After writing about consensus is prone to overrating imagined upside and underrating simply being good– let’s apply this to 2023:
Tier 1: The Two Guys
1. Victor Wembanyama
Based on box score numbers, Wemby looks to be in a similar tier with Luka Doncic as a generational prospect. Thus far this season he is posting a 26 PER in France’s Jeep Elite, compared to 22.8 PER for Luka who was ~2 months younger in his final pre-draft season against more difficult ACB + Euroleague competition. Wemby’s better PER approximately cancels out with Luka’s tougher schedule, so it’s difficult to pick one over the other from strictly box score production.
What is interesting is that Luka slid to #3 behind DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley, and the Hawks electing to trade down for Trae Young for a nominal fee of a future pick that became Cam Reddish. Meanwhile Wemby is getting hyped as the best prospect since LeBron, or by some as even a better prospect than LeBron.
The logic behind this is simple– he is 7’4 high volume scorer who can shoot over anybody and accrues a massive block rate. It is easy to envision what if he is a rim protecting Kevin Durant who breaks the NBA by making massively positive impact on both ends of the floor.
But the issue with this logic is that it hinges upon Wemby’s weirdness working in his favor rather than against it. On average weirdos have higher error bars, and if you want to call somebody the best prospect in 20 years, they better be guaranteed studs. And there are a few questions to answer with Wemby:
First– how tall is too tall? Kareem Abdul -Jabbar is the tallest example of a player to have a long and healthy career at 7’2. Above that height injury issues are more common. The career leader in minutes played for 7’3+ players is 7’4 Mark Eaton, who had less than half of Kareem’s 57446 career minutes with 25169.
The best players at that height have been Yao Ming whose career was cut short by injuries, and Arvydas Sabonis who played a less physically demanding game in Europe for most of his career and didn’t debut in the NBA until age 30. Both were substantially thicker than Wemby.
Kristaps Porzingis has similarities to Wembanyama, and after showing promise defensively early in his career as a rookie, injuries have limited his availability as well as defensive impact when he does play.
Remembering Ralph Sampson
Ralph Sampson was nearly a doppelganger to Wemby both physically and in terms of pre-draft hype. He went #1 overall and was elected to 4 straight all star games to star his career in spite of being a merely average player statistically, before getting derailed by injuries. Over a 40 year stretch of #1 overall picks from 1977 to 2016, Sampson has the 5th lowest career win shares ahead of only Anthony Bennett, Michael Olowokandi, Greg Oden, and Andrea Bargnani and slightly behind famous busts such as Kwame Brown and Pervis Ellison.
Granted, Sampson had some major red flags in his statistical production in his 4 years at Virginia, including a lackluster career 157 assists vs 342 turnovers while averaging a pedestrian 16.9 pts on 56.8% FG and 65.7% FT. He did average 11.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks while the team had an excellent 4 year run, but he was obviously overrated with a quick glance at the stat sheet in a way that Wemby is not.
But Sampson is at minimum a sign that being a 7’4 stick monster is not the ideal physical profile for a long and healthy career. And it may not be ideal for NBA translation. Especially for a prospect like Wemby who plays a more perimeter style offensively. While he has the reach to shoot over anybody, who knows how he fares handling the ball vs. guards a foot or more shorter than him. Durant can already shooter over almost anybody at 6’10, so perhaps Wemby’s 6 inches of additional height only make it easier to pick his pocket since he needs to dribble further from the ground.
Wemby vs. Luka
The other issues compared to Luka are that Wemby plays on a much worse team. Luka won the Euroleague championship with Real Madrid and was the Final Four MVP. Real Madrid had +6.4 PD in EL that season, whereas Wemby’s French team is +3.8 in Jeep Elite.
There are two Jeep Elite teams also competing in EL: AS Monaco is +8.9 Jeep -0.2 EL, and ASVEL Basket is +5.7 Jeep -4.8 EL. If EL is approximately 10 points harder than Jeep, then Wemby’s team would be around -6 EL and approximately a +12.5 neutral court underdog to Luka’s Real Madrid team.
Luka had more talent around him, but it is nevertheless better to lead a higher level team against higher level competition. And he was in an elite star mold of a big wing that can run an offense.
Luka also looked like a generational prospect in his second to last pre-draft season, whereas Wemby did not. Luka posted 17.9 PER between ACB and EL, whereas Wemby posted a 17.7 PER in the soft Jeep Elite and a meager 12.5 PER in his 13 Euroleague games.
Wemby was just a skinny kid at that time and has made the desired leap this season. But needing that year to adjust may be a sign that his physical profile is not quite as optimized for higher levels as Luka. Wemby is going to be a skinny kid when he enters the NBA, and it is not clear how well he fills out over time, and he definitely is not going to become a tank like Giannis in time.
