2021 Draft Lottery Guide

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With the lottery order being determined tonight, let’s run through the prospects at stake

Tier 1: Likely star

  1. Evan Mobley 7′ PF/C USC

Mobley has good dimensions for a big at 7′ and 7’4 and has a unique combination of fluidity and passing for his size.

He is one of the best passing bigs in recent memory, as he averaged more assists (2.4) than turnovers (2.2). He is physically similar to Chris Bosh (1.2 vs 2.3) and has Joel Embiid’s fluidity (1.4 vs 2.4), but is a much better passer than both as NCAA freshmen. He isn’t quite Nikola Jokic who averaged 2.5 vs 1.5 in the Adriatic league while being 8 months younger, but he is a much better athlete than Jokic.

Given that he is able to play with precision both physically and mentally, he has an easy path to becoming a highly efficient NBA player.

Passing and height pair particularly well because he can pass over the defense, and because passing has a strong correlation with defensive ability. He was a very good rim protector for USC, anchoring the 6th best defense in the country with 2nd lowest 2P%.

His team massively overachieved overall, as he led a team of mediocre transfers that probably should have missed the tournament to the elite 8 and #6 kenpom ranking. This was by far Andy Enfield’s best team ever, as he peaked at #49 in 7 prior seasons at USC.

His shooting is acceptable for a big at 69.4% FT and 30% 3P, but a bit of a question mark.

His biggest weakness is his thin frame makes him a mediocre rebounder and prone to getting bullied by stronger bigs. He will often work as a 5 in the NBA, but may need to slide to the 4 when he faces a stronger big like Jokic or Embiid. This is the flaw that likely prevents him from being a generational prospect and Kevin Garnett level hall of famer, but it’s really the only thing to dislike.

Overall Mobley is loaded with unique strengths with limited flaws in his game, and has an easy path to stardom. He is not quite a lock star but since he is more well rounded and less flawed than everybody else in the draft, he should be the easy choice at #1 overall.

Tier 2: Possible stars with a few warts to work through

2. Scottie Barnes 6’8″ PG FSU

I have written an extensive analysis of Barnes, but the cliff notes are that he checks every box for upside in a way that we have rarely seen before. He is 6’8″ with a 7’2.75″ wingspan, and while not the most explosive athlete is fluid and agile with a good handle. He also is an exceptionally good passer for his dimensions and plays under control making good decisions with the ball.

He also had a good assist to turnover rate for any height at 1.66. For perspective, this was higher than Steve Nash’s assist:TOV ratio for his first 3 seasons at Santa Clara until his senior season edges out Barnes at 1.69.

He used his length to be disruptive defensively, and often guarded opposing PG’s, although not always well as he was prone to getting beat off the dribble and defensive lapses. He has excellent upside on defense but is currently a work in progress on that end.

His biggest question mark is his shooting as he only made 62.1% FT and 27.5% 3P for FSU. But he had a tiny sample of FTA at 41/66, and in a much bigger pre-NCAA sample he shot 67.5% (166/246) and his form doesn’t look too bad.

If he can eventually become a reliable NBA 3 point shooter and improve defensively, Barnes essentially has an uncapped upside and can make teams feel awfully bad for passing on him.

3. Jalen Suggs 6’4 PG Gonzaga

Suggs is slippery to pin down, as there have not been many prospects to similar to him. The scary angle is that he is a 6’4″ combo guard who recently turned 20 and does not have the best shooting or handle, which is not the ideal archetype to take in the top 3.

But the upside is that he seems to be good at basketball, and may be a big athletic PG who can do it all. He did not play point guard full time for Gonzaga as they often played 3 guards capable of running an offense, and everybody’s assist rate suffered for it. Andrew Nembhard dropped from 33.1% at Florida to 20.2% for Gonzaga, Joel Ayayi dropped from 16.6% the prior season to 12.6%, and Aaron Cook dropped from 27.2% at Southern Illinois to 17.5% for Gonzaga.

Suggs led the team with 23.7% assist rate, and had a solid 1.55 assist to turnover ratio. Given that he also showed exceptional instincts defensively with a 3.5% steal rate, he likely has the vision and instincts to be a good decision maker with the ball as a full time handler.

The question is exactly how much he will be able to create offensively. He is a good athlete but not elite, and his handle can stand to improve as well.

He can get to the rim and finish against set defenses proficiently enough to have a big upside on that end, but whether he hits his upside largely hinges on how much his handling and shooting improve, as he is a capable but not great shooter at 76.1% FT 33.7% 3P.

It’s difficult to come up with a satisfactory comp for him, but he is something like a John Wall or Derrick Rose hybrid with Marcus Smart, where he trades a notch of athleticism for better instincts and IQ.

Perhaps it is crazy to rank a prospect who is so much smaller and worse at shooting above Cade, but Suggs smashes the eye test as a guy who knows how to play and doesn’t have any major weaknesses outside of some minor questions about his skill level.

4. Cade Cunningham 6’8 PF Oklahoma State

It is going to be controversial to rank the consensus #1 this low, but there are serious question marks about Cade.

It is easy to see why he has so much hype, as he has excellent wing dimensions at 6’8″ with a 7’1″ wingspan and is a great shooter for any size as he made 40% 3P and 84.6% FT as freshman for Oklahoma State. He also has a point forward skill set with a 20.4% assist rate and showed competent switch-ability on defense, and it’s just not common to see a prospect with this intersection of strengths.

But before getting too excited with his strengths, Cade has some serious flags to address. First, his assist to turnover ratio was awful at 3.5 vs 4.0. From watching film, his passing just isn’t on the level of the other guys in this tier. He often makes bad decisions, throwing turnovers into traffic or feeding teammates in unfavorable positions that lead to them getting blocked or turning it over.

Further, his self creation was inefficient as he has a somewhat loose handle and was prone to getting stripped. And he was more of a bulldozer who tried to run over defenses instead of finding seams in the defense for easy buckets. Consequently, he shot a pedestrian 46.1% inside the arc and his team performed equal to slightly better with him off the floor.

He also has a suspect motor, as he is sometimes lackadaiscal on defense and has an anemic offensive rebounding rate for his size at 2.3%. This makes it questionable how good he will really be on defense.

If he improves his effort, decision making, and handling, then he has an excellent upside based on his strengths. But these are some nasty warts for a guy to be consensus #1 overall, as he currently has quite a bit of fat to be trimmed from his game.

Tier 3: Quality Prospects with Difficult Paths to Stardom

5. Franz Wagner, 6’9″ SF/PF Michigan

Wagner does not share the high upside of the prospects rated above him, but he fits a mold for being an elite role player that fits into any NBA lineup.

While he doesn’t have the typical strength or athleticism of an NBA stopper, he was an elite defensive player for Michigan based on his unique intersection of dimensions at 6’9″ with 7’0″ wingspan, intelligence, quick hands, and exceptional lateral movement. He is outlier good at containing penetration, and moves his feet laterally better than any wing prospect in recent memory.

He played a huge role in Michigan having the 4th best NCAA defense, as the defense was elite with him on the floor and turned to mush when he went to the bench:

The team was significantly better in each of the four factors with him on the floor, and notably the turnovers. On paper his 2.3% steal rate looks good but not exceptional for a wing, until you realize that Juwan Howard massively suppresses steals in a defense that heavily emphasizes forcing difficult shots over forcing turnovers. Most Michigan players who played for other coaches saw their steal rates fall off a cliff. When you consider that Franz was responsible for 29.1% of his team’s steals, his steal rate is much more impressive.

Further, he did this without heavily gambling, as he was very rarely beaten off the dribble and had a significantly positive impact on his team’s defensive eFG%.

His weakness is that he is not the most athletic or physical player, and had a mediocre rebound rate, which likely sets him below Kawhi and Draymond as an outlier defensive player. But he nevertheless is very good on this end.

Offensively he had a limited 19.1% usage rate. But he was able to create off the dribble in doses as he has a capable handle and is coordinated enough to step through seams in the defense. He shined with his lack of mistakes, as he had an excellent 3.8 assists vs 1.6 turnovers per game. His shooting is a work in progress, as he only made 32.5% from 3 in two years at Michigan and his form needs improvement, but his 83.5% FT offers hope for his ability to develop into a good shooter longterm.

He is not in the top tier without the athleticism or creation upside to have all-NBA upside. But in spite of being a sophomore, Franz is younger than Mobley, Suggs, and Barnes and is only a month older than Cade, and has an awesome role player skill set with a very low rate of making mistakes.

He fits a similar mold to Mikal Bridges and Otto Porter of hyperefficient role player, fits into any NBA lineup, and has very low odds of busting.

Once the possible stars are off the board, it’s difficult to see how taking Franz will be a regrettable choice.

6. Josh Giddey 6’8″ PG Australia

If the intersection of 3 indicators could be used to predict upside, the best choices would likely would be age, height, and passing. And Giddey smashes all 3. Here’s a list of teenage 6’7+ prospects who posted the highest pre-draft assist rate in the past 20 years:

AgeAST%STL%HeightWingspanYearPk
Josh Giddey18.236.31.86’86’7.52021?
Scottie Barnes19.431.73.46’97’32021?
Luka Doncic18.830.52.46’8?20183
Ben Simmons19.427.43.16’107’020211
Khris Middleton19.423.72.56’86’10.5201139
Andre Iguodala19.923.72.66’76’11.520049
Draymond Green19.823.32.96’77’1201035
Tomas Satoransky19.222.52.66’76’7201232
Paul George19.722.43.96’96’11201010
Corey Brewer19.822.43.26’76’920067
Ronnie Brewer18.822.43.66’86’11200414
Julius Hodge19.121.92.16’77’0200520
Nic Batum1921.52.76’87’1200825
Kyle Anderson19.320.43.46’97’2201430
Cade Cunningham19.320.42.56’87’0.52021?
Jalen Johnson19.120.53.16.96’112021?

Giddey doesn’t just edge out the competition– he posted *by far* the highest assist rate at by far the youngest age. His passing also eye tests as elite, as he seems to always make the right decision, and even on non-assists often puts his teammates in a strong position to score.

Unfortunately, almost everything else is a weakness for him. Among prospects in the table, he has the lowest steal rate of the group without length to be as disruptive on defense as the typical point forward. He also doesn’t have particularly good frame or athleticism, and isn’t the best shooter (29.3% 3P 69.1% FT) or shot creator.

This gives Giddey one of the most polarizing distributions in draft history, and makes his NBA future extremely difficult to predict. The obvious comparison for him is Lonzo Ball, who is only 2″ shorter at 6’6″ with 1.5″ more wingspan and has similarly overpowered passing and underpowered everything else.

Lonzo had a solidly better steal rate at 2.8% vs 1.8% as well as blocks at 2.1% vs 1.4%, so the prospect of drafting a Lonzo with less defensive impact is not exceptionally thrilling, and there is no doubt Giddey has some non-trivial bust risk.

But Giddey is much more fluid than Lonzo, who may be the most awkward lottery prospect of all time. If he can parlay his fluidity into a capable scoring ability and develops a decent outside shot to boot, that may be enough to be a weapon offensively with such excellent passing. And he did have better usage (19.6 vs 18.1) and assist rate (36.3 vs 31.4) for Adelaide than Lonzo did at UCLA while being a full year younger, so the greater potential for creation is clearly there.

And even though they are completely different players, it is worth considering how badly Nikola Jokic smashed expectations. Being the best passer of all time at your height range is an overpowered ability when everything else develops well, and Giddey is likely the best passing prospect of all time at 6’7+.

There’s definitely risk in a prospect with such limited skills and physical tools. But if he develops well, Giddey has excellent upside and could be the NBA player that everybody hoped Lonzo Ball would be when he was chosen #2 overall.

7. Alperen Sengun 6’10” PF, Turkey

Sengun does not fit the ideal for a modern NBA archetype, as he is a post-up PF that has become completely obsolete.

At 6’10” with 7’1″ wingspan and limited vertical explosion, he can play as a small center in some situations but lacks the rim protection to be ideal for the role consistently. And it’s not clear if he has the mobility to defend the perimeter, although he has a chance as his feet seem decent enough.

But once you get past the physical limitations, Sengun has a rare combination of skill and IQ. He has a capable handle, and is a sharp passer for his size, averaging more assists than turnovers (2.7 vs 2.4). He is also an exceptional offensive rebounder at 17.5% and shot maker with 63.2% 2P and 79.4% FT. He only made 7/35 from 3, but given his FT% at age 18 it seems likely he should be able to develop into an above average NBA 3 point shooter in time.

And what he lacks physically defensively, he helps atone with high IQ with good steal (2.6%) and block (5.9%) rates. If he proves capable of lateral movement and sharp decision making, he may not be a defensive sieve as feared.

The obvious comparison for him is Kevin Love. Which raises an interesting question– if you knew for sure you would get Kevin Love, where do you draft him in this modern era? It’s difficult to say, but there is a limit to how bearish you can be on such a statistically productive player. And Sengun’s statistical output smashes everybody else in the draft– even Mobley. So there is some wiggle room for him to be even better than Love.

While the prospect of drafting such an archaic mold with a high pick is scary for a modern GM, this mentality could also lead to Sengun being a steal with such a rare combinaton of youth, skill, and intelligence.

8. Jalen Green 6’5″ SG, G League Ignite

Green is universally considered to be a top 4 pick, as he is an exceptional athlete and scorer who was decent in the G League while only turning 19 years old in February.

The downside is that he is an undersized SG at 6’5″ or 6’6″ with a 6’8 to 6’9ish wingspan, and is somewhat one dimensional as a scorer. He has clear all-star upside in the Devin Booker or Zach LaVine mold, and largely deserves his hype.

But he may be slightly overrated with so many bigger and well rounded players slated to go above him. Everybody else ranked above him is a clearly better passer, and he is only slightly bigger than Jalen Suggs. This makes his goodness far from guaranteed and puts a healthy dent in his upside, as he is clearly the weakest link the consensus top 4 along with Cade, Mobley, and Suggs.

9. Jalen Johnson 6’9″ PF, Duke

Johnson is one of the most enigmatic players in the draft. He is a huge point forward at 6’9″ with 7’0″ wingspan and is a great athlete, stuffing the statsheet with bulk output in every category.

But his game is somewhat erratic, as he averaged more turnovers (2.5) than assists (2.2) and is not a good shooter with 63.2% FT and a low 3PA rate.

Also, he quit Duke’s team midseason. His team performed better with him off the floor, and it is not common to see top prospects leave their team midseason, which may suggest that his personality is erratic as his game. I really don’t know what to make of it, perhaps he had valid reasons and it does not deserve a significant reaction in light of his talent. But it is an odd point that makes him a bit uncomfortable to draft over the other talented prospects who do not have any similar nagging question marks.

It’s tough to know where to rank Johnson. His intersection of strengths is very rare, but to be comfortable drafting him a team should want to gather intelligence on what happened at Duke and whether he is worth betting on fulfilling his potential or not.

10. Jaden Springer, 6’4″ SG Tennessee

Springer is a funky guy with funky upside. He is one of the youngest prospects in the draft, turning 19 in September. And he does quite a bit well, as he can handle, pass, shoot, and defend.

On the downside, he is very small for SG at 6’4.25″ with 6’7.75″ wingspan, and is a decent but not great athlete. And he tends to overdribble and live in the mid-range which is a turn off for most scouts. Through this lens, it is easy to understand why he is only ranked 27th at ESPN currently.

But he made 81% FT at Tennessee, and while he shot a low volume of 3PA, there is no reason why he cannot develop his shooting to NBA 3 point range given his age. He can also get to the rim in a pinch, and if he develops his handling and passing he has some potential to operate as a big PG. And he is defensively very good for his size.

There’s not a great comp for him, but there is a lot to like. And he has more PG skills than Gary Harris and overall offensive polish than DeAnthony Melton, so he may have more upside than a mere quality role player.

Frankly it’s not clear that he is a weaker prospect than Jalen Green– he is about 1″ shorter and definitely less athletic and proficient at scoring, but much more well rounded.

11. Isaiah Jackson 6’10” C, Kentucky

Jackson offers an impressive 7’5″ wingspan to go with explosive athleticism, as he was an excellent rebounder and shot blocker with potential for switching at Kentucky.

