This piece will go over my Top 25 Draft Prospects for the 2017 NBA Draft.
As always I’m only going to rank NCAA player. That doesn’t mean that some European players aren’t perhaps going to be highly valuable. One needs to look no further than Giannis, Gobert, Jokic and Porzingis to know that many of the best players in the recent drafts are indeed from Europe. The reason I don’t write about these players is simply this: I’m not very informed.
However, I will say I have limited experience of Frank Ntilikina, I’m not a huge fan. He’s just very, very slow. Not for a human being, but for an NBA basketball player. Slow, kind of like high school type guys he’s defending in U18 competition.
That’s not necessarily going to doom him. He’s 6’6″. He has a 7’0″ wingspan. He seems like he has excellent defensive instincts, which could play very well off the ball and against secondary options. Khris Middleton is this kind of defensive player and he’s excellent. But his upside is limited, since he can’t play the best players at the Point-of-Attack. That is, we’re not talking about Kawhi and we’re not talking about Andre Iguodala, and while we could be talking about Khris Middleton on defense, we could just as equally be talking about Aaron Afflalo.
That guy guarding Adam Morrison at the beginning of this clip and in the 2nd possession, that’s Aaron Afflalo. He was an excellent college defender. The stopper on an excellent defensive team.
You see, the fourth ranked defense according to Ken Pomeroy. Aaron Afflalo has also never been ranked a positive defender in any NBA season that he played over 1,000 minutes. By DBPM at least. And the On/Off numbers paint him as average at best, in his best seasons. That’s what happens when most good players advance levels. Even if they’re 6’5″ with a 6’9″ or 6’10” wingspan.
So I’m not the best one to ask, but I probably wouldn’t be super-high on Frank Ntilikina. I don’t know about Hartenstein or Dos Anjos, though the latter has next level flexibility and lateral movement skills for a 7’2″ player. Freakishly tall athletes with huge wingspans and good movement skills have become pretty good NBA players in recent years. Especially on defense. We’re talking about Rudy Gobert, Kristaps Porzingis, and Giannis Antetokounmpo to a certain extent, with Gobert being the best semi-lazy comparison for Dos Anjos.
If I watched more, he’d likely be a player I’d be interested in, though he won’t feature here either. Again, just NCAA guys.
Pre-Tournament Top 25 for 2017
First we’ll look at the complete list, then I’ll talk about some of the logic behind the list, going into further detail when necessary. Please keep in mind that after the Top 2 (Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball) the ranking is very fluid. Fluid within tiers (obviously) and even between tiers the rankings may be fluid. This is not just because we have imperfect information (the season isn’t over, we don’t have measurements, etc . . .) but also because almost all of the prospects in this draft have fairly significant holes.
That won’t necessarily keep them from becoming highly valuable players. It is a reason I wouldn’t be excited about picking 3rd or 4th in the draft. Especially if I couldn’t find a partner for a trade. That’s why the words “Trade Down” feature very prominently in these rankings. As soon as the third pick, finding a good trade that would allow me to diversify risk while still picking for upside would be my choice.
Something else to note, there’s a lot of NCAA guys DraftExpress ranks quite highly that will not feature in these rankings. Lauri Markkanen, Justin Patton, John Collins, Jarrett Allen, Ike Anigbogu, Ivan Rabb, Tyler Lydon. The fact that they don’t feature here does not mean that I don’t consider them NBA players. A lot of these guys look like NBA guys to me. They also seem to either lack real upside because they don’t really play defense (Markkanen, Patton, Collins, Rabb, Lydon) or are so far away they’ll likely end up on their 2nd or 3rd team before they are any good. (Anigbogu, Allen). Yes, I don’t like offensive Big Men who don’t play defense. Get over it.
Now onto the ranking. Remember, as always, I mostly value Upside over a player’s median outcome.
1) I’ve talked a lot about the two guys in this tier. Especially Lonzo Ball. I’ll talk a decent bit more about them in the next piece which is about Initiators. That being said, I don’t see a huge separation between these two prospects. Markelle Fultz seems a pretty good to be a +4.5 to +6 Offensive Box Plus-Minus guy. He also isn’t all that fiery or competitive on the basketball court and might not give a shit about playing defense.
Ball on the other hand is probably the most competitive guy in the draft and especially of the Top prospects. Monk and Jackson are also highly competitive, but Ball seems on another level to me. Whenever he meets another top draft prospect (Fox, Fultz) or UCLA gets matched up against another top team (Kentucky, Arizona, Oregon) it’s clear Ball wants to destroy them. And when the going gets rough, he generally does something to meet the moment. Make a pass, a three, a steal.