Luka was obviously great through and through. There were essentially no holes to be poked in his profile, although 3 NBA GM’s somehow managed to do so by passing on him. On the other hand Wemby is probably great, but there is so much more weirdness and question marks and doubt, that it is simply wrong to rate him as the better prospect.
He is still a legitimate #1 overall prospect because his production and upside are too great to ignore. But he should be perceived as more a Zion type of prospect than a can’t miss star. Wemby and Zion share monstrous production, but an odd distribution of traits and atypical physique that collectively add downside risk that does not come with LeBron and Luka type prospects.
He definitely has a chance of living up to the hype. There is no reason why he cannot be as good as or better than Yao Ming, who is in the hall of fame. But the level of froth that puts him as a LeBron level prospect is too much. The masses have already been duped by a giant stick monster 40 years ago in Ralph Sampson. Wemby is more exciting than Sampson, but merits a bit of caution in hyperbolic declarations before letting history repeat.
2. Scoot Henderson
I don’t have the best read on Scoot at this time. He seems good to be sure, but it’s difficult to say how good. 6’2 PG isn’t the best mold in the world. My best guess is that he projects to be a slightly better version of De’Aaron Fox, which is much better than any of the NCAA prospects but not enough to usurp Wemby’s slot at #1.
Tier 2: The Decent Guys
Honestly it feels wrong to rate anybody #3 in this draft because nobody stands out as particularly exciting after Scoot and Wemby. Instead let’s just rate five people at a tie for #7 because all of these guys feel too high with a top 5 rating.
7. Gradey Dick
Dick has checked all of the boxes for an NBA 3 + D wing thus far for Kansas, let’s jump straight into the obvious optimistic comp of Kyle Korver per 100 possessions:
Looking back at Korver’s stats it is *insane* he slid to 51st overall. He was so obviously good, and while he was playing for mid-major Creighton they made the tournament in each of his 4 seasons. He should have been a lottery pick, but people weren’t that smart back then.
Dick’s shooting percentages are a bit lower and his 3PA rate is somewhat significantly lower, although that is hardly a knock on him as Korver had outlier good shooting in college. Dick compensates for this by having half as many freshman turnovers with only slightly lower assist rate while also being an inch taller at 6’8 vs 6’7.
And looking at Korver’s 4 year averages, he did not see any growth that would be unattainable for Dick to match.
Dick’s shooting is still a small sample, so we will see where his percentages settle after a full season. But even if he is not quite a Korver level shooter, he has a clear path to being an efficient 3 + D wing that is heavily coveted in the modern NBA
7. Cason Wallace
Cason is a Jrue Holiday-like prospect, as he is a defense first PG with solid size for the position. That said he is likely not quite on Jrue’s level. At Kentucky’s Pro Day, he measured 1″ shorter than Jrue (6’3.25″ w/ 6’6 wing vs 6’4.25 w/ 6’7 wing). And while his defense looks intelligent and fundamentally sound most of the time, he is somewhat prone to getting blown by. So calling him Jrue level seems optimistic.
He also curiously measured with small hands at 7.5″ length and 7’5″ width. The last prospect to have such small hands at the combine was 5’8 Tyler Ulis. And the last prospect to have small hands and succeed was TJ McConnell who was 0.5″ less wide. Wallace is 3″ taller 4″ longer and more athletic than McConnell, but they did have similar freshman statistics per 100 poss:
A range of TJ McConnell to Jrue Holiday isn’t super exciting, especially after Jalen Suggs has failed to live up to the Jrue comp early in his career. But it’s about as decent as you can hope for after Scoot and Wemby. And there is always the bonus that Calipari prospects often perform better in the NBA than their NCAA stat sheet suggests.
7. Brandon Miller
Brandon Miller is a 6’9 wing having an excellent shooting season for Alabama. It’s difficult to come up with an adequate comparison of somebody his size with his shooting. Jabari Smith is the closest comp, except Jabari was 1″ taller, 1.5 years younger, and eyetested better defensively for Auburn. Through that lens it is scary to get high on Miller, but it’s also too soon to get too down on Smith. He is still young and in a bad situation playing alongside the worst backcourt in the NBA.
Conversely his numbers are similar to Cameron Johnson’s output as a 5th year senior for UNC when he was 2 years 8.5 months older.
Like Dick, he projects to be a solid 3 + D role player. Per 100 poss:
Dick is a full year younger with better FT% and better shooting reptuation entering school, as well as better assist:TOV and steal rates. So it seems like Miller should be rated worse. But he is 1″ taller, more athletic, and better rebounding, so he may not be too far behind.
Miller also has excellent on/off splits for an overachieving team, especially offensively for a player who has limited creation value. It will be interesting to see if this holds up over the remainder of the season.
7. Kyle Filipowski
Flip is a strange prospect. It’s not easy to comp him. For 7’0 big lacking pop, BartTorvik.com seems more interested in comping him to athletic wings. His top 10 statistical comps include Al-Farouq Aminu, James Johnson, Kawhi Leonard, Precious Achiuwa, Terrence Jones, Jabari Parker, and Jayson Tatum. His top 20 includes Cade Cunningham, Tobias Harris, Blake Griffin, and Josh Jackson.
