Category Archives: NBA

Stop Looking At My Bias

I’m biased.  You’re biased.  We’re all damn biased.  Being biased in sports isn’t an inherently bad thing as long as you are self-aware and can subside your impulses.  Everyone in sports has their preferences but as long as you take inventory of your viewpoints and self-diagnosis objectively than managing dogmatic convictions might seem plausible.  If you leave your biased beliefs unchecked, well, that could lead to a cycle of groundhog day returns.  Controlling your bias might seem like a waste of time and unpreventable but it doesn’t hurt identifying one-sided sentiments.  Step one is acknowledging your biased, step two is self-reflecting and step three is monitoring your tendencies.  This bode of action might not work for everyone and it might not work for me either but I want to at least try to mitigate as many errors as possible when doing my NBA draft big boards and overall scouting.  I’ve written multiple scouting reports and have only done big boards for the 2018 and 2019 drafts. Checking these biases now could help me improve upon my love for talent evaluation:

 

 

  • I really like/overrate role players

 

~ If you’re a reader of my website, this was obvious.  For the most part I’d rather write articles about Maxi Kelber, Danuel House, Sterling Brown and Gary Clark over star players.  Heck, the next article I was thinking of writing about was on Kenrich Williams, underrated role players and breakout role players.  I also ranked prospects who I thought were projected to be good role players in the NBA higher than most mainstream outlets: Grant Williams at 11, Talen Horton-Tucker at 16, Chuma Okeke at 17, Tyler Herro at 18, DaQuan Jeffries at 23, Josh Reaves at 26 and Terence Davis at 27.  I’m still regretting ranking Matisse Thybulle at 28 and Nickeil Alexander-Walker at 21 and their careers haven’t even started yet.

 Probably one of the biggest reasons why I favor role players so much is the history of NBA champions personnel.  Whether you’re talking about good role players like Danny Green, Trevor Ariza, James Posey or great role players like Andre Iguodala, Robert Horry and Shane Battier throughout history these players help facilitate champions.  These are the players that make sacrifices to their box score stats, guaranteed money and have positive impacts on chemistry.  These players are important towards building title contenders but their obviously not the most important piece.  Drafting and signing superstar players is of course the best thing when it comes to winning titles.  Compare a player like Cam Reddish who has the potential to become a star player and a player like Grant Williams who might not have the ceiling of a Reddish but more potential to have greater impact towards on-court success, who do you rank higher?  Maybe that’s just a philosophical question on draft strategy but I at times do find myself ranking someone higher just because I don’t have enough potential role players ranked highly. This ties into my next bias.

 

 

  • I overrate “potential”

 

~ How can I overrate role players AND “potential” at the same time?  This just might be an issue of finding a delicate balance between the two biases moving forward.  However I often fall for prospects who have “potential” just because there’s a perceived chance he might became a “star”.  Players who are long, athletic, play at a scarce position or who have shown just enough of a skill set that indicates potential future success; Kevin Knox at 9, Marvin Bagley at 1, Lonnie Walker at 7, Zhaire Smith at 10, Darius Bazley at 5, Kevin Porter jr at 10, Romeo Langford at 12, Cam Reddish at 14 and Nassir Little at 15.

Now it’s only a year into the 2018 class and the 2019 class hasn’t even played yet so making definite determinations on these players is a little premature.  That’s not the point though.  I’m just identifying my potential blind spots to help bolster my ability to scout players.  A lot of times players with high “potential” their careers can be decided by situation.  How different is Jaylen Brown’s career if he gets drafted by Phoenix and not Boston?  Would Kelly Oubre’s career be different if he got drafted by Miami or Indianapolis and not Washington?  Same goes for role players.  How different is Draymond Green’s career if he didn’t get drafted by Golden State? Would Danny Green be a good role player if Cleveland never cut him resulting in San Antonio snatching him up?  Situation dictates success for most players outside of the truly elite.  Doing team specific big boards or post-draft big boards make more sense.

I like doing big boards in a vacuum because you get to see where that person stands on trends, prospects, positions and skill sets.  Moving forward I have to create some type of scale that will help sort out players with “potential” and role players.  I have to raise the requisite level of skill I use as a baseline when it comes to grading players with “potential”.  It doesn’t matter how long, athletic, mobile you are, if you can’t shoot over 40% on your two pointers, can’t make sound decisions on the move or have good processing speed on defense then I will have to readjust my outlook.  And just because someone projects to be a role player at the next level doesn’t mean they will have a significant on-court impact regardless of box score stats.  I have to do a better job classifying role players moving forward.  

 

 

  • I take player comparisons too personally 

 

~ Some might call me a basketball fan.  Others might say I need to get a life.  One thing is for sure, I take basketball very personally.  So when people in the mainstream, twitter or popular draft websites say that Tre Young is the next Steph Curry, well, I get heated.  When I hear people say that Young can be just as good of a shooter as Curry, I lose my mind.  I regard Curry as the greatest shooter of all time and arguably the second greatest point guard of all time.  Not only does he have a diverse portfolio of shooting ability but he’s also crazy efficient simultaneously.  He’s one of, if not the greatest off-ball player that I’ve ever seen.  His ability to manipulate his off-ball movement to his teams advantage plus his ability to be crazy efficient while having a diverse shot portfolio is the main reason why I hold him in such high regard.  And oh, he’s a pretty good playmaker too.  So comparing anyone to Curry is going to set me off since I think he’s one of a kind.

I ended up ranking Tre Young twelfth on my 2018 NBA draft big board.  Not really having anything to do about his talent but to push back the aggrandized opinion of Young that most people covering the draft were stating.  One of the very first articles I have on this website is talking about my first impressions on Trae Young.  The article really isn’t the greatest representation of my scouting ability since I was so new to the process and have evolved my talent evaluation approach.  I keep up a lot of my old articles just to show the progress I’ve made over the years.  In that article there was a brief excerpt detailing why people need to pump the brakes on Young Link.  At the same time I wrote at the very end that Young has “Damian Lillard with better passing ability potential” and yet I ranked him twelfth on my big board.  Something isn’t adding up.  Why do I think a ball handler who can create unbelievably well and has a diverse shooting portfolio is the twelfth best prospect?  A lot of it had to do with his defensive issues, handle concerns and overall efficiency but ultimately my love for Steph Curry fogged my thought process.  I have to separate my fandom from methodology.  Since I’m such a huge fan of someone doesn’t mean I should ignore proper talent evaluation.  I also need to disregard the noise too.  Whatever outside factors are saying should have no bearing on my big board. This ties in to my next bias.  

  

 

  • I rank players higher/lower than the consensus just to try to act smarter

 

~ Everyone wants to be the first to discover a prospect.  If that player pops at the next level that means you have an incredible foresight.  Everyone wants to project the next draft sleeper, steal and bust.  If you can routinely find hidden gems during the draft process than clearly you know what you’re talking about.  If you can outsmart mainstream voices than surely more people should be taking notice of your work.  Everyone is trying to prove themselves, develop a resume and stand out above the fray.  One way of doing that is making bold, risky picks; taking gambles on players you might not otherwise just for the sake of out-thinking the guy on TV.

This is primarily what happened when I ranked Marvin Bagley one and Luka Doncic two on my 2018 NBA draft big board.  Don’t get me wrong, I still really like Bagley and would say I was higher on him compared to the consensus even if I had ranked Doncic at one instead.  I still think Bagley can be a starting center on a championship team but he won’t be the driving force like Doncic can. Having Doncic at one seemed too inevitable for my first big board.  I wanted to make a gutsy call on my number one prospect.  Bagley was someone that had mixed reviews coming out of college due to his lack of defensive prowess and questionable long range jumper.  What gave me enough reason to take a chance on him as a possible number one was his athleticism, size, scoring ability, quick second jump, potential switch ability on defense and capable pick-and-roll nightmare skill on offense.  

I wanted to outthink people I respect just because it was a “quick” way to be noticed.  Same thing can be said about me ranking Darius Bazley at five.  I wanted to have a prospect ranked super high based off the fact he wasn’t graded favorably among the consensus.  I still like these prospects regardless but have to control my urge to take unnecessary risks for the sake of being “smart”.  I have to be reasonable with myself and not do anything outlandish just for the sake of looking shrewd.  I have to be more calculated and cool headed when it comes to my love for the game and not make a spectacle out of the scouting process.  

  

 

  • There’s probably more I can’t see

 

~ There’s probably other biases that I just can’t see because I’m so conditioned scouting a certain way that I normalize my tendencies.  Identifying my biases and working to pacify them will be an ongoing process.  I want to improve my ability to evaluate talent.  I thought doing more than just watching a bunch of game tape and analyzing the game of basketball can be an alternative way to address my technique. 

 

  • Grading Scale

~ I don’t even know if I’m going to do big boards moving forward.  I’ve always wanted to scout players on a grading scale.  I think if I just stick to objectively grading players on a scale that would remove most of my biases.  Can the player dribble proficiently with both hands?  How diverse is their finishing ability?  Can they pass on the move?  How fast can they process offensive actions?  How advanced are their live-dribble moves?  All these are yes or no questions on a varying scale.  Looking back on my first two big boards they are riddled with flaws and biases.  As of now, I’m leaning towards a grading system when scouting players.  I was thinking about grading players on offense, defense, star potential, role potential and system dependence.  Stuff like IQ would be all encompassing when grading offense (offensive feel) and defense (defensive IQ).  Star potential would deal with mostly a players upside and physical profile while role potential deals with the likelihood that they achieve their NBA roles (lead initiator, floor spacer, 3-and-D wing, hustle big).  And lastly system dependence would deal with figuring out if their game can adapt to all types of NBA offenses like motion, drive-and-kick, ball screen heavy, flow, spread, post heavy, etc.  I’m obviously still figuring out the kinks but I’ll try to be more thorough when I post my first scouting report for the 2019-2020 season.

2019 NBA Free Agency Bonanza *UPDATED*

*UPDATED 7/12*

These are my very brief, initial reactions to free agency.  I’ll keep updating this post as soon as more news breaks.  Take a deep breath:

 

The Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, 2024 and 2026 first round picks (protected 1-4), and two pick swaps (2021 and 2025).  (Link)

~ I like this move more for the Thunder than the Rockets even though I think Westbrook is an upgrade over Chris Paul.  Now is Westbrook that much better than Paul?  No.  Paul is the better three point, free throw and mid-range shooter plus is the better defender.  The skill gap to some degree actually favors Paul over Westbrook.  But over the last three seasons Paul has played 61, 58 and 58 games respectively.  He’s six feet tall, 34 years old, has brittle hamstrings and major durability concerns.  Being durable is a skill and it’s the deciding factor in why I favor Westbrook over Paul.  Not only is Paul’s availability a major question mark but his skill has slightly eroded over the last season as well.  He’s still a fine defender but is declining as a shooter, lost a step on his drives and can’t hit movement twos like he used too. 

His dependability during the playoffs and long stretches of the season were concerns for the Rockets.  With Harden getting older they needed another ball handler by his side that could sustain the offense for long periods of time without him.  Westbrook can definitely do that.  He will take over the role Chris Paul played the last two seasons in Houston and be the secondary ball handler.  With Clint Capela as his rim-runner and Harden, Tucker, Gordon as his floor spacers, Westbrook will have the most space he’s had to operate in a long time.  On the flip side though this could hurt the space for Harden.  Westbrook is a poor catch-and-shoot player and is inactive off-ball.  That stagnation could shrink the court for Harden with defenses loading up even more not worrying about Westbrook.  Will the Rockets be able to make the necessary changes to Westbrook’s game at age 31?   The human element between Chris Paul and James Harden was apparently a bigger problem than we realized for Houston but their games still did mesh well overall.   

I think at the very least this puts the Rockets in the running for a top three seed during the regular season in a stacked west.  But in terms of playoff basketball I don’t think this makes them that much better than teams like Denver or Utah let alone the LA teams.  Unless Westbrook becomes more efficient from three, the free throw line, pull-up and catch-and-shoot then any team he’s on during the playoffs will be at a major disadvantage.  The Rockets want to do everything in their power to make sure they optimize Harden’s remaining prime years.  Making this trade does that.  That doesn’t mean they will win a championship but at least the Rockets are better suited for a title run now with Westbrook instead of Paul.  Giving up two first round picks was the cost of doing business.  In four to six years the Rockets may still be a competitive team, or, maybe they’ll suck. It’s hard to project that far out but as of now those picks have a fair amount of value.  The Thunder could end up winning this trade by a mile at the end of the day.

The Thunder now have a war chest of draft picks.  They are in full rebuild mode while most of the league is in “win now” mode in a wide open league.  The Thunder are looking five to seven years down the road when players like Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are aged past their primes.  That’s their timeline to rebuild and they have a leg up on the competition.  I feel bad for Chris Paul.  He really is one of the best point guards of all time and this could be how his career ends.  Who is willing to trade for that contract?  Unless the Miami Heat do something stupid then Paul is stuck on the Thunder for the foreseeable future.  If the Thunder by some miracle flip Paul I’ll update this post but that would be some miraculous feat.      

 

Kawhi Leonard agrees to a four-year, $142 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.  The Oklahoma City Thunder trade Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for their unprotected 2022, 2024, 2026 first round picks, Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 first round pick and protected 2023 first round pick, and the rights to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.  (Link)

~ The NBA is wide open now after these moves.  There is no elite superteam that is the overwhelming favorite for the first time in a while.  That will undoubtedly heighten suspense throughout the regular season and playoffs.  Something that will be very interesting to monitor is Paul George’s shoulder surgery and recovery.  He might miss all of training camp and some of the regular season.  I wonder how that affects the start of the season and beyond for the Clippers.  But it sounds like the Clippers had to make the trade for Paul George if they also wanted Kawhi Leonard.  Before this past week it always seemed like the Clippers were his preferred destination but after the Lakers got Anthony Davis and acquired max cap room they were the “in vogue” team rumored to be favored in the Kawhi sweepstakes.  Heck, from all the noise I heard this past week I thought Kawhi to the Lakers was only a matter of time.  What a twist ending!

This must have been a shock to the Oklahoma City Thunder who were preparing for the upcoming season fully expecting Paul George to be on the roster.  Why would they think otherwise?  That’s how they approached the draft and proceeded through free agency.  Well, I guess acquiring five first round picks and two pick swaps and a solid rookie point guard is a nice consolation prize.  Danilo Gallinari has one more year left on his deal so I wouldn’t expect he’s apart of Oklahoma City’s long term plans.  After trading away Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul the Thunder are in full rebuild mode.  They will probably try to flip Gallinari and players like Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Dennis Schroder.  This was for the best.  Even with a healthy Paul George the Thunder were never true title contenders.  It’s better to be a year early then a year too late trading away coveted players.  They got great value in return for Westbrook and George right this instant.  You never know how the market will change a year from now.  It’s going to be a long road back to the top for the Thunder but they have a nice head start to get there.  

The Clippers seem like winners because they got Kawhi Leonard as a result of the Paul George trade but with the amount of risk involved there is no concrete conclusion to this deal anytime soon.  Giving up that many first round picks sounds so crazy but given the move for the Clippers those first round picks will surely be late first rounders, or at least that’s what the Clippers hope for.  The Clippers calculated that they will be a competitive playoff team for the foreseeable future which would mean giving up late first round picks.  Also with Miami getting Jimmy Butler those first round picks might not hold as much weight as they once did.  The Clippers thought that the value of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will be greater than three late round picks by the Clippers, two mid round picks by the Heat and a couple of pick swaps.  Now even though that calculation on paper makes sense there are always unintended circumstances.  Kawhi Leonard and Paul George haven’t been the most durable players throughout their careers.  Expecting that both players will stay healthy and play at a high level for the next seven seasons is wishful thinking.  That’s the down side of a trade like this and could come back to haunt the Clippers when it’s all said and done.  There’s obviously a lot of variables involved in a trade like this for the Clippers but it was a gamble that they were willing to take.  Kawhi Leonard is a top three player in the league and before his shoulder injury Paul George was an MVP candidate.  The Clippers are expecting to win a title which would mean the juice was worth the squeeze.   

Should the Clippers be considered title favorites?  Even though the league is wide open with no overwhelming favorite the Clippers right now seem like the slight title favorite.  The Lakers are obviously still heavy favorites to win the title as well but missing out on Kawhi means they need to build their bench ASAP.  Until that happens though it’s tough to say what the Lakers are for sure.  But the Clippers on the other hand have a complete roster: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Pat Beverley, Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Maurice Harkless, Montrezl Harrell, Jerome Robinson, Ivica Zubac, Rodney McGruder, JaMychal Green and other free agent signings.  What would be their crunch time five?  Pat Beverley, Lou Williams, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Montrezl Harrell?  If Maurice Harkless can actually make a three point shot for a change he could be interesting in a closing lineup.  If Shamet gets hot from deep he could be interesting in a closing lineup.  Rodney McGruder is an underrated 3-and-D wing, he could be interesting in a closing lineup.  The possibilities are endless.  But like I stated earlier, Paul George’s shoulder injury could be a cause for concern.  If he’s healthy though then it’s going to be tough to beat the Clippers.

Don’t feel bad for the Raptors.  They won a freaking championship that otherwise doesn’t happen without Kawhi.  The Raptors gamble paid off even though it seemed pretty likely that Kawhi was leaving.  The Raptors also lose Danny Green to the Los Angeles Lakers.  Even with the departures as long as Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell continue their maturation process the Raptors should still be a competitive team in the comically weak east.  The Bucks and Sixers seem like the clear favorites in the east but the Pacers should be intriguing as long as Victor Oladipo comes back healthy.  

Overall this was a game changing move that shook up the whole league.  We knew going into free agency that Kawhi changing teams was going to alter the league but no one had a clue this was going to happen.  I respect the move by Kawhi.  Ultimately he didn’t want to join Lebron but beat him.  This will be legacy defining for sure.  I can’t wait until opening day! 

 

Kevin Durant plans to sign a four-year, $164 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets.  Kyrie Irving plans to sign a four-year, $141 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets. (Link) De’Andre Jordan agrees to a four-year, $40 million deal with Brooklyn Nets.  Apparently Durant and Irving and willing to take slight pay cuts to make the Jordan deal work. (Link)

~ I’m going to bury the lead for a second…why in the world did Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving take a pay cut to accommodate freaking De’Andre Jordan?  Do they not know about Jarrett Allen and Nicolas Claxton?  The deal would make more sense if the Jordan contract was only for a season but we’re talking about four seasons for an average at best starting center, that’s a little unnecessary.  Jarrett Allen is better, younger and cheaper when compared with Jordan.  They also just drafted Claxton who has promise as their backup center with upside.  I just don’t get signing Jordan.  I guess being good friends with Kevin Durant has some advantages, huh?

With that said clearly the Nets have positioned themselves arguably better than anyone else has at long term title contention.  It all rides on Durant’s health but assuming he’s maybe 80% of what he was the Nets are still in great shape.  They have a nice core of young players that include Allen, Claxton, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert and Rodions Kurucs.  Add that to Irving and a healthy Durant and the Nets would have a roster that possesses shooting, length, versatility and depth.  This also might not be their final roster and most likely have a move or two left to make.  Depending on how healthy Durant is when he returns the Nets might be favorites to win the 2021 title.  

