The Bigger O: is Oscar Tshiebwe a Sleeper in Round 2?


Oscar Tshiebwe was recently named the AP and Naismith men’s college basketball Player of the Year. And he deserved it– he had a monster year for Kentucky, posting elite statistics including the most rebounds per game (15.2) in NCAA D1 since 1979. He led a not so great Kentucky cast to 6th best kenpom team in the country.

While Kentucky had a disappointing round 1 upset loss to St. Peter’s, it was anybody but Tshiebwe’s fault (mostly TyTy Washington’s), as he posted 30 pounds, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks on 11/16 FG.

He is currently projected to go round 2 at #44 on ESPN’s latest mock, which at a glance seems reasonable given his limitations. Tshiebwe is 22 years old and while he was dominant inside the paint and on the glass, he is not a true rim protector at 6’9 and he lacks the passing and shooting to project as a perimeter player at this age, so he does not have a clear niche in the modern NBA. He is somewhat of an obsolete old school power forward, so it makes sense that his NBA draft stock does not align with his NCAA dominance.

Best Round 2 Steals:

Let’s analyze who have been the best round 2 picks in the lottery era dating back to 1985. We can start with most career win shares of round 2 picks over that time:

YearPickProspectWin Shares
198646Jeff Hornacek108.9
199957Manu Ginóbili106.4
200647Paul Millsap95.4
200835DeAndre Jordan94.1
199832Rashard Lewis90.9
198627Dennis Rodman89.8
199229P.J. Brown89.8
198936Clifford Robinson89.7
200748Marc Gasol85.3
200235Carlos Boozer80.3
201441Nikola Jokić79.1
200351Kyle Korver73.4
198625Mark Price71.1

Internationals (Jokic, Ginobili, Gasol) and high school (Lewis) provided some of the best value because the NBA struggles with the lower/different information and drafts these types less efficiently than domestic college players.

Unfortunately this year’s international crop is incredibly weak, and it is unlikely that there is any sort of elite hidden gem in either round this season. So if we focus on domestic college players, that leaves these 9 plus active players Khris Middleton and Draymond Green, who could eventually reach this group and even if not had better peaks than some of the players on the list.

Carlos Boozer was never as useful as his box score stats implied because his lack of mobility made him a defensive liability. Cliff Robinson and PJ Brown had long and productive careers, but neither peaked high with one all-star appearance combined between the two of them.

So if we replace those 3 with Middleton and Green, that leaves a reasonable top 8 domestic round 2 picks with college experience. Perhaps we could include Gilbert Arenas to make 9 because of his 3 year peak of excellent box score stats, although he had no longevity and it is not clear that he helped his team win as much as his box score numbers suggested.

Among those 9, only 5 have 2%+ Hall of Fame Probability according to basketball-reference: Dennis Rodman (75.3%) is the only person actually in with Draymond (59.7%) having a solid chance of making it eventually and Arenas (21.6%), Price (18.3%), and Millsap (5.5%) all projected to be a buck short.

If we are looking for patterns, two guys who consistently show up as elite steals from any angle are Dennis Rodman and Paul Millsap. They share the commonality of extreme outlier NCAA rebounding, as well as surprisingly good steal rates but slid due to limited passing and shooting for undersized bigs. Interestingly, this description fits that of Tshiebwe.

Other Comparisons

The monster rebs + high steals + low skill is a distinct brand of prospect that 5 prospects clearly fit, with the two others being Kenneth Faried and DeJuan Blair who were drafted 22nd and 37th respectfully. Perhaps I am missing another example, but it is rare enough to find guys who rebound at this rate let alone guys who can rack up steals to boot.

Here are per 60 possession stats of their final college season:


Note that Rodman’s minutes + pace are unavailable, so I just used his per game stats. He was a 24 year old man playing D2 basketball, so it is difficult to directly compare to these other guys, but you can see the similarity in his output.

Another odd (and perhaps meaningless) similarity is that Rodman, Millsap, and Tshiebwe all had lower steal rates in their first two seasons before seeing a big spike in their 3rd season.

Faried + Blair had relatively disappointing outcomes, but they did not flop completely. They had solidly productive careers relative to draft slot, but couldn’t find a niche to make an impact as their length and steal rates did not translate into NBA caliber perimeter defense and they were too small to guard bigs. And while their garbageman skills translated, they did not have enough shooting or skill to overcome their defensive warts.

Rodman and Millsap did prove to be good, versatile defensive players, with Rodman winning two defensive player of the year awards and Millsap making NBA all defensive 2nd team once. Millsap also became surprisingly good on offense, as he became a competent NBA 3 point shooter and developed some point forwards skills.

Collectively box score production has translated to NBA for all of these guys, and the biggest factor swinging outcome is whether they hit their low end defensive outcomes (Faried, Blair) vs their high end (Rodman, Millsap).

Now let’s look at measurables:


Being 2″ taller than any of these guys is an interesting advantage for Tshiebwe’s defensive versatility. He is still too short to defend star bigs like Jokic or Embiid, and is not a true rim protector, but that extra height does give him potential to play at least situationally as a small ball center.

And if he develops into a quality perimeter defensive player like Millsap or Rodman, he has the size to match up with big star wings like Giannis, Durant, and Luka.

This gives Tshiebwe an easier path to finding a defensive niche than these guys, as well as a bit more defensive upside outside of Rodman who was more athletic.

Next Closest Comps

This super long, super rebounder in a thick wing body mold is so distinct that there are not many other guys who even loosely pass for it. Let’s throw out some of the closest examples to be found:

T Robinson20.819.913.3231.21.00.5056.80.6820.5
B Wallace21.315.913.

Thomas Robinson had all sorts of disadvantages. He was a worse rebounder, especially offensively which has more predictive gravity, and his steals and blocks were curiously low. He played a slightly bigger offensive role, but was a fairly inefficient scorer. And this was after he played a small bench role for his first two seasons. It’s curious that he seems like a poor man’s version of the mold, but he went 5th overall when these types typically go late 1st or round 2.

Jared Sullinger was a much worse rebounder and slower with fewer steals and blocks but had more skill. Not really the same.

Mitch McGary was a fascinating weirdo. He was taller at 6’10 and didn’t have a monster wingspan at 7’0, but still had a crazy steal rate. But he had other holes in his numbers, and he couldn’t stay healthy enough to be an informative data point.

Ben Wallace is the best undrafted free agent of all time, and these are his numbers guessing a 65 possession/game pace for his D2 Virginia Union team. It is surprising that he was not a bigger rebounding outlier playing D2, but he continually improved his rebounding rates in the NBA until leading the league in rebounds per game in his 6th and 7th seasons. He also had a higher steal rate in the NBA than his final year in college, although he did get more steals in his prior NCAA season.

But he had his differences from OT, as he was a vastly better shot blocker while being unskilled to a tragic extent. That turnover rate and 2P% for a relatively small offensive role at D2 makes it easy to see why he went undrafted, and he never leaned to make free throws shooting 41.4% for his NBA career.

Ultimately Wallace and Tshiebwe are different players, but it is fairly encouraging that Wallace shares the outlier rebounding trait to provide another example where it led to major draft overachievement.


It is interesting that how outlier rebounding has been a commonality in some of the best domestic prospects to slide out of round 1 in the lottery era. Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman are the only two Hall of Famers over that time that played college basketball and did not get picked in round 1, and Paul Millsap has one of the better hall of fame cases even though he likely will not make it.

It’s not quite fair to compare him to Rodman and Wallace who are better athletes and multiple time winners of defensive player of the year. But it should be encouraging to know that Tshiebwe has some commonalities with them and with more offensive skill could become a better offense, lesser defense version– essentially Paul Millsap.

Granted it is a bit of a longshot that he both becomes a Millsap level defensive player and develops his perimeter skill, but the similarities between them are too strong to rule it out like we can rule out similar upside for most second round prospects.

And even if he does not hit his full Millsap ceiling, there are a number of other outcomes that are a happy return on a late 1st round pick or early 2nd rounder.

If he posts Kenneth Faried or DeJuan Blair box score production with a more competent but still not great level of defense, that’s a good return on a draft pick. Faried and Blair both accumulated top 20% career win shares for their draft range, and bad defense is the only thing that precluded them from being particularly useful toward NBA team success.

Of course he could also be “just” a Faried or Blair type role player who doesn’t really add value outside of eating regular season minutes at a passable level, but everybody outside of the top 3 could be bad this year. It’s not a scary floor outcome.

Where Does Oscar Fit in 2022 Draft?

Tshiebwe seems to be somewhat obviously the highest upside prospect currently projected to go in round 2. The other compelling options are mostly guys who could be quality role playing wings who cannot honestly be compared to past prospects who became multiple time all-stars.

He definitely is a first round value, but how high in round 1 does he go? This is where it gets tricky because he is so weird with such few similar past examples. Perhaps Blair + Faried are the more likely outcomes for this mold, and Millsap is an outlier with a career arc never to be replicated again. Or perhaps the mentality that goes into that level of rebounding is predictive of success in other aspects.

But he has obviously better upside than a number of 1st round guys. For instance, 6’5 SGs such as Johnny Davis, Malaki Branham, Ochai Agbaji, and Blake Wesley are all projected top 20, but none of them fit anything resembling a high upside NBA mold. It is difficult to fathom how it is correct to pick any of these guys ahead of Oscar.

Looking in Tshiebwe’s height range, internationals Ousmane Dieng (#19) and Nikola Jovic (#23) are younger, but have no interesting selling points toward their NBA upside. It seems clear that neither should be valued higher than OT.

Or if we compare him to a fellow old with elite college stats, Keegan Murray is only 9 months younger and projected at #5 overall. Keegan had slightly better PER (37.8 vs 35), WS/40 (.311 vs .297) and BPM (15.7 vs 13.3) and fits a more traditional 3 + D mold, so it is understandable that he is ranked higher.

But Tshiebwe has a much better wingspan (7’4 vs 6’11), better on/off splits, and outlier rebounding has been more predictive of late draft steals than Murray’s outlier low turnover rate historically. And even though Murray is the much better 3P shooter, Tshiebwe is not too far behind in career FT% at 69% vs 74.9%. There is some chance Oscar learns to make NBA 3’s and their shooting peaks relatively close, with Tshiebwe being much better defensively where Keegan appears to be soft.

So it seems like it should be fairly close between the two. Perhaps Murray belongs in the back end of the lottery and Tshiebwe right outside of the lottery. It is difficult to say because both are fairly weird and unique prospects. But it is curious that for older guys with gaudy box scores that Murray is getting every benefit of the doubt while Tshiebwe is stuck all the way back in mid round 2.

What is clear that Tshiebwe has upside, and when he hits he is going to hit harder than anybody else in round 2 and a number of round 1 prospects in a weak class. It is difficult to see 20 guys that belong ahead of him, and he has potential to be steal of the draft.


Where Should Jaden Ivey be Drafted?


In a draft with a Big 3 of Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, and Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey looms as the dark horse at #4, with some hype of belonging in the top 3.

6’4 Ivey is incredibly explosive, and likely will be a top 1% athlete in the NBA. He uses his speed and athleticism to blow by defensive players and finish at the rim. He is also a competent shooter, making 74.4% FT and 35.8% 3P on 5 attempts per game. This makes him a versatile scorer at all levels, and he leads the #1 NCAA offense with 17.3 points/game.

He is more of a combo guard than a true point. He essentially finished in a 3 way tie for his team lead in assists per game (3.1), slightly more than his turnovers (2.6). This puts him on the fence where it is unclear if he can develop the floor general skills to run an NBA offense.

He has a wingspan reported anywhere from 6’7 to 6’10 and a nice frame, and does not shy away from physicality in the paint getting to the line regularly with a 46.9 free throw rate. This gives him potential to play bigger than his size, and possibly match up with taller perimeter players.

But he is nevertheless undersized to guard wings, and right now he is not a good defensive player. This flaws in tandem suggest that he will probably be a bad defensive player in the NBA, and could be a major liability.

Overall Ivey’s athleticism and scoring gives him tantalizing upside, but he needs a number of things to go right between the development of his shooting, passing, and defense for that upside to hit.

Nuclear Athlete = future MVP Candidate Upside?

Given his nuclear athleticism for a lead guard, it is worth wondering how close he can come to NBA MVP candidates such as Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Ja Morant:


These guys are fairly similar in a number of ways, but Ivey is significantly behind in terms of assists and steals in spite of being 6 to 9 months older than the rest of the group. He has nowhere near the natural PG skills of this group, which makes it hard to see him having similar offensive upside.

Westbrook had the excuse of lower offensive output while sharing PG duties with junior Darren Collison. Ivey had the keys to an offense surrounded by elite shooters, and does not have that same excuse.

Let’s shift our focus toward all-star caliber combo guards who are common comparisons: Victor Oladipo and Donovan Mitchell:


These guys were a bit older than Ivey, and similar in a number of categories, except there are a few significant divergences. First– both guys absolutely crush Ivey at steal rate, which is a vitally important signal toward becoming a + defensive player at combo guard size (and NBA star in general). Oladipo also massively outrebounded Ivey (especially ORB% 10.4 vs 3.1 for their careers) and Mitchell is a solidly better shooter with a much lower turnover rate.

Ivey is more explosive and proficient at creating his own shot at the rim drawing free throws than these guys, but as his only major strength he is not quite as multidimensional as these two.

Let’s shift our attention to combo guards whose value largely comes from scoring, such as Jamal Crawford, Jordan Clarkson, and Zach LaVine:


Now Ivey’s assist + steal rates are more in line with these guys, and is a more reasonable forecast of what to expect. His superior athleticism shows with better rebounds, 2P%, and FT rate, but all of these guys became good NBA shooters which is far from guaranteed for Ivey. And even though Clarkson + Crawford were more slithery than explosive, they still were able to create their own shots at the rim.

LaVine had a smaller offensive role given that he was playing on a loaded UCLA team with a more experienced Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, and Norman Powell handling the ball. Had he stayed an extra year and assumed a larger role, it would have been reasonable to expect him to have a similar sophomore performance to Ivey.

So this seems reasonably good for Ivey. MVP candidate seems unattainable, but he still has some loose comparisons to all-stars like Oladipo and Mitchell, and more realistically you are getting something on a scale of a more athleticism Clarkson or Crawford to a Zach LaVine.

But while athleticism offers potential for a player to overperform college production in the NBA, it does not guarantee it. Consider a couple of elite athletes with a high level of draft hype: Andrew Wiggins and Dennis Smith Jr. Neither are precisely like Ivey– Wiggins is bigger with more defensive versatility, but did not show any floor general ability in college. Smith was a small PG, but did show an ability to lead an offense. Let’s see what happens when we take the midpoint of their NCAA production:

Dandris Smiggins Jr.1929.

This may seem like an odd comparison, but I was a pre-draft skeptic of both Smith and Wiggins as their flaws seemed to outweigh their athletic strengths. It is interesting that Ivey’s numbers are near identical to the mid-point of their freshmen stats in spite of being a full year older, as he offers a similar intuitive feeling that his warts are too nasty to become a star.

Of course this does not mean that Ivey will necessarily disappoint as badly as these two, as elite athleticism always provides some attainable path to the upside. But there are such few prospects with similar mold and athleticism as Ivey, Smith and Wiggins may have the strongest pre-draft parallels as Ivey essentially hits the exact midpoint of their size, stats, and draft slots.

Now let’s move on from mythical busts to real ones:

Jordan Crawford20.431.
Markelle Fultz18.635.
Jerryd Bayless19.434.

None of these guys are exactly like Ivey. Crawford has shorter wingspan at 6’5.5, much less athleticism, and his career college stats are similar to Ivey’s in spite of staying until a later age. This is why he was available in the late 1st at 27th overall.

But Ivey was only a slightly better college basketball player than Jordan Crawford, and his athleticism only offers the *possibility* that he is much better in the NBA, nothing is guaranteed. If that potential goes unfulfilled, it should not be surprising if he has a similar NBA career to Crawford.

Fultz shared similar dimensions to Ivey and although he was not as explosive, he showed a stronger knack for running an offense and making plays defensively. The big issue with Fultz is that his 64.9% FT proved to be a bigger flag than expected, as his shooting has prevented him from being an effective NBA player.

Ivey shouldn’t struggle as an NBA shooter to the same extent as Fultz, but Fultz was more multidimensional and productive at 15 months younger and went #1 overall for valid reasons. If his shooting disappoints a bit, he could struggle in the NBA to a similar degree as Fultz.

Jerryd Bayless is smaller at 6’3″ with a much shorter wingspan at 6’3.5″, and played smaller with much worse rebound and block rates than Ivey. But he was an excellent athlete in his own rite who showed better shooting and passing than Ivey at 6 months younger. If Bayless and Ivey were in the same draft, it would be difficult decision who to take first. Bayless ultimately provided a disappointing return on 11th overall.

What Does This Amount To?

Ivey is largely a one dimensional scoring combo guard, and this brand tends to be overrated in the draft with significant risk of bust or mediocrity, and a capped upside even when it hits.

What makes him special is his athleticism, giving him an easier path to hitting his upside. But he can still be a meh bench player like Jerryd Bayless, Markelle Fultz, or Jordan Crawford. And even if he turns out a bit better, a microwave scorer off the bench like Jordan Clarkson or Jamal Crawford isn’t exactly what you hope for in the top 5.

And even if he becomes a low end all-star like Zach LaVine, it is debatable how valuable that is as it is a difficult mold to build around. The Bulls did well with Lonzo Ball + Alex Caruso healthy, but have struggled with them injured. If LaVine is battling Nikola Vucevic for 2nd best player on a .500 team, is that really an all-star impact?

For him to surpass LaVine, Ivey needs to develop his passing and/or defense well beyond what he showed at Purdue. And it is difficult to be optimistic, because it is not like he is playing for Kentucky in lineups full of 5* PG’s and bigs. At all times he was surrounded by 3 shooters and 1 elite big, he had the keys to the offense and was in an ideal situation to rack up points and assists. He did well with the former and only OK-ish at the latter.

Defensively, his steal rate isn’t quite up to snuff and Purdue is coming off their worst defensive season in 10 years. In both of his college seasons the defense was significantly better with him off the court, and he seems likely to be a major liability on that end. One major selling point of athleticism is for defensive purposes, but without the size or IQ to capitalize on it, it will not matter all that much.

Ivey turned 20 in February, he is still young with time to develop but old enough for this season to be accepted as his likely true colors.

The one silver lining for him is that his athleticism is so rare, it is difficult to find many fitting comps. Perhaps his NBA projections should be heavily skewed toward the upside because life is easy when you are that athletic. But Zach LaVine upside is not quite enticing enough to heavily gamble on this hypothesis.

Where Does This Leave Him in 2022 Class?

Some people believe that Ivey belongs in the top 3, but given all of his limitations this seems like it would be a critical error. It is too much of a gamble on athleticism without enough meat or versatility in his profile to be worth it.

Outside of the top 3, he still could be the correct pick at #4, it’s not clear. After the top 3 everybody is flawed. This is a horrible year to get the #4 pick, and anybody who lands there should 100% be trying to trade up into the top 3 or down or out of the draft.

There are some guys you could argue above him. Jalen Duren is not quite the athleticism outlier, but because it comes attached to elite height, length, and frame, his physical profile is likely collectively better. If his upside comps are Dwight Howard or Alonzo Mourning vs Zach LaVine, I will take the former all day. Duren is still very young and raw and has all sorts of blah risk of his own, but he does have some case to go higher.

Shaedon Sharpe also has a case to go higher if he stays in the draft. He seems similar to Ivey in a number of ways, but with less information maybe his flaws do not cap his upside as badly. Or maybe the less info is hiding even worse flaws. It’s difficult to say with such limited info.

These are the guys that can be realistically ranked ahead of him. The players that seem slightly more interesting to me but more boring to the typical NBA GM are Mark Williams and Jeremy Sochan. Williams is somewhat limited as a role playing big in a world where nobody cares about bigs anymore, but he seems like such a solid bet to be a useful NBA player with upside to be a Robert Williams or Tyson Chandler. He is currently ranked #21 on ESPN, but should be rising with a strong tourney performance. I would suspect there are decent odds he becomes a better pro than Ivey, but they are so different it is a difficult comparison.

Sochan is also a difficult comparison because he is a one way defensive prospect to counter Ivey’s one way offense. But with his activity and versatilty on defense, and enough handling, passing, and shooting to work with offensively at a young age, the Draymond comparisons do not seem all that insane. And taking Draymond who is one of the most valuable pieces on a dominant championship team over Zach LaVine who is equally valuable to a .500 team should not be anything resembling a debate. Of course Draymond is one of a kind, but it is easy to see Sochan delivering a better pay off than Ivey.

Other than that, Bennedict Mathurin is fairly similar with more shooting and less slashing. Ivey’s slashing should likely be valued higher, but he is likely not too far behind.

If you can trade Ivey for any of these guys and a late 1st to scoop up Trevor Keels, it is an easy yes. Or if you can trade Ivey and a not enormous fee to move up for Paolo Banchero or Jabari Smith, is is an easy do.

I still am not sure exactly where I rank Ivey on my board, it will likely be in #4-7 range. It’s definitely not a mistake to pick him at #4, and it could pay off if he develops well. I just wouldn’t want to be running the team that is investing such a high pick in him, and would absolutely trade out of the pick at #4 overall.

Where Does Paolo Banchero Fit in the Modern NBA and 2022 Draft?


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Paolo Banchero is currently rated #3 on ESPN’s latest mock draft. He creates a high volume of offense for himself and his teammates, and is built like a tanky PF at 6’10 250. There is quite a bit to digest with him, so let’s start with some statistical comparisons before moving on to more qualitative analysis.

Because of the tanky PF build, Paolo has drawn comparisons to Blake Griffin, Chris Webber, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker.

Let’s start out by comparing him to the career NCAA stats per 100 possessions of the two guys that went #1 overall:

Blake Griffin19.437.423.
Chris Webber19.329.517.

These guys all got buckets and were great passing bigs. But Webber and Blake played more like true bigs. Both were better rebounders than Paolo, Webber was a better shotblocker, Griffin drew far more FTA from bullying in the paint, and both were more dominant scorers in the paint with much higher 2P%.

But Paolo has far more perimeter skill– even though these guys are elite passing bigs, both had a substantially lower assist rate and a higher turnover rate. Paolo is also the better shooter, as both of these guys badly struggled on free throws, and both finished with a lower NBA career FT% than Paolo’s FT% at Duke while never becoming reliable from 3.

So there are some minor parallels in play, but these are not quite right as comparisons.

Now let’s discuss the guys who are more recent and less optimistic:

Julius Randle19.129.520.52.8511.551.7%0.914.270.6%
Jabari Parker18.838.

Once again, Parker + Randle offered more of a bully ball approach, grabbing more rebounds and getting to the line more often. Unlike Webber + Griffin, they at least made similar FT% to Paolo. But they get absolutely destroyed in assist and assist:TOV rates, and Randle’s steals are anemic compared to Paolo.

Jabari Parker failed because he had all time bad defensive IQ, and there was a clear signal that his basketball IQ was limited given his assist:TOV rate. This also showed up with his offensive approach in summer league, where he played a horribly inefficient style. I ranked him 8th on my final 2014 board, and am not surprised that he disappointed as badly as he did.

Randle showed a number of similar flaws to Parker. His instincts were slow on both ends at Kentucky, and I was not particularly high on him entering the draft. To his credit, he developed his perimeter skills, became a good passer, and stretched his shooting out to NBA 3 point range, and is now a decent NBA player. Perhaps I underrated him by putting him 22nd on my big board. Or given that he maxed his abilities out and still is largely unwanted by NBA teams, perhaps that was an accurate rating.

Randle and Parker have some parallels to Paolo, but they seem fairly pessimistic because at the same age they showed major weaknesses where he is strong.

Because he plays like a big wing, let’s compare Paolo to other big wings who went in the front end of the lottery who are good shot creators and passers with an acceptable FT%. Let’s start with a Duke flavor, since Coach K has been recruiting big wings with versatile perimeter skill for decades:

Paolo Banchero19.130.714.
Jayson Tatum18.828.912.
Luol Deng18.728.713.
Grant Hill19.226.610.

Note that Grant Hill’s #’s are over his first 3 NCAA seasons, since that sample is both large and most closely approximates Paolo’s age.

This is a fairly optimistic trio, so let’s clarify why other past Dukies weren’t chosen: Danny Ferry only averaged 5.9 pts/game at age 19, Elton Brand was a true big, Carlos Boozer was a slow big and slid to round 2, Mike Dunleavy Jr. only scored 9.1 pts/game at Paolo’s age, Shane Battier more defense oriented, Marvin Bagley had a bad assist:TOV ratio, RJ Barrett too short, Brandon Ingram too skinny, and Wendell Carter Jr. had some parallels, but is ultimately a slow big.

That leaves these three Blue Devils as most similar, and by the #’s it does not look like Paolo clearly stands behind any of them. Tatum has a clearly significant advantage in shooting with his FT%, and he had a slightly better steal rate and is likely more mobile. So it may be too much to ask Paolo to be a star like Tatum. But given his superior passing, if his shooting improves over time and he turns out to be not far behind Tatum defensively, he can make a similar impact as a top 10 superstar.

Grant Hill is a fascinating comparison because he is a rare big wing that has similar assist and turnover rates as Paolo. Hill’s vastly superior steal rate implies that Paolo will not be able to match his perimeter defense as Hill was clearly the better athlete, but Hill never became a 3 point shooter. If Paolo develops an NBA 3 and becomes a modern day Grant Hill who trades some athleticism + defense for shooting, he would be fairly exciting to build around.

