Dancing With Noah

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2018 Dancing with Noah NBA Draft Big Board #2; alternately: Kevin Huerter has Landed

We pieced together our initial big board about three weeks ago which, in the world of draft prospecting, feels like it was pieced together many moons past. Between now and then was the NBA draft lottery (May 15th), the combine (May 16th – 20th), agency pro days, player workouts with teams, and finally, the NCAA’s deadline for players to withdraw from the draft in order to retain eligibility for college basketball.

Less than three weeks out from the draft, we’ve re-ranked our big board. Four amateur “scouts” (I use the term oh-so-loosely) looking at 54 players, two of whom are new additions to this board (Elie Okobo and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk) ranked bottom to top.

There are some massive risers: Maryland’s Kevin Huerter, Donte DiVincenzo of NCAA Championship fame, Rodions Kurucs (I’m not certain why he rose), elite rebound collector Jarred Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech’s all-world athlete Josh Okogie (it’s a soft “g” in Okogie).

Artwork by Andrew Maahs, http://www.basemintdesign.com

As for the fallers, speaking specifically for my own re-rankings, it’s often been a rank of circumstance where a player like Huerter who happened to test, measure, and play well at the combine, rose and pushed other guys down. The same can be said for Okogie and DiVincenzo whose athleticisms were elite in Chicago. It’s also worth noting, specifically with Huerter, a lean white kid with a head of red hair, how a player’s appearance can potentially skew our perceptions. Even the redheaded NBA players that come to mind in Brian Scalabrine and Matt Bonner, while contributors to winning teams in their own right, occupied a place of self-deprecation; a jokey awareness that acknowledged their status as visual demographic outliers. There’s even a hint of this in my original notes on Huerter, where I wrote, “Not to be hyperbolic and it’s probably just a height and shooting thing, but he reminds me of Klay Thompson when he was at WSU.” The use of hyperbole wasn’t inappropriate in the sense that it’s a stretch to compare most college basketball players to one of the greatest shooters of all time. Rather, somewhere in my subconscious was probably a touch of awareness that Huerter’s pasty white complexion doesn’t have a long history of success in the NBA. Racial bias, either conscious or unconscious, is something that exists. Throughout this process, in terms of both our player comparisons and general scouting, I’ve attempted to maintain an awareness of when my analysis drifts into simplistic appearance-based comps, but the truth is that I have frequently found myself, with players of all sizes, slipping into this lazy approach and have had to intentionally make attempts to avoid it.

Then there’s the wrinkle of information dissemination. If you follow ESPN’s Jonathan Givony or Mike Schmitz on Twitter, you’re privy to a steady stream of firsthand reports on how players are performing at agency pro days. I get anxiety just watching these clips: basketball courts surrounded by NBA scouts and executives, all crowded shoulder to shoulder with their phones, clipboards, notebooks. They whisper to each other, seeming to be above it all, maybe even annoyed by the young men shooting, dribbling, and executing basketball maneuvers with their futures hanging in the balance. (And if you believe that landing spot, coaching decisions, team culture, and player development matter in how these young men evolve through the NBA, then yes, for the many of the kids participating in these pro days, whether or not they make a career out of the NBA is contingent on decisions made by the men [and I think it’s almost 99% men] watching them. Meanwhile, the kids, in their late teens and early 20s, exhibit a poise that makes me wonder how in the hell I would’ve performed in a similar setting at the same age. Of course, they’ve been groomed and trained for these moments for their entire lives, but that doesn’t diminish the pressure or largeness of the moment.) As we see Givony and Schmitz (and the Givonys and Schmitzes of the world) tweet out that Moritz Wagner “has been drenched in sweat every workout I’ve seen this pre-draft process. Goes Hard” or that Rodions Kurucs “helped himself after a tough year in Barcelona,” a few things can be taken away. First, it seems like every player is shining. The recaps of the pro days that I’ve seen are exclusively positive. Nowhere in the streams of tweets from Givony or Schmitz are critiques of ability or effort which isn’t to say their scouting reports, a more static piece of content, isn’t more well-rounded. But, for some players, there is silence. And silence in this setting, for me as a consumer of information that is exclusively positive, is akin to criticism.