Offensively he seems fairly raw, but does have hope for shooting with 70% FT and John Calipari is an expert at making futurue NBA stars look like ordinary college players. So if he has more offense than he has shown at Kentucky and his skills develop well, he has potential to be an Al Horford type which would be an outright steal in the late lottery.

The downside is that there’s only one Al Horford and he is much more likely to be a Willie Cauley Stein dime a dozen big. The upside makes him clearly worth a lottery pick, but its likelihood of hitting is less clear which makes somewhere in the late lottery seem like a fair slot for Jackson.

12. Moses Moody, 6’6 SG/SF, Arkansas

Moody is a prototypical 3 + D prospect, as he made 35.8% 3P and 81.2% at age 18, as he turned 19 recently in late May. He complements this with a 7’0.75″ wingspan that should help him hang defensively in the pros.

He is fairly limited as a shot creator, but he does have some interesting perks to his game. He is a good offensive rebounder (6.3%) for a SG, he has low turnover rate and about a 1:1 assist:TOV. And he has a surprisingly high FT rate for a non-creator at 0.482– higher than all of Cade Cunningham (.39), Jalen Suggs (.367), and Scottie Barnes (.339). This makes him both an effective spacer and efficient overall offensive player.

If there is one gripe to be had is that he uses his length surprising not well to generate steals, as he had a disappointing 1.6% steal rate– easily the lowest of Arkansas’s top 6 players. This leaves some questions about how much D he actually comes equipped with, but nevertheless he has an easy path to useful role player.

Tier 4: Now the Draft Gets Boring

13. BJ Boston, 6’7″ SF Kentucky

This may seem like an odd choice to rank this high since Boston is currently ranked 37th at ESPN after a dismal freshman season where he chucked brick after brick shooting 38.4% from 2 and 30% from 3.

But the draft gets horribly uninteresting after the aforementioned 12 go off the board, and there are reasons to be high on Boston.

For starters, he as #4 RSCI and seemed like a top 5 pick entering the season, and playing for John Calipari whose prospects routinely underperform in college, see their draft stock slip, and then overperform in the NBA. And the pandemic added extra randomness and weirdness to the season, which may give Boston further excuse for his relentless bricklaying.

Further, his season was not all *that* bad. He had more assists (1.6) than turnovers (1.4) and shot 78.5% FT, and led his team with 2.5% steal rate. For a wing prospect who is 6’7″ with 6’10.25″ wingspan, that is a solid foundation for 3 + D player who should attempt higher quality shots once he swaps his bad NCAA coach for a competent NBA coach.

His horrible shotmaking is a flag to be sure, but it seems excessive to drop Boston to round 2 just for that when he otherwise fits such a strong role player mold with such strong priors. Especially considering how bland this draft gets post-lottery.

14. Keon Johnson 6’5″ SG Tennessee

The good news for Johnson is that he is young, athletic, and capable of making plays on both sides of the ball.

The bad news is that he is highly inefficient for a small SG, as. he measured 6’4.75″ with 6’7.25″ wingspan with more turnovers (2.6) than assists per game (2.5). He also isn’t much of a shooter, making just 13/48 from 3. His 70.1% FT offers a ray of hope

Personally I would have a tough time getting excited drafting a tiny and inefficient SG, but he is really young and athletic which is more than can be said for most players available at this stage

15. Sharife Cooper 6’1″ PG Auburn

Cooper has an odd profile as a sort of Trae Young lite, which isn’t the most attractive mold since it needs to either hit hard or it is a miss since he is likely going to be a sieve on defense and needs to offer a huge amount of offensive creation to atone for that wart.

But he had an insane 34.3% usage and 51.5% assist rate for Auburn, and that level of shot creation cannot be ignored.

What sets him well behind Trae is that his jump shot is mechanically poor and likely needs to be completely re-worked, as he only made 13/57 (22.8%) 3P on the season. On the upside he did make 82.5% FT, so it’s a reasonable gamble that if he correct his mechanics he may have the natural touch to be a good shooter and realize his upside.

Overall he is a strange value proposition, but Cooper has enough home run upside to be more interesting than most post-lottery, and even if he doesn’t hit his upside perhaps he can be a bench microwave.

16. Jared Butler, 6’3″ PG/SG Baylor

Butler is somewhat of a boring role player, as he is not particularly athletic or adept at getting to the rim, which is a worrisome flaw for a SG in a PG body.

But he is a very good shooter, defensive player, and passer, and was clearly the best overall player on Baylor’s championship team. And he is a young junior at age 20, not turning 21 until August.

He doesn’t have much of an upside as a 3 + D PG who makes intelligent decisions, but he does figure to be an effective role player especially if he plays alongside a bigger ballhandler like Luka Doncic or Giannis.

One note that may dampen his stock is that he was allegedly playing with a heart condtiion for Baylor, and it’s not clear. how significant of a risk it is moving forward. It is plausible that NBA teams deem it to be an unnecessary risk to take and it causes him to slide in the draft.

17. Jonathan Kuminga 6’8″ SF/PF G League Ignite

Kuminga is the epitome of mystery box, as he has an excellent physical profile at aprpoximately 6’8″ with 7’1″ wingspan and good athleticism. For all intents and purposes he is a slightly bigger Jaylen Brown, and if he develops his skill level the sky is the limit for him.

The challenge for him is twofold. First, his skill level is not very good right now. He made just 24.6% 3P 62.5% FT in his G League stint, and has a loose handle that needs improvements.

He is listed as 18 not turning 19 until October. Based on that, he has reasonable odds of improving his skill set enough to be a Jaylen Brown-esque player in due time given his excellent physical tools.

But the second challenge is that it is not clear that he is actually 18 years old. He was born in Democratic Republic of Congo where only 25% of kids are born with birth certificates, and didn’t move to America until 2016 when he should have received advice to lie about his age to maximize his odds of an NBA future.

And there is a HUGE difference between 18 vs 19 vs 20, especially for a kid like Kuminga who you are betting on to make a major leap in skill level. So if he is 18, it is completely reasonable to take him in the #5-7 range as he is currently projected. But if he is 19, he takes a hit to his stock and perhaps belongs in the mid-1st. And if he is 20, he likely belongs in round 2. And if he is 21+, then he arguably does not deserve to be drafted.

Personally, I have no idea what the odds of each outcome actually are. Whatever NBA team that drafts him needs to be diligent on their intelligence regarding his age, because being wrong is very costly. For a quick and dirty estimate, let’s use Kevin Pelton’s draft pick value chart

If we say he should go #6 if 18, #15 if 19, #35 if 20, and #60 if 21+, and give 25% odds to each possibility, his respective values are 2110, 1240, 300, and 50 which average out to 925, or approximately the 21st pick in the draft.

Given that this draft is weak after the top 12, perhaps he can be bumped to the #15-20 range as a reasonable estimate. But that is pure guess work, as I have no clear info regarding his true age.

I don’t want to drop any hot takes about how he is not deserving of being drafted high, because it is unfair to him if his age is real and he gets punished for being born into a terrible situation that nobody would want to live through.

But at the same time, it would have been wise for him to lie about his age upon arrival in America, and if an NBA team is going to invest a top 10 pick in him, they should have a higher confidence in his youth than can be had based on available information.

Ultimately Kuminga is exceptionally difficult to value without any clear evidence regarding his age, and all that can be said is that he is extremely risky to take high lotto without any special intelligence that his age is likely accurate.

Overrated

Davion Mitchell 6’1″ PG, Baylor

Currently projected to go #8 overall at ESPN, he is being sold as the next Patrick Beverley as he is a good defensive PG with the nickname “off night” for his reputation of shutting down his matchup defensively.

Offensively he has a quick first step and can get to the rim often enough, averaged 5.5 assists vs 2.4 turnovers, and made 44.7% from 3. So at a glance it would seem that he offers enough to be decent on that end and justify his defense.

But when we dig deeper, there are some flags. First he is 22 years old turning 23 in September, which is fairly old. Second, he was dismal offensively as a 21 year old sophomore, posting an anemic 100.5 ORtg on 19.1 usage. It’s very difficult to be that limited offensively that old as a little guy and thrive in the NBA.

He did clearly improve as a junior, but the biggest part of his leap was increasing his 3P% from 32.4% to 44.7%. But his FT% did not improve, and was actually slightly worse declining from 66.2% to 64.1%. This makes it unclear how much he actually improved his outside shooting vs happened to make more due to small sample size variance.

He did improve his 2P% and passing as well, as his handle likely did improve. But his handle remains fairly weak for his age, as he does not look particularly comfortable doing anything off the dribble in traffic, and moreso is capable of finding opening that present himself due to his quickness.

Most likely he is a mediocre shooter and mediocre ball handler who is too old to progress these skills to an NBA starter level, especially not for a 6’1 guy with 6’4″ wingspan where skill is paramount to success.

Yes he is very good defensively, but defense cannot be the main skill for somebody taht small with so many offensive warts. Especially when he comes with an anemic 1.7% ORB, 8.0% DRB rate and a low FT rate and isn’t the most physical player, it’s worth wondering if he is truly as good as his reputation on that end.

Most likely he will be an outright bust or an ordinary bench player, and it is difficult to see how his lottery hype is justified.

This is espcially true when he has a teammate who was better at just about everything while being 2 years younger and 2″ taller. Mitchell is more athletic and slightly more proficient at creating his own shot at the rim, but that’s a small advantage compared to Butler being outright better.

It is difficult to say exactly where to rank him because entering the season he did not even vaguely resemble a prospect and now his hype is out of control.

Is Cade Cunningham Clearly the Best Prospect in 2021?

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Currently the consensus #1 overall, Cade Cunningham offers some tantalizing strengths. He has an excellent NBA body and dimensions at 6’8″ with 7’1ish wingspan. He is an excellent shooter for his size making 40% from 3 and 84.6% FT as a freshman to go with his point forward skill set and ability to defend multiple positions and make plays defensively with a solid 2.5% steal rate.

It’s easy to see why he is so coveted, as prospects with his intersection of size, passing, scoring, and shooting rarely fail. But he comes with some funky warts that put a dent into his upside and makes him tricky to evaluate.

Efficiency

His biggest flaw is his lack of efficiency in spite of his excellent shooting. He posted a meager 104.2 ORtg on 28.6 usage– it is difficult to be that inefficient while making 40% 3P and 85% FT. But there are a number of cumulative flaws that chipped away at his efficiency.

Passing IQ

Cade’s biggest wart is questionable decision making. He has good vision and is willing to push the pace in transition, but he often delivers passes to teammates in difficult positions while being closely guarded or 1 on 2.

He often seems more interested in moving the ball forward than he does in creating efficient opportunities, and teammates seem to get blocked or turn it over after receiving his passes inordinately often.

This also resulted in a poor assist to turnover ratio (3.5 vs 4.0 per game) and the team not missing a beat with him on the bench. From watching it seemed that Oklahoma State generated higher quality shot attempts when somebody other than Cade initiated, and it reflects with 53.8% 2P with him off the court vs 51.3% with him on.

Shot Selection

This also reflects in his shot selection, as he often forced his way for difficult shots. Further, he has a somewhat loose handle and isn’t the most explosive athlete, which prevented him from creating many easy attempts for himself.

He was nevertheless able to create with his physical tools and shot making ability, but his high rate of difficulty in many of his attempts resulted in an underwhelming 46.1% inside the arc.

Motor/Effort

He also has a lackluster motor, as he posted a paltry 2.3% OREB% and only got 1 putback over the entire season. This also manifests in a sometimes lackadaisical approach to defense.

Prospects with Cade’s dimensions and quality assist and steal rates tend to be strong bets to be good defensive players in the NBA, but Cade’s inconsistent effort, ordinary athleticism, and questionable half-court IQ make it unclear how good he will be on this end.

Visual Evidence

In his OT game vs Oklahoma, most people were impressed with him scoring 40 points in a comeback win. But if you watch carefully, you can see an inordinate amount of pass attempts leading to a bad outcome. I timestamped 12 passes with a comment, although a number of them aren’t terrible decisions by Cade. He fed the big for poor postup attempts 4 times, which may have been a bigger flaw in his coach than himself. And at least one pass was a fine read where he turned it over because he threw it short. But if we are going to single out the truly bad decisions, here are the timestamps:

7:14 Runs PnR with Moncrieffe and oddly decides to pass it after giving opposing big ample time to recover, such that Moncrieffe is forced into a difficult shot while double teamed.

11:55 Passes to Moncrieffe streaking directly toward two defenders in transition and he blows the layup

29:42 Pushes it to Avery Anderson 1 on 2 in transition, and he gets the ball deflected out of bounds

37:17 Runs PnR with Moncrieffe streaking toward open lane with only 6’2″ DeVion Harmon available to help, but instead swings to tightly guarded Rondel Walker who travels

54:32 Runs PnR and dumps it off to tightly guarded non-handler Rondel Walker who is promptly stripped

This is a consistent theme with Cade. He has lapses in his awareness and makes sloppy passes that team his teammates in unfavorable positions more than you would like from a potential #1 overall pick.

Recently DraftExpress shared a video of Cade’s scoring highlights, and you can see that all of these shots are contested. His ability to make difficult shots is impressive, but he doesn’t have the burst to blow by opponents, or the handle or shake to wiggle around them. He plays a bulldozing style that enables him to create a high volume of shots, but not the most efficient ones.

How much will this limit him longterm?

It’s difficult to say. He was better in AAU, so perhaps to some extent he was affected by the pandemic restrictions and performed below his true ability.

Or maybe he has always depended on brawn over brains, and the step up in competition exposed weaknesses that weren’t apparent in AAU or high school.

Either way, it’s unlikely to be a death knell in light of his strengths. He sees the floor well and makes a number of good passes as well, so there is something to build on if he can improve his awareness and decision making. And his mold of big wing who can handle, pass, and shoot fails so rarely, he doesn’t need to improve a ton to be good.

But at the same time, it’s not the type of flaw you want to gamble on at #1 overall. If you are drafting him to be a 30 usage star, can you be comfortable with the fact that his creation includes a significant % of low quality attempts and turnovers for both himself and his teammates at this point?

And if you are drafting him to be a secondary creator a la Khris Middleton who can also space the floor and defend multiple positions, is that really a high enough upside mold to take at #1?

Comparisons

Cade has such a unique distribution of strengths and weaknesses he doesn’t have any particularly strong comps. But we can nevertheless walk through the roughly similar players to approximate his value.

Luka Doncic

The most optimistic comparison that can be made is Luka Doncic since both are point forwards with similar size and non-elite athleticism. Let’s compare Luka’s NBA rookie stats to Cade’s freshman stats:

AgeUSG%AST%TOV%OR%DR%FTrORtg
Luka19.830.531.515421.90.409107
Cade19.329.120.418.72.316.30.39106

In spite of only being 7 months older, Luka had a higher usage, his assist:TOV was twice as good (1.73 vs 0.86), he played more physically with better rebounding and free throw rates. And in spite of only making 32.7% 3P and 71.3% FT compared to Cade’s 40% 3p and 84.6%, he still had the better overall efficiency. Luka is clearly the better NBA creator than Cade was in NCAA.

Cade is nowhere near Luka’s stratosphere as a prospect. Luka is a god tier shot creator and Cade is merely good for his size, and his shooting advantage only slightly closes the gap because Luka’s advantages are so enormous.

If Cade was deservedly the obvious #1 pick, he would be better at the NCAA level than the obvious #1 pick who fits a similar archetype was at a similar age in the NBA.

Funny how Luka actually slid to #3 but now Cade is locked into #1 sans debate. Perhaps some Luka FOMO is contributing to his excessive hype.

Kawhi Leonard

We could also compare Cade to Kawhi as they have a number of similarities as sharp shooting point forwards.

AgeUSG%AST%TOV%2P%STL%BLK%ORtg
Cade19.329.120.418.746.12.52.3104
Kawhi19.527.51614.647.82.71.9109

At a glance it seems this may be a path to greatness…until you compare their rebounding rates and Kawhi destroys him with 11.2/26.6 vs 2.3/16.6. Kawhi has an all time elite motor, where Cade is weak, and this is why Cade is never going to sniff Kawhi’s defensive output.

