After fervently scouting summer league and trying to update my perceptions on players, I have to admit that I am completely overdosed on information. I don’t currently feel pressure to have awesome rankings, because I feel it’s an impossible task to correctly weigh this information during the first year that I have complete access to such in depth observations. So I’m going to do my best to rank players anyway, but I think it’s more important to categorize my predictions to track which pieces of information tend to carry the most weight. I suspect it’s going to take a few years of doing this before I am actually qualified to speak with the hyperbolic confidence that I naturally convey, so as usual I’m going to note that I’m probably wrong about lots.

My process has constantly evolved over the course of the season. I started off trying to blending stats, physical profiles, an intuitive understanding of the NBA, and whatever extra details I noticed by watching into efficient evaluations.  But trying to do this for players that I have barely watched feels like complete guesswork on my end, and I don’t think it’s ultimately going to yield significant edge over what anybody else is doing. Compare Rudy Gay and Paul George: they play the same position, they have similar physical profiles, they had similar statistical ratings based on Layne Vashro’s EWP formula, and they were chosen at similar draft spots. On paper they were more or less the same level of prospect. But one developed into a top 5 NBA player within a few years of being drafted, whereas the other was consistently a black hole who underachieved on defense and sucked the life out of his team’s offense. I don’t accept that this is solely due to random variance and/or differences in the environments where they developed. There had to have been a signal in their respective play as 20 year olds that indicated that George was on a better developmental path than Gay.

My goal in Las Vegas was to watch players through the lens that style mattered more than stats, and to try to pinpoint the indicators that *might* suggest whether players are on a good or bad developmental path. I feel that I found some relevant stuff, but I shouldn’t invest much confidence in it until I have tested some of these hypotheses a bit more. So in spite of my hot fireballs of disdain for Jabari Parker’s summer league performance, I am not going to rank him hilariously low. He still can be a good fantasy player and he has as good of odds as anybody of winning ROY, and I doubt many people will be inclined to take me seriously if they see that I ranked the #2 pick who won ROY like 25th on my post-SL big board. On the other hand if I rank him 11th and he becomes the worst player in the history of bad players, I doubt anybody will accuse me of going too soft on him. So I’m going to scale my rankings back into more level headed territory for this iteration:

1 Joel Embiid
2 Marcus Smart
3 TJ Warren
4 Dante Exum
5 Aaron Gordon
6 Andrew Wiggins
7 Elfrid Payton
8 Jusuf Nurkic
9 Mitch McGary
10 Zach LaVine
11 Jabari Parker
12 Bruno Caboclo
13 Noah Vonleh
14 Clint Capela
15 Nik Stauskas
16 Tyler Ennis
17 Dario Saric
18 James Young
19 Kyle Anderson
20 KJ McDaniels
21 Jarnell Stokes
22 Jordan Adams
23 Gary Harris
24 Julius Randle
25 Damien Inglis
26 Bogdan Bogdanovic
27 Spencer Dinwiddie
28 Nick Johnson
29 Nikola Jokic
30 Alec Brown
31 Jerami Grant
32 Doug McDermott
33 Adreian Payne
34 Vasilije Micic
35 Tyler Johnson
36 Rodney Hood
37 Walter Tavares
38 PJ Hairston
39 Roy Devyn Marble
40 Russ Smith

Joel Embiid is the stud of the draft. His talent is in a completely different stratosphere from everybody else and the only thing that can slow him down (or stop him altogether) are injuries. I really hope he stays healthy, but who knows if he can.

Feel For The Game
This is where I think I can find edge that isn’t detected by stats or scouts. It’s the area that is slippery and difficult to pinpoint, so it largely goes ignored. But I think this is likely the area that can enable the trained observer to separate the Rudy Gays from the Paul Georges, so I’m really excited to see how these work out. I should note that “feel” is a vague generalization and some indicators of good/bad feel should carry different weight than others, so not all of these carry equal weight. The ones that stand out as particularly noteworthy to me:

Good Feel
Marcus Smart is my #2 prospect, which seems a bit wild and crazy for a PG that can’t shoot, can’t consistently get to the rim, and isn’t that athletic. On paper he appears to be on a crash course to become Tony Allen or slightly better, which is not somebody you take 2nd overall in a loaded draft. Also his feel for the game isn’t pristine, as on occasion it seems to pop into his head that it’s bucket o’clock and he’ll chuck up a bad contested shot. But other than that he fills me up with warm and fuzzy feelings. He sees the floor exceptionally well, especially on defense. He has lightning quick reactions that make him an awesome playmaker on that end. He doesn’t have super athleticism to be the best man to man lock down defender of all time, but I think his advanced defensive stats are going to be surprisingly good throughout his NBA career. In summer league his feel showed in his ability to see the floor, make smart passes, protect the ball, and err on the side of bricking 3’s instead of long 2’s. I’m not sure precisely how high his upside goes but I have a feeling he will be better than people anticipate.

