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Commentary on a handful of Round 2 prospects who I skipped in the NCAA parse

Rim creation stats

Zach LaVine
The funny thing about LaVine is that it seems HS scouts rated him accurately as the #52 recruit in his class, and then when he went to college it was decided that he should now be a lotto talent because he can jump through the roof. His steal rate, assist rate, and half-court rim creation stats are all poor and I don’t see a single statistical signal that he has nearly the upside that draft narratives suggest. Further he seems to be a skeptic that 3 > 2, as his favorite move is to catch the ball behind the arc, take a few dribbles, and then launch a long two with his foot on the arc.

He seems to think he has PG skills that he wasn’t permitted to display at UCLA because Kyle Anderson was the primary PG and the coach’s son Bryce Alford was the backup. If he has a world of skill that somehow went completely undetected during his time at UCLA and he also develops well, then maybe he will one day justify the hype. But for now I’m rolling with the more likely conclusion that he’s a leaper who can shoot but lacks the skill and smarts to succeed in the NBA. I think he’s an early 2nd round flier.

Adreian Payne
He seems to be the prototypical stretch 4 from a scouting perspective- he has good height and length for a PF, he makes 3’s, he rebounds, he has the athleticism to finish in the paint, and he seems to have a shot of being competent defensively. This has earned him an invite to the green room and chatter as a fringe lottery pick. But every statistical model I have seen grades him as a mid-late 2nd rounder.

Issue #1 with Payne is that he doesn’t have the steal or block rates to exist as a rim protecting center. Issue #2 is that he has a dreadful assist to turnover rate in spite of being exceptionally old. This doesn’t quite strike me as a death knell, but his horrible passing may completely nullify his ability to fit in offensively as a stretch 4. I still have a bit of skepticism toward his ranking in statistical models, but I see why they would dislike him enough to have a bit more skepticism toward his 1st round ranking. I have him as an early 2nd.

Jerami Grant
I don’t think he should be a 1st rounder. His tools give him upside to be pretty good defensively on the wing once removed from the Syracuse zone, but he simply doesn’t have the skill level to play offensively on the wing in any capacity. He doesn’t even have good skill level for PF, where he is likely too small to play regularly.  I’m not sure how he finds a niche in NBA lineups.

Russ Smith
Russdiculous has made an incredible transformation from his sophomore season when he was an inveterate chucker. Since then he has vastly improved his shooting ability, PG skills, and shot selection to become one of the best players in the NCAA. He is likely too old and small to have much upside, but he makes up for his size with quicks, speed, and quick hands to force a high number of steals in Louisville’s press. He somewhat reminds me of a poor man’s Kyle Lowry. While he almost certainly won’t become nearly as good as Lowry, I believe he’s a solid 2nd round flier.

Nick Johnson
He’s a dreaded SG in a PG body, which is never good for draft stock. Further he doesn’t have an exceptionally high skill level for a 21 year old SG, as both Layne Vashro and Kevin Pelton grade him as a late 2nd rounder based on stats. But I think he has a niche in the NBA anyway as a 3 + D PG. He is an explosive athlete with solid quickness, and he was one of the best defensive guards in the NCAA this past season as he played a key role in Arizona’s super elite defense. There’s such an influx of big PG’s who can cross match with SG’s, I think he’s a good player to target in round 2 if you can pair him with a Michael Carter-Williams or Dante Exum sized PG.

Chris Udofia
A largely unknown prospect who ranks 17th according to VJL’s EWP model. Udofia is an interesting case– like most of the Denver team, he rocked as a junior and then regressed as a senior. Vashro uses a 60/40 weighting, so his junior season plays a big role in his EWP score. Denver runs a unique offense with heavy emphasis on passing and 3 point shooting as they rated top 2 in assists:FGM and top 20 in 3PA:FGA in each of the past two seasons. Defensively they gamble for steals (I don’t know their precise scheme but his steal rate certainly comes with a grain of salt). Both their offensive and defensive 2p% fell off a cliff from 2013 to 2014, as they dropped from the 53rd kenpom team to 143rd in spite of retaining much of their rotation. I don’t know the precise cause, but suffice it to say that Denver is not a run of the mill mid-major team. Further, Udofia played as an undersized 6’6″ center, so there were a number of factors aligning in his favor to post statistics that overstate his talent level.

That said, I’m not completely writing him off. He has a 7’2″ wingspan and appears to be quite explosive based on his block rate and dunk reel. He posted an excellent assist rate playing in Denver’s ball movement offense, which inspires hope for his ability to convert to NBA SF. His shot is a flaw as he only made 29% 3’s and 65% FT’s for his college career, but if he can make a late leap in his shooting ability he may be a round 2 steal.

