Dancing With Noah

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2018 NBA Draft Big Board | Players 13 – 18

This is the third installment of our 2018 NBA draft coverage where we focus on players ranked 13th to 18th on our Big Board. With the NCAA’s deadline for players to withdraw from the draft in order to keep college eligibility passing on Wednesday, May 30th, we saw just a few guys from our big board head back to school. Most notably was the less popular Porter brother, Jontay. Our big board put him at 18th overall with a high of 16 (me) and a low of 24 (Maahs). It’s fair to say that after the combine where Porter had the highest body fat percentage, the lowest max vertical (tied), and the slowest three-quarter court sprint, that NBA scouts and front offices had him lower than our lowest rank.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have tentative plans to update the big board; likely in the upcoming week and I think there’d be quite a bit of movement. My guy Kevin Huerter from Maryland (I ranked him 37th) has been a high riser as has Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo. Bug and Maahs are high on Mitchell Robinson and I’m still vacillating on my feelings on DeAndre Ayton which mostly boils down to effort and consistency. I even have trepidation about my number one overall player, Luka Doncic (mostly around his handle).

We’ll explore all of the above and maybe even get into the meaning of life as viewed through the NBA’s annual scouting and drafting in our next several posts. For now, we’ll focus on players 13 through 18 with an empty spot for the still-Missouri Tiger, young Jontay Porter.

 

All artwork done by Andrew Maahs, http://www.basemintdesign.com

Zhaire Smith (Hamilton):

Zhaire Smith’s unexpected rise could mean he’s either a late bloomer cut from the Russell Westbrook cloth, or, more simply an athletic standout whose skills won’t ever catch up. In his freshman year at Texas Tech he came out of nowhere both literally and figuratively. He was projected to play only 10-12 minutes per game but instead logged 28 on his way to 11 points and five rebounds with 58% eFG. This wasn’t your run of the mill Texas Tech team either. The clear number-two in the Big-12 ended up a three-seed and made it all the way to the Elite 8. Smith came out of nowhere literally by flying in for tip dunks and rebounds over bigger players. A 6’4” guard getting almost three offensive rebounds-per-game is impressive. He pops up around the ball a lot on both ends and plays hard. That effort combined with elite physical tools can carry a player a long way. Smith told the ESPN combine crew he played center in high school and didn’t shoot threes until his senior year. My fellow Iowan Ricky Davis had a similar career at Davenport North. He’s another NCAA/NBA wing with elite athletic gifts that didn’t get to adequately develop his perimeter skills in high school. Ricky transitioned quickly to the wing at Iowa, but I always had the feeling his development was a stunted a bit by playing out of position during formative years. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for battling big players and learning to play in the paint. That may be even more useful in the modern NBA with all the switching and defenders guarding pretty much everyone at one time or another. Jimmy Bulter and Jae Crowder both played a lot of center at Marquette and have turned into two of the toughest and physical perimeter defenders in the NBA. Smith’s rebounding ability and instincts around the hoop show he picked up some things that may help him at the next level. A few of his weaker performances came against tough college defenses like Villanova (seven points, 3-8 shooting) and West Virginia (four points 1-4; nine pts 3-7). He’ll need to improve his ball handling, passing, and most of all shooting from outside to come close to the ceiling his athleticism has set for him. At this point he is just figuring out what do to with his powers and looks like a player teams picking between 10 and 15 will be afraid to take and afraid to pass up too.

Robert Williams (Hamilton):

Robert Williams has the physical profile of a contemporary NBA center. He’s a quick leaping big(ish) player who runs well and has great balance. He plays kind of like a smaller DeAndre Jordan but moves like Rudy Gay. He lacks the handle or shooting to be a wing player in the NBA, however. But there’s a nice career path for true small ball center offering legit rim protection. He tries to dunk everything around the hoop and many of his shots come in the paint and go up quickly via dishes, lobs, and rim runs in transition.  He attempted an underwhelming 70 free throws in 30 games, only attempting more than five in four games. This could be due to how and where he operates but could also be a concerted effort on his part to not get himself to the line. I’d probably try to stay off the line if I shot 47% too. Defensively, he works himself into nice positions for blocks, often coming over from the weak side. For how well he moves around in tight space he probably should have rebounded better in his second season at Texas A&M. 9.2 is good but it just looks like he should be getting more. That sort of thing is the knock on him – he’s not consistent and leaves you wanting more. There were two significant stretches, one at each end of the season, during which he failed to get double digit points. It doesn’t seem that he lacks an NBA motor; instead he just doesn’t keep it in a high enough gear consistently. For reasons like this he’s just a little too feast or famine to be worth taking early. The fit matters even more for players like him whose engagement and effort are fleeting. Landing on a team with good culture that genuinely cares about player development is going to be key for Williams to get off to a positive start and could determine how long and how successful his pro career turns out to be.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Bug):

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a rare blend of height and length for a point guard at 6’6” with a huge seven-foot wingspan. Gilgeous-Alexander uses his wiry 180-pound frame to slither to the rim, finishing well with either hand. Despite his slender build, he’s a solid finisher in traffic and doesn’t get bumped off his spots very often. He shot a very respectable 40% from 3, but only took 57 attempts, so the sample size is small. Shooting 40% from deep at least shows he can be a threat from that distance. On the defensive end, he uses those long arms to bait opponents to throw passes that are well within his reach. That length also causes a lot of disruption for smaller point guards getting into the offense. The most noticeable flaw in his game is his lack of burst and explosiveness. He plays with a slow pace, and for someone with his length, he doesn’t seem to finish above the rim very often. Gilgeous-Alexander will need to add strength at the next level as well, but that is typically the case for most freshmen jumping to the pros, so it isn’t a huge concern. He seems destined for the late lottery where the point guard-needy Clippers have two picks at 12 and 13. He would be a good fit with undersized shooting guard Lou Williams to build a new core in Clipperland.

Lonnie Walker IV (Fenrich):

I’m uncertain why I’m somewhat enamored with Lonnie Walker IV, but since I saw him donning the orange and green of the Miami Hurricanes, I’ve been fond of him. He’s just under 6’5”, but sports a “pineapple” hairstyle which he describes as “its own person this point…people have been calling it a pineapple” that pushes his peak height up around seven feet. Imagine this kid, 6’4” or 6’5”, pineapple do’ bouncing atop his head, arms stretching out like a bald eagle (over 6’10” wingspan), sprinting, reading the arc of the ball, crouching and coiling in mid-step, and ba ba ba BOOM exploding into tip dunk motion with those long arms reaching and powerful legs propelling (40” max vertical) him into the rim. This is just part of Lonnie Walker allure. I’m not too big on coachspeak, but his Miami coach, Jim Larranaga, described him on a broadcast that he, “might be the nicest person I’ve ever coached.” Watching his NBA combine interview, I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying he’s the “nicest,” but that’s not really the purpose of the interview. He’s not quite Mo Bamba polished, but he was engaging and thoughtful, referring to himself as a “knowledge freak” and oddly suggesting “earth is an illusion.” A questionable statement, but not one that takes away from a jumper that looked good at Miami (31% from three on 3.5 attempts/game in his first 15 games at Miami coming off of a meniscus tear suffered in July versus 36% on 6.5 attempts in his final 17 games), but looked great at his agency’s pro day in late May. In the limited, non-competitive setting of the pro day, Walker’s form was refined and his range easily extended to NBA distance. But I’m not convinced what type of player he’ll be at the pro level. His handle was sufficient for the college, but he seems to struggle to shift speeds on dribble drives. His passing (1.2 assists to 1.2 turnovers in first 15 games versus 2.5 assists to 1.1 turnovers in his second) is similar to his ball handling in that it was fine for Miami where they had two other competent ball handlers, but will need work to be a secondary NBA ball handler. Physically, the foundation is there for a strong pro, but it’s the outside shot that already looks to be NBA-ready that lifts his ceiling so much higher. I put his ceiling comparison as Bradley Beal, but I’m not convinced Walker has the same instincts as a scorer. In high school, he averaged just 18-points as a senior and during his best stretch at Miami (an eight-game swing in the winter), he averaged 18 which was better than his 11.5 during the season, but still not indicative of high level scoring. I was probably over-ambitious in seeing Beal or even Eric Gordon (his mid-level comp) in his game, but given the league’s shift towards the three-ball, it’s not inconceivable that Walker is a better scorer in the pros than he was in either high school or college. That he’s engaging and appears willing to work at his craft only increase the likelihood that he can near his potential and are probably part of the attraction to the kid with the pineapple hair.

Troy Brown (Bug):

Troy Brown Jr. didn’t dominate the competition his freshman year like some of his colleagues near the top of the draft, but he still put in a solid campaign at Oregon with averages of 11 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Prior to his time with the Ducks, Brown had a decorated amateur career that earned him a spot on the 2017 McDonald’s All-American squad. He’s one of the few players in this draft with the size of a small forward that can also run point for his team if needed. Standing just under 6’7” with a 6’11” wingspan, Brown was blessed with a late growth spurt in high school after playing point guard his entire life. That’s a huge advantage from a fundamental/basketball IQ standpoint, and you can tell that he has a great feel for the game on both ends of the floor. Some of the passes he finds his teammates with while he is attacking off the dribble are reminiscent of LeBron’s precise skip passes to wide open shooters. I’m not comparing Troy Brown Jr. to LeBron James, but he has an awareness of where all his teammates are on the floor that is similar to King James. The only glaring weakness Brown has is his outside shot, where he struggled at just 29% from three on 110 attempts. That lack of a consistent outside shot reminds me a lot of Evan Turner when he was coming out of Ohio State.  Brown is expected to go somewhere in the 12-20 range in the draft, and still has a ton of untapped potential as one of the youngest players in this class (turns 19 in July). His NBA development is going to hinge on that outside shot progressing. He still has a high floor as a solid rotational player, with the chance to become a solid starter if the three-point attempts fall at a higher rate.