 

The Warriors acquire D’Angelo Russell from the Brooklyn Nets apart of a sign-and-trade deal with Kevin Durant.  To make the deal work financially, the Warriors had to trade Andre Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies for a 2024 first round pick.  D’Angelo Russell signs a four-year, $117 million deal with the Warriors. (Link, Link)

I think the fit with Russell in terms of offense will actually be pretty good when Klay Thompson comes back.  I think people are overreacting to Russell as a ball dominant guard.  Russell can create his own shot, shoot off-ball, attack closeouts and pass with anticipation, all pillars of the Golden State offense.  He has the skill required to fit inside the system, it’s more of a mindset alteration that needs to take place for Russell to excel with the Warriors.  Re-signing Kevon Looney to a three-year, $15 million deal is a big deal since the Warriors had to give up their best wing defender Andre Iguodala to make the deal with Russell work.  Iguodala is one more injury away from retirement but was still a high impact defender even at his old age.  As of now it looks like the Warriors don’t have a replacement for Iguodala, unless rookie Jordan Poole and second year veteran Jacob Evans are ready to take on that role. 

That’s why Looney is important.  He gives the Warriors another plus defender and a vertical spacer.  One of the main reasons why the Warriors death lineup worked so well was because they had three terrific perimeter defenders to go along with an excellent team defender to clean any mistakes.  A starting five of Curry, Russell, Thompson, Looney and Green doesn’t exactly fit that mold but still has the potential to be championship worthy.  Since they are hard capped this season it will be hard to find roster upgrades.  That was the case until Willie Cauley-Stein and Glenn Robinson iii took minimum contracts.  If the Warriors can continue to find young, athletic players willing to take pay cuts on a yearly basis then that will help mightily with their bench.  Adding 3-and-D wings should be the priority for next off-season.  The question now becomes: When will Klay Thompson come back?  Will their young players develop in time?  How will they round out their bench unit?  And can they flip Russell for other assets at the trade deadline?

 

Julius Randle has agreed to a three-year, $63 million deal with the New York Knicks. (Link)  Taj Gibson has agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal with the New York Knicks.  (LinkBobby Portis has agreed to a two-year, $31 million deal with the New York Knicks. (LinkReggie Bullock has agreed to a two-year, $21 million deal with the New York Knicks. (Link)

~ Once again the Knicks missed out on the elite free agent prospects.  They are now changing course and setting their eyes towards the 2021 free agent class when Giannis, Bradley Beal and other high profile players become available.  So what the Knicks have decided to do with the massive amount of cap space they have is spend it on two-year contracts.  It’s not a bad idea and better than overpaying players on long term contracts like Tobias Harris and Terry Rozier.  The issue I have is with who the Knicks are signing and how that affects the development of their young core which should be their number one priority.  The Knicks signed Portis, Gibson and Randle who all play the same position and might take away from Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson’s development.  Probably their best pickups were signing Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington who are much needed in terms of floor spacing.  But then the Knicks signed Elfrid Payton even though their ball handlers should primarily be RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith and Allonzo Trier for development purposes.  

Having a massive amount of cap space in today’s NBA shouldn’t be looked at like a burden.  It feels like the Knicks just wanted to get rid of their cap space as soon as possible with disregard to value.  Instead, smart teams look at cap space as a commodity.  Teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks take on unwanted contracts to obtain assets.  In the last 24 hours alone Andre Iguodala was dumped to Memphis with a first round pick attached and Maurice Harkless dumped to the Clippers with a first round pick attached.  Both contracts we’re less than two years in length, fit the 2021 timeline, could be flipped for more assets at the trade deadline and fit well with this young roster.  Iguodala and Harkless are both players that won’t take possessions away from the youth movement and can play without the ball.  Then with the remaining salary cap space sign one to two year deals to compliment the roster or try to find more contracts to absorb into cap space for draft picks.  I get what the Knicks are trying to do but I think they are going about it all wrong.

 

Tobias Harris has agreed to sign a five-year, $180 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. (LinkAl Horford has agreed to sign a four-year, $109 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. (Link)

~ On top of the quality draft picks and players the Sixers gave up to acquire Tobias Harris they are now overpaying him with a massive $36 million annual contract.  You would expect Harris to be a top 20 player with how much they’ve invested in him.  When Sam Hinkie started his rebuild with Philadelphia did anyone expect that the player the Sixers would eventually go “all in” for is a borderline all-star caliber player?  I get that the Sixers had to do it since they pumped so many resources into obtaining Harris but the caliber of player you would expect in return for the high price the Sixers paid should be better than freaking Tobias Harris.  Don’t get me wrong I like Harris as a player and think he fills a major need for the Sixers but I just think the Sixers went a little overboard in terms of price tag.

Horford is another good player that I like but again I think a $27 million annual for a player that just turned 33 coming off a season where he had knee tendinitis is a little excessive.  I get that most players are overpaid in todays climate anyways but typically title contending teams do a better job looking for value.  With that said though, the Sixers should once again be atop of the eastern conference race especially if Kawhi leaves.  Everything is relative to outcome.  If the Sixers win the east then these deals, which I consider to be overpays, will be worth it.  I do question the fit of Embiid and Horford as a front court duo and without JJ Reddick I wonder do they have enough shooting but their defense will be the driving force of the Sixers success next season.  They now need players to step up during crunch time of playoff basketball. 

The Miami Heat send Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers, Josh Richardson to the Philadelphia 76ers and a protected 2023 first round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers.  The Portland Trail Blazers send Meyers Leonard to the Miami Heat and Maurice Harkless to the Los Angeles Clippers.  The Philadelphia 76ers send Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat where he agrees to a four-year, $142 million deal. (Link)

This deal has gone through so many changes but I think it’s finally official.  The Clippers must be happy.  They didn’t have to do anything and yet they get a first round pick, a solid 3-and-D wing on an expiring contract plus they still have max cap room for Kawhi.  The Trail Blazers wanted a starting caliber center since Jusuf Nurkic was going to miss time with his leg injury.  Whiteside is on an expiring contract and should fit well within Portland’s defensive system.  Interestingly enough Portland loses a good chunk of their wing rotation from last year.  Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless played heavy minutes along the wing for Portland last season and have moved on to other teams.  Portland will now have to rely on veterans Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore and inexperienced Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little and Gary Trent jr at wing.  I’m interested to watch Simons and Little especially. 

I like Josh Richardson on the 76ers.  He fills a need left by JJ Reddick, is on a fairly priced contract and still has room to grow being only 26 years old.  He can catch-and-shoot efficiently, play make in a pinch and defend the opposing teams best guard.  These are the type of contracts that title contending teams should strive to obtain.

Miami didn’t have may options to improve.  They have one of the worst cap sheets in the NBA and didn’t even make the playoffs last season.  Without a conceivable way to add star talent Miami had to give up their best asset, Josh Richardson, a future first round pick and Hassan Whiteside who lost his starting job late last season.  They were able to keep Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones jr which was important for Miami.  They have a fairly balanced team and should be a playoff team nonetheless.  But how far they advance is another question.  Dion Waiters and James Johnson will have to get in better shape than they were last season.  Dragic will have to stay healthy.  Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Derrick Jones jr will have to continue their development process.  Miami got better in the immediate but at what cost to their long term prospects?  Their next best way to pair another star player with Butler might have to wait until the summer of 2021 when Miami will have max cap room.  Will Pat Riley wait that long however?  He doesn’t seem like the patient type.

 

 

Kemba Walker agrees to a four-year, $141 million deal with the Boston Celtics.  Terry Rozier agrees to a three-year, $58 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets.  Both deals are apart of a sign-and-trade with each other. (Link)

~ The deal for Kemba in terms of value is obviously an overpay but I still like the overall fit on-court.  The Celtics now turn their attention on finding a cost efficient big man, maybe someone like Maxi Kleber or Cheick Diallo.  The Celtics probably aren’t competing for a title unless their young players make serious advancements.  I’m still bullish on the Celtics young core.  Add that with Kemba, Hayward and a cost efficient center the Celtics should still be a competitive playoff team with a lot of room to grow.  

Terry Rozier at a $19 million annual is another overpay but this one is tough to justify.  At least with other overpays you know what you’re getting, with Rozier I have no clue the type of player the Hornets just signed.  There’s a scenario where he’s an all-star caliber player but another scenario where he disturbs his teammates player development process with his poor shot selection and play on the court.  The Hornets need to focus on developing PJ Washington, Cody Martin, Miles Brides and Malik Monk.  Do you think Rozier will amend that development process or inhibit it?  I get why the Hornets signed Rozier because on paper it makes sense: add a young point guard to our already young core deprived of a starting point guard.  I just wonder how good Rozier actually is and how he fits in Charlotte’s  player development process. 

 

Malcolm Brogdon agrees to a four-year, $85 million deal with the Indiana Pacers as apart of a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.  The Pacers are sending to the Bucks a 2020 first round pick and two second round picks. (Link) The Pacers also sign Jeremy Lamb for three-years, $31.5 million. (Link)

~ The Pacers were a fun, unexpected team last season that surprised a lot of people.  If it wasn’t for the Victor Oladipo injury maybe they win a playoff round.  After today that team is now totally different a year later.  Goodbye to starters Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Thad Young, welcome TJ Warren, Jeremy Lamb and Malcolm Brogdon.  It’s going to be hard to tell if the Pacers are better or worse now especially since Oladipo might take a season to regain form after his injury but let’s assume that Oladipo comes back healthy.  Brogdon is better than Collison, Bogdanovic is better than Lamb and Warren is better than Young in my opinion.  So on paper I can make the argument the Pacers are a better team.  The question boils down to fit and obviously Oladipo’s health.  A starting five of Brogdon, Oladipo, Lamb, Warren and Myles Turner is a pretty enticing starting five.  I actually like the fit of the Pacers starting five more than the Sixers starting five even though the Sixers starting five has more talent. Jeremy Lamb will be the x-factor.  If he can improve his shooting, creation and perimeter defense then that could be the tipping point for the Pacers success.  I actually think the Pacers sneakily had one of the better free agency’s.  Oladipo coming back healthy will be vastly important though.

 

Khris Middleton has agreed to a five-year, $178 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. (Link)  Brook Lopez has agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. (LinkGeogre Hill has agreed to a three-year, $29 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks.  (Link)

~ It seems the Bucks were able to bring everyone back except for Nikola Mirotic and Malcolm Brogdon.  The loss of Brogdon is obviously the bigger issue.  He provided good shooting, tertiary playmaking, clutch scoring and high IQ defense.  Making that up will be a challenge for the Bucks.  They now have to rely on their young players taking another step in their development.  DJ Wilson in the front court and Donte DiVincenzo and Sterling Brown in the back court will all have to contribute in high pressure playoff moments if the Bucks want to win the east.  Giannis taking another step as a shooter will alleviate some of the pressure as well.  The Bucks also just signed Wes Matthews at the vet minimum which is a bargain deal.  This move will help mitigate the loss of Brogdon but the Bucks will still need Wilson, DiVincenzo and Brown to step up.

 

Ricky Rubio agrees to a three-year, $51 million deal with the Phoenix Suns. (Link)

~ I guess this was what the Suns had in mind when they traded TJ Warren to the Pacers for nothing.  They wanted to make sure they were able to have enough money to sign D’Angelo Russell and losing a good scoring wing for nothing was the price.  Enter Rubio who hurts his hamstring every other month in the NBA.  He isn’t a good shooter or scorer but can play make and defend well.  I guess Rubio provides skills that the Suns are lacking in even though he isn’t a good all around point guard.  Rubio will give the Suns a stabilizing ball handler who can create for others while Devin Booker can do more off-ball movement shooting. 

Giving Rubio this expensive contract still means they had to move some salary to make it work.  That’s why the Suns traded former number four overall pick Josh Jackson and De’Anthony Melton for Jevon Carter and cap relief.  Jackson hasn’t panned out over his first two seasons in the league and his off the court problems were starting to get tiresome; I guess the Suns looked at him like a sunk cost.  However this should be another reminder of the Suns poor track record when it comes to talent evaluation and player development.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see Josh Jackson develop better habits and progress his skill in the right nurturing environment.  Maybe that’s Memphis or maybe its not.  But continually squandering top ten picks over and over is a major indictment of an organization riddled with head scratching moves.

Kristaps Porzingis agrees to a five-year, $158 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks. (Link)

~ This one is pretty self-explanatory.  The Mavs have already invested heavily in Porzingis and now both sides are making the commitment to each other.   When healthy Porzingis is one of the best front court players in the NBA.  In a league where massive overpays happen all the time this deal could actually be a bargain if Porzingis continues his career trajectory. 

The Mavs also re-signed Maxi Kleber to a four-year, $35 million deal.  Back in November of last year I wrote an article talking about how much I like Kleber and how title contending teams should snatch him up at great value (Story).  With noticing the other contracts given out to front court players this off-season a $8.75 million annual for Kleber is solid value.  I can’t wait to see a Porzingis/Kleber front court with Luka Doncic as the initiator.    

 

Harrison Barnes agrees to sign a four-year, $85 million deal with the Sacramento Kings.  Trevor Ariza agrees to sign a two-year, $25 million deal with the Sacramento Kings. (Link)   Dewayne Dedmon agrees to sign a three-year, $41 million deal with the Sacramento Kings. (Link)  Cory Joseph agrees to sign a three-year, $37 million deal with the Sacramento Kings.

~ Even though the Kings over paid for most of these contracts I still like the idea behind the fit with Marvin Bagley, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield.  For the Kings to bring outside talent through the door sometimes it has to involve minor overpays.  I was actually surprised that Barnes took a $21 million annual contract.  It’s an overpay for a player of his caliber but I was expecting him wanting a higher annual after opting out of a $25 million player option.  Then the Kings signed Ariza and Dedmon to slight overpays but I personally think could end up as fair deals in terms of what they bring in production and on-court impact.  They needed a center after Willie Cauley-Stein decided it was time to move on so they replaced him with a solid rim-protector that can shoot threes.  They’ve also been in need of swing forwards for the longest time so they sign Ariza who is the quintessential 3-and-D wing plus Barnes who can be their good enough wing scorer. 

The Cory Joseph deal is probably the one I question the most.  I thought that was pretty unnecessary with Yogi Ferrell being a cheap competent backup point guard.  Cory Joseph is the better defender but unless there is some partial guarantee after his first year than it’s kind of a pointless deal.  Did the Kings acquire enough talent to make the playoffs?  Maybe.  Being a playoff team in the loaded west isn’t a guarantee but the Kings still did a good job in terms of fit.  They’ve at the very least put themselves in great position to make a run at the playoffs.

 

JJ Reddick has agreed to a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. (Link)  Details are still pending but Derrick Favors has agreed in terms to sign with New Orleans Pelicans.  (Link)

~ I guess new general manager for the Pelicans David Griffin really thinks that they can contend in the loaded west.  Why else make these moves if he thinks otherwise?  Getting Reddick’s shooting will be a huge plus for a team devoid of shooters and signing Favors gives the Pelicans a starting front court mate for Zion since Jaxson Hayes is a long term project at center.  I don’t see the Pelicans making the playoffs though and question the overall impact these moves will have on player development.  These deals aren’t bad moves since they’re short term deals and won’t tie up salary cap down the road.  I just wouldn’t have playoff expectations if I were David Griffin.

 

Ed Davis has agreed to a two-year, $10 million deal with the Utah Jazz. (Link)  Bojan Bogdanovic has agreed to a four-year, $73 million deal with the Utah Jazz. (Link)

~ Bogdanovic was one of the better scorers on the open market that wasn’t a max player.  He can create his own shot and is one of the better shooters in the league.  His defense will become an issue the deeper into the playoffs the Jazz go but since the Jazz needed another shot creator to pair with Donovan Mitchell I think it’s a relatively fair signing for the price tag.  With Derrick Favors going to New Orleans the Jazz needed another front court player.  Ed Davis is the perfect value contract that fits the system.  These are the types of contracts that I tend to favor: good value AND good fit.  The Jazz are making bold moves to compete for a title this season and I like what I’ve seen so far.

 

DeMarre Carroll has agreed to a two-year, $13 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs.  (Link)  Rudy Gay has agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs.  (Link)

~The Spurs didn’t make any big splashy moves.  They brought back Rudy Gay on contract that is a slight overpay but only for two years.  When Gay was healthy last season he was a steady contributor and much improved three point shooter.  The Carroll contract is solid value and solid fit so clearly I’m a fan.  Carroll doesn’t produce or play defense the way he once did but provides the Spurs with a player of need at swing forward.  The Spurs have a bunch of guards but lack depth at swing forward.  Every year people want to count out the Spurs from making the playoffs but every year they prove people wrong.

 

Al-Farouq Aminu has agreed to a three-year, $29 million deal with the Orlando Magic. (Link)  Terence Ross has agreed to a four-year, $54 million deal with the Orlando Magic.  (Link)  Nikola Vucevic has agreed to a four-year, $100 million deal with the Orlando Magic. (Link)

~ What the hell are the Magic doing?  What’s their roadmap to success? It’s been about seven years since the Dwight Howard trade and I still don’t know what the Magic are doing.  They snuck into the playoffs last season with quality veteran play from Vucevic and Ross but have accumulated high level draft picks over the years that need time on-court to develop.  I thought the Magic were going to realize the ceiling a team lead by Ross and Vucevic had and turn over the 2019-2020 roster to the youth movement.  Boy was I wrong.  Not only did they re-sign Vucevic and Ross to big money deals but they signed another veteran, Aminu, at a position they don’t really need.  So what about Mo Bamba?  Did they spend a top 10 pick on a backup center?  What about Jonathan Isaac? Did they spend another top 10 pick on a backup power forward?  What about Chuma Okeke who they just drafted in the first round?  Are they going to play Aaron Gordon out of position?  I just don’t get the plan for their front court players and as of now it looks like a logjam to me.

 

Jonas Valanciunas has agreed to a three-year, $45 million with the Memphis Grizzlies. (Link)  

~ I was personally looking forward to watching the Jarren Jackson and Brandon Clarke front court play a ton of minutes together but I guess Memphis thought otherwise.  The Grizzlies didn’t have a traditional center on their roster so this move does make sense but I just hope Valanciunas is more of a placeholder starter with Jackson getting the bulk of the minutes at center.  The Grizzlies have made major investments in Jackson and Clarke so giving them on-court time to develop should be a priority.  I’m assuming Valanciunas is a placeholder center and nothing more.

 

Patrick Beverly has agreed to a three-year, $40 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. (Link)

~ I guess this deal signifies that the Clippers are only going after one max salary player.  Makes sense after the moves today.  We’ll see if they get Kawhi or not later in the week.  Overall I like this deal.  Good value and good fit.

2019 NBA Draft Reactions

I’m going to go through certain drafts that standout to me for good or bad reasons:

 

Atlanta Hawks: De’Andre Hunter (4), Cam Reddish (10), Bruno Fernando (34)

~ Would’ve it been better to keep the 8th, 10th, 17th and 35th picks in the draft compared with the 4th and 10th?  Yes, in terms of value the Hawks definitely could’ve done better.  I still like what the Hawks did though when it comes to system fit.  I had Hunter ranked 7th, Reddish ranked 14th and Fernando ranked 31st on my big board.  Ever since General Manager Travis Schlenk took over the Hawks they’ve had a concise plan with a blueprint to follow.  Whether it will work is a different discussion but the overall competence Schlenk has displayed is impressive.  Hunter and Reddish project well as 3-and-D switchable wings with Reddish possessing more upside with Fernando projecting to be an athletic rim-running big man that has room to grow on defense.  The upside of a unit that includes Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Bruno Fernando, Omari Spellmen and John Collins will be a super fun story line to watch next season.

