Thus far I have written about the top 4 prospects in the draft and the limited upside of many of the lottery candidates. Overall the draft is looking incredibly weak on the top, but on the bright side there are quite a few hidden gems who are currently slated to go in round 2.
For now let’s run through the three players listed as 2nd rounders who most obviously belong in round 1:
31. Jahmi’us Ramsey
After Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver built up significant hype playing for Chris Beard at Texas Tech and were big disappointments early in their career, it seems that nobody wants to draft a Red Raider anymore.
But there aren’t any major coaches whose prospects consistently bust. Most coaches have some prospects do well, others disappoint, and there’s no reason to doubt Chris Beard’s ability to produce NBA talent based on a sample size of two.
This is especially the case since unlike Culver and Smith who were 3* prospects, Ramsey was the #30 RSCI recruit and is less likely to be a mirage produced by good coaching.
Ramsey is a bit of an awkward mold, as he is a bit small for a shooting guard at 6’4″ with a 6’6″ wingspan. He is a good but not great athlete, and with his limited size he struggled to finish at the rim and only made 64.1% of his free throws. And he averaged just slightly more assists (2.9) than turnovers (2.6) per 40 minutes. It’s easy to see why people are hesitant to jump on board with him as an undersized SG even without the Texas Tech concerns.
But there’s quite a bit to like. He made 42.6% of his 3’s on a decent 3PA rate. While he likely ran hot on 3P% in light of his free throws, he may have also ran cold on his FT% given that he only had 78 FTA compared to 141 3PA. He is very young having turned 19 in June, and if his shot is real he has quite a bit of potential as a scorer.
And he complements his scoring ability with solid rebound, steal, and block rates. Let’s compare him to a few similar prospects:
Physically these guys are all similar. Beal has the best length and his rebounds and blocks hint at the best athleticism, so it’s no surprise that he was the most coveted prospect of the group. But Ramsey is likely the 2nd best athlete, and while his wingspan is slightly lower than the others, it was last measured in 2018 and may have grown since.
Offense per 100 possessions:
Murray stands out as the best shooter of the crop with a great 3PA rate with the 3P% and FT% to back it up. No surprise that he was close behind Beal as the second best prospect of the group.
But really the only thing here that separates Ramsey from the pack is his FT%…which is such a small sample. He went 50/78, if instead he went 55/78 that puts him at 70.5% and it’s not a major flag for an 18 year old guard.
Granted, he wasn’t a good free throw shooter in AAU, but it’s possible he made a big leap, and it’s possible that he continues to make big leaps. If he becomes a good longterm shooter, he is probably going to be a good NBA player.
Gary Harris is a good comparison in terms of value, because he had a better shooting signal, but Ramsey has a bit more upside due to his superior athleticism. Harris was a good return on a #19 pick in a better draft than this one, so it doesn’t make much sense for Ramsey to be mired in round 2.
If Ramsey’s shot turns out to be a dud then he likely will be too, but he’s young, it looks mechanically good, and there’s no strong reason to bet against it. And if becoming a good shooter is all it takes for him to become a slightly better Gary Harris or slightly worse Jamal Murray or Bradley Beal, then he obviously belongs in round 1.
32. Vernon Carey
Imagine that there is a #5 RSCI freshman who posts a 34.1 PER as the best player on a top 5 team while not turning 19 until the end of the season in February. Then imagine that almost every other highly rated freshman in the class disappointed with thin hopes for the future in a draft with limited upperclass talent.
Typically, the one highly rated freshman who exceeded the hype would be the obvious #1 overall pick, and we would move on to debating #2. But not in 2020, where being a relatively unathletic big is considered to be a debilitating wart and Vernon Carey is projected as a 2nd rounder.
This is in part exacerbated by the tale of Jahlil Okafor, who shares a number of parallels to Vernon Carey. He was also an elite recruit for Duke, and led an excellent team that eventually won the championship in points, rebounds, and blocks. He largely lived up to the hype in college and was considered the favorite for #1 overall until the emergence of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell dropped him to #3.
But on top of being in an archaic mold, Okafor also failed to translate his excellent NCAA production and has been a complete flop in the NBA.
Now it’s completely reasonable to view similar prospects through a skeptical lens. Low post scoring is not nearly as valuable as it used to be, and teams are now playing smaller lineups, emphasizing speed and skill over size and interior scoring.
That said, Okafor was a completely sane #3 pick by an intelligent GM just 5 years ago. Since there are no KAT or DAR level prospects in this draft, Vernon Carey would have been the clear #1 overall choice if this was 2015. While it’s fair to reduce the value of such a prospect in accordance with the evolution of the game, it seems like a massive overcorrection to drop Carey out of the first round. He is a different prospect than Okafor who will translate differently, develop differently, and is likely slightly better overall pre-draft:
They are near doppelgängers statistically, except Carey has a significant edge in FT% and he shot 8/21 from 3 as a freshman while Okafor did not attempt any 3’s. And Carey was 2 months younger.
There’s no guarantee that Carey translates as poorly offensively and is as bad as Okafor defensively. He can do much better in both regards, and if he develops an outside shot to boot, it will look silly for being this low on him.
