I have my final big board as my rough ranking of draft prospects, but I hate being evaluated purely numerically since some of my predictions are less confident than others. So I want to verbalize my most confident predictions since words tell a more specific story than my big board.
1. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker will not both be above average starters, and neither will be the best player in the class.
I think both prospects are overrated with both a lower floor and lower ceiling than the wisdom of the crowd suggests. Most likely outcome strikes me as one being good but not great and the other as a big disappointment.
2. One of Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, or Aaron Gordon will wildly overachieve expectations. There is at least one future top 10 player in this quartet.
These players all have hurdles to overcome. Embiid has his injury concerns, Exum plays questionable defense and isn’t a fully known commodity, Marcus Smart isn’t great offensively, and Aaron Gordon’s shot appears to be broken. I don’t know who will have a better fate than the others, and in all likelihood at least one of these guys will appear wildly overrated on my big board when all is said and done. But the draft is all about upside, and these guys have it.
Embiid’s upside stands out by far the most, he is going to be a stud if he stays healthy. He can so easily become an all-time great if his body cooperates.
Exum is more of a mystery as a talent, and the lack of hustle and defense in his game is a bit disconcerting. But his combination of physical tools, smarts, and vision create a ridiculous offensive upside.
Smart and Gordon are great defensive prospects with some workable amount of skill offensively. They have the physical tools such that they can be good offensively if they develop their base skill well. They both have clear paths to 2 way playerdom.
3. Jarnell Stokes will become a better pro than Julius Randle
Stat models tend to rate the two exceptionally close with a slight edge often going to Stokes. They are both bruising SEC PF’s with similar measurements and less than a year in age difference.
My eye test says Stokes going to be better. Randle appears to lack an ability to quickly process his surroundings and make crisp decisions. I don’t know that this will completely submarine his NBA career but it might. He’s going to have a tough time keeping up defensively and operating in traffic vs. NBA defenses. I just don’t see how he becomes a good NBA player in spite of this, especially without long arms or explosive leaping ability. Best case he becomes an empty stats guy, but I could see him being real bad.
I don’t know how far Stokes will get. He may just be a 3rd big who brings energy + rebounding off the bench and is never that great. He isn’t in an ideal mold. But I don’t see a flaw as frightening as Randle’s slow decision making, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Stokes become a solid starter.
So I’m going out on a major limb and saying that in spite of being picked 35th to Randle’s 7th, Stokes will become a better pro.
4. Zach LaVine will not be good at all
On one hand his great athleticism and the fact that he (along with scouts) feels that he has some unproven PG ability made me not want to fade him too much. But since the draft I have been feeling like I may have given him too much benefit of the doubt. The “LaVine can play PG” narrative is all such a reach I’m calling BS. I don’t see a single shred of evidence that he is a PG, and I have no idea why high school scouts think this is a possibility. He averaged 28.5 pts 2.5 assists 0.6 steals (that steal rate is truly pathetic and it is common for even wings to average more assists) as a HS senior. Then for UCLA he never got to the rim in the half-court and had lackluster steal and assist rates in spite of a zone defense and ball movement offense that boosts both.
Once we get past the fact that he’s like 2% to have PG skills, he doesn’t even have good tools for a SG. He isn’t tall or long and is horribly skinny. I don’t know how well he moves laterally but I doubt it matters because he has horrible instincts defensively and in spite of his athleticism he couldn’t even rack up steals in high school or UCLA’s zone. Leaping isn’t everything and doesn’t atone for his horrible body and poor feel for the game.
He went from #52 RSCI player to lotto pick without even doing anything good at UCLA. There just aren’t enough NBA prospects outside the top 25 for that to happen and the fact that it did is baffling. Nothing about his ascent makes sense and I don’t buy the idea that he has upside. I think the RSCI rankings had it right and then Chad Ford messed everything up by noticing he has the intersection of the two most overrated draft traits ever: shooting and athleticism. Unfortunately everything else appears to be a glaring weakness. If I am drafting for worst NBA player in 2014-2015, LaVine is my first pick.
5. At least 3 players drafted in the 30-45 range will peak higher than Gary Harris
I don’t doubt Gary Harris’s ability to be useful, but I do doubt his ability to have upside and man is this 30-45 range loaded with good prospects. KJ McDaniels, Jarnell Stokes, and Spencer Dinwiddie were 3 of my favorite role player prospects in the draft. Kyle Anderson going to San Antonio is just perfect in terms of both value and fit. Damien Inglis and Nikola Jokic seem underdrafted to me from afar. Nick Johnson, Jerami Grant, and Glenn Robinson are all athletes who did enough in college to possibly have solid pro careers. Dwight Powell could be something and Walter Tavares is an intriguing international flier.
