Pre-Tournament Top 20 Prospect Rankings

Before the NCAA basketball tournament starts and the NBA playoffs consume most of my time I wanted to give an updated prospect rankings.   Probably after the college basketball tournament is over I’ll start posting scouting reports on each player for a more thorough breakdown.  I think one of the many themes of this draft is centered around players who look like “small forwards” but are actually “power forwards.”  Players like De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Rui Hachimura, Grant Williams, Romeo Langford and Nassir Little all look like “small forwards” because of their body type but in actuality their skill package is more in line with “power forwards.”  Since they have the capability to play “SF” doesn’t mean that’s their true position, only that they’re versatile enough to play multiple positions.  Also, just like my last ranking I have each player ranked in tiers:

 

Tier #1

 

  1. Zion Williamson, FR, Duke, PF/C, 6’7, 18.6 years

~ With Zion healthy, Duke gets the number one overall seed in the tournament and their two losses were to Gonzaga (another one seeded team) by two points and to Syracuse by four points in overtime without Cam Reddish and Tyus Jones.  When Zion was out with an injury, Duke goes 3-3 and wins a one possession game versus the 11-20 Wake Forest Demon Deacons at home.  We’re talking about a Duke team that still had a projected first round pick (Tre Jones), a projected top ten pick (Cam Reddish) and a projected top five pick (RJ Barrett).  And yet, they’re an average team without Zion.  The overall impact Zion brings can’t be understated.  He really is a generational talent.

 

Tier #2

 

  1. Jarrett Culver, SO, Texas Tech, SG/SF, 6’7, 20 years

~ Culver moves up one spot from my last rankings.  Culver has been shooting better of late.  His guide hand is more steady on his follow thru and he’s releasing the shot at it’s apex more consistently.  He has great coordination leaping off one foot around the rim and has solid power leaping off two.  He’s a good play maker using ball screens or going live-dribble.  Add that to his great length, top level athleticism and his plus defensive skills makes Culver a tier 2 prospect.

 

  1. Kevin Porter jr, FR, USC, SG, 6’6, 18.8 years

~ He might have off the court red flags and his on-court production is nothing near any player on this list but I still think he has tier two upside.  Ranking players in a weak draft after Zion is a crapshoot and players like Porter possess enough skill added with his physical makeup to give him great upside.  I do think whether it’s because of his injury or the environment at USC it’s almost impossible to get a good read on Kevin Porter jr.  Although from what I’ve seen his body control in tight spaces, tough shot making ability and advanced dribble drive moves plus his creation ability on defense still makes me think he has all-star potential.

 

  1. De’Andre Hunter, (RS) SO, Virgina, SF/PF, 6’8, 21.2 years

~ I kept Hunter at four but his live-ball skills give me cause to pause.  He doesn’t create much separation with his handle or create for himself and others off the bounce.  He’s also too attached to his position on defense.  That still makes him a sound team defender but you would like to see more creation skills on defense like deflections, steals, blocks etc.  That could just be a schematic thing though.  But overall his efficiency on offense, shooting ability and on-ball defense to go along with his physical profile still gives Hunter a tier 2 rank.  I also think since his true position is PF and not SF that possessing a base line of live-dribble skills is a good starting point to develop from.

 

  1. Darius Garland, FR, Vanderbilt, PG/SG, 6’2, 19.1 years

~ Garland moves up two spots and he hasn’t played since November, pretty logical stuff I might say.  Bottom line is my uncertainty with this class and the fact I trust Garland’s scoring ability.  I think Garland has arguably the best long distance shooting and shot creation skills in this draft.  His size, injury and lack of defensive upside will be drawbacks that NBA front offices have to take into account.  But if Garland possesses an elite portfolio of shooting ability whether that be spot-up, off-movement, pull-up or off-dribble, then at least when it comes to this draft he should be considered a tier 2 player.