The defining characteristics that gets these comps are that Flip has a high usage rate, gets a load of rebounds, and has a good steal rate. He is also a capable shooter making 77% FT and attempting 3.6 3PA/game at 29%. He checks most of the boxes that you would want from a star wing, except he is 7′ tall which makes him super interesting.
What makes him less interesting is the lack of grace to his game. He will inevitably get compared to Lauri Markkanen, but he does not share Lauri’s fluid coordination. Offensively he tries to barrel his way to the rim and throws up an off balance layup that misses a bit too often. Further, while he seems to have a nice handle and is capable of making impressive passes off the dribble, he has barely half as many assists (32) as turnovers (63). His game can get sloppy.
On the perimeter he has surprisingly decent mobility and quick hands, and holds his own on switches. That said he is beatable, sometimes in comical fashion. Sometimes he gets juked badly because of his poor balance. Against Wake he fell down and conceded a layup to Cameron Hildreth, and 165 pound Terquavion Smith easily discarded him and probably set the record for the biggest size disadvantage to make the “too small” gesture.
Collectively, Flip has an odd distribution of traits. He has a tantalizing intersection of strengths, but his funky array of flaws makes it difficult to know what it will sum up to in the NBA. He certainly has a nice weirdo upside tail, but it is difficult to be extremely confident in his goodness with such an unique profile.
7. Anthony Black
Black offers a bit of everything for a wing. He can handle, pass, make plays on D, and his shooting is not broken with 30% 3P and 71% FT so far this year.
The only issue is that he does not have one major strength to get excited about. He can create some offense, but not a high volume. He is somewhat turnover prone and not that efficient. And while he has a good steal rate and defensive instincts, he isn’t an elite stopper on D.
In some ways he reminisces of Cade Cunningham with mediocre shooting. Which is somewhat boring, but still can be a decent player.
8. Taylor Hendricks
9. Jarace Walker
6’9 Hendricks and 6’8 Walker are a couple of small NCAA bigs that will be likely converted to big NBA Wings. Based on the statsheet, Jarace is the slightly more productive of the two:
Walker has a bit more productivity across the board, although Hendricks has a slightly lower turnover rate and better shooting signal. Walker is making 42% from 3P but that’s a tiny 22/52 sample and based on his 3PA rate and FT% it is not to be trusted. Hendricks is making 38.5% on a decent 3PA rate with a solid FT% to back it up, and is the better bet to be a good NBA shooter.
On paper Walker has some promising defensive indicators, as his rebound, assist, steal, and block rates for a top 10 defense and the #1 kenpom team in the country to go with a strong frame and great dimensions at 6’8 with 7’2 wingspan. But he does not move well laterally, and is prone to jumping at everything defensively. He has made a positive impact on Houston’s offense, but the defense has been better with him on the bench. He does have good instincts at jumping the passing lanes for steals, and is far from hopeless on D, but there should be some concerns about his ability to defend the perimeter in the NBA.
Conversely, Hendricks moves well on defense, and in tandem with his shooting signal, 6’9 height, and positive assist:TOV ratio, he is a solid bet to seamlessly fit into NBA lineups as a big wing. He also blocks enough shots to possibly work as a small big, but his rebound rate is a bit underwhelming to project him as a full time center.
These two even matched up head to head a couple of times, and Hendricks was able to blow by Walker for a dunk whereas Hendricks stayed in front and forced Walker into tough floaters. Walker did draw a foul on both occasions, but they were borderline calls and he wasn’t close to getting a step on Hendricks either time.
The downside of Hendricks is that he not does have any major strengths. He seems like he can be a capable NBA player on both ends, but there is no clear calling card to greatness. Realistically you are hoping for something like Jerami Grant when you take him. He likely will not be an all-star, but he is the type of player that every team will find to be useful.
Walker’s NCAA numbers are a near doppelgänger for Bobby Portis. He also projects as a solid role player type, and even if he is slightly better in NCAA the mobility concerns are enough to put him right below Hendricks for now.
10. Dereck Lively
Lively started the year injured and missed Duke’s first game, and struggled to produce upon his return. In ACC play he was relegated to a limited bench role, and was hardly looking like a relevant prospect.
But then he was re-inserted to the starting lineup against Georgia Tech, and has had an excellent 4 game stretch where is finally starting to live up to the #2 RSCI hype. His numbers across the board look like a completely different player than his lackluster first 18 games:
Lively’s primary selling point is his defense. He has monstrous dimensions at 7’1 with 7’7 wingspan, and is fairly mobile for such a giant. Aside from being an excellent rim protector, guards have struggled badly against him on switches lately. He has blocked stepback 3 point attempts from Cameron Hildreth and Jordan Miller in recent games, and bothered others on contests forcing bad misses. Guards have had limited success trying to blow by him as well, and even if they get a step he can still recover and block their shot at the rim.
