By John Hooper
It was a wild Thursday in Brooklyn on draft night, and we were lucky enough to be in attendance for the fireworks. The Jimmy Butler trade has already been covered ad nauseam and draft grades have been handed out across the internets, so instead I'm going to highlight the 11 points that I feel strongly about after watching from Barclays.
Winner: Philadelphia 76ers
I'm not as high as most on Markelle Fultz, but I still love the move that Philadelphia made to move up to get him. Fultz will be a perfect fit next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as a secondary playmaker and scorer, plus the move also took Philadelphia out of an uncomfortable value versus need predicament it was facing with the third pick. If Fultz can be an effective catch and shoot player when he's playing off the ball, the ceiling is the roof for him and for the 76ers.
That being said, my goodness is Fultz boring. Maybe it's just because he's doing this next to the Big Baller Brand extravaganza, but his interview after being selected reminded me of a fourth grader begrudgingly telling his grandma about the summer camp he went to because she paid for it. Show some juice Markelle! And that's not even mentioning his Twitter gaffe. Thankfully Embiid has enough personality for the whole team.
I also was a big fan of the 76ers' selection of Jonah Bolden in the second round. The rotation will be a bit crowded up front for them, but Bolden profiles as an athletic, modern big who it's easy to imagine playing next to either of the 76ers' fragile franchise cornerstones because of his versatility. Bolden's a high-ceiling player who will likely pay dividends for them down the road, whether that's on the court or as a trade asset.
Loser: Boston Celtics
I don't understand what the Celtics are doing. If you want to contend now, trade this year's number three pick along with a few of your players for Jimmy Butler or Paul George. If you're only focused on contending 3-5 years down the road, keep your first overall pick this year and draft the player most likely to become a superstar. Even if you think you're actually getting Gordon Hayward in free agency, use this year's pick as a piece in a trade for George to build a team that is absolutely in the conversation for the title next season.
Jayson Tatum is a good player (we had him ranked fifth in our final rankings) but since he wasn't the player with the highest ceiling in the draft, it feels the Celtics have added another solid if unspectacular piece to a core that's already too full. It feels like Danny Ainge has become obsessed with assets and flexibility and it's causing the Celtics to straddle both potential timelines for Boston, which is preventing them from maximizing their chance to succeed in either. The Celtics needs to commit to a direction, otherwise they may end up in a purgatory in between 50 - 60 wins and outside the the group of true contenders for the next five years.
What I would've done as the Boston front office is make a trade for George based around these pieces, and kept the number one pick to take Lonzo Ball. Yes, George may still bolt to LA at the end of the year, but one of the main benefits of this would've been getting out from under the obligation of having to pay Isaiah Thomas $40M a year when he's an over-30 point guard. Ball would've also formed an ideal pairing with Avery Bradley, since Bradley could cover quick opposing point guards who'll likely will give Ball trouble, a la De'Aaron Fox last year. I also threw in the move for Trevor Booker because he's a borderline elite rebounder as a power forward and since trading for George would make Jae Crowder expendable. I think Ball - Bradley - George - Booker - Horford is more of a threat to the Cavs than Thomas - Bradley - Crowder - Brown(?) - Horford, but maybe that's just me.
On the bright side, I loved the Celtics' selection of Kadeem Allen in the second round. Allen is a defensive menace who makes life for opposing guards miserable. He's older and his shot is a work in progress, which is why he was available at 53, but there are a lot of similarities in his skill-set and style of play to Avery Bradley. I think it's reasonable to read the tea leaves here and infer that Allen makes Bradley more expendable when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year. Look for Allen to get more playing time than most would expect this season so Boston can see if they've found their new, cheaper version of Bradley.
Winner: Purple Suits
I had no idea this was even a thing, but multiple players wore oxblood suits and it looked pretty fucking great. Shout out to Frankie Smokes, Josh Jackson, and Frank Jackson.
I know I said I wouldn't rehash the shellacking that the Bulls front office has already taken in the media for trading Jimmy Butler, but their selection of Lauri Markkanen bothers me because they used the pick they just acquired to draft a player who's most likely going to essentially be Nikola Mirotic. I've heard people say that Fred Hoiberg is at least finally getting a player for his pace and space system in Markkanen, but Hoiberg's had Mirotic for his entire tenure. Markkanen will likely be a more accurate shooter than Mirotic, but he's worse defensively, so letting Mirotic walk and selecting Markkanen is really only a wash instead of a talent upgrade in my eyes.
If Chicago really wanted to bring in people who could stretch the floor, why not re-sign Mirotic and draft Malik Monk instead? Monk would work best with a defensive-minded backcourt mate like Kris Dunn anyway, and he was the ultimate pace and space player in the draft. Playing Monk alongside Zach LaVine would've been a sieve of lineup on defense, but it would make for some incredibly entertaining hoops to watch.
But to the surprise of no one who's been reading our pieces leading up to the draft, my real recommendation would've been that they take Zach Collins at seven. Collins would fit into Hoiberg's pace and space ethos, and offers immense potential for a team that's willing to let him grow. Chicago would've been a perfect place to let Collins come along slowly behind Robin Lopez for the next two years before letting Lopez leave in free agency and handing Collins the keys. Our (admittedly optimistic) comp for Collins is Pau Gasol, so he's clearly the type of player the Bulls would be interested in.
