Category Archives: Off-Season

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.

My Favorite “Breakout/Sleeper” Candidates (Returning to College)

Last season’s returning college class was great.  There were four upperclassmen taken in the top ten and six taken in the lottery.   Players like Ja Morant, De’Andre Hunter, Jarrett Culver exceeded expectations but were still projected to be potential lottery picks even before the college season started.  Even players like Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and PJ Washington had lottery buzz before the season started.  This years crop of players returning to college as of now is looking pretty…meh.  When looking at NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com’s 2020 NBA mock draft there are no returning players mocked in the top ten.  Heck, the first college returnee on ESPN.com’s 2020 mock draft is Tre Jones at 16 and there’s five in total mocked in the first round.  This year’s incoming freshmen/international class is deep in terms of quality NBA starting talent.  There isn’t a generational talent like Zion Williamson but there’s plenty of rotational players with upside. The closest thing to a sure fire number one pick would be Cole Anthony but as of now that’s something that will need to play itself out during the season.

Typically speaking, are all of these highly touted freshmen/international prospects going to have as good of a season as most are expecting?  No.  There are overhyped freshmen every season that fall out of favor when it comes to talent evaluation or physical ability.  Players like Bol Bol, Trevon Duval, Skal Labissiere, Louis King, Luguentz Dort and much more know this fact all too well.  That means either some lower graded freshmen/international player will have a surprisingly good season or a returning upperclassmen has an unexpected breakout season; enough so to launch themselves in serious draft consideration.  

The list of players that I’m about to talk about aren’t the college returnee favorites like Tre Jones, Tyrese Haliburton, Charles Bassey, Jalen Smith, Ashton Hagans, AJ Lawson or Ayo Dosunmu that are listed highly on NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com’s mock draft.  I wanted to identify my personal favorite “breakout/sleeper” candidates for the upcoming 2020 season, ones that I’m most looking forward to watch.  Even though I have these players listed under “breakout/sleeper” that doesn’t mean they aren’t on people’s draft radar already.  It just means players who aren’t being heavily considered on current popular mock draft boards (NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com) that have the potential by seasons end to boost their draft stock significantly: 

 

Obi Toppin, 6’9, PF/C, (RS)SO, Dayton, 21.4 years

(ESPN.com: 43, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ It’s tough putting Obi Toppin on this list since he’s mocked 43rd on ESPN.com’s 2020 mock draft.  I guess since I consider Toppin the best returning bigman (only because Killian Tillie never stays healthy) and would mock him in the first round.  He’s also pretty old for a player who only played one season of division one basketball.  I don’t even know if he’s going to have a proper “breakout” season since the offensive system at Dayton doesn’t exactly highlight his skills.  The Dayton offense looks to be a Princeton styled offense which has Toppin cutting most of the time.  Personally I’d like to see him more as a ball screener in a spread offense, whether that be pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.  His screen setting ability does need to improve since he tends to avoid contact and dive early.  He does have great timing on his dives to the rim but hardly ever did I see him delay his roll and break open extra passing lanes.  Still, his length, athleticism, soft hands, touch around the rim and one foot leaping ability help with his overall rim-running prowess.  Toppin actually has a solid intermediate game displaying movement two point jumpers now and again.  I would like to see his decision making improve when being the release value but he still can make plays with his respectable feel for the game.  I would also like to see Toppin spot up more.  He rarely shot from distance and when he did showed capable rhythm and touch.  I want to see him attack closeouts and display his dribble drive game more often next season.  With the offense that’s being run at Dayton I don’t know if Toppin will get that opportunity but on the rare occasion of him doing those actions he looks more than adequate.

On defense Toppin showed his positional versatility being able to bang down low with burly bigs and stay in front of jitterbug guards.  He still needs to gain more muscle if he wants to consistently go toe-to-toe with NBA frontline players.  But his ability to play on the balls off his feet, his lateral quickness, end-to-end speed and length help when defending multiple positions.  For the most part he’s a solid team and on-ball defender.  Nothing special but won’t beat himself. At times he has bit on fakes and lost position but made up for it with great recovery speed.  He’s the type of player who will thrive chasing down blocks.  I would like to see him fight at the rebounds apex more often.  I don’t know if that’s to prevent an injury but sometimes he seems too grounded.  I think he’s being somewhat undervalued due to the offense ran at Dayton and personally have a first round grade for him.  Until Killian Tillie shows me he can stay healthy the best returning bigman is Toppin.