Kawhi also had a better assist:TOV and slightly better overall efficiency in spite of only making 29% 3P And 76% FT. And Kawhi has progressed to an elite NBA shooter that Cade is not likely to surpass. And with likely overall less efficient offense, and significantly weaker defense and rebounding, it’s difficult to see Cade’s path to Kawhi’s level.

Paul George

If we take a step down to Paul George we are getting warmer:

AgeUSG%ORtgAST%TOV%2P%STL%BLK%OR%DR%
Cade19.329.110420.418.746.12.52.32.316.3
PG19.727.710522.420.948.53.92.96.619

They have very similar distributions offensively, as being turnover prone point forwards with a significant dependency on shooting. Cade posted his #’s vs. better defenses so he should get a small edge offensively, but PG is the better athlete with a significant advantage in steals and rebounding. Cade is unlikely to match him defensively, and PG’s offense did develop about as well as could have hoped.

It’s plausible Cade is able to be a slightly better offense/worse defense version of PG, but he nevertheless seems like a clear underdog to have PG’s level of goodness:

Jayson Tatum

Cade’s #1 kenpom comp shared a freshman season with many similarities:

AgeUSG%ORtgAST%A/TOSTL%BLK%OR%DR%FT%2P%
Cade19.328.610420.40.862.52.32.316.384.646.1
Tatum18.825.410912.40.822.33.24.819.784.950.4

Cade has a higher assist rate, but a similar assist:TOV. And Cade had a higher 3PA/100 (8.9 vs 6.9) and 3P% (40 vs 34), but Tatum had the better pre-NCAA FT% in the mid-high 80s vs 74.9% for Cade with neither attempting many 3’s. Meanwhile Tatum was 5 months younger with slightly better rebounding and 2P%. Overall they are close but Tatum gets the edge as the better prospect.

So it’s curious that Tatum wasn’t in the conversation for top 2 behind Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz whereas Cade is considered the consensus #1 overall.

Granted, Tatum ended up being the correct #1 in that class after landing in a great situation playing for Brad Stevens and developing about as well as possible. And there is no reason why Cade cannot be similarly good if he develops well. But again, he is slightly worse overall as a prospect, will almost certainly end up in a less favorable situation, and likely won’t develop as well, and he is a clear underdog to be as good as Tatum

Jaylen Brown

Tatum’s teammate is Cade’s #2 kenpom comp.

AgeUSG%ORtgAST%A/TOSTL%BLK%OR%DR%FT%2P%
Cade19.328.610420.40.862.52.32.316.384.646.1
Jaylen19.231.29515.10.651.72.24.516.565.448.6

Cade’s #’s are mostly better across the board, and he clearly has a stronger pre-draft profile than Brown statistically, who was even more turnover prone and inefficient than Cade.

It’s a slippery comp because Brown is a better athlete than Cade, was fortunate to play for an elite coach, and has been one of the biggest overperformers of pre-draft numbers in recent memory. But we are reaching the point where it’s unclear whether Cade is more likely to be better or worse than Brown, which makes him a somewhat reasonable comp in terms of overall value.

Khris Middleton

Middleton slid all the way to #39 in round 2 after starting school young and being injured and less effective in his final season as a junior. But his sophomore season where he was freshman aged seems to be indicative of his true value, and it is strikingly similar to freshman Cade:

AgeUSG%ORtgAST%A/TOSTL%BLK%OR%DR%FT%2P%FTr
Cade19.328.610420.40.862.52.32.316.384.646.10.39
Khris19.427.910823.71.042.50.28.213.378.1490.418

They are basically twins! Cade is slightly bigger and maybe has 2″ to 2.5″ more wingspan. He also has higher block rate (KM career block rate was 0.9%), KM does better on the offensive glass, and otherwise these guys are nearly doppelgangers.

This is my favorite comp for Cade, as it is the type of player I believe his drafting team should try to develop him into.

Negative comps

The good news for Cade is that it’s difficult to come up with a truly frightening comparison for him, as big wings who are willing passers tend to perform well relative to draft slot. The most recents busts in that mold would be Evan Turner and Josh Jackson, who both have short arms and are poor shooters unlike Cade.

Then the one semi-interesting comparison who pops up in his top 10 kenpom comps is Andrew Wiggins. It’s a highly imperfect comparison because Wiggins had vastly superior athleticism and inferior passing + shooting, but let’s run with it for a moment:

AgeUSG%ORtgAST%A/TOSTL%BLK%OR%DR%FT%2P%FTr
Cade19.328.610420.40.862.52.32.316.384.646.10.39
Wiggins18.825.51129.20.682.13.18.412.277.149.30.538

Cade’s advantage in shooting and passing is significant, but in spite of that Wiggins was slightly more efficient overall as he was a better finisher and more willing to mix it up inside on the offensive glass and drawing free throws. And in spite of Wiggins being a tunnel visioned non-passer, Cade’s assist:TOV ratio wasn’t *that* much better.

Now let’s focus on the similarities: they were both consensus #1’s entering the season, who had tantalizing strengths but also a surprising amount of meh qualities that were largely overlooked by people anchored to their preseason hype. They both have lackadaisical streaks, looser than expected handles, and both are prone to mental lapses.

After seeing him in summer league, I wrote that Wiggins appeared to be pushed down the wrong path of high volume iso scorer. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown had an excellent coach developing them, and Khris Middleton was a humble 2nd rounder never expected to lead a team. If whoever drafts Cade tries to force him into a high volume scorer who runs the offense, he may not be as effective as he would in a secondary creation role a la Middleton.

While he is a different type of player than Wiggins, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cade provide a similar career arc in terms of value if he is also pushed down the high usage path without developing the creation and decision making to justify it early in his career.

Summary

It seems fair to give Cade a reasonable target of being as good as Jaylen Brown or Khris Middleton, with Jayson Tatum being approximately the upper bound of his upside. His downside would be a different flavor of Andrew Wiggins, where he is an inefficient high usage player with his warts weighing a bit heavier than his tantalizing strengths.

It’s tough to say his odds of each path. On the upside, most players with his intersection of strengths tend to pan out, and given that he is the consensus #1 overall, the safest assumption is that he will be good more often than not.

But at the same time, he has an unique distribution and we haven’t seen many prospects with his specific weaknesses, so it’s not safe to get overconfident in his goodness.

Where Does He Fit in This Draft?

Although he is the consensus #1 overall, it is difficult to understand why he is valued above Evan Mobley. Mobley is more well rounded with fewer warts, more statistically productive, made a bigger team impact, and eye tests as more fluid and athletic.

There isn’t a clear case for Cade going higher. This strongly reminisces of Wiggins vs Embiid, where the public got too attached to a prospect hyped as generational, and neglected his myriad warts when a clearly superior prospect emerged. Mobley even has a higher BPM than Embiid (13.7 vs 11.9) and Cade has a slightly lower BPM than Wiggins (7.9 vs 8.3). Mobley smashes the eye test with his incredible fluidity like Embiid while Cade underwhelms with a somewhat sloppy approach like Wiggins. And unlike Embiid, Mobley doesn’t have any injury concerns to dampen his stock.

Mobley may not exceed Cade’s NBA value by the same margin as Embiid over Wiggins, but taking Cade first will likely prove to be some level of mistake in the long run.

After that, Cade has a solid case for #2 overall along with Jalen Suggs and Scottie Barnes. In particular Cade vs Barnes is an interesting comparison since they are both point forwards with funky distributions. I recently made a case as to why Barnes may be better. Cade is the much better shooter, but Barnes has 1-2″ more of dimensions, more defensive upside, and is the much better passer and decision maker with the ball.

It is fairly close between Barnes and Cade, but intuitively I would lean toward Barnes as his cumulative advantages are significant, and he has decent enough odds of developing an acceptable shot.

Suggs is a more challenging comparison because of his vastly inferior dimensions, but it’s easy to see him as the better prospect as well as the more explosive athlete with significantly higher basketball IQ.

After that, it’s difficult to value anybody else above him. Jalen Green is too small to be rated above him without being a better passer. Franz Wagner and Josh Giddey are a couple of late lotto sleepers who can easily be better than Cade, but are too role player-ish to value above Cade’s starry mold with any confidence.

Ultimately it’s fair to rank him anywhere in the #2 to #4 range, so he should have about the same stock as his insanely unrealistic upside comp Luka and his more reasonable upside comp in Tatum. Luka was an obvious market inefficiency at the time, but it is curious that he is valued so solidly above Tatum without any clear logic as to why. Tatum edges him out as slightly better in most categories.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think this is a hot take. Based on available information, it seems the market is flat out wrong about Cade being the consensus #1 overall.

How good is Scottie Barnes?

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Scottie Barnes is an incredibly unique prospect, as he is more than just a point forward. He is a point guard in a large forward’s body, and has a strong case for purest PG prospect with wing dimensions we have seen since LeBron James.

If you wanted to predict upside based on the intersection of a few statistics: age, height, length, assist rate, and steal rate are likely the best choices.

Assist rate correlates with defensive ability as it is predictive of basketball IQ, and steal rate is correlated with ability to defend the perimeter. Having both of these traits in tandem with good dimensions is ideal for switchability, and it shouldn’t be surprising this list is littered with good defensive players.

Also assists imply some creation ability, and steals are correlated with being good offensively, so most of these players are at least competently offensively, and some of them very good.

Further, height enables players to see and pass over the defense, which can amplify the value of high tier passing.

So let’s look at top 40 wings since 2003 who are at least 6’7″ with 20%+ assist rate and 2%+ steal rate in a season where they were still younger than 20 on Jan 1st:

AgeAST%STL%HeightWingspanYearPk
Scottie Barnes19.431.73.46’97’32021?
Luka Doncic18.830.52.46’8?20183
Ben Simmons19.427.43.16’107’020211
Evan Turner20.225.82.96’76’820092
Khris Middleton19.423.72.56’86’10.5201139
Andre Iguodala19.923.72.66’76’11.520049
Draymond Green19.823.32.96’77’1201035
Tomas Satoransky19.222.52.66’76’7201232
Paul George19.722.43.96’96’11201010
Corey Brewer19.822.43.26’76’920067
Ronnie Brewer18.822.43.66’86’11200414
Julius Hodge19.121.92.16’77’0200520
Nic Batum1921.52.76’87’1200825
Kyle Anderson19.320.43.46’97’2201430
Cade Cunningham19.320.42.56’87’0.52021?

Evan Turner was included because he barely missed the age cut and the sample is so small otherwise. But outside of him and Julius Hodge who barely made the cut in all regards, this list is loaded with quality value selections in the draft. This also bodes well for Cade Cunningham, who in spite of his myriad flaws fits a profile that rarely flops completely.

How Does Scottie Fit In?

Barnes tops the list in assists and length, tied for 3rd in steals, and tied for 2nd in height is a scary intersection of traits. He often defended opposing guards for FSU, and has excellent potential defensively with the ability to switch 1-4.

Offensively, Barnes is perceived to be a limited creator, but he is arguably the 2nd best self-creator on this list outside of Luka. If we use hoop-math’s play by play data to measure self created FG’s at the rim in the halfcourt by removing assisted FG’s and putbacks, he leads this sample on a per 40 minute basis:

PlayerMinsSC FGper 40
Scottie595231.55
Cade956331.38
Simmons1151331.15
Draymond1228280.91
K Anderson1046170.65
Middleton57550.35

Note this only goes back to 11-12, which counts Middleton’s injury plagued junior year over his quality sophomore season, and Draymond’s senior year when he was 2+ years older than the rest of the group. And nobody else on this list outside of Luka was a particularly good creator at a young age, so this is another area where Scottie beats out the majority of a talented and successful group.

In summary: Scottie is taller, longer, better at passing, defending the perimeter, and rim self creation than the majority of a list littered with all-stars and quality role players and few busts. That’s a whole lot of goodness for a player projected outside of the top 5.

Diving Deeper

The most unique part of Barnes’ profile is likely is his shot creation ability for his size. Outside of Luka Doncic and LeBron James, he is arguably the best 6’7″+ playmaking prospect of the lottery era. Which sounds crazy at first, but most guys at that size aren’t great shot creators.

The numbers above present a clear case for him being better than Cade or Simmons. Giannis and T-Mac may have been better if they played college, but pre-draft were pure mystery boxes. Lamar Odom was more of a big with point forward skills than a pure perimeter creator. Evan Turner didn’t take off as a creator until being 2 years older than Barnes.

The biggest challenges to that claim are likely Paul Pierce and Grant Hill. At Barnes’ age, Pierce averaged 23.2 pts and 3.0 assists per 40 minutes and Hill averaged 18.5 pts and 5.4 assists compared to 16.7 pts and 6.6 assists for Barnes.

This illuminates why this hypothesis sounds so crazy and misaligns so badly with consensus– Barnes was more of a pass first player and not a huge volume scorer. And because he only played 24.8 minutes off the bench, he barely scored double digits at 10.3 points per game, thus is perceived as more of an elite role player than offensive centerpiece.

Visual Evidence

The eye test supports the data that a major percentage of his scoring was self created against set defenses. Barnes isn’t an explosive leaper, but he uses good agility to get to spots on the floor and finishes with his length and body control.

In terms of passing, he has excellent court vision and is willing to push the pace in transition. He plays under control and doesn’t force the issue, often making the simple pass. But he is capable of making difficult passes off the dribble, and his length helps him pass over the defense.

Defensively he is highly disruptive with his length, both in the passing lanes, as well as using it to pick opposing point guards clean.

Weaknesses

Barnes is not the most physical player. He is merely decent offensive rebound at 7.4%, his FT rate is a pedestrian 0.32, and his defensive rebounding rate is a paltry 11.1%. This is likely in part attributable to him playing on the tallest team in the country and frequently defending opposing PG’s, even picking them up in the backcourt, but is nevertheless underwhelming.

Further, he has a disappointing 2.1% block rate for his dimensions and can be prone to getting beat off the dribble as well as mental lapses that cast doubt on his basketball IQ. He has an easy path to being good and possibly great on defense, but has clear room for improvement at this stage.

His biggest wart is his lack of shooting, as he made just 62.1% FT and 27.5% 3P on low volume. This is a significant turnoff in the modern NBA, but it’s also not clear that he is THAT bad at shooting. He attempted a meager 66 FTs on the season, and was a mere 5 makes away from being a respectable 70%.

From 2017-2019 he shot 166/246 (67.4%) FT’s between Montverde, AAU, and FIBA and 17/52 (32.7%) from 3P. The FT sample is especially significant since it’s 4x his NCAA sample and players tend to make significant shooting leaps from ages 15-17 to 19. And his stroke visually looks decent, so most likely he is truly a 68%+ FT shooter.

His low 3PA volume indicates that he still isn’t fully comfortable from 3 range, but if he is truly a ~70% FT shooter who ran bad during a COVID shortened season it’s plausible that he may develop into an average or better NBA distance shooter longterm.

Ultimately it’s rather exciting that he has a number of unique strengths, and his only major flaw is only soft coded at the moment and may not even be that bad. Barnes is likely going to be a useful player, and if he learns to shoot he is loaded with upside.

Comparisons

Ben Simmons

Simmons has some major advantages over Barnes, as he was 1″ taller, more athletic, and the far more physical player in college. He had a significant advantages in rebound rates (9.6/26.5 offense/defense vs 7.4/11.1) and free throw rate (0.77 vs 0.34), and is a better prospect than Barnes.

But there are ways in which Barnes can close the gap on Simmons, as he has a handful of small advantages. 3″ more wingspan, better assist (31.7. vs 27.4) and assist:TOV (1.66 vs 1.42), and aforementioned self-creation (1.55 vs 1.15).

The variance is whether Barnes learns to shoot. He isn’t going to be a worse shooter than Simmons, and he can be better by a significant margin. And if his shot comes around, he has an easy path to being Simmons’ level or better.

Cade Cunningham has been compared to Ben Simmons with a shot, but his strengths are nowhere near on par with Simmons since he lacks Simmons’ athleticism and physicality as well as his point guard ability. The player who has a real chance to become Simmons with a shot is Barnes.