Of course, there are things he can’t do, most notably shoot going to the right. But Ball also fits on pretty much any team, either as one of the premier off-ball offensive wings in all of basketball, or potentially as an on-ball dynamo, the type of player we haven’t seen since Stockton, at least on offense. I also think Ball should be an above average off-ball defender.
Logically, it’s easy to say Fultz is the better prospect. Intuitively, I like Ball better. I think it’s possible that he could be more valuable as an off-ball Wing than Fultz is as a Primary Initiator. (Fultz potentially being a negative defender is part of that.) And part of that is Ball’s unique ability to bring value without using possessions. (Defense is another way to do this, but Ball is one of the few low Usage guys who can do it on offense.)
In these two draft prospects, we find three of the drafts ten or so elite tools and skills. That’s Fultz’s handle, Ball’s intelligence/passing and Ball’s competitiveness.
1) Yes, I would not be excited about picking third. There seems a fairly large gap between the Top Two guys and everybody else. That would be why I’d try to trade off the pick.
2) If I couldn’t trade off the pick, this is probably the order I pick these players. Keep in mind that, at least regarding the draft, upside is always the number one overriding concern in my mind.
3) Yes, Malik Monk’s upside is incredibly high. It’s not altogether likely, since he doesn’t rebound on defense and looks to be a likely net negative defender. (He’s more competitive than he gets credit for so I’d say somewhere between -1 and 0 would be the most likely outcome.) But the offensive upside is there. Why? Because Malik Monk’s shooting, both off the dribble and off the catch, is another one of this draft’s elite tools. It’s the kind of skill a player can build a hole game around.
Yes, Ray Allen. I’m showing you these videos not just as an example of a guy who did just that. Built an entire game around a jumper, that is. But because his scoring game in college is basically identical to that of Malik Monk if you delete all the putbacks.
He’s 6’5″. Monk is only 6’3″. That’s a clear advantage for Allen, but this is the kind of offensive upside we’re talking about with Allen. Please note that the way Allen uses his dribble is basically identical to Monk.
Or we can see another example vs. Florida, another game from which Fox was absent.
In a lucky coincidence, Malik Monk and Ray Allen put up near identical Freshman seasons, at least in terms of offense.
Of course, Monk is not quite the overall prospect Allen was, but Allen’s defensive potential never really materialized. He still managed to be a legitimate Hall-of-Fame caliber player while also net negative defensive player. It can happen. That’s Monk’s upside. (If you’re worried about the rebounds, Chris Paul averaged 3.9 rebounds per 40 as a Freshman and Eric Bledsoe averaged 4.1. Of course, it would be better if this number was higher, but of course that’s also part of the reason I’m not excited about picking Monk at three.)
Is that the most likely possibility no? But even as a cross between Lou Williams and J.J. Redick on offense, which seems around the median outcome, Monk will very likely be a net positive player overall.
4) Kyle Lowry is reference point for Monk only on offense. The best version of Monk could play an offensive game very similar to that of Lowry. Lots of off-ball movement in between probing the defense on the dribble. But it’s pretty clear that Monk doesn’t have much chance to provide what Lowry does on the boards or on defense.
5) Jonathan Isaac is probably the draft’s best combination of offensive and defensive upside. 6’11” with a 7’1″ Wingspan, which will allow him to play Power Forward. He may disappear on offense, but he tries hard on defense and does virtually everything you might want a modern Power Forward to do. Especially in terms of being able to switch. Has amazingly fast hands and fluid hips. Neither his numbers nor his offensive play suggest super high basketball IQ, but his ability to cut on offense suggests an awareness of timing and space that seems to play on the defensive end.
Isaac’s offensive upside because he’s a Big who potentially stretches the floor on offense. As Ryan Anderson, Harrison Barnes and Marvin Williams have shown in recent years, shooting from a big position can be a very dangerous weapon. However, Isaac’s ability to cut and rebound the offensive glass make him potentially something more than just a stationary offensive player. His ability to hit the jumper off a side dribble should also serve him well vs. closeouts.
A lot of his potential comes down to if he makes shots or not at the NBA level. Also, he’ll need to put on some weight and get stronger. Though added weight could possibly make Isaac more explosive as he’s currently very skinny.
6) The arguments against Isaac’s upside (at least compared to most other Freshmen) just don’t hold a lot of water. They conveniently ignore the defensive side of the basketball where Isaac’s upside is clearly superior to guys like Jackson, Tatum and Bridges. And also the fact that a Power Forward can be a +2 or possibly even a +3 player on offense as a stationary three-point shooter. In the recent past, we’ve seen seasons such as these from guys like Patrick Patterson, Ryan Anderson and Marvin Williams, among others.
