1. Karl Towns
I have had Karl Towns as #1 all season long and now consensus is in full agreement. He has an elite combination of size, skill, and smarts and there is little to dislike about his profile. His biggest red flag is that his explosiveness and mobility are both average, so perhaps he never becomes an great NBA rim protector. But he has plenty of upside to be great on both sides of the ball, and high floor high ceiling two way centers are rarely regrettable choices at #1 overall.
2. D’Angelo Russell
Stat models love Russell, and Curry and Harden serve as two compelling upside examples. Russell is neither the level outlier shooter of Curry nor the level outlier slasher of Harden, but his overall skill package is outlier in its own rite and it is difficult to find a frightening negative comparison. Russell’s vision exceeds both of them and he was exceptional at making off the dribble 3’s for Ohio State. If his 3p% was heavily luck driven he could disappoint as a scorer, because he created and finished rim attempts for himself at an underwhelming rate. This is enough to rate him below Towns, but his studly skill package and statistical performance with decent enough physical tools offers plenty of upside to stomach the concern and take him 2nd.
3. Justise Winslow
I have written extensively about my affinity for Winslow. I moved him below Russell due to measuring 6’4.5″ without shoes and some reports of poor shooting in workouts, but his strong selling points all remain strong. He is much closer to #2 on my board than he is to #4.
4. Jahlil Okafor
Okafor offers the super power of studly low post scoring as the foundation of his game, and with his elite strength, length, coordination to go with monster hands he projects to translate this to the NBA level. The downside is that he offers little other than low post scoring, with question marks regarding his defense, passing, and shooting. While he should be a productive NBA scorer, it will be a challenge to surround him with the correct combination of players to accentuate his strengths and mask his flaws. He faces the same challenges that prevent Greg Monroe from being an in demand asset in spite of being a highly productive player statistically, and for this I rate him clearly below each of my top 3 prospects. But his ceiling does extend higher than that of Monroe, and without another compelling prospect he slots in nicely at #4.
5. Emmanuel Mudiay
I offered thoughts on Mudiay on my last big board. The short version is that great tools to go with legitimate PG skills offer enough upside to place him in the top 5, but a broken shot, questionable basketball IQ, and a lack of proven production against noteworthy competition cast enough doubt to place him below Okafor even though Mudiay’s theoretical upside is more attractive.
6. Willie Cauley-Stein
Cauley-Stein offers the defensive super power of elite quickness and mobility in the body of a giant. He also has great anticipation skills that enabled him to rack up steals and blocks in college. He is strictly a garbage man on offense, but has good enough feel to not force the issue with a good assist:TOV rate for a center. His upside is something along the lines of Tyson Chandler.
7. Stanley Johnson
8. Kelly Oubre
I already wrote about Oubre and Stanley Johnson. I have cooled a bit on Oubre since he likely does not have the shake to become a stud slasher nor the basketball IQ to become a guaranteed stud defensive player a la Hollis-Jefferson, but there is still plenty to like there and I believe he is underrated nevertheless. Conversely I still have concerns about Johnson’s leaks, but the more important point is that he is young and has a multitude of notable strengths, thus I am ranking him a slot above Oubre.
9. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Hollis-Jefferson is in contention with Winslow for the most underrated player in the draft. He has a unique defensive package, as his physical tools are great across the board and he complements this by also playing hard and smart defensively. He is a lock to become a good defensive player in the pros and could has upside to be the best defensive wing in the league. The downside is that he is a near zero as a scorer, as he was a non-threat from 3 (8/39 in two NCAA seasons) and has little slashing ability. But he showed good passing ability with more assists than turnovers, and his 70% FT shooting offers a glimmer of hope for his shooting ability. The risk is that he becomes an offensive drag a la Michael Kidd-Gilchrist by providing no spacing or creation, but if his offensive skill set develops better than expected he will be a big time steal given his smarts, tools, and defense.
10. Frank Kaminsky
Kaminsky is perceived as a low upside pick as a 4 year unathletic white college big, but he is so skilled for his size and mobile enough that he has sneaky upside to become a fringe all-star. Even though Porzingis has better tools and youth, I would rather gamble on Kaminsky’s skill and feel.