Can Vern Fit in the Modern NBA?
Plodding bigs are going out of style, but they are not extinct yet. Looking at this year’s playoff teams many of them start below the rim bigs, many of who slid in the draft: Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Myles Turner, Jarrett Allen, Nikola Vucevic, Ivica Zubac, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Jusuf Nurkic. And Draymond Green missed the playoffs after being a mainstay in 5 straight finals.
Granted, Carey does have an underwhelming 7’0″ wingspan which is inferior to the aforementioned bigs, and he isn’t a passing savant like the biggest round 2 steals in Draymond, Jokic, and Gasol. So there are reasons to be skeptical that he will actually look like the correct #1 overall in retrospect.
Stylistically he is most similar to Enes Kanter, which is one of the least sexy molds in the modern NBA. But Kanter is the poster child for lead feet, and he was nevertheless able to start for a Portland team that went to the West Finals last year, and is now playing playoff rotation minutes for Boston. If Carey happens to develop into a better defensive player and/or shooter (both are very low bars to clear) while being similar in other regards, that’s a useful player.
Kanter was the #3 overall pick in 2011. The game is evolving, but let’s not quit on bigs this aggressively. There is still value to being large and good at basketball.
Ultimately it’s a tricky question how much to precisely de-value a player like Carey for his archaic mold. On one hand, he is sub-optimal centerpiece even if he hits his upside, and it’s difficult to justify taking players like him in the top 3 given the risk that he either flops completely like Okafor or is heavily flawed like Kanter in spite of his productive box score.
But how far can he reasonably be dropped? It’s unlikely that he flops as hard as Okafor, and it’s pessimistic to project his flaws to be as extreme as Kanter’s. Carey is really good at basketball in a draft where the lottery is full of guys who fit a modern mold but just aren’t that good and need to overachieve in order to have a decent NBA career.
Why Not Take Him at the Toppin of the Draft?
The most direct comparison for Carey among lottery prospects is Obi Toppin, who currently is ranked #4 on ESPN’s mock. Obi has similar dimensions (Carey is approximately 1″ taller and longer). Toppin is much more vertically explosive and better at finishing, but other than that Carey destroys him.
Carey is a much better rebounder and a better shot blocker. Both struggle to defend in space, but Carey has more hope of learning long term because he is 3 years younger and Obi’s vertical explosiveness has not translated to lateral competence. Toppin is the slightly better shooter and passer now, but Carey is a favorite to surpass him in both in 3 years. And in spite of Obi’s super athleticism, Carey has more skill in the paint as he was able to score more points at just slightly lower efficiency in spite of the age gap and tougher competition.
And to cap it all off: Carey was a top 5 recruit while Obi was a 20 year old redshirt for a mid-major team. Obi is getting more attention because of his athleticism, but he has an incomplete athletic package since it doesn’t translate to defense, and collectively Carey is the clearly superior talent.
It’s difficult to say exactly how heavily to de-value Carey’s elite statistics and pedigree due to his dated mold. But it is difficult to justify ranking Obi Toppin above him, given that Obi shares his key flaws and brings fewer strengths to the table.
If Carey was the top 5 prospect and Obi was the early 2nd rounder, that would make much more sense than their current rankings . Which isn’t to say it would be accurate to flip them, but it would at least feel sane. For now, let’s conservatively say that Carey belongs in the lottery at least slightly above Toppin, and Carey ranking so much lower is a major inefficiency in the current rankings.
35. Devon Dotson
As a sophomore, Dotson was the best player on the clear best team in college basketball. He had a great argument for best player in the country, as he ranked #2 behind just Luka Garza for kenpom.com Player of the Year.
But unlike Garza, Dotson is an athlete who can create his shot offensively and make plays defensively. There are no glaring concerns about his ability to translate his game to the NBA. Having turned 21 earlier this month in August, Dotson is reasonably young for NCAA two way stud with NBA athleticism.
Dotson is currently mired in round 2 because he is a small PG at 6’2″ with 6’3.25″ wingspan, and there are questions about his passing and shooting for such a small guy.
He only made 33.2% of his 3’s in his two years at Kansas and is more of a slasher than shooter at this stage. But he made 80.8% FT, so there is potential for him to develop into a good distance shooter in time.
The more concerning flaw is his lack of elite passing ability, as he only averaged 4.5 assists per 40 in his two years at Kansas, and is currently a combo guard in a small PG body.
Bill Self Guards Rarely Rack Up Assists
Fellow Kansas alum Devonte’ Graham went #34 overall in 2018, and looks like a possible steal after his breakout sophomore season as the starting PG for Charlotte. At the time I thought Graham was a reach at #34 overall, because he did not show the potential as a creator to seem close to an NBA caliber floor general.
His first season as a starter for Kansas was when he was a sophomore who turned 21 late in the season, where he posted a paltry 16.9% usage and 19.1% assist rate. As a 22 year old junior, he hardly improved with 18% usg, 19.2% assist. Then finally as a 23 year old senior, he took the reins to the offense with Frank Mason departed and posted a respectable 23.9% usage and 31.4% assist rate.