 

  1. RJ Barrett, FR, Duke, SG, 6’6, 18.7 years

~ Barrett moves down one spot on my new ranking.  I still have worries about his free throw shooting, three point shooting and finishing ability.  He definitely favors his left hand and he’s not that fluid around the basket; has some rigid motion on his finishing ability.  He does have long strong strides on his drives and when he dips his shoulder he clearly overpowers his opponent, but will that power translate to the pros?  Is he more of a power driver instead of using finesse moves in the lane?  Does he possess enough shiftiness to create separation and throw off defenders timing?  His creation skills off the dribble is the biggest reason why I think ranking Barrett number two overall is justified.  Barrett does put up good stat lines but I’m not entirely sold on him.

 

  1. Ja Morant, SO, Murray State, PG, 6’3, 19.5 years

~ Morant moves up two spots from my last ranking.  I have Morant and RJ Barrett kind of in the same boat.  I love their creation skills off the dribble but I’m worried about their touch around the rim and long distance shooting ability.  Both are elite athletes that have solid pick-and-roll skills but if you can’t be efficient around the basket or make three pointers then it’s tough to advance in the NBA as ball handlers.  I really want to see how he plays in the tournament versus teams like Marquette, Florida State and Gonzaga.  I usually don’t overrate tournament performances (aka Shabazz Napier) but since Morant has been playing in a weak conference for months, playing top tier talent will be a nice gauge for evaluation.  

 

Tier #3

 

  1. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SO, Virginia Tech, SG, 6’5, 20.4 years

~ Alexander-Walker stays ranked eighth but he moves from tier 2 to tier 3, do I think of him any differently as before?  Yes and no.  Yes because I created another tier to highlight the gap between levels. Even though I have Alexander-Walker ranked one spot below Morant doesn’t mean I think they are on the same level as prospects.  But overall I did keep him ranked at eight, so in the totality of things I don’t think of him any less.  Ever since Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech’s starting point guard, went down with an injury Alexander-Walker has taken a step back.  He’s used more on-ball now as opposed to him being off-ball typically creating with off-movement before the injury.  Even though he can step in and be the primary ball handler in a pinch that’s not really his forte.  He really should be a secondary/tertiary ball handler at the next level.  However I do like it when he one hand skip passes the ball on a rope off a ball screen; they’re so accurate and a joy to watch.  He can do that with either hand but I think that just emphasizes his overall versatility as an offensive player.

 

  1. Tyler Herro, FR, Kentucky, SG, 6’5, 19.1 years

~ You better believe I have Herro at nine.  Herro wasn’t even placed in my last rankings but now he’s nine?  Has the Old Man forgotten to take his vitamins?  I can assure you I’m lucid and this is not a typo.  Herro was apart of my fourth tier from my last ranking, so he was in consideration but didn’t make the cut.  However there has been a big difference between Herro non-conference and conference play.  For starters he’s a much better all-around defender now then he was at the start of the season.  That doesn’t mean he’s getting more steals/blocks but he’s doing a better job defending from weak side low man position, choking plays off-ball and recovering to his own and attacking closeouts.  I don’t know if Herro will ever be a great on-ball defender but he definitely is more active now trying to cut off players angles.

Offensively he has the diverse shooting portfolio that lends itself to next level success; good footwork and a nice compact repeatable shooting motion.  He has trouble creating separation off the bounce, which is a negative, but when using ball screens he reads gap protection well and attacks accordingly.  He isn’t very strong around the rim on his finishes since he isn’t an explosive player.  But what he does do instead of getting to the rim is stopping short and pulling up for floaters/runners.  Showing excellent touch Herro is shooting 1.048 points per possession on his runners which ranks 88th percentile.  He currently is shooting 1.05 points per possession on shots around the basket (no post-ups) which ranks 37th percentile.  With better core strength and conditioning he should get better attacking the rim and finishing through contact since he has displayed great touch on movement twos.

Herro isn’t going to be a player that has great measurables or athletic testing at the combine.  A matter of fact I think he has a 6’4 wingspan.  But overall he has the requisite skills and has shown vast improvement over the course of the season that should contribute to his future growth.  I think he has major sleeper potential.

