1. Karl Towns (Final Big: 1st, Drafted: 1st)
One problem with the exercise of ranking draft prospects is that it can result in a lack of attention to a consensus #1 overall pick. After a season where 5 or 6 players could be argued to deserve the #1 pick, I have yet to see a credible argument that Towns is not the best prospect in the draft. Consequently, nobody discusses his precise level of goodness.
He’s arguably the 3rd best prospect to enter the draft post Oden/Durant. Anthony Davis is #1, and I would have taken Joel Embiid ahead of Towns before he was revealed to be an incorrigible Shirley Temple guzzler.
The next tier of prospects includes Derrick Rose, John Wall, Blake Griffin, and Kyrie Irving. Rose did not dominate college enough, and Kyrie is a non-athletic non-defense PG so I wouldn’t even consider either of them ahead of towns. Griffin and Wall both dominated college and have extreme levels of athleticism that Towns lacks, but I wouldn’t take a non-shooting non-rim protecting Griffin over a center who does both. Wall had the strongest case as an elite 2 way PG (he could have become so much better than he is), but I still favor Towns. A two way 3 point shooting center with no significant leaks in his prospect profile outside of merely good not great physical tools is just too attractive to pass up.
Of course Towns had to get drafted to the team with the most pre-historic NBA offense, and consequently he has a mere 2 attempts from 3 in the pre-season as the front office is paying Kevin Garnett $17M to mentor Towns to take jumpers with his heels on the arc. So perhaps like Wall his potential will never be fully realized, but I nevertheless rate him as the 3rd best prospect in the last 8 drafts. He should be awesome in spite of his un-sharp environment.
Good Prospects Who Are Significantly Inferior to KAT
2. Justise Winslow (Final Big: 3rd, Drafted: 10th)
Winslow has been a passing machine in the pre-season, tallying 20 assists vs 10 turnovers. This is largely due to his inability to score, as he struggled to put the biscuit in the basket from all parts of the court this pre-season. He has the ability to create quality shots for himself, but it doesn’t show in his pre-season stats as he averaged a meager 8 pts per 36 minutes.
After shooting just 25/93 (27%) on non-rim 2’s in college, Winslow only converted 2/17 of two pointers 5+ feet from the rim in the pre-season. It seems unfathomable that he can continue to be this bad from short and mid-range, but it’s nevertheless concerning if the trend continues to hold. For now, Winslow is leaning heavily on rim attempts and free throws to get his buckets.
It’s possible that he’s a career eFG% disaster if he can’t convert non-layups. But I stand by my pre-draft assessment that he is awesome at everything other than shooting. He is only 19, and he has time to learn to score away from the hoop. If he does and develops his slashing ability, he has star potential. If he doesn’t he may fall well short of the lofty praise I heaped on him pre-draft. This is a weak #2 ranking, as Justise’s scoring concerns are real and he is closer to #10 than he is to #1.
3. Stanley Johnson (Final Big: 7th, Drafted: 8th)
4. D’Angelo Russell (Final Big: 2nd, Drafted: 2nd)
This may feel like an overreaction to pre-season and summer league, but the only reason Russell ever rated ahead of Stanley is because of a not large 35 game NCAA sample. Stanley was the #3 RSCI recruit vs. Russell’s #16, and statistically the two weren’t THAT far apart. They both had questionable athleticism and questionable splits vs. good defenses, and after summer league and pre-season Russell’s concerns are much more glaring.
After a dismal summer league where Russell posted 16 assists vs 26 turnovers, he cut the turnovers in the pre-season but offered little outside of a few mid-range jumpers made off the dribble and an 11 assist game vs. Maccabi Haifa. And it’s not encouraging that he landed with one of the worst coaches surrounded by chuckers in the backcourt, which is a terrible scenario for his development. This is not enough to cast aside his excellent skill level and vision, but my optimism is tempered.
