By John Hooper
The only thing that really mattered about draft night was Lonnie Walker's hat on stage. Here's our grades per team as well:
- 5: Trae Young
- 19: Kevin Huerter
- 30: Omari Spellman
- Protected 2019 first round pick
Atlanta picked up nice pieces in Young and Huerter, and Spellman does have potential as a stretch 5, but they had the best player in the draft in Doncic fall into their lap and inexplicably decided to Dallas obtain his rights. Their moves also clearly signal the end of the Dennis Schröder era.
A lineup of Young-Huerter-Prince-Collins-Dedmon will be pretty damn fun to watch lose a bunch of 132-125 games.
- 7: Robert Williams
Boston acquired a lottery level talent and the end of the first. Williams could end up being a total bust because of his poor intangibles, but he was very much worth the risk at this point. He's different from anyone the Celtics have on the roster today and is in an ideal situation for his development.
- 29: Dzanan Musa
It's not a bad pick, but it's not exciting either. Musa is a gunner for a team that seems to have enough one dimensional players as it is. He needs to improve his defense and a couple thousand cheeseburgers. A big ol "meh" for the Nets here.
- 12: Miles Bridges
- 34: Devonte Graham
- 55: Arnoldas Kulboka
Having Bridges fall to them via the trade with the Clippers was a boon, as he should supplant MKG in their starting lineup from day one. A lineup of Kemba-Batum-Bridges-Williams-Zeller with Monk and MKG first off the bench is a solid squad.
My main gripe here, however, is that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could be the perfect partner for Malik Monk long term, and it looked like the Hornets felt so too at first when they took him before trading him to the Clippers. Keeping SGA also could've lent clarity on whether they should move Kemba Walker and begin rebuilding, but instead Charlotte continues to straddle the present and the future without committing to either.
- 7: Wendell Carter
- 22: Chandler Hutchison
Carter is a great addition to their roster who should be great alongside Lauri Markkanen. As mentioned in our overrated list, we think Hutchison is not going to have a memorable career and think a player like Jacob Evans, Khyri Thomas, or Keita Bates-Diop could've been better picks there (or moving the pick).
- 8: Collin Sexton
To me this pick tells me that LeBron's leaving. Sexton's ball dominant style and bad defense would make him a poor fit next to James and don't help the Cavs build their case that James could have a stronger cast around him in Cleveland next season.
Even if James is gone, I still don't like this pick, as prospects like Kevin Knox or Michael Porter Jr. have much higher potential than Sexton if they're going to be rebooting the franchise.
- 5: Luka Doncic
- 33: Jalen Brunson
- 56: Ray Spalding
- 60: Kostas Antetokounmpo
- Traded Away: protected 2019 first round pick
Dallas somehow ended up with Doncic, who we consider the best player in the draft, by only giving up what we expect will be a mid first rounder next year in what's supposed to be a weak draft. Great job by them, especially since coach Rick Carlisle was looking to coach a competitive team and not rebuild.
Their second round additions of Brunson, Spalding, and Antetokounmpo also offer a really nice combination of immediate contribution capability and long term potential. We like Spalding in particular, as mentioned in our Sleepers preview.
- 14: Michael Porter Jr.
- 40: Rodions Kurucs
- 43: Justin Jackson
- 58: Thomas Welsh
If Porter Jr. can stay healthy, the Nuggets got a steal in the first round with a player with an All-NBA ceiling. If not, they may have used four picks and came away with zero rotation players.
- 38: Khyri Thomas
- 42: Bruce Brown
Acquisition of Thomas was a nice one here, as he may be able to contribute from day one as a 3&D player. Brown is a similar player but with a much less effective jumper, so he'll be more of a project for the Pistons.
- 28: Jacob Evans
Evans is a solid if unspectacular player for the Warriors who will likely replace Nick Young and Patrick McCaw in their rotation this season. As a Warrior fan I was rooting hard for Jevon Carter here, but Evans offered good value and fills a need.
- 46: DeAnthony Melton
- 52: Vincent Edwards
Both players could be nice role players for the Rockets, expecially since they'll need players on the cheap this upcoming season. Edwards in particular should be able to come in on day one and knock down some of the open threes that the Rockets' stars will create for him.
- 23: Aaron Holiday
- 50: Alize Johnson
Holiday is a decent prospect but he's graded out very similarly or worse than a number of the senior point guards taken in the second round. Johnson will likely never play meaningful NBA minutes because he's so raw and lacks strong skills other than rebounding. Landry Shamet or Jevon Carter would've been nice at 23 and Shake Milton would've been a nice value at 50 instead.
- 11: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- 13: Jerome Robinson
I love SGA in the short and long term here, as he can play alongside Patrick Beverly this year and can fit next to just about any type of backcourt player in the years after. Robinson felt like a bit of a reach, as he wasn't the wing with the highest potential nor the most ready to contribute available. Lonnie Walker, Kevin Huerter, Zhaire Smith, or trading down and picking up Gary Trent Jr. all feel like they would've been better moves. However, until proven differently The Logo is always right.