Luol Deng is not exactly the type of guy you target at #1 overall, as he does not stand out from Paolo in any way outside of a few ticks in steal rate, and Paolo unsurprisingly has the better passing. This is why Deng went #7 overall and Paolo is a near lock for the top 3. But if you stack Luol Deng’s career numbers up against 30 #1 picks from 1985 to 2014, he ranks 12th in career win shares (likely to be passed by Kyrie Irving and finish 13th) and 13th in VORP (already passed by Kyrie). He was a two time all-star and gave a truckload of quality minutes to the Bulls.

Even though Deng is a relatively disappointing outcome compared to a Grant Hill or Jayson Tatum, he is nevertheless an approximately average outcome for #1 overall. This is not so disappointing after all.

Now let’s get out of the Duke family and discuss who else could be similar to Paolo:

Paolo Banchero19.130.714.
Carmelo Anthony18.634.415.
Lamar Odom19.229.515.
Tobias Harris18.531.314.
Josh Jackson19.929.813.

Carmelo was 6 months younger than Paolo as a freshman, but there is not much to suggest that Paolo is significantly behind him. Melo was better at getting off a higher volume of shots without turning it over, and Paolo is (unsurprisingly) the better passer.

Interestingly, they rate similarly as shooters at a similar age. Melo was more confident in his 3 with a higher 3PA rate (which is an even bigger gap considering that 3PA rate is up 17.7% from Melo’s college season) and he went on to shoot 77.7% FT as an NBA rookie. Melo does get the edge as a shooter, but Paolo is not too far behind at the same age and it is plausible that he peaks as a similar caliber NBA shooter.

Defense is the area where Paolo has a clear opportunity to outshine Melo. Melo’s college steal and rebound rates indicate that he is physically capable of defense, but due to some combination of apathy and bad awareness he was a liability on defense in the NBA. Even if Paolo is a bit slower, being better defensively than Carmelo is a low bar to clear. If he becomes something like Carmelo with better D, that’s a great return on #1 overall.

Lamar Odom is the closest comp who is the same height as Paolo at 6’10 and not an explosive athlete. Odom has an even higher assist rate, but slightly worse assist:TOV. He has a longer wingspan than Paolo as well at 7’4 vs 7’0, but in spite of this Paolo had a slightly higher steal rate. Perhaps he can use his vision and instincts to be a versatile NBA defensive player like Odom.

What is further interesting about Odom is that he had a productive NBA career without developing his shooting with 31.2% 3P 69.3% FT for his career.

Tobias Harris is another low end outcome for Paolo, where he could end up falling a bit flat but still not be a productive NBA player.

Josh Jackson is not all that similar to Paolo, as his slight frame and busted shot for an old freshman 9 months older than Paolo made him somewhat weird. But he was athletic and overall productive, and is the best example of a top 5 wing with good college passing busting in the NBA.

How Big is Too Big?

Now we just compared Paolo’s game and numbers to a wide range of past guys, but somewhat glazed over how much bigger he is than any of them. Let’s do a quick comparison to see how he measures up:

Julius Randle6’92507′
Grant Hill6’8225?
Tobias Harris6’82236’11
Luol Deng6’82207’0.5
Lamar Odom6’102207’4
Jayson Tatum6’82056’11

This makes the Randle comparisons somewhat understandable, as that is the player that Paolo most closely resembles physically.

It seems that the disconnect between the numbers and perception is his thickness. And it makes some sense– most bulky guys are not particularly quick or good defensively in the NBA, so perhaps we should place a pessimistic skew on Paolo.

And perhaps we should. It would not be shocking if he did end up as a Randle type who offers a bit of everything on offense, but does not have the shooting or efficiency to overcome his defensive flaws and on net be an impact player.

But at the same time, should we give his beef too much attention? Carmelo Anthony offered a ton of offensive value, and Paolo is not all that much thicker than him. The extra 2+ inches of height should be helpful for seeing, passing, and shooting over the defense, so there is no reason to assume that Paolo cannot make a similar offensive impact.

Luka Doncic is a 6’7 230 Arnold Palmer guzzler, yet is on the verge of finishing top 6 in MVP voting for the third time in spite of having just turned 23 due to his monstrous offensive output.

Draymond Green measured 6’7.5 235 pounds at the combine and Metta World Peace was listed 6’6 244 in college at St. John’s. Both guys won NBA defensive player of the year. Paolo is not on their level defensively, but he does not need to be DPOY to justify #1– he merely needs to be adequate on this end.

Not many people fretted over fellow Blue Devil Zion Williamson’s girth when he went #1 overall, but at 6’7 285 he makes Paolo look anorexic. Of course Zion’s thickness (in tandem with questionable work ethic) seems to be his undoing, but he was productive when he was on the floor for the Pelicans.

Banchero may not be the most agile or explosive guy in the draft, but he is a decent enough athlete and may be getting wrongfully pigeonholed for his bigness given all of the perimeter production he has provided for Duke.

It’s incredibly rare for somebody of his size to offer this much perimeter output, so perhaps the first assumption should be that Paolo is a rare super sized wing prospect rather than a dime a dozen archaic PF.

Being big and strong is typically an advantage, so it seems wrong to treat it as a negative when a tanky 6’10 guy plays like a star wing.

How Does Paolo Compare Athletically?

Even though some of these comparisons are smaller, most of them are not notably more athletic. Almost all of the aforementioned comparisons fall under the “more fluid than explosive” type of athlete much like Paolo.

The most explosive guy was Grant Hill, and even with Hill it is not clear that his athleticism is his most scarce quality, as his passing for his size seems more outlier. And he needed to be more explosive than the rest of this group since he never developed a reliable 3 point shot.

But let’s humor the idea that Paolo’s size is a reason to place a slight pessimistic bias on his athleticism, and suppose that in terms of explosiveness, this is how the group rates among NBA wings in percentile terms:

Hill 85th percentile
Carmelo 60th percentile
Tatum 50th percentile
Paolo 40th percentile

But Paolo is 2″ taller and stronger. Is this really such a notable physical disadvantage such that these comparisons are nullified?

It is hard to see that as a reasonable argument. Paolo has 38 dunks so far this season. Most of these prospects played before dunk stats became available, but that is almost as many as Tatum (18) and Tobias Harris (21) had combined as NCAA freshmen.

An Unexpected Big Comp

If people are going to compare Paolo Banchero to bigs who he has little in common with such as Blake Griffin and Chris Webber, we may as well compare him to a big who he has a few things in common with in Nikola Jokic:

Paolo Banchero19.130.714.
Nikola Jokic18.924.613.

Adriatic League and ACC are not an apples to apples comparison, but they are close enough such that I am not sure which one is more difficult. Jokic was more efficient than Paolo, but Paolo is more athletic and played a bigger offensive role than Jokic.

This is not an apples to apples stylistic comparison either, as Jokic is 1″ taller, 3″ longer, and plays like a true center. But enough statistical parallels are there for this to be a friendly reminder to not sleep on elite passing teenage bigs with non-broken shots.

But the parallels are clear. The intersection of height and passing is a great indicator of sneaky upside, and Paolo got even more assists than the GOAT passing big while only being 1″ shorter and more athletic.

And even though Paolo is unlikely to match Jokic’s NBA shooting, sometimes guys make major shooting leaps from their 18/19 year old selves. Having a non-broken shot at that age gives you a chance of that happening, and when they come attached to elite playmaking ability it can yield massive draft wins.

While Paolo will not play the same defensive role as Jokic, who could have seen Jokic posting a season where he deserves DPOY consideration like he has this season? There is a significant correlation between height and defense as well as passing and defense, so guys who have both often overachieve. Paolo is not that much smaller than Jokic, and he is more athletic, so he has outs to be a great defensive player in his own rite.

While they are different stylistically, there are a number of parallels in statistical output of Jokic and Paolo. If nothing else Jokic serves as a friendly reminder to sleep on young, tall, elite passers with non-broken shots at your own peril.

What Does This Amount to in the NBA?

Like most prospects, Paolo’s NBA career will have swing based on how well his shooting and defense develop. Both are on the fence of potentially becoming good vs. being a long term liability.

He could be a sieve like Julius Randle or Carmelo Anthony, or he could be a perennially + defensive player like Lamar Odom or Luol Deng.

He could be a limited jump shooter like Odom or Randle, or he could be a good one like Nikola Jokic, Tobias Harris, or Carmelo Anthony.

What is clear is that he offers a rare level of creation ability for a player of his size between his scoring and passing. The intersection of height and passing is an upside indicator that goes often overlooked by most observers, and offers sneaky upside on both sides of the ball.

If his shooting and defense see favorable outcomes, he could be a hall of fame level superstar like Jayson Tatum, Grant Hill, or Carmelo Anthony.

If they hit middling outcomes, he will still likely be a quality player in the vein of Luol Deng, Lamar Odom, or Tobias Harris.

And if they hit low end outcomes, he could be a productive but not particularly coveted NBA player like Julius Randle. Perhaps in the absolute worst case outcome he could outright bust like Jabari Parker, but it seems very unlikely unless he has major off court issues.

If anything he seems more likely to become an MVP candidate at some point than bust like Jabari. Carmelo Anthony and Grant Hill both finished third in MVP voting once, and Jayson Tatum will likely finish top 5 in MVP voting at some point. Two of these guys even went to the same school as him, and all three of them went #3 overall which is incidentally where Paolo is projected to go this season.

So if 3 exciting comps exist vs 1 terrifying Jabari comp, why is everybody so much more worried about the latter?

What about all of the other busts in draft history?

It may seem like cherrypicking to focus on the good outcomes and dismiss the few bad ones. But let’s look at the biggest busts for tweener forwards taken in the top 3.

From 1985 to 2014 there were 7 such players who finished with < 20 career win shares and have pre-draft stats (Darius Miles is the exception who declared from high school). Let’s look at their assist:TOV ratio in their final pre-draft season:

Adam Morrison2.83.80.74
Anthony Bennett2.14.00.53
Jabari Parker2.34.60.51
Derrick Williams2.35.20.43
Michael Beasley2.15.20.40
Len Bias1.84.80.37
Andrea Bargnani1.34.10.31

Len Bias may be an unfair example since he died of a cocaine overdose and never played in the NBA. But this group includes some all time bad basketball IQ’s, and dying of a drug overdose suggests poor off court intelligence. Perhaps he would have busted in the NBA had he lived to have a normal career.

Further, if we look at the guys who had the lowest WS/48 among guys with 20+ win shares (basically the least efficient guys who produced enough to get regular minutes), they are past #1 overall picks Glenn Robinson (0.47 A:TO) and Andrew Wiggins (0.68)– both fairly significant mistakes to take with the top pick.

Having a bad assist to turnover ratio implies some combination of limited ball skills and limited basketball IQ that is almost a pre-requisite for a big, talented wing to flop. If we include #4 overall picks, we get Josh Jackson as an example of more assists than turnovers who busted, so it’s not a completely infallible mold. But he was also a worse prospect than Paolo due to his busted shot, thin frame, and old age for his class, which is why he did not go in the top 3.

Draft history is still a small sample, and anybody can bust if their development goes poorly enough. But there is not a bust comp that resonates as truly scary for Paolo at this time. Josh Jackson and Jabari Parker are the closest we can get, and he is clearly better than both based on pre-draft.

Where Does This Place Paolo in 2022?

Paolo is obviously a good prospect that belongs in the top 3, but Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith are also very talented. So how do we rank him within the scope of this year’s top 3?

The current narrative in ESPN’s latest mock is that Paolo has slipped to #3 because his defensive intensity and awareness is weaker than that of Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren, who fit stronger two way molds.

But is it reasonable to rate Chet or Jabari as better offensive prospects than Paolo?

Jabari is obviously the better shooter, but he is limited outside of shooting. Notably, he is making 43.5% inside the arc, which is downright pathetic for a 6’10 prospect projected in the top 3. His main issue is that he struggles to create rim attempts, with just 65 of his 239 2PA (27.2%) coming at the rim. Banchero is known to take a high volume of mid-range attempts as well, but he balances this out by regularly getting to the rim where 194 of his 353 2PA (55%) have come. And even though Paolo has taken a far higher volume of rim attempts, he still converts more than Smith at 63.9% vs 61.5%.

People like to assume that Paolo is the worse athlete because he is thicker than Jabari, but in terms of performance, Jabari has shown the much bigger flags relative to lack of athletic pop. Paolo also dunks significantly more often with 38 vs 14 on the season.

Smith Comps?

Both guys have Jayson Tatum as a statistical comparison, but Paolo is the guy where it is easier to buy it as the superior athlete and creator. Smith is leaning heavily on his outside shooting to overcome his lack of first step and creation off the dribble, and the most realistic comps are 6’10 Klay Thompson, Rashard Lewis, Khris Middleton, Danny Granger, Brandon Ingram, and Harrison Barnes. But where is the top 10 fringe MVP candidate upside?

Michael Porter Jr. is a common comparison, as he shares Smith’s dimensions and elite shooting. If you trade MPJ’s interior scoring for Jabari’s better health and defense, they could be of similar value. But MPJ is still developing, who knows whether he justifies his max contract extension for Denver or not. Kevin Durant has 5″ more wingspan (7’5 vs 7’0) and is more athletic, and does not seem realistic or Smith. Dirk Nowitzki is 2″ taller and frankly may be more athletic than Smith as well.

Smith is 6 months younger than Banchero and could blaze his own trail to stardom, but offensive stardom is normally built around an elite creation package where the shooting catches up over time, not the converse. Paolo fits a more traditional NBA star mold, which is why it is so much easier to comp him to past greats.

Given that Paolo likely has an easier path to offensive greatness, it would require high confidence in Smith’s defensive superiority to value him higher. He moves his feet better on the perimeter and it makes sense to give him the edge, but he is not necessarily a stopper nor is Paolo a sieve. Defense is random and difficult to predict, and there does not seem to be a glaring discrepancy between the two defensively like there is in terms of offensive upside.

Smith has a great chance of being a fringe all-star who is useful in any NBA lineup, similar to Klay, Lewis, Middleton, and Granger. His bad outcomes may even be more useful than Paolo’s bad ones– it is difficult to see him being worse than Harrison Barnes, who fits a more useful role than Julius Randle.

But most of the value comes in that star upside, which is quite a bit easier to see in Paolo.

What About Chet?

As elite and productive Chet is statistically, it is impossible to come up with a realistic NBA comp for him because nobody has ever had his physical deficiencies besides Aleksej Pokusevski. Poku has made big strides this year and is rapidly trending toward replacement level player, but his longterm upside is still looking bleak.

Evan Mobley is similar statistically, but he is stronger, more athletic, and did not shrivel up and die offensively when he faced high level athleticism. How did Mobley slide to #3 last year when an emaciated version of himself is projected at #1 this year?

It is ridiculous to fret over Paolo being slightly too thick when plenty of thick players have thrived in all different NBA roles, when relatively Chet is far more skinny than anybody who has had significant pro success, with underwhelming athleticism to boot.

Chet is still a great player and should be valued highly as a prospect since there has never been anybody this good with his flaws to compare to. But it is difficult to see how he should be picked over the guys who are similarly talented and fit more proven NBA molds.

This is an excellent top 3, and one of the most difficult decisions to be made at #1 possibly in draft history. But if we are going to filter it down by who can be compared to the highest tier of past NBA players, we are left with a clear pecking order of:

  1. Paolo
  2. Jabari
  3. Chet

And this is how I would rank the top of the 2022 NBA draft.

2022 Midseason Draft Thoughts


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Here are some preliminary ideas and food for thought, as we still have more info to come and personally I have not watched much film and most of my thoughts are still developing.

At a glance, this draft seems suboptimal to have hot takes, because the big 3 of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, and Jabari Smith seems to be the correct top 3, and then the draft is dreadfully thin after that. Let’s start by dissecting the top 3.

Chet Holmgren is currently slated at #1 overall, but a quick statistical comparison with a prospect available in round 2 throws cold water on the idea that he is the correct choice:

In this case, Chet is Prospect A and Zach Edey is Prospect B, currently slated to go #46 overall at ESPN. Edey is actually 2 weeks younger than Holmgren in spite of being a class higher, and it’s somewhat remarkable that he is rated so much lower.

It is perfectly reasonable to rate Chet higher, as he is the better shooter and shotblocker, and in theory should be quicker as Edey’s huge 7’4 285 pound frame does not typically lend itself to chasing guards around the perimeter.

Chet’s Red Flags

But Chet has concerns of his own, with an outlier poor frame being listed at 7′ 195 pounds. The most physically similar player is Aleksej Pokusevski listed at 7’0 190 pounds, who has not remotely played like an NBA 1st round draft pick through his first 1.5 seasons.

Evan Mobley’s success may inspire Chet’s confidence, but Mobley was listed 20 pounds heavier at 215. Kevin Durant could not bench press any reps at the combine, but he was listed at 204 pounds in college in spite of being 3″ shorter and 1 year 5 months younger than Chet as a freshman. Kevin Garnett (6’11 217) and Chris Bosh (6’10 210) are also examples of skinny bigs who were clearly beefier than Chet.

While there have been plenty of skinny bigs who have succeeded in the NBA, none have been as skinny as Chet and all of them have been significantly more athletic to boot. His physical tools are a major concern that cannot be overlooked.

Further, is he really quick enough to chase guards on the perimeter? Steal rate is far from a perfect measurement of perimeter defense, but it is correlated and he has posted a paltry 1.1% thus far. This is for a Gonzaga team that does not suppress steals against a mid-major schedule. This is how he compares to other recent Gonzaga bigs:

Brandon Clarke2.3
Killian Tillie2.3
Kelly Olynyk1.8
Rui Hachimura1.7
Johnathan Williams1.5
Zach Collins1.5
Domantas Sabonis1.2
Przemek Karnowski1.1
Drew Timme1.1
Chet Holmgren1.1

He is stuck at the bottom, which does not doom him for NBA success and still could easily improve with a flurry of steals. But this is further worrisome for a player who already has significant physical flags. If he can be beaten on the perimeter and bullied down low, how much value can he really provide defensively in spite of his rim protection ability?

His saving grace is his 7’6 wingspan that he uses to block shots at an excellent rate. Although it is worth wondering why he can’t use that monster length to reach into the passing lanes and generate more steals.

Can He Score vs NBA Defenses?

Further exacerbating worries is that Gonzaga has largely been beating up mid-major competition. They did schedule 5 non-conference games vs elite high major competition, and Chet’s offensive production fell off a cliff in those games.

Granted, this is a small sample size it and it is far from a death knell. But for a guy with frightening physical flaws, it is somewhat scary to overinvest in his domination of mid-major competition when his offense shriveled up against high major defenses.

For a quick comparison– kenpom splits stats vs. games against top 50 teams. In Chet’s case, this would be the 5 high major games plus a road game at #72 Santa Clara. In this splits, his offense drops from 21.6 usg 128 ORtg 11.5% ast to 18.5 usg, 108 ORtg, 6.2% ast.

If you want to compare it to Mobley, he saw essentially no drop from his 33 game sample of 23.6% usg 119.4 ORtg 14.2% ast to 23.6% usg 119 ORtg 13.1% ast in a 17 game sample against Tier A teams.

Between the splits and physical tools, it is dangerous to group Chet and Mobley too loosely. They are a similar mold at a similar age and both dominated college basketball, with Chet actually posting a higher freshman BPM at 15.6 (thus far) vs 13.7. But he also has more significant warts, which gives him both lower upside and a more significant downside than Mobley.

Holmgren’s overall production is too good to get too low on him because of his flaws. He is long, intelligent, skilled, and efficient, and has clear potential to be a highly useful NBA player. But it is a strange double standard that his weirdness is not adding any negative skew to his draft hype, whereas it is tanking Edey’s stock to the dirt.

Back to Zach

It does make sense that if you have two elite bigs with similar production, the better shooting big that fits a more modern profile in Holmgren should trade over the jumbo big in Edey that seems to be going extinct.

There should be some concern that Edey is merely another Boban Marjanovic, who can post excellent box score stats but is too slow to hang defensively and is ultimately a sparsely used bench player.

He is slow footed and does struggle when matched up with opposing guards, but on the plus side is exceptionally coordinated for his size. Odds are he will be a liability to defend in space in the NBA, but if he is surprisingly passable he can be a big time steal.

He has the same steal rate as Chet this year at 1.1%, but it drops to 0.9% if you include his 18 year old freshman sample. Edey is likely the greater liability on perimeter D, but it is not a lock that he is worse as there are reasons to be concerned about Chet defending in space as well.

Holmgren’s clearest edge is in shooting, as he makes 74% FT vs 67% and attempts 4.9 threes per 40, making 46.8% thus far (which is likely small sample variance). He is a clear favorite to be better here, but again not a lock, as Edey’s FT shooting shows enough competence such that he may develop a 3 point shot in time, and Chet seems like a decent but not great shooter based on 3PA rate and FT%.

Chet’s advantages in shooting, rim protection, and mobility all are fairly important for a modern big, and make it more likely that he can fit into a modern NBA lineup. Edey’s advantages are in areas that are less valued in the modern NBA, such as post offense, post defense, and rebounding (especially offensively). So it makes sense to value Chet higher, as elite production can only be valuable if it fits into an NBA lineup. Even if he loses a bit of value in translation and becomes a Myles Turner, that still beats a Boban who is better at filling up the box score.

But the tricky point is that Chet’s advantages are all small to medium, whereas Edey has some major edges. His offensive rebound rate is more than double that of Chet (19.1% vs 8.2%), and he is the best low post scorer in the history of college basketball. Let’s compare to some past players (per 100 possessions):

Zach Edey19.618.927.070.2%
Blake Griffin19.815.323.365.9%
Zion Williamson18.515.020.174.7%
Jahlil Okafor1914.822.366.4%
Deandre Ayton19.413.120.763.5%
Joel Embiid19.89.615.063.9%
Chet Holmgren19.77.810.475.0%

Shaq was the only one who matched Edey’s volume but had a significantly lower %. He did so at a younger age, but then slightly regressed his next season before heading to the NBA. Zion was the only player more efficient on a reasonably high volume, but he had lower volume and wasn’t really a post scorer.

Then Chet is included to show his excellent efficiency, but his volume is highly underwhelming, especially for a guy whose success has come almost entirely against mid majors.

Obviously Edey is nowhere near as athletic as Shaq or Griffin or Ayton, but he still gets the job done incredibly well. At a certain point it is worth exploring what would happen if you build an NBA offense around him. Even if he struggles to keep up with NBA players in terms of speed, they may struggle even more to slow down his interior scoring.

Edey provides a unique value proposition, and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where he belongs in the draft. He may be a more awkward fit into NBA lineups than Chet, but he also has more unicorn upside that is worth exploring once the draft board starts to look weak, as it does fairly early this season.

Where Do These Guys Fit Into 2022?

It’s difficult to say because both are so weird, but let’s start with the clearer points that feel less hot take-y.

Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith are not generational talents, but they are both solid top 2 candidates who would be considered as options at #1 in any draft without a generational talent ahead of them. Paolo is more of a traditional superstar and could be a taller Jayson Tatum or Carmelo Anthony with better defense. He is a surprisingly good passer for such a big and athletic scorer, which makes it unlikely he flops as hard as his fellow Dukie Jabari Parker. He likely has some more boring outcomes like Tobias Harris in his range, but overall he is a fairly comfortable choice at either #1 or #2.

Jabari Smith Jr. is an easier fit into a variety of lineups, as he is an excellent shooter for a 6’10 wing who has more assists than TOVs and a 2.7% steal rate which suggests he can defend the perimeter. He has a few weird hitches in his profile such as an underwhelming 46.6% 2P and 2.8% OREB rate, and he does not have Paolo’s athleticism or traditional star mold. But he can be a player coveted by all NBA teams as a supersized super role playing wing.

Both are perfectly reasonable choices at #1 overall. Right now there is no clear answer. Gun to my head, I would lean toward Paolo as he does not have any funky flaws to fret over, but that may change with more information and a deeper dive into the film.

It is difficult to see how it would be correct to draft Chet over either of these guys, since he has so much weirdness weighing him down whereas the other two guys do not by either traditional scouting or analytics.

Right now, it would seem the safe place to rank Chet would be #3, since his weirdness is concerning, but is difficult to say it is enough to bump him out of the big 3 without much strength in the draft behind him.

If we want to have a hot take that may prove to be fruitful or disastrous in the future, Shaedon Sharpe and Jaden Ivey could both be considered above Chet.

Sharpe is particularly interesting, because he was #1 RSCI in this year’s high school class before reclassifying to Kentucky, and is now somehow 7th on ESPN’s current board in spite of the draft turning anemic after the top 3. #1 RSCI’s bust reasonably often, but they also become stars at a decent rate as well. He has a 7’0 wingspan, and is an athletic finisher with a smooth looking stroke, and could easily be the best player in the class.

He is a bit old for his high school class, being only 2 weeks younger than Jabari Smith, so he also could bust completely. But outside of the top 3, there will be loads of busts and boring outcomes so why not roll the dice on him at #4? Hopefully he starts to play for Kentucky to give a clearer image of what he brings to the table.

The only other reasonable choice at #4 is Jaden Ivey who is fairly similar to Sharpe as a long and athletic SG with a nice outside stroke. His wingspan is not quite as long at 6’10, but he is only 3.5 months older and has more proven production at the NCAA level, so it is reasonable to consider him above Sharpe.

These two are somewhat enigmatic because they could be similar to Donovan Mitchell or they could bust completely. Which is why it feels hot takey to rate them above Chet– their upside is a bit sexier but it can look really dumb if he has a highly useful NBA career and they do not.

After those guys, the draft starts to become truly tragic. Prospects that I would look at in the mid-late lottery include Jalen Duren, Kendall Brown, Trevor Keels, Mark Williams, Dyson Daniels, Keegan Murray, Bennedict Mathurin, TyTy Washington, Kennedy Chandler, Tari Eason, and Walker Kessler.

Jalen Duren has been fairly boring as a freshman, but he is toolsy and only turned 18 in November. His top 2 kenpom comps are Derrick Favors and Andre Drummond, which is something. He likely belongs in the top 10 by default with such thin options on the board.