11. Mario Hezonja
12. Kristaps Porzingis
The Euros are getting aggressively hyped due to their combination of athleticism and shooting, which always piques the interest of scouts. I am skeptical of both, as they each have significant leaks in their game. Hezonja has a bizarrely high turnover rate for somebody who almost never scores inside the arc and Porzingis has a terrible assist:TOV rate, a poor rebounding rate, and is barely competent as a long range shooter. They both have upside as well because tools and shooting are important, and I don’t want to be too aggressively bearish without having much expertise in European basketball. But I really like the top 10 American players, and Hezonja and Porzingis have flags that are concerning enough for me to place them just outside of the top 10.
13. Kevon Looney
Stat models love Looney, but scouts are skeptical given his lack of athleticism and creation ability. He has potential to be a good complementary piece who fits into the PF slot in a wide range of lineups. He is not precisely the same, but I see his upside as a Paul Millsap type who does a wide range of things well enough to add up to a highly positive player.
14. Bobby Portis
Portis is in a similar mold to Looney. He is not as adored by stat models but he atones with a great motor and defensive IQ. He has the size to play as a small 5 and the mobility to play as a 4, and will fit in well with defenses that demand frequent switching. His versatility should make him a useful cog in any lineup he enters.
15. Trey Lyles
Trey Lyles projects to be more of a defensive liability than Looney or Portis, but he is the most skilled offensive player of the trio. He sometimes played SF for Kentucky’s roster of Monstars, and he was not in an ideal situation to accentuate his skill set having to share the paint with so many other bigs. He is a candidate to vastly outperform his NCAA stat projections as a pro, but I nevertheless favor Portis and Looney due to their defensive advantages.
16. Delon Wright
Between his age, athletic limitations, frail frame, and questionable 3 point shot there are plenty of reasons to doubt Delon Wright’s NBA upside. He quells these doubts with unique positive qualities– he has great height and length for a PG and his elite feel for the game enables him to post elite block, steal, and rebound rates. He also has enough shake to slither his way to the rim against set defenses, and his vision and basketball IQ has resulted in a great assist to turnover ratio. His 3p% is marred by his poor off the dribble shooting, but his 81.4% FT suggest that he can become an adequate spot up 3 point shooter in the NBA. If he does develop a 3 point shot to complement his PG skills and defense, he can become a highly useful NBA player. He is the type of funky, polarizing player that can surpass his perceived upside with subtle strengths that go underrated by traditional scouts. If he slides into the late 1st as projected he could be a big time steal.
17. Tyus Jones
Tyus Jones was a top 5 RSCI recruit, stat models love him, and he won NCAA tournament MOP as an 18 year old freshman, yet he is projected to go in the back end of round 1. His poor physical profile and limited slashing and defensive ability are the primary culprits for his lack of draft hype. In a league loaded with PG’s, it will be an uphill climb for Jones to become an above average starter. He doesn’t share Wright and Grant’s size to guard SG’s, and he will be leaning heavily on his vision, instincts, and shooting to develop into quality starter.
18. Justin Anderson
Justin Anderson has limited creation ability, but offers passing, defense, smarts, and decent enough shooting to be a solid 3 + D prospect. Similar to most prospects who have more value on the defensive side of the ball, Anderson is underrated.
19. Sam Dekker
Sam Dekker boasts a good combination of athleticism and especially size for a wing, which he used to convert a high % of his 2 point shots in Wisconsin’s well spaced offense, where he often created his own shot. His value as a pro largely hinges on his ability to translate his rim scoring to NBA defenses, as he is otherwise a non-descript prospect.
20. Myles Turner
Turner’s combination of size, shooting, and rim protection makes him inherently upsidey, but his upside is somewhat based on wishful thinking since his profile is otherwise laced with warts. He has a number of alarming craters in his stats between 2P%, assist rate, ORB%, and steal rate. It’s difficult to buy him as a stud defensive player since his awkward movement makes him a liability on pick and roll defense, and his offensive game hinges entirely on his ability to develop into a lethal shooter. If his shot becomes great and he can get off a high volume due to his reach while also being an adequate rim protector, he can be highly useful. But smooth movement and coordination is an important trait, and there are plenty of prospects in the draft that make for better gambles.
21. Jerian Grant
Grant offers PG skills in a body with great size for a PG and solid athleticism. He has an alarmingly low rebound rate and his age somewhat limits his upside, but he offers versatility as a rotation guard that can pair with a wide range of back court mates. Even though I rate him slightly below consensus entering the draft I am fond of Grant as a prospect, I only rate him this low because this draft is loaded with depth and there are not enough overrated players at the top for me to drop behind him.