On the other hand, Johnson quelled concerns about rim finishing concerns when he converted an awesome 25/40 inside the arc in summer league. He also showed an improved handle, as he was able to slash through the defense to create layups for himself on multiple occasions while still posting more assists (10) than TOVs (9). His pre-season 2P% was mildly disappointing at 42% (28/67), and he still looks a bit clumsy with the ball so minor concerns linger. But he finished rim attempts efficiently, and only struggled to make short-mid range 2’s as he converted just 11/41 of 2PA that were 5+ feet from the rim according to ESPN shot charts. He excelled at these shots in college and pre-season, so this is likely attributable to bad variance.
Johnson is so solidly good across the board at such a young age that it’s hard to envision him amounting to not much. He doesn’t specialize in any one skill, but being average or better across the board can sum up to a valuable player to give him sneaky upside. After resisting all NCAA season, I’m finally ready to hop on board with the Stanimal. He’s the most likely non-Towns prospect to become an above average player.
5. Mario Hezonja (Final Big: 11th, Drafted: 5th)
I wasn’t high on Hezonja entering the draft, but that’s mostly because I was too lazy to scout him and chalked him up as a mystery box. There’s a lot to like here:
-He’s the most explosive player in the draft class
-He has good size at 6’8″
-He is a good 3 point shooter and bombs away with decent volume.
-He is a willing passer
-He has good shot selection and better feel for the game than you’d expect
The only holes in his game is that his handle is somewhat limited and he is bizarrely turnover prone. But I don’t see any clear reason why his turnovers won’t be cut, and his handle is good enough to do this.
To the masses he has become a caricature of overconfidence, as his swagger has overshadowed his play. So while he has solidified himself as a source of entertainment, nobody seems to be predicting greatness. It’s hard to read his quotes and expect a good team player. But in summer league 31 of his 66 FGA have come from 3, and he converted 51% (18/35) of his 2PA. His shot selection seems generally good, and this is supported by his ACB and Euro stats. He hasn’t been perfect, as he did drain the shot clock to skip the 2 for 1 and take a long 2 off the dribble. But overall there were many more good attempts than awful ones.
It cannot be taken for granted that team player Mario will continue to show up over the course of his NBA career. It’s possible that once he is on track to greatness, his stubbornness causes him to regress to poor habits. But if he stays on track, he can be anywhere from an efficient 3 + D piece to a full fledged star. His personality risks are well worth bearing given his upside. There’s an argument that he belongs even higher, and he could easily close the season as the #2 rookie in the class.
6. Willie Cauley-Stein (Final Big: 6th, Drafted: 6th)
With all of the negative pre-draft reports and him landing on one of the most incompetent NBA franchises, there is a natural aversion to WCS loving. But this is the same league where Clint Capela inexplicably slid to 26th overall in 2014, and the Kings may have made a decent pick in spite of being themselves.
WCS quietly had a good pre-season and SL, and possibly earned himself a starting role. Offensively he is limited but he is a solid garbageman who avoids mistakes as he posted a microscopic 0.85 TOVs per 36 in 253 SL + PS minutes. Defensively he isn’t perfect, but he has good instincts poking away passes and his size, athleticism, and superhuman quickness gives him upside.
It’s hard to envision him not becoming a useful NBA player, and a Tyson Chandler-ish upside isn’t bad.
7. Kelly Oubre (Final Big: 8th, Drafted: 15th)
Oubre struggled to make 3’s shooting 8/32 in SL and 1/14 pre-season, but I suspect this is largely poor variance since there weren’t questions about his shot entering the draft. More importantly, he showed a better than expected slashing ability (especially in summer league), which is exciting for a player with his awesome tools. He also posted a monster free throw rate, continued to rack up huge steal totals with his excellent length and quickness, and kept his turnover total reasonably low.
He still needs to improve his passing ability, as his assist rate did not improve from his disappointing NCAA rate. And he needs to prove that he has the feel for the game to score and defend at the NBA level. These deficiencies are why he slid to 15th overall, and they could preclude him from becoming a good NBA’er. But his tools and overall statistical production are both good enough such that they could easily trump his flaws in the long run.
Wings with Oubre’s tools who can do a little bit of everything don’t come around often, and he was a great gamble for Washington at 15th overall.