Otto Porter, whose currently leading the league in ORtg at 129, is putting up such a season on 15% Usage and he’s playing at Wing 75% of the time. Imagine Otto Porter’s current season playing 90% of the time at Power Forward. That’s Isaac’s upside.
I put Monk above Isaac in part to make a point about the difference between upside and median outcomes (and also because Monk is more competitive), but come draft time, it’s very likely I rank Isaac above.
7) If I knew Robert Williams was going to either Dallas or San Antonio, I’d love his future potential, as Popovich and Carlisle seem to be among the best in the NBA at getting the most out of Big Men. Still, it’s not everyday you get a high IQ 6’9″ guy with a 7’6″ wingspan who can move his feet well enough to stay in front of guards. Then you add passing, screening and finishing inside, it’s easy to see Williams as a player who can potentially add value on offense and defense.
Though his jumper is pretty flat, I’m not entirely sure it’s without potential.
8) As for De’Aaron Fox, he’s a lot like a young Tony Parker. 6’2″ or 6’3″. Blindingly fast, and neither could shoot jump shots consistently at age 19. Tony Parker shot 25% from 3-10 feet and 10-16 feet as a 19 year old. His 32% Three-Point percentage in low attempts belies the fact that he would go on to shoot sub 30% from Three on five occasions (a 23% mark as recently as his Age-29 season) and shot 31% in two others. Tony Parker has also basically chucked the shot from his arsenal. He’s shot more than 70 Threes in a season only once in the last 12 years.
So why has Parker been successful? He’s lived in 0-10 foot range, shooting 65% at the rim for his career and 46% from 3-10 feet.
In other words, Parker has become successful with strengths that mirror those of De’Aaron Fox, who’s currently shooting 65.5% at the rim and has a solid floater. Fox also gets to the rim at will, having made 88 unassisted shots there in 351 attempts. One out of four attempts ending as an unassisted shot at the rim is kind of a big deal. One out of six is excellent. It also puts Fox on pace to end the season with somewhere around 115 unassisted makes at the rim, which would be among the best seasons in the hoop-math database. The kicker being that hardly any of these seasons are by Freshman.
9) Yes, De’Aaron Fox has elite speed with the ball. That’s another one of the elite tools in this draft.
1) This is a group of players I’m ranking mostly by consensus. Josh Jackson, Dennis Smith, Jr., and Jayson Tatum figure to go quite high come draft day. I don’t hate any of them. However, I’d trade off of all of them. And that’s how you should read all of my draft boards. When there’s a player much lower than consensus, just figure that this is a player I’m looking to trade off of, whether it’s for a player, a couple of picks or a combination of the two.
2) Josh Jackson is an off-ball Wing who some are projecting as both a Primary Initiator on offense and an elite defensive prospect on defense. He seems an Off-Ball Wing on offense and a decent defensive prospect to me. That is, he could be positive, but we’ve already seen situations in which his lack of length affects his effectiveness as a defensive player. That is to say that his short arms make it impossible for Josh Jackson to give cushion to quicker offensive players and at the same time contest their jumpers. That’s very likely going to be a problem in the NBA if Jackson’s used as a Point-of-Attack defender. Which is to say, Jackson’s a player who probably has less upside than at first it seems.
3) Dennis Smith Jr. and Jayson Tatum are going to be guys who can be exploited in defensive match-ups. Tatum might make up some of the ground because he’s good at creating events, but each player’s offensive upside is going to be greatly mitigated by their defensive downside.
Even if Tatum ends up a slight positive on defense (which is a possibility) the fact that he’s with an off-ball Wing who wants to be an On-Ball Initiator limits how well he can work on highly competitive teams. You can’t run highly successful offense through players who don’t create for their teammates. Monk has a chance to become an initiator because he’s explosive, he can get his shot at will and his jumpshot is a legitimate weapon. Tatum doesn’t do anything that threatens the defense at that level, hence it’s very unlikely he’s going to create the type of advantages that would allow him to be a successful creator. (The next piece on initiators will be bear this out. Tatum’s a guy with imaginary upside.)
4) Continuing on about Smith Jr. There’s almost no way Smith Jr. isn’t a significant negative on defense. We’re talking about a -2 to -4 type guy, depending on the metric. He just doesn’t care enough on that end. How good is he going to have to be on offense to make up for that kind deficit? It’s possible he gets that good, but since he’s not as gifted laterally as many of the elite PG, it’s not a bet I would like to make. You are basically betting on Smith Jr. to shoot at least as well as Damian Lillard.