Gary Harris could become a solid rotation player. But he’s so bland and the 30-45 range is so rife with underdrafted players that I think a few of them will inevitably turn out better than him.
6. None of Doug McDermott, Rodney Hood, or Shabazz Napier will become above average starters.
Maybe one of them becomes good enough to make their draft position look alright in retrospect, but the draft is all about upside and I don’t see it in these guys. They all have poor tools and aren’t world beaters offensively relative their age to truly have elite upside.
McDermott is probably the best prospect of the bunch. His shooting and scoring could amount to something, I could see him becoming the SF version of JJ Redick. But I don’t see him becoming better than that and he may become significantly worse. The Bulls were out of their minds trading 16 + 19 for him. This move might look decent in retrospect, but it’s far more likely to look horrible than it is to look great.
Napier had a good college steal rate to inspire some hope of defensive competence in the NBA, but he’s so small and unathletic it’s hard to get too optimistic. His tools are so lackluster and he’s so old and not great at passing, where does the upside come from? For a guy who plays the deepest position in the NBA, he’s not 1st round value. It’s great that LeBron likes him but he probably will be worse than Chalmers and LeBron might not be that excited to have him on the roster by the time summer league is over.
Rodney Hood would be a decent 3 + D prospect if he wasn’t one of the worst defensive prospects in the entire draft. His defensive instincts are just awful and his physical profile is not too great either. This is the prospect whose hype truly puzzles me. Guess everybody just wants a piece of Duke pedigree (which explains why Duke had a reputation for prospects busting until recently). I’d be surprised if he’s starting caliber at all.
7. Tyler Ennis will have an above median career for an 18th overall pick.
Median is difficult to define since a number of active 18th picks are due to move up the standings over the next few years, but right now Jason Collins is 11th out of the past 29 years with 20.1 win shares and he will be the approximate median once he gets passed by active picks. So let’s say that Ennis will have at least 20+ career win shares. I don’t see him falling flat on his face.
Interestingly the most career win shares for any #18 pick is Mark Jackson with 91.8. He shares all of Ennis’s deficiencies: not that athletic, not a great shooter, not a great scorer. But he was an assist to turnover hero in college and went on to have a long and successful NBA career. Ennis is 2 years and change younger as of their respective draft nights, and posted better college stats. So it’s within Ennis’s reach to have a better career than Jackson did and go down as the best 18th pick of all time. I think people slept on Ennis big time.
8. Neither CJ Wilcox nor Cleanthony Early will become starting caliber players
They probably won’t become useful at all, but I want to leave myself some margin for error here.
9. At least one of Jusuf Nurkic or Clint Capela will become a top 10 player in the draft class
This is a fairly conservative projection based on how good they seem to me, but I didn’t get to scout them to the extent I would have liked. Nevertheless, I don’t see how they can have the tools and stats they do and still not be top 10 prospects, so I’m sticking to my story that they were underdrafted.
10. There probably is not an all-star in the 46-60 range, but if there is it’s Vasilije Micic
Micic looms as the possible Dragic of the draft. It seems crazy that he slid to 52 and he probably won’t be all that good, but he definitely stands out to me as the upsidiest in the range.
11. Within 5 years I will be hating at least one of these predictions
I feel so good about all of my logic now, but how can I not have made any mistakes? This is the first year that I have gotten intimately familiar with all prospects, and I can’t exactly compare minute details with historical prospects. Watching the minutia play out will certainly enable more confident future projections from me.
My rules are that I’m OK with a guy I like becoming not much. GM’s get fired for drafting busts, but that’s backwards: they should really get fired for passing on stars. I’m OK with 1 or 2 of my top 4 becoming not all that much, I don’t think all 4 are going to become great and I can’t really fight the variance on this. But if any of them truly rock, I’ll be glad to have my nice words in their favor down on paper. Of course it is still possible that I overrated prospects that I like, and I will do my best to be mindful of situations when it was actually a bad idea to rank somebody high as opposed to a great idea that went horribly wrong.
What I’m most worried about is any of the guys I declared overrated drastically outperforming their upper bound in my mind. I’m betting against picks 1, 2, 7, 11, 13, 19, 23, 24, 28, 34 and one of them will in all likelihood hit a top 10% outcome. This is fine, since I can’t control for variance. But it’s also likely that I completely underrated the strengths of one of these prospects and they will exceed my mental boundary for their upside and force me to update my perception.
Between variance and imperfect reasoning I’m bound to feel silly about some of these. But by assigning precise words to my predictions, I am forced to be honest with myself 5 years down the road about where I was on the wrong track. So I’m just hoping to be on the right track with most of these and then I can use the feedback of being wrong to perfect my process down the road.