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.
What makes you say that Napier is unathletic? His RSB/40 is stellar for a 6-footer and his quicks and hops pass my vaunted eye test.
I don’t really trust his random D-Reb spike and he doesn’t seem explosive to me at all. He looked physically overmatched first SL game and it seems to be common opinion that he’s slow + unathletic. Maybe it’s overstated though. He had alright steals/blocks/rebs as a senior so I think he has some hope on D. But he just doesn’t have any obvious physical calling card to rely om.
I think I agree with all of this.
Really feel like Marcus Smart is going to be great, Embiid too, if he can keep from disintegrating, but that’s a pretty big if.
Stokes almost seems like a lock to be > Randle, destroying summer league fwiw (not much).
Stokes is going to destroy everything in his path no matter what. The guy is a beast. I think it’s definitely a good sign that he’s off to a good start since undersized PF’s can get exposed in SL (see: t-rob). I could see Randle having issues there. I dunno why I just like Stokes and feel confident in him.
Smart I really want to be great. His offense is off to a dubious start in summer league though, so I have to be eternally braced for Tony Allen with better PG skills (which I don’t hate).
J Rodg (@ASFW_jrodger) said:
Yeah I’ve been posting by big board for a few years and the one thing I’d say is the patience needed can be frustrating. Some of the players I was most bullish on compared to conventional wisdom in the 2012 draft are still sitting on like 1,500 minutes total. If I had to label a benchmark of minutes for when I consider it produce or get off the pot time, I’d say something like 6,000-8,000 minutes? Guys in their 3rd and 4th season like Hayward, Favors, Klay, Kemba, etc. are around that range. So 1,500 is not even close. The frustrating thing is I worry about whether a player will get his 1,500-2,000 minutes and then wash out of a rotation before he can develop to be good.
Well I think if a guy washes out before getting 2k+ mins he probably just isn’t good. The exceptions may be guys like Javon McCrea or Kendrick Perry who may never get a chance to show whether they can contribute or not.
I am going to force myself to not get wrapped up into sweating prospects. I have too many positions and information comes out too slowly. I’m just going to let it be and hopefully in 5 years I’ll have a better feel for this stuff.
salt and batteries said:
I’m curious about the qualities you find *under* valued. I ask because of your assertion (which seems correct) that athleticism and shooting are overvalued. I know you’ve previously mentioned your preference for ‘toolsy’ bigs.
I ask because I came across one article on bruo caboclo that mentioned an apocryphal study that found greater-than-typical ‘length’ (wingspan?) correlated with success among prospects over some period.
I suppose one could also perfectly correlate two legs, two arms, two lungs, and a functioning kidney with success, but that wouldn’t be meaningful. Just curious what meaningful traits or qualities value-seekers should focus upon, in your estimation.
Keep up the great work.
Actually I’m already wondering if I should recant on athleticism being overvalued. It might be underrated since most of the prospects I really like have some level of it. If nothing else I’m convinced that shooting is far more overvalued than athleticism may be. I should specify that the really raw athletes seem somewhat overvalued but the guys with good instincts, defense, and some semblance of skill seem to be undervalued. And even the raw guys become something sometimes, so I could see athleticism being net undervalued.
I think what’s undervalued is basketball IQ and feel for the game. It’s so intangible and difficult to peg somebody might absolutely thrive at it and not excite scouts because they don’t have the tools that they were hoping for. My favorite example of this is Chris Paul.
I also believe passing and vision are undervalued big time. They are correlated with intelligence and feel, but when Adreian Payne goes 15th and Nikola Jokic goes 43rd, it makes me feel like it’s something that entirely eludes the attention of some scouts and FO’s.
Defense underrated too. All of the subtle things that don’t jump out to the untrained observer tend to be underrated IMO. People notice shooting and scoring and focus too heavily on that, and so many important details slide through the cracks.
Based on early showing, Exum looks like he could be the best player in the draft. Love his patience, unselfishness, court vision and driving ability. If Utah starts Burke at the point because he got there a year ahead of time and is smaller instead of Exum, I’m going to be one irrationally angry non-Jazz fan. Burke is a backup point guard at best. Exum and Alec Burks could develop into one dynamic, free-throwing drawing, open court, versatile back court.
