Tag Archives: NBA Draft

UPDATE

I just wanted to give an update since it’s been a bit since I posted an article.  I’m shifting my focus towards the NBA draft and scouting rather than NBA topics although I’ll still talk about free agency, the playoffs and events I deem worthy of a post.  For quick hit thoughts on the NBA check out my twitter.  I don’t post on there that much either but I’ll try to do so more usual.  My twitter will just be strictly scouting, NBA draft and NBA topics. (@oldmanbball1)

In the meantime I’ve been doing nothing but taking notes for scouting grades and scouting reports.  I’ve briefly shared some thoughts on a couple of players on my twitter.  I should’ve been sharing my reactions more frequently but I wanted to lock down my grading criteria for my new scouting grades.  No more draft big boards since I think my bias will undoubtedly show through and cloud my judgement.  Read my last article about my thoughts on draft biases.  I also don’t think draft big boards reliably emphasize my true analysis about particular prospects.  That’s why I wanted to minimize bias as much as possible, broaden my assessment and sticking purely to grades was the best option.

I wanted to scout 5-10 games per player before I published anything online and considering I’m at 100 players scouted to date it’s taking me a bit.  Next season I’ll have articles up more regularly once the college season begins, talking about initial impressions and being more engaged.  I was just really focused on making my grading system as legit as possible even though over time changes will inevitably be made.

I wondered if I should grade prospects Pro Football Focus style and grade based on a per play expectancy.  Every play is graded on a sliding -2 to +2 point scale.  I decided against that since so much of basketball is communication driven and a lot of that data could be noisy.  Instead I went with a list of criteria and certain markers to meet.  Over the last four years I’ve taken a substantial amount of notes and have complied a grading rubric.  The players will be graded on “offense”, “defense”, “star potential”, “role potential” and “system dependence” all on a 1-99 scale.  The grading system will have slight differences and weights for ball handlers, combo guards, wings, small ball fours and bigs.

“Offense” will be broken down into these categories: shooting, scoring, finishing, screen setting/roll-man, driving/handle, feel, off-ball movement and passing/creation.  Each category will have certain set markers and the more the player fulfills the better the grade.  For example on “finishing” certain markers include extension around the rim, fast-to-slow two step gather, one step gather, off hand finishes, off foot finishes, euro steps, side steps, body control etc.  Obviously something like screen setting will hold more weight for bigs and creation more for ball handlers.

“Defense” will be broken down into team defense, creation, on-ball defense and IQ.  Just how it was with “offense” the more markers the player meets the better the grade.  For example on team defense certain set markers include communication, how do they defend at the nail, low-man position, overall weak side principles, can they cycle through rotations or do they just make the initial rotation, do they go vertical at the rim or stay grounded etc.  Things like straddling the line between ball handler and roll man on pick-and-roll contain defense will be graded with more weight for bigs rather than ball handlers.  Pick-and-roll defense will fall under team defense.

The next three grades are pretty experimental.  “Star potential” deals with upside but not how likely they’ll meet that upside and “role potential” deals with what NBA role they can attain and how likely they can achieve that selected role.  For example someone like Cam Reddish last year would’ve had a high “star potential” grade with 3-and-D swing forward as their potential role BUT a not too flattering “role potential” grade.  Someone like Matisse Thybulle would’ve had a not too flattering “star potential” grade and a 3-and-D wing role with a high “role potential” grade.  Now someone like Zion Williamson would’ve obviously had a high “star potential” grade AND “role potential” grade as a do-it-all combo big.  

The reason why I wanted to make “star potential” and “role potential” was to give more context to the grades.  Just because a player has a high “offense” and “defense” grade doesn’t automatically make them a candidate to be a star player at the next level.  Someone like Ty Jerome would’ve had high “offense” and “defense” grades but that wouldn’t have met I think he’s some star player in the making.  I think making that distinction was important.  Obviously this is new and something I’m tinkering around with.  It won’t be perfect from the start and errors will be made.  If it ends up confusing a bunch of people then I might second guess myself.  My hope is that in time it will be a nice component to scouting.

The last grade is the one I’m on the fence on.  “System dependence” is all about system fit and situation.  Both factors play such a crucial role in a players success that I thought it needed a grade on it’s own.  It’s one thing to identify system fit and situation as important in terms of scouting, it’s another to approximate a grade.  That was the original plan, to give “system dependence” a 1-99 grade just like the other four grades.  This was partially the reason why I’ve delayed posting.  But the more I thought about it, the more I nixed the 1-99 grade.  Instead I’ll just list the teams I think the prospect would flourish under and the teams the prospect would deteriorate or stagnate under.  For example I would’ve listed Tyler Herro Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta favorably and Orlando, Detroit and Charlotte unfavorably.  “System dependence” is still a work in progress but nevertheless think incorporating situation and fit are vital to a players prosperity.

Switching from a draft big board to a grading scale will hopefully minimize bias, improve clarity, enhance accuracy, and expand on details.  Like with every other test run there will be bugs to fix and things to get better at.  Along the way I’ll give more updates to clarify any irregular matters.  I do have a twitter (@oldmanbball1) account now so if there are any questions contact me there.

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.

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

Scouting Report:

Zion Williamson (Rank: 1, Tier: 1)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*All stats provided by Synergy Sports Tech*

Post-Tournament Top 20 Prospect Rankings

*UPDATED 5/31/19* With the NBA combine and early-entry withdrawal deadline in the books I wanted to make the necessary adjustments to my ranking.  Nothing major.  Slight modifications were made to match with the final early-entry list and combine information.  I also left players like Bol Bol and Jontay Porter off my ranking due to injury concerns.

After watching the tournament I had to post an updated version of my rankings before I start posting scouting reports.  It wouldn’t have made sense if I posted a negative scouting report about a player I have ranked highly.  By updating my prospect rankings they will now be in line with my player breakdowns that are soon to be posted.  I’m trying to get at a threshold of games scouted before I start posting extensive breakdowns.  The more game notes I take the better.  With the NBA playoffs underway I’m going to post the player breakdowns sporadically but will still try to get as many out asap (Note: I haven’t watched much film on International Prospects so none are ranked):      

 

Tier #1

 

  1. Zion Williamson, FR, Duke, PF/C, 6’7, 18.7 years

~ Duh.  

