Does Lonzo Ball Hard Enough?

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I have already written why I believe Lonzo Ball has immense upside as a possible transcendent NBA star. But for his upside to be attained, he needs to not have any major obstacles in his path that offset his strengths. In this article I will look for a negative comparison to see if there are any frightening signals in Ball’s performance thus far that should cause any assessment of his upside to be skewed downward.

A common narrative on basketball twitter is that Lonzo Ball cannot create offense for himself, and we should be extremely worried about it. The best way to assess the validity of this narrative is to look at historical pass first point guard prospects who struggled to score. Let’s start by making a list of guards drafted in the top 10 during the lottery era who were better at passing than scoring:

Year Pk Player
1994 2 Jason Kidd
2005 3 Deron Williams
2005 4 Chris Paul
2007 4 Mike Conley
2005 5 Raymond Felton
2009 5 Ricky Rubio
2016 5 Kris Dunn
1987 6 Kenny Smith
1998 7 Jason Williams
1999 8 Andre Miller
2003 8 T.J. Ford
2013 9 Trey Burke
1989 10 Pooh Richardson

That’s a pretty good list, as there are few busts and many of these players were as good or better than their drafting teams hoped. The first lesson to be gleaned is that it’s rare for pass first PG’s to be badly overrated in the draft. But there is the occasional Trey Burke or Kris Dunn, so let’s dive further and see how these players compared to Lonzo as freshmen. Stats are pace adjusted per 40, with an * for the players that are not pace adjusted due to lack of pace data:

Player Pts eFG% AST TOV
JWill* 18.4 58.5% 8.7 3.7
Burke 18.3 50.5% 5.7 3.5
Paul 16.6 57.0% 6.6 3.1
Kidd 15.6 50.5% 9.1 4.7
Lonzo 15.0 65.9% 8.5 2.5
Conley 14.6 55.2% 7.9 2.9
Felton 13.9 48.9% 7.3 4.0
Miller* 13.4 54.9% 7.2 4.1
Ford 13.2 42.3% 10.1 4.8
Smith* 12.6 51.9% 6.8 4.3
Pooh* 12.5 49.2% 7.3 3.8
Deron 9.1 50.6% 6.6 2.7
Dunn 8.8 41.5% 4.8 2.9

If there is a signal for disappointment it likely comes in assist rate. Dunn and Burke come in at the bottom as the two biggest busts.

Dunn was a completely disaster all around as a freshman, and was even worse in 4 games as a sophomore before finally putting it together as a junior. Trey Burke never had natural point guard skills, and was also plagued by his diminutive size and poor athleticism. Neither of them can be seen as pertinent comps for Lonzo.

Next– where are the scoring flags for Lonzo? Raw point totals are not precise measures of creation ability, but he has easily the highest eFG% on the list and could easily have the highest scoring rate if he attempted more inefficient shots. Based on how basketball twitter rails on his lack of scoring, you would expect him to be dead last on the list. Yet here he is with the best scoring stats of the bunch.

Also let’s take a moment to appreciate that to match Jason Kidd’s freshman offensive output, Ball would merely need to add a truckload of bricks and turnovers to his profile.

Forget Creating Shots, Let’s Talk About Making Them!

On average, the high eFG% prospects panned out well, with Paul, Conley, and Miller all providing great values for their slots. Jason Williams is the only questionable one. But he was a 20 year old freshman playing for mid-major Marshall, only 6’1″, and seemed more in tune with making mixtape highlights than racking up efficient attempts for his teammates. And he still had a still has 71% percentile career win shares for all time #7 overall picks, which is rather good for the most negative example of the bunch.

Perhaps people should be less worried about Ball’s lack of elite creation and more impressed with his outlier ability to never miss.

Speaking of missing shots– this chart excludes Ricky Rubio, who never played NCAA basketball. Rubio struggles to score simply because he cannot convert shots from any part of the court, and he has been plagued by a career of low usage and horrific eFG%. Yet he is still considering a good point guard. Even if Ball does not measure up defensively, his passing and shotmaking ability completely dwarf those of Rubio, and I would say that a more offensively gifted (and overall better) version of Rubio is his absolute floor.

Reaching Deeper For Comps

Outside of the top 10 you are looking at talent that is badly dwarfed by Ball, but it is still difficult to find any sign that an elite passer who can make shots busts. I am not going to be as comprehensive here, just going to offer a balanced list of players who offer both positive and negative outcomes. Also not pace adjusted for anybody but Lonzo, and I used career stats for all:

Player Pts eFG% AST TOV
Lonzo 15.0 0.659 8.5 2.5
Stockton 15.9 0.559 6.6 3.5
Nash 19.9 0.537 6 4.1
 Jackson 13.3 0.537 7.4 3
Marshall 10 0.505 11.1 3.7
Bogues 11.1 0.494 8.8 3.3
Williams 12.8 0.455 10.4 4.7
Ennis 14.5 0.453 6.2 1.9
MCW 13 0.445 8.2 3.7

I included Kendall Williams and Marcus Williams because they are players with outlier assist rates who busted. But you can see that Williams had a horrible eFG%, and Williams had a horrible scoring output with a mediocre eFG%. They provide examples of what REAL scoring flags look like, and you can see Lonzo is light years ahead of them.

And some non-scorers don’t fall on their face: Muggsy Bogues shows that you can have serious scoring flags and still have an NBA career at 5’3″ if you are good enough at creating for teammates and avoiding mistakes.

This chart agrees with my earlier theory that Lonzo’s shot making deserves more love. The three best slot values in Stockton, Nash, and Mark Jackson all had the best eFG%’s of the group, and the brickiest players busted the hardest.

Conclusion

Given the way some people talk about Ball’s scoring flags, you would think that there would be SOME historic comp that offers a scary downside scenario. But there’s nothing there. Scoring is the most easily quantified statistic, and there is no example of a pass first point guard who has busted without having a scoring output that is light years inferior to that of Ball.

This analysis does not completely assuage concerns, as a significant portion of his scoring comes off the ball or in transition. Further, his 43% 3P% may not be sustainable. Some of the better NBA players may have had some offensive advantages that are not directly perceptible by simply looking at the numbers. But he passes the negative comp test so comfortably, it is difficult to see how his limited creation could prove debilitating.

If anything this analysis suggests that he has an outlier scoring edge in his completely awesome eFG%. I believe this deserves more attention than his lack of high scoring volume. After all, his scant attempts at creating have been highly efficient– perhaps he would assuage creation concerns if he was not such a genius at avoiding low quality attempts.

Ball’s strengths are clearly elite. His basketball IQ is through the roof, he makes insanely difficult passes with pinpoint precision, he has made 43% of his 3PA with most coming from NBA range, and his physical profile is stellar for a player with his combination of skill and smarts. He has limitations in his game much like every other prospect, but where is the evidence that they remotely weigh as heavy as his positive strengths?

Putting too much emphasis on Ball’s weaknesses qualifies as getting lost in details. It is akin to arguing that a beautiful woman is not attractive because she has pointy elbows– it’s great that you noticed a flaw, but giving this flaw too much attention is only going to lead to faulty conclusions. The bottom line is that Lonzo oozes star potential, and there is no quantifiable signal that suggests he has serious downside risk. He is probably going to be awesome, and I cannot fathom that it is correct to draft any prospect other than Markelle Fultz ahead of him.

Is Markelle Fultz a Loser?

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Markelle Fultz seems to be losing traction as the clear cut #1 overall pick due to a lack of team success, as his Washington Huskies have struggled badly. Let take a look at some stats to analyze the veracity of the narrative that Markelle Fultz is a loser.

Lorenzo Romar’s Washington Tenure

Let’s start at looking at the simple O-Rtg, D-Rtg, and kenpom rank during Lorenzo Romar’s tenure at Washington.

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First you can see that this is his worst team since his first season as Huskies’ coach in 2003, and for a major conference team with an allegedly transcendent prospect that is definitely bad.

You can also see that the culprit is largely bad defense, as the #248 rank (out of 351) is far worse than the 2nd poorest at #167. There are a number of factors that go into this, and the worst conclusion that can be made is that Fultz gives a Harden-esque effort in spite of good rebound, steal, and block numbers. It is plausible that he does, but great point guards make their biggest impact on offense which deserves the most attention.

And on the bright side, the offense has been pretty good, as Romar has not had a more efficient offense since 2011. Romar did have a number of more efficient offenses from 2004-2011, but those were all LOADED with NBA talent. Here is a chart of the NBA talent that passed through Washington during that stretch:

Year Rank NBA 1 NBA 2 NBA 3 NBA 4
2004 29 Brandon Roy Nate Robinson
2005 5 Brandon Roy Nate Robinson
2006 14 Brandon Roy Jon Brockman
2007 45 Spencer Hawes Jon Brockman Quincy Pondexter
2008 75 Quincy Pondexter Jon Brockman
2009 35 Isaiah Thomas Jon Brockman Quincy Pondexter
2010 45 Isaiah Thomas Quincy Pondexter Justin Holiday
2011 13 Isaiah Thomas Justin Holiday Terrence Ross CJ Wilcox
2012 62 Terrence Ross Tony Wroten CJ Wilcox

You can see his best offenses were LOADED with NBA talent, and often had quality role players who were a notch below NBA caliber. It is somewhat amazing that Washington never peaked higher with all of the talent that passed through over this stretch (especially with 4 years of Roy and 3 years of Thomas), but it goes to show that Lorenzo Romar is the king of doing less with more.

Modern Day Huskies

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Let’s peep the 2015-16 roster with minutes played, offensive BPM, and total BPM:

Player Mins OBPM BPM
Andrew Andrews 1150 8.2 8.9
Marquese Chriss 848 2.8 5.9
Dejounte Murray 1139 1.8 4.3
Matisse Thybulle 819 1.2 5.1
David Crisp 728 0.8 1
Malik Dime 720 0.7 6.1
Noah Dickerson 736 -2.2 -0.3
Dominic Green 337 -2.8 -3.2

It is well known that the Huskies lost Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray to the NBA draft, but graduating senior Andrew Andrews was by far the team’s best player statistically, especially on offense. Collectively these three carried the load offensively, and were likely the top 3 players on the team overall.

The other five players in the chart all returned, not that this is particularly good news. The only returner who is probably useful is Matisse Thybulle. Malik Dime had a strong total BPM, but that is largely derived from his gaudy block rate which is heavily overrated by BPM at the NCAA level. Suffice it to say that Fultz stepped into a rough situation.

Fultz & Friends

Fultz was tasked with replacing both Andrews and Murray’s production offensively. He was given Washington’s 5 weakest players from last year’s team, plus two incoming freshmen who were lowly 3* recruits in Sam Timmons and Carlos Johnson. Let’s see how BPM rates this year’s team:

Player Mins BPM
Markelle Fultz 587 9
Matisse Thybulle 464 5.2
Malik Dime 321 4.6
David Crisp 535 1.7
Noah Dickerson 442 -0.3
Dominic Green 385 -1.5
Sam Timmins 218 -4.8
Carlos Johnson 227 -5.3

Timmons and Johnson have been so bad that their badness exceeds Chriss and Murray’s goodness. If there was a draft for bad high-major rotation players, they would both be lottery picks. One may argue that a good PG should make bad players presentable, but they have respectable eFG% at 53% and 52% respectively. BPM dislikes them for poor passing, frequent turnovers, and poor defense, which are all beyond Fultz’s control.