8. Jahlil Okafor (Final Big: 4th, Drafted: 3rd)
Okafor was awful in both summer league and pre-season. His value is largely entirely tied into his ability to finish at the rim with his excellent length and touch, but in the pre-season he struggled to create attempts and has instead settled for mid-range shots. Consequently he shot 38.6 FG% (22/57) and drew a mere 9 FTA. He also had a terrible 4 assists vs 18 turnovers, as he did not display passing ability to offset his plummet in scoring efficiency.
Some blame can be placed on Philly’s poor guard play and spacing, and he still can become an efficient offensive weapon if he finds a way to get a higher volume shots at the rim. But thus far he has been a black hole of extreme inefficiency, and efficient scoring was his only real strength entering the draft. This is especially scary considering his poor shooting and lackluster defense, as his offense needs to translate to the NBA exceptionally well for him to have any compelling upside scenario.
I felt I gave Okafor the benefit of the doubt by ranking him 4th in the class, and now that all of his translation flags are glaring it is hard to feel optimistic. How excited would you be if your favorite team drafted a one trick pony who may not be able to translate his one trick to the NBA level?
9. Emmanuel Mudiay (Final Big: 5th, Drafted: 7th)
A number of intelligent people think highly of Mudiay, as he has great tools and legitimate PG skills. But he still has a long road to go to become a good NBA player, and it starts with his shooting. Combining SL, PS, China, and high school all-star games he has shot 28% (22/79) from 3 and 58% (55/95) FT. It’s hard to project his shot confidently from a mish mash of small samples, but it looks bad.
There’s a short list of PG’s since 2000 who have been successful with a FT% < 70%: it’s mostly a bunch of Rondo seasons and a smattering of young Baron Davis and Tony Parker before they graduated to consistent 70%+ shooting. This is for good reason– a point guard that runs frequent pick and rolls is inevitably going to pull up for jumpers and floaters, and an inability to convert will tank his efficiency. Even Rondo was a respectable 40% career shooter from 16-23 feet. If Mudiay doesn’t learn to shoot, the rest of his game needs to be pristine to become a good starting PG
In PS + SL, Mudiay’s rebounds, steals, and blocks totals were all decent but unspectacular. He was given a large role offensively and permitted to take his lumps, and lumpy it was. He barely posted more assists (50) than TOVs (44) and his scoring was hyper-inefficient. There is clear room for improvement as he trims the fat, but there sure is lots of fat to trim. While he has potential on defense, he doesn’t have the best fundamentals and it’s unlikely that he becomes lockdown while shouldering such a big offensive load. And even though he’s athletic, he’s not on Westbrook, Wall, or Rose’s level of explosiveness. Perhaps his handle, passing, vision, and tools are enough to muster a respectable career as a non-shooting PG, but I don’t see how he is amazing enough to buck historical trends and become anything near a star without learning to shoot.
He is young enough to have a chance of developing into a respectable shooter, and this is largely where all of his upside lies. But he will almost certainly never become an above average shooter. Even if progression slightly below average shooting is guaranteed, he still has a long way to go to develop the rest of his game into a star. I see his upside as John Wall-ish, and a number of things need to go right for this to be achieved. It’s a good upside, but it’s not great and it’s dragged down by a boatload of bust equity.
10. Bobby Portis (Final Big: 14th, Drafted: 22nd)
Portis is in a different vein from Porzingis and Turner, as he is slightly undersized for a center and not explosive enough to be a prolific shot blocker. But his mobility, high basketball IQ, and non-stop motor make him ideal for a defense that switches heavily. Given questions regarding Porzingis’s instincts and rebounding and Turner’s ability to defend the pick and roll, it wouldn’t be shocking if Portis ended up as the best defensive player of the trio.
It was a stretch to call Portis a stretch big entering the draft, with just 8% of his college FGA coming behind the arc. But playing for 3 point happy Fred Hoiberg, Portis increased his 3PA rate to 15% in his combined PS + SL sample in spite of the greater distance. It is too soon to tell how reliably he will make these, but merely attempting them is a good sign.
