It seems that there now really is no basketball offseason. Weeks after the hectic part of the offseason — the draft, trades of star players, free agent signings, firings of GMs — ended, the only thing that seemingly still had to happen for the offseason to be complete was a trade of Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks’ divisive superstar. And while a trade of Melo will be a big deal whenever it happens, the fact that it’s been expected for so long will lessen the talk and excitement around it. But just as the offseason was winding down, down came the bombshell from Cleveland whisperer Brian Windhorst of ESPN: Kyrie Irving wants to be traded.

Originally, everyone assumed that Kyrie’s request was the final nail in the coffin for LeBron in Cleveland. Surely Kyrie knew that James was going to leave and wanted to escape too, right? Why else would Irving want to leave the Cavaliers? But those initial assumptions were wrong. The truth, in fact, is the opposite: shockingly enough, Kyrie Irving wants to leave Cleveland in order to get away from LeBron James. The reactions to this were mixed, but a lot of people immediately panned the decision as stupid. LeBron is the perfect player for Kyrie to play with, they said. Where does he have a better chance to win than in Cleveland?

While I initially didn’t really understand this take, I realized that this response is indicative of the shift in the NBA landscape this decade. Ever since LeBron’s move to the Heat, it seems like everything has been about gravitating toward a few teams and winning for star players. We saw that most obviously with Kevin Durant. We just saw it with Chris Paul, who chose to take a one year qualifying offer instead of a boatload of money so he could play for Houston, a team with much better prospects than the Clippers. We saw it with Pau Gasol, who put up 19 and 17 points per game in the two seasons before sacrificing money and playing time to sign with the Spurs. Likewise with Gordon Hayward, who left money behind in Utah partially because Boston gives him a better chance to win. Ten years ago, players like Anthony and Paul George may have been content making more money for their average teams. Now, George asked for a trade (and was granted one to a better OKC team), while Anthony wants to be traded to either the Cavs or the Rockets, par for the course for the modern NBA star. It seems like Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo might be the next guys to spurn their average teams for something bigger and better. Everyone seems to want to move to the handful teams — Cleveland, Boston, Golden State, San Antonio, Houston — with legitimate chances of making and winning the Finals (although I’d argue that, providing health, only one team has a real chance of winning the Finals next year). And fans and analysts alike have been conditioned to expect players to care first and foremost about winning championships. That’s what happens when the very best players in the league — LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Steph Curry — seem to care first and foremost about winning championships. So when Kyrie Irving, the second best player on the Cavs and obviously an irreplaceable player for the three-time reigning Eastern Conference champs, asks to leave, people are surprised. When’s the last time a superstar player left or asked to be traded from a team with a clear path to a championship (Durant doesn’t count, considering where he moved)? I can’t even remember. But it’s ok — in the longterm, probably even beneficial — for guys like Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook to care about things other than putting themselves in a position where they can quickly win.

According to Windhorst’s reporting, Irving “wants to be in a position where he can be more of a focal point.” And guess what?? That makes sense!! He didn’t choose to play with James, after all. He signed a five-year extension 10 days before James decided to come home. He’s a 25-year-old at the height of his powers, and he’s overshadowed. Heck, I didn’t even know how good he was last year until the last few days. He averaged 25 points and six assists per game on 47/40/91 shooting! I had no idea! It’s telling that, when ranking the best point guards, people get six or seven (seventh was most common among the rankings I looked at) or eight names deep before mentioning Kyrie Irving. I know it’s a deep position, and I don’t even know where I’d rank Kyrie (it might be sixth or seventh), but that’s kind of the point. Kyrie Irving is a famously confident guy. Think about it from his perspective — if I’m Kyrie, I’m wondering what the heck I can do to get the respect I deserve. Win a championship? Check. Play exceptionally well in the playoffs? Check. Put up 25 points per game? Check. Wow people with my finishing ability? Check. Become one of the most efficient scorers in the league? Check. And after all that, I’m still not a top-five point guard??? Yeah, maybe I’d want to leave, too.

