Old Man Basketball: Top 20 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings

 

While doing my prospect ranking list I looked for trends from years past.  Was there something noticeable in the last few drafts between busts or sleepers?  Can you find any pattern through watching a lot of game tape, breaking down the advanced stats, listening to their interviews and reading what coaches, ex-teammates and scouts have to say about them?  To the best of my ability that’s what I try to do but I always seem to come back to the same correlation thats not quantifiable: personality and situation.

Personality meaning how is their work ethic, dedication to basketball, how they treat their teammates, how they respond to coaching, how they behave after something bad happens, what makes them ticked and how do they overcome it, how well do they work with others and how do they see themselves inside the team construct?  And situation meaning does the team that drafted the player place him in the best system to succeed, do they feature his skills properly, is there redundancy at the same position, is there organizational trust and what will the player development department focus on to improve? Understanding a players talent and skill level is one thing but personality and situation are the variables that really determines how good they may be in the NBA.  It’s hard not to devalue whoever gets drafted by the KIngs no matter if it’s my number one ranked player, there’s a difference between getting drafted by the Kings and the Mavs. So keep that in mind while reading my analysis of the top 20 prospects:

 

  1. Marvin Bagley, C, Duke, FR, 6’11, 7’1 wingspan, 234 pounds

~ Bagley has to start setting strong screens and diving to the rim in rhythm but I do find it impressive that he averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds, 61% from the field and 40% from three in a two big man lineup with little to no shooting at Duke this year.  Out of all the elite “bigs” that are in this draft I think Bagleys game should flourish the most offensively with extra shooting, ball handlers and within a pro-style offense.  His defensive concerns are justified displaying a lack of communication, inept at reading screens, taking poor angles and not consistently being in a defensive ready stance.  However it was noticeable after watching the finals that the future of the NBA “big” may not have to be a top notch paint protector like in years past. You still need some rim-protecting skills in your arsenal but being veristale on pick-and-roll coverages, mainly switches, and picking up rotations on team defense schemes seem to be more of a priority defensively for back line defenders nowadays.  Due to Bagleys poor defensive IQ it will take time for him to get acclimated to defensive rotations but his quick feet, length, and overall great athleticism should be a huge springboard to become a plus pick-and-roll defender.  With time and experience he should be able to improve both aspects of his defensive game which will lead him to become a plus defender even if his rim-protecting skills might be subpar.  

Offensively is where he’s more polished than any other “big” in this draft.  He has solid shooting mechanics on his long range shot with a nice follow thru and high release point.  His loading pocket on his jump shot can sometimes be far away from his body elongating the time of his release, he needs to keep it tight and shorten any unwanted motion.  He can attack closeouts, put it on the floor, pull-up or finish at the rim better than any other “big” in this draft because of his fluid handle. He needs to improve his right hand as he tends to use his left hand far too often even to his detriment.  Sometimes he can get blinders on when he has the ball in his hands, a habit that needs to be broken and over time can be with a fixed scheme. To me Bagley seems like a modern day NBA 5-man that can shoot, handle and develop his playmaking instincts in time.  He clearly has work to do but could be that skilled center most teams covet in the NBA right now.

  1. Luka Doncic, PG/SG (center is an option in my opinion), Real Madrid, 19 yr old, 6’8, 228 pounds

~ Doncic lack of elite athleticism, consistent outside shot, defensive fundamentals and questionable foot speed on defense are the reasons he’s my number two and not number one.  I actually think his true position might be a center (or just playing the Draymond Green role).  Him as a screen setter adds more space to operate off the pick-and-pop or bounce and not having to defend on the perimeter as much could be a solution.  But his amazing basketball IQ can also be the reason he gets over those concerns too.  He reads the court so well keeping his head up on drives, looking off defenders for no look passes and making accurate reads connecting with shooters sweet spots.  His pick-and-roll offense should already be a high level skill at the next level. It may take him time to get used to NBA length and speed but he’s young enough and smart enough where he should excel quicker than most guards.  He already has solid dribble-drive moves with in-and-out and hang dribbles plus change-of-direction moves in the lane.  He’s advanced with either hand driving to the hoop or finishing at the rim. Dealing with NBA length, athleticism and pressure could be an issue for Doncic to create separation.

His outside shot is a little worrisome too.  He has a diverse portfolio of shooting ability, whether that be step-back, pull-back or off-dribble.  That’s obviously a point in his favor.  What worries me is that he doesn’t use the momentum produced by his base at the apex of his release point.  Doncic will generate solid power from his lower body/hips but will release his shot before the the energy created by his lower body will hit at the shot’s apex.   Bottom line is I think his shot needs some tweaking before he can become a tier 1 shooter.  Defensively he does a good job playing the passing lanes, using his smarts on rotations and finishing off the play for a rebound quickly igniting transition offense.  He does ball watch from time to time and loses track of his man rebounding the ball. His mobility will be tested at the next level to see if he can stay attached to NBA athletes.  Getting beat off the dribble will be an issue but also how he recovers will be key moving forward defensively. Having a high basketball IQ will be important for understanding defensive schemes but if he’s a step behind moving around on the court his IQ could be null and void.  It’s hard to tell how European athletes will transition over in the States but since Doncic has been so impressive at an early age in a high level of overseas basketball it bodes well for his prospects.

