It’s all fun and good to try to predict the sleepers and value picks in the draft, but it is very difficult to know how players will develop. Even the top prospects with nasty warts such as Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green have clear all-star potential. The easiest way to get an edge in the draft is to just not draft the guys who aren’t talented enough to have any real upside and take anybody else projected in that range, so let’s run through them here.
Reddest Flag: Davion Mitchell 6’1″ PG Baylor, ESPN: #7
Currently projected to go #7 overall, Mitchell is considered a defensive stopper in the Patrick Beverley mold. He is nicknamed “off night” for his propensity to shut down his opposing matchup, and he has a quick first step, passable floor general skills, and showed off an improved 44.7% 3P shot as a junior, playing an integral role on Baylor’s championship teams.
But there are a few problems. First– there is a very low cap to the defense that 6’1 players provide. It is insane to target a Patrick Beverley in the lottery, because that just isn’t a high enough upside compared to the other players available. Second– if you are comparing a prospect to a one of a kind player like PatBev, they better measure similarly based on pre-draft.
Both guys are 6’1″, but Mitchell’s wingspan is 3″ shorter than PatBev’s at 6’4″ vs 6’7″ which is a bad start. Now let’s compare some of their college stats that indicate defensive potential based on Mitchell’s 2 seasons at Baylor vs PatBev’s 2 seasons at Arkansas:
Aside from the fact that Davion is 3 years older during this sample, he also gets destroyed at the physicality aspects of the game in rebounding and drawing free throws. While their steals and blocks are similar, if you look at Davion’s 19 year old freshman season when he was a similar age he was much worse at 1.7% STL 0.2% BLK.
Right away this makes it ridiculous to project a strong defensive output– if you are a small guy you need every factor in your favor to make an impact on this end. 3″ less length with significantly less physicality is enough to completely nullify this comparison. But let’s keep going, just for fun.
Now let’s compare PatBev’s 18 year old freshman season to Davion’s 21 year old junior year:
Beverley is not known for his offense, but at 3 years young absolutely destroyed Davion offensively. He took a step back as a sophomore, but was still 2 years younger and clearly better. He was painfully obviously the better prospect on both ends, yet he still slid to #42 overall because a 6’1″ 3 + D guy is a low upside target. Davion somehow being projected to go top 10 based on this comparison is nothing short of madness.
The counterargument in Davion’s favor is that he has A+ intangibles and made a big senior leap, so perhaps he can catch up over time. But a big part of that leap is his 3P% increasing from 32.4% to 44.7%, while his FT% slightly dropped from 66.2% to 64.1%. He improved his shooting to some extent, but it still not clear he is even an average NBA shooter.
It’s extremely difficult to find players as limited as Davion at age 21 who ended up becoming good NBA players. Most guys who break pre-draft stat models are young, physical monsters like Giannis or Jaylen Brown, not old 6’1″ guys with a large sample of being subpar by NBA standards.
The most offensively challenged upperclassman to become an NBA starter may have been Eric Snow who averaged just 6.8 points as a junior and 10.8 as a senior in seasons that straddled Davion’s junior age. If you average those seasons he is about 2 months younger than Davion, and he averaged 10.8 pts and 9 assists per 40 compared to 12.2 pts and 4.7 assists for Mitchell. He only scored slightly less, but had nearly double the assist rate on top of being 2″ taller and better rebound, steal, and free throw rates.
Snow isn’t a realistic Davion comp as he had significant size, passing, and defensive advantages and his lack of scoring was largely due to terrible shooting that he eventually improved.
If we are looking for 6’1″ offensively challenged guys, the best comps are Earl Watson and Chris Duhon. In this case we will be as generous as possible to Davion, and compare their per 40 minute senior seasons to the mean average of his junior and senior years:
First, both guys were better rebounders, got to the line more frequently, and had slightly higher steal rates which all imply better physicality and defense. Then if we disregard Davion’s fluky 3P%, his offense does not stand out as superior to these guys in any way. Further, Watson was creating this level of offense for 2 prior years while Duhon was a top 10 recruit who was churning out this production all 4 years at Duke, which implies they have stronger baselines of talent level and are more natural floor generals.