According to reports, Kyrie mentioned four specific teams that he’d like to play for: San Antonio, Minnesota, New York, and Miami. I believe that the T-Wolves are on there because Irving is good friends with Jimmy Butler and would like to play with his buddy. If Butler were still on the Bulls, Minnesota would be off the list and Chicago would be on it. The Knicks and Heat make a whole lot of sense, too, because both places would give Irving the chance to shine as the unquestioned superstar in a big media market and a great place for a 25-year-old to live. I must say that the addition of the Spurs puzzles me a little bit, but I can see the argument. Because Kawhi Leonard is so quiet and wary of the media, Irving would immediately become the leader of the team, if not in the locker room than certainly outside of it. He’d get the chance to take over from Tony Parker as the next great Spurs point guard.

Of course, that list of four teams means diddly squat. Unlike Melo, Irving doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so the Cavs can trade him to whichever team gives them the best package. But Irving’s list of teams certainly clues us in to the type of atmosphere and situation he wants.

Coming from someone who is far from a Warriors hater and who hasn’t said one critical word about Kevin Durant’s decision, it’s not good for the league to have all of its talent concentrated on two or three teams. Yes, the Warriors play beautiful basketball, but there are a good 20 fanbases who go into every season knowing they can’t win a title and another five or six who are probably just delusional. And guess what? Golden State kept everyone and got even better this offseason. That trend has to reverse at some point, and I think Kyrie might help make that happen. I didn’t criticize KD because I think that guys who work as hard as NBA stars do to get into the positions that they do have earned the right to play for whomever they want, wherever they want. I’m sure as heck not going to criticize Kyrie Irving for wanting to take on a bigger role as a franchise player in a city other than Cleveland. Instead, I’m going to praise him, because I think it’s a decision that makes sense career-wise and one that could help the NBA in the long run.

The Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Nationals just completed a quick two game series, which meant we all sat through three days of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper discussion. In the first game, the two players didn’t disappoint; Harper went 4-4 and was a double away for the cycle, while Trout homered and drove in two of LA’s three runs. The climax of the game came in the first inning, when both Harper and Trout homered. For people who are obsessed with the Trout-Harper faux-rivalry, yesterday was disappointing, as Harper was rested in a 7-0 Angels win that featured another Trout homer.

I understand why Harper and Trout are compared to each other. They were once the top two prospects in baseball and each had his first full season in 2012. Each player won the Rookie of the Year. Both players are outfielders, both have been perennial All-Stars from the get-go (Harper’s made five All-Star teams in six years, while Trout is six-for-six), and both are among the best players in baseball. But to compare Bryce Harper to Mike Trout is to overlook the extent of Mike Trout’s greatness. Bryce Harper is a great player and will probably end up in the Hall of Fame. Mike Trout is on pace to be one of the best players of all-time and one of the few guys with a legitimate claim of being the GOAT. And that isn’t really up for debate. No matter what stat you prefer, Trout is an order of magnitude better than Harper. His career slash line is .308/.408/.567, good for a .975 OPS, significantly higher than Harper’s .906. He has more singles, doubles, triples, and homers than Harper. Heck, all you need to know is that Trout, a guy who was never projected to have more than average power, has hit more homers per plate appearance (4.9% of his PAs have been HRs) than Harper (4.6%), who was an elite prospect because he profiled as a plus-plus power hitter. While Harper does indeed have plus-plus power, so does Trout. As long as that is the case, any comparison between the two value-wise is pretty silly, because Trout is so much better at everything else.

After a two year blip, Trout’s base-stealing has returned over the past couple of years. He swiped 30 bags last year and has 11 through 52 games (remember, he missed about six weeks due to injury) this season. Trout now has 154 career steals, while Harper has 60. With the return of his base-stealing (I was going to say speed, but I don’t think that ever left) and the improvement of his arm, we can again officially say that Trout is a five-tool player. He’s not the flawless centerfielder he was as a young player, but the 25-year-old is at least a league-average defender in center. Meanwhile, Harper has improved his defense, but he’s no better than a league-average rightfielder. Again, clear advantage to Trout.