Kawhi/Giannis

Much like Barnes, both players had a 7’3″ wingspan and a point forward skill set. Yet they were underrated on draft day, both going 15th overall.

Kawhi had outlier improvements to his shooting from college, and Giannis had an outlier development arc including 2″ of growth. So it’s obviously highly optimistic to compare Barnes to these guys. But when big, long wings who can handle and pass end up developing well, they end up developing REALLY well.

Barnes needs a number of things go well to come close to these guys, but based on his unique strengths we cannot rule out the possibility that he becomes an eventual MVP candidate like we can for the vast majority of prospects.

Draymond Green

Green is the common upside comp for Barnes, as both heavily lean on their length and instincts to make an impact as versatile defensive players. Barnes is taller, longer, and more athletic, and Draymond has a higher basketball IQ.

In spite of being smaller, Draymond is stronger and plays bigger with much better rebound (9.6/23.8 vs 7.4/11.1), block (4 vs 2.1), and free throw rates (0.48 vs 0.32). It’s unlikely Barnes will be able to match Draymond’s ability to defend as a small 5 or his overall defensive value with his warts on this end.

But Barnes can nevertheless be excellent in his own rite defensively guarding 1-4. And he offers far more creation ability offensively than Green, as well as the possibility of developing into a better shooter in time. He has potential to be significantly better on offense.

They have some stark differences, but it’s easy to see how Barnes can match or even exceed Draymond’s overall value with more offense + physical tools and less defense + IQ if he develops well.

Kyle Anderson

SloMo has near identical dimensions to Barnes and was similarly disruptive on defense. The major difference is that Barnes moves in regular motion, and was able to self-create for himself and teammates better as a freshman, which is a fairly significant advantage.

Anderson had a better NCAA FT% (73.5 vs 62) which has finally translated into a decent 3 point shot this past season at age 27, but he was a decent rotation player before then and now solidly good. He also had a much better NCAA DREB% (23 vs 11.1) and had the better basketball IQ to help compensate for his slowness.

It’s not a lock that Barnes will be as good or better than Anderson in the NBA, but he is a clearly superior prospect and on average should be better than Anderson. Given that Anderson would likely be worth a top 10 pick in this draft, it’s not a bad soft floor to have.

Evan Turner

The scary comp on this list is Evan Turner, as the only player who badly underperformed his draft slot outside of Julius Hodge. But he doesn’t actually belong on this list because he was a disaster offensively during his age 19 freshman season, with poor efficiency on middling usage and more turnovers than assists.

He was crafty enough to learn to become a good creator in the Big Ten in each of his next two seasons, but ultimately his style of dribbling endlessly failed to translate to the NBA as a non-athlete with t-rex arms who never learned to shoot. And even then he still had a couple of OK enough seasons for Boston at ages 26/27 where Brad Stevens was able to trick Portland into paying him 4/70.

That’s quite a few flags that went into Turner’s career of mediocrity. It’s unlikely that Barnes flops that hard.

Josh Jackson could be loosely added to the list as he just missed the cut for assist rate at 18.2%. He also had 5″ less wingspan and was 6 months older than Scottie as a freshman and a bit less proficient at getting to the rim. Again, it’s unlikely Barnes flops as hard.

Scottie vs Cade

Perhaps this is an insane comp to make, as my twitter feed certainly believes it to be.

Cade has one really big advantage over Barnes in shooting, whereas Barnes has a number of smaller advantages: 1-2″ of height/length, better passing, defense, and motor. Athletically they are in a similar tier, and Barnes likely has the edge as a ball handler.

Cade shooting 40/85 from 3P/FT vs Barnes 28/62 on more than twice the 3PA is a massive advantage, but it is somewhat mitigated by Cade outperforming his priors of 16/57 3P (28%) and 143/191 FT (74.9%) whereas Barnes underperformed 17/52 3PA (32.7%) and 166/246 FT (67.4%). How much is more genuine improvement vs sample size variance is a pure guessing game, but Cade needs to become a god tier shooter to really be great, whereas Barnes only needs to become decent.

Given how close their priors were, it is clear that Barnes becoming a decent shooter is more attainable than Cade becoming outlier good.

For a quick and dirty comparison: Cade posted 104.2 ORtg on 28.6 usg and Barnes 107.5 ORtg on 25.4 usg. Using the exchange rate of 1.25 points of ORtg being worth 1 point of usg, that would put Barnes at a slightly worse 103.6 ORtg than Cade if he matched his usage.

If Barnes shooting luck was even slightly bad and/or Cade’s was slightly good, Barnes is suddenly the more efficient offensive player on top of being the superior defensive prospect with better dimensions.

This shows in their respective play styles, as Cade likes to just go and take whatever shot he can create or pass to whatever teammate he sees, while Barnes is more patient in waiting for an efficient opportunity to come available.

Everybody loves shooting for its spacing value, but for a top 5 pick that you are drafting to be an offensive hub, efficient decision making should weigh far heavier.

Granted, it’s a close debate and difficult to make a definitive statement on who will be better based on one COVID shortened season. But it’s difficult to see the case for Cade being better by any substantial margin with only one significant advantage with weak priors.

Personally, I would take Barnes’ multiple advantages as these all translate to more upside than the relatively linear value of shooting.

Barnes is clearly behind Evan Mobley who is the obvious #1 in this draft. But after Mobley he has the next most attractive talent, and I rate him as the 2nd best prospect on the board.

2020 Draft Guide

I never really liked the format of ranking every player in the draft on a big board, because it feels too decisive to have an exact rank for everybody based on incomplete analysis on incomplete information.

GMs drafting don’t need to rank anybody, they just need to look into the best targets at their range and pick the one they believe will be best.

So for this board I will do my best to rank everybody since that’s how everybody is used to consuming draft information. But I am going to focus on narrating how I would approach the draft in different ranges if I was choosing for a team.

Further I will try to be transparent about the uncertainty I have, as many of the prospects in this draft are not that interesting to me, but I don’t want to actively bet on them being bad.

 

Top 4

I already went into detail on the top players with an attempt to rank them, although I don’t have any strong opinion on how to rank #s 2 thru 4. They are all guys I would rather trade the pick than draft, and I am unsure who I would rate the highest with a deep analysis of complete information.

#1 Player Worth Drafting:

1. Onyeka Okongwu

This may seem like a hot take, as Okongwu is somewhat lacking in sex appeal for a #1 overall pick. He is an undersized big who is somewhat limited on offense, so the lack of top 3 hype is understandable at a glance.

But everybody else projected to go top 3 is based on sheer potential with serious risks of flopping. Whereas Okongwu is the one prospect in the draft who seems likely to be good.

It starts with his defensive potential, as he is 6’9″ with  7’2″ wingspan, good athleticism, and anchored an elite USC defense. He showed the ability to protect the rim as well as switch onto perimeter players and create turnovers. Even though he is traditionally undersized, his versatility could make him the ideal big man for the modern NBA.

Offensively, he is a good finisher and made 72% FT, showing some potential to develop a 3 point shot. His handle is likely too weak for him to live up to Bam in terms of creation, but he could carve out his own mold of goodness that is slightly different.

Players with enough potential to consider drafting top 4, but likely smarter to trade the pick instead:

Ball, Wiseman, and Edwards all are weak as potential top 3 picks. If forced to choose between these three, I would try to trade the pick as very likely somebody else will rate each of them higher than I do . They all carry risk of being duds, and it’s hard to get too excited about any of their upsides as top 3 guys.

I don’t have a strong opinion on how to order them, but here’s my best guess:

2. James Wiseman

Wiseman is lacking in meat to his profile, as his AAU sample showed a horribly limited player. But he has good physical tools, and showed a major improvement in the Nike Hoop Summit as well as his tiny 3 game sample in Memphis.

There’s such limited info on him it’s difficult to be confident in his goodness. Fairly often he will be a boring big who is not particularly rare or useful, as his lack of instincts and motor could render him into an obsolete and boring big.

But there’s the possibility that he has good work ethic and off court intelligence, and that he genuinely made a major leap from high school to college and could develop into a LaMarcus Aldridge or Serge Ibaka type.

Ultimately there’s not enough information that establishes him as a clearly good prospect to feel comfortable drafting him in the top 3, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he found a path to success given his physical profile and glimpses of excellence at Memphis.

3. LaMelo Ball

On paper, Ball is the most talented prospect in the draft as a 6’7″ triple double machine PG. But there are serious questions as to whether it is worth investing a #1 overall pick in him.

He is completely apathetic on defense, and even Lonzo says that LaMelo never tried on defense growing up. Further, in ESPN’s recent feature of him, he says he doesn’t care about scouting reports on his opponents because nobody can stay in front of him. The article later mentions that he doesn’t enjoy talking about his shooting and simply says “I can shoot, no problem there.”

This theme carried over to Mike Schmitz breakdown of defensive film with LaMelo. Both times that Schmitz asks him what he’s doing to work on his defense (17:40 and 20:13) he gives generic and vague answers in the vein of “I’m just learning.”

His apathy toward defense and lack of interest in discussing his weaknesses are pretty big flags for a kid who has historically opted for flash over substance and likens himself to Kobe.

LaMelo has unique strengths, but also unique weaknesses and if he is not committed to addressing them and improving them he’s just not going to be that good. He is not as humble or wired to win as his brother Lonzo, and you are basically praying that the offspring of Lavar Ball changes these habits as he ages. Which is possible– he is hardly 19. But is it really something that is wise to stake a high value draft pick on?

He seems similar to D’Angelo Russell, and lots of times even when he hits he will still be overpaid and frustrating like D’Angelo because his defense weighs him down so heavily.

Ultimately LaMelo should be #1 overall from a talent perspective, but there are flags that make it terrifying to actually invest a #1 overall pick in him. Who knows– it may prove to be the correct move in the longterm but personally I would rather not ride this roller coaster and trade down.

4. Anthony Edwards

Edwards is long, athletic, and capable of scoring volume for a SG, and other than that he is full of concerns.

He isn’t a natural passer, he isn’t good on defense, he doesn’t get to the rim as often as you would hope, and his best weapon is his off the dribble shooting where he made just 29% from 3 as a freshman for Georgia.

His appeal is that he is very young and made 77% FT with a high 3PA rate. If he develops into a good shot maker and fills out the rest of his game decently enough, he could be something like a bigger Eric Gordon which is nice.

But the archetype of chucking SG who doesn’t have any clear strengths besides volume scoring is rigged to disappoint a huge % of the time. His median outcome is going to be something like a more chuckerish version of KCP, and that’s not what you want to target in the top 3.

Players worth drafting in the top 10:

5. Pat Williams

Williams is 6’8″, athletic, super young, and capable of making shots on offense and plays on defense. This is the type of player where you just don’t overthink things and draft him in case he figures it out.

That said, he comes with plenty of warts. He still is more comfortable from mid-range than 3, as he shot 32% from 3 on a lowish volume. And while he made 83.8% FT, it’s a small sample with just 74 attempts. He also could be better rebounding for a player with his tools, and while he had very good steal and block rates he still isn’t a lockdown man to man defensive player.

And while his wingspan is decent enough at 6’11”, it’s still not in elite range that gives him really strong upside.

But he nevertheless has more upside than most, and athletic 6’8″ 3 + D wings are one of the most coveted molds in the modern NBA. He is largely a gamble on youth and tools, but they give him an easier path to usefulness and a better upside tail than most prospects in the draft.

Tyrese Haliburton

Haliburton is one of the weirdest prospects in the draft. He has exceptionally good stats, but they all come with asterisks.

He made 42.6% from 3 and 77.5% FT in his college career, but his shooting form looks awkward and it’s difficult to be confident in his shooting going forward.

He has good rebounds and great steals and blocks, but his rail thin frame makes him prone to getting bullied on defense.

As a sophomore he improved significantly as a scorer and is an excellent passer, but he still puts limited pressure on the rim and almost never gets to the free throw line.

For a 6’5″ guy, he’s too small to guard wings and he may not have the ball skills to make a big offensive impact.

In many regards he is similar to Lonzo Ball, as both have excellent vision, IQ, and height for a PG but limited strength, athleticism, and scoring abilities. It’s possible that he similarly struggles to score in the NBA, but is worse in other regards as he is smaller and skinnier.

But he also may happen to be a better shot maker who offers similar goodness to Lonzo otherwise in a more well rounded package.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to ever see him being a star lead guard, but he can be a hyper-efficient, high IQ role player.

Haliburton isn’t the sexiest type of player to target in the mid-lottery, but with lack of other options, why not gamble on one of the few players who was able to stuff the stat sheet and may be able to find a highly useful niche as an NBA role player.

Guys who are not terrible but are awfully boring in the lottery

After Haliburton and Williams are gone, there’s not much to get excited about to fill out the lottery. I’d try to trade down if anybody were interested, but if forced to choose here are the guys that seem worth considering:

7. Devin Vassell

Vassell is just a solid role playing wing. 6’7 with 6’10 wingspan, good steals and blocks, good efficiency, and a microscopic turnover rate, he fits the 3 + D mold that is highly coveted in today’s NBA.

He is on the thin side, and it’s worth questioning exactly how good his shooting is as he made 41.7% 3P but just 72% FT in his 2 years at Florida State. And he’s not an athlete or creator with unique upside, and may be slightly small for wing which limits his appeal.

He has a clear path to efficient role player, but his lack of size and creation may inhibit his upside.

He probably belongs in top 10 by default due to easy path to being decent, but he is pretty limited and boring for a top 10 guy.

8. Kira Lewis

Lewis is one of the fastest players in the class with great ability to pressure the rim, and he showed potential to score at all 3 levels impressively given his age.

He is 6’3″ and not a natural floor general with a mediocre assist:TOV rate, as he is still learning how to play point guard. He may never be able to run an offense at a high level, and may be limited to a bench microwave like Lou Williams to get his scoring on the court.

But he only turned 19 in April, and if he does figure out how to play PG and hold his own on defense, he has one of the better upside tails in the late lottery.  He comes with risk but is worth a close look once the blue chips come off the board.

9. Josh Green

Green is in a boring mold. At 6’6″ with 6’10” wingspan, he is a bit small for a wing, and it shows with his pedestrian rebound rate.

Offensively, he has traces of guard skills. He can get to the rim and finish at times, he has a good assist to turnover (3.4 vs 2.1 per 4)), and he made 78% of his free throws and 36% of his 3’s as a freshman.

But he has a relatively low 3PA rate which leaves questions about his shooting, and doesn’t have enough shake to be a primary handler. He is decisively a complementary player on offense, which limits his upside given his size.

His main strength is his defense, as he is an intelligent and athletic defensive player who loves to study film, and it shows as he was good both in man to man and posted a good steal rate.

He has the ability to be a quality defensive player in the NBA, but he would be much more exciting if he was 1 or 2 inches taller as he is essentially a wing in a SG body. That said, he has a rare intersection of athleticism and intelligence that he applies to defense, and this cannot be ignored for a guy who is competent offensively.

Green isn’t dripping with upside, but he  has a clear path to useful NBA player. He is comparable to Devin Vassell in terms of dimensions and role, and could be relatively good value if he slides to the late teens or 20s as currently projected.

10. Jalen Smith

Smith is a somewhat boring big, but he is good. He is fluid and athletic, and can score both inside and out making 75% FT and 36.8% 3P as a sophomore.

He is also a good rebounder and shotblocker, and was one of the best NCAA players this past season as he led Maryland to the best season ever by a team coached by Mark Turgeon.

At 6’10” with 7’2″ wingspan with a skinny frame, he is slightly undersized for a center by traditional standards. But given modern trends, he may be ideal for the mold given his shooting, shot blocking, and mobility to give him outs to switch.

The only unsexy thing is his assist rate dropped as a sophomore to have 1.0 per 40 vs 2.2 assists. And he has a pedestrian steal rate, which limits expectations for how much success we can really expect him to have guarding perimeter.

Smith doesn’t have the sexiest upside tail, but he is an efficient cog that does a number of things well and likely will have a useful NBA career.

11. Killian Hayes

Hayes has a funky distribution of traits, with excellent size for a PG at 6’5″ to go with great vision and FT%, making 85.8% from the line over the past 3 years. This is especially impressive considering he just turned 19.