This spot will remain empty for 2018 and hopefully be filled by its rightful owner in 2019, Jontay Porter, an American teenager who strangely plays like a seasoned European and absolutely nothing like his older, and more highly-touted brother, Michael Porter.

2018 NBA Draft Big Board | Players 19 – 24

Welcome back to the second installment of the 2018 Dancing with Noah NBA draft big board where we’ll dive into players 19 through 24: Aaron Holiday, Khyri Thomas, Mitchell Robinson, De’Anthony Melton, Anfernee Simons, and Melvin Frazier. There’s a weird glut of tough defensive guys (Thomas, Holiday in a way, Frazier though I’m suspicious of his shooting, Melton who’s more like a non-scoring young Dwyane Wade) and mysterious kids in Simons and Robinson who didn’t play college ball this past season. As a group of scouts (I use that extremely loosely), we had the greatest variation on Melton who had a standard deviation of 6.3 and the least on Simons at 2.3. In some ways, the lack of footage and up-to-date scouting makes it more difficult to develop strong perspectives on Robinson and Simons who both look like world beaters in their YouTube clips. The college guys, by contrast, have reams of tape which leave them vulnerable to having their weaknesses picked at until a narrative feedback loop develops. Try as we might to avoid these feedback loops, the truth is that they likely infiltrate in ways we’re not even aware.

Enough of our foibles, let’s get on with the future:

All artwork by Andrew Maahs; http://www.basemintdesign.com

Hamilton: Aaron Holiday put up consistently solid numbers in his three years at UCLA proving himself a reliable shooter and scorer. He made over 40% of his threes in each season and wasn’t afraid to put them up there. He had an interesting tenure in Westwood, starting all 32 games as a freshman, then zero as a sophomore (behind Lonzo), and then all 33 his junior year. That’s a unique career arc and one that a lot of college players don’t follow. Holiday could have left the program when Lonzo and Big Baller Brand came in, but he stayed and proved he could still produce off the bench. Getting back into the starting lineup in his junior season helped propel him to the first 20ppg season at UCLA since Ed O’Bannon in 1995. He has a pro pedigree and a quick shot with plenty of range. He doesn’t elevate much on his threes but releases shots quickly – like a slightly smoother-looking Eric Gordon.  He plays sort of like his older brother, Jrue, but he’s much smaller. And that’s probably going to be most limiting factor for Aaron Holiday. He’s only 6’1” and 185 pounds. On offense, he makes up for this with a good hesitation move and the ability to split defenders and knife through tight spaces with his dribble. He navigates pick and rolls situations pretty well and is comfortable pulling up from well beyond 22-feet. Defensively is where he could be in real trouble as teams go after players with physical limitations and hunt for switches. He’s likely a backup PG for the foreseeable future, and more likely, for his entire career. His sophomore year at UCLA provides evidence he’s comfortable in that role.

 

Bug: From the moment Khyri Thomas stepped on campus at Creighton, he was already a problem for opposing teams on the defensive end. Tazz, as he is affectionately known by friends and family, is the reigning two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year and one of the premier perimeter defenders in this draft class. He’s a bit undersized for an NBA two-guard at 6’3”, but he more than makes up for his height with a 6’10” wingspan that will allow him to contest shots against bigger guards in the league. Although he doesn’t have the high steal numbers that you would expect from a DPOY, he plays a lockdown style of defense without gambling for steals and putting his teammates in a bad spot. Tazz is capable of guarding both backcourt positions and may be able to matchup with some small forwards in small ball lineups. His defensive accolades are well known, but it’s his steady improvement on the offensive side that has NBA circles buzzing. Khyri jumped his scoring up to 15ppg his junior season on only ten attempts-per-contest, while also shooting a 41% clip from three on 4.6 attempts-per-game (40% career from deep). Much like on the defensive end, Thomas is poised and smooth on offense, taking what the defense gives him. From a style of play and size standpoint, he compares favorably to Avery Bradley.  He’s going to give everything he has on defense, while also being capable of knocking down the open shot or getting to the rim and finishing if he’s run off the three-point line. The thing impacting Khyri’s draft slot the most is his age. Already 22, Thomas spent a year in prep school before his three seasons at Creighton, making him the age of a college senior. That will raise questions about his ceiling, but he’s somewhat of a late bloomer who still has some room to grow. Creighton coach Greg McDermott refers to him as a “zero maintenance player” and overall, he’s one of the safest players in this draft. He’s ready to play immediately as a 3-and-D wing and has the potential to work his way into a starting role down the road if he finds the right fit on the right team. I’m projecting Thomas will go in the 20s, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a team falls in love with him in the late teens.

 

Bug: Almost every college basketball recruiting site in the country had Mitchell Robinson pegged as a five-star, top-10 recruit in the spring of 2017. Everything was going great for Robinson, who not only destroyed overmatched high school competition (25.7 points, 12.6 rebounds, and six blocked shots per contest), but he also shredded the Nike EYBL circuit as well. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported that Mitchell Robinson had the highest Nike EYBL player efficiency ranking (40.5) in the history of their database. Robinson was being mentioned in the same breath as Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley, and Deandre Ayton as future NBA lottery picks, as well as being selected as a 2017 McDonald’s All-American. Everything took a turn when Robinson reported to campus at Western Kentucky the summer before his freshman year of college. Former UNC star Shammond Williams, who is also Robinson’s godfather, resigned from the Western Kentucky staff. Coach Williams was probably the sole reason Robinson went to WKU, so there was immediate tension that eventually led to Robinson asking for and being granted his release to transfer. Robinson decided to return to Western Kentucky, only to abandon his team a second time shortly after. Although Robinson has immense talent and potential, the way he handled the situation at WKU has really put a rain cloud over his draft stock and raised maturity concerns. Just when NBA execs thought they were going to get a look at how hard Robinson had been working while sitting out the entire season, he threw everyone another curveball by withdrawing from all NBA Combine activities the day the combine started. One thing NBA scouts do not like when investing millions of dollars into a player is flying blind on their evaluation. I’m assuming Robinson will hold his own private pro day, but the red flags have already been planted.

That said, I’ve had to resort to pouring over every YouTube highlight reel I could find to get a good read on Robinson’s game. After a few clips, it’s easy to see why college coaches and NBA scouts were salivating over him only a year ago. There are two things that really stand out as elite talents that Robinson possesses: 1) he can finish with authority on everything around the rim, and 2) he is an elite shot blocker. Robinson’s dunk and block radius around the rim are insane. Mo Bamba and Jaren Jackson are ranked at the top of the draft based on their defensive prowess, but this kid might be better than both of them on the defensive end. We see him step out and hit the occasional three, but that isn’t going to be his thing in the NBA. Robinson appears to be extremely raw when it comes to post moves and footwork, but there’s a role for him in today’s NBA as a defensive-minded rim-runner in the mold of Clint Capela or DeAndre Jordan. The dilemma for NBA execs is whether or not the talent outweighs the red flags. Robinson has the talent to be a lottery pick, but you can’t help but question whether he is playing the game because he is good at basketball or because he loves the game. I think there will be a team in the late lottery or just outside the lottery that is willing to take that gamble.

 

Hamilton: Good players normally develop a lot between freshman and sophomore years. So De’Anthony Melton’s draft stock might very well be higher if he had played for USC this season. Unfortunately, Melton missed his potential breakout year after his name came up in the FBI’s investigation into NCAA basketball. The offensive numbers in his freshman year were average. Indeed, 28% from three and 70% FT is nothing to write home about. Eight-ppg is pedestrian too. It’s reasonable those numbers would have been better this year. How much better, we’ll never know. What you know for sure watching Melton is that he is all over the court and puts an imprint on games. On defense, he reads and reacts quickly as the ball moves getting his hands all over passes, loose balls, and rebounds.  A 6’3”ish player getting seven rebounds and 2.8 steals per-40-minutes isn’t messing around. College players tend to gamble on defense and Melton isn’t an exception. But he is instinctual in his gambles and quick enough to recover when he guesses wrong. He loves to push the ball on steals or rebounds, and keeps his head and eyes up looking to attack the basket or pass ahead. He has good feet and balance which helps him attack on both ends. His shot itself doesn’t look bad and if he can become an average three-point shooter and better than 75% from FT, there’s a path to becoming a top guard in this class. Markelle Fultz had a disappointing rookie year, but during his lone NCAA season when he proved himself to be the top pick, Melton got 16 points, six rebounds, six assists, and six steals in a head-to-head matchup. If he can’t realize his full potential, some team picking in the mid-late first round is going to get good value and be really happy about it.

 

Fenrich: Anfernee Simons of the great state of Florida, home of the mighty Seminole and infamous stand your ground laws, will turn 19 in a couple weeks and he’ll be drafted into the NBA in about a month. He’s a 6’3” two-guard and pretty much every clip I’ve seen of him is scoring-related: he’s shooting deep threes with his feet wide apart, pulling up for jumpers off the dribble with a comfort and calm that makes you forget he can legally buy cigarettes, but not wine coolers. He dunks with ease off two feet or one foot, capable of gathering and going straight up through the rim which was supported by his 32” standing vertical and 41.5” max vertical at the Chicago combine. His handle is summer breeze cool even if he’s been a little right-hand heavy. At almost-19, he looks like a professional scorer, but he still looks 19 with a soft babyish face, high cheekbones, and a lean frame. The knock on Simons, and you don’t see this in his high school clips, is that he’s lacking strength and you can see it on that still-developing body. I’m a little less-concerned about his strength and probably more about his tweener size and the lack of playmaking I’ve seen from him. Simons spent the 2017-18 season at IMG Academy where he trained as a prep year without actually playing for the IMG team. This blind spot of an entire, development-heavy age-18 season is a big one. If and how he’s been able to develop any playmaking skills as an undersized off guard is going to impact his ability to see the court as a young player. Measurement-wise, he’s like a leaner Victor Oladipo or a shorter, more explosive D’Angelo Russell, but I don’t get the sense he has the playmaking skill of either of those guys which isn’t to say it can’t be developed. Oladipo’s made strides in his creation, so it can definitely be done. Malik Monk comes to mind as an undersized scoring guard who compares well, at least physically, to Simons though Simons has a bit more Brandon Roy whereas Monk had a bit more Monta Ellis or Kevin Johnson punch to his game. With his still-developing physique and youthful face, it seems like it’s easy to forget that Simons is in the same peer set age-wise as DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, and Wendell Carter. What he’s lacking in stature though, he accounts for in skill and it’s not like he’s a Kyle Anderson-level athlete – his vertical is 41.5”! There’s a player here with a mega upside; one that only intensifies if he realizes the finer arts of defense and playmaking. Patience, as is often the case with our precocious savants (there I go again painting him as younger than he is), is the key and his landing spot is critical to his evolution and success.