As you might expect, the advanced stats also favor Trout. Since the start of 2012, he’s been worth 50.7 WAR, per Fangraphs. That’s more than 10 more WAR than the second most valuable player (Clayton Kershaw) and 17.4 more than the second most valuable hitter (Josh Donaldson). Harper’s been worth 27.5 WAR, placing him 10th among hitters. Here’s another way to think about it: over the last five and a half years, Trout’s been outpacing Harper by about 4.2 WAR per season. Given that the current going rate on the open market is about $8 million per win above replacement, Trout’s been worth an average of more than $33 million more than Harper per year. Guess how many players will make $33 million this year? One. Clayton Kershaw. Now, most elite players never reach free agency early in their primes (although it seems likely to happen with Harper), which is why you don’t see a lot of $50 million per year deals and why the $33 million figure I mentioned may be a bit misleading. But you get the idea. 50.7 is a lot more than 27.5.

It’s also worth noting that Trout ranks second in baseball since the start of 2012 in baserunning value added (per Fangraphs), behind only Billy Hamilton. He ranks first in wRC+, which adjusts for ballpark effects (Harper is ninth, but Trout is again way out in front of the pack with a 173 wRC+). He’s easily first in Win Probability Added, another all-encompassing metric. Harper is 10th, again providing slightly more than half of Trout’s value. I think that’s a pretty good way to think about this. Harper’s probably about 60% of the player that Trout is. There’s no shame in that, but there’s also no use comparing the two.

I think it’s more fair and worthwhile to compare Trout to players from previous generations than it is to compare him to Harper. After all, according to Baseball Prospects’s WARP, Trout is halfway to being a top-10 all-time hitter despite being between 6,000 and 10,000 plate appearances behind every player in BP’s top-10 (Bonds, Mays, Aaron, Henderson, Frank Robinson, Mantle, Schmidt, Pujols, A-Rod, Yastrzemski). I like BP because, as you can tell from that top-10, its model really values baserunning (how else could Rickey Henderson be the fourth best hitter of all-time??) and defense.

For players as good as Trout, it’s hard to find comparisons. But baseball-reference.com helps with its similarity scores. Since Trout doesn’t turn 26 until August, this is considered his age-25 season, making last year, his last full season, his age-24 season. So let’s ignore the amazing numbers Trout has put up this year and see where he stacks through 24. According to baseball-reference, the most similar batters to Trout through 24 are Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Mel Ott. That’s scary good. Guess what’s scarier-good? Trout’s first five full seasons were better than Mantle’s, Griffey’s, Aaron’s, Robinson’s, and Ott’s. In fact, his 47.7 WAR through age-24 is most all-time, barely edging Ty Cobb. After those two, nobody else is particularly close. Burt Blyleven is surprisingly third, followed by Mantle and 19th century giant Silver King (what a name! Unfortunately, he added just more than 4 WAR after his age-24 season). The list of the top young hitters is basically the list of the best hitters of all-time (not so with the pitchers, as Blyleven and King can attest to). After Mantle comes Ott, followed by Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, A-Rod, and Griffey. By the way, Harper is 24th and rising. By the end of the season, he could be around 15th. Another sign that Harper is in fact darn good and a likely Hall of Famer.

The elephant in the room is that, as things stand now, Trout has a legitimate chance to be one of the very best players of all-time. I find it hard to believe that he out-WARs Babe Ruth (168.4) or Barry Bonds (164.4). But those are unfair benchmarks. Ruth played nearly a century ago, and Bonds’s stats were inflated by PEDs. Willie Mays and Ty Cobb each were worth more than 149 WAR, so Trout is barely a third of the way to the Say Hey Kid and The Georgia Peach. It seems unlikely that he’ll ever approach 149