22. Devin Booker
Booker is a 3 point specialist that could become anything on a scale of Anthony Morrow to Kyle Korver. He is young and showed great shooting touch for Kentucky, good basketball IQ, and has adequate tools to become a passable NBA defensive player. The concerns are that his rebound, steal, and block rates were all exceptionally weak, and this is a better indication of defensive mettle than the agility drills that he crushed at the combine. Further there is no guarantee he either learns to move without the ball or shoot as well as Korver. He is comfortably overdrafted if he goes in the lottery as projected, but he can nevertheless pay solid dividends for a back end lotto pick if he does hit upside.
23. Cameron Payne
Entering this season I had Payne in my back pocket as my super secret sleeper, and then I never got around to writing about him and now everybody rates him higher than me. His game is aesthetically pleasing to watch, mostly because he has a distinct way of floating the ball to his target whether it be scoring on floaters or floating passes to open shooters. This gives him a unique skill to overachieve his perceived upside, but he does not have great upside as either a slasher or defensive player given his lackluster explosiveness. Ultimately his limitations outweigh his floaty appeal, which is why I would not take him over any of Delon Wright, Jerian Grant, or Tyus Jones.
24. Christian Wood
He’s an exceptionally young sophomore who offers athleticism, shot blocking, rebounding, and fringey long distance shooting. If he can develop an NBA 3 point shot, he can highly over perform his draft slot as a shot blocking stretch 4. But the challenge of armchair draft analysis is that when Christian Wood’s stock freefalls due to interviews and workouts at the combine, I cannot assess whether teams are being overreactive or not. But he has been slightly underrated all the way through the draft process, and people are inherently overreactive to recent information. So I’m just going to stash him here at #24 and hope for the best.
25. RJ Hunter
Hunter is a perfectly decent 3 + D prospect, but nothing stands out about him to place him above the other top 25 guys in this loaded class.
26. Rashad Vaughn
27. Chris McCullough
28. Nikola Milutinov
29. Cliff Alexander
30. Josh Richardson
31. Robert Upshaw
32. Larry Nance Jr.
33. Norman Powell
34. Jarell Martin
35. Dakari Johnson
36. Montrezl Harrell
37. Richaun Holmes
38. Jordan Mickey
39. Olivier Hanlan
40. Michael Qualls
41. Anthony Brown
42. Vince Hunter
43. Michael Frazier
44. Pat Connaughton
45. JP Tokoto
46. Dez Wells
47. Branden Dawson
48. Cedi Osman
49. Mouhammadou Jaiteh
50. Terry Rozier
Outside Hezonja and Porzingis, Nikola Milutinov stands out as the most compelling international prospect. His profile offers at least a little bit of everything except shot blocking, and it nevertheless sounds like he can be a solid defensive big man. Everybody else strikes me as underwhelming at a cursory glance. It is just a cursory glance so it is possible that I am overlooking a future useful NBA’er, but Milutinov is the only one who piqued my interest.
Fun fact: Larry Nance Sr. has the second highest career win shares among players drafted outside of the top 16, narrowly behind Terry Porter. Larry Nance Jr. now has a chance to prove that getting underrated in the draft runs in the family– he is an explosive dunker that carried Wyoming’s defense. He spent this season coming off an ACL tear and his team punted offensive rebounds, so his senior statistics underrate him. He is a great second round gamble.
Louisville boasts two of the most overrated prospects in the draft. Montrezl Harrell is an explosive athlete who is a hard worker, but his game encompasses little other than dunks. Terry Rozier is PG sized but lacks PG vision, a good outside shot, and the ability to slash through a set defense. He can be a pest on defense, but really needs to develop his offensive skills to be useful as the smallest player on the court in the NBA.
The springy dunker in a PF body to invest in this class before Harrell is Cliff Alexander. It was ridiculous when he was touted as a possible top 3 pick pre-season, but his freshman year was perfectly decent and he’s a hyper athletic #2 RSCI recruit. He offers better shot blocking, rebounding, and free throw shooting than Harrell, and it is puzzling why he is rated so much lower.
Josh Richardson and Norman Powell are my underrated defensive minded athletes in round 2, with Powell having the bonus of being a good slasher. Dez Wells and Olivier Hanlan are my Jordan Clarkson slashing candidates.