 

It feels a little dehumanizing to refer to athletes as “freaks,” but in basketball parlance, Melvin Frazier is a freak. He’s a Jordanesque 6’6,” but has the wings of a predatory creature of flight at nearly 7’2”. At the combine, he registered a max vertical over 40”. Defense is Frazier’s meal ticket as his offense has been a work-in-progress since Tulane hired former NBA player and coach and the father of Mike Dunleavy Jr, Mike Dunleavy Sr, before Frazier’s sophomore season. Guarding the ball, he covers a ton of ground with his defensive slides and strong lateral movement. Even if his opponent is able to get a step, he’s long and quick enough with enough explosiveness to recover and at least harass the opposition. He reminds me a bit of Andre Iguodala in that he often keeps his hands down while playing defense. With the arms down, Frazier is frequently out of position on box outs. In Frazier’s case, this feels like a bad habit he’s been able to get away with in the American Athletic Conference. Despite his defensive impact (2.2 steals and nearly a block-per-game as a junior), he seems prone to defensive lapses. In limited tape I reviewed, he was beat off the dribble by a lesser attacker, gave up on a play after making an initial stop, and was beat backdoor because he wasn’t paying full attention. Multiple times he broke on a pass like he was playing defensive back, only to mistime the ball and leave his team at a disadvantage. Maybe more disconcerting, for me at least, was his critiquing a teammate on a miscommunication a switch. It’s minor, but his body language sometimes leaves a little to be desired (slumped shoulders and the teammate critique).

So how is a player with all these little defensive warts and an offensive game that, while showing flashes of feel (particularly on his court vision), has a long way to go being considered as a first round talent? His measurements, reflexes, and defensive instincts are pro level. With just a little discretion and accountability on the defensive side, Frazier could give quality minutes to an NBA team today. His shooting has significantly improved each year at Tulane with his true shooting going from 47% to 53% to 63% as a junior. This is all well and good, but the mechanics, both on his catch and shoot, and even more so on his pull up jumper, have a ways to go. Given that he has just 91 three-point attempts at the 38% clip versus 169 attempts (soph and frosh) as a 27% shooter, I’m not convinced that he’s fully turned the corner as a shooter, particularly as the range extends in the NBA. My issues with Frazier are primarily things you can teach: defensive habits, jump shot mechanics, interpersonal communication. The things you can’t teach like length and athleticism are already prevalent. If Frazier is willing to work and learn, he has the tools to be a long-time NBA player. But for every Kelly Oubre or Josh Howard (players who have comparable measurements to Frazier), there’s a lot more of the Lenny Cooke, Adonis Thomas, or Renaldo Balkmans; players who had the tools, but not the wherewithal to use them to the best of their ability.

2018 NBA Draft Big Board | Players 24 – 30

The 2018 Big Board (as of 5/14/18) can be found here. We posted it pre-combine, so there’s no doubt outcomes (like Keita Bates-Diop‘s length or Donte DiVincenzo‘s athleticism) that will impact our big board. That said, we’re committed to writing player profiles on the top-30 guys from the initial board. This is the first of those posts, focusing on players ranked 24th to 30th.

 

All artwork by Andrew Maahs, http://www.basemintdesign.com

Hamilton: Keita Bates-Diop was the 2018 Big 10 Player of the Year but was nowhere near the conference’s best player. He was essentially the best player on an Ohio State that exceeded most expectations. He can shoot with range and in college was able to post up and get by people on the drive. The post game and dribble drive may not translate to NBA as they’re pretty basic involving few actual moves. Instead he oftentimes ends up going through a defender’s chest or over the top of his head. The NBA is obviously populated with big, strong guys who can also move their feet. It will likely be a few years, if ever, before KBD’s skills in these areas make him much of a threat. That said, if he can get the right switches, the physicality is there to score on smaller players. He looks like a pick-and-pop shooter with the range on his shot which could help him get onto the floor early in his career. And while he’s not exactly tall he did measure 1.5” taller at the combine (6’8.5”) than he was listed at Ohio State and has wingspan of 7’3”. The length coupled with solid effort and intelligence could be his meal ticket. At this point he projects as 2nd unit/small-ball forward/center that can stretch the floor. Not super exciting, but a lot of teams need this player type. The skills he does have come at a premium in positionless NBA and that’s why I ranked him higher on my Big Board than my fellow draft heads at Dancing with Noah. After his favorable combine measurements, a few good workouts could have him move out of the 20s and into the post-lottery teens.

 

Bug: It’s always hard to get a good read on young European players in comparison to the guys we get to see in the NCAA numerous times before entering the draft. Whether it be competition level or the Euro style of play, the stats and video clips can be deceiving. One thing when you watch Dzanan Musa play is that this guy has brass balls on the court. Musa is equipped with a lightning-quick release and range well beyond the three-point line. He also has a nice handle for a 6’9” wing, and changes speeds well to free himself up for shots. The Bosnian product seems to carry himself with a Westbrook-like confidence as if he believes he is the best player on the court at all times. Musa only shot 32% from three this past season, which is a red flag for a player with such an exciting highlight reel of deep balls. That means there were a lot of bricks that came along with the exciting highlights. Musa will need to continue to expand his dribble drive game and get stronger as NBA defenders will look to run him off the line and make him put the ball on the floor. He won’t have the free reign to have the ball at all times and shoot whenever he wants in the NBA, so he’ll have to become more efficient to see the floor. A lack of strength on his 195-pound frame will also make him a defensive liability in his early years. The team that drafts him will need to be patient with his adjustment in that aspect. Musa is one of the youngest players in the draft, just turning 19 years old in May, so he has a lot of room to grow, both in terms of physical size and skill. Dzanan is shaping up to be a mid-to-late first round pick which will help him learn from some veterans on an established team. I believe he’s probably two-to-three years away from contributing, but looks like a strong prospect to take a chance on in the 20-30 range.

 

Bug: Most draft pundits have the reigning College Player of the Year ranked as a late first, early second round pick in this year’s draft. On our initial big board, I had Jalen Brunson ranked 15 spots higher than anyone else in our crew at 14th overall. The combination of a weak point guard class and the positional importance of having a quality starting and backup point guard in today’s NBA boost Brunson’s value. The draft is loaded with average wings this year, so I ranked Bruson higher based on the supply and demand of quality point guards. There are some obvious physical limitations to his game. He’s a below-the-rim player that doesn’t overwhelm opponents with athletic dominance or size. Brunson may find it to be tough sledding at times on both ends against top-level point guards, but you can say the same about every point guard in this year’s class. Despite those limitations, he’s always found a way to overcome and win games. Dating back to his senior year in high school, Brunson has won three titles in his last four years of competitive basketball, compiling a 133-16 record in that span. Winning is definitely a skill when assessing point guards.  In addition to winning big at each level he has played, he grew up around the NBA as the son of former NBA player Rick Brunson. Having a father that played in the NBA teach you the game is a huge advantage coming up in your developmental years. Brunson has a nice handle, and always plays within himself on the court. He knows exactly what his strengths are and doesn’t try to do more than he is capable of doing. He has a sturdy 6’2”, 200-lb frame, a high basketball IQ, and uses his body well to play the angles to get to his spots. The Villanova product also sports a smooth lefty stroke from deep at a 40% clip on more than 200 attempts. Brunson is somewhat of a throwback that gets compared to Mark Jackson quite a bit due to his highly advanced post game (for a PG), but he doesn’t have the elite vision of Jackson as a playmaker. There were many Villanova games this past season where Brunson was the best post player on the floor for either team, but there won’t be many nights in the NBA where he’s going to have the size or strength to utilize that skill very often. On the defensive end, Brunson has a Chris Paul-like competitiveness to him. He plays physical defense and is somewhat of a pest. I believe Brunson ends up being a steal if he goes where he is slotted late in the first round. He’ll most likely settle in as a high-end backup/fringe starting point guard that ends up having a lengthy pro career. The flashy highlights and freakish combine measurables are great, but wins are what keeps coaches and GMs from getting fired.

 

Fenrich: Jacob Evans’s Cincinnati team ranked 323rd in the NCAA in pace this past season and he was the team’s leading scorer and top in assists at 13-points and just over three assists. He shot 47% on twos and 37% on 4.5 threes-per-game. His tape shows a player with good burst and a solid build (6’5.5”, 199lbs) who looks stronger than his 199 pounds. Offensively, he’s more comfortable stepping into a catch and shoot than he is pulling up off the dribble. Like most of his offense, his handle is competent; his vision is decent. He was likely asked to do a bit too much playmaking for the Bearcats as he averaged nearly two turnovers to every three assists and didn’t always look comfortable in the role of creator. Defensively is where he pops out. In the clips and games I watched, he seemed to drift into a free safety type role at times; reading the floor and making calculated risks. Against Wichita State, he preyed on weak ball handlers. If the handle wasn’t strong, Evans dialed up the intensity which is the kind of cut throat approach the NBA excels at (Houston relentlessly targeting Steph Curry’s defense is a good example). With his strength, he was able to hold his ground against a bigger, beefier post player and perfectly time his jump hook for an easy block. These were isolated scenarios, but serve as good examples of his defensive range and mindset. On the ball, he gets his butt low and slides his feet well laterally. Whether he picked up these habits in Cincinnati or before, it’s clear he’s committed on the defensive end. The liberties he took on defense seem like they could be a blessing and a curse. At times, he would wander defensively and if his read was off, he’d be out of position. He’s good enough athletically to recover more often than not, but it will be interesting to see how his defense develops playing in a much faster NBA game. Equally interesting will be his offensive adjustment as he’ll go from a team that averaged less than 70 possessions-per-game to a league that averages 97 possessions-per-game.