  1. Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona, FR, 7’1, 7’5 wingspan, 243 pounds

~ Ayton and Bagley are similar prospects in respect to great rebounders, polished offensive game and defensive flaws.  Just like with Bagley, Ayton played in a two “big” system at Arizona. Even though physically Ayton is head and shoulders above Bagley I think Bagleys handle gives him an edge in determining advanced NBA skills off the bounce.  Ayton used his body control and overall athleticism as a tool to attack closeouts in college but if he doesn’t progress his handle than it will be an issue at the next level. He has a nice long range stroke for a seven footer but not being able to put the ball on the floor after a pump fake can cause less separation on drives.  Having an advanced handle and attacking closeouts are my concerns on offense but his rim-running, post play and around the basket game give Ayton the ability to be one of the better offensive “bigs” in the game. He can face-up within 18 feet and work his jab-sep and spin moves to attack the basket. He can finish with either hand and sports a 1.48 points per possession around the basket which ranks 96th percentile.  If he can open up his face-up game towards the perimeter he will be an offensive juggernaut. Give Ayton an advanced pick-and-roll partner with good spacing surrounding them and watch his pick-and-pop and rim-diving skills prosper.

While defensively Ayton has the tools to be an elite pick-and-roll defender he had trouble attacking perimeter actions, negotiating screens and overall showed a lack of understanding defensive rotations.  Just like with Bagley I think over time this is something he can pick up on and learn. It might take both players years to figure it out but since both are under the age of 20 they have time to correct their mistakes.  Ayton’s size, strength and athleticism lend themselves to a switching big-men that can help over from weak-side and recover quickly. It’s not a certainty that with high level tools one can become a high level defender; its taken Karl Towns years to become just a passable defender.  Ayton and Bagley’s work ethic plus the team they get selected by might be the ultimate deciding factor in their careers.

  1. Jaren Jackson, C, Michigan St, FR, 6’11, 7’5 wingspan, 236 pounds

~ I’ve been a fan of Jarren Jackson’s game ever since the Nike Hoop Summit but there are some things that I do worry about him.  He wasn’t getting any playing time during the most crucial time of season with a well respected coach like Tom Izzo.  Jackson lacked the discipline during big moments, was out of position, foul prone and unrefined skill wise. I understand that if you look at his per 40 minute numbers they are off the charts great with averages of 20 points, 15.6 rebounds, 5.5 blocks, 51% from the field and 40% from three.  To put a player that’s as raw as Jackson and has a lot of work to do to become an NBA caliber star player made me second guess if Jackson is really a top 10 player. It’s not like Jackson didn’t display amazing attributes during the season but if we’re talking about ranking a player top 5 he better be polished.  

I’ll bypass Jackson’s flaws for now and put him in my top 5 since he can play both frontcourt positions, shoot threes and guard 1 thru 5.  He has the length, strength and athleticism to jumpstart his NBA transition and become a modern day 5-man. His defense can suffocate perimeter players movement, cover ground in a flash and rotate weakside for highlight blocks.  If he gets blown by off the dribble his recovery time is arguably the best in this class. He has a great stance and stays low but needs to be more sound on bites, fakes and jab steps. On offense he can shoot threes as well, if not better, than Bagley.  Great repeatable shot mechanics that even though might not be a conventional stroke it’s fairly accurate, typically missing long or short. If he gets pushed off the line he can attack in a straight line and needs to develop advanced dribble drive moves for better opportunities around the rim.  Along with developing his handle his mid-post face-up game needs some work as well. He’s not really a scorer yet like Ayton and Bagley are. As of now Jackson projects more like an elite 3-and-D center. If he can refine his offensive game and stay sound on defense than his upside could be limitless.     

  1. Michael Porter jr, SF/PF/C, Missouri, FR, 6’11, 7” wingspan, 211 pounds

~ Porter was ranked first overall when I did my last rankings.  A big reason why I knocked him down to five was injury concerns.  Opening up someone’s back could have huge ramifications on their athleticism and since he wasn’t that athletic to begin with Porters overall game could take a nosedive.  Also from watching game tape he doesn’t seem like the friendliest of teammates. I know this might sound petty but he doesn’t respond to teammates with the enthusiasm you would hope for from the team’s “leader.”  He left teammates hanging on high fives or was late dapping them up making it awkward more than a few times. This may sound silly but like I said in the intro personality matters.