Beyond that, Damian Lillard’s teams haven’t really been all that successful for a reason. As we can see with Russell Westbrook, one true superstar player is enough to win a lot of games in the regular season. Andrei Kirilenko, who was a superstar on defense, actually had a similar season for the Jazz before they drafted Deron Williams and acquired Boozer. 42 and 40 with what was otherwise perhaps the worst roster in the league.
A single great player can change his team’s destiny. That’s not really the case for players like Damian Lillard, DeMarcus Cousins or Paul George. These guys are good, really good, but they are miscast as leads and salary cap rules make it difficult to surround them with the kind of talent they would need.
5) Zach Collins is one of the most underrated players in this draft. I have him in this group because he fits well on tables such as this one.
These are the players Zach Collins best compares to, at least statistically. Especially the statistical profile of Rasheed Wallace. Zach Collins’ profile is nearly identical to that of Wallace, except it’s somewhat better in most of the categories, except one that isn’t listed here: Fouls. Zach Collins fouls a lot. Nearly six times per 40 minutes, which is probably one reason why his DBPM isn’t as good as the rest of his profile might suggest it should be.
6) Of course, Shelden Williams profile is there to remind us that there’s a difference between stocks and guys who project to play good defense at the NBA level. However, Collins is both bigger than Williams (he was only 6’8″) and more athletic, being much quicker into his actions. These are good signs that there’s perhaps some actual defensive ability beneath the statistical production.
Then why so low? I’m being conservative. Also, there’s a legitimate argument that a +3 or +4 Two-Way Wing or One-Way Point Guard is probably equivalent to a +4 or +5 Two-Way Center in value. Or at least the kind of Two-Way Center that figures to bring most of his value on offense. The reason being not only the depth of the Center position, but that Center is one of the easiest positions to find a player who adds value on the court without using offensive possessions. (Look at Dewayne Dedmon or ZaZa Pachulia.) Still, I find it quite likely, barring injury, that Collins will be in the Top 10 of any redraft.
7) That leaves Miles Bridges. Miles Bridges possesses another one of this draft’s elite tools, with his combination of vertical explosion and outlier strength. It’s this combination that likely gives Bridges more upside than both Jackson and Tatum, thoughI don’t think any of the players has really separated themselves overall. The fact that Bridges is strong enough and good enough a rebounder to actually hold his own at a power position does give him considerable offensive upside, and unlike Tatum, he’s not necessarily going to be a player a team can easily attack on the defensive end.
There are definitely some awareness questions.
8) One thing that is true for all of the Wing-Types and Dennis Smith, Jr. They are going to have to shoot from distance to be successful. It’s not really a choice, it’s a prerequisite. From that standpoint, Jayson Tatum has the least amount of questions. He has the profile of a guy who’s very likely to shoot in the NBA. Especially if he gets to play Power Forward.
9) Lauri Markkanen is the invisible player in this group. I didn’t listed him. Again, I don’t really value non-defensive Bigs. However, if someone values Markkanen very highly, I’m very happy to move off of him and move down the draft.
1) The numbering of the tiers is supposed to suggest there’s not as much of a gap in the player’s as we move further down the draft. The players in the previous group are better bets to succeed, but they don’t necessarily have more upside than the players in this group. In fact, I’d probably take the upside package of a couple of the players in this group over most of those in the previous group.
2) I’ve only featured one player whose likely to return to school so far. That’s Zach Collins. However, that changes in this group. I’d bet everyone in this group returns to school except Cameron Oliver.
3) I’ve written about Mikal Bridges a lot. He can be pretty frustrating because of his passivity on offense. It’s very likely to limit him to a Shane Battier type offensive role. (Battier was 11-16% Usage Guy but incredibly high efficiency.) However, he also does a lot of Shane Battier type little things on offense and defense that lead to victories. His outlier body control and ability to finish with either hand gives him a very high upside in terms of finishing around the basket. A pretty good bet to shoot 40% from three, at least for a low attempts guy, given the 90% Free Throw Percentage.
4) Cameron Oliver is an actual Two-Way Prospect at the Four. Legitimate quick twitch guy that’s going to measure with an incredibly long wingspan. Very good defensive rebounder. A better passer than the stats seem to suggest. Very competitive. Can lose focus at times on defense.
5) OG Anunoby is quite likely to fail on offense because of his Power Forward Game and lack of a jump shot. That being said, he has as much defensive upside as anyone in the draft outside of Robert Williams. At a certain point that’s worth a gamble, and there’s a good argument that it’s earlier than the end of the lottery.