His other selling point is his excellent assist:TOV ratio for a shotblocking big man. He has 21 assists vs 17 tovs on the season, which crushes Rudy Gobert pre-draft who was a gross 11 vs 41 his final season in France in spite of being ~2.6 years older than Lively at the time. Mo Bamba has not fully lived up to pre-draft hype, and that may be related to his 15 assists vs 46 turnovers at Texas in spite of being 9 months older than Lively.
Even if we look at positive examples, his current ratio of 1.24 edges out Anthony Davis (1.22) and Evan Mobley (1.2). Given that passing correlates with defense, and he has the tools to be elite defensively, Lively has clear DPOY upside.
That said– it is not completely fair to compare Lively’s assist:TOV ratio to a guy like Mobley, who was actually capable of handling the ball and making plays offensively. Part of the reason why Lively has such a low turnover rate is because he does essentially nothing offensively outside of dunk and occasionally shoot a 3 where he is 1/9 on the season.
Most of his assists are simple kick outs to the perimeter for 3’s. While it is helpful that he is finding open shooters, his offensive game is painfully rudimentary. He does not appear comfortable with the ball anywhere outside of dunking range, which puts extra creation pressure on the perimeter players.
This is not necessarily a death knell as Rudy Gobert has made a major impact without much offensive skill, as well as other low usage bigs such as Tyson Chandler or Steven Adams. But it is worth noting that Lively is decisively a one way player.
His other issue is that he has been a massive foulbox, averaging 5.9 fouls per 40. He has avoided fouls a bit better since getting back into the starting lineup, so it would be nice to see if he can trim that rate down with the incentive to play heavy minutes. But this is another area where he pales in comparison to Mobley who had a microscopic 2.1 fouls per 40. Lively’s foul rate is currently approximately equal to that of Jaren Jackson Jr., which is not a death knell since JJJ might go on to win DPOY this season, but still would be preferred to see it trimmed down.
It would be nice to see Lively sustain his recent level of play for the remainder of the season before getting too high on him. But if he does, it will not be difficult to buy into his potential as a DPOY candidate who can be an efficient garbage man who avoids mistakes offensively.
Tier 3: Starting to get thin
11. Jett Howard
Jett has elite skill level for a 6’8 wing, making 39% 3P on huge volume with 80% FT, and is averaging an excellent 2.3 assists vs 1.3 turnovers.
He has in NBA dad in Juwan Howard which is historically a positive signal, and it’s hard to not get excited about the prospect of him playing in an NBA offense.
But he rebounds worse than a small point guard, pulling in just 1% of offensive rebounds and 8.3% defensively for a total rebound rate of 4.8%.
For comparison, Trae Young had a TRB of 5.8%. 5’8 Isaiah Thomas was 6.5%. 5’11 Shane Larkin was 6.3%. It’s difficult to find guards with lower rebound rates who were drafted. 6’2 Davion Mitchell and 5’9 Tyler Ulis were both barely lower at 4.5% for their career.
Jett is really pushing the bottom of the barrel for rebound rate in spite of having good wing height at 6’8. Perhaps he improves this by the end of the year, but time is running out.
Further, he has a poor steal rate, his defense eye tests badly, and his team has been a big underachiever so far this season.
Overall there is a decent amount of appeal here but Jett’s warts keep him out of the top tier of NCAA prospects for now.
12. Cam Whitmore
Whitmore is a young and dunky wing who is a capable shooter and racks up rebounds and steals.
His downside is that he averages a disgusting 0.6 assists vs 2.0 tovs, and after missing a few games to start the season a thin Villanova team has not noticeably improved from him replacing low tier minutes.
So he technically has “upside” but there are some concerning red flags that create a nasty downside tail. It’s tough to place him, so we’ll just stash him in the back of the lottery for now.
13. Trayce Jackson-Davis
At a certain point we need to pause from taking mediocre freshmen and take a good upperclassman.
Trayce is having a monster senior year for Indiana. He is currently posting the 7th best BPM in the past 5 years at 14.6. He turns 23 in February so he needs to be great, but he has some shades of Brandon Clarke who was also an old, undersized and highly productive big when he was drafted:
Clarke was one of the few players in the past 5 years to post a higher BPM than Trayce thus far at 16.3, and overall had a slightly more productive senior season on the heals of his insane efficiency inside the arc, making 70.5% from 2. But Trayce is a better rebounder and passer, and has a reported 7’2 wingspan compared to Clarke’s 6’8.
While he is not a guarantee to match Clarke’s productivity as a role player, there is no clear obstacle blocking him from success. He is long, smooth, athletic, and highly productive. It’s scary that he is a 23 year old undersized big who doesn’t shoot 3’s, but the same was true for Clarke and he was Memphis’s best player in their opening round playoff series win vs Minnesota last year.