 

  1. Grant Williams, JR, Tennessee, PF, 6’7, 20.3 years

~ Moving up six spots, Williams is one of my biggest climbers.  Clearly moving him up into my top 10 means I think he’s a top prospect but also this says a lot about how I feel about this draft.  So many players in this draft are inconsistent with their skills and production while Williams continues to be solid week after week.  He’s young for a junior, one of the better two-way players in this class and is an improving outside shooter.  He does have a limited handle, isn’t an above the rim player and lacks advanced creation skills off the bounce.  I guess I’m just skeptical of so many players in this draft that Williams’ consistency, year over year improvement and overall skill give him just as much upside as some of the acclaimed freshmen in this draft.  Just like with Tyler Herro, I think Williams has sleeper potential.  

 

  1. Nassir Little, FR, North Carolina, SF/PF, 6’6, 19 years

~ Little moves up two spots from my last ranking.  Even though I list him as a “SF/PF” his best position at the next level will undoubtedly be “PF”.  Little is probably the most volatile prospect on my ranking.  One week I think he’s a tier 2 player and should be ranked in the top 10 and the next week I have him ranked 17th with a tier 4 ranking.  Since Little is shooting 76.8% from the free throw line and 58.6% from shots around the basket (not including post-ups) I wouldn’t be shocked to see Little improve as a three point shooter next level due to decent touch and better shot selection.  Also for conference play he shot 31.6% from three compared with his overall percentage of 28%.  He’s an explosive rebounder with solid creation skills on defense.  However, his defensive IQ is still a major work in progress, taking bad angles and misreading weak side actions.  He also drives with his head down on offense and has a bad feel for doubles and where to find the open man.  Little still has tremendous upside because of his physical tools but should be a project.  A lot of times situation dictates success and it’s going to be no different for Little.

 

  1. Romeo Langford, FR, Indiana, SF/PF, 6’6, 19.3 years

~ I had a tough time grading between Langford and Keldon Johnson.  I went with Langford one spot higher because of conference play. Both players didn’t overwhelm during conference play but Langford did play slightly better as compared with his non-conference schedule while Keldon Johnson stayed the same or got worse in some respects.  While Langford is more of a straight line driver off the bounce, Johnson has more shiftiness and change-of-speed in the lane.  However Langford does a better job setting up his defender and reading ball screens compared with Johnson.  While at the rim Lanford can leap off one foot and finish with better finesse than Johnson can.  Lanford on shots around the basket (no post-ups) posted a 1.356 points per possession which ranked 87th percentile while Johnson posted a 1.038 points per possession which ranked 35th percentile.  Johnson for the season shot 38% from three which was far better then Langfords 27% from three.  But Johnson was worse from two, the free throw line and around the rim.  Langford also shot 32.1% from three during conference play while Johnson shot 32.7% from three during conference play.  I also think Langford is the better on-ball defender while Johnson is better at lock-and-trailing.  Overall it was close but Lanford did a slightly better job at progressing throughout the season.

 

  1. Keldon Johnson, FR, Kentucky, SG, 6’6, 19.4 years

~ There are a lot of players that I’ve moved down one or two spots on my ranking but a lot goes into that more than me being down on a prospect.  I’m moving Johnson down two spots but that has more to do with other players improving and Johnson staying the same.  A big theme of this draft class is improving strength and conditioning.  I think players need to develop core strength for a lot of things: finishing at the basket, movement shooting and long range shooting. Johnson could use to add strength to finish through contact.  He uses his two-foot leaping ability to finish through players since jumping off two-feet adds power and body control but he neglects using one-footed leaps to throw players off their timing.  I think he has good touch around the rim which is displayed by his .939 points per possession on runners which ranked 80th percentile.  But he needs to add strength and use one-footed leaps to be more efficient around the rim.  I still like his footwork off screens, his ability to get to the rim and make tough movement shots.  He’s improved as a defender throughout the season but is still a work in progress as far as low man defense is concerned.