 

Brooklyn Nets: Nicolas Claxton (31), Jaylen Hands (56)

~ I had Claxton ranked 13th on my big board and didn’t even contemplate ranking Hands.  The Nets might look drastically different next season and the fit between Claxton and Jarrett Allen is interesting.  Nevertheless, Claxton selected at 31 is one of my favorite value picks in the draft.  The defensive upside he brings alone makes the pick worthwhile and there is untapped, raw offensive potential just waiting to be developed.  I think the Nets have shown they can develop raw talent well.

 

Boston Celtics: Romeo Langford (14), Grant Williams (22), Carsen Edwards (33), Tremont Waters (51)

~ I had Langford ranked 12th, Williams ranked 11h and Edwards ranked 38th.  Clearly, I really like this draft for Boston even though there were still some players left on the board at 14 that I rather have over Langford.  The Celtics have a ton of options this summer so it’s too early to tell what exact roles these rookies will have.  Langford gives them another big switchable wing, Williams gives them a skilled big and Edwards could be their backup scoring guard.  With Al Horford and Kyrie Irving leaving, the Celtics ended up finding solid young replacements that fit the bill.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland (5), Dylan Windler (26), Kevin Porter jr (30)

~ I had Garland ranked 9th, Windler ranked 24th and Porter jr ranked 10th on my big board, so I obviously should love this draft for Cleveland, right?  I get what the Cavs are trying to do.  They are a team in total rebuild mode so just getting as much talent in the door as possible is priority number one.  The issue turns into a question of fit.  Does Garland, Sexton, Windler and Porter jr fit?  What system will they run?  Who will be the primary ball handler?  In terms of talent and value I should love this draft but I just don’t see a blueprint.  The Hawks are following a blueprint in their rebuild.  The Grizzlies are following a blueprint in their rebuild.  Whether or not it works isn’t the question, it’s the fact that plans and strategies tend to mitigate mistakes.  I just don’t see a plan with the Cavs.  Now that doesn’t mean it won’t work, like I said in terms of talent and value the Cavs did a great job.  I’m just curious how they’re going to put this together.

 

Dallas Mavericks: Josh Reaves (Undrafted)

~  The Mavericks didn’t have any picks but still did a good job.  Reaves is my 26th ranked prospect.  I thought he might go undrafted since he wasn’t on many media sites mock drafts.  I like his fit with the Mavs.  A 3-and-D wing that plays off of Luka Doncic and can playmake in a pinch.  I think Reaves has practical fit on the Mavs as a solid rotational piece.

 

Denver Nuggets: Bol Bol (44)

~ This was interesting.  I didn’t have Bol Bol ranked in my top 40 due to medical concerns.  I’m just a guy that watches a lot of basketball, I don’t have inside sources.  So when I saw Bol Bol fall I guess I turned out to be right, the league must have the same concerns or he’s medically red flagged.  Denver doesn’t exactly need Bol Bol.  They have Nikola Jokic and Micheal Porter jr has their frontcourt but the potential to get a player with lottery talent this late in the draft is too hard to pass up.  It’s a good gamble by Denver.

 

Golden State Warriors: Jordan Poole (28), Alen Smailagic (39), Eric Paschal (41), Dedric Lawson (Undrafted)

~ I had Jordan Poole ranked 36th on my big board and I thought I ranked him too high.  Most media sites didn’t have Poole ranked that high so I thought I was overrating him.  As it turns out the Warriors apparently overrated him too.  I don’t hate the pick but I just would’ve drafted other players like Kevin Porter jr, Keldon Johnson and Nic Claxton.  He’s still a great deep range shooter, very quick and has touch around the rim.  I just don’t get why they aren’t addressing a two-way big wing that can replace Iggy as he retires.  Is that supposed to be Poole?  Jacob Evans who they drafted last season?  Then they get three more players, all of whom are frontcourt players.  I’m assuming that means Kevon Looney is gone?  Smailagic has potential as a skilled big but I question his mobility.  Paschal could end up being a nice fit next to Draymond but at that point in the draft why not go for Bol Bol?  Ever since Travis Schlenk left to go to Atlanta in 2017 I’ve started to double guess the Warriors draft moves more often.

 

Houston Rockets: Shamorie Ponds (Undrafted)

~ Again, another team with no draft picks but I still come away loving what they did.  The Rockets had one of the better undrafted rookies last season with Gary Clark and they look to duplicate that success with Ponds.  Ponds was ranked 30th on my big board and I was pretty surprised he didn’t get drafted.  Ponds is someone who can create his own shot, play on or off-ball and can playmake in Mike D’Antoni’s system.  He might not have excellent size but he’s very skilled with a solid IQ.

 

Los Angeles Lakers: Talen Horton-Tucker (46)

~ The Lakers who didn’t have any picks to start the night ended up trading back into the second round.  I had Talen Horton-Tucker ranked 16th on my big board, so this draft pick gets a thumbs up by me.  The only thing I question is potential fit issues.  He isn’t a shooter and the Lakers are in desperate need of shooters.  Still, Horton-Tucker is one of the youngest players in the draft, has good touch around the rim and has a decent IQ.  I guess he fell due to conditioning concerns?  That was one of my worries when I wrote up his overview but thought that with better diet and an NBA training staff he could work himself into better shape.  Maybe it has something to do with his body type and teams were concerned he’d never be in shape.  Horton-Tucker still can create his own shot, has good feel for the game and has solid fundamentals on defense.  I’m iffy on the fit with Lebron and Anthony Davis but still like the value and his upside due to age and skill.

 

Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant (2), Brandon Clarke (21)

~ Do I even need to say anything?  I had Morant ranked 3rd and Clarke ranked 6th on my big board.  The Grizzlies are now in full rebuild mode after trading Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.  The future trio of Morant, Clarke and Jarren Jackson will be one of the most interesting subplots to the NBA season.  The amount of athletic ability and frontcourt defensive prowess is remarkable for such a young group of players.  This could end up being a draft that transforms their franchise for the next decade.

 

Minnesota TimberWolves: Jarrett Culver (6), Jaylen Nowell (43), Barry Brown (Undrafted), Naz Reid (undrafted)

~ I was a big fan of the job the TimberWolves did in last years draft by selecting Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop.  They’ve definitely outdone themselves this year.  Culver was my 2nd ranked prospect. All it took was the number 11 pick and Dario Saric to get draft Culver at 6.  His offensive game will take time to develop in the league but could be a day one defensive plus player.  Nowell didn’t make my top 40 but let’s just say he was ranked 41st.  He has a good frame and athletic build and nice potential to be a tertiary playmaker.  Then Minnesota signs undrafted Barry Brown jr from Kansas State who is one of the better defenders in this draft.  To top it off the TimberWolves signed undrafted Naz Reid who I’m not a fan of but still has a ton of upside as a big man who can maybe space the court and take it off the dribble.  I really like what the TimberWolves are trying to build around Karl Anthony-Towns.

 

New Orleans: Zion Williamson (1), Jaxson Hayes (8), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17), Marcos Louzada Silva (35), Zylan Cheatham (undrafted)

~ The New Orleans Pelicans draft boils down to what did they put around Zion?  I personally have always envisioned Zion being a small ball five. That’s why I’m on the fence about Hayes.  Hayes was my 19th ranked player on my big board and he has rim-running, paint protection potential.  He actually had a good free throw percentage and touch around the rim so maybe he develops an outside shot but until that happens he mostly gets his points in the paint.  I like the thought of Hayes and Zion together defensively but wonder how will it fit on offense?  Nickeil Alexander-Walker was my 21st ranked prospect but more importantly he is a good spot up jump shooter and will be a much needed floor spacer.  With the 35th pick the Pelicans took Marcos Louzada Silva.  I don’t know much about Silva outside of his Hoop Summit performance where he looked like a potential 3-and-D wing with solid physical tools.  Cheatham was my 35th ranked prospect and to get him as an undrafted rookie is good value.  He projects to be a backup swing big.  Only time will time how well the Pelicans do supporting Zion.  As of now I don’t hate what they did but don’t love it either.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Darius Bazley (23), Luguentz Dort (Undrafted)

~ Bazley was my 5th ranked prospect on my big board which should tell you all that is needed to know.  I’m clearly much higher on Bazley than most draft sites and the Thunder share my sentiment.  As long as Bazley becomes a respectable three point shooter then the fit with Russell Westbrook and Paul Gergoe will work.  I’m not the biggest Dort fan either but to sign him undrafted is terrific value. Dort and Bazley both fit the mold of Thunder players: long and athletic.  I think Bazley in the right environment could be one of the steals in this draft.

 

Orlando Magic: Chuma Okeke (16), DaQuan Jeffries (undrafted)

~ This one is weird for me.  I had Okeke ranked 17th and Jeffries ranked 23rd on my big board.  I clearly like both players but I just don’t know if I would’ve drafted Okeke this high especially with the players that were still left on the board.  I get that the Magic didn’t have another draft pick until 46 and he might not have been available.  It’s just that all I heard pre-draft was Okeke projected to be an early to middle second round pick.  There could’ve been a chance he was still on the board when the Magic picked next at 46.  With that said, I really like the player.  He has to be redshirted for a season but when healthy has 1st round upside.  If Okeke ends up playing well and becoming a starting caliber player than this pick looks terrific.  At the end of the day if you like someone then go get him and that’s what Orlando did with Okeke.  I think the Magic got great value with Jeffries.  He is projected to become a 3-and-D swing forward and a nice complementary piece.  My biggest cause for concern is that the Magic don’t have the best track record in terms of player development and they already have a decent amount of long wings in their pipeline.  My worry is Okeke and Jeffries deal with a logjam and don’t develop properly.  I like the draft by Orlando in terms of talent but I’m apprehensive about the player development situation.  What the Magic do in free agency and how they mold their roster will matter heavily.  

 

Portland Trail Blazers: Nassir Little (25), Jaylen Hoard (Undrafted)

~ I had Little ranked as my 15th best prospect.  I still have my reservations when it comes to Little developing into a positive on-court impact player but the value and fit are amazing.  Portland does not have many ways to upgrade their roster due to salary cap implications.  They were in need of upgrading their wing position with limited options.  What so happens to fall in their lap?  A potentially two-way big wing scorer who will be on a cost-controlled contract for the next four seasons.  Little might take a while to develop and might not be on the same timeline as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum but this just made way too much sense for Portland.  

 

San Antonio Spurs: Luka Samanic (19), Keldon Johnson (29), Quinndary Weatherspoon (49)

~ Keldon Johnson was my 20th ranked prospect and Quinndary Weatherspoon was ranked 33rd on my big board.  I don’t know much about Samanic outside of the NBA combine but he did look to have some big man floor spacing ability with mobility.  I can see the upside with that pick.  I think Johnson has 3-and-D starting wing potential and Weatherspoon has backup scoring guard potential.  The Spurs have an interesting young nucleus of Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, Bryn Forbes, Davis Bertans, Jakob Poeltl, Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson and Quinndary Weatherspoon.  The Spurs are one of the best when mining and developing talent and this draft could be a continuation of that success.

 

 

Final 2019 NBA Draft Big Board

Check out my first two big boards to understand my thought process a little better:

Pre-Tournament Big Board

Post-Tournament Big Board

FINAL NOTE: I just did some tweaks to my big board and everything is final for the draft.  Players I have red flagged for medical reasons didn’t make my ranking.  That includes Bol Bol and Jontay Porter.  I also haven’t included foreign prospects because I didn’t invest as much time in them as I would’ve liked.  I’d be ranking foreign prospects based off what other people have to say and clearly I don’t feel comfortable doing that.  My apologies to Sekou Doumbouya, Goga Bitadze, Luka Samanic and more.

 

………….

 

Tier 1

 

  1. Zion Williamson, Swing Big, Duke, 6’7, 6’10 wingspan, 18.9 years

~ Scouting Report

 

Tier 2

 

  1. Jarrett Culver, Wing, Texas Tech, 6’7, 6’9.5 wingspan, 20.3 years

~ Scouting Report

  1. Ja Morant, Guard, Murray State, 6’3, 19.8 years

~ Scouting Report

  1. Coby White, Guard, North Carolina, 6’5, 6’5 wingspan, 19.3 years

~ Scouting Report

  1. Darius Bazley, Swing Big, USA, 6’9, 7’ wingspan, 19 years

~ Scouting Report

  1. Brandon Clarke, Swing Big, Gonzaga, 6’8.5, 6’8.5 wingspan, 22.8 years

Brief Overview

Brandon Clarke is draft twitters love child.  I’ve seen draft experts have him ranked as high as number two.  While I wouldn’t rank him that high, I’m totally on board the Clarke bandwagon.  He’s still only ranked 6 on my big board, which I personally think is high, but to some people not high enough.  His physical frame is definitely a negative.  He’s listed at 6’8.5 with a 6’8.5 wingspan and only an 8’6 standing reach.  Those are below average numbers for a power forward and Clarke’s game projects to be a center.  Luckily for Clarke he is a freak athlete.  He had insane numbers for a big man at the NBA combine with a 34’ standing vertical (wow) and a 40’ max vertical.  That should tell you the type of explosion he has.

On offense Clarke isn’t a deep range shooter but has showed solid indicators of potential shooting success.  He made 79.7% of his shots around the rim for solid touch, made 52.8% of his two point jumpers which some of those were movement shots and improved his free throw percentage to 69.4%.  He’s almost 23 years old so I don’t know how much more shooting upside he has but he drastically changed his shooting mechanics from San Jose State to Gonzaga and working with pro coaches should help expedite the process.  He was a solid pick-and-roll screener with deft knowledge of when to slip and when to delay his dive.  But obviously becoming a better pick-and-pop player is a must.  He doesn’t have to “pop” from the three point line either, just deep two’s would suffice.

He doesn’t really have perimeter skills yet either and is a basic ball handler.  What he was good at was facing up 18 ft out and attacking off the dribble.  He could take a couple left handed pound dribbles, jump stop and finish off two feet.  He could catch the ball 20 feet out, face up, jab step, drive left, spin right in lane and finish off two feet. He sure did like that spin move off two feet in the lane and was able to move through tight spaces with it.  He could baseline rip-and-go but since he doesn’t have much change-of-direction at times he got trapped baseline forcing uncomfortable situations.  He was pretty ambidextrous on his finishes but needs to leap off one foot more often.  He could attack closeouts and finish with touch on his runners.  He could turn right shoulder for a hook shot as well but most of what I’m saying pertains to 18 feet and in.  He needs to diversify his off the dribble game, work on his spot up jumper and pick-and-pop game.

Defensively is where most draft fanatics freak out over Clarke.  I’ll start with his negative on defense: on-ball.  Let’s get this straight Clarke isn’t a minus on-ball defender but in comparison to everything else he does on defense it’s his biggest improvement area.  He’ll struggle to defend smaller, quicker players or players who have good ball handling ability.  Now a lot of that could be fixed by his upright stance.  He relies too heavily on his athleticism at times and doesn’t sit down in his stance as much as he should.  At times he can get beat at the point of attack but regardless he does his best to stay attached and contest from behind.  He has great effort, feel and instincts on defense.  His team defense is pretty amazing.  He isn’t perfect as at times he misses rotations but for the most part walls off drives, circuits through rotations and has great timing on his weak side blocks/contests.  He’s also not afraid to leave his man/position to help one man over or disrupt an on-ball action.  His defensive creation skills are top level too as he posted 6.2 blocks+steals per 40 minutes.  He has the speed to cover large areas of ground in a hurry even with subpar length.  As long as he uses his butt as an anchor more often Clarke could end up being the best defensive player in this draft.

A lot of his projection will be dependent of his long range shooting.  If he can be somewhat average from three on pick-and-pops and spot ups that would go a long way to maximizing his returns.  Clarke is older which means you could get more of his prime years for cheaper, something that goes underappreciated at times.  His position could be a mystery to people but I think swing big makes sense.  He could start at power forward then size down to center when it’s called for.  I like Clarke a lot…there’s really not much else to say.

Tier 3

 

  1. De’Andre Hunter, Wing, Virgina, 6’7, 7’2 wingspan, 21.5 years

Brief Overview

De’Andre Hunter doesn’t have the upside that people expect for a top 5 pick.  He’s not a big wing who also is an elite shot creator with playmaking ability.  Those tend not to grow on trees.  So if he doesn’t have superstar potential then why all the fuss?  In a draft as uncertain as this one it boils down to practicality.  Hunter projects to be an elite role player, one that plays at a position that’s highly in demand.  Don’t get it twisted, title teams are still built with superstars leading the way but inevitably you do need glue guys, role players and positive on-court impactors. That’s Hunter.

On offense he isn’t going to blow you away with his ball handling ability or passing.  In fact he has a pretty basic handle that mostly sets up straight line drives.  He likes to either rip-and-go, cross up, pump fake closeouts or jab-and-go to start his attack.  He would then take a couple dribbles and pull up, jump stop in the lane and leap off two feet or on some rare occasion spin move in the paint.  At times he will even use his strong frame to shoulder bump defenders off him to create space.  He doesn’t frequently leap off one foot around the rim but has shown that he can.  A lot of this though starts with his shooting.  He doesn’t have a diverse portfolio of shooting ability but with his feet set and shooting off the catch are pretty sound.  He posted a 1.284 points per possession on all catch-and-shoot plays which ranked 90th percentile and 1.099 points per possession on all jump shots which ranked 83rd percentile.  The fact he’s a good floor spacer helps him put the ball on the floor since the defense has to respect his shot and hard closeout.

On defense he’s a much better on-ball defender than team defender or defensive creation.  Hunter is listed at 6’8 with a 7’2 wingspan with good not great athletic ability.  He uses his wide strong frame, his long legs to strengthen his base, his sturdy off hand and high strong hand while containing dribble penetration.  His hands do a good job mirroring ball and defender on-ball.  He really has the chance to become a switchable defender due to his great on-ball defense.  As a team defender Hunter was a mixed bag. Sometimes he would make on time rotations and go vertical at the rim but other times he would have poor positioning or make the initial rotation without picking up the second.  He is also too grounded at times. Staying grounded does help in terms of staying disciplined but not much so in terms of defensive creation ability.  He rarely left his man to choke an off-ball action and posted 1.4 blocks+steals per 40 minutes.  For a potentially elite defender those are low stats.  And sometimes when he would leave his man he would linger for too long.  Overall a great on-ball defender, solid team defender and below average at creating on defense.

For most players situation dictates success but in Hunter’s case even more so.  He needs to go to a situation where they have their creator and rim protector so Hunter can play off-ball on offense and defend the perimeter on defense.  This high ranking could look a little silly if he goes to a terrible situation where he’s asked to do too much.  At the end of they day he is a high impact role player with a positive effect on team success that plays a position of need in the NBA.