6) Melton has amazing instincts. So smart. Like many of the prospects we’ll find between now and 25, his jump shot is highly questionable. He’s a better passer than more highly regarded guys like Bruce Brown and Andrew Jones. All three of them will need to shoot from distance, and it’s highly questionable if any of them do.
7) Donovan Mitchell has the reputation of a great defender. He’s not. He’s very good for a college player, but he gets clipped on screens and lost in traffic. Which is to say, his reputation is mainly founded on the fact that he’s very athletic, creates defensive events and plays on excellent team defense. It’s not necessarily founded on what he actually does on a play-to-play basis, especially against good offenses.
That’s not to say Mitchell can’t become a better defender. He’s explosive and has a powerful, compact body with decently long arms. He’s exactly the kind of defender I’d say has a good chance to become better at clearing screens. He’s also pretty intelligent on offense and makes good generally good decisions, even if at times he can be prone to inefficiency.
Unlike Melton and Anunoby, Mitchell is actually a good bet to shoot the basketball from distance. If they all stay in the draft there’s a fair chance, for this reason, that I’ll move Mitchell ahead of Anunoby and Melton.
8) Mitchell is a player I’ll talk about in my piece about initiators. There’s a couple of indicators in his profile that suggest he might be able to handle more of a role as he ages. Namely it’s about his ability to get up good shots, his ability to not turn the ball over, and his ability to generate steals.
Mitchell has a reasonable chance come draft time to move up the board. He, Oliver, and Bridges would be the three players from this group I’d be most inclined to move up the draft board. That’s not a knock against Jevon Carter. It’s just noting the obvious, Donovan Mitchell is more explosive and has a body better suited to the NBA.
9) Jevon Carter is perhaps the most underrated player in all of college basketball and almost certainly the draft.
When Sam Cassell and Alvin Robertson are among your closest statistical comparisons, you are doing something right. Carter plays in a manner not wholly dissimilar from the style of Lindsey Hunter or Derek Fisher in the pros. There’s a reason those guys were major contributors on a combined 7 championship Teams. Defense, Three-Point Shooting, Low Turnovers and Intelligent Team Play are major parts of winning basketball.
10) There’s also several reasons to think Carter might continue to get better as he gets older. The Assist-to-Turnover ratio and high Steal Rate are excellent signs. There’s also some examples this season of Carter increasing his Usage when his team has needed him to do so.
Here is the stat-line first group of games. (Thank you, Sports-Reference.com.)
And here are the game logs corresponding.
Here is the stat-line from the second group of games.
Now, the game logs.
In these games Carter is raising his True Shooting attempts per 40 (FGA + FTA x .44) to around 18, while also seeing bumps overall in scoring efficiency. What you may not notice (since it’s not included in the data) is that 7 of these 10 games were either close games or losses. At least it’s something I’ve noticed in games I’ve watched.
Carter often begins to look for his offense when his team needs him to do so. The fact that he does this without losing efficiency overall at least allows for the possibility that we have not yet seen the best version of Jevon Carter.
11) Jevon Carter also has one of the elite tools of this year’s draft. He’s this draft’s elite two-way energy player. Doesn’t take plays off. Guards full court possession after possession. Averaging 31.4 minutes per game on West Virginia is like average 40 minutes for most other teams. There’s a reason he’s the only player to average over 30 minutes per game for that team, considering the last two year. (He also led the team last year at 27.7 minutes per game.) That is, since they became Press Virginia. I don’t know if Huggins knew it at the time, but he basically built a system that catered to the strengths of his team’s best player. One which allows us to see the most unique of gifts.
There just aren’t many players that can go full bore every possession of every game. That’s Jevon Carter this year, as it was Gary Payton II last year and T.J. McConnell the year before. Jevon Carter isn’t necessarily a better college player than either of them, but he does have skill-set much better suited to success in the NBA.
12) Speaking of potential Two-Way players, I don’t believe there’s a strong argument for Bruce Brown and Andrew Jones over Jevon Carter. I can see the argument, but it’s not one I’m inclined to buy.
However, what I really don’t get is how Bruce Brown and Andrew Jones could be potential lottery picks while Jevon Carter is not on the draft radar. Bruce Brown has zero in-between game. Andrew Jones doesn’t have much of one and doesn’t yet know what he’s doing. Carter is a high IQ guy who can not only make plays for others but can find his shot and make it at a good clip. It’s really important. Unassisted mid-range success is a way more stable indicator than Mediocre Free-Throw Shooting + Mediocre Three-Point Shooting.