 

  1. Cam Reddish, FR, Duke, SF/PF, 6’9, 19.4 years

~ Cam Reddish and Nassir Little are two of the most frustrating prospects to grade in this class.  They look like top five talents and should be top five prospects but their skills don’t match the hype.  Reddish had a perfect opportunity to showcase himself to the league when Zion went out with a knee injury.  Instead I saw more of the same, just in heavier doses.  He is a poor two point shooter, stiff finisher, inconsistent three point shooter with no wiggle in the lane.  He is more of a volume three point shooter, drives in a straight line and has some shooting versatility.  He does curl off screens with solid footwork and can be more than just a spot-up jump shooter.  Defensively his team defense is just average and that’s being generous.  He still has an amazing physical profile, ability to get his shot off at a high volume and closeout speed you want for defensive creation.  I hate ranking him this low because I understand his upside and realize he’s more of a project that could turn into a high caliber player.  I bet you more than anything he’ll be a “workout warrior” and blow teams away during the pre-draft process.  All I have is the tape to go off of and what it’s telling me is that he’s an unrefined ball player.

 

Tier #4

 

  1. Brandon Clarke, (RS) JR, Gonzaga, PF/C, 6’8, 22.4 years

~ Clarke doesn’t move up or down and stays at the same rank.  There has been a recent surge from the scouting community on Clarke because if you look at his overall career it’s very impressive.  He’s a great team and on-ball defensive player plus he possesses defensive creation skills.  I just think players like Grant Williams and Tyler Herro have more offensive potential then Clarke does.  Even though Clarke has great defensive instincts, can switch 1 thru 5 and uses his athleticism to wall off the rim I’m not sure he will ever be a three point threat.  He projects to be more of a rim-runner with 17-foot and in face up skills.  That’s still extremely valuable to have at the next level but it caps his upside if he can’t go out any further.  With that said he should still clearly be a top twenty pick and if he falls any further because of “lack of true position” then some smart team will take full advantage of their miscalculation.

 

  1. Shamorie Ponds, JR, St. John’s, PG, 6’1, 20.7 years

~ Ponds moves up two spots from my last ranking.  I think Ponds is one of the most undervalued players in this draft.  I said that in my last overview of Ponds but that can’t be overlooked.  Most mock drafts I’ve seen have him going middle of the second round.  If he gets that that kind of evaluation maybe he stays in school for another season to improve his draft stock.  I think what gets undersold about Ponds is his step-back/pull-up game, defensive creation skills, and crafty finishing ability.  His ability to make shots off the dribble, attack closeouts, make free throws, throw off a defenders rhythm in the lane and play with multiple speeds can translate to the next level even though Ponds is short with just OK burst and explosion.  He’s also been playing at St. Johns the past three years with little support.  The season before Ponds got to St. Johns they went 8-24 and now having some supporting cast around him this season they make the tournament.  With a little more added muscle Ponds has starting point guard in the NBA potential.  

 

  1. Talen Horton-Tucker, FR, Iowa State, SG/SF, 6’4, 18.3 years

~ Dropping eleven spots, Horton-Tucker is one of my biggest fallers.  It really doesn’t have much to do with liking Horton-Tucker any less but more to do with tempering my expectations for a player I’m probably overrating.  One of my biggest concerns is his lack of overall touch.  He has strong strides on his drives to the rim but can’t put enough touch on the ball for efficient makes.  Although, his tough shot making ability, dribble drive game and high IQ give him a nice starting point at a young age that most players in this draft don’t have.  But with possessing tough shot making ability comes poor shot selection and taking unnecessary looks that can through team offense out of rhythm.  I also think one of the biggest improvements he can make is better strength and conditioning.  I said this in my last overview of Horton-Tucker but I truly believe with better core strength he’ll be better around the rim and shooting from long range.  With better conditioning he can do a better job playing more consistently latter into the game.  Losing some body fat will undoubtedly help him be a better on-ball defender as Horton-Tucker is already a good team defender plus solid defensive creation skills.  I wonder if he even enters the draft at all but until that decision he’s a tier 4 player for this draft class.

 

  1. Jaxson Hayes, FR, Texas, C, 6’11, 18.8 years

~ Hayes falls 5 spots from my last ranking.  It had nothing to do with his knee injury either.  I think Hayes will be a screen setting, rim-runner, wide catch radius, paint protecting big.  He has the size and athleticism to fit that mold at an elite level.  My concern is offensive potential.  I’m concern that all he ever becomes is a Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Deandre Jordan type player.  Not having an offensive game outside the paint becomes a glaring issue more so in the postseason than the regular season.  The position of center is so saturated in the league that not being able to step out of the paint diminished some of his value.  