  1. RJ Barrett, Wing, Duke, 6’7, 6’10 wingspan, 19 years

~ Scouting Report

  1. Darius Garland, Guard, Vanderbilt, 6’3, 6’5 wingspan, 19.4 years

~ Scouting Report

  1. Kevin Porter jr, Wing, USC, 6’5.5, 6’9 wingspan, 19.1 years

Brief Overview  

If you’ve been keeping up with my previous rankings you would notice that this is the lowest I have Porter ranked so far.  He’s still ranked 10th and in comparison to many other draft sites that’s still considered high.  He has a great frame for a two guard listed at 6’5.5 with a 6’9 wingspan and 8’7 standing reach with a strong frame and good quickness/speed.  He doesn’t have much vertical pop as he isn’t an above the rim player.  Porter gets by with his combination of craft and skill plus athletic ability.

On offense his off the dribble game was what caught my eye.  About 40% of his shots were off the dribble and he posted a .979 points per possession which ranked 81st percentile.  Porter was deft at using his ball handling ability to create separation with behind the back step backs, in-and-out crossovers, jab step head fakes and side step pull backs.  He has a sharp crafty handle capable of dribbling in tight spaces.  At times though he would get bumped off his spots in the lane, needs to absorb contact better but overall he’s fluid with great body control on his drives and at creating separation.  He was decent at finishing and showed the ability to leap off either foot around the rim.  When he was off-ball he tended to stand around.  He wasn’t really a catch-and-shoot guy.  His overall shot mechanics are one of the biggest reasons why he dropped on my list.  It’s not like I just found out but I just couldn’t overlook them anymore.  He has a low release point, one-motion type flick shot with a flat trajectory and inconsistent landing spot.  He made 22/46 free throws which was 52%, even with the small sample size it’s concerning nevertheless.  He wasn’t a good intermediate shooter either posting 28.6% on all his two point jumpers.  He can also pass and playmake off live-dribble although it wasn’t something that he displayed very much.

I personally think he gets undervalued defensively.  I think his biggest issue was engagement.  That obviously is still a flaw and needs to be adjustment at the next level but when he was locked in he played solid on-ball, team and creation defense.  He has quick hands, underrated timing and anticipation off-ball.  He uses his fluid hips, mobility and length to stay in front of ball handlers.  And when he focuses he makes solid rotations and help side assignments.  Clearly though these were few and far between as he tended to float off ball, ball watch and abandoned his fundamentals as soon as he lost ground.  His maturity is a big concern and he couldn’t stay healthy for the season.  Porter jr is a system dependent player.  If you end up drafting him for a motion based offense I wouldn’t expect him to find his footing.  But if you draft him for a drive-and-kick or spread pick-and-roll offense with Porter being one of the main ball handlers then he could flourish into an all-star.  In a draft that’s a crapshoot, having all-star potential, regardless of baggage still warrants a top 10 ranking.

  1. Grant Williams, Swing Big, Tennessee, 6’7.5, 6’10 wingspan, 20.5 years

Brief Overview

Grant Williams is another player that situation will dictate his success in a big way.  He is a swing big, high level role player with positive on-court impact.  His size is pretty average for a big man listed at 6’7.5 with a  6’9.75 wingspan and 8’8.5 standing reach and is average at best athletically.  His high IQ, feel and instincts for the game will have to propel him to the next level.  It also wouldn’t hurt if he’s teamed up with a high level initiator to play off of.

His shooting ability will be a huge determining factor of just the type of player Williams is at the next level.  He only shot 32.6% from three this past season but he shot 81.9% from the free throw line on a whopping 260 attempts.  He has a high release on his shooting mechanics but they still need to be faster.  The touch he showed on the free throw line and posting a 72.3% field goal percentage around the rim does give Williams a nice starting point to continue his shooing ability.  This past season he sported a 1.01 points per possession on all jump shots which ranked 69th percentile.  He scored mostly through post-ups, the free throw line and tough movement two point jumpers.  Even though he doesn’t have length he was still able to make tough shots like turn around jumpers, fadeaways and fallaways at a decent clip.  Williams shot 52.3% on all two point jumpers which is another indicator of potential shooting success.

He still needs to develop better perimeter skills as he probably won’t rely on post-ups as much in the NBA.  His first step is average, he lacks burst or explosion and overall is a below the rim player.  He typically drives in a straight line with some spin moves and pivots in the lane.  He uses jab steps and pump fakes to create a sliver of separation on his drive then uses his broad shoulders to maintain room.  He can struggle versus length at times but plays well in space.  Williams can potentially be an ultimate safety valve off ball screens and doubles.  He showed fantastic passing skills processing the game at a high level.  Whether off a long roll, short roll or ball handler blitz, make Williams your release valve and he will make plays.

Grant doesn’t have the quickest feet or jumps off the ground with haste but is a functional basketball defender.  He was great at team defense while attending Tennessee.  He had solid timing on his weak side rotations, walling off drives or going vertical at the rim.  His wide, strong shoulders help with absorbing contact on contests.  He’s also great after making his initial rotation to circuit through multiple rotations in one possession.  Williams had struggles on-ball defending quicker players at the point of attack.  Although, Williams does use his big, strong butt as a steady anchor on-ball and with his wide shoulders and fluid hips Williams actually does pretty well on-ball considering the lack of physical profile.  He sits down in his stance, stays balanced and has smooth backpedaling slides.  His recovery time on hedges can be less than ideal due to lack of length and speed but puts in good effort regardless.  He also doesn’t stand flat footed on rebounds and attacks the ball midair.

I’m probably ranking Williams too high since he needs to be in a perfect situation to unlock his skill set.  I think Atlanta would be a great situation since Tre Young would be an excellent creator to play alongside.  I just think players that have a positive impact on winning like Williams are extremely valuable.

Tier 4

 

  1. Romeo Langford, Wing, Indiana, 6’6, 6’11 wingspan, 19.6 years

Brief Overview

There are a lot of freshmen in this draft that have great physical profiles and showed enough skill during their one season to get excited about the future.  Unfortunately these players really didn’t have advanced skills and had moderate IQ levels.  Langford is a part of that bunch.  He is listed at 6’6 with a 6’11 wingspan and 8’7 standing reach and a good not great athlete.  He dealt with a torn ligament on his shooting hand for a good portion of the season.  That could have affected his shot but his shooting mechanics weren’t great to begin with.  He needs to get more extension on his release specifically his forearm and relies too much on the flick of his wrist for his follow through.  He shot 27.2% from three and .83 points per possession on all jump shots which ranked 33rd percentile.  He definitely needs to tweak his mechanics but there were a couple of indicators for potential shooting success.  He shot 72% from the free throw line, 64.1% around the rim and 40% on two point jumpers.  So even with a torn ligament in his hand he had solid touch around the rim and a decent free throw percentage.

His pick-and-roll game is one of the biggest reasons why he’s ranked this high.  For starters that was his number one used action at 26.2% of the time, posted .993 points per possession when scoring off a ball screen which ranked 90th percentile and 1.077 points per possession to the roll man off ball screens which ranked 63rd percentile.  He’s a solid live-ball player with a good first step, some change-of-pace ability and strong frame to bump defenders.  He can one dribble pull up, step back or cross his way into the lane.  He doesn’t have much change-of-direction, drives into traffic too often and likes to dribble pull up if he can’t see a lane open up.

His defense was pretty much average.  He has the potential to be a good defender because of his physical profile and the fact he displayed in spurts his defensive prowess.  At times he did a good job sinking and filling, staying in front of his man and chasing down players for blocks.  He was much better at timing his weak side blocks compared with anticipation jumping passes.  Langford would shoot the gap when chasing shooters, swipe down on drives and take poor angles.  He doesn’t leave his man or position often and his lackadaisical approach is worrisome off-ball.  He has the potential to be a switchable player but that remains to be seen.  Langford was a good half court offensive player at Indiana, has scoring ability, pick-and-roll skills and defensive upside.  It’s hard to grade a player like this because his outcome has so many different scenarios.  There’s a lot of freshmen like that in this class and it’s frustrating.

  1. Nicolas Claxton, Big, Georgia, 6’11.75, 7’2.5 wingspan, 20.1 years

Brief Review

Nicolas Claxton is one of my biggest risers on my big board and I still think I might be too low on him.  He’s listed at 7’ with a 7’3 wingspan and 9’2 standing reach.  His athletic testing at the combine was average to below average but his max/standing vertical was one of the better recorded measurements for a big man.  He’s not an uber athletic big man but he uses his vertical explosion and length to his advantage.  He utilizes his timing and overall fluidity to help him move across the court.

The first thing that stands out about Claxton is his defense.  I really think in five years he could be one of the best defenders from this draft.  He needs to bulk up and add strength but during his time at Georgia he was able to defend any position on the floor.  In one possession he would guard on the perimeter, the ball handler and on the block all the while do a good job at each.  That switchability should translate to the NBA.  He was a fantastic pick-and-roll defender using his length to dispute driving angles.  His deft understanding of how to defend ball screens come in handy with any coverage he needs to run.  He’s excellent at covering ground and running shooters off the line.  He can closeout a corner shooter from under the basket with only two wide strides.  He’s a solid backline defender with weak side blocks and walled off drives.  His blocks+steals per 40 were 4.5.  He would get blocks defending the backline and get steals defending the pick-and-roll.  He’s still a work in progress in terms of reaction time but he’s starting from a good foundation.  In the NBA I want my big to be a good on-ball, pick-and-roll and team/backline defender.  Not only can he do all three but he does them (for the most part) exceedingly well.  I might be going overboard by saying he could be one of the best defenders from this draft in five years but it sure has heck wouldn’t surprise me.

The biggest reason why I have my reservations about Claxton is his raw offensive skill set.  He has a surprisingly solid handle where he can grab a defensive rebound and push it up the court.  In fact he did that a lot.  He wasn’t an initiator per say but he would jump start the offense with dribble pitches, swing passes and post feeds.  He could take it off the bounce or attack closeouts with his handle.  He’s more of a straight line driver with basic dribble drive moves, doesn’t have much change-of-direction ability.  He definitely wasn’t timid about taking tough shots and shot 32.5% on two point jumpers.  He has shown good touch around the rim with a 71.2% field goal percentage but needs to have better body control on his difficult two point field goal attempts.  He’s a left handed shooter and has improved his free throw percentage 12 points to 64%.  His long distance shot is one of my biggest question marks as he shot 28% from three this past season and on all jump shots sported a .818 points per possession which ranked 32nd percentile.  His footwork, handle, tough shot making potential and touch around the rim give Claxton solid offensive upside nevertheless.  I don’t know if Claxton will be an instant success since he’s so raw but the potential is there to become a modern day versatile big man.

  1. Cam Reddish, Wing, Duke, 6’8, 7’1 wingspan, 19.8 years

Brief Overview

I guess technically I’m lower on Cam Reddish in comparison to the rest of the draft community but it feels like there is a certain subset of people who agree with him.  I guess apparently Reddish was playing with a fractured rib all season and wore a corset to help with the pain link.  So I guess that explains everything.  That’s why he shot 47.3% around the rim excluding post-ups, 27.7% on his two point jumpers, misread defensive coverages and was slow to process.  Now I understand.

I feel like the only reason why I’m ranking him this high is due to pedigree, upside and physical profile.  He is listed at 6’8 with a 7’1 wingspan and 8’9.5 standing reach and a fluid athlete.  The league is in desperate need of swing forwards and Reddish fits the bill.  I hear people call Reddish a shooter but was he?  He didn’t shoot particularly well in high school, sub 30% from three and shot 33% this past season.  He’s more of a volume shooter than good shooter since he shoots off the hop, has great length and gets the ball out quickly but when he gets rushed at times would chicken arm the shot.  He shot 10 threes per 40 minutes at Duke.  That will still help him in the NBA drawing defenders out to the perimeter but that’s if they respect his jump shot of course.  His free throw percentage is a saving grace as he shot 77% from the line.  He also had really good footwork coming off pindowns and single-doubles.

He’s a basic ball handler with little shift on his drives.  He looks smooth and fluid with his handle but has slight hips with limited change-of-direction.  He uses a variety of head, shoulder fakes, jab steps, jab stomps to get his defender off balance with a decent first step.  He liked to dribble pull up, no dribble jumper or shoot off the catch.  A majority of his offense was threes as they accounted for 61.8% of his shot attempts.  He can generate his own offense but doesn’t really create for others.  I hear that Reddish would’ve been a better playmaker if he had better teammates, that just sounds like an excuse.  I think we’re taking the fact the showed “flashes” of good passing a little bit too far.

Reddish is so frustrating on defense.  He has the physical profile to be a switchable wing defender.  I mean, yes, at times he showed good on-ball defensive principles but that wasn’t the norm.  He was too hunched over, needed to anchor himself more and sit with balance. He grew questionable habits on lack of communication, lazy closeouts and poor sink-and-fill fundamentals.  He would give up too easily at times switching off-ball, had poor positioning on-ball and was slow to identify his man off a scramble.  Reddish had quick hands and was capable of leaving his man/position to swipe down and create on defense.  His steal percentage was arguably the best part of his defense.  Reddish has the world of potential on defense but lacked the fundamentals which isn’t a good indicator.  I’m probably ranking Reddish too high but the upside is so vast.  He needs to go to the right situation if he wants any chance of realizing his upside.

  1. Nassir Little, Wing, North Carolina, 6’6, 7’1.25 wingspan, 19.3 years

Brief Overview

My tier four ranking has a bunch of frustrating prospects and of course Little makes the list.  Little has a great physical profile listed at 6’6 with a 7’1.25 wingspan and 8’8.5 standing reach and an explosive athlete.  His offensive game if pretty one dimensional right now.  He can attack closeouts or drive off the bounce in a straight line.  He doesn’t have much shift in the lane or momentum altering moves.  He’s not much of a playmaker and at times had tunnel vision. He would keep his head down on drives and miss wide open drop off passes to short corner.  His feel for plays just about to break is below average.  He also tends to bring the ball back to his right hand for finishes which wastes motion.  He was at his best when he was around the rim either on cuts, drives, lobs, transition runs and offensive putbacks.  He posted a 68.3% field goal percentage around the rim and used his explosion to finish with power.  

He doesn’t have a vast shooting portfolio.  As of now projects to be a corner-3 point shooter who can make some jump shots when pushed off the line.  His 77% free throw percentage and 34.7% two point jumper percentage helps in terms of potential intermediate game.  He didn’t have the greatest shot selection or decision-making. He did show some improvement from three as the season went on: shot 26.9% for the season and 31.6% for conference play.  I don’t know what his role will be without that three point shot.  He has some scoring instincts and is good around the rim but not much else.

He showed some potential on defense as an on-ball switchable defender by defending post players and using his strong anchor to impede space.  He has a strong off-hand containing dribble penetration but needs better positioning.  Sometimes he would give up baseline but the help would be positioned middle.  His on-ball defense does have upside due to physical tools and he did a fine job at getting blocks from behind or around the rim.  But for the most part he was a low IQ defender.  He was poor at identifying help situations, prone to being late on contests, tends to shoot gaps when chasing shooters and overall was slow to process.  His explosive ability does help greatly on rebounds since he’s quick to the high point.  Little has a wide array of possibilities.  He needs to grow as a defender and diversify his offensive repertoire.  The lack of feel and IQ could always be an issue but if has a good work ethic and has a willingness to learn then he can establish himself as a starting forward.

  1. Talen Horton-Tucker, Wing, Iowa State, 6’4, 7’1.25 wingspan, 18.5 year

Brief Overview

Talen Horton-Tucker isn’t your usual wing.  He’s listed at 6’4 with 7’1.25 wingspan and 8’7 standing reach while weighing in at 235 pounds.  He has a good height-to-wingspan ratio plus he has a strong frame.  His athletic ability is pretty average as he needs to improve his conditioning.  He is one of, if not the youngest player in this draft being 18.5 years old.  It makes sense that he needs to shred the baby fat and develop muscle.

I wouldn’t call Horton-Tucker a tough shot maker but he sure is a tough shot taker.  He can spin into his shot, stepback, pull back and have forward, backward and side leaning momentum altering shots.  His poor two point jumper percentage, 21.9%, is somewhat related to his tough shots taken.  He has great footwork with sudden movement springing into a stepback three.  Not the best athlete but uses advanced live-dribble skills to find his spots.  He uses combinations of in-and-outs, push crossovers and hang dribbles to create separation off the bounce.  He can rip thru, drive with an average first step, euro step in the lane and finish at a decent clip.  Horton-Tucker finish with a 70.3% field goal percentage around the rim with solid body control and nice english.  He can also shoulder dip on his drive with strong strides creating space in the process.

He has a vast assortment of skills but his shooting ability is still a work in progress.  He shot 30.8% from three and 62.5% from the free throw line at Iowa State.  He sported an .857 points per possession on all jump shots which ranked 38th percentile.  He has to tweak his mechanics, quicken his shot and raise his follow through.  He will freelance at times with poor decisions and random shot selection.  This random shot selection has at times thrown the team’s offensive flow out of rhythm.  Wherever he ends up going Horton-Tucker needs to be more willing to fit in a structured offense.  He is a decent playmaker in a pinch.  At times looking off defenders to create better passing situations and likes to distort passing angles with his movement.  He had 82 assists to 60 turnovers this past season.

On defense Horton-Tucker possesses some upside due to solid instincts and decent awareness.  He doesn’t have a quick jump and at times remains grounded.  That hurts in terms of his effort level but I think he needs to get in better shape for his effort level to improve.  He uses his long arms to pickpocket ball handlers one pass away, wall off drives and go vertical around the rim.  He isn’t afraid of contact and can play in the muck.  He doesn’t have great lateral movement but uses his anchor, length and wide base to help contain at the point of attack.  His lack of lateral movement could end up being a big flaw guarding ball handlers in the NBA but Horton-Tucker has shown some switchable promise.  He is hot and cold when it comes to help defense.  At times makes sound initial rotations then has the wherewithal to make a second help side play. His discipline does break down on occasion and will linger off-ball.  I think Horton-Tucker will be a project in the NBA due to his age and body type but has enough defensive awareness and offensive skill that he could become a starting level wing.

  1. Chuma Okeke, Big, Auburn, 6’8, 7’ wingspan, 20.8 years

Brief Overview

When Okeke went down with an ACL tear during the sweet 16 it made me sick.  For starters Okeke was having a hell of a tournament and one could make the argument if it wasn’t for his injury Auburn wins the title.  Okeke was someone I had my eye on since last season. He’s listed at 6’8 with a 7’ wingspan, good shooter, smart passer, defends well in space, can attack closeouts and plays the game low.  One of the things I noticed right away was his propensity to be around the ball.  Every rebounding opportunity he would always somehow be in the mist of the play no matter his position on the court.  Some might call him the energy, hustle big man but I think giving multiple efforts for a player who is an average athlete and not in the greatest of shape is a skill onto itself.

When Okeke gets healthy he needs to work on conditioning and core strength training.  He has good overall fundamentals when it comes to playing on-ball defense with anchoring his butt, not crossing his slides and playing on your toes.  But his lack of athleticism could be a hindrance when it comes to defending quicker players.  Okeke’s length, effort level and functional ability give him enough potential to be a switchable player in the NBA.  He has great instincts in space, not afraid to leave his position to choke a drive and solid timing on low man rotations.  Okeke averaged 4.2 blocks+steals per 40 minutes and had a 9.1% block+steal percentage which is pretty good for someone that lacks athletic ability.  He can be prone to the occasional lapse on defense, be a split second slow on a rotation or get overpowered in the post.  Although he can cover space due to his length, IQ and run shooter off the line with hard in control closeouts.