 

Fenrich: I see all kinds of NBAers in Milton’s unhurried, pendulous movements. He has shades of Dejounte Murray’s length and floater. His handle and lithe collegiate frame call to mind a less pizzazzy Jamal Crawford. With his height (6’5.5”) and ability to see and make the pass (4.4 assists), I think of Jalen Rose. And the son of the “Milk Man” is probably a better shooter than all of them – he definitely was in college. His 43% from three on 445 attempts is an excellent number and his range extends to the NBA distance. He shoots it from deep with a form that remains consistent. In the clips I’ve watched, SMU ran multiple pick-and-rolls and he regularly saw the roll man and executed the pass. Skill-wise, he appears to be NBA ready. Athletically, he falls short. Watching his tape, it’s clear there’s a lack of explosiveness off the dribble. It doesn’t prevent him from getting into the paint as the combination of his handle and ability to use the jumper to set up the drive are enough to beat defenders, but at the next level, this will be more difficult. His max vertical at the combine (33”) landed him in the bottom 25th percentile of participants. Defensively, I didn’t see as much of Milton. The little I did see showed a player more prone to bending at the waist instead of the knees. For a player lacking athleticism, his defensive technique needs to improve. Rose and Crawford are perfect examples of good, but not great athletes who leveraged their high skill levels and unique physical compositions into lengthy and successful NBA careers. Kyle Anderson comes to mind as someone who, while possessing an exceptional feel for the game, has struggled due to lackluster athleticism. It’s a broad range from Rose to Anderson, but somewhere in there is likely where Milton’s NBA destiny lies.

 

All artwork by Andrew Maahs, http://www.basemintdesign.com

Hamilton: Chandler Hutchison looks all the part of today’s NBA wing. He’s 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan that helps him appear bigger at times, as evident when he’s tipping or pulling down one of his 7.7 defensive rebounds per game. Some of those rebounds come from a high effort level that also led to 1.6 steals per 40 minutes over his four years at Boise State. The steal stats themselves could be a bit misleading as a real measure of his defense as he does appear to get lost pretty easily while off the ball. At times he makes indecisive or incorrect reads and rotations. But he has a real skill for staying with plays that can be matched with good NBA coaching to turn him into a plus defender. On offense he’s decisive and moves the ball quickly either with the pass, or more likely, on the dribble. It’s probably not fair to label it “iso ball” because he’s so deliberate on the attack that his teammates don’t end up standing and watching too much. His handle has a nice little hesitation to it that could suit him well running pick and roll. Hutchison pulled out of the combine on May 16 prompting many to assume he was offered a draft guarantee from a team. While it’s unlikely a lottery team would reach for Hutchison, several teams selecting in the 20s could be good fits for him. Playoff teams like Indiana at 23, Portland at 24 or Philly at 26 could all use an effort/energy wing who is physically mature and used to making plays.

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 16-20

The fifth and final installment of our 2017 draft coverage. Man, the deeper you go, the more difficult it is to see consistency in these players. It becomes an exercise in possibility and potential which is kind of funny given that most of the top-players in this year’s draft are fresh 19-year-olds with a single season of college basketball under their belts. Attempting to go even semi-deep on scouting some of these mid-range first founders is an eternal balance between flaws (John Collins’s defense), health (Harry Giles’s knees), and upside (Jarrett Allen’s physical gifts). It’s difficult to project with any confidence who will develop and who will stagnate, but that’s what we’ve attempted to do here, just know that we’re fully aware our success rates will likely dwindle into nothingness and that we’ll look back at our player comparisons three seasons from now like “WTF were we thinking?”

Special thanks to my fellow writers, Bug and Hamilton and our awesome designer, Maahs. Additional thanks to Draft Express, The Ringer, Dunc’d On podcast (Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux) and Basketball Reference. Tons of great resources out there that were critical to us being able to put these scouting reports into existence.

With all that said, let’s get into player’s 16-20 on the 2017 Dancing with Noah Big Board.

Hamilton: By some measures, John Collins looks like he belongs near the top of this draft class. He averaged nearly 29 points and 15 rebounds per-40 minutes and had the top PER in college basketball. He gets a lot of those buckets in the paint using an array of quick half hooks and little push shots that remind me of Antawn Jamison. He really uses lower body well to seal for position on post catches, rolls hard and is a good leaper off two feet when he has time to load up his jump. If Collins has any NBA skills that get him on the floor soon it will be his effort on offense, along with his rebounding. Collins’ catch-and-shoot game from 19-feet is solid for a college big. The form on his shot looks smooth enough to develop into a reliable jumper. His willingness to roll hard and fight for rebounds coupled with that shooting give him a chance to become a serviceable offensive player. He hits the glass hard on both ends, as evident in per-40-mpg rebound number. He seems to have a good second jump when battling in traffic for rebounds and tips a lot of balls to keep them alive. Tristan Thompson has made a ton of money with this as a key skill … That’s some of the good stuff.

The not-so-good is mostly on the defensive end. Collins has just OK size for a five-man even in today’s NBA. He doesn’t have enough awareness to guard many fours, frequently getting caught helping uphill against dribblers. He gets lost too often even against basic movement. These things suggest a steep learning curve against pick-and-roll in the NBA. For how physical he is on the glass he doesn’t seem nearly as comfortable with contact while guarding. Oddly (to me at least) is how much better his footwork is offensively compared to his defensive footwork. And therein lies my concern for his career (at least early). He’s likely to be drafted late lottery or by a so-so playoff team. Those teams are more likely to have shorter leashes with guys who get killed on defense (looking at you James Young) than teams picking in the top-5-10. There’s definitely a path to a long productive career for Collins, but we may see very little of him over the next two-to-three years.

Bug: This isn’t Justin Jackson’s first rodeo with the draft process. After his sophomore season, Jackson threw his name in the hat for the 2016 draft without hiring an agent. However, he was not met with the love from the scouts that he was hoping for last year. Jackson saw the writing on the wall, and pulled his name out to head back to school to put in some more work on his game.

Fast forward to 2017: coming off a national title run with North Carolina, Jackson is now getting the positive feedback he was looking for last year. It’s a great success story for him, but there both positives and negatives to his initial failed draft experience. The obvious pros for the UNC product returning to school are that he played his way into a potential lottery slot, won a national championship, and fixed some of the weaknesses in his game (outside shooting jumped from 29% to 37%). That improvement also shows scouts that he is willing to put in the work necessary to succeed at the highest level of basketball in the world. The downside to coming back for another year is that he is now one of the oldest prospects in the draft and loses a lot of his upside appeal. How much more room does he have before he hits his ceiling?

Based on his size and skill set (6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan), I think he projects as a solid “3 and D” guy in the NBA. Guys like Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley come to mind as comparisons, and they have never had a problem finding a team or a spot in the rotation. As long as he keeps improving his jumper and shot selection, while also keeping the same intensity on defense that he brought his junior season at UNC, he should have no problem sticking in the NBA. Jackson may never become an all-star player, but he should have a long, productive career as a solid contributor and possible starter down the road.

Fenrich: Harry Giles of Winston-Salem, North Carolina just turned 19 a couple months ago and yet his basketball career has already been beset by multiple semi-catastrophic knee injuries. In 2013, Giles tore the ACL, MCL, and meniscus in his left knee. In 2015, he tore his right ACL. Oy!

Recovery for the second ACL bled over to his freshman season at Duke where he averaged under four-points-per-game and nearly eight-fouls-per-40 minutes. Reading and writing that made my head hurt.

But what didn’t make my head hurt was watching Giles’s highlight tape. He has decent height (6’11”) and length (7’3” wingspan) that are bolstered by fluid athleticism. He runs the floor well without any obvious hitches from his knee injuries. The length and athleticism are further bolstered by what appears to be a solid motor. He understands team defense and doesn’t mind mixing it up on the boards or the defensive end. And where we often opt for the cool, unbiased certainty of stats and measures, seeing a guy give a crap and play hard still counts for something.

He doesn’t seem quite ready to be a contributor on the offensive side. Like a lot of players his position and age, he seems like he’d be wise to watch tape of Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan and learn the timing of how and when to roll on the pick-and-roll.

Given that he appeared in just 300 minutes at Duke and has these two knee injuries, it’s challenging to see what he’s truly capable of. In those minutes, he took no threes and shot just 50% from the line on less than an attempt each game. It’s not that his offense is raw, but rather it might just longing for some TLC. I know that’s weird, but there’s a skillset here that’s better than the four-points-per game he showed at Duke.

Maybe it’s just that he plays hard and doesn’t mind doing the dirty work, but I’m a fan of Giles. I have no idea if he can pass or handle the ball or stay out of foul trouble, but agile big men who can switch on the perimeter and don’t mind banging still have a place in the NBA and that means Giles has a home waiting for him in the best basketball league in the world.

Fenrich: The mustache, the little fro, the headband. Jarrett Allen looks like someone straight out of the ABA and for a 19-year-old, he has a mustache that can make grown men envious – at least those longing for mustachioed excellence. Allen is also longer and a better leaper than Giles (his age and positional peer).

And yet, where I find myself excited and hopeful for Giles, I’m unenthused about Allen.

With his length and hops, he can dunk without fear of reprisal. He’s capable of being a plus-rebounder and shot blocker because he’s just so damn long. There’s even a little mid-range set shot that makes me think of Marcus Camby and in his lone season at Texas, he flashed the ability to read double teams.