 

Tier #2

 

  1. Kevin Porter jr, FR, USC, SG, 6’6, 18.9 years

~ Porter jr moves back up one spot.  If you just look at his box score stats you won’t get it.  If you look at his on and off court concerns you will think he’s too much of a risk.  He was also oft-injured for most of his freshman season.  Regardless of his baggage, I just really like how he maneuvers on a rope in traffic with his dribbling ability.  He can be knocked off his spots at times by stronger players but his live-dribble skills in tight spaces is arguably the best in this class. He’s also a tough shot maker with creation skills on defense.  He did rely on his stepback quite often even though it did create quick separation in an instant.  His poor free throw percentage and finishing ability are concerns.  But I do think the role he was playing at USC shouldn’t be his role in the NBA.  A spread pick-and-roll offense or drive-and-kick offense where he can be a primary creator and scorer would help his game flourish at the next level.  Porter isn’t going to be a player that can fit every system and won’t be able to mold his game from scheme to scheme.  Porter will be a perfect case study in situation dictates success.  In the right environment, support system and offensive scheme Porter jr can be a perennial all-star.

 

3. Ja Morant, SO, Murray State, PG, 6’3, 19.6 years

~ I moved Morant up four spots from my last ranking.  One of the big reasons why I moved him up so high and over RJ Barrett is due to long term faith in developing an outside shot.  His free throw percentage for his two seasons at Murray State was 81% which is a solid indicator of future shooting success.  His shooting mechanics can be a problem at the next level however due to his one-motion shooting technique.  One-motion shooting can quicken your jump shot but can lower your release point at same time.  He’ll need to add more core strength if he wants a more reliable long range shot at the next level.  On catch-and-shoot opportunities Morant shot 46.2% unguarded but only 26.3% guarded.  Morant will probably never be an elite shooter.  But as long as he can be an above average shooter with some shooting diversity added to his playmaking and scoring ability, his offensive game should translate.  Defensively on the other hand is a concern.  It was comical how bad Morant was defensively at times.  Blatantly letting ball handlers go by him just to attempt a back tap at the ball.  He got a lot of turnovers in the process but his defensive stance isn’t anywhere near what it needs to be at the next level.  Considering that three point shooting and defense are my two biggest concerns, it’s interesting to see him ranked third.  For one that tells me how weak this class is but secondly it should show what I think of his offensive creation skills.

 

4. Jarrett Culver, SO, Texas Tech, SG/SF, 6’7, 20.1 years

~ After an uneven performance during the tournament I have Culver ranked at four.  His first step is alright, he doesn’t have a consistent live-dribble anchor and his jump shot is still a work in progress.  His shooting mechanics are definitely something that needs improvement since it looks like he releases the shot starting on the way down.  All the tournament did is make Culver’s flaws glaring and emphasize his strengths.  Yes, Culver has trouble creating separation off the bounce.  Yes, his dribble drive stance can too hunched over at times.  And yes, his jump shot needs a better follow thru.  But where the high rank comes from is my projection.  If Culver measures out around 6’7 added with his good-to-great athleticism to go along with his creation skills off pick-and-roll, solid touch around the rim, versatile leaping ability and high level defensive play then projecting that his flaws can progress at the next level align with a tier two ranking.

 

5. De’Andre Hunter, (RS) SO, Virgina, SF/PF, 6’8, 21.3 years

~ Hunter moves down just one spot.  He ended up having a great championship game that overlooked what otherwise was a sub-par tournament performance.  Hunter is a plug and play 3-and-D wing. He just doesn’t offer that much live-dribble skills or creationism. He’s a better on-ball defender than team defender being out of position on certain actions and lingering off-ball too long.  But elite 3-and-D wings are still needed to construct title contenders.  He also possesses a high ceiling due to scarcity of position; 3-and-D swing forwards are in demand.  Hunter can also be cost efficient on his second contract due to lack of scoring prowess but will have a plus impact on-court.  Players like Hunter will be ranked highly in real plus/minus but be paid no where near what the other players on top of the real plus/minus leader board are.  Virginia in last year’s tournament lost in the first round without Hunter and this year Virginia wins the tournament with pretty much the same squad except this time Hunter plays.  I don’t know if Hunter will ever be an all-star but he sure can help a team win.

 

6. Grant Williams, JR, Tennessee, PF, 6’7, 20.4 years

~ Williams moves up four spots from my last rankings.  Grant Williams might not be an explosive athlete but he sure is a functional one.  He takes sharp angles on defense recoveries, he plays with a good low center of gravity, his defensive rotations are on a string and he uses his strong butt to carve out space.  His year after year improvement from the free throw line is encouraging for three point shooting success.  His shooting form is also pretty compact and repeatable too but I got the sense from Rick Barnes, Tennessee head coach, that he didn’t want Williams shooting threes and rather position himself in the post.  I think at the next level Williams will have more freedom shooting threes and the added confidence will go a long way.  He doesn’t really have live-ball skills; very limited off the bounce.  Most of his career he was a 17 ft and in type player.  He’s not breaking down a player off dribble any time soon but can make smart decisions when attacking a closeout or doubled in the post.  It’s really going to depend on how a team uses Williams skill set that determines his career path but I think he can produce, play good defense and have a positive impact on winning.

 

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

~ Garland moves down two spots from my last ranking.  I just wish he played a full season or even half season.  How different can Garland be when compared to other undersized scoring guards like Lou Williams and Eric Gordon?  Is that all he is or can he be a steady enough play maker to take his game to the next level?  His scoring ability and shooting portfolio give him a solid floor either way.  His injury history, size and defensive limitations are still concerns but dating back to his high school days he’s shown prowess as a shooter and scorer.  Also with how good the Clippers have been this season and how cost efficient Lou Williams is, maybe the role of a bench scorer with some play making ability and elite shooting should start to be looked at with greater reverence.

 

8. RJ Barrett, FR, Duke, SG, 6’6, 18.8 years

~ I moved Barrett down two spots from my last ranking.  If I’m wrong, I’m wrong but I think Barrett is one of the more over hyped prospects in this class.  Barrett’s overall long distance shooting, touch around the rim and free throw percentage are major red flags.  It’s the biggest reason why I’m lower on him then most other people. He also looked like just an average team defender with decent on-ball defensive skills.  He can always improve defensively since he has solid physical tools but too many times did I see him struggle to match up defensively during a scramble or poorly position himself defending at the point of attack.  But just like with Morant, Barrett’s live-ball creation skills, the ability to get to the line and pick-and-roll game make Barrett still very valuable at the next level.  The skills he needs to improve upon are all modern day necessities which makes me skeptic of Barrett even though I have him ranked eighth.