What happens when the guy gets run off the three-point line? That’s the important question. With Brown and Jones the answer isn’t necessarily good.
13) Vertical athleticism? An inch or two of height? 11 to 20 months of age? These shouldn’t be more more important than almost every other draft criteria there is, by which Carter wins. Carter is exactly the kind of prospect we learn year in and year out is an NBA guy with more potential than we would like to believe, and yet we still continue to ignore him. Why?
If Brown was the age of Andrew Jones or De’Anthony Melton, I’d be much more inclined to buy high on him over Carter. But he’s not. He’s a 20 year old Freshman.
1) Sindarius Thornwell is another guy who for some reason is underrated. When talking about guys who might have a superior defensive outcome, he’s one of the best bets. Great anticipation. Incredibly strong. Not only is Thornwell basically the same size as Jae Crowder (that includes the muscles) but Jae Crowder is the closest comparable player in terms of both defensive ability and defensive statistics.
Offensively the comparison holds up as well, except for Two-Point Shooting Percentage, because Crowder was much better at the rim. (76% vs. 58%. As seniors Thornwell is actually the more accomplished Mid-Range Shooter, hitting 34% to 31% and making 29 unassisted buckets compared to just 15.)
Along with Jae Crowder, Ron Artest (or Metta World Peace) is the other player who’s very much like Thornwell in terms of both build and defensive intensity. Of course, Artest is the better passer, but pretty much everything else holds. This is very much the type of season we would have seen from him had he stayed until he was a senior, with more assists of course.
DeMarre Carroll and Wesley Matthews are other comparisons I like to a certain extent. Guys who didn’t shoot at all until they were seniors. Guys that earned their paychecks really by their commitment to defense. That’s where Thornwell is going to make his bones as well.
2) PJ Tucker is another good comparison. The stats don’t match up, but it’s not hard to imagine Thornwell with that kind of game moving forward.
3) Markis McDuffie. Just another guy who’s very much underrated. It makes very little sense to like Mikal Bridges and not like Markis McDuffie, considering McDuffie is a full year younger and a whole lot more confident. 62% at the rim, 36% from mid-range, 38% from three with 81% from the Free-Throw line. He’s also a solid passer (12% Assist Percentage) and decision maker (3.3 turnovers per 100), but like Mikal Bridges, he’s probably going to end up in an offensive role similar to that of Shane Battier.
One place where Mikal Bridges is better than McDuffie: Athleticism and more specifically, vertical athleticism. McDuffie has great reflexes and coordination (perhaps even better than Bridges though these are impossible to eye-test) but he doesn’t have nearly the lift. This alley-oop from Van Vleet as a Freshman is a great example of both not great lift and excellent coordination.
As for the other kinds of athleticism, the kinds which allow McDuffie to move his feet and stay in front of defenders, even small and insanely quick ones, McDuffie looks to have those in abundance.
Here is an example of Markis McDuffie staying in front of Jawun Evans on a play that stills ends up in assist. (1:55 in the video.) Remember how much trouble Josh Jackson had in similar actions versus the same player. Of course, if it were just one play, we’d be left with more than a few questions if this ability is real or happenstance. Thankfully there are more than a few examples of McDuffie getting matched up against Paris Lee, a jitterbug on Illinois State, and more than holding his own. (These take place especially in the 2nd game between the two teams. Watching, you’ll notice that Zach Brown is an excellent defender as well.)
That is to say, Markis McDuffie is a real 3&D prospect and there’s at least a decent chance for success at the point of attack. Though McDuffie’s athleticism, which is not ideal, at least makes it a question. Given equal athleticism to Mikal Bridges, there’s a good chance I’d rank McDuffie ahead, just because there’s no questions about his assertiveness on the court.
4) Bruce Brown. I like Bruce Brown. He also seems to be a prospect who is being somewhat underrated by one camp and somewhat overrated by another. The thing I love about Bruce Brown? Defense. He really plays defense and tries hard there. He’s small, but his strength and long wing span should allow him to be a multi-position defender (PG, SG and possibly SF). Both at the Point-of-attack and off-ball (his instincts are mostly good but he’s susceptible to back door action). That’s a potentially very valuable player.
However, he’s probably not the next Tony Allen. I may be wrong there, since judging just how good a defender is or is going to be is something most of us struggle with. (Honest question, who is actually good at this?) But that’s pretty much what Brown’s going to need to be to stick in the league if he doesn’t shoot.
And unfortunately for Brown, shooting is a big question mark.