But in spite replacing the 22 year old star Andrews at age 18, and in spite of two NBA 1st round picks being replaced with low major caliber talent, the offense has still gotten BETTER under the guidance of Fultz, leaping from #86 to #54 in national rank

If anything we should be impressed with Fultz keeping this sinking ship afloat on the side of the floor that point guards are meant to impact. He walked into the perfect storm of horrible coaching and horrible teammates, and even Lonzo Ball would struggle to win in this environment.

The Real Loser of the Lottery

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Dan Hanner does a fantastic job modeling the NCAA for SI.com based on player statistics, recruiting ratings, and coach data. His ratings provide a reasonable baseline for expectations, and because point guards have such significant offensive impact, let’s see how the top point guards’ team offenses are faring in comparison to his projections:

Team Projected Actual Diff
UCLA 116.7 123.9 7.2
Kentucky 119.2 122.4 3.2
Washington 110.3 111.3 1
NC State 117.6 112 -5.6

UCLA dropkicking expectations is hardly a shock with both Ball and Leaf being great. Kentucky performing well is also not a surprise with both Monk and Fox playing well. Washington is surprisingly performing ABOVE expectation offensively in spite of everyone and everything outside of Fultz being awful.

But the lead guard whose team is completely failing to live up to expectations is Dennis Smith Jr. Hanner highlighted NC State as a sleeper based on myriad of quality talent surrounding Smith, including multiple good shooters and an underrated offensive coach. Omer Yurtseven busting does not help, but the model did not rate him of integral importance to NC State’s offense. He was projected to rank just 5th in both minutes played and O-Rtg.

The more important point is that Smith was a highly rated PG surrounded by great shooting and multiple talented role players. Everybody outside of Yurtseven has been fine, and it’s clear that the lion’s share of the blame goes to the guy who always has the ball in his hands.

As of now NC State has the worst ranked offense in Mark Gottfried’s 6 years as head coach at #44. Over the prior 5 years, he has had 2 NBA draft picks: Lorenzo Brown and TJ Warren. Brown and Warren combined for the #10 offense in their season together. Since Warren’s departure, NC State’s best players have been Trevor Lacey and Cat Barber who both declared for the draft as juniors and went undrafted, yet were enough to muster the #25 and #33 offenses as lead guards.

The problem is that Smith’s poor decision making and questionable passing accuracy have led to a much higher than usual turnover rate. And for good measure, they also have the worst defense under Gottfried’s tenure. This is why Dennis Smith will never be as good as Ball or Fultz– he is a talented player, but his impact on his team’s success will always trail his individual statistics.

Bottom Line

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Washington is an overall worse team than NC State, but Fultz is playing with much worse teammates for a much worse coach. Point guards should be able to make a positive impact on their team’s offense, and in that regard Fultz is succeeding and Dennis Smith Jr. stands out as a loser.

In fairness, I somewhat glazed over Washington’s defensive woes in this writeup. Fultz does have an impact on D, and he likely is worse on that end than his gaudy steal, rebound, and block rates imply. But even if he is as bad on Harden on D, does it really matter if he is as good as Harden on offense? Smith has even greater defensive concerns as his lack of reach makes him a liability on switches, and he doesn’t sniff the offensive upside of the other point guards in the draft.

Lonzo Ball is a winner, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox are likely winners, and Markelle Fultz could be a big time winner once placed in the correct environment. If NBA teams are worried about drafting a loser to lead their offense, they should steer clear of Dennis Smith Jr. and select literally any other lottery freshman instead.

Lonzo Ball Is a Basketball Genius

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Lonzo Ball has drawn massive hype as an NBA prospect, as he is now in the conversation for the #1 overall pick in spite of Markelle Fultz’s existence. He has become a polarizing figure on basketball twitter as some perceive him as Basketball Jesus, whereas others see him as a non-deity who cannot create his own shot at the rim or play defense.

Scouting Report

It is common to evaluate prospects based on which boxes they check off, and Lonzo is considered a big risk through this lens. Neither his handle nor first step is elite, and he rarely creates his own shot at the rim. And while he is shooting 43% from 3, his 68% FT’s and low release on his jumper raise concerns for his ability to consistently make NBA 3’s. And because he is a non-elite athlete who struggles to defend at the point of attack, we are left with a point guard who cannot get to the rim, can only maybe shoot, and cannot defend. When you view it that way, Lonzo sounds far from awesome.

But the counterpoint is that Lonzo has strengths in his game as well, and they are spectacular. It starts with his supreme basketball IQ, which has potential to be the best basketball IQ in NBA history. He constantly pushes pace and dishes picture perfect passes to set up his teammates with high quality shots in their hot spots. This is his one big strength which has captivated the draft world.

Aside from smarts, Ball has elite size for a PG at 6’6″, and even though he is not an explosive freak, he moves well and is a pretty good athlete. Height is an extremely important tool for a PG, as it gives him the ability to see and pass over defenses as well as switch onto wings defensively. Overall his physical tools are a significant positive, as they enable him to rack up good rebounds, steal, and block totals for a PG.

The Checkbox Fallacy

The problem with grading a player based on checkboxes is that it will penalize a player for multiple minor flaws and an outlier strength. Let’s play devil’s advocate to Lonzo’s flags:

While Ball does have downside on defense, his physical tools, rebound, steal, and block rates offer just as much upside on that end. If nothing else his height gives him the ability to fit in well with a heavy switching defense. And while he is flawed, nothing is broken in a way that precludes him from being great defensively as a pro.

His shot is a minor concern, but if he ticks up his FT% it becomes trivial. He is currently at 68% in an extremely small sample. In 2015 AAU play he shot 24/31 from the line, and if you sum that with his UCLA sample he is up to 71%. He is shooting 43% from 3 on nearly twice as many 3PA as FTA with the majority of his makes coming from NBA 3 range, and he rarely misses badly. His shot is not perfect, but is a clear positive in my eyes.

The greatest concern is his ability to create for himself, but there are a number of mitigating factors:

  1. As per synergy, he ranks 91 percentile as both a PnR handler and isolation scorer. He attacks infrequently, but is efficient when he does.
  2. His off the dribble shot qualifies as creation, and while he only has 14 attempts he has 20 points ranking him 99%ile. Small sample yes, but he often takes this shot from NBA 3 range and rarely misses badly.
  3. There have been elite NBA PG’s such as Steve Nash and John Stockton who did not put significant pressure on the rim in college. It is not nearly a fatal flaw given the skill set.
  4. He moves well off the ball, and often dunks home lobs off of cuts. Even if he needs creation help, he can still be a dynamite off ball player with size to defend wings.

Overall Lonzo has a handful of pink flags in his game, but no glaring red flags. Meanwhile, he has the one outlier strength of being a basketball genius that should carry exponentially more weight than the weaknesses in his game.

Basketball IQ and Point Gods

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Let’s take a moment to look at the most successful players drafted outside of the top 3 in NBA history:

Year Pick Player WS WS/40
2005 4 Chris Paul 150.8 0.251
1984 5 Charles Barkley 177.2 0.216
1985 13 Karl Malone 234.6 0.205
1978 6 Larry Bird 145.8 0.203
1998 9 Dirk Nowitzki 198.8 0.201
2009 7 Stephen Curry 77.7 0.200

We have a couple of non-athletes who dominated with smarts and skill in Bird and Curry on the list, but the player I want to focus on is the guy at the top: Chris Paul.

Chris Paul was drafted after Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, and Deron Williams because 6’0″ players never become superstars. But Chris Paul bucked that trend, and is likely the best player in NBA history 6’5″ and under. He did so by being a basketball savant with parallels to Lonzo Ball, as his efficient PG play led Wake Forest to the #1 offense in both of his NCAA seasons.

Now let’s see the best players drafted outside of the top 14:

Year Pick Player WS WS/48
1984 16 John Stockton 207.7 0.209
1996 15 Steve Nash 129.7 0.164

Oh hey, it’s two more basketball genius PG’s that like Ball were neither elite athletes nor scorers.

Basketball IQ is an incredibly important trait for a point guard. The PG has the ball in his hands the most, and is constantly making decisions that affect his team’s scoring output. Consistently good decision making can add up to a tremendous amount of value, therefore it should not be a surprise that three of the biggest draft steals in NBA history had an elite basketball IQ to overcome their flaws that caused them to slide.

Now consider that Lonzo’s pre-draft flaws are more trivial, as he is has a much better physical profile than any of Paul, Stockton, or Nash, and he also has far more draft hype than any of the three as well. The additional hype does not make him necessarily better, but imagine: what if he overachieves his draft expectation as much as the aforementioned trio? He would be in the conversation for the best player in NBA history.

To me it is incredible that people care more about the ability to put pressure on the rim than his basketball IQ. There is only one Russell Westbrook, and there will likely not be another. Most all-time great PG’s are more cerebral than athletic, with Steph Curry, Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson, and pre-injury Penny Hardaway as further examples. If you look at the athletic scorers with average IQ outside of Russ, you are more likely to end up with a Stephon Marbury or Allen Iverson who are not causes to tank for.

But How Do We Know Lonzo is a Basketball Genius?!? 

Great question! After all, it is awfully aggressive to rank him up there with the creme de la creme of basketball IQ’s in NBA history. First, let’s look at UCLA’s team offensive success under Steve Alford via kenpom.com:

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Steve Alford is not a great coach (without Ball he clearly undervalues 3PA), but he does attract great talent. In 2014, he took over a loaded roster featuring Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Norman Powell, Zach LaVine, and the efficient Wear twins. This resulted in easily his best offense in 21 pre-Ball seasons as a college head coach at #11 in NCAA, as his next best ranked #38 for Iowa in 2005.

Now Lonzo, Leaf, and company are waffle crushing that team with the #1 offense in the country. Lonzo’s impact is noticeable in a few ways: 1) UCLA is posting a historic eFG% as he creates elite shots both inside and outside the arc, 2) The team has a massive spike in 3PA rate as he understands that 3 pointers are better than mid-range, and 3) the team’s tempo and average possession length are faster than ever because he knows to push pace and move the ball crisply.

Not only does Lonzo create elite shots for his teammates, he does so with an unprecedented ability to avoid turnovers. Let’s compare his NCAA per 40 stats to other PG’s. Note that Nash and Stockton were late bloomers so I used their senior year stats, and career samples for the others:

PTS AST TOV AST:TOV
Ball 16.5 9 2.6 3.5
Paul 18 7.5 3.2 2.3
Stockton 22.2 7.6 3.5 2.2
Kidd 17.8 10 4.9 2.0
Nash 20.1 7.1 4.2 1.7
Penny 21.8 6.5 3.9 1.7

Oh. My. God. You could mention that a bust like Tyler Ennis had a nearly as good assist:TOV rate (3.2), but he did so by making low risk, low reward passes for a team with a below average eFG%. To be a risk taker like Lonzo and create monster eFG% for his team and STILL avoid turnovers is nothing short of godlike.

Chris Paul is the gold standard for NBA assist to turnover rate, and Ball puts his numbers to shame. Granted, Ball benefits from a lower scoring volume (I did not adjust for pace so his volume is even lower than it appears), but the point is clear: we have never seen a player create shots for his teammates while avoiding turnovers like this ever before. Not even close.

So Lonzo is going to better than all of those studs?

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Not necessarily. There are areas he pales in comparison to this group, even outside of scoring volume. Looking at career per 40 rates for everybody (again, not adjusted for pace):

Player STL FT%
Nash 1.7 86.7%
Paul 3 83.8%
Stockton 3.1 71.9%
Penny 2.7 71.7%
Ball 2.1 67.8%
Kidd 4.1 67.7%

Again, not pace adjusted so Lonzo’s steal rate is slightly inflated here. The only player who gets fewer steals is Nash, who makes up for it with a much better FT%. Kidd is the only player who is as poor at the line, but he makes up for it with double the steal rate. Meanwhile Chris Paul crushes him at both, so perhaps he has some subtle cerebral and skill advantage that will prevent Ball from reaching his status as a point god.

