With the lottery order being determined tonight, let’s run through the prospects at stake
Tier 1: Likely star
- Evan Mobley 7′ PF/C USC
Mobley has good dimensions for a big at 7′ and 7’4 and has a unique combination of fluidity and passing for his size.
He is one of the best passing bigs in recent memory, as he averaged more assists (2.4) than turnovers (2.2). He is physically similar to Chris Bosh (1.2 vs 2.3) and has Joel Embiid’s fluidity (1.4 vs 2.4), but is a much better passer than both as NCAA freshmen. He isn’t quite Nikola Jokic who averaged 2.5 vs 1.5 in the Adriatic league while being 8 months younger, but he is a much better athlete than Jokic.
Given that he is able to play with precision both physically and mentally, he has an easy path to becoming a highly efficient NBA player.
Passing and height pair particularly well because he can pass over the defense, and because passing has a strong correlation with defensive ability. He was a very good rim protector for USC, anchoring the 6th best defense in the country with 2nd lowest 2P%.
His team massively overachieved overall, as he led a team of mediocre transfers that probably should have missed the tournament to the elite 8 and #6 kenpom ranking. This was by far Andy Enfield’s best team ever, as he peaked at #49 in 7 prior seasons at USC.
His shooting is acceptable for a big at 69.4% FT and 30% 3P, but a bit of a question mark.
His biggest weakness is his thin frame makes him a mediocre rebounder and prone to getting bullied by stronger bigs. He will often work as a 5 in the NBA, but may need to slide to the 4 when he faces a stronger big like Jokic or Embiid. This is the flaw that likely prevents him from being a generational prospect and Kevin Garnett level hall of famer, but it’s really the only thing to dislike.
Overall Mobley is loaded with unique strengths with limited flaws in his game, and has an easy path to stardom. He is not quite a lock star but since he is more well rounded and less flawed than everybody else in the draft, he should be the easy choice at #1 overall.
Tier 2: Possible stars with a few warts to work through
2. Scottie Barnes 6’8″ PG FSU
I have written an extensive analysis of Barnes, but the cliff notes are that he checks every box for upside in a way that we have rarely seen before. He is 6’8″ with a 7’2.75″ wingspan, and while not the most explosive athlete is fluid and agile with a good handle. He also is an exceptionally good passer for his dimensions and plays under control making good decisions with the ball.
He also had a good assist to turnover rate for any height at 1.66. For perspective, this was higher than Steve Nash’s assist:TOV ratio for his first 3 seasons at Santa Clara until his senior season edges out Barnes at 1.69.
He used his length to be disruptive defensively, and often guarded opposing PG’s, although not always well as he was prone to getting beat off the dribble and defensive lapses. He has excellent upside on defense but is currently a work in progress on that end.
His biggest question mark is his shooting as he only made 62.1% FT and 27.5% 3P for FSU. But he had a tiny sample of FTA at 41/66, and in a much bigger pre-NCAA sample he shot 67.5% (166/246) and his form doesn’t look too bad.
If he can eventually become a reliable NBA 3 point shooter and improve defensively, Barnes essentially has an uncapped upside and can make teams feel awfully bad for passing on him.
3. Jalen Suggs 6’4 PG Gonzaga
Suggs is slippery to pin down, as there have not been many prospects to similar to him. The scary angle is that he is a 6’4″ combo guard who recently turned 20 and does not have the best shooting or handle, which is not the ideal archetype to take in the top 3.
But the upside is that he seems to be good at basketball, and may be a big athletic PG who can do it all. He did not play point guard full time for Gonzaga as they often played 3 guards capable of running an offense, and everybody’s assist rate suffered for it. Andrew Nembhard dropped from 33.1% at Florida to 20.2% for Gonzaga, Joel Ayayi dropped from 16.6% the prior season to 12.6%, and Aaron Cook dropped from 27.2% at Southern Illinois to 17.5% for Gonzaga.
Suggs led the team with 23.7% assist rate, and had a solid 1.55 assist to turnover ratio. Given that he also showed exceptional instincts defensively with a 3.5% steal rate, he likely has the vision and instincts to be a good decision maker with the ball as a full time handler.
The question is exactly how much he will be able to create offensively. He is a good athlete but not elite, and his handle can stand to improve as well.