But he fails to back up that FT% with success beyond the arc, as he has made just 27.8% from 3 over that stretch. He also is a non-elite athlete with limited ability to pressure the rim. Long term he needs to convert his FT% success to shot making from the field in order to have value as a lead guard.

He also had an extremely high turnover rate, and being an unathletic limited creator and a turnover machine at PG and probably not that good on defense are a ton of warts that make it risky to get too excited over him as many on draft twitter rate Hayes as a top 3. He very well could be a Kendall Marshall type and make the twitter hype look preposterous in retrospect.

Personally, I have no idea what to expect from him. I don’t have the best grasp on the German league, and he has such a funky distribution it’s difficult to envision how he will actually look in the NBA.

If I were drafting in the late lottery I would definitely give Hayes a closer look as it’s plausible he is value in that range. But as it is I have no real opinion

2nd round Steals:

These guys are all projected to go in round 2. It’s difficult to rank them compared to the boring lotto guys, but they don’t seem notably worse than most of them so this is where they will get stashed on this list:

12. Jah’mius Ramsey

Ramsey is one of the more exciting boom or bust prospects in the draft. He is definitely as guard at 6’4″, but is very coordinated and has the ability to score at all 3 levels.

He is small for a SG with a mere 6’6″ wingspan, but he makes plays on defense with good steals, blocks, and rebounds for his size.

Offensively, he isn’t a pure point guard and there are questions about his shooting as he only made 64.1% FT as a freshman.

He has plenty of warts that give him bust potential, but Ramsey is young, talented, and has clear potential to emerge as the best guard in the class longterm.

13. Vernon Carey

Carey is an archaic big, as he is a 6’10” bully with questionable ability to guard the perimeter.

But the guy had a super productive season for Duke, and would be the clear #1 overall as recently as 2015. He has a workable outside shot, he has outs to be good on defense, and it’s far too soon to quit on this type of player completely.

Carey is an excellent player in an unsexy mold, and there are only so many bad players in good molds that can be taken ahead of him before it makes sense to pull the trigger.

14. Devon Dotson

Dotson challenges Lewis for fastest player in the class, and he also excels at getting to the rim and finishing.

The main reason why Dotson is behind Lewis, is that he is smaller and 20 months older, while also having worse assist rate and 3P%. These are non-trivial warts and largely account for why he is currently projected to go in round 2.

Dotson is no doubt the weaker raw talent than Lewis, as his passing and shooting are serious warts considering his size and age. But unlike all of the super young mystery boxes slated to go ahead of him, Dotson is actually really good at basketball right now.

He posted the highest steal rate by a Kansas player since Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson in 2008 for the best Kansas defense since the 2008 championship team. And the defense significantly declined in the limited time he spent on the bench.

His dimensions of 6’2″ with 6’3.25″ wingspan limit his defensive upside, but Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry show that outlier little guys can be good defensively. Dotson is unlikely to match those studs defensively, but he is a pest with excellent quickness and anticipation, and one of the best defensive small PG prospects in recent memory.

Offensively, he is the best guard in the draft at creating his own shot at the rim in the halfcourt and finishing, as he uses his excellent speed to get to the rim and soft touch to finish with efficiency. He also draws a healthy FT rate, and made 82.8% as a soph and 80.7% over his two years at Kansas.

Collectively he was an efficient, high usage two way player who was the best player on the best NCAA team. He only has the passing and 3 point shooting warts holding back his longterm stock.

Bill Self historically suppresses assists in guards, and given Dotson’s excellent defensive anticipation, it’s plausible that he can develop into more of a passer than he showed at Kansas. And he made 33.2% of his 3’s in his two years at Kansas, and given his good FT% he can develop into a good 3 point shooter in the NBA. Neither of these flaws are fatal.

So long as the shooting comes around, Dotson should be a useful pro. Even if he isn’t a true offensive hub, he can nevertheless pair well with star wings like Doncic, Simmons, Harden, Giannis, etc. And if he shooting and passing both come around, he has some seriously sneaky upside in the NBA.

Ultimately there is a ton to like about Dotson, and a few unpleasant warts. But little guys are often big value when they can play, and Dotson has the athleticism, he seems to have the IQ, and he has a portion of the skills necessary to succeed in the NBA. If he just develops the rest he will check all of the boxes and could be a steal if he goes in round 2 as currently slated.

Guys who I would not draft but not may be terrible

This is a common theme for many of the the prospects projected to go mid-late 1st this year. These guys are largely players that I would not target personally, but may not necessarily be bad picks.

15. Saddiq Bey

Bey is very unathletic, but is 6’8″ with a good basketball IQ, can handle, pass, avoid mistakes, and make shots. It’s easy to see him fitting in as an NBA role player.

One minor concern is how good is his shooting, really? He made 41.8% of his 3’s at Villanova, but shot just 72.8% from FT with his mechanics looking awkward. He should be a decent to good NBA shooter, but if a team is expecting an elite shooter they will likely be disappointed

What’s interesting is that for such a poor athlete, Bey did well switched onto fast and skilled guards such as Devon Dotson. That’s impressive for a 6’8″ guy whose main flaw is athleticism.

Bey is drawing near dead to be a star, but it’s very easy to see him being useful as a 6’8″ guy who does all of the role player things so well.

Bey’s shooting ability is too murky to be a player I would actively target in the draft, but it’s easy to see him paying off decently enough for whoever takes him.

16. Isaac Okoro

Okoro is similar to Josh Green in that he is a defensive specialist who is undersized for a wing at 6’6″. But with a 6’8.5″ wingspan he has even shorter arms, and is a worse team defender than Green with much lower steal rate.

Wings with his mediocre steal rate are almost never great defenders, and his poor rebound rate adds an additional flag to fret over.

It’s difficult to get enthused about man to man defense at SG as the sole defining trait of a player who is not a good shooter, making 67% FT and 29% 3P as a freshman with hardly more assists than turnovers.

Okoro’s most common outcome is decent defensive player who is limited on offense and overall not too useful.

His hope is that he is good at getting to the rim and finishing, and is physical drawing a high volume of free throws. If his shooting and ball skills develop at an outlier rate, he can be a solid SG on both ends similar to Norman Powell.

But Powell was a good return on a mid 2nd rounder and had an insane shooting leap from NCAA to NBA. How high can we really take Okoro based on that hope?

Okoro is tricky because he has a number of likable traits for a SF, but has the dimensions of a small SG. Personally I would not be comfortable investing in him given his flaws, but I also wouldn’t sharply criticize a team for taking him late lotto.

17. Precious Achiuwa

Precious is an inefficient trainwreck offensively, but at 6’9″ with 7’1.5″ wingspan and good motor and athleticism, he has the tools to be a versatile defensive player in the NBA.

It’s difficult to feel good about his offense with 1.3 assists vs 3.7 turnovers per 40, 60% FT, and he turned 21 in September. Most of the time this will submarine his value as a pro.

It largely depends on how well the fat trims from his game offensively. If it goes well, he is in a great mold for an NBA role playing wing. But it’s a huge gamble as he may be an inefficient trainwreck offensively nullifying everything attractive about him.

He’s not a guy who I would be comfortable gambling on in the lotto but it could plausibly work for whoever does.

18. Obi Toppin

Obi is a largely one dimensional explosive finisher who offers a passable outside shooting and passing for his size and not much else.

His big flaw is that he is likely going to be a turnstile on D, as he is vertically explosive but does poorly laterally. And he is a suspiciously poor offensive rebounder for his size and athleticism, as well as being senior aged as a sophomore turning 22 in March.

Obi can likely post decent box score stats to look valuable, but his real value will likely always trail his box score because of his defense. It’s difficult to see him being better than Montrezl Harrell, and there is zero justification for taking him in the top 5.

 

19. RJ Hampton

RJ looks like Dante Exum’s long lost twin and has a number of similarities in his profile.

He is 6’5″ athletic combo guard who is capable of making plays defensively, but is limited offensively as he is not a natural point guard or a shooter.

If he can develop his offensive skills, he can be a solid SG on both ends. But right now, there’s just not enough meat offensively to get excited for a 6’5″ player.

20. Cole Anthony

Cole was a possible #1 overall pick until a disastrous freshman season for UNC completely tanked his shot.

He is likely better than he performed for UNC, but there are questions about how useful he can be in the NBA. He is a 6’3″ combo guard whose main value is his pull up jump shooting, and he is old for a freshman having turned 20 in May.

He may be constrained to being a bench scorer as he may not have the instincts to lead an offense.

He has a number of similarities to Austin Rivers, being the son of an NBA player with significant hype that he failed to live up to. But Rivers ended up coming around to being a mediocre bench player, and Anthony seems more talented than Rivers.

There’s not a sexy upside outcome, but he can have a decent NBA career and somewhere in the mid-1st feels about right for him.

 

21. Tyrese Maxey

Maxey is an ultra boring prospect, as he is a 6’3″ combo guard who isn’t really good at anything.

But as is true with all Calipari prospects, there is always the possibility that he is much better than the stat sheet shows.

Maxey is decent at getting to the rim, and he made 83% of his FT in spite of shooting only 29% from 3. So he could develop into a decent scorer if his FT% is more indicative of his shooting than his 3P%.

If he has more PG skills than he showed at Kentucky, there’s no reason why he can’t have a decent NBA career.

But he does feel much more boring than the typical Kentucky prospect, as he is most similar to guys like Brandon Knight and Malik Monk.

 

22. Deni Avdija

Deni is a mediocre prospect in an excellent mold. He is 6’9″ with good mobility, good IQ, and the possibility of learning to shoot. If his shooting comes around and his defense is as good as advertised, there is very little resistance to him being a useful NBA player.

But at the same time, he is drawing near dead to be a star. He has short arms and his athleticism is only decent, and he lacks the handle to be a high volume shot creator. And there is a chance his shooting is busted, as his makes just 59% of his free throws.

Most of the time he will be a bench player who isn’t coveted. But if his shooting and defense prove to be real, he is a solid 3 + D who can switch on to a wide variety of NBA players.

Late 1st and round 2 sleepers:

For the record I don’t think everybody in the above tier is necessarily better than everybody in this tier. They are ranked higher because they are largely projected to go much earlier, and this is an easier way to order everything such that the rankings aren’t dripping with hot takes all over the place.

But in contrast to the lottery, round 2 has some surprisingly interesting hidden gems this year

23. Xavier Tillman

It’s difficult to look at Tillman without noticing the uncanny comparisons to fellow Michigan State alum Draymond Green. Both are exceptionally good and well rounded players who failed to garner much hype due to being too slow to play the perimeter and too small to be a big.

But then it turned out Draymond was actually capable of guarding anybody because of his elite intelligence and instincts. Tillman had a slightly lower steal and assist rate, so there’s no guarantee he can overcome his lack of explosiveness like Draymond did.

But X is very intelligent in his own and an inch taller and longer at 6’8″ with a 7’2″ wingspan. He’s also a better shotblocker than Draymond, and may be overall closer to Paul Millsap.

Of course there’s no guarantee he is nearly as good as either– he isn’t very good offensively which in tandem with limited athleticism isn’t the best mix. But at least he has a couple of exciting upside comps who were also excellent draft steals. If this mold has succeeded in the past, it could be a mistake to draft too many bad players in more exciting molds ahead of him.

24. Reggie Perry

Perry offers unique offensive skill for a 6’10” player who is a solid athlete and can handle, pass, and shoot.

There are questions about his ability to defend in space, but he doesn’t seem completely doomed here and offers far too much offensive skill to let slide to round 2.

He could be a big steal if he proves to be competent defensively longterm.

25. Jordan Nwora

Nwora offers a good combination of dimensions, frame, and shooting. At 6’7.5″ with 6’10.5″ with a thick body, he is the ideal size for an NBA wing and is a good shooter to boot.

He is prone to tunnel vision and there are questions about his defense, but he has such a good baseline of size and shooting that it’s likely correct to just not let him slide too far and hope he figures it all out as a 3 + D.

26. Zeke Nnaji

Nnaji is a smooth and skilled big that can score inside and rebound, and has potential to develop into a guy who switches and makes 3’s.

He is another somewhat unsexy big that doesn’t quite have star potential, but if his shooting and switchability come around he’s going to be a very useful piece.

27. Paul Reed

Reed has great physical tools at 6’9″ with 7’2″ wingspan, good athleticism, and excellent defensive playmaking ability. He has potential to be a switchable defensive playmaker who makes a huge impact on that end.

The question lies in his offense, where he is sorely limited. He only made 33/102 3’s in 3 seasons at DePaul, but he did shoot 74.6% from FT to have some hope of developing into a long range shooter in time.

28. Tre Jones

Like his brother Tyus, Jones is a somewhat boring game manager point guard.

But Tyus is a decent NBA rotation player, and Tre may be a bit more athletic. He probably shouldn’t slide all the way to round 2.

29. Isaiah Stewart

On one hand, Stewart is bruising big who is rapidly going obsolete in the modern NBA.

On the other hand, he has an excellent 7’4″ wingspan, made a solid 77.4% FT as an overall productive freshman, and was #2 RSCI freshman who only turned 19 in May.

It’s difficult to envision his precise role in the NBA, but he has some interesting strengths. There’s a bit of sleeper potential here, I

 

30. Aleksej Pokusevski

One of the weirdest players in the class. Poku is 7’0 tall with excellent instincts, and a unique combination of handling and passing for his height while being the youngest player in the draft, turning 19 in December.

He also uses his dimensions as a playmaker defensively– in FIBA u18 in 2019, he averaged 2.6 steals and 4.1 blocks in 25.7 minutes per game to go with 4 assists. All #’s that for a 7 footer imply extreme upside.

After seeing Nikola Jokic dominate in the playoffs, teams may not want to let another funky Euro 7 footer with excellent instincts slide too far, as this typically creates a big upside tail.

But Poku also has enormous and grotesque warts that Jokic lacked. He is rail thin and looks like he has poor health. And he has no shake or explosiveness, and in FIBA averaged 10.3 points per game shooting a horrific 29.1% FG.

He sorely needs his outside shooting to come around, because he completely lacks the athleticism and physicality to finish in traffic.

Also he missed 3 months with a knee injury and his brother needed surgery to have his calf removed. His genetics are so poor there are serious questions about his ability to stay healthy longterm.

Plenty of skinny prospects have succeeded in the NBA, but most of them like Durant, Garnett, Bosh, etc. are athletic black guys with much more bone density than Poku. He looks frail and fragile, and a significant % of the time his career will get derailed by injury.

On the occasions where he is healthy enough to be available, there is the concern that gets relentlessly bullied on defense, and that his handle amounts to little offense if he cannot score.

The median outcome for Poku is bust. He likely will be not durable enough and/or not good enough to fit in the NBA.

But he has such unique strengths for a 7 footer, we cannot rule out his upside whatsoever. Maybe there’s a scenario where he becomes something like a poor man’s Andrei Kirilenko where he isn’t much of a scorer but makes so many other plays that he is nevertheless highly valuable.

The Kirilenko comparison is a longshot, but for a prospect with such huge strengths it cannot be discarded entirely.

Overall Poku is extremely difficult to analyze because he has so much polarity and weirdness, and is a basically a shot in the dark on upside that will probably miss.

I personally wouldn’t be excited to draft him, but he has enough unique strengths such that it’s completely reasonable to gamble on him in the late 1st as a boom or bust lotto ticket.

Others (in no particular order)

Aaron Nesmith

Nesmith is projected to go mid-1st right now, but he seems like an incredibly risky guy to take anywhere in round 1. He is an undersized, unathletic wing who is probably going to be bad on defense and is limited as a creator.

His only real strength is that he is a good shooter, but it’s not even clear that he’s elite at his one dimenson. He made 82.5% FT in his NCAA career which is good but not great, and he only shot 33.7% from 3 as a freshman. His breakout as a sophomore entailed 52.2% 3P shooting for half a season until getting hurt, although it came for an incredibly weak portion of Vanderbilt’s schedule.

This is significant as Nesmith has a somewhat slow release for such a vaunted shooting prospect, and if he really is a merely good shooter he is going to be a dud.