The steal rate also lends credence to his defense being a problem, as in spite of his tools he is much closer to Nash the sieve than the the great stoppers like Stockton and Kidd.

While there is some evidence that Ball is in a league of his own as a point god, there is other evidence that he is a notch below the creme de la creme. It is possible that he peaks as the best of the bunch, but he also could be the weakest link.

Conclusion

There are enough flaws in Ball’s game to stop short of calling him a guaranteed hall of famer, which is how I felt about Joel Embiid when he played at Kansas. But there is much to love, and nothing to strongly dislike. He is definitely going to be a good NBA player, and is likely going to be great one.

I have watched him play more than any other prospect in this class, and every time I see him I feel as if I am witnessing greatness. He runs UCLA’s offense as perfectly as a 19 year old can, and it is mesmerizing to see him consistently set up his teammates with amazing shots with such infrequent mistakes.

This draft class is so loaded, it is still early to come to many hard conclusions. But I have seen enough of Lonzo to come to a few:

  1. He is clearly a top 2 prospect on my board. Josh Jackson has great upside, but his shot is a much bigger wart than any of Ball’s, and I do not think he has as much overall goodness as Ball’s basketball IQ offers.
  2. Ball deserves consideration at #1 overall. Markelle Fultz is an incredible talent in his own rite, but it is plausible that Ball is the better prospect. I am not sure who will end up #1 on my final big board, right now they are super close to me.
  3. Dennis Smith Jr. has approximately 0% odds of becoming a better NBA player than Ball. He is the inverse of Lonzo as he passes the checkbox test, but his limited basketball IQ and size make him a poor gamble in the top 5.

Big Board 2.0: Going Deeper

Now that I have really dug into the 2017 draft class, it is time to post a complete big board of my top 60 prospects (and 1!). Age is as of draft night, and the only internationals I am including for now are Ntilikina and Kurucs because I just don’t know anything about the others:

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I wrote that Malik Monk is not overrated, but I still rate him a hair lower than DX/ESPN. This is mostly because Lauri Markkanen is my one way shot maker of choice, as having an elite shot is more likely to be overpowered for a player who is 7’0″ and coordinated than a 6’3″ athlete. And I still do not want to glaze over Monk’s warts, because they are bad.

Harry Giles has not been ready to contribute his first two games after missing more than a year of action with an injury. He may not fully showcase his potential this year, and with his injury flags he will be one of the most challenging prospects in the draft to evaluate.

I’m aggressively sticking my big sleeper prospect Andrew Jones at #8. This may look silly  if he falls flat in Big 12 play, but it is more likely that he does not and he ascends to the lottery where he belongs.

Dennis Smith Jr. has been playing better lately but still has not shown the big upside curve to go top 5.

De’Aaron Fox is a challenging prospect to rate. On one hand, he is extremely pleasing to my eyes, as he is ultra quick, a pest on defense, throws laser passes in transition, and has smooth touch near the hoop. On the other hand– he cannot shoot, he has a frail frame, and he has poor awareness. Against Louisville he lost track of the shot clock twice, resulting in violations both times. He already had concerns about his ability to be an effective offensive player, and mistakes like this suggest that we should err on the side of pessimism.

If you are wondering why stat models love Ethan Happ, it’s because he can make plays like this. He’s too similar to Draymond and Millsap to slide to round 2 just because he does not fit the traditional PF archetype.

Bryant Crawford is another sophomore that nobody is talking about. He has good height (6’3) and length (6’7) for a PG and has revitalized Wake Forest basketball as the leader of a very good offense.

Creighton redshirt freshman big man Justin Patton is 6’11”, athletic, and hyper efficient on offense. He’s similar to Bam Adebayo, except he is actually tall enough to play center and better at everything other than offensive rebounding. And if you want a young offensive rebounder, Tony Bradley is posting a whopping 22% ORB% that is almost as high as Patton and Bam’s rates combined. Bam is not bad, but he just is not special relative to the other young bigs on the board in the late 1st.

Shamorie Ponds and DeAnthony Melton are statistical darlings of the draft with major scouting flags. Melton is a combo guard who can neither dribble nor shoot, and Ponds is a combo guard in a diminutive 6’0″ body. Both are so young with such outlier stats that they should not be dismissed entirely for their flaws, but Michael Weathers of Miami Ohio is the stat beast who has the best shot of becoming a good NBA player. He is quick with legitimate vision and creation ability, as he is posting Westbrook level stats for his woeful mid-major team.

Omer Yurtseven has not looked great in his first 3 games for NC State, but it is still too early to judge him firmly.

Ike Anigbogu is an infant aged pogo stick who is difficult to project given how young and raw he is.

PJ Dozier and Dazon Ingram are a couple of 6’5″ SEC lead guards who do a little bit of everything. They may not be athletic and skilled enough to be lead guards in the NBA or shoot well enough to play off the ball, but are intriguing 2nd round gambles nevertheless.

Jarrett Allen has strikingly low rebound, steal, and block rates for a player of his size and wingspan. He was portrayed as a defensive prospect and he may be broken on that end, which makes him not that much of a prospect after all.

Edmond Sumner hype sounded reasonable pending a big junior season breakout, but thus far I am skeptical. He is completely out of control when he drives to the basket and does not make accurate passes or layups. He seems like a poor man’s Mudiay to me, which is just poor.

Thomas Bryant is adored my the numbers, and hated by my eyes. It is possible I am underrating him, but I just don’t see him fitting in defensively in the NBA and I don’t see him as any sort of special offensive player.

I really do not buy Tyler Lydon as a 1st round prospect. He is a good but not great shooter, as he makes 41% of his career 3’s but has a low 3PA rate and cannot rely solely on his shot to succeed in the NBA. He’s a decent athlete and passer, but unless he can switch onto NBA wings on the perimeter (I suspect he cannot), I do not see enough versatility in his game to complement his shooting.

I cannot fathom that a player who cannot score, rebound, assist, steal, or block is a first round pick, but Terrance Ferguson is consensus top 20. He is super young and most of the other 5* prospects in the class have turned out well, so maybe he is somehow good. But more likely he’s a weak 3 + D prospect with average 3 and average D and terrible everything else. Bruce Brown is older, but seems much better at everything else other than his inferior shot.

Markis McDuffie is my deep mid-major sleeper. He is baby aged for a sophomore, and he is 6’8″ and smooth and could become a good role playing wing as his frame fills out.

Chandler Hutchison is my deeper mid-major sleeper, pending discovery of his birthday. He is a 4* junior 6’7″ SF with a 7’0″ wingspan who does it all for Boise State. If he is reasonably young for his class, he becomes an intriguing second rounder.

Mikal Bridges is an elite NCAA role player who is often miscast as a sleeper 1st round prospect. He is a zero on offense without outlier tools or defense to make him an exciting gamble. His physical profile is nearly identical to Hutchison’s, except he has far less offensive creation ability.

Grayson Allen has a consistent habit of turning into a brick and turnover machine whenever he faces any sort of athletic defense, and it is hard to see him amounting to anything in the NBA without becoming an elite shooter.

I included Sindarius Thornwell as a 61st prospect because a number of people have asked me about him. I am skeptical of his ability to make the NBA as he is not particularly athletic, quick, skilled, smart, or tall. But he does a little bit of everything statistically, and appears to have an improved shot. He merits attention if he continues to shoot well whenever he returns from his suspension.

Marques Bolden being unranked may seem harsh after he missed games with an injury and has barely played since returning. But he sounded like a dud coming in, and it looks like he will be sparsely used for Duke. I do not see any reason to cling on to hype until he actually starts performing, as he will likely be back at Duke for his sophomore year.

Malik Monk Is On Permanent Fire

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For every incoming freshman class, it is fun to make predictions based on the biases of traditional scouts. Malik Monk’s scouting report was that he was an athletic scorer who did not play defense and took poor shots. Scouts highly value athleticism and scoring and are willing to overlook poor defense and basketball IQ in prospects that have both strengths. Given that Monk was only rated #9 RSCI, he seemed like a strong candidate to bust. After all, he had a similar profile to Malik Newman who was similarly rated and completely flopped last year.

But this year’s class apparently only includes good prospects, and Monk has led Kentucky to a great start with his surprisingly efficient scoring. Basketball twitter is still abound with skeptics of his NBA upside, as his lack of size, point guard skills, ability to get to the rim, and defense seemingly preclude him from becoming an NBA star. After all– how valuable is elite athleticism if it does not lead to good defense or slashing ability?

The common comparison for Monk is JR Smith as a player who is mostly a floor spacer in spite of his great athleticism, as he lacks the ball skills and smarts to capitalize on his physical ability. I was initially on board, as they share similar strengths and limitations and it overall felt reasonable.

But Monk kept making shots and Kentucky kept playing well. When outcomes badly fail to align with a prediction, there is often an outlier force that my initial prediction underrated. Intuitively it felt wrong to continue to fade Monk, and that more attention should be given to what he can do rather than what he cannot do.

Let’s Not Be Redickulous

Monk had an elite combination of volume and efficiency in AAU, he has an elite combination thus far in NCAA, so why would he not continue the trend in the NBA?

There are a few reasons– first his NCAA sample is small against many weak teams, and it he may not continue to shoot fireballs against superior competition. He heavily relies on transition scoring, and those opportunities wane as competition levels increase. But then you compare his freshman statistics per 100 possessions to those of another common comp: JJ Redick:

REB AST TOV STL BLK
Redick 4.4 3.6 2.8 2.0 0.1
Monk 4.3 4 3.4 1.9 0.6

They are strikingly similar. The main difference is that Monk has more blocks due to his greater athleticism, but Redick used his smarts to keep pace on steals and both players are allergic to rebounds. Now shooting and scoring:

2PA 2P% 3PA 3P% FTA FT% Pts
Redick 6.6 43.9% 12.8 39.9% 6.0 91.9% 26.6
Monk 14.3 58.8% 14.6 39.4% 4.6 83.9% 37.8

Redick has the better FT% and surprisingly FT rate. But Monk has a slightly higher 3PA rate, and then there is the glaring advantage in 2 point volume and efficiency. This is especially impressive in tandem with Monk’s turnover rate.

Yes, much of that goodness will wane as he translates to NBA competition, but there is a whole lot of goodness there, and it will not go away altogether.

For starters, Monk will be one of the best transition scorers in the NBA. He will not be able to solely depend on this, but his athleticism, instincts, and shot making mean that he will be as productive as anybody in the league and this will pad his overall efficiency. This may in part explain his low defensive rebound rate, as he is likely leaking out a ton, so it comes at a cost. But it is nevertheless a feature that should not be ignored.

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The interesting part is that Monk may become the 2nd best pull up jump shooter in NBA history behind Steph Curry. His synergy shooting splits are a wonderland (C&S = catch and shoot):

Poss Pts PPP Pctile
C&S Guarded 43 62 1.44 88
C&S Unguarded 16 20 1.25 56
Pullup Jumpers 39 44 1.13 88
Short J’s (< 17′) 14 14 1.00 81
Medium J’s 17 22 1.29 98
3 Point J’s 72 99 1.38 87

He is fireballs from everywhere, except unguarded catch and shoot jumpers where he is merely average on a smaller sample.