He can get to the rim and finish against set defenses proficiently enough to have a big upside on that end, but whether he hits his upside largely hinges on how much his handling and shooting improve, as he is a capable but not great shooter at 76.1% FT 33.7% 3P.
It’s difficult to come up with a satisfactory comp for him, but he is something like a John Wall or Derrick Rose hybrid with Marcus Smart, where he trades a notch of athleticism for better instincts and IQ.
Perhaps it is crazy to rank a prospect who is so much smaller and worse at shooting above Cade, but Suggs smashes the eye test as a guy who knows how to play and doesn’t have any major weaknesses outside of some minor questions about his skill level.
4. Cade Cunningham 6’8 PF Oklahoma State
It is going to be controversial to rank the consensus #1 this low, but there are serious question marks about Cade.
It is easy to see why he has so much hype, as he has excellent wing dimensions at 6’8″ with a 7’1″ wingspan and is a great shooter for any size as he made 40% 3P and 84.6% FT as freshman for Oklahoma State. He also has a point forward skill set with a 20.4% assist rate and showed competent switch-ability on defense, and it’s just not common to see a prospect with this intersection of strengths.
But before getting too excited with his strengths, Cade has some serious flags to address. First, his assist to turnover ratio was awful at 3.5 vs 4.0. From watching film, his passing just isn’t on the level of the other guys in this tier. He often makes bad decisions, throwing turnovers into traffic or feeding teammates in unfavorable positions that lead to them getting blocked or turning it over.
Further, his self creation was inefficient as he has a somewhat loose handle and was prone to getting stripped. And he was more of a bulldozer who tried to run over defenses instead of finding seams in the defense for easy buckets. Consequently, he shot a pedestrian 46.1% inside the arc and his team performed equal to slightly better with him off the floor.
He also has a suspect motor, as he is sometimes lackadaiscal on defense and has an anemic offensive rebounding rate for his size at 2.3%. This makes it questionable how good he will really be on defense.
If he improves his effort, decision making, and handling, then he has an excellent upside based on his strengths. But these are some nasty warts for a guy to be consensus #1 overall, as he currently has quite a bit of fat to be trimmed from his game.
Tier 3: Quality Prospects with Difficult Paths to Stardom
5. Franz Wagner, 6’9″ SF/PF Michigan
Wagner does not share the high upside of the prospects rated above him, but he fits a mold for being an elite role player that fits into any NBA lineup.
While he doesn’t have the typical strength or athleticism of an NBA stopper, he was an elite defensive player for Michigan based on his unique intersection of dimensions at 6’9″ with 7’0″ wingspan, intelligence, quick hands, and exceptional lateral movement. He is outlier good at containing penetration, and moves his feet laterally better than any wing prospect in recent memory.
He played a huge role in Michigan having the 4th best NCAA defense, as the defense was elite with him on the floor and turned to mush when he went to the bench:
The team was significantly better in each of the four factors with him on the floor, and notably the turnovers. On paper his 2.3% steal rate looks good but not exceptional for a wing, until you realize that Juwan Howard massively suppresses steals in a defense that heavily emphasizes forcing difficult shots over forcing turnovers. Most Michigan players who played for other coaches saw their steal rates fall off a cliff. When you consider that Franz was responsible for 29.1% of his team’s steals, his steal rate is much more impressive.
Further, he did this without heavily gambling, as he was very rarely beaten off the dribble and had a significantly positive impact on his team’s defensive eFG%.
His weakness is that he is not the most athletic or physical player, and had a mediocre rebound rate, which likely sets him below Kawhi and Draymond as an outlier defensive player. But he nevertheless is very good on this end.
Offensively he had a limited 19.1% usage rate. But he was able to create off the dribble in doses as he has a capable handle and is coordinated enough to step through seams in the defense. He shined with his lack of mistakes, as he had an excellent 3.8 assists vs 1.6 turnovers per game. His shooting is a work in progress, as he only made 32.5% from 3 in two years at Michigan and his form needs improvement, but his 83.5% FT offers hope for his ability to develop into a good shooter longterm.
He is not in the top tier without the athleticism or creation upside to have all-NBA upside. But in spite of being a sophomore, Franz is younger than Mobley, Suggs, and Barnes and is only a month older than Cade, and has an awesome role player skill set with a very low rate of making mistakes.