 

Keyontae Johnson, 6’5, SF/PF, SO, Florida, 20.2 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Keyontae Johnson really is an undersized power forward.  Heck, I think he can play some small-ball center as well.  Even though he’s listed at 6’5 he weighs 225 pounds, has wide shoulders, strong bulky frame, ample butt, lengthy arms and large hands.  He also apparently measured his vertical at 41” but even without that recording his explosion on tape shouldn’t be up for debate.  That explosion and his intuitive ability to track down rebounds helped Johnson post 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, 9.4% offensive rebounding percentage and 16% total rebounding percentage.  His defense was the first thing that I took note of.  He’s definitely a better on-ball defender compared to a team defender.  It’s not like he’a a bad team defender, it’s just that more times then I would’ve liked Johnson was a split second late on his assignments.  Sometimes he’s too locked in on the ball and has to quicken his recognition on back end rotations.  He can cover ground at a fast pace so as long as he aligns his head with his movement Johnson should become a more than suitable team defender.  But his on-ball defense and switchability really stood out. Johnson has a big, muscular frame and is still quick at the same time.  He has decently fluid hips and does a good job staying attached even when he gets beat.  He can be taken to the post by bigger forwards and do an admirable job holding his ground.

On offense Johnson is pretty limited.  He’s more of a straight line driver with little wiggle and finishes most of his drives with jump stops.  He has an average first step but is still able to draw fouls at a fair clip.  Johnson does a good job playing the game low so when he’s able to get a beat on his defender does a good job creating distance with his shoulders and chest and finishing around the bucket.  He has a good feel for off-ball cutting and does most of his damage around the basket.  His jump shot probably needs more extension on his set/release point to raise his follow through.  He did manage to catch-and-shoot at an average clip but anything off the dribble needs to improve.  He’s more of a ball mover on offense but at times has made some nice passes with anticipation.  Johnson probably doesn’t have the upside of some of the other returning upperclassmen and really maxes out around high level role player. With a quality freshman class and the transfer of Kerry Blackshear the Florida Gators should be a lot more talented this year compared with last season.  That should only boost Johnson’s role on the team and could be someone by seasons end with more hype.

 

Aaron Henry, 6’6, SF, SO, Michigan State, 20 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ As the season went along last year Henry got better and better.  He ended up starting and contributing for a team that went to the final four.  Henry plays the game with such balance and has a good center of gravity it helps him move about the court with as little wasted motion as possible.  He is a sound defender that plays well on-ball and team defense.  His low defensive stance helps defend 1 through 4 and his communication skills help him process the game.  Having a strong defensive anchor supports his upside as a total package defender.  There is still room for improvement as he can float on defense, ball watch and commit silly fouls.  He was a freshmen under Tom Izzo last year and Izzo doesn’t give much rope.  I mean during Jaren Jackson’s freshman season he barely cracked 20 minutes per game at the end of the season.  Henry should be able to afford more leeway his sophomore season.

Henry impressed me the more I watched him on offense.  I thought he was just going to be a straight line driver and floor spacer but I was pleasantly surprised by his skill set.  For starters his dribble drive game is more diverse than I expected with variations of pivots, jabs, step offs and pump fakes.  He can use this array of set ups while attacking closeouts.  He can finish with touch, hit runners and make jumpers on the move.  Even with all that said Henry is still pretty limited as a live-ball creator but has shown these flashes of skill which is a good place to start from.  He’s not really quick twitch in the lane and is still developing counter dribble drive moves.  His passing is pretty underrated making some pin-point passes right before the play breaks open.  His overall sharp IQ should help in aiding his developmental process.  Henry will be getting a greater opportunity to showcase his skills this season and has a chance to make the sophomore leap. 