Givony reported that there were “100 NBA reps expected” at the CAA pro day. NBA teams are plenty capable of drawing their own conclusions from full bodies of work just like the rest of us, but Givony/Schmitz actively influence the market valuations of these pro prospects and to some degree, have a likely hand in shaping where players land. It might be a the slightest of touches, the most delicate of nudges, but how we all land our assessments is influenced by both our own eye and the din of the chorus in all its varied forms and pitches.

Without ado and further meanderings, here are our revised big board rankings:

2018 Dancing with Noah NBA Draft Big Board; alternately: We are all Avery Bradley

236 basketball players are testing the NBA waters this spring. This doesn’t include seniors like Keita Bates-Diop, Grayson Allen, Jevon Carter, Devonte Graham, Kenrich Williams, or Kevin Hervey. There are just 60 picks in the draft, but during the 2016-17 season, 88 players made rookie appearances. In 2017-18, that number jumped up to 120, thanks, in part, to two-way contracts between the G-League and NBA. Through the G-League and global scouting, the league has created a talent pool that is deeper and wider than ever. As more players present themselves as NBA-caliber, the basketball world gets both bigger and smaller. Bigger in the sense that not being drafted is no longer a death knell to a player’s NBA aspirations. Smaller in the sense that the league continues to evolve in how it keeps tabs on players – from teenagers entering the USA Basketball system to a G-League that’s on its way to every NBA team having its own minor league affiliate. There are very few Neon Boudeaux’s these days.

Despite this growing population of NBA newcomers, the most impactful players are still being found in the draft. Of those 120 rookies that appeared in NBA games this season, just 26 of them appeared in at least 1,000 minutes. Of those, just three (12%) players were second-round picks (Sindarius Thornwell, Semi Ojeleye, and Wesley Iwundu), and three (12%) were undrafted (Max Kleber, Royce O’Neal, and Milos Teodosic). Among starters of the four conference finalists, three (15%) were second-round picks (Draymond Green, Trevor Ariza, and PJ Tucker) while one part-time starter wasn’t drafted (Aron Baynes).

Of course, 1,000 minutes and starters on conference finalists are completely arbitrary in terms of their selection and statistical significance, but directionally they help to remind us that the top 80-some-odd-percent of the league’s primary contributors still come from the first round.* I expect that this percentage gets smaller over time, but at present, Draymond Green (35th overall, not big enough), Isaiah Thomas (60th overall, too small), Paul Millsap (47th overall, small school, too small), Manu Ginobili (57th overall, too European/Argentine), Kyle Korver (51st overall, can he get his shot at this level?) are still outliers, players who serve as reminders to guard against physical, racial, or geographic bias or conventional stubbornness. *(This was sticking in my craw or something so I looked at the total minutes played by drafted players beginning with the 2003 draft and ending with the 2017 draft. Among all drafted players in that sample, lottery picks make up 44.8% of total minutes (2,270,126 out of 5,069,530), rest of first round makes up 32.7%, and second rounders make up 22.6%. First rounders (lottery included) make up 77.4% of total minutes. This doesn’t include any undrafted players.)

It is under this guise of an ever-expanding universe of potential draftees that my friends joined me to pull together a 55-player big board for the 2018 draft cycle. I’ll caveat and hopefully not lose you by admitting we haven’t seen or scouted all 236 of the players who put their name in the draft. Most concerning for me is probably Elie Okobo; a favorite among some draftniks whose perspectives I respect. I didn’t see Tyus Battle either, but that’s maybe because I have a semi-conscious bias towards Syracuse. It’s hard to say. I would’ve liked to see and understand Jarred Vanderbilt better, but sometimes the universe, injuries, and the loss of Draft Express’s Youtube clips conspires against us.