Some of the difficult shot making is not sustainable, but even with a fair bit of regression he is still clearly special talent. The percentile ranks are in comparison to players with a lower volume of attempts on average, and there is no precedent of such a young player playing such an inefficient style with such an efficient outcome.

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Meanwhile, coach Cal says: “I’m trying to say get to the foul line. Go to the line more, don’t just shoot all perimeter jumpers. He’s such a great athlete and he’s so good with the ball, why settle? I know it’s easier and he goes on a run of making 7 in a row, but they can’t guard him when he goes to the basket.”

Calipari also wanted Monk to drive it down 2 with 20 seconds left, but fortunately his player was smart enough to shoot a 3 that went in to give Kentucky the lead and eventual victory. His coach is somehow completely ignorant of his player’s strengths and optimal usage, which only makes it more exciting to imagine Monk in the hands of a good NBA coach.

But Can He Create?

Monk cannot create offense by slashing to the rim like most guards, but he can create it by converting shots that are inefficient for mortal guards. This is where his athleticism *might* serve its greatest function, as it gives him the *possible* ability to get off a high volume of attempts without a drastically lower percentage of conversions. I include the qualifiers because I am not certain that a player of his limited handle can continue to shoot so well off the dribble, but his athleticism could be the key ingredient to make it sustainable.

Monk’s playmaking ability remains in question, but he does have a decent assist rate for a player who shares the backcourt with two pure point guards in Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox. His pass button and vision do not appear to be broken, so it is feasible that he does develop into a solid playmaker at the NBA level.

If he can 1) create offense for himself and others in the half court 2) be a blur in transition and 3) be a dynamite floor spacer, that adds up to quite the offensive weapon. And given his fantastic athleticism there is some hope for him to develop a semblance of a slashing game.

Limitations

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The downside is that it cannot be taken for granted he will continue to make shots at an insane rate. In 2015 AAU he only shot 35% from 3 and 79% FT. His Kentucky sample is still extremely small, and even after a full season his NBA shooting will be difficult to predict. Buddy Hield just had a full NCAA season of elite volume shooting and is struggling to convert 3’s in the NBA. And with Monk’s defense and rebounding likely being bad, there is significant pressure on him becoming great offensively to justify a top 10 draft selection.

If Monk proves to be a good but not great shooter, then he is merely JR Smith, except shorter, worse at rebounding, and probably worse on defense. Not an ideal outcome.

Even if he is an elite shooter, there are no guarantees for his playmaking and creation abilities. It is possible that his off the dribble shooting thus far is a fluke, and will never be great because of his limited ball handling ability. He could be JJ Redick with more athleticism, less intelligence, and overall similar value.

My favorite comparison is Reggie Miller with less height and more athleticism. They both share elite shooting, terrible rebounding, and a knack for overall efficient offensive play. Reggie Miller was never a mega-star, but he was the best player on some good Pacers teams and a highly favorable outcome outside the top 3.

And Miller is not his absolute upside. There is some scenario where his shot improves at an outlier rate and he becomes almost as good of a shooter as Stephen Curry, with his athleticism compensating for his inferior skill level. This is an unlikely outcome, but there is some happy medium in between Miller and Curry that is attainable if things break right for Monk.

Bottom Line

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Monk is nowhere near guaranteed to become a star, and even if he does his upside is not quite boundless. His warts are real, and they cannot be ignored as they would be a deal breaker for lottery consideration for almost any other similar prospect. Thus I do not believe he belongs in the top 3 conversation with Fultz, Ball, and Jackson.

But if anybody is going to overcome those warts to attain greatness, it will be somebody with outlier strengths like Monk with his elite intersection of shooting volume, shooting efficiency, and athleticism. There is no precedent of a prospect with a superior combination of these traits, and they could synergize to create an upside tail that exceeds any reasonable projection.

Ultimately Malik Monk is a unique talent, and if he remotely sustains his early shooting performance, he will clearly deserve a top 10 selection and could rank as high as the #4 player in the draft. This is a rare case where the hype for a one dimensional athletic scorer may actually be justified.

Diet Russ: The Lottery Freshman Nobody Is Talking About

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This year’s draft class is the gift that keeps giving. There are ten possibly elite freshman in the class, and a handful of other good ones that deserve lottery consideration. And recently an 11th possibly elite one has begun to emerge, and nobody is talking about him yet.

Diet Russ

One of the most badly overused draft comparisons is Russell Westbrook. People want to believe that every big PG with a hint of athleticism has potential to develop at an outlier rate from a pretty good NCAA player into an NBA star like Westbrook. But Westbrook is an outlier of outliers, as he is likely the most explosive player in NBA history and he complements that with an elite motor, vision, and work ethic to develop into the beast he is today.

So when you compare a player to Westbrook, the first problem is that he is definitely less athletic. The other problems are that his basketball instincts may be broken in some way, and that most player do not progress at the same outlier rate. Thus there is only one Russ, and we are left grasping at straws to try to find Diet Russ.

But Westbrook is nevertheless an important outlier to show the upside of athleticism. He is currently posting the highest single season BPM in NBA history, yet players such as Michael Beasley and OJ Mayo were drafted ahead of him. His NCAA performance offered no clear indication that he was on track to becoming an NBA star. It was merely enough to demonstrate that his basketball instincts were not broken for a young, athletic freak. Let’s compare our future Diet Russ to the real version’s sophomore season via per 40 minute pace adjusted stats:

TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
Diet Russ 7.0 5.0 2.1 0.5 3.5 18.8
Actual Russ 4.7 5.2 2.0 0.2 3.0 15.5

Diet Russ is a month younger than sophomore Westbrook, and he does not look diluted at all in terms of production. He has more rebounds and blocks than the triple double machine, and scores at a higher rate. Shooting splits:

2PA 2P% 3PA 3P% FTA FT%
Diet Russ 6.6 60.5% 5.6 34.4% 6.4 78.4%
Actual Russ 9.8 49.7% 2.4 33.8% 4.7 71.3%

The only flag is the lower 2PA rate, but I believe it largely stems from better shooting range and shot selection. As per synergy only 1 of his 38 2PA have come from mid-range and 4 have come on short range jumpers. When he attacks he tends to get all the way to the rim, and he appears to have more 3 point potential than Westbrook at the same age.

Who is this Mystery Freshman?

It is 5* Texas guard Andrew Jones.

As always, there are caveats. He is an explosive leaper, but he does not match Westbrook’s power and explosion. Also his statistics are a small 230 minute sample that includes a fair share of weaker opposition. In spite of his good 2P%, Jones still struggles to make layups off the dribble, as his handle is still limited and his PG ability is a major work in progress. And while his early rebound rate is impressive, he gets dwarfed by Russ’s ORB% (1.0 vs 5.8) which is a more significant signal than DRB%.

But it is hard to not be intrigued. Unlike other super athletes such as Andrew Wiggins and Jaylen Brown, his basketball instincts do not seem to be broken. Like Westbrook, he merely requires significant development of his point guard skills. This is far from guaranteed, and it is possible that he never progresses enough to become a good NBA player. But in the instance that it does, there is nothing preventing him from becoming a top 10 NBA star.

Compare him to a prospect such as Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox. Fox is quicker with drastically more polished PG skills. But Jones is an inch taller with more explosiveness and better strength, and if he closes the gap in PG skills he has more potential to finish in traffic against NBA defenses as well as defend NBA shooting guards. Further, his superior shot gives him much more potential to play off the ball as well as make pull-up jumpers when he can not get all the way to the rim. Fox’s upside is tantalizing in the scenario that he learns to shoot, but Jones has an even more appealing upside if he can learn to play point guard.

Of course this is not to say that Jones necessarily will develop into a point guard. Right now his interior buckets are limited to beating the defense down the court, attacking before the defense is set, or attacking mismatches off the dribble. Jones rarely attacks when there is not a clear seam, which is indicative both of good feel for the game as well as the current limitations in his ball skills.

More Than Just a Potential Slasher

The offensive selectivity should prove to be a nice feature if he never develops into a great scorer. He still would have some potential as a 3 and D player who can attack closeouts and move the ball as a super role player. Granted, neither his 3 or D are guaranteed to be elite. Defensively his rebounds, steals, blocks, and athleticism show promise, and he can move well laterally. But he is also undersized for a SG and does not appear to be a lockdown defender at this stage of his career. His early shooting statistics show enough promise, and he appears to have NBA 3 point range. But shooting is difficult to predict, and in AAU play he only shot 31% on 3’s and 69% on FT’s.

Ultimately there is no guarantee that any of his passing, shooting, defense, or offensive creation ability to prove to be above average at the NBA level. Jones is largely a mystery box, and he may never fulfill his potential. But there is also nothing broken or sorely limited about any of his abilities. For a great athlete with good feel and instincts, that offers a gargantuan upside tail that makes him an excellent gamble in the lottery.

Jones is a mystery box, and early in his freshman career it is difficult to rank him with any certitude. But he looks like he is probably worth a top 10 pick in the draft and possibly top 5, as his upside tail is as elite as most of the other stud freshman in the class. He will not develop into a do it all monster like Russell Westbrook because nobody will, but if he becomes a the diet version plus a better 3P shot and more efficient shot selection, that is an awesomely valuable player.

Andrew Jones has slid under the radar via being outside of the top 20 in recruiting rankings as well as Texas’s disappointing start to the season, but it is time to start giving him attention as he is yet another gem in a loaded freshman class.

2017 Early Draft Big Board

The non-conference NCAA season is almost over, and we now have a glimpse of what the top freshmen have to offer. The early returns are extremely promising, as this draft class has potential to be the best top 10 of all time. I have not had time to thoroughly watch all of the top guys so these rankings are highly fluid, but this is what I have so far:

1. Markelle Fultz: 6’4″ PG/SG, Washington

Everything about Fultz screams superstar. He has the skills, he has the tools, he has the instincts, and his statistics are off the charts for an 18 year old freshman. His team success is lagging, but that is likely attributable to teammates and coaching that is even more dreadful than Ben Simmons had to work with. Unless some serious flags arise as the season progresses, it is hard to imagine him not being the #1 pick, as his profile is just dripping with greatness. He is arguably a top 3 prospect of the past 20 years along with LeBron and Anthony Davis.

I don’t want to go overboard with the praise as I have not watched him enough to rate him over past prospects such as Oden, Durant, Embiid, and Towns with high confidence. But based on his numbers and physical profile his upside is boundless, and for now he is the clear tanking prize of the draft.

2. Lonzo Ball: 6’6″ PG, UCLA

Ball is polarizing, as he does not have overwhelming athleticism nor is he much of a scoring threat. But the draft is about finding players with outlier strengths rather than no weaknesses. And it is worth considering the possibility that Ball could become the best passer in NBA history.

In 15 years at coaching at UCLA, New Mexico, and Iowa, Steve Alford has never had a top 10 offense or a top 20 eFG%. His best was the loaded 2014 UCLA team featuring Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine, and Norman Powell. They finished #11 in kenpom offensive efficiency, and #22 in eFG%.

12 games into the season, Ball’s UCLA team has the #1 offense and #1 eFG%. Their eFG is as many points better than the #3 eFG team as the Anderson + Adams teams was above average. This UCLA team just doesn’t miss shots, and it is hard to not suspect that Ball has a special impact on the offense. Granted, there are a number of explanations to temper optimism:

  1. Only 5 of the 12 teams they have faced are top 100 teams, as they have played most of the weaker teams on the schedule
  2. TJ Leaf is playing an integral role, as he leads the team with a staggering 71.5% eFG%
  3. It is still a small sample, and UCLA likely will not sustain its 43.9% 3P%

But based on early indicators it is hard to not feel like Ball has a special impact on the offense. UCLA has consistently outperformed expectations, and have been at their best against the stiffest competition. And every returning rotation player has seen his offensive efficiency skyrocket.