 

Tier #3

 

9. Tyler Herro, FR, Kentucky, SG, 6’5, 19.2 years

~ Herro stays ranked at number nine.  For a lot of young prospects they tend to regress as soon as conference play comes around.  Not Herro.  He improved as an on and off ball defender, was better at movement shooting and did more out of the pick-and-roll.  Herro needs to bulk up and get stronger if he wants to start finishing around the rim with efficiency.  I personally think he has the frame to fill out nicely overtime as he matures.  In the meantime, instead of attacking the rim off a closeout, Herro tends to pull up and use his excellent floater game.  Herro has fantastic touch but since he lacks explosion can be a little passive around the rim at times.  Herro is someone that I think can have a good showing at the 5-on-5 scrimmage portion of the NBA combine and rise up big boards as a result.  A lot of draft sites have him all over the board but it’s beginning to feel like more and more people are starting to buy into Herro.

 

10. Brandon Clarke, (RS) JR, Gonzaga, PF/C, 6’8, 22.5 years

~ Clarke moves up five spots from my last ranking.  If Clarke showed just a little promise shooting the ball I would have him ranked in my top five.  But guess what?  He didn’t.  Clarke in his three collegiate years shot 25% from three on .2 attempts per game and 61.8% from the free throw line on 4 attempts per game.  Yes, Clarke does possess good touch around the rim and some movement shooting 17 feet and in.  That could be an indicator for future shooting success.  Unfortunately Clarke is about to turn 23 years old.  I just would’ve liked to see more of an improvement with his feet set from the free throw line to the perimeter at this late of an age.  With that said I do think him as a rim-running, 17 feet and in type offensive player can produce at the next level.  Clarke off the dribble is really interesting because he can catch it at the perimeter, take two dribbles, spin right in the paint and leap off two feet for a power finish at the rim.  He has some live-dribble moves but I’m not holding my breath until he develops combo dribble drive moves.  On defense he possesses some switch ability, great vertical leaper at the rim and havoc creating plays on defense creating 6.1 stocks per 40 minutes.  His outside shot and off the bounce game will determine what ceiling Clarke has at the next level.  Either way he has a high floor regardless.

 

11. Romeo Langford, FR, Indiana, SF/PF, 6’6, 19.4 years

~ Langford’s pick-and-roll play is one of the biggest reasons why he’s still rank this highly.  I think Langford has a chance to be a strong wing scorer with a play making feel; those players don’t grow on trees.  Also if I had to bet on any prospect that shot less than 30% from three his freshman season and improve at the next level I would bet on Langford.  Langford shot 27% from three for the season but apparently he had a torn ligament in his shooting hand. When you combine that to his 72% free throw percentage, steady touch around the rim, inconsistent but manageable shooting mechanics, I would say Langford has a good chance being at least league average from three at the next level.  His defense was uninspiring.  He just looked average at all facets of defense: creation, on-ball, team.  It just looked like he was detached and wanted the season to be over.  I mean he didn’t even play in the NIT tournament. But when locked in defensively, he did show glimpses of good low man position ability and point of attack defense.  Langford could be one of those wings that if they don’t develop a three point shot will be a bench warmer but I think he possess enough other skills that his floor is higher than other swing forwards in this draft class.

 

12. Coby White, FR, North Carolina, PG, 19.1 years

~ Coby White was someone I was just considering last ranking and now he’s ranked twelfth.  I just wasn’t convinced about his scoring ability.  His long distance shot reminded me of Ja Morant; quick, low release and one motion mechanics.  He shot a bunch of step back jumpers and off the dribble pull up jays.  On 116 shots off the dribble White sported a .629 points per possession which ranked 27th percentile.  However throughout the season it did seem like he was putting more air underneath the ball and gave the shot more lift to shoot 38.5% from three during conference play as compared to 35.2% for the season.  Some of the biggest reasons why he’s now ranked has to do with his size, first step and defensive upside.  At 6’5, as long as he adds strength, he can be a solid combo guard with some small forward potential in small-ball lineups.  His first step isn’t elite but it’s pretty darn quick.  His overall herky-jerky dribbling style with combo dribble drive moves give him the ability to breakdown defenders off the bounce.  And for a point guard White was actually a good defensive player.  His on-ball could use some improvement but his effort level was still much better than Ja Morant.  White would whip his leg over screens to get a good angle and stay attached to ball handlers, collapse on drives and climb back to his own on kick outs.  Also, his off-ball movement on offense was pretty fair at times using cross, up or pin screens with decent relocation prowess.  As long as White continues his three point shooting ascension, he should carve out a nice role in the NBA.

 

13. Ty Jerome, JR, Virginia, PG/SG, 6’5, 21.8 years

~ Not only does Ty Jerome make my big board after being a player that “just missed the cut” last ranking but I have him ranked in the third tier.  His frame, athleticism and defensive upside are obviously big concerns.  It doesn’t look like Jerome has a wide frame to hold much muscle mass and it seems pretty slender.  His length will probably be average and I wonder if he takes part in the athleticism testing at the combine.  He might not have the defensive upside of most players on this list but his ability to give multiple efforts per play, have active feet on-ball and possess a high IQ to rarely be out of position make up for his deficiency in other areas.  Although when he does wall off a driver from the weak side, even though he wins the position and stays vertical, his average length can be easy to finish over at times.  He’s listed at 6’5 which will be a positive if true but his wingspan and hand size will be important factors moving forward. The main reason why he moved up so high on my list was offensive potential as a combo guard.  Jerome has a solid handle with sudden stop-and-go movements, a decent step back jumper and fantastic passing chops especially off pick-and-roll.  Jerome and Tyler Herro are similar prospects.  Both aren’t great at isolation scoring, getting to the hoop and exploding above the rim.  However, they are very patient with ball screens, waiting for the play to develop and identifying the open man before he pops free.  They possess some movement shooting off screens, can spot-up, off-the-dribble pull-up and are ideal shooters with touch on their floaters.  Jerome also isn’t afraid to leave his position to choke an action on off-ball defense causing turnovers.  Do both players have limited upside due to lack of physical profile?  Sure, but they have enough size to go along with skills that are becoming ever so important for today’s NBA.    