 

  1. Jontay Porter, SO, Missouri, C, 6’11, 19.3 years

~ I wrote a scouting report on Porter last September for a more extensive breakdown.

 

  1. Jordan Poole, SO, Michigan, SG, 6’5, 19.7 years

~ The last spot on my ranking was between Jordan Poole and Matisse Thybulle.  While Thybulle is the superior defensive prospect, Poole has a better all around game.  I think Poole is better at shot creation, off the bounce production and has a more complete three point shooting portfolio.  Poole might not be as good at defensive creation as Thybulle but is still a sound enough team and on-ball defender coupled with his physical profile to give himself sufficient defensive upside.  Thybulle could end up being a great 3-and-D player but I think Poole could end up being a great two-way player.

 

Players That Just Missed The Cut

~ Matisse Thybulle, SG, Washington, SR

~ Ty Jerome, PG/SG, Virginia, JR

~ Killian Tillie, PF/C, Gonzaga, JR

~ Chuma  Okeke, PF/C, Auburn, SO

~ PJ Washington, C, Kentucky, SO

~ Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland, SO

~ Naz Reid, C, LSU, FR

~ Coby White, PG, North Carolina, FR

~ Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga, JR

 

 

  

 

 

 

So You’re Telling Me The Lakers Are Not Making The Playoffs?

The Lakers are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs just yet, so this article could be premature.  But with 16 games left to go in the regular season, being back 7 games from the 8th seed and shutting down Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram for the rest of the season sure doesn’t look good for playoff chances.  The Lakers are currently tied for the 10th best odds for the NBA draft lottery. Maybe losing as many games as possible to try to improve their draft choice would be in their best interest.  I don’t know how many draft spots the Lakers would actually jump considering most every team ahead of them seem to be losing a bunch of games too but getting a top 10 pick could help them on their quest in getting Anthony Davis.

The Lakers not making the postseason doesn’t boil down to just one reason.  Over the course of the 2018-2019 regular season the Lakers dealt with circumstances that were out of their control in some instances and definitely some instances were well within their command.  I’m going to go over what I perceive as the biggest reasons why Lebron and the Lakers are about to miss the playoffs in order of importance.  For Lebron this will be the first time he’ll miss the playoffs since the 2004-2005 season and the first time he won’t be playing in a NBA final since 2009-2010.  And for the Lakers, well, ever since the passing of arguably the greatest owner in professional sports Dr. Jerry Buss this is par for the course:

 

1. Lebron Getting Injured

~ There are way too many people puffing out their chests acting like their pre-season prediction was spot on about the Lakers not making the playoffs.  Before Lebron went down with the most significant injury of his career the Lakers were 20-14, the fourth seed and just beat the defending champs by 26 points.  If Lebron doesn’t get hurt the Lakers make the playoffs point blank.  The counter argument would be that the strength of schedule for the Lakers would get much tougher and the Lakers 20-14 record was due to playing a soft portion of their schedule.  While true up until that point the Lakers had a top 10 defense and Lebron was moving considerably better on the defensive end compared with the effort he’s given over the past month.  That doesn’t mean Lebron was playing lights out defense at the start of the season because he still took defensive plays lightly then as well but in comparison to his effort now he was objectively a better defender.  Also, his teammates were more apt to cover for Lebron’s mistakes on defense at that point in time.  Even though the Lakers not making the playoffs was ultimately a culmination of events, if Lebron never gets hurt I personally think the Lakers make the playoffs.

2. Injuries In General

~ To compound Lebron’s injury with 18 games missed the Lakers dealt with an extraordinary amount of injuries to core players.  Lonzo Ball will miss 35 games, Brandon Ingram will miss 30 games, Kuzma has missed 6 games and could miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, Rajon Rondo missed 30 games and Josh Hart is playing with knee tendinitis.  This wasn’t a deep roster to begin with so having multiple core players miss extended periods of time will negatively impact the Lakers chances of making the playoffs.  If you want to argue that even if Lebron was healthy the Lakers still wouldn’t have made the playoffs because strength of schedule difficulty and injuries to multiple core players, while I disagree, I still understand that position.  But if Lebron AND the rest of the core players were healthy the Lakers make the playoffs with 100% certainty.  Any argument against that loses me.