Ball’s lack of athleticism and scoring is a harmful flaw on his profile to be sure, but they are worth stomaching with his potential to be a bigger and better version of Steve Nash or John Stockton.

3. Josh Jackson: 6’8″ SF, Kansas

Jackson has been precisely as advertised, as he is elite at everything except for his big flaw of shooting. But his saving grace offensively is that he has feathery touch from short range, which is a stark contrast from Andrew Wiggins bricking layup after layup for Kansas.

His shot appears to be seriously broken, but if he makes a big leap in this regard he is going to be a superstar. And even if it stays broken, he may nevertheless be a valuable NBA player.

Deciding between Ball and Jackson at #2 is going to be an incredibly tough decision. They both have such a special combination of strengths, and both would be #1 picks in most seasons.

4. Lauri Markkanen: 7’0″ PF, Arizona

Markkanen has been placed in a rough situation to start his college career, as Arizona is currently playing with just 7 players with only 3 of them being perimeter players. Thus he has been forced to play small forward in some awkward 3 big lineups, and he has managed to be hyper efficient anyway due to his elite outside shooting and incredible propensity to avoid turnovers.

He still has shown limited ability to create and score inside the arc, which puts a slight damper on the profile of a player who is a one way scorer. But all things considered he has been excellent in spite of tough circumstances, and he has potential to be an elite offensive weapon in the NBA.

5. Jayson Tatum: 6’8″ SF/PF, Duke

After 4 career games, I still do not have the best handle on Tatum. I had expected him to be a Jabari Parker doppelgänger, but based on early returns he appears that he may be significantly better. He had a great game against Florida in the only real competition he faced, and his upside appears to be a better version of Carmelo Anthony. I would like a large sample size of success before getting too excited, but so far he appears to be more than just a mid-range volume scorer.

6. Harry Giles: 6’10” PF/C, Duke

Giles had a tough NCAA debut with an ineffective 4 minutes after various knee injuries have kept him sidelined for the past 1+ year. His stock has been tanking due to the injury flags, but he is a unique talent who offers elite upside in the scenario that he can stay healthy.

7. Jonathan Isaac 6’11” SF, Florida State

Isaac is stuffing the stat sheet with steals, blocks, rebounds, and made shots. But the big wart is just 8 assists vs 19 TOVs, which is a flag for his feel and ability to play the perimeter. There is still enough good stuff here for him to be a very exciting mid-lotto selection, but his wart is a bit more disconcerting than the flaws of the other top guys.

8. Dennis Smith: 6’2″ PG, NC State

Smith has been a bit of a letdown to start the season, as he has not been as efficient as expected and his team is struggling badly. He is coming off an ACL tear and speedy freshman PG’s often are at their best late in the year, so his best play is likely yet to come. But if he does not turn it on down the stretch, his prospect appeal wanes. His small size is more enigmatic the less he dominates NCAA.

9. Malik Monk: 6’4″ SG, Kentucky

Monk’s superpower is that he has an elite intersection of athleticism and shot making ability. He can score from anywhere, and has posted excellent scoring and volume and efficiency thus far.

Monk does this in spite of being unable to create his own shot at the rim in the half court. He racks up points in transition, and in the half court he scores by hitting shots of all difficulty, as he has excelled at shots that are contested and/or off the dribble.

The challenge is figuring out what this amounts to in the NBA. He is undersized for a SG, has a reputation for coasting on defense, and is completely allergic to rebounds, so it is safe to call him a one way prospect. JR Smith seems like a reasonable comparison, but Monk seems to have an extra gear of shot making ability that Smith lacks.

It is possible that Monk is so good at making jump shots and has enough passing vision such that he can become an offensive star in the NBA. But being a 6’4″ SG who does not get to the rim or play defense are big warts that cannot be overlooked.

10. De’Aaron Fox: 6’3″ PG, Kentucky

The perfect yin to Monk’s yang– Fox excels at the areas where Monk is lacking: defense, rebounding, point guard play, slashing to the rim. But he is almost as bad at making shots away from the rim as Monk is good. He is just 3/23 from 3 and just 6/25 from mid-range shots in the half court, as per Synergy Sports. The glimmer of hope comes from his 76% FT, and if he can learn make jump shots Fox becomes a highly attractive player. But if he cannot he may be worse on offense than he is good on defense.

11. Ivan Rabb: 6’11” PF/C, California

Rabb is off to a slow start this year as he has battled injuries, but he should be his regular super Zeller self once his wounds are healed.

12. Frank Ntilikina: 6’5″ PG, France

Ntilikina is an international box of mystery, and I have no idea where he should go.

13. Rodion Kurucs: 6’8″ SF, Latvia

Kurucs is super young and has a compelling international stats, and could be a good gamble once the stud freshmen are off the board.

 

14. TJ Leaf: 6’10” PF, UCLA

Leaf’s limited wingspan and athleticism cast doubt on his ability to translate his offense to the NBA and fit in defensively. But his offensive skill and feel is so great that he has pretty good upside in spite of his physical limitations

15. Miles Bridges: 6’7 SF, Michigan State

Bridges offensively efficiency has been bad in 8 games for Michigan State, but if he can improve his shot and cut his turnovers it is easy to see him amounting to a pretty good NBA player with his body, athleticism, and defensive potential.

16. OG Anunoby: 6’8″ SF/PF, Indiana

Anunoby has an intriguing blend of physical tools, defensive upside, and youth. The big question for him is whether he can fit into an NBA offense without being a massive liability.

 

17. Jawun Evans: 6’0″ PG, Oklahoma State

Evans is undersized for a PG, but does literally everything for Oklahoma State offensively at an efficient clip. He is a poor man’s Chris Paul. This does not paint a clear outcome because being worse than Chris Paul means he can be anywhere on a scale of not NBA caliber to an all-star. But since the original CP3 was undervalued in the draft, it is reasonable to suspect that Evans may be as well.

18. Michael Weathers: 6’2″ PG, Miami OH

My favorite statistical outlier of the season. Weather is listed at 161 pounds, but that has not stopped him from rebounding like a forward and blocking shots like a center. And he also does everything offensively at a not bad efficiency for a mid-major team that is otherwise bereft of talent.

He clearly has potential to rise up to the lottery the way Cam Payne did. Rivals rated him as a 3 star recruit, and he is super quick. If he can add muscle to his frame he becomes highly intriguing, as he is as outlier as you can get for a mid-major prospect.

19. Ethan Happ: 6’8″ PF, Wisconsin

Happ is an old school low post power forward who is too small and with too limited range to catch the eye of NBA scouts. But he is a full fledged statistical outlier, and there are some shades of Paul Millsap in his profile. All of the upperclassmen who fit preferred archetypes are so bad that I would easily gamble on Happ’s unique NCAA performance over a prototypical future d-leaguer.

20. Robert Williams: 6’9″ PF, Texas A&M

I highlighted Williams as a non-elite prospect who could rise in the draft ranks in my season preview, and based on the early returns he should be a 1st round selection. He is undersized to play center, but his appeal is centered around his surprisingly decent passing and shooting ability for an athletic shot blocker.

21. Rawle Alkins: 6’5″ SG, Arizona

Nothing about Alkins jumps out as elite, but he is a solid and well rounded SG prospect who does a little bit of everything. Why not gamble on him in the late 1st over an upperclassmen with more obvious limitations?

22. Josh Hart: 6’5″ SG, Villanova

Nothing about Hart’s profile is amazing. He is merely good but not great in most categories: athleticism, shooting, scoring, defense and is undersized for a wing. But he has the tools to fit in, and is so smart and well rounded that it is not hard to envision him becoming a quality NBA role player.

 

23. Monte Morris: 6’3″ PG, Iowa State

Morris does not have enough athleticism, shooting, or scoring ability to be loaded with upside. But he may be able to overcome his athletic shortcomings with exceptionally smooth footwork, and his feel and efficiency may yield a quality rotation player.

24. DeAnthony Melton: 6’4″ SG, USC

Melton has tantalizingly good stats for an NCAA role player, as he racks up rebounds, steals, assists, and blocks while maintaining a good offensive efficiency. But he has elite offensive efficiency because he cannot do anything off the dribble and ergo does not try, and he is a poor shooter as well. He is fairly athletic and super young so there is still hope that he manages to fit into an NBA offense, but he will likely be undone by his inability to do anything on offense.

25. Bam Adebayo: 6’10” PF, Kentucky

The runt of the Kentucky litter, Adebayo excels at offensive rebounding and dunking and not much else. He is also old for his class and I do not see anything special about him to argue that he belongs in the lottery.

26 and beyond

Things are getting pretty thin at this point. The draft is loaded at the top, but after the elite freshmen are off the board the international and upperclass crops are both too thin to offer much depth.

 

An Objective Assessment of Andrew Wiggins

I recently posted that Andrew Wiggins is a bust, and it received a couple bits of criticism that I would rate as fair:

  1. Even if flawed he is contributing enough to avoid a bust label
  2. Just because advanced stats do not love him do not mean he cannot be good

I would like to follow up on these points as I agree with both, and prefer that the main points of my writeup do not get lost due to my manner of presentation.

Is Wiggins Really a Bust?

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It depends on your definition of the word. The most common interpretation has been that a bust is a high pick who is worthless at the NBA level, and Andrew Wiggins scores 22 points per game at an acceptable efficiency. By that definition, I would agree that my label of him as a bust is harsh and inaccurate.

Most people cited Anthony Bennett as an example of a bust, as he was picked #1 and was truly awful. I would agree that Andrew Wiggins is an infinitely better NBA player, and I would never group the two in terms of overall badness. But there are a few key aspects that set the expectations of each player apart.

Bennett was not even expected to go top 5 overall in a weak draft. There was no consensus that he was a great prospect, he only happened to go #1 because of a unique combination of horrible decision making by Cleveland and a weak crop of other choices. In a regular draft he is a run of the mill mid-late 1st round flop.

Wiggins entered high school with expectations of being a generational prospect of LeBron’s caliber. Those expectations had been lowered a notch after a good but not great freshman season at Kansas, but he was still considered an acceptable prize for tanking. Further, he was taken over Joel Embiid who had clear hall of fame level upside in spite of injury flags.

Missing Upside Hurts More Than Hitting Downside

The point of drafting #1 is to draft a superstar. The Cavaliers made a grave error in drafting Anthony Bennett, but they are only hurt by missing out on the best realistic alternative. The franchise does not suffer extra negative points for drafting the worst #1 pick of all time as opposed to a regular bust, as they can simply waive him and move on as the Cavs did.

To put this in perspective– would you rather start a franchise with Andrew Wiggins and Otto Porter, or just Joel Embiid? Even with a substantial risk that Embiid cannot stay healthy enough to make an impact, he is the clear choice as he has franchise changing upside that is not found in the other two players.

Andrew Wiggins is not a bust based on consensus interpretation of the word. But he is nevertheless on track to significant disappointment relative to expectations, and may be a more costly mistake than taking Bennett #1 overall, even though Bennett was the much more obviously wrong choice both at the time and in retrospect.