Overall, let's just say that I have no qualms with the "F" grades that the Bulls have received for their performance on draft night.
Winner: New York Knicks
First off, it's a win that they didn't trade Kristaps Porzingis. Crisis temporarily averted.
Secondly, I love their second round pick of Damyean Dotson. Dotson was ranked 22nd on our big board because he can absolutely rip it from deep. He can play either wing spot, which will lend itself to some welcome lineup versatility. Even with the overall saltiness of the Knicks' situation right now, I would definitely watch a lineup of Ntilikina - Lee - Dotson - Anthony - Porzingis. That's a fun team that could play five-out and put Anthony in situations to abuse poor defenders being left on an island without help trying to guard him one-on-one.
I even like the Knicks' selection of Frank Ntilikina, despite having listed him in our list of most overrated prospects. If the Knicks really are going to try and continue to run the triangle, they may as well take a point guard who has the potential to be as good of a fit as you'll find for it with his length, defensive ability, and a shooting stroke that hopefully can be tightened up.
Let's get out the s'mores and get the gang back together fellas. There's talent here if the Knicks can start moving together in the same direction again.
Loser: Miami Heat
I targeted Miami as a team that was likely to be in a trade because there wasn't a good match of talent and need for them at the fourteenth. Apparently Pat Riley agreed, but instead of trading the pick, he decided it would be best to just take whoever had the coolest name. Unfortunately, Bam Adebayo cannot play next Hassan Whiteside in today's NBA, and Whiteside is on the books through the 2019-20 season for roughly $25M per year.
I still think there may be a move to come here. It just doesn't add up that the Heat would use a lottery pick on a player that seemingly maxes out as a backup center for them for the next three years.
Winner: John Collins
At first, I hated this for Collins, who I consider one of my sons after all the love I've showered him with leading up to the draft. Once I thought more about it, however, I realized that Atlanta could be an ideal place for him to blossom into the player we predict he can be. First, and maybe most importantly, he will be under the tutelage of Coach Bud, whose staff has a great reputation for player development. Another thing that I love about the fit is that with their seeming acceptance that they're about to go through a rebuild, there will be a lot of minutes for Collins to soak up at either the 4 or the 5. And finally, and this is dependent on how the offseason shakes out for the Hawks, but all of the remaining bigs who finished the year on Atlanta's team would pair well with Collins. Paul Millsap, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala, and Kris Humphries are all above average shooters who could help keep the lane clear for Collins-Schröder pick and rolls.
I'm making an early prediction that Collins will come in the top 5 in Rookie of the Year voting. Others I predict will be in the running: Ben Simmons, Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell, and Sindarius Thornwell.
Loser: Oklahoma City Thunder
I'm torn on the Thunder because their front office has frustrated me enough over the past few years that thinking about how I'd manage their roster is now a ongoing narrative in my head, but they're also my least favorite team in the league so I enjoyed a little schadenfreude when watching them have a night like they did on Thursday with their puzzling selection of Terrance Ferguson.
It's obvious that Ferguson has potential, but we had him ranked 44th on our big board going into the draft because he's such a long ways away from contributing at the NBA level. He's not quite Bruno Caboclo, but despite his gifts it's far from a guarantee that Ferguson ever makes an impact in the NBA. Ferguson averaged a 4.6/1.2/0.6 line in 15.1 minutes per game in Australia's National Basketball League. It's safe to assume that the level of competition is worse there than it is in the NBA... so Ferguson may be able to put up similar numbers for the Thunder in a year or so?
What I don't understand about the Thunder and their decision making is that they have a superstar who is in his prime right now. Wouldn't you want to do everything you could to support him and give yourself the best chance to maximize his unique talent? Wouldn't that especially be true if you're in the worst market in NBA and are highly unlike to end up with a talent like his again anytime soon? Why not take Tyler Lydon at 21 and give yourself an actual stretch 4 instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole with Domantas Sabonis there? Then they could've packaged Sabonis in a deal for backcourt depth and shooting such as this, but I digress.
Ok fine, side note/rant: the Ersan Ilysasova for Jerami Grant trade last season still boggles my mind. Ilyasova was the perfect player to have in that slot in their lineup to give Westbrook maximal room to work because Ilyasova's such a good shooter for a 4. His contract was expiring at the end of the year, so if cost was a concern then you could always just let him walk in free agency. But instead they decided to trade him AND a protected first 2020 rounder for a new 8th man. Whyyyyy?!?!
Yes, the Oklahoma City front office has made some great draft picks, most notably Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, and Steven Adams, but I think they're low key a bottom five team at roster and salary management.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
The Jerry West era starts with a bang!
After it came out that Patrick McCaw was ranked 16th on Jerry West's board in the 2016 draft (no link, unfortunately) which lined up almost identically with my personal ranking of McCaw at 15th, I've enjoyed indulging in self-flattery and telling myself that I have similar taste in players as West, one of the best talent evaluators of all time. This year, West selected two of my most underrated players in the second round of the draft, Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, so clearly our telepathy still lives.