- 25: Moe Wagner
- 39: Isaac Bonga
- 47: Svi Mykhailiuk
I like Wagner and Myhailiuk as role players/specialists who can contribute early on, and Bonga has a lot of potential as essentially a 6'9" point guard. The Lakers didn't make any moves that really impressed, but with so much up in the air with their roster because of the potential moves by LeBron, Kawhi, and PG it's hard to pinpoint what they could've done better.
- 4: Jaren Jackson Jr.
- 32: Jevon Carter
The Grizzlies came away with our second and twelfth best prospects in the draft, so we're huge fans of their draft day decisions decisions. JJJ should be the perfect pair with Marc Gasol in the short term and become the rock of their franchise in the long run, and Jevon Carter's strong defense will make him a perfect match for Memphis grit and grind mentality. Our man David Aldridge agrees.
- 17: Donte DiVincenzo
The Big Ragu was a nice addition by the Bucks, as he should be able to help occupy defensive attention away from Giannis as a secondary playmaker and shooter. I don't think he really moves the needle for them since he's a bit redundant with Malcolm Brodgon, but it's a solid pick nonetheless.
- 20: Josh Okogie
- 48: Keita Bates-Diop
Minnesota picked two of the three players we listed as most underrated, so we love what the Wolves did at the draft. This needs to be the year where Thibs actually starts playing his young players. If he does, Minnesota will actually have some nice depth to play with. Don't be surprised if Okogie is closing games instead of Wiggins at some point this year because of Okogie's superior defense.
- 51: Tony Carr
The Pelicans only had one late pick but they ended up with our 17th ranked prospect. Carr handled a big role at Penn State and has the talent to thrive as a creator off the bench early on in his career. He's a mediocre athlete but is a crafty shot maker and shot 43% from deep on 5.5 attempts per game
- 9: Kevin Knox
- 36: Mitchell Robinson
I didn't love the selection of Knox as there were other players - namely Miles Bridges, Mikal Bridges, and SGA - that we like much better. Knox has potential with his great physical tools and shooting stroke, but it feels like Rashard Knox has a lot Jeff Green potential to frustrate and tantalize with his game. Robinson also seems likely to never play meaningful minutes, after having sat out the entire last year instead of playing at Western Kentucky amid murky circumstances.
- 45: Hamidou Diallo (via trade)
- 53: Devon Hall
- 57: Kevin Hervey
OKC didn't have much to work with and came away with a few players who could end up as role players for them in Hall and Hervey. Hervey in particular is interesting as a player who could be a Steve Novak type three point specialist, who could work well situationally with Russ. I think Diallo is a worse version of Terrance Ferguson, and you know how much we disliked that pick last year.
- 6: Mo Bamba
- 35: Melvin Frazier
- 41: Jarred Vanderbilt (via trade)
Bamba has all the tools to become Rudy Gobert 2.0 (this time with long range shooting!), but placing him in the hands of the Orlando player development team is the worst possible thing for his future. Frazier seems redundant with Wesley Iwundu who they took last year, and that selection would've been much more wisely used on Gary Trent Jr. They did get an intriguing prospect in Vanderbilt, but again the poor track record of the Orlando staff has us pessimistic about his future.
- 16: Zhaire Smith (via trade)
- 25: Landry Shamet
- 54: Shake Milton
It felt like the Sixers outsmarted themselves this year, trading the local Mikal Bridges for Smith. Bridges would've been a perfect fit as a low usage 3&D wing next to Simmons and Embiid. Smith can play defense well but he's smaller and much worse shooter than Bridges, making him more of a project that a player who can contribute in year one. For a team with two stars and with title hopes next season, they did a poor job aligning the decision making with the window of their timeline.
On the bright side, picking up another first rounder is always nice, and Shamet and Milton were both great value selections.
- 1: DeAndre Ayton
- 10: Mikal Bridges (via trade)
- 31: Elie Okobo
- 59: George King
We've taken our stance that Ayton is not the best player in this draft, and we're concerned that having your two best players be minus defenders in him and Booker is a way to peak as a 48 win team.
Bridges was a nice pickup, as he represents the type of player that the Suns will need to complement their new core with his shooting and defense. Many pundits like Okobo but I would've defnitely preferred Jevon Carter here, again for adding defense to the roster instead of more scoring.
The Suns appear to be swinging to start winning now (probably mainly to save their GM's job) but it feels like they're putting together an overcrowded roster full of decent, repetitive players and not enough specialists.
- 24: Anfernee Simons
- 37: Gary Trent Jr. (via trade)
Simons was a interesting pick in that he's likely a few years away from contributing and the Blazers were the three seed last year, but Trent was a great addition in the early second. He's very similar to Allen Crabbe, but we all know you can never have too much shooting and Trent was the best shooter in the draft.