Advanced Statistics vs The Eye Test

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The other issue with Wiggins is that in spite of lackluster advanced stats, the facts remain: he is 21 years old, averaging 22 pts/game, and is 6’8″ and can jump through the roof. In spite of whatever shortcomings he has with BPM or RPM, it is too soon to write him off altogether. I agree with this, as similar players Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan have taken big leaps after flawed outputs early in their career to become useful NBA players.

But Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are still not big time positive impact players, as their strengths are still outweighed by the weaknesses that plagued them early in their careers.

On the other hand, the players who became true stars showed clear signs of stardom but their 3rd year. Entering draft night, expectations for Wiggins had been lowered from the next LeBron or Durant to the next Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. But Kawhi won finals MVP in his third season and Paul George led the Pacers within one win of the finals. Andrew Wiggins is by most statistical indications still a below average player early in his third year.

Advanced statistics are not precise measures of truth, but they are signs that point in the direction of the truth. And in this case, they highlight the key flaws that separate Wiggins from genuine stars.

Does Wiggins Really Eye Test Well?

The hype of being an elite prospect never jived with my eye test. There were too many things wrong with Wiggins. Yes, he is 6’8″ and super athletic with a decent enough skill set. But he was visually grating in a number of ways that made him feel unlikely to be a true stud.

First, he has a choppy lack of smoothness to his game. I posted about how he struggled to finish at the rim in college, which stood out as a surprising flaw for a player with his athleticism. Even if he has improved, he remains an average shot maker which has prevented him from complementing his shot creation skills with high efficiency.

He also does not see the floor that well. His vision is not awful, but it is limited enough to prevent him from consistently creating for others, racking up steals, or making a defensive impact commensurate to his physical gifts.

His third problem is the most difficult to pinpoint, but something seems to be lacking in his intangibles. He lacks some combination of motor, competitiveness, toughness, and work ethic that clearly affects his play.

But You Cannot Quantify Intangibles!

True, but there are subtle quantitative hints at intangibles. A few things stood out about Wiggins pre-draft:

  1. He was hyped as next LeBron and came in as a good but not great NCAA freshman. This is a MASSIVE disappointment as LeBron would have been godlike if he played a year of NCAA. This hinted that Wiggins was more broken than people realized or he was not developing well. Either way: not a good sign.
  2. From 17 year old hoop Summit to 18 year old he grew an inch but only gained two pounds. This suggests that either his body was bad at developing muscle or he had not been working hard in the gym. Again: not good either way.
  3. He looked like he was going through the motions on defense rather than intensely engaged in getting a stop like Marcus Smart or Aaron Gordon. I wrote about how my Smart vs Wiggins eye test could be supported numerically in 2014.

 

Now that he is in the NBA:

  1. In his 3rd NBA season at age 21, he is listed just 2 pounds heavier than his 18 year old weight. Does he even lift? I am not certain this is a reliable predictor, but DX called his frame “great”, “terrific”, and “amazing” at various junctures in high school. Then pre-draft they changed their tune to: “His frame is on the narrow side, but will undoubtedly fill out as he matures.” Now he is listed at 199 pounds, and it is hard to find many examples of great NBA players in his height range listed with such a light weight. For whatever reason, his frame is filling out at a much slower rate than expected.
  2. He has a pathetic rebound rate for a hyper athletic 6’8″ player. Before you chalk this up to KAT and Dieng hogging the boards, consider that it is worse than his point guard teammates: Kris Dunn, Ricky Rubio, and Tyus Jones. It is fair to take his lackluster steal, block, and dRPM rates with a grain of salt, but the anemic rebounding cannot be overlooked as an alarming wart.

    For context– Stephen Curry’s physical profile is so lacking that he was not even recruited by major NCAA schools in spite of his elite skill level. On the other hand, Wiggins was chosen #1 overall in spite of his flawed skill and instincts because of his physical profile. And even though Curry remains vastly physically inferior at 5 inches shorter with infinitely less athleticism, he STILL has a superior career rebound rate to Wiggins. If Wiggins’ physical profile still offers great upside, shouldn’t he at least dominate tiny non-athletes such as Steph Curry or Tyus Jones at a physical aspect of the game such as rebounding? If he cannot even leverage his tools to become a merely competent rebounder, how can he be expected to leverage them into being great overall?

  3. His statistical improvements since entering the league are marginal, at best.

The caveat is that none of this directly proves that he has bad intangibles. But taken in tandem, it strongly implies that there is some negative force consistently bogging down his production. The bottom line is that he was lauded as the next LeBron at age 18, and at age 21 he is arguably no more valuable than a replacement player– how can there not be something seriously wrong with him to fall THAT short of expectations at every level?

 

Does any of this prove that he will not be a good NBA player?

No, of course not. He is a decent volume scorer and has a slightly above average PER, as his elite athleticism immensely helps him create offense. And it enables him to be physically capable of defending a star player such as James Harden when he is engaged on defense, and he is still only 21.

Even though he has not taken a leap yet, there is no proof that there will be no future leap for him. After all he can be rather useful with some minor improvements. Uptick his shooting percentages, trim his TOVs a bit, and progress his defense toward average and he is now a useful NBA player.

It is not difficult to envision these progressions, which is a major reason why it was harsh calling him a bust. He is already not terrible and he has a clear path to becoming an average starter. Even if his work ethic is lacking, he does not need to improve THAT much to achieve decency.

That said, there is a huge gap between being a useful but flawed player such as DeRozan and a top 15 star, and it already requires a decent amount of optimism to project Wiggins to DeRozan status. If we want to turn the optimism up further, we could compare him to Joe Johnson, who also struggled in his first 3 years and never rebounded well. But to reach top 15 status Wiggins has to blaze his own trail and become the example of a player who overcomes major early statistical warts to achieve greatness. Given his outlier athleticism, it is fair to assign a non-zero chance of this happening. But is it really that much higher than zero?

We are talking about a player who has fallen well short of expectations at every level since entering prospect radar. We are talking about a guy who cannot outrebound much smaller players who can barely jump half as high. Is he really the guy that you want to bet on to suddenly turn it around and become the outlier of exceeding expectations? Perhaps it is possible, but I am definitely not betting on it.

The Upside Quandary

One problem is that people often equate athleticism with upside. Yes, they are correlated but it is not a 100% correlation. Not many people believed that Nikola Jokic had a great upside pre-draft because he was so slow and unathletic, but now it appears that he does have upside based on his size, skill level, and outlier good instincts. Thus he slid to round 2, and at this juncture he is drastically more likely to become a top 15 player than Wiggins.

And this is for good reason– it is easy to perceive athleticism, and it is clearly an important trait toward becoming a valuable NBA player. It is difficult to quantify and perceive subtle qualities such as instincts and intangibles, so those are often undervalued and players such as Draymond Green, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, and many others slide all the way to the second round.

This was the point of the statistical comparison in my initial post. Poor BPM and RPM do not prove that Wiggins is a replacement player or worse, or that he cannot improve to quality player. But the players who became great had multiple clear statistical signals showing that they were on the path to greatness. It is time to start seriously worrying about Wiggins lack of these signals, especially when they align with qualitative fears that were evident before he played an NBA game.

Conclusion

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I do not believe that Wiggins is a bust in the traditional sense of the word, and I do regret putting that in the title as it does not precisely describe what I meant by it.

But I do believe that he is extremely unlikely to become a star, and that it was clearly a major error to draft him ahead of a generational talent such as Joel Embiid, even with Embiid carrying significant injury risk. Anthony Bennett was a bigger bust than Wiggins, but Wiggins may prove to be a more costly pick (in a theoretical world where the Cavs did not trade him). Embiid has already shown many more quantifiable signs of greatness in 15 NBA games than Wiggins has in 187. He is an outlier at stuffing the stat sheet, and he passes the eye test in a way that Wiggins does not with better instincts, greater non-scoring impact, and a million times more smoothness and coordination.

I also believe Aaron Gordon is clearly superior. Even if he is off to a rough start in his third season, it cannot be overlooked that he was much better in nearly three times as many minutes last year. His overall statistical profile is clearly much better than Wiggins, and his physical tools are not far behind, if at all.

I may be wrong about this, but I would still rather gamble on Marcus Smart than Wiggins. Smart has failed to develop into an offensively competent player, which is particularly harmful for a 6’4″ guard. But he is so good defensively that if he ever makes a mini-leap in his offensive efficiency, he has such an easy path to usefulness.

I controversially ranked Clint Capela ahead of Wiggins, and I stand by that ranking. Capela is a freak athlete in his own rite, and he at least has some statistical signals of goodness thus far.

I will amend my prior statement– it is too soon to call Andrew Wiggins a bust. But it’s not too soon to call him an example of the NBA draft hype machine missing the mark, and it’s not too soon to call his selection over Joel Embiid a major error.

Andrew Wiggins is a Bust

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At age 21 Andrew Wiggins still has a long NBA career ahead of him, and a significant amount of time to improve his game. But with two full seasons and ~20% of a third under his belt, we have a substantial sample to assess the early returns on his NBA goodness.

It is fair to avoid extreme conclusion jumping after a player’s rookie season, but most stars show signs of their greatness in their second and third seasons, which will be the focus of this analysis. Let’s start with the rosiest statistical lense for Wiggins: PER. PER is the least predictive catchall statistic, and it overrates players who are precisely in Wiggins’s mold: high volume of shots at mediocre efficiency and little other value. First let’s compare him to the stud defensive wings with whom he was favorably compared pre-draft:

Player Y2 Y3
Leonard 16.4 19.4
Deng 15.8 18.7
Iguodala 14.8 18.1
George 16.5 16.8
Metta 13.6 15.8
Wiggins 16.5 15.7

He is dead last in season 3, but that is a smaller sample than year 2 where he was clustered with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard for the top spot. He has plenty of time to rise to the middle of the pack in year 3 with 65 games remaining, and overall this looks not bad for him. But you also see the limitations with PER when a player like Luol Deng is rated similarly to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and this isn’t an apples to apples comparison when Wiggins has a higher usage than any of these types. Now let’s compare him to wing stars who actually took shots:

LeBron 25.7 28.1
Durant 20.8 26.2
Carter 23.4 25
Pierce 19.8 22.3
Carmelo 16.7 22
McGrady 20.6 20
Wiggins 16.5 15.7
Gay 17.4 15.3

In year two Wiggins was in last place, and in year three he so far trails every player except Rudy Gay. Further, Rudy Gay had a lower usage over the same span (25.3 vs 27.6), which implies less artificial PER padding. This should not be surprising to anyone who read my comparison of Wiggins to Rudy Gay from July 2014.

In year two he was in last place and in year three he trails everybody other than Rudy Gay by a huge margin.  Further, Rudy Gay actually had a lower usage over the span (25.3 vs 27.6), which implies less artificial PER padding.

Overall the most optimistic lense does not look all that promising for Wiggins.

Now let’s look at WS/48 which places greater value on efficiency and team success. There’s no need to cluster scorers any more since WS does not have any biases toward high usage:

Durant 0.132 0.238
LeBron 0.203 0.232
Leonard 0.166 0.193
Deng 0.12 0.176
Carmelo 0.09 0.153
George 0.148 0.145
McGrady 0.143 0.129
Iguodala 0.116 0.12
Metta 0.039 0.079
Wiggins 0.069 0.059
Gay 0.08 0.054

Now all of the defense first types other than Metta World Peace have zoomed ahead of him. Other than Metta, Wiggins has Rudy Gay once again keeping him company at the bottom.