If all 3 of these guys are in the same draft, it should be a clear Duhon > Watson > Davion ranking. Both Duhon and Watson went in round 2, and peaked as fringe starters, which is about the pinnacle of optimism for Mitchell. And even that is a bit of a stretch since these are the most optimistic possible comparisons from the past 30 years of the draft, and Davion STILL has some clear disadvantages with no real advantages.
It’s a great story that this kid worked his way up from a terrible NCAA freshmen to an OK-ish redshirt sophomore to a good junior who played a major role on a championship team, but that just isn’t a formula that produces NBA players in general, let alone good ones.
His hype is so mindblowing that it’s hard to know where to rank him. It is not even clear that he is one of the top 60 prospects in the draft. He definitely should not be going in round 1, let alone the top 10.
Draft Instead: Miles McBride (#33)
His teammate Jared Butler would have been one clear answer, but it seems that he may not cleared to play in the NBA due to a heart condition.
Instead, we can look at early round 2 where Miles McBride is projected to go #33 overall and completely waffle crushes him at all basketball related abilities.
McBride measured 1.25″ taller and 4.5″ longer at 6’2.5 with a 6’8.75″ wingspan, which actually gives him slightly better PatBev dimensions and makes that comp reasonable for him. Second, if we compare their output on the floor, it is not close between the two. Per 100 possessions:
Once again we are mushing together Davion’s junior and senior seasons, which may seem unfair since it disregards his improvability. But college seasons are small samples littered with variance, and 6’1″ players like Mitchell simply do not go on parabolic trajectories once they are legal to drink alcohol. Further in an odd season afflicted by pandemic, there should be an advantage to being an upperclassmen on an elite team that returns most key players. You cannot accurately analyze him based on his senior season in a vacuum.
Davion has a better first step and creates his own shot at the rim at about double the rate of McBride: 1.32 per 40 vs 0.65. This is reflected in his clearly superior 2P%. But that’s where the fun ends for Mitchell. McBride is almost 2 full years younger, a significantly better shooter, and beat Davion in the physical categories of rebounds and free throw rate (this is becoming a consistent theme in guys who succeeded in the NBA). He also is a better floor general, with a significant AST:TOV edge in spite of his youth.
If you want to target a guy to fill the PatBev role, McBride is clearly the guy. He is likely slightly underrated and should be valued somewhere in the 20’s, and Mitchell should be valued considerably lower.
If you take Mitchell in the lottery when McBride is available on the fringe of round 1, you failed at drafting.
If you want to make one tweak to the consensus board to be +EV, just take Davion Mitchell off your board and congratulations: you are now ahead of the curve!
Corey Kispert 6’7″ SF Gonzaga, ESPN: #13
After that wall of text breaking down Mitchell, Kispert is an easier task:
There is no reason why Kispert cannot be an NBA rotation player as a 6’7″ efficient knockdown shooter, but his upside is far too limited to take in the lottery. He is currently projected at #13 and Wieskamp at #54. If you want a shooter on the wing, it’s a clear moneyball play to target Wieskamp in round 2 and take somebody with much more upside than Kispert in the late lotto.
Kai Jones, 6’11” Texas, ESPN: #14
At a glance Jones has appeal as an athletic 6’11” who can finish lobs, and has a passable outside shot making 38.2% from 3 an 68.9% FT as a sophomore for Texas.
But if you give him a closer look, you run into the enigma that he doesn’t know how to play basketball and it is not clear how he fits into a NBA lineup. He has the skill level of a center but plays more like a big wing defensively, which is not ideal.
Even though he seems like a guy who can make an open shot, he has a low 3PA rate of 3.3 attempts per 100 and at 67.7% FT from his career he still projects to be more of a barely passable shooter than an actively good one. And he is a non-handler with a bad assist to turnover ratio at 0.6 vs 1.4 per game, which strongly implies that he will struggle to play the perimeter in the NBA.
Defensively he cannot really play center. His 5.3% blk rate is more like a PF than an NBA rim protector, and his 8.9%/14.4% rebound rates are more like a SF.