Let’s say this first. Bruce Brown is really old for a Freshman. Josh Jackson is also old, but Bruce Brown is six months older. So it’s really better to think about Josh Jackson as a Sophomore and Bruce Brown as a Sophomore or a Junior. And for a Sophomore or a Junior, Bruce Brown’s numbers just aren’t that special. (Let’s call it the Melo Trimble effect.)
5) Bruce Brown’s passing likely isn’t going to translate. Of the guys on this list, who’s the player who became a well above average passer in the pros? Michael Finley. And what was the indicator he might do so? Assists? No. It was the fact that he could get off 19.5 Field Goal Attempts per 40 minutes without turning the ball over a lot.
But Bruce Brown can’t find is own shot in half-court situations. (Less than 12 attempts per 40.) So right now we know we’re looking at an intelligent player but probably more of a ball mover than a creator. Next, his three-point numbers are fool’s gold. And why is that? One, he doesn’t make many of them. Two, he can’t make shots off the bounce, unless he’s using the bounce to step into the shot. (Only 26 percent on mid-range jumpers. Only 21 unassisted jumpers all year.)
6) It’s actually this deficiency that’s the reason Bruce Brown can’t find his own own shot, since his lack of in-between game results in him getting stuck in no-go situations. Bruce Brown doesn’t make bad passes out of these situations, but he does chuck up a lot of shots that might as well be turnovers.
This is the same type of game Justise Winslow had in college (though Winslow was two years younger.) 27% from mid-range. No unassisted jumpers. Let’s just say that it’s not surprising that Winslow hasn’t learned how to shoot, and thus has no place in an NBA offense. And he was far better than Brown in college. Players like Brown and Winslow are like Trevor Ariza, they probably need to shoot from distance to succeed at the next level. That’s worth a gamble at some point (it’ll probably end up around the back end of the lottery after players withdraw from the draft), but it also makes Brown a significantly worse prospect than some other guys that at this point.
7) One of those other guys: Terence Davis.
I’m going to talk about him a lot in my next piece, so I’ll keep this brief. The thing that really separates Davis from Bruce Brown and Andrew Jones, he has an elite blow-by first step, at least for college. And it shows up in the numbers. 18.5 Field Goal Attempts per 40 minutes. 20.8 True Shooting Attempts. And he’s a 19 year old sophomore. He’s got a long way to go. However, he’s got real initiator potential.
I’d actually consider ranking him higher, but I don’t expect he’ll enter the draft. Nor should he do so. He’s got so much to gain by going back to college and continuing to get better. If he declares right now, it’s much more likely that his game plateaus.
8) Kamar Baldwin and Andrew Jones should both go back to school. It shouldn’t be a question. Both are potential high upside combo-guards, but that’s really only the case if they go back to school and improve. Players don’t come into the NBA with the kinds of holes they have in their games and thrive.
Kamar Baldwin gets sped up by pressure and doesn’t have much feel for passing. He has elite touch on floaters and in the mid-range, plus a lot of shake off the dribble. He’s also a good defender in most actions (with excellent instincts on that side of the ball) and athletic enough for that to translate. But his two major issues will destroy him in the NBA, and they are probably fixable to some extent with college repetitions. Especially with Tyler Lewis, Kelan Martin and Avery Woodson graduating from Butler. The repetitions are going to be there next year.
9) On the other hand, Andrew Jones is basically a poor man’s version of De’Aaron Fox. He’s not as fast with the ball in his hand. He can’t find his own shot. He has less in-between game. He’s also no better bet to shoot the ball.
Anyone who thinks so is probably putting a lot of stock in 80 over 104 from the Free-Throw line instead of 114 out of 155, and it’s a ridiculous position, considering the percentages would be identical if Fox had made 5 more or Jones had made 3 less. That is, we’re basically talking about 4 Free-Throws either way out of a total of 259. That’s not a lot.
The rest of Jones’ shooting sample is arguably worse than Fox since he can’t get anywhere in the half court. He’s at only 12.6 attempts per 40 despite the fact that Texas has no one else to shoot. That is, he’d put up numbers significantly worse than Fox if he could dream of shooting 16.6 attempts per 40. But if he did that, Jones would basically be adding somewhere between 3 and 4 missed jump shots to his docket. If we’re being generous, we’re talking about a 38.5% Field Goal Percentage while shooting somewhere around 25% from Three.
We’re not even talking about shot selection. We’re talking about a total inability to find open shots. Who exactly is Jones deferring to? Why is the Texas offense so bad? It’s because of Jones.
10) There’s a clear BBIQ difference (7.4 Assists and 5.2 Turnovers per 100 for Jones vs. 9.2 Assists and 4.2 Turnovers per 100 for Fox as one indicator). In addition, Jones has average body control (he flails when driving to the basket and is easily knocked off balance, which is actually why he draws so many Free Throws) and an average first step that is not as good as one would guess. (Where are all the blow-bys?)