It’s a limited mold, but it is not a fatally flawed mold. And at a certain point it is worth taking the good players in less desired molds over the bad players in highly desirable molds. Perhaps this is a bit too soon for TJD, but it is hard to underemphasize that the draft is mostly terrible at this point and there are not many compelling choices to rank above him.
14. Keyonte George
Keyonte George is basically OJ Mayo. He also has some shades of Coby White. He’s just a mediocre combo guard who can handle, pass, and shoot, but is not great at any and is also not a great athlete which leaves him with no clear calling card to success.
But who knows, maybe he develops well and becomes Jamal Murray. He is definitely less appealing than Murray at the same age, but has shown enough to not quit on him entirely.
15. Brice Sensabaugh
Sensabaugh has been a scoring machine for Ohio State, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 23.9 minutes on 51.9% 2P, 46.6% 3P, 80.8% FT.
Based on that he is more interesting than most of the other guys in the draft. But it comes attached with a few flags. First he is a black hole offensively, averaging 1.0 assists and 1.8 turnovers per game at 6’6. Second, he does not put much pressure on the rim and is highly dependent on midrange scoring. And his steal and block rates are low and he has a high foul rate that has limited his minutes to 24 per game. There is serious concern he is a sieve on D.
Personally I have not gotten around to watching him yet. So no strong opinion at this time. But at a glance his shooting and scoring make him semi-interesting, but that interest is limited by an overall profile that suggests he is a one dimensional chucker.
16. Noah Clowney
Clowney is 6’10, athletic, and super young as he does not turn 19 until shortly after the draft on Bastille Day.
In spite of his youth, Clowney is averaging 10 pts and 8.3 rebounds in 25.3 minutes starting for one of the best teams in the country in Alabama.
He is also a somewhat capable shooter, at least for his height and age making 27% 3P on 3.4 3PA per game and 61.3% FT.
But he is still incredibly raw, and has disappointingly low steal and block rates for his physical profile. He is prone to being jumpy on defense as well, as he occasionally will have lapses where he yields a clear path to the rim for the opposing ball handler. To some extent this can be forgiven for youth, but it is somewhat of an odd flaw that makes it difficult to get too high on his upside.
That said, Clowney is nevertheless a reasonable upside swing compared to everybody else on the board.
17. Nick Smith
Smith has been limited by injuries to just 5 games so far this year, so of course somebody will draft him high since NBA teams love to gamble on mystery boxes.
But his pre-NCAA profile was not particularly strong. At 6’5 185, he is a small SG whose main selling point is his ability to score on mid-range pullup jumpers and floaters. This is pretty much the worst and most overrated brand in the draft.
He had poor rebound, assist, steal, and block rates in AAU, and they have not been better in his 5 game NCAA sample.
So he’s probably not very good. And with two separate injuries limiting his season so far, he also may be fragile to boot. In a normal draft he should likely be rated lower, but this draft is super thin so let’s stash Smith right outside of the lottery just in case this mystery box contains a boat.
18. Brandin Podziemski
Podz was the #79 RSCI freshman last season, but could only manage 66 total minutes on an experienced Illinois team. So he hit the transfer portal and has spent his sophomore season at Santa Clara where he has flourished.
He is a 6’5 SG with a crafty offensive game where offers a bit of everything. He can handle, pass, and shoot, and has been highly efficient as a lead guard for a solid Santa Clara team.
His downside is that he is not particularly quick or athletic, and may struggle to defend quicker guards in the NBA. But he does have good instincts that have helped him generate a good 3.1% steal rate, and he has a strong frame and excellent motor that has helped him rebound exceptionally well for a guard. He is constantly chasing loose balls and diving on the floor.
He may be a liability on defense, but he has enough redeeming qualities such that he may not necessarily be a disaster on that end. His team defense has been much better with him on the floor, and he is not that bad of an athlete. For instance– he has 5 dunks and 10 blocks on the season compared to projected lottery pick Keyonte George who has 1 dunk and 4 blocks, but nobody is questioning George’s athleticism.
It’s easy to fall into the mindset that a not super athletic mid-major player has limited upside. But let’s take a moment to compare Podz to the best Santa Clara alum in NBA history at the same age, per 100 possessions:
They aren’t exactly the same mold– Nash higher assist rate shows that he was more of a pure PG, and his higher 3PA rate and FT% suggests that Podz isn’t quite on his level as a shooter.
But on the flipside, Podz creates offense in the arc at a higher volume and efficiency, and in spite of his lower assist rate and higher scoring output, he has a better assist:TOV rate than Nash. He has been excellent at avoiding turnovers in spite of his large offensive role, and his passing looks better than his assist rate suggests. He likely could play a more PG type role if he was willing to make more risky passes that may result in a turnover.
And of course this doesn’t even touch on Podz being 2″ taller with more steals and blocks and more than 2x times as many rebounds.