- 2: Marvin Bagley
The Kings missed a great opportunity, passing on Luka Doncic for Bagley, who we expect to be solid if unspectacular in his career. Bagley might win Rookie of the Year, but we think Doncic is a player you could build a contender around. The Kings also traded Gary Trent Jr. to the Blazers, which was quesitonable considering they're not exactly overflowing with wing talent.
- 18: Lonnie Walker IV
- 49: Chimezie Metu
Good job as usual by the Spurs, as Walker is a top 10 player in the draft in terms of raw talent, and will benefit greatly from the seasoning he'll get with the Spurs' staff. Metu is a fine pick and will likely be a decent role player for them, but I would've like to have seen them roll the dice on someone with more upside like Kostas Antetokounmpo or Wenyen Gabriel.
- 21: Grayson Allen
Utah picking the token annoying white guy of the draft was high comedy. Well played, Mr. Lindsey.
In terms of basketball contribution, I'd give this pick a D considering Mo Wagner and Gary Trent Jr. were both on the board and are not only better prospects but also would've fit the Utah's needs more with their elite shooting
- 15: Troy Brown Jr.
- 44: Issuf Sanon
For a team that wants to compete in the East, I don't know what Brown has to offer them next year. At least someone like Kevin Huerter would come in and knock down shots in year one, but really I think they should've trade their first round pick for a veteran contributor and give this group one last shot together. Could Otto Porter and the 15th pick have gotten them Boogie? Unfortunately we'll never know.
By John Hooper
Carter is my favorite player in this draft. He's an elite defender, scoring fifth highest in defensive grade of all point guards going back until the 2011 draft, and has the highest steal rate of all point guards in our database as well. He's an above average shooter, and adequate as a passer and rebounder. If he gets an opportunity in the league we expect him to become the heir to the Patrick Beverly's throne as the most irritating player for opposing point guards to have to face:
- Picked in early second round
- 11 year career
- 7 year starter
- Leads NBA in steals twice
Okogie is our top graded shooting guard this year and is the second best 3&D prospect in the draft after Mikal Bridges. He graded out with elite athleticism, great length, and has a powerful frame.
Okogie also graded out with an impressive 90.2 as a scorer, largely because of the impressive 6.1 made free throws per 40 minutes that he average this year, showing that he has potential to be more than just a role player.
We were tempted to enter Andre Iguodala as a comp for Okogie because of his versatility, athleticism, and defensive potential, but we think he'll have a career that's a notch or two below Iggy's level, especially on the defensive end.
- Picked in end of first round
- 12 year career
- 7 year starter
- Peak averages of 14 / 5 / 3 with shooting splits of 45% / 38% / 83%
KBD is a bit of a tweener and doesn't have the athleticism of an elite prospect. On the flip side, he's really good at basketball, having won the Big 10 POY award this season. He's another player that graded out above average in all categories in our model:
He's a good enough shooter to play the three, he's big enough to play the four, and with a block rate that's eighth of all small forwards in our database we also think he's a good enough rim protector to moonlight as a five in small ball lineups.
- Picked in late first round
- 12 year career
- 6 year starter
Duval came in as a highly touted prospect at Duke and decided to enter his name into the draft after one up and down season. He's athletic and has adequate size, but he doesn't appear to be even close to ready to contribute in the NBA. He's our 21st ranked point guard out of 24 prospects, with a 70.0 overall ranking, rating as an non-draftable prospect
Based on our model. he can't shoot, defend, score, or rebound at an NBA level, but he could be a decent facilitator. We still think he'll get drafted on reputation, however.
- 3 year career
- More games played in G League than NBA
Diallo graded out as our fifth worst shooting guard this year, again despite having great athleticism and a good NBA body. He's projected to do nothing well at the next level, with his highest score coming in the shooting category, where he scored a middling 66.0:
Sure there's always potential there with a young player who's as athletics as Diallo, but he had below average numbers for a shooting guard in every statistic we use except for block rate, rebounding rate, and turnover rate.
- 2 year NBA career
- 3 huge Summer League dunks
- 0 memorable regular season dunks
Hutchison is a wing who has received buzz as someone who could fill the 3&D role in the league. However, we see a minor problem in that he grades out as below average for small forwards as both a shooter and a defender:
The main flaw we see with the logic of those that love his game is that his strongest skill, scoring, will be irrelevant in the NBA because he'll never have the opportunity to be the alpha dog and dominate touches the way he did at Boise State. Hutchison had the 4th highest usage rate of all small forwards in our database and made the 3rd most free throws, but was below average in both free throw and three point percentage. Those strengths and weaknesses need to be flipped for him to be an effective 3&D player
- Picked in 20-25 range in first round
- 5 year career
- 0 starts
Gabriel felt a bit lost in the shuffle on the talented Kentucky roster, but after running his numbers we see a player who actually does have untapped 3&D potential:
Gabriel is too thin and will never be the type of player who can create his own shot, but for a team that's willing to be patient we see someone who could blossom into a a player who can guard 3-5, hit threes, and protect the rim. That's great for someone likely to go undrafted.
