting, but that’s true for most prospects. He has good intangibles, and if he is successfully develops his 3 + D, he is going to be a solid player.

36. Tre Jones

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Jones is also a boring mold of game managing PG who plays smart and avoid mistakes, similar to his brother Tyus.

It’s not clear if he is better or worse than Tyus. Odds are he is approximately the same. He doesn’t have the creation or defensive potential to have a big upside tail, but he does have good odds of being an efficient high end backup to low end starting PG like his brother.

It’s understandable why a player like that would slide to round 2, but it feels like he is sliding a bit too far for a prospect likely to be a useful role player.

44. Jordan Nwora

2019-20, BKCM, Men’s Basketball, Virginia, UVA

Much like Aaron Nesmith, Nwora offers good shooting and an NBA body, and that’s about it.

But Nwora is slightly bigger, at 6’7.5″ he is an important 1.5″ taller and his 6’10.5″ wingspan is half an inch longer. He also seems slightly more athletic, and his physical edge shows in his superior rebounding.

3PA 3P% FT%
Nwora 10.9 0.394 0.785
Nesmith 11.7 0.41 0.825

Nesmith is also 13 months younger so he gets the clear edge in shooting.

Otherwise both guys have similar steal, block, assist, and free throw rates. They really are similar prospects, and it largely comes down to Nwora’s slight physical advantages vs Nesmith’s slight shooting advantage. How do we choose between the two?

One argument would be that Nwora can easily become the better NBA shooter, but the difference between 6’6″ and 6’7.5″ is significant and Nesmith can never make up that gap. Even though Nwora’s percentages are slightly worse, he appears to have the quicker release on his shot which makes it harder to buy into Nesmith’s advantage for a skill that is extremely high variance to begin with.

The flipside is that Nesmith is lauded for his work ethic and leadership, so teams deciding between the two may favor his intangibles. But Nwora is the son of the Nigerian national team coach and seems to have good intangibles as well, so it’s not a clear advantage for Nesmith based on the limited information available.

Ultimately they are very close and it’s not clear who is the better prospect. The short answer is that they belong in the same tier, which is the sign that the massive gap between their current #44 and #10 rankings should be closed significantly.

49. Reggie Perry

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Perry brings a fascinating offensive skill set to the table for a 6’10” player, as he does a bit of everything. He can handle, pass, and shoot, as well as do traditional big man things like score inside and he is an excellent rebounder.

Granted, his skills are still in development. He showed big offensive improvements as a sophomore, but was still turnover prone with 3.0 assists vs 3.7 turnovers per 40. And he shot a solid 76.8% FT, 32.4% from 3, but had a low 3PA rate and still needs to improve his range. But he only turned 20 in March, and has a nice baseline for skill for a young big to build on.

Defensively, Perry faces questions similar to Vernon Carey. He has a 7’0.5″ wingspan, and while he is a decent athlete, his lateral mobility and ability to defend in space are in question. He is currently slotted in round 2 because there’s some chance he gets roasted on defense in the NBA.

But he also has a chance of defensive competence. If he can learn to hold his own on that end and develops his offensive skills well, that will accumulate to a good player.

Perry is yet another 2nd round big who isn’t that different from Obi Toppin. He lacks Toppin’s explosive finishing ability, but is much more well rounded offensively, better rebounding, and has slightly better dimensions and hope of competence on defense.

Even though both are technically sophomores, Perry is two full years younger and likely has more upside to develop into a complete player.

Ultimately it’s confusing how Toppin’s flaws get overlooked while Perry gets jammed in the back end of round 2. Is explosive finishing that rare of a skill compared to motor, physicality, and perimeter skill? It typically isn’t valued that high, and even though it’s a significant advantage, Perry chips away with a number of smaller advantages that add up.

It’s plausible that Obi is nevertheless the better prospect. But it isn’t consistent to ignore his flaws while stashing Reggie Perry and Vernon Carey in the round 2 dumpster in spite of their flaws not being any worse.

51. Paul Reed

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Reed is a limited offensive player who has spent his NCAA career mired on a horribly coached DePaul team. He is likely going to be a low usage role player in the NBA, so his lack of NBA hype is understandable.

That said– there is much to like about him. In spite of his offensive limitations, he still has a passable shot, making 73.9% FT and 33% 3P over his DePaul career. He has a low 1.9 3PA per 40 minutes, so his shot still needs improvement but it’s not broken.

Other than that he is capable of finishing and has an OK enough 2.0 assists vs 2.9 TOVs per 40 such that he won’t be a significant impediment to an NBA offense if his shooting comes around.

And he offers excellent defensive potential. He is 6’9″ with 7’2″ wingspan with good athleticism. He anchored the #56 defense for DePaul as a junior (close to Leitao’s best ever which is #47) and posted excellent 3.4% steal, 9.4% block, 11.2% ORB, 25.8% DRB rates.

Reed had excellent on/off splits on both ends. DePaul averaged 0.97 vs 0.90 points/possession with him on and turned to mush with 0.83 vs 1.03 with him off.

He isn’t perfect on D, as he is mistake prone on this end, and it remains to be seen how well he can guard NBA perimeter players. But his length, athleticism, and steal rates all suggest that he had a great chance of success, especially once he is freed from the shackles of Dave Leitao’s coaching.

He appears to be a role player in the mold of guys like James Johnson, Moe Harkless, and Andre Roberson. All of those guys were solid returns on first round picks, so why is Reed mired deep in round 2?

My best guess is because he slid through the recruiting radar as a 3* prospect being young for his class and limited on offense, and spent his NCAA career on a perennially bad team. The interesting in draft comparison is Precious Achiuwa, who is currently slated to go #9.

Unlike Reed, Achiuwa was a 5* recruit because he was very old for his class and showed more handling and scoring ability than Reed. But now that they are both in school, even though Achiuwa is a freshman and Reed is a junior, he is only 3 months younger. They have very similar physical profiles with nearly identical dimensions, and their statistical distributions are similar as well:

Pts Reb Ast TOV Stl Blk 2P% FT% 3PA FTr
Precious 28.4 19.4 1.7 5.0 2.0 3.4 0.514 0.599 2.3 0.507
Reed 26.7 18.8 2.9 4.0 3.3 4.5 0.551 0.738 3.2 0.227

Most advantages point toward Reed. His assist:TOV suggests he is more likely to be able to play the perimeter in the NBA without being a disaster. His FT% and 3PA rate more optimism for his shooting. And his superior steals and blocks suggest more defensive upside.

On the flipside, Precious has a significant free throw rate advantage and is a bit tankier and more physical. He also does have a better handle which gives him slightly more offensive upside in the instance that he improves his myriad flaws on that end. And his significant RSCI edge may not be 100% attributable to scouts being tricked by age. After all, Reed had a breakout junior year and it’s easier to take Precious #’s at face value.

Like Nwora and Nesmith, the two likely belong in the same tier and are very close considering their disparity in current hype and stock. Reed is more likely to be useful because he is currently a better team player, but Achiuwa has a bit more home run potential.

78. Malik Fitts

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Fitts projects to be undrafted because he turned 23 in July and he’s merely a good but not great player. He started his career as a 3* recruit for South Florida, and after an underwhelming freshman year he transferred to Saint Mary’s where he played well for two seasons.

On one hand, he is an unheralded recruit who never performed well in NCAA until he was 21. But he does a number of things well that should translate to the NBA as a 3 + D wing.

He is 6’8″ with 6’11.5″ wingspan, a good body and athleticism, and he rebounds fairly well. He also has the mobility to defend the perimeter and a solid steal rate, which suggests good potential for versatile NBA defense.

He also is a good shooter, making 40.7% from 3 and 78.6% FT in his two years at Saint Mary’s. And he can handle, and is capable of getting to the rim and finishing.

It’s not that he just slightly checks the boxes, he clearly is a competent handler and shooter and has physical tools to defend multiple positions in the NBA. Those are the 3 most important qualities for a role playing wing, and Fitts brings them all to the table.

Even we compared him in these 3 areas to top 5 prospect Deni Avdija, Fitts is clearly better in all 3. Deni is 3.5 years younger and could surpass Fitts handling and shooting longterm, but Fitts current advantages are so significant he should be considered the favorite to be more skilled longterm. And Fitts physical tools will always be a notch better than Deni.

But of course this doesn’t make him necessarily a better overall prospect than Deni. Deni is known for his basketball IQ, and in spite of his youth is already a much better passer than Fitts who is prone to tunnel vision and has an ugly 2.1 assists vs 3.3 turnovers per 40 for Saint Mary’s. He is also not a lockdown defensive player in spite of his tools, as he is mistake prone and struggles to defend the pick and roll.

This significant IQ/vision advantage for Deni makes him the overall better prospect, but Fitts’ edges in skill and tools makes it much closer than an UDFA should be to a top 5 prospect.

For an undrafted player, Fitts’ flaws aren’t backbreaking. IQ and vision are slippery to assess– interestingly he had a better assist rate as a freshman for South Florida when the rest of his game was much weaker. Perhaps his vision is fine, and NBA coaching is able to mitigate his mistakes in which case he should be a solid role playing wing.

Fitts’ age inhibits his upside, he’s not going to be a slam dunk steal of the draft. But his upside doesn’t seem all that much lower than the younger and similarly flawed players that are currently getting lottery hype.

Round 2 Hidden Gems

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Thus far I have written about the top 4 prospects in the draft and the limited upside of many of the lottery candidates. Overall the draft is looking incredibly weak on the top, but on the bright side there are quite a few hidden gems who are currently slated to go in round 2.

For now let’s run through the three players listed as 2nd rounders who most obviously belong in round 1:

31. Jahmi’us Ramsey

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After Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver built up significant hype playing for Chris Beard at Texas Tech and were big disappointments early in their career, it seems that nobody wants to draft a Red Raider anymore.

But there aren’t any major coaches whose prospects consistently bust. Most coaches have some prospects do well, others disappoint, and there’s no reason to doubt Chris Beard’s ability to produce NBA talent based on a sample size of two.

This is especially the case since unlike Culver and Smith who were 3* prospects, Ramsey was the #30 RSCI recruit and is less likely to be a mirage produced by good coaching.

Ramsey is a bit of an awkward mold, as he is a bit small for a shooting guard at 6’4″ with a 6’6″ wingspan. He is a good but not great athlete, and with his limited size he struggled to finish at the rim and only made 64.1% of his free throws. And he averaged just slightly more assists (2.9) than turnovers (2.6) per 40 minutes. It’s easy to see why people are hesitant to jump on board with him as an undersized SG even without the Texas Tech concerns.

But there’s quite a bit to like. He made 42.6% of his 3’s on a decent 3PA rate. While he likely ran hot on 3P% in light of his free throws, he may have also ran cold on his FT% given that he only had 78 FTA compared to 141 3PA. He is very young having turned 19 in June, and if his shot is real he has quite a bit of potential as a scorer.

And he complements his scoring ability with solid rebound, steal, and block rates. Let’s compare him to a few similar prospects:

Age ORB DRB STL BLK Height Wingspan
Jah’mius Ramsey 18.5 3.0 12.3 2.5 2.5 6’4 6’6
Jamal Murray 18.8 4.9 11.1 1.6 0.9 6’4.25 6’6.5
Gary Harris 18.8 3.9 8.6 3.1 1.1 6’4.5 6’6.75
Brad Beal 18.4 4.7 18.2 2.5 2.6 6’3 6’8

Physically these guys are all similar. Beal has the best length and his rebounds and blocks hint at the best athleticism, so it’s no surprise that he was the most coveted prospect of the group. But Ramsey is likely the 2nd best athlete, and while his wingspan is slightly lower than the others, it was last measured in 2018 and may have grown since.

Offense per 100 possessions:

PTS AST TOV 3PA 3P% FT%
Jah’mius Ramsey 28.3 4.2 3.8 9.8 42.6 64.1
Jamal Murray 33.3 3.7 3.9 12.8 40.8 78.3
Gary Harris 29.3 4 3.2 11.1 37.6 78.8
Brad Beal 26.5 4 3.8 9 33.9 76.9

Murray stands out as the best shooter of the crop with a great 3PA rate with the 3P% and FT% to back it up. No surprise that he was close behind Beal as the second best prospect of the group.