The most predictive metric to be found on basketball reference’s stat page is BPM. It highly values the intersection of rebounding and assists, as players who do both tend to be good and players who do neither tend to be bad. Intuitively it makes sense, as anybody who has the intersection of physical ability required to rebound and mental ability and skill level to accrue assists is probably good. Unfortunately Wiggins is bad at both, and this paints him in the most pessimistic light:

Player Y2 Y3
LeBron 8.3 9.3
Leonard 3.9 5.8
Durant 1.8 5.1
George 3.9 4.7
Iguodala 2.1 3.4
McGrady 4 3.2
Metta -0.7 2.9
Deng 0.9 2.7
Carmelo -1.2 1.5
Gay 0.8 -1.4
Wiggins -2.1 -4

Now this ordering makes the most sense. LeBron stands out as the superduperstar that he is, and the defensive stars finally get their due for their impact on that side of the ball. Kawhi Leonard won finals MVP in his third seasons and Paul George led the Pacers within one win of the NBA finals, which are examples of how BPM is much more reflective of the truth than PER.

Even Rudy Gay scoffs at Andrew Wiggins’ BPM. Wiggins does almost *nothing* other than score with limited efficiency, and BPM illuminates the myriad holes in his statistical profile. In his 2nd season he was approximately a replacement player, now early in his 3rd year he has been twice as bad as a replacement player.

Of course this is the most negative perspective from which to view Wiggins– but it is interesting food for thought. Everybody always assumed his downside was a better version of Rudy Gay, but what if he is actually a worse version of Rudy Gay?

What about RPM?

The only remaining argument is that Wiggins statistics may undersell his defensive impact, as his athleticism and quickness gives him the ability to prevent easy shots even when he is not racking up blocks and steals. But his defensive real plus minus this year is -2.4 and last year was -1.8, which implies that he is extremely bad on that end. This should not be surprising to anybody who read my pre-draft analysis that Wiggins was not a guaranteed defensive stud.

The upside is that his offensive RPM is slightly positive in both samples, so his overall RPM’s have been -1.2 last year and -2.1 this year. Since his year 2 is the bigger sample, that overall puts him above replacement but clearly below average. I believe this is a reasonable approximation of the truth.

But stats do not tell the whole story!

This is true, but even if he is secretly better than the stats portray, it is hard to find a perspective showing he is on the path to greatness. Every great player had some *clear* indication that they were on the path to greatness by now. Even most fringe all-stars had much better indicators at this stage.

The best source of hope is DeMar DeRozan, who has a similar physical profile and game to Wiggins. He was slightly weaker in PER, WS/48, and BPM in his first 3 seasons, and while he is a good athlete drafted in the lottery, he does not compare to Wiggins’s #1 overall elite athleticism. Both players thrive off of mid-range scoring and drawing free throws. If Wiggins follows DeRozan’s outlier developmental curve, he should peak as a slightly superior version of DeRozan.

But is it truly a happy outcome if he becomes DeRozan? Toronto had to max DeRozan to keep him around, and many intelligent people would argue that this was an unfavorable contract for him. If Wiggins becomes a better version, he may be worth the max by a hair, but that is also a highly optimistic outcome.

Conclusion

At this stage Andrew Wiggins is clearly not on the path to greatness. He has no chance of becoming a top 10 player, and the optimistic comparison is akin to DeMar DeRozan or something slightly better. This is a dreadful upside scenario for a former #1 overall pick.

It was clearly a massive mistake to draft him #1 overall with a generational talent such as Joel Embiid on the board. While Embiid’s ability to stay healthy long term remains in question, it is clearly a more worthwhile gamble than hoping Wiggins magically becomes good at basketball.

I believe that ranking him #7 on my 2014 final big board has been vindicated as a fair ranking.

The value of a #1 pick lies in the star potential of the player chosen, and thus far Wiggins has shown close to zero star upside. It is time to stop treating Wiggins as a potential star– at this point he is a just a super athlete who has a sliver of NBA upside that will not be franchise changing. Even if he may go on to have a decent career, given his draft hype and #1 overall selection it is not too soon to say that Andrew Wiggins is officially a bust.

2017 Draft Preview

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The 2017 draft is an exciting time for tankers, as this year’s freshman class is full of all sorts of tanking prizes. It’s thin on upperclassmen and internationals, so its depth may be limited but the top 10 is particularly strong. Here are my lottery picks:

1. Markelle Fultz 6’4″ PG/SG Washington

Fultz has superstar written all over him, as he is long, athletic, and can do everything offensively. He also has potential to be good defensively, and he is one of the younger freshmen. He needs to continue to develop his outside shot and skill level, but there is little to dislike about him as he profiles as a more athletic D’Angelo Russell.

There is plenty of room for him to be unseated as the #1 pick by draft time, but as of right now he stands out as the only player in the class who is a strong bet to be an all-time great NBA player.

2. Josh Jackson 6’8″ SF Kansas

Jackson is an elite athlete who does everything off the ball that amounts to winning– rebounding, defense, passing, cutting. He also has potential as a scorer due to his elite athleticism, and overall it seems unlikely that he slides out of the top 5 based on how many things he does well. But there are concerns about his shot, he only has a 6’10” wingspan, and he is sophomore aged as he is 15 months older than Fultz. So it is possible that he develops into merely a great role player rather than a full fledged superstar.

3. Dennis Smith Jr. 6’2″ PG NC State

Smith appears to be a hybrid of Chris Paul and John Wall, as he offers the rare intersection of efficiency and athleticism. Offensively, his 3 point shot is unreliable but he is otherwise elite at creating high % shots for himself and others while maintaining a low turnover rate.

His wart is that he measured 6’1.5″ w/ 6’3″ wing at age 16.  He should be bigger by draft night, but still will be small even for a PG and will likely struggle to switch onto SG’s. The mitigating factor is that he has a reputation of being elite defensively, and this is supported by stats as he has a great rebound rate and outlier good steal and block rates for a little guy. He plays much bigger than his size, and he has a good chance of nevertheless becoming a positive perimeter defensive player.

If his shooting and efficiency are lackluster, the height and length puts a damper on his draft upside. But if he shows shades of Chris Paul offensively, he can be an exciting candidate for #1 overall.

4. Lauri Markkanen 7’0″ PF Arizona

Markannen is 7’0″ with elite coordination, which is an overpowered combination of baseline traits. He shares this intersection of traits in common with the top 3 prospects of the decade thus far– Towns, Davis, and Embiid.

Of course that’s where the similarities ends, as all three are great rebounders and shot blockers and Markkanen is not. But Lauri has his own bag of tricks, as he has great mobility, an elite 3 point shot, and excels at putting the biscuit in the basket from all parts of the court. He was hyperefficient for Finland’s FIBA u20 team this summer in spite of playing with limited help:

mins pts 2P% 3P% FT% TO
Lauri 186 187 54.9% 39.4% 83.3% 13
Not Lauri 1239 306 39.7% 24.2% 57.1% 115

He also led his team in rebounds, blocks, and steals– all by comfortable margins. His best game came in a win against eventual champion Spain. It was Spain’s only loss and Lauri scored 33 points using 21 possessions, and also had 5 steals and 2 blocks.

He accomplished this with elite shooting, touch, and footwork supplemented by a quick first step that enables him to attack off the dribble from the perimeter or the mid post.

The questions he will have to answer at Arizona revolve around his passing and defense. He only posted 7 assists for Finland, which isn’t the most concerning flag considering the disparity between his efficiency and that of his teammates. He seems to see the floor well based on his high steal rate and low TOV rate, but he still needs to prove that he could move the ball as a part of a more balanced offense.

Lauri lacks length, strength, and explosiveness, which limits him as a rebounder and rim protector. But he moves his feet well and can switch onto smaller players and force steals, so he nevertheless has upside to be a useful cog on this end– especially in a defense that switches heavily.

Frankly he has so much offensive upside he doesn’t need to play solid defense to be an exciting prospect. But since he does have a hint of defensive upside, he has a chance of entering the conversation at #1 overall.

5. Harry Giles 6’11” C Duke

Giles is an elite physical specimen, as his physical profile is similar to that of Dwight Howard. He also seems like a similar prospect to Dwight, as he uses his athleticism to rack up points and rebounds, but could stand to pass more often be more consistent on defense. It’s hard to say whether he will turn out closer to the Rockets version of Dwight or the Magic version, but that is nevertheless a compelling range of outcomes.

The lingering issue is that he already tore his ACL two times in high school, and recently had his knee scoped for a 3rd surgery and will miss the early part of the NCAA season. The injury frequency puts a dent in his prospect value, and may make GM’s squeamish about gambling on him early with so many other great players available.

6. Frank Ntilikina 6’5″ PG France

It’s hard to know what to think of Ntilikina since he is sheer potential. His prospect profile is similar to that of Dante Exum– his main tool is his combo of 6’5″ height with 6’11” length, and he is more of a smooth than explosive athlete. DX really gushes over his PG skills, vision, defense, intangibles, and also notes that he is a 85% FT shooter. Exum is a cautionary tale of overrating an unproven slashing wing with non-elite athleticism, but I do not recall any scouts writing as glowingly about his game like DX for Ntilikina.

Ntilikina predictably struggled badly as a 17 year old string bean PG in the French league. He appears to be improved in 15 mpg through his first 4 games of this year, and it will be interesting to see if he can supplement the scouting report with a respectable 18 year old season against professional adults.

7. Jonathan Isaac 6’11” SF Florida St.

Isaac is 6’11” with perimeter skill and the quickness to guard perimeter players, which gives him awesome upside. He is a notch down from the tanking tier because his production has not been as elite as the top players in the class, but with a strong freshman season at FSU he can ascend.

8. De’Aaron Fox 6’3″ PG Kentucky

Fox is a funky prospect– he has elite speed, quicks, defense, and has legitimate PG skills, but his rail thin frame and mediocre shot raise the valid question: can he score? Elite defensive prospects are often underrated, but he’s slightly small to guard SG’s and he needs to offer scoring upside to justify a top 10 selection. That said his athleticism gives him the possibility of such, and he becomes highly intriguing if he hints at a nice offensive upside.

9. Ivan Rabb, 6’10” PF California

Rabb is the lone upperclassmen who has a valid case as a lottery selection. He profiles similarly to Jakob Poeltl and the Zellers, as a elite complementary scorer on offense who has decent enough tools and smarts to be a solid defensive piece. He’s likely to be a quality NBA player, and the question for him will whether he has enough upside to sneak into the top 5.

10. Jarrett Allen 6’11” C Texas

Allen has all of the traits of a great role playing big– he can protect the rim, hold his own on switches, and has potential as a pick and roll finisher with soft hands and touch. He also is a giant at 6’11” with a 7’5.5″ wingspan and doesn’t turn 19 until April. He is not an elite athlete or shot creator, but he has the profile of a player who translates well to the NBA in spite of the current trend toward smaller lineups.

11. Lonzo Ball 6’6″ PG UCLA

Ball may be the weirdest prospect in the class. He has good height for a PG but is super skinny and lacks elite athleticism or scoring ability. But outside of athleticism and scoring he rocks at everything, as his elite vision and instincts causes him to stuff the stat sheet with assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals. He seems like a mini version of Kyle Anderson who moves at regular speed, and likely will be polarizing as his profile on draft night.

12. Jayson Tatum 6’8″ SF Duke

If you love Jabari Parker, then you will likely love Jayson Tatum too. They both specialize in isolation scoring with limited efficiency because they prefer to not take 3’s and can stunt the offense by stopping the ball and underpassing. Also while he has good enough instincts for decent steal and block totals, he is not a consistent defensive player. Further, he is more of a fluid athlete than an explosive one.

