Now that the draft order is set, there are many things being said by people who aren’t fully informed. So I figured I would debunk some of the more prevalent myths regarding lottery players.
MYTH: Dante Exum is not a point guard
I have heard numerous people paid by ESPN to discuss the draft make this statement, and it is 100% false. Because Exum has the size to play the wing, he has been labeled as a combo guard. Because he has been labeled as a combo guard, it seems to have confused people into assuming he is not a pure PG. This is wrong.
In Exum’s combine interview he stated himself that he is a point guard who plays with the objective of penetrating to draw the help defense and then find his open teammate. True to his word, this is how he played in his FIBA performance vs. Spain. In a game where he finished with 33 points and 4 assists, his ability to create for his teammates made the largest impression on me.
Tyler Ennis is often lauded for his stellar assist to turnover ratio at Syracuse (6.2 assists vs 1.9 turnovers per 40). But in the FIBA u19 games when he was asked to carry the offense for Canada, he finished with just 25 assists and 24 turnovers in 9 games. Exum tallied 34 assists and 21 turnovers in a similar role for Australia, in spite of playing 13 fewer total minutes than Ennis.
Dante Exum is a point guard through and through. Let’s not lose sight of that just because he has the size to defend NBA SFs.
MYTH: Aaron Gordon is a power forward in the mold of Blake Griffin
The Blake Griffin comp seems to be fading away, as it was the common comparison when all we knew about Gordon pertained to his hair color, complexion, and dunking ability. But Blake Griffin is an incredibly unique power forward who leverages his strength and athleticism better than anybody to be a dominant force in the low post. He posted incredible offensive numbers at Oklahoma, much better than those of Gordon. Like Gordon, his height, length, and reach are all on the lower end of PF measurements which limits him defensively in spite of his terrific athleticism. Part of the reason I was low on Gordon early in the year is because without Blake’s paint dominance, he’s not worth much.
But then I started watching more of Arizona and Gordon’s value became obvious: he has the potential to be an excellent wing defender. In the low post his size makes it difficult for him to become a top defensive PF, but on the perimeter he has the speed and quicks to hang with wings, and his size is now a significant positive. His poor shooting places a damper on his ability to play the wing, but given the increasing importance of PF shooting it is not the most important detail for his position. Statistical guru Layne Vashro:
Gordon’s ability to handle and pass is going to enable him to fit into NBA offenses, not his low post game. It also sets him apart from somebody like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who is a complete drag offensively. His value clearly seems to be as a wing in the mold of Kawhi Leonard or Shawn Marion.
This is not to say that he should not be used as a PF, as I do imagine he can succeed as a small ball PF. The NBA is trending toward an increased emphasis on spacing with big SF’s being used increasingly frequently as small PF’s, so there are plenty of scenarios where Gordon is best used as a 4. Just don’t expect him to rack up points in the low post like Blake Griffin does. That’s not his thing, and he’s also too small to be much of a rim protector.
MYTH: Jabari Parker is the highest floor player in the draft
While Parker’s ability to rack up points at such a young age is impressive, there is more to having a high floor than scoring ability. He could be poor defensively, he could remain a chucker as he had an astronomical usage and low assist rate at Duke, or his shot may not develop all that well. There are also some translation concerns as he was a bit of a bully at Duke, and his 2p% cratered against good defenses. Frankly I am not certain that he is superior to any of Exum, Smart, or Gordon.
Joel Embiid is superior to everybody and would have the highest floor, except his floor is marred by his increased injury risk. I suspect that Exum is a superior prospect in terms of both floor and ceiling, but there is not quite enough info on Exum for me to state that with extreme confidence. But even if we discard the killer E’s, I believe that Marcus Smart also has a higher floor than Parker. He is nearly guaranteed to be an above average defensive guard, whereas Jabari projects to be a defensive liability. This alone gives Smart a higher floor, as Jabari is not a lock to be superior offensively. Even if Smart has concerns about his shot, he has enough offensive skill to make his defense worth fitting into an NBA lineup. Jabari likely won’t wash out of the league, but if he is a chucker with shoddy defense he will flatout not be as useful as a player who provides good defense and passable offense at either guard position. Given that Smart also has elite intangibles (he has received rave reviews from every coach he played for) and no history of injuries, he stands out as the safest commodity in the draft.
MYTH: Bill Self is at fault for Andrew Wiggins’ lackluster statistical profile
People are willing to grasp at whatever straws are within reach to justify Wiggins’ #1 overall hype, but this is not an argument in his favor. Bill Self is not my favorite coach, but he does not depress the value of his prospects. For all intents and purposes he is the George Karl of the NCAA– he always makes the most of his talent in the regular season and often finds a way to fail in the postseason.
Self took over at Kansas in 2003-04, in his first two seasons he finished with the #16 and #13 teams in the country as per kenpom.com. Then in each of the following 8 seasons prior to Embiid and Wiggins, he finished with a top 10 team every single season. Yet of his 16 former players who have been drafted, his best pros have been Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Markieff Morris, and Marcus Morris. He has generated a number of lottery disappointments including Thomas Robinson 5th overall, Ben McLemore 7th, Cole Aldrich 11th, Xavier Henry 12th, and Julian Wright 13th. If anything he seems to have a knack for keeping his prospects’ draft value falsely inflated.
This year Kansas did a good job of maximizing Wiggins’ sole offensive strength: transition scoring. They played an up tempo style enabling Wiggins to utilize his speed to beat defenders down the court and heavily pad his stats in transition. It is common to critique Kansas’s shaky guard play and mediocre spacing for Wiggins’ poor halfcourt scoring splits, but the real culprit was his limited offensive skill level. He was never going to post strong halfcourt stats in any situation, and getting ample opportunities to score in transition is what matters most.
Marcus Smart provides a stark contrast, as he is rarely on the receiving end of excuses to justify a high draft position. He is the lottery prospect who played for a truly dreadful coach, as Travis Ford is clueless across the board and is vastly inferior to Self as an NCAA coach. Smart gave Ford his two best teams ever, as well his two best defenses in 14 seasons of horrific coaching. In contrast, Bill Self had his worst defensive team and third weakest team overall in 11 seasons at Kansas with Wiggins as his second best player. Noah Vonleh also played for a much worse coach than Self, as Tom Crean offers little beyond his ability to attract talent to Indiana.
MYTH: There are 3 reasonable choices at #1 overall
There is only one: Joel Embiid. Taking Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker #1 overall would be among the most egregious draft blunders of all time. You don’t pass up somebody who is obviously the best player by a gaping margin because of injury risk. As a rule of thumb: upside >>> lack of downside