But really the only thing here that separates Ramsey from the pack is his FT%…which is such a small sample. He went 50/78, if instead he went 55/78 that puts him at 70.5% and it’s not a major flag for an 18 year old guard.

Granted, he wasn’t a good free throw shooter in AAU, but it’s possible he made a big leap, and it’s possible that he continues to make big leaps. If he becomes a good longterm shooter, he is probably going to be a good NBA player.

Gary Harris is a good comparison in terms of value, because he had a better shooting signal, but Ramsey has a bit more upside due to his superior athleticism. Harris was a good return on a #19 pick in a better draft than this one, so it doesn’t make much sense for Ramsey to be mired in round 2.

If Ramsey’s shot turns out to be a dud then he likely will be too, but he’s young, it looks mechanically good, and there’s no strong reason to bet against it. And if becoming a good shooter is all it takes for him to become a slightly better Gary Harris or slightly worse Jamal Murray or Bradley Beal, then he obviously belongs in round 1.

32. Vernon Carey

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Imagine that there is a #5 RSCI freshman who posts a 34.1 PER as the best player on a top 5 team while not turning 19 until the end of the season in February.  Then imagine that almost every other highly rated freshman in the class disappointed with thin hopes for the future in a draft with limited upperclass talent.

Typically, the one highly rated freshman who exceeded the hype would be the obvious #1 overall pick, and we would move on to debating #2. But not in 2020, where being a relatively unathletic big is considered to be a debilitating wart and Vernon Carey is projected as a 2nd rounder.

Anti-Okafor Bias

This is in part exacerbated by the tale of Jahlil Okafor, who shares a number of parallels to Vernon Carey. He was also an elite recruit for Duke, and led an excellent team that eventually won the championship in points, rebounds, and blocks. He largely lived up to the hype in college and was considered the favorite for #1 overall until the emergence of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell dropped him to #3.

But on top of being in an archaic mold, Okafor also failed to translate his excellent NCAA production and has been a complete flop in the NBA.

Now it’s completely reasonable to view similar prospects through a skeptical lens. Low post scoring is not nearly as valuable as it used to be, and teams are now playing smaller lineups, emphasizing speed and skill over size and interior scoring.

That said, Okafor was a completely sane #3 pick by an intelligent GM just 5 years ago. Since there are no KAT or DAR level prospects in this draft, Vernon Carey would have been the clear #1 overall choice if this was 2015. While it’s fair to reduce the value of such a prospect in accordance with the evolution of the game, it seems like a massive overcorrection to drop Carey out of the first round. He is a different prospect than Okafor who will translate differently, develop differently, and is likely slightly better overall pre-draft:

Pts Reb Ast TOV Stl Blks 2P% 3PA FT%
Okafor 34.9 17.1 2.6 5 1.5 2.9 66.4% 0 51%
Carey 39.2 19.3 2.1 4.5 1.6 3.5 59.0% 1.5 67%

They are near doppelgängers statistically, except Carey has a significant edge in FT% and he shot 8/21 from 3 as a freshman while Okafor did not attempt any 3’s. And Carey was 2 months younger.

There’s no guarantee that Carey translates as poorly offensively and is as bad as Okafor defensively. He can do much better in both regards, and if he develops an outside shot to boot, it will look silly for being this low on him.

Can Vern Fit in the Modern NBA?

Plodding bigs are going out of style, but they are not extinct yet. Looking at this year’s playoff teams many of them start below the rim bigs, many of who slid in the draft: Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Myles Turner, Jarrett Allen, Nikola Vucevic, Ivica Zubac, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Jusuf Nurkic. And Draymond Green missed the playoffs after being a mainstay in 5 straight finals.

Granted, Carey does have an underwhelming 7’0″ wingspan which is inferior to the aforementioned bigs, and he isn’t a passing savant like the biggest round 2 steals in Draymond, Jokic, and Gasol. So there are reasons to be skeptical that he will actually look like the correct #1 overall in retrospect.

Stylistically he is most similar to Enes Kanter, which is one of the least sexy molds in the modern NBA. But Kanter is the poster child for lead feet, and he was nevertheless able to start for a Portland team that went to the West Finals last year, and is now playing playoff rotation minutes for Boston. If Carey happens to develop into a better defensive player and/or shooter (both are very low bars to clear) while being similar in other regards, that’s a useful player.

Kanter was the #3 overall pick in 2011. The game is evolving, but let’s not quit on bigs this aggressively. There is still value to being large and good at basketball.

Ultimately it’s a tricky question how much to precisely de-value a player like Carey for his archaic mold. On one hand, he is sub-optimal centerpiece even if he hits his upside, and it’s difficult to justify taking players like him in the top 3 given the risk that he either flops completely like Okafor or is heavily flawed like Kanter in spite of his productive box score.

But how far can he reasonably be dropped? It’s unlikely that he flops as hard as Okafor, and it’s pessimistic to project his flaws to be as extreme as Kanter’s. Carey is really good at basketball in a draft where the lottery is full of guys who fit a modern mold but just aren’t that good and need to overachieve in order to have a decent NBA career.

Why Not Take Him at the Toppin of the Draft?

The most direct comparison for Carey among lottery prospects is Obi Toppin, who currently is ranked #4 on ESPN’s mock. Obi has similar dimensions (Carey is approximately 1″ taller and longer). Toppin is much more vertically explosive and better at finishing, but other than that Carey destroys him.

Carey is a much better rebounder and a better shot blocker. Both struggle to defend in space, but Carey has more hope of learning long term because he is 3 years younger and Obi’s vertical explosiveness has not translated to lateral competence. Toppin is the slightly better shooter and passer now, but Carey is a favorite to surpass him in both in 3 years. And in spite of Obi’s super athleticism, Carey has more skill in the paint as he was able to score more points at just slightly lower efficiency in spite of the age gap and tougher competition.

And to cap it all off: Carey was a top 5 recruit while Obi was a 20 year old redshirt for a mid-major team. Obi is getting more attention because of his athleticism, but he has an incomplete athletic package since it doesn’t translate to defense, and collectively Carey is the clearly superior talent.

It’s difficult to say exactly how heavily to de-value Carey’s elite statistics and pedigree due to his dated mold. But it is difficult to justify ranking Obi Toppin above him, given that Obi shares his key flaws and brings fewer strengths to the table.

If Carey was the top 5 prospect and Obi was the early 2nd rounder, that would make much more sense than their current rankings . Which isn’t to say it would be accurate to flip them, but it would at least feel sane. For now, let’s conservatively say that Carey belongs in the lottery at least slightly above Toppin, and Carey ranking so much lower is a major inefficiency in the current rankings.

35. Devon Dotson

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As a sophomore, Dotson was the best player on the clear best team in college basketball. He had a great argument for best player in the country, as he ranked #2 behind just Luka Garza for kenpom.com Player of the Year.

But unlike Garza, Dotson is an athlete who can create his shot offensively and make plays defensively. There are no glaring concerns about his ability to translate his game to the NBA. Having turned 21 earlier this month in August, Dotson is reasonably young for NCAA two way stud with NBA athleticism.

Dotson is currently mired in round 2 because he is a small PG at 6’2″ with 6’3.25″ wingspan, and there are questions about his passing and shooting for such a small guy.

He only made 33.2% of his 3’s in his two years at Kansas and is more of a slasher than shooter at this stage. But he made 80.8% FT, so there is potential for him to develop into a good distance shooter in time.

The more concerning flaw is his lack of elite passing ability, as he only averaged 4.5 assists per 40 in his two years at Kansas, and is currently a combo guard in a small PG body.

Bill Self Guards Rarely Rack Up Assists

Fellow Kansas alum Devonte’ Graham went #34 overall in 2018, and looks like a possible steal after his breakout sophomore season as the starting PG for Charlotte. At the time I thought Graham was a reach at #34 overall, because he did not show the potential as a creator to seem close to an NBA caliber floor general.

His first season as a starter for Kansas was when he was a sophomore who turned 21 late in the season, where he posted a paltry 16.9% usage and 19.1% assist rate. As a 22 year old junior, he hardly improved with 18% usg, 19.2% assist. Then finally as a 23 year old senior, he took the reins to the offense with Frank Mason departed and posted a respectable 23.9% usage and 31.4% assist rate.

Any starting caliber NBA point guard should have showed MUCH more creation and passing ability before turning 23, and being that much of a late bloomer is typically a major red flag. Yet just 2 years later, here is Graham taking on an even greater role for an NBA offense with 24.8% usage and 35.3% assist rate with decent efficiency.

Graham’s senior season was the only Self player to post an assist rate above 30% other than Aaron Miles in 03-04 and 04-05. He doesn’t try to build an offense around one point guard, he typically likes to run point guard by committee.

Graham is a rare example of breakout passing regardless of coaching, and it’s not likely that Dotson follows the same arc. But the mere possibility is attractive, as Dotson was a better NCAA player than Graham and is a better athlete with more NBA upside.

Reasons For Optimism

Dotson posted a 3.5% steal rate as a sophomore, the best steal rate by a Kansas player since Mario Chalmers in 2008. For his career he was 2.9% vs 2.5% for Graham. This indicates that he may have the feel and vision to develop his passing longterm.

Further, Dotson’s on/off splits are great. Kansas 2P% was 57.2% with Dotson on the floor and 46.4% with him off. That is in part because of his own stellar finishing. And they forced 19.7% turnovers with him on the floor with a slightly lower defensive eFG% vs 12.0% with him off.

These are huge splits for stats that typically do not see such variance when a player leaves the floor. And offensive 2P% and defensive TOV% are the team level stats that a high IQ point guard can impact the greatest. Given that this also came for the clear #1 team in the country, this could be a hint that Dotson makes team level impact beyond the box score.

It’s Going Down, I’m Yelling Kemba

Dotson developing into an NBA 3 point shooter and a quality passer are far from given, but they also are both firmly in the realm of possibility. And if he does both, that leaves only his lackluster dimensions inhibiting his upside. But there have been plenty of players with similar dimensions to become quality NBA PGs by having great speed and athleticism:

Height Wingspan Draft Slot
Devon Dotson 6’2 6’3.25 TBD
Chris Paul 6’1 6’4.25 4
Kemba Walker 6’1 6’3.5″ 9
Ty Lawson 6’0.5″ 6’0.75″ 18
Kyle Lowry 6’0 6’2 24
Tony Parker 6’2 6’4 28

These players all had various strengths that Dotson lacked, but that’s some excellent value relative to slot on all of them.

He isn’t the defensive pitbull that Lowry was, as his offensive rebound and steal rates pale in comparison. But Lowry slid in the draft due to being very raw offensively, as he attempted a meager 18 3PA as a sophomore and had a similarly low assist rate and completely lacked Dotson’s ability to get to the rim and finish.

Tony Parker is interesting, because he made a career of getting to the rim and finishing which is also Dotson’s specialty. Parker wasn’t a great passer when he entered the league, and he never developed a 3 point shot. Dotson is likely going to be a better shooter, and may not be all that much worse at passing if he develops similarly well.

The other interesting comp is Kemba Walker, because they have an eerie number of parallels: they have nearly identical dimensions, they were similar RSCI (Kemba #15, Dotson #20), both are speedy and excel at getting to the rim, both have a winning pedigree (Kemba for winning an NCAA title and Dotson for being best player on best team in season w/o tourney), and both showed major improvement over NCAA college career

Also we can neatly compare their career NCAA stats since their average age weight by minutes is near identical (Dotson is 23 days older):

ORB% DRB% STL% BLK% FTr 3P% FT% 3PA/40
Kemba 3.6 10.5 3 0.7 0.474 0.326 0.783 4.2
Dotson 2.1 10.2 2.9 0.4 0.458 0.332 0.808 3.9

Kemba has an advantage in ORB%, perhaps indicating a slight athleticism advantage, and other than that they are basically twins.

They also both had big breakouts in their final college season, so let’s compare those numbers pace adjusted per 40.

Pts 2PA 2P% 3PA FT% AST TOV
Kemba 26.1 13.9 0.471 6.2 0.819 5 2.5
Dotson 20.8 10.2 0.541 4.7 0.836 4.6 2.8

Kemba stands out as better with greater scoring and assist volume and lower assists and higher 3PA rate.