For anyone who wants to breakdown game tape on Porter I would suggest not watching any college tape and rather watch the 2016 FIBA U18 mens tournament played in Chile.  He was healthy playing other highly ranked prospects in a competitive tournament setting. Porter was the best scorer on team USA surrounded by guys like Markelle Fultz, Trae Young, Mo Bamba, Kevin Huerter and PJ Washington.  Porter showed off his scoring ability being able to attack closeouts, one-dribble pull-up from anywhere, finish with either hand and shoot from three. At his size he became a mismatch nightmare for the opposing teams 4-man and should continue to do so at the next level.  His long range shooting stroke at times looked textbook but at other times utilized his wrist action with no follow thru.

Even though Porter might not have elite athleticism he’s a fluid athlete with coordination and a solid handle.  However he does need to develop better dribble drive moves if he wants a better chance living at the rim or free throw line.  When he does break down the defense he needs to keep his head up, find the open teammate and not get tunnel vision. Defensively he has the tools to become a 1 thru 5 switching threat but was too upright in his stance.  He has to do a better job of moving his feet, anticipate action and stay centered on defense if he wants to hit his full potential. There isn’t much tape to go off on but Porter has the makings of a scoring threat mismatch at power forward that can guard every spot on defense.  Those don’t come around that often at his size.

6. Miles Bridges, SF/PF, Michigan St, SO, 6’7, 6’9.5 wingspan, 220 pounds

~ If Miles Bridges had a longer wingspan would he be ranked higher by scouts?  As of now ESPN has Miles Bridges ranked 15th overall in their prospect rankings and I wonder how much of it has to do with his length versus his skill.  Lonnie Walker has displayed less skill compared to Miles Bridges but because of Walker’s length and athleticism he has a higher ceiling than Miles Bridges and ESPN has Walker ranked higher. Outside of having short arms Bridges does have other flaws like predictable off the bounce moves, mid-range heavy, limited creation skills, scared of contact and needs to raise his release point on his outside jump shot because well, you know, he has short arms.  His lefty jumper is a fine stroke but instead of putting emphasis on the flick of his wrist he should put more emphasis on the follow thru of his arms; it’ll give his release more height. Bridges is diverse in his shooting being able to use the 1-2 plant, hop into a curl off screens, shoot off a closeout or spot up in the corner for three. He needs to decipher when to take better shots and not to force a long two point shot thats contested.

When he attacks off the bounce its pretty basic: jab-step or ball fake, one or two dribbles maybe a cross over then pull-up from mid-range.  He has to expand that part of his game but it’s not like he can’t. He needs to develop a stern mentality of getting to the rim. He’s got in-and-out dribbles, behind the back, change-of-direction counters at his disposal but he rarely uses them when attacking.  For all his shots off the dribble Bridges shot .765 points per possession which ranks 47th percentile and only 3.2 free throw attempts and 2.7 assists per game this past season. He needs to get better off the dribble which if he sharpens his counter moves is a possibility.  

Defensively Bridges has the elite athleticism, strength and respectable standing reach to be a modern day swing forward.  As long as Bridges understands team concepts on rotations, doesn’t ball watch, stay low in his stance and be physical through contact then he can guard 1 thru 5.  Bridges playing pick-and-roll defense could be a huge differentiating factor since he can be the “big” in a contain assignment or the perimeter player fighting over a screen.  I understand the concerns about his length while finishing against length or contesting shots on the closeout but overall I think Miles Bridges is skilled enough to overcome that issue.

7. Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami (FL), FR, 6’4, 6’10 wingspan, 196 pounds

~ Lonnie Walker and Kevin Knox are in the same boat.  Both can end up becoming the best player in this draft class or be out of the league by their second contract.  Walker is a prototypical shooting guard standing 6’4 with a 6’10 wingspan alongside his elite athleticism. Just like with Kevin Knox, Walker does most everything average and doesn’t have one stand out skill.  The stand out skill is supposedly his shooting but considering he’s a 1.00 points per possession on catch-and-shoot chances which ranks 48th percentile, a .657 points per possession on all shots off the dribble which ranks 29th percentile and a .91 points per possession on jump shots which ranks 47th percentile doesn’t bode well for Walker.  His mechanics actually look pretty good with a nice follow thru and high release point so I question was there a problem with his knee from earlier in the year or a confidence problem. He has a strong enough handle combined with his elite lateral movement to blow by defenders and create for himself. He was a 1.034 points per possession on isolation plays which ranks 86th percentile.  He needs to be more instinctive to create for his teammates, be active off-ball and use more than just an in-and-out dribble to attack off the bounce.

He uses his athleticism as a crutch at times especially on defense.  While overall he was a plus defender in college Walker can be out of position guarding a perimeter players first attack move by relying on his speed to recover the blow by.  He can get away with it in college but not so much in the NBA. He does do a positive job closing out on the perimeter, lock and trailing shooters, and being versatile on pick-and-roll coverages.  I decided to rank Walker in my top 10 mostly due to his age and personality traits. He was one of the most aggressive and fierce competitors this season. Would I be surprised if Walker goes in the top 10?  Heck no. Would I be surprised if Walker goes late first round? Heck no. Once again, it’s all about where he gets drafted and how they pinpoint the skills he needs to improve on.