Based on early showing, Jabari looks like he’s spent all his time practicing 1-on-1 moves and has never played 5-on-5 in his life. Good grief man, just because you can get a jumper off any time you touch the ball shouldn’t mean you should. He looks a bit leaner than he did at the end of Duke’s season but still about 10-15 pounds overweight. It’s hard to say what his ceiling is when he’s at a disadvantage conditioning-wise compared to everyone he goes up against.
Most mystifying aspect of how he was used at Duke and thus far in Summer League is the lack of opportunities as a ballhandler off screens. Why is a very, very good ballhandler setting screens all the time, even for the likes of D-Leaguers like Chris Wright? I went back and watched his game against Kansas and was surprised to see him get screens as a ballhandler. I thought he did a very good job, which makes me more confused why coach K later had him just isoing and setting screens. Screens help him get separation that he isn’t always able to do in isolation and make him look for his teammates more. If Kidd uses Parker like he did Pierce, as a small ball PF who sets screens all the time, I’m going to be one irrationally angry non-Bucks fan.
Wiggins’ defense has looked amazing. As high as I am on Smart’s defense, I might have to take it back that he’s a better defender than Wiggins.
As athletic as Gordon is, his lack of scoring instincts around the rim makes him finish like some regular ole stiff. He’s also a two-foot jumper and doesn’t show great explosiveness with bodies around him for some reason.
Payton looked solid but I think Orlando screwed up opting for Gordon plus Payton instead of Exum plus anyone.
I agree with all of this.
Smart was probably a better college defensive player than Wiggins, but I’m not sure if his defense translates to the pro game as well. I still think he does have some clear advantages over Wiggins on that end but it could really go either way as to who is the better defensive player.
Gordon is a work in progress. He strikes me as somebody who can overcome a totally crappy summer league. Would definitely take Exum and anybody over Gordon and Payton though, even though I like Payton and think he impressed in summer league.
Burke looks pretty ordinary. I have definitely found myself wanting him to go away so I can see more Exum running the offense. Maybe the Jazz can find a way to run them in a 2 PG system that works. Regardless I think they must know that Exum is their meal ticket to greatness and it’s only a matter of time before he’s the much more frequent ball handler.
Do you find it ridiculous that the cavs dont want to trade Wiggins for Love?
Yes and no. Given my perception of Wiggins, it’s obviously silly. I’m not sure Love is a top 10 player, but I do feel that he is at least a top 15 player and Wiggins is a clear underdog to become that good. And obviously they don’t need to play for extreme upside when they already have LeBron. Further even if Wiggins does become great, he probably won’t be good enough to provide great support in his early years when LeBron is operating at his absolute prime, so they are punting quite a bit of short term championship equity when they could have a cakewalk path to the finals in the woeful East.
But from their perspective I sort of get it. They did take Wiggins #1 overall, so they probably think of Wiggins close to what I think of Embiid. Not to mention that defensive minded role players are great to pair with LeBron, and they probably think he’s ready to make an impact on that end early. After a few years he could not only create one of the best teams ever, but also possibly bridge the gap to a great team past LeBron’s prime. And there might be like a non-zero chance that they can get Love w/o giving up Wiggins (albeit a v small one).
So once I share the assumption that Wiggins is as good as they think he is, it’s a bit less ridiculous to prefer to keep him. I still think it’s a situation where it would make sense to reduce variance and roll with a 25 y/o instead of a 19 y/o, but in general teams are greedy and want to get value without giving it up so it’s pretty standard of them to not do it.
I find it much more ridiculous that the Warriors are balking at the idea of giving up Klay Thompson for Love. If I were them, Klay, Lee, and Barnes for Love would have been signed, sealed, and delivered the moment Love hit the trade block. I have no idea what they are doing and think they are having an awful offseason between balking at Klay (even if they get Love eventually they are giving teams like Cleveland a free shot at one upping them) and hiring Kerr over SVG. If they had just done those two easy, obvious moves they would have become a top 2 team in the NBA (not sure if they’d be better than Spurs but they may be) and instead they will probably play a road playoff series in round 1 again. I would find this unbearable as a GSW fan.