 

Nate Hinton, 6’5, SG/SF, SO, Houston, 20.2 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ I really like Hinton.  The guy is just a good basketball player on both sides of the ball.  His handle in comparison to the other wings on my list (Johnson and Henry) is probably the furthest along in his progression.  He can actually grab-and-go defensive rebounds and jump start the offense.  He has a serviceable go-to live-ball move with a right-to-left push cross, has decent stop and go moves with balance and can accelerate/decelerate in the lane.  This could be a reason why he gets to the line at a good clip with a 32% free throw rate.  With that said he still doesn’t have the most advanced handle and still needs more counters, shiftiness plus more rim attacks.  Also, his first step seems to be pretty average but his solid control and stability help him with downhill speed.  But the bottom line is that his handle and live-ball skills are further along when compared with his peers and gives him a head start with his maturation.  Additionally, he’s growing his off the bounce pull-up game and can make tough movement two point field goals.  That will help enhance his overall scoring ability.  He also has some appeal as a playmaker even though it sparsely happens displaying passes on the move, out of the pick-and-roll and one hand passes cross court.  It kind of feels like a skill laying dormant and could be a huge x-factor in his development.  Maybe he never showcases his passing capability but from what I’ve seen there’s potential gains.

He should improve upon his 33.7% three point shooting percentage this season.  Mechanically speaking he does dip the ball down pretty low at times but has a quick trigger with his follow through.  Developing core strength and getting stronger in general should help with power and accuracy which should improve his shot.  His 85.7% free throw percentage is a fair indicator of potential shooing success in the future as well.  On defense Hinton plays with energy and hustle.  He’s a hard nose defender using his brawn and leverage to body up his man.  Off-ball he can get his assignments mixed up occasionally but overall has a manageable IQ plugging up the gaps and shrinking the court.  It also helps that he has good timing in the passing lanes and creates events on defense.  Overall Hinton has two-way wing ability.  His role should expand with Houston and so to should his draft stock.  

 

Paul Reed, 6’9, SF/PF, JR, Depaul, 20.3 years

(ESPN.com: 51, NBAdraft.net: 36)

~ It’s funny.  Out of Toppin, Johnson, Henry, Hinton, Reed and Pickett, Reed is probably the player I favor the least but is still mocked on both ESPN.com and NBAdraft.net.  Go figure.  I debated even having Reed on my list since there’s nothing “sleeper” about him at this point in time.  I’ve been a fan of Reed for a while and think he has major upside nevertheless.  So to keep in theme of upperclassmen that I favor for next season Reed would have to be on that list.  The very first thing that stood out about Reed is his long limbed profile.  His height, length and athletic ability really does fit well with the modern NBA.  Depending on how his skill set develops he could play small forward all the way up to center.  He does have to get stronger if he wants to absorb the heavy blows at the next level however.  I personally would’ve liked to see Reed involved more as the screener in pick-and-roll’s since he can be a devastating dive man and can function better with more space popping out from a ball screen.  He can drive in a straight line and spin back to the basket in the lane.  Most of his live-ball moves are pretty sluggish.  I mean, he does have a crossover but it’s pretty slow.  He has good overall touch, solid leaping power, body control exploding off one foot which makes for efficient finishing.  He didn’t shoot that many three’s but has a high release point along with solid touch gives Reed sufficient room to improve.  He’s more of an extra pass type of player but has made drive-and-kick passes on occasion.  Although he can be a black hole on offense and get tunnel vision.  He needs to do a better job taking advantage of his scoring ability and create for others.

Reed is a mixed bag on defense.  You see his potential and upside as he can traverse through large swaths of ground at a brisk pace.  He displays great creation skills and sports solid block and steal percentages (2.3%steal, 6.8%block).  But the guy just has poor fundamentals.  He can’t flip his hips on defense which hurts defending at the point of attack.  He plays back on his heels too often and needs to play on his toes for better mobility.  He commits careless fouls which can be highly frustrating.  He goes for the ball instead of staying sound with his responsibility which ends up knocking himself out of position.  He has underwhelming recognition skills on defense.  He can make the initial rotation but struggles to cycle through multiple rotations.  Reed is by no means a terrible defender but just infuriating to watch someone with such defensive upside be prone to that lack of detail.  He has the baseline ability and tools to become a lottery pick but until he establishes better habits his future might restricted.         