I love both picks from value standpoint, as we had both players ranked within the top 25 on our big board and the Clippers were able to acquire them with the 39th and 48th picks. I also love both picks from a fit perspective too. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Thornwell take over for Mbah a Moute as the Clippers' defensive minded forward in the starting lineup if Mbah a Moute declines his player option this offseason. Even if he doesn't end up starting early on, I expect Thornwell to carve out a role similar to Malcolm Brogdon's last year as a 25 minute a night glue guy who does a little of everything to help the Clips win ballgames.
Evans is an intriguing pick for the Clippers as well. Obviously I think highly of Evans, but I never wrote down one thought in particular of mine about him because it felt so hyperbolic: when watching his tape, there were aspects of Evans' game that remind me of Chris Paul's. Look, I don't think Evans is the next Point God, but he he has the same type of frame as Paul (5'11" without shoes, a wingspan that's 5-6 inches longer than their height, 180-185 pounds), and both dominate the ball by alternating between acting as the floor general and attacking the hoop to score. Evans is not nearly the shooter nor the defender that Paul was and is, but Evans is now entering a dream apprenticeship for his development backing up Paul. If Paul leaves, it's obviously a very different story, but having Evans as a potential successor would be a great silver lining if that's how things play out.
While we're here, I'd like to give a few shout outs to other teams who made great second round picks. I loved Milwaukee grabbing Sterling Brown for wing depth. We had him ranked 21st overall on our big board, so nabbing him at 46 was a great value pick. Phoenix made two strong second round selections in Davon Reed and Alec Peters. I doubt either will play significant minutes this season, but both are players who shoot well and should carve out nice careers in the league. I also liked Denver taking Monte Morris at 51. Worst case scenario, Morris should be an elite backup point guard during his career.
A few other acquisitions to shout out, undrafted free agent edition: Washington getting Devin Robinson, Houston signing Cam Oliver, Orlando picking up Derrick Walton Jr., Minnesota signing VJ Beachem and Deonte Burton, and New Orleans adding a desprately needed shooter in Peter Jok.
Loser: Caleb Swanigan
I still think Swanigan will have a long NBA career, but he was drafted into a suddenly crowded frontcourt in Portland. Even if Festus Ezeli's contract is terminated and Meyers Leonard is left out of the rotation, Swanigan will be fighting for minutes with Jusus Nurkic, Al Faruq-Aminu, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, and fellow rookie Zach Collins.
I hope Terry Stotts is willing to push Davis and Vonleh to the bottom of Portland's depth chart and give Swanigan a shot to play relevant minutes with the Blazers' second team this season, because he's the type of player who can make an impact right away and immediately give a reserve unit a go-to scorer. If not, this may be an unfortunate example of how much the situation can affect a player's development and career arc.
If Swanigan's left languishing on Portland's bench, look for a smart front office like Boston or San Antonio to try to pick him up. Something tells me RC Buford would be keen to add DeJuan Blair plus ACLs and a three point shot.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
The rich got richer on Thursday. Given their recent draft day history, it felt like a matter of when, not if the Warriors were going to buy their way into this year's draft. This year they acquired Jordan Bell of Oregon with the 38th overall pick and added to Chicago's miserable night in the process.
We had Bell ranked 18th on our big board, and adding him to the Golden State's lineup does almost seem unfair since his versatile, high-energy defense fits their switch-heavy schemes perfectly. He'll also have world class players taking all the attention away from him on offense and on the offensive boards, which should lead to many easy chances for him. Frankly, I expect Bell to be the Warriors' starting center on opening night, and to play 20 minutes a night as a rookie, as Bob Myers and the Warriors again prove the draft might be simpler than we think.
P.S. - Here are a few pictures and a video from our trip to the draft. Enjoy!
And Barclays' reaction to the Knick's taking Frank Ntilikina, with a special cameo from Nobu Stevens:
By John Hooper
Similar to the article we published about the most overrated prospects in this year's draft, we're back with the five best players flying under the radar. These are the ones who we'll be coming back to in five years from now like how the hell did he last until the 38th pick?!
Let's start at the top:
I may be the biggest Collins lover on the planet, and I'm ok with that. On our last podcast I made the proclamation that Collins future was "bare minimum: Pau", and I've already published an article stating that he's the best player in the draft.
So why is my appetite for all things Collins so ravenous? I like to evaluate players based on who could log major minutes in this year's playoffs, plus whose style will thrive in the league of 3-5 years from now. Would Collins have started in the playoffs this year? Absolutely not. Could he have played a role like he did at Gonzaga where he played 15 minutes and protected the rim, rebounded, and caught lobs for the Celtics? I'm confident that he could've. What I love even more is that in four years his body will have filled out, his shot will be more consistent, and then we'll have a seven footer who's a beast on the block, a great rim-runner, can pick and pop at the three-point line, who's a good rebounder, AND blocks a ton of shots. The only players in the league right now who that could be describing are Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Davis.
Yes, he played a backup role against a weak strength of schedule. No, I don't know why Mark Few was so loyal to Przemek Karnowski. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith on a prospect, and I feel strongly that this is one of those times.
Our Prediction: 8 time all-star. 7 seasons averaging a double-double. Borderline Hall of Famer.