TJ Warren is my #3 prospect, which might be overreactive to summer league since he was clearly at the peak of his game and it’s the only environment in which I scouted him. He had some bad games against tougher defenses in college, and maybe his flaws will become clearer against NBA defenses. Further he sounds like a completely blah prospect on paper, since he’s a wing who doesn’t pass, doesn’t make 3’s, and has questionable defensive acumen. But I’m completely and utterly captivated by his approach to scoring, as he displays both unique talent (touch within 15 feet, coordination, footwork) and feel for utilizing it (he has a knack for getting easy buckets from transition + putbacks as well as minimizing his turnovers in the half-court). So I’m gambling on this to mean that 1) his inside the arc scoring will translate much better than expected 2) his defense, passing, and shooting will develop better than expected. The latter is a bit shaky because who even knows if he’s interested in anything other than getting buckets, but I feel he has the ability to develop better than random.

Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis are the players who have good feel but have limited quickness to capitalize on this. Ennis never blew me away when I watched him, but I felt he had some really cool statistical splits that may be indicative of uniquely good feel. Stauskas had less attractive stats but a more attractive eye test, as his ability to handle is not captured by any statistical measure. These are the two prospects who are leaning hard on skill and feel to overcome physical deficiencies, Ennis is team stats and Stauskas is team eye test.

Doug McDermott has good feel but stands out neither statistically nor to my eyes. I remain bearish on him because his limitations are plentiful.

Bad Feel
Andrew Wiggins went #1 since he is oozing with potential due to athleticism, but he screams “underachiever” to me. He seems either less interested or less good at developing his game than his peers, as evidenced by 1) his disappointing freshman production and 2) observing his progression from freshman year to summer league. His stepback jumper looked notably improved, and it’s clear that he was putting work into it leading up to the draft. But it also appeared that he’s more enamored with his ability to make stepback jumpers than he is his ability to create for others and be great defensively, which are the high leverage areas for him to become a winning player. He has the talent to leverage his athleticism to be good at all aspects of the game, but I didn’t see him moving in this direction either at Kansas or in Vegas.

The interesting caveat with Wiggins is that people commonly argue that underachievers just need good coaching and everything will be peachy. Wiggins seems to have landed in an awesome situation with LeBron and Blatt. If he doesn’t get traded, I am interested to see how much coaching and a good developmental environment can help overcome his past developmental deficiencies and move him down the correct path at an accelerated rate. I suspect that they won’t be a panacea, but if nothing else it gives him a much better shot of making me look silly for doubting him than he would by taking endless stepbacks for Flip Saunders in Minnesota.

Jabari Parker I believe takes a barbaric approach to offense, and I don’t think he has the quicks, athleticism, or shooting touch for this to end favorably for him. He doesn’t seem adaptable, he doesn’t seem aware of the relationship between his play and his team’s success, and I can’t fathom that his method of scoring translates to efficient play against NBA defenses. Maybe he has more talent than Evan Turner and Derrick Williams which will enable him to look like a fine pick in the early going, as well as a legit fantasy basketball commodity. But I believe his impact on his team’s bottom line will always be worse than the box score stats suggest. I don’t see him as player who makes plays that lead to wins. I do think he wants to win, so maybe he will leverage this desire into becoming solid defensively, creating for others, and scaling back the chucking.

Julius Randle seems more adaptable than Parker, but I don’t think he’s as talented. He’s strong, quick, and good at making difficult shots in the paint, but he has some serious deficiencies working against him. I believe mediocre PF height + length along with lackluster explosiveness and slow instincts make it nearly impossible for him to be a solid defensive player and also limit his offensive upside. If he proves me wrong and turns out better than expected, I am upgrading the importance of adaptability.

Noah Vonleh I can never bring myself to watch for more than a few minutes at a time, but he probably has bad feel based on his assist:TOV and the amount of bricks he chucks up near the rim. This is a low confidence read since it is supported by far less observation than the others.

Mystery Boxes
Dante Exum and Aaron Gordon are the mystery boxes who have great physical tools and seem to have the smarts and feel to make winning plays. But Exum has limited repetitions against respectable competition and struggled in summer league, and Gordon’s offensive game is a major work in progress. I still believe they both have loads of upside and hope they become awesome, but they also both could fall well short of expectations.

Zach LaVine was a mystery box since nobody really knew whether he can handle the ball or not, and I tried to cheat and short him based on statistical indicators. This might have been a mistake, as his summer league play makes me feel less comfortable about the idea of heavily extrapolating based on statistics. He appears to be trying hard and taking his pro career rather seriously, which I imagine is how the players like DeRozan, Lance, and Bledsoe became much better than expected after a few years of development. He still has the issue of a rail thin frame and mediocre length that prevent his upside from being boundless, but I suspect that he might progress at a faster rate than his peers.