 

Jalen Pickett, 6’4, PG/SG, SO, Siena, 19.8 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ It feels like most people following the NBA draft knows Pickett by now and the term “breakout/sleeper” really doesn’t apply to him.  I just think there’s a very good chance by season’s end Pickett will have first round draft consideration.  I had to put him on my list especially since Pickett isn’t mocked by either ESPN.com or NBAdraft.net.  Does this mean I like Pickett more than other returning guards like Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, AJ Lawson and Ayo Dosunmu?  Well, yea.  You can make the argument that those four other point guards have better first steps, better athletic ability and higher ceilings.  But they all have their question marks as well. Lawson is taller but I don’t trust his touch, Hagans and Dosunmu have quick first step’s but need to be a better shot makers and Jones can’t shoot threes.  I guess I favor Pickett more because of offensive versatility.  I think Pickett has more potential to become a Fred VanVleet type combo guard in the NBA in comparison to the others.  Pickett can set firm screens, move well without the ball, make tough movement shots, catch-and-shoot and make good decisions attacking closeouts.  

Pickett might not have a swift first step and top notch athletic ability but is a good leverage scorer using his butt, base, shoulders and footwork to create scoring angles.  He then takes these scoring advantages and uses them to support his ability to create for others.  He does need to tighten his handle as it can be high at times and he needs to finish with his left hand more often.  His long distance shot has a high release point but has a slight hitch in my opinion.  As long as he buffs that out then I think he can raise his three point percentage especially considering he has solid touch and a good unassisted make rate.  His mid-major competition level might be covering up some of his defensive capacity since Pickett doesn’t have explosive athletic ability.  He gets by defending with his strength, broad shoulders, long arms, functional movement and processing speed which helps create on defense.  Those traits will have to carryover at the next level if he wants to be a plus defender. Pickett doesn’t have the upside of some of the other returning guards but his game could translate better to an ever growing versatile league.  

 

DEEP SLEEPER 

Kessler Edwards, 6’8, PF/C, SO, Pepperdine, 19 years

(Not even close to being mocked anywhere)

~ He’s probably more likely to be a four year player than a second year breakout candidate.  Still, even after his senior season at college I don’t know how credible an NBA prospect he will be then.  He’s definitely a long shot to make the NBA.  But after watching some games from his freshman season there is a slight chance he becomes draft relevant.  For starters his physical profile is the most NBA ready quality about him.  He’s long, with good explosion and closing speed.  He can also cover ground in a hurry.  His overreliance on his athleticism to make plays is a problem though and he needs to develop better functional speed.  On defense his hand eye coordination is probably his best trait.  Add that to his long arms and he creates defensive events at a solid rate.  His defensive footwork is sloppy, his IQ is maybe average and he needs to be more focused off ball.  With that said he did show pick-and-roll versatility, doing an admirable job switching, hedging and recovering, and downing the roll.  That skill alone is in demand around the league and could be what propels his career.

On offense Edwards was mainly a spot up shooter.  He has a low set/release point but since he’s long armed and tall he gets his shot off over most defenders.  Developing core strength will be important to quicken his release over time.  Probably the next best thing he does on offense is diving off pick-and-rolls.  Being a great rim-runner makes sense with his athleticism, length, hand eye coordination, leaping power and touch around the basket.  He doesn’t really have a handle, mostly will attack a closeout with a 1-2 plant and release.  But his overall shot creation and live-dribble game is pretty much non-existent at this point.  I admit this is a long shot but it’s fun following prospects throughout their college career.

 

Honorable Mention

Anthony Lamb, 6’6, SF/PF, SR, Vermont, 21.6 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Good leverage scorer; dips shoulder into defender, strong base and smooth footwork to create scoring angles.  Promising long distance shooting traits that should help translate to the NBA.  I’d say he’s an average NBA athlete with a strong frame and board shoulders.  Nice touch around the rim, gets to the line at a fairly high clip and makes tough movement two point jumpers.  Average to above average IQ on defense.  Needs to improve processing speed if he wants to consistently defend at the next level.  Overall by years end could be regarded as a second round prospect.  He’s more of an undersized power forward and his role in the NBA could be bench/rotational scorer.