He fits a similar mold to Mikal Bridges and Otto Porter of hyperefficient role player, fits into any NBA lineup, and has very low odds of busting.
Once the possible stars are off the board, it’s difficult to see how taking Franz will be a regrettable choice.
6. Josh Giddey 6’8″ PG Australia
If the intersection of 3 indicators could be used to predict upside, the best choices would likely would be age, height, and passing. And Giddey smashes all 3. Here’s a list of teenage 6’7+ prospects who posted the highest pre-draft assist rate in the past 20 years:
Giddey doesn’t just edge out the competition– he posted *by far* the highest assist rate at by far the youngest age. His passing also eye tests as elite, as he seems to always make the right decision, and even on non-assists often puts his teammates in a strong position to score.
Unfortunately, almost everything else is a weakness for him. Among prospects in the table, he has the lowest steal rate of the group without length to be as disruptive on defense as the typical point forward. He also doesn’t have particularly good frame or athleticism, and isn’t the best shooter (29.3% 3P 69.1% FT) or shot creator.
This gives Giddey one of the most polarizing distributions in draft history, and makes his NBA future extremely difficult to predict. The obvious comparison for him is Lonzo Ball, who is only 2″ shorter at 6’6″ with 1.5″ more wingspan and has similarly overpowered passing and underpowered everything else.
Lonzo had a solidly better steal rate at 2.8% vs 1.8% as well as blocks at 2.1% vs 1.4%, so the prospect of drafting a Lonzo with less defensive impact is not exceptionally thrilling, and there is no doubt Giddey has some non-trivial bust risk.
But Giddey is much more fluid than Lonzo, who may be the most awkward lottery prospect of all time. If he can parlay his fluidity into a capable scoring ability and develops a decent outside shot to boot, that may be enough to be a weapon offensively with such excellent passing. And he did have better usage (19.6 vs 18.1) and assist rate (36.3 vs 31.4) for Adelaide than Lonzo did at UCLA while being a full year younger, so the greater potential for creation is clearly there.
And even though they are completely different players, it is worth considering how badly Nikola Jokic smashed expectations. Being the best passer of all time at your height range is an overpowered ability when everything else develops well, and Giddey is likely the best passing prospect of all time at 6’7+.
There’s definitely risk in a prospect with such limited skills and physical tools. But if he develops well, Giddey has excellent upside and could be the NBA player that everybody hoped Lonzo Ball would be when he was chosen #2 overall.
7. Alperen Sengun 6’10” PF, Turkey
Sengun does not fit the ideal for a modern NBA archetype, as he is a post-up PF that has become completely obsolete.
At 6’10” with 7’1″ wingspan and limited vertical explosion, he can play as a small center in some situations but lacks the rim protection to be ideal for the role consistently. And it’s not clear if he has the mobility to defend the perimeter, although he has a chance as his feet seem decent enough.
But once you get past the physical limitations, Sengun has a rare combination of skill and IQ. He has a capable handle, and is a sharp passer for his size, averaging more assists than turnovers (2.7 vs 2.4). He is also an exceptional offensive rebounder at 17.5% and shot maker with 63.2% 2P and 79.4% FT. He only made 7/35 from 3, but given his FT% at age 18 it seems likely he should be able to develop into an above average NBA 3 point shooter in time.
And what he lacks physically defensively, he helps atone with high IQ with good steal (2.6%) and block (5.9%) rates. If he proves capable of lateral movement and sharp decision making, he may not be a defensive sieve as feared.
The obvious comparison for him is Kevin Love. Which raises an interesting question– if you knew for sure you would get Kevin Love, where do you draft him in this modern era? It’s difficult to say, but there is a limit to how bearish you can be on such a statistically productive player. And Sengun’s statistical output smashes everybody else in the draft– even Mobley. So there is some wiggle room for him to be even better than Love.
While the prospect of drafting such an archaic mold with a high pick is scary for a modern GM, this mentality could also lead to Sengun being a steal with such a rare combinaton of youth, skill, and intelligence.
8. Jalen Green 6’5″ SG, G League Ignite
Green is universally considered to be a top 4 pick, as he is an exceptional athlete and scorer who was decent in the G League while only turning 19 years old in February.