Dotson was much more efficient inside the arc, and he likely could have stretched his usage. And as mentioned previously, Bill Self suppresses assists in a way that Jim Calhoun doesn’t (even Ben Gordon averaged more assists per 40 in each of his 3 seasons at UConn), so Dotson could actually be the slightly better passer here. And he was 3 months younger

Ultimately it’s close, but Kemba gets the clear edge for his pullup shooting advantage that he was able to build on to become good NBA point guard. It’s super unlikely that Dotson is ever able to match Kemba’s volume and efficiency from 3, and ultimately this comp is a big longshot for him. After all, it was a longshot that even Kemba became himself based on pre-draft.

But it’s fun to note because the parallels are strong, and Kemba was an excellent return on a #9 overall pick. Dotson may be able to carve out his own brand of overachievement that comes in a more efficient mold that fits into a wider range of lineups.

Bottom Line

At a glance Dotson is a warty upperclassmen who seems like he makes sense as a fringe first rounder, but if we really dig into him he is littered with reasons for optimism.

Expectations need to be tempered, because he still is a little guy who likely is not a floor general or high volume 3 point shooter. But if things develop well for him, he has a decent upside tail which is more than can be said for most prospects in the draft.

And even if things don’t develop perfectly, he can have a career as a helpful role player on winning teams. The benefit to his mold is that if he is not meant to be an offensive hub, he pairs well as a secondary creator next to a number of star wings: Luka, Giannis, LeBron, Simmons, Harden, Kawhi. He doesn’t need to hit his upside to be a useful piece on a contending team.

Even though Dotson isn’t a lottery pick on paper, it is easy to see him providing value for a lottery pick longterm. It’s difficult to say exactly where to place him, but he has potential to be anywhere from a nice role player pickup to monster value in late round 1 or early round 2.

2020 Draft: This Lottery is Really Bad

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It’s difficult to analyze this draft without getting frustrated by the lack of exciting prospects. Like any draft, there are inevitably a few hidden gems. But looking through ESPN’s current top 10, half of them do not belong in a typical lottery.

I recently wrote no hot takes this year, but before diving in, let’s clarify the definition. I will still share my contrarian views, and rank the prospects different from consensus accordingly. But the goal is to be more level headed while trying to consider how I may be wrong, and only stray heavily from consensus when it seems painfully obvious.

Anyhow, here are 6 players slated to go top 12 that my past self would call lock busts who belong nowhere near round 1. As of now I am still trying to discern exactly where to rate each of them, and perhaps in this draft a few of these guys might actually belong in the lottery.

So for now let’s list them out by ESPN ranking and walk through the causes for concern and possible paths to quality NBA careers in spite of their flaws:

4. Obi Toppin

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Obi has one really big strength– he is an explosive athlete and finisher, making 69% of his 2P in two years at Dayton.

And that’s his only real strength. His passing and shooting are OK, and his 7’2″ wingspan and explosiveness give him a chance at defensive competence. But there are a number of concerns.

First, he was playing in an ideal system to post the statistics he did. Even during his redshirt year, Dayton had the 2nd best 2P% in NCAA led by freshman PG Jalen Crutcher. It’s not just Obi– the whole team feasts on easy interior shots. Obi is a great finisher regardless, but he likely would have posted a less outlier 2P% in a different offense playing against tougher competition.

While he shot 41.7% from 3 in his two years at Dayton, that was only over 103 attempts. He didn’t have a great 3PA rate and his 70.6% FT is only OK for a prospect who turned 22 in March.

Similarly, he has nearly as many assists as turnovers which is decent for a 6’9″ big, but considering his age it’s only OK.

And in spite of his physical tools, he may be an absolute turnstile on defense. He doesn’t move well laterally, and has underwhelming blocks for a big. He may be too stiff to guard the perimeter and too small to guard the paint.

Toppin had a curiously low 6.4% offensive rebound rate for a player with his size and athleticism. It’s worth wondering if he is lacking in motor and/or toughness, as he also has a pedestrian free throw rate.

Toppin played in a highly favorable environment to pad his stats and has a number of scary flaws. Considering that he redshirted as a sophomore aged freshman for a rebuilding mid-major team, there’s a serious concern that he’s an ordinary offensive prospect who is a disaster on D.

What is especially crazy is that he is currently ranked above Onyeka Okongwu. They have similar dimensions, but for a prospect who is 2 years 9 months older and played in a much more favorable offense, his offense isn’t that much better. It really isn’t clear who is the better offensive prospect between the two: 26.4 usg 122 ortg vs 23.4 usg 119 ORtg.

Even if we give Obi a slight offensive edge, Okongwu easily makes up for it with a monstrous advantage on defense. There is simply no defense for choosing Obi over Onyeka.

Where does this leave Obi? It’s tough to say. He has similar #’s to Montrezl Harrell with slightly better passing and shooting but worse ORebs, FT%, and 2″ less length. If you get a different flavor of Harrell in this lottery, that’s a favorable outcome.

That said, Harrell went in round 2 in a much deeper draft, and there’s no clear reason to value Obi higher as he is not guaranteed to share similar success. Harrell was great value in round 2, and there’s a good chance Obi would be as well, but his true value likely lies somewhere in the middle of where he is rated and Harrell was chosen.

Edit: Obi’s wingspan is actually 6’11”, not 7’2″ which is being commonly reported. This explains his pedestrian steal + block rates, and puts a dent in the likelihood he can overcome his lateral issues defensively.

5. Deni Avdija

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Deni’s appeal is that he brings a little bit of everything. He is 6’8″, can shoot a little, handle a little, pass a little, move reasonably well on defense, and just turned 19 in January.

But on the flipside, he doesn’t bring much of anything. He has a meager 6’9.5″ wingspan, is lacking in strength, and is only an OK athlete. He doesn’t get many steals or blocks, and there’s a limit to his defensive upside even though he is considered solid on that end.

And there are major concerns about his shooting. He takes a good rate of 3PA, but only has made 33% while shooting a gross 59% from the line. If we include his 18-19 numbers drop to 31% 3P and 55.6% FT. He is still young with time to improve, and he may be better from three than free throws, but there is serious concern that he will never be a decent shooter.

His best quality is likely his passing, with a good assist to turnover ratio for his size and youth, averaging 3.7 assists and 2.9 turnovers per 40 this season. But his passing impact is limited by his low usage rate, as he posted just 21% usage in BSL and 15.6% in Euroleague.

His Euroleague performance is especially concerning when you consider the low level of competition in BSL. He has posted merely a 10.5 PER in 371 Euroleague minutes this year, raising the concern that he may lack the skills and physicality to make any significant impact against higher levels of competition.

Ultimately it seems like the hope is that he improves his shooting and provides quality defense and a willingness to move the ball and avoid mistakes as a 6’8″ wing role player. And it’s easy to see him develop into a passable role player, especially as wings become more essential toward filling out NBA lineups.

But he has a huge downside tail if his defense and shooting flop, he is not going to be playable. And even if they become decent, what other meat is there on his profile to make him collectively above average? He needs to vastly improve his handle and scoring, otherwise he’s a very boring 3 + D prospect who may not even be good at either 3 or D.

8. Isaac Okoro

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Okoro’s selling point is that he is custom built to guard James Harden 1 on 1. He has a great frame and quickness, and projects to be a good man to man defensive player. He’s like a bigger and better Luguentz Dort, who seems like possibly good value for an UDFA.

I say “possibly” because who really knows how to value Dort. He’s a guard who posted 7.6 PER and -3.7 BPM as a rookie. He may stick around for an NBA career, but there’s still a relatively low cap on his upside, even though his man defense thus far has looked about as good as one could have hoped.

Further, there is more to defense than locking down Harden. Okoro is only 6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan, which makes him a bit too small to guard stars like LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and Giannis. His lack of length shows in his pedestrian steal rate, and his team defense likely doesn’t measure up to his reputation as a man defender.

And curiously, he has a terrible 8.8% defensive rebound rate which looms as a stain on his resume for a player with his tools. Although this is somewhat mitigated by a solid 6.4% offensive rebound rate, it doesn’t sit well for a prospect who projects to be a one way defensive guard.

So he really needs to amount to *something* offensively to justify a top 10 slot. As a freshman for Auburn, he had an average usage rate, barely more assists than turnovers (2.6 vs 2.5 per 40), and mediocre shooting 29% 3P on low volume, 67% FT. There’s not much to work with on this end.

If there is something to build on, it’s his 60% 2P and good free throw rate. He has a limited ability to attack off the dribble, but when he did he showed good footwork and finishing, and didn’t shy from contact.  He is a good athlete and still only 19– perhaps building on this is his path to offensive decency.

But it’s a relatively thin path for a top 10 pick. He is similar physically to Justise Winslow who was clearly better as an NCAA freshman yet hasn’t been able to amount to much offensively in the NBA. Okoro’s only real advantage over Winslow is better interior scoring, so perhaps he can parlay that into a similar or slightly better NBA player in spite of his disadvantages. But lots of times he’s going to be a dud offensively who just doesn’t bring enough size to the table defensively to make his offense worth stomaching.

9. Precious Achiuwa

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Achiuwa’s Memphis team summarizes his NBA prospects– very good defensively, awful offensively, and ultimately overhyped.

He is 6’9 with 7’1.5″ wingspan with good athleticism. He was a very good rebounder with good steals and blocks for the #5 defensive team in the country. There’s quite a bit of potential for him on this end as a small center or a big wing.

But the only problem is that you need to stomach his offense. He only made 60% FT, and shot a low rate of 3PA (13/40). He also had a horrible 1.3 vs 3.7 assists vs TOVs per 40. And in spite of his size and athleticism he posted a pedestrian 51% 2P because he loves to chuck mid-range shots. Collectively he was a high usage player with dreadful efficiency.

And to make matters worse, he is an old freshman, turning 21 in September. This makes it difficult to forgive his flaws and gamble on his tools and defensive playmaking anyway.

Even if develops a passable shot, that assist:TOV likely rules him out from being an adequate perimeter player offensively. Precious needs quite a few things to go right to be able to fit in an NBA offense without being incredibly harmful.

And the thing is it’s not like he’s a GOAT tier defensive prospect. He has merely shown good playmaking potential, but still is prone to getting lost.

One interesting aside: Okungwu, Toppin, and Achiuwa all have similar physical profiles and are projected to go in the #4 thru #9 range. Except Obi and Precious are one way prospects, and if you combine their good side of the balls into one prospect, it’s STILL not clear if that prospect is better than Okongwu. Onyeka is the such the obvious gem in the rough here.

Anyhow, at some point it makes sense to roll the dice on Precious tools and hope he learns how to not trainwreck the offense whenever he steps on the floor and live up to his defensive potential.  Where that it is hard to say, because his offense looks very rough right now.

10. Aaron Nesmith

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Nesmith has an NBA body at 6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan, is a good shooter, and has good intangibles, and that’s about the extent of his goodness.

He isn’t a good ball handler or passer, and he isn’t a good athlete or defensive player.  He’s just a shooter, so how far can that really go?

It depends on how good he becomes at shooting. With modern emphasis on 3’s, it has become increasingly common for players to make a high rate of 40%+ 3PA.

I had a similar critique of Buddy Hield, and this past season he made 39.4% 3P on 15.1 3PA per 100 possessions. Reggie Miller in his career made 39.5% from 3 on 7.1 3PA/100. Miller. 15 years ago Miller was the all time 3 pointer leader, now we have Hield more than doubling his rate of attempts at a similar percentage. That can atone for quite a few deficiencies.

Hield isn’t the only one. Steph Curry is the obvious example of an overpowered 3.  Seth Curry and especially Duncan Robinson have gone on to improbably useful NBA careers because of their elite 3P% on high volume. JJ Redick has aged very well into his 30’s by increasing both his 3PA rate and 3P%. Even Doug McDermott finally had a good season this year by posting a career his 3P% with a huge spike in his 3PA rate.

In recent years, making an outlier impact on shooting with a great 3P% and 3PA rate is becoming increasingly possible, so being a one dimensional shooter doesn’t cap a player’s upside as much as it used to. So the big question is– how likely is Nesmith to become an outlier shooter?

