The draft is super hard to predict. Over my 6 years of blogging about the draft, I have made some good predictions and some bad ones. The predictions that sting me the most are the ones where I went too far pushing a “hot take.” The idea was nothing was at stake anyway, and if a contrarian opinion proves accurate, being more aggressive makes it look better in retrospect.
What I learned is that it’s extremely difficult to predict the next 15 years for a 19 year old kid. I have been wrong so many times, it now seems pointless to ever make any bold proclamations. It only makes my analysis less accurate, since more bold statements = more opportunities to be wrong. All I can do is look at the available information, assess the various possibilities for each prospect, and make an attempt at estimating their value.
The best thing I ever wrote questioned if Luka Doncic was the best prospect ever. The best part about the writeup is that I didn’t make any definitive statements, I merely presented facts and asked questions in an attempt to interpret it. The questions have since proved to be relevant, so I will focus on keeping that tone going forward
Anyhow, just for fun I will go back and review my year by year predictions since we have it all on record:
This was my first year where I put the most effort, and also by far my best year. I was highly bearish on Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins as the top 2 picks.
I correctly rated Joel Embiid as the #1 overall pick, with Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, and Marcus Smart rounding out the top 4. Some people may say Dante Exum at #2 looks bad in retrospect, but seeing that Embiid is the only real star at the top of the draft I don’t feel badly about it. I likely should have placed him at #4 below Smart and Gordon but this was a relatively minor miss for a shot at a mystery box.
I also correctly rated non-lotto bigs Jusuf Nurkic and Clint Capela above Parker + Wiggins at #5 and #6, which felt insane to do at the time yet somehow worked out.
I also had Nikola Jokic and Spencer Dinwiddie as 2nd round steals at #16 and #17 respectively.
I also had a few misses. Tyler Ennis piqued my interest but #9 was far too high for him. And while I feel I raised valid concerns about Julius Randle (#23), Zach LaVine (#35), and Rodney Hood (#57), I ranked all of them too low. But then after watching summer league, I actually noted that these were all of my opinions I felt worst about.
This was the season where I watched by far the most basketball both pre-draft and summer league, and really committed myself to understanding as much as possible. In retrospect I think my analysis was about as good as possible, and I may not ever analyze a draft this well again.
This draft I gave much less effort than 2014 and it shows. I was far too low on Kristaps Porzingis (#12), Myles Turner (#20), Devin Booker (#22), and Terry Rozier (#50).
I also was sky high on Justise Winslow which hasn’t fully worked out, nor has it been a disaster. I ranked him #3 on my big board, and in the article I said I thought he was a better prospect than Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay which has proved to be accurate. But he also hasn’t nearly lived up to the massive potential I saw in him.
The bright side of this season was the only other player I wrote about: Josh Richardson. When he wasn’t even on the top 100 of anybody’s rankings, I wrote about how he was the hidden gem of the draft and ranked him #30.
I also had Larry Nance and Norman Powell as possible second round steals ranking them #32 and #33 respectively when they were getting relatively little attention (Nance going #27 was a big surprise). At least finding a few late steals somewhat salvaged this draft.
This year was an unmitigated disaster. I had Ingram > Simmons, which is starting to look defensible, but Simmons is still the better talent and player and was the obvious #1.
I had Dragan Bender #3 which I don’t fully regret with such other few interesting options available, but I was too nevertheless too high based on a tiny sample of FIBA when he was 16.
Most notably I ranked Jamal Murray #12 and Buddy Hield #24 which is just awful considering how many terrible players I ranked ahead of them including #6 Deyonta Davis and #8 Timothe Luwawu. I was putting pretty low thought into my rankings, and in fairness I updated shortly after the draft to make all of these drastically more sane.
I did have a couple of decent ideas in the mix, with Dejounte Murray at #13 and Fred VanVleet #42 as a couple of later steals. But I don’t think this does much to salvage a bad overall ranking where I got too many things wrong.
I was far too high on Lonzo Ball. I would still rank him #1 in retrospect because his strengths were so attractive, but I was far too dismissive of his flaws and downside risk.
I was also pretty high on most of the rest of the top 7. Fultz has flopped for somewhat unpredictable reasons– who could have known he was such a headcase? But then other than that Tatum, Fox, Isaac, and Markkanen all look pretty good while Josh Jackson has flopped.