The downside is that he is an undersized SG at 6’5″ or 6’6″ with a 6’8 to 6’9ish wingspan, and is somewhat one dimensional as a scorer. He has clear all-star upside in the Devin Booker or Zach LaVine mold, and largely deserves his hype.
But he may be slightly overrated with so many bigger and well rounded players slated to go above him. Everybody else ranked above him is a clearly better passer, and he is only slightly bigger than Jalen Suggs. This makes his goodness far from guaranteed and puts a healthy dent in his upside, as he is clearly the weakest link the consensus top 4 along with Cade, Mobley, and Suggs.
9. Jalen Johnson 6’9″ PF, Duke
Johnson is one of the most enigmatic players in the draft. He is a huge point forward at 6’9″ with 7’0″ wingspan and is a great athlete, stuffing the statsheet with bulk output in every category.
But his game is somewhat erratic, as he averaged more turnovers (2.5) than assists (2.2) and is not a good shooter with 63.2% FT and a low 3PA rate.
Also, he quit Duke’s team midseason. His team performed better with him off the floor, and it is not common to see top prospects leave their team midseason, which may suggest that his personality is erratic as his game. I really don’t know what to make of it, perhaps he had valid reasons and it does not deserve a significant reaction in light of his talent. But it is an odd point that makes him a bit uncomfortable to draft over the other talented prospects who do not have any similar nagging question marks.
It’s tough to know where to rank Johnson. His intersection of strengths is very rare, but to be comfortable drafting him a team should want to gather intelligence on what happened at Duke and whether he is worth betting on fulfilling his potential or not.
10. Jaden Springer, 6’4″ SG Tennessee
Springer is a funky guy with funky upside. He is one of the youngest prospects in the draft, turning 19 in September. And he does quite a bit well, as he can handle, pass, shoot, and defend.
On the downside, he is very small for SG at 6’4.25″ with 6’7.75″ wingspan, and is a decent but not great athlete. And he tends to overdribble and live in the mid-range which is a turn off for most scouts. Through this lens, it is easy to understand why he is only ranked 27th at ESPN currently.
But he made 81% FT at Tennessee, and while he shot a low volume of 3PA, there is no reason why he cannot develop his shooting to NBA 3 point range given his age. He can also get to the rim in a pinch, and if he develops his handling and passing he has some potential to operate as a big PG. And he is defensively very good for his size.
There’s not a great comp for him, but there is a lot to like. And he has more PG skills than Gary Harris and overall offensive polish than DeAnthony Melton, so he may have more upside than a mere quality role player.
Frankly it’s not clear that he is a weaker prospect than Jalen Green– he is about 1″ shorter and definitely less athletic and proficient at scoring, but much more well rounded.
11. Isaiah Jackson 6’10” C, Kentucky
Jackson offers an impressive 7’5″ wingspan to go with explosive athleticism, as he was an excellent rebounder and shot blocker with potential for switching at Kentucky.
Offensively he seems fairly raw, but does have hope for shooting with 70% FT and John Calipari is an expert at making futurue NBA stars look like ordinary college players. So if he has more offense than he has shown at Kentucky and his skills develop well, he has potential to be an Al Horford type which would be an outright steal in the late lottery.
The downside is that there’s only one Al Horford and he is much more likely to be a Willie Cauley Stein dime a dozen big. The upside makes him clearly worth a lottery pick, but its likelihood of hitting is less clear which makes somewhere in the late lottery seem like a fair slot for Jackson.
12. Moses Moody, 6’6 SG/SF, Arkansas
Moody is a prototypical 3 + D prospect, as he made 35.8% 3P and 81.2% at age 18, as he turned 19 recently in late May. He complements this with a 7’0.75″ wingspan that should help him hang defensively in the pros.
He is fairly limited as a shot creator, but he does have some interesting perks to his game. He is a good offensive rebounder (6.3%) for a SG, he has low turnover rate and about a 1:1 assist:TOV. And he has a surprisingly high FT rate for a non-creator at 0.482– higher than all of Cade Cunningham (.39), Jalen Suggs (.367), and Scottie Barnes (.339). This makes him both an effective spacer and efficient overall offensive player.