 

Devin Vassell, 6’6, SG/SF, SO, Florida State, 19 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Vassell didn’t play that much this season, only played in short spurts.  Has a long limbed frame that needs to fill out over time but solid NBA athleticism.  He was mostly a catch-and-shoot three point shooter on offense for Florida State but shot well from deep overall.  Most everything about his game seems at least average: vision, team defense, on-ball defense, finishing and handle.  His shot creation and off the bounce game are probably his bigger question marks.  Overall he looks like a potential 3-and-D wing in the NBA.

 

Quintin Dove, 6’8, SF/PF, SR, UT-Martin, 21.2 years

(Not even close to being mocked)

~ He’s another long shot to make the league like Kessler Edwards.  He transferred from a community college last season so he only has one year division one under his belt.  He’s a questionable defender, extremely foul prone and needs to tighten up his decision making.  So yea, long shot.  I guess what intrigued me about Dove was his physical profile, offensive rebounding, active hands on defense, he’s really good around the rim, actually has somewhat of a straight line handle, got to the free throw line at a good rate, shot 81% from the line, made some difficult shots and his jump shot looks to be translatable to the next level even though he hardly shoots any threes.  He really has to pop on defense, foul less and shoot more threes to get on any draft radar.     

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.

 

 

Kawhi to the Raptors!

The Spurs have agreed to trade Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for Demar Derozan, Jakob Potel and a protected 2019 first round pick(Link).  Just wow.  I think most people thought that OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam would be included in the deal since they were the Raptors best prospects with upside.  I thought this move was a good gamble for Toronto even before the deal became finalized so upon further review now that the details have come out, this deal is extremely smart by Toronto.  They get off of Derozan’s contract which has two years plus a third year player option for $27 million per season and get the best player in the deal.  How often does the team salary dumping contracts get the best player in the deal?  Even if it’s most likely for a one year rental, it’s an attractive risk profile.  

Derozan is a mid-range jump-shooter who can draw fouls, get to the line, score buckets, is an average at best defender and outlived his shelf life next to Lowry.   Even if Kawhi decides to go to Los Angeles next summer, the Raptors still retain their two best prospects, have Danny Green’s expiring contract and more cap flexibility without Derozan’s toxic deal.  It’s a good bet that Kawhi doesn’t re-sign with the Raptors but it’s a smart gamble no matter how you slice it.  This is by far the best Raptors team in team history and probably are a true contender now.  A five man unit of Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Kyle Lowry has the versatility, length, spacing, playmaking and defense to be an elite lineup in today’s NBA. Their perimeter defense will suffocate anyone who can’t remotely dribble.  They can switch more on pick-and-rolls, stretch the court horizontally and play multiple styles. The eastern conference just got a whole lot better.

I guess the Spurs really didn’t have much leverage anywhere.  The Lakers, Clippers, Sixers and Raptors all had total control over this process and for San Antonio to not get back either Anunoby or Siakam is a stunner.  The first round draft pick is protected 1-20 in 2019 and if it doesn’t convey it becomes two second round picks. That’s terrible for the Spurs.  Potel is a solid prospect but was by far the low man on the Raptors prospect totem pole.  Derozan will be weighing down their books for the next three years, the fit with San Antonio is questionable and they didn’t get back any real upside players. The Spurs should still be a playoff team but would I be surprised if a rebuild happens within the next couple seasons?  No. The Spurs are one of the best run organizations in sports so it’s tough to doubt them.  The only way this works out for the Spurs is if Derozan adapts his game to the modern NBA; play better perimeter defense, be more efficient from the outside and stop taking long twos.  Will he do that so far into his career?  If anyone can change his game, it’s Pop.  I do like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker and Chimezie Metu as a nice young core too.  But overall, the Spurs had their hands tied so maybe getting either Anunoby or Siakam wasn’t attainable.  This deal will land on Derozan and his maturation.  

If this can happen to the Spurs it can happen to anyone.  Players have all the power and leverage when it comes to market value.  I have a feeling this will only get worse and star players will be asking for targeted trades more often.  I honestly think it’s good for the league because at the end of the day it’s super riveting, promotes player movement and is down right fun to watch.  