Shooting is difficult to predict with loads of randomness, so the short answer is “not very likely”. But it’s worth discussing the possibility. If we stick to the Hield comparison and look at their career college shooting numbers, they are very close:

3PA/100 3P% FT%
Nesmith 11.7 41.0 82.5
Buddy 12.3 39.0 83.6

And it looks even better for Nesmith considering that he is leaving for the draft at 2 years 10 months younger than Hield. Buddy was a huge underdog to become an elite NBA shooter based on his NCAA statistics, but his elite work ethic enabled him to make a huge leap as an NCAA senior and continue to build on that in the NBA.

Nesmith is also known for great work ethic and leadership, so why can’t he follow Buddy’s trail of defying the odds to become a great shooter?

The major concern is that Nesmith has a relatively slow release, whereas Buddy had a lightning quick trigger. This is going to make it difficult to consistently get off quality attempts vs NBA defenses, let alone at the insane rate that Buddy attempts and makes them.

Further, the bulk of Nesmith’s good shooting came against horrible competition. As a freshman he shot 33.7% on 11 3PA per 100, and as a sophomore he shot 52.2% on 13.1 3PA/100. This may indicate some level of improvement, but Vanderbilt played one of the softest non-conference schedules in the country, and then after one SEC game vs Auburn Nesmith injured his foot and missed the rest of the season.

It’s difficult to say how much was genuine improvement vs simply happening to get hot vs weak low major opponents who don’t have the size or athleticism to challenge his slow-ish release.

While his intangibles and work ethic cannot rule out the possibility that he learns to be a 40%+ NBA shooter on good volume, it’s not necessarily something that is wise to bet on. And if he becomes a 37% shooter on an ordinary 3PA rate, he’s not going to be more than a fringe rotation player because he doesn’t offer enough otherwise.

12. Saddiq Bey

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Rodney Hood’s long lost twin brother enters the 2020 draft with similar stock to Hood in 2014, since going #21 in 2014 is similar to #12 in 2020.

Both guys are 6’8″ with good efficiency and shooting in medium usage roles, great assist to turnovers, and underwhelming rebounds, steals, and blocks.

Even though Hood was a solid return on the #21 overall pick, it’s still arguable that he was overdrafted. For Utah he worked out about as well as he possibly could have, and he was still merely a decent role player. On other teams he has regressed and become an ordinary bench player.

Now Bey’s best case scenario is likely around the Utah version of Hood. But his worst case is quite a bit lower, because he is slow and his shot is a big question mark. He made 41.8% of his career 3P at Villanova, but his 3PA rate was pedestrian, as was his 72.8% FT. He has wonky shooting mechanics, and there’s some risk his 3 point shooting at Villanova was largely luck. Hood has become an above average NBA shooter, and the same cannot be assured for Bey.

Bey’s biggest advantage over Hood is 2.5″ greater wingspan at 6’11”, and Villanova tends to produce intelligent role players. So it’s not difficult to envision him as a useful pro like the Utah version of Hood. But that’s not the sexiest upside given his risk of having below average shooting and lacking the athleticism to guard anybody in the NBA.

 

Draft Predictions Retrospective

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The draft is super hard to predict. Over my 6 years of blogging about the draft, I have made some good predictions and some bad ones. The predictions that sting me the most are the ones where I went too far pushing a “hot take.” The idea was nothing was at stake anyway, and if a contrarian opinion proves accurate, being more aggressive makes it look better in retrospect.

What I learned is that it’s extremely difficult to predict the next 15 years for a 19 year old kid. I have been wrong so many times, it now seems pointless to ever make any bold proclamations. It only makes my analysis less accurate, since more bold statements = more opportunities to be wrong. All I can do is look at the available information, assess the various possibilities for each prospect, and make an attempt at estimating their value.

The best thing I ever wrote questioned if Luka Doncic was the best prospect ever. The best part about the writeup is that I didn’t make any definitive statements, I merely presented facts and asked questions in an attempt to interpret it. The questions have since proved to be relevant, so I will focus on keeping that tone going forward

Anyhow, just for fun I will go back and review my year by year predictions since we have it all on record:

2014

This was my first year where I put the most effort, and also by far my best year. I was highly bearish on Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins as the top 2 picks.

I correctly rated Joel Embiid as the #1 overall pick, with Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, and Marcus Smart rounding out the top 4. Some people may say Dante Exum at #2 looks bad in retrospect, but seeing that Embiid is the only real star at the top of the draft I don’t feel badly about it. I likely should have placed him at #4 below Smart and Gordon but this was a relatively minor miss for a shot at a mystery box.

I also correctly rated non-lotto bigs Jusuf Nurkic and Clint Capela above Parker + Wiggins at #5 and #6, which felt insane to do at the time yet somehow worked out.

I also had Nikola Jokic and Spencer Dinwiddie as 2nd round steals at #16 and #17 respectively.

I also had a few misses. Tyler Ennis piqued my interest but #9 was far too high for him. And while I feel I raised valid concerns about Julius Randle (#23), Zach LaVine (#35), and Rodney Hood (#57), I ranked all of them too low. But then after watching summer league, I actually noted that these were all of my opinions I felt worst about.

This was the season where I watched by far the most basketball both pre-draft and summer league, and really committed myself to understanding as much as possible. In retrospect I think my analysis was about as good as possible, and I may not ever analyze a draft this well again.

2015

This draft I gave much less effort than 2014 and it shows. I was far too low on Kristaps Porzingis (#12), Myles Turner (#20), Devin Booker (#22), and Terry Rozier (#50).

I also was sky high on Justise Winslow which hasn’t fully worked out, nor has it been a disaster. I ranked him #3 on my big board, and in the article I said I thought he was a better prospect than Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay which has proved to be accurate. But he also hasn’t nearly lived up to the massive potential I saw in him.

The bright side of this season was the only other player I wrote about: Josh Richardson. When he wasn’t even on the top 100 of anybody’s rankings, I wrote about how he was the hidden gem of the draft and ranked him #30.

I also had Larry Nance and Norman Powell as possible second round steals ranking them #32 and #33 respectively when they were getting relatively little attention (Nance going #27 was a big surprise). At least finding a few late steals somewhat salvaged this draft.

2016

This year was an unmitigated disaster. I had Ingram > Simmons, which is starting to look defensible, but Simmons is still the better talent and player and was the obvious #1.

I had Dragan Bender #3 which I don’t fully regret with such other few interesting options available, but I was too nevertheless too high based on a tiny sample of FIBA when he was 16.

Most notably I ranked Jamal Murray #12 and Buddy Hield #24 which is just awful considering how many terrible players I ranked ahead of them including #6 Deyonta Davis and #8 Timothe Luwawu. I was putting pretty low thought into my rankings, and in fairness I updated shortly after the draft to make all of these drastically more sane.

I did have a couple of decent ideas in the mix, with Dejounte Murray at #13 and Fred VanVleet #42 as a couple of later steals. But I don’t think this does much to salvage a bad overall ranking where I got too many things wrong.

2017

I was far too high on Lonzo Ball. I would still rank him #1 in retrospect because his strengths were so attractive, but I was far too dismissive of his flaws and downside risk.

I was also pretty high on most of the rest of the top 7. Fultz has flopped for somewhat unpredictable reasons– who could have known he was such a headcase? But then other than that Tatum, Fox, Isaac, and Markkanen all look pretty good while Josh Jackson has flopped.

I was correctly bearish on Dennis Smith Jr and ranked him #10, below OG Anunoby who I had #9. I had Donovan Mitchell #11 and I should have had him above DSJ.

Jarrett Allen at #27 was a small mistake and Bam at #28 was a big mistake.

This wasn’t my worst draft year, but it wasn’t my best either.

2018

This draft was so close to being good! I had my famous article on Luka, was bullish on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and had Josh Okogie and Kevin Huerter as solid 1st round picks when they weren’t in the consensus top 40.

But then I ruined it with too many hot takes. I still believe Trae Young is highly overrated and is not a player that I would want to build an NBA team around, but it’s clear that he has enough unique talent to be worth a top 10 pick. I went overboard on slandering him by ranking him 15th.

I also massively overhyped Jaren Jackson Jr. He was obviously the correct #2 prospect, and still is a very good one, but I made him 1b to Luka’s 1a which looks really bad in retrospect. I did ponder if he had GOAT upside, and frankly I don’t think it was a totally insane question. But he was so much less proven than Luka at the time, I really analyzed him through an excessively optimistic lens.

Also Zhaire Smith at #5 is a horrible take. I thought it was a good idea to gamble on athleticism, but he obviously had some big question marks that I glazed over too lightly.

Mikal Bridges at #18 was maybe a few slots too low. But I don’t feel too badly about this bc he still isn’t that exciting. We’ll see how he develops over the next few years.

I did correctly rate Jerome Robinson (#58) over Michael Porter Jr. (#9) as a horrific pick, and I had Gary Trent (#27) as a solid round 2 sleeper. I was too low on Mitchell Robinson, however, having him at #34.

Ultimately I feel that my analysis for this draft started off well, but I ended up taking too many unnecessary positions that were against the grain just to be different. I’d rate my analysis this draft collectively as OK, but nothing special.

2019

I didn’t even do a full writeup for this one because I didn’t feel like it. And it’s too early to say much about this draft with so much left to unfold, but so far my rankings look pretty good.

I was a huge bull on Ja Morant and PJ Washington. So far PJ looks like a one of the more solid guys outside of the top 2, and Ja looks like a future star.

It’s still too much to say about Ja, but I would still bet quite a bit that he goes on to have a better NBA career than Trae Young.

I was very low on DeAndre Hunter (#29) and Darius Garland (#19) who appear to be huge mistakes as top 5 picks.

And I had Terence Davis #39, which looks good for a UDFA.

I seem to have have underrated Cam Johnson at #38.

Other than that I didn’t have any strong opinions and we need more time to let things unfold. But I feel that I took fewer unnecessary bold positions than normal and overall I did a pretty decent job this year.

Conclusions

I have had ups and downs at predictions. I have had some good ideas that led to good predictions, and some slightly less good ideas that led to bad predictions.

I don’t know if I will ever replicate my 2014 performance where I was intently watching every top prospect in both NCAA and summer league.  You can really get to know a prospect by watching a player repeatedly in a number of situations.

Since then I haven’t been watching as much, but I still believe there is enough available information to make decent broad strokes predictions between stats, scouting reports, youtube videos, etc.

My goal moving forward will be to be wrong as infrequently as possible. While it’s impossible to be right about everything, it’s easy to not be wrong by simply not taking firm positions when the answer is uncertain. I will still inevitably miss the mark plenty of times, but but by being more humble about the limits of my prediction capabilities the misses should grow to be less frequent and less severe over time.

Let’s see how the next 6 years compare to the first 6!

2020 NBA Draft: Who Should Go #1?

This year’s draft is exceptionally weak at the top. There is no real prize that should go #1 in an average draft. Rather there’s a cluster of players who should typically go in the #3 to #8 range. In my opinion there are 4 players in the class that could reasonably considered for #1 overall this year.

4. LaMelo Ball, 6’7″ PG

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Lonzo’s younger brother is a tricky one to solve, because he has such a small sample of statistical performance against any known competition.

Their father Lavar says that LaMelo is the best prospect of his children, as he has more natural scoring abilities than Lonzo. Also he is 1″ taller, and may be slightly more strong and athletic.

Lonzo has been a significant disappointment relative to expectations, as he crushed statistical models with his freshman performance at UCLA. I personally believed he was a future star, but instead he looks like a quality young role player whose unique strengths make him useful, but his significant flaws limit his value.

How LaMelo’s basketball IQ precisely compares to Lonzo is unclear, but he does rack up similar triple double statistics and have a similar propensity for full court assists. It’s plausible that he is a slightly rich man’s version of his brother with less pronounced flaws, which could make the difference between being a quality role player and a star.

But there is also significant downside. Lonzo was much more statistically proven pre-draft, as he elevated a UCLA team to massively outperform their talent level by stuffing the statsheet even better than LaMelo, as he had slightly more steals, significantly more blocks, and a much better eFG 66.8% vs 44.6%.

Lonzo also did this over a larger sample of 1263 minutes vs 407 minutes vs LaMelo, against a more known level of competition playing in the Pac-12 that is also likely tougher than professional Australian basketball.