John Collins is the player I'm most excited to see at Summer League. I can't wait to watch him try to destroy the rims at Thomas and Mack on top of the head of some poor G League veteran.
Collins is another player who we already have an article about, but in a nutshell, he's an undersized, highly athletic center who plays like dunks are worth 8 points and layups are worth 4. It's so much fun watching someone hunt out the rim like he does, whether its to bash one down or to simply shoot a high percentage shot near the basket. I'm not quite sure he knows how to pass, and despite the recent videos showing him rain threes he rarely shot the ball beyond twelve feet, but sometimes it just doesn't matter. The guy showed elite scoring and rebounding potential this past year, grading out with perfect scores in both categories in our algorithm.
His defense will likely be fine. Not great, but fine. He won't be an elite rim protector but his team was 4.3 points per 100 possessions stingier with him on the court that they were overall, so he made a positive impact on that end this year for Wake Forest. He also has the quickness to potentially be a player who can comfortably switch onto guards when defending the pick and roll.
My main concern with John Collins is fit. He's more of a power forward with his 6'10", 225 pound frame, but he's a center stylistically. My dream is for the Knicks to take him and pair him with Kristaps. Porzingis could stay bombing threes from the perimeter and leave the rim open for Collins to attack at will. Collins would help cover for Porzingis' rebounding deficiencies, and then both would contest shots in the paint... it might just be too beautiful for the league to handle. But the Knicks'll probably take Frankie Smokes instead.
Our Prediction: 12 year career. 64% career true shooting percentage. Peaks with a 24/12/0 season on 62%/34%/82% shooting.
Everyone wants the next Draymond but no one wants to accept that he's a once in a generation player. What we can do is learn from some of the indicators that told us that Dray should've gone higher so that we can identify a player who may have some similar attributes in the future. I'm here to tell you that that man is Caleb Swanigan.
The consensus on Swanigan is that he will be a fringe first rounder. He's too short, too fat, and he doesn't have a position... sound familiar? Like Draymond he also has an enormous wingspan for his height, has shown a great work ethic, oh and he fucking balls out on the court.
Swanigan was an absolute pleasure to watch on offense this year. On the block he shows an impressive combination of power to establish his position and muscle to the hoop along with nimble footwork and a soft touch at the rim. What excited me most about his pro potential are the two things he focused on last offseason - improving his body and developing a three point shot. He went from being an old school battering ram to a dynamic player who now beats his opponents down the court on fast breaks and steps out for pick and pops. I like what he brings to the table, but I love that he has the awareness and type of character to make such significant improvements to his game in one offseason. Those are the types of attributes that allow you to evolve and thrive in the NBA.
Our Prediction: 12 year career. 7 year starter. 2 time rebounding champ.
Evans is another player we've written about in detail, as we've loved his game for a while now. He racked up the sixth most assists per 100 possessions and scored the ninth most points per 100 possessions out of the point guard prospects since 2011, playing with a very high level of productivity. He's a bit of a throwback in that he's highly ball dominant, and will be best suited to a system where he's expected to be the maestro on offense. But at the end of the day, putting up numbers like that when facing the toughest strength of schedule of any point guard in our database means that that you can play, period.
Evans also projects surprisingly well defensively, having a just barely negative difference of 0.4 points on his defensive rating compared to Oklahoma State's team rating. This is actually a good number for a point guard, putting him at 19th best of the 63 point guards in our database.
The trajectory of Evans' career will be based on how well he shoots the ball, just as it is for so many other prospects. He shot 37.9% from three (on a low volume of attempts) and 81.2% from the free throw line. If he can maintain those percentages and while taking more threes, he'll be on the cusp of multiple all-star nods.
Our Prediction: 13 year career. 8 year starter.
We got on the Sindarius train early. In our pre-March Madness big board we had him ranked 24th, and he's only risen since leading South Carolina on their memorable run to the Final Four.
So why do we like Sindarius? It's about 65% because of his name, and the rest because he's good at everything on a basketball court. In our algorithm he graded out above average in all five categories compared to the other small forwards since 2011. The only others in the group to do that were Otto Porter and Justise Winslow.
I don't expect his scoring to translate as anything near what he was able to do this past year as a Gamecock, but I do think he can be a go-to guy on a second unit and a role player as a starter. He's a player that I can see accepting a new role as a 3&D player, while bringing the toughness and grit to a team similar to the way that PJ Tucker does. In fact, Tucker's exactly who I think Thornwell becomes in the NBA - a good defender who can play the 3 and the 4, shoots well enough that you have to respect him, and is a great presence in the locker room.
Similar to the hunt for the next Draymond, the new buzz is where to find the next Malcolm Brogdon. Thankfully it's not that complicated, since he was on your TV for most of March. Thornwell can help contribute at a position of scarcity and will bring competitiveness and savvy to an NBA second unit from day one. From the twentieth pick on, every team should thinking seriously about picking Sindarius.
Our Prediction: 14 year career. 6 year starter. 1 moment that swings a playoff series.
By John Hooper
As the 2017 NBA Draft draws near, players' draft ranges have begun to solidify. With that in mind, here are the players who we feel are most likely to disappoint based on where they're being projected:
We've detailed Fox's draft profile in our head to head comparison of him and Lonzo Ball, so we'll keep this one brief.