On offense Okeke projects nicely in the modern day NBA.  He’s not a shot creator and would benefit from having an initiator on offense but his contribution would come through his shooting ability.  He’s a career 38.9% three point shooter and 70.3% free throw shooter with 70.7% field goal percentage at the rim.  On all jump shot opportunities Okeke sported a 1.073 points per possession which ranked 79th percentile.  His spot up, catch-and-shoot and pick-and-pop ability will help reshape the court for an offense especially if he has a true shot creator.  He doesn’t have advanced dribble drive moves and rarely shoots off the dribble but he can attack closeouts in a straight line and use jab steps plus pump fakes to buy him time.  He also seems to find the holes in the offense and position himself well for drive-and-kick opportunities or flash at the dunker spot for a drop off pass.  Okeke was a sound passes at Auburn.  When he got doubled in the post he would find the correct shooter.  He can make over the top passes cross court with accuracy.  He had 111 assists to 93 turnovers for his two seasons in college.  Not a playmaker but does a decent job at processing the game.

Whoever drafts Okeke will most likely have to redshirt him for a year.  He most likely goes in the second round because of that reality. It will also take Okeke probably at least a year to adjust to pro level speed and develop.  Drafting Okeke is now a massive undertaking but one that I think will yield rewards if the team can endure the process.

  1. Tyler Herro, Wing, Kentucky, 6’6, 6’4 wingspan, 19.4 years

Brief Overview

If you look back at my other prospect rankings you would be able to notice I dropped Herro some.  I just couldn’t get over how inept he was at finishing and his lack of physical profile.  He stands in at 6’6 but with a 6’3.25 wingspan and 8’4.5 standing reach with average athletic ability.  His height will surely help in terms of getting his shot off but defensively his subpar tools will undoubtedly hurt.  I think he has decently broad shoulders so if he can fill out over time and add strength that would go a long way.

On offense his shooting is most appealing.  He improved as a shooter as the season went along and considering he played in the SEC I take note of that.  He shot 35.5% from three for the season but 42.1% during conference play.  He also improved shooting off screens and movement even though overall that’s still an area of improvement.  His footwork has to get crisper and shot preparation needs to tighten up.  He does have a great looking shot with some of the best mechanics in the draft.  He was at his best when shooting off the dribble sporting a .991 points per possession which ranked 82nd percentile.  Compare that with his .991 points per possession of catch-and-shoot chances which ranked 47th percentile and you see why movement shooting is a priority to enhance.  While shooting off the dribble, he made stepbacks, leaners and momentum shifting shots; his two point jumper percentage was 46.9%.

His live-dribble skills are average.  He doesn’t have a quick first step or wiggle in the lane but does have some change-of-pace, stop-and-go sudden movement dribbles.  He was a solid pick-and-roll passer, not the most accurate passer but made sweet, simple passes.  He can attack closeouts in a straight line but usually stops short for a floater instead of going all the way to the rack.  He posted a 49% field goal percentage around the basket not including post-ups.  However he does display touch since he shot 93.5% from the line and posted 1.077 points per possession on floaters which ranked 90th percentile but lacks the leaping ability, strength and extension to finish at a high clip.

On defense Herro improved as the season went along.  He became more active on-ball doing a solid job anticipating tendencies.  He doesn’t have the quickest feet and has average lateral quickness but he has decent leverage and improved his balance to stay with perimeter players.  It will still be a struggle for Herro to defend advanced ball handlers or quicker players in the NBA since he lacks length and lateral agility.  He does use multiple efforts to stay attached and recover from behind.  He has deceptively quick hands and does a good job playing off his man to disrupt the ongoing action.  Herro is under control on closeouts and uses choppy steps to stay on point.  He attacks rebounds midair and made hustle plays in the process.  He needs to be more attentive on team defense but overall showed good help defensive principals.  Herro needs to improve his movement shooting, finishing around the rim and continue to defend with feel and effort to become a legitimate starting caliber shooting guard.

  1. Jaxson Hayes, Big, Texas, 6’11.5 , 7’3.5 wingspan, 19 years

Brief Overview

I might be too low on Jaxson Hayes.  I think he’s seen as the best pure center prospect in this draft.  He has an unbelievable physical profile listed at 6’11.5 with a 7’3.5 wingspan and 9’2.5 wingspan plus good athletic ability.  The obvious thing to start with is his around the rim game.  His number one used play type was pick-and-roll “roll-man” where he posted a 1.429 points per possession which ranked 95th percentile.  He doesn’t necessarily set good screens and tends to be averse to contact but still had excellent timing on his dives understanding when to slip or delay.  He has a large catch radius on lob attempts with good body control and coordination.  He posted a 1.581 points per possession on around the basket shots not including post-ups which ranked 98th percentile.  He also has good touch around the rim sporting right shoulder turn around hook shots and shooting 74% from the free throw line.  Even though he hasn’t done much outside the paint he does display jump shot potential with his free throw and around the rim touch.  That would take time though since he’s nowhere close to game ready.

He was also capable of catching the ball around the elbow, taking a north-to-south dribble, jump stopping and leaping off two feet for basket finishes.  He doesn’t have a perimeter off the bounce dribble drive game but it’s totally in the realm of possibility.  He does need to improve his awareness as at times he wouldn’t relocate from the dunker spot when a drive took place.  If he wasn’t able to get a drop off pass he needs not to clog the paint.

On defense Hayes shows good rim protector potential.  Hayes was able to chase down players for blocks or help middle for contests and swats.  At times when he did go vertical around the basket his arms would go down and diagonal instead of straight up leaving himself vulnerable to fouls.  He needs to clean up those fouls since he could be too reliant on his hands and too jumpy.  He mostly played drop coverage at Texas but looked capable of defending hard hedges and covering ground due to his mobility and length.  He showed decent corralling skills on pick-and-rolls but at times had poor positioning and misread the action.  He needs to get stronger and fill out his frame since he was pushed around at times by much smaller players.  All they needed to do was get good leverage, be physical and make it difficult for Hayes to reestablish himself.  Hayes has a ton of upside due to his physical frame, age, pedigree, around the basket game, potential pick-and-pop ability and top level paint protection.  The only reason why he isn’t higher on my board is due to the fact his offensive game is very limited and in today’s NBA having skilled centers are big factors in winning titles.  Hayes can get there one day but he has a ways to go.

  1. Keldon Johnson, Wing, Kentucky, 6’6, 6’9.25 wingspan, 19.8 years

Brief Overview

I just don’t know what to think of Keldon Johnson.  He has a solid physical frame listed at 6’6 with a 6’9.25 wingspan and 8’8 standing reach and a good not great athlete.  He has a strong frame that only will get stronger as he ages.  His physical profile checks out but his skills are pretty basic.  Nothing really stands out about Johnson.  He’s not the greatest live-ball player, can’t really break down defenders and has an average first step.  He has strong strides on his drives to the rim and plays with power over finesse.  He doesn’t really have much wiggle in the lane and tends to be a straight line driver.  Not really a playmaker either and misses plays before they break on offense.  He is more of a two foot leaper around the rim relying on his power for body control on finishes.  He doesn’t have as much control when he leaps off one foot and sports a 1.106 points per possession on shot around the basket excluding post-ups which ranked 48th percentile.  He used his power around the rim to draw fouls but only shot 70% from the line.

He started off the season shooting well from three but couldn’t sustain that success has soon as conference play started.  His average numbers around the rim and from the line lends itself to average touch on his jumper.  He ran off a decent amount of screens in Kentucky’s offense and actually had solid footwork and good shot preparation.  He posted a 1.047 points per possession “off screen” which ranked 74th percentile.  His improved shot will have to guide him at the next level and develop a consistent shot portfolio.  On defense he was always active, high level of effort and energy which helped defending on-ball.  His instincts and feel are subpar on defense.  He hardly ever tried to make a play on defense, had poor steal/block rates.  He got his head turned around and would lose track of his own and had trouble making secondary rotations.  He played good team defense every now and then walling off the rim but if Johnson wants to make it in the league he has to buy into a 3-and-D role.  

 

Tier 5

 

  1. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Guard, Virginia Tech, 6’5.5, 6’9.5 wingspan, 20.8 years

Brief Overview

I’ve moved Nickeil Alexander-Walker down my ranking since my first big board but I still like his NBA potential.  He’s listed at 6’5.5 with a 6’9.5 wingspan and 8’6 standing reach with slightly above average athletic ability.  The first thing that stood out about Walker was his handle.  He doesn’t rely on quick twitch athletic ability but more so on craft.  He is one of the more skillful ball handlers in the draft displaying nice combinations of in-and-outs, between the legs, double cross moves with either hand.  He’s pretty ambidextrous with his handle, finishing and passing ability.  He can whip around one handed skip passes to the corner, drop off passes to the dunker spot, wrap around passes and drift passes.  Alexander-Walker does let hedges through him off his game as he can’t turn the corner that well, picks up his dribble and throws risky diagonal passes cross court.  He picks up his dribble too often while he needs to extend the play and move it along.

When Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech’s starting point guard, got hurt Walker had to take on a primary ball handler role.  That’s not him. He’s more of a secondary playmaker.  He did show solid pick-and-roll skills, found back action shooters and used his craft to set up defenders, get them off balance and burst off screen.  Walker has an average first step which hurts in terms of breaking down his man one-on-one but with a ball screen Walker can create much more rapidly.  He isn’t an above the rim player and can struggle at times finishing since he doesn’t protect the ball.  His jump shot is solid with a fluid release but needs to keep his follow through upward instead of out.  He’s definitely a better shooter when his feet are set and needs to work on movement shooting.  He needs to have better shot preparation and footwork off screens since that will help him extend his NBA career.  Walker is a combo guard that can attack closeouts and shoot spot up jumpers but needs to diversify his shooting portfolio.

On defense Walker is pretty solid.  He shows great effort level and makes hustle plays.  His lateral agility is average but he does a good job staying in front regardless.  Going up against quicker and stronger players might give him some trouble in the NBA but he’s very active on-ball and sits in his stance.  He isn’t afraid to leave his man and create events off-ball but at times can linger and get stuck in the muck.  He will have his share of lapses but does a fine job of walling off middle.  Alexander-Walker has a nice ceiling since he’s fairly long for a guard, can spot up shoot, playmake, create with ball screens and defend at an honest clip.  He could be a nice 3-and-D combo guard with some creation skills.  I might be too low on him.

  1. Ty Jerome, Guard, Virginia, 6’5, 6’4 wingspan, 21.9 years

Brief Overview

It’s such a shame Ty Jerome doesn’t have the requisite athletic ability you need in today’s NBA.  I mean he did measure in a 6’5.5 (with shoes) which should help but his 8’2 standing reach, 6’4 wingspan and slight frame don’t do him any favors.  I really wanted to rank him in my top 15 due to his shooting ability, high IQ, crafty ball handling and good defensive fundamentals.  Ty Jerome might not be an explosive athlete but he sure is a functional one.  Being a top tier athlete is great and all but if you’re slow to process then that ability is just for show.  Ty Jerome’s ability to process the game quickly will have to guide him through the NBA.  Understanding angles, positioning, secondary rotations and breaking the game down in layers will in effect be Jerome’s speed at the next level.

Jerome has all the skill you want for an offensive guard: shoot, create and dribble.  Jerome doesn’t have that great of a first step but his stop-and-go, momentum shifting dribble drive moves do a good enough job at breaking down the first level of the defense.  It’s the getting to the rim part that eludes Jerome.  He tends to pull-up off the dribble inside the arc or stop short for a floater.  He sported a .95 points per possession on all jump shots off the dribble which ranked 78th percentile and .887 points per possession on all runners which ranked 71st percentile.  On the flip side he sported a 1.047 points per possession on shots around the rim (no post-ups) which ranked 37th percentile on only 64 attempts.  To put that in perspective his teammate De’Andre Hunter had 137 attempts at the rim (no-postups).  Jerome lacks vertical pop and straight line speed to get to the rim even though he has a plus handle.  That plus handle does became handy when we’re talking about play making.  Jerome is a pretty clever passer bending passing seams in the defense to play make off the bounce.  Where Jerome really excelled was creating off the pick-and-roll.  I don’t know how good Jerome will be off the bounce at the next level but give Jerome a ball screen and he will produce at any level.

Obviously his shot is one of his most known strengths.  Showing pretty solid shooting versatility he can shoot off the dribble, off screens or spotting up.  Jerome sported a 1.445 points per possession on all catch-and-shoot chances which ranked 97th percentile.  If Jerome can do more than just spot up in the corner and become a fulcrum shooter that will boost his on court impact.  Defensively Jerome was a sound defender with discipline.  He wasn’t afraid to leave his man or position to stifle an off-ball action and was typically aware of rotating back to his own assignment.  Not the quickest on-ball defender but was extremely active, making multiple efforts to make sure he stayed attached.  Jerome is that quintessential high IQ defender but his lack of physical profile might become an issue staying with athletic ball handlers and bigger wings.  If you can’t defend point of attack moves in the NBA it’s going to be tough to find playing time.

I still think with his functional ability, high IQ and offensive versatility that Jerome can be a solid rotational piece, a backup combo guard.  Clearly he needs to get stronger and work on his conditioning so he can improve being an off-ball movement sniper. Maybe giving him a first round grade is too high because of his athletic deficiency but I trust that his vast skill and work ethic will triumph to help support a nice NBA career.

  1. DaQuan Jeffries, Wing, Tulsa, 6’5, 6’11.25 wingspan, 21.8 years

Brief Overview

DaQuan Jeffries projects to be a 3-an-D role player with positional versatility.  The utility of a role player doesn’t necessarily mean they need to have all the skill in the world but just to fit inside a box.  There’s a reason why when talented young prospects who don’t live up to their potential have a tough time transitioning to becoming a role player.  It takes a certain mindset and understanding of the parameters of the situation.  That’s why I have a player less skilled like Jeffries ranked this high, his role player upside.

For starters Jeffries is listed at 6’5 with a 6’11.25 wingspan and 8’8 standing reach plus good vertical explosion.  Jeffries is a high IQ player, plays the game with pace and patience.  Jeffries plays the game low on both sides of the ball.  His hips aren’t the most flexible and kind of stiff and his lateral movement is pretty average.  As an on-ball defender he plays with balance, wide stance, strong frame and active arms.  He tends to be on his toes defensively circulating through rotations and anticipating actions.  He has choppy, controlled steps on his closeout and if he gets blown by stays disciplined.  He has great verticality around the rim and his leaping ability sets up nicely for come from behind blocks.  Jeffries isn’t a lockdown defender but someone who is positive as a team, on-ball defender and at defensive creation will possess versatility at a position of need.

On offense he’s pretty basic.  Doesn’t have change-of-direction moves, not overly advanced live-dribble and isn’t deft at creating offense.  He can in-and-out push cross, rip-and-go and jump stop for a powerful in controlled leap.  He isn’t a playmaker but sets up nicely as a swing, extra pass type player.  He also times his cuts well slicing through tight spaces.  He’s pretty unselfish, with nice relocation ability off-ball and a good enough shot.  He shot 37.7% from three and 77% from the line for his entire college career.  He shot 72.6% around the rim and had decent extension and fine touch around the rim.  He isn’t someone that has a vast portfolio of shooting ability but as long as he can shoot off the catch, spot up and attack closeouts then he should be fine.  Jeffries is someone that an established team should really consider in this draft.  He has glue guy, role player and positional versatility potential.

  1. Dylan Windler, Wing, Belmont, 6’7.5, 6’10 wingspan, 22.7 years

Brief Overview  

I might be too high on Dylan Windler.  I just think he fits the mold of movement shooter with size well in the NBA.  He’s listed at 6’7.5 with a 6’10 wingspan and 8’8.5 standing reach which are all good measurements but his athletic testing really surprised a lot of people at the NBA combine posting a good max vertical, shuttle run and lane agility time.  His jump shot is the clear selling point when it comes to Windler.  His lower body mechanics need to improve somewhat because it doesn’t feel like he springs off his toes generating power through his hips in time with the rest of his jump shot.  But he does have a nice follow through, quick dip and solid release point.  On all jump shots Windler posted a 1.272 points per possession which ranked 96th percentile and 1.339 points per possession on catch-and-shoot opportunities which ranked 93rd percentile.  He can shoot off screens, off cuts, off the dribble, step back or pick-and-pop.  I think in the NBA using him as a pick-and-pop player could be a different way to maximize his skill set.

One of the differences between Windler and a similar player like Cameron Johnson is ball handling ability.  Now Windler isn’t some ball handling savant but he does have a deceptively quick first step, can playmake off ball screens or in one-on-one situations.  He’s more of a straight line driver but does have some change-of-pace ability and ambidextrous qualities.  He does need to drive with his right hand more frequently though.  He’s not a primary playmaker but can be a tertiary playmaker.  He made some nice reads to trailing big men, baseline cutters and back action shooters.  He needs to bulk up and get stronger as that’s a problem when he has to finish through contact or create separation.  I think he has a world of possibilities on offense through movement shooting, pick-and-roll ball handling, pick-and-pop screen setting, being a floor spacer, attacking closeouts and playmaking in a pinch.

Defense was a mixed bag for Windler.  He makes smart, sound initial reactions but he doesn’t follow up with secondary actions.  At times he struggled matching up while defending early offense but when he gets locked in can defend at a high level.  He attacks rebounds midair and doesn’t wait for the ball to come to him.  He made good use of his hips on boxouts.  He averaged 10.6 rebounds per 40 for his career putting multiple efforts behind cleaning the glass.  He does play solid on-ball defense, getting in a low stance in the process.  One of my biggest concerns was how he needs to take better angles and have better positioning on the court.  Defense is something that will make or break his NBA career.  Since he had his fair share of good and bad moments it feels like he could be an average defender in the NBA.  But since he has size and solid athletic ability there’s room for upside.  Also, going through his game logs almost every time he played a good team from a big conference he would have a subpar performance.  Luckily for Windler he played well against Maryland during the NCAA tournament his past season.  Outside of that though it was clunker after clunker.  In the NBA he will be playing with better players, better floor balance and more creative styles of play.  He still projects to be a big 3-and-D wing.  Those are in demand in the NBA.

  1. PJ Washington, Big, Kentucky, 6’8, 7’2.25 wingspan, 20.8 years

Brief Overview

Why do I have PJ Washington ranked lower than most other websites?  I’m just not buying his upside as a lottery pick.  I think Washington projects to be a backup big.  Washington doesn’t project to be a versatile defender in my opinion.  I saw a player who had trouble with change-of-direction, recovering ground and foot speed.  He actually was a decent on-ball defender going up against bigger perimeter ball handlers but he couldn’t keep up with smaller, quicker ones.  His lateral movement actually seems to be, at the very least, average for someone his size.  When he did get blown off the dribble his stiff hips made him a second behind his recovery.  The biggest advantage he has on defense is his frame.  He’s listed at 6’8 but has a 7’2.5 wingspan and a 8’11 standing reach.  His length helps him cover ground, contest shots from afar and contain dribble penetration.  I’m not saying Washington will be a bad defender but he just has his limitations and relies on length and average lateral movement to springboard his positioning.  He also has an average IQ.  Sometimes I see him be stationary, not react soon enough and miss assignments when guarding the perimeter.