LaMelo has a similarly broken shooting form to Lonzo, and given his poor Australian shooting there’s no clear evidence he is going to be notably better as a scorer than Lonzo. And there’s no clear evidence that his basketball IQ is on Lonzo’s level, as he was an extreme outlier in that regard.

LaMelo compounds his lower steal and block rates with a reputation for indifference on defense that Lonzo didn’t have. One of the main reasons why Lonzo has been useful in the NBA is because of his defense, and there is no assurance that LaMelo will match his performance given his current mentality on that end.

It’s difficult to do a perfect comparison between the brothers because LaMelo has just 13 games in a league that isn’t quite the same as NCAA, but they share a similarly weird mold. But I would say that Lonzo has the meatier profile with outlier good efficiency, defense, and proven performance vs known competition whereas Melo’s slight physical and ball handling advantages aren’t as clear or significant.

There’s a sliver of star potential for Melo, but more likely is he going to be similar to or worse than Lonzo since there’s no clear proof that he either has the remedy for Lonzo’s weaknesses or matches his strengths. And if the statistically superior Ball already disappointed us once, why buy the hype on a slightly different and likely worse version?

It’s easy to see what a better ball handling version of Lonzo would be worth a #1 overall pick, but the bust risk is far too significant to be worth chasing that sliver of upside in the top 3, even in a weak draft.

3. Anthony Edwards, 6’5″ SG Georgia

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Edwards is a young shooting guard who just turned 19 on August 5 and offers a bit of everything.

He has a good frame and athleticism, and solid 6’9″ wingspan. He is capable of creating a high volume of shots, as he can get to the rim, takes a high volume of 3’s, and makes 77% of his free throws. He only shot 29.4% from 3, but given his youth, FT%, and 3PA rate it’s easy to see him shooting much better than that long term.

Other than that, he’s just OK. He has some passing ability, but isn’t a natural point guard or decision maker. He also has a competent level of rebounds and blocks, but nothing that suggests defensive star.

And while his physical profile is good, his dimensions are a bit small for a wing and his athleticism is very good but not elite.

Edwards doesn’t have any single glaring flaw, but he is ordinary in a few too many categories to be an exciting #1 pick. His closest NBA comp is fellow Georgia alum Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

It’s not a thrilling comparison for #3 overall, but KCP was likely underdrafted at #8 in the similarly weak 2013 draft, and he hasn’t improved much from age 22. If Edwards happens to have a better development trajectory, he could be a good player and perhaps a fringe all-star.

But he could also develop worse as he is very young and raw, and his median outcome is at best slightly better than KCP.

Edwards is the most bland player with the least interesting upside in consideration for #1. And there is some argument that Ball should go ahead of him. But I am giving him the edge over LaMelo because he has a thicker sample of statistical competence and doesn’t have the glaring disappointment of a highly similar brother on his resume.

2. James Wiseman, 7’0″, C

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Wiseman has similar evaluation challenges as LaMelo, as both are weird prospects with thin samples of statistical goodness.

In fact, Wiseman looks like he belongs nowhere near the top 3 based on his biggest statistical sample from AAU, where he posted poor rebound, steal, and assist:TOV ratios for such a highly touted prospect.

But he has exceptional physical tools, as he is 7’0″ with 7’5″ wingspan, and excellent frame and agility for a big man. Further, he complements this with excellent intangibles. He learned to speak Mandarin at his private school, which indicates some level of off court intelligence.

Having turned 19 in March, he is the prototype for a player capable of massive improvements. And he showed huge improvements in the glimpses we have seen since high school.

It started at the Hoop Summit, where he posted 12 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks on 6/8 FG in 22 minutes and looked far better than expected based on his AAU sample.

He continued the trend in his 3 game NCAA sample where he played like a clear #1 overall pick, and he almost certainly improved significantly from his AAU self.

Most notably over the 4 games he went from a poor rebounder to a beast on the glass. And he was a highly effective finisher who avoided turnovers, and made a respectable 22/32 FT (69%) between the four games. If he can finish inside, develop an outside shot, protect the rim, hold his own on switches, and be a solid rebounder, that sums to quite the useful player.

But even after including the Hoop Summit, this sample is only 91 minutes with 47 of those minutes coming against two terrible low major teams. It’s difficult to say precisely how much he improved. He would have significantly regressed over a larger sample against better teams, and nobody knows how good he really is since there is such a wide range of performance between his AAU and Hoop Summit + NCAA samples.

He still had just 1 assist and 1 steal in his 91 minutes between NCAA and Hoop Summit, so he likely has some vision/instincts flaws. And we still cannot take his rebounding for granted, and seems to have some level of motor issues as well as an unproven shot. So there’s a clear downside risk in Wiseman with so many unanswered questions.

But he has a highly useful mold, and will be good if his blanks are filled in adequately. Taking Wiseman top 2 overall is a big gamble with such limited sample of statistical goodness, but it is also a sane gamble given his intersection of physical tools, intangibles, and improvement from high school to college. He needs a number of things to go right for his upside to hit, but so does everybody else in this draft.

In spite of the risks that come with Wiseman, I rank him above Ball and Edwards simply because he has a fatter upside tail. All 3 guys have clear downside and underwhelming median outcomes for top 3 candidates, so thickest upside tail wins.

1. Onyeka Okongwu, 6’9″ PF/C

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Okongwu’s NBA role is difficult to discern, as he is an undersized  center in a league moving away from bigs, but he brings quite a bit to the table.

He has good physical tools with a 7’2″ wingspan and good athleticism and agility. This gives him the versatility to defend multiple positions.

He used his physical gifts well as an NCAA freshman, posting 1.6 steals and 3.5 blocks per 40 while anchoring Andy Enfield’s best defense ever.

In 7 seasons of USC and 2 at Florida Gulf Coast, Enfield prior best defense ranked 84th in 2P% and 80th overall. This was until Okongwu anchored the #18 defense with #7 defensive 2P%.

Okongwu had the assistance of a couple of decent bigs, but he posted 50% of the team’s total blocks while also being a close 3rd in steals. He was the clear heart and soul of the defense, and deserves significant credit for USC’s big defensive leap.

He was also excellent offensively in spite of being surrounded by inefficient players with limited creation ability. USC posted a dreadful 0.86 points per possession with Okongwu off the floor. The team was sorely lacking in offensive talent and would have had a dismal season without Onyeka.

With him on the floor, they posted a respectable 0.98 points/possession, as he led the team in usage and was by far the most efficient player on the roster. He is an excellent finisher, scoring 62.1% inside the arc while rebounding well offensively cleaning up 12.4% of his team’s misses.

He only shot 1/4 from beyond the arc, but his 72% FT offers hope of being able to develop a jumper long term as he is still only 19.

And he showed traces of passing ability with 1.4 assists vs 2.6 turnovers per 40. This isn’t a great assist:TOV, but for a 19 year old big in a dreadful offense it is decent enough.

From most angles, Okongwu looks like a promising prospect. He is a versatile and impactful defensive player as well as an efficient offensive player with a decent baseline of skills to build on. The only lingering question is: what is his NBA role?

The answer depends on how he develops in the NBA. But we consistently see tweener bigs with good length and ability to guard multiple positions as draft steals: Bam Adebayo, Pascal Siakam, Draymond Green, Paul Millsap, Robert Covington. Questions about his NBA role will quickly evaporate if he fulfills his potential.

Okongwu at worst should be a useful defensive player who is an efficient garbageman offensively. At best he develops his shooting and perimeter skill and becomes a two way star with elite defensive impact and versatility. It’s a favorable range of outcomes, and there is no clear reason why he should not succeed.

Considering the myriad warts, questionable upside, and limited proof of statistical goodness of the other prospects at the top of the draft, it’s hard to see how any of them belong above Okongwu. He has the physical tools, he has by far the best numbers, he fits a modern mold, and he doesn’t have any major warts that impede his path to greatness.

He is currently slated to go just 6th overall on ESPN, but if he slides that far there are decent odds that looks silly in retrospect. Everybody slated to go ahead of him has serious downside and probably less upside as well. Not even trying to drop a hot take here, Okongwu seems like the best prospect in the draft and unless I’m missing some major concern it seems somewhat obvious.

2020 Draft

This draft is brutally bad. Last year’s draft was bad, but this year is worse as there is no prospect near the level of Ja Morant, let alone Zion Williamson. And it’s not dense with interesting guys after the top either.

But it’s nevertheless an interesting challenge to dive in and see if there are a few hidden gems in the mix, so here’s my top 30:

1) Anthony Edwards, 6’5″ PG/SG Georgia

Edwards’ most exciting point is his youth, as he doesn’t turn 19 until August after the draft.

He most closely reminisces of Markelle Fultz and D’Angelo Russell, as a 6’5″ point guard with excellent pull up jump shooting ability.

Granted, his passing skills are not fully developed at this stage, and he may be more similar to another ex-Georgia player Kentavious Caldwell-Pope if they don’t develop over time.

But he is young, toolsy, and good at multiple things, and if he improves his game at a good rate, he could be what NBA teams hoped Fultz and Russell could have been.

He is far from a guarantee to be good, which makes him weaker than the typical #1 overall. But he at least has a strong upside tail in the event that he does become good, which makes him the clear #1 choice right now.

2) LaMelo Ball, 6’7″ PG Illawara

LaMelo is difficult to evaluate, as he is playing in a low tier professional league in Australia. But he seems highly similar to his brother Lonzo, as he is a big cerebral point guard with excellent passing vision and he struggles to score, as his shooting %’s in Australia are not good at all.

This makes him slippery to evaluate. Lonzo posted absolutely overpowered #’s at UCLA, yet seems to be on track to a good but not great NBA career as a funky role player.

LaMelo is reputed to be the better scorer of the two, which would give him potential to surpass Lonzo, but he hasn’t shown strong evidence of it thus far in Australia play. Ultimately, there is a concern that he is similar or worse to Lonzo which would be a disappointing use of #2 overall.

But with lack of other exciting options on the board, it’s worth taking another pull on a Lonzo type that may have just enough nuanced advantages to be a star.

3. James Wiseman, 7’1″ Memphis

Wiseman is arguably the toughest prospect in the draft to evaluate, as his AAU #’s conveyed some extremely scary red flags with poor rebounding, passing, and steal rates, with few prospects succeeding with such significant statistical flags.

But he is young, toolsy, and has reportedly excellent intangibles, and seems to be improving at a fast rate. He had an excellent Hoop Summit, and so far his 3 game NCAA sample has lived up to the hype.

Right now we need to see more from him to have an idea of how much is genuine improvement vs good games at the right times, but for now he slides in as the default #3 overall.

4. Tyrese Haliburton, 6’5″ Iowa State

Haliburton is a weirdo prospect, as he reminisces of the long lost Ball brother.

He has some pretty big warts, as he is rail thin, and his shooting ability is a big question mark, as is his general scoring ability as he posted a paltry 10% usage rate as a freshman.

But he seems vastly improved as a sophomore, and in 5 games against major conference teams he is posted a 23.4% usg with a hyperefficient 131 ORtg. The possibility of him having developed an ability to score off the dribble is enticing, as it gives him a sneaky sliver of star potential.

More likely he will be a Delon Wright type, which is useful but often overlooked. But probably useful and possibly great isn’t a bad type to target outside the top 3.

5. Patrick Williams, 6’8″ Florida St.

Williams has been the most pleasant surprise in the freshman class, as he is a prototypical NBA 3 + D wing at 6’8″ with good strength and athleticism.

He is also super young, as he doesn’t turn 19 until August after the draft.

It still remains to be seen precisely how well he can shoot, and his rebounding has been underwhelming considering his size, but he has posted well rounded production for a player who is that young and in such a good mold.

6. Isaac Okoro, 6’6″ Auburn

Okoro is in the same category as Pat Williams, as young, pretty good, and great mold. He isn’t quite as exciting as Williams, as he is 2″ shorter and 6.5 months older. But he’s the type of player that if he pans out he will be very useful to have around.

7. Nico Mannion, 6’3″ Arizona

Nico is a tricky one, as PG’s like him can be extremely boom or bust. He has 0 blocks on the year and anemic rebound rates, calling into attention his sorely limited physical tools. But he has been an offensive stud, and Arizona’s offense has been great with him on the floor, and it’s hard to not see similarities between him and Steve Nash.

