Prospects tend to be evaluated based on whether they can guard their natural match up on the floor. But as the NBA progresses toward defensive systems that entail rampant switching, ability to guard multiple positions should be valued at a premium. I hypothesize that defensively versatile players will tend to be undervalued in the draft, and players constrained to one position will be overvalued as extreme switching will pit them against more extreme mismatches than normal.
Bearing this in mind, I will approximate the defensive versatility of the noteworthy players in the class to give an additional perspective to apply to my final rankings. These estimates are based on size, athleticism, and quickness and are more reflective of potential than current ability.
Able To Guard All 5 Positions:
While he is a bit thin at age 18 to guard bulkier NBA bigs, he is 7’1″ with elite lateral quickness. As he bulks up with age he should be able to guard NBA centers, and he should maintain the quickness to switch onto most other players on the floor. Pair this with his elite passing and possible 3 point shooting ability, and he could be the only other player in the league to match Draymond Green’s versatility.
It’s rare to get a point guard who can guard big wings, and Simmons is the rare PG in a PF body. He could arguably hold his own against centers in a pinch, but the fear is whether he will play adequate defense at all. He was exceptionally lazy at PF/C as his LSU team was eviscerated inside. If he performs in line with his physical gifts in the NBA he can be a versatile beast on defense, but much like his game as a whole this is a big if. He could prove adequate at guarding 0 positions, which is why he is such an enigmatic prospect.
At 6’7″ Brown is slightly short to play PF, but his 7’0″ wingspan and strong frame should enable him to fit in small lineups and he has the quickness and athleticism to hang with PG’s. His freshman defense was not perfect, but unlike Simmons his team defense saw a big jump from #80 kenpom to #17 with the arrival of himself and Ivan Rabb. Stat models do not love him, but his elite tools and potential for defensive versatility nevertheless keeps him on the radar for a top 5 pick.
Ingram doesn’t quite have the strength to guard centers or the quicks to defend guards, but because of his height, length, and defensive aptitude I am giving him half credit for each position outside of his natural SF and PF. As he gains experience and muscle, he could develop into a solidly versatile defender.
Luwawu is a bit light on the length and strength to regularly guard PF’s, but should be able to guard PG through SF. He also has potential to guard all guards and wings well, which makes him an intriguing sleeper outside of the top 10.
Chriss is similar to Simmons in that he is a bit small to guard centers and his defensive fundamentals cast doubt as to whether he can guard anybody at a high level. But as a 6’10” player with elite athleticism and quickness he can be a versatile weapon on this end if his fundamentals progress well.
Prince is a natural SF/PF tweener who also has the quicks to switch onto some guards. Although he does not have the most versatile offensive game, the ability to make 3’s combined with his defensive versatility makes him the modern prototype for 3 + D play.
He’s slightly small for center, but he can fit there as the NBA trends smaller. And his quickness and athleticism enables him to switch onto smaller players. This could become the new prototype for center– he can protect the rim in spite of being slightly small and should be extremely difficult to attack in the pick and roll.
DX’s scouting report on his Eurocamp play:
Defensively, he guarded multiple positions in his no-nonense fashion, mostly operating at the power forward position, using his strong frame, but showing nice versatility switching onto players big and small all over the floor.
Thin slice says he is a SF/PF tweener who can switch onto a wide range of players in a pinch. Given that his rebounding, shooting, and passing also look competent, he could be another player to add to the international sleeper pile as he is a European parallel to Prince.
There are questions about Poeltl’s defense, and he may be merely decent rather than good. But he nevertheless has center size at 7’1″ and the quickness to hold his own against perimeter players, and this should enable him to provide value to a wide range of lineups while the NBA trends small.
Onuaku is a bit undersized for center, but shows good rim protection and the quickness to compete vs. perimeter players.
Baldwin is suited to guard either guard position, and his strong frame and 6’11.25″ give him a shot to handle some SF’s as well. The ability to play PG on offense and sometimes guard SF’s on defense is a nice intersection that compounds the adoration he has received from draft nerds including myself.
McCaw’s rail thin frame may prevent him from guarding SF’s with regularity, but his quick feet, quick hands, and length could enable him to be a terror vs both guard positions
Not going into much detail here as this is a fairly neutral place to land. Although it is a slight positive for Dunn and Murray as PG skills in a SG body is generally a nice situation to have.
He has the quickness and burst to hold his own on the perimeter, but traditionally struggles switching onto perimeter players making it hard to get excited about him regularly switching. And he lacks the height, length, and strength to guard centers. I had rated Johnson as a sleeper, but without rapidly improving his perimeter defense he may not provide great 1st round value.
He likely has the athleticism to guard PG’s, but is a bit undersized for a SG.
Jackson is a great athlete, but at 6’2″ with a 6.5.5″ wingspan he is strictly limited to guarding PG’s which makes it difficult to get excited for him without an elite offensive skill set.
Too slow to guard PG’s, too small to guard SF’s, and he may not even be that good at guarding SG’s. I already wrote about my skepticism for Hield in detail, and his lack of defensive versatility is a big nail in his coffin.
Murray has more offensive upside than Hield, but arguably bigger defensive concerns as his shorter wingspan could make him a liability against everybody.
He arguably has the size to play center in a pinch, but he is not a rim protector and is generally bad defensively and might end up getting torched by everybody.
His poor length prohibits him from playing center. Sabonis can play but his funky mold prevents him from having great upside.
At 6’5.75″ Valentine is a bit short for SF while also being too slow to play SG. His 6’10.75″ length makes SF his best bet, but he could be a disaster on defense.
At 5’10” these guys are too short to guard most PGs, and things should not become easier when switched onto larger players.
At 6’10.25″ he is short for a center and doesn’t have the athleticism or quickness to switch onto perimeter players. He fits the prototype for bruising big man who is unplayable in a wide range of situations in the modern NBA.