Dwight Powell
Powell is old and lacks length, athleticism, and consistent 3 point shooting.  All of these things make him not really worth a 1st round selection, as it stacks the odds of him becoming a good NBA player against him.  But he’s a good passer for a big man and is fairly athletic and mobile.  His shot isn’t completely broken, so if he can develop into a capable NBA floor spacer then you have an interesting stretch 4.  I like him as a 2nd round flier.

Scottie Wilbekin
It’s a bit surprising that he isn’t generating any buzz as a 2nd round draft pick.  He was perceived as the leader of the #1 overall seed in the tournament and played quite well en route to the Final Four.  Granted he struggled badly in an upset loss to UConn, tallying just 4 points 1 assist and 3 turnovers.  But based on his college reputation you’d expect him to rank higher than 74th on Chad Ford’s big board, and he’s not even in DX’s top 100, as he’s only their 50th best senior.  I imagine the issue is his lack of length (6’3.25″) and bulk (168 lbs), but those critiques also apply to Shabazz Napier and Wilbekin is 1.75 inches taller and more athletic.  He’s young for his class and does a little bit of everything.  Layne Vashro rates him as the #35 NCAA prospect and Kevin Pelton rates him as the #27 overall prospect.  Given that he was a good defensive player at the NCAA level, I would say that’s enough to make him worth a 2nd round flier.

Khem Birch
It seems stat models have Birch pegged as a second round sleeper, but I don’t share their enthusiasm. He is underskilled for a center, as his offensive repertoire is limited to offensive rebounds and dunks. He can’t pass and he can’t create his own shot at the rim. His 69.3% FT as a junior gives some hope for his shot which is instantly crushed by him shooting 20/75 (26.7%) from mid-range.

To make matters worse, he is undersized for a PF at 6’9.25″ with a 7’1″ wingspan while weighing a paltry 209 pounds. Not only does his size cast doubt on his ability to translate his gaudy block rate to the NBA, but how in the world is he ever going to have enough skill to fit in offensively at PF? He is far too small to play center full time.

Birch strikes me as a cut and dry case of somebody who is built to dominate NCAA and then not translate to the NBA due to his lack of size. You can give his stats enough regard to take him somewhere in round 2, but he’s a run of the mill flier as opposed to a compelling sleeper in my book.

Rodney Hood
I took a cautious approach to writing about Hood earlier in the season. After a full season of observation, there is no need for caution. The guy has mediocre tools and is a complete trainwreck defensively. He had poor steal and block rates, and he was regularly faked out and blown by. He was likely the worst defensive player on Coach K’s worst defensive team that I can remember. Offensively he’s a good shooter and has solid feel for the game as he passes well for a SF. That’s not nearly enough for a 21 y/o with lackluster tools who is lock bad on defense, at best he’s worth a late 2nd round flier.

Cleanthony Early
I honestly can’t fathom how he turns out to be useful as a pro. In spite of being 23 he’s a horrible passer and couldn’t even create shots at the rim playing in the Missouri Valley Conference. He doesn’t have a good steal rate, he doesn’t eye test well defensively, and he’s obviously too small to play PF full time.  He can shoot and he can jump but at age 23 you need more going for you than that to succeed in the NBA. I don’t see how he’s draftable. He is extremely fortunate that he had the game of his life when everybody was watching vs. Kentucky to generate all of his draft hype.

Sim Bhullar
Nobody wants to talk about the New Mexico State giant, but I do.  He’s probably a stiff, but I think people are too quick to assume that he can’t be useful.  The man is 7’5, he doesn’t need to have a world of talent to become a useful rotation player.  He weighs 360 pounds and there is clearly quite a bit of room to improve his physical profile.  Why not take a flier in the back end of round 2, try to get him on a dietary program to see if he can trim down, and then see what happens?  He claims he has lost 17 pounds in the past month which isn’t a bad start.

Also I am not totally convinced that he’s a stiff.  I watched about one half of New Mexico State basketball in the NCAA tournament vs. San Diego State, and I was surprised to see Bhullar make a graceful catch and finish on a long outlet pass in transition.  Layne Vashro’s EWP stat model rates him as a late 1st rounder, although it’s possible that the Bhullar ranking is broken by his outlier height as EWP also rated Shawn Bradley as a historically great prospect.  There’s nevertheless enough to like here such that I’m at least intrigued to see if he can become something if he trims down.

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