Any starting caliber NBA point guard should have showed MUCH more creation and passing ability before turning 23, and being that much of a late bloomer is typically a major red flag. Yet just 2 years later, here is Graham taking on an even greater role for an NBA offense with 24.8% usage and 35.3% assist rate with decent efficiency.
Graham’s senior season was the only Self player to post an assist rate above 30% other than Aaron Miles in 03-04 and 04-05. He doesn’t try to build an offense around one point guard, he typically likes to run point guard by committee.
Graham is a rare example of breakout passing regardless of coaching, and it’s not likely that Dotson follows the same arc. But the mere possibility is attractive, as Dotson was a better NCAA player than Graham and is a better athlete with more NBA upside.
Reasons For Optimism
Dotson posted a 3.5% steal rate as a sophomore, the best steal rate by a Kansas player since Mario Chalmers in 2008. For his career he was 2.9% vs 2.5% for Graham. This indicates that he may have the feel and vision to develop his passing longterm.
Further, Dotson’s on/off splits are great. Kansas 2P% was 57.2% with Dotson on the floor and 46.4% with him off. That is in part because of his own stellar finishing. And they forced 19.7% turnovers with him on the floor with a slightly lower defensive eFG% vs 12.0% with him off.
These are huge splits for stats that typically do not see such variance when a player leaves the floor. And offensive 2P% and defensive TOV% are the team level stats that a high IQ point guard can impact the greatest. Given that this also came for the clear #1 team in the country, this could be a hint that Dotson makes team level impact beyond the box score.
It’s Going Down, I’m Yelling Kemba
Dotson developing into an NBA 3 point shooter and a quality passer are far from given, but they also are both firmly in the realm of possibility. And if he does both, that leaves only his lackluster dimensions inhibiting his upside. But there have been plenty of players with similar dimensions to become quality NBA PGs by having great speed and athleticism:
These players all had various strengths that Dotson lacked, but that’s some excellent value relative to slot on all of them.
He isn’t the defensive pitbull that Lowry was, as his offensive rebound and steal rates pale in comparison. But Lowry slid in the draft due to being very raw offensively, as he attempted a meager 18 3PA as a sophomore and had a similarly low assist rate and completely lacked Dotson’s ability to get to the rim and finish.
Tony Parker is interesting, because he made a career of getting to the rim and finishing which is also Dotson’s specialty. Parker wasn’t a great passer when he entered the league, and he never developed a 3 point shot. Dotson is likely going to be a better shooter, and may not be all that much worse at passing if he develops similarly well.
The other interesting comp is Kemba Walker, because they have an eerie number of parallels: they have nearly identical dimensions, they were similar RSCI (Kemba #15, Dotson #20), both are speedy and excel at getting to the rim, both have a winning pedigree (Kemba for winning an NCAA title and Dotson for being best player on best team in season w/o tourney), and both showed major improvement over NCAA college career
Also we can neatly compare their career NCAA stats since their average age weight by minutes is near identical (Dotson is 23 days older):
Kemba has an advantage in ORB%, perhaps indicating a slight athleticism advantage, and other than that they are basically twins.
They also both had big breakouts in their final college season, so let’s compare those numbers pace adjusted per 40.
Kemba stands out as better with greater scoring and assist volume and lower assists and higher 3PA rate.
Dotson was much more efficient inside the arc, and he likely could have stretched his usage. And as mentioned previously, Bill Self suppresses assists in a way that Jim Calhoun doesn’t (even Ben Gordon averaged more assists per 40 in each of his 3 seasons at UConn), so Dotson could actually be the slightly better passer here. And he was 3 months younger
Ultimately it’s close, but Kemba gets the clear edge for his pullup shooting advantage that he was able to build on to become good NBA point guard. It’s super unlikely that Dotson is ever able to match Kemba’s volume and efficiency from 3, and ultimately this comp is a big longshot for him. After all, it was a longshot that even Kemba became himself based on pre-draft.
But it’s fun to note because the parallels are strong, and Kemba was an excellent return on a #9 overall pick. Dotson may be able to carve out his own brand of overachievement that comes in a more efficient mold that fits into a wider range of lineups.
At a glance Dotson is a warty upperclassmen who seems like he makes sense as a fringe first rounder, but if we really dig into him he is littered with reasons for optimism.
Expectations need to be tempered, because he still is a little guy who likely is not a floor general or high volume 3 point shooter. But if things develop well for him, he has a decent upside tail which is more than can be said for most prospects in the draft.
And even if things don’t develop perfectly, he can have a career as a helpful role player on winning teams. The benefit to his mold is that if he is not meant to be an offensive hub, he pairs well as a secondary creator next to a number of star wings: Luka, Giannis, LeBron, Simmons, Harden, Kawhi. He doesn’t need to hit his upside to be a useful piece on a contending team.
Even though Dotson isn’t a lottery pick on paper, it is easy to see him providing value for a lottery pick longterm. It’s difficult to say exactly where to place him, but he has potential to be anywhere from a nice role player pickup to monster value in late round 1 or early round 2.