  1. Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova, JR, 6’7, 7’2 wingspan, 200 pounds

~ Mikal Bridges has the size, length and athleticism to become the very coveted 3-and-D swing forward every decision maker wants.  The question is can he create off the dribble? Can he create for himself? Is he beholden to other ball handlers? As of now he’s just a straight line driver off the bounce with no wiggle in the lane, very mechanical.  He doesn’t create much separation in isolation situations going to that play type 4.7% of the time. And for the most part he’s an off-ball player with 49% of his actions resulting in either spot ups or transition plays.  Bridges does have a high basketball IQ so when he does breakdown the defense to create offense it’s typically through pick-and-roll plays as he’s a .984 points per possession as the ball handler on screen-and-rolls which ranks 90th percentile.  He’s so long that his dribble tends to be high and if he can lower his center of gravity, develop advanced dribble attack moves and a weak hand handle then becoming an off the bounce creator is in his depth.

For now he’s a diverse shooter off the catch being able to read defenders movement on screens and picking the right action to pop free for a shot.  He has some pick-and-pop potential but he needs to bulk up for that to be a realization. His shot is much improved from his freshman season but at times can be too heavily associated with wrist action.  He has such long arms that creating a high release point might cause too much arc for him but more often than not his shot was picture perfect with the appropriate amount of air underneath the ball this season.  On defense he has the fundamentals, tools and IQ to be an elite perimeter defender. He needs to get stronger if he wants to handle switches better and he has to use angles more precisely if he wants to contain penetration.  By far one of the more accomplished and older players rumored to be a lottery pick. He might not have the ceiling you would want from a lottery pick but considering how shallow swing forwards are in the NBA and the importance placed on that position betting on prospects like Bridges are worth the risk.   

 9. Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky, FR, 6’9, 7” wingspan, 212 pounds

~ Knox has been getting a late second push through the scouting community recently and it’s understandable.  He’s 6’9 with a 7” wingspan, a 9” standing reach, an above average athlete, with three point shooting ability and perimeter skills.  That combination of length, skills, size and athleticism are what teams dream of. Yet the lack of developed skills, not having one great skill he can hang his hat on and the lack of feel for the game hasn’t been a deterrent for teams.  I’m assuming the fact he’s one of the younger players in the draft merged with his sought after physical attributes gives teams the inclination that they can mold him with time to evolve into an elite versatile perimeter player. If I were a GM or coach I’d probably be thinking the same thing.

The problem is it’s taking a leap of faith at this point since his skills aren’t really that advanced.  His handle is rudimentary at this point in time, totally strong hand dependent, his shot mechanics when contested fall apart and he can’t create off the dribble.  He doesn’t have an aggressive mindset when he’s in the paint, was easily pushed around and doesn’t have a low man wins mentality. On defense since he was typically upright his tools never matched his potential, had a terrible block rate for someone his size and didn’t use his length on recoverys.  He needs to assert himself in the game more forcefully, get tougher on everything he does, work his weak hand handle, start practicing shots on the move and with a broomstick in his face…seriously. But at the same time I have him ranked 9th because it’s not like he’s terrible at anything, he’s just average at everything.  It’s just frustrating to watch someone with so much potential not be self-assured with his talent. With someone like Knox his career will depend on where he gets drafted and how will he define himself with inside the team construct.

10. Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech, FR, 6’4, 6’10 wingspan, 199 pounds

~ I still hoped that Zhaire Smith would’ve came out in next years draft instead of this years draft due to his inexperience.  He was on a team that had a senior lead ball handler in Keenan Evans that saw the majority of touches. If Smith came back to school for another year not only would he have more opportunities to fix his weaknesses but to solidify his lottery position.  And yet I have him ranked 6th this year. The first thing that jumps off the screen while watching Smith is his elite athleticism. Recording a 41.5” max vertical, a 3.05 second three quarter sprint, a 3.15 second shuttle run and a 11.02 second lane agility time at the combine confirmed what we already knew.  Smith did a lot with his athleticism to emend his skill set granted he played a hybrid of positions off-ball

His off-ball movement on offense was a standout among the other top prospects.  Making good use of v-cuts, rip screens and silp actions Smith “cut” 22% of his offensive possessions with a 1.253 points per possession which ranked 70th percentile.  In an offense tailored around motion sets Smith was constantly active off-ball trying to free open his teammates for buckets at the basket, corner threes or for catch-and-shoot opportunities.  Smith acted more like the screen setting “glue guy” at Texas Tech this season instead of the athletic creation scorer that could be his role at the next level.