If there is one gripe to be had is that he uses his length surprising not well to generate steals, as he had a disappointing 1.6% steal rate– easily the lowest of Arkansas’s top 6 players. This leaves some questions about how much D he actually comes equipped with, but nevertheless he has an easy path to useful role player.
Tier 4: Now the Draft Gets Boring
13. BJ Boston, 6’7″ SF Kentucky
This may seem like an odd choice to rank this high since Boston is currently ranked 37th at ESPN after a dismal freshman season where he chucked brick after brick shooting 38.4% from 2 and 30% from 3.
But the draft gets horribly uninteresting after the aforementioned 12 go off the board, and there are reasons to be high on Boston.
For starters, he as #4 RSCI and seemed like a top 5 pick entering the season, and playing for John Calipari whose prospects routinely underperform in college, see their draft stock slip, and then overperform in the NBA. And the pandemic added extra randomness and weirdness to the season, which may give Boston further excuse for his relentless bricklaying.
Further, his season was not all *that* bad. He had more assists (1.6) than turnovers (1.4) and shot 78.5% FT, and led his team with 2.5% steal rate. For a wing prospect who is 6’7″ with 6’10.25″ wingspan, that is a solid foundation for 3 + D player who should attempt higher quality shots once he swaps his bad NCAA coach for a competent NBA coach.
His horrible shotmaking is a flag to be sure, but it seems excessive to drop Boston to round 2 just for that when he otherwise fits such a strong role player mold with such strong priors. Especially considering how bland this draft gets post-lottery.
14. Keon Johnson 6’5″ SG Tennessee
The good news for Johnson is that he is young, athletic, and capable of making plays on both sides of the ball.
The bad news is that he is highly inefficient for a small SG, as. he measured 6’4.75″ with 6’7.25″ wingspan with more turnovers (2.6) than assists per game (2.5). He also isn’t much of a shooter, making just 13/48 from 3. His 70.1% FT offers a ray of hope
Personally I would have a tough time getting excited drafting a tiny and inefficient SG, but he is really young and athletic which is more than can be said for most players available at this stage
15. Sharife Cooper 6’1″ PG Auburn
Cooper has an odd profile as a sort of Trae Young lite, which isn’t the most attractive mold since it needs to either hit hard or it is a miss since he is likely going to be a sieve on defense and needs to offer a huge amount of offensive creation to atone for that wart.
But he had an insane 34.3% usage and 51.5% assist rate for Auburn, and that level of shot creation cannot be ignored.
What sets him well behind Trae is that his jump shot is mechanically poor and likely needs to be completely re-worked, as he only made 13/57 (22.8%) 3P on the season. On the upside he did make 82.5% FT, so it’s a reasonable gamble that if he correct his mechanics he may have the natural touch to be a good shooter and realize his upside.
Overall he is a strange value proposition, but Cooper has enough home run upside to be more interesting than most post-lottery, and even if he doesn’t hit his upside perhaps he can be a bench microwave.
16. Jared Butler, 6’3″ PG/SG Baylor
Butler is somewhat of a boring role player, as he is not particularly athletic or adept at getting to the rim, which is a worrisome flaw for a SG in a PG body.
But he is a very good shooter, defensive player, and passer, and was clearly the best overall player on Baylor’s championship team. And he is a young junior at age 20, not turning 21 until August.
He doesn’t have much of an upside as a 3 + D PG who makes intelligent decisions, but he does figure to be an effective role player especially if he plays alongside a bigger ballhandler like Luka Doncic or Giannis.
One note that may dampen his stock is that he was allegedly playing with a heart condtiion for Baylor, and it’s not clear. how significant of a risk it is moving forward. It is plausible that NBA teams deem it to be an unnecessary risk to take and it causes him to slide in the draft.
17. Jonathan Kuminga 6’8″ SF/PF G League Ignite
Kuminga is the epitome of mystery box, as he has an excellent physical profile at aprpoximately 6’8″ with 7’1″ wingspan and good athleticism. For all intents and purposes he is a slightly bigger Jaylen Brown, and if he develops his skill level the sky is the limit for him.
The challenge for him is twofold. First, his skill level is not very good right now. He made just 24.6% 3P 62.5% FT in his G League stint, and has a loose handle that needs improvements.