Fox will be a very good scorer in the NBA. He's extremely quick and has great bounce. However, other than getting into the lane to score, what's unique about what he offers? He projects as a mediocre facilitator, he's a terrible shooter who most assume will become at least adequate, and he's an average rebounder. His defense is the one other area where he has a chance to be impactful. He's shown that he can be a pesky on-ball defender, pressuring opponents out of their comfort zone. Can he do that to NBA level point guards though? And will he get bullied because of his lean 170 pound frame? Something tells me the Kyle Lowrys of the league will feast on Fox when he tries to check them.
Fox is a high-character player with great athleticism. That's a great combination and he'll have a 10+ year career in the NBA. The problem is that if he's being drafted in the top five, he'll be expected to be a superstar, and won't be that.
Our Prediction: 12 year career. 0 all-star appearances. 32% career 3P%.
Jarrett Allen has been mocked in the 10-20 range throughout the past year, and it looks like that's still the window that he'll end up being selected within. In some ways that would make sense - he's a young, long center who produced against good competition. However, when you actually look as his body of work, it's much closer to that of an undrafted free agent than that of a borderline lottery prospect.
Allen is the twelfth rated center this year in our algorithm, coming in two spots behind the immortal Luke Kornet. There is nothing that he excelled at in his one year at Texas. Here are his rankings per category in the algorithm (which factors in age and strength of schedule) amongst the sixty centers in our database, :
- Scoring: 27th
- Shooting: 37th
- Passing: Last
- Defense: 34th
- Rebounding: 25th
The confusing part about Allen's current status as a first rounder is that there's an abundance of centers this year, many of which excel in at least one facet of the game. Looking for scoring on the block? Try Johnathan Motley. Want a stretch 5? How about Thomas Bryant? Searching for a rim protector? Jordan Bell can do that. Going high-risk, high-reward? Justin Patton has shown great flashes.
And the list goes on. Add in the general movement of the league away from classic centers and Allen's value should seemingly be even lower. The nail in the coffin here is the concern around Allen's motor and love for the game.
Yes he's young, has a huge wingspan, and has incredible hair, but let's just say our comp for Allen is Patrick O'Bryant.
Our Prediction: 3 year career. Career high of 14 minutes per game.
First off, shout out to Chris Ryan of The Ringer for the Frankie Smokes nickname. That alone was almost enough to change our tune here.
Frank's spot on this list has little to do with statistical analysis since we have no idea what to do with numbers from the European leagues. This is completely on the gut feeling that we've seen this movie before. Player with long, thin frame dominates younger international circuit. Player gets drafted, takes four years to become a contributor, but only after finding his niche once he's gotten used to facing bigger, more athletic competition.
What worries us about Frankie Smokes? Streaky shooting, a weak handle, the international transition, and high expectations. If he gets stashed for two more years by the Spurs before coming over, he's a future all-star. Right now it looks like he's going to the Knicks for the triangle's last gasp. Gulp.
Our Prediction: 8 year career. Evolves into Thabo Sefolosha. Returns France and leads a team there to a championship while back in a featured role.
Giles is likely to be selected in the 15-25 range, completely based on what he did in high school. Yes, he was the number one recruit in his class, but as his number of surgeries have climbed, he's stopped showing what made him that player. He had the seventh worst max vertical leap at this year's combine, being outshone by the likes of Moritz Wagner and Thomas Bryant. His explosion is not back, and it's not guaranteed that it ever will be.
In his short time at Duke, Giles played in 26 games and averaged 11.5 minutes per game. Most telling is that once it was tournament time and Giles was the healthiest he'd been all year, Coach K played Giles for only six and nine minutes in Duke's two games. If Giles wasn't trusted to play major minutes against Troy, how long will it take before he's ready for significant role in the NBA?
In the few minutes Giles did play, he did accumulate stats that forecast him as a plus rebounder and defender. If you're drafting him with the expectation that in four years he can be your dirty-work center, then you'll likely be satisfied. For those thinking they've taking a player who who'll be dominating like he's back at Forest Trail Academy, just remember that we warned you.
Our Prediction: 10 year career. 4 year starter. 2 years averaging a double-double.
Jackson was another freshman contributor this year at Duke, often taking on the point guard duties next to some combination of Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, or Matt Jones. It was a bit of a surprise to see him as an early entry this year after an unspectacular season, but after a stellar performance on the athletic testing portion of the draft combine, he's now being projected as a late first rounder.
One of the main reasons teams like Jackson is his positional versatility, citing how he slid back and forth between the 1 and the 2 at Duke. Yes, Jackson is fully capable of dribbling the ball up the court and starting the offense, but he showed minimal ability as a creator or a distributor. His passing potential grade in our algorithm was 58.5, good for 49th out of the 86 shooting guards in our database. For context, his grade would've been the third worst of all point guards since 2011.
Let's say you don't care about whether or not Jackson can run your offense. He does project to be a good shooter, grading out at 87.6, good enough for 20th amongst all shooting guard prospects. That's great, but his defensive grade of 34.1 is also cause for concern. It's the fourth worst grade of the eighty-six shooting guards our database, and this is with the boost he receives for being young and having a good strength of schedule. Defensively he was bad across the board, generating minimal deflections while also posting a personal defensive rating that was 5.8 points worse than Duke's overall team defensive rating.