Even though he was seldomly used as a shooter Smith was a 1.289 point per possession on all catch-and-shoot plays which ranked 89th percentile, 1.027 points per possession on all half court jump shots which ranked 71th percentile and .828 points per possession on all shots off the dribble which ranked 57th percentile.  His jumper wasn’t a repeatable motion though sometimes dipping the ball down around his knees when he loaded up and pulled back his set point above his head. If he can develop a compact, repeatable motion then Smith’s shot can be part of his arsenal. Being a shot creator was something he was not this year and his isolations numbers back that up with a .789 points per possession on derived offense off ISO which ranked 42th percentile.  He needs to do a better job at creating separation off the bounce, developing counter dribble moves and reading the defense for better setups.

Defensively Smith was one of the best defenders in all of college basketball staying grounded on fakes, covering space quickly, fighting through screens and displaying prowess on switches.  He does need to do a better job of staying in front of first step attacks; he got blown by with quick steps more than he should’ve. Since he has nice athleticism/length he can easily recover a blow by in college but the pros will be a different story.  I think it might take Smith a year or two to develop a consistent outside shot, a better handle and feel for pick-and-roll creation but add that with the rest of his game and watch him flourish.

11. Troy Brown, SF/PF, Oregon, FR, 6’7, 6’10 wingspan, 208 pounds

~ If it wasn’t for the fact Troy Brown is an average athlete with poor shooting skills I would’ve ranked him in my top 5.  But he is a less than stellar athlete having trouble creating his own shot and at times getting blown off the dribble on defense.  He’s not versatile with his shooting skills and lacks footwork off of screens, tends to be more of a spot up jump shooter. It’s not like he has bad shooting mechanics either, which is one of my big takeaways.  A player like Josh Jackson or Justise Winslow had funky shooting mechanics coming out of college and even though Troy Brown was a .768 points per possession on spot up attempts which ranks 27th percentile his mechanics are salvageable.  It really is about confidence, developing a consistent, repeatable, compact tendency that he feels comfortable with. Because right now you never know what mechanics you’re going get with Troy Brown.

With that said Troy Brown did almost everything else well.  He might not be able to create for himself off the dribble but he sure can create for others.  Brown had a 1.00 points per possession off isolation derived offense which ranked 80th percentile.  When he did breakdown defenders off the bounce he did a good job of dumping short corner, making lob passes, skip passes and anticipating the action off-ball.  He also was a .846 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler which ranks 70th percentile. Brown displays a high basketball IQ and combine that with his size, handle and playmaking ability he could fill the role of an Andre Iguodala type at the next level.  Since he’s a lesser athlete he may need the help of screens to create space for him but Brown was a 1.323 points per possession around the basket which ranks 82nd percentile highlighting his finishing ability. On defense the absence of a quick first step was a problem but overall used his size and smarts to rotate on time, maneuver around screens well, collapse and recover on a dime.  He fought thru screens and used his length to help on closeouts. If Brown can develop his outside shot and get past his lackluster athleticism then he could be a steal outside the lottery.

  1. Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma, FR, 6’2, 6’3 wingspan, 178 pounds

~ Everyone’s favorite point guard was not in my last top 10.  One reason being I don’t like the pure point guards that are coming out in the draft this year and the value of small, average athlete, pure point guards is dissipating in the NBA.  Young was also a bad defender last year at Oklahoma. The difference between say someone like Trae Young and Kyrie Irving or Steph Curry defensively is size and athleticism. Curry and Irving are stronger better athletes with more size so if switched on a bigger perimeter player they can hold their own even though it’s a mismatch.  Young on the other hand might be a liability altogether defensively. He is an extremely high IQ player which will help him on rotations and scheme but pick-and-roll defense is critical for point guards. Even if Young covers the non-shooter he can still get stuck in a screen situation or taken down low in the post. Just one liability on defense and the whole integrity might break down. 

He isn’t perfect on offense either.  Once he played conference ball and teams started to double or biltz Young he had a harder time shooting threes; he shot 33% from three during conference play and 36% for the whole season.  He does have a quick release but part of the reason it’s so quick is because it’s a low release point. If he doesn’t fix his release point that could become an issue versus NBA athletes. Also during conference play his handle wasn’t as tight not being able to turn the corner with little wasted motion.  His handle looks more rigid and doesn’t have flexibility when pushed in tight spaces. He’s also rigid around the basket sporting a 1.07 points per possession which ranks 41th percentile. As a result finishing over length and transition offense is a major concern.

If it wasn’t for the fact he’s amazing at isolation and creation for others than I don’t know if I would’ve had him in my top 20.  Young was one of the better ISO players in college basketball last season with a 1.019 points per possession which ranks 85th percentile; derived offense off of ISO was a 1.048 which ranks 84th percentile.  As a pick-and-roll ball handler Young was a .881 points per possession which ranks 76th percentile. He displayed nice counter moves off the dribble, change-of-pace hang dribbles and created separation to generate points for himself and his teammates at a high rate.  So even though Trae Young does have his flaws his high IQ, off the dribble game and shot creation are arguably the best in this class. If he can manage to improve on the other aspects of his game he could be an elite point guard.