 

Tier #4

 

14. Nassir Little, FR, North Carolina, SF/PF, 6’6, 19.1 years

~  Little is frustrating.  He drops three spots from my last ranking.  I don’t even know why I have him ranked so high.  He feels like a Harrison Barnes type prospect.  A player that is primarily a scorer and nothing more on offense with some defensive potential.  Even though Little as a team defender was sub-par, I do like his defensive creation upside.  His positioning can be wonky defending dribble penetration but as long as he makes some tweaks to his footwork then his on-ball defense can translate to the next level too.  He’s an explosive rebounder and his 77% free throw percentage is a solid indicator for future three point shooting success.  He’s not going to be a pick-and-roll savant or playmaker off the bounce but he does possess a solid first step and some tough shot making ability.  Little is clearly more projection than reality but in a year where most prospects are flawed Little can be a lottery pick.  I also might have him ranked lower for my final prospect rankings, so there’s that too.

 

15. Keldon Johnson, FR, Kentucky, SG, 6’6, 19.5 years

~ Johnson moves down two spots from my last ranking.  I actually think Johnson should return to school for one more season to improve his draft stock because I don’t think it’s as high as it could be.  He isn’t great at offensive creation but does pretty much everything else average (or slightly above average) on offense. That’s not a bad thing per se but Johnson doesn’t possess one truly great skill.  He does possess nice foot work off screens, decent shiftiness in the lane and the ability to get to the rim.  His shot is also hard to trust since he wasn’t much of a long distance shooter in high school and he regressed shooting during conference play.  He also tends to leap off two feet most of the time which worries me at the next level.  Being able to leap off either foot around the rim helps throw off timing for shot blockers.  On around the basket buckets (no post-ups) Johnson sported a 1.106 points per possession which ranked 48th percentile.  Johnson may have solid speed and quickness but lacks above the rim explosion.  Defensively Johnson has the tools to become a solid wing defender but his team defense was a work in progress throughout the season having issues setting up in low man position.  He was also out done by Tyler Herro, his teammate, in terms of defensive creation.  This is now the second time Johnson moves down on my big board.  There’s still more games to be watched but I doubt he moves back up.

 

16. Cam Reddish, FR, Duke, SF/PF, 6’9, 19.5 years

~ Reddish falls two spots from my last ranking.  Take away the school on his jersey, his height and lofty high school recruitment ranking and I doubt anyone thinks Reddish is a first round pick.  But since he is 6’8 with a 7’2 wingspan and has good athleticism, Reddish is talked about like a top five pick.  I just don’t know many players who went on to succeed at the next level shooting 39.4% on two pointers.  How does a player who is known for his shooting have such mediocre touch around the rim?  He mostly drives in a straight line, doesn’t have much wiggle in the lane and alters his long distance shot when closely contested.  Reddish did shoot 7.4 three point attempts per game which is great volume. The ability to get your shot off when guarded on the perimeter and shooting 77% from the free throw line can be seen as indicators of shooting success at the next level.  He does possess nice defensive creation skills due to his length but his positioning, stance and communication are still meager abilities that need to be improved upon.  If I’m wrong about Cam Reddish then so be it but I think developing his game will be a major undertaking.  

 

17. Chuma Okeke, SO, Auburn, PF/C, 6’8, 20.6 years

~ Last year I wrote a series of articles under the title “prospect watch” and wrote about certain prospects that have the potential to be lottery picks some day.  Chuma Okeke was one of the players I wrote an article about.  The article is a little dated even after just a year.  For starters the way I grade prospects has evolved and secondly there’s more film to go off of.  I stated in the article that Okeke can be a Kyle Kuzma type player, which I still kind of agree with that statement.  But I actually think Okeke can be more of a cross between Kuzma and Boris Diaw.  A heady big that can play either front court spots, that isn’t overly athletic.  He uses his skills to affect the geometry of the court on offense with his pick-and-pop play and passing ability while possessing some switch ability and defensive creation.  Getting stronger, developing core strength and better conditioning will help Okeke explode on shots around the rim and not rely on head fakes.  His ACL injury is such a shame.  If he doesn’t get hurt a good argument can be made that Auburn wins the title.  At this point however why would he return to Auburn?  He might not even play until the end of the season and at that point his draft stock probably will decline.  But since his draft stock has value now he can rehab with a pro training staff and recover for his second season as a pro.  If I were a team that’s rebuilding, drafting Okeke makes a ton of sense.

 

18. Jaxson Hayes, FR, Texas, C, 6’11, 18.9 years

~ Hayes stays ranked at number eighteen.  I don’t want to repeat myself for the third time but my biggest concern is his offensive repertoire.  Can he do much outside of 5 feet from the basket at the next level offensively?  If you put Hayes in the Clint Capela role then obviously Hayes will flourish, but hoping that Hayes plays with one of the best pick-and-roll players in the NBA is wishful thinking.  His 74% free throw percentage is a nice indicator of shooting potential at the next level but Hayes never shot the ball outside the paint.  At least last season Mo Bamba was attempting to show scouts he could step out and stretch the court. There’s nothing wrong with being a Capela, Rudy Gobert type player but I just think the positive impact a play making or shooting center has on a team is the wave of the future for NBA centers.  

 

19. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SO, Virginia Tech, SG, 6’5, 20.5 years

~ One of my biggest fallers, Alexander-Walker falls eleven spots from my last ranking.  There’s still a chance I move him back up due to his three point shooting, playmaking ability out of pick-and-roll and defensive creation ability.  But this was now the second straight year where his production and on-court impact fell off during conference play and beyond.  He has trouble playing out of isolation and too often does he pick up his dribble early forcing himself into unnecessarily uncomfortable situations.  His skill set is similar to players like Herro/Jerome but one of the biggest differences between players like Herro/Jerome and Alexander-Walker are movement shooting.  Alexander-Walker has shot off baseline stagger screens before but he really is a spot-up, set feet type shooter.  I think as long as he adds more versatility to his shooting portfolio at the next level then he should earn a role with a NBA team.

 

20. Darius Bazley, Princeton HS (OH), PF, 6’9, 18.9 years

~ Easily the highest climber on my ranking is Darius Bazley.   Bazley sat out the entire year and didn’t play any basketball last season.  He was a top-15 ranked prospect by most recruiting websites but went the route of not signing with a college or playing in the g-league and instead improving through personal workouts.  Obviously I didn’t know much about him outside of some high school games and the amateur all-star circuit.  He has good versatile size at 6’9 with a 7′ wingspan and solid athletic ability sporting the sixth best shuttle run at the combine with 2.95 seconds.  But watching him play the five on five scrimmages at the NBA combine was going to be super important.  Since Bazley is one of the youngest prospects in the draft and sat out the year, watching him go up against older players who are coming off of playing college ball was going to be telling.