Jackson has potential. He's young, athletic, and a good shooter. It's just that at this point he doesn't offer anything else on the court. Think a better shooting Shannon Brown. But shout out to Shannon Brown! If Jackson has a highlight tape like this when it's all said and done, take him top five!
Our Prediction: 7 year career. 2 year starter. 0 dunks as good as number four in that Shannon Brown video.
By John Hooper
Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson have a lot of similarities on the surface. Both were in the national spotlight this season as freshman after being ranked as top three recruits in the 2016 class. Both are listed at 6'8" and 205 pounds. Even their per game stats were similar with Tatum putting up a line of 17/7/2/1/1 and Jackson a 16/7/3/1/2 line. Now they're both top five prospects heading into the NBA Draft.
Just like our head to head comparison of De'Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball, we're going go category by category using the results from our algorithm to help us paint the picture of what makes these two players different and who we'd take first.
Jackson averaged more points per 100 possessions than Tatum and had a slightly higher usage rate, so it was a surprise that Tatum's grade of 80.7 was significantly higher than Jackson's of 68.7 for scoring potential.
So what drove Tatum's higher score? One part of it is how much better he was at racking up points at the free throw line. Per 100 possessions, Tatum averaged 7.0 made free throws to Jackson's 5.1. The ironic thing is that Jackson actually got to the line more often, but the abysmal 56.6% he shot there made free throws a less reliable source of points for him.
The other main data point that drove Jackson's lower scoring grade is something that will be a theme throughout the comparison - Jackson is more than a year older than Tatum. Yes, both players were in their freshman year this season, but how much better could Tatum's numbers have been if he had spent an additional year honing his game at a prep school before playing at Duke?
Expect Tatum to be a player who averages 21-23 points per game at his peak and Jackson to be in the 16-18 points per game range.
It's well known that Jackson struggled with his jump shot this year. He finished the year strong but it was to be expected that his shooting potential score of 64.3 would be a weak point of his profile. Tatum again performed surprisingly well with an excellent score of 86.1, which placed him sixth out of the sixty-five small forwards in our database for his shooting ability.
Again, free throw shooting played a major role in separating the two players. Jackson was the second worst out of the small forward group in free throw percentage while Tatum was fourth best. The free throw line is where much of the situational noise of shooting is stripped away and the truth about a player's skill is revealed.
When comparing how each player's jump shooting form looks today, it's easy to see that Jackson has a number of kinks he needs to iron out while Tatum has a smoother release. Both players have work to do here, but Jackson has further to go to become a consistently good shooter. Look for Jackson to eventually become a 32%-35% guy and Tatum a 39%-42% guy from deep in the NBA, with Tatum shooting a much higher volume.
Neither player performed well in the passing potential category, with Jackson scoring a 53.7 and Tatum a 46.8, putting them at 40th and 56th out of the 65 small forwards, respectively.
Jackson actually had the eighth most assists per 100 possessions, but also had the sixth most turnovers in the group. Both players had poor numbers when looking at their personal offensive rating compared to their team's overall offensive rating, which is a bit of a red flag for both. For Tatum, having a rating that was 4.3 points lower than Duke's overall rating may be an indicator that the isolation-heavy play that he's known for outweighed his individual scoring contributions. For Jackson, having a rating 4.5 points lower than Kansas's overall rating is likely due to a combination of frequently turning the ball over and his reputation as a non-shooter allowing opposing defenses to pack the paint.
I expected the defensive potential category to be an easy victory for Jackson but Tatum again scored surprisingly well here to keep it close. Jackson's score of 90.4 was the fifth best of the sixty-five small forwards while Tatum's 83.1 was still far above average, coming in at twelfth best.
The players had nearly identical numbers for blocks per 100 possessions and also fared similarly on the personal defensive rating versus team defensive rating comparison, ranking in the 12-16 range for both metrics. Jackson did outperform Tatum with the number of steals he was able to rack up per 100 possessions, coming in at tenth in the small forward group to Tatum's twenty-ninth.
Tatum gets a bad rap as a defender with people citing his average athleticism as a death knell. His defensive rating was 2.6 points better than Duke's overall rating, indicating a high level of awareness on defense. His mark here was especially impressive considering his youth and the high level of competition he faced. Don't sleep on Jayson Tatum as a defender!
Both players graded out in the top twelve for rebounding in the small forward group, with Jackson coming out on top, 77.6 to 75.0. One thing to note is that a much higher proportion of Jackson's rebounds came on the offensive end (31.3%) compared to Tatum's (18.3%). I'm calling this category a draw, but my personal preference is for a strong defensive rebounder who can end an opponent's possession. Look for both to average 6-7 rebounds per game in the NBA.
Jackson won three of the five categories, but Tatum has the higher overall grade of 92.4 in our model. When you look at the slash lines that we're projecting for the two players next to each other, Tatum's forecasted 22/7/3 line is more impressive that Jackson's 17/7/4 line. Jackson's superior defense should also be factored in, but so should Tatum's higher likelihood of being a knockdown three-point shooter.