Leading up to the draft, we’ll post deeper scouting profiles and projections on the top 30 players appearing on our big board. And if time and inspiration allow for it, we may go deeper on guys who felt outside of the top-30, but who one of us may be high on.

In the big board below, you’ll see a few basic values such as the rankings from me and my Dancing with Noah (DWN) friends and colleagues: Bug, Hamilton, and Maahs. You’ll see our DWN average ranking and the DWN standard deviation. The standard deviation is maybe more intriguing to me than the rankings on their own as the greater the deviation, the greater the difference in what our eyes see. There’s the Season-long aggregate rank (YR AVG) which includes big boards from Draft Express, NBADraft.net, Sports Illustrated, The Ringer, and The Stepien which offer up a longer, consensus view. And finally, there’s a comparison of the DWN average versus the consensus (DIFF). Again, I’m a lot less interested in players like Luka Doncic or DeAndre Ayton who have a difference in aggregate of less than one. The differences are where learning lies.

The other piece of context that’s worth including is that, between me and the other guys ranking players, we haven’t discussed our criteria for ranking. There isn’t any component of the following posts that has to do with mock drafting, but that doesn’t discount the role of team and scheme in how we discuss these players, scout them, or how I’ve ranked them. I encountered a bit of the Allen Iverson conundrum while ranking some of these players in that I believe Collin Sexton and Michael Porter to be players with higher ceilings than Mikal Bridges, but consider Bridges to be a more adaptable player who may offer a greater contribution to winning. But none of these concepts (ceiling, adaptability, or winning contribution) are absolutes. It’s not that Bridges has reached his ceiling or that Sexton or Porter must be lead dogs in order produce. If we dealt in these absolutes, then perhaps player rankings would be easier. We don’t deal in absolutes though and perhaps, in the right role, with the right coaching, Sexton could become a perfect fourth man on a contending team. Another example is the role evolution of Andre Iguodala who’s found his greatest success as a role player. With a highly adaptable game and the mindset of accepting a diminished role, Iguodala has achieved wild success, but few will suggest he was better than Iverson who required massive usage to achieve optimal effectiveness and who struggled in less usage-heavy roles. Did my colleagues think about this the same way? I doubt it, but do all 30 teams use the same criteria when ranking their players? I have my doubts. (Looking at you David Kahn.)

nba draft, deandre ayton, big board, luka doncic

Artwork by Andrew Maahs. His portfolio can be found here: basemintdesign.com

NBA Draft Big Board | Players 11-15

All artwork done by Andrew Maahs basemintdesign.com

Welcome to the third installment of the Dancing with Noah 2017 NBA Draft player analysis featuring players ranked 11 to 15 from our big board. Players one through five and six through ten have been covered already. This round covers Frank Ntilikina, Donovan Mitchell, Luke Kennard, OG Anunoby, and Justin Patton. And as the guy who wrote three of the scouting reports/analyses below, it’s crazy how quickly the quality of prospect shifts from semi-definition to mere outlines and visions based on potential. And it’s not to say none of the top-10 players are “specialists,” but as we shift lower, it seems some of these players have obvious specialty skills offset by weaknesses that lower their ceilings relative to players in the top-10. And as always, special thanks to my fellow writers Hamilton and Bug, and our talented designer, Maahs.

Fenrich: Frank Ntilikina

The only tape I’ve seen of Ntilikina (a difficult name to spell) is against teens in an U-18 European tournament. It’s nigh impossible to comprehend how skills translate from the high school or low-pro level to the NBA or how a 6’5” point guard with monster length translates. In some regards, I imagine this is how scouts felt in the late 1990s and early 2000s watching the likes of Eddy Curry feasting and beasting on 6’4” centers at the high school level.

Enough about Curry though. Ntilikina is super long with a balanced, if slow, catch and shoot jumper. His motion is consistent as he gets square and has strong balance. As that jumper is presently constituted, I don’t see him getting clean looks in the NBA unless he’s able to speed up his release – which he showed on occasion.