The five on five scrimmage portion of the NBA combine didn’t have as many first round fringe prospects like in years past.  Instead this year were mostly projected mid-to-late second round prospects invited to participate.  I was still impressed by some players like Nicolas Claxton, Zach Norvell jr, DaQuan Jeffries, Charles Matthews, Isaiah Roby and Jordan Bone but overall the talent level of the players were lacking and the style of the game felt more novice than pro.  But a clear standout was Bazley.  His ball handling ability at that size was the first thing to pop off the screen.  He had a fine first step for someone that big, showed decent foot work on finishes, nice touch around the rim and a shot that seems workable at the next level.  It looked like he made up ground in a hurry defensively and had solid on-ball defensive moments.  And again this is coming off sitting out a year to playing live action ball against older players.  That’s why even though the talent level of the scrimmages wasn’t as pristine as in years past, to be a standout nonetheless was impressive for Bazley.  He’s still very raw and the lack of tape is totally an issue in grading a prospect properly but with his physical profile, combine footage and the lack of great depth in this class pushes Bazley into my top 20 for now.

 

Players That Just Missed The Cut

  1. Talen Horton-Tucker, SG/SF, Iowa State, FR
  2. Matisse Thybulle, SG, Washington, SR
  3. Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. Johns, JR
  4. Kyle Guy, SG, Virginia, JR
  5. PJ Washington, C, Kentucky, SO
  6. Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland, SO
  7. Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga, JR
  8. Nicolas Claxton, PF/C, Georgia, SO
  9. Josh Reaves, SG, Penn State, SR
  10. Isaiah Roby, PF/C, Nebraska, JR
  11. DaQuan Jeffries, SF/PF, Tulsa, SR
  12. Terence Davis, SG, Ole Miss, SR
  13. Carsen Edwards, PG, Purdue, JR
  14. Quinndary Weatherspoon, SG, Mississippi State, SR
  15. Dylan Windler, SF, Belmont, SR
  16. Zylan Cheatham, PF, Arizona State, SR
  17. Cody Martin, SF, Nevada, SR
  18. Jordan Poole, SG, Michigan, SO
  19. Cameron Johnson, SG/SF, North Carolina, SR
  20. Zach Norvell jr, SG, Gonzaga, SO

Pre-Tournament Top 20 Prospect Rankings

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

 

Tier #1

 

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

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

 

Tier #2

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Tier #3

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Tier #4

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Players That Just Missed The Cut

~ Matisse Thybulle, SG, Washington, SR

~ Ty Jerome, PG/SG, Virginia, JR

~ Killian Tillie, PF/C, Gonzaga, JR

~ Chuma  Okeke, PF/C, Auburn, SO

~ PJ Washington, C, Kentucky, SO

~ Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland, SO

~ Naz Reid, C, LSU, FR

~ Coby White, PG, North Carolina, FR

~ Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga, JR

 

 

  

 

 

 

Season In Review: Jontay Porter

Jontay Porter,  Missouri,  Freshmen

PF/C,  6’11.5”,  7’0.25” wingspan

9’1” standing reach,  236 pounds,  18.8 years old

 

After last season Jontay Porter decided to enter the NBA draft and participate in the draft combine.  He ended up withdrawing his name from the 2018 NBA draft and returning to Missouri for his sophomore season.  During the pre-draft process many NBA draft websites had Porter as a first round selection, some even lottery bound.  Now that he’s projected to enter the 2019 NBA draft these same websites have Porter as a lottery selection in what amounts to a potentially weak draft.  I really didn’t watch Missouri games last season except for the Michael Porter games, so my level of Jontay Porter knowledge is novice like.  With so many draft websites that I respect having Porter as a 2019 lottery pick I decided to go over as much game tape as possible, breakdown Porters abilities and determine if he really warrants a lottery selection next draft:

 

Jontay Porter has good not great length for a center standing at 6’11.5” but with a 7’.025” wingspan.  His 9’1” standing reach could be his most important physical attribute since it helps him cover ground best in comparison to his lackluster athleticism.  Porter has a 13.85% body fat percentage worst at the 2018 combine.  Porter was out of shape as a freshmen and is partial reasoning as to why he didn’t play more minutes.  Draymond Green serves as a good example of a frontcourt player who suffered from weight issues and redefined his body at the pro level.  Reportedly Green lost about 20 pounds from his rookie to sophomore season with the Warriors (Link).  Green was also a senior when he came out of college and Porter will be a sophomore giving more time for Porter to make enhancements to his diet and exercise.  

Porter is going to need to be in better shape at the next level if he wants to make up for his lack of recovery speed.  Porter was in last place at the 2018 combine when he ran a 3.40 three quarter sprint. Testing his foot speed Porter ran the eighth worst lane agility test at 11.90 seconds.  Porter did score well at the shuttle run so he does have solid body control and change of direction.  To cap off his below average athleticism Porter had the worst max vertical with 31”.  Porter is subpar when it comes down to lower body explosion, back foot burst and lateral movement.  Porter is another candidate for functional athleticism versus actual athleticism.  Clearly not every great basketball player was a great athlete.  Testing well at the combine versus game speed aren’t mutually exclusive abilities.  However the danger lies in the fact that the position of center is increasingly becoming harder to play if you lack actual athleticism.

Even though I have Porter listed as “PF/C” it would be in his best interest if he played center at the next level.  As a center shooting is becoming more relevant in today’s NBA and Porter looks to become apart of the growing trend.  He shot 36.4% from three, 75% from the free throw line and posted a 1.153 PPP (points per possession) at all half court jump shots which ranks 88th percentile.  His shooting mechanics for a bigman are very encouraging; shoots lefty, feet are tilted on the load and sways on the follow thru to generate power, doesn’t strain shoulders for distance, dip is pretty quick around the stomach area at times, inconsistent set point and follow thru.  Sometimes the set point will be below the eye and the next it will be above the eye, needs to find a repeatable spot.  His follow thru is either an extended upwards release or a short choppy wrist motion. As soon as he finds harmony on those motions Porter should become an even more reliable shooter.  