But there’s a general aversion to mixing it up. In the tape I watched on Allen, he played with finesse (except when he was dunking in someone’s face) and seemed unwilling to bang with opponents. He doesn’t have to be compared to Giles, but where the Duke product went balls to the wall, Allen’s motor is a question mark to me. He’s listed at 235-pounds, but looks just as lean as Giles and without that wiry-type functional strength. It may be there, but he just hasn’t figured out how to leverage it with consistency.

What I worry about with some prospects is that they’re able to get by on talent alone and when faced with equal or better competition, they don’t have the motor or desire to dial up their intensity to match the opponent. Is this the case with Allen or were my expectations just unfair due to his throwback look? Who knows? Is he Trey Lyles or PJ Brown?

Fenrich: If we redid the big board, I think Rabb would likely fall further than anyone else. This kind of bums me out because I followed him over his two seasons at Cal liked what I saw of him around the basket. He’s a plus-rebounder with a good nose for the ball. Like seemingly every other big man in this draft, he’s got NBA height and length, but he’s somewhat limited in how he uses it.

What jumped out to me as a red flag was the decline in his shooting from his freshman to sophomore season where his true shooting dropped from 63% to 54% despite shooting a decent 40% on 8-20 from deep.

As his current skill set is constituted, he doesn’t project as having NBA-level scoring ability. Per The Ringer, he was a below average shooter from nearly every spot on the floor. He likes to play in the post, but at a not-too-strong 220-pounds, he doesn’t have the strength to bang and besides, he’s just not that efficient. Per Draft Express, he shot “a mediocre … 0.75 points per possession” in the post.

He’s a kid who’s willing to work which is best exemplified by his effort on the glass. But the weaknesses are too many and the skill too low to project out as an NBA starter. In a best-case scenario, he’d develop some type of mid-range game-to-three point game, guard fours and fives and mix in some small ball lineups. Absent that, he’s a less athletic Ed Davis or Thomas Robinson.

 

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.

NBA Draft Big Board | Players 6-10

All art designed and created by Andrew Maahs twitter.com/BaseMintDesign

This is the third post in our 2017 NBA draft coverage. The previous two posts can be found here: Big Board, Players 1-5 deep dive. While there continues to be some consensus here (we’re all skeptical, but also kind of optimistic on Dennis Smith as we see his middle ground as Eric Bledsoe; which is pretty damn good), our comparisons for Jonathan Isaac against NBA players runs an intriguingly wide range. As always, special thanks to my fellow writers/scouts (Bug, Hamilton) and our super talented artist (Maahs).

Hamilton: De’Aaron Fox emerged as high lottery pick during a solid freshman season at Kentucky in which he averaged 16.7 points, four rebounds and 4.6 assists. His head-to-head dominance of consensus top-two prospect Lonzo Ball in the Sweet 16 propelled him to 2nd tier of the 2017 draft.

Fox has been compared to John Wall for his speed, and it’s possible he’s faster. He changes direction effortlessly without slowing down. While this is a tremendous asset, it can also be a problem. He has a tendency to get sped up in transition and half-court drives, ending up in no-man’s-land without a good shot, or a pass that sets up a shot for a teammate.

Many of Fox’s dimes come from relatively simple drop-off passes and dishes once he has gotten by his own man. His vision isn’t doesn’t appear to be on the level of other top PGs in this class. Playmaking PGs keep a probing dribble alive and change pace while doing so. I would like to see him change pace more than he does both in transition and in the half-court; against NBA level athletes, this is a must. Another problem for Fox as a PG in the NBA will be his well-documented poor shooting. It’s one thing to have a visually unappealing jumper if it goes in. That’s not the case here. Fox’s jump shot is broke and not always for the same reason. As Draft Express notes, sometimes he shoots on the way down, sometimes on the way up. He relies too much on upper body in his shot. Sometimes he floats to his left, sometimes his balance is pretty good. The angle of his elbow is always too narrow, which makes his release more of sling, or flick, than a jump shot. The good news is he’s well-aware of this fact and answered virtually every question in his DX interview in Los Angeles talking about improving his shooting. As it stands, his unreliable shot means defenders can go under on screens and his speed is somewhat nullified at the NBA level.

He also didn’t show much of a right hand at Kentucky and that’s another point of emphasis in his development. For me these factors call his position into question. I can see him developing into a slashing score-first combo guard. Defensively, he should have the ability to guard 1s and smaller 2s. If he can put on weight without compromising his speed, it could translate nicely on the defensive end of the floor for him. He’s not as polished as Markelle Fultz or Ball at this moment but his ceiling is high, and he gets great marks for his work ethic, intelligence, and character. Those things matter. When weaknesses are clear and fixable, a hard-working smart player can overcome. De’Aaron Fox may end up being a top-three player from this draft class, but what the finished product looks like is definitely to be determined.

Fenrich: Jonathan Isaac of Naples, Florida, late of Tallahassee, has a bit of that Anthony Davis thing going on where he played ball in high school as a combo forward before hitting a growth spurt and jumping up to his present height, 6’11”. Like Davis, there’s a natural fluidity in his athleticism. He doesn’t move like a lot of guys near seven feet tall though it seems like young people like Davis, Kevin Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns, among others, are becoming bigger and more athletic. Evolution indeed. When I look at Isaac’s tape though, I don’t see the same transcendent skill so prevalent in those other players I listed (to be fair, I didn’t see it in Towns either). That’s not really a knock on a player though.

Isaac moves great, he has unteachable length, appears comfortable without being the center of attention, has lateral mobility and quickness, can guard multiple positions. In short, he has a combination of physical ability and basketball skills that are ideal for today’s NBA where the ability to guard multiple positions and hit from deep are coveted. That latter piece is my curiosity with Isaac. In his one season at Florida State, Isaac took nearly three threes-per-game and hit close to 35% of them. For a guy who took just eight shots each night, to have nearly 40% of them come from deep is a curious stat.

That said, his three-ball and perimeter game come naturally. He has a nice jab step, but if he’s not an outside threat at the NBA level, I’m not confident how effective it will be. Speaking of using range to set up the driving attack, a favorite method of attack for the more developed bigs in the league, Isaac’s handle isn’t anywhere it needs to be to put the ball on the floor at the pro level. At its current level, I envision his pocket being picked or him being stripped by stronger, quicker defenders than what he’s accustomed to.

Concerns around his handle and how his jump shot translate aside, Isaac has the look of a natural pro defender. This is somewhat contingent on him getting stronger, but the length and agility coupled with the willingness to defend are a great foundation to build on. And I can’t imagine teams are looking at him expecting to be a number one or even number two option. That said, the NBA has a bad habit of miscasting players out of necessity. Just because Isaac can make the three and can occasionally put the ball on the floor doesn’t mean that’s what he should be doing. With any luck, he’ll land with a team patient enough to build on his copious defensive strengths and allow him to develop as a competent, but supporting offensive player.

Fenrich: Mark Medina of the OC Register wrote recently that Dennis Smith “had a 48-inch vertical.” The highest vertical in Draft Express’s deep database on NBA-prospect measurements is 46” from viral dunkster, D.J. Stephens. I’m not saying Medina got bad info or that someone is embellishing here, but the iota of possibility that Smith could possibly have a 48” vertical speaks to mind-numbing athleticism and explosiveness.

When I watched Smith’s tape from NC State, my first thoughts were “Baron Davis” and that he plays basketball like a football player. At 6’3”, 195lbs, Smith is built like a brick shithouse and attacks the rim like he’s relishing the contact. (As an aside, where I keep seeing Davis, it seems everyone else sees Steve Francis. I think it’s the thicker-looking build that makes me think Davis, but hey, Davis, Francis, whatever, he’s dunking on someone.) It’s one thing to see an explosive athlete dominate skinny college-level big men. It’s another thing to envision him careening into Draymond Green or Kristaps Porzingis or even Robin Lopez for the violent dunk smash.

Smith showed a serviceable jumper in the NCAA where he shot close to 36% on nearly two makes-per-game. That’s a good volume, but I’m lacking a bit of confidence in the shot. He can get the pull up jumper when he wants, but his balance often looks off. On the three, he doesn’t always hold his follow-through.

Similar to being a decent three-point shooter, but failing to instill confidence, Smith averaged over six assists as a freshman; a quality number, but watching his tape, there’s a glut of bad decisions made. It’s not just turnovers (he averaged nearly 3.5), but the shot selection and the seeming obliviousness of when to shoot or make a play. Smith was far too comfortable pulling up early in possessions when better options were available. Draft Express has what almost amounts to a blooper reel of Smith making the kind of decisions that drive coaches crazy (or get them fired).

Probably most disconcertingly, there are numerous questions around his character and leadership. There’s a consistent lack of effort on defense, boneheaded decisions on offense, straight up looking off teammates trying to set screens, and body language that often communicates disinterest. Some of these intangibles can maybe be attributed to his environment. Like Ben Simmons last season, NC State’s program was far from stable. They fired their coach in-season and struggled throughout the year. While Fultz was in a similar losing situation at the University of Washington (their coach was fired after the season), it was stable in that the coach had been in place for several years and, despite a series of one-and-done players, a culture had been established. This is a bit of a cop out for Smith, but still worth pointing out.

Despite all the concerns, I’m bullish on Smith. I acknowledge there’s a level of risk that goes with drafting him and believe he needs to land somewhere where veteran teammates or coaches can hold him accountable. In the top-ten picks of the draft, that’s not always an option. There’s a reason teams end up in the lottery. I don’t know if it’s better to have all the athleticism in the world and struggle with the mental aspects of the game, or, like his fellow draft class peer, Fox, have excellent athleticism with a great head on your shoulders. And even though I ranked Smith higher because the upside is so massive, as I write this, I can’t help but think that a good player with great character may be the better route.