In the limited tape I viewed, I didn’t see a ton of footspeed quickness; particularly on the offensive end. However, most scouting reports which point to the defensive end as his greatest strength call out lateral quickness. With an unofficial wingspan near seven-feet, there’s potential to be a damn hellion on that end of the floor. This type of scouting report is applicable to a lot of youngsters as the skill-side hasn’t caught up with their physical gifts. Anunoby, Isaac, and Anigbogu come to mind. Also, there’s no guarantee the skill side does catch up.

I do wonder if he’s really a point guard or if he’ll slot into a combo guard capable of switching onto multiple positions at the NBA level. Bug compared him to a mini version of Thabo Sefolosha and I’m apt to agree with him though I may take it even a step further and extend a high-end comparison to Nicolas Batum. Both players are smart, with defensive versatility and offensive games better-suited as second or third (or further down) options.

Even with that all that defensive potential, I don’t think you draft Ntilikina with the expectation of immediate returns. He’s one of the younger players in this class and while he may be somewhat ready to make plays on the defensive end, the offensive side of the ball is going to take time to develop. If he’s entering his fourth season as a 22-year-old and he hasn’t ascended to starter-level, will a team still be invested? Will he maintain his confidence? These types of variable scenarios are realistic and will shape how adapts to the NBA over time.

Hamilton: Donovan Mitchell

To be quite honest, I didn’t see much Donovan Mitchell during the 2016-17 season. After watching some of his tape, I wish I had paid closer attention because he’s fun to watch. He’s fast (fastest ¾ court combine sprint since 2009), shifty, long-armed, and has incredible leaping ability. Anyone who has played JUCO ball knows this player type … It’s highly unlikely he makes it to Dwyane Wade’s level, but Wade has developed the template for the smallish slash-first scorer with supreme athletic ability in the modern NBA.

Mitchell appears to be a better three-point shooter than Wade was coming out of Marquette and that’s a good thing for him because he isn’t quite as big. He gets his shots off above and around bigger defenders and can make tough ones. His sturdy build along with great two-footed leaping and long arms should help him on drives and finishes in the NBA as well. He protects and hides the ball on drives using long strides and impressive body control to get to his spot. This is where he most reminds me of Wade.

On the downside, he appears to settle for jump shots a lot. Probably won’t ever be much of a PG. Not a great one-foot leaper, which will be somewhat limiting against NBA size. He looks awkward driving to his left and going up off one foot.

Talented enough to be a top player from this class, Mitchell projects as a starter on a bad team or a 2nd unit scorer on a good one. He plays with a flair that reminds of J.R. Smith, Nate Robinson or Nick Young. He’ll do some things that make you cringe and just as easily wow you on the next possession. And that’s what you live with when you have guys like JR, Nate Rob or Swaggy P. He is cut from their cloth. Irrational confidence. Pull-up 3s in transition. Highlight reel shot-making. 20+ points on any given night. Equally likely to be a total no-show.

Bug: Luke Kennard

Going into my analysis of Luke Kennard, I tried to keep an open mind as far as player comparisons go. I didn’t want to take the easy way out and compare him to fellow Duke alum J.J. Redick, but the more I watched Kennard, the more I saw a lot of the tools that make Redick successful in the NBA. The similarities go deeper than them being white guys from Duke that are elite shooters. Both players have wingspans that are shorter than their height, which can make it harder to get shots off in the paint and off-the-dribble.

Looking back at Redick’s Draft Express profile from 2006, they also had a lot of the same weaknesses and concerns coming into the draft. Does he have enough athleticism to be able to guard NBA players? Is he explosive enough to get to the rim, and when he does get in the paint, will the lack of length make it tough on him to score? These are all legitimate concerns, but Redick has given players with Kennard’s skill-set a blueprint to succeed in the NBA. He’s not going to be a franchise guy and #1 scorer for a team, but he can carve out a role on a team to help provide shooting and spacing, which is huge for the giving primary scorers room to operate.

