By John Hooper
The 2016 draft is an interesting one for us to look back on since it was the last time we evaluated prospects without having our projection model as a tool. With one year under the players' belts and now having their scores from the algorithm, we thought it'd be fun to look back at see how our pre-draft rankings are holding up.
To review the players and their rankings, I'm going to review them in order based on where they were selected. We'll be doing this as a series of articles for picks 1-20, then an article for other notable players, and finally with a summary for quick reference.
1. Ben Simmons
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 1
Ranking in our projection model: 1
Where I'd rank him now: 1
Simmons sat out his entire rookie season due to injury, but nothing's changed in our minds about him being far and away the best prospect from this class. He graded out as the fourth best prospect in our database (includes all drafted players since 2011 who played college ball) with a 99.8 overall rating, placing him behind only Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and Karl Anthony-Towns, and just ahead of Kyrie Irving and Myles Turner. Another interesting facet of Simmons' algorithm grade is that the margin between him and the second most highly rated player from the 2016 draft, Caris LeVert, is 8.0, which is the largest difference between the best and second best prospect in any class in our database (again going back to 2011).
My personal favorite thing about Simmons as a prospect is that even if he flops as a point forward, he projects as such a good scorer and rebounder that the model expects that his floor is basically John Collins, and everybody knows how much we love John the Baptist here:
Even with his shooting deficiencies, Simmons' propensity for getting to the free throw line, curated shot selection, and ability to finish at the basket make him one of nine players in our database to score a perfect 100 in scoring potential (as is John Collins), which is obviously a great sign for him and the Sixers.
After watching Simmons in Vegas in 2016, I was extremely impressed by his creativity, vision, and the sense of control he had over the action. After a year off and plenty of work on his jumper Simmons seems to be as confident as ever, and we can't wait to finally see his debut. Side note: ICFM! Come for the hoops talk, stay for the links to shirtless dudes!
2. Brandon Ingram
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 3
Ranking in our projection model: 4
Where we'd rank him now: 2
I placed Ingram into our model as a power forward, even though he only played 14% of his minutes there his rookie season, since that's where his long-term future in the league is. I still stand by my pre-draft sentiment that the whole Simmons vs Ingram debate was ridiculous (and backed up by Ingram being a distant 9.2 points behind Simmons in our model), but I can see why some have continued to make the baby Durant comparisons about his game, especially when he's flashing the way he did this summer against the Clippers.
Our pre-draft comp for him of Rodney Hood looks surprisingly accurate (at least statistically) after one year, considering that Hood was three years older than Ingram as a rookie. However, when comparing their ratings in our model, it's clear that Ingram has a much higher ceiling than Hood:
Even though Ingram will likely take another year or two to be an average starter, let alone a true difference maker, he's shown so much more potential than anyone other than Simmons in this class that we're bumping him up to the second spot on our updated rankings. We're hoping to see his more aggressive approach from his stint at Summer League this year carry over into the regular season, as well as progress with his consistency shooting from deep and physical strength.
3. Jaylen Brown
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 22
Ranking in our projection model: 15
Where we'd rank him now: 5
The most intriguing aspect about Brown's projection in our algorithm is that he's another of the nine players to earn a perfect 100 for scoring potential. This is a large departure from my opinion of him going into last year's draft (going off only game tape), where I expected Brown to be a Gerald Green-type as a streaky role player capable of lighting the arena on fire with his dunks, instead of the elite scorer that the model predicts him to become. Our model loves his aggressiveness, which is represented statistically by his usage rate (3rd highest of all SFs in our database) and his 8.9 made free throws per 100 possessions (6th most of all SFs), as well as his youth and otherworldly athleticism. Here's his full profile from our model:
Other than the insight into his vast potential as a scorer, the main reason that Brown's made such a jump in our rankings after his rookie campaign is his surprisingly good shooting from behind the arc this past year, posting a 34.1% clip from three on 1.7 attempts a game. Coming into the year, Brown ranked 42nd out of the 65 small forwards in our database in shooting potential after 43.1%/29.4%/65.4% shooting splits at Cal, so it's an enormously promising sign for the Celtics that Brown was already able to make such a large stride in becoming respectable from deep.
Our pre-draft comp of Harold Miner was made with the expectation that Brown may win a dunk contest, but would never be an impact player in the league. Right now, I'd put his career on track to be very much like Gerald Wallace. If he can continue to improve his shooting, we may be looking at the Iso Joe of the 2020s.
I'm also interested to see if Brown makes a leap while part of the Celtics or if he needs a change of scenery away from from Boston's packed depth chart to find the opportunity necessary to grow and showcase his talent.
4. Dragan Bender
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 7
Ranking in our projection model: n/a (no NCAA stats)
Where we'd rank him now: 19
Bender certainly has a unique skill set for a player of his size, but he also made one of the worst initial impressions of the players from the 2016 class during his rookie season. He had moments in Summer League this year where he flashed his unique skill set, but even so, some aspects of his body of work there, namely only tallying one block in five games and shooting 39% from the field, were still causes for concern considering second year lottery picks are expected to be dominant.
Bender, along with Wade Baldwin, was one of two players selected in the 2016 first round to produce negative win shares per 48 minutes this past season. Bender played sparingly this past year, averaging 13.3 minutes per game in 43 contests, and was mostly unproductive when he did see the court. His per 36 minute slash line of 9.2/6.5/1.4 inspires very little confidence, and his ghastly shooting splits of 35.4%/27.7%/36.4% only make things worse. However, for those looking for reason to be optimistic, there is at least one notable international player who had a similar rookie season as a 19 year old who's now gone on to great things.
It's way too soon to give up on Bender, but compared to some of the other bigs taken later in the first round, I'd have to guess that Phoenix wishes they could take a mulligan on this one.
5. Kris Dunn
Ranking on our 2016 Big Board: 4
Ranking in our projection model: 14
Where we'd rank him now: 20
Well here's one of the prospects where it certainly would've been helpful to have our model going into last year's draft! We ranked Dunn in our potential all-stars group and even gave him the comp of John Wall. About that...
What the model picked up on that we didn't with the eye test is how much that Dunn would struggle running an NBA offense (ranking him 43rd of 67 the point guards since 2011 in passing potential), and that his 37.5% from three as a junior at Providence was likely a mirage (ranking him 55th of the 67 in shooting potential).
Dunn did grade out as the best defensive point guard out of all prospects in our model, so here's to hoping he can carve out a Patrick Beverley-esque niche in the league. Beverley was a much better shooter in his first year in the league after his time in Europe, however.
In the big picture, things have obviously worked out for the Timberwolves in packaging Dunn along with Zach LaVine and the pick that became Lauri Markkanen for Jimmy Butler. However, in an alternate universe, it's fun to imagine Minnesota realizing how similar of a player to Dunn they could've picked up as an undrafted free agent in Gary Payton II:
and instead using their 2016 first rounder on Jamal Murray, Thon Maker, or another player who would've fit well with that roster's core. But hey, all's well that end's well, so cheers to T'Wolves and that new electric green!
Thanks for reading and look out for the article on picks 6-10 next week!