Colson has a terrible NBA frame as a 6'5" power forward and a below average athlete, but he's another guy who just knows how to play basketball. Despite his physical shortcomings, he graded out excellently defensively and in his rebounding ability:
Colson feel like the kind of player who will develop his shot and somehow end up having a 10 year career in the league while being called gritty at least once per game. Expect a smart team like the Spurs to draft him in the second round.
Looking for a rim runner on the cheap? Say no more, fam. Here he is (in black) compared to Robert Williams:
Williams is a top 15 pick and Spalding may not get drafted despite having very similar profiles. Look for the Rockets to talk a swing at a player who could be had on the cheap and could finish the lobs that might be available if Clint Capela ends up being too expensive for their tastes this summer.
By John Hooper
To access the overall grades from our model for all prospects this year, click HERE
Comparing The Top Big Men
DeAndre Ayton is assumed to be first overall pick in tonight's draft, but our model has him as the sixth best prospect this year. Why? Because he's projected to be a below average defender, and his strengths are no longer as valuable in the current style of play in the league. Here he is compared to Karl Anthony-Towns:
As we can see here, KAT and Ayton are virtually identical prospects, except with Ayton being a far worse defender. The Suns will end up with a great talent who puts up big numbers from day one, but seeing how much KAT has struggled on defense in his career makes us concerned for Ayton's effectiveness there.
When comparing Ayton with the rest of the top center crop this year, we see further evidence that he may not be the slam dunk top prospect that he's currently considered as:
We can see that Ayton's biggest strengths, scoring and rebounding, are not that far ahead of his competition.
Jaren Jackson appears to have similar scoring potential while offering much better shooting and defense, all of which makes him our pick for the best center prospect this year.
Mo Bamba is the leader in both the defense and rebounding categories and projects similarly to Ayton as a shooter, making him an intriguing prospect.
Wendell Carter is the only prospect of the four to be above average in all categories without leading the group in any, further evidence as to why people view him as a prospect with a high floor but without elite potential.
Overall, we like Ayton as a big numbers guy but not necessarily as someone who will lead a team to contention. We have them ranked in order: Jackson, Ayton, Bamba, and Carter.
Bagley dominated in his one year at Duke after reclassifying, and many view him as a lock for the top four tonight. We see him as a very similar prospect to Ayton in that he'll likely put up nice numbers from day one, but will likely not be the type of player who can take a franchise deep into the playoffs. Why? Again, mediocre defensive potential:
Bagley posted below average rates for steals, blocks, and personal defensive rating vs team defensive rating within our database of power forwards, leading us to expect that he won't be the type of player generating deflections nor protecting the rim.
We made the comparison of a more athletic Zach Randolph, but another player to keep in mind as a comp for him is Julius Randle:
The point guards of the draft this year are so different in terms of style. Here's a comparison of the consensus top 3:
The first thing that jumps out to us that Sexton and Young both have max scores as scorers, leading us to believe they'll both average over 20 a game in their primes. Young, however, has a significant lead on Sexton in the shooting, passing, and defensive categories. Young projecting better as a passer and a shooter was to be expected, but we thought Young would score by far the worst as a defender. Despite Sexton's superior size and athleticism, Young had stronger steal and block rates, and had a more positive impact on his team's defensive rating, all while playing against better competition.
And to compare Young against prospects from years prior, he appears to be much closer to Kyrie than to Jimmer, obviously a great sign for his future:
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects similarly to Wendell Carter in that he's above the positional average in all categories but doesn't have one standout skill. Despite not having a clear specialty, we're high on him as a prospect because of his size, which gives him positional flexibility and makes him unlikely to be targeted on defense the way Steph Curry and other smaller guards are in the playoffs. We also like that all of his shooting accuracy numbers that we factor in (3P%, FT%, and True Shooting) all are above average for point guards in our database, and it's simply that he didn't take them at a high volume that he doesn't have an elite shooting grade. We see him as a high floor prospect who still has shooting and scoring potential to grow into.
Overall, we're ranking the top point guards SGA, Young, and Sexton as a distant third.