Even if he can make an open shot he is going to depress an NBA offense with his lack of creation. If you are hoping for the next Jerami Grant, he had a higher usage (21.6 vs 18.2) and much better assist (1.4) to turnover (1.2) as a 2 month younger sophomore. And in spite of being 3.75″ shorter, he measured with 1″ better wingspan (7’2.75″ vs 7’1.75″) and is the more explosive athlete. He made 0 three pointers as a sophomore and then developed into a solid NBA 3 point shooter and now you have a decent perimeter player. That is not a possibility for Kai.
If you are hoping for the next Christian Wood, then good luck with that. Let’s compare their sophomore seasons per 100 possessions:
Wood completely destroys him across the board outside of steals, while being 8 months younger and 1.5″ longer. He also had the better career NCAA FT% (74.7 vs 67.7) and 3PA rate (5.7 vs 3.3), and he somehow went undrafted.
The draft can be strange and funny how randomly guys get hyped out of nowhere. A projected lotto pick shouldn’t get crushed this hard by a past undrafted free agent, but here we are with Kai looking like a homeless man’s version of Christian Wood. And what makes it even stranger is that he didn’t even play a major role for his NCAA team, as he only started 4 of his 26 games as a sophomore.
If we are being optimistic, his steal rate is a bit of a saving grace, and maybe he can be some sort of wing stopper defensively who can squeak by as a small 5 on occasions. But his ball skills are just so so bad for a guy who is not a full time center on D, he simply does not belong in round 1.
Draft Instead: Alperen Sengun (#16 ESPN), Usman Garuba (#17 ESPN), Day’Ron Sharpe (#31 ESPN), Charles Bassey (#35 ESPN), Santi Aldama (UDFA)
Everybody is so down on drafting bigs, you can pretty much throw a dart at any random tall person in the draft and they are going to be a more attractive value proposition than Jones.
First let’s discuss the high comedy that is that rating Jones above Alperen Sengun who won Turkish League MVP at age 18. He has similar dimensions to Jones, and posted better steal and block rates at 2.6/5.9 vs 2.0/5.3. Jones is more athletic, but Sengun has a much higher IQ and every question that is directed toward Sengun’s defensive ability needs to be asked about Jones just as strongly. His athleticism may give him a bit more hope on this end, but he is at best a slight favorite to be better than Sengun defensively.
And outside of that Sengun destroys him to a comical extent. Sengun nearly doubles him up on the glass at 17.5/23.4 vs 8.9/14.4 in ORB%/DRB%. He is an obviously better shooting making 79.4% FT vs Kai’s 67.7%. And he has a higher usage at 26.7 vs 18.0 yet he STILL has a much better assist:TOV at 2.7 vs 2.4 compared to 0.6 vs 1.4 a higher 2P% at 67.4 vs 64.2% all while being an entire 1.5 years younger.
The disparity in skill and IQ between Sengun and Jones is so preposterous such that Jones’ superior athleticism is practically trivial. They are clearly multiple tiers apart as prospects.
Then we can move onto Usman Garuba, who is slotted in a reasonable range and has similar steal, blocks, and shooting rates, But has maybe 0.5 to 1″ better wingspan, better assist:TOV, and better rebounding.
Day’Ron Sharpe is a different type of big but he is also better, so why not throw him a shout out.
Charles Bassey is in a similar boat of shooting, perhaps slightly better with career 76.8% FT, excellent 2P%, and shoddy assist:TOV. But he actually rebounds and blocks shots like a big man, and you just can’t take the guy who defends and rebounds like a wing above him.
Then if we want a skinny 6’11” guy who probably gets destroyed on D, let’s roll with Santi Aldama in the undrafted pile over Jones. Aldama is definitely less athletic than Jones, but has similar steal (1.7) and block (5.6) rates and is much more intelligent and skilled offensively. He only made 68.6% FT 38.6% 3P as a sophomore and 63.9% and 30.6% for his career, but he attempted 3PA at nearly triple the rate of 9.4 per 100 vs 3.3 for Jones and his stroke looks smoother.