He made a huge leap from his freshman to sophomore seasons. He went from 12-points on 32% three-point shooting to the second-leading scorer in the ACC at 19.5 points with 53-44-86 shooting percentages. The thing that jumps out to me when I watch Kennard’s tape from Duke is his basketball IQ and an extremely advanced triple threat, face up game. As noted earlier, Kennard doesn’t have overwhelming athleticism, but he makes up for it with crafty moves off shot fakes, step backs and pull-ups. His deadly jumper sets up his offense because the defense is forced to respect his shot. He plays within himself most of the time, and doesn’t try to make plays outside of his capabilities. His 1.6 turnovers-per-game is outstanding for a player that was asked to carry a lot of the offensive load for his team.

Overall, I think Kennard is a very good late lottery prospect that can help out a team that needs shooting. In today’s NBA with smaller lineups and less low post banging, a team can never have enough shooting. Not only will the team drafting him be getting a great shooter, they will also be getting a good basketball player that knows how to play the game with great pace and intelligence.

Fenrich: OG Anunoby

No one seems higher on OG Anunoby than The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks who lists him fourth on his big board. I’m nowhere near that high, but I’m also not as low as my guy Bug who sees him as an “offensive train wreck.”

I’m probably somewhere between those extremes, but closer to Bug than Tjarks. What stood out to me seeing Anunoby’s clips from Indiana were his tree trunk legs. I envision those quads being able to power him to success in a strong man competition pulling a semi-truck in neutral, but a more practical application would be defending both forward positions in the NBA. In addition to the that powerful lower body, Anunoby has a 7’2” wingspan on a 6’8” frame. (I’ve also seen this wingspan listed at 7’5”.)

While he appeared in just 16 games as a sophomore at Indiana due to what was reported as an ACL tear, Anunoby averaged over two blocks and two steals per-40 minutes. I don’t see him as some kind of Andrei Kirilenko defensive wunderkind, but the ceiling for his defensive impact is significant. Not to take away from his work ethic, but it helps to be built like a long pterodactyl-like wings.

Now to the bad: OG can’t shoot. He shot just 52% from the line for his college career and after nearly 45% from three as a freshman on just under one attempt-per-game, that number dropped to 31% on nearly three attempts as a sophomore. It’s not just that the percentages are bad, but his form and release are awful. His footwork is poor and even when the shot goes in, I find myself cringing. I saw no evidence of playmaking.

I tend to downplay the 45% he shot from three as a freshman because the mechanics are so poor. His shooting has scared me into seeing his offensive floor maybe a level above Dennis Rodman’s – which is just horrendous. He can absolutely evolve offensively, but he doesn’t look like he’ll ever be even a top-four option on offense. Coupled with the lack of playmaking and it’s enough to land him in the specialist category which isn’t the worst place to be as a 6’8” combo-forward who can potentially defend all five positions.

Fenrich: Justin Patton

Justin Patton, Harry Giles, Jonathan Isaac, Zach Collins, John Collins, Jarrett Allen, Ike Anigbogu. Who are these young, athletic giants roaming college and high school campuses across the United States? I watched their tapes, read their scouting reports and they’re all unique as snowflakes, complete with their own bags of strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and TBD-futures.

Patton lands right in the middle of this batch; a nearly seven-foot red-shirt freshman from Creighton where he shot a ridiculous 67% from the field on 13 attempts-per-game. Per Draft Express and Synergy, that number kicked up to 75% around the rim. Those shots around the basket accounted for 77% of his total field goal attempts. 174 of his 200 makes came at the rim. This is on some DeAndre Jordan distribution.

But Patton is no Jordan; in both good and bad ways. He can hit the jumper as he was able to make eight threes on just 15 attempts. His mechanics are funky though and he shot just 52% from the line. In short, there are no guarantees. And that’s the good on the Jordan comparison.