     

Old Man Basketball: Top 20 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA, JR

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State, SO  

Justin Jackson, SF/PF, Maryland, SO

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

Allonzo Trier, SG, Arizona, JR

 

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Kyrie’s Shawshank Redemption

Out from the sewage drain and into the rain.  Kyrie finally got what he wanted.  According to Shams Charania of The Vertical (Link) the Boston Celtics have acquired All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers for point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first-round pick.

This trade can’t properly be judged at least for another year; it’s full of “what-if” scenarios.  What if Isaiah Thomas’ hip doesn’t hold up?  What if Lebron leaves?  What if he stays?  What if the Nets pick becomes the number one overall selection?  What if the Nets pick falls outside of the top five?  What if Kyrie decides to leave?  What if Cleveland doesn’t want to pay Isaiah Thomas?  What if Thomas doesn’t want to play for Cleveland?  All these questions need to be answered before anyone decides a winner and a loser right now.

However, as it currently stands both teams seem to have gotten what they wanted.  The Celtics wanted another “superstar” player to officially bring Boston in the “win-now” discussion.  They got out under a potentially terrible contract in Isaiah Thomas with a year one starting salary at around $30 million for a 30 year old 5’9 guard who’s coming off a serious hip injury next season.  The Cavs got back a potential blue-chip prospect with the Nets pick, a backup center on a rookie contract for the next four years, a quality starting swing-forward on a cheap contract for the next three years and a score first point guard who can take the load off Lebron when he needs to sit.

On the surface of this deal I’m not a huge fan of Boston giving up the unprotected Nets pick for a player that might leave in two years.  I’m also a huge fan of the top draft prospects for next year; I actually think they are slightly better than the 2017 class.  If Michael Porter Jr, Luka Doncic or Marvin Bagley came out in this years draft they would’ve been the number one overall pick and if Mohamed Bamba or Deandre Ayton came out in this years draft they would’ve been the number three overall pick.  If Boston would’ve put a top five protection on the Nets pick I think the trade works more evenly.  I’m leaning towards Cleveland getting the better of this deal now, but again, there are too many “what-if’s”.  

If the Nets pick becomes the number one overall selection and as a result Lebron decides to stay because of it than Cleveland are the clear winners.  If the Nets pick falls outside the top five, Lebron leaves, Kyrie re-signs with Boston and Thomas decides not to re-sign than Boston are the clear winners.  

I don’t think the Nets are going to be very good next year, potentially another top three selection.  That Nets pick brings tremendous value that Boston hoarded for years.  The Celtics had a treasure trove of assets that they could’ve traded instead; the 2019 Kings/2018 Lakers first round pick, the 2019 Clippers first round pick, the 2019 Grizzlies first round pick, their own draft picks, Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum.  To give up your best asset with no protections out of a stable of quality assets for a score first point guard that can leave in two years who doesn’t play defense is a questionable decision.  

I don’t know who (if anyone) was Boston competing with in the Kyrie sweepstakes.  The Suns said they weren’t willing to trade Josh Jackson, the Knicks said they weren’t willing to trade Kristaps Porzingis and Minnesota said they weren’t willing to give up Andrew Wiggins.  The Bulls got back a pick-swap, Zach Lavine who’s coming off an ACL injury, Kris Dunn who was a terrible offensive player last season for Jimmy Butler with the same amount of years left on his contract as Kyries.  That haul is significantly worse than what Cleveland got back for a better player in Jimmy Butler.  Is Chicago that inept of an organization?  Or is Boston so focused on winning they don’t mind that type of risk for a superstar?

No matter what I say the trade does work for both sides…..at least for now.  I’m slightly favoring Cleveland winning the deal but only time will tell who really won.  Cleveland has set itself up nicely to still be competitive in the event of Lebron leaving.  Boston got out from under a potential toxic contract with Thomas and are officially in “win-now” mode with multiple “superstars”.  Danny Ainge finally pushed his chips in for a “superstar” but the unfortunate part is the price tag is still pending.

Bearish or Bullish?

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton recently wrote an article projecting the records for the 2017-2018 NBA season (Link).  Pelton used Real Plus-Minus as his barometer of grading a team’s potential.  Real Plus-Minus is one of the better advanced NBA stats; it uses the basic box-score plus-minus but it also tries to isolate the measure of each individual player separate of their teammates.  It is a nice stat to use when box scores don’t do players justice when it comes to on-court contributions.  As we’ve seen with players like Shane Battier or Andre Iguodala, box score’s don’t mean as much at times.  ESPN wrote up a nice overview of the advanced stat (Link).  