3. Roster Construction

~ This is something I talked about during last summer.  I made a podcast in July talking about how I thought the Lakers front office were making big mistakes that were easy to identify.  If the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are one of the worst ran organizations in the league, understood to surround Lebron with shooters and 3-and-D wings then surely Magic Johnson should comprehend that same logic?  Apparently not and instead surrounded Lebron with non-shooters like Rajon Rondo, ISO friendly players like Lance Stephenson and overall poor fits next to Lebron like freaking Michael Beasley.  Even though none of these transactions were long term mistakes the Lakers still wasted a prime season of Lebron’s dwindling career.  

Players like Trevor Ariza, Boogie Cousins or Wayne Ellington would’ve been better fits around Lebron, able to fit within the salary cap, sign one-year deals and be competitive enough to possibly make the western conference finals.  In their careers Ariza and Ellington once played for the Lakers and Boogie wanted to play for the Lakers before signing with the Warriors, hence my scenario isn’t that far fetched.  The Lakers tried to make up for their poor off-season decisions with mid-season acquisitions of Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala.  Even though I do like Bullock as a player for some weird reason his three point shooting has taken a noise dive over the last 5 games and is shooting 14% from three even though he’s shooting 38% from three for the season.  And the Muscala trade made sense on paper for the immediate but didn’t make sense long term.  Muscala is a decent shooter (sort of) but trading away a solid young asset in Ivica Zubac who is on a cheap contract in return for a one year rental was short sided thinking.  Luckily the Lakers front office will have a clean slate for next season and hopefully will do a better job at not squandering a prime season of Lebron’s career.

4. Anthony Davis Trade Rumors

~ The Anthony Davis trade rumors undoubtedly had an effect on the Lakers young core.  Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart heard their names in trade discussions all week.  The 42-point loss at Indiana with the trade deadline two days away was an example of their insecurity.  The Lakers preceded to go 3-9 over the next 12 games after the loss at Indiana but I don’t know how much of it was the young players fault.  For starters Lonzo Ball was out with an injury and Josh Hart was getting knee injections to play through the pain so I can’t really comment on them.  Secondly, after the trade deadline Ingram averaged 24 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists on 53% shooting from the floor and 45% from three while Kuzma averaged 19.9 points, 5 rebounds, 2.7 assists on 47.8% shooting from the floor and 36.4% from three.  Now box score stats don’t show how good a player is defensively but in terms of pure production the young core rebounded well after that 42-point loss to the Pacers.  The veterans were more to blame for the lack of production and defensive effort in my opinion.  Overall no one on defense was picking up for each other and since the trade deadline the Lakers had the 3rd worst defensive efficiency in the league.  That’s why the Anthony Davis trade rumors are fourth on my list impacting the Lakers slide into not making the postseason.

5. Luke Walton

~ Last but not least coaching was obviously an issue.  Whether it be rotations, inability to diagram solid plays after time out or situational decisions, the coaching wasn’t as good as it needed to be.  But let’s be honest, the coaching wasn’t as terrible as the media is trying to make it out to be.  Sure enough Luke Walton will be the fall guy and get fired this off-season.  Whether you think that’s justified or not calling Luke Walton a “bad” coach feels rash.  The Lakers in 2017 had the worst defensive efficiency in the NBA and had a record of 26-56 while in 2018 the the Lakers had the 13th best defensive efficiency and a record of 35-47.  That to me isn’t “bad” coaching.  Getting a team full of young players to give solid effort on defense for the whole season and buy into a team first concept isn’t “bad” coaching.  The circumstances for the 2018-2019 season with major injuries and poor roster construction clearly were bigger issues then coaching and had an effect on Walton’s overall job execution.  And with that Luke will inevitably be fired and replaced with someone like Ty Lue.  The 2019-2020 Lakers roster will most likely be vastly different so getting a new coach to implement a new system isn’t a terrible idea.  I just think Luke Walton is getting a raw deal.