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This past weekend a number of players improved their draft stock, but nobody skyrocketed their value like Frank Kaminsky did.  After scoring 19 points against Oregon’s mediocre defense to help Wisconsin advance to the sweet 16, he faced off with Baylor’s twin towers: 6’9 Cory Jefferson and 7’1 Isaiah Austin.  Baylor plays a zone defense that is not particularly effective as a whole considering their talent (77th best defense in the country according to kenpom.com).  But they do have the 20th highest block rate which posed a prospective challenge for a player like Frank Kaminsky who has questionable tools and is most effective in the paint.  After all, Baylor did limit Doug McDermott to just 15 points in a 85-55 shellacking of his Creighton team.  Kaminsky had a nearly mistake-free game with 19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 6 blocks, and 0 turnovers on 8/11 shooting en route to a 69-52 Wisconsin victory.  All 8 of his FG’s were made at the rim, and 4 of them came with the 7’1 shot blocker Austin guarding him.

The amusing part is that I had mentioned in my podcast with Brew Hoop that Kaminsky was a player I valued above Doug McDermott, and then their results vs. Baylor emphatically supported that claim.  Baylor beat Creighton by 30 and lost to Wisconsin by 17. While there is a fair bit of variance involved (for instance: Baylor shot 11/18 from 3 vs Creighton and 2/15 vs Wisky), the different results are indicative of the disparity between Kaminsky and McDermott’s NBA values.  Baylor shot just 16/42 from 2 vs Wisconsin and 19/29 vs Creighton.  Kaminsky made a clear impact on this end by blocking 6 shots.  That exceeds McDermott’s season total of 5 blocks, which is also his career high.  Height matters, and Kaminsky being 7’0 to McDermott’s 6’8 makes an enormous difference on both ends.

After disposing of Baylor, Kaminsky faced a tougher test vs. Arizona.  I had picked Arizona to win it all in my bracket because I am in love with their defense.  They simply do not allow easy baskets – they play elite transition defense, they close out on 3 point shooters, and they use their quickness and athleticism to cut off drives to the rim and funnel everything to the mid-range.  According to hoop-math.com, 48.8% of their opponents’ shots are non-rim 2 pointers, the best mark in the NCAA. Putting this in perspective, the NCAA average is 29.3% and the second best team, UNC, is forcing teams to take 46.8% of their shots from mid-range.  But what is truly amazing about Arizona is that they do not cede high quality looks, as opponents shoot just 32% on these non-rim 2 point attempts whereas UNC opponents hit 40.9% (NCAA average: 35.7%).  They are custom built to expose any players who pad their stats vs inferior competition, and provide a matchup nightmare for most good college offenses.

In the end, though, the only person who is going to have nightmares from this matchup is Wildcats’ coach Sean Miller.  In spite of his facial deficiencies, Frank Kaminsky could not be stopped in Anaheim.  7’0 center Kaleb Tarczewski struggled to guard him out to the perimeter due to Kaminsky’s quickness, and 6’9 Aaron Gordon struggled to bother his interior shot attempts due to Kaminsky’s height.  Arizona’s defensive goal of forcing difficult shots could not be achieved against Kaminsky because he can score from anywhere and is tall enough to shoot over all of their players. He finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 1 turnover on 11-20 FG while his teammates were limited to just 34 points on 13-41 FG and 8 turnovers.  He singlehandedly put the Badgers in a position to upset Arizona, and in my opinion this was the most impressive individual performance of anybody this NCAA season.

His offensive game is reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki – they are both 7’0 players who can score efficiently from 3, the mid-range, and the low post and are nearly indefensible once they catch the ball.  Which is not to say that he will ever be nearly as good as Dirk, but his performance vs. Arizona speaks strongly in favor of his ability to translate to the pros.

The primary concerns for Kaminsky’s pro prospects lie on the defensive end, where he does not project to be good.  That said, he is not necessarily going to be a sieve either.  Much like Michigan, Creighton and Duke, Wisconsin values floor spacing and prefers to play with at least 4 shooters.  Incidentally, these are also the top 4 offenses in the country.  Wisconsin starts 6’7 Sam Dekker as a small ball PF, and Kaminsky is their only true starting big man with 6’7 Nigel Hayes backing him up.  Yet Wisconsin’s defense (97.1 adjusted d-rtg as per kenpom.com) is much more effective than that of Michigan (102.1), Duke (102.3) and Creighton (104.1).  They do have the weakest offense of the quartet by 2.5 to 3.8 points, but Kaminsky nevertheless deserves some credit for keeping their defense respectable as the sole rim protector.  The Badgers are barely worse defensively than Kentucky (96.6) in spite of Kentucky’s elite size and athleticism.

Kaminsky’s monstrous tourney performance has enabled him to finally crack ESPN and DX’s top 100, but they still only rate him 52nd and 48th respectively.  It seems certain that their rankings reflect a general bias against his physical appearance.  While he may look like an uncoordinated accountant, he is an exceptionally smooth and skilled basketball player.  I have him locked in as a 1st round value and believe he may merit late lottery consideration, even in the face of this loaded draft.