Of course the odds that he becomes Nash are not too high, and most of the time he will be something along the lines of DJ Augustin, which make it difficult to get too excited over him. But that sliver of elite upside is worth a significant boost to his value, and cannot be overlooked just because it feels too optimistic.

8. Cole Anthony, 6’3″ North Carolina

Cole has been a massive massive disappointment thus far, as he has essentially been a brick and turnover machine, making just 38% of his 2PA with more turnovers than assists.

This is especially damning as he is sophomore aged, will be 20 on draft night, and is merely a good but not great athlete.

There is still time for his shot to start falling, but he’s not a true PG and just isn’t in an exciting mold. Right now he is looking very similar to Jeff Teague, which isn’t the type of player you want to target with a top 5 pick.

Of course he could still be better than Teague, and his median outcome may be slightly better than Mannion, but it’s hard to see him having as big of an upside tail as Nico which is why I rank him one slot lower.

9. RJ Hampton, 6’5″ NZ Breakers
10. Deni Avdija 6’8″ Maccabi
11. Killian Hayes 6’5″ Ulm

Because the NCAA class is so weak, it would be a decent thought to target internationals, but they are fairly boring this year as well.

RJ is 6’5″ and does a bit of everything. So far his New Zealand performance hasn’t been particularly exciting or damning, so it makes sense to stash him somewhere in the back end of the lottery and move on.

Deni is 6’8″ and does a bit of everything, except his shot is broken and he doesn’t excel at any one thing. So he has some appeal but not too much. Another international who belongs somewhere in the back end of the lottery.

Hayes is a 6’5″ jack of all trades PG, but lacks the athleticism or one elite skill to have great upside.

12. Jaden McDaniels 6’9″ Washington

Jaden is the Cam Reddish/Kevin Knox of the draft where is he probably bad, but in an awesome mold of mobile 6’9″ guy with perimeter skills. So at a certain point you gotta stomach the likely badness and take him just in case he develops into a Khris Middleton or Paul George type.

13. Onyeka Okongwu 6’9″ USC

Okongwu has shown loads of appeal out of nowhere, as an athletic big man who can rebound, finish, block shots, and has made a solid 71% of his free throws thus far.

But it remains to be seen whether he can produce vs top tier opponents. In his 3 games vs tougher opponents, he has struggled badly, with an 88 ORtg on 22.6 usg compared to his excellent overall #’s of 122 Ortg on 25.4 usg.

He is only 6’9″ and a good but not elite athlete, so he needs to produce more against quality opponents to be truly exciting. But he does so many things well and appears to have velcro on his hands, his intrigue cannot be ignored. If he can translate his goodness to quality opponents, he becomes super interesting.

14. Tre Jones 6’3″ Duke

It seems wrong to have a boring game manager with little upside in the lottery, but Tre is extremely likely to be useful and that’s worth something.

He is similar to his brother Tyus with more defense and less shooting. It’s difficult to discern his fate from Tyus career, as Tyus showed great potential in years 2 + 3 and hasn’t been as good since.

But Tyus has shown enough potential such that it is difficult to justify a similar player slipping too far in the draft. And Tre does have sneaky upside, as any critique that can be made toward him could have also been made toward John Stockton pre-draft. It’s not that likely, and the risk that he is a worse shooting version of Tyus takes away appeal, but it’s worth noting before writing him off.

15. Vernon Carey 6’10” Duke

Vernon Carey is a dinosaur big man who is a beast in the low post, and is going obsolete by modern NBA standards. But he can play, and at this juncture the draft is running thin on guys who fit that qualification.

And it’s worth noting that just because the game is currently shifted toward small ball, doesn’t mean that at some point it could shift back toward bigger lineups working. It’s not something to strongly expect, but an idea worth considering.

Anyhow Carey is strikingly similar to Jahlil Okafor, who was picked #3 overall by a highly intelligent team in 2015. It seems Okafor failed for reasons unrelated to talent, so if he slides due to unfairly getting equated to Okafor, he could be value.

16. Josh Green, 6’6″ Arizona

From one angle, Josh Green is the perfect NBA wing. He is 6’6″, athletic, and can do a bit of everything.

From another angle, he should ideally be an inch or two taller and he doesn’t really excel at anything, which makes him somewhat boring. There’s some concern he’s simply a more athletic Jacob Evans, which may be something but it’s not something exciting.

17. Devin Vassell, 6’7″ Florida St.

Vassell is 6’7″, he is still 19, and he can shoot and make plays defensively.

He still has a small sample of NCAA success, but he is one of the few capable wings in the draft, and with a strong sophomore performance could elevate himself to a lottery pick.

18. Reggie Perry, 6’9″ Mississippi St.

Perry is basically a slightly worse version of Wendell Carter Jr., which isn’t that exciting in an era where bigs are dying. But WCJ went #7 overall in a good draft and was a good pick at that slot, so it’s fair to say that any decent facsimile of him is a reasonable pick outside of the lottery.

19. Obi Toppin, 6’9″ Dayton

Obi is 6’9″, great at dunking, and has some vague hope of being able to shoot, which has the hype train going off the rails. His problem is that he is already 21 and not that good at basketball, and he plays with an elite PG in Jalen Crutcher where the whole team has been feasting on dunks for 3 seasons now.

He has some outs to be a Montrezl Harrell type, which is good but not the type of player you target in the lottery because you are more often going to end up with a Faried type who is a misfit in any modern NBA lineups. But it is enough upside to be worth a shot anywhere outside the lottery.

20. Trayce Jackson-Davis, 6’9″ Indiana

Dale Davis’s son is 6’9″ and plays very similar to his father, who was an excellent return on the #13 overall pick.

That being said, he is 2″ shorter which is fairly damning in an era where players like him are struggling to find a niche.

He’s another guy where the slippery question of being able to play vs fitting a poor mold is difficult to precisely assess.

21. Jordan Nwora, 6’9″ Louisville

Nwora is 6’7″, athletic, and can shoot, which means he probably belongs in the first round of the draft.

He has frustrating tunnel vision with his poor assist:TOV ratio not improving whatsoever thus far over his career at Louisville, which tempers his upside. If he were better in this regard he would be a lottery pick for sure.

 

22. Tyrese Maxey, 6’3″ Kentucky
23. Kira Lewis, 6’3″ Alabama
24. Devon Dotson, 6’3″ Kansas
25. Jared Butler, 6’3″ Baylor

I don’t really get where the Tyrese Maxey hype is coming from. He is a 6’3″ combo guard who isn’t great at anything, and doesn’t seem to have any sort of interesting upside.

Yes he was a top 10 recruit and Calipari sometimes suppresses the talent of his players. But Maxey seems to be in the Malik Monk + Brandon Knight mold of too one dimensional to be a good NBA player at 6’3″.

So just for fun, here’s a list of other guys who are more or less the same thing that will be available in the late first and early second round.

Jared Butler is somebody personally who I find to be interesting, as he is less of a creator and more of a 3 + D type a la Kirk Hinrich or Delonte West.

You rarely find contenders led by Brandon Knight, or even a rich man’s Knight such as Jeff Teague. But there are many contenders led by big wings who run the offense such as LeBron, Luka, Giannis, Ben Simmons. Jared Butler fits well in those situations, as he can defend PG’s without needing to play PG on offense.

26. Zeke Nnaji, 7’0″ Arizona

Nnaji has been incredibly efficient to start his career, but much of his production has come against poor teams, and he has posted some duds against major conference foes he has faced.

His #’s are collectively good enough to remain intriguing, but it’s worth fearing that he is nothing more than the TJ Leaf to Nico Mannion’s Lonzo Ball, and some team will get hustled by buying that the stats are real.

27. Jalen Smith, 6’10” Maryland

Smith is another somewhat misfit at PF, who is too good to not merit first round consideration.

28. Landers Nolley, 6’7″ Virginia Tech

Nolley is statistically frighteningly similar to Klay Thompson, and also shares the height of 6’7″

Also like Klay he is a below the rim athlete. But he may be even below-er the rim than Klay which prevents getting too excited over him as a sleeper, but maybe he has some funky advantages that enable him to succeed anyway.

29. Jahmius Ramsey, 6’4″ Texas Tech

Thus far Ramsey is looking like he is the prototypical 3 + D wing, except he is only 6’4″ which throws a bit of cold water on any excitement to be had over him.

30. Theo Maledon 6’5″ Villeurbane

Maledon has great size for a PG at 6’5″, and he’s young, but the downside is that he is currently bad at basketball and needs to improve a ton to be useful.

Anyhow, I would keep going but there are just not many more interesting guys to write about. This draft is thin from top to bottom.

How Good is Ja Morant?

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Ja Morant has already been locked in as the #2 pick in the draft for the Grizzlies, as he was the consensus best prospect after Zion.

Morant emerged from obscurity with a monster sophomore year for Murray State. He showed promise as a hidden gem as a freshman, and elevated his game to a new level with monster scoring and assist numbers, as he is the first NCAA player to ever average 20 points and 10 assists per game. He complemented this with enough SportsCenter top 10 dunks to pass the smell test as an elite prospect.

What Makes Ja Special?

Morant has an intersection of athleticism and passing vision that is rarely seen. And most of the examples in his tier of elite at both did very well in the NBA: LeBron James, Chris Paul, John Wall, and Ben Simmons stand out as the only examples in recent memory.  Russell Westbrook is more athletic and eventually proved that he sees the floor, but his vision was a question mark coming out of UCLA. De’Aaron Fox is slightly behind in both.

Vision and athleticism are two high leverage qualities. The prospects who have both are extremely rare, and they tend to become great pros.

This is not to say that Ja will necessarily be as good as the aforementioned players. He has a slight frame at 6’3″ and his defense has plenty of room for improvement.  And while he is a solid shooter making 36% 3P and 81% FT as a 19 year old sophomore, there is some risk that he does not shoot well enough to excel as a little guy.

But given his monster strengths and no glaring weaknesses, he likely will be good and has upside to be a star.

Where Would He Go Last Year?

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This is a more interesting discussion than this season, as below Zion and above everybody else is too wide of a range to say much about his value.

Last season there was a clear top 3 of Luka, JJJ, and Ayton who were all superior prospects. Ja would fit into the next tier of #4-10 with a big cluster of very good prospects. The most similar player to him in that cluster is Trae Young.

I ranked Trae #15 last year which was too over the top contrarian given his outlier strengths. In retrospect, #5-10 range was where he should have rightfully gone. Incidentally freshman Trae is a good comp for sophomore Ja, as they have similarly slight frames, monster offensive roles, and age (sophomore Ja is just 1 month older than freshman Trae):

USG ORtg AST% TRB% BLK%
Ja 36.2 115.8 51.9 8.6 2.2
Trae 38.5 112.1 48.5 5.8 0.7

They had near identical output offensively. Trae was a much better shooter, making more FT’s at 86% vs 81% and with over twice the 3PA rate. And he had the tougher schedule as the average defense he faced was 6.8 pts per 100 better than Ja’s opposition– not trivial, but not enough to put Ja’s #’s in the dumpster.

Ja’s overall offensive output was slightly better, so even once strength of schedule is factored in Trae’s offensive advantage isn’t better by a major margin. Morant in part compensates for his lesser shot by superior ability to get to the rim and finish.

Now let’s talk about the other areas where Ja is superior

  1. Physical profile. He is 1″ taller, 3″ longer, and much more athletic. This immediately shows in his superior rebounds and blocks
  2. Defense. Ja has a reputation for being a lackadaisical defensive player, but Trae’s freshman year defense was all time bad
  3. Translation to better competition. Trae slipped to 102.8 ORTG in 15 games top 50 kenpom competition, Ja hardly missed a beat with 113.8 ORTG in his 5 games against the top 50. Better athletes are safer to translate up.
  4. Team impact– even though Morant’s Murray State had a much weaker cast + preseason expectation, they finished with nearly identical kenpom rankings.
  5. As a freshman, Morant played efficiently next to a ball dominant fringe prospect in Jonathan Stark. This means he can likely pair well with ball dominant NBA stars, which is still a question mark for Trae.

Collectively, these advantages are very significant. As exciting as Trae’s shooting was, Morant is a decent shooter himself and his superior physical tools, team success, translatability, and defense clearly weigh heavier.