His biggest flaw remains his lack of explosiveness. Consequently he struggles to finish in traffic, and his 43% preseason 2P% is not inspiring. But he gets most of his shots in the flow of the offense, which keeps his turnover rate low. He also posted monster rebound numbers, and overall he had a reasonably efficient pre-season on above average usage.
Halfway through his freshman season, I wrote about the curious lack of draft hype for Portis. Some level of skepticism made sense, as his lack of burst is a genuine damper on his upside. But he is also overlooked due to lacking sex appeal in his game (i.e. a turnaround jumpshot) that he doesn’t need to be effective. His edge lies in size, mobility, effort, smarts, rebounding, shotmaking ability, and fitting in well with the team concept. It is not certain that this will sum to much, but it looks like it will amount to something. And based on pre-season something could be more than most are expecting.
11. Kristaps Porzingis (Final Big: 12th, Drafted: 4th)
12. Myles Turner (Final Big: 20th, Drafted: 11th)
Has anybody noticed that Porzingis and Turner are nearly the exact same thing? Both are awkward bigs who offer shot blocking, shooting (including turnarounds!), and not much else.
Porzingis’s hype train is comical. Knick fans are so starved for any ray of hope that every minutely positive Staps play gets blown out of proportion as if he just cured cancer. There are things to like– he is a giant with decent mobility, and is comfortable operating behind the arc with 22% of his PS + SL FGA coming from 3. He also posted more cumulative assists (13) than turnovers (11) in spite of being flagged for a poor ratio in Europe, so his feel for the game may not be that bad after all.
The downside is that he is not Dirk. Not even close. As expected for a 7’2″ player, he is neither fluid nor coordinated. This doesn’t mean he will be bad on offense, as he spaces the floor and his quickness comes in handy when he gets a clear lane against a mismatch. And if he continues to move the ball and limit turnovers, that’s a nice offensive piece for a rim protecting giant. But his value could be diminished if the Knicks expect him to create regularly. He doesn’t have the fluidity or burst to regularly attack off the dribble with efficiency and his shot isn’t good enough to score efficiently on regular mid-range attempts.
Defensively is where Staps has the most potential, as his size and length enables him to protect the rim, and his mobility enables him to defend the pick and roll and hold his own on switches. But he is nevertheless difficult to project on this end as his lackluster instincts may prevent him from becoming a great defensive piece. Also his poor rebounding detracts from his strengths on this end and puts pressure on the PF to pick up his slack on the glass.
Staps has an interesting blend of forces working in his favor opposed by flaws working against him. In the best case he becomes a quality 3 + D center who can also exploit offensive mismatches, and in the worst case he becomes a black hole on offense who never becomes a positive defensively in spite of his physical advantages. He definitely has some compelling upside, but his upside is vastly overstated by ESPN/NYC and he has clear bust risk. Also he is the type of player who could get a big boost from coaching, so it is unfortunate that he was drafted to the Knicks.
Turner lacks confidence in his NBA 3 pointer, as just 7 of his 76 SL + PS FGA came beyond the arc. Larry Bird said that Turner might be the best shooter on the team, and this is supported by his 84% college FT’s. But his 27.4 NCAA 3P% along with his scarce 3PA rate in the NBA bodes ill for the current state of his shooting range. He has a nice turnaround mid-range jumper, but he loves it so much he may as well marry it. 28 of his 37 pre-season FGA came on non-rim 2PA, and 22 came on 2PA that were 11+ feet from the hoop. In a related story, he posted a putrid 43.3% TS. This figure suffers from poor shooting variance, but it is nevertheless challenging to score efficiently with such an extreme rate of mid-range attempts. Extending his range beyond the arc and displacing a portion of mid-range attempts with 3 pointers would do a world of good for Turner’s value.
The upside is that Turner rebounds reasonably well and he blocks shots at an insane rate. There are questions about his ability to defend the pick and roll given his poor lateral quickness, and he isn’t fit for a defense that heavily switches. But Frank Vogel has already built an elite defense with an immobile big swatting away shots at the rim, so Indiana is a great landing spot for Turner to thrive on D.