Other Risers
Aaron Gordon
I have written about his warts as both a horrific shooter and a tweener in the past, but his performance down the stretch and in the tourney has caused me to warm up to him.  While his warts remain present and enigmatic, his strengths are so appealing that they may be nevertheless worth stomaching in the top 10.  Gordon’s tournament included two excellent performances against top 15 defenses, shooting 8/10 vs Gonzaga and 7/9 vs San Diego State.  He struggled vs. Wisconsin shooting just 3/11, but he still managed to tally 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks all while competing hard on defense.  He may not have epic steal and block rates, but he deserves a healthy portion of credit for helping Arizona rise from the #47 to #2 kenpom defense.  And he even offered a glimmer of hope for his shooting ability, finishing the season 35.6% (16/45) from 3.  I will be writing about him in more detail going forward – he is one of the more fascinating prospects in this draft.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
For all intents and purposes, Hollis-Jefferson is a slightly older and shorter doppelganger of Aaron Gordon.  He shares Gordon’s shooting woes on non-rim 2’s (29.0% vs 27.5%), is much better on FT’s (68.2% vs 42.2%), and made fewer 3’s (2/10 vs 16/45).  Otherwise their stats are frighteningly similar, and Hollis-Jefferson also deserves some credit for Arizona’s defensive leap.  He had a solid tourney showing, playing well in all 4 games and boosting his FT% by shooting 20/23 at the line.

Nik Stauskas
This shouldn’t be a surprise since Stauskas played well against solid defenses throughout the regular season, but he continued to do so against three solid, athletic defenses in the tournament.  Against Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, he cumulatively racked up 55 points and 13 assists while turning it over just 4 times.  He also showed off his intelligence and creativity by making this pass vs. Tennessee:

nikpass

Shabazz Napier
Napier turns 23 in July, and a player of his age should dominate 18-21 year old competition if they are going to become a quality pro.  In the tournament Napier has done precisely that, racking up 93 points on 63.9% TS vs. four top 75 defenses.  UConn’s strength has been in their half-court defense, as on offense they do not seem exceptionally well coached.  They have plenty of shooting surrounding Napier, but their half-court offense seems to entail standing around and hoping Napier figures something out.  Thus far it has worked for them.  I am still not sure that Napier merits 1st round consideration, but if nothing else he is piecing together a reasonable argument in his favor.

Fallers
Gary Harris
Harris largely vanished vs. Virginia’s exceptional transition defense, finishing with just 6 points and 3 assists on 2/5 FG in 29 minutes.  He redeemed himself vs UConn with 22 points on 8/14 shooting, but he scored largely off of jumpshots which mostly came in transition.  While I still have him as a mid-1st round pick, his tourney performance casts doubt on his potential as a half-court slasher in the NBA.

Adreian Payne
Payne is a 23 year old 6’11 man, and while he dealt with injuries throughout the season he was finally healthy for the tournament.  This was his opportunity to crush the younger competition he faced in the same way that Napier did, and he came up underwhelming.  He had his best performance vs 15 point underdog Delaware, scoring 41 points highlighted by his 17/17 FT shooting.  But then in the real matchups, he never shined.  Against Harvard, Virginia, and UConn he finished with just 41 total points on 13/36 shooting.  While he offers some prospective value as a role-playing stretch 4, it’s hard to get excited about a player of his age that isn’t flat out dominating the opposition.  I do not believe he belongs in round 1.

Sam Dekker
Dekker has been rated as the consensus top prospect on Wisconsin all season long, but this acclaim now appears to be unjustified since he has been badly outshined by his teammate Frank Kaminsky.  He scored just 7 points in each of his games vs. Arizona and Baylor, and that includes a banked in 3 pointer vs. Arizona.  Perhaps he merely happened to go cold at the wrong time, but it would be encouraging if he could step it up with a strong Final 4 performance or two.

What about Kentucky?
Now that the Wildcats have finally pulled themselves together and vanquished 3 top 10 teams that all made last year’s Final 4, it seems inevitable that somebody must have improved their stock.  Their most consistent performer has been Aaron Harrison, who has averaged 16.6 points in his past 7 games scoring at least 12 in every game.  This largely stems from him hitting 22/44 3 point shots, including the game winners vs. both Louisville and Michigan.  His 3p% has jumped from 30.6% to 35.7% during this stretch, but the other aspects of his game have not followed suit.  He is averaging just 1.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and shooting 14/35 inside the arc in those same 7 games.  His taking and making more 3’s has helped the team immensely, but I had already assumed he was suffering from bad variance on 3’s so this does not significantly alter my perception of him as a prospect.

Julius Randle has been steadily inching back up my board, as he seems to have cut down on his turnover issues by posting up less frequently.  He has posted a double-double in every tournament game averaging 15.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, and just 2.0 turnovers.  This sample includes solid games vs top 11 defenses Louisville and Wichita State, but he also drew favorable matchups in Michigan and Kansas State as their lack of size and shotblocking is directly in his wheelhouse.  He has made the greatest genuine improvement of all Kentucky players, and has boosted his draft stock in my eyes more than any of his teammates.  I stand by my central critiques of his game, but he will likely end up in the top 20 of my final big board.

Marcus Lee might be the player who helps his stock more than anybody if he turns in a strong Final 4 showing with Willie Cauley-Stein doubtful to play.  He made a huge impact vs. Michigan, finishing with 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 15 minutes largely stemming from his 4 putback dunks.  This should be taken with a grain of salt against Michigan’s undersized defense, but Kentucky would not have won without Lee’s effort.  If he builds on this opportunity, he could bolt for the NBA instead of staying another season at Kentucky battling for minutes in a crowded frontcourt.

Dakari Johnson had a big game vs. Louisville but has otherwise been quiet.  James Young has been alternating between good and bad games.  While Andrew Harrison had a decent game vs. Louisville, his 20 point game vs. Wichita State included 6 turnovers and he was nothing short of atrocious vs. Kansas State and Michigan.  He has improved, but I still do not believe he is going to become a useful NBA player and would not draft him.

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