Aldama is likely the better shooter and is far more skilled overall on offense as he is super coordinated for a big man and carried 30.5% usage with an efficient 58.5% 2P and 2.3 assists vs 3.2 turnovers per game. His D is a greater cause for concern than Jones as he is skinnier and less athletic, but it’s just a more interesting flier to bet on the highly skilled and coordinated guy with good feel than it is to bet on the athlete with sorely limited skill and IQ.
Tre Mann, 6’4″ PG Florida, ESPN: #23
At a glance Mann seems like an interesting combo guard prospect, as he offers a bit of everything from creation to passing to shooting, as the former 5* recruit had a breakout sophomore season for Florida.
But digging deeper there are a few causes for concern. First– his physical profile is littered with flags. He has a t-rex wingspan at 6’4″ and he is skinny and not athletic, which basically makes him a PG sized defensive player with no + tools.
These players can be useful if they are wizards offensively, but Tre is merely pretty good in terms of skill level. He has enough handle and shake to get to the rim in a pinch, but his creation largely hinges on making floaters, as he lacks the burst to blow by more athletic defensive players. And he is more of a combo guard than a true point as he had only slightly more assists (3.5) than turnovers (2.8) as a sophomore.
He did shoot very well as a sophomore, making 40.2% from 3 and 83.1% FT, but that’s not much to complement a physically deficient PG with only a pinch of creation.
He also had a terrible freshman season, which is scary. As mentioned regarding Davion Mitchell, big leaps are a stronger signal of limited baseline talent than they are outlier improvability. If a guy has bad tools and isn’t a skill wizard, there are only so many gains to be made. If he needed a year to adjust to the physicality of college, that may be a sign that he will never adjust to the physicality of the NBA.
And it is maddeningly difficult to find a comp. Randy Foye got off to a similarly inefficient start to his college career and is 1″ shorter, but is 2″ longer, much stronger, and more athletic which gives him more potential to capitalize on gains throughout his career.
Luke Kennard has physical similarities, but is 1.25″ taller and longer and was just better at basketball as both a freshman and sophomore.
When it feels like we are reaching to compare Mann to fringe starters, that’s a good sign that he doesn’t belong in round 1. The nicest thing that can be said about him is that if Bryn Forbes and Seth Curry can be rotation NBA players, he can too as he does offer a bit more creation than those guys.
But it is far from a guarantee that he is a great shooter, as he shot poorly as an NCAA freshman to dock his two year %’s to 34.9% 3P 78.8% FT. Curry and Forbes were knockdown shooters as freshmen, and they were also undrafted free agents. You don’t chase this archetype in round 1 or early round 2. Maybe in mid-late round 2 it is fine since he can be a slightly better version of Forbes or Curry, but it’s tough to get too excited.
Draft Instead: Jaden Springer (#29 ESPN), Cam Thomas (#25), Quentin Grimes (#28), Bones Hyland (#30), Ayo Dosunmu (#32), Josh Christopher (#34), Jason Preston (#43), Joel Ayayi (#49)
The one player that would be a glaring error to pass in favor of Mann is Jaden Springer. They measured at the same height of 6’4.25″, but Springer is functionally bigger with 6’7.75″ wingspan and stronger at 202 vs 177 pounds. Further, Springer is the better defensive prospect posting 2.7%/2.0% stl/blk vs 2.2%/0.4% for Mann while also eye testing as the better defensive player. Springer is still undersized for a SG, but he can at least hang with SG’s defensively on top of being the better player on this end, which sums to a healthy chunk of value in Springer’s favor.
Offensively, they have strikingly similar outputs:
Springer creates his own shot at the rim slightly more (1.23 vs 1.03 per 40), and otherwise these guys are basically twins. Tre loves to pullup for floaters, Jaden loves to pullup for midrangers. Tre has double the 3PA rate and may be the slightly better shooting prospect, and it may seem reasonable to give him the slight advantage on this end.
That is until we remember that Springer is 1 year 8 months younger, and this completely disregards Mann’s disastrous freshman year. Let’s see what happens when we smush Mann’s two seasons together
Now Jaden is clearly better offensively, still more than a full year younger, physically superior, and better on defense and all we can really do is feel sad if any team actually drafts Mann higher.
