I posted my reactions to 2014 draft rookie seasons, and if there is one point to be gleaned: I underrated athleticism. The players that I overrated are all non-leapers and the players the I regret bashing the most (Wiggins and LaVine) are the top two athletes in the draft. Rodney Hood is not an exceptional athlete, but among the players that I graded as bad defensive prospects (McDermott, Napier, Hood, Stauskas) he comfortably has the best first step and delivered comfortably the best offensive performance as a rookie.
I had an inkling that athleticism was overrated since I am a habitual fader of hype, and athleticism seems to correlate with hype. But there are plenty of non-athlete prospects that were overhyped, and after witnessing my predictions in motion I believe athleticism might actually be underrated.
The other issue is that I was far too wary of statistical performances in my rankings. Sometimes NCAA statistics will call to attention relevant details that receive too little attention from scouts and GM’s, such as Adreian Payne’s age and poor feel for the game. But they often reflect success that does not directly translate to the NBA, and paying it too much regard led me down the wrong path a handful of times. While statistics are a helpful tabulation that should always price in, it is impossible to form efficient draft rankings without the aid of physical profiles and the eye test.
If I wanted to have more efficient rankings, I could have taken fewer risks and shaded my disagreements a bit moreso toward consensus. But I am a habitual upstream swimmer and it helped illuminate the flaws in my thought processes to really go out on limbs, so I gambled away. Ultimately it resulted in a messier final big board than necessary, but this was also an inevitable result of experimenting with a wide range of ideas that were not all good.
On the positive side of the equation, my idea to track who creates their own half-court buckets at the rim appears to be a possibly relevant one. The players who excelled all appear to be great draft values: Elfrid Payton, TJ Warren, and Jordan Clarkson. Austin Rivers is there as a friendly reminder that you need to do things other than slash to the rim to become a good NBA’er. Conversely the players who ranked horribly tend to be busts: Cleanthony Early, Shabazz Napier, CJ Wilcox, Kyle Anderson, and Gary Harris stand out. Zach LaVine is a player who might buck the trend due to his inexperience and lack of ball handling duties, and Marcus Smart may not be a bust but it certainly is not because of his slashing ability displayed as a rookie.
My first writeup was entitled “The Draft Starts With Defense” and it is not the worst motto. After parsing through my defensive cliff notes, there appears to be a correlation between defensive aptitude and value with respect to draft slot.
Because I am addicted to making lists, this is what my pre-draft rankings should have been strictly based on pre-draft information. There may be a hint of hindsight bias involved, but it’s not like this ranking counts for anything anyway. I am leaving out Bruno Caboclo because there is no way I could have accurately assessed him without knowing he existed:
1. Joel Embiid
2. Aaron Gordon
3. Andrew Wiggins
4. Marcus Smart
5. Dante Exum
6. TJ Warren
7. Elfrid Payton
8. Jabari Parker
9. Jusuf Nurkic
10. Clint Capela
11. Noah Vonleh
12. Mitch McGary
13. Damien Inglis
14. KJ McDaniels
15. Tyler Ennis
16. Spencer Dinwiddie
17. Dario Saric
18. James Young
19. Nikola Jokic
20. Jarnell Stokes
21. Julius Randle
22. Zach LaVine
23. Kyle Anderson
24. Nik Stauskas
25. Jordan Adams
26. Vasilije Micic
27. Bogdan Bogdanovic
28. Gary Harris
29. PJ Hairston
30. Jerami Grant
31. Walter Taveras
32. Adreian Payne
33. Rodney Hood
34. Doug McDermott
35. Jordan Clarkson
36. Glenn Robinson
37. Dwight Powell
38. Semaj Christon
39. Alec Brown
40. Nick Johnson
Andrew Sutton said:
Of the guys playing at least 25 minutes a game, Jabari Parker and Jordan Clarkson were the only real contributors (not just good for a rookie but actual starters) that surprised me given what he did in college. Payton and Smart (both actual productive NBA starters) performed as expected given their college production. Wiggins went from terrible to decent. He played way too much. So did Lavine who was horrible. Both performed as expected given their college production. But one year does not a post draft analysis make. Given their ages, they have a longer time to development than a normal aged rookie. Payton had by the far the best season of the rookies and to think he would be a senior this upcoming season.
I agree with your analysis. The rookie year is just the foundation, who knows how players build on it. Is Jabari going to be another Glenn Robinson or is he going to be better? Is Andrew Wiggins going to be a more athletic Rudy Gay or is he going to have superior feel?
Smart is a stone cold lock to be a useful player, but his offensive stats may never knock anybody’s socks off. Payton is good too but his shot is going to be a consistent obstacle. Dante Exum looked terrible but maybe he makes a huge leap in each of these next few years and becomes a productive starter.
It’s just so hard to tell at this point, but I do think rookie production is a key inflection point in draft predictions. There is so much variance in player development, but the first season out of NCAA gives you a direct glimpse of how things translated so it is good feedback for my draft processes.
“Dante Exum looked terrible but maybe he makes a huge leap in each of these next few years and becomes a productive starter.”
What is your basis for this assessment? In some ways it seems he started figuring out parts of his role late in the season. Have you looked at tape or splits?
I looked at his splits and it looks like he was worse 2h. I haven’t looked at tape because there is no way that he possibly looked good posting numbers that bad.
It will be interesting to track his progress but he really couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start as a pro.
Generally, i agree and like your rankings – both before and after – although i think there are two general issues:
1. One-and-done’s can be difficult to gauge, but having guys like Exum, Nurkic and Capela that high based on very few games seems strange. I know your take is that it’s better to swing and miss on high potential, than settle for mediocrity, but at the same time the high potential comes with a probability to reach that potential as well as low floor, which has to be considered as well.
2. At times you seem to be a bit biased towards certain guys – in both a positive and negative direction. I think this was the case with some of the consensus picks, like Wiggins, Parker and especially McBuckets and Julius Randle. I know you’ve written a post on Randle in particular, but when i read it, i had the feeling from the beginning that you were looking at him glas-half-empty.
This is just my opinion, though. Keep up the good work.
1) Exum is a mystery box but Capela + Nurkic performed well in relevant euro samples. Not that I have the expertise to evaluate the meaning of those samples as well as I do NCAA, but after scanning how they compared to other players in the same league it looked promising. So while putting Nurk + Capela ahead of Wiggins was too extreme, I believe there was enough data to rank them in the top 10.
2) This is definitely true. I am naturally more excited to share my reasons for having my position than I am to share why everybody else rates him differently. It is something I could improve to be sure. But bear in mind that the beginning of my opinion comes before I start writing the article– I start off neutral on everybody and once I started writing about them it means I have come to a conclusion in some regard.
Last year I started off very anti-Gordon before 180’ing on him and deciding I loved him. And even though Jabari became one of my most disliked prospects I was neutral on him early. My first big board had 2. Wiggins behind only Embiid. And so on. It may not show in my writing tone but the progression of my rankings displays that I really have no axe to grind either way for any of these guys.