So who do the two players compare most closely to in recent NBA history?
My initial answer for Tatum was Paul George. Both are wiry perimeter players who take and make a high number of tough isolation shots. George has averaged 23/7/4 since coming back from his gruesome leg injury, which is right where I expect Tatum to end up. I've since moved away from this comparison because I can't see Tatum guarding a player of Lebron James' ilk as well as Paul does simply because Tatum's not the athlete that George is. Instead, I'm stealing Bill Simmons' comparison of Danny Granger. Like Granger, expect Tatum to be a 20+ points per game scorer and a fringe all-star.
I've also changed my Jackson comparison recently. I originally projected him as another Shawn Marion - a great defender who filled up the stat sheet despite funky shooting form - but Jackson isn't the rebounder that Marion was. The player who I'm now expecting Jackson to be most like is Gerald Wallace, an impactful player whose offensive game eventually caught up to his high-level athleticism. At the end of the day, Jackson's future really depends on how much he can improve as a shooter, because if he makes a Kawhi-like jump, he'll be a perennial all-star. Also of note is how similar Jackson's profile is to Justise Winslow's in our algorithm.
I'm taking Tatum before Jackson. Jackson has a higher ceiling, but Tatum is more likely to reach his.
By John Hooper
Two of the most memorable clashes of this past year of college basketball were the Kentucky - UCLA duels. The games they played against each other felt like they were at a different level than any other NCAA games this season because of the abundance of NBA talent of the court, making for some highly entertaining games.
At the heart of the matchup was the point guard battle between De'Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball. Now, the two players are now both top five prospects in this year's draft. Their teams split the two games but Fox dominated both matchups statistically. Some point to Ball's body of work as the reason he should be considered as the superior prospect, but others say that Fox emerged as the clearly superior player after lighting Lonzo and the Bruins up for 39 points in their second matchup in the NCAA tournament.
Let's take a dive into how the two players's freshman seasons stacked up versus one another with the results from our projection model.
This is the category where we have our largest gap between the two prospects. Fox only averaged 2.1 more points per game than Lonzo this year, but once all the factors are being taken into account, our models has Fox winning in a landslide here.
Fox received the fifth highest grade of all point guard prospects since 2011 in scoring potential. His aggressiveness, ability to penetrate, and the frequency with which he got to the line all bode very well for projecting him as a scorer. He graded out similarly to Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard here with a score of 91.2, so you can expect him to put up 21-24 points a night.
On the other end of the spectrum, Lonzo graded out as the fourth worst of all point guards in our database. Despite his good size and youth (potential positive indicators), he had the third lowest usage rate and the third fewest free throws made per 100 possessions of the sixty-three point guards in our database. Those numbers tell us that his style is to be a facilitator instead of a ball-dominant scorer, but they're also a red flag that he'll struggle to score consistently in the NBA since he's so dependent on making threes. His grade of 37.1 for scoring potential puts him in the lofty company of Peyton Siva and Marquis Teague. Expect Lonzo to be a 12-15 point a game scorer at his peak.
It's well known that Fox's biggest weakness is his outside shooting, but the players' grades here were closer than I expected.
Fox graded out at 70.3 for shooting potential, which put him at 46th of the 63 point guards in our database. His three point percentage of 24.6% was the second worst of the group, but his reasonable 73.9% clip from the charity stripe brought him back up to a somewhat acceptable level projection-wise. Being a young prospect also helps him here as our model factors in that he's likely to improve as he comes into his own as a player. Look for Fox to be a player who eventually shoots in the 30-34% range from deep.
Ball is one of the more unusual players to evaluate the shooting ability of, and that's without even taking his unique stroke into consideration. He hit 41.2% of his three-pointers (8th best of 63) and made the 18th most per 100 possessions of the point guard group. Based on that alone, I would've expected him to grade out much higher than the 80.3 he received. His poor free throw shooting came back to haunt him here, however, as his 67.3% rate was 6th worst of all point guards. Interestingly, his true shooting percentage was second best of the sixty-three man group, which is a testament to his Daryl Morey approved shot-selection. Expect Lonzo to shoot 38%-42% from three in the NBA and eventually become a 75%-80% shooter at the line.
Lonzo graded out as the better offensive facilitator out of the two, which should come as no surprise. I won't go into detail here because of how clear this is if you've watched the two play, but Lonzo received a 99.3 grade for his passing potential (3rd best) and Fox received a 74.1 grade (23rd best).
One statistic of note is that when comparing each player's personal offensive rating to that of his team, Lonzo's rating was 10.3 points higher than UCLA's overall rating and Fox's rating was 0.2 worse than Kentucky's overall rating. This is an indicator that Ball's presence on the court made a significantly positive impact on his team's offensive efficiency, while Fox was basically a net neutral. There are many factors other than passing and racking up assists that can play into this, but Ball's ability to bring the best out of his teammates really shines through here.
Fox is often touted as a player who will be able to wreck havoc on defense while Lonzo is looked at as a liability. Interestingly, Lonzo scored slightly better here, with a 70.8 rating to Fox's 66.7.