  1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG/SG, Kentucky, FR, 6’6, 7” wingspan, 180 pounds

~ Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was in my top 10 last prospect rankings now he’s 13, what gives?  My confidence in his outside was tested I guess you can say. His mechanics need some work since his release has a form like a “shot put.”  It isn’t a high release point either as he doesn’t get much lift underneath him. By no means is it a broken shot but there are more questions now surrounding if he will get the shot off with more length and athleticism attacking him.  Also as an isolation creator off the bounce Alexander was a .716 points per possession on derived points off isolation plays which ranks 28th percentile. He doesn’t have the elite athleticism needed to create separation at times and is more of a fluid athlete.  Many have him projected as a point guard so it’s pretty important that he creates for others off the dribble. And on defense he can get blown by with quick first steps and counter moves on occasion.

Although, Alexander was a slick, skillful, pick-and-roll player that scored .95 points per possession as the ball handler on screen-and-rolls which ranks 86th percentile.  He’s going to need screens to help him create for himself and others but with that space he has a nice repertoire of change-of-pace dribble moves with either hand. At times he can be loose with his dribble and careless on turnovers but for the most part keeps a tight handle with great body control.  When he gets to the rim he’s a crafty finisher sporting a 1.194 points per possession which ranks 64th percentile. Even though his shot has it’s flaws he’s clearly improved shooting 40% from three, albeit from a small sample size, and 82% from the free throw line. His positional versatility on defense was one of the top reasons he was in my last top 10.  He needs to bulk up if he wants to manage switches better but being 6’6 with a 7” wingspan with a great understanding of defensive concepts sets him up greatly at the next level. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can still very well be a sleeper pick but this draft when it comes to point guards isn’t anything special.

  1. Melvin Frazier, SF, Tulane, JR, 6’6, 7’2 wingspan, 198 pounds

~ I understand the critique of why rank a guy who is about to turn 22 years old over a 19 year old who when comparing freshmen seasons side by side the 19 year old had a better season.  So wouldn’t it make sense to rank the 19 year old over the 22 year old? It’s a fair argument to make especially when it comes down to potential and upside.  But with certain instances, advanced skill level even at an old age can trump nebulous upside.  Just because someone has more “potential” than another player doesn’t obligate me to presuppose they’ll improve in the future guaranteed.

Melvin Frazier might be turning 22 years old this year but was one of the better perimeter defenders in college last season, improved his outside shot, took more responsibility on-ball and exceptionally executed transition offense.  One of the big knocks on Frazier is his ball handling skills as they are very loose relegated to just straight line driving. As a pick-and-roll ball handler he was a .629 points per possession which ranked 26th percentile. Developing a stable handle and an off the dribble game is a must for Frazier.  He improved his shot and reworked his mechanics to become more mangable on the release. His set point can sometimes be pulled back over his head which culminated in a sling shot release. The improvement over the past three years gives me an optimistic approach when considering the consistency of his shot.  In all spot up opportunities this season Frazier was a 1.046 points per possession which ranks 74th percentile. He was one of the more active off-ball players displaying rub screens, pindowns, out cuts and making hustle putbacks. Adding creation skills, being consistent on threes and sharpening his handle can take his offensive game to the next level.

Defensively he fought over screens, helped pick up the slack on a below average Tulane team, did a great job closing out on shooters and containing penetration.  He plays the passing lanes well which ignites his transition offense which he scored 1.312 points per possession ranking 89th percentile. His 6’6 frame, 7’2 wingspan and 8’9 standing reach added to his plus athleticism and great defensive fundamentals makes Frazier arguably the best perimeter defender in this draft.  That’s why I have him ranked higher than most, his NBA ready defense plus evolving offensive game gives Fraizer a chance at being one of the most desired players in this draft.

  1. Wendell Carter, C, Duke, FR, 6’10, 7’4.5 wingspan, 251 pounds

~ Why do I have Wendell Carter ranked so low?  A majority of scouting sites have Carter ranked in their top 10 and some have him higher then Bagley.  The perception is that Carter contributed more to winning then Bagley did; Bagley was looked at like a stat stuffing “big” that doesn’t contribute during situational basketball.  Well for starters Carter was a better screen setter and overall had more reliable fundamentals over Bagley. Carter was by far the better defender protecting the rim, communicating coverages and being an excellent post defender.  Carter is also the more instinctive player passing out of double teams, finding open perimeter players and averaging two assists per 26.9 minutes of play. Carter arguably has the better looking outside shot with high release point mechanics, nice for a seven footer.  Carter was a 1.114 points per possession on all half court jump shots which ranks 87th percentile. He has a higher basketball IQ, better defender, arguably better shooter and more intuitive on offense than Bagley. Why do I have him ranked 14 spots lower than Bagley?