Bruno Caboclo could be anything, he could even be a completely broken floor spacer with his long arms. He could also be somebody who never develops the instincts to be a useful NBA player. His feel does not appear to be good now, but he is so young with such a unique combination of strengths that I want to believe he can become good.

Nurkic, Capela, Saric, Inglis, Bogdanovic, Jokic, and Micic are all players who I’m just straight up guessing on based on how good they sound on paper and where they were selected. I expect these rankings to be largely inefficient, but I’m at least going to try.

3 minus D types
I recently realized that James Young and Rodney Hood are exceptionally similar prospects. They both are good, lefty shooters who are willing passers and don’t try to force the issue inside the arc. They are also both bad defensively with similar steal and block totals, and they even make similar mistakes trying to defend the perimeter. Hood is better and more polished now, but Young is almost 3 years younger with better strength and length and clearly has more upside. I don’t know that Young quite has Hood’s offensive feel, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he develops it by the time he’s Hood’s age. His assist rate wasn’t bad for an 18 year old freshman, and he definitely did try to create for his teammates off the dribble. Hood translated to summer league a bit better than I expected due to not forcing the issue on offense, and I feel Young might have done likewise. He was always the player who managed to get buckets for Kentucky against long, athletic defenses, and it might be a sign that he has better feel than he’s given credit for. I think both players landed in good situations and I’m most interested to see if 1) their offense can become good enough to justify their defense or 2) their defense can improve enough to make it possible to get their offense on the floor.

I’m not sure Payton has the athleticism or shooting to become a superstar, but he has the talent to become above average on both ends which would make him a good player.

I have a good feeling about McGary. He’s a funky prospect who handles well for a big and gets more steals than most centers in spite of getting few blocks. I don’t think he has boundless upside since he’s already 22, but it probably gives him a bit more potential than you’d expect from a 22 year old #21 pick.

Kyle Anderson is incredibly smart, skilled, and long, and he gets to play for the best coach in the history of sports. But he’s also ridiculously slow and seems lazy. He didn’t look that good when I watched him in Vegas, but everybody else seems to think he looked great. Maybe I just caught him at the wrong times. At this point I’m more interested in observing than chipping in new predictions for him and his UCLA teammate Jordan Adams.

KJ I’m starting to lose a bit of faith in. I’m not sure what his offensive contribution is going to be in the NBA. He was able to do it all for a bad NCAA offense, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be competent in the NBA. Also I think his defense will be good but may not fully translate without great size or quicks. He can be a good role player for sure, but I might have slightly overrated him pre-draft.

I just like Jarnell Stokes. He fills me up with fuzzy feelings inside. I could qualify this as good feel, but I’m not even sure that he has the best feel for the game. I think he’s a hard worker who is committed to being good and is already better than his 2nd round draft slot suggests.

I have given Gary Harris some flack for being bland and lacking in upside, but he makes 3’s, plays defense, and passes the ball. It’s not hard to see that adding up to a useful player. I still like Mario Chalmers as his upside (and I like Chalmers as a role player), but he’s so young maybe he can surpass that projection and be a rather attractive role player. His lack of size reflected in his summer league 2p%, but he did draw a surprising amount of FT’s.

Nick Johnson looks like a solid 3 + D PG who meshes well with James Harden.

Alec Brown intrigues me. Between him and Adreian Payne, his shooting release appears a bit quicker. He shot a slightly higher % from 3 over a slightly larger sample over the past 2 years, and while I imagine both of them will have their 3 point volume stretched in the pros I have an inkling that Brown has a bit more upside since he’s also 1 year and 5 months younger. Also Brown is taller and got more blocks in college. Payne is stronger, longer, better at rebounding, and better at finishing. I’m not sure Brown has the strength to finish at all in traffic vs. NBA bigs, but that’s probably for the best since he’s not much of a passer either. I assume that the Suns are going to try to groom him to become the Channing Frye replacement, and I can’t think of a reason why he can’t produce similar to Frye. That doesn’t mean that he necessarily can, but he’s a nice flier at 50th overall.

Tyler Johnson was probably the 2nd best player in Las Vegas after TJ Warren. I’m simply amazed by him. The fact that he was able to get as many assists, buckets in the paint, and FTA’s as he did while only turning it over 5 times in 10 games is truly amazing. He definitely goes in the good feel pile. His only good tool seems to be his athleticism, but he applied it relentlessly on the floor and really looks like he belongs in the NBA.

PJ Hairston appears to be a chucker who punches high school kids in the face, which is not the best combination of traits. I’m not completely giving up on him, but I don’t like all of his summer league 2 point bricks. Stick to your strength of 3 point bombing, Peej.