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:
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):
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.