It’s super important for big men nowadays to be versatile at pick-and-roll coverage, play good enough on-ball defense and pilot backline defense.  He should be good enough on-ball but other than that I don’t trust him to excel in the other two categories.  I just don’t see the upside on defense that warrants a lottery selection.  On offense he did a good job improving his long distance jumper.  He shot 42% from three this past season, up from 24% last season. Washington sets up nicely as a pick-and-pop big.  I personally think that will be his most valuable skill in the NBA.  His shooting is relegated to just spot up at the moment and not much else but he does have nice touch even though his free throw percentage was 66%.  His handle was deceptively tight, he made some nice dribble drive moves attacking closeouts and his straight line speed is solid for someone his size.  He liked to faceup about 15-20 feet out, rip-and-go, hop step and leap off two feet.  I wouldn’t call him a good playmaker but he did display some passing skills on double teams.  He also didn’t “roll” all that much at Kentucky but since he has decent straight line speed and nice touch around the rim I wouldn’t be surprised if he became proficient at it in the NBA.

Like I said I don’t think he warrants lottery hype but he should at the very worst be a respectable backup big, with some potential to be a low-level starter.

 

  1. Josh Reaves, Wing, Penn State, 6’4, 6’7 wingspan, 22 years

Brief Overview

Josh Reaves isn’t on many big boards I’ve seen.  I think he’s ranked something like 78th on ESPN’s top 100 and I don’t even think he’s on The Ringer’s big board.  And yet I have a first round grade on Reaves. Bottom line is that I buy his potential as a top level role player.  Reaves doesn’t have the upside to be an offensive initiator.  He can however play off the initiator, shoot threes, play make and create for himself in a pinch.  I’m basing a lot of this off last season.

Last season he played with Tony Carr who was a nice college initiator who could score and play make.  As a team Penn State shot 38% from three opening up the court for Reaves to be active off-ball. Reaves sported a 1.377 points per possession on “cuts” which ranked 85th percentile.  If he needed to be a tertiary playmaker Reaves could do that sporting a 1.207 on passes out of the pick-and-roll which ranked 88th percentile.  He had 107 assists to 48 turnovers which is a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio, pretty impressive for an off-guard.  If he needed to catch-and-shoot he can do that too sporting a 1.167 points per possession which ranked 75th percentile.  He could attack closeouts and get to the rim making 65.9% of his baskets at the bucket.  He isn’t a scorer or tough shot maker sporting about 25% on his two point jumpers the past two seasons.  Typically when Reaves caught the ball he would either immediately shoot or go to the rim.

This past season however Tony Carr moved on, Penn State didn’t have a college level initiator (sorry Lamar Stevens) and as a team shot 32% from three.  The role I envision Reaves playing in the pros replicates his junior season and not his senior season where he had to create for himself more often and not explore his off-ball prowess even further.  Even if you give Reaves a ball screen he’s a much better playmaker than scorer.  He needs to be off-ball playing off a primary creator to succeed.  

He is a good athlete showing that he can one-leg dunk in transition and stay with quicker players on defense.  He has vertical explosion, lateral agility and end-to-end speed.  He’s 6’4 with a 6’7 wingspan but his athletic ability makes him play bigger than his listed height.  Defensively Reaves is overall a good player.  He’s best when defending in space but is a solid team and on-ball defender nonetheless.  Negatively at times he can over commit, be too handsy, float and ball watch but still brings the intensity, has quick reactions with terrific anticipation.  He averaged 4 blocks+steals per 40 minutes for his entire four year career at Penn State.  His defensive ability and athleticism are his core attributes but his potentially consistent shooting, off-ball prowess and play making in a pinch give Reaves a foundation to become a rotational role player.

  1. Terence Davis, Wing, Ole Miss, 6’4.5, 6’8.75 wingspan, 22.1 years

Brief Overview

Terence Davis has good role player potential.  He isn’t someone that has a ton of upside and is already 22 years old.  Does a player like Lugentz Dort have more upside?  Yes, but I think practicality is important and Davis might have more impact on-court for some established roster than Dortz does.  He’s a four year player at Ole Miss and had his best season this past year.  He’s listed at 6’4.5 with a 6’8.75 wingspan and 8’5 standing reach which solid quick twitch athletic ability.  The first thing that got my attention was his on-ball defense.  He has pretty big hands for a player under 6’5, has quick feet and quick twitch reflexes.  He needs to get stronger if he wants to be able to switch on every single player but as of now saying that he can switch one through four isn’t that much of a stretch.

He also creates events on defense by jumping passes lanes, disrupting actions and creating havoc with his quick, big hands.  He has pretty good instincts and anticipation for off-ball defensive rovering.  Though he does gamble a lot when jumping passes and at times needs to stay more disciplined.  At times he can over help and get stuck in the muck.  He can stay flat footed on rebounds and forget to box out his man.  He still makes good rotations on all levels of the defense for the most part.  On offense Davis has a quick first step with some change-of-direction ability.  His handle isn’t anything advanced but uses his quick twitch ability to make sharp dribble drive moves.  He can settle for shots, force the situation and misdiagnose a play.  He was an improved jump shooter this past season shooting 37.1% from three and 1.039 points per possession on all jump shots which ranked 73rd percentile.  He can shoot off the dribble, catch or attacking a closeout.  The question becomes will his shot continue to be steady at the next level?  Davis projects to be a nice 3-and-D combo wing with some tertiary playmaking responsibilities and a good pick-and-roll defender.

  1. Matisse Thybulle, Wing, Washington, 6’5, 7’ wingspan, 22.3 years

Brief Overview

Matisse Thybulle just sets up nicely as a 3-and-D wing.  For starters he’s 6’5 with a 7’ wingspan and above average athletic ability; that’s prototypical wing measurements.  Even though he shot 30.5% from three this past season, his career numbers at Washington are 35.8% from three.  Becoming a consistent shooter will determine his path to the NBA.  His mechanics are by no means broken, it’s just when he gets pressured he alters his mechanics somewhat and short arms the release at times.  He’ll bring the ball closer to his body with little extension on his follow through.  In terms of catch-and-shoot, when he was contested he posted a .719 points per possession which ranked 20th percentile and when he was unguarded he posted a 1.333 points per possession which ranked 77th percentile.  He doesn’t have a wide portfolio of shooting ability so he will need to become a more consistent catch-and-shoot player.  He did shoot 78.2% from the free throw line for his career and posted a 76.2% field goal percentage around the rim so his touch isn’t the problem.

His ball handling is OK.  He’s pretty athletic but his hips are a little stiff.  At times he can display shifty dribble drive moves but for the most part it’s straight line or curved driving angles.  He can two foot leap or one legged jump around the rim for finishes.  He’s not really a playmaker but can drive-and-kick, swing pass or just make sound extra passes.  Overall he’s he shoots mostly threes with some ability to put the ball on the floor.  Doesn’t play well in the muck either, not a scorer but has glue guy potential.

Defense is his strong suit.  He’s an awesome spatial defender coming from playing zone defense at Washington.  Thybulle averaged 7.4 blocks+steals per 40 minutes last season which is a historically good number.  His hand eye coordination, anticipation and timing are all pretty elite.  He has great instincts and defensive feel.  Question marks arise when talking about his on-ball defense since he played zone.  Can he be a switchable wing?  Those are justified questions since I question his change-of-direction and ability to defend at the point of attack.  I also noticed him be flat footed too often on rebounds, I just get the feeling he doesn’t like the physicality.  A team that could be a good fit for Thybulle is Brooklyn, especially if they sign Kyrie Irving.  The Nets play more zone defense that most NBA teams and having multiple creators on the team can have Thybulle play off-ball to be a floor spacer.  Situation will dictate his success as he projects to be a role player.

  1. Rui Hachimura, Wing, Gonzaga, 6’8, 21.3 years

Brief Overview

I might regret having Rui Hachimura ranked this low in five years.  He’s listed at 6’8 with a reported 7’2 wingspan and strong frame.  His upside lies in his offensive repertoire.  His ability to score will be his most coveted skill.  He isn’t a three level scorer just yet but is damn near close.  He has a post game, nice finishing ability and intermediate game.  He’s a powerful straight line driver with a decent first step capable leaping of one or two feet.  He’s not overly explosive but has enough vertical pop to go along with his strength, ability to take on contact and extension that he averaged 7.9 free throw attempts per 40.  His dribble drive game is continually improving even though he relies on power, quick rips and pound dribbles by adding double crosses and hang dribbles.

He’s great facing up 17 feet and in, making decisive steps and has a solid dribble pull up game with a two point jumper percentage of 45.1%.  He has an improving three point shot but does shoot on the way down and only attempted 36 threes this past season.  Improving his long range shot will unlock a world of potential as a three level scorer.  He can be a strong screen setter and has rim running potential.  He isn’t a playmaker, makes questionable decisions, forces the action, doesn’t have the greatest feel and drives with his head down at times.  On defense all I keep hearing about Hachimura is that he has major defensive potential.  I get it.  He has a great frame a good enough athletic ability to be a modern day versatile forward but his lack of instincts, positioning and processing are major red flags in terms of defensive potential.  He has poor fundamentals too with a hunched over stance on-ball, upright stance off-ball, doesn’t play off his toes and more likely to be flat footed.  He has a below average understanding on defense but I routinely hear it’s because he just started playing the game a few years ago.  That just sounds more like an excuse than a reason.  No matter what he projects to be a great scorer at power forward but I worry about his actual on-court impact.  I’m still giving Hachimura a 1st round grade though, just not as high as most other people.

  1. Shamorie Ponds, Guard, St. John’s, 6’1, 6’3.5 wingspan, 20.9 years

Brief Overview

Shamorie Ponds was one of my favorite players when making my pre-tournament rankings but with every new big board he drops.  I still like him as a player and have a first round grade on him which most people don’t.  His offensive game is the biggest reason why he’s ranked this high.  He’s a crafty ball handler and finisher even with his lack of vertical pop has good touch around the rim and uses his shoulders to shield the ball from defenders.  He’s a great passer and underrated playmaker posting 413 assists to 209 turnovers for his career at St. John’s.  He plays well off ball screens and understands the intricacies of pick-and-roll offense.  His height can be an issue however as he can’t see over the top as easily.  He can create offense for others or himself pretty well.  He does a fine job creating space with his step back and has a good pull up jumper.  He posted .978 points per possession on all shots off the dribble this past year which ranked 81st percentile.  He also posted a 1.131 points per possession on all his jump shots which ranked 87th percentile.  I think that could bode well for him at the next level when shooting off-ball.  

His poor shot selection was one of the reasons why his three point efficiency wasn’t great as he shot 32.8% from three for his career.  But considering his free throw percentage was an 84% for his career, I take his poor shot selection more like he was trying to overcompensate for an undermanned team.  The main reason why he kept on dropping down my board was obviously his size.  He’s listed at 6’1 with a 6’3.5 wingspan plus average athletic ability.  That is concerning for defense.  He was actually an OK on-ball defender at times due to stance, balance and fundamentals.  Going up against longer, quicker ball handlers could be a problem in the NBA plus he doesn’t have much switchable potential.  But he was a relatively smart defender in space showing great anticipation skills and super quick hands.  He did a solid job making initial rotations but was late on his secondary movement.  I think Ponds projects to be a solid backup point guard with scoring, playmaking ability and some spot up shooting off-ball.   His defensive upside is obviously limited but he has a decent IQ and as long as he puts effort in should be passable.

  1. Bruno Fernando, Big, Maryland, 6’10.25, 7’3.25 wingspan, 20.8 years

Brief Overview

Sometimes I think to myself, “why is Bruno Fernando on my ranking but not Daniel Gafford?  They’re practically the same player.”  The main reason is shooting potential.  Now neither player projects to be a good shooting big in the NBA but Fernando at least has shown some indicators.  For starters he shot 76% from the free throw line while Gafford shot 56% from the line, Gafford doesn’t even attempt three point shots while Fernando at least went 3/10 this past season and most importantly Fernando is more fluid on his two point jumpers shooting 47.1% with Gafford shooting 30.7%.  Both players project to be a backup big anyways but I think Fernando could develop a pick-and-pop game while Gafford will be an around the basket player. 

Fernando still needs to improve his passing ability out of doubles, decision making skills, his timing on rim-runs and not bringing the ball down on catches around the rim.  He has one of the better physical profiles for a big entering this class listed at 6’10.25 with a 7’3.25 wingspan and a 9’2 standing reach with a chiseled frame.  Unfortunately he isn’t that functional which is a problem but did improve mightily over last season.  On defense he has massive upside as a potential rim protector who can switch but he’s not that yet.  He doesn’t have the awareness, takes poor angles, bites on fakes and lacks discipline.  He is super mobile with length and has decent timing on blocks around the rim but is nowhere near the defender he should be with that kind of frame.  He has a ton of upside but most of it could lay dormant.

Tier 6

 

  1. Cody Martin, Wing, Nevada, 6’5.5 years, 6’10.25 wingspan, 23.7 years

Brief Overview

I understand that his age is a deterrent to some but I think Cody Martin is being vastly undervalued by some of the bigger media outlets…or maybe I’m just wrong.  He’s listed at 6’5.5 with a 6’10.25 wingspan with good athletic ability when it comes to quickness and lateral movement but doesn’t have much vertical pop.  He has a nice frame that still needs a little more bulk.  What intrigues about Martin is his ball handling and play making ability at his size.  He can be loose with his handle at times and dribble away from his body on occasion but does possess a methodical, momentum shifting, reliable dribbling style that could suit nicely for pick-and-roll, half court basketball.  He has a decent first step but it’s his stop-and-go, turn the corner and look over the defense ability that I think translates.

He’s not a flashy play maker but makes smart, clever passes and tends to be safe with the ball.  What makes Martin interesting is that he was an improved jump shooter this past season.  He shot 35.8% from three, 76.3% from the free throw line and 1.025 points per possession on all his jump shots which ranked 71st percentile.  Also he posted a 1.364 points per possession on his catch-and-shoot tries which ranked 95th percentile.  He has solid touch around the rim shooting 71.3% and his ability to hit movement, long two point shots bodes well for his new found shooting success to translate to the NBA.  He’s good at shooting off the dribble, with space, off the catch, off a closeout or with momentum which should help him transition to a more off-ball role in the NBA.

On defense he offers positional versatility, solid on-ball defense and a good team defender.  His great lateral movement helps him stick on-ball, his plus IQ helps with cycling through rotations and his size gives him the ability to defend bigger players.  During last year’s NCAA tournament he was switching onto Mo Bamba and consistently had to defend bigger players at Nevada.  I just think Martin projects to be a backup ball handler with size, that can attack closeouts, shoot off the catch and defend with versatility.  I guess his age is that grand of a deterrent.

  1. Quinndary Weatherspoon, Wing, Mississippi, 6’4.25, 6’9 wingspan, 22.7 years

Brief Overview

Quinndary Weatherspoon is another player I don’t see graded highly on most big boards.  He was one of the standouts from the Portsmouth Invitational and had a fairly solid showing at the NBA combine even though he didn’t shoot well.  He’s listed at 6’4.25 with a 6’9 wingspan and timed in at a 3.16 three-quarter sprint.  That end-to-end speed and quick first step ability is the biggest reason he’s so high on my big board.  He recorded 176 shots at the rim according to hoop-math.com which for an off-guard is quite impressive.  To put that into perspective Romeo Langford has 145 recorded shots around the basket.  He has decent touch around the rim but was able to be flexible with his leaping ability and made some nice hand-to-hand adjustments while midair.  He averaged 6.3 free throw attempts per 40 minutes last season and was able to use his frame, first step and leaping ability to draw fouls.

His change-of-direction ability is lacking but he can turn a corner, drive in a curve and get low to the ground.  He can dislodge defenders with his strong frame when he gets into the paint, jump stop and make somewhat difficult shots.  He shot 47.4% on all his two point jumpers and posted a 1.00 points per possession on all shots off the dribble which ranks 85th percentile.  He vastly improved his shooting sporting a 1.205 on all jump shot situations which ranked 93rd percentile.  His mechanics still need to quicken up but his form is much improved over time.  His overall scoring ability is a huge reason why I grade him highly.  He averaged 19.7 points per 40 minutes during his four year career at Mississippi State.

He could also playmake in a pinch.  He doesn’t have the greatest instincts but can make plays off ball screens and posted a 1.255 points per possession on passes off pick-and-roll situations which ranked 92nd percentile.  His defense is pretty average.  When watching him defend he looked pretty detached at times but when locked in played pretty solid on-ball and team defense.  He’s a better on-ball defender than team defender with his strong frame, solid lateral movement and good recovery speed.  He has an average feel, average IQ and is average at creating events on defense.  I just wasn’t impressed by his defensive effort but I wouldn’t call him bad…just…average.  I think having players create their own shot is very important in today’s NBA and Weatherspoon can do that.  He can attack closeouts, playmake if needed, shoot of the catch and play passable defense.  It just sounds like he could be a solid bench scorer and be a rotational piece.

  1. Isaiah Roby, Swing Big, Nebraska, 6’8.5, 7’1 wingspan, 21.3 years

Brief Overview

Putting Roby this high on my list was simple: positional versatility and floor spacing.  He has good size at 6’8.5 with a 7’1 wingspan and tested well at the combine athletically.  He has the frame and athleticism to become a switchable big.  At Nebraska he did a solid job defending in space, defending pick-and-rolls and contesting shots around the basket.  I’m more concerned about his offense than defense however.  Roby projects to be a 3-and-D big man but the “3” part of that equation is somewhat lacking.  I question his touch more than his mechanics which makes me a little weary.  Around the rim Roby shot 59.7% from the floor, he shot 33% from three and 67.7% from the free throw line this past season.  Now all those stats were much better the season prior: 73.2% at the rim, 40.5% from three and 72.4% from the free throw line.  He dealt with injuries this past year so maybe it had something to do with nagging foot or groin injuries?  That’s something I wish I knew: his medicals.  Obviously if I knew he had a persistent foot issue then he wouldn’t be ranked on my list.  But assuming that he’s healthy and his play trends towards his sophomore season stats then Roby does set up nicely as a 3-and-D big.  He didn’t shoot the ball that well at the NBA combine but he still displayed his pick-and-pop and spot up potential.  As long as he draws defenders towards his direction when shooting the ball, the threat alone affects the defense.  With all my concerns I have there is a reason why I have a second round grade on him.

  1. Zylan Cheatham, Big, Arizona State, 6’8, 7’ wingspan, 23.5 years

Brief Overview

Zylan Cheatham is about to turn 24 years old.  He doesn’t possess the upside of a player like Louis King but I trust Cheatham’s NBA practicality more so.  Cheatham is a quick twitch athlete that’s listed at 6’8 with a 7’ wingspan.  His potential to be a switchable swing big is the biggest reason he’s this high on my big board.  He has great feel and instincts as a backline, team and rim protector.  He can sink his hips, play off his toes and be on balance when guarding smaller, quicker players.  He needs to bulk up some more and add strength to defend against bigger players in the post but for the most part Cheatham has 1 through 5 switchable upside.  He is your typical energy big off the bench.  He can play a little too hyped at times and become foul prone in the process.