He doesn’t have a face-up game or can create for others off live dribble yet.  His handle is actually solid for a man his size using crossovers and spin moves off the bounce but he doesn’t bend the defender with his live dribble.  61.7% of his shot attempts came from spot-up, post-up or roll-man type actions.  He’s a good screen setter that doesn’t shy away from contact.  Tends to pick-and-pop mostly, rarely dives.  Out of 66 roll-man shot attempts he finished on a dive only 9 times.  Since he doesn’t have lower body explosion, a quick second jump or a large catch radius he becomes more planted on his roll attempts.  He has to use his timing and manipulate the gaps between the ball handler to his advantage if he wants to become a good roll-man at the next level.

If he has a mismatch on a roll or switch he will instantly get the smaller player on his hip, seal the player and take them down to the block for post entries.  When in the post he uses over the shoulder flick shots, hook shots, dropsteps and fadeaways but can become too left hand dependent at times.  He uses pivots and pump-fakes to create separation in the post sporting a 1.114 PPP on all post-up attempts.  But he’s not very good around the basket (not including post-ups) sporting a .911 PPP which ranks 18th percentile. The problem I’ve noticed is that he will scrunch his shoulders, narrow his body and act smaller then what he actually is due to overusing pump-fakes.  He doesn’t have much lift or a quick jump so he tries to get his man off his feet first before he goes up.  He definitely needs to get stronger, use his shoulders and the rim as his protection.

His specialty on offense is by far his passing and high IQ.  He uses his basketball IQ at passing from all angles on the court and will make incredible one handed pocket passes in transition.  When in the post he will read the double or dig and kick it to the next man on the swing.  He reads the weak side tag-man so well and kicks it to the opposite corner as soon as he notices the defender motion middle. He’s great at high to low post feeds and hardly ever catch-and-holds the ball; is a willing ball mover.  He also uses his IQ reading a defenders actions; cuts to the rim as soon as his defender turns his head or slips the screen on a switch.  Porter is also a great rebounder attacking the ball mid-air.  He may not have the hops but times his jump and fights for position before the opposition gets set.  He is a hustle player that produces second chances.  Porter is the kind of player that even though he didn’t grab the rebound himself his attack of the glass or box-out will lead to one of his teammates getting the board.

Even though we have established that Porter is a below average athlete he was a plus defender his freshman season.  He still has his defensive flaws like not being able to contain penetration, lacks lateral movement on switches, can be too grounded at times and isn’t versatile at pick-and-roll coverage; overuses drop coverages.  Those are definite question marks when talked about at the next level.  But there still is a lot to like.  For starters his communication is amazing being able to point out actions, direct players on rotations and sniff out any misdirection.  Porter may be prone to getting beat at the point of attack but if he can sink his hips and stay with the ball handler since he has enough change of direction ability to distort angles and contest drives at the basket.  He does a fine job staying in an athletic, low stance with good balance at all times.  Sometimes he needs to do a better job closing air space on the perimeter attacking closeouts; can be late on rotations due to lack of quick twitch movement.  He does a good job walling off drives, helping the helper and staying vertical.  He uses his great hand-eye coordination and anticipation on weak side blocks and well timed swipe downs resulting in 4.1 total steals/blocks per 40 minutes.  However he can get too handsy at times and will overextend himself on shot attempts fouling 4.8 times per 40 minutes.  His upside might be limited on defense but uses his IQ and functional athleticism to defend at a high level.

…………………………………..

So now that I had time to digest my breakdown do I think Jontay Porter is a projected lottery selection for this upcoming draft?  If he had come out this past draft the answer would be no.  This upcoming draft on the other hand looks to be weaker than normal.  Porter looks like a Kelly Olynyk type of player: an unathletic big who can shoot threes, pass, screen, dribble hand-off and be sound on defense.  Although I think Porter has more upside then Olynyk the fact is they are solid glue-guys and role players.  As of now the 10-20 range is probably where I have him spotted.  But there is a new crop of players coming in and random prospects always pop up out of nowhere.  This is a discussion that’s tabled for now and will be re-examined for another day.

Scouting Report: Jerome Robinson

 Jerome Robinson                                                                                                Boston College                                                                                                                 Jr.                                                                                                                                                    SG                                                                                                                                                6’5”                                                                                                                                                6’7.25” wingspan                                                                                                                  8’2” standing reach                                                                                                              188.4 pounds                                                                                                                           21.6 years old

Ever since the draft I really wanted to do a legitimate scouting report for Jerome Robinson.  He was the biggest reason why I didn’t like the Clippers draft and yet I’m a huge fan of Shai Gileous-Alexander.  I thought there were better players to draft at pick 13 and wondered if it was a wasted opportunity.  Robinson wasn’t a player I took into consideration for my top 20 prospect rankings so I didn’t do my due diligence properly and knew very little of him to begin with.  I want to do a more comprehensive breakdown so I can give a more informed guess as to what I think he could become.  As of now I think the Clippers should’ve drafted players like Miles Bridges, Lonnie Walker or Zhaire Smith over Robinson.  After this scouting report I’ll decide whether I still agree with that sentiment and how I feel about the Clippers draft now that I’ve broken down his tape some more:

 

To start off with his physical profile it may be average or even below average.  It’s never a good sign that a projected late first round or early second round pick doesn’t go through the athleticism testing portion of the NBA combine.  For instance Robinson’s agility, shuttle run and 40” vertical could’ve validated the perception around the league that he isn’t a good athlete.  But from what I’ve seen on tape he does actually have surprising hops for intended alley-oops but overall displays average at best foot speed, recovery time, burst and length.  Being an amazing athlete isn’t the end all be all for NBA success but it sure does help when you’re on an island defending top notch isolation players with no help behind you.  The way players like Robinson without a great physical profile make it through the NBA is high IQ, fundamentals and functionality.  Robinson will be a nice litmus test when comparing functional athleticism and actual athleticism.  Robinson might not perform well when it comes down to athletic testing but that doesn’t exactly mean he won’t display quality game speed at the next level. 