While the stat is a nice supplement to use when evaluating players it still has it’s flaws like favoring players as better defenders based off height.  It does makes sense in theory but Luke Babbitt was rated at a +1.24 Defensive Real Plus-Minus while Avery Bradley was rated at a -1.72 Defensive Real Plus-Minus last season.  Luke Babbitt was a much improved defender under Erik Spoelstra but he did not have a better defensive season than Bradley, at least not by contributions to overall defensive stability.  I don’t like using advanced stats as an end all be all so I disagree with a few of Pelton’s projections:

 

Atlanta Hawks – Bullish

Pelton has the Hawks projected as not only the worst team in the East but the worst team in the league.  I don’t disagree with the calculations behind the Hawks being that bad.  Take one look at their roster and most people would say the same thing.  They traded Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap this off-season, got nothing substantial in return, let Tim Hardaway jr walk and as a result effectively have no starters from the 60-win 2015 Hawks team.  On the surface it’s a rebuild; barely any talent, cap flexibility, no outgoing draft picks and potentially having Houston and Minnesota’s 2018 first round picks and Cleveland’s 2019 first round pick.

Am I saying the Hawks are going to make the playoffs?  Probably not, no.  But are they the worst team in the league?  I just don’t see it.  I’m basing my bullish outlook on the Hawks mostly due to head coach Mike Budenholzer.  The Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks last year both started the season on the road to a top three pick due to major injury woes and depleted rosters but still managed to turn around their seasons.  The Heat started their season 11-30 and finished off by going 30-11 while the Mavs started their season 11-27 and finished off by going 22-22.  Whether it be sound defensive principles or well executed game plans the Mavs and Heat were well coached teams.  

Budenholzer is in that same class of coach.  The Hawks had the fourth rated defensive efficiency this year and have typically been a stable defensive team under Bud.  They also had the sixth highest assist percentage this year while Bud has been a master at X’s and O’s throughout his head coaching career.  This is going to be his first year where he will truly display his coaching chops.  I like some of the pieces he has to work with no matter how inept they may seem.  Taurean Prince came on last year as a potential 3-and-D wing player, John Collins can carry over his offensive face-up game and his rebounding from college, Dennis Schroder was second in the league in drives per game and should have shooters to pass to like Luke Babbitt, Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon can supply some rim-protection.  Coaching matters in the NBA and playing hard on a nightly basis is an undervalued skill.  As far as a talent perspective the Hawks could be the worst in the league but Budenholzer will have his team ready.

 

Boston Celtics – Bearish

Pelton has the Celtics projected as the number one seed in the East and I don’t necessarily disagree with him.  Boston was the number one seed last year, they added more talent aka Gordon Hayward, Lebron is a year older and the Kyrie Irving trade merry-go-round isn’t going away; it makes sense that the Celtics stay atop the East.  I’m not really bearish about the Celtics regular season instead I’m bearish about their post-season and the Isaiah Thomas situation.  He’s too much of a liability on defense during the playoffs since he can’t be hidden and team’s can exploit the mismatch. Even though he is a top level scorer getting stops at end of game situation’s are just as, if not more important, go ask the Cavs. The Celtics were a Rajon Rondo injury away from potentially losing in the first round of the playoffs and even though the East has weaken the Celtics are still too matchup dependent to be a taken seriously.  Trading away Avery Bradley didn’t do them any favors either since now Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are really their only other guards.

Isaiah Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason and can make upwards of $30 million in his first year of a new deal with Boston.  I don’t think any team with Isaiah Thomas making about a third of the team’s total cap can realistically be called a contender.  I still think that trading Thomas is the best option but I don’t think it will happen.  As we all know Danny Ainge won’t make a deal unless he thinks he gets at least equal or adequate value back in return.  Thomas is making $6.26 million and finding a trade where you can find equal or adequate value is near impossible for that low of salary and that high caliber player.  If Thomas isn’t going to be traded then is he worth that much money?  