Kendall Brown fits a nice archetype as a role playing wing at 6’8 with good athleticism, but his offense is a bit too limited to get too excited.

Trevor Keels is fairly boring as an undersized SG with limited athleticism. But he is super young and offers a bit of everything. Pesky perimeter defense, decent enough PG skills, good basketball IQ to limit mistakes, and a passable jump shot that has plenty of time to improve as he does not 19 until after the draft in August. His boringness may cause him to be underrated, but his well roundedness and youth make him an option worth considering in the top 10.

Dyson Daniels is in a similar boat, as he is not particularly athletic or dynamic at scoring, but does a bit of everything as a 6’6″ SG. While he does not share their athleticism, he has been a more productive player for G League Ignite than both Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, and in a weak draft is a reasonable choice in the top 10.

Mark Williams is a nice big man prospect, as he has a monstrous 7’7 wingspan and is fluid, efficient, and a good well rounded basketball player. He is currently projected at #23 overall, and reminisces of past draft steals in the 20’s such as Robert Williams and Clint Capela. So it likely would be a mistake to let him slide to the 20’s in such a poor draft, as he seems to be a clear lottery value.

Bennedict Mathurin is a somewhat boring spot up SG, but he’s decent enough to deserve lotto consideration in this dumpster fire of a draft.

Keegan Murray is a highly productive weirdo. His stats are excellent across the board, but he does not eye test on par with his stats as he is somewhat slow and unathletic, and his defense is not as good as his steal, block, and rebound rates imply. Iowa has had a number of prospects post excellent college statistics without being useful NBA players, such as Luka Garza, Aaron White, and Jarrod Uthoff, because they recruit non-toolsy guys meant to perform as 4 year college players and not be future pros. Murray is clearly the best of the bunch, and he is so productive he deserves lottery consideration. But he also should be valued lower than his #’s to some extent, and it is difficult to place him. He could be a Robert Covington-esque role player that is very useful. I’ll probably stash him somewhere in the lottery and call it a day, but I am currently unsure exactly where to rate him.

TyTy Washington is a sophomore aged freshman who is an incredibly boring mold of undersized SG. But John Calipari has a habit of making future NBA stars seem boring in college, and he is fairly similar to Tyrese Maxey who was underdrafted by the NBA and underrated by myself, so perhaps his top 10 hype will prove to be justified after all.

Tari Eason is a fairly interesting sleeper currently slotted for round 2 at #34 in ESPN’s draft. For a 6’8 wing, he offers a compelling intersection of ability to create his own shot at the rim and make plays on defense, with excellent 3.8% stl 6.0% blk rates. His 71% career FT implies competent shooting, but his 28.4% 3 on somewhat low volume makes his ability to make NBA 3’s look somewhat dicey for a prospect who will be 21 on draft night. He also averages 1.1 assists vs 2.0 turnovers and has a disappointing 6’9 wingspan for a 6’8 prospect, so there are plenty of flags to temper enthusiasm. He has weirdo upside but it is easy to see why NBA teams may be skeptical of drafting him too soon.

Kennedy Chandler is an athletic PG who can get to the rim, create for others, and play pesky perimeter defense with an excellent 4.4% steal rate. But his shooting and efficiency leave quite a bit to be desired for a 6’0 PG, and he rebounds like his size with an anemic free throw rate.

Walker Kessler is a fascinating weirdo. He has an insane block rate, the highest of any NCAA player averaging 12+ minutes per game dating back to 09-10 when it was first tracked. He has also has an excellent steal rate for a big, a hyperefficient 73.7% 2P, a vaguely competent outside shot, and a monster 14.8 BPM which is not too far behind Holmgren or Edey while being just ~9.5 months older. He does not score with great volume and has an anemic free throw rate for his size, but anybody with such monstrous statistical peaks is going to deserve a closer analysis once the draft approaches.

So where does Zach Edey fit in? It’s tough to say. These guys are all more traditional NBA archetypes, but they are all fairly boring. At what point do you pull the trigger on a guy who may make low post scoring relevant in the NBA once again, instead of aiming for a useful role player who likely has limited upside? There’s not a clear answer. It is not completely insane to rank all of these guys ahead of him, but it is insane to rank them and 29 additional guys above Edey as ESPN currently does.

Who is overhyped this year?

Now that we have addressed the players who have shown some level of appeal, let’s now discuss the gratuitous list of guys who have not.

Johnny Davis, ESPN rank: 8th

Davis is in the midst of an excellent season for Wisconsin as he has been their go to scorer for a team with limited offensive talent. He is fairly well rounded too, he rebounds well for a guard, he avoids turnovers, and he is capable of making plays defensively.

But at 6’5 with mediocre length and athleticism, he has an underwhelming physical profile for an underwhelming NBA mold. His top 3 kenpom comps are Alec Burks, James Bouknight, and Jarrett Culver, all lotto picks with collectively underwhelming results. It’s likely safe to call Culver a bust, Bouknight is still early but appears to be on the fast track to busting, and Burks had an acceptable career as a journeyman but isn’t exactly what you hope for in the lottery.

So how much can we realistically expect from Davis? He does enough to have a decent enough career like Burks, but he could also bust. And how much upside is there to be better than Burks when he seems to have a bit less length and athleticism? His main value seems to come from making pullup mid-range jumpers, which is useful on a college team with no other scoring options but for a player with his physical tools in the NBA seems like a limited calling card.

He is still productive enough such that he isn’t that overrated and I would likely rate him in the 15-20 range. But there are more attractive value propositions inside the top 10.

AJ Griffin, ESPN: 11th

Griffin is young and toolsy with a 7’0 wingspan and doesn’t turn 19 until August one day before his fellow Blue Devil Keels. But his problem is that he just isn’t that good at basketball right now.

At a glance his 50% 3P is attractive. But his shooting form does not look all that inspiring, and with a 70% FT it likely is a product of small sample variance.

Offensive he does avoid turnovers well, but he also creates a low volume of offense and is strictly a role player at this stage. And his anemic 1.4% steal rate calls into question whether he can parlay his physical tools into NBA production.

Based on youth, tools, and RSCI he still likely belongs in the top 20, but lottery is a bit much considering how little he brings to the table at this stage. He somewhat reminisces of Tony Snell, who also had a disappointing steal rate for a 7′ wingspan and was mainly a spot up shooter in college.

Snell has kicked around the NBA for 8 years and Griffin’s youth gives him upside to be better, but his common outcomes seem a bit too boring to justify the lottery hype.

Ochai Agbaji, ESPN: 12th

This is the highest rated prospect who simply has no business going in round 1. He is 6’5 with a 6’10 wingspan, and offers little in terms of basketball playing ability other than outside shooting where he is making 46.4% from 3 for the season.

But the issue is that this seems to be almost entirely variacne based, as he has a mediocre 69.6% FT to support it and just 68.9% FT for his NCAA career.

He can create his own shot at the rim in doses, but not so much for a SG who turns 22 in April and is not much of a passer or defensive playmaker. Perhaps he finds a niche as a role playing bench SG, but it is difficult to see how somebody with such few strengths and so many weaknesses belongs in round 1, let alone the lottery.

Marjon Beauchamp, ESPN: 14th

Beauchamp fits a nice 3 + D mold as a 6’7 wing, but he isn’t that good for a guy who is already 21 years old.

He showed promise as a shooter last season for his community college team, making 39.8% 3P on 8.6 3PA/game and 76.8% FT, but in the G League this year he is only attempting 2.8 3PA per game in spite of playing huge minutes at 36.6. In general his offense is limited for his age, with a meager 16.8% usage rate for G League Ignite.

His calling card would need to come on defense, where he has good dimensions at 6’7 with 7′ wingspan. His stocks and rebounding are solid and he is considered to be good on this end, which is why there is at least a case that he isn’t crazily overrated. But you would want to see more offensively for a 21 year old wing before taking him in the lottery.

Jaden Hardy, ESPN: 17th

Hardy entered the season with top 5 hype and has been remarkably bad for G League ignite, as he is essentially a 6’4 one dimensional scorer with terrible shooting percentages, making 40.2% 2P and 26.9% 3P.

He doesn’t offer much in the way of passing, rebounding, or defense, and is pretty much the worst possible NBA mold of undersized and inefficient chucker. The only redeeming quality thus far is that he is 30/34 FT, so perhaps he can be developing into a much more efficient player and become something like an Anfernee Simons.

But man this is such a dreadful archetype to gamble on, especially when there is such little goodness that he has shown for G League ignite. He could eventually justify a first round value, but I wouldn’t want to run a team that rolls the dice on him.

International Love (or lack thereof)

As bad as this NCAA class is, the international class is worse.

There seems to be some bias in drafts that there should be some international player who deserves some hype, so when classes are particularly thin there are some truly dreadful prospects being promoted in round 1.

This year that is exemplified, with 3 players currently slotted in the 20’s undeservedly.

Nikola Jovic, ESPN: 23

If you squint hard enough you can see some case for Jovic being NBA caliber. He is young and does not turn 18 until June, and has a nice intersection of shooting and passing for a 6’10 prospect making 37.7% 3P 75% FT while averaging 3.1 assists per game in 28 minutes for Mega Bemax in the Adriatic League.

But after that everything starts to look like a player who simply cannot hang physically in the NBA. He has dreadful reboundings and stocks, averaging just 4.4 rebounds, 0.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game. He is a slow footed and underathletic PF who likely will not be able to guard anybody in the NBA.

Further, his offense is sorely limited beyond his passing and shooting, as he has a meager 44.9% 2P on middling volume, an anemic free throw rate, and is somewhat turnover prone. Consequently, his offense is inefficient and he has a paltry 12.6 PER.

If he was a domestic prospect with better physical tools, he still likely wouldn’t be a first round prospect with all of his flaws but at least it would be reasonable to be more forgiving and give him a chance. As it is, the odds are stacked against him ever becoming NBA caliber, and he should not go in round 1. Perhaps if you want to take a random stash in round 2 he would be fine, which is more than can be said for the other 2 prospects currently slated for round 1

26. Ousmane Dieng
27. Hugo Besson

It’s an exciting time for the New Zealand Breakers, as they somehow have two prospects slated for round 1. If either of them are chosen in round 1, they will have a case for worst round 1 prospect in NBA history.

Dieng’s strength is that he is only 18 and does not turn 19 until May. His weakness is playing the game of basketball, as he has a grotesque -0.1 PER in 181 minutes for the breakers. He is averaging 3.7 points, 2.1 rebs, 0.9 assists, 1.1 turnovers, 0.1 steals, 0.2 blocks with a 27.7% TS.

It is impressive how bad he has been, and it is unclear why he is on NBA radar. He is completely and utterly undraftable.

Hugo Besson has been more productive, but he should be since he is a 6’3 guard with underwhelming athleticism who turns 21 in April. His strength is scoring, as he averages 15.5 pts in 28 minutes with 35.8% 3P and 81.8% FT.

But otherwise his profile looks extremely grim. He is averaging 1.1 assists, 2.1 turnovers, and 0.1 steals, which all are glaring red flags for an unathletic point guard of his age. He is a good shooter, but not an elite one, and it is unclear how he may be able to have an NBA career. He is also completely and utterly undraftable.

Summer League Scouting: Cade Cunningham


From Cade Cunningham to Jamorko Pickett, Pistons leave Summer League on a  wave of momentum | Detroit Pistons

Cade Cunningham entered the season with comparisons to Luka Doncic or Ben Simmons with a jump shot as a primary creating wing star. As an NCAA freshman, his creation sorely disappointed, and those comparisons became unrealistic, but there was still clear potential to be a Khris Middleton or Jayson Tatum level wing creator.

Since the draft, a couple of pieces of new information have come to light. First, Cade was listed at 6’6″ on Detroit’s official roster after being listed at 6’8″ in college. The Pistons and other teams were using height in shoes for these measurements, although it was inconsistent how teams approaching rounding. The Pistons listed John Petty at 6’5 after he measured 6’5.75″, so it is plausible Cade is actually 6’6.5″ or 6’6.75″ in shoes. And he still should have a 7’+ wingspan, as he measured 7’0.25″ in 2019.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that Cade is 6’6.5″ with 7’0.5″ wingspan. Those are still good wing dimensions, but they aren’t as good as advertised, which is a hit to his value.

Then summer league offered a decent litmus test for his creation ability. There was a common narrative that Cade was a much better shot creator in AAU, so his performance at Oklahoma State was uncharacteristic because of bad teammates and/or the pandemic. Then Cade came out and confirmed that Oklahoma State was indicative of his true creation talent, as he continued to lack the athletic pop or ball handling ability to get past defenders and create easy shots.

His NCAA offensive statistics were not all that far behind those of Tatum, but their rookie summer league is where they start to diverge heavily. Per 40 minute stats:


This is only 3 games for Cade vs. 6 for Tatum, and Cade would look much more respectable with one good game. But this difference is nevertheless huge. Tatum was creating much higher volume inside the arc with much greater efficiency, getting to the line much more frequently, with a significantly lower turnover rate.

Cade had a decent advantage in assist rate but not in assist:TOV. Further, at least 3 of his 7 assists were somewhat cheap where his teammates scored off the dribble after receiving a pass from Cade.

Cade did shoot 13/26 from 3 vs. 4/12 from Tatum in spite of less than half of the minutes. But since Tatum has become a 39.6% 3P shooter on high volume, there is limited room for Cade to provide more shooting value in the NBA.

Tatum is an example of a player who instantly showed more potential than he did as a good but not elite NCAA freshman, so it should not be surprising that he has solidly outperformed his college stats. Conversely, Cade has had all of his weaknesses amplified in summer league which bodes ill for his odds of reverting to his AAU creating self.

Granted, it is not a death knell. Khris Middleton was only slightly better than him as an NCAA creator at the same age, and a year older in summer league he showed little creation promise in a 14% usage role. So there still is room for Cade to provide competence in this regard long term, it just looks extremely dicey and is nowhere in the vicinity of where it was originally estimated.

Reasonable Upside Comp

There are a couple of positively redeeming qualities of summer league for Cade. First, he showed better activity and effort on defense than he did in college, averaging 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks in his 3 summer league games. He still made mistakes and was beat on multiple occasions, but he has the tools and instincts to be a good defensive player, and this improved effort was a step in the right direction.

Second, he got off a huge volume of 3PA that he made at 50%. The percentage doesn’t mean much in a vacuum since it’s such a small sample of shots, but he attempted 12.5 3’s per 40 minutes compared to 6.5 as a college freshman. He collectively attempted more 3’s than 2’s which is a good idea for him– between college and summer, he collectively has made 41.4% of 3s and 45.1% of 2s.

This was also a direction he trended in toward the end of his college career. He had more 3PA than 2PA in only 1 of his first 22 NCAA games, before attempting more 3PA in each of his final 5 games.

Even if his creation struggles persist, he still may be salvageable as a good 3 + D player with one clear optimistic comp: Klay Thompson.

It’s not a perfect statistical comparison since Klay stayed for 3 college years and steadily improved each season, but his average age over his career was only 7.5 months older than Cade. Let’s see how their numbers compare using Klay’s career stats:


They are basically twins. Cade’s age is an advantage, but given Klay’s continuous improvements over his career, it’s not a major one. Klay has developed in a player who has made 51%+ of his 2PA for his past 4 NBA seasons with a low turnover rate, which is about as good as one could have hoped his offense outside of 3P would have developed based on pre-draft.

As a non-shooting offensive player, Cade may be better or he may be worse. He has potential to draw more free throws and make a bigger impact as a passer, but if he spends too much time dribbling in circles, taking bad shots, and turning it over without significant improvements, he has potential to be a net negative in the categories where Klay took a huge leap.

Collectively, he has more potential to be worse creatively than Klay than better since he only showed slightly more potential in college, and Klay had such a good development arc.

NCAA shooting signal:


Klay had a higher 3PA rate, but Cade had slightly better %’s as a freshman than Klay’s career averages so it’s within his range of outcomes to be a Klay level shooter if he can catch up in volume.

As a shooter, Klay is a career 41.9% 3P on high volume. He has 7 of the top 40 3PM in a season for players who converted 40%+ from 3, Steph has 8 of these seasons, and nobody else has more than 2. Cade’s shooting was so good as a freshman that we cannot rule out that he is a slightly better shooter than Klay, but he needs to be a top 2 shooter of all time for that to happen. More likely he shoots 39% to 40% on slightly lower volume, which would make him about ~1 point worse per 100.

Cade has similar defensive versatility to Klay and similar NCAA steal, block, and rebound rates. But Klay developed into an above average defensive player, and Cade is unlikely to be a stopper. Cade has some potential to be slightly better than Klay on this end, but he is more likely to be average or a worse.

It’s clear why Klay Thompson was available at 11th overall in his draft– he was a good mold of 3 + D, but needed a number of things to go right to develop into the low end all-star that he is today. And Cade Cunningham is in a similar boat, as his pre-draft profile isn’t all that much stronger in spite of his #1 overall status.

But Cade Priors from High School and AAU were Elite

How much does this really matter? High school scouts get it wrong all of the time. If we look at recent prospects with #1 preseason hype that fell flat in college, it’s difficult to find any compelling examples where the high school priors should have been weighed heavier than NCAA performance:

ProspectRSCIDraft SlotDraft Year
Cole Anthony3152020
Cam Reddish2102019
Harry Giles2202017
Skal Labissiere2282016
Jahlil Okafor132015
Andrew Wiggins112014
Jabari Parker222014
Shabazz Muhammad1142013
Austin Rivers2102012
Harrison Barnes172012
OJ Mayo132008

Granted, this is a subjective list with no clear criteria other than myself intuitively feeling scammed by the players that showed up relative to pre-existing hype. You could argue that Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba, and Emmanuel Mudiay also belong on the list as negative examples, but they were all in highly flawed molds that were about as good as expected. RJ Barrett, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown could be added as positive examples, but they were all about as good as advertised. They all had their flaws, but showed enough strength such that they had clear upside with no reason to be aggressively bearish.

If we focus on the above list there are a few common trends. First– not a single prospect who slipped in the draft was a wrongful overreaction. Muhammad, Giles, and Skal were complete busts, and if Cole Anthony’s recent summer league is any indication, he has good odds of following suit.

Austin Rivers looked like a bust early in his career, and then made significant improvements to become an OK-ish bench player. But he even at his peak he was a below average player. Cam Reddish was approximately replacement level as an NBA sophomore, and it’s difficult to get too excited over his upside but we will see if he can improve to a quality rotation player in time.

Everybody else was a top 3 pick, and Harrison Barnes likely would have been top 3 if he did not stay for his sophomore year and show limited improvement. Barnes ended up providing slightly above average slot value for #7 overall, but would have been below average for #2 or #3. Wiggins, Parker, Okafor, and Mayo all badly underperformed their slot value.

What can we learn from this? First, if we include Bagley, Bamba, and Mudiay, there is approximately one super hyped prospect that massively disappoints each year. Second, NBA talent evaluators seem to be much more forgiving of flaws for hyped prospects than they should.

It is too small of a sample to draw any firm conclusions, but it is worth wondering if having extreme pre-draft hype is more of negative signal than positive one for the guys who perform like ordinary lottery prospects. High school rankings are highly limited, but they do a good job of marking the prospects whose tools and skills offer clear potential for domination.

And if a player has potential to dominate, but does not dominate at the NCAA level, perhaps that is indicative of flaws that are cumulatively fatal for long term star potential. Maybe it is slower development than peers, or poor translation to higher levels of competition, or a lack of basketball IQ that was not easily discernible in high school. Regardless, it seems that disappointment early in NCAA career may be predictive of continued longterm disappointment.

How Did Cade Fall Short?

In Cade’s case, the issue may largely be that he developed physically before his peers. He measured 6’6 in 2019 and is still listed at 6’6 today, and his athleticism is highly underwhelming relative to expectations. He played largely on stacked teams that were able to dominate in transition, and now that he is required to create against set defenses that are physically equal or greater to him, he is simply not that good at it.

He also was purported to be a wizard passer with elite basketball IQ, but perhaps that was because it is easier to stand out passing in transition on high school all-star teams. He has good court vision and is a willing passer, but his basketball IQ is somewhat of a mixed bag as he often makes poor decisions with the ball and has mediocre defensive IQ.

He also has an underwhelming motor. He had an anemic NCAA offensive rebound rate for his size, his effort on defense was poor, and he hardly ever scored on cuts, handoffs, or off screen with limited off ball movement. It was nice to see him step up the defensive effort in summer league, but he still may have a bad motor over the large sample.

Collectively these aren’t minor flaws that can be overcome with hard work. They cumulatively put a major dent in his current value to a basketball team, and are hardcoded enough to provide major resistance to him ever becoming a top 10 star in the NBA.

Pedigree Yields Endless Opportunities

Another reason for the pattern of disappointment may be that top recruits get every chance to showcase their potential. If Cade was #15 RSCI playing for a stacked Duke, Kentucky, or Kansas team, he wouldn’t get carte blanche to dribble in circles to his heart’s content. Perhaps he would have had a pedestrian 23% usg, 15% ast rate or so if he was simply one of many talented players as opposed to the highest rated recruit in program history.

He didn’t *need* to create everything for Oklahoma State. He was simply allowed to because of his pedigree. Isaac Likekele’s usg/ast rates dropped from 23%/30% to 17%/19% in order to give the reigns to Cade. He had the green light to accumulate as much bulk stats as possible, regardless of his bad shots, turnovers, and overdribbling. Yet he posted merely good but not elite bulk offensive output, with 28.6% usg and 20.4% ast rates with poor efficiency in spite of his excellent shooting.

Cade has now shown glaring weaknesses in his two most recent settings between NCAA and summer league. And when hyped prospects show unexpected weaknesses, they have historically not been overcome in the long term. At this point it is safe to dismiss Cade’s AAU/HS priors for the bullish case. And there remains the bearish concern that the early disappointment may be predictive of future disappointment.

The funny thing is that none of the other prospects on the list showed major unexpected strength. Whereas Cade was supposed to be an average-ish shooter who has shot the lights out. But everything that was supposed to be a big strength has been such a weakness, that collectively he has fallen well short of expectations as a generational prospect.

If there is a bright side, it’s that since he improved his shooting, he is likely working on his game and can perhaps apply his work ethic toward other aspects of his game and buck the trend of early disappointment continuing over the long term. But he has shown limited craft in figuring out how to create against NCAA or SL defenses thus far, and may just not have the innate ability to create at a high level in the NBA.


Cade still has potential to be a highly useful NBA player. He fits a solid 3 + D mold, and his passing and creation ability still has some chance to be similar to Khris Middleton with good development. He could be a sort of Middleton/Klay hybrid that becomes a low-end all-star and is a super useful cog that fits into any NBA lineup.

But that’s not the type of player that you target at #1 overall. Klay went 11th, and Middleton went 39th. Granted, Middleton’s hype suffered from starting school super young and getting hurt as a junior. If he started school a year later and was a one and done, he may have been a late lottery pick. Cade Cunningham performed at a similar level to both of them as an NCAA freshman, only he went #1 overall because of his high school and AAU hype.

Then in summer league, he continued to perform at that level. It was only 3 games, but that’s now his two most recent performances in different settings where he has looked nothing like a #1 overall.

The saving grace has been his exceptional development as a shooter, which in tandem with his defensive versatility makes him a highly useful mold. Even if he is a late lottery talent like Klay and Middleton, perhaps in the modern NBA that is more of a mid-lottery value.

He needs quite a bit to go right to become an all-star, but not all that much to go right to become an average starter that fits in a wide range of NBA lineups. He only needs to not force a bunch of negative creation and become competent on defense.

If we say he is likely a solid starter in a favorable mold with some potential to be a low end all-star in a hybrid Middleton/Klay mold if things go well, and some risk of going full Wiggins on us if he forces too much negative creation– it seems fair to price that player as a mid-lottery guy in this year’s draft. It’s difficult to see the top 10 potential in Cade that prospects like Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, Josh Giddey, and Alperen Sengun offer. And if we are looking for a 3 + D wing, Franz Wagner is not on Cade’s level of a shooter, but could catch up in time. And Franz’s role playing IQ and defense is light years better than Cade on top of better dimensions.

Jalen Green is a more complex comparison, as he is seems more likely to hit his theoretical upside as a low end all-star SG like Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal, or Devin Booker…but that’s such a worse mold to build around, there’s a good case to be made that Cade nevertheless should be valued higher.

Cade is a strange and interesting case. He was supposed to be this star creator on the wing, and instead looks completely different as good but not elite 3 + D prospect. There may not be another prospect in history who badly disappointed in almost every regard outside of massively overperforming in one aspect like Cade has with shooting.

It is difficult to envision how somebody with such an odd arc will develop over the long term. But at this point, he has shown far too much weakness for his #1 recruiting hype and draft hype to be held onto. He still has all-star potential, but so do plenty of other players in a strong draft class. And if he has a path to being a top 10 NBA star, it is difficult to see it.

2021 Draft Grades

With analytics becoming increasingly prevalent, every year it is worth wondering if this is the year that teams sharpen up and draft edges become smaller. Analytics cannot solve everything, as there are many factors that cannot be measured with precision, such as context, variance, intangibles, defense, explosiveness, and other various nuances. It requires a sharp intuition to price in all factors with a reasonable accuracy, and most picks that go against the analytical grain have some subjective reason that makes it plausible that they will succeed.

Nevertheless analytics are incredibly helpful to put you in the ballpark of reason, and without them it is easy to get lost in details and overrate guys with too many flaws and underrate guys with too many strengths. In particular, the top 19 picks were rife with mistakes. Let’s run through each individual pick and discuss what was justifiable or not, and leave some grades in the process. Grading is a highly flawed system but the easiest way to provide feedback here, so let’s rip through this:

1. Cade Cunningham: D Detroit

Any half decent analytics model should have Cade solidly below Evan Mobley. The equalizer for Cade would be his #1 RSCI rank entering the season, and that his output may have suffered with an offensively challenged supporting cast at Oklahoma State on top of fitting a more modern mold of great shooting + good passing wing vs a big that is rapidly losing value.

