I spent the weekend combing through the international draft class. Now I may as well get my final thoughts on the NCAA prospects in the draft. I believe I have said all I need to regarding Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, and Julius Randle. But there are other players I have written about who I would like to make follow up commentary, and other prospects who have been nothing more than a blip on my big board.
I am a huge fan of Embiid’s talent and upside, so I was disappointed to hear that he injured his foot. Further, this makes pinpointing his draft value a painful experience, as I have no medical expertise and do not believe I have any edge whatsoever when it comes to predicting health. But I will share my thoughts nevertheless.
From the sound of it, this particular injury is a worse than his back injury but not condemning on its own. Zydrunas Ilgauskas made a strong recovery from the condition early in his career in spite of being 2 inches taller than Embiid. Yao Ming didn’t recover, but the Rockets’ doctor came out and noted that Yao was a 7’6 monster with uniquely high arches on his foot, and the injury is unlikely to affect Embiid as badly as it did Yao. Further, it seems that the early prognosis is a favorable point for Embiid as past cases have been exacerbating by going undiagnosed in their early stages. While the injury on its own seems like it could derail Embiid, it sounds like he has a good enough chance of full recovery to not have his draft stock torpedoed by it.
What sits less well than me is that in 647 minutes, Embiid managed to hurt his knee and back and then he somehow managed to injure his foot in the offseason. As much as I’d like to believe that he simply has the worst injury luck ever, it’s hard to shake the notion that he’s simply bad at staying healthy. I have no idea how predictive a myriad of injuries at a young age are regarding future ability to stay healthy, but it feels a bit scary.
Embiid now has to fade his foot injury, general durability issues, and the fact that he’s going to miss out on sorely needed competitive reps to make up for lost time with respect to playing experience. This definitely deflates his draft stock, but I have no idea how much. For all I know he’s doomed and we should be slashing his draft stock by like 75%. Or maybe we are all over-reactive to injuries and this only depresses his stock by 15%.
What I do know is this: once health is assumed, Embiid is miles more valuable than any other prospect in the draft. He was in a tier of his own before the injury concerns popped up, and super upside should be valued on an exponential curve. If I was given the choice of healthy Embiid at #1 or the #2 and #3 picks, I would have chosen healthy Embiid rather confidently. It’s fair to say that healthy Embiid has approximately twice the draft value of healthy Exum (my #2 prospect), so instantly dropping him below #1 is not necessarily correct. It is well within the realm of possibility that his stock should not be slashed by 50%+, in which case he is still worth the #1 pick injury risk and all. There’s also a chance that it should be slashed by more than 50%, which would slide him down multiple slots.
So the short answer is I have no idea what to think about his injury, but I can say that his talent is so awesome he is going to remain at or at least near the top of my big board.
I covered most of the reasons why I believe he is comfortably inferior to Melo as a prospect, and now I can’t stop feeling sour toward him. It keeps nagging at me that he was a world beater vs. bad defenses and cancerous vs good defenses, and Layne Vashro pointing out that he had less than half the assist:TOV ratio of Melo is a smoking gun to me.
Given that his tools are at best average and he projects to be a liability defensively, this is a sign that he may not be nearly what he’s cracked up to be. The problem is that bulk scoring is vastly overrated and ball movement is vastly underrated. Jabari might me the least Spurs-like prospect in the draft, which can’t bode well for his future.
Jabari’s glimmer of hope is that he did display good feel for the game in non-conference blowouts, when he was a willing and competent passer. I imagine his issue is that he lives in a world where he is expected to score every high leverage bucket, and this caused him to play sub-optimally once the conference schedule began. He still has hope to become a good player if he can be re-wired to always play as if it’s a blowout and he needs to get his teammates involved. But his conference and tournament performance is still possibly indicative of some fundamental flaw (i.e. he doesn’t strike me as particularly perceptive), and at his current rate he has some risk of becoming the next Derrick Williams. Frankly I wouldn’t use a top 5 pick on somebody with an upper bound of the next Carmelo anyway since he’s such a ball stopper and defensive liability. Jabari’s ticket to success is definitely going to be developing in the Paul Pierce direction of a more balanced player who doesn’t stop the ball and chuck away.
I have dropped Jabari out of my top 5, but I still have him ahead of Wiggins on my big board. He has enough red flags for me to disagree with the narrative that he’s a top 2 pick, but none of his flaws are necessarily fatal and he still has enough skill to be molded into something nifty. And I have to admit I’m a bit frightened to fade him too aggressively him since he’s such an intense competitor. He has a wide range of possible outcomes and I am fascinated to see how he develops as a pro.