Everybody else is a major step down from Springer who is criminally underrated at #29 and belongs in the lottery. But we can run through them quickly:
Cam Thomas may be slightly overrated at #25 as a 6’3″ one dimensional shooter, but he made 88.2% FT as a freshman and got off a huge volume of shots without turning it over. And he measured with a +4.5″ wingspan in 2019 and has better strength and athleticism. Ultimately he has more unique selling points that make him a better value proposition than Mann.
Quentin Grimes is a former top 10 recruit who is also a good shooter making 40.3% 3P 78.8% FT as a junior with a monstrous 15.3 3PA/100. He also has much more defensive potential with an extra 1″ height, 4″ length, and 32 pounds of beef. He carries a high usage and positive assist:TOV ratio, and fits a stronger 3 + D archetype than Mann. Mann’s creation advantages with his floater game just don’t shift the scales back enough in his favor.
Bones Hyland is a similar mold to Mann as a combo guard who can shoot, but he has a stronger shooter making 86.2% FT as a sophomore with a massively better 3PA rate at 14.3 per 100 and a better career 3P% at 39.9 vs 34.9%. He is nicknamed Bones due to his skinny frame, actually weighing 8 pounds less than Mann at 169 but his 6’9.25″ nevertheless gives him more defensive potential.
Dosunmu offers more creation, less shooting, and much better physical tools with 1″ height, 6″ length, and better frame.
Christopher fits the common trend of being 5″ longer, 37 pounds stronger, more athletic, and not particularly worse at basketball.
Jason Preston is a unique flier as his defense is very bad and he is similarly skinny to Mann, but at least he has 6’8.5″ wingspan and wizard like passing ability to make him an arguably more interesting flier.
Joel Ayayi rounds this out unsurprisingly as a guy who projects to be an efficient role player but is bigger than Mann with more defensive potential.
Josh Primo, 6’5″ SG Alabama, ESPN: #26
Primo is the youngest player in the draft, not turning 19 until December. He also boasts a promising outside shot, making 38.1% from 3P and 75% FT as an NCAA freshman.
And that’s about where the good news ends. He has mediocre physical tools for a SG at 6’5″ with 6’9″ wingspan and average at best athleticism. He isn’t much of a rebounder or defensive playmaker, and his ball skills are vastly subpar for a SG as he averaged a miserable 1.5 assists vs 2.4 turnovers per 40, which is brutally bad for a 17 usg spot up SG.
Granted, his extreme youth gives him hope of improving, and through that lens he may not be completely screwed as a ball handler. But he is off to such a poor start it is difficult to get excited. We don’t have many examples of players who started school this young, but the most similar comparison may be Svi Mykhailiuk who actually was 6 months younger when he enrolled at Kansas.
Svi had odd dimensions with 3″ more height and 4.5″ less wingspan, but let’s say they are functionally the same size and make a Svi sandwich out of his freshman and sophomore seasons the bread to Primo’s freshman meat:
Svi only played 259 minutes as a freshman, but you can see his rate stats were fairly stable to the next year and his main difference is that his shots happened to fall in the next year.
Primo played larger with slightly better rebounds, blocks, and free throws draw, but Svi had a notable advantage in assist rate and approximately 2x’d Primo’s assist:TOV ratio in each of his first two seasons.
Primo could develop his ball skills to catch up with Svi in time, but with such a poor starting point he will almost certainly be worse than the Svi Rex. And for a perimeter player, this is a far more significant handicap than Primo’s physicality edge.
It’s tough to make any bold proclamations about somebody as young as Primo. Maybe he has an outlier skill curve, and becomes an adequate passer and handler and historically good shooter. Maybe he still has a little growth spurt remaining, maybe his body and athleticism develop better than expected with age. He isn’t drawing dead to surpass Svi and become something useful over time.
But his trajectory currently looks weaker than Svi at the same age, and Svi went 47th overall and is a fringe NBA rotation player. So how is taking Primo in round 1 anything other than wishful thinking with so many limitations and such little to build on at this stage? He is going to be fringey or worse a huge % of the time, and even when he hits he is likely to be an ordinary role player.
Draft Instead: All of the same guys listed above Mann