- Michael Porter Jr. is the top ranked player in our database this year, but it's based off of 53 minutes of playing time, so we're not drawing any conclusions from his scores
- Luka Doncic is not included since he was an international player
- Miles and Mikal Bridges have nearly identical overall, shooting, and passing grades. It then comes down to whether you'd prefer a player who's going to be a higher volume scorer and rebounder or the efficient defender:
We're siding with Miles since we view him as the higher upside player. Defensively a low steal rate hurt his score, but he had an above average steal rate and a middle of the pack impact of his team's defensive rating, giving hope that he'll be passable as a defender and strong in all other facets
- Robert Williams and Lonnie Walker both appear to be overrated as late lottery talents as well, with overall ratings of 85.2 and 82.2 respectively
By John Hooper
With another year of data and having reviewed the performance of our model in our first draft with it, we've made some adjustments to improve its accuracy. Here's the results, with detail of the changes listed below:
Mobile Version HERE
Updates made from our projections last year:
- Scoring became a more heavily weighted category in the Overall score for PGs
- Shooting became a more heavily weighted category in the Overall score for all positions
- Shooting grades were less dependent on player age and strength of schedule
- Overall rating now has a factor for minutes played to penalize players who performed well in limited roles and those whose ratings were artificially inflated in seasons shortened by injury
- We added the "+" symbol before and after a player's name who played less than 15 games to flag those who had a shortened season, most likely because of injury
By John Hooper
Now that it's the eve of this year's NBA Draft, here's a brief review of our rankings from last year, with a few lessons learned that we'll be incorporating into our 2018 rankings:
1. Lonzo Ball - UCLA, PG
Ball was a strong all around contributor and was surprisingly good defensively in his rookie year but his long-term success rests on whether or not he ends up being a threat or a liability as a shooter. If his accuracy improves to a while maintaining his current high frequency he may still live up to the hype and end up as a top 3 player from the draft.
2. Zach Collins - Gonzaga, C
After a slow start to the season, Collins showcased the versatile game that we were so high on. He'll have a larger role next year in Portland, so we'll see if having a full offseason with their staff can help him add the strength and shooting consistency that would make our high ranking for him warranted
3. Markelle Fultz - Washington, SG
No one outside of the Celtics and 76ers front offices could have seen the debacle that was Fultz's jump shot this year. I think everyone gets a pass for their predictions here.
4. Jonathan Isaac - Florida State, PF
Isaac showed flashes, shooting 35% from deep and averaging over 2 steals and 2 blocks per 36 minutes in the action he saw this year, but he was only on the court for 27 games. He has a great foundation to be the ideal modern big defensively, but needs to get improve his strength to allow him to stay on the court and be more assertive. If he's not able to do so (or not overcome the talent development wasteland of Orlando), he may end up going down as a bust.
5. Jayson Tatum - Duke, SF
One thing we learned from underrating Tatum is that teams with many one-and-done players can have depressed ratings in our model, since they don't get as large of an opportunity to showcase their skills, similar to how Devin Booker's scoring and playmaking skills weren't fully showcased in his one year at Kentucky. This is something to look out for with the players from Duke and Kentucky in this upcoming draft as well.
Even with that in mind, we didn't see Tatum shooting 43% from 3 as a rookie, almost 10% better than the 34% he shot at Duke. Shout out to Drew Hanlen. We'd rank Tatum #1 if we did a rankings re-do one year in.
6. Josh Jackson - Kansas, SF
We'd move Jackson down a bit in a rankings re-do here, mainly based on how badly he shot, at 26% from three and 63% from the line. His poor shooting is a red flag that despite the energy and activity he brings, Jackson may end up having a similar fate as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
7. Donovan Mitchell - Louisville, SG
We had Mitchell ranked higher than most, but we didn't see him bursting onto the scene the way he did in his first year. We loved his 3&D potential but saw him as more of an elite role player than potential all-star. Mitchell would obviously be a few rungs higher if we re-did our rankings.
8. Dennis Smith Jr. - North Carolina State, PG
Smith put up nice counting numbers as a rookie but his lack of scoring efficiency puts a cap on his ceiling. In retrospect, I wish we looked more closely at his categorical ratings and noticed that without a standout skill he may lack a calling card, reducing his long-term potential.
9. John Collins - Wake Forest, PF
As we expected (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, & Exhibit C), Collins made a nice impact in his rookie year with the Hawks. I'm counting our higher than most ranking of The Baptist as a win.
10. Malik Monk - Kentucky, SG
Monk had a tough first year under then Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, playing 20 or more minutes only 16 times his rookie year. We'll see if a new regime allows Monk to reach his scoring potential, but I think we fell in love with his tape from big games instead of listening to the red flags surfaced by our projection model for him being a bad defender and only an above-average scorer instead of a great one to warrant a lottery pick as a one-dimensional player.
11. De’Aaron Fox - Kentucky, PG
We forecasted a fun, flashy career for Fox without much to offer in terms of contributing to a winning team, and his first year returns seem to be pointing in that direction. He had his moments and produced highlights, but as expected he's a bad shooter, a mediocre playmaker and defender, and is not impactful off the ball on offense. I think we had him properly rated at #11.
12. Caleb Swanigan - Purdue, C
Despite our rosy ranking, we placed Biggie in our losers group after the draft last year since he doesn't have a clear path to playing time with the Trail Blazers. Since that still seems to be the case, this may be a case of a poor situation preventing us from seeing what type of player a prospect could become. Unless he's moved, we'll chalk this one up as us reaching a bit since it's doubtful he'll reach the potential he predicted for him.
13. Luke Kennard - Duke, SG
Kennard can certainly shoot well as we projected, hitting over 41% of his attempts from 3 this season, but it's not clear that he'll be able to contribute much more than as a shooter. #13 still feels about right for him after year 1.