Robert Woodard

Woodard averaged a paltry 13.7 points per 40 as a 20 year old sophomore wing. Outside of scoring his profile is fairly ordinary as well, so there’s really no reason why he should be drafted at all.

Desmond Bane

Bane is a popular sleeper in round 1, but he comes with heavy warts. He has a paltry 6’4″ wingspan and is unathletic and incapable of pressuring the rim, which makes him a really low upside role player.

He is a good shooter and has a high IQ and good at avoiding mistakes, but that may not be enough to amount to much given his heavy flaws. His strengths need to be outlier to justify drafting such a poor physical profile in round 1.

He could be a serviceable role player much like Brad Wanamaker who also played for Jamie Dixon. That’s the type of prospect who belongs in round 2.

Cassius Winston
Nico Mannion
Malachi Flynn

Markus Howard

These are all small point guards who are very difficult to predict. Winston, Malachi, and Nico all seem like early 2nd round values, but I really don’t know with them. Maybe they are better or maybe they are worse.

The main point here is that it doesn’t make sense that Markus Howard is currently slated to go undrafted. He is only 5’11” with short arms and is not a true PG, with barely more assists than turnovers (4.1 vs 3.9 per 40) in his NCAA career.

But he rebounds just barely well enough to fit in physically, and he is the most lights out shooter in the draft making 42.7% from 3 on high volume and 88.2% FT in his 4 year career at Marquette.

He is also exceptionally young for a senior, having turned 21 in March he is younger than the average junior and more than a full year younger than sophomore Obi Toppin.

If Howard goes undrafted, he will be one of the top UDFA’s to look at as he seems to belong in a similar tier to these other small guards who are projected to go late 1st or early 2nd.

How Good is Deni Avdija?

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NBA teams have historically had a spotty record drafting Euros, with Darko Milicic being chosen over Carmelo, Bosh, and Wade as one of the most infamously bad choices in NBA draft history.

Conversely, future stars have sliped and provided excellent value such as Dirk Nowitzki at #9 overall, Giannis 15th, Nikola Jokic sliding to round 2, and Luka Doncic curiously being passed up for Ayton, Bagley, and Trae in spite of clearly being a generational talent.

Historically, euros drafted in the lottery have been very hit or miss. But when NBA teams miss, they miss hard:

Year Player pick
2002 Nikoloz Tskitishvili 5
2003 Darko Milicic 2
2006 Andrea Bargnani 1
2011 Jan Vesely 6
2015 Mario Hezonja 5
2016 Dragan Bender 4
2017 Frank Ntilikina 8

This could be expanded to include Yi Jianlian, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Dante Exum if we include all internationals. But the benefit of comparing European prospects is that most of them play in Euroleague, which presents us with an apples to apples statistical comparison.

19 year old Israeli Deni Avdija is currently projected to go 5th overall in the NBA draft. Israel offers a low tier of competition, but fortunately he played 26 games and 371 minutes in Euroleague to see how he stacks up to recent successful Euros picked in the high lottery in their final pre-draft season:

Year # Player Age PER
2001 2 Pau Gasol 20.5 29.4
2008 6 Danilo Gallinari 19.4 19.3
2009 5 Ricky Rubio 18.2 18.6
2011 5 Jonas Valanciunas 18.7 25.2
2015 4 Kristaps Porzingis 19.4 23
2018 3 Luka Doncic 18.8 22.9
2020 ? Deni Avdija 19 10.5

Note: Porzingis played in Eurocup which is a 2nd tier version of Euroleague, and Rubio includes ACB stats with only 5 games in EL.

Right off the bat, we can see one of these guys is not like the other. They are all approximately the same age, and all of the guys stuffed the stat sheet, outside of Deni who was a scrappy low usage role player with mediocre efficiency.

This is a huge red flag. PER is far from a perfect stat, but it’s rare for prospects to contribute so little at a young age and nevertheless become stars. Even if we look at his 910 minutes in the much weaker Israel BSL, he only posted 17.1 PER– still weaker than any of the success stories in Euroleague!

Granted, there are a number of reasons to value Deni beyond the box score. He has good wing height at 6’9″, he has decent athleticism, and he has good IQ and work ethic. And in spite of his poor shooting #’s, his shooting form looks good and the percentages may improve over time.

This makes him salvageable as a prospect, as it’s easy to see him becoming a useful NBA role player. But his physical tools aren’t good enough to offer much upside as he has just 6’9.5″ wingspan and below average frame. And there is major risk that he joins the initial list of top 10 picks who busted completely.

Comparisons

Dragan Bender

Deni built most of his hype with an excellent performance for FIBA u20 in 2019, leading Israel to gold while being just 18 years old. In this regard, he is similar to Dragan Bender who had an excellent u18 performance in 2014 while being only 16.

Incidentally, they also both played for Maccabi Tel Aviv after FIBA. Bender’s PER was slightly worse in Israel (16.8 vs 17.1) and Euroleague (6.0 vs 10.5) while being 10.5 months younger. Statistically they are in the same tier, and it’s plausible that Deni flops just as hard as Bender.

Deni has a number of advantages that give him potential to be much better than Bender– better athleticism, better passing, and the possibilty of developing into a better shooter. He is likely a better prospect than Bender at the same point as he is in a more useful mold, but the parallels are strong enough to place caution on caring much about his FIBA sample which generated his hype to begin with.

Mario Hezonja

Hezonja played just 86 minutes in Euroleague when he was 2 months younger than Deni, but if we combine his ACB (just slightly softer than Euroleague) he posted 14 PER with similar assists, rebound, steal, and block rates to Deni. He also has similar dimensions at 6’8″ with 6’10” wingspan.

Hezonja scored more volume with better athleticism and much better shooting, and was hands down the better talent at the same age.

Granted, he didn’t progress to the next season posting just a 13.3 PER, and then his shooting didn’t translate to the NBA, and he has overall been a disaster.

Deni should progress better than Hezonja due to his allegedly good work ethic, but he is the inferior raw talent and there is no guarantee that he has a better NBA career.

Omri Casspi

Casspi is also a native Israeli who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, and is physically very similar to Deni as he measured 6’9.25″ in both height and wingspan with similar athleticism.

He was 6 months older in his first Euroleague season posting 15.8 PER and then 18.6 PER the following year before getting drafted. Combining the two samples, he was approximately 1 year older on average.

Casspi showed greater ability to score inside as he had more than twice Deni’s 2PA per 40 (10.7 vs 5.1) with a slightly worse % 55.6 vs 59.6. He also got to the line much more frequently with .355 vs .191 free throw rate.

Also Casspi shot 38.2% from 3 vs 27.7% for Deni. This is an area where Deni needs to catch up to succeed longterm.

Deni’s key advantage is a much better assist rate per 40 at 3.2 vs 1.5 for Casspi. This indicates that Deni has a high IQ that can help him on both ends. Although Casspi negates some of that edge with a better steal rate with 1.5 vs 1.1 per 40.

Overall these guys feel like similar tier prospects with maybe a small edge to Casspi due to better shooting signal. Casspi was a solid return on #23 overall, but definitely not a player to target in the top 10.

Dario Saric

Saric is an inch taller at 6’10” with a similar t-rex wingspan about equal to his height.

He was 9 months older than Deni in his last pre-draft season. He posted 15.8 Eurocup PER with better rebounds, steals, blocks, and usage than Deni, and similar assist rate.

He only shot 4/13 from 3 in 10 games, but his shooting has developed nicely as a pro with 35.8% career 3 and 83.7% FT.

He is a rich man’s version of Deni in about every sense, and still the Timberwolves couldn’t wait to ship him out for the small move up from #11 to #6 overall in a crappy draft to take Jarrett Culver in order to avoid paying him as an RFA.

Deni is likely a better athlete and may have more success switching onto perimeter players than Saric, but that’s his only discernible advantage at this stage.

Boris Diaw

Diaw was 1.7 years older than Deni in his draft year, and had two seasons of Euroleague where he posted a 13.1 PER then 14.7 in a similar low usage, high assist role to Deni. He struggled shooting similarly making just 29% from 3 and 63% FT over the two years.

Diaw has better length (7′), strength, and lateral quickness, but Deni is more explosive. Overall Diaw’s physical tools seem better, and it shows in his steal and block rates as he posted 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per 40 compared to 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks for Deni.

Diaw had a good career as a role player picked 21st overall. He was overall likely the slightly better prospect given his physical and steals/blocks advantages, but Deni isn’t far behind and it’s plausible he could have a similarly good career.

Diaw seems to be near the pinnacle of optimism for Deni.

Hedo Turkoglu

Hedo has been tossed around as an upside comp. It’s hard to compare because he doesn’t have any Euroleague stats on record.

Deni is young, and if he works hard *maybe* he can improve both his handle and shooting enough to maximize his passing ability in a point forward role a la Hedo.

But his handle is just so weak at this stage it seems far fetched. Especially since Hedo is an inch taller and Deni doesn’t have any clear physical advantages over him. It feels like a massive longshot, and is a shoddy comparison to justify Deni as a high lottery pick.

What is Deni specifically lacking?

Statistics aren’t everything, but most of the people who overperform statistics tend to have great physical tools. Deni has decent athleticism, but overall his physical tools aren’t that good outside of his height for a wing.

Giannis averaged 8 pts, 2.2 assists. 2.8 turnovers on 36% shooting in his FIBA u20 pale sorely in comparison to Deni’s numbers at the same age.

But Giannis has massive genetic advantages, as he is taller, longer, stronger, and more athletic. Outlier improvements to his game resulted in a huge upside that prospects like Deni don’t remotely share.

The white European prospects who became NBA stars like Luka, Jokic, and Dirk all shared the qualities of exceptional basketball skill to go along with excellent basketball IQ and good height.

Deni has good height and high IQ, but his skill level is a poor right now, which is why his stats are so weak. He can sometimes make 3’s and is an intelligent cutter, but he is sorely limited at creating his own shot and only made 59% of his free throws in 19-20. Those are some massive skill flags for a guy with a pedestrian physical profile.

In Class Comparisons

Pat Williams

If you want to roll the dice on a young mystery box wing, Williams is obviously a better bet than Deni seeing that he is 8.5 months younger with better length, frame, athleticism, defensive playmaking, and much better FT% making 83.8% in 74 freshman attempts.

Deni has the better passing and IQ, but that’s not enough to make it defensible to value him over the much better physical specimen in Williams.

Saddiq Bey

Bey is one of the most similar prospects to Deni, as his main selling points are 6’8″ wing height and high IQ play.

Bey is a better handler, shooter, has 1.5″ more length, better frame, and more lateral quickness as he was able to switch onto guards with elite quickness like Devon Dotson.

Deni is 21 months younger and more explosive, but if you want a high IQ 3 + D guy, why not take the guy who has proven more ability in both 3 + D?

Between the two, Bey seems like the better bet to become a Boris Diaw type role player. Neither guy is exciting in terms of upside, but Bey feels safer.

Round 2

Even in round 2 there are guys like Jordan Nwora and Paul Reed who figure to be NBA role players. Nwora has similar athleticism but better length and frame, much better shooting, but worse passing and IQ and is 2 years, 3 months older.

Reed has much better physical tools, rebounding, and defensive playmaking, but is even more offensively limited than Deni while being 1.5 years older.

Perhaps Deni’s additional youth makes him feel like he has more upside, but without great skill or genetics to build on it’s hard to imagine that he would blow past these two guys in quality with two years more of development. In terms of raw talent, he seems to be in a similar tier to these guys.

Bottom Line

On paper, Deni seems to be a 2nd round talent. There are reasons why he may outperform his talent since he works hard, tries on defense, and his shooting may be better than his poor FT% implies. But how far can we reasonably elevate him based on this?

These are the sort of traits that can cause somebody to overachieve, but they are not the type of points that lead to stardom as they are relatively minor compared to the macro view of skill level and physical tools being the strongest predictors of NBA upside.

Especially given the NBA’s poor track record at evaluating internationals, there is no clear reason to give teams the benefit of the doubt in this particular instance.

It seems unrealistic to project his upside to be better than Omri Casspi, Boris Diaw, or Dario Saric types, and there is significant risk that he flops completely like Mario Hezonja or Dragan Bender. Even in a weak draft, it does not seem defensible to choose this player in the top 10.

Diaw went 21st and Casspi went 23rd. Deni seems slightly less talented, but if you want to argue that his intangibles make up for it, then why not rate him in a similar slot to these guys? It seems like a reasonable slot relative to his potential.

Ultimately this is the type of prospect that NBA teams have overrated in the past, and there is no clear reason to believe they are currently rating Deni accurately. He is reasonable in the mid-late first on the possibility he becomes a useful high IQ role player in the coveted 3 + D wing mold, but the raw talent just isn’t there for him to justify the high lottery hype.

More Round 2 Hidden Gems

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I have already written about my three favorite sleepers in round 2, but that’s just scratching the surface. Round 2 is littered with all sorts of interesting prospects this year. This draft may have the smallest disparity between prospects slated to go round 2 vs its underwhelming lottery picks that I have ever seen. Let’s look at a few more possible sleepers who may carve out solid NBA careers, once again sorted by current ESPN ranking:

33. Zeke Nnaji

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Nnaji is a somewhat boring big prospect, as he provides good interior scoring and rebounding, but has ordinary steal, block, assist rates to go with a pedestrian 7’1″ wingspan and decent but not great athleticism.

What makes him interesting is that his flaws run parallel to fellow Arizona alum Lauri Markkanen. Lauri had even worse steal, block, assist rates, and wingspan, but he made up for it with good lateral mobility. For productive big men, ability to potentially defend in space can help atone for lack of defensive playmaking abilities.

Obviously Nnaji doesn’t have Lauri’s elite shooting ability for a big man, and isn’t the same tier of prospect. But he does offer some shooting potential, making 76% FT and 5/17 from 3 as a freshman.

He also does traditional big man things like interior scoring and rebounding better than Lauri. He is smooth and coordinated which makes him a reliable interior finisher in spite of lacking high end explosiveness.

Even though he is boring on his surface, he has a number of strengths that accumulate and no glaring weakness. There are questions about his defense and shooting, but that’s true for most prospects. He has good intangibles, and if he is successfully develops his 3 + D, he is going to be a solid player.

36. Tre Jones

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Jones is also a boring mold of game managing PG who plays smart and avoid mistakes, similar to his brother Tyus.

It’s not clear if he is better or worse than Tyus. Odds are he is approximately the same. He doesn’t have the creation or defensive potential to have a big upside tail, but he does have good odds of being an efficient high end backup to low end starting PG like his brother.

It’s understandable why a player like that would slide to round 2, but it feels like he is sliding a bit too far for a prospect likely to be a useful role player.

44. Jordan Nwora

2019-20, BKCM, Men’s Basketball, Virginia, UVA

Much like Aaron Nesmith, Nwora offers good shooting and an NBA body, and that’s about it.

But Nwora is slightly bigger, at 6’7.5″ he is an important 1.5″ taller and his 6’10.5″ wingspan is half an inch longer. He also seems slightly more athletic, and his physical edge shows in his superior rebounding.

3PA 3P% FT%
Nwora 10.9 0.394 0.785
Nesmith 11.7 0.41 0.825

Nesmith is also 13 months younger so he gets the clear edge in shooting.

Otherwise both guys have similar steal, block, assist, and free throw rates. They really are similar prospects, and it largely comes down to Nwora’s slight physical advantages vs Nesmith’s slight shooting advantage. How do we choose between the two?

One argument would be that Nwora can easily become the better NBA shooter, but the difference between 6’6″ and 6’7.5″ is significant and Nesmith can never make up that gap. Even though Nwora’s percentages are slightly worse, he appears to have the quicker release on his shot which makes it harder to buy into Nesmith’s advantage for a skill that is extremely high variance to begin with.

The flipside is that Nesmith is lauded for his work ethic and leadership, so teams deciding between the two may favor his intangibles. But Nwora is the son of the Nigerian national team coach and seems to have good intangibles as well, so it’s not a clear advantage for Nesmith based on the limited information available.

Ultimately they are very close and it’s not clear who is the better prospect. The short answer is that they belong in the same tier, which is the sign that the massive gap between their current #44 and #10 rankings should be closed significantly.