Granted, this doesn’t mean that he is necessarily going to be as good or better than Nash. He hardly looked like a future NBA star at this stage, and there are plenty of mid-major prospects who posted similar or better numbers to Nash at this age who failed to amount to anything in the NBA.
But this should dispel the notion that Podz is a low upside player because he plays for a mid-major. There is a reasonable case to be made that he is the highest upside SG in the draft. Nick Smith (#6) and Keyonte George (#9) rate much higher than Podz (#84) on ESPN’s board, but outside of being 5* recruits and almost a year younger, there is not much to point at that gives them more potential.
As mentioned earlier, his greater dunk and block total suggests he may be a better athlete than George, and on the court George does not do anything that Podz does not. Podz may be a bit less athletic than Nick Smith, but not by a huge margin as Smith is often pulling up for floaters and mid-range shots instead of getting all the way to the rim. And Podz atones with a stronger frame and better basketball IQ.
And even though they have better recruiting pedigree, Podz was a 4* who initially committed to a good high major team. He had good pedigree himself.
And let’s not even get started on the twins ranked 3rd and 4th who are hardly posting better stats against joke tier competition while being a month older than Podz has put up vs a solid NCAA schedule.
The only real concern is if his inability to get any minutes as a freshman for Illinois is indicative of some deeper flaw. So let’s see how the rest of the season unfolds before actively declaring him as the best SG in the class. But if he sustains his current level of production down the stretch, he has a serious case as being the best SG in the class and one of the few interesting non-freshmen in this draft crop.
19. Julian Phillips
Phillips is hardly a world beater as a fairly bland role playing SF, but it is difficult to reconcile why he is slotted at #44 in ESPN’s rankings.
He is 6’8 with decent athleticism, makes 80.9% FT, has more assists than turnovers, and is starting for the #1 Kenpom defense in the country with solid on/off splits.
His downside is that he struggles to make shots from the floor making just 43.8% 2P and 27.8% 3P on 1.6 3PA/game. But his FT% offers enough hope that he can eventually become a decent 3 + D wing in the NBA, so it’s tough to see how he belongs in round two.
20. Zach Edey
At this point the draft is more or less out of guys that have decent odds of providing NBA value in a traditional mold, so it’s time to get weird.
Edey is currently rated as a late 2nd round pick at ESPN at #58 overall, and the reasons are fairly straightforward. He is a 7’4 giant who excels in the low post and is too slow to chase guards around the perimeter in the NCAA, so he is simply entering the league at the wrong time.
But it is unfair to lump him in with every other productive but slow college big in recent memory. In 14 years that sports-reference.com has been tracking PER, Edey currently is posting the best PER this season. The second best PER over that span was Edey last year. He is an incredibly rare talent.
Slow giants are dying out because they typically cannot punish smaller bigs on offense as efficiently as well spaced offenses can punish them on switches defensively. But how does that value proposition play out if a slower but more skilled version of Shaq entered the league?
Shaq should have been in high school for his freshman year of college, so let’s compare his sophomore and junior seasons to Edey’s career stats. Age weighted by minutes, pace adjusted per 40:
Offensively Edey has slightly better output across the board, although Shaq was slightly younger on average. For the sake of argument, they are approximately equal offensively except Edey is a better FT shooter and can punish teams for defending him by hacking.
Shaq made just 52.7% FT in the NBA. If he made 72.7% instead, he would average an extra 1.8 points per game and his career TS% would leap from 58.6% to 63.2%– a major improvement in efficiency that roughly comes out to an insane +2.7 pts per 100. Edey is shooting 73.2% FT this year, so 72.7% is a fairly conservative longterm target– there is some chance he eventually makes 80%+ in time.
Stylistically, it’s not clear whose style translates better to the NBA. Shaq’s strength and athleticism made him essentially unstoppable in the post, but Edey is 3″ taller and more skilled. He could be unguardable in the way that hasn’t been seen since Kareem’s skyhook by being able to consistently make short range shots over any defender.
The area where Edey falls flat is defensively, where Shaq crushes him with steals, blocks, and athleticism. Edey’s defense would have likely been fine or even good in the 90’s, but nowadays the prospect of him defending a well spaced offense is almost certainly disastrous. UNLESS we see a shift in momentum away from extreme small ball trend and the game regresses slightly back toward bigball.
Why would this happen? For starters, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid are perennial MVP candidates who both play for contending teams. If they match up in the finals, and smaller bigs have a bad time defending them in the playoffs, teams may decide to compromise a roster spot for a traditional big to dust off just in case of such a match up.
Edey could also force teams to roster such a player if he plays a major role on a contender (sound crazy? I’m sure it sounded crazy to the 40 teams that passed on Jokic as well). After all, if he has a Shaq level offensive output that is +2 to +3 points better because of superior free throw shooting AND teams make it worse by trying to defend him with an undersized big, it’s not going to be super easy to make those points back up on the other end. And if teams end up dusting off their archaic big to limit his offensive dominance, he is already helping neuter the opposing offense.