I don’t want to be too difficult on Jones. He’s clearly improved on offense as the season has gone along, and there’s clearly potential here, but if he goes to the NBA, there going to ask what can he do for me now? And the answer to that question for Jones is that he’s an undersized off-the-ball Wing on offense whose probably not going to shoot.
11) That’s why Jones should go back to college. If Jones goes back to college, there’s a lot of room for growth. He has legitimate athleticism. The ball-handling and improved decision making as the season has gone on do suggest that their may be a Point Guard somewhere in there. Given time, he might improve his shooting and his ability to find shots. But I’m betting we only see that player if Jones goes back to college.
Regardless, if Jones declares he’ll likely end up in my Top 20. That’s not because my opinion is likely to improve. It’s because a lot of the players above him just aren’t going to declare and there’s enough to like about Jones to be worth a lottery ticket. He’s basically a smaller version of Jaylen Brown, who I ranked right in the middle of the first round last year, and bumped up to 6 after I learned the Celtics drafted him. But smaller here is significant.
12) SMU Guards. Sterling Brown and Shake Milton. Yes, I’m higher on them than everybody else. They can shoot. They try hard on both sides of the ball. They know how to play. There’ll be a lot of time to talk about them, and this piece is long.
13) Trier, Pinson, Hutchison and Diakite. I don’t expect any of them to enter.
14) Trier is an elite college scorer, and exactly the kind of player who could become an elite pro guy. One sign that he’s a better defender than his stocks suggests. He’s got a plus-1 DBPM despite the fact that he has close to zero stocks. That’s only been done six times in the database. (By a guard at least.) That doesn’t mean I believe Trier will be a good defender, but he is the kind of offensive player worth taking a shot on at the end of the first.
15) Pinson has Two-Way potential. He’s more athletic than McDuffie, but he’s nowhere near as good at keeping his man in front of him. Also a worse bet to shoot, and always injured.
16) Hutchison is 6’7″ and runs college offense. He also tries hard, shows some intelligence on the floor and has the makings of a jump shot. This is a player archetype that’s generally successful in the NBA. Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Jae Crowder, Paul George, Chandler Parsons and Khris Middleton all belong to this player archetype.
17) Diakite is the best defensive prospect in college basketball besides Robert Williams. He’s also very raw and probably ends up out of the league if he declares now. Next year, he and Davis are big-time guys for which to watch.
In no specific order: Jordan Bell, Kevaughn Allen, Jacob Evans, Jawun Evans, Josh Hart, Jeremy Morgan, Chris Boucher, Ethan Happ, Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw, Kevarrius Hayes, Josh Reaves, Semi Ojeleye, Ben Moore, Jemerrio Jones, TJ Leaf, Ish Wainright, Kadeem Allen, Monte Morris, Devonte’ Graham, Kevin Johnson, Ike Anigbogu, Lauri Markkanen, Jarrett Allen, Justin Patton, Khyri Thomas, Grant Williams, Brandon Clarke, Chris Clarke, Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins, Dillon Brooks, Wenyen Gabriel, Bam Adebayo, Ivan Rabb, Caleb Swanigan, Killian Tille, Nigel Hayes, Peter Jok, Alec Peters, Tacko Fall, London Perrantes, Frank Mason, Tahjere McCall, Justin Tuoyo, JeQuan Lewis, Lamont West, Devin Robinson, Aaron Holiday, Justin Jackson, Nigel Williams-Goss.
It’s very likely that a few of these players end up eventually in my Top 30, as I wouldn’t expect Collins, Anunoby, Melton, McDuffie, Davis, Baldwin, Pinson and Hutchison to declare. In addition to these players, Mikal Bridges, Jevon Carter, Donovan Mitchell, Andrew Jones, Shake Milton and Allonzo Trier are all big question marks going forward. That’s as many as 15 spots opening up. On that alone, we can expect a fair bit of movement.
One Note About The Avatars To Success: These aren’t meant as absolute comparisons. It’s just a grouping of players with somewhat similar attributes in terms of size, skill, etc . . . The similarities need not even extend across the board. For instance, with Lonzo Ball and T.J. McConnell. Rather, it’s merely to suggest that Ball could perhaps do wonders in the NBA if he played in a manner not wholly dissimilar to that of McConnell. The fact that Ball is 6’6″, is a solid NBA athlete and has a legitimate weapon in his three-pointer makes him a decent bet to be A LOT better if he does so.