But Mobley is the better athlete in terms of both explosiveness and fluidity, better defensively, and better at basketball. He is the better prospect.

Cade being #1 overall shows that the draft is still narrative driven, and narratives aren’t always sharp.

2. Jalen Green: F Houston

Taking Cade over Mobley was bad, but taking Green ahead was outright indefensible.

At least there is some logical argument that Cade may be conceivably valued above Mobley. It is not a great argument, but it is exists.

Green comes with the issue that non-PG’s his size who play small historically cap out as low tier all-stars in the Devin Booker, Zach LaVine, and Bradley Beal mold. Those guys don’t approximate his average outcome– they approximate his upside.

Meanwhile Mobley’s median outcome seems to be approximately Chris Bosh, who is better than Green’s upside comps. His upside is something like Kevin Garnett, which completely waffle crushes Jalen Green’s upside.

Green may have some wiggle room to edge out the low-end all-star undersized SG mold, but there’s a hard cap. It seems out of bounds to compare him to Kobe on multiple levels– first Kobe was approximately 1″ taller, 3″ longer, and had a stronger frame. Second, he posted similar NBA stats to Green’s G-League stats while being 6.5 months younger.

Given that there are reasons to believe that the Kobe comp is out of bounds for Green, and the KG comp is within the realm of possibility for Mobley, and that KG is better than Kobe (contrary to common beliefs), there’s just no way to slice and dice the information such that Green was the correct pick here.

3. Evan Mobley: A+ Cleveland

Mobley not only has the best statistics in the draft, he also smashes the eye test in terms of athleticism, fluidity, and defense.

The only reason to be skeptical of him is because of skepticism of bigs, but he is capable of playing the perimeter on both sides, although on defense you would prefer to have him close to the rim where he is elite.

You can do quite a bit with him, including unlocking the value of traditional PF’s who are readily available on the cheap. It’s too bad that he is teaming up with Kevin Love on the tail end of Love’s career– if their primes had intersected they would have been an interesting big man duo.

He has likely star potential, and there is no challenge in getting him on the court or fitting him into a variety of lineups. He should be the hands down #1 overall pick, and overreaction to recent trends led to Cleveland getting a huge steal at #3.

4. Scottie Barnes: A Toronto

This was a controversial pick, as Jalen Suggs was the consensus choice and would have also been a good choice. Either guy would have been an A, as this was a no lose situation for Toronto.

Suggs would have been the safer choice to go with consensus and take the guy who has more polish and can more seamlessly slide into NBA lineups, but Barnes is the sexier choice with a higher upside.

Toronto is a good organization with a good front office and good coaching, and when a high variance guy like Barnes lands there, it is reasonable to give a small boost to his long term projections. I had him ranked #3 behind Suggs, but it was a coinflippy decision and I would now be inclined to rate Barnes as the 2nd best prospect in the draft.

This is a spot where Barnes doubters may want to reconsider their position before criticizing the choice too sharply, because there is a significant upside tail that can come to fruition here.

5. Jalen Suggs: A Orlando

Suggs was the obvious choice here. Stats like him, scouts like him, everybody likes Suggs. He is better than the typical #5 overall prospect, so Orlando should be pleased to have him.

6. Josh Giddey: A- OKC

Giddey has a good case for best passing prospect of all time for his size at 6’8″. Past examples such as LeBron, Luka, and Magic had more well rounded skill sets, but as a pure passer Giddey is nothing short of masterful.

Here is a good example of why draft grades is a slippery exercise. For the sake of argument, let’s assign these values to each prospect’s draft rights:

Barnes $120M
Suggs $120M
Franz $100M
Giddey $75M
Bouknight/Kuminga $30M

Toronto and Orlando both got BPA and better value relative to slot than OKC, so they deserve higher grades, right?

But almost anybody would have gotten an easy A in those slots. Whereas #6 overall was a much more difficult choice. Mocks had OKC choosing between Bouknight or Kuminga, and instead Sam Presti surprised with a Giddey choice.

If the majority of GM’s would have taken somebody significantly worse, and a small minority would have taken somebody slightly better, Presti gained a ton of expected value over the average front office with this choice.

Giddey is a high variance prospect with his youth and polarized distribution of one monstrous strength and a number of weaknesses. The difference between him and other options could prove to be trivial, or this pick could even look bad if he flops entirely.

But there is a possibility of a rich payoff if he hits his upside, and this pick could eventually prove to be a clutch decision that significantly sets OKC forward.

This isn’t as big of a win relative to slot as the prior two picks, and doesn’t even beat slot value on my board where Giddey ranked #7, thus the A-. But for an extremely difficult slot rife with trappy choices, this was one of the most +EV decisions of draft night and Sam Presti deserves kudos for making it.

7. Jonathan Kuminga: D Golden State

Kuminga is a guy that is difficult for analytics to pin down for a variety of reasons. First, the G-League is not a common source of prospects, and modeling the G-League bubble is incredibly challenging. Second, his elite physical tools should make him valued above his box score statistics.

Kuminga posted negative win shares for G-League ignite, but that was largely due to his poor shooting at 24.6% 3P and 62.5% FT with his form not looking broken by any stretch. He had more assists than turnovers, and for a toolsy 18 year old he is a completely reasonable gamble in the mid-lottery with plenty of time to learn how to shoot and play defense.

But the third point that makes him incredibly fuzzy to model is his uncertain age being born in a country with poor documentation. The difference between being 18 and 20 has a huge impact on his draft value, as those are crucial years for development. A toolsy 18 year old struggling in the G-League is fine. But if your team just drafted a one and done prospect at #7 overall and he struggled in the G-League as a rookie at age 20, enthusiasm for that prospect should heavily wane.

Kuminga has a good upside tail if it hits, but he also loads of bust risk. And if we are saying his upside is something akin to Jaylen Brown, and Franz Wagner is an Otto Porter, then Franz actually has the slightly higher upside on top of a significantly better median outcome and much lower bust risk.

Taking Kuminga with Franz on the board was a fairly significant mistake.

8. Franz Wagner: A Orlando

Franz not only crushed analytic models, he is actually better than his box score stats suggest. His steal, block, and assist rates for his size already suggest a good defensive player, but his steals were suppressed by a heavily anti-gambling scheme at Michigan. And even if he had a steal rate of say 3.5% instead of 2.3%, that would still not convey his defense goodness.

His ability to move his feet, make good decisions, and be aware are among the best for any wing prospect in recent memory. Box score models already see him as an excellent 3 + D prospect, and scouting shows that his defense is comfortably better than what goes into the box score.

The downside is that he is a below average athlete who cannot blow by opponents off the dribble (conveyed by his 19.2% usage rate) and he has a slight frame which prevents him from playing physically (conveyed by his mediocre ORB% and FT rate). These flaws are already priced into his numbers, yet he still looks like an awesome role player.

If there is anything that the numbers fail to capture, perhaps his slight frame makes him a bit more injury prone than the typical prospect. But overall, Franz is an awesome prospect by analytics, and scouting him only enhances his value.

If things go well, this could be a franchise changing night for Orlando. There is a realistic chance that they got two prospects more valuable than the top 2 guys at #5.

9. Davion Mitchell: F- Sacramento

Not only is this arguably the worst value pick in the draft, but it is also the worst fit. The Kings have two quality young guards in De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton as their only two real long term assets, yet they drafted a little guy who does not fit well with just Fox, let alone both.

What is even crazier is that Mitchell is a defensive specialist, but you aren’t making the defense better by putting a small guy who can be hunted next to De’Aaron Fox.

Mitchell isn’t going to do much to help the offense, he is only 8.5 months younger than Fox, and it just doesn’t make sense how he fits with the team committed to Fox over the next 5 years.

Monte McNair actually said that Mitchell can defend 4 positions with a straight face. It’s worth wondering if he was being held hostage by a certain owner when he made that comment, because McNair seems like an otherwise sharp guy.

This is a disappointing waste of a good pick for the Kings.

10. Ziaire Williams: C- Memphis

Ziaire had an awful freshman season for Stanford, which makes it curious that an analytics driven team in Memphis traded up from #17 to reach for him at #10.

There are reasons to believe he is salvageable relative to #’s. His AAU #’s and RSCI pedigree were much better than he showed at Stanford. Notably, he shot much better pre-NCAA and in workouts. Playing for a terrible offensive coach during COVID, while catching COVID later in the year may have affected his output.

But he still showed some major flaws, including an inability to play under control averaging 4.5 assists per 100 but a disgusting 6.0 TOVs complemented by an awful shot selection. The best example of a prospect succeeding with this flaw was Jaylen Brown, who was even worse averaging 4.2 assists vs 6.6 TOVs as a freshman at Cal. Between meditation and Brad Stevens’ coaching, Brown was able to become an efficient NBA offensive scorer, proving that this is not a fatal flaw.

That said, Brown is 1.5″ longer, much stronger, and more athletic. He was much better defensively in college, as well as superior at getting to the rim and finishing. Williams is 3″ taller and the better shooter, so he has his own advantages to re-balance things. And ultimately he could prove to be solid value at #10 overall.

But it’s difficult to see how gambling on Williams’ high school priors trumping his NCAA performance is better than gambling on Sengun being generally awesome. Especially since the Sengun/JJJ pairing is so thrilling.

If they thought they already had enough bigs with Tillman, Clarke, Adams, and JJJ, and wanted to take a shooting wing, why not take Moses Moody? He is 4″ shorter than Ziaire, but 2.5″ longer and much physically stronger. He can also shoot the lights out, and you don’t need to gamble on him learning to play under control because he already is capable of it.

11. James Bouknight: C- Charlotte

Bouknight is a boring undersized SG prospect, and it is hard to imagine how he is the correct pick with Moody and Sengun on the board. But there were so many worse picks made in this range, Charlotte’s choice gets spared an analytical lashing here.

12. Josh Primo: D- San Antonio

Primo is a curious choice at #12– it would seem that the Spurs may be overreacting to the before/after pictures of Giannis, and trying to find the guy who makes the next physical transformation. Primo is the youngest prospect in the draft, has a nice frame, interviews well, and has the best odds of having a future growth spurt.

So perhaps it is reasonable to bet on above average development both physically and skillwise in Primo, but that still isn’t enough to take him in the lottery. Even if he has a big 2″ growth spurt to 6’7″ and 6’11”, fills out, and improves his defense (which is currently bad), and athleticism (which is currently mediocre), you don’t get an MVP caliber player, and you may not even get an all-star. He averaged 1.5 assists per 40 vs 2.4 turnovers, which indicates that he needs significant improvement to his ball skills to survive on the perimeter, and it is highly unlikely he is ever a perimeter creator.

And if he doesn’t have a big growth spurt, and stays at his current dimensions, he is just a guy who is too small to guard wings, may be terrible on defense, and lacks the ball skills to justify his defensive versatility.

San Antonio’s 2nd round pick Joe Wieskamp already has ideal wing dimensions, better offensive polish, and is likely the better athlete. Primo’s best case is going to be better than Wieskamp’s, but Wieskamp has an easier path to useful role player and went a full round later.

If you want to bet on a young guy being good, you are much safer taking a guy like Jaden Springer who is already good and only 3 months older instead of doing a bunch of ridiculous extrapolation for Primo. And Springer went an entire 16 slots later.

13. Chris Duarte: F

One of the most bizarre happenings on draft night was a feeding frenzy for Duarte, who is an incredibly boring 3 + D role player and already 24 years old.

First, he is listed at 6’6 (not confirmed by skipping measurements) with a 6’7″ wingspan. If he is 6’5 or 6’5.5″ in shoes, he is a small SG with incredibly limited defensive versatility. And he is an ordinary level of good shooter, making 38% 3P and 80.3% FT over ages 22 + 23 in NCAA, and is incredibly limited at shot creation off the dribble.

The point of the draft is to find longterm upside, not fill out short term rotation minutes. If an NBA team wants to find a short term stopgap, why not look at international FA’s? Maxi Kleber, Joe Ingles, and Brad Wanamaker are examples of players who were signed for the minimum and provided adequate to good minutes for their team. Whereas Duarte is not even clear positive value with a rookie contract in the range of 4 years @ $16M for his draft slot.

Moreover, his RFA rights are near worthless to retain him for ages to 28-31, as he will be washed for the back end of that deal fairly often.

And what is even crazier is that Indy isn’t even a clear favorite to make the playoffs, so why are they so desperate for a win now player?

Forgetting the 18 year old Turkish MVP in the room, we can compare Duarte to the ensuing pick: Moses Moody.

Between two 3 + D guys, Moody is 6″ longer and 5 years younger, and wasn’t even that much worse than Duarte in NCAA. Moody posted a 7.4 freshman BPM for Arkansas, and Duarte was 9.9 in his two seasons at Oregon, which would have been Moody’s 5th and 6th NCAA seasons.

Duarte should provide a bit more contributions early in both player’s careers, but Moody could catch up as soon as year 2 or year 3. And if he develops well, he should peak much higher and longer than Duarte, who has about 5 seasons in the NBA before he starts to decline.

We can also compare him to Jaden Springer taken 15 entire slots later, who offers a similar package of undersized 3 + D guard while being 5 years and 3 months younger.

Springer has much lower 3PA rate but slightly higher FT%, similar size, and only slightly lower rebounds, steals, and blocks. Being so much younger, Springer has good odds of surpassing Duarte as a shooter and defensive player before long, and he is already the better creator.

Indiana is going to rise up the standings by getting a young guy like Springer or Moody to hit long term, not by taking a guy who is ready to give slightly better rotation minutes up front.

14. Moses Moody: A- Golden State

Moody was likely not the optimal play here with Alperen Sengun still on the board, but compared to the average pick in the 9-15 range, he looks like a steal. Even if the Warriors reportedly tried their best to give it away by swapping him plus assets for Chris Duarte.

It’s really wild that in 2021 with all of the information available to assess prospects, two NBA teams battled it out over an obviously inferior prospect of the same archetype. NBA owners really need to get better at hiring talent evaluators.

15. Corey Kispert: D

The Wizards have quietly been racking up a track record of consistently making bad picks, and taking a one dimensional, low upside, old guy with Sengun on the board stays true to their brand of spewing.

16. Alperen Sengun: A+ Houston

Houston made one of the worst blunders of the night drafting Jalen Green over Evan Mobley, but then heavily redeemed themselves by trading for Sengun, who is ridiculously good value this deep into round 1.

Sengun is a case where the numbers cannot be taken at face value due to his athleticism + defensive concerns, as well as the waning value of post-up PF’s in the modern NBA. But his numbers are god tier, and convey a well rounded and versatile player with good perimeter skills to supplement his paint dominance.

Analytics are better at flagging players who aren’t good enough than ensuring stardom for every guy with impressive numbers, but it’s not like Sengun is a plodding big who dominated mid-major basketball. He is a well rounded stud who won MVP of a top tier professional league at age 18. It is reasonable to be reticent to take him top 5 based on his odd mold, but he has better odds of making all-NBA than all of the non-Moody guys taken from #9 thru #15 combined.

At this juncture of the draft he is an insane value pick, arguably the best value relative to slot in the entire draft outside of perhaps Mobley. The painful aspect for Houston is that they could have had Mobley and Sengun and won the entire draft with two bigs who fit awesomely together.

OKC got a decent return for the . Detroit pick protected top 16 in ’22, top 18 in ’23/’24, top 13 in ’25, top 11 in ’26, top 9 in ’27. And Washington pick top 14 in ’23, top 12 in ’24, top 10 in ’25, top 8 in ’26. Lots of times these will be mid-firsts in 25-26 (although if Beal leaves Wash, man do they have a a horrible roster with Dan Gafford as their only interesting young player), which gives them no rush to consolidate on top of their ridiculous hoard of picks. These are undoubtedly more valuable than the non-Moody’s taken 9th thru 15th, so OKC cannot be criticized badly for the trade.

But this was a great move by Houston, and the thought of a Giddey/Shai/Sengun core for OKC would have been fairly thrilling. And for all of the credit that Presti deserves for nabbing Giddey and his overall good drafting record, it’s frustrating that Poku is the international big that he chose to trade up for in the mid-1st last year while passing on Sengun this year.

Also worth noting this was Boston’s pick they used to unload Kemba Walker, which makes that trade look worse in retrospect.

17. Trey Murphy: C New Orleans

Murphy is a weirdo with a strange distribution of good dimensions, athleticism, and shooting and terrible everything else.

This can either be a pro-analytics pick or anti-analytics, depending on whether your model values shooting and efficiency or bulk box score output. Personally he would be on my list of choices in this slot with his poor bulk and bad defense from scouting Virginia, where they often hid him on the opponents’ link.

That said, with Sengun off the board and no clearly excellent choice, this pick isn’t too bad. It could work out fine, and all of the higher upside guys had flags to endure.

18. Tre Mann: D Oklahoma City

OKC’s draft got off to such a promising start with Giddey, but then passing on Sengun and drafting Tre Mann was a major letdown to cap it off.

I already wrote about how it is indefensible to take Mann above Jaden Springer, as Springer is younger, longer, stronger, and better defensively with similar offensive output. Mann currently has better range on his shot as his only real advantage, which should help him mesh with taller primary handlers in Giddey and Shai.

But Springer also meshes well with those guys while being better. It’s tough to reconcile how Mann over Springer is defensible.

19. Kai Jones: DCharlotte

The primary redeeming factor of this pick is that there was not much interesting talent on the board.

But Kai Jones’ hype is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of which way the NBA is drifting toward small bigs. You still need a guy who can rebound, protect the rim, and not get bullied in the post to fill the role full time, and of those qualities Kai can only vaguely protect the rim.

He is underskilled for a wing, and plays undersized for a big, and he doesn’t even have that much upside to grow in spite of his athleticism because he is so clumsy with the ball.

They paid a 1st that is top 18 protected in 2022, top 16 in 2023, and top 14 in 2024 and 2025 to get this pick. So basically likely a pick in a similar draft slot 2 to 4 years in the future, which indicates that teams are likely not too hot on the talent available here. Perhaps rightfully so, the choices seem fairly ordinary at this point.

20. Jalen Johnson A Atlanta
21. Keon Johnson B+ LA Clippers
22. Isaiah Jackson B Indiana

After the prior GM’s relentlessly spewed on boring and low upside players, we finally get a nice stretch of flaggy, high risk, high reward types.

Jalen Johnson has clearly the best talent package and gets an A. But the other guys have their own brand of athleticism and potential, and all of these guys are better gambles than most of the boring picks preceding them.

23. Usman Garuba: B- Houston
24. Josh Christopher: C+ Houston

Both of these guys are fine, pretty much equal to slot value.

The Christopher pick is a little bit weird though, given that they already invested #2 in Jalen Green. Granted it is a rebuilding team, and they can just see how things shake out and keep one of them and use the other as trade bait.

But you just cannot play Christopher and Green together when you are actively trying to win, because that’s two small guys who need the ball but aren’t floor generals, and it will never work. This would have been a B- pick otherwise, but the Green pick is the curse that keeps detracting.

25. Quentin Grimes: A- New York

Solid 3 + D role player by the Knicks. Honestly Grimes is better than most of the guys taken in the 9 to 19 range, he is like Duarte minus 3 years.

26. Bones Hyland: B+ Denver

Would have been nice to see Denver grab Springer instead, but Bones is an awfully nice fit alongside Murray and Jokic. He can defend PG’s without the pressure to be lead guard, yet is a capable handler who can attempt and make a high volume of 3PA while using his length to make plays on defense.

Drafting for fit is typically overrated, but when Denver is already a fringe contender with a core of Murray, Gordon, MPJ, and Jokic all 25 and under, this is a spot where it made sense and they got the perfect fit with decent enough slot value.

27. Cameron Thomas: C Brooklyn

Cam Thomas is a one dimensional scoring SG in a PG body. Not a very good archetype.

28: Jaden Springer: A Philadelphia

The analytics darling of the late first round, it is crazy that Springer slid this far with guys like Primo, Duarte, and Mann going 10 to 16 slots earlier.

Springer may not perform as well as analytics suggest, because on paper he looks like a guy with creation upside, but he is more of a mid-range chucking bully than an athletic creator off the dribble which makes it less likely that he is an NBA star.

But he is nevertheless young and well rounded, and at minimum fits a 3 + D mold. He should have at least a sliver of star upside, as he says he watches a significant amount of film on Jrue Holiday, who also lacks an elite first step.

29. Day’Ron Sharpe: A- Brooklyn

The Nets acquired this pick for Landry Shamet, which is a fairly nice deal since Shamet is a fairly ordinary rotation player who is due to get paid after this season. And in spite of all of their injuries at guard, he only gave them 17 mediocre minutes per the game in the playoffs.

Then they put the pick to good use, taking a quality big man in Day’Ron Sharpe who offers a rare intersection of rebounding and passing for a big man. The Nets could use a true big man on the roster, and Sharpe is good value with the current anti-big obsession sweeping the draft.

Bad trade for Phoenix. Especially after making the mistake of drafting Jalen Smith over Haliburton last year, James Jones seems to have won executive of the year out of sheer luck that Chris Paul wanted to play for Phoenix.

30. Santi Aldama: B+ Memphis

Aldama is about as exciting as a low major prospect gets, as he is insanely skilled and coordinated for a big man.

The only question is whether he can survive on defense or not. It is difficult to grade this pick, because it is not clear that Memphis needed to trade up from 40 for him, and it is not clear how valuable the two 2nd rounders they gave up are.

But Aldama nevertheless offers unique strengths which makes him an intriguing upside pull at #30, as he has better odds of being a quality NBA player than Kai Jones who went #19.

31. Isaiah Todd: D- Wizards

It’s too late in the draft to hand out F’s, but man did Washington really turn a quarter into two nickels really fast by sending #22 for #31 and Aaron Holiday and then drafting Isaiah Todd.

The Wizards have quietly assembled one of the least impressive young cores in the NBA, and if/when Beal leaves after this season this team might be mired in misery for quite some time.

They did well to pick up Daniel Gafford from Chicago, but Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert, Aaron Holiday, and Isaiah Todd is a painful lack of upside otherwise.

32. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl: B- Oklahoma City
33. Jason Preston: B Orlando

Both fine choices relative to slot. OKC paid a huge price giving up #34 and #36 to move up for JRE, but they likely had to consolidate with so many youngs on the roster, so it’s understandable.

Preston is terrible on defense but is a wizard passer with good dimensions and great basketball IQ for a guard. Fun mid-major flier

34. Rokas Jubaitis: D New York

A cursory glance at this guy’s box score makes him look like a dud, but he is basically a free pick for the Knicks from the OKC that can be stashed so it’s not all bad

35. Herb Jones: B+ New Orleans

Getting one of the best defensive players with ideal tools for a wing with a prayer of offensive passability at #35 overall is a win

36. Miles McBride: A New York

The Knicks cap off an overall very solid draft by drafting one of the best role players in McBride, who has Patrick Beverley potential.

They didn’t get great value for #19 overall, but they weren’t wrong to trade out either. And they could have done more with the Jubaitis pick, but it was basically a free stash so it doesn’t burn. And McBride and Grimes are both great pickups.

They fit especially well with RJ Barrett and Julius Randle being offensive hubs at the 3/4, with less pressure on their guards to create a high volume of offense. Now between McBride, Quickley, and Grimes they have a nice rotation of young 3 + D guards to fill out the lineup.

It’s not a championship caliber core, but if things go well it can be pretty solid.

37. JT Thor C- Charlotte

The Hornets take the less athletic version of Kai Jones in round 2. Now they have two awkward guys who are too small to play big and too unskilled to play wing effectively.

Pretty bad draft by the Hornets, all things considered

38. Ayo Dosunmu: A Chicago

Ayo has a bit of Spencer Dinwiddie upside, and goes at the precisely the same draft slot. Can’t knock this pick.

39. Neemias Queta: A- Sacramento

Queta is a well rounded pick who is adored by analytics and a nice value at #39.

So far Monte McNair has made 4 picks for Sacramento– 3 analytically sharp picks in Tyrese Haliburton, Jah’mius Ramsey, and Queta, and the most heavily flagged pick in the draft by the numbers in Davion Mitchell.

Gotta wonder if a meddlesome owner meddled in one of those choices…

40. Jared Butler: Incomplete Utah

It’s so difficult to grade this pick, because Butler is so obviously overqualified for this slot in terms of basketball playing ability, but his heart condition seems to have scared teams off quite a bit.

On one hand, perhaps it is such low odds of him dying on the floor and they are being unnecessarily risk averse by passing on him.

On the other hand, the prospect of a player dying on the floor is so bad, and may be realistic enough such that any minor scare could cause Butler to be forced into early retirement.

Can’t knock the choice at 40th overall, but without having any idea how significant his condition matters it cannot be graded with any confidence either.

41. Joe Wieskamp: A San Antonio

Joe Wieskamp actually may have a better median outcome than the Spurs’ choice at #12 Josh Primo

42. Isaiah Livers: B- Detroit

This pick is fine. Livers is a 3 + D wing with a chance of finding an NBA niche.

43. Greg Brown III: D Portland

Brown is a former top 10 recruit with ideal wing dimensions, great athleticism, and a passable jump shot making 33% 3P 70.8% FT as an NCAA freshman. How hard can you knock taking a guy with those strengths mid-2nd?

Probably a little hard, because it is difficult to find a single past example of any non-big who had an NBA career with his NCAA assist to turnover ratio, as he had a grotesque 10 assists vs 60 turnovers on the season. He has an all-time bad basketball IQ and cannot dribble a lick, and it’s difficult to imagine him being anything other than a disaster in the NBA in spite of his strengths.

44. Kessler Edwards: C- Brooklyn

Edwards has ideal wing dimensions at 6’8″ with a 6’11” wingspan and is a good shooter, but likely lacks the defense or creation ability to make it in the NBA.