14. Jawun Evans - Oklahoma State, PG
Evans is another player we may have reached on, falling in love with his overall grade instead of being able to identify standout skills where he'd be able to carve out his niche, similar to Dennis Smith Jr.
15. TJ Leaf - UCLA, PF
Leaf only averaged 8 minutes per game so a review of his first year feels incomplete, but one reason for hope was his 43% clip from 3. He'd likely be moved down slightly in a rankings re-do.
16. Lauri Markkanen - Arizona, PF
It's clear that we were unfairly hard on Markkannen leading up to the draft last year, ranking him much lower than the consensus because of his poor defense and rebounding numbers. We thought they'd be so bad that he'd be borderline unplayable, but Markkanen had better rebounding numbers in the NBA than he did at Arizona, and he was an impact scorer and shooter from day one with the Bulls.
17. Josh Hart - Villanova, SG
I still have no clue why the Thunder didn't draft Hart at pick 21 last year. As we (and many others) predicted, Hart was an NBA-ready 3&D player who shot 40% from 3 in his rookie year. No, he doesn't have an all-star ceiling, but Hart was a lock to be a rotation level player and would've helped soothe OKC's wing problems immediately.
18. Jordan Bell - Oregon, C
Again, we have no clue as to why no NBA team in the first round saw how Bell's elite athleticism and defensive versatility would fit the modern game so well. Kudos to Bob Myers and Co. for another second round steal
19. Sindarius Thornwell - South Carolina, SF
Thornwell's place in the league is less solidified as Hart and Bell's after year one, but Thornwell still significantly outperformed being drafted 48th, appearing in 73 games and shooting 38% from deep. We'd likely have him ranked around #25 in a re-do.
20. Devin Robinson - Florida, SF
Ok, we definitely reached here. Robinson did well in the G League this year and eventually had a cup of coffee with the Wizards, but in comparison to wings from previous drafts our model projects Robinson as sub-NBA level and we should've played more attention to that instead of hunting the talent pool for potential steals.
Other Notable Rankings:
24. Justin Jackson - North Carolina, SG
26. Justin Patton - Creighton, C
27. DJ Wilson - Michigan, PF
We had these three all ranked 9-10 spots lower than where they were drafted, and our pessimistic placements of each feels warranted so far.
28. Frank Ntilikina - International, PG
With Frankie Smokes being an international player, we didn't include him in our model so we didn't have any unique statistical data to base our ranking on, so our low ranking was strictly based on film. We clearly underrated his talent and readiness to contribute.
32. Bam Adebayo - Kentucky, C
Bam was ranked low mainly because of his below average defensive score in our model, plus looking like he didn't have any other dominant skill. Adebayo is another example of a player who's scores in our model may have been depressed by playing with a cast of fellow one-and-done players and not being able to showcase his full talent, which we'll be factoring into our rankings going forward.
34. OG Anunoby - Indiana, PF
Anuoby is another player who shot much better from three and the free throw line in the NBA than he did in college, helping him exceed the projections for him from our model. He'd be ranked in the 10-15 range in a rankings re-do here because of his shooting improvements and playing in 74 games despite coming off of knee surgery.
35. Semi Ojeleye - SMU, SF
Ojeleye looks like he'll be a much better defender than our model projected him to be (5th worst defensive grade of all small forwards in our database), so it looks like the Celtics found great value with him in the second round. Nothing in his statistical profile suggested this would be the case, so props to Ainge and the Boston team for their scouting and vision.
44. Terrance Ferguson - International, SG
We'd rank Ferguson a bit higher in a rankings re-do, likely in the mid 30s, but despite his impressive athleticism he still seems a ways away from being a reliable NBA level contributor, as expected.
49. Kyle Kuzma - Utah, PF
Big miss by us here. Kuzma shot much better from deep on a much higher volume than he did in college without having a high college free throw percentage to indicate that he could develop into such a shooting threat. I think our model identified him correctly and instead think Kuzma deserves a lot of credit for improving so much here. Great pick by the Lakers to nab him in the end of the first.
50. Jarrett Allen - Texas, C
Another miss by us, having labelled Allen as a very likely bust. At the very least he looks like he can be an effective, efficient rim runner and a sufficient rebounder. If he ends up being a serviceable defender the Nets make have gotten great value with the 22nd pick.
Those who have been reading our site for a while now know that I consider Zach Collins to be my illegitimate son (examples one, two, and three), so I felt like a frustrated parent watching him languish on the bench to start the year while other rookies were getting chances to contribute. It only got worse as I watched people label Collins as a likely bust and write-off the Blazers' decision to draft him as a poor one.
With that said, I'm not going to lie, I was secretly thrilled to see Jusuf Nurkic tweak his ankle as it meant Collins might finally get regular time in the Blazers' rotation alongside high quality players instead of his standard garbage time tandem with Jake Layman. Low and behold, my prayers were answered:
My favorite element of Collins' newfound place in the rotation is that he's continued to get playing time even after the three games that Nurkic sat out, which recently peaked at just under 31 minutes during the Blazers' 95-92 victory over the Lakers last week.