I guess he’s an improving jump shooter but his mechanics are still pretty funky.  He shot 68.7% from the free throw line for his four year career at Arizona State and this past season went 11/25 from three.  His shot wasn’t what I took notice on offense, it was his handle and playmaking ability for a big.  He actually has good control on his handle for being that long and his quick twitch movements help.  Sometimes he’ll look ahead when he should just settle down the offense and as a result commit stupid turnovers.  He had 108 assists to 103 turnovers this past season.  He can’t really shoot off the dribble, is better around the rim and much better playing in space off-ball.  I like Cheatham as a backup energy big with defensive versatility on pick-and-roll coverages and a release valve on offense. I’m probably being too high on him but I know he can fit a distinct role in the NBA.

  1. Jordan Poole, Wing, Michigan, 6’5.5. 6’7 wingspan, 19.9 years

Brief Overview

I must be wrong about Jordan Poole because I can’t find him almost anywhere on mock drafts and big boards.  He would be one of the first phone calls I’d make if he goes undrafted.  He has average size at 6’5.5 with a 6’6.75 wingspan and tested pretty well athletically at the NBA combine in terms of quickness and straight line speed but doesn’t have great vertical pop.  If we’re just talking about physical profile for a shooting guard I think Poole is close to prototypical but he does need to add strength and his hand size is a little underwhelming.

His shooting ability is his most prominent skill.  He has a high quick release on his mechanics but has a lot of wrist motion that doesn’t look like a traditional follow through.  He posted a .96 points per possession on all shots off the dribble which ranked 79th percentile. Most of those were probably threes as he only shot 30.3% on two point jumpers and 37% on three point attempts.  Working on his shot selection, attacking closeouts and overall midrange game would be beneficial to Poole moving forward.  He has pretty deep range on his shot which should help translate to the pros.  He shot 83.1% from the free throw line his two years at Michigan and posted a 1.183 points per possession on all spot-up opportunities which ranked 92nd percentile.  He is an underrated playmaker and ball handler with nice between the legs and behind the back combinations plus push crossovers.  Poole posted a 1.046 points per possession on passes off the pick-and-roll which ranked 69th percentile.  He has underrated vision finding shooters when the defense collapses.  He does need to tighten his handle as he tends to dribble away from his body, get bumped off his spots and doesn’t get to the rim frequently even though he has nice craft on finishes.

On defense he is pretty average.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s bad but he’s just prone to ball watching, lack of attention and focus.  He does have good team defensive fundamentals at times doing a good job with help defense but whether it’s his lack of physicality or lapse of judgement he needs to be a more consistent defender.  He can stick to ball handlers due to his quickness, stance and effort level but going up against bigger wings could be an issue.  He might be limited in terms of switching too.  I’m obviously not super high on Poole hence the second round grade but it feels like he’s being overlooked.  I think Poole projects to be a 3-and-D shooting guard off the bench.

  1. Cameron Johnson, Wing, North Carolina, 6’8.5, 6’10 wingspan, 23.3 years

Brief Overview

Cameron Johnson is getting a lot of first round hype and while I understand it I remain somewhat skeptical.  The reason why I understand it is because of his near elite shooting.  He probably is the best overall shooter in this draft due to height, length, mechanics, quick release and shooting portfolio.  He’s 6’8 with a 6’10 wingspan to help him get his slightly lower release point off versus most defenders.  He has smooth, compact, repeatable mechanics with good balance and fast release.  He can shoot off screen, attacking closeouts or spot up.  He for sure is one of the best movement shooters in this draft sporting a 1.444 points per possession on plays coming off a screen which ranked 97th percentile.  He can pump fake a closeout, take one or two dribbles and pull up from midrange.  Johnson shot 41.5% on all two jumpers this past season.  His elite shooting will have to be his skill that keeps his head above water at the next level.

He’s not an advanced ball handler, not really a tertiary playmaker and can’t create for himself live dribble.  He has decent speed and is actually a solid athlete but he rarely went to the rim curling off a screen.  Johnson will have a role in the NBA since he has a vast portfolio of shooting ability but he’s a limited ball handler and creator.  That will cap his upside greatly more so since he’s about turn 24 years old.  On defense he had OK positioning, used his length in space, was a sound defender that didn’t take much risk.  He was decent enough at circulating through rotations but sometimes he got stuck in the muck, was slow to react and had a high center of gravity.  His on-ball defense wavered at times, it felt like he could get bumped off fairly easy and wasn’t on his toes as much as he needed to be.  He wasn’t a bad defender but I think his NBA upside maxes out at average.  Which I guess if we’re talking about a potentially elite shooter than being average at defense with length is suitable enough.

  1. Carsen Edwards, Guard, Purdue, 6’0.25, 6’6 wingspan, 21.2

Brief Overview

I go back and forth on Carsen Edwards.  I realize that he could have gravity warping shooting ability with shot creation for himself but I don’t think he has much to offer outside of that.  I think he’s an average athlete for a point guard with little vertical pop and poor size.  Don’t get me wrong he has solid straight line speed and his compact handle helps in terms of evading hedges but I wonder about his elasticity of his hips moving forward.  I think his low center of gravity makes his athleticism seem better than what it really is on TV monitors.  During last years 5-on-5 scrimmage portion of the NBA combine Edwards wasn’t able to deftly take advantage of his off the bounce game and looked like a third string point guard at best.

Luckily for Edwards that was last year and the last thing people just saw him do was an epic tournament performance.  Edwards has a 6’6 wingspan but with only a 7’10.5 standing reach.  He has the potential to play bigger than his listed height since he has a high release point.  He is a two motion shooter with a fixed set point that’s roughly above eye level.  He’s the type of player that can get his shot off most anywhere on the court.  He has to translate his off the dribble game to the NBA if he wants to stick in the league.  He can freeze defenders with his hang dribble then pull up from deep. He can step back, pull back and shoot with momentum.  He can shoulder dip to dislodge his defender to step back for a pull up three. He can also nudge the defender with his off hand while taking pound dribbles to create separation.  His play making ability is average and usually looks for flashy over sound.  On offense it’s his shooting off ball and shot creation that will determine his NBA life expectancy.

On defense Edwards doesn’t have the size to do much else other than guard the standstill shooter in the corner.  He has average feel, instincts and poor closeout ability.  He can get swallowed up by screens, over extend himself and has trouble guarding at the point of attack.  He does have a strong frame with decent shoulder width to help with the physicality but overall Edwards projects as an average at best defender with a decent chance at being a net negative.  I could see Edwards carving out a role in the NBA as a backup scoring guard ala Jamal Crawford.

  1. Kyle Guy, Guard, Virgina, 6’2.25, 6’4.5 wingspan, 21.8 years

Brief Overview

Why is Kyle Guy on my big board over players like Luguentz Dort or Louis King?  Dort and King obviously have more upside in comparison but I’m trying to project on-court impact over an extended period of time and I see Guy have more potential in those regards.  Guy is listed at 6’2.25 with a 6’4.5 wingspan and weighs in at 168 pounds.  Clearly his physical frame is lacking but his athletic ability will be what carries him through the league.  He had the fourth best lane agility time at 10.48 seconds, 3.07 shuttle run, 3.27 three-quarters sprint and a 36.5’ max vertical.  He’s quick, with a decent vertical pop, change-of-direction and end-to-end speed.

Guy arguably has the best shooting portfolio in this class.  He wasn’t a standstill, spot up shooter at Virginia even though he could do that as well.  Instead he can shoot off the dribble, catch-and-shoot off screen and shoot with or without a ball screen.  It’s his footwork curling off picks, his delays off screens and ability to elude defenders to garner space for the catch that separates himself with the other shooters in this draft.  Guy sported a 1.226 points per possession on catch-and-shoot plays which ranked 84th percentile and 1.138 points per possession on all “cut” situations which ranked 84th percentile.  He has compact form on his jumper and repeatable mechanics with a decently high release which is needed for someone his size.  Even though he’s just 6’2 if he can maintain his movement shooting and escape defenders trailing him off screens then that’s a role many teams covet.

He’s also a sneaky good ball handler in the pick-and-roll.  During the NBA combine 5-on-5 portion Guy made nice pocket, skip and back action passes.  He has straight line speed, a good center of gravity and his head was on a swivel.  I thought he played well during the combine scrimmages which I think speaks to his ability translating to the league.  Guy has great overall touch sporting a 66.7% field goal percentage around the rim, shot 83% from the free throw line and 42.6% from the three point line.  He didn’t get to the rim that often and maybe his lack of size and strength could be a hindrance there.

Defensively is probably the biggest question mark.  He’s average at defensive creation, solid enough at team defense and quick enough to stay in front of most ball handlers but his size could be an impediment since he was easy to move around.  He will be someone that teams head hunt and run off the court.  Kyle Guy doesn’t have that big of a frame either, so even if he bulks up how much of an impact will that have on his defensive play?  The path that I could see Guy take is Bryn Forbes for San Antonio.  An undrafted, undersized off guard that can play make in a pinch and shoot lights out.  Forbes is a little taller and has wider shoulders but the projection is the same.  At the end of the day good movement shooters don’t grow on trees, it might take Guy some time to acclimate to the speed but the capacity is there.

  1. Zach Norvell, Wing, Gonzaga, 6’5.5, 6’6 wingspan, 21.5 years

Brief Overview

The last player on my big board is Zach Norvell jr.  If he was remotely a better athlete I might give him a first round grade but unfortunately for him he’s not.  He had terrible athletic testing times at the NBA combine and measured in with average length.  Ranking him this high is probably pretty pointless.  He doesn’t have lift, explosion or back foot burst but what he does do well at is play within a structured half court offense.

Norvell sported a 1.074 points per possession in all his half court plays which ranked 94 percentile.  He mostly shot threes and shots at the rim.  His shooting ability, pick-and-roll play and decent touch were key in guiding his offensive base.  Norvell doesn’t have change-of-direction dribble drives moves, his handle at times is pretty loose, and has an average first step but he takes care of the ball and has strong strides to the rim.  If you are asking him to breakdown his defender at the point of attack then Norvell isn’t your man.  If you ask him to deftly play off a ball screen then Norvell is your man. Norvell sports a .99 points per possession on all attempts derived off pick-and-roll which ranked 90th percentile.  He was really methodical with the ball and if he didn’t see a play break open he would gladly move the offense along.  He had 116 assists to 53 turnovers this past season which is a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio, pretty impressive for an off-guard.  He shot 37% from three and 83.6% from the free throw line at his two seasons at Gonzaga.  He had a quick release putting up 7.1 three point attempts per game. His mechanics were more of a one motion, fluid set point with varying release points.  If he can maintain that quick release at the next level and incorporate more movement shooting to go along with his pick-and-roll play, that’s how he sticks in the NBA.

Norvell was has solid IQ as a defender.  Playing good help and team defense needs to propel him at the next level if he wants to make a team.  He obviously had his mistakes with over and underplaying positions and getting stuck in the muck, his awareness needs to improve.  His lack of explosion and lateral agility don’t do him any favors but he can circuit through off-ball screens.  He wasn’t scared to leave his position to clog the paint, plug gaps or intercept passes.  I wonder how he will be as an on-ball defender in the NBA.  Norvell is 6’5.5 with a 6’6 wingspan and below average athleticism.  The best I can see him do is backup combo guard.  He might not have as much potential as big name freshmen like Lugentz Dort or Louis King but I could see him have a better pro career due to role player ability.

Scouting Report: Zion Williamson (Rank: 1, Tier: 1)

Scouting Report:

Zion Williamson (Rank: 1, Tier: 1)

6’7/6’10 wingspan/280 pounds/18.9 years/FR

 

Who else would be number one on my prospect rankings?  No offense to every other player in this draft but it isn’t even close.  Could Zion stand to lose a few pounds?  Sure.  Does he need to get in better shape?  No doubt.  Do I wish he had a longer wingspan and standing reach?  Who doesn’t.  But in terms of physical profile Zion isn’t just elite, he’s generational.  It’s his body control on rim attacks, his coordination on vertical hops, his fluidity off his back foot, his delicate footwork and his ability to catch, gather and accelerate in little wasted motion.  No man should be able to do what Zion does at his weight.  A lot of players have busted out of the league with elite athleticism.  They didn’t know how to harness it into basketball related activities.  Zion takes his elite athleticism and turns it into functional basketball movement.  He moves on a string inside the courts dimensions.  It’s one thing to be athletic, it’s another to couple that with skill.

One of the major points of contention about Zion is his long distance shooting.  He shot 33.8% from three for the season which isn’t terrible but his 64% free throw percentage didn’t do him any favors in terms of future predictors of success.  On all jump shot attempts Zion sported a .925 points per possession which ranked 52nd percentile and .966 points per possession on all catch-and-shoot opportunities which ranked 44th percentile.  Mechanically speaking his release is really flat and it doesn’t get much air underneath the ball.  He needs more extension on his follow thru and the shot to be released at it’s apex point.  Luckily, Zion possesses good touch around the rim.  His FG% at the rim was 79.2% and considering that 72% of his shot attempts came at the rim that’s great touch.  He also made 47.1% of his two point jumpers.  Some of those were movement two point jumpers off fallaways, fadeaways or while drawing fouls.  He was also capable of making pull-up threes off the 1-2 step or hitting step-back threes.  It isn’t a guarantee that Zion becomes a proficient three point shooter at the next level but considering his solid touch, two point percentage and difficult shot making ability, those pluses lead me to believe that it’s totally conceivable for Zion to become an above average shooter at the next level.  

Even if Zion becomes an average three point shooter, the overall skill that Zion possesses is still very advanced for someone his age.  While he can be too reliant on left hand finishes or left side drives, he has shown the capability to drive off the right side or with the right hand.  It’s the frequency of right handed attempts that Zion needs to increase.  He has displayed change-of-direction, change-of-speed, shifty moves on his drives with either hand.  He makes sharp, fluid dribble drive moves off the bounce using a cross move, between the legs or going behind his back, changing his driving angle, jump stop and finish through traffic.  The amount of wiggle the man has for a player that size is pretty remarkable.

I’ve seen him drive into the three defenders waiting for him in the paint, miss the shot, get his own rebound and finish off the play.  Saying that Zion absorbs contact in the lane is an understatement. Even though he has less than impressive wingspan, around the basket Zion still fits the shot over longer players, puts solid zip on the ball and contorts his body with great control to finish verses length.  Zion can leap off his left or right foot with solid coordination but too often does he rely on his two foot leaping ability.  Being more versatile around the rim would help throw off defenders trying to contest his shot rhythm.  He can also be more careful on how he lands after vertical leaps.  Too often did I see him land on one foot after a monster slam which made me fear a torn muscle.  To avoid injury he needs to start landing on two foot with more regularity to evenly disperse his weight throughout his lower body.

Zion is an underrated playmaker.  He can create off pick-and-roll, closeout or live-dribble.  Zion will read all levels of the defense and can promptly find corner cutters, roll-men or weak side shooters.  He obviously isn’t perfect at shot creation and will be out of control at times.  Zion has the IQ to be a high quality playmaker but needs to let the play breathe before he can take action.  He didn’t have much space or shooting at Duke so that improvement at the next level will surely balance his shot creation skills some.  I don’t know how often Zion will be stationed in the post in the NBA but he will fight for his spots on the court.  If you give up his preferred post position call it a wrap.  He draws fouls too easily at that point.  It’s tough to stop Zion in the paint after a post feed with his momentum and touch.

On defense Zion graded mostly positive.  Like all young players though he did show his lapses on team defense.  He sometimes will sink too far down on defense when he should be pressing the shooters on the perimeter or checking one man over but instead he gears up for block.  Don’t get me wrong he’s an excellent weak side shot blocker.  He has a fantastic second jump on blocks, quicker than most players one jump.  The amount of space he covers in a short period of time is elite.  He can be sitting under the basket, take two long strides and be in position to block a shot above the break.  He takes powerful but nimble strides on his closeouts.  He can make up for mistakes in a hurry with how quick he covers space; sometimes relying on his athleticism too often in the process.  But in certain instances he does stick to the perimeter when he should be tagging the roll-man or helping the helper.  He was still overall a good team defender playing the game low and making reads on the ball.  He could jump a pass for the steal or choke the action off-ball stalling the play.  As an on-ball defender Zion could possess the ever elusive switchable skill factor.  His hips are on a swivel, changing direction to stay attached to quicker guards.  He does a nice job kick sliding back with his man on dribble penetration making sure he doesn’t double step.  He will use his off-arm staying attached to his man on an attack to alter driving angles but at times can be too touchy drawing checking fouls.  

Not a lot needs to be said about Zion.  I probably wrote too much as is.  Zion is a generational talent at a time where the league benefits from the skill set that Zion owns.  There’s been some comparison to Lebron: a two-way, big wing scorer with playmaking ability.  That class belongs to players like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.  The best of the best.  Those are lofty comparisons that I won’t make. Instead I could see Zion in the mold of Blake Griffin meets Draymond Green.  The physical profile, offensive skill set and athletic gifts of Blake while having the IQ and defensive prowess of a Draymond Green.  Hopefully New Orleans does right by Zion and surround him with enough shooting, versatility and ball handling to succeed.  I could easily see New Orleans screw that up though and waste another superstar players talents.  For the sake of the league I hope I’m wrong.

*All stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech*

King of the North

After Milwaukee took a two to nothing lead in the series against Toronto the general sense was doom for the Raptors.  The Bucks haven’t lost three games in a row and haven’t lost a home game where they entered the fourth quarter with a lead all season.  Marc Gasol wasn’t playing up to his standard and the Raptors bench unit were being outplayed.  The odds seemed stacked against the Raptors.  But sure enough the Bucks lost four games in a row for the first time all season and lost a home game where they entered the fourth quarter with a lead for the first time all season.  

Were the Raptors that much better than the Bucks?  I think not. We’re talking about a double overtime game three where the Bucks easily could’ve been up three games to nothing.  A pivotal moment in that game was fourth quarter with about two minutes and thirty seconds left.  George Hill was leading the break but multiple Raptors were waiting under the basket.  Instead of backing out the ball and setting up a play Hill decided to rush the break and miss a contested paint attempt.  The Raptors went on a five to nothing run over the next minute.  The Bucks would send the game into overtime but the whole complexion of the game could’ve been changed with one play. Heck in game six when the Raptors took the lead with nine minutes and forty-five seconds left in the fourth quarter that was their first lead since 6-3 in the first quarter.  

The Bucks took leads into the fourth quarter in both game five and six.  This series in many ways could’ve went Milwaukee’s way. Unfortunately for the Bucks their late game half court offensive execution, tertiary playmaking, three point shooting and secondary help defense took a nosedive.  Giannis became nullified in the fourth quarter with the Raptors playing more drop coverage on pick-and-rolls, collapsing middle with three defenders and sagging back on transition pushes taking away his driving angles and side steps.  It’s tough to score when you aren’t a proficient three point, free throw or mid-range jump shooter.  It becomes even more difficult to make precise decisions late in game on drive-and-kick opportunities, dump offs and timed passes to cutters.  It also doesn’t help when one of your most important shooters, Nikola Mirotic, goes in the tank and shoots 19% from three and becomes unplayable.  Shooting 31% from three as a team really makes it hard for Giannis to trust his kick out options, especially to a 17% from deep Bledsoe.  