So it’s not as cut and dry with Edey that he is too slow and should be a late round 2 flier like Luka Garza. He is an incredibly rare talent that is so dominant in the low post that he may help regress the game a bit away from the extreme small ball it has become.
And even without that, there is no rule that teams must play switching defense if they want to contend. Perhaps a creative coach can come up with a successful zone defense that hides Edey’s flaws defensively while he posts MVP caliber offensive output.
Edey is undoubtedly risky, there is a reasonable chance he does not fit in as more than a Boban type of big who eats occasional bench minutes. But he has serious upside that is getting massively disrespected with his current late 2nd ranking. Honestly ranking him 20th is erring on the side of caution. Most of the guys ranked higher are going to be bland rotation players or worse.
Edey might be the most efficient low post scorer in NBA history, so don’t be surprised if he roasts 6’10 bigs more aggressively on offense than modern NBA offenses can roast him on defense.
21. Terquavion Smith
Terq’s miniscule 165 pound frame at 6’4 puts him among the lightest NBA players in the league, especially relative to height. This will limit his defensive impact, but outside of being far too slight his defense is pretty solid and he has some PG skill and attempts a boatload of 3PA. He could be a Bones Hyland type and is a reasonable pick in the back end of round 1.
It’s hard to fill out this list with 30 solid prospects. After this the draft gets super fringey. There are likely some decent prospects outside this list, and hopefully I can discern them by draft time. But for now, most the guys outside this list appear to be limited in their appeal. I would probably look at upperclassmen like Oscar Tshiebwe, Jaime Jaquez, Oso Ighodaro, and Josiah Jordan James next.
Do Not Draft List
I wrote about the Thompson Twins and how their top 4 hype is massively unjustified given their low tier competition. I simply would not draft them because it is anti-meritocracy to take 20 year olds playing high school competition over guys who are actually testing themselves against their peers. There is likely a certain point in the draft where it is a reasonable value proposition to take them, but that point is almost certainly going to be after their actual selections since the market seems to massively overvalue them. So the efficient thing to do is to pass and draft somebody who actually has evidence of competent play against their peers.
Lewis checks a few baseline boxes for an NBA wing, as he is 6’7 and has baseline of NBA skills with 36.5% 3P and 83% FT in his two seasons at Pepperdine. He also is a smooth scorer who is capable of creating his own shot off the dribble, and a decent passer. Collectively his size and skill for a wing have earned him #16 spot on ESPN’s board.
But in spite of his skill, he has not been efficient offensively because he turns the ball over far too often. And his defense is bad, as he has bad feel on this end and is frequently out of position. He also plays for a mediocre mid-major team that is currently 1-10 in conference play, which does not inspire confidence.
Statistically he is like a slightly worse Terrence Ross who played college basketball for the same coach. He is not as explosive as Ross, and likely won’t be as good in the NBA, but he has some outs of having a similar NBA career. Ross was never a particularly useful player, but he was competent enough to hang around NBA rotations for 11 seasons, which is something.
More likely he is a Chandler Hutchison type with more 3 and less D. Hutchison is another mid-major type of fluid 6’7 wing who was inefficient in a high usage role and was overdrafted in round 1 at 22nd overall. He never was able to find a niche in the NBA and retired 4 years after being drafted.
The odds of being a T Ross type might be decent enough to justify a selection somewhere in round 2, but he is more likely to bust like Hutchison which makes round 1 seem like a clear reach.
GG is the youngest player in the draft so he has “upside” in the sense that if he makes gargantuan improvements every season he can eventually be good. But right now he is horrendous.
He has good wing size at 6’9 with decent athleticism and 6’11 wingspan. His game hinges mostly on him dribbling around a bunch and then taking mid-range pullups that he makes at a low % of the time. He is shooting 42.2% from 2P on the season, 34.4% 3P, 62.9% FT.
He offers little in the way of passing with an abhorrent 0.8 vs 2.6 turnover average. He is also terrible on defense, and his team has been an unmitigated disaster. They have the 2nd worst kenpom rating of an SEC team in 22 years of kenpom history thus far, narrowly edging out 2012-13 Mississippi State. In terms of SRS, this is the worst South Carolina team since 1964-65.
Recently on social media GG complained about not getting a clutch time touch on offense in spite of having a horribly inefficient season. He later apologized for his comments, but it’s not a great look to have that sense of entitlement without nearly justifying it in terms of his play.
There really isn’t much to like here. GG has been a full fledged disaster on the court and is probably not good enough for the NBA. Somebody will inevitably gamble on him because of his youth and physical profile, but it’s a high risk gamble that is unlikely to yield any significant reward.
JHS offers a bit of everything at 6’6. He can handle a bit, pass a bit, shoot a bit, defend a bit, and he is currently rated #20 at ESPN. Whoever takes him in round 1 would likely be hoping he develops into a Malcolm Brogdon type of versatile guard who fits into most NBA lineups. After all, his freshman stats are not too different from Brogdon.