49. Reggie Perry

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Perry brings a fascinating offensive skill set to the table for a 6’10” player, as he does a bit of everything. He can handle, pass, and shoot, as well as do traditional big man things like score inside and he is an excellent rebounder.

Granted, his skills are still in development. He showed big offensive improvements as a sophomore, but was still turnover prone with 3.0 assists vs 3.7 turnovers per 40. And he shot a solid 76.8% FT, 32.4% from 3, but had a low 3PA rate and still needs to improve his range. But he only turned 20 in March, and has a nice baseline for skill for a young big to build on.

Defensively, Perry faces questions similar to Vernon Carey. He has a 7’0.5″ wingspan, and while he is a decent athlete, his lateral mobility and ability to defend in space are in question. He is currently slotted in round 2 because there’s some chance he gets roasted on defense in the NBA.

But he also has a chance of defensive competence. If he can learn to hold his own on that end and develops his offensive skills well, that will accumulate to a good player.

Perry is yet another 2nd round big who isn’t that different from Obi Toppin. He lacks Toppin’s explosive finishing ability, but is much more well rounded offensively, better rebounding, and has slightly better dimensions and hope of competence on defense.

Even though both are technically sophomores, Perry is two full years younger and likely has more upside to develop into a complete player.

Ultimately it’s confusing how Toppin’s flaws get overlooked while Perry gets jammed in the back end of round 2. Is explosive finishing that rare of a skill compared to motor, physicality, and perimeter skill? It typically isn’t valued that high, and even though it’s a significant advantage, Perry chips away with a number of smaller advantages that add up.

It’s plausible that Obi is nevertheless the better prospect. But it isn’t consistent to ignore his flaws while stashing Reggie Perry and Vernon Carey in the round 2 dumpster in spite of their flaws not being any worse.

51. Paul Reed

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Reed is a limited offensive player who has spent his NCAA career mired on a horribly coached DePaul team. He is likely going to be a low usage role player in the NBA, so his lack of NBA hype is understandable.

That said– there is much to like about him. In spite of his offensive limitations, he still has a passable shot, making 73.9% FT and 33% 3P over his DePaul career. He has a low 1.9 3PA per 40 minutes, so his shot still needs improvement but it’s not broken.

Other than that he is capable of finishing and has an OK enough 2.0 assists vs 2.9 TOVs per 40 such that he won’t be a significant impediment to an NBA offense if his shooting comes around.

And he offers excellent defensive potential. He is 6’9″ with 7’2″ wingspan with good athleticism. He anchored the #56 defense for DePaul as a junior (close to Leitao’s best ever which is #47) and posted excellent 3.4% steal, 9.4% block, 11.2% ORB, 25.8% DRB rates.

Reed had excellent on/off splits on both ends. DePaul averaged 0.97 vs 0.90 points/possession with him on and turned to mush with 0.83 vs 1.03 with him off.

He isn’t perfect on D, as he is mistake prone on this end, and it remains to be seen how well he can guard NBA perimeter players. But his length, athleticism, and steal rates all suggest that he had a great chance of success, especially once he is freed from the shackles of Dave Leitao’s coaching.

He appears to be a role player in the mold of guys like James Johnson, Moe Harkless, and Andre Roberson. All of those guys were solid returns on first round picks, so why is Reed mired deep in round 2?

My best guess is because he slid through the recruiting radar as a 3* prospect being young for his class and limited on offense, and spent his NCAA career on a perennially bad team. The interesting in draft comparison is Precious Achiuwa, who is currently slated to go #9.

Unlike Reed, Achiuwa was a 5* recruit because he was very old for his class and showed more handling and scoring ability than Reed. But now that they are both in school, even though Achiuwa is a freshman and Reed is a junior, he is only 3 months younger. They have very similar physical profiles with nearly identical dimensions, and their statistical distributions are similar as well:

Pts Reb Ast TOV Stl Blk 2P% FT% 3PA FTr
Precious 28.4 19.4 1.7 5.0 2.0 3.4 0.514 0.599 2.3 0.507
Reed 26.7 18.8 2.9 4.0 3.3 4.5 0.551 0.738 3.2 0.227

Most advantages point toward Reed. His assist:TOV suggests he is more likely to be able to play the perimeter in the NBA without being a disaster. His FT% and 3PA rate more optimism for his shooting. And his superior steals and blocks suggest more defensive upside.

On the flipside, Precious has a significant free throw rate advantage and is a bit tankier and more physical. He also does have a better handle which gives him slightly more offensive upside in the instance that he improves his myriad flaws on that end. And his significant RSCI edge may not be 100% attributable to scouts being tricked by age. After all, Reed had a breakout junior year and it’s easier to take Precious #’s at face value.

Like Nwora and Nesmith, the two likely belong in the same tier and are very close considering their disparity in current hype and stock. Reed is more likely to be useful because he is currently a better team player, but Achiuwa has a bit more home run potential.

78. Malik Fitts

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Fitts projects to be undrafted because he turned 23 in July and he’s merely a good but not great player. He started his career as a 3* recruit for South Florida, and after an underwhelming freshman year he transferred to Saint Mary’s where he played well for two seasons.

On one hand, he is an unheralded recruit who never performed well in NCAA until he was 21. But he does a number of things well that should translate to the NBA as a 3 + D wing.

He is 6’8″ with 6’11.5″ wingspan, a good body and athleticism, and he rebounds fairly well. He also has the mobility to defend the perimeter and a solid steal rate, which suggests good potential for versatile NBA defense.

He also is a good shooter, making 40.7% from 3 and 78.6% FT in his two years at Saint Mary’s. And he can handle, and is capable of getting to the rim and finishing.

It’s not that he just slightly checks the boxes, he clearly is a competent handler and shooter and has physical tools to defend multiple positions in the NBA. Those are the 3 most important qualities for a role playing wing, and Fitts brings them all to the table.

Even we compared him in these 3 areas to top 5 prospect Deni Avdija, Fitts is clearly better in all 3. Deni is 3.5 years younger and could surpass Fitts handling and shooting longterm, but Fitts current advantages are so significant he should be considered the favorite to be more skilled longterm. And Fitts physical tools will always be a notch better than Deni.

But of course this doesn’t make him necessarily a better overall prospect than Deni. Deni is known for his basketball IQ, and in spite of his youth is already a much better passer than Fitts who is prone to tunnel vision and has an ugly 2.1 assists vs 3.3 turnovers per 40 for Saint Mary’s. He is also not a lockdown defensive player in spite of his tools, as he is mistake prone and struggles to defend the pick and roll.

This significant IQ/vision advantage for Deni makes him the overall better prospect, but Fitts’ edges in skill and tools makes it much closer than an UDFA should be to a top 5 prospect.

For an undrafted player, Fitts’ flaws aren’t backbreaking. IQ and vision are slippery to assess– interestingly he had a better assist rate as a freshman for South Florida when the rest of his game was much weaker. Perhaps his vision is fine, and NBA coaching is able to mitigate his mistakes in which case he should be a solid role playing wing.

Fitts’ age inhibits his upside, he’s not going to be a slam dunk steal of the draft. But his upside doesn’t seem all that much lower than the younger and similarly flawed players that are currently getting lottery hype.

Round 2 Hidden Gems

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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

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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:

Age ORB DRB STL BLK Height Wingspan
Jah’mius Ramsey 18.5 3.0 12.3 2.5 2.5 6’4 6’6
Jamal Murray 18.8 4.9 11.1 1.6 0.9 6’4.25 6’6.5
Gary Harris 18.8 3.9 8.6 3.1 1.1 6’4.5 6’6.75
Brad Beal 18.4 4.7 18.2 2.5 2.6 6’3 6’8

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:

PTS AST TOV 3PA 3P% FT%
Jah’mius Ramsey 28.3 4.2 3.8 9.8 42.6 64.1
Jamal Murray 33.3 3.7 3.9 12.8 40.8 78.3
Gary Harris 29.3 4 3.2 11.1 37.6 78.8
Brad Beal 26.5 4 3.8 9 33.9 76.9

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

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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.

Anti-Okafor Bias

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:

Pts Reb Ast TOV Stl Blks 2P% 3PA FT%
Okafor 34.9 17.1 2.6 5 1.5 2.9 66.4% 0 51%
Carey 39.2 19.3 2.1 4.5 1.6 3.5 59.0% 1.5 67%

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

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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:

Height Wingspan Draft Slot
Devon Dotson 6’2 6’3.25 TBD
Chris Paul 6’1 6’4.25 4
Kemba Walker 6’1 6’3.5″ 9
Ty Lawson 6’0.5″ 6’0.75″ 18
Kyle Lowry 6’0 6’2 24
Tony Parker 6’2 6’4 28

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):

ORB% DRB% STL% BLK% FTr 3P% FT% 3PA/40
Kemba 3.6 10.5 3 0.7 0.474 0.326 0.783 4.2
Dotson 2.1 10.2 2.9 0.4 0.458 0.332 0.808 3.9

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.

Pts 2PA 2P% 3PA FT% AST TOV
Kemba 26.1 13.9 0.471 6.2 0.819 5 2.5
Dotson 20.8 10.2 0.541 4.7 0.836 4.6 2.8

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.

Bottom Line

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.

2020 Draft: This Lottery is Really Bad

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It’s difficult to analyze this draft without getting frustrated by the lack of exciting prospects. Like any draft, there are inevitably a few hidden gems. But looking through ESPN’s current top 10, half of them do not belong in a typical lottery.

I recently wrote no hot takes this year, but before diving in, let’s clarify the definition. I will still share my contrarian views, and rank the prospects different from consensus accordingly. But the goal is to be more level headed while trying to consider how I may be wrong, and only stray heavily from consensus when it seems painfully obvious.

Anyhow, here are 6 players slated to go top 12 that my past self would call lock busts who belong nowhere near round 1. As of now I am still trying to discern exactly where to rate each of them, and perhaps in this draft a few of these guys might actually belong in the lottery.

So for now let’s list them out by ESPN ranking and walk through the causes for concern and possible paths to quality NBA careers in spite of their flaws:

4. Obi Toppin

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Obi has one really big strength– he is an explosive athlete and finisher, making 69% of his 2P in two years at Dayton.

And that’s his only real strength. His passing and shooting are OK, and his 7’2″ wingspan and explosiveness give him a chance at defensive competence. But there are a number of concerns.

First, he was playing in an ideal system to post the statistics he did. Even during his redshirt year, Dayton had the 2nd best 2P% in NCAA led by freshman PG Jalen Crutcher. It’s not just Obi– the whole team feasts on easy interior shots. Obi is a great finisher regardless, but he likely would have posted a less outlier 2P% in a different offense playing against tougher competition.

While he shot 41.7% from 3 in his two years at Dayton, that was only over 103 attempts. He didn’t have a great 3PA rate and his 70.6% FT is only OK for a prospect who turned 22 in March.

Similarly, he has nearly as many assists as turnovers which is decent for a 6’9″ big, but considering his age it’s only OK.

And in spite of his physical tools, he may be an absolute turnstile on defense. He doesn’t move well laterally, and has underwhelming blocks for a big. He may be too stiff to guard the perimeter and too small to guard the paint.

Toppin had a curiously low 6.4% offensive rebound rate for a player with his size and athleticism. It’s worth wondering if he is lacking in motor and/or toughness, as he also has a pedestrian free throw rate.

Toppin played in a highly favorable environment to pad his stats and has a number of scary flaws. Considering that he redshirted as a sophomore aged freshman for a rebuilding mid-major team, there’s a serious concern that he’s an ordinary offensive prospect who is a disaster on D.

What is especially crazy is that he is currently ranked above Onyeka Okongwu. They have similar dimensions, but for a prospect who is 2 years 9 months older and played in a much more favorable offense, his offense isn’t that much better. It really isn’t clear who is the better offensive prospect between the two: 26.4 usg 122 ortg vs 23.4 usg 119 ORtg.

Even if we give Obi a slight offensive edge, Okongwu easily makes up for it with a monstrous advantage on defense. There is simply no defense for choosing Obi over Onyeka.

Where does this leave Obi? It’s tough to say. He has similar #’s to Montrezl Harrell with slightly better passing and shooting but worse ORebs, FT%, and 2″ less length. If you get a different flavor of Harrell in this lottery, that’s a favorable outcome.

That said, Harrell went in round 2 in a much deeper draft, and there’s no clear reason to value Obi higher as he is not guaranteed to share similar success. Harrell was great value in round 2, and there’s a good chance Obi would be as well, but his true value likely lies somewhere in the middle of where he is rated and Harrell was chosen.

Edit: Obi’s wingspan is actually 6’11”, not 7’2″ which is being commonly reported. This explains his pedestrian steal + block rates, and puts a dent in the likelihood he can overcome his lateral issues defensively.

5. Deni Avdija

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Deni’s appeal is that he brings a little bit of everything. He is 6’8″, can shoot a little, handle a little, pass a little, move reasonably well on defense, and just turned 19 in January.

But on the flipside, he doesn’t bring much of anything. He has a meager 6’9.5″ wingspan, is lacking in strength, and is only an OK athlete. He doesn’t get many steals or blocks, and there’s a limit to his defensive upside even though he is considered solid on that end.

And there are major concerns about his shooting. He takes a good rate of 3PA, but only has made 33% while shooting a gross 59% from the line. If we include his 18-19 numbers drop to 31% 3P and 55.6% FT. He is still young with time to improve, and he may be better from three than free throws, but there is serious concern that he will never be a decent shooter.

His best quality is likely his passing, with a good assist to turnover ratio for his size and youth, averaging 3.7 assists and 2.9 turnovers per 40 this season. But his passing impact is limited by his low usage rate, as he posted just 21% usage in BSL and 15.6% in Euroleague.

His Euroleague performance is especially concerning when you consider the low level of competition in BSL. He has posted merely a 10.5 PER in 371 Euroleague minutes this year, raising the concern that he may lack the skills and physicality to make any significant impact against higher levels of competition.

Ultimately it seems like the hope is that he improves his shooting and provides quality defense and a willingness to move the ball and avoid mistakes as a 6’8″ wing role player. And it’s easy to see him develop into a passable role player, especially as wings become more essential toward filling out NBA lineups.

But he has a huge downside tail if his defense and shooting flop, he is not going to be playable. And even if they become decent, what other meat is there on his profile to make him collectively above average? He needs to vastly improve his handle and scoring, otherwise he’s a very boring 3 + D prospect who may not even be good at either 3 or D.

8. Isaac Okoro

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Okoro’s selling point is that he is custom built to guard James Harden 1 on 1. He has a great frame and quickness, and projects to be a good man to man defensive player. He’s like a bigger and better Luguentz Dort, who seems like possibly good value for an UDFA.

I say “possibly” because who really knows how to value Dort. He’s a guard who posted 7.6 PER and -3.7 BPM as a rookie. He may stick around for an NBA career, but there’s still a relatively low cap on his upside, even though his man defense thus far has looked about as good as one could have hoped.

Further, there is more to defense than locking down Harden. Okoro is only 6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan, which makes him a bit too small to guard stars like LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and Giannis. His lack of length shows in his pedestrian steal rate, and his team defense likely doesn’t measure up to his reputation as a man defender.

And curiously, he has a terrible 8.8% defensive rebound rate which looms as a stain on his resume for a player with his tools. Although this is somewhat mitigated by a solid 6.4% offensive rebound rate, it doesn’t sit well for a prospect who projects to be a one way defensive guard.

So he really needs to amount to *something* offensively to justify a top 10 slot. As a freshman for Auburn, he had an average usage rate, barely more assists than turnovers (2.6 vs 2.5 per 40), and mediocre shooting 29% 3P on low volume, 67% FT. There’s not much to work with on this end.

If there is something to build on, it’s his 60% 2P and good free throw rate. He has a limited ability to attack off the dribble, but when he did he showed good footwork and finishing, and didn’t shy from contact.  He is a good athlete and still only 19– perhaps building on this is his path to offensive decency.