Fenrich: I get the urge to see in Markkanen, a seven-foot, sweet jump shooting giant from the Nordics, a younger, modern version of German great, Dirk Nowitzki, but I don’t see it. I never scouted Dirk, never saw any tape of him back in the summer of 1998. So I went ahead and found this clip of Dirk going against America’s finest teens at the Nike Hoop Summit of ’98. And there are a few things that pop:

  • The announcers were comparing Dirk to Detlef Schrempf
  • Watching Dirk back then, you can see the badass, but aside from say, LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant, I can’t think of many guys you’d scout as an amateur and say, “He’s going to be a top-10 all-time scorer, MVP, and NBA champion.” As good as Dirk was in this clip, I don’t think anyone expected him to be the guy he’s become.
  • Lauri Markkanen is not Dirk

But Markkanen is a lot of other things. He’s a big kid with a basketball pedigree. His dad player for Kansas and the Finnish national team. His mom was also a national team player. He’s a legit seven-footer with a big, broad-shouldered frame that occasionally looks even bigger because he wore big t-shirts under his jersey at Arizona. In his single season in Tucson, he shot 42% from three on over four attempts-per-game. His range extends out to the NBA level and he appears to have a strong base. He does have a little hitch when he catches on spot up threes where he’ll catch and bring the ball down before elevating into his rhythm. It’s a small thing and he’s such a great shooter that I doubt it matters but when thinking about a vastly more difficult level of competition, these split seconds matter.

What the three ball opens up is the dribble drive as NBA bigs are often challenged to close out on shooters with a hand up and still defend the dribble drive. Not convinced he’ll be able to put it on the floor at first, but it should be something he develops.Sticking with the dribble drive, it was difficult to discern his ability to pass off the drive. Can he develop to the point where he can put it on the floor against a closeout defender, make a move, see the help and then find the open man? This is the type of skill level that takes a player from Channing Frye rotation-guy to Ryan Anderson-starter or better.

The big differentiator with Anderson though, is that Markkanen is a legit seven-footer while Anderson is around 6’10”. Neither player has great length, but based on those broad shoulders and average athleticism, Markkanen has the potential to be a load around the basket though that appears to be unlikely given his current stylistic approach.

Defensively, I’m not expecting much. To borrow from Jeff Van Gundy, so much of a defense is about effort. Is he willing to put in the hard work and effort to try on the defensive end or is he content to shoot seven threes each night? From the materials I’ve seen, there’s no indication he won’t put the work in, but it’s difficult to project at this point.

What’s most intriguing about Markkanen is that he’s likely the best shooter in this entire draft class. Being seven-feet and having that type of stroke automatically lifts the floor to Channing Frye-type levels. Even with the league evolving in terms of its size/skill versatility, Markkenen has the potential to be among the best shooting big men in the league. And that designation, “best shooting big man,” can mean anything from Channing Frye to Dirk Nowitzki – even though he won’t be Dirk.

Bug: If you’ve never watched Zach Collins play, you might look at the stats and wonder why he’s a projected lottery pick. Ten points, six rebounds, and only 17 minutes-per-game…what’s the fuss about?

Luckily for those of us that can’t keep our eyes open for those late night west coast games, we got a good look at Zach Collins in the NCAA Tournament. He had stretches during in March where he was the best player on the floor, with potential oozing from every orifice.

The correlation between what you see on the court and his stats don’t quite match up though. Why does such a skilled player only play 17 minutes-per-game, and only average ten points and six rebounds? We could blame it on the high foul rate that kept him off the floor, or we could claim that his youthful status on a veteran team held his minutes back. Either way you slice it, there is a mystique about Collins. Everything you see from him just screams “can’t miss prospect,” but the elephant in the room will always be “why did he play so little?”

Based on what I’ve seen from the tournament, and various clips, he has immense potential. He hits the three at a 47% clip, blocks four shots-per-game/per-40 minutes. The inside/outside game brings Pau Gasol to mind. He can bang down in the post, but also take it outside and knock down open jumpers. He compliments the offensive game with more-than-sufficient rim protection. When put in situations where he is required to guard smaller players, Collins shows the lateral movement to not be a liability in pick-and-rolls with good lateral movement for a seven-footer.

Using the term “leap of faith” could be applied to most prospects, but that phrase is the slogan for Collins. I see him play and get excited, but the 17 minutes of playing time is always the footnote. Can he extrapolate his impressive stats over a full game, or did he see limited minutes for a reason? We’ll find out soon enough, but based on what I see on film, it is worth the gamble to make Collins a lottery pick.

2017 NBA Draft Big Board | Players 1-5

The charts below are pretty straightforward to read with each prospect’s ceiling, middle ground, floor, red flag and player type projection (all-timer, HOF, all-star, above average starter, average starter, below average starter, rotation player, and bench player) ranked my me (Fenrich), Andrew Maahs (also the creator of the fine graphics below), Bug Foster, and Hamilton. This is the second in a series of 2017 draft-related posts. The first of which is a top-20 big board with an explanation on how woefully incomplete a top-20 big board is in the modern NBA; it can be found here.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

 

Fenrich: My Markelle Fultz relationship feels more complex than it needs to be and I can blame myself, Don MacLean and my buddy Matt for that. Myself, for not trudging a couple miles from my apartment to UW’s Hec Ed Pavilion to see Fultz play in-person. MacLean, for going overboard questioning Fultz’s intensity in some random game against an Arizona-based opponent and doing it in that oh-so-MacLean tone. And Matt, a Huskies season-ticket holder, for banging the Fultz drum in my ear all season. As I’ve gone through this Big Boarding process, the combination of warts on other players and the relatively unblemished game of Fultz has created a widening gap. The kid just turned 19 a few days ago and his measurements (6’4″ with a nearly 6’10” wingspan) make me think Dwyane Wade (measured nearly 6’5″ in shoes with a nearly 6’11” wingspan back in his pre-draft camp) as another big guard predisposed to scoring, but more than proficient in the ways of playmaking. That said, his game is nothing like the strength and force-fueled attack of Wade. His measured unfolding is more Brandon Roy or James Harden, more languid, deliberate, and paced. That he’s just 19 with an already advanced understanding of timing, great length, and a three-point accuracy north of 40%, and Fultz, for me, is the most NBA ready prospect in this class with a higher ceiling than any of his peers.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

Bug: I’m a believer in the theory the great Isiah Thomas put forth in Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball, “the secret to basketball is that it’s not about basketball.” The secret to Lonzo Ball’s game is not about the stats, it’s about being a floor general that puts his team in the best position to be successful. Zo doesn’t have stats that jump off the page, but his presence on the court instantly transformed a floundering UCLA program into an offensive juggernaut. It’s easy to get lost in the buffoonery of his father, Lavar Ball, but the talent of the kid is undeniable. Yes, he has an ugly shot, but if it goes in (41% from 3 on 194 attempts at UCLA), who cares? Everyone immediately thinks of Jason Kidd when watching Lonzo: big guard, great decision making, makes everyone around him better. In addition to the Kidd-like qualities, Zo can also go up and finish above the rim with ease. There is much debate about who should be the #1 pick in this year’s draft, but for me, I’m taking the point guard with the infectious style of play that uplifts an entire team. It’s not just about basketball, this kid will impact the entire culture of the organization that drafts him.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

Bug: With the way the NBA is evolving to a smaller, up-tempo game, Josh Jackson seems to be a perfect for today’s game. When you watch him play, the thing that stands out is the variety of ways he can impact the game. He is able to do a bit of everything on the court, both offensively and defensively. The way Kansas used him ranged from post ups to slashing to running the break and giving the ball up to teammates for easy finishes. Mr. Jackson also shot a respectable 37.8% from 3 during his freshman season on one of best teams in the nation. While his offensive game has a good foundation and room for growth, the thing that has many scounts salivating is the equally tantilizing potential on defense. The kid flat out gets after it on the defensive end (1.7 spg & over a block a game), while also possessing the ability to guard 2-3 positions. The lackluster FT shooting (57% at KU) and unconventional shot mechanics could hold him back early in his career, but his impact in other facets of the game will get him a fair share of floor time as a rookie. Versatility is the name of the game for the modern NBA wing, and Jackson has it in spades.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

Hamilton: Playing on national TV twice-a-week made it easy to catch Malik Monk in action. There was plenty to watch too. On a typically loaded team Monk routinely stood out. His incendiary offensive outbursts were certainly attention-grabbing (30 pts in 2nd half points vs Florida; 47 vs UNC on 16-28 FG). This wasn’t lost on many folks as he was named 1st team All-SEC. He plays with a sense of timing and understands when his team needs the offensive lift he’s always happy to provide. While his measurements aren’t great for a SG (6’3, 6’6 wingspan) he makes up for it with a quick release and legit NBA leaping ability. The release on his shot is consistent while the rotation and arc of the ball give most of his attempts a chance. This is evident in his 40% from 3 on 8 attempts per game. As most modern small-ish guards, he showed nice touch on his floater and uses a quick deciesive first step to get to the paint and get it off. Looks to get all the way to the rim for the dunk when he can do it off one or two dribbles. Whether he can do that against NBA defense with his slighter build remains to be seen. That quick first step from a standstill allows him to create space for pull up jump shots off the dribble. As most right-handed players, he’s more comfortable going to his left when shooting, but he’s very capable pulling up going right. He showed the range to shoot off the bounce from deep and should be able to eventually be a very reliable NBA 3 point shooter. Has a decent amount of what I like to call slickness. Slickness is a spectrum with Harry Barnes on the low end, while Jamal Crawford is the slickest. Monk leans toward JC at this point, which is a good thing. This is an area I would expect him to spend significant time on by developing more compex dribble moves and attacking tight gaps going toward the basket … Doesn’t strike me as much of a combo guard at this point, and I have my doubts he ever will be one. He’s far more comfortable coming off screens or attacking off a catch than running high pick and roll or finding open guys on his drive. WIth a great shot and relentlessness on the attack, Monk should be a good pro. How good may be very situational. Playing alongside the right PG may matter, which isn’t necessarily a knock on him. In other words, I’m not sure how he’d fair in Philly during the Ben Simmons PG experiment. But a John Wall or Mike Conley type would set Monk up nicely (to be fair those guys would set me up nicely). He seems to really enjoy playing baskebtall and competing, which will serve him well in development. It may take a couple years for Monk to figure out how to use his skills effectively in the NBA but I suspect he will do that and have a nice career.