The number one reason is dribble drive game.  Bagley possess probably the best handle for any seven footer in this draft class and that will have a direct impact on shot creation.  Carter might be able to do high post split actions or operate from the elbows but he will be a stationary target nevertheless. Bagley will have the option to do that and create off the bounce which Carter can not do at the moment.  If Carter can’t attack closeouts in a pace-and-space league it will limit him somewhat while Bagley has the luxury of doing both off the dribble and pinch post actions. Bagleys athleticism lends itself for better activity on dives to the rim and a bigger catch radius.  Also Carter might be a better rim protector but how will he do on the perimeter? That’s a difference where Bagley should be able to be more versatile in. Carter might be confided to a contain first defensive system which caps his upside. How will Carter do covering space on hard hedges?  How will he do with switches? I’m more confident with Bagley than Carter in that area of expertise. But if Carter can show his versatility on pick-and-roll coverages, develop a decent handle and shoot threes consistently then there’s a very good chance he exceeds Bagley.     

  1. Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland, SO, 6’7, 6’7.5 wingspan, 194 pounds

~ If Kevin Huerter had a longer wingspan I wouldn’t have been shocked if he went top 10 overall.  Huerter has been the darling of the scouting community rising up their boards culminating with the 5-on-5 scrimmages at the combine.  For me, even after the combine, I thought he should return to school for another year because how weak next year’s draft class will be and to improve some weaknesses he currently has in school.  His frame is a problem. He has short arms, small hands and a slender frame that can get pushed around easily. He had trouble fighting thru screens, playing with bigger wings and playing thru contact on drives.  He wasn’t asked to guard the opposing teams best scoring threat often but when he did either through post play or physical drives Huerter had his troubles. He’s a smart defender comprehending defensive schemes and where he corresponds.  He obviously needs to get stronger and that might take time for him to grow into his man body. Huerter wasn’t as aggressive as he should’ve been at Maryland either. He was the best scoring option on a team devoid of scoring options and he only had ten shooting attempts plus three free throw attempts per game.  He has to affirm his role and take advantage of the moments.

Offensively he’s a fantastic shooter.  His mechanics might not be picture perfect with more emphasis on wrist action but he was a 1.144 points per possession on all spot up plays which ranks 88th percentile.  Whether it was off the dribble, off movement or pull-up jumpers Huerter showed he has the diversity of shot selection that teams are looking for. He’s more athletic than one would assume when looking at him.  He tested well at the combine during the athletic portions being ranked top 10 in every agility category. He was a 1.361 points per possession on derived points off of isolation which ranks 99th percentile. Huerter needs to expand his dribble drive repertoire but showed off some nice behind the back, between the legs change-of-direction moves when attacking the rim.  He’s also a very heady player driving with his head up prognosticating off-ball action and making solid reads. Huerter has some creation skills, can attack closeouts, is a well verse shooter and can finish around the rim with a 1.379 points per possession which ranks 89th percentile. He has that 3-and-D wing potential most teams want but if he gets more assertive on offense, develops his handle and plays defense with aggression than Huerter can be more than just a role player.  

  1. Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M, SO, 6’10, 7’5 wingspan, 241 pounds

~ Robert Williams played most of the season in two big-men lineups with Tyler Davis primarily being the center.  The team overall shot 33% from three so the spacing was an issue too. Correctly gauging Williams is a challenge since he played out of position and was suspended by the team multiple times.  Watching Williams on defense you had the feeling he should be better than what he’s exhibiting. A lot of it had to do with him relying on his athleticism and length to cover his mistakes, wasn’t as physical as he could’ve been and wasn’t sound on fakes.  If put in a situation like Clint Capela in Houston then there’s a solid chance he can be the defender we all think he can be; banging down low with “bigs”, chasing wings on the perimeter and moving laterally with guards. At times he showed off he can do that sort of stuff so whether it’s motor or fit he wasn’t as dependable as he should’ve been defensively.

On offense Williams is plain and simple a rim-running, high flying lob target with a massive catch radius.  That kind of gravity will suck in defenders from the outside. If no one helps then it’s lob city. When Williams gets the ball at the elbows or short corner he has to do a better job of making good decisions.  Setting screens, rolling to the rim and commanding extra defenders will be his essential role in the NBA. It’s hard to watch him and not think Clint Capela but Capela ended up in the best possible place for him to succeed.  I’m not sure if the same thing will happen for Williams. To have that type of outlook though deserves more attention than what’s been given for Williams.

  1. Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise St, SR, 6’7, 7’1 wingspan, 198 pounds

~ The biggest reason why Hutchison fell from my top 10 is because of age; he just turned 22.  It took him four years to be marginally better than some of these freshmen or sophomores. Nevertheless, what Hutchison improved was his outside shooting sporting a 1.271 on catch-and-shoot sets which ranks 87th percentile.  His shooting motion looked so much better from where it was freshman year. His form can regress at times but his shot is a concise, condensed follow through with an elevated release point. He expanded his dribble drive moves with his quick first step, wiggle in the lane and was tough to stop in transition or off the bounce.  When he got to the basket he was a 1.344 points per possession which ranks 85th percentile being smooth with either hand. Hutchinson had a lot of ball handling responsibility with 123 pick-and-roll ball handler possessions and during those play types he was mostly average ranking 59th percentile. He needs to have better shot selection, shoot better off pull ups and refine his handle with a lower center of gravity.

