This draft has a good and clear cut top 3 overall between Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr., and Chet Holmgren. It’s a good year to land in the top 3, but then the draft falls off a massive cliff and whoever picks #4 is left in a brutal spot unless another team makes the mistake of taking Jaden Ivey in the top 3.
There are 3 clear upside pulls on the table for #4 overall: Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, and Shaedon Sharpe.
I have already written about Ivey, he is enticing for his elite speed and athleticism and ability to get to the rim, but his limited size for SG and questionable basketball IQ add a fair amount of downside to his profile. He is currently slated to go #4 on ESPN’s mock draft, but he has enough red flags such that it is worth considering other prospects for that slot, so let’s get into the other two options:
Shaedon Sharpe is currently projected #6 overall and is a fascinating mystery box, as he was #1 RSCI in this year’s high school class before reclassifying to Kentucky where he did not play this year. We are working with thin information on him, as his 12 game EYBL sample is the only somewhat meaningful stat sample to go off of.
He averaged 22.6 pts 5.8 rebounds 2.7 assists 1.5 turnovers for UPLAY Canada with 36.4% 3P on 6.4 3PA/game and 63.5% FT. He is listed at 6’5 or 6’6 with a 7′ wingspan, and is a good athlete but not outlier elite like Ivey. He turns 19 in May, which makes him slightly old for his high school class.
The good news for him is that he has the golden SG dimensions, especially if he measures 6’6. It seems that 6’6 with 6’11 wingspan is the baseline where players are capable of being elite without being point guards or generational 3 point shooters with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Vince Carter as 3 big examples of guys with approximately those dimensions. It would be nice to get confirmation with official measurements, but Sharpe seems to make the cut.
The downside is that while he is a clearly + athlete for the NBA, he still may be a notch down athletically from those guys which makes it a bit more difficult to get hyped for him having hall of fame upside. He is athletic enough to not be ruled out entirely, but it feels overly optimistic to bet on him landing in that tier.
Also he does not seem to be a defensive stopper, with just 10 steals in his 12 EYBL games in spite of his monster length. He is physically capable of defending in the NBA and may become adequate on this end in time, but this is a bit of a red flag.
He nevertheless can get off a high volume of offense without turning it over, has great physical tools for a SG, and is young enough to have a compelling upside. His realistic upside comparisons are likely along the lines of guys like Michael Finley, Michael Redd, Jason Richardson, or Rip Hamilton. Which isn’t bad in a weak draft outside of the top 3, and he has some outs to surpass this group.
But without any thick reason to have conviction in him hitting, he also has downside risk and could be a Ron Mercer or Shabazz Muhammad.
It’s difficult to get overly enthusiastic on Sharpe with such little info, but there is no major obstacle to him being an all-star caliber SG if he develops smoothly. This should be enough to put him in the conversation for #4 overall.
Duren has an exceptionally intersection of youth and tools, as he is 6’10 with a 7’5 wingspan, a chiseled 250 pound frame, good athleticism, and does not turn 19 until November.
He is still raw in terms of basketball IQ and skill, but he did show some glimmers of potential as a passer and made a respectable 62.5% from the line.
The big selling point with his is that when somebody is so clearly + at each of height, length, strength, and athleticism, it is not particularly difficult to be a good NBA player. He has one comp that is basically his twin in Derrick Favors who was also 6’10 with 7’4 wingspan. Per 100 possessions:
They are basically the same thing, except Duren is 3 months younger with better passing and more frequent dunks, and should have the higher upside tail. Favors was considered to have elite intangibles pre-draft, which would likely be his biggest advantage over Duren. Overall these prospects seem equal with possibly a small edge to Duren.
Favors had a solid career for a non #1 overall pick, but he also would be fairly boring as we enter an era where bigs are less commonly used.
Now let’s compare him to some prospects who are not as identical statistically, but have similar physical profiles since that is the defining feature of Duren:
It may be a bit optimistic to compare him physically to Howard or Jordan, the same way it is overly optimistic to compare Sharpe to MJ, Kobe, and Vince. They have the same body and dimensions, but there is nevertheless a significant difference between being an 80th or 90th percentile NBA athlete vs 99th percentile explosive freak.
It is unlikely that he matches Dwight’s MVP caliber play in Orlando, although Dwight never developed his passing or shooting so there is some non-zero chance that Duren can reach that level if his skill level develops particularly well.
For now let’s focus on comparisons between Duren and guys who actually played in college, starting with Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning’s freshman season at Georgetown as well as his career averages over 4 NCAA seasons.
Just looking at freshman year Duren had some significant advantages….he was 9 months younger with double the steal and assist rates as well as more points and rebounds. Zo destroyed him on blocks and had a higher FT rate and FT%
Mourning settled to 69.2% FT over his NBA career and that skill edge made him a 7 time all-star who finished top 3 in MVP voting twice, as he was defensive player of the year twice with his elite rim protection. It’s not clear if Duren is as athletic as Mourning, but they seem close enough physically such that this is a fairly exciting comparison if Duren develops his shooting and is able to make a major defensive impact in his own rite.
DAJ and Drummond were slightly bigger and true center sized while Duren is slightly short for the position at 6’10, but in terms of on court production, he is solidly better than both. The first thing that stands out is that they were terrible NCAA players and it is stunning they had as much NBA success as they did.