All artwork by Andrew Maahs http://www.twitter.com/basemintdesign

Fenrich: I have so much confusion about Jayson Tatum. He has a ton of offensive skill and a game that’s well-developed beyond his 19 years. He’s comfortable in the post with a turn-and-face game and pretty much dogged out college defenders there. His range extends out to NBA three-point distances, even if the consistency isn’t there yet — he shot just 34% from deep on four attempts-per-game. The mechanics on his jumper look good and his form doesn’t breakdown much. Tatum looks the part of an NBA wing with his size, length, and athleticism. And maybe that’s part of the problem. His game reminds one almost immediately of Rudy Gay though Gay’s longer (7’3″ vs. 6’11” wingspan) with more bounce. There are hints of a Carmelo Anthony-type attacker which is seen in that post and face-up game. Tatum doesn’t have nearly the strength of a young Melo, but the refinement is there. JZ Mazlish of Wingspan Addicts did a great job of identifying the crux of the Tatum conundrum of the problem with scouting Tatum. It is a break in the value placed by traditional scouting approaches against the progressive approach of a numbers/analytics based community. If Tatum spent a decent chunk of his time at Duke playing power forward where he was able to abuse slower defenders, it doesn’t appear something that will translate against NBA fours. So if he’s a natural three, can he guard starting wings on a nightly basis or even score against them? At a first glance, the answer seems to be no. He looks like he’ll be better-suited as a rotation forward who can play the four in some small ball lineups. The skill is there, but the ceiling looks low and if I re-did my big board rankings, he’d likely drop down a bit. For some reason, the more I see and think about him, the more he becomes the wing version of fellow Dukie, Jahlil Okafor — a talented offensive player who probably would’ve been better-suited for the NBA of the 1990s.

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.

Dancing with Noah Draft Preview – Part II

This is part two of a three-part series on the NBA draft. Part one can be found here.

draftp4

 

Skal Labissiere – 7’0”, 216lbs, 20-years-old, Bug

Labissiere came in with a lot of hype as one of the prized jewels in another star-studded Kentucky recruiting class. Coming into the season, Skal was projected as a top-3 pick for the 2016 draft, but things didn’t quite work out as planned for the Haitian-born big man. The tumultuous season that ensued leaves us where we are at now, with Skal clinging on to be in the top-10 discussion of this year’s draft. When you watch his highlights, you see a very athletic 7-footer that has a beautiful shooting motion and a nice jump hook that he can finish with either hand. But, when you watched his college games against other top teams, he is barely noticeable on the floor. He probably isn’t ready to contribute right away for an NBA team, but recent workouts have the scouts raving about his skill set and upside. Coach Cal didn’t use a player correctly to maximize their strengths? Where have we heard that before (Karl Anthony-Towns)? Based on his projected draft range of 11-15, I think he would be a great fit for the rebuilding Chicago Bulls. Chicago is most likely going to lose both Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah this offseason, so the center position is going to be a position of need for them this offseason. The Bulls just traded hometown hero Derrick Rose to the Knicks, and the team is looking to get younger and more athletic. Skal would give them a developmental player that can grow while the recently acquired Robin Lopez handles the starting duties for the next year or two.

Floor: Anthony Randolph

Ceiling: LaMarcus Aldridge

Jaylen Brown – 6’7”, 222lbs, 19-years-old, Fendo

Jaylen Brown likes chess and envisions himself as a king and others as pawns. This is just one of the concerns that add complexity to the 6’7” Cal-product with great googly athleticism offset by occasional Hardenistic defensive lapses. Brown slots into that second tier made up of picks 3-8 which has devolved into an unpredictable sellers’ market. Physically, he’s ready. I have no doubt he could step into a Pro-Am and hold his own with NBA players, but like Lamar Odom said of Javale McGee, “It’s called basketball, not run and jump.” Which isn’t to compare Brown to McGee, but to accentuate his hyper physical skills against still-developing game skills. Brown has a 7’0” wingspan, going north-to-south he picks up a hell of a head of steam and looks to be able to finish with both hands. Even at a young age, he’s figured out how to effectively utilize that athleticism as he attempted over 9 FTAs/40 minutes which was the second best in DraftExpress’s top-100. On the opportunity side, his handle and ability to finish in traffic are suspect though these should improve significantly with experience and pro tutelage. Dimensionally and athletically he reminds me of Shawn Marion, but Marion was uncanny defensively and on the glass; areas of current weakness for Brown. It’s not that he can be Marion or even should be, but the comparison is instructive as a way to see how those abilities can be tapped – particularly in the current NBA where defensive versatility has become a necessity. And while he’s long, he doesn’t play big which makes me wonder just how well he’ll be able to defend big, long players or how well he’ll hit the glass. There’s a hell of a player in here somewhere and he should have a high floor based on athleticism alone, but another guy who was 6’7” and 220-some-odd-pounds was a guy by the name of Kedrick Brown. He played on three teams in four years and was finished in the NBA by 23 after Boston picked him 13th overall in the 2001 draft. Somewhere between Marion and Kedrick, maybe we’ll find Jaylen.

Dejounte Murray – 6’5”, 170lbs, 19-years-old, Fendo

When we started this project a couple weeks ago, Murray was pegged as high 10 and as low as 35. I spent this past winter watching his confidence and the confidence of his teammates in him rise game-over-game. He’s a long-limbed 6’5” with a slashing and attacking ability that feels like it falls from the same tree as fellow Seattleite Jamal Crawford. He’s not ridiculously quick, fast or strong, but none of that limits him from getting into the lane or getting his shot off. He attempted 18 free throws in a game against Arizona State and averaged over 7 FTAs/game in March. When he’s not getting hacked, DX cites Synergy’s data to highlight that Murray made more floaters than any other prospect in this year’s draft. He’s the kind of player you’ll watch and ask how in the hell did he just do what he did. There’s a craftiness to his game that exceeds his 19 years. Where he excels at creating his own looks, he was maybe reckless or out-of-control in his playmaking ability as he averaged over three turnovers/game. That’s not to say he can’t pass, but he was thrust into being UW’s primary playmaker and experienced the ups (4+ assists) and downs (3+ TOs) that came with it. He’s not a great shooter (48% TS, 29% from 3) and despite averaging nearly two steals/game, he’s more of an opportunistic defender than a lock-down guy. Despite being four inches shorter and lacking the physical gifts UW teammate Marquese Chriss possesses, Murray out-rebounded his teammate and is one just four freshman since the 1993-94 season to average 16-points, 6-rebounds, and 4-assists-per-game which speaks to his significant versatility and ability to impact the game in multiple ways. He’s not quite Jamal Crawford; doesn’t shoot or handle the ball quite as well, but he has the tools to rebound and defend in ways Crawford never could, it’s just a matter of bending his game that way. He’s probably closer to Michael Carter-Williams in that he can rebound well for his position and is comfortable running a team offensively, but significantly lacking MCW’s defensive commitment. Ideally he’d land in a spot with a well-established coach and front office not facing a “win now” mandate. In the 13-18 range, that looks like Denver and Detroit with the Pistons being a better fit as some of Murray’s skills are redundant alongside Mudiay though SVG prefers veterans off the bench.

Deyonta Davis – 6’10”, 230lbs, 19-years-old, Bug

Deyonta is the rare one-and-done player that came into his freshman season with very little hype as a potential 2016 draft pick. Davis was expected to come in and pay his dues under legendary coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State, while gradually earning a bigger role on the team over 2-3 years. He only averaged 18mpg his freshman season with averages of 7.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg, so the stats don’t jump out off the page by any means. But, the thing that has the scouts intrigued with Davis is his size and defensive ability. He’s equipped with a sturdy frame at 6’10”, 240. As a Spartan he averaged just under two blocks a game (1.8 bpg) in limited minutes, and shows the traits of a plus rebounder by getting off of the floor quickly on 2nd and 3rd jumps to go get the ball. Scouts were pleasantly surprised by the development of his jumper in workouts. He didn’t get an opportunity to do anything outside of the paint at Michigan State, so adding a consistent mid-range shot to his game could make him a versatile player that teams covet in today’s NBA. Davis has the physical tools to play the 4 or 5 spots, and the ability to take on a guard during a switch in pick and roll situations; another plus in the league right now. Davis’ draft slot will most likely be in the 9-17 range along with a cluster of other high-upside big men. He could be a fit in Toronto if the Raptors feel like the Biyombo bidding war is going to be too rich for their blood during free agency. Phoenix at 13 is another possible destination, but it depends on what they do with their first pick at #4. Davis could help Phoenix replenish some of the versatility that they lost by moving on from the Morris twins.

Floor: Ed Davis

Ceiling: Tristan Thompson/Hasaan Whiteside hybrid

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Dragan Bender – 7’1”, 225lbs, 18-years-old, Maahs

After riding the bench for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel (13 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG) it’s tough to get a true analysis on the 18-year-old Croatian prospect. Like the Cheick Diallo’s of the draft, scouts are projecting what type of player Bender could become with little to no game action. In the limited time Bender was on the floor, he showed the ability to chase shooters and switch ball screens. That alone doesn’t sound like much but when you add in his height (7’1″), an improved shooting ability (37.5% 3PT) and a high basketball IQ, you’re left with a very intriguing stretch 4 for today’s NBA. While an average-to-below-average athlete, Bender plays with a fluidity that is rare for a player his size. The size combined with a willingness to pass has some comparing Bender to his boyhood idol Toni Kukoc. Many will inevitably compare Bender to Kristaps Porzingis — Bender comes over as youngest player in the draft who will need a few years to add strength to his 225 pound frame and further develop his game, before any “Zinger” comparisons can be made. He’s probably 2-3 years away from making meaningful contributions to an NBA team. Teams like Pelicans, Suns, Kings and Bucks would be ideal fits as Bender could immediately take on a lesser bench role. If he climbs up to #3, it’s reasonable to think that Bender could contribute to Boston in a similar role as Jonas Jerebko or Kelly Olynyk.