He is listed as 18 not turning 19 until October. Based on that, he has reasonable odds of improving his skill set enough to be a Jaylen Brown-esque player in due time given his excellent physical tools.
But the second challenge is that it is not clear that he is actually 18 years old. He was born in Democratic Republic of Congo where only 25% of kids are born with birth certificates, and didn’t move to America until 2016 when he should have received advice to lie about his age to maximize his odds of an NBA future.
And there is a HUGE difference between 18 vs 19 vs 20, especially for a kid like Kuminga who you are betting on to make a major leap in skill level. So if he is 18, it is completely reasonable to take him in the #5-7 range as he is currently projected. But if he is 19, he takes a hit to his stock and perhaps belongs in the mid-1st. And if he is 20, he likely belongs in round 2. And if he is 21+, then he arguably does not deserve to be drafted.
Personally, I have no idea what the odds of each outcome actually are. Whatever NBA team that drafts him needs to be diligent on their intelligence regarding his age, because being wrong is very costly. For a quick and dirty estimate, let’s use Kevin Pelton’s draft pick value chart
If we say he should go #6 if 18, #15 if 19, #35 if 20, and #60 if 21+, and give 25% odds to each possibility, his respective values are 2110, 1240, 300, and 50 which average out to 925, or approximately the 21st pick in the draft.
Given that this draft is weak after the top 12, perhaps he can be bumped to the #15-20 range as a reasonable estimate. But that is pure guess work, as I have no clear info regarding his true age.
I don’t want to drop any hot takes about how he is not deserving of being drafted high, because it is unfair to him if his age is real and he gets punished for being born into a terrible situation that nobody would want to live through.
But at the same time, it would have been wise for him to lie about his age upon arrival in America, and if an NBA team is going to invest a top 10 pick in him, they should have a higher confidence in his youth than can be had based on available information.
Ultimately Kuminga is exceptionally difficult to value without any clear evidence regarding his age, and all that can be said is that he is extremely risky to take high lotto without any special intelligence that his age is likely accurate.
Davion Mitchell 6’1″ PG, Baylor
Currently projected to go #8 overall at ESPN, he is being sold as the next Patrick Beverley as he is a good defensive PG with the nickname “off night” for his reputation of shutting down his matchup defensively.
Offensively he has a quick first step and can get to the rim often enough, averaged 5.5 assists vs 2.4 turnovers, and made 44.7% from 3. So at a glance it would seem that he offers enough to be decent on that end and justify his defense.
But when we dig deeper, there are some flags. First he is 22 years old turning 23 in September, which is fairly old. Second, he was dismal offensively as a 21 year old sophomore, posting an anemic 100.5 ORtg on 19.1 usage. It’s very difficult to be that limited offensively that old as a little guy and thrive in the NBA.
He did clearly improve as a junior, but the biggest part of his leap was increasing his 3P% from 32.4% to 44.7%. But his FT% did not improve, and was actually slightly worse declining from 66.2% to 64.1%. This makes it unclear how much he actually improved his outside shooting vs happened to make more due to small sample size variance.
He did improve his 2P% and passing as well, as his handle likely did improve. But his handle remains fairly weak for his age, as he does not look particularly comfortable doing anything off the dribble in traffic, and moreso is capable of finding opening that present himself due to his quickness.
Most likely he is a mediocre shooter and mediocre ball handler who is too old to progress these skills to an NBA starter level, especially not for a 6’1 guy with 6’4″ wingspan where skill is paramount to success.
Yes he is very good defensively, but defense cannot be the main skill for somebody taht small with so many offensive warts. Especially when he comes with an anemic 1.7% ORB, 8.0% DRB rate and a low FT rate and isn’t the most physical player, it’s worth wondering if he is truly as good as his reputation on that end.
Most likely he will be an outright bust or an ordinary bench player, and it is difficult to see how his lottery hype is justified.
This is espcially true when he has a teammate who was better at just about everything while being 2 years younger and 2″ taller. Mitchell is more athletic and slightly more proficient at creating his own shot at the rim, but that’s a small advantage compared to Butler being outright better.
It is difficult to say exactly where to rank him because entering the season he did not even vaguely resemble a prospect and now his hype is out of control.