The Bucks ran a 5-out motion offense with shooting at every position surrounding Giannis all season.  A lot of times when Giannis drove to the rim and helpside defense would rotate over that would trigger a weak side cut by the Bucks.  It was a simple but effective offense since Giannis draws so much attention.  The Raptors defense did a very good job snuffing out these actions late in the game.  They closed space fast with sharp closeouts on skip passes and kick outs, were communicating on every ball screen, under control on recoveries and on a string with every rotation.  Fourth quarter game five and six was some of the best defense I’ve seen the Raptors play all season.  The Raptors walled up the paint and forced the Bucks out of their game plan.  They were more capable of playing different styles of pick-and-roll coverage due to better two-way personnel in comparison to Milwaukee.  The Raptors switched or contained on most ball screens and that versatility through the Bucks out of rhythm.

The Bucks pick-and-roll defense at the end of game five and six were pretty lazy.  Several times did I see Milwaukee lazily give up the switch without fighting to stay attached.  The Raptors would run multiple ball screens forcing the Bucks big men and weak side defense to cover extra ground and put them in a vulnerable spot.  The Bucks communication would break down falling for hammer picks at crucial parts of the fourth quarter.  The Raptors would setup Pascal Siakam as the screener in many ball screens situations trying to get players like Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova to switch on Kawhi.  The Raptors ran variations of roll-and-replace and double ball screen actions quite often at the end of game five and six to move Milwaukee’s defenders into scramble mode. The Bucks had Giannis guard Marc Gasol and had Malcolm Brogdon/Khris Middleton guard Kawhi Leonard late in the game.  Middleton struggled trying to guard Kawhi and multiple times gave up middle. Brogdon actually did a commendable job trying to guard him even though Kawhi could easily shoot over the top.  Kawhi probably did the best job of his career trying to find shooters on his drive-and-kick chances during this series.  Having a player that can score proficiently at all three levels of the game makes a huge difference come playoff time.  The amount of attention that imposes on a defense changes the floor balance in favor of the offense.

It also helps when you get out of this world performances.  I can analyze this series as much as I want but maybe it was as simple as this: Fred VanVleet went 2-11 from three games one through three and 14-17 from three games four through six.  Maybe that’s all that needs to be said.  If Mirotic got hot from three and VanVleet stayed cold then maybe this is a five game series.  VanVleet wasn’t just a jump shooter though.  He was aggressive on his takes, playmaked in a pinch and took care of the ball.  Norman Powell really stepped up his game on both sides of the ball as well.  He played better than Danny Green for most of this series.  The bench for the Raptors straight up outplayed the Bucks bench games four through six.

The Bucks now go into this off-season with a lot of questions.  Nikola Mirotic, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon are all free agents.  Are they going to re-sign Middleton to the max even though we just saw him flounder in the east finals?  How much are the Bucks willing to spend on Brogdon?  Will Lopez continue to take a discount?  The Bucks need to get more versatile on defense while at the same time maintain quality spacing for Giannis and that could be an issue since their means of making upgrades could be limited.  Acquiring an extra shot maker would be nice and Giannis evolving his game outside of the paint is the next step in his championship quest. The Raptors now have the pleasure of playing the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.  The Warriors are the favorite even with Kevin Durant not playing.  But without Kevin Durant the Raptors clearly have a better shot at winning the title.  The Raptors counted on a supernatural performance by Fred VanVleet just to get them by the Bucks.  They’re going to need that and then some to beat the Warriors.  Getting OG Anunoby back healthy would be a plus for the Raptors.  Win or lose the Raptors have done such a good job at rounding out their roster with late first round picks, second round picks and undrafted free agents.  They made a risky move trading for Kawhi knowing damn well he might leave in a year.  This might be the only time in franchise history where they will have a shot at winning a title.  And heck who knows, maybe Kawhi doesn’t leave a well run organization playing in a weaker conference with a ravenous fan base and good coach.  Just a thought.

 

Quick Hit 2019 Playoff Notes

~ I don’t know why but I find it funny that two of the most impactful players this postseason are Rodney Hood and George Hill.  Both of whom made up the terrible supporting cast that Lebron had last NBA finals in Cleveland.  Hill was dealing with back spasms for a chunk of the playoffs last season but playing with Lebron brings a degree of pressure that I don’t know if Hood and Hill were prepared for.  Lebron is also his own offensive system and if you don’t fit within his construct then you may be dealing with a lot of DNP-coach’s decision.  This postseason has been different though.  With Enes Kanter dealing with a separated shoulder and Moe Harkless dealing with an ankle injury, Hood has stepped up for Portland.  With Malcolm Brogdon being out with a foot injury, George Hill has stepped up for Milwaukee.  Call it better health, opportunity, confidence, fit, role or whatever, but a couple buy-low trade chips are paying dividends for their respective teams.

 

~ Instead of picking Milwaukee outright over Boston, I decided to weasel out of a prediction and say whoever wins between Milwaukee versus Boston will win the east.  I was favoring the Bucks but I was worried they were going to remain steadfast in their core principles from the regular season.  I first had to see if they were willing to change their style of play during a series before I could confidently pick the Bucks.  In my last article I wrote about how Boston was a bad matchup for Milwaukee and it certainly showed game one.  The Bucks had to make the necessary adjustments if they wanted to turn around the series after a blow out game one loss. Mike Budenholzer has arguably been the best pickup this off-season and once again proved his worth by out coaching Brad Stevens with better coaching tactics.  After game one, the Bucks started Nikola Mirotic in place of Sterling Brown.  I’m a huge Sterling Brown fan but after game one it was clear that he isn’t a true shooting threat or a proficient enough driver which became a problem for the symmetry of the Bucks offense.  Mirotic gave the Bucks more size and shooting which helped open up better driving angles for Giannis.

It felt like the Bucks used Giannis in more screening situations especially late in game.  Whether that be Giannis the ball handler with a ball screen, Giannis setting the ball screen himself or Giannis setting off-ball cross screens, it felt like Milwaukee was forcing the Celtics to negotiate on as many screening scenarios that involve Giannis as possible.  On the other hand it felt like Boston didn’t utilize the Irving/Horford pick-and-pop as much like in game one.  A lot of that had to do with Milwaukee switching on the ball screen more often.

The Bucks switched on ball screens more often as compared to containing almost every ball screen in game one.  The Bucks don’t necessarily have the personnel to switch on defense but there’s still benefit to switching even with less than personnel: it affords time on recovery’s, helps contain point of attack moves and baits the offense into head hunting.  So instead of a smooth motion based offensive play for Boston you could get something like Kyrie dancing on Brook lopez.  The Bucks would then collapse on Kyrie’s drive in the paint and force a kick out, either resetting the offense or giving up a three.  Considering that Boston shot 30.7% from three this series, maybe giving them space on the perimeter isn’t that bad of an idea.  Boston also doesn’t really have a true post threat either so the worry for a big on small cross match in the paint is lessen.

The Bucks bench just dominated the Celtics bench.  I’ve already talked about George Hill but Pat Connaughton and Ersan Ilyasova were major contributors with Malcolm Brogdon giving them a boost last game.  Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier were terrible and getting Marcus Smart back wasn’t helping with offensive production off the bench for Boston.  No one on Boston could guard Giannis, too many times did Boston settle for jump shots and when they were down late in the game the offense felt too erratic with no purpose behind their actions.  Kind of like how it’s been all season.

I still think Boston was a bad matchup for Milwaukee but it just so happens that the Bucks have a great coach of their own to make the correct adjustments after game one.  Boston never rebounded.  And you know what else helps?  Having arguably the best player in the league, that’s what.  With Malcolm Brogdon coming back, the Bucks having home court advantage throughout the playoffs, Giannis playing at the top of his game and a coach who is showing he is more than capable of making in-series adjustments bodes well for title consideration.  I said before the playoffs started that who ever won the Boston-Milwaukee series will win the east and I’m obviously staying with that assertion.  The reason why I didn’t pick Milwaukee out right to beat Boston was because of matchup but with the Bucks displaying that they aren’t afraid to switch up their style gives me the confidence in saying the Bucks are the favorite to win the NBA title. (Assuming Kevin Durant misses the Finals)  

 

~  The Rockets better beat Golden State now that Kevin Durant is out for the rest of the series.  If they don’t, that would be a colossal failure and a wasted opportunity.  The Rockets moaned and wined about how they would’ve beat Golden State if it wasn’t for Chris Paul missing the last two games.  There’s no excuses now.

 

~ The other two series are entering game sevens.  My prediction before the second round started was Toronto over Philadelphia and Portland over Denver.  I’ll stick with my picks even though my confidence level is waning after watching the games play out.  I thought Toronto was going to beat the Sixers without much stress but clearly I overestimated Kyle Lowry and the Raptors supporting cast.  I still think whoever wins will lose to Milwaukee anyway. Portland winning at Denver for game seven is the tougher proposition.  Nikola Jokic has been one of the consistently great players throughout the postseason and Jamal Murray is asserting himself as the primary perimeter scoring threat.  The Blazers on the other hand are dealing with injuries to key players and expecting Rodney Hood to stay hot is a difficult trust exercise.  Both teams would have home court advantage versus Houston in the west finals even though the Rockets should be favored in both matchups.  

  

Sign Of Things To Come?

In my latest podcast I talked about how the Celtics were a bad matchup for the Bucks.  I also weaseled out of making a prediction since I was torn between both teams.  All season I thought the Bucks were the team that had the best on-court fit in the eastern conference.  A 5-out motion offense built around Giannis with shooting at every position.  Brook Lopez became instrumental with his floor spacing ability and paint protection on defense.  Even with having arguably the best player going in the league, the best record in the league, a top five offensive and defensive efficiency and a great coach, I wasn’t confident picking them over the Celtics.  A Celtics team a lot of people wrote off before the playoffs started, and with some justification of course.  They haven’t been on the same page all season, injuries have taken a toll and players haven’t progressed like they should’ve.  I still like the Celtics because of how they are designed; a pick-and-roll mismatch problem at center, a slashing scoring three point shooting point guard with big switchable wings.  That type of team design is built well for the postseason.

The regular season isn’t the playoffs.  It isn’t about doing one thing great, it’s about versatility.  Yes, the Bucks are a great defensive team but they were built primarily around a contain first pick-and-roll coverage.  In the playoffs you need to be diverse enough to cover pick-and-roll’s every which way.  Brook Lopez is great at one type of pick-and-roll coverage but can he hedge?  Switch?  And cover space in a timely matter?  That was my issue going into this series.  That was why I couldn’t in good faith pick the Bucks over the Celtics.  Game one confirmed my suspicion and if the Bucks don’t make the necessary adjustments they will lose this series.

To start off the game the Celtics had Horford defend Giannis.  They did the same thing to Ben Simmons last postseason.  Although, the difference is the Celtics are playing tighter gap protection on Giannis’ drives.

In the first play you have Jayson Tatum leaving his man along the perimeter to shadow Giannis with the help of Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris hugging the lane line to shrink space.  The next play you have Giannis in transition with Horford guarding him, Irving shadowing him, Morris in the middle of the paint and Tatum taking a dig at him from the corner.  The Celtics were keying in on Giannis.

The Celtics would also put Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris on Giannis when Horford was on the bench.  Horford actually did a good job cutting off driving angles and giving help defense time to crash down.  Boston was ok taking an extra step in on Giannis while giving extra space to the Bucks shooters.  Whether that’s because Malcolm Brogdon is hurt and they are giving his replacement Sterling Brown license to drive.

Or they don’t trust players like Pat Connaughton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova to torch them from three and attack closeouts. 

The Celtics were switching on most ball screens and then would revert back to safer matchups on the weak side.  The Bucks did headhunt on occasion looking for better cross matchups like Terry Rozier defending Giannis but rarely did they go to that.  That should be something the Bucks try to exploit more in game two.  Overall game one the Bucks stuck with what they knew best.  They’re going to have to trust their shooters moving forward even if they miss open shots.  Those shooters are paramount for Milwaukee’s floor balance.  I would like to see DJ Wilson get more playing time.  I think his length and athleticism at the forward/center position can help in terms of positional versatility.  Until they get Brogdon back, they will be lacking another creator on offense and players like Pat Connaughton will have to play major minutes even though they’re struggling just to defend Boston’s point of attack offense.  Brook Lopez will have to make open threes while Bledsoe will have to be better off the bounce if they want this to be a competitive series.

Rudy Gobert and Brook Lopez are great drop coverage defenders.  During the regular season you can rely on that to win defensive player of the year and be apart of a top five defense.  Come playoff time it’s about versatility and how well you can cover space.

The Bucks were containing most everything on ball screens and hardly stunted at the shooter left open.  If Horford can make that above the break three consistently the Bucks will have to make adjustments asap.  Lopez, Mirotic and Ilyasova can’t cover ground as fast as they need to versus the Celtics ball screen motion offense.

The Celtics were bending the Bucks defense all game and making them scramble on exploitable matchups.

That’s part of the reason why I think DJ Wilson should play more game two.  He has the lateral movement to stay on switches and good change of direction ability to cover space in a timely matter.  It doesn’t help when, at times, the Bucks were struggling to contain dribble penetration, were slow to matchup and had poor communication.

This was my overall fear coming into this series and it played out terribly for the Bucks.

The Bucks are obviously not out of it yet.  They have to do a better job headhunting on offense, making open threes, stunting at the pick-and-pop shooter and covering space on defense.  Hopefully it’s not a little too late when Malcolm Brogdon comes back, he could be the difference maker the Bucks need to help with continuity.  Until then however Eric Bledsoe will have to step up his role on offense.  I said whoever wins this series will win the eastern conference and I stand by that claim.  Unless the Bucks make the correct adjustments, the Celtics could be that team.

2019 NBA Playoffs Second Round Thoughts

It’s been a long time since I did a podcast.  I stumble over myself, mispronounce words, go off on tangents and the mic is terrible.  Just another OldMan podcast:

1:10 – Why is Andrew Bogut playing?  Will the Warriors lose to Houston?

7:25 – Tip of the cap to Daryl Morey.  Is Houston better than they were last season?

11:30 – Is Steve Kerr an idiot?

13:30 – East Preview

15:40 – Milwaukee vs Boston

Some Quick Hit Thoughts On The 2019 Playoffs

Lately I’ve been working on my post-tournament prospect rankings which will be out very soon.  After I post my big board I’ll start posting scouting reports.  Since the NBA playoffs just began (Nets beat at Sixers, Magic beat at Raptors, GSW win vs Clippers, Spurs beat at Nuggets) I’ll post my scouting reports periodically.  Interspersed with my scouting reports I’ll go over certain NBA matchups.  But for me I don’t want to over analyze the NBA playoffs like some have.  In the west Golden State is the clear favorite with home court advantage.  The only team I could see give them trouble will be Houston.  Houston has done a tremendous job of course correcting their season with mid-season acquisitions of Danuel House, Kenneth Faried, Austin Rivers and Iman Shumpert.  An argument can be made that Houston is a deeper team now then they were last season.  Last years version of Trevor Ariza was better than any player they’ve just acquired but the depth in comparison is better this year.  The series versus Golden State last season was a 7-8 man rotation for the Rockets with Gerald Green getting major minutes.  Now the Rockets can go 8-10 men deep with a better bench unit and possibly keep players fresher.

The next question becomes will the Golden State vs Houston series come to fruition?  The major roadblock is of course Utah.  Last postseason divisional round Houston beat Utah in five games.  Houston really is a bad matchup for Rudy Gobert; make him play in space, on the perimeter and guard multiple ball screens per possession.  The only thing that I could see derailing the Rockets would be Donovan Mitchell going off like he has over this past month.  Over his last 15 games Mitchell is averaging 24.6 points, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 46.6% from the field but most importantly 47.1% from three on 6.1 attempts per game.  If Mitchell can continue his three point shooting barrage then that could affect the way Houston guards him on pick-and-roll.  Maybe instead of switching they blitz him and as a result can bend the defense in favor of the Jazz.  I could see the Jazz pulling off the upset if Gobert has a bigger presence in the paint offensively and Mitchell’s gravity changes the way Houston guards pick-and-rolls.  I wouldn’t count on it though.

As far as the other series go in the west, I really could care less.  Denver’s only chance at making noise in the playoffs was based off getting home court advantage throughout the playoffs.  Now instead of playing the Clippers in the first round they get San Antonio which has been playing much better defense compared with their sluggish start to the season.  The Spurs just beat the Nuggets game one.  The Nuggets obviously aren’t out of it yet but the Spurs might have the upper hand due to the difference in experience and the lack of go-to scorers the Nuggets have.  In the end does it really matter who wins this series?  And it feels like everyone is picking Oklahoma City to beat Portland.  The Thunder did beat the Trailblazers 4-0 during the season and without Jusuf Nurkic the series seems insurmountable for Portland to overcome.  So naturally I’m picking Portland.  They have home court advantage, Paul George is still dealing with shoulder issues and I trust Damian Lillard the most in this series.  But again, neither team pose a serious threat to Golden State.  Although, one of these four teams have to make the western conference finals.  I’ll pick Portland for the sake that they’re underdogs against Oklahoma City and a nice redemption story after losing last postseason to the Pelicans.  

In the East my pre-season pick was Boston then as the season went on I started to favor the Bucks.  Out of all the eastern conference teams, Boston is best designed for the playoffs while Milwaukee has the best fit.  Boston has a slashing, three point shooting scorer of a point guard, with a mismatch problem at center and a bunch of switchable big wings.  Remind you of any team out west?  That’s why I think they are best designed.  Al Horford was and still is a mismatch problem for Joel Embiid and he will force Brook Lopez to exit the paint on defense.  Kyrie is the do-it all offensive point guard and they have a slew of big wings that can switch, shoot threes and attack closeouts.  Yes, Boston hasn’t been quite the team we expected them to be before the season began.  Even though they might be well designed they haven’t been able to get on the same page all season. That is obviously my biggest reservation but then I remembered how everyone counted them out before last postseason began since Kyrie was hurt.  They were one game away from making the finals.  I kind of think when pushed against the wall this team finds ways to win.  For Milwaukee it’s more simple.  They’ve been the best team in the league all season due to fit.  Giannis as the fulcrum of a 5-out motion offense that has shooting at every position.  They have the pieces that fit the best out of all the possible eastern conference teams and they have home court advantage which helps too.  I honestly can’t make my mind up.  Boston or Milwaukee?  The easy answer is Milwaukee since they have the best player in the conference and home court advantage.  But I still like Horford being a mismatch problem to defend on pick-and-rolls.  The injury bug is a problem for both teams as Marcus Smart is out for Boston and Malcolm Brogdon is out for Milwaukee.

The reason why I’m not talking Toronto and Philadelphia isn’t because they both lost their first series game.  Overall I just think Kawhi has one foot out the door, OG Anunoby is hurt and Kyle Lowry’s playoff failures are still a thing.  For the Sixers, Embiid is dealing with another knee issue, their bench stinks and the lack of shooting is a major flaw.  I know that’s over simplifying both teams and if I’m wrong then I’m wrong but I think Boston and Milwaukee are best suited to win the east and give Golden State problems.  

This postseason could be very interesting for this reason: I really think the two best teams in each conference will play each other in the divisional round and not the conference finals.  Boston vs Milwaukee and Golden State vs Houston will both happen in the divisional round but both series could determine the actual winner of the conference.  Or at least, that’s what I think.