45. Juhann Begarin: C- Boston

Brad Stevens’ first draft pick is difficult to read much into. Begarin is young and decently athletic, but glancing at his numbers, he seems too unskilled to be interesting for a 6’5″ guy.

That said, if Stevens just wanted to stash a random young guy maybe it’s fine.

46. Dalano Banton: C- Toronto
47. David Johnson: A- Toronto

Banton is a 6’9″ PG who just wasn’t good in college. Interesting mold to gamble on in round 2, but he turns 22 in November and is a major longshot to be good enough to make it in the NBA.

David Johnson on the other hand is muy interesante at this stage. He looked like a possible lottery pick after a promising freshman season off the bench, and then got COVID this year and disappointed heavily. He has good tools and vision for a SG, so he could be a steal if he had an uncharacteristic sophomore performance.

48. Sharife Cooper: A Atlanta

Sharife slid a crazy amount for a guard who can create such insane volume for himself and teammates.

The big knocks on him are bad defense and jump shooting mechanics. He is small and should be a liability on defense, but he does not seem quite as bad as the guy starting ahead of him: Trae Young.

Shooting is interesting. He made 82.5% FT to convey natural touch on his shot, and has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics as he just turned 20. But perhaps his shooting mechanics are more hopelessly broken than from the typical good NCAA FT shooter who is bad from 3.

He can still perhaps run the 2nd unit offense with a busted shot, but he needs to have a jumper to hit his true upside as a solid starter. What the odds of that are anybody’s guess, but it seems that NBA teams are particularly bearish on that proposition.

49. Marcus Zegarowski: D Brooklyn

Zegarowski doesn’t have the physical tools or passing ability to have much of a chance of making the NBA for a guy who turns 23 a few days after the draft. Seems like a waste of a pick, but this is around the juncture of the draft where everybody is going to fail anyway.

50. Filip Petrusev B Philadelphia

Petrusev is kind of a boring big, but he was the statistically best international available, so makes sense as a stash since Morey does not seem to want to roster two late seconds.

51. BJ Boston A- LA Clippers

It’s really difficult to understand how Boston slid this far. He was #4 RSCI freshman, and has ideal wing dimensions.

He was a bricklaying machine for Kentucky as a freshman, but at least had more assists than turnovers, decent steal rate, and made 78.5% FT. If it turns out that he was less than his typical self physically because of the pandemic, then he has potential to be a solid 3 + D role players.

Given how frequently Calipari players underperform in school and then overperform in the NBA, it is curious that NBA teams had such little interest in him letting him slide to the dead zone of the draft.

He is an interesting contrast to Ziaire Williams, who also had nice wing dimensions, an ultra skinny frame, and terrible freshman offense, but was forgiven enough to go #10 overall.

52. Luka Garza C Detroit

Luka was one of the best players in college basketball, but is a molasses slow big who is rapidly going extinct.

53. Charles Bassey A- Philadelphia

The last interesting player to get drafted unsurprisingly goes to Daryl Morey, who was on point using analytics to find value on a night where most teams were shirking the stats.

Sliding this far is not a great signal for Bassey’s NBA future, but he can score inside, make an open shot, rebound, and block shots so he has clear potential to make it as a rotation big.

54. Sandro Mamukelashvili B- Milwaukee

Mamu is a PF who has just enough skill and mobility of having a shot of becoming a guy in the NBA, but likely will be a buck short like most picks in the 50’s.

Undrafted Winners

Going to skip the last few picks that are largely irrelevant and focusing on UDFA winners:

1. LA Lakers: Joel Ayayi + Austin Reaves

Ayayi and Reaves reportedly passed up opportunities to be drafted to get two way deals for the Lakers. And man are these guys sorely needed for the Lakers after they gutted their roster to trade for Russell Westbrook who fits horribly with LeBron.

The Lakers get two SG’s who can handle, pass, shoot, and play efficiently in a supporting role offensively.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: Daishen Nix + Aaron Henry

Morey just cleaned up all of the value on the nigh, also scooping two of the top UDFA on the board.

3. Toronto: Justin Champagnie

Champagnie is my top UDFA available, and the Raptors finished with a nice value in each of round 1, round 2, and UDFA. It would have been a perfect night for them if they took Sharife Cooper over Banton, but that is a minor nitpick. They had a great draft.

4. Houston: Matthew Hurt

You know who Hurt would pair well with? Evan Mobley! Houston solidly redeemed their night after blowing that pick, but it could have been so different otherwise

5. Minnesota: McKinley Wright + Isaiah Miller

Minny takes a couple of solid pulls on little PG’s.

2021 Final Big Board

Ranking everybody in the draft is such a challenging exercise. This year I watched more film on the lottery guys than any other draft since 2014, and it’s still so hard to parse through these guys.

And this is after having experience ranking guys for 7 past drafts, and getting feedback from being right sometimes and wrong other times, and somewhere in between the vast majority of the time.

Every draft is such a small sample of players who become quality pros, and it is such a slow feedback loop afflicted with so much invisible randomness. What was the correct valuation of Giannis in 2013? He clearly had some mystery box upside, but he also bad in his limited sample of statistics available. How foreseeable was it that he would grow 2 inches, fill out like a tank, and max out his athleticism on top of developing his game at an outlier rate? Was this his 90th percentile outcome or 99th percentile outcome? How good would he have been if he hit his median– would he even still be in the league? Nobody knows the answer to any of these, which makes even the sparse and slow feedback difficult to decipher.

It’s all so murky and random, and it is difficult to find many significant edges over consensus. But it is also a fun analytical exercise, and since I have put in the work and feel I have a better grasp on this draft than most others, here is a big board. Some of these takes may seem hot at a glance, but the goal was to be as accurate as possible:

Tier 1: Likely Star:

1. Evan Mobley, 7’0 PF/C, USC

Mobley offers a rare intersection of athleticism, skill, and basketball IQ for a 7 footer. He is one of the best passing big man prospects of all time, which not only makes him easy to fit in offensively and capable of playing the perimeter, but also correlates with his high IQ defense where he was an excellent rim protector who fouled at an extremely low rate for USC. He has clear defensive player of the year upside.

Offensively, he can handle, pass, and is passable shooter who appears likely able to make an open NBA 3 pointer. He is also efficient and good at avoiding mistakes, with excellent upside on this end as well.

He is slightly older for a freshman, having already turned 20 in June, and has a slight frame that limited his rebounding. This precludes him from being a generational prospect. But slight frame often works out when it comes attached to plus athleticism, as it did for Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, and many others.

The best comparison for him is Chris Bosh but being taller and slightly better at passing gives him a nice upside tail to possibly be even better.

Tier 2: Possible Stars

This tier is extremely difficult to rank, as these prospects all have a unique distribution of strengths and weaknesses and it is difficult to discern how they will all shake out in the NBA. Let’s run through them:

2. Jalen Suggs, 6’4 PG/SG Gonzaga

Suggs has good athleticism and excellent basketball instincts, which gives him an easy path to a valuable NBA career.

The big question for him is– is his skill level good enough to run an NBA offense for a 6’4″ guard who already turned 20? He is a decent but not great shooter making 76.1% FT and 33.7% 3P as a freshman for Gonzaga. And he is capable of getting to the rim and finishing off the dribble, but his handle is somewhat limited and most of his best passes were in transition as he shared the PG load with multiple other handlers. Can he handle well enough to create for himself and teammates off the dribble with consistency against NBA offenses?

If his skill does come around, then he has a nice upside tail as he is similar to Jrue Holiday and has a better first step. But if it proves to be limited, he may be more of a role player like Marcus Smart with a bit less defense and more offense.

Whoever drafts him is getting a quality player, but there is some risk he is more of a boring role player than a true star.

3. Scottie Barnes, 6’8 PG/SF/PF FSU

Barnes is a high variance prospect and one of the trickiest in the class to pin down. He has a unique intersection of dimensions, handling, and passing for a teenage prospect, as he is 6’8″ with a 7’3″ wingspan. As a freshman for FSU, he averaged more assists per 40 (6.6 vs 6.0) and fewer turnovers (4.0 vs 4.1) than Steve Nash over his entire 4 year career for mid-major Santa Clara.

He also has good agility, and is able to create and use his length to finish at the rim proficiently. And he plays with energy and intensity on defense, where he takes pride in his defense and uses his length to get in passing lanes and get a high rate of steals.

But he isn’t a good shooter, making just 27.5% 3P and 62.1% FT at FSU. He had a better FT% in a bigger pre-NCAA sample, making 67.4%, but he attempted a low rate of 3’s per game at FSU and has a slow release and his shooting is a major work in progress. And even if he learns to spot up, will be be able to use his length to shoot off the dribble or is he trigger too slow?

He does not have that much burst or a good eurostep, and cannot get to the rim that consistently. Right now he only has a bad floater when he doesn’t make it all the way, so a pullup jumper would be extremely useful in rounding out his offensive game.

And while he tries hard on defense and is capable of making plays, his fundamentals on this side are currently poor as he hops rather than slides on defense and is frequently blown by, on top of being prone to lapses and making questionable decisions in help defense. He also is a poor defensive rebounder for his size, which makes it unlikely he is ever a Draymond Green or Kawhi Leonard level on defense.

But he nevertheless has an easy path to being a solidly good defensive player with decent NBA coaching, and he has upside to be considerably better than Draymond offensively as he is well ahead in terms of a creator offensively at the same age, and has the possibility of becoming a better shooter.

Much of his value is placed in the 10-15% chance that he becomes an above average shooter, in which case the sky is the limit for him and he can potentially be one of the best players in the NBA if his creation and defense come along as well.

In the more likely case that his shooting remains subpar, it is more difficult to say what to expect. He can be likened to a smaller Giannis, but since he doesn’t rebound, protect the rim, or dominate scoring in the paint that is a vastly different player. He could also be likened to a longer Evan Turner, but his ball skills were well ahead of Turner at the same age, and 7″ more wingspan is nothing to scoff at.

Perhaps his middle ground is something akin to a Pascal Siakam who plays less like a big and more like a guard. But it is difficult to say with his unique distribution of highs and lows.

The only thing that can be said for certain with Barnes is that he is a high variance, high upside player. If he misses he can be a frustrating player that is difficult to build around, but when he hits he can hit extremely hard.

4. Franz Wagner, 6’9 SF/PF, Michgan

In spite of being a sophomore, Franz is only one month older than Cade Cunningham, one month younger than Scottie Barnes, and 3 months younger than Jalen Suggs. And he is undoubtedly the best college player of the bunch, while fitting a perfect archetype for NBA role player.

He has ideal dimensions for a wing listed at 6’9″ with a long wingspan that was measured as +3 years ago but looks more like +4 or +5 now. His defensive fundamentals are pristine, as he moves his feet better than any wing prospect in recent memory, has exceptionally quick hands, and excellent IQ and awareness. His potential as a versatile switching defender in the NBA is excellent.

Offensively, he is more of a role player, but he he can handle and pass competently. He had more assists per 100 possessions (5.6 vs 5.4) than Cade Cunningham with a microscopic turnover rate (2.4 per 100 vs 6.2 for Cade). He does not score a high volume, but the low turnovers speak to his unique ability to avoid mistakes.

He made 83.5% FT in his NCAA career, but currently his jump shooting is a work in progress. He attempted a decent rate of 3PA, but only made 34.3% as a sophomore and 32.5% in his career. He should at minimum be able to make an open shot in the NBA and could be a very good shooter if his 3P% catches up to his FT%, but his shooting is currently a work in progress.

The main question with Franz is how much upside does he really have? He has a slight frame and is not particularly explosive, and is not going to score a high volume of points in the NBA. His closest NBA comp is Otto Porter Jr., who had two excellent role playing seasons at ages 23 and 24 before getting de-railed by injury. How highly should an elite role player like that be valued?

There’s an argument to be made that should have an elite value, because guys who play near perfectly off the ball fit perfectly in almost any lineup, and they give the most potential to build an overpowered lineup around a star much like Golden State did surrounding Steph Curry with Klay, Iguodala, and Draymond.

And if Franz upside is something like +5 points per 100 compared to say +6 points for the other players in this tier, and has the highest median and best odds of attaining his upside on top of the versatility to fit into any NBA lineup, is there not a realistic case for him to be the 2nd best prospect in the draft?

His only real concern is his lack of physicality, as he did not crash the offensive rebounds or drawing many fouls. This is enough to worry that his elite NCAA defense peaks at merely good in the NBA, and that he may struggle to stay healthy in the NBA much like Otto Porter given his slight frame.

This is enough to make ranking him higher feel like a hot take in tandem with his slightly limited upside, but if he stays healthy he is going to be a highly useful NBA player with the lowest bust risk of anybody in the draft outside of Mobley.

5. Alperen Sengun, 6’9 PF, Turkey

Sengun is statistically the best player in the draft, as he dominated Turkey to win the MVP of a good professional league at age 18.

He fits an old school PF mold, but he wasn’t just a bruiser who scored in the post at an elite rate and reeled in rebounds. He also showed a promising stroke, making 79% FT with a nice looking shot that should eventually be developed into a + NBA 3 point shooter. And he showed point forward skills, with enough handle to occasionally score off the dribble from the perimeter, and good passing with more assists than turnovers.

Defensively he is highly enigmatic. He had a decent block rate in Turkey, in large part due to his propensity to hustle back for chasedown blocks. But he doesn’t have the reach or athleticism to be a rim protector, and his help defense is currently not particularly good as he makes odd decisions and often does not help when he should.

While he is an excellent offensive rebounder, on defense he does not rebound out of area particularly well and he is prone to taking bad angles on closeouts to result in getting beat off the dribble.

Arguably the greatest strength of his defense is his ability to defend the perimeter. He moves his feet decently well and has done reasonably well switched onto guards, and he certainly does not look like a lead footed Enes Kanter type big to say the least. He complements this with a strong steal rate for a big, as he reads the passing lanes well and is capable of getting deflections.

While his fundamentals and decision making need improvement, and he is not physically built to defend the rim, he does have potential guarding wings on the perimeter in the NBA. His mobility and athleticism seem decent enough, and his vision and instincts give him more sneaky potential on defense than you would expect from a slow footed power forward.

And if he eventually develops into a player who can pass, handle, shoot, and defend the perimeter, you are left with a big wing who happens to also be an elite garbageman and post scorer and can eat opposing wings alive in the paint.

The best comp for him would be Kevin Love with more perimeter skills, which would be a really awesome NBA player. There’s a good argument to be had that he is actually the 2nd best prospect in the draft, and everybody is overthinking his mold and sleeping on his sneaky ability to play on the perimeter.

6. Cade Cunningham, 6’8 SF/PF Oklahoma St.

This is what most people would call a hot take, but that is based largely on the narrative that Cade is the obvious #1 overall pick. If we look at the facts of the situation, Cade’s goodness is offset by extreme warts that make everything murky.

He has an excellent mold with good wing dimensions, excellent shooting, and good passing. He is the prototypical wing creator who can also space the floor that everybody would love to build around.

But being in a good mold does not ensure a good player, and there are a number of warts that caused Cade to perform well short of hype. He is a decent but not great athlete, and does not have the first step to blow by opponents. This results in a lot of ugly bully ball and contested shot attempts, and a lower NCAA 2P% than any other player to get drafted in the top 3 in the past 20 years.

He also has a weak motor and makes limited effort off ball. While he has the tools and instincts to be a good defensive player, he is lackadaisical on this end and prone to getting beat off the dribble and missing rotations.

He also has an anemic offensive rebounding rate– lower than any other player in the past 20 years, and almost never scores off screens, cuts, putbacks, or handoffs. If the plan is to let Cade dominate the ball, and he is going to be lackadaisical about moving off the ball, how much spacing gravity does his shooting really provide?

And while he was advertised as an elite creator and passer, he was merely good for Oklahoma State as his loose handle and non-elite decision making resulted in more turnovers than assists.

Those are some nasty warts for a guy projected to go top 5, let alone #1 overall.

The common narrative is that he was held back by his poor teammates at Oklahoma State, but plenty of prospects do better in similar situations (such as Khris Middleton at Texas A&M). It can at best play a minor role in his 2P% and AST:TOV ratio, and has no bearing on issues such as his lack of burst, motor, or effort.

Perhaps the pandemic caused him to play uncharacteristically different than his natural self. But the most likely explanation would be that his flaws that were not as clear pre-NCAA are becoming more as he faces tougher competition, as is common for highly touted high school players who fall short of expectations.

His arc is eerily similar to that of Andrew Wiggins, where he came in with elite hype, and lived up to expectations in a few ways and fell massively short in others. But extra weight to his priors led to frequent excuses for his underwhelming NCAA performance, and he went #1 and was massively overpaid with a max contract extension while disappointing the whole way through.

It is worth wondering if it is actually correct to err on the side of pre-NCAA ratings when a prospect looks so ordinary after coming in with such extreme hype. If Cade disappointed this hard as an NCAA freshman, should we not fear that he will continue to disappoint through his entire career, much like Wiggins?

This is especially true when he is getting rewarded in spite of his shortcomings, and may not have as much pressure to develop his defense and off ball play as prospects drafted later who do not get every benefit of the doubt based on high school play.

Which is not to say that he will necessarily develop as poorly as Wiggins. But once you strip away the hype and all of the golden child narratives, and actually look at what he did on the court for Oklahoma State, he does not stand out from the rest of this tier in any clear way.

He also isn’t clearly a notch down from anybody else in the tier, and he realistically may deserve to be the #2 prospect in the draft. He could easily be a Khris Middleton or Jayson Tatum type which is a nice return on such a high pick.

But he is #6 on this board because his warts seem a bit grosser than everybody else, and he seems slightly more prone to disappointing in a different flavor of Wiggins, similar to a taller OJ Mayo.

Tier 3: Possible All-Stars but with more warts to stomach

7. Josh Giddey, 6’8 PG, Australia

Giddey is the Harry Potter of basketball, as he looks like and passes like a wizard as a 6’8″ boy wonder from Australia.

He is likely the best passing prospect of all time for his height, as at the tender age of 18 he posted a monster 36.3% assist rate while smashing the eye test to boot. Aside from making excellent reads and quick decisions that put his teammates in excellent position to score, he also is incredibly crafty and accurate with his passes, as if he has the ball on a string.

That alone gives him monster upside, but the big mystery is whether he offers enough else to complement his passing. He has short arms with a 6’7.5″ wingspan, and is not particularly strong or athletic and got roasted on defense playing alongside grown men in the Australian league.

And most importantly, he needs to learn to be able to create for himself off the dribble to unlock his passing potential. Or like Lonzo Ball he may be relegated to an ordinary role player whose passing value is not fully realized.

His advantage over Lonzo is that he moves more fluidly, and at his age has time to learn to improve his pedestrian 29% 3P and 69% FT from Australia. If he can develop into a good shooter and learn to pressure the rim to some extent, he has significant offensive upside, and could be something akin to 6’8″ Steve Nash.

But if he does not develop the scoring ability to set up passing opportunities, it’s difficult to know how good he will be. He may not be as good defensively as Lonzo, although his intelligence and height give him potential of becoming decent on that end in spite of his physical limitations. And he did show improved defense in Australia’s matchup vs Nigeria earlier this month.

Giddey is a high risk, high reward prospect. His passing, youth, and height give him immense upside, but his flaws give him greater bust risk than everybody in the higher tier.

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

Green offers impressive athleticism and scoring ability for a shooting guard that gives him upside to be a Zach LaVine, Devin Booker, or Bradley Beal type.

His flaw is that he is small for a shooting guard with a thin frame and mediocre dimensions, and plays small. This limits his defensive versatility, as he is too small to guard most players and is going to be prone to getting hunted.

And there is only so much he can make up for this offensively with scoring, as he is a decent passer but not a true floor general. This means he likely will need to be pair with another guy who can play floor general, which tends to skew toward the smaller side which leaves two little guys for defenses to hunt.

Ultimately this mold tends to be capped at low end all-star and is difficult to build around, as it pairs poorly with other stars.

The common perception is that elite first step + scoring ability yields high upside, but that simply is not the case. Creation upside that comes in a well rounded package with defensive versatility is what truly offers high upside, and Green simply does not complement his scoring with enough supporting traits to justify his hype.

Rating Green this low may seem like a hot take, and it may look bad if he hits his upside of low end all-star that casual fans will inevitably overrate. But in reality, this mold should be valued lower and elite role players like Franz Wagner should be valued higher. The idea that creation needs to be given priority over well roundedness and versatility is an inefficiency in the NBA draft as well as the trade and free agent market.

9. Moses Moody, 6’6″ SG/SF, Arkansas

Moody fits an ideal 3 + D archetype, as he has a smooth shot with a quick release, and his 7’1″ wingspan and solid frame gives him defensive versatility.

He is not an elite athlete, creator, or passer right now which calls his star potential somewhat into question. But he moves the ball, doesn’t turn it over, and gets to the free throw line inordinately often– more than any of Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, or Jalen Suggs where he made 81.2% as an 18 year old freshman.

His defense is also a bit of a question mark, as in spite of his excellent length he had the lowest steal rate of Arkansas top 6 rotation players and his defensive instincts and fundamentals are currently limited. He is physically capable of being a decent defensive player if he develops well with NBA coaching, but right now that is a bit of an uncertainty.

Having only turned 19 at the end of May, it is difficult to say where he will land on a scale of Gary Trent Jr. bench player to Reggie Miller or Klay Thompson level spacer. Or if he perhaps has potential to develop into a bit more of a creator, even though most of his creation is currently from the mid-range. But he is a nice player in a nice mold, and worth considering once the high upside players start coming off the board.

10. Jalen Johnson, 6’9″ PF, Duke

If somebody wants to gamble on a high variance mystery box once the safer bets are off the board, Johnson is the guy to look at.

He only played 278 minutes in 13 games for Duke, but posted a rare intersection of bulk box score numbers in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.

He is still incredibly raw, as while he has point forward skills, he had slightly more turnovers than assists and relied a bit too heavily on pullup jumpers for a subpar shooter.

Defensively, he is currently a mess as he has questionable IQ and shies from contact. But he has a number of highly impressive steals and blocks that hints at good potential on this end if he pulls it together.

The question for whoever drafts him is how confident can they be that he will put it all together? He unexpectedly left Duke’s team midseason, which may make teams question his off court intangibles, and whether he is a decent bet to undergo the immense development necessary to reach his upside.

He may slide in the draft if questions about his intangibles inspire limited confidence in him. But he is an incredibly talented player, and if he is able to develop into a more polished player he can be a big time steal.

11. Jaden Springer 6’4 SG, Tennessee
12. Keon Johnson 6’5 SG, Tennessee

The Tennessee boys are incredibly similar in a number of ways. The main difference is that Springer is 6 months younger and more polished with respect to shooting, defense, and decision making whereas Keon is much more athletic.

Springer is currently slotted at #30 on ESPN’s latest mock, which is difficult to comprehend. He is small for a SG with questionable creation, as he relies heavily on ugly bully bull and mid-range chucking. But he super young, not turning 19 until September with a well rounded package. He has a similar 3 + D package to Gary Harris, and is a better passer and handler, which is worth something regardless of how ugly his NCAA creation was. It’s unclear how much upside he has, but young and well rounded is going to amount into a useful player fairly often.

Keon likely has more upside with nuclear athleticism, but also comes with more bust risk as he struggles with efficiency more than you would hope from a small SG prospect. His athleticism gives him potential to make bigger leaps than average, but if he progresses at a slow rate he simply isn’t going to be useful.

Keon is in a bit of an odd mold as it is not clear what he will exactly amount to in the best case, but there is some high risk high reward potential with him and he is an interesting gamble if he slides out of the lottery as currently projected.

13. Sharife Cooper, 6’1 PG, Auburn

Sharife is capable of creating a massive amount of offense, as he had more 2P, FT, and assists per 100 posession as a freshman than Trae Young with fewer turnovers.

His downside that sets him below Trae is that he has a broken jump shot, as Trae attempted nearly twice as many 3’s and made 36% vs the lowly 22.8% by Cooper.

But Cooper did make 82.5% of his free throws, and seems to have a natural touch which give him potential if his jump shooting mechanics can be fixed. And if he can learn to make pullup shots and score from every level, his offensive potential is through the roof.

He is small and will likely be a liability on defense, but his defense does not seem as bad as Trae’s at the same level and Cooper was the slightly better rebounder between the two.

Really it’s crazy how much lower he is valued than Jalen Green. He is smaller and a bigger defensive liability with a less reliable jump shot, which is why it is understandable to have Green a bit higher. But Cooper can create just as much from a scoring perspective with vastly superior passing ability. Unlike Green, the sky is the limit for Cooper offensively if he fixes his shooting.

Tier 4: Possible Solid Starters

14. James Bouknight, 6’5 SG, UConn

Bouknight is a good athlete with a good motor who is a talented scorer, getting buckets in a variety of ways.

He rebounds well, moves off the ball, and is a good shooter, so it is easy to see him becoming a quality player.

His downside is that he is undersized for a SG at 6’5 with a 6’8″ wingspan and a somewhat slight frame. He makes a good effort on defense and isn’t particularly bad on this end, although his size limits his versatility which means he will be a below average defensive player in the NBA more often than not.

And for such a high volume scorer, Bouknight seems better scoring off ball than with the ball, where his handle is somewhat limited and he is prone to playing out of control at times. Consequently, he averaged a poor 1.8 assists vs 2.8 turnovers as a 20 year old sophomore who turns 21 in September, and he may be unreliable as an on ball player in the NBA.

This makes him difficult to unpack, as he can still be useful as an off ball scorer who can space the floor, create in a pinch, and attack closeouts while not being a disaster on defense. But it is difficult to see where his upside to justify his #6 overall slot in the current mock comes from without his creation ability panning out, which seems like a dicey proposition right now.

Further, there is some risk that he attacks off the dribble too frequently in the NBA and does not do well, which will cut into his efficiency.