On offense the first thing you have to start with is his shooting.  I’m assuming that’s one of the biggest reasons why the Clippers drafted him shooting 40.9% from three his junior season and 1.066 PPP (points per possession) on all jump shots off the dribble which ranked 91st percentile.  His shot mechanics are sound for the most part; dips around the waist, dead eye set point, nice sway, with some inconsistencies involving his follow thru motion.  At times it will be an extended upwards release with a high point, other times it will have an “out” motion with more wrist action.  He did shoot 33% from three his sophomore season so being as consistent as possible with his follow thru will be key moving forward.  To step into his shot he uses the hop or 1-2 but mostly uses the 1-2; will that affect the timing of his release at next level?  He’s a well versed shooter at pull-up, off dribble, catch-and-shoot (1.186 PPP, 77th percentile) or spot-up jump shooting.  He doesn’t use his all-around shooting skill to his advantage off-ball as much as he should though.  He does a good job relocating off ball and filling the gaps for extra passing angles but doesn’t use his gravity to affect spacing whether that be off screen, cutting or being the screen setter.  When a defender lock-and-trails his off ball movement Robinson will use head fakes or hand swipes to create more distance between the two but due to his lack of strength/athleticism needs to be more concise with his footwork and actions to use his off-ball gravity to his advantage.

Robinson will utilize pump fakes the most while attacking closeouts but uses a variation of pivots, rip thrus, step-backs and pull-backs to create separation.  When Robinson drives the lane he narrows his hips and becomes more shifty then one would expect with average athleticism using hang dribbles, crossover moves, in-and-out dribbles and a behind the back handle creating shots for himself in the process.  He needs to develop more combo moves after his initial counter if he wants to get his man leaning for a beat.  He lacks a quick first step off the bounce and can be sloppy with his handle not being precise with his motion.  His handle needs to improve in transition also.  He’s more of a straight line driver when it comes to transition, when a defender walls off his fastbreak lane he struggles to side or euro step.  Would like to see him use jump stops more often.  Robinson has shown trouble dribbling versus length and athleticism but is pretty proficient with either hand helping add to his shimmy.  

As a pick-and-roll ball handler Robinson was one of the most efficient players in college basketball last season sporting a 1.041 PPP on those type of plays which ranked 94th percentile.  He did a good job reading weakside coverage looking for lobs, over-the-top and pocket passes.  Sometimes though he will keep his head down and get stuck baseline with nowhere to go forcing a mid-air jump pass back out.  On pick-and-roll drives he will pick up his dribble getting stuck in no mans land as well, needs to keep head up and continue his dribble as much as possible.  Even though he isn’t the greatest athlete Robinson can create off the bounce using his change-of-pace, change-of direction dribble moves looking for dump or drift passes.  Robinson will take some risky passes, overall he had a 1.14:1 assist-to-turnover ratio for his entire college career which isn’t amazing but solid.  Robinson needs to add more finesse to his around the basket game with more inside hand, inside foot layup attempts to get defenders off rhythm.  Adding floaters, reverse layins, finger rolls, push-shots and hook shots to is game will be paramount for finishing against NBA length.

Defensively Robinson really is a mixed bag.  He’s does a fine job reading weakside pick-and-roll coverages by bumping the roll-man and recovering to his own on time.  Although on his closeouts he needs to be more balanced with better angles taken due to his lack of quickness.  From time to time Robinson will float on defense and lose track of his man; needs to stay focused of his man off-ball.  Robinson is a little too flat footed on rebounds, doesn’t attack the ball while it’s in the air or fight for position; tends to run back more often.  Robinson might have on-ball defensive troubles at the next level.  As soon as Robinson’s hips open up guarding the dribble it’s tough for him to recover because lack of physical profile.  His ability to switch will be questioned as well.  Can he stay with quick point guards?  Can he guard bigger wings?  Can he bang with frontcourt players?  He needs to get stronger if he wants a chance at that plus fighting thru screens wasn’t a strong point of his either.  When Robinson is at his best defensively he gets his butt underneath him, arms balancing his core, not reaching and sliding his feet with anticipation.  Still, an argument can be made that out of the three seasons Robinson played at Boston College only this past year did he show he can defend at an NBA level.

………………………….

Now that I’ve had time to thoroughly breakdown Robinson’s game do I still think the Clippers should’ve drafted Miles Bridges, Zhaire Smith or Lonnie Walker?  My answer is yes.  Robinson doesn’t offer the two-way potential with switch ability and pick-and-roll coverage versatility that those other players do.  Do I still think dislike the Clippers draft?  Even though I still would’ve taken a bunch of players over Robinson, doing this scouting report makes me understand why the Clippers drafted him in the first place.  His pick-and-roll skills, ability to shoot off the dribble, passing, three point shooting and high IQ on defense makes me change my mind towards my original assessment about the Clippers draft.  I’m obviously still skeptical of the Robinson selection but there’s less doubt today than there was yesterday.

*All Stats Provided By Synergy Sports Technology*

Old Man Basketball: Top 20 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA, JR

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State, SO  

Justin Jackson, SF/PF, Maryland, SO

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

Allonzo Trier, SG, Arizona, JR

 

* All Stats Provided by Synergy Sports Technology*

2018 Prospect Watch: Futures/Raw (continued again)

De’Andre Hunter, SF/PF, Virginia, FR(RS)

6’7/222 pounds/7’2 wingspan/20.3 years old    

~ Get to know the name De’Andre Hunter.  He is currently the darling of the scouting community and for good reason.  At 6’7 with a 7’2 wingspan, solid jump shot and great defensive prowess he has all the makings of a modern day NBA swing forward.  When I first saw him play against West Virginia I thought he had great length and potential but for the most part was a three to four year project.  He had no consistent jumper to speak of, a rigid handle and was learning his defensive assignments.  During non-conference play Hunter only made 3 three point shots, played in 4 games of at least 20 plus minutes and scored double digits 3 times.  He was someone to keep tabs on for the rest of the season but I wasn’t expecting much from the redshirt freshmen.  What a difference three months makes.  

During conference play Hunter is shooting 47% from three and is averaging 18.9 points, 7.7 rebounds per 40 minutes.  He only averaged 22.8 minutes per game during conference play but has played 25 plus minutes five of the past eight games.  Considering Virginia is deep with good upperclassmen players there has to be more built in trust for Tony Bennett to play Hunter extended minutes.  Hunter has made so much progress from the first game of the season to now.   