It's unsurprising that Collins struggled in his first 8 appearances. As we've seen this year especially, circumstance is a crucial element of a player's success. Collins' first few games had him playing sporadic minutes alongside replacement level players that were largely focused on standing out individually. That's a tough position for any player to succeed in, let alone a teenager who only averaged 17 minutes a night in his one year in the WCC.
Here's a per 36 minute comparison of Collins' numbers in the 8 games he played before and the 9 games since being added to the rotation:
Over this recent 9 game stretch, Collins has been putting up 11 points, 9 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks per 36 minutes. Those aren't all-NBA numbers (yet!), but it's a significant improvement from the 5 points, 6 boards, and 0 blocks per 36 that he was posting before (albeit in a tiny sample size). His turnovers have also dropped from an absurd 11.3 per 36 to a very solid 1.6 per 36, which is likely part of the reason Terry Stotts has felt comfortable keeping him in the rotation even after Nurkic has recovered.
Now that Collins has played enough for us to have a basic understanding of his current identity as a player, here's how his season stacks up in terms of shooting accuracy and shot selection to Pau Gasol's rookie year, our pre-draft comp for Collins:
For us Collins disciples, it's reassuring to see that it took Gasol, one of the best shooting big men of all time, a few years to develop his stroke. Surprisingly, Collins actually appears to be a bit ahead of where Gasol was as a rookie on longer shots. Rookie Gasol certainly has the edge on Collins in the midrange, however, and focusing on improving in the 3-10 foot range would likely lead to significant improvements in efficiency for Collins.
While the two players' rookie seasons show very different shot selection distributions, some of that can be contributed to the different eras that they played in. What's intriguing is looking at both player's shot selection in 2017-18:
There are a few subtle differences - Collins is taking slightly more shots within 10 feet of the hoop and Gasol us putting up more long twos - but overall the two distributions are strikingly similar.
Here's to hoping Collins makes the same type of progress as Gasol by building up his physical strength and developing his shooting touch on his way to seizing his rightful title as the best player of all time.
If there's been a silver lining to Steph Curry's injury in early December, it's that we've gotten to live out the hypothetical of what the Warriors would look like if they revolved around Kevin Durant.
Here are Durant's per game averages this season in the 10 games (November 13 and the last 9 games) that Curry has been inactive:
Almost all of Durant's per game averages have gone up with Curry out with the exception of his turnovers, which is especially impressive considering Durant's using more possessions than when he does when Curry is active.
Because there is Durant's slight increase in minutes per game without Curry in the rotation, I was curious to see if normalizing the numbers to a per 36 minute rate would still show his across the board improvement:
Even with the slight difference in minutes, Durant is still showing clear increases other than a nominal drop in his steals. Watching a player raise his game to score and distribute more all while taking better care of the ball is pretty incredible, and that's not even mentioning his increased activity on the glass and protecting the rim.
Between the clear improvement in Durant's per minute numbers and the Warriors' 9-1 record without Curry this year, it's easy to envision contrarians starting to formulate a case that Golden State is better off without Curry. One easy way to dispel that is to take a peak at Durant's shooting splits with and without Steph:
So while Durant may be more productive overall without Curry so far this year, this chart illustrates how much harder Durant is having to work to get his points with Curry sidelined. Curry's absence is proving the powerful effect of his offensive gravity, as opposing defenses are able to key in on Durant and make him take more difficult shots now that their paranoia about the greatest shooter of all time is gone.
It's been fun watching Durant temporarily take over as the unquestioned leader of the team, but his harmony with Curry makes him the most lethal version of himself on the court. Get well soon, Steph.
Four point guards were drafted in the top ten this past year - Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Frank Ntilikina, and Dennis Smith Jr. - and with the season at roughly the 40% mark, we've decided to compare their early returns.
Dennis Smith Jr. has come away as clearly the most prolific scorer of the group to begin his career, but he has plenty of room to grow with his below average shooting percentages across the board.
Knicks fans have to be encouraged by Ntilikina's three point shooting thus far, as making his attempts at roughly a league average level is enough to garner the respect and attention of opposing defenses. His solid free throw percentage is an indicator that his shooting success is likely not a fluke, either.
More than enough has already been said about Ball's early shooting struggles, and if not for a recent string of strong performances his numbers would be even worse here. That being said, if he's truly turned a corner in his last few games, being a respectable shooter from deep will make his True Shooting Percentage and overall offensive efficiency numbers skyrocket.
Also, if I'm the Knicks, I'm pushing Ntilikina to become more aggressive hunting down threes. I'd like to see if he can continue to make 35% of his attempts while taking closer to 10 tries per 100 possessions (effectively doubling his 1.9 attempts per game to about 4).