Defensively Hutchison was solid at guarding shots of the dribble, ball handlers off of screens and contesting shots at the rim.  While Hutchinson is a good not great athlete he does need to get lower in his defensive stance and challenge screens with a little more aggression.  Clearly since I had him in my last top 10 I still like him a lot. He can attack closeouts, finish at the rim, create off the bounce, play the pick-and-roll and be versatile on defense.  As a 6’7 wing with a 7’1 wingspan that sounds pretty enticing.

  1. Josh Okogie, SG, Georgia Tech, SO, 6’4, 7” wingspan, 211 pounds

~ Along with Melvin Frazier, Josh Okogie really impressed me at the 5-on-5 scrimmaging at the combine.  Was projected to be a 2019 prospect but after a great combine decided to capitalize now.  One of the better producers in college the past two years Okogie has per 40 minute averages of 20 points, 7 boards, 2.5 assists, 1 blk, 1.5 stl on 38% from three.  His shooting mechanics aren’t anything to boast about since his set point can be pulled back frequently but did score 1.339 points per possession on catch-and-shoot opportunities which ranked 93rd percentile.  He has solid footwork off screens and does a fine job curling into his shot. In general he does need to steady his spot up and off dribble shot attempts. His handle can be stiff using his quick first step as a springboard to catapult him into his drive.  He has limited counter moves but still has some twitch in the lane sporting a 1.5 points per possession on isolation plays which ranks 100th percentile; sample size being only 16 possessions.

The biggest area of improvement for Okogie has to be finishing around the basket as he looks mechanical around the rim.  Okogie was a .946 points per possession around the basket which ranks 23rd percentile. Okogie might need to make slight adjustments to his ball handling, playmaking and all around shooting but if he can’t finish over length then he becomes a stationary player.  On defense Okogie was a mixed bag showing times where he looked like a lockdown defender that can guard multiple positions and other times where he was ball watching, out of position and having trouble containing penetration. He can cause havoc in the passing lanes plus use his length to block unsuspecting players shot attempts.  He has the mold of a modern day wing with size and athleticism. His skills are probably a couple of seasons away from progressing but the combination of the two is worth a look.

  1. Mo Bamba, C, Texas, FR, 7”, 7’10 wingspan, 225 pounds

~  I’m cleary lower on Bamba than most everyone else.  I understand his potential as a Rudy Gobert type player but no one seems to be making the argument that Bamba might be more Hassan Whiteside than Gobert.  Bamba should have the rim-protection skills at the next level with unworldly length and weak side instincts. It is interesting however when breaking down the analytics that defensively around the basket Bamba was a 1.057 points per possession which ranks 38th percentile and .885 points per possession on post-ups which ranks 61st percentile.  Not trying to read too much into those numbers since there can be noise on defensive analytics but I figured both those stats would be significantly better. Bamba did play alongside another big man with Dylan Osetkowski so that might affect those numbers contrasting NBA philosophy. The problem I have with Bamba isn’t his advanced statistics on paint protection but his skills on pick-and-roll coverages.  Will he be assigned to just downing every screen or can he switch on smaller players? I have questions about Bamba’s lateral quickness, pick-and-roll versatility and for someone his size got pushed around inside more than I would’ve liked. He needs to find his man and box him out routinely with authority.

On offense I’m just unsure of who Bamba is.  He doesn’t have any advanced go-to post moves as he posted a .73 points per possession on post-ups which ranked 34th percentile.  He relies on offensive putbacks too heavily and isn’t a sturdy screen setter sporting a .773 points per possession on dives to the basket which ranked 20th percentile.  If Bamba wants to be a Rudy Gobert type player than he should start setting better screens and rolling to the rim with certainty. It felt like he tried to become a pick-and-pop player and floated to the three point line to often.  I hate to break it to the people who say he can shoot threes after watching some 1-on-none practice footage but Bamba shot 28% from three and had a .82 points per possession on all half court jump shots which ranked 32nd percentile.  It’s simple: Bamba was a 1.523 on shots around the basket (not including post-ups) which ranked 97th percentile. Getting him to roll with conviction should be his priority right now and eventually try to expand his game out to the perimeter one step at a time.  This is why I think the Whiteside comparison might be more apropos.

 

Players Who Didn’t Make The Cut But Were Close:

 

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA, JR

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State, SO  

Justin Jackson, SF/PF, Maryland, SO

Keita Bates-Diop, PF/C, Ohio State, SR

Allonzo Trier, SG, Arizona, JR

 

* All Stats Provided by Synergy Sports Technology*