There are a number of things to like about Bouknight, but it’s tough sledding to become great in the NBA as a small SG without elite ball skills.

15. Jonathan Kuminga, 6’8 SF/PF G-League Ignite

Kuminga is incredibly slippery to evaluate, largely due to the slippery point of his unconfirmed age.

It’s a sensitive point that isn’t comfortable to discuss, as it is unfair to accuse him of having a false age with no strong evidence, nor is it fair to punish him for growing up in the harsh Democratic Republic of Congo for having poor documentation (only 25% of children have birth certificates) if his age is indeed accurate. But there is no consensus agreement on how old he truly is, and whether it is politically correct or not it has a massive bearing on his value as an NBA prospect.

He has excellent physical tools with a reported 6’8″ height and 7’1″ wingspan, which are ideal dimensions for a wing even if they are slightly optimistic as well as great athleticism.

His skill and basketball IQ are both a work in progress to say the least. He has a weak handle and cannot offer more than straight line drives, and typically pulls up for elbow jumpers. His shooting form looks OK but does not go in, as he shot just 24.6% 3P and 62.5% FT in his G League stint.

Defensively, he struggles. Although he has the tools to be an excellent defensive player, his instincts, effort, and fundamentals are all currently subpar which make him a liability on that end at this juncture.

On the plus side, he is a decent passer for his size, as he is unselfish and capable of making the simple pass, with slightly more assists (2.7) than turnovers (2.6) per game in his G League sample.

If he is truly 18, he is an interesting gamble on pure physical tools as his skill and IQ have time to develop, and with a strong rate of development he can grow at a much faster rate than a physically inferior prospect. If his age is taken at face value, he is clearly worth a top 10 pick and there is a case to be made that he belongs above his G-League ignite teammate Jalen Green due to being in a vastly superior mold. Jaylen Brown would be a reasonable upside comp.

But if his age is off by a year, he loses a crucial year of development and his skill and IQ limitations weigh significantly heavier. If his age is off by two years or more, then he may be too far behind the curve for his age to merit a 1st round selection. There has arguably never been a prospect from a country with poor documentation whose value is so sensitive to any minor inaccuracy in his age.

So what can be concluded about him? Not much with any confidence. There’s no clear evidence supporting either his true age or his ability to play basketball, which makes him an unnecessarily risky pick. It feels like a fool’s errand to try to rank him with such thin information on him on multiple levels. He has nice upside if it hits, but all of the uncertainty creates too much bust risk to be comfortable taking him in the top 10.

16. Quentin Grimes, 6’5″ SG, Houston

Grimes is a fairly straightforward roleplaying SG. He started off his career as the #8 RSCI recruit at Kansas, and after a disappointing freshman year he transferred to Houston where he made a nice leap as a sophomore. This past season as a junior he made a massive leap to full fledged flamethrower, as he made 40.3% 3PA on a massive 15.3 3PA per 100 possessions.

He still only made 78.8% FT while shooting 64% over his first two seasons, which makes it a bit scary to invest in his shooting. But he has a lightning quick release, moves well off the ball, and has a nice step back off the dribble to enable himself to get a huge volume of attempts off.

While he has slightly small dimensions at 6’5″ with 6’8″ wingspan, he has a nice strong frame and good athleticism that he uses to rebound and defend well for his size. And he has a decent basketball IQ and is a willing passer, with slightly more assists than turnovers in all 3 years of college.

This was enough to make him a reasonable choice in the late 1st, but then he looked by far the best player on the floor in his two combine scrimmages. This suggests that his junior breakout was no fluke or product of Houston’s system, and he appears to be living up to his initial RSCI hype as he improves at an exceptional rate.

Grimes has some shades of Buddy Hield, as they have similar physical profiles, monster 3PA, and insane rates of improvements after mediocre starts to their NCAA careers.

It may be a slightly hot take to rank Grimes this high, but at this point most of the star upside is off the table anyhow and he seems like one of the best bets to be a quality NBA role player of the guys remaining.

17. Isaiah Jackson, 6’10 C, Kentucky

Jackson is a late lottery talent who seems to be sliding due to intangibles concerns.

Listed at 6’10” with a thin frame, he is a bit small for a center but he atones with a reported 7’5 wingspan with good athleticism and mobility. He rebounds, blocks shots, has potential to switch, and made a respectable 70% FT in his freshman sample for Kentucky.

Statistically, he is similar to a freshman Al Horford and if he develops at a strong rate like Horford he has the athleticism to be as good. But if his intangibles are flagged, it seems unlikely that he hits the Horford upside and is more likely to be similar to his fellow Kentucky alum Willie Cauley-Stein.

18. Jared Butler 6’3 PG, Baylor

Butler is essentially a super role player at PG, as he can handle, pass, shoot, and defend, but doesn’t have the burst or shake to consistently get to the rim for a little guy which limits his upside.

He likely won’t be able to be the primary handler for an NBA offense, which means that he will be best paired with a bigger ball handler like Giannis Antetokoumpo or Luka Doncic. But in the right situation, he can be a highly useful role player due to his well roundedness.

He is also young for his class– Butler and his teammates Davion Mitchell are both juniors, but Butler is nearly 2 full years younger.

The murky point is his heart condition. He was cleared to play, but if team doctors yellow flag it, are teams going to run the risk of an outside chance that a player dies on their team? It’s a unique and difficult point to size up. Hopefully being cleared means that he should have a long and healthy career, but it doesn’t mean that teams will necessarily ignore it now.

19. Usman Garuba, 6’9″ PF, Spain

Garuba offers a nice defensive package as he is 6’8 with a 7’3 wingspan, rebounds well, and shows capability of switching.

Offensively he doesn’t offer that much as he was a low usage player who could only vaguely shoot making 31.6% 3P and 65.9% FT. And he isn’t particularly explosive and does not have much room to grow on that end.

He can be useful as a defensive specialist if his shooting and offense come around, but he is a somewhat boring role player mold with limited upside.

20. Day’Ron Sharpe, 6’11 C, UNC

There seems to be an unwritten rule that it is illegal to take a center who is neither a great athlete nor shooter in round 1 in 2021, which certainly describes Sharpe who only made 50.5% FT and had a 5.1% block rate which is underwhelming for a center.

But the guy is a beast rebounder, passes well, and has decent feet on the perimeter and a good steal rate for a big. That’s a unique intersection of strengths that could sum to an interesting player.

It’s difficult to envision exactly what his upside tail is like, but this late in the draft it is reasonable to gamble on a guy like Sharpe with weirdo upside.

21. Ziaire Williams 6’10 SF, Stanford
22. BJ Boston, 6’7 SF, Kentucky

Boston and Williams were the #4 and #6 RSCI recruits who looked like possible top 5 picks entering the season, and then both heavily disappointed as freshmen.

They share the commonality of being super skinny wings– it is worth pondering whether the pandemic affected their ability to get proper strength and conditioning to be in shape for the season.

Williams is 3″ taller but they both weighed in at 188 pounds and Boston has 0.5″ more wingspan 6’10.75″ vs 6’10.25″. They both shot well from the line Boston 78.5% and Ziaire 79.6%, but were brick machines from the field– Boston with 40.7% eFG and Williams 43.1%.

Both guys are willing passers. Williams created for his teammates more frequently, but Boston managed to to have a positive assist (3.0 per 100 possessions) to turnover (2.7) ratio while Williams was an ugly 4.5 vs 6.0. Both guys were soft at the rim and chucked a number of questionable shots, but Williams was perpetually out of control.

Now with the draft approaching, Williams seems to be convincing teams that he is more redeemable due to superior shooting and interviews as he flirts with lottery consideration while Boston is mired in round 2.

And this may be a fair assessment, but Boston does fit a more natural role player mold, whereas Ziaire is more of a terrible offensive hub who needs to transition to a secondary player. Boston may have an easier time finding an NBA niche.

Perhaps the gap in their value is more than one slot apart, but they seem close enough and it is easier to write about them side by side since they are such similar value propositions.

23. Miles “Deuce” McBride 6’2 PG, West Virginia

Deuce is a former quarterback with excellent 3 + D potential for PG, as he measured 6’2.5″ in shoes with 6’8.75″ wingspan.

He is a limited athlete and does not pressure on the rim, but he made 81.3% FT 41.4% 3P as a sophomore at West Virginia with a solid 4.8 assists vs 1.8 turnovers per game. He did not take a high rate of 3PA (6.3 per 100 possessions) and seems a bit more comfortable in mid-range at this time, but he has clear potential as a shooter and passer who avoids mistakes on offense.

He could be similar to a Patrick Beverley type of role playing PG.

24. Josh Christopher, 6’4″ SG, Arizona State

Christopher is essentially Jalen Green lite, as the #10 RSCI freshman is an athletic SG with mediocre dimensions.

Christopher is stronger and plays slightly bigger than Green, but Green is more skilled with the better shooting, passing, and creation ability.

The offensive disparity is significant which is why Christopher’s stock is so much lower. But he is a 1st round talent and it is curious that he is currently slotted to go #34 in ESPN’s latest mock.

25. Ayo Dosunmu, 6’5″ PG/SG, Illinois

Ayo has a nice skill package for a SG as he can handle, pass, and shoot, and has a solid 6’10.25″ wingspan.

He isn’t the quickest or most athletic player, so the concern is that he is bad on defense and cannot get to his spots offensively.

But his dimensions, skill, and IQ give him potential to be a Spencer Dinwiddie type, which would be a nice haul in late round 1 or early round 2.

26. Charles Bassey, 6’11 C, Western Kentucky

Big men are rapidly going out of style, but Bassey offers quite a bit of basketball playing ability to let him slide out of round 1 as currently projected.

He is an excellent rebounder who can protect the rim and score efficiently in the low post. And he is a decent shooter, making 76.8% FT 31.9% 3P in 3 years at Western Kentucky, while attempting over 2 3PA per game as a junior.

He is slightly undersized measuring 6’10.25″ in shoes with 7’3″ wingspan, but he plays big and with so many smaller lineups his dimensions should be sufficient to be a starting center.

Going small is all the rage now, but teams still start a center and it helps to have one who can do all of the big man things as well as make an open 3. How many mediocre guards and wings can really be justified going ahead of Bassey?

27. Bones Hyland, 6’3″ SG, VCU

Bones is an excellent shooter, as he made 82.7% FT and 39.9% 3P on high volume in his two years at VCU.

He is small for a SG at 6’3.5″ with a slight 169 pound frame (thus his nickname), but he has a 6’9″ wingspan which he uses well to make plays defensively.

He isn’t a natural floor general nor does he do well scoring in traffic in the paint, but he is an interesting flyer as a combo guard based on his length and shooting.

28. Trey Murphy, 6’9″ SF/PF, Virginia

Murphy is a weirdo that is super difficult to pin down. He is an excellent shooter with a quick release, good dimensions at 6’9″ with 7’0″ wingspan, good athleticism, and he seems to have good intangibles.

Then everything else is a weakness. He is skinny, rebounds like a guard, does not create off the dribble at all, and is poor defensively as he has questionable awareness and is easily bullied due to his slight frame. Virginia often hid him on the opponent’s weakest offensive player, and this was with their defense being much weaker than typical.

On one hand, it is rare to find guys with Murphy’s dimensions who can shoot and are not molasses slow. So it is difficult to find comps for him, and the two most similar past comps are Cameron Johnson and Duncan Robinson, who are both quality NBA role players. So perhaps the most likely conclusion is that guys with his intersection of strengths have an easy path to NBA success, and that he should be one of the top guys to look at once the high upside lottery talents are off the board.

But there are so many different things that can go wrong for Murphy that didn’t for Johnson or Robinson. He could be a sieve defensively, he may happen to be a worse handler to the point where it is a fatal flaw, he could be worse moving off the ball and shooting around movement as most of his offense at Virginia was stationary catch and shoot.

With all of his weaknesses, he needs to make a huge volume of 3P at 40%+ to be useful, which gives him little margin for error.

He could work out the same way Duncan Robinson worked out for Miami. Or he could fail for the flaws that caused Duncan Robinson to go undrafted to begin with. It’s all so unclear and difficult to discern.

Tier 5: Role Players:

29. Joe Wieskamp, 6’7″ SF, Iowa

Wieskamp has good dimensions for a wing at 6’7″ with 6’11” wingspan, decent athleticism, and is a very good shooter to make him an ideal role playing archetype.

When you compare his stats side by side with projected lottery pick Corey Kispert, it is unclear why Wieskamp is slotted so much lower in round 2:

30. Herbert Jones, 6’7″ SF, Alabama

Jones offers an excellent intersection of physical tools and defensive ability, as he has a 7’0 wingspan, good athleticism, and was a perimeter stopper for Alabama.

He is projected for round 2 because his offensive is not quite as good. He only shot 28.8% 3P on scarce attempts and 60.4% FT for his college career, although he made a leap as a senior with 35.1% 3P and 71.3% FT– showing some prayer of being able to make an open 3 in the NBA.

His hope on offense is that he had a solid creation and passing ability, although he did not do so efficiently as he is turnover prone and struggles to finish for a prospect with his physical tools.

He is one of the best defensive wing prospects in the draft, and if he finds a way to become passable offensively in the NBA he will be a nice return on a 2nd round flier.

31. David Johnson, 6’5 SG, Louisville

Johnson has good physical tools for a SG, measuring 6’4.75″ with 6’10.5″ wingspan to go with a solid frame and good athleticism.

He also has good vision and instincts, and showed quite a bit of potential as an NCAA freshman off the bench including a monster breakout game at Duke.

But his skill level is the big question, as he has a shaky handle and a mediocre shooting ability. And he followed up his promising small freshman sample with an inefficient sophomore campaign after getting COVID.

If his sophomore performance was uncharacteristic due to COVID, he has nice upside for a 2nd round flier.

32. Santi Aldama, 6’11 PF, Loyola MD

Aldama is a highly skilled and coordinated big man, which gives him interesting offensive upside.

His physical tools leave much to be desired as he is skinny and lacking in length and athleticism, which makes his ability to fit in defensively in the NBA a big question mark. But if he can survive based on height and intelligence, and hits his offensive potential, he can provide a nice payoff for a late round 2/UDFA guy.

33. Corey Kispert, 6’7″ SG/SF, Gonzaga

Kispert is an excellent shooter for his height and plays with efficiency, so it is not difficult to see him being a useful role player.

It is difficult to see him living up to his lottery hype, as he has a short 6’7″ wingspan and is painfully one dimensional as a shooter.

34. Cam Thomas, 6’3″ SG, LSU

Thomas can get buckets and that’s about all that he brings to the table, as he offers anemic rebound, assist, steal, and block rates with terrible defense.

He is an excellent shooter making 88.2% FT with a low turnover rate as he attempt and make a high volume of shots off the dribble. But he is painfully one dimensional for a small SG, which makes it tough for him to be good.

Perhaps he can be a bench microwave, or a more athletic version of Seth Curry. There is some talent to work with. But his mold is too weak to get too high on him.

35. Justin Champagnie, 6’7″ SF, Pittsburgh

Champagnie is somewhat lacking in the skill department as he only made 28% 3P and 74.5% FT in his 2 years at Pittsburgh, and isn’t particularly adept at creating off the dribble.

But he has solid tools for a wing, and just knows how to play. He is a good rebounder, passer, moves well off the ball, and generally has an easy path to being a useful NBA player if his shooting comes around.

He is also young for a sophomore, having just turned 20 in late June.

He is currently slated to go undrafted and it is not clear why, as on paper he seems to deserve late round 1 consideration.

36. Joel Ayayi, 6’5 SG, Gonzaga

Ayayi was diminished to a low usage role playing on Gonzaga’s stacked offense, but he did so extremely efficiently with a good assist to turnover ratio and a whopping 68.3% 2P% which is essentially unheard of for a guard.

He is also a solid shooter, making 36% 3P 77.6% FT in his 3 years at Gonzaga while also being a good rebounder and a solid defensive player for his position.

He upside is capped as a role playing SG in the NBA, but he has potential to play the role well.

37. Chris Duarte, 6’6″ SG, Oregon

Duarte has a good 3 + D skill set, but he is already 24 years old and a fairly limited role player.

First his dimensions are 6’6″ with 6’7″ wingspan which are not enough to defend wings– he is a SG. And he does not offer much creation or passing ability, which is enigmatic because his lack of size limits his defensive versatility.

Further he is only a good but not great shooter. He made 38% 3P 80% FT in his two seasons at Oregon, which is far from special given his age.

It seems some teams are treating his age as a feature rather than a bug, since he will be ready to immediately contribute. But he won’t contribute much, as his upside is sorely capped and he will begin to decline a year or two after his rookie contract runs out.

His closest NBA comp is likely Damion Lee, and he is a horribly inefficient use of a first round pick, let alone a lottery pick where he is currently rumored to go.

He could be a decent bench player but he isn’t going to make or break a team’s championship hopes. Why not try to sign an international FA on the cheap to fill out your rotation and instead try to draft somebody with more potential and a longer shelf life of usefulness?

Duarte’s hype is incredibly difficult to comprehend. Why does everybody want this guy so much? Are they that desperate for a cheap SG to fill out the rotation?

38. Neemias Queta, 7’0″ C, Utah State

Queta is a legit center prospect who can rebound, protect the rim, and score inside.

He also has decent handles and good passing for a big man, averaging more assists (2.7) than turnovers (2.4) as an NCAA junior, and Utah State’s offense was much better with him on the floor than off.

He only attempted 8 3PA over his 3 years in college, but his shooting is not totally broken as he made 67% FT as a soph and 70.7% as a junior.

Queta has the foundation for a well rounded rotation big.

39. Tre Mann, 6’4 PG, Florida

Mann is a shifty guard that can make shots, shooting 40.2% 3P 83.1% FT as an NCAA sophomore.

But he has poor physical tools, with 6’4″ wingspan, a slight frame, and underwhelming athleticism that gives him limited versatility. And his PG skills are also somewhat limited, he has decent shake but doesn’t have the athleticism to get to the rim and finish with consistency, and heavily depends on his floater game. And he is not a true floor general, averaging 3.5 assists vs 2.8 turnovers as an NCAA sophomore.

He does enough things to find a niche as a role playing PG in the NBA, but with his limited ability on defense and inability to lead an NBA offense, it is difficult to get too excited for him in round 1.

40. Davion Mitchell, 6’1 PG, Baylor

Mitchell has good quickness that he uses to pressure the ball very well on defense, and that is about where his strengths end.

He entered the draft with extreme levels of hype being projected as a mid-lottery pick, which seems to be cooling to late lottery as teams have decided they don’t want to overinvest in a 6’1″ one way defensive player.

Further, it is not even clear how good his overall defensive impact will be, as he has a pedestrian 6’4″ wingspan and does not play physically with underwhelming rebound and FT rates, even for his size.

It’s difficult to see what makes him better than a Chris Duhon or Earl Watson type who both went in round 2 and became fringe NBA starters.

He has excellent intangibles and work ethic, but there is only so much that can do for him when his skill level is so limited at his age, as he still looks unnatural off the dribble at age 22, and his 64% FT imply that his breakout 44.7% 3P was heavily driven by luck.

Perhaps he carves out a niche as a fringe starter with diligent work and continued improvement, but he is simply not a first round talent, let alone lottery caliber.

41. Daishen Nix 6’4″ PG, G League Ignite

Nix has good size and passing for a PG, but his lack of athleticism inhibits his scoring and defense.

He probably isn’t that exciting, but he is a 5* recruit and you gotta respect the potential for passing, dimensions, and youth to surprise in the NBA.

42. Jason Preston, 6’4″ PG, Ohio

Preston is a fascinating mid-major prospect as he has excellent dimensions, passing, and basketball IQ.

He also has enough skill level to have a chance offensively. He has a funky looking shot that goes in decently enough, as he made 35.4% 3P 70.5% FT in his 3 years at Ohio.

He does not have a quick first step, but he handles well enough to get to the rim at times, and he posted a monster 31 point 6 rebound 8 assists 0 turnover game vs Illinois and 11 pts 13 rebound 8 assists vs Virginia in the first round tournament upset.

He is one of the highest IQ players in the draft, and he may have just enough skill to make it offensively in the NBA. But he is outright terrible on defense, and his thin frame and lack of athleticism inhibit his upside.

He still could be a fun flier since his dimensions and IQ give him a chance of figuring out things on defense. But in all likelihood his talent is just a bit short of being a useful NBA player.

43. Aaron Henry 6’6 SG/SF, Michigan St.

Henry is a bit short for a wing and a bit inefficient to be enticing on the perimeter.

But he has a 6’11” wingspan, good athleticism, and is a capable shooter making 72.9% FT 33.3% 3P in his 3 years at Michigan State to go with solid passing and defense.

There’s enough to work with for him to find a niche in an NBA rotation.

44. Matthew Hurt, 6’9″ PF, Duke

Hurt has underwhelming physical tools with a 6’9.5″ wingspan, a doughy physique that measured 15.2% bodyfat, and subpar athleticism.

But the former top 10 recruit is exceptionally skilled as a shooter and scorer. If he can find a way to hang defensively on height and intelligence, he can be a decent value in late round 2/UDFA.

45. Kai Jones, 6’11 PF, Texas

Jones is in a funky mold of 6’11” guy who tries to play like a guard and does so poorly.

He has a background in track and field and only started playing basketball at age 15, and it shows on the floor. He is athletic and does well in the open floor in transition with his long strides, and occasionally has an impressive take from coast to coast.

But in traffic he looks unnatural and clumsy with the ball, and his poor instincts and lack of experience result in bad decision making off the dribble, as evidences by his 1.1 assists vs 2.4 turnovers per 40. He does not project to be a capable creator off the dribble against NBA defenses.

He has some semblance of shooting hope, making 34.5% 3P 67.7% FT in his 2 years at Texas on 1.1 3PA per game. And some semblance of switchability hope, with 2% steal rate in the two years and decent mobility. There are traces of perimeter hope.

The problem is that he does not do big man things well, as he rebounds like a wing and protects the rim like a PF. He can’t be played at center defensively, and the traces of perimeter ability are not enough if he needs to be played as an oversized and underskilled wing.

It’s difficult to see how his lack of experience can be a benefit when he looks this unnatural and behind the curve at age 20. Perhaps he can find a way to amount to a really weird rotation player, but it is difficult to see how his first round hype is justified.

46. JT Thor, 6’9″ PF, Auburn

Thor is very young, turning 19 in August with a 7’3″ wingspan and some hope of being able to hang defensively on the perimeter and make shots as he made 74.1% FT 29.7% 3P as a freshman for Auburn.

His issue is similar to Kai Jones in that his traces of perimeter skill are not enough to be interesting when he lacks the necessary ball skills to be a full time wing, averaging 0.9 assists and 1.6 turnovers as a freshman.

And unlike Jones, Thor is lacking in athleticism as he rebounds like a wing and protects the rim like a PF, and shot only 53% inside the arc which is poor for a big prospect in the NBA.

Even though his youth and length give him some mold, Thor is stuck in an awkward mold where he more of an underskilled and oversized wing than a big with perimeter versatility.

47. Austin Reaves, 6’6″ SG, Oklahoma

Austin Reaves can handle, pass, and shoot at a decent rate which gives him good odds of being a useful NBA player offensively.

The trouble is whether he can hang on defense, as his wingspan, frame, and athleticism are all underwhelming and he struggled badly on this end as an NCAA senior. Having turned 23 in May, there is some chance he is hopeless on that side of the ball.

48. Isaiah Livers, 6’7″ SF, Michigan

Livers has solid dimensions for a wing at 6’7″ with 6’9″ wingspan, and made 41.2% 3P and 85.6% FT over his 4 years at Michigan.

He doesn’t offer much else, but that alone gives him a chance of sticking in an NBA rotation.

49. Josh Primo, 6’5″ SG, Alabama

Primo is super young at good at shooting, but his dimensions limit his defensive versatility on top of being bad at defense.

He also is sorely limited with the ball and athletically, which gives him limited room for growth offensively.

It’s difficult to see him justifying a 1st round selection unless he grows another inch or two and fills out well, because in spite of his youth there is not much to build on as of right now.

50. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 6’9″ PF, Villanova

JRE is a solid, well rounded college player who likely lacks the physical tools to be more than a role player in the NBA.

Tier 6: Longshots

No need to bother ranking these guys because they all are very quick and superficial analyses. Just going to share some basic thougths and move on.

Isaiah Todd, 6’10 PF, G League Ignite

Todd is a stretch 4 in an era where all non-bigs are required to shoot. Except he likely doesn’t have the handle, passing or perimeter defense to stick in the NBA. But he is 19 years old and was a 5* recruit, so he nevertheless has a chance.

McKinley Wright, 6’0 PG, Colorado

Wright is a little guy who has a solid 6’5″ wingspan and is a pure floor general.

He is not comfortable from 3, having only made 32.8% 3P in 4 years at Colorado on middling attempts, but made 80.3% FT.

He isn’t particularly explosive or good at getting to the rim for a small guy who limits his upside. He needs to develop his shooting and rely on his floor general skills to carve out an NBA niche.

Raiquan Gray, 6’8 SF/PF, Florida St.

Gray offers a bit of everything as a thick wing with solid athleticism who can rebound, make plays defensively, and create and pass in a pinch.

He is a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none, and his 26.2% career 3P on low volume is a bad sign for his ability to play the perimeter in the NBA. But he made 73.2% FT, and if his shooting comes around he can be a guy.

Trendon Watford, 6’9″ PF, LSU

Watford isn’t particularly good at anything, but he is 20 years old with a 7’2″ wingspan and can do a bit of handling, passing, and shooting. If he develops well he can find a niche as a versatile role playing wing.

Kessler Edwards, 6’8 SF/PF, Pepperdine

Edwards is 6’8″ with a 6’11” wingspan and a solid shooter, making 39.5% 3P and 78.9% FT in his 3 years at Pepperdine

There seems to be a belief that he can play defense and is a solid 3 + D sleeper. But his rebound and steal rates for a mid-major prospect suggest otherwise.