The Celtics are going through an issue that most teams would dream of: they have too many assets.  They collected all these assets over time with the hope they can flip them for a star level player.  With no trades happening already players like Kelly Olynyk, Demetrius Jackson, Jordan Mickey, Tyler Zeller, Avery Bradley and James Young are gone.  The names aren’t important, what is important was the fact that these names were all once “valuable” trade assets called draft picks that turned into nothing.  If they sign Thomas to a huge deal maybe Marcus Smart will be next.  With no cap space left after a Thomas deal these picks will be all the Celtics  have left to turn them into true contenders.  Until they fix the Isaiah Thomas conundrum I’m bearish on the Celtics.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves – Bearish

For the most part I’m a fan of what the Timberwolves have done this offseason.  Kevin Pelton has them projected to be the fourth best team in the West, however, I on the other hand just want them to make the playoffs for once.  The Jimmy Butler trade was a success, that one was obvious.  The Jeff Teague signing wasn’t exciting but for $19 million I can’t complain.  The Timberwolves had to use their cap space this summer due to the flattening cap and extensions for both Andrew Wiggins and Karl Towns that will most likely be maxed.  Say the Timberwolves signed Kyle Lowry to a $30 million contract, they wouldn’t have been able to sign Taj Gibson and the only way to fill out the rest of the roster would’ve been through salary cap exceptions or draft picks for the foreseeable future.

With that said I hated the Gibson signing for $14 million.  I’m skeptical of the fit, utility and it feels like Tom Thibodeau was taking care one of his ex-players.  He should help reinforce defensive principles but at that cost is pretty ridiculous.  Then the Timberwolves signed Jamal Crawford to the full room exception of $4.328 million.  Couldn’t they sign him for the minimum since he’s a 37 year old one trick pony?  Ian Clark went for the minimum and he’s a decade younger, there were options the Timberwolves weren’t patient for.  

I would’ve liked to see them round out their roster better but pairing Jimmy Butler with Wiggins and Towns is what this team is built around.  In particular the improvement of Karl Towns’ defense is my main concern.  We all know he has the potential to be a good defender but he still has to learn to read coverage’s on pick-and-roll’s, help defend, rotate in time and most importantly communicate.  He has to be loud, concise and an air traffic controller that improves the Timberwolves fifth worst defensive efficiency from last year.  The Timberwolves had the tenth best offensive efficiency in the league last year so even though there are still issues with shooting and spacing, offense is my secondary concern.  Wiggins and Towns need to be a whole lot better defenders to get the fourth spot in the West.  Considering that their rate of growth on that end has been slow I just can’t see them make that big of a leap defensively.  I think the Timberwolves are more suited for the bottom half of the West playoff standings.

 

Utah Jazz – Bullish

Kevin Pelton has the Jazz coming in as the eighth seed in the West.  I was surprised by that projection since they lost Hayward but even though I agree eighth place sounds about right I’m still bullish.  I really liked what the Jazz did to resuscitate themselves after they lost Hayward.  The Jazz focused on their strengths and style of play when signing players like Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh, Jonas Jerebko, trading for Ricky Rubio and drafting Donovan Mitchell.  They didn’t overpay for anyone including Joe Ingles on a 4 year $52 million contract.  Health permitting the Jazz have one of the deepest teams in the league.  Up and down their roster they have two-way players.  Do they have a star wing?  A star ball handler?  A star scorer?  Well no.  But having a bunch of two-way players on good contracts with a good coach still has the making of an underrated squad.

Without Hayward how will the Jazz generate points especially late in the game?  It’s possible Rodney Hood, Dante Exum or Donovan Mitchell make that leap into star territory but I wouldn’t count on it.  Quin Snyder shares the Mike Budenholzer factor when it comes to X’s and O’s on offense so there should be an eco-system of shots.  Limit possessions like they’ve been so good at, slow down the game, beat the opponent up on the boards and players like Joe Ingles, Rodney Hood or Joe Johnson will have bigger responsibility late in game.  Their defense should be smothering and possibly the best defense in the league next year.  Health, growth of young core and offensive possessions at end of game situations are my biggest concerns about the Jazz.  Out of all the teams that ended up losing a star this offseason the Jazz are the team I’m most bullish about.