The two players had very similar steal rates, with Ball ranking 26th and Fox ranking 31st. Ball had a higher block rate, coming in fifth best of all point guards. It's a nice bonus but it's not a game-changing attribute of his. A similar comparison of the player's defensive rating against his team's overall defensive rating was one of the factors that gave the edge to Ball, as he had a positive 1.1 point impact compared to Fox's negative 1.1 point impact.
Despite the film telling us that Fox is lock-down defender and that Lonzo will need help, our model showed that Lonzo's overall impact on UCLA's team defense, likely as a result of his high awareness, was enough to swing this category in his favor.
Part of the reason Lonzo gets the Jason Kidd comparisons is because of how good of a rebounder he is for a point guard. He pulled in 6.0 rebounds per game and will be a consistent triple double threat at the next level. He ranked fifth of all point guards in rebounding potential with a 53.2 score. Look for him to average 6-7 rebounds a game at his peak.
Fox is an adequate rebounder for the position and will most likely be a neutral contributor for his team here. Expect him to average 3-4 rebounds a game during his career.
Lonzo had the higher grade in four out of the five categories, but Fox projects far better as a scorer. Depending on what you value in perimeters players, a case can be made for either being the superior prospect. Would you rather have the guy putting up 14/6/8 or the one going for 22/3/5? Our model gives Lonzo the edge.
I'm a believer in the Jason Kidd comparisons being made to Lonzo. He'll never be a dominating scorer, but he affects the game in many other ways with his passing, rebounding, and defense, using his great court awareness to help elevate the level of play of his team. The incredible thing about Lonzo as a prospect is that it's likely that he'll be a better offensive player than Kidd because of his three-point shooting. It's this kind of potential that has him as the number one prospect on our board this year.
There's a much larger range of potential futures for Fox in the NBA. If he can improve his shot to the degree that Mike Conley did after leaving Ohio Stage, the sky is the limit for him. He'd be likely to end up being a player very similar to Kyrie Irving if that's the case. If he doesn't improve at all as a shooter, he'll be closer to Elfrid Payton in the NBA. My guess is that he's somewhere in between those two universes, and the player he will be most similar to is Monta Ellis. Like Ellis early in his career, Fox is a lightning bolt on the court athletically with a slim 6'3" frame. Both have a knack for penetrating defenses but struggle from deep. Monta has been a 31.2% shooter for his career from three, which is right around where I anticipate Fox will end up. Monta's slash line from his time with Golden State for the first seven years of his career was roughly 20/4/5, which is right in line with what I expect from Fox.
So which of those players is more valuable in the league today? I'm a believer that Jason Kidd would be impactful in any era. His presence changed the dynamic of any game he was in through the way he controlled the pace and raised the level of play of his teammates. Monta thrived in the league of the early 2000s, but with his inability to be a consistent threat from three, it'd be a challenge to have a successful offense in today's game that was based around him.
Lonzo Ball is an elite all-around contributor and the number one player on our board. Believe the Jason Kidd hype.
De'Aaron is a talented prospect whose strengths fit best in bygone eras. He's the fourth best point guard prospect in this year's draft. He's not John Wall (smaller, inferior vision), nor is he Mike Conley (more aggressive, not a facilitator). Expect Warriors-era Monta Elllis production from him.
By John Hooper
Note: As of 8/7/2017 We've updated our algorithm based on internal discussions and feedback from users on r/NBA_Draft and the forums of RealGM. The main changes were normalizing the rebounding grades and reevaluating the value of each category (scoring, shooting, etc.) being used to calculate overall grades.
The tipping point was Draymond Green.
I’ve always been fascinated by the NBA Draft. Something about the unpredictable nature of sure-things falling through and hidden gems popping up every year grabbed my attention as a young fan. 1998 was the first year I truly dove in, where even my 9 year old self could somehow tell that my Warriors were making a mistake by trading Vince Carter and his explosive athleticism for the workmanlike Antawn Jamison. It’s always seemed there had to be some combination of attributes that could be the recipe for separating the contenders from the pretenders, and I’ve been trying to define that recipe.
Back to my original point, watching Draymond get scooped up by the Warriors with the thirty-fifth pick while the rest of the league passed on him was exciting because it provided a test of one of my core theories - that producing against top competition in college still matters. Since then, as he’s become the star that he know is, I’ve wanted an unbiased way to prove that all the teams passing on Draymond because he was too short and too chubby was a poor move.
Five years later, we finally have V1 of the Ice Cream For Men NBA Prospect Projection Model!
How It Was Made:
All drafted players going back to the 2011 Draft who played in the NCAA are included in the model. Data points for each player include:
- Per 100 possessions statistics, percentages, and rates from the prospect’s most recent season
- Age (via Sports Reference)
- Strength of Schedule (via Kenpom)
- Athleticism (subjective, unfortunately. NBADraft.net used as a reference)
Using this data, projection models were created for five categories:
- Passing (overall impact on team Offensive Rating is factored in, not just assists and turnovers)
- Defense (similar in that prospect's effect on team defense is factored in)
Players’ grades for those five categories were then factored into an overall score, with different weights being assigned to the five categories based on a prospect’s projected NBA position.
Please share any feedback or thoughts! This is the initial version of the model and I plan on updating it over time so any discussion is welcome.