Given all of this, I found this poll surprising:

Draft twitter hasn’t truly embraced Morant the way they embraced Trae, even though it’s difficult to come up with any objective analysis where Trae rates better strictly based on pre-draft info. You would have to place an irrational premium on shooting to rate Trae higher.

Some people believe strength of schedule also boosts Trae’s profile, but this is incorrect. Ja performed better against top defenses, and elite athletes tend to have less risk of translating to better competition. Morant would have obviously been great for any major conference team.

Trae has improved his value with a good rookie year such that he now may be worth more than Morant. But based on pre-draft, Morant is clearly the better prospect.

I would have ranked Ja top 5 in last year’s loaded draft for sure, and probably #4 as his big upside is too tantalizing to pass.

Bottom Line

From every angle of analysis, there are loads of things to like about Morant and not much to dislike.

He is so young and unheralded prior to college, that it feels excessive to call him a guaranteed star. But it’s hard to imagine what his fail case would look like. Jeff Teague is a reasonable floor comp, and that is fairly pessimistic as Morant is a clearly better passer than Teague and there isn’t any area where Teague stands out as superior.

Morant will likely peak as an above average starter, and has clear star upside. There is nobody quite like him in the NBA. He doesn’t quite have Russell Westbrook’s athleticism, or Steve Nash’s craft + IQ, but he has a nice blend of both and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s the mean average of both players.

Ultimately Morant has more downside than a typical #1 pick, but he is a solid #2 overall in most drafts. As much as it hurts to miss out on Zion, the Grizzlies are nevertheless walking away with a great consolation prize.

2019 Mid-Season Big Board

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This draft is really terrible but nevertheless here are rankings. I’m excluding internationals, the only one who is likely worth a first rounder is Goga Bitadze. Sekou Doumbaya has hype but there is no reason to believe he is worth more than a round 2 flier.

Tier 1: Stud

1. Zion Williamson

Zion is a generational talent. It’s too bad he was not in the 2018 draft, because it would be fun to compare him to Luka, Jaren, and Ayton.

My low confidence take is I would put him just behind Luka and Jaren, but ahead of any other prospect since Anthony Davis. His weirdness makes him difficult to project, as he is like a wing version of Shaq, and may create NBA fit concerns that other generational prospects lack.

But those concerns are mild compared to his overwhelming talent, and he will still be 18 on draft night. There is a real chance that Zion is the future GOAT if his jump shot comes around and his bulky frame doesn’t cause issues playing on the perimeter.

Tier 2: Really Good Prospects

N/A

Tier 3: Pretty Good Prospects

2. Ja Morant

Morant is establishing himself as the clear #2 prospect in the draft playing like the Russell Westbrook of the OVC for Murray State. He has good PG size at 6’3″, excellent athleticism for highlight reel dunks, is a decent shooter, and is still freshman aged.

He also proved that he can play efficiently in a smaller role as a freshman, which is something that disappointing PG’s such as Cam Payne and Kris Dunn never showed.

3. RJ Barrett

RJ reminds me of DeMar DeRozan, which is really painfully unexciting player to target at #3. But there aren’t any glaringly better choices in this draft.

4. PJ Washington

This may seem like a hot take, but there is no such thing as a hot take in this draft. Everybody is so bad teams can reach for whoever they want and not worry about missing out on a stud.

PJ is fascinating because he had excellent AAU stats for a recruiting class where most 5* prospects were very good. He is in an interesting mold, where he has potential to thrive as either a big wing convert or an undersized big. And he plays for a coach who notoriously makes elite talent look ordinary.

Based just on his Kentucky production he is a fringe lottery pick, but everything else makes him one of the more attractive gambles in the draft.

5. Jontay Porter

Jontay is missing the year with a torn ACL and MCL but there is still a genuine case for him as the 2nd best prospect in the draft.

6. Bol Bol

I have no idea how to value Bol. He is one of the true weirdos, with major flaws and a foot injury to boot. But when everybody else is so bad, how low can you get on his rare combination of height and shooting?

7. Grant Williams
8. Jarrett Culver

This is an interesting comparison, as these prospects have similar dimensions and both of their offenses run through them. But Williams is anchoring Rick Barnes’ best offense ever, which includes many seasons where he had access to superior talent at Texas. And Culver is the leader of Chris Beard’s worst offense ever, including his season at Little Rock.

Granted Culver is 9 months younger and is more of a traditional wing, while Williams is an undersized big. But there is a real chance that Williams can convert to NBA wing, and it makes him one of more interesting gambles in the draft.

9. Romeo Langford

Romeo isn’t too exciting, but he has good tools and enough production to have a sliver of star potential if his shot comes around.

10. Dan Gafford

Gafford isn’t sexy in any one regard, but he has good tools, good stats, excellent on/off splits, and if his skill develops better than expected he has sneaky upside.

11. Keldon Johnson

For a 6’6″ athlete, Keldon has been curiously allergic to blocks with just 2 on the season. And nothing about his profile is particularly exciting, but nothing is that bad either outside of his lack of blocks.

It tends to be a good strategy to draft Calipari players who aren’t transparently broken, so Keldon is a fine lottery pick.

12. Shamorie Ponds

On average, it’s bad practice to draft 6’1 PG’s who are more shifty than explosive in the lottery. But this draft is so thin it’s acceptable to gamble.

He is a very good shooter, has an excellent assist:TOV, has more assists than steals, and sometimes small PG’s become surprisingly good. Shamorie has a sneaky good upside tail

13. Nickeil Alexander-Walker

NAW is only 6’5″ but has done everything well this year, which is good enough to place him lotto.

14. Kevin Porter Jr.

Porter has missed most of the season with injury first and suspension later, but he showed a bit of promise in the time he played. He had solid games vs Texas Tech and Vanderbilt, and as an athletic 6’6″ player his upside cannot be ruled out.

In all likelihood he is just as bad as all of the other freshmen, but having the glimmer of upside hope is enough to argue his place in the lottery.

15. Tre Jones

Tre will often end up like his brother Tyus– a quality backup PG who is undervalued and underappreciated by the rest of the league. And he may not even be that good, as he isn’t nearly as good of a shooter as Tyus. But he also has a bit more size and defensive upside, so he has his own form of sneaky upside.

16. Killian Tillie

Tillie missed Gonzaga’s tourney loss last year with a hip injury, and the first 2 months this year with an ankle injury. Durability is a concern, but in his first 5 games back he picked up where he left off as an excellent basketball player. He is a versatile 6’10” with enough switchability hope to have a case to be in the lottery.

17. Cam Reddish

Reddish has been BY FAR the most disappointing prospect in this draft.

He is 6’8″, racks up steals, and shoots a high volume of 3’s, so in theory he should be at worst a very good 3 + D prospect. But that’s what everybody said about Andrew Wiggins, and it’s hard to be a useful player if you insist on making frequent negative plays.

Cam’s offense has been flabbergastingly bad for a guy who is mostly asked to stand on the perimeter and launch 3’s while Zion and RJ run the show. He doesn’t get to the free throw line, he can’t make a shot inside the arc, and he has an insane turnover rate for a player who rarely attempts 2’s or FT’s.

For perspective, let’s compare his per 100 stats to a couple of past top 5 recruits who underwhelmed as freshmen: Jaylen Brown and Harrison Barnes

2PA 2P% FTA AST TOV
Cam 9.4 39.5% 6.3 3.7 6.4
Barnes 15.3 47.0% 6.3 2.7 3.7
Jaylen 17.2 48.2% 13.5 4.2 6.6

He shares Barnes avoidance of FT’s, but at the cost of much less scoring inside the arc and many more turnovers. He shares Jaylen’s turnover woes at the expense of much worse inside scoring and fewer FTA.

Like Cam, both had high recruiting pedigree which helped them perform better in the NBA than their NCAA stats suggested. Yet neither has been above average offensively in the NBA, and Cam is light years behind them at the same stage. It’s difficult to imagine him being anything other than a trainwreck offensively in the NBA.

Who really knows what is going on. Maybe this is a fluke of some sort and Cam figures it out with NBA coaching. But he was flagged for a lackadaisical personality entering the season, and it’s hard to have confidence that a prospect with shaky intangibles who fell THIS flat will do great things in the future.

And this doesn’t even touch on the fact that he rebounds like a point guard in spite of being 6’8″.

He reminisces of a worse Andrew Wiggins without elite athleticism. He partially compensates with a higher IQ, but he is clearly a weaker prospect overall.

It’s hard to give up entirely on height + IQ + shooting + steals + pedigree. Maybe there’s some scenario where he can turn into a Khris Middleton. But it’s hard to envision with such grotesque warts. It would be a major error for him to be taken top 5. At this stage, he looks like an overwhelmingly likely bust.

18. Tyler Herro

He plays for Calipari and he hasn’t been terrible. That makes him a serious prospect.

19. Ignas Brazdeikis

Iggy is a sophomore aged freshman who isn’t too athletic, but he has good wing height at 6’7″, and is a versatile scorer and defender. He fits a strong prototype for NBA wing, and could have a Michael Redd type career.

20. Jalen Smith
21. Bruno Fernando

Mark Turgeon is essentially John Calipari Jr, as he has a knack for recruiting very good talent and making it look ordinary. But Smith and Fernando have both been highly productive this year, leading what may be Turgeon’s best team ever. This is good reason to take them both seriously as sleeper big men.

22. Coby White

White is 6’5″ and has just enough intersection of passing and PG skill to be interesting.

23. Brandon Clarke

Clarke’s shot may be too broken to thrive as a pro, but he has intrigue as a 6’8″ versatile defensive stopper

24. Talen Horton-Tucker

THT is in an unfortunate mold of limited height for a wing without great shooting or primary creation, but he is one of the youngest prospects in the draft and is so well rounded that he could amount to something useful.

25. Jaxson Hayes

Hayes is an exceptional lob finisher, with a unique combination of explosiveness and fluidity and that’s about the only dimension he brings to the table.

He doesn’t rebound, he doesn’t pass, he isn’t good on defense, and it’s hard to see him being better than Javale McGee. He would need to develop his skill level quite a bit, which his 70% small sample FT% offers hope for, but in all likelihood he’s just a dime a dozen big.

26. Nassir Little

It’s not clear what Little’s role in the NBA would be. He seems intelligent in some ways, maybe he can develop into a Gerald Wallace type. But most of his hype has come from the McDonald’s All-American game, and he has been underwhelming for UNC.

He has been playing better recently, which offers a ray of hope. Let’s see if he can build on it.

27. Simi Shittu

Shittu has been disappointing, but he is 6’10”, athletic, had good AAU priors, and is coming off an ACL tear. It’s plausible that he is much better than he has shown thus far for Vanderbilt, and has sleeper potential because of it.

28. Ty Jerome

Jerome is sorely lacking in explosiveness, but he has exceptional IQ and awareness and moves well laterally to atone. His lack of athleticism hurts, but he is so otherwise good he has potential to be a very unique and good role player.

29. Cassius Winston
30. Darius Garland

Garland appears to be a SG in a PG body, which makes it difficult to justify the lottery hype. But he is athletic and can shoot and has just enough PG skill to not be written off entirely.

For perspective– Cassius Winston is similarly a knockdown shooter. He is less athletic and 1″ shorter, but is a wizard level passer.

Winston has much less hype, but there is an argument that his passing advantage is more significant than Garland’s physical advantages.

31. Ayo Dosunmu

Ayo is young and not transparently awful at basketball. Has some shades of Caris LeVert.

32. Charles Bassey

If Bassey’s exceptionally young age is taken at face value, he may belong in the top 5. But he moved from Nigeria to America at age 14, as a 6’10” and chiseled 14 year old, which makes his age difficult to buy. He is still a semi-interesting prospect regardless because he does a number of things well, but it’s hard to get too excited about him if he’s actually in the 20 to 22 age range.

33. Ethan Happ

Happ’s shot is almost certainly broken and he may not be quick enough to be a defensive stopper in the NBA. But he has a fascinating skill set for 6’10”, and at a certain point it’s worth gambling to see what happens.

34. Ashton Hagans

Hagans doesn’t bring much to the table other than a monster steal rate, but Calipari guards rarely have big steals and that alone is enough to make him a serious prospect and even merit round 1 consideration.