Floor: a mobile Andrea Bargnani

Ceiling: Detlef Schrempf / Toni Kukoc hybrid

Cheick Diallo – 6’9”, 220lbs, 19-years-old, Maahs

Averaging 3.0 PTS, 2.5 REB and playing 7.5 minutes per game is not what you’d typically expect for a player being projected in the middle to late first round of the NBA draft. But thanks to the good ol’ National Collegiate Athletic Association, Cheick Diallo missed the first 5 games at Kansas while the organization investigated his academic eligibility. With National Championship aspirations and a frontcourt full of upperclassman, Bill Self didn’t have the patience to let Diallo endure the necessary growing pains to develop throughout the year. Measuring in at 6’9″ with a 7’5″ wingspan, Diallo was impressive at the combine during the five-on-five session, scoring 18 points with 4 rebounds and 4 blocks. With a similar performance at the 2015 Nike Hoops Summit and MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game, GM’s still remain high on the athletic forward. Raw and offensively limited at this stage, it will take a few years for Diallo to develop any resemblance of a post-game. As a high-energy guy, he should be able to contribute on the defensive end, but his offensive limitations will determine the length and success of his career. Only 19, Diallo will be a project for whatever team selects him on draft night. Projected anywhere from 15-25, his ideal landing spot would be with a team like Boston or Detroit, where he could learn offensive and defensive schemes — something that prevented him from seeing significant time at Kansas.

Floor: Tyrus Thomas

Ceiling: Kenneth Faried / Bismack Biyombo

Jakob Poeltl – 7’1”, 242lbs, 20-years-old, Fendo

I watched Poeltl pummel UW twice this season (29-10-4 then 23-6) then watched Domantas Sabonis and Gonzaga destroy Poeltl in the NCAA Tournament. I thought I knew what to expect and was high on the 7’1” Austrian, but the more film I see, the more concerned I am about his lack of explosiveness and ability to finish against pro centers. For a player his size, he runs the floor well with good balance and coordination. He’s decently mobile and his footwork is OK. With his size and comparable length, it’s easy to envision him learning the nuance of the NBA’s verticality rules and being an average-to-above-average rim protector. What kept jumping out to me was his complete lack of leaping power; particularly on the offensive end where he prefers little scoop shots or hooks and somehow plays below the rim. Even at 7’1”, he’s not taking it to the basket with any aggressiveness. The only time he seems comfortable attacking the rim is when he’s able to get a full head of steam and that won’t happen much at the pro level. For post players lacking elite length or explosion, a full arsenal of post moves is the best fallback, but in the clips I’ve seen and analysis I’ve read, he’s lacking here as well. He’s a competent passer and can pick out cutters, but the rest of his offensive game leaves me wanting more. In mocks he’s landing in the 8-13 range and could fit in well with Atlanta and their newly-acquired 12th pick where Budenholzer would likely play him to his strengths without expecting more than the big Austrian is capable of providing.

Malik Beasley – 6’5”, 190lbs, 19-years-old, Hamilton

Malik Beasley is an explosive athlete who shoots it well from the outside and attacks the basket in transition. At 6’5 and 190 he’s not undersized, but certainly needs to get stronger. That shouldn’t be a problem as he won’t turn 20 until after Thanksgiving. His effort level on both ends of the half court and transition is impressive. He has a chance to be a nice two way player in the NBA. Physically, he reminds of Jamal Crawford, long and lanky with limbs that bend as he needs them to. He’ll need to improve his handle in order to maximize his ability to play pick and roll and finish in the paint or get to the line. What’s most notable is how hard he plays. We’ve seen so many guys with high skill level that don’t have the fight in them. Playing hard on every possession is a talent and it’s been enough for some players to stick around longer than they probably should. If his in-game effort carries over to the practice floor and the weight room, Beasley could be a steal in the 15-20 range. The Pacers could use a young wing when the inevitably decide to part ways with Monta Ellis. With Paul George in his prime, adding a young SG who may develop into a starting SG makes sense. Beasley also happens to be from Georgia so the Hawks at 21 might also want to consider him. Their perimeter players are aging (Korver, Thabo) or may move on (Bazemore). Once again, in today’s NBA you can’t have enough wing players who can shoot the ball and give effort on defense.

Comparison: A more athletic JJ Redick Or maybe: Anthony Morrow

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Domantas Sabonis – 6’10”, 231lbs, 20-years-old, Fendo

Sabonis is the anti-Poeltl for me. He plays with a high motor and intensity and attacks the boards like Tristan Thompson but with less spring. Fundamentally, he’s sound in a way you’d expect the son of a legend like Arvydas to be. He keeps the ball high, can finish the jump hook with either hand, and is comfortable shooting from range though he defaults to more of a set shot which could be harder to get off against quicker, longer PFs in the NBA. He also has big, strong hands which he puts to rebounding and passing the ball; which he palms extremely easily. For a player his age, he’s impressively decisive and confident with his post moves which ideally will help counteract his biggest perceived physical limitation – short arms. Current pros of similar height and wingspan are Cody Zeller, the Plumlees, and Jason Smith – not exactly the sample set you want to compare favorably to. Seeing players like Draymond Green, Tristan Thompson, and the entire OKC team excel with great length, it’s easy to feel a pang of anxiety that Sabonis has relatively short arms and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it. But his combination of relentlessness and skill are so good that I still rank him high and as an NBA-ready guy. Projecting at the 12-18 range (like Poelt) he makes a lot of sense to Atlanta at 12 or the Bulls at 14 as a PF/C with some strange concoction part Pau Gasol and part Kenneth Faried.

Brice Johnson – 6’9”, 230lbs, 22-years-old (on June 27th)

At 22-years-old, Brice Johnson is one of the oldest and most experienced players in this year’s draft class. It took some time for his game to develop, but he broke out in a big way during his senior season for NCAA Tournament runner-up, North Carolina, with averages of 17ppg and 10.5rpg. Johnson is a freakish athlete with a high motor. He projects as a high-energy rim runner in the NBA and plays above the rim. He excels at finishing in transition and has a nice touch around the hoop in the paint. The biggest knocks on Johnson, other than his age, would be his wiry 210-pound frame and his jump shot. You can get by with that frame in college, but this is the NBA son! To Johnson’s credit, he bulked up to 225 at one point, but it zapped too much of his athleticism and he dropped back down. He did almost all of his damage at UNC in the paint, so it will be interesting to see if he can develop a consistent jump shot to avoid the beating he will most likely take in the paint. Projecting as a late first rounder, Johnson will probably have a good chance to land on a competitive playoff team. After watching the Thunder make the Spurs look old and slow in the playoffs, San Antonio could use a good influx of youth and athleticism. Johnson could give the Spurs some energy and rebounding off the bench. If teams decide to pass late in the first, he could also be an option for the Celtics with one of their 5 second round picks.

Floor: Ed Davis

Ceiling: Shawn Marion

Juan Hernangomez – 6’9”, 220lbs, 20-years-old, Bug

While many young players in the Euroleague have to bide their time riding the bench before they can earn meaningful minutes, Hernangomez was a big contributor playing just under 24 minutes-per-game last season. Based on recent workout footage that has surfaced, Hernangomez has a nice looking shot and moves well for a 6’9” guy. The knock on him is that he is a bit of a SF/PF tweener. Over the last two seasons, he has increased his 3P% from 25% to 34%, so he is trending towards a stretch-4 from an NBA perspective. He’ll need to add some strength to handle the 4 position defensively in the NBA, but you could probably say the same thing for most young players. It’s tough to project where he will go in the draft with a wide range of projections anywhere from 15-40. Based on their history, Hernangomez has Spurs written all over him. He’s also an overseas stash candidate for the two teams that have three first round picks, Boston and Phoenix. Juan’s brother, Willy, was drafted by the Knicks last year, and decided to stay in Spain with Real Madrid this past season…Juan may do the same.

Tyler Ulis – 5’9”, 160lbs, 20-years-old, Maahs

If only. A floor general, leader, court vision, puts his teammates in positions to succeed — what else do you want in a PG? But only standing 5’9″ and 160 lbs, Tyler Ulis lacks the size to make the same impact at the next level. Ulis could be a top-5 pick, if only he was a few inches taller. With an NBA filled roster the last two seasons at Kentucky, Ulis was a pass-first point guard, the kind that teammates love playing with. He demonstrated the ability to direct traffic on the fly and get players in the right spots in order to maximize scoring opportunities on each possession, similar to Chris Paul. A pesky defender, Ulis routinely guarded opposing point guards the length of the court — making it hard for the opposition to initiate their offense. While having good quickness and defensive instincts, Ulis will struggle guarding in the half court, as NBA guards use their size on post ups or to create space, if only he was four inches taller. Offensively, he’s shifty and gets to his spots easily on the floor, but struggles to create space for his jumper, if only he were a few inches taller. OK, OK, I think you get the idea. Ulis possesses many qualities of a prototypical point guard but the lack of size and strength at the next level will be a challenge for him. Only shooting 34% from 3PT, Ulis will need to improve his shooting to compensate for his lack of size. Add in a hip issue that may require surgery down the line, you have prospect that could be selected anywhere between 15-40 in the draft. Playing with an up-tempo team could help hide some of his size deficiencies. With Derrick Rose gone and Jose Calderon off the books in 2107, a team like the Bulls would be a good fit for Ulis.

Floor: TJ Ford

Ceiling: Muggsy Bogues/Chris Paul hybrid (it felt weird typing that)

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