The difference is that Brogdon made a huge leap after his freshman year, and helped turn Virginia into a top tier program as he won ACC defensive player of the year as a junior and senior and ACC player of the year as a senior. After all of the gains he still went in round 2 and needed better than expected NBA translation as well as unexpected NBA leaps to become as good as he has been.
So basically if JHS takes like 5 major leaps in his play, he can eventually become Malcolm Brogdon. Right now he is vaguely competent at a number of things, but he is still far from good at any of those things. His 39.4% 3P seems tempting, but he is only making 70.8% FT and has a mediocre 3PA rate. He lacks burst to blow by any opponents and often settles for difficult mid-range shots, resulting in 42.3% 2P. His passing is decent but he is not a true PG, and his defense is OK but he is far from a stopper on this end.
The overarching theme is that while JHS doesn’t have any fatal flaws, he does not have any clear strengths either. He is on the older side for a freshman turning 20 shortly before draft night. It is easy to get captivated by his mold but right now he is not a good NCAA player, and it is a risky endeavor to draft somebody who has such underwhelming production.
Emoni is currently rated #42 in ESPN’s ranking, as his hype has massively died down from his hype as the next Kevin Durant from his high school days.
Now at a true freshman age for Eastern Michigan he is averaging 21 pts and 5.5 rebounds per game, and somebody will likely get tempted by his “upside” and end up drafting him or giving him a 2 way deal as UDFA.
But Emoni is hardly making a positive impact at EMU. Coming off it’s all-time worst kenpom rank of #316 last season, Emoni has elevated the team all the way to…#302 at this point. Further, if we check his on/off splits at hoop-lens.com, he hardly seems to be making a positive impact:
Eastern Michigan has the #354 of 363 kenpom defenses, and in spite of being 6’9 it has actually been significantly worse with Emoni on the floor. The offense is better with him on the floor, but it is a relatively small boost given his scoring ability, likely because of his selfish play where he barely has half as many assists (31) as turnovers (56) this year.
He is a skilled shooter making 50.5% 2P 36.7% 3P 79.2% FT, but that’s not enough for a successful NBA career if he is terrible at the team aspects of the game.
Even though he is listed at 6’9/6’10, he is functionally much smaller given his rail thin frame and negative wingspan which most recently measured at 6’7.25″. Do NBA teams really want to buy into a player who is a good but not great pullup jump shooter chucking shots all day while not passing or playing defense at all?
The argument would be that he is young and still may figure it out, but after reading about his offseason arrest, who would really want to bet on his offcourt intelligence? He might be bottom 1% in both on-court and off-court intelligence in NBA draft history.
RSCI hype machines who fall from grace are typically not where value is found in round 2/UDFA. The steals tend to be overlooked hoopers. Given that Emoni has red flags on red flags on red flags, teams are better off if they just ignore him.
Grant Nelson is not currently in ESPN’s top 100 rankings, but there have been viral tweets about him being a sleeper in the draft which is an interesting choice to say the least.
The logic seems to be that he looks somewhat saucy off the dribble for a 6’11 mid-major prospect, and that’s where the appeal starts and ends.
The first issue is that low-major teams rarely have NBA prospects, and North Dakota State is a mediocre low major team. They are currently in the midst of their second worst season in 18 years in D-1, and even their good teams have yet to have an NBA player. In 2014 Taylor Braun looked like he had a chance as a 6’7 do it all wing after leading the Bison to a first round tournament win over Oklahoma, but he never got a chance. So it is especially unlikely that one of their worst teams will have a future NBA player.
Further, it’s not clear exactly how Nelson may contribute to an NBA team. He has a decent handle for his size, but he is not efficient because he turns it over far too often and he is a mediocre shooter making 27% 3P 68% FT on the season.
Granted, his shooting is slightly better based on his career numbers at 31% 3P 70% FT, but that’s still not good. This season he is averaging 1.8 assists vs 2.7 turnovers as a junior, so it’s not like he has secret potential as a passer. He was anemic as a rebounder until this season where he is now decent, and he is likely bad on defense because he is slow and his team is bad on defense.
So it just doesn’t make sense how he fits. He is subpar at both 3 + D which largely dooms his ability to fit in the NBA, so what is his role as a pro? As a 6’11 isolation big who is a subpar passer and can’t find his teammates? There is no angle that makes sense.
Further if we look at his performance in 3 games against top 50 teams in Kansas, Arkansas, and New Mexico, he averaged 10.3 pts 5.7 rebounds 0.3 assists 3.3 tovs on 46.1% TS. There is simply no indication that he does anything at all at any NBA level.
The viral adoration for him is curious to say the least. At best he is a summer league flier, but even then there are plenty of unheralded high and mid-major players who are better college players and fit better NBA molds to take a stab at.