I don’t think I have written anything about Vonleh yet in spite of him perpetually being on the top 10 of my big board. He has good stats, solid tools, enough skills, and is super young so this earns him a top 10 slot. But he’s overall a fairly bland prospect. He’s not a rim protector, he’s a weak finisher, he has bad hands, and he has a horrible assist to turnover ratio. His main appeal lies in his small sample 3 point shooting where he made 16/33 attempts. It’s nice to get a stretch 4 who can rebound and possibly play solid defense, but I struggle to see how he becomes a top 15 player and he has plenty of bust risk. In my eyes his upside is David West with 3 point range. That’s not a bad upside, and I like Vonleh considerably more than Julius Randle. But I think it would be a big mistake to take Vonleh over Marcus Smart or Aaron Gordon, and I also favor international bigs Jusuf Nurkic and Clint Capela.
Earlier in the season, I wrote about Ennis’s amazing statistical splits where he is at his best against good defenses, in the halfcourt, and in close and late situations. These are situations that provide the best tests for NBA translation, and he aced all of them. This along with his fantastic assist:TOV rate define Ennis to me– the man simply knows how to navigate through a set defense. It is especially impressive coming from a freshman, as I believe PG’s have the toughest transition from high school to college. They are constantly navigating through bigger and more athletic opposing players than they are accustomed to as the smallest player on the floor, and it is common for players to struggle at first. I am attracted to prospects who display some level of outlier positive quality, and Ennis seems to possibly have unique feel for the game.
The downside of Ennis is that his great steal rate is completely fraudulent playing in Syracuse’s zone. He posted a mediocre steal rate in the FIBA u19 games playing for team Canada, and given his mediocre athletic package he projects to be a liability as a man to man defender in the NBA. He is not certain to be below average defensively, but it is the most likely outcome.
Overall I rather like Ennis, as his unique feel for the game merits a sliver of John Stockton or Steve Nash equity. His value is somewhat depressed by the current PG depth in the NBA, so my final ranking may not reflect exactly the extent to which I like him. But after typing this up I feel inclined to at least move him ahead of Noah Vonleh.
I have had Payton as a mid-1st round pick all season long and now everybody is finally catching up ranking him as a fringe lotto pick. Chad Ford even has him ahead of Ennis, and I think the two players are in a close race for 3rd best point guard in the draft.
Payton’s big advantage over Ennis is his defense. The two have similar steal rates, except Payton’s was accrued by being a genuinely good ball hawk as opposed to playing in a gimmicky zone and is far more meaningful. He has good height (6’3.75″) and length (6’8″) for a PG and moves well laterally. I believe he’s a clear favorite to be an above average defensive PG which is his big selling point over Ennis. That said it is excessive to try to compare him to Marcus Smart, as he does not have the outlier level of defensive performance that Smart does. Smart has a higher steal rate against tougher competition, an obviously huge impact on his team’s defense, and has better tools as he is much stronger than Payton. Payton is a good defensive prospect but he is not on Smart’s level of elite.
Offensively is where Payton is a bit of a mystery. Layne Vashro’s EWP model ranks him as the 9th best NCAA prospect with John Wall and Derrick Rose included among his top comparisons. But Kevin Pelton’s WARP model ranks him as just an early 2nd rounder, as he has less faith in his ability to translate offensively. Suffice it to say that his future on the offensive end is polarizing.
I do not believe the Wall or Rose comparisons are entirely fair. Those guys all had some level of freakish speed and/or athleticism to accentuate their offensive upside. Payton is a solid athlete but his physical tools are not enough to carry a guard who cannot shoot to offensive stardom. They are good enough to dominate Sun Belt defenses in transition, but much of that production will be lost in translation as he moves on to the NBA. So his 54.1% 2p% on high volume likely overstates his upside, as he was horrible from mid-range and there are questions about his ability to finish against NBA help defense given his sub-par strength and non-elite athleticism.
That said, I’m not completely sour on his offensive package. In my sample of watching him, his ball handling ability stood out as particularly impressive. He got to the rim unassisted in the half-court more than any other PG prospect. Even if it was in a weak conference, his combination of handling and quicks give him solid upside as an NBA slasher. He also fared well as a dependent scorer, tallying 31 assisted half-court FG’s made at the rim as per hoop-math.com. Among point guards in the class he only trailed Semaj Christon (with 35) who only played PG part-time as he shared duties with Dee Davis. This offers a bit of hope for his ability to play off the ball in case he doesn’t develop his shot. He also has solid potential as a playmaker and is a good offensive rebounder for a point guard. And who knows, maybe he improves his shot to an outlier extent and becomes a better than break even 3 point shooter.
Overall he may struggle to translate offensively, but he does have enough positives to have hope of becoming solid on that end. Ultimately I favor Ennis because he brings more outlier appeal to the table that may result in stardom, as Payton doesn’t have a clear calling card to become great offensively. But there’s nothing wrong with a point guard who is decent on offense and good on defense, and like other prospects he can always surprise with an outlier rate of development.
I like Payton and have him as a late lottery value right behind Vonleh and Ennis. Since so few teams need PG’s, one of him or Ennis will inevitably slide and provide fantastic value to the team that pulls the trigger.
Anyway, those are lots of words on Elfrid so now is a good time to cut off part 1. I’m going to try to squeeze in as much last minute analysis as I can get pre-draft and then I’ll post my updated big board.