Passing, Rebounding, & Defense:
As expected, Ball shines when viewing his contributions unrelated to scoring. He's shown numerous flashes of his precocious passing and vision, and his ability to generate deflections and ignite fast breaks with his rebounding allow him to impact the game in many ways.
Ntilikina has already become known for his smothering defense, and his pace of 3.3 Steals / 100 Possessions puts him in elite company this season, currently placing him between Paul George (3.5 Steals/100 Poss) and Chris Paul (3.3 Steals/100 Poss).
Fox has also put up some solid numbers in these categories, committing the second fewest turnovers per possession of the group and making noteworthy contributions across the board.
The season is still young, but based on Win Shares, all four players have been net negatives on offense, mainly because all have shot the ball poorly. All of these players are 20 years old or younger, however, so a learning curve is to be expected.
Since PER rewards productivity with less of an emphasis on efficiency, Smith and Ball are the leaders for this category because they've effected the game the most while on the court, Smith with his scoring and Ball with everything else.
I've been baffled by Dave Joerger's rotations so far, as Fox's inconsistent minutes and occasional relegation not only behind George Hill but also Frank Mason are not ideal for his development and the franchise's long term goals. Once Fox is at full health again, I'd like to see lineups like Fox - Hield - Temple - Randolph - Cauley-Stein get significant minutes to let Fox gain experience in full command of an offense with competent NBA players surrounding him that compliment his skills.
Historical Comparison - Usage Rate x True Shooting:
I've added the rookie seasons of Marcus Smart (Celtic green) and Kyrie Irving (Cavalier wine) to two of the visuals to provide some context for this rookie crop with archetypal players of opposite ends of the spectrum:
When looking at only the 2017 rookies before, their poor True Shooting Percentages didn't stand out because they were all similarly bad, but in comparison to Smart and Irving it's clear that all four are really struggling to hit shots so far.
Smith is using possessions at a very similar rate to Irving's rookie rate, giving us an idea of the type of role he might play offensively if he can improve his shooting.
Historical Comparison - Win Shares:
This visual should be taken with a grain of salt, as Irving and Smart's cumulative Win Shares are from their full rookie seasons, not snapshots 40% of the way in like the 2017 rookies' numbers are. Still, this draft class' ineptitude on offense is highlighted by Irving and Smart being the only players with positive Offensive Win Share totals.
It's impressive that Ball is on pace to rack up a similar amount of Defensive Win Shares to Smart's rookie campaign, considering the love that Smart receives as one of the best defenders in the league. The Jason Kidd and Ricky Rubio comparisons are more common for Ball, but I think his floor may be Marcus Smart with elite vision.
It's still early, but right now it's clear that all four players are finding their footing and have yet to stake their claim as franchise cornerstones. A relevant note along those lines is that I didn't include Donovan Mitchell in this group as I still think he's more of a playmaking 2 than a point guard.
Here's how I'd rank the players if we did the 2017 draft over today:
1. Lonzo Ball - If Ball's improvements shooting the ball can be maintained, his impact on all facets of the game give him a chance to be the type of player that LaVar has spoken into existence. His defense has been better than expected and his passing has been as good as advertised.
2. Frank Ntilikina - Frankie Smokes has already emerged as a legit 3&D player and he's only 19. If he can develop into a scoring threat as well he could be special. I'm picturing a bigger Avery Bradley if things fall into place.
3. Dennis Smith Jr. - Smith will have plenty of scoring eruptions and hopefully win a dunk contest or two, but since he isn't doing much away from the ball today he'll need to improve his shooting to become a net positive on the floor.
4. De'Aaron Fox - I was worried about Fox before the draft, and I still am. Right now he profiles as a less aggressive, worse shooting version of Smith, and he's not disrupting things enough on defense to leave the impression that he'll be a star there. Here's to hoping a bigger role can give us more Kameha moments.
DeMar DeRozan has carved out a niche as a premier scorer in the league by zigging while the rest of the league zags. During his career he's averaged only 0.4 made threes per game on 28.6% shooting, taking only 9.6% of his shots from behind the arc. DeRozan is known for adding a new facet to his game every offseason, and over his last three games it's started to look like rounding out his offensive game and becoming a threat from deep may be this year's addition.
Through 28 games, DeRozan had tallied 17 made threes, or 0.6 per game. In his last 3 games, he's averaged 4.3 made threes:
After this recent binge, DeRozan is now taking a career high portion of his shots from three point range this season (16.2%), and is also making them at a career high rate (34.1%):
It should be no surprise then that DeRozan's currently sporting a career high True Shooting Percentage of 58.8% considering the efficiency bump he's received from his improvement from deep:
DeRozan is already one of the most consistent scorers in the NBA, but the knock on him has been that when defenses clamp down in the playoffs, the lanes he uses for his forays to the rim and the midrange clog up. If he can become a reliable threat from behind the arc, the Raptors may have to be taken seriously as a contender in the East. FiveThirtyEight's model already considers that to be the case, predicting them to finish first in the East at 58-24.