35. Charles Matthews

He is athletic enough to play for Calipari, smart enough to play for Beilein, and if he can just learn to shoot he should have an NBA career.

36. Chuma Okeke
37. Dedric Lawson
38. Naz Reid

These guys are all fine but nothing special

39. DeAndre Hunter

Hunter is one of the more puzzling hype trains of the year, as there is absolutely nothing sexy about him. He isn’t explosive, he isn’t a dynamic shot creator, he isn’t a knockdown shooter. He’s just a guy who has been effective role player for an elite team as a 21 year old sophomore.

The best case for him is that Tony Bennett prospects tend to overperform their pre-draft profile. Klay Thompson, Joe Harris, and Malcolm Brogdon are examples of good outcomes with Justin Anderson being the sole disappointment.

This may be because Bennett values lateral quickness, height, shooting, and IQ, which is a good formula for NBA role players even without much athleticism which is true for Klay, Harris, Brogdon, and Hunter.

But based on NCAA production, Hunter is way behind Klay + Justin Anderson, solidly behind Brogdon, and in the same tier as Joe Harris.

Harris is a decent role player, but he was a complete zero until he turned 26. That is not the type of upside to target in round 1, and there is no strong reason to believe Hunter follows a similar developmental arc.

My favorite upside comp for Hunter is Ryan Gomes. Gomes was barely good enough at everything to be an NBA rotation player, but epitomized mediocre filler because he lacked any notable strengths.

This is Hunter’s issue– he isn’t good at anything, and for a 21 year old non-athlete his upside is painfully capped. Sure he is fine flier in round 2 in case he becomes a Gomes type, but it would be a major error to target such a weak upside in the lottery.

40. John Konchar
41. Ky Bowman
42. Devon Dotson
43. Trent Forrest
44. Jordan Murphy

45. KZ Okpala
46. Kerwin Roach Jr.
47. Aric Holman
48. Jordan Poole
49. Kris Wilkes
50. Isaiah Roby

Trash Can

Rui Hachimura

Rui turns 21 in a few weeks, and he isn’t even a top 5 player on his own team. He has good tools and can score, but looks lost on the court fairly often and it’s hard to see him having any worthwhile impact as a pro. His upside is approximately Derrick Williams.

Best underclassmen unlikely to declare:

1. Tyrese Halibuton
2. AJ Lawson
3. Jalen Pickett

4. Tyler Bey
5. Jalen Crutcher
6. Andrew Newmbhard
7. Savion Flagg
8. Jahlil Tripp
9. Sincere Carry
10. Steffon Mitchell
11. DeJon Jarreau

2019 Draft Preview

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This preview excludes internationals, although I will note that I do not understand why Sekou Doumbaya has top 5 hype. At a glance he does not appear to deserve a first round selection.

Race for #1

If you want to scout the top of the draft, get used to watching Duke basketball as they have the 3 best tanking prizes in this year’s class. Along with Bol, it’s a close four way race for #1 with nobody clearly standing out above the rest at this moment.

1. Cameron Reddish
2. Zion Williamson
3. RJ Barrett
4. Bol Bol

Reddish is a 6’9″ point forward who is more cerebral than explosive and has Grant Hill upside.

Zion is a smooth, strong, and explosive slasher and is highly unique with a center frame and wing dimensions.

RJ Barrett has some winning gravity on his side with monster performances in wins vs team USA in both FIBA and the Hoop Summit. But with limited dimensions and shot making, he is in the DeMar DeRozan mold which makes him slightly less exciting than Reddish and Zion.

Bol Bol is the Deandre Ayton of the draft– uniquely talented with elite shooting and rim protection, but enigmatic with a lackadaisical attitude.

Regular Lottery Prospects
5. Jontay Porter

The top returning prospect, Jontay has an elite combination of size, passing, and shooting and is younger than most true freshmen. He has Draymond/Jokic potential and will inevitably get underrated for his doughy physique.

6. Simi Shittu

The most interesting freshman who isn’t getting lotto hype, Shittu has point forward potential

7. Keldon Johnson

Slightly undersized for a SF at 6’6″ with a 6’9″ wingspan, Johnson atones with good frame and athleticism and solid two way potential.

8. Ja Morant

Morant came out of nowhere to post a monster 18 year old freshman season for Murray State. He is an explosive 6’3″ PG who posted impressive rebound and assist:TOV rates in spite of his thin frame. Now he can leap into the lottery if he continues to improve and fill out physically as a sophomore.

9. Nassir Little

Currently ranked #2 at ESPN, Little is the freshman who is most clearly overrated. He has a great combination of length (7’1″ wingspan), explosiveness, and intellectual curiosity, but he simply has not performed well enough to justify top 5 hype at this stage as an inefficient 6’6″ wing.

He could develop into a Jaylen Brown type, but seems closer to Kelly Oubre at this stage.

10. Daniel Gafford
11. PJ Washington

A couple of obviously good returners. Gafford is an athletic big who offers defense, rebounding, and finishing.

PJ is an undersized PF who is athletic and well rounded enough to possibly be converted to wing. His talent was likely not maximized as a freshman but John Calipari’s poor coaching.

12. Tre Jones
13. Romeo Langford
14. Charles Bassey
15. Coby White
16. Quentin Grimes

The next tier of freshmen. Tre Jones is Tyus brother and similar in a number of ways as a  high IQ point guard. Tyus was massively underdrafted sliding to the late 1st, and Tre may share a similar fate.

Romeo Langford has excellent tools for a SG, but still needs to prove he can play.

Bassey is an athletic big who does athletic big man things

Coby is a shifty 6’5″ combo guard who figures to play point guard for UNC. Has sleeper potential if he runs the offense well, and it would be unsurprising if he turns out better than his much more hyped classmate Nassir Little.

Grimes figures to be a good college player with no clear NBA role, as he is an undersized 6’4″ SG with non-elite athleticism and shooting.

Ordinary Returners
17. Jarrett Culver
18. Killian Tillie
19. Isaiah Roby
20. Dedric Lawson
21. Ethan Happ
22. Aric Holman

Some of the strongest returners. I am higher than most on Happ who is a PF who has a broken shot but has sneaky upside as an incredibly cerebral passer and defensive player. And Holman is interesting as an athletic 3 + D big man who can finish lobs.

A few more freshmen
23. EJ Montgomery
24. Devon Dotson
25. Darius Bazley

Freshmen who could land on either side of upsidey prospect vs. pile of meh.

Fliers
26. Ky Bowman

Ky is 6’1″ and still learning to play PG, but he is explosive, can shoot, and is cerebral enough to have a chance of figuring it out.

27. Ty Jerome

Jerome sorely lacks explosion but makes up for it with elite IQ, lateral movement, shooting, and passing to make for an intriguing 3 + D PG with good 6’5″ height.

28. Eric Williams Jr.

Williams is a shifty 6’6″ wing who does a bit of everything and rebounds exceptionally well for his size. He was a young freshman and has monster breakout upside as a sophomore.

29. Trent Forrest

At a glance Forrest appears to be a 6’5″ defensive specialist. But he showed sneaky point guard potential as a sophomore and has similarities to DeAnthony Melton. If he shows more offensive polish as a junior, his value will be pumped up quite a bit.

30. Charles Matthews

Athletic enough to play for John Calipari and smart enough to play for John Beilein, Matthews is an ideal role playing wing if he learns to shoot.

31. Saben Lee
32. Darius Garland

Vanderbilt’s pair of athletic PG’s. Garland has all of the hype (projected #9 ESPN), but Saben may be the better prospect. He a fairly young freshman and has big breakout potential as a sophomore. Garland is the better shooter but Lee is likely better at everything else.

33. Anfernee McLemore
34. Kris Wilkes
35. Oshae Brissett
36. Steffon Mitchell
37. DeAndre Hunter
38. Justice Sueing
39. Jalen McDaniels

Well rounded combo forwards abound here– all have first round potential with breakout seasons, but none of them assuredly deserve to be drafted.

McLemore is a monster shot blocker at 6’7″ who can shoot and had offers from Ivy League schools. His ball skills have a long way to go to fit in as an NBA wing, but if they come along he can be an excellent role player.

Hunter has the most hype but is the oldest of the bunch and does not have any special qualities to deserve lottery value.

Steffon Mitchell is the hidden gem of the group who can pump up his value with improved shooting and creation.

40. Jack Nunge
41. Dean Wade

Nunge and Wade are a pair of stretch 4’s who may move well enough to fit in NBA defenses. Nunge is particularly interesting as he has added bulk this offseason and at 6’11” has all sorts of unique upside.

42. D’Marcus Simonds
43. Shamorie Ponds
44. Xavier Sneed
45. Jahlil Tripp
46. Markis McDuffie
47. Jarrey Foster
48. Amir Coffey
49. Chris Clemons
50. Donta Hall
51. Keith Braxton
52. Cassius Winston
53. Tremont Waters
54. Tyler Cook
55. Andrew Jones
56. Bruno Fernando
57. Grant Williams
58. Quinton Rose
59. John Petty
60. Daejon Davis

This is the point of the board where there are about 100 names in a similar tier to choose from.

At 5’9″, Chris Clemons is in a tier of height where few have had successful NBA careers. Calvin Murphy, Isaiah Thomas, Muggsy Bogues, Spud Webb, Nate Robinson, and Earl Boykins make up the list of success stories, which is why Clemons cannot be taken in round 1. But he is an exceptional athlete and shooter, and appears to be a better version of Nate Robinson. Isaiah Thomas provided an excellent return after sliding to the last pick in the draft because of his height, and Clemons has clear potential to be similar or better.

Keith Braxton is a 6’4″ combo guard who has crazy rebound rates, can shoot, and is slippery at finding his way to the hoop. He will likely be overlooked playing for low major St. Francis and has his own brand of sneaky potential.

Just missed the cut: DeJon Jarreau, Sagaba Konate, Devon Daniels, Carsen Edwards, Zach Norvell Jr, Kenny Wooten, Terence Davis, Taveion Hollingsworth, Shakur Juiston, Vic Law

Others

Rui Hachimura

Hachimura has great physical tools, but will turn 21 this season and be the 5th best player on Gonzaga at best. For some reason scouts want to compare him to Giannis even though he is a complete non-passer and 3″ shorter. He is worth a 2nd round pick with a big junior leap, but this hype train needs to cool down.

Herb Jones

Jones was an unmitigated disaster offensively as a freshman. There is no way that a wing who is that poor offensively should ever be drafted. There are at least 300 prospects better than him in this draft.

Jaylen Hoard

Hoard has first round hype as a big wing, but he is very old for the class and unlikely to deserve to be drafted.

Eric Paschall

People need to stop overhyping Villanova upperclassmen. Paschall is a great NCAA player but not a draftable prospect.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

If you are wondering if he belongs in round 1, the answer lies in his initials: NAW. Although he has a fair case as a second rounder.

Under The Radar Freshmen to Watch

Andrew Nembhard

Nembhard isn’t that explosive or skilled at scoring, but he is a 6’5″ PG with elite vision and passing. The intersection of size and passing is a great place to seek upside

Daniel Oturu

Oturu is a 6’10” defensive oriented big man whose favorite player is Nikola Jokic.  His combination of size, defense, and passing can sum to a strong upside tail.

Pete Nance

Overachieving runs in the family, as his dad Larry and brother Larry Jr. both massively over performed their draft slot. Nance is 6’10” with an interesting base of skill and IQ. He’s a bit of a mystery box as he did not play for AAU, but his upside is monstrous.

Leaky Black

Black is similar to Theo Pinson, who could have become a good prospect if he developed better over his NCAA career. Even with no discernible improvement over four years he was still good enough to get a two way contract from Brooklyn.

Filip Petrusev

Gonzaga has done a terrific job of international scouting, and Petrusev may be another gem as he had an excellent summer playing FIBA u18 for Serbia’s gold medal team. He stuffed the stat sheet and made 80% of his FT’s as a 6’11” big.

Reggie Perry

Perry is a 6’8″ PF who offers a bit of everything, and if his skill level if more polished than expected could make for an ideal big wing.

Others: Darius Days, Talen Horton-Tucker, Khavon Moore, Mike DeVoe