The bad is that he doesn’t rebound anything like DeAndre; not even Texas A&M, raw, unpolished DJ. Where DJ averaged nearly 12-rebounds-per-40 as a freshman, Patton averaged less-than-ten. His per-40 rebounding average is lower than any of the bigs included on this big board. His rebounding rate (under 14%) was 81st in the country – for freshmen.

If he’s not ready to be a reliable jump shooter, with his current defensive ability (good lateral movement, but questionable technique), he’s a five-man in the NBA. And if he’s a center, then he has to be better as a rebounder.

Patton doesn’t have to be DJ anymore than Isaac has to be Kevin Garnett. But unless he’s able to maintain his efficiency from three at the NBA level or proves he can sharpen his defensive technique, then he’ll be a rotation player.

Or, if his copious physical gifts (7’3” wingspan, nearly 31” vertical at just a hair under seven-feet) and skills reach their potential, then he’s a guy who can impact the game on both sides of the ball. The same can be said of most of these big guys. The art for scouts and front offices is figuring out who has the desire and will to be better and then putting them in a position where they can grow at a pace that’s both natural and challenging. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

2017 Dancing with Noah NBA Draft Big Board

Malcolm Brogdon, Josh Richardson, Norman Powell, Jordan Clarkson, Nikola Jokic, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, Jae Crowder. Since the 2012 draft, the previous players have been taken in the second round, well behind players who are less effective as NBA pros. The draft isn’t a crap shoot, but with a crush of 19-year-old freshmen leaving college every season (11 of the top prospects in 2017 are freshmen, five of the top eight were freshmen in 2016, 11 of the top 13 in 2015, six of the top seven in 2014), the sample size to scout these players against top competition in a competitive setting is small.

Against that backdrop, I’ve teamed up with a few friends (Bug, Hamilton, and Maahs) to create a Big Board of the top-20 prospects in this year’s draft and over the next four weeks, scout these players in a series of posts. I lay out the above premise, that projecting NBA prospects has become an exercise that runs 90-players deep, to show the depth to which the league goes now in finding productivity and value. In the 2016-17 season, 88 different players who saw time on an NBA court were classified as rookies. The number was 73 in ’16, 82 in ’15, 78 in ’14, 78 in ’13. The draft is just 60-picks so what we’re seeing is close to an entire round worth of new players coming into the league each season.

The introduction of G-League-to-NBA team affiliations is up to 22 for 2016-17 and will rise to 28 by 2019. Combine that with two-way contracts (creates two additional roster spots and adds both team and player benefits that allow G-League players to make more money while giving the team flexiblity in bringing a player up to the NBA team without having to commit to an NBA salary until after 45 days – stipulations apply) that were created with the latest CBA agreement and there are more domestic pro basketball opportunities available.

All of the above means that the 20-player big board we’ve put together below is not comprehensive. We’re four people, three of us have children, and we’re all gainfully employed. Effective scouting, even with the copious tools that Draft Express puts out, isn’t just about identifying talent. The combination of team and scheme, opportunity, chemistry, player commitment and discipline – it’s a complex equation with few, if any, guarantees. And even if a team lands on a player and tries to cultivate him through the G-League, there’s still no guarantee they’ll figure out how to best tap that player’s potential in their particular system. Hassan Whiteside and Seth Curry are examples of players who were both late NBA bloomers and squandered by NBA teams. Whiteside was drafted 33rd in 2010, found himself out of the league in 2013 and is arguably a top-five player from his draft class. Curry wasn’t even drafted and played on four teams before latching on in Dallas as a productive member of NBA society this past season.

Caveats and qualifications aside, at the aggregate level, there’s not much variation from Draft Express or The Ringer’s big boards. This isn’t to say there’s not individual deviation, but collectively that our views converge with status quo. As we get into deeper analysis over the next few weeks, we’ll go into more player-specific detail. And because a cap of 20 prospects is woefully inadequate, where time and life allow, we’ll explore deeper cuts like DJ Wilson, Jawun Evans, Semi Ojeleye, Kobi Simmons, Sindarius Thornwell, Monte Morris and others.

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