If he proves capable on defense he can be a rotation player, but laws of averages say that he will not be able to create or defend well enough to stick in the NBA.

David Duke, 6’6″ SG, Providence

Duke offers solid passing and shooting for a guy with SG dimensions.

His malfunction is that he struggles to get to the rim and finish, and shot 40.4% inside the arc in 3 years at Providence that was a miserable 38.6% as a junior.

Perhaps some of his bad attempts can be trimmed out and he can find an NBA role, but that will be a fatal flaw fairly often.

Filip Petrusev, 6’11 C, Serbia

Petrusev is a big who does not protect the rim, and his lack of defense will make him difficult to build around. But he is skilled offensively, and can pass and shoot which makes him possibly something.

Sandro Mamukelashvili, 6’10 PF, Seton Hall

Mamu has decent skill for a big, as he shows traces of handling, passing, shooting, and perimeter mobility.

He is PF sized at 6’10 with 7’1 wingspan and does not rebound or protect the rim like a center. So he will need to function as more of a perimeter PF these, and he does just enough of everything to have a chance.

Isaiah Miller, 6’0″ PG, UNC Greensboro

Miller is a super athletic small PG, who is pesky on defense and can get to the rim and create for others offensively. He is also an exceptionally good rebounder for a little guy.

His achilles heel is that he cannot shoot a lick, making 23.9% 3P and 57.8% FT in his 4 years at UNC Greensboro. He turns 23 at the start of the NBA season in November and it is likely too late for him to figure it out.

But for an UDFA he could be a fun experiment on a player with an odd distribution of strengths and weaknesses

Terry Taylor, 6’6 SF, Austin Peay

Taylor has shades of a mid-major PJ Tucker. Could be a decent UDFA flier.

Matt Mitchell, 6’6 SG/SF, San Diego State

Mitchell overs fat potential as a perimeter player who do can do a bit of everything. But he is likely too small and unathletic to cut it in the NBA.

Sam Hauser, 6’8″ SF/PF, Virginia

Hauser is an elite shooter at 6’8″, having made 43.9% 3P 88% FT in his 4 college years while being generally efficient overall with a good assist:TOV ratio.

The guy is a solid basketball player. His fatal flaw is that he is very slow, which likely kills his chances of fitting in an NBA defense.

John Petty Jr. 6’6″ SG, Alabama

Petty fits a mold for a 3 + D SG, but nothing about him is exceptional and he made a pedestrian 70.4% FT in his NCAA career

Greg Brown, 6’8″ SF/PF, Texas

Brown has excellent dimensions and athleticism for a wing with a 7’0 wingspan to go with a passable jump shot at 33% 3P 70.8% FT.

But he simply does not have the ball skills to play wing and has one of the all time worst basketball IQs. He averaged 0.4 assists vs 2.3 turnovers as a freshman for Texas, and it is difficult to find any past non-big prospect to have an NBA career with such a horrendous assist:TOV ratio.

Vrenz Bleijenbergh, 6’10 SF/PF, Belgium

Vrenz is a draft twitter darling, as he offers a rare intersection of height and passing, which typically is a good indicator for sneaky upside.

The trouble is that every other signal suggests that he isn’t good enough for the NBA. He is very skinny with poor athleticism, and plays in the Belgian League which is not a historical source of any NBA players.

Further, he is 20 years old and will be 21 in October for the start of the NBA season. Yet in Belgium he averaged a meager 9.5 points per game on 45% 2P, 33.5% 3P, 67.5% FT with a high turnover rate. He isn’t a particularly good rebounder or shot blocker, and in all likelihood doesn’t have the skill or athleticism to fit in the NBA.

Let’s Talk About All of the Little SG’s


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This draft seems to have an inordinate amount of undersized shooting guards in round 1, so let’s sort through them:

Jalen Green (#2 ESPN)

2021 NBA Mock Draft 8.0: Jalen Green No. 2, Evan Mobley No. 3 if picks  based on highest upside -

Green is the headliner of the class, currently projected to go #2 overall with outlier elite athleticism and highlight reel scoring ability.

His big flaw is that he is tiny for a shooting guard. He is listed at 6’6″ for G League Ignite, but so is Jonathan Kuminga. Based on any image of them standing next to each other, Kuminga is at least 2″ taller.

The most recent measurements available from Green came 2 years ago from Nike Skills Academy.

For a quick and dirty estimate, we can compare these measurements of a number of these players to their combine measurements to see how much these prospects grew on average:

If we use the laws of averages from this sample, Green would be 6’4.25″ in shoes with 6’7.5″ wingspan and weigh 180 pounds. That is a small player.

He is 3 months younger than the average player age in the sample, but he is also smaller and it seems less common for little guys to big growth spurts at this age. Further, the only two non-lotto picks from this sample to opt out of measurements were Sharife Cooper and Cam Thomas who measured 5’11.5″ and 6’1.5″ respectively, which indicates that they likely did not have significant growth spurts to show off to NBA teams.

His G League Ignite teammate Daishen Nix measured 6’4.25″, and in photos where they are next to each other it is difficult to tell who is the taller player.

If Green measured a fraction of an inch above 6’5″ in shoes, that would give him the biggest growth spurt in the class, which doesn’t seem likely. And he certainly doesn’t look like he filled out much in terms of strength.

Let’s err on the side of generosity and give him an extra half inch relative to his law of averages dimensions and his listed weight at 180. Here are the NBA players who he is most physically similar to:

Jalen Green6’4.756’8180
Devin Booker6’5.756’8.25206
Zach LaVine6’5.756’8.25181
Bradley Beal6’4.75″6’8202

He even skews slightly smaller on this scale, as LaVine is 1″ taller and Beal + Booker are significantly beefier. Beal also played much bigger in college, with 4.7% and 18.2% offense and defense rebound rates and 2.6% block rate compared to Green’s 1.9%/11.6% OR/DR and 0.8% BLK.

This trio also indicates approximately the peak of goodness for smaller SG’s. All time greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Vince Carter were all listed at 6’6″ with 6’11” wingspans and clearly stronger frames than Green. It doesn’t seem like ~1″ height, ~3″ length, and ~15 pounds of muscle should make the different between all-time great and low end all-star like Zach LaVine, but based on NBA history it seems to have a substantial impact on attainable upside.

James Harden measured 6’5.25″ with 6’10’75” wingspan and 222 pounds, and was a megastud college player who is essentially a point guard in a SG body.

Dwyane Wade measured 6’3.75″ without shoes with 6’10.75″ wingspan and 212 pounds. He was a better college rebounder than 6’11.5″ Kai Jones and is the best shotblocking SG in NBA history, and functioned as much bigger than his size.

Ray Allen was 6’5, and there is no information on his wingspan but he rebounded similarly to Bradley Beal in college and became one of the greatest shooters in NBA history.

Essentially almost every great non-PG at 6’4 or 6’5 both was functionally bigger due to frame + length and played bigger in terms of rebounding and/or shotblocking, and Green fills none of these boxes. This makes his size a major red flag, even with his 99th percentile athleticism.

It makes sense, as these small guys can be bullied and hunted on defense, and by not being a floor general they often need another ball handler on the floor who tends to skew small. And it is difficult to consistently score over bigger players, so there is a cap on scoring efficiency for these little guys.

Athleticism is an extremely important physical tool, but it can only do so much for a player whose size and mold essentially caps his upside at low end all-star such as LaVine or Booker. The optimistic argument would be that Green is better than Zach LaVine at the same age, so maybe he can be better than LaVine longterm and be the best player in NBA history in this mold.

Yet that can all come to fruition and he can still not be a hall of fame caliber player, which is why it is difficult to see the case for him as a top 3 pick.

How Good are LaVine and Booker?

This is especially true when players like LaVine and Booker are extremely difficult to build around. Take the Phoenix Suns for instance–they have built around Booker perfectly, with Chris Paul finishing 5th in MVP voting, former #1 overall DeAndre Ayton blossoming into a quality NBA big this playoffs, and a cast of quality role players with no weak link. Yet they needed heavy injuries to opposing stars to even make the finals, and now that they are here they are down 3-2 with their game 2 win being massively luck driven shooting 20/40 from 3 vs 9/31 from the Bucks in a 10 point win. Game 2 could have easily been a double digit loss with neutral shooting luck.

And while Milwaukee is likely the 2nd best team in the NBA and a worthy champion, Phoenix was able to avoid playing the best team in Brooklyn after injuries to James Harden and Kyrie Irving caused them to fall short to the Bucks in 7.

Phoenix is around the 5th or 6th best team in the NBA and good enough to sniff a title with enough luck on their side. And if they win this year, it will have been due to extreme luck and they will be one of the weakest champions in NBA history.

On the bright side, you could say that Booker is good enough to be the 2nd best guy on a fringe NBA contender that isn’t exactly loaded with star power, and if they had correctly taken Luka Doncic over DeAndre Ayton, they would have enough star power to win it all.

But if they had Doncic and Paul, what is the value of having Booker? If they have the option of a Doncic or CP3 pick and roll, Booker’s ability to score in isolation and make difficult shots is not particularly useful as it is the least efficient option and comes with by far the weakest passing. And it is not worth paying him a max deal to stand in the corner and play like a glorified Anthony Morrow in a 3 minus D role.

This is the problem with this mold. Being small enough to get hunted on defense without being a natural floor general on offense is a massive double hit to a player’s value. Booker is talented enough to be perhaps the 3rd best player on a good NBA champion, but to maximize his value he needs to be taking the most shots, which makes him incredibly difficult to build around. He essentially needs to be surrounded with the perfect blend of role players, and it is difficult to offer him a much better cast than Phoenix has without having star(s) that render his creation ability redundant.

Having a Booker type makes it easier to win 50+ games and be a threat to win a playoff series or two. But if you are picking top 3 and looking to change your franchise’s fortunes and maximize future championship odds, how can you justify taking somebody who maxes out somewhere in the vicinity of Devin Booker’s level? This badly caps your upside with a flawed player who is difficult to build around, while having bust risk just like anybody else.

Are We Sure he is not an Outlier?

One final sanity check for Green is to compare his G League #’s to Kobe Bryant’s NBA rookie season. They are essentially the same player, except Kobe is 6.5 months younger and playing in the NBA instead of the G-League. And that is forgetting Kobe being in the minimum tier of dimensions and strength to be a hall of fame SG while Green misses the cut across the board.

Even if they seem close enough physically, Kobe has a sneakily significant size advantage. And that 6.5 month age gap is not trivial either at such a young age.

If Green is an undersized G League knockoff of Kobe, it is difficult to see how that amounts to a top 3 pick.

Granted, he could seem like a fine choice in retrospect if he becomes as good as Booker and LaVine and becomes a low end all-star. And perhaps he develops into a slightly better passer and defensive player than either and is the GOAT score first little guy. There aren’t that many stud athletes who are competent at the G League level at a young age such that we can completely write him off.

But given the limited value of the mold and its difficulty to build around, Green is not a favorable valuable proposition relative to prospects like Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, or Alperen Sengun.

Green is still likely the best small SG in the draft, but it is not by as significant of a margin as his consensus rating will have you believe.

The Tennessee Boys: Jaden Springer (#29 ESPN) and Keon Johnson (#9 ESPN)

Tennessee's Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer project as first-round talents

These two share a number of striking similarities. Johnson measured 6’4.75″ with 6’7.25″ wingspan, Springer 6’4.25″ with 6’7.75″ wingspan. Springer is beefier weighing in at 202 vs 185 pounds, while Keon has nuclear powered calves as he smashed the combine record for standing vertical leap by 2″ at 41.5″ with Nick Young and Kenny Gregory being 2nd at 39.5″. This is inflated due to him tanking his standing reach measurement by 3-4″, but the guy can nevertheless jump.

Statistically they also are near twins in many ways:


Springer is 6.5 months younger and had slightly more assists and fewer turnovers, but otherwise they are twins. And if that’s not enough, check their distribution of shots per 100 possessions:


Both guys also love to pull up for mid-range shots. It is almost eerie how they are nearly the same exact player, except Springer has more offensive polish, strength, and youth while Keon can jump to the moon.

They should be likely be valued in the same tier, and it is outright crazy that ESPN mocks Springer at #29 currently. He will likely get picked higher in reality.


Intuitively, the younger guy with more polish seems like he should trade over, but Springer’s creation is very ugly as he relies on heavy dribbling as he bullies his way for incessant mid-range jumpers. Johnson’s creation is ugly too, but if he develops his skills over time, he has the athleticism to blow by his opponents for more easy buckets.

Springer’s ideal path as an NBA player will likely be as a 3 + D role player like Gary Harris who plays as a secondary handler rather than a lead guard. They are similar physically with the only difference being Springer 1″ longer, so let’s make Springer sandwich with Gary Harris’s two college seasons:


Springer was the better FT shooter making 81% as a freshman vs Harris 78.8% over two years. But Gary Harris attempted more 3’s at 9.7 per 100 as a freshman and 12.3 as a sophomore, making 37.6%, compared to a measure 4.1 3PA/100 for Springer.

Harris started as a good NBA 3 + D role player until he was plagued by injuries and stopped making 3’s. Ideally, Springer wants to cut out his dribbling for mid-range jumpers and replace them with spot up 3’s, which he should be able to do given his excellent FT% and youth.

Then the question is whether Springer can be better than Harris due to playing slightly bigger at a young age in terms of rebounds and blocks, and if his creation ability amounts to any substantial advantage. It is difficult to have much confidence in his creation, but he is so young it has to be valued as worth something.

In retrospect, Harris was a decent return on a 19th overall pick, and Springer is a slightly suped up version of Harris and it would make sense to value him as a late lottery choice


Keon is more complicated to evaluate. Simple logic would be that a small guard with bad offense should not work out most of the time. The bad comp for him is Archie Goodwin:

Goodwin was 0.5″ taller and 2.25″ longer, and a good athlete in his own rite albeit not on Keon’s level of elite athleticism.


Granted, Archie slid to the late 1st at 29th overall and perhaps there was good reason for that. He shot 26.6% from 3 and 63.7% FT in college so perhaps GM’s thought his shot was irreparably broken, maybe his athleticism did not inspire enough upside excitement, or maybe they did not believe he was committed enough to work and improve his game to invest a better pick.

If we look at lottery picks, Kris Dunn or Emmanuel Mudiay may seem like reasonable downside comps. Except Mudiay didn’t have a college sample to compare to, and Kris Dunn was an even more limited offensive player than Johnson at the same age posting a similar efficiency (96 ORtg vs 95.5) on a far lower usage rate (16.3 vs 26.8). Dunn was a more natural PG, but because he couldn’t score he wasn’t a much more prolific passer than Johnson with a relatively minor advantage in AST% at 22.8 vs 20.6. Dunn improved substantially from his freshman to junior and senior seasons, but perhaps an elite athlete like Keon Johnson would have as well.

Now if we shift to positive comps, we can start with arguably the most nuclear athlete in the NBA: Russell Westbrook. Westbrook measured 1.25″ shorter but 0.5″ longer. Let’s take his career per 100 possession stats at UCLA because his minute weighted age is similar to Johnson’s:


Russ is clearly a more natural point guard, with a better assist rate, lower turnover rate, and more steals. This is with sharing the load with Darren Collison, and he likely could have done even more playmaking if he had complete control of the offense during his sophomore year.

But Keon played slightly bigger, with more rebounds and blocks, and scored a slightly higher volume, had a slightly higher 3PA rate (4.1 per 100 vs 3.8) and FT% (70.3 vs 68.5). These are relatively small advantages compared to Westbrook’s more natural floor general skills, and it is difficult to imagine a version of Westbrook that is less point guardy but slightly better in other areas would look like. But it would be something, to say the least.

Another comparison may be surprising. Brandon Roy was not drafted until he made significant leaps as a junior and senior, and he measured 1.5″ taller and 0.75″ longer than Johnson. But he had a surprisingly rocky start to his NCAA career that parallels to Johnson. His 224 minute freshman sample was really bad, so let’s compare his sophomore season to that of Keon:


Roy’s shooting signal looked similar as well, as he made just 9/37 3’s and 72.1% FT in his first two seasons at UW.

His extra SG size cannot be ignored, nor can his massive leap over the two following seasons as well as a better than expected NBA translation. But Johnson is the clearly better athlete between the two, and it’s probably worth something to note that how similar they were at a young age.

The other elite athlete to pop up as a statistical comp is Zach LaVine. LaVine is 1″ taller and longer, and played a different role in college as more of a spot up shooter with Kyle Anderson, Norman Powell, and Jordan Adams leading the UCLA offense. LaVine was arguably the worst player in the NBA as a rookie, but through hard work and elite athleticism he made an all-star team.

Ultimately, it’s complicated for Keon Johnson. On one hand, it seems that his offense is far too inefficient to fit in the NBA as a little guy. But then when you dig through past examples, the high tier athletes who fill up the stat sheet decently enough in all categories like Keon tend to make greater progressions than expected. But there isn’t one truly satisfactory comp to look back on, and it is difficult to envision his NBA role. His size limits his defensive versatility, and while he has some PG skills it is difficult to see him blossoming into a true floor general.

It is difficult to get excited by the idea of drafting him, but it is similarly difficult to criticize the idea of drafting him once the top tier guys are off the board.

Springer is more simple because he has more polish and fits more of a role player mold, and it is easier to see him fitting into an NBA lineup. But he likely doesn’t have the same upside tail as Johnson.

These guys are both fairly weird. It is difficult to say which one should be valued higher with any confidence, as both belong in a similar tier. It seems fair to value them in the back end of the lottery as the 2nd and 3rd best small SG’s in the draft.

James Bouknight #8 ESPN
Quentin Grimes #28 ESPN

Houston's Quentin Grimes Named Finalist for Jerry West Award - American  Athletic Conference

Grimes is 0.5″ taller at 6’5.25″ vs 6’4.75, Bouknight is 0.25″ longer at 6’8.25 vs 6’8, and Grimes has an extra 15 pounds of beef at 205 vs 190 pounds.

Bouknight is rated much higher for his superior off the dribble creation ability, whereas Grimes is more of a pure spot up shooter.

Grimes has had a particularly interesting career arc. He started his NCAA career in Kansas as the #8 RSCI recruit, and after a dreadful freshman year transferred to Houston where he had a solid sophomore season. After shooting a pedestrian 33.3% 3P and 64% FT to start his career, his shooting completely blasted off as a junior making 40.3% of his 3PA on a massive 15.3 3PA per 100 possessions, and backed it up with a 78.8% FT. He also saw significant leaps in rebounds, steals, and blocks.

It is generally prudent to be wary of taking major NCAA leaps at face value due to small sample noise, but then Grimes proceeded to be the best player on the floor in the two combine scrimmages by a comfortable margin.

In two games, he was able to make 9/16 from 3 in 50 minutes of play, as he showed off a lightning fast release to go with good off ball movement and a good step back 3. He also showed off impressive athleticism, a bit more drive and dish game than he did at Houston, and he abused Austin Reaves off the dribble on a couple of occasions. His defense looked solid, he moves his feet well, his frame makes him difficult to push around, and he seems to have decent awareness. Everything about him looked good, and he should find a role in the NBA as a 3 + D role player.

Granted, this was only two games of unorganized basketball, but it appears that Grimes is finally living up to his top 10 recruiting hype. Between his combine performances and RSCI, it seems relatively safe to take his breakout junior season at face value.

Bearing this in mind, Grimes and Bouknight have some interesting similarities in terms of box score production this past season:


Defensively they both do fairly well for their position, but Grimes eye tests as slightly better and his stronger frame makes him difficult to push around. If one prospect gets a slight edge for defense, it is Grimes.

This brings us to the more complicated offensive comparison per 100 possessions, where we will include Grimes’ sophomore season to get a feel for his junior transformation:

Grimes ’2019.711.30.5389.27.45.55
Grimes ’2120.710.90.4115.373.63.4

As a sophomore, Grimes was more of a playmaker who created more for his teammates and drew more free throws, but still had a fairly high turnover rate for a guy who did not create Bouknight’s scoring. As a junior, he fully embraced his role as a spot up guy and focused on getting as many 3PA as possible.

Bouknight may be best served to make a similar adjustment to his offensive approach. While he is capable of creating his own shot at the rim and finishing, he is not particularly efficient at it as he has a rudimentary handle and is prone to playing slightly out of control.

He nevertheless creates an impressive volume of 2PA that he converts at a good %, but this is largely due to cuts, putbacks, and transition play. If he is collectively creating an extra 7 2PA and 3 FTA compared to Grimes at a higher %, but at the cost of ~2 TOV and ~6 3PA without any additional assists is that really a favorable tradeoff? Do you really want your tunnel visioned and slight framed 6’5″ guard consistently trying to score inside arc against NBA defenses instead of playing within the flow of the offense and getting off a massive volume of 3PA?

It’s a difficult question to answer. Bouknight still is a more natural scorer with a better career FT% than Grimes (80% vs. 70%). And he does play well off ball. If he is willing to transition to more of an off ball player in the NBA, and finds a way to get off a big volume of 3PA, he should surpass Grimes offensively.

Bouknight could also make his shot creation work, but that is an extremely dicey proposition for a guy who had such a poor assist:TOV ratio at age 20 and is merely a good athlete as opposed to nuclear like Jalen Green or Keon Johnson. At this stage, his on ball play is more likely to be a bug than a feature.

Bouknight is a confusing guy, as he does a number of things well and it is easy to see him being useful to an NBA team. But it is hard to see a big upside tail for him, and things can go wrong if he tries to force the issue too much against bigger and more athletic NBA defenders.


Grimes gets a tiny edge on defense, and has figured out how to play an offensive style tailor made for an NBA role player which makes him a safer bet on offense. Bouknight has more longterm upside on offense, but is currently a chaotic ball of energy that needs to be refined and could prove to be frustrating on that end.

Ultimately, Bouknight is a weird guy who is difficult to pin down. It is difficult to know how his offense will translate to the NBA, and how good he can really be in his best case. But it is tough to see his star upside, and it is unclear whether he is actually a better prospect than Grimes.

The safest thing to say here is– why pick Bouknight in the mid-lottery when you can have Grimes in the late 1st?

I would currently rank these two not too far behind Springer and Johnson as the #4 and #5 SGs in the draft that belong somewhere in the mid-1st.

Josh Christopher (#34 ESPN)

ASU basketball: Josh Christopher declares for 2021 NBA draft

Christopher is the discount version of Jalen Green, as he was the #10 RSCI freshman this past season.

He is not quite the athlete, passer, or shooter that Green is, but he is an impressive athlete in his own rite. You can see the offensive disparity with Green being better across the board in spite of playing the tougher schedule in the G League:


Christopher atones by being functionally larger with ~1.5″ more length and ~35 pounds more muscle, and functionally playing bigger:


Again, not a perfect comparison in terms of league difficulty, but NCAA and G League are close enough such that it seems fair to give Christopher the edge here.

Green’s superior offense and athleticism should weigh significantly heavier than Christopher’s size advantage. But this doesn’t seem like such a blowout to justify the difference between a top 3 overall choice and a 2nd round pick.

Christopher should be valued somewhere in the back end of round 1.

Ayo Dosunmu #32 ESPN

3 best teams suited to pick Ayo Dosunmu in the 2021 NBA Draft

Ayo is a good handler and passer for a SG, and could pass for a big PG as much as a small SG at 6’5″ with 6’10.25″ wingspan.

His limitation is that he is not the quickest or most explosive guard, and could end up getting beat often on defense while struggling to get to his spots offensively.

But he has a nice intersection of size, skill, and athleticism, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him develop into a Spencer Dinwiddie caliber role player. He is worth a shot in the late 1st.

Bones Hyland #30 ESPN

Bones Hyland breaks VCU freshman 3-point record | Plus |

Bones is a unique guy. He is an excellent shooter, and is capable of getting off shots at high volume and efficiency. In his two years at VCU, he averaged 13.8 3PA per 100 possessions making 39.9% while backing it up with 82.7% FT, and he also was effective scoring in his one game at the draft combine.

He measured only 6’3.5″ in shoes and weighs 169 pounds, which makes his size a significant concern. But he has a 6’9.25″ wingspan, and excels at making plays with his length to give himself a chance of hanging defensively.

His other concern is that he is not the most natural with the ball for a little guy. When he was asked to increase his usage rate from 21.1 to 28.6%, his assist to turnover ratio took a dive from 1.58 to 0.68. And he did not look particularly better off the dribble in the NBA combine scrimmage.

His flaws are scary, but he has some unique strengths to make him an interesting flier in the late 1st or early 2nd.

David Johnson (#40 ESPN)

Louisville G David Johnson declares for NBA Draft - Card Chronicle

Johnson is only 6’4.75″, but he has a nice 6’10.5″ wingspan to go with a solid frame and good athleticism.

He showed loads of promise as a freshman bench player, including a monster game at Duke. He looked like he may be in the discussion for a lottery pick entering his sophomore season, but he just couldn’t figure out how to do offense as his usage dropped and he saw major declines in his 2P% (54.5% to 42.6%), assist rate (35.9% to 18.8%), and FT rate (.278 to .183).

If there was a glimmer of hope, he did show a capable outside shot making 38.6% from 3 and 70% from FT after looking relatively busted as a freshman.

In the combine scrimmage he showed off impressive passing in his first game but was hesitant to attack off the dribble, and then he didn’t play the second game.

There’s a good chance he can’t handle well enough to make it in the NBA. But if his sophomore season was some fluke affected by COVID, and he figures out his handling, and his shooting comes around, he has a tantalizing combination of physical tools and vision for round 2.

He is a bit of a longshot, but there is some nice home run upside for a 2nd rounder. He is arguably even worth considering in the late 1st.