But it’s a relatively thin path for a top 10 pick. He is similar physically to Justise Winslow who was clearly better as an NCAA freshman yet hasn’t been able to amount to much offensively in the NBA. Okoro’s only real advantage over Winslow is better interior scoring, so perhaps he can parlay that into a similar or slightly better NBA player in spite of his disadvantages. But lots of times he’s going to be a dud offensively who just doesn’t bring enough size to the table defensively to make his offense worth stomaching.

9. Precious Achiuwa

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Achiuwa’s Memphis team summarizes his NBA prospects– very good defensively, awful offensively, and ultimately overhyped.

He is 6’9 with 7’1.5″ wingspan with good athleticism. He was a very good rebounder with good steals and blocks for the #5 defensive team in the country. There’s quite a bit of potential for him on this end as a small center or a big wing.

But the only problem is that you need to stomach his offense. He only made 60% FT, and shot a low rate of 3PA (13/40). He also had a horrible 1.3 vs 3.7 assists vs TOVs per 40. And in spite of his size and athleticism he posted a pedestrian 51% 2P because he loves to chuck mid-range shots. Collectively he was a high usage player with dreadful efficiency.

And to make matters worse, he is an old freshman, turning 21 in September. This makes it difficult to forgive his flaws and gamble on his tools and defensive playmaking anyway.

Even if develops a passable shot, that assist:TOV likely rules him out from being an adequate perimeter player offensively. Precious needs quite a few things to go right to be able to fit in an NBA offense without being incredibly harmful.

And the thing is it’s not like he’s a GOAT tier defensive prospect. He has merely shown good playmaking potential, but still is prone to getting lost.

One interesting aside: Okungwu, Toppin, and Achiuwa all have similar physical profiles and are projected to go in the #4 thru #9 range. Except Obi and Precious are one way prospects, and if you combine their good side of the balls into one prospect, it’s STILL not clear if that prospect is better than Okongwu. Onyeka is the such the obvious gem in the rough here.

Anyhow, at some point it makes sense to roll the dice on Precious tools and hope he learns how to not trainwreck the offense whenever he steps on the floor and live up to his defensive potential.  Where that it is hard to say, because his offense looks very rough right now.

10. Aaron Nesmith

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Nesmith has an NBA body at 6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan, is a good shooter, and has good intangibles, and that’s about the extent of his goodness.

He isn’t a good ball handler or passer, and he isn’t a good athlete or defensive player.  He’s just a shooter, so how far can that really go?

It depends on how good he becomes at shooting. With modern emphasis on 3’s, it has become increasingly common for players to make a high rate of 40%+ 3PA.

I had a similar critique of Buddy Hield, and this past season he made 39.4% 3P on 15.1 3PA per 100 possessions. Reggie Miller in his career made 39.5% from 3 on 7.1 3PA/100. Miller. 15 years ago Miller was the all time 3 pointer leader, now we have Hield more than doubling his rate of attempts at a similar percentage. That can atone for quite a few deficiencies.

Hield isn’t the only one. Steph Curry is the obvious example of an overpowered 3.  Seth Curry and especially Duncan Robinson have gone on to improbably useful NBA careers because of their elite 3P% on high volume. JJ Redick has aged very well into his 30’s by increasing both his 3PA rate and 3P%. Even Doug McDermott finally had a good season this year by posting a career his 3P% with a huge spike in his 3PA rate.

In recent years, making an outlier impact on shooting with a great 3P% and 3PA rate is becoming increasingly possible, so being a one dimensional shooter doesn’t cap a player’s upside as much as it used to. So the big question is– how likely is Nesmith to become an outlier shooter?

Shooting is difficult to predict with loads of randomness, so the short answer is “not very likely”. But it’s worth discussing the possibility. If we stick to the Hield comparison and look at their career college shooting numbers, they are very close:

3PA/100 3P% FT%
Nesmith 11.7 41.0 82.5
Buddy 12.3 39.0 83.6

And it looks even better for Nesmith considering that he is leaving for the draft at 2 years 10 months younger than Hield. Buddy was a huge underdog to become an elite NBA shooter based on his NCAA statistics, but his elite work ethic enabled him to make a huge leap as an NCAA senior and continue to build on that in the NBA.

Nesmith is also known for great work ethic and leadership, so why can’t he follow Buddy’s trail of defying the odds to become a great shooter?

The major concern is that Nesmith has a relatively slow release, whereas Buddy had a lightning quick trigger. This is going to make it difficult to consistently get off quality attempts vs NBA defenses, let alone at the insane rate that Buddy attempts and makes them.

Further, the bulk of Nesmith’s good shooting came against horrible competition. As a freshman he shot 33.7% on 11 3PA per 100, and as a sophomore he shot 52.2% on 13.1 3PA/100. This may indicate some level of improvement, but Vanderbilt played one of the softest non-conference schedules in the country, and then after one SEC game vs Auburn Nesmith injured his foot and missed the rest of the season.

It’s difficult to say how much was genuine improvement vs simply happening to get hot vs weak low major opponents who don’t have the size or athleticism to challenge his slow-ish release.

While his intangibles and work ethic cannot rule out the possibility that he learns to be a 40%+ NBA shooter on good volume, it’s not necessarily something that is wise to bet on. And if he becomes a 37% shooter on an ordinary 3PA rate, he’s not going to be more than a fringe rotation player because he doesn’t offer enough otherwise.

12. Saddiq Bey

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Rodney Hood’s long lost twin brother enters the 2020 draft with similar stock to Hood in 2014, since going #21 in 2014 is similar to #12 in 2020.

Both guys are 6’8″ with good efficiency and shooting in medium usage roles, great assist to turnovers, and underwhelming rebounds, steals, and blocks.

Even though Hood was a solid return on the #21 overall pick, it’s still arguable that he was overdrafted. For Utah he worked out about as well as he possibly could have, and he was still merely a decent role player. On other teams he has regressed and become an ordinary bench player.

Now Bey’s best case scenario is likely around the Utah version of Hood. But his worst case is quite a bit lower, because he is slow and his shot is a big question mark. He made 41.8% of his career 3P at Villanova, but his 3PA rate was pedestrian, as was his 72.8% FT. He has wonky shooting mechanics, and there’s some risk his 3 point shooting at Villanova was largely luck. Hood has become an above average NBA shooter, and the same cannot be assured for Bey.

Bey’s biggest advantage over Hood is 2.5″ greater wingspan at 6’11”, and Villanova tends to produce intelligent role players. So it’s not difficult to envision him as a useful pro like the Utah version of Hood. But that’s not the sexiest upside given his risk of having below average shooting and lacking the athleticism to guard anybody in the NBA.

 

Draft Predictions Retrospective

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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:

2014

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.

2015

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.

2016

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.

2017

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.

2018

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.

2019

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.

Conclusions

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!

2020 NBA Draft: Who Should Go #1?

This year’s draft is exceptionally weak at the top. There is no real prize that should go #1 in an average draft. Rather there’s a cluster of players who should typically go in the #3 to #8 range. In my opinion there are 4 players in the class that could reasonably considered for #1 overall this year.

4. LaMelo Ball, 6’7″ PG

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Lonzo’s younger brother is a tricky one to solve, because he has such a small sample of statistical performance against any known competition.

Their father Lavar says that LaMelo is the best prospect of his children, as he has more natural scoring abilities than Lonzo. Also he is 1″ taller, and may be slightly more strong and athletic.

Lonzo has been a significant disappointment relative to expectations, as he crushed statistical models with his freshman performance at UCLA. I personally believed he was a future star, but instead he looks like a quality young role player whose unique strengths make him useful, but his significant flaws limit his value.

How LaMelo’s basketball IQ precisely compares to Lonzo is unclear, but he does rack up similar triple double statistics and have a similar propensity for full court assists. It’s plausible that he is a slightly rich man’s version of his brother with less pronounced flaws, which could make the difference between being a quality role player and a star.

But there is also significant downside. Lonzo was much more statistically proven pre-draft, as he elevated a UCLA team to massively outperform their talent level by stuffing the statsheet even better than LaMelo, as he had slightly more steals, significantly more blocks, and a much better eFG 66.8% vs 44.6%.

Lonzo also did this over a larger sample of 1263 minutes vs 407 minutes vs LaMelo, against a more known level of competition playing in the Pac-12 that is also likely tougher than professional Australian basketball.

LaMelo has a similarly broken shooting form to Lonzo, and given his poor Australian shooting there’s no clear evidence he is going to be notably better as a scorer than Lonzo. And there’s no clear evidence that his basketball IQ is on Lonzo’s level, as he was an extreme outlier in that regard.

LaMelo compounds his lower steal and block rates with a reputation for indifference on defense that Lonzo didn’t have. One of the main reasons why Lonzo has been useful in the NBA is because of his defense, and there is no assurance that LaMelo will match his performance given his current mentality on that end.

It’s difficult to do a perfect comparison between the brothers because LaMelo has just 13 games in a league that isn’t quite the same as NCAA, but they share a similarly weird mold. But I would say that Lonzo has the meatier profile with outlier good efficiency, defense, and proven performance vs known competition whereas Melo’s slight physical and ball handling advantages aren’t as clear or significant.

There’s a sliver of star potential for Melo, but more likely is he going to be similar to or worse than Lonzo since there’s no clear proof that he either has the remedy for Lonzo’s weaknesses or matches his strengths. And if the statistically superior Ball already disappointed us once, why buy the hype on a slightly different and likely worse version?

It’s easy to see what a better ball handling version of Lonzo would be worth a #1 overall pick, but the bust risk is far too significant to be worth chasing that sliver of upside in the top 3, even in a weak draft.

3. Anthony Edwards, 6’5″ SG Georgia

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Edwards is a young shooting guard who just turned 19 on August 5 and offers a bit of everything.

He has a good frame and athleticism, and solid 6’9″ wingspan. He is capable of creating a high volume of shots, as he can get to the rim, takes a high volume of 3’s, and makes 77% of his free throws. He only shot 29.4% from 3, but given his youth, FT%, and 3PA rate it’s easy to see him shooting much better than that long term.

Other than that, he’s just OK. He has some passing ability, but isn’t a natural point guard or decision maker. He also has a competent level of rebounds and blocks, but nothing that suggests defensive star.

And while his physical profile is good, his dimensions are a bit small for a wing and his athleticism is very good but not elite.

Edwards doesn’t have any single glaring flaw, but he is ordinary in a few too many categories to be an exciting #1 pick. His closest NBA comp is fellow Georgia alum Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

It’s not a thrilling comparison for #3 overall, but KCP was likely underdrafted at #8 in the similarly weak 2013 draft, and he hasn’t improved much from age 22. If Edwards happens to have a better development trajectory, he could be a good player and perhaps a fringe all-star.

But he could also develop worse as he is very young and raw, and his median outcome is at best slightly better than KCP.

Edwards is the most bland player with the least interesting upside in consideration for #1. And there is some argument that Ball should go ahead of him. But I am giving him the edge over LaMelo because he has a thicker sample of statistical competence and doesn’t have the glaring disappointment of a highly similar brother on his resume.

2. James Wiseman, 7’0″, C

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Wiseman has similar evaluation challenges as LaMelo, as both are weird prospects with thin samples of statistical goodness.

In fact, Wiseman looks like he belongs nowhere near the top 3 based on his biggest statistical sample from AAU, where he posted poor rebound, steal, and assist:TOV ratios for such a highly touted prospect.

But he has exceptional physical tools, as he is 7’0″ with 7’5″ wingspan, and excellent frame and agility for a big man. Further, he complements this with excellent intangibles. He learned to speak Mandarin at his private school, which indicates some level of off court intelligence.

Having turned 19 in March, he is the prototype for a player capable of massive improvements. And he showed huge improvements in the glimpses we have seen since high school.

It started at the Hoop Summit, where he posted 12 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks on 6/8 FG in 22 minutes and looked far better than expected based on his AAU sample.

He continued the trend in his 3 game NCAA sample where he played like a clear #1 overall pick, and he almost certainly improved significantly from his AAU self.

Most notably over the 4 games he went from a poor rebounder to a beast on the glass. And he was a highly effective finisher who avoided turnovers, and made a respectable 22/32 FT (69%) between the four games. If he can finish inside, develop an outside shot, protect the rim, hold his own on switches, and be a solid rebounder, that sums to quite the useful player.

But even after including the Hoop Summit, this sample is only 91 minutes with 47 of those minutes coming against two terrible low major teams. It’s difficult to say precisely how much he improved. He would have significantly regressed over a larger sample against better teams, and nobody knows how good he really is since there is such a wide range of performance between his AAU and Hoop Summit + NCAA samples.

He still had just 1 assist and 1 steal in his 91 minutes between NCAA and Hoop Summit, so he likely has some vision/instincts flaws. And we still cannot take his rebounding for granted, and seems to have some level of motor issues as well as an unproven shot. So there’s a clear downside risk in Wiseman with so many unanswered questions.

But he has a highly useful mold, and will be good if his blanks are filled in adequately. Taking Wiseman top 2 overall is a big gamble with such limited sample of statistical goodness, but it is also a sane gamble given his intersection of physical tools, intangibles, and improvement from high school to college. He needs a number of things to go right for his upside to hit, but so does everybody else in this draft.

In spite of the risks that come with Wiseman, I rank him above Ball and Edwards simply because he has a fatter upside tail. All 3 guys have clear downside and underwhelming median outcomes for top 3 candidates, so thickest upside tail wins.

1. Onyeka Okongwu, 6’9″ PF/C

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Okongwu’s NBA role is difficult to discern, as he is an undersized  center in a league moving away from bigs, but he brings quite a bit to the table.

He has good physical tools with a 7’2″ wingspan and good athleticism and agility. This gives him the versatility to defend multiple positions.

He used his physical gifts well as an NCAA freshman, posting 1.6 steals and 3.5 blocks per 40 while anchoring Andy Enfield’s best defense ever.

In 7 seasons of USC and 2 at Florida Gulf Coast, Enfield prior best defense ranked 84th in 2P% and 80th overall. This was until Okongwu anchored the #18 defense with #7 defensive 2P%.

Okongwu had the assistance of a couple of decent bigs, but he posted 50% of the team’s total blocks while also being a close 3rd in steals. He was the clear heart and soul of the defense, and deserves significant credit for USC’s big defensive leap.

He was also excellent offensively in spite of being surrounded by inefficient players with limited creation ability. USC posted a dreadful 0.86 points per possession with Okongwu off the floor. The team was sorely lacking in offensive talent and would have had a dismal season without Onyeka.

With him on the floor, they posted a respectable 0.98 points/possession, as he led the team in usage and was by far the most efficient player on the roster. He is an excellent finisher, scoring 62.1% inside the arc while rebounding well offensively cleaning up 12.4% of his team’s misses.

He only shot 1/4 from beyond the arc, but his 72% FT offers hope of being able to develop a jumper long term as he is still only 19.

And he showed traces of passing ability with 1.4 assists vs 2.6 turnovers per 40. This isn’t a great assist:TOV, but for a 19 year old big in a dreadful offense it is decent enough.

From most angles, Okongwu looks like a promising prospect. He is a versatile and impactful defensive player as well as an efficient offensive player with a decent baseline of skills to build on. The only lingering question is: what is his NBA role?

The answer depends on how he develops in the NBA. But we consistently see tweener bigs with good length and ability to guard multiple positions as draft steals: Bam Adebayo, Pascal Siakam, Draymond Green, Paul Millsap, Robert Covington. Questions about his NBA role will quickly evaporate if he fulfills his potential.

Okongwu at worst should be a useful defensive player who is an efficient garbageman offensively. At best he develops his shooting and perimeter skill and becomes a two way star with elite defensive impact and versatility. It’s a favorable range of outcomes, and there is no clear reason why he should not succeed.

Considering the myriad warts, questionable upside, and limited proof of statistical goodness of the other prospects at the top of the draft, it’s hard to see how any of them belong above Okongwu. He has the physical tools, he has by far the best numbers, he fits a modern mold, and he doesn’t have any major warts that impede his path to greatness.

He is currently slated to go just 6th overall on ESPN, but if he slides that far there are decent odds that looks silly in retrospect. Everybody slated to go ahead of him has serious downside and probably less upside as well. Not even trying to drop a hot take here, Okongwu seems like the best prospect in the draft and unless I’m missing some major concern it seems somewhat obvious.