Unfortunately I do not love Jabari, and I am naturally skeptical of Tatum. He can prove me wrong by meshing with the Duke super team better than expected by moving the ball, attempting more 3’s, and playing solid defense. But until that happens I am a seller of Tatum as the clear fraud of the consensus top 5.

13. Marques Bolden 6’11” C Duke

Bolden profiles similarly to Jarrett Allen, as they have the same height (6’11”) and Bolden’s wingspan is just 0.5 inch longer (7’6″) and Bolden is 4 days older. They both project as rim protectors with capability to switch on pick and rolls, as well with soft hands and touch for finishing on offense. I slightly favor Allen because Bolden has rebounding and passing flags, and I am not sure consensus has it the other way around.

14. Rodion Kurucs 6’8″ SF Latvia

I’m running out of freshmen that I like, so let’s roll with an international that has stuffed the statsheet his his limited sample of overseas play, especially with steals and blocks.

Other freshmen of note:

Bam Adebayo 6’10” PF Kentucky

Bam is the one player who is a consensus lottery pick where I disagree. His physical profile is nice as he is 6’10” with great athleticism and strength, but he doesn’t seem to offer much outside of garbage play. His skill level is low, and his offense is limited to putbacks, transition, and bullying smaller players with his overdeveloped body.

Defensively he has the tools to be good, but lacks the reach to be a rim protector and the quickness to switch onto guards. Combined with questionable instincts and effort, he likely will be lackluster on this end in spite of his physical strengths.

He is a bit old for the class as he turned 19 in July, and seems to be the player who may struggle to translate up as his opponents become increasingly able to match up with him physically. It’s possible that his instincts are fine and he’s just a low skill albeit useful garbage man, but either way he does not inspire thrills.

Malik Monk 6’4″ SG Kentucky

Monk comes in the mold of JR Smith, as he is hyper athletic and elite at scoring, but has a reputation for playing lackadaisical defense. He did score high volume efficiently while being a willing passer in AAU, and if his offense translates well to the NCAA he could end up deserving a lottery selection.

Miles Bridges 6’6″ SF Michigan State

Bridges is a consensus late 1st rounder, and that seems about right as he could go either way between lottery and 2nd round. There are questions about his height, whether he has the skill to score efficiently, and whether he will play consistent defense. It is plausible he struggles on both ends and falls out of the first round.

But it is also plausible that he has more offensive polish than expected, and his defense could easily be good as he is a great rebounder and shot blocker for his size. He has clear two way potential, and can easily rise into the lotto with a strong freshman campaign.

Omer Yurtseven 7’0″ C NC State

Yurtseven is a Turkish import who has yet to be ruled eligible to play NCAA basketball this season. He is a smooth and skilled big man who is super young, as he turns 19 several days before the 2017 draft. He will likely not be a rim protector as he lacks length and explosiveness, but he is mobile and intelligent enough to hold his own on defense while contributing interior scoring and rebounding. I rate him worthy of a late 1st selection.

Rawle Alkins 6’5″ SG/SF Arizona

Alkins is the 5* recruit outside of draft radar most likely to establish himself as a 1st rounder. He offers a little bit of everything, and as far as I can tell does not have any glaring weaknesses. He is listed a 6’5″ 220 pounds and has great strength. He is a good but not great athlete, and overall seems physically comparable to Marcus Smart.

Statistically he profiles as above average but not elite across the board. He does a little bit of everything, and DX profiles him as a great defensive player.

His biggest weakness is that he does not have any one individual aspect about him that is elite, but other than that there are no immediately discernible flags in his profile. Alkins seems to be a solidly good player who has a myriad of subtle edges that up to more than scouts realize.

Terrance Ferguson 6’7″ SF Australia

Ferguson was a top 15 recruit who committed to Arizona, and then changed his mind to play professional basketball for Australia. His selling point is that he is a prototypical 3 + D wing, as his size, quickness, and athleticism gives him potential to be a defensive stopper.

The trouble with this narrative is that he is an especially weak rebounder. Between FIBA play, Adidas Nations, Hoop Summit, and his first 4 Australian games he has 57 rebounds in 639 minutes. This is a frighteningly low rate, as diminutive non-athlete PG’s such as Trey Burke, Tyus Jones, and Tyler Ennis posted higher rebound rates in their NCAA samples.

His lackluster steal and block rates do not assuage the rebounding concerns. The best defense is that he is young and only weighed 186 pounds at the Hoop Summit shortly before turning 18, and should improve as he ages and fills out his frame. But it is nevertheless difficult to envision any elite defensive player struggling so badly to corral rebounds, and in all likelihood his instincts and/or motor are broken to some extent.

Without elite defensive upside, he is not a compelling prospect. He is a good but not great shooter who scores low volume with poor efficiency inside the arc, rarely draws FT’s, and has as many TOVs as assists in spite of being largely a catch and shoot player offensively. His offensive limitations are extreme, and with such alarming defensive flags there is simply no justification for drafting him in round 1.

Deep Sleeper Freshmen:

All of the players outside of the top 25 are clear underdogs to become viable prospects, but here’s my quick hitting list of 4* recruits that could emerge onto draft radar if they perform above expectation:

De’Ron Davis is a 6’10” skilled PF for Indiana who uses his long arms to rack up steals and blocks and has a shot of developing into a stretch 4. He lacks athleticism and is sophomore aged, but is an intriguing prospect if he produces well.

Kevin Huerter is a 6’6″ Maryland SG who will still be 18 on draft night. He’s an elite passer and shooter, and has the physical tools to be hold his own on defense. He is not much of a ball handler and his 6’7″ wingspan inhibits his upside, but he has a great skill set for a role playing wing.

Trent Forrest is a 6’5″ Florida St. SG who turns 19 shortly before draft night. He is a good slasher, passer, rebounder, and defensive player whose big flaw is a lack of a jump shot. But if he shows flashes of shooting potential, he’s so young he becomes highly intriguing.

Robert Williams is a 6’8″ Texas A&M PF who uses his elite wingspan and athleticism to block loads of shots. Offensively he is raw, but has traces of passing and outside shooting ability which most pogo sticks normally lack. One caveat: I have no idea how old he is.

Tyler Cook is a 6’9″ athletic PF who appears to be a low post garbage player based on his AAU stats, but it sounds like Iowa intends to use him as point forward. If he shows legitimate perimeter skills, he will enter draft radar.

Let’s talk about Sophs

Outside of Rabb the class is thin with talent, but I will nevertheless highlight a few.

Edmond Sumner 6’5″ PG Xavier

At a glance it seems curious a former #140 RSCI who had a solid but unspectacular redshirt freshman season burst onto 1st round radar this offseason. But it’s easy to see why he fell through the RSCI cracks– he experienced a late 4 inch growth spurt in high school, and he was extremely thin as he measured 6’4″ 149 pounds. He redshirted his freshman year with knee tendonitis because of the growth spurt, so last season was the first time he was able to showcase his new body which is now 6’5.5″ 181 lbs.

He compares closely with Dejounte Murray, as they boast similar stats, bodies, and shiftiness. Murray has the key advantage of being 10 months younger, but Sumner is quicker and more athletic. If forced to choose I’d take Murray’s youth, but I like Murray and I believe Sumner is worthy of a first round selection. He has upside for one of the biggest leaps in NCAA basketball this season, and if he improves enough he could rise into the top 10.

OG Anunoby 6’8″ SF/PF Indiana

Anunoby is another RSCI whiff, as he was just #261. He is a young sophomore, as he will still be 19 on draft night, so his youth likely worked against him and he was perceived as a raw 6’8″ PF.  And he was still raw as a freshman, as he was mostly limited to putbacks and transition scoring. He did make 13 of 29 3PA, but his low rate and 48% FT imply his 3P% is not nearly sustainable. He also was a non-passer, and his offensive limitations cast doubt in his ability to fit into an NBA offense.

But his defensive versatility is extremely tantalizing, as he is long, strong, and quick and fits great into a switching defense. He also had good steal and block rates as a freshman, implying that his instincts are likely good. He’s a great defensive prospect, the only question is whether he can avoid being an offensive disaster in the NBA. I don’t know the answer to that, but

Jawun Evans 6’0″ PG Oklahoma St.

Evans is just 6’0″ with a 6’4″ wingspan and lacks elite athleticism, which means he needs to be extra special at something to contribute value in the NBA. Based on his freshman year, his PG skills seem to be special as he showed excellent passer vision and was also stellar at creating his own shot at the rim. He used his shiftiness, handles, and ability to convert tough shots in traffic into creating a large volume of offense.

He also rebounded well for a freshman and played solid defense. He did not shoot a high volume of 3’s, but he made 19/40 of his 3PA and 83% FT to imply some level of shooting potential.

His NBA upside is heavily inhibited by his physical limitations, and it will likely keep him from getting picked in round 1. But he showed an impressive level of basketball skill as a freshman, and if he continues to improve as a sophomore it may be worth rolling the dice on him in the late first.

Kerwin Roach Jr 6’3″ PG/SG Texas

Roach is one of the most athletic players in college basketball, and has potential for a breakout sophomore season. His big warts are that he’s small for a SG and lacks true PG skills. Also his outside shot need improvement, and he was heavily foul prone as a freshman due to poor defensive fundamentals.

But he nevertheless showed a strong degree of potential. He showed the ability to create offense and finish in the paint, draw FT’s, and he had solid rebound, assist, steal, and block rates. He especially improved in the 2nd half of the season, when he cut down on his turnovers and started scoring higher volume with vastly improved efficiency.

Now with veteran PG’s Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix departed, the offense will run through Roach. He has a wide range of possible outcomes, but if he showcases improved shooting and better point guard skills than expected, he could skyrocket up draft boards.

Thomas Bryant 6’10” PF/C Indiana

Big man is a dying breed in the NBA, and the specific type that is dying the fastest is the Thomas Bryant type. He is efficient offensively, shows traces of a 3 point shot, and is a solid rebounder. But he can neither defend the perimeter nor protect the rim because he lacks quickness and explosiveness. His 7’5.5″ wingspan mitigates the problem defensively, but he is bad defensively and projects to be a major liability in the NBA.

1) NBA is trending toward heavily switching defenses– Bryant does not fit into such a scheme

2) Teams are learning to hunt weak links in opponent defenses. Kevin Love became unplayable in the finals because he was being so badly exploited on defense, and Kevin Love is an excellent offensive player.

Bryant was a super young freshmen, so it is possible he takes a sophomore leap. But even if his offensive game improves a boatload, he will never be better than Kevin Love offensively and most of the time he will be significantly worse. His defensive shortcomings are a significant achilles heel that prevents him from deserving a round 1 selection.

Dwayne Bacon 6’7″ SF Florida St.

DX currently has Bacon as their #40 pick and ESPN has him in the 31-35 range. I have two issues with this:

  1. He is already 21 years old
  2. He is not good at basketball

He was the #17 RSCI player, which in theory suggests he has upside for a big leap next year. He is a good athlete so this is plausible. But it is worth wondering whether his recruiting hype was due to him being more physically developed than his peers due to his age advantage. His tools are good but not good enough to be worth gambling on in spite of his poor production.

At the moment, Bacon is not a prospect and should be nowhere near draft radar.

Juniors and Seniors

This collection is also thin. They are all longshots to be lottery caliber:

  1. Luke Kornet
  2. Monte Morris
  3. Josh Hart
  4. Nigel Hayes
  5. Svi Mykhailiuk
  6. Keita Bates-Diop
  7. Jordan Bell
  8. Grayson Allen
  9. Devonte Graham
  10. Vince Edwards