Cam Thomas #25 ESPN

LSU's Cameron Thomas, Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart earn All-SEC acclaim –  Crescent City Sports

Thomas is a unique guy, as he is exceptionally good at scoring without contributing anything else to the team. He might have the record for the highest ratio of points per game to the sum of rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals of any player who has ever been drafted. Based on a quick and dirty search that is probably not comprehensive, here is a list for comparison from the past 20 years:

Cameron ThomasFR233.
John JenkinsJR19.
John JenkinsSO19.531.
Jodie MeeksJR23.
Seth CurrySR17.
Salim StoudamireSR18.
Malik MonkFR19.
Joe YoungJR18.

There’s a clear brand here– little guys who can shoot and do not much else. Meeks and Curry have had careers as NBA role players so he can be something. But overall this list is fairly weak, and Thomas may not buck the trend as he is probably 6’2 or 6’3″ and one of the worst defensive players in the draft.

His closest comparison is Malik Monk, and he is a slightly worse pull than Monk who was ranked a bit higher RSCI at #9 vs #22 and at least had the excuse that maybe John Calipari was suppressing his numbers, as he showed more hope as a passer and shot blocker.

Thomas does have good wingspan (measured 6’6″ in 2019) and frame and if he does start caring about defense and becomes passable, he can fit in some NBA lineups that have a bigger shot creator as a more athletic Seth Curry. There is something to be said for him to have scored so much as a freshman, and he did so with a microscopic turnover ratio while making 88.2% FT. So he may be a justifiable choice around the turn of round 1.

But it’s just so hard to win with this brand, as historically it either ends in complete bust or flawed bench player, so he probably belongs moreso in early round 2 than late round 1.

Chris Duarte #22 ESPN

Why the Memphis Grizzlies should avoid Chris Duarte with No. 17 pick

Duarte is the senior citizen of the draft, having turned 24 in June.

He fits a nice 3 + D archetype, and he can possibly give whoever drafts him a rotation player for cheap for 4 years as his rookie deal will essentially cover his prime.

But he is so limited with the ball and so low upside, it is difficult to see how he is adequate value for round 1. His best comp is likely Damion Lee who went undrafted and was acquired on the cheap by Golden State, and still was cheap to retain after finding a rotation role.

Searching for a cheap 8th man is such a suboptimal use of a late 1st round pick when there are guys who can be better right away and solid for years to come still on the board.

Duarte did do really well for Oregon and can be a bit better than Lee, and is likely fine in round 2. But capping your upside this badly in round 1 is just wrong. You can find similar caliber pulls to fill out the bench on the scrap heap and aim higher with your first round pick.

Josh Primo #26 ESPN

Primo is very young, not turning 19 until December. But he is also very bad at basketball, and his first round hype is not justified.

This Draft Feels Like 2014 All Over Again


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2014 was the first draft I blogged about, and I started this blog largely because it was so much fun to analyze that crop. Now 2021 is loaded with parallels with makes it similarly exciting to analyze.

It started with Andrew Wiggins being hyped as the next LeBron, and then massively disappointing as a college freshman while his teammate Joel Embiid looked like a mega stud out of nowhere as an exceptionally coordinated 7 footer.

But in spite of his disappointment, Wiggins still went #1 overall as his freshman performance was good enough to not wash away the shiny hype he entered the season with, and the prospect of improvement based on his elite athleticism.

Now this year, Cade Cunningham was hyped as a Luka Doncic type generational prospect, but has performed more on Wiggins’ level while Evan Mobley has been the elite, athletic 7 footer who stuffs the stat sheet. Yet Cade’s preseason hype has helped him maintain the consensus #1 overall status.

In fact, Cade’s hype has held up even stronger than than Wiggins, as at least there were genuine discussions as to whether Embiid should go #1 before his medical red flags caused him to drop to #3. In this case, Cade is still holding strong as the consensus #1 overall in spite of Mobley being completely healthy.

The Cade/Wiggins comparison has been commonly dismissed as Wiggins being an athlete who has no idea how to play, and that Cade’s passing and shooting means that he won’t fail. But that ignores the fact that Wiggins was not any worse of an NCAA player than Cade, while also being 5 months younger. Let’s look at a quick and dirty spot check of NCAA goodness with Box Score Plus/Minus


In retrospect is is easy to reduce Wiggins to an athlete who has no clue how to play, but it just was not that apparent at the time. He had decent scoring ability offensively, averaged 17 points on solid shooting %’s, drew a ton of free throws, and was a good defensive player due to his excellent athleticism.

Now people may lament that Cade’s teammates were the worst thing since sliced bread, while Wiggins played on a perennially great Kansas team. But then when we look at their on/off splits, Wiggins is the one who made a clearly positive impact on his team. From

Wiggins not only had a major impact on the defense as a long, athletic player who could defend multiple positions, but he also had a more clearly positive impact on the offense where he could at least use his athleticism to get some easy shots, crash the offensive glass, and draw a high volume of free throws. Whereas in spite of his passing, Cade’s team seemed to get more easy 2 pointers with him off the floor.

Of course this doesn’t prove that Cade will be as bad as Wiggins, as college on/off stats are very noisy and plenty of players with lower freshman BPMs have gone on to be all-stars. On average, Cade should be better than Wiggins. But it is enough information to at least start questioning what makes Cade’s floor necessarily higher than Wiggins.

The common answer would be that athleticism is overrated, and Cade’s shooting and passing is what is actually the more valuable trait. But that isn’t necessarily the case– athleticism is and always has been an incredibly valuable NBA trait. Further, OJ Mayo could shoot and pass as well as Cade and had a pedestrian NBA career. The real lesson from Wiggins should be that being well rounded with limited flaws is predictive of NBA stardom– not checking a few magical boxes regardless of the flaws that come with it.

One funny commonality is that both were arguably better as role players. Wiggins had a narrative that worst case he would be a great role player as he could make an open 3 and be a defensive stopper. But Minnesota had different plans for him to relentlessly chuck stepback jumpers from mid-range instead, and it did not amount to a good player.

There seems to be a similar notion with Cade, that worst case he can be a more athletic Joe Ingles who provides excellent 3 + D support. But Joe Ingles wouldn’t be Joe Ingles if he was drafted #1 and expected to carry the offense like Luka Doncic, because he would do very poorly in that role.

Cade may do a better job of it than Joe Ingles would, but that doesn’t mean he will necessarily be an adequate primary creator in the NBA. And if he always has the ball in his hands– how much value does his shooting *really* carry? Being able to make pullup 3’s is a helpful skill, but if he is still collectively inefficient and his shooting is not often being used to provide spacing gravity to his other teammates, it diminishes the value of it.

Maybe Cade Turns Out Better than Wiggins

But does it really matter? This kid from USC is an obvious stud and everything about him is wired for efficiency. You would think that with the advent of statistics that qualities like elite efficiency, passing, defense, in a player who is also taller, longer, and more athletic than Cade would be valued higher. But the level of analysis has gotten so basic that all that matters are checking the magical boxes of being a wing creator (doesn’t matter if you are good or bad at it as long as you tried!) and being able to shoot. Conversely being tall makes you automatically bad, even if you are capable of doing perimeter things like handle, pass, shoot, and switch onto smaller players.

It is such a basic level of analysis, it is like watching everything go backwards. At least in 2014 teams were open enough to bigs for Embiid over Wiggins to be a realistic discussion before Embiid’s injury flags mucked everything up. Now we have a stud in Mobley who isn’t even in the conversation with a clean bill of health.

It makes sense to place an additional emphasis on speed and skill over taking whatever big stiff is available to fill the middle. But this has gone overboard. Being tall always has been and always will be an incredibly useful trait for basketball. And momentum can always shift back toward bigs– for instance the coming rule changes to reduce cheap fouls on shooters adds just a bit more value back toward bigs and away from guards and wings.

And regardless, a tall guy like Mobley who can protect the rim and do perimeter things like handle, pass, and shoot are going to give you a ton of lineup flexibility.

And the #2 pick is even worse than #1

As flawed and overhyped as Wiggins was, he still fit a quality NBA mold and had enough strengths such that in his mid 20’s, he has finally become a useful NBA player. And he still has room to grow into a solidly + player, much like Rudy Gay who was his negative comp, but ended up having a better than expected second act for the Spurs.

On the other hand, Jabari Parker was the ultimate empty calories scorer, and he is so one dimensional with such bad defense that he is nothing more than a cheap flier for his 6th team in Boston as he enters his prime age.

Granted, there is no reason to believe Jalen Green will necessarily be that bad. His athletic scoring off the dribble looks quite a bit more aesthetically pleasing and should have better NBA translation than Parker’s bully ball. Perhaps he can have a career closer to his physical doppelganger Zach LaVine, who was chosen later in the 2014 lottery.

But Green is much smaller than Parker and there are so many scenarios where he is just dreadful on defense without offering much more than scoring offensively, he has a nasty downside tail and his upside is capped at the Zach LaVine/Devin Booker tier, which is not good enough to win a championship as your best player.

Booker needed MVP candidate Chris Paul, a quality big in former #1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton, and a strong cast of quality role players just to be a 2nd tier contender who was able to make the finals when every star player in their path got injured. He is a good player and contributed to the run to be sure, but you want to aim higher than a Booker best case at #2 overall, especially when it comes attached to a fair amount of bust risk.

The Rest of the Draft May Be Even Better

It would really be something to see a top 3 of 1. Cade 2. Green 3. Mobley perfectly mirror the Wiggins, Parker, Embiid top 3 of 2014. And even after that, there are some similarities.

Scottie Barnes, like Aaron Gordon is the big, toolsy wing with questionable shooting. Gordon is the more explosive athlete, but Barnes is longer with better PG skills. I would rate Barnes as the better prospect between the two based on pre-draft.

Jalen Suggs is the high IQ combo guard, similar to Marcus Smart. But he has a better first step with more offensive potential, which makes him the better pre-draft prospect than Smart.

We even have a young, tall point guard from Australia in Josh Giddey, who hopefully has a better NBA career than Dante Exum. Giddey is stylistically closer to Lonzo Ball than Exum, but is smoother with his movement as well as being the more skillful passer. He has a certain wizardry to his passing, as he not only is exceptionally high IQ with great vision, but is also highly accurate and passes like he has the ball on the string. He has limited tools and scoring which give him a wide range of future outcomes, but his passing is so outlier good for his height and youth he clearly has a nice upside tail.

Later in the lottery, we have a one dimensional mid-major shooter Corey Kispert playing the role of Doug McDermott being slotted far above where his talent level merits.

International Man of Mystery

The 2014 draft was also loaded with awesome international bigs. I ranked Jusuf Nurkic and Clint Capela 5th and 6th ahead of Parker and Wiggins, and Nikola Jokic 16th. This year there is only one elite big but he is better than all of them: Alperen Sengun.

But the trouble is that they were all true centers, whereas Sengun is more of an old school PF. Is he more of a Julius Randle, who in spite of quality box score production, does not fit the modern NBA and will turn into a pumpkin in the playoffs?

In some ways Sengun is similar to Randle, but he also offers more than 2x the steal and block rates (2.6/5.9 vs 1.0/2.6) almost 2x the assist:TOV ratio (1.11 vs 0.57), a wetter jump shot (79.4% FT vs 70.6%), and much better interior scoring (67.4% 2P vs 51.7%) on higher usage (26.7 vs 25.5). All while playing in a better league at 8 months younger.

At the time I argued that Randle is just not an interesting mold, and even if he posts good stats he may not be that useful in the NBA. And it is an interesting debate where he should rank in a re-draft. I ranked him #22, which feels too low based on his recent season in NYK. But that was after his initial team let him walk for nothing when New Orleans signed him for the mid level exception. So perhaps it was a reasonable place to rate him, as there is no clear answer.

Regardless, it’s fascinating how much the market has adjusted since then. Randle went 7th overall and was considered a reasonable or even good pick by most at the time. Now Sengun is a massively suped up version with much more perimeter qualities and hope on defense, yet he isn’t even projected to go in the lottery.

At this point it doesn’t seem that most people are critically thinking about the ways in which Sengun can provide value to a team, and are just blindly fading him based on his perceived mold.

It is completely reasonable to dock his value for having questions about how he fits into the modern NBA, but based on just the #’s he is the clear #1 pick in this draft. You are heavily shorting his mold just by dropping him out of the top 5. Dropping him out of the top 10 seems like a clear overreaction to the recent trends in the modern NBA.

Trends Don’t Last Forever

It is crazy how much has changed in the past 7 years after the Warriors built the death lineup around Steph Curry and Draymond Green, and the rest of the league started adapting to combat them. Now that the Warriors are no longer a contender, the small ball trend has continued, and may continue indefinitely.

But that doesn’t mean that the momentum cannot slightly swing back toward bigs whether it be with small rule changes such as reducing fouls on non-basketball moves. Or perhaps a new super team emerges, which causes a shift back the other way.

Imagine if Mobley and Sengun were paired together. They would be a perfect duo on defense– Sengun cleans up the glass and puts a body on stronger bigs in the post, while Mobley handles the rim protection. Offensively, you have two bigs who can handle, pass, shoot, and score inside. Sengun should be an especially good floor spacer, while Mobley can at least make an open shot.

When you have that level of creation, passing, finishing, and shooting from your two bigs, it is ridiculously easy to build a good offense. It will be especially difficult for small lineups to match up with them, even though Sengun is short for a 5 and Mobley is skinny, their passing and interior scoring could collectively provide nightmares for a team that needs to put a big wing on either one of them. As of now almost every starting lineup in the NBA would need to do this.

It may be hard to believe that a great offense can come from somewhere other than wing or guard with a great first step, but let’s bear in mind that the Nuggets won a playoff series against Portland with a monster 123.4 ORtg in spite of having a guard rotation of Austin Rivers, Facundo Campazzo, Monte Morris, and Markus Howard. Michael Porter Jr. is a great shooter but nothing close to a point forward, and Aaron Gordon is not a volume creator.

Jokic is the MVP and one of the best offensive bigs of all time, but based on pre-draft Sengun clearly has more offensive talent and Mobley arguably does too. Even without either peaking nearly as high as Jokic, you can still build a really awesome offense around those two. Sengun may give a decent bit back on defense, but if he proves adept at guarding the perimeter, it would be over for the rest of the NBA.

And if teams are forced to match up with two bigs who provide those sort of matchup issues offensively, playing two bigs may start to become more commonplace once again. And if it does not, they can destroy the rest of the league with any decent supporting guards and wings.


By far the two drafts that I have been most motivated to scout film and generate content for have been 2014 and 2021, and there is a good reason for that– because they had the biggest inefficiencies at the top.

And the source of current inefficiencies is this obsession with mold. Which matters to some extent, as I noted in my 2014 writeups on Julius Randle. But at this point it has gotten so extreme that a significant portion of the basketball world is lazily grouping players into buckets without any further analysis for what they actually do on the floor.

Even though consensus should be getting sharper 7 years later, in certain ways it may be getting duller.

This is especially the case since at least Wiggins in 2014 had a clear argument for #1 with Embiid’s injury. He was actually better than Jabari Parker. Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart proved to be better, but they are still mere role players.

Now this year, Mobley is healthier than Embiid, Suggs has more potential than Smart, Barnes has more potential than Gordon, Giddey may be better than Exum, Sengun is drastically better than Randle, and there isn’t even a Franz Wagner super role player in the mix. So the prizes at the top all offer possibly much richer payoffs, yet Cade is even more firmly entrenched in #1 than Wiggins was. This is not an efficient market.

At this point you cannot get ahead of the curve by going all in on wing creators and all out on anybody over 6’9. The recent trends toward small ball have been so fast and furious, at this point lineups cannot plausibly trend any smaller. And even if they tread water at current levels, elite bigs are still elite and mediocre wings are still mediocre.

The NBA has been a big centered game for 60+ years. There has been a vicious correction over the past 7 years, which should stay to a significant extent. But at this point it is safe to say that the correction is over, and even after all of that elite bigs are still elite and mediocre wings are still mediocre. At this point you cannot get ahead of the curve by overvaluing wings and disregarding bigs, but you can create elite opportunities for other teams who are interested in elite basketball players.

Evan Mobley Moves and Thinks with Surgical Precision


Evan Mobley is currently projected to go #3 overall, as he is a fluid and mobile 7’0 that offers a bit of everything.

The areas where he stands out in particular are with his passing and defense. He reads the defense very well, and every time he is double teamed he quickly swings it to the open shooter. And he was rim protector for the 6th best defense in the NCAA, and did so with an unprecedented ability to avoid fouls.

Let’s take a look at how his passing, rim protection, and foul rates compare to past top 5 big prospects at a similar age:

Evan Mobley19.614.
DeAndre Ayton19.510.20.836.12.80.81
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Karl Anthony-Towns19.111.60.8311.550.77
Kristaps Porzingis19.45.20.385.24.90.40
Joel Embiid19.811.50.5811.76.30.77
Anthony Davis18.87.51.2213.72.42.38
Greg Oden18.950.3312.73.81.21
Al Horford19.615.
Tyrus Thomas19.410.40.7111.951.21
Andrew Bogut20.118.20.856.25.80.83
Emeka Okafor19.34.40.5712.73.51.57
Chris Bosh18.87.90.536.730.92

Mobley is in the conversation for best passing big of the top 20 years, as he only gets edged out in assist rate by sophomores Horford and Bogut, and atones with a better assist to turnover ratio.

He does not have quite the block rate as most of the stud rim protectors, but atones with his lack of fouling. The only prospect who showed a better ability to block without fouling is Anthony Davis, who was a clear top 3 prospect of the past 20 years.

Davis was also younger with better steals and rebounds and more explosive athleticism, so Mobley isn’t on his level of generational prospect. But he holds up well when compared to everybody else on the list.

Among the other prospects who were able to accumulate more blocks than fouls: Greg Oden, Emeka Okafor, and Tyrus Thomas, none were close to Mobley as a passer or a shooter.

Mobley gives some of his goodness back by having a thin frame and being weaker on the glass than everybody on this list other than JJJ. But you can see he has some unique strengths to make him exciting

Team Success

Andy Enfield’s tenure at USC has been decent but unspectacular. He was hired in 2013-14, and after two rebuilding seasons he was able to get the Trojans perennially to the NCAA tournament bubble, ranging from #49 to #82 kenpom ranking among D1 teams for 5 seasons in a row. And the 20-21 season appeared to be no different, as they lost their top 4 players ranked by win shares from the 19-20 season with Evan’s brother Isaiah as the only decent returner. They replaced everybody else with a glut of ordinary low and mid-major role players, and their perimeter creation appeared to be sorely lacking.

But it worked for a couple of reasons. They had the 6th best defense in NCAA, in large part because having two intelligent bigs makes for a strong defensive foundation. And they overperformed their #24 block rate with the #2 defensive 2P%– a sign that Mobley’s good but non-elite block rate may understate his rim protection. Similar to Tim Duncan and Andrew Bogut, he prioritizes forcing difficult shots over trying to send every opponent shot attempt into the stands.

They also had the 14th best offense, which was particularly shocking for a team with such pedestrian perimeter talent. But mid-major transfers Drew Peterson and Tahj Eaddy were able to sustain similar usage and assist rates as they did for their mid-major teams in 19-20 with a slight bump in efficiency for Peterson and a huge jump for Eaddy.

This is incredibly rare as most mid-major transfers see a significant drop in offensive output when they move up to high major. Peterson and Eaddy deserve credit for improving, but this level of performance likely would not be possible without two intelligent passing big men to make life easier for the guards and wings.

Consequently, USC ended up with by far the best team in Andy Enfield’s career, finishing as the #6 kenpom team and making a surprising elite 8 run.

Everybody talks about how bad Cade Cunningham’s teammates are, but every half-decent computer model rated Oklahoma State as the better team entering the season as he had relatively decent high major teammates. Evan Mobley was the top prospect who had the clearly most flawed cast, yet he was able to carry them much further than expected by several orders of magnitude.


Chris Bosh

The most obvious comp to Mobley is Chris Bosh, who shares a similar physical profile and looks like he could be Mobley’s biological father:


Bosh was 9 months younger and showed slightly better rebounding and shooting (also attempted 1.9 3’s per 40 vs 1.4 for Mobley), but otherwise Mobley looks good with better passing, rim protection, and slightly better usage and efficiency.

Mobley is right on the cusp where he can maybe develop into a good shooter or maybe not, and this will obviously make a significant swing on his NBA value. But Bosh never became a reliable NBA shooter until his final few seasons. Mobley’s passing and rim protection advantages are so significant, if they were both in this draft he would likely deserve the edge as the better pick.

It’s close enough such that it’s not clear whether his median outcome will be better or worse than Bosh. And when that can be said about a comparison to a hall of fame player, that’s a good sign that Mobley is a worthy #1 overall.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

Another recent skinny big prospect who has some parallels is Jaren Jackson Jr.


They are similar rebounding, and JJJ is the better shooter with better FT% and a higher 3PA rate of which he made 39.6% while being more than a full year younger. JJJ had more blocks, but Mobley had a small fraction of the foul rate, fouling 2.1 times per 40 compared to 5.9 for JJJ..

Personally I was extremely high on JJJ, and with his youthful upside it would have been difficult to take Mobley ahead of him. Especially since prospects with NBA fathers tend to out perform their draft stock, and Jaren Sr. outperformed himself going from undrafted free agent to useful rotation player for the championship Spurs.

Jaren Jr.’s rebounding, assist, and foul rates were all flags, but it made sense that he should improve his rebounding as he filled out and improve his assist and foul rates with repetition and experience, but none of that has happened.

In part this may be attributed to being hampered by injuries, and he at least showed an improved rebounding rate this past season. And he is not a bust by any stretch, as he is still a useful 21 year old player with plenty of upside to grow.

Mobley at least offers a safer and more polished prospect. He won’t be the same shooter as Jaren, but his superior passing and ability to avoid fouls are nice features that should make his NBA translation more seamless.

It is difficult to draw any strong conclusions from Jackson thus far, but he is a bit of a cautionary tale to show that Mobley is not a lock to be a stud– especially if he struggles to rebound in the NBA as much as Jackson has.

Joel Embiid

Embiid is much bigger and bulkier than Mobley, but they both have the coordination of ballerinas which is especially enticing in a talented 7 footer:


Embiid’s major strength advantage shows in his vastly superior rebound rate, and he is no doubt the better raw talent than Mobley in a vaccum.

But Mobley makes up for this by being better at playing under control, with a significantly lower turnover (3.9 vs 5.9) and foul rate (3.1 vs 8.5) per 100. This is what him makes such a rare prospect– he is both physically capable of moving under control, and mentally capable of playing under control. In tandem this lends itself to elite levels of efficiency and positive team level impact.

Assuming full health, it is close between the two. But given Embiid’s significant health flags, Mobley would be the easy choice on draft night.

Tim Duncan/Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett is more physically similar to Mobley, but Duncan is the one with the college sample thus he will be the one who gets compared. Amazingly, Duncan was the same age as a junior as Mobley was as a freshman, so let’s compare that season, as it relatively falls in line with his overall college trajectory. Stats per 40 minutes:


It’s stunning how similar these guys are. Timmy has a bit more post game and edges out scoring volume at 20.6 pts per 40 vs 19.3 for Mobley. But Mobley compensates with better 2P%, lower TOV, and slightly better shooting.

Their assist, steal, block, free throw, and foul rates are more or less identical, and really the only area where Duncan stands out is due to his superior rebounding. In tandem with his thin frame, it is Mobley’s one nagging flaw and it is difficult to assess how much it matters.

On the bright side, Duncan never improved as a shooter, making 69.6% FT and 17.9% 3P in his NBA career. If Mobley develops into a real NBA 3 point threat, he can help atone for his lack of beef and rebounding.

The Rebounding Conundrum

Mobley’s only flaw is his thin frame and lack of rebounding, and there are different ways to look at it.

The downside is that Jaren Jackson Jr. posted similar NCAA rebound rates to Mobley, but has been an anemic 4.6%/14.4% O/D rebounder in the NBA thus far. If Mobley proves to be as soft inside as JJJ, he could be disappointing.

The upside is the two recent USC bigs to make the NBA have seamlessly translated their NCAA rebounding to the pros in limited NBA samples thus far: Onyeka Okongwu 12.4/18.4 NCAA to 12.0/17.9 NBA (including playoffs), Chimezie Metu 7.8/18.6 NCAA to 7.7/19.4 NBA.

So if we are being optimistic: Kevin Garnett was a month older as NBA rookie than Mobley as a USC freshman and posted slightly worse rebound rates: 9.1/17.0 that dipped further as sophomore to 7.6/16.8, before creeping up as he filled out and eventually became a very good rebounder in his prime.

If Mobley both sees his rebound translate well to the NBA and he consistently improves over time like Garnett, he can be a top 10 all-time great like Garnett and Duncan. This is an unlikely outcome, but in tandem with the possibility that he can also shoot 3’s better than Garnett and Duncan, this level of greatness cannot be ruled for Mobley.

The more realistic outcome is that he is a slightly different version of Chris Bosh, which is still a hall of fame level player worthy of a #1 overall choice.

And even if he falls short and is closer to a Jaren Jackson Jr. type– that is still a highly useful NBA player.

It is difficult to see how anybody else can be justified as the #1 overall pick. Mobley has the highest upside, median, and floor of anybody in the draft. His current ESPN projected at #3 overall is starting to feel like 2014 again– as the warty and overhyped wing Cade Cunningham plays the role of Andrew Wiggins and empty calories volume scorer Jalen Green plays the role of Jabari Parker in Zach LaVine’s body.

Cunningham and Green can have much better careers than Wiggins and Parker respectively, but you cannot take either over the elite 7 footer who moves like a ballerina and expect favorable results. At least in 2014, GM’s had the excuse of fretting over Embiid’s foot injury that delayed his eventual NBA debut by 2 seasons. In 2021 there is no injury excuse– you either take Mobley, or run the risk of setting your franchise back for years to come.