His jump shot is still pretty inconsistent even for shooting 47% from three in conference play on only 1.9 attempts per game.  The mechanics on his shot need some tweaking; his set point is above his head, sometimes two ball lengths above his head, then has an “out” release flattening the arc on the ball.  The accuracy is fine but the arc isn’t consistent.  He needs to lower his set point to his forehead and have an “up” follow thru on his release.  That would put more arc on the ball and have a consistent high release point.  Overall as a catch-and-shoot player Hunter is a 1.098 PPP (points per possession) which ranks 64th percentile and a 1.00 PPP at half court jump shots which ranks 65th percentile.  Messing with shot mechanics is a dangerous game but it’s worked for Kawhi Leonard and Jayson Tatum at the next level.  Even though his three point percentage for this season is 38% and his conference percentage is 47%, his mechanics and small sample size say he needs to alter some things slightly on his jump shot.  

His ball handling is dependable but both hands could use some work to be more secure.  As an isolation player Hunter has a 1.13 PPP which ranks 87th percentile.  He can drive left or right and finish thru contact at the rim.  Shots around the basket (not including post-ups) Hunter is a 1.233 PPP which ranks 70th percentile.  He isn’t an offensive pick-and-roll player just yet and that’s something I’d like to see him develop next season.  He needs to be a sturdier screen setter, better rim-runner and more proficient pick-and-roll ball handler.  As of now he is more of a spot up jump shooter, who cuts and works out of the midrange.  He likes to use a variety of step-backs, jab-steps and pull-backs to create space when he’s operating out of the midrange.  Before he can enter the draft he needs to become a better well rounded offensive player. 

Defense was the very first thing that excited me about Hunter.  Even back in non-conference play Hunter used his length and quick feet to switch 1 thru 5, hedge hard and promptly recover and make on a string rotations.  He has blossomed as one of the better defenders in the country during conference play.  He’s done an excellent job of slowing down pro prospects like Marvin Bagley, Josh Okogie and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.  As a one-on-one defender Hunter can guard multiple positions, move his feet, get low and shut downs angles in a hurry.  He isn’t an amazing athlete like Hamidou Diallo from Kentucky but Hunter is still a very good athlete.  He will have an occasional lapse on defense, miss an assignment or miss read a pick-and-roll coverage but overall he has everything scouts look for to be a premier wing defender at the next level.    

In my opinion he needs at least one more year of school to sharpen up things defensively and to develop more pick-and-roll skills offensively.  I read columns stating that he should enter the draft this season and that’s a possibility depending on how the tournament goes for him.  It could catapult his stock into the lottery since the wing depth is poor this draft and the NBA in general.  Mikal Bridges from Villanova is an example I always go back to.  He was a redshirt freshman himself, developed more skills the next two seasons and now is a possible lottery pick this draft.  Hunter is further along than Bridges was but the same theory applies.  Next years draft is looking pretty weak and if Hunter rounds out his game than I wouldn’t see why he can’t be a lottery pick next year.  Keep an eye on De’Andre Hunter come march madness, the rest of the scouting community will be too.  

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Technology *

2018 Prospect Watch: Futures/Raw (Continued)

Omari Spellman, PF/C, Villanova, FR(RS)

6’9/255 pounds/7’2 wingspan/20.6 years old

~ Omari Spellman reminds me of Mikal Bridges his freshmen season.  Both were redshirted, had NBA potential, raw, nice size, a budding skill set and overall interesting pro prospects.  Fast forward three years and Mikal Bridges is on path for a lottery selection come this June.  Bridges developed his three point shot, his footwork, his handle and passing ability on top of having elite defense.  If Spellman puts the proper work in like Bridges did than becoming a first round selection is totally within reach.

Even though I list Spellman as a PF/C he really is more of a center than a power forward at the next level.  His size at 6’9 with a 7’2 wingspan and 255 pounds is capable of playing both front court positions but his athleticism is what’s hindering him of thriving at either front court spot.  He’s not a bad athlete but NBA power forwards are getting quicker and faster by the year and Spellman has good enough athleticism to deal with centers primarily.  His conditioning and body need to improve for that to even be a discussion.  Back in his high school days he was pushing 300 pounds and was noticeably out of shape.  He has done an admirable job of losing weight but he clearly needs to add muscle, lose fat and stay in game shape.  Maybe if he does that than playing either front court position would be a possibility.  

   With that said Spellman has deceptively quick feet and it’s very apparent on defense.  Spellman has a nice defensive stance; constantly low, butt down, feet sliding, hands at ball and man with a steady balance.  He uses his wide frame to shut down air space than he uses his agile feet to cut of driving angles.  At the next level, if he gets in better shape, with his quick feet and defensive stance there’s 1 thru 5 switch ability potential.  He can bang down low on the block, dig in and contest post shots or guard perimeter players thinking they have the advantage than with nowhere to go forced into a mid-range jump shot.  Spellman has to do a better job of recovering after pushing shooters of their spots, not to over help and to box out consistently.  In general Spellman has solid upside on defense.

     His best skill to date is without a doubt his jump shot.  Short compact loading pocket, with a dead eye set point and an up follow thru with a high release point; it’s very balanced and just looks pretty.  As a spot up jump shooter Spellman is a 1.458 PPP (points per possession) which ranks 99th percentile.  Off catch-and-shoot attempts Spellman is a 1.301 PPP which ranks 88th percentile.  Either shooting from the pick-and-pop, pull-up, spot up or catch-and-shoot Spellman has good form and fine footwork turning into a variety of shots.  He needs to improve his ball handling as Spellman is typically a one dribble, pass or shoot type of player.  Since he plays with four other shooters on the court at all times he gets good looks regardless but in the NBA he’s going to have to put the ball on the floor from time to time.  Spellman can pump fake, jab step than take one dribble or side-step into a shot but he needs to show he can get to the rim and finish off the bounce.  

Villanova plays a four-out one-in motion styled offense where Spellman sets a bunch of pin-downs or rub screens.  The offense doesn’t call for many traditional ball-screens so his ability to rim-run is seldomly used.  He has a board frame so he can set capable screens but rarely do we see him roll.  Spellman plays mostly spot up, pick-and-pop and post up.  His post-up game isn’t bad but it isn’t great.  He can face up, drop step, turn the shoulder or hook shot but since he’s not an amazing athlete his explosion off those shots are lacking; could have trouble getting shots off versus NBA length/athleticism. 

Spellman should be at least a three year man at Villanova.  If he keeps on adding a skill every year to his repertoire like Mikal Bridges did then maybe we’ll see Spellman climb up mock draft boards too.  For now Spellman is a ball of potential that’s ripe for the modern day NBA game.    

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Technology *