I was correctly bearish on Dennis Smith Jr and ranked him #10, below OG Anunoby who I had #9. I had Donovan Mitchell #11 and I should have had him above DSJ.
Jarrett Allen at #27 was a small mistake and Bam at #28 was a big mistake.
This wasn’t my worst draft year, but it wasn’t my best either.
This draft was so close to being good! I had my famous article on Luka, was bullish on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and had Josh Okogie and Kevin Huerter as solid 1st round picks when they weren’t in the consensus top 40.
But then I ruined it with too many hot takes. I still believe Trae Young is highly overrated and is not a player that I would want to build an NBA team around, but it’s clear that he has enough unique talent to be worth a top 10 pick. I went overboard on slandering him by ranking him 15th.
I also massively overhyped Jaren Jackson Jr. He was obviously the correct #2 prospect, and still is a very good one, but I made him 1b to Luka’s 1a which looks really bad in retrospect. I did ponder if he had GOAT upside, and frankly I don’t think it was a totally insane question. But he was so much less proven than Luka at the time, I really analyzed him through an excessively optimistic lens.
Also Zhaire Smith at #5 is a horrible take. I thought it was a good idea to gamble on athleticism, but he obviously had some big question marks that I glazed over too lightly.
Mikal Bridges at #18 was maybe a few slots too low. But I don’t feel too badly about this bc he still isn’t that exciting. We’ll see how he develops over the next few years.
I did correctly rate Jerome Robinson (#58) over Michael Porter Jr. (#9) as a horrific pick, and I had Gary Trent (#27) as a solid round 2 sleeper. I was too low on Mitchell Robinson, however, having him at #34.
Ultimately I feel that my analysis for this draft started off well, but I ended up taking too many unnecessary positions that were against the grain just to be different. I’d rate my analysis this draft collectively as OK, but nothing special.
I didn’t even do a full writeup for this one because I didn’t feel like it. And it’s too early to say much about this draft with so much left to unfold, but so far my rankings look pretty good.
I was a huge bull on Ja Morant and PJ Washington. So far PJ looks like a one of the more solid guys outside of the top 2, and Ja looks like a future star.
It’s still too much to say about Ja, but I would still bet quite a bit that he goes on to have a better NBA career than Trae Young.
I was very low on DeAndre Hunter (#29) and Darius Garland (#19) who appear to be huge mistakes as top 5 picks.
And I had Terence Davis #39, which looks good for a UDFA.
I seem to have have underrated Cam Johnson at #38.
Other than that I didn’t have any strong opinions and we need more time to let things unfold. But I feel that I took fewer unnecessary bold positions than normal and overall I did a pretty decent job this year.
I have had ups and downs at predictions. I have had some good ideas that led to good predictions, and some slightly less good ideas that led to bad predictions.
I don’t know if I will ever replicate my 2014 performance where I was intently watching every top prospect in both NCAA and summer league. You can really get to know a prospect by watching a player repeatedly in a number of situations.
Since then I haven’t been watching as much, but I still believe there is enough available information to make decent broad strokes predictions between stats, scouting reports, youtube videos, etc.
My goal moving forward will be to be wrong as infrequently as possible. While it’s impossible to be right about everything, it’s easy to not be wrong by simply not taking firm positions when the answer is uncertain. I will still inevitably miss the mark plenty of times, but but by being more humble about the limits of my prediction capabilities the misses should grow to be less frequent and less severe over time.
Let’s see how the next 6 years compare to the first 6!
Zhaire probably deserves the same asterisk Fultz has, yeah he’s been bad but he lost his entire rookie year due to a near-fatal allergic reaction that kept him in the hospital for six weeks and led to him losing 40lbs. He was always gonna need significant development, so losing that time meant he was unable to crack the Sixers’ rotation this year. Kinda hard to gauge the original evaluation when a freak event threw his career off so significantly.
I think that gave him a pass for his rookie year. but you would have hoped to see something as a sophomore.
And looking back there were too many flags. He was a small shooting guard who was nowhere near the RSCI top 100 and came in a weird mold without much offensive skills.
He was an attractive weirdo but it should have been clear he had a giant downside tail which merited some caution in predicting his future. Think it would have been fine to put him like 10th overall, but #5 in a draft that loaded was too much.
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