In spite of being more than a full year older than Duren, DAJ had substantially fewer steals and assists, fewer blocks, more TOVs, and a much worse FT% that he hardly improved in the NBA. He required multiple outlier leaps from his first two seasons to reach his peak, so this isn’t what should be typically expected of a player who shows so many flaws in college. But when you are a physical freak these leaps are possible.
Drummond also was dreadful for UConn, as his profile is flaws on flaws on flaws. He scored a low volume with worse efficiency than Duren, had a microscopic assist rate, and his FT rate and FT% were both outright pathetic. And Duren dunked slightly more often in spite of being slightly smaller. Drummond was never quite as good as his box score production suggests, and is a somewhat boring type of player in the modern NBA, but he nevertheless had a surprisingly long and productive career considering his myriad flaws while being 3 months older than Duren.
Damian Jones was the most similar negative comp I could come up with, but he is not in the same ballpark as a prospect as Duren. James Wiseman is likely a better negative example since he had Duren’s pedigree and hype going #2 overall as a fellow Memphis alum, but it is still difficult to compare him because we only saw his disappointing rookie season and he lacked a real NCAA statistical sample with some major statistical flags in AAU.
Wiseman is likely a reasonable enough cautionary tale, because all he needs to do is not have an outlier DAJ improvement arc and he is not going to be a particularly useful NBA player. But on average guys in this mold who are not good college players are capable of doing surprisingly well in the NBA.
Ultimately Duren is in a similar boat as Sharpe where it is difficult to have conviction in his goodness based on what he has done on the floor thus far, but he has not disqualified him from being a future all-star in any clear way and has plenty of upside between his youth and physical tools.
Other Options at #4
Ivey, Duren, and Sharpe seem like they should be the choices at #4 since they have the juiciest upside tails, but without any clear reason to have conviction that they will hit it is worth pondering if it is worth taking a guy with lower upside but higher median above them.
ESPN’s latest mock has Keegan Murray at #5, which seems too high. He is in a nice 3 + D mold, but his physical tools are meh, he turns 22 in August, his defense seems soft, and how much do you really want to bet on a 74.9% NCAA FT shooter becoming an elite NBA shooter? Too much bleh in his profile to take him above those guys.
AJ Griffin is slated at #8, and he has youth, length, and efficient role playing on his side as he was an elite spot up shooter for Duke. He rarely turned it over, was efficient from all levels, and has an NBA dad which bodes well for his NBA development. He could be similar to fellow Dukie with an NBA dad in Gary Trent Jr., and if things go well enough he has upside to be better. But he is somewhat mechanical in his movement to get too optimistic for his upside, and his shooting is somewhat of a small sample to have too much faith in. I would slate him later in the lottery.
Dyson Daniels is #10 and Jeremy Sochan is #15 currently. These are 3 + D guys who are most interesting to me as types who have easy paths to goodness and are in molds that will be coveted by every NBA team if they hit. But their shooting and offense are both fairly weak, so it is difficult to have enough conviction to place them in the mix at #4. It is something worth considering if I watched enough film and was particularly impressed by either, but that has not happened at this juncture so for now they are in the 7-10 range.
Mark Williams is another guy who seems like a solid guy who is easily useful at #13, but the question is whether he has enough upside to vault ahead of the #4-6 guys. As of now I’d likely keep him in the same tier as Daniels and Sochan.
Benedict Mathurin is a wildcard at #11, as he is an exceptional athlete and turns just 20 in June. There is some chance he can develop into a Devin Booker type of big time offensive player. But there is also a chance he is mostly a spot up shooter on offense with mediocre to bad defense, and he only shot 78.9% FT in college so no guarantee he is an elite shooter in the NBA.
Then #7 Johnny Davis, #12 Ousmane Dieng, and #14 Ochai Agbaji simply do not belong in the lottery conversation. The easiest way to get an edge over other teams picking in the lotto or mid-first is to simply take these guys off your board.
Dyson Daniels, Jeremy Sochan, and Mark Williams are all sleepers who could be better than all of Sharpe, Ivey, and Duren, but it feels like too much of a hot take to rate them there without heavy film watching that I have yet to do.
So for now it would seem the realistic debate is between Ivey, Duren, and Sharpe.
For me, Ivey is the weakest link of the group because even if he is clearly the most athletic, he has the most red flags between his limited size and mediocre basketball IQ. And he is already 20, and had the worst tourney game of any prospect against Saint Peter’s where he made an endless stream of bad decisions resulting in Purdue’s upset loss.
Ivey’s main value is going to be as a ball handler getting to the rim, and if he does not significantly improve his passing and decision making it is hard to believe you should want to build an NBA offense around him as the primary handler.
#4 on my board will in all likelihood come down to Duren vs Sharpe, which is a difficult decision. It seems that Duren’s mold hits more commonly since it is so easy to be a useful NBA player with those tools. But Duren also may be less coveted in his more common outcomes where unskilled bigs are not that valuable any more whereas length and shooting are perpetually in demand.
Gun to my head I will take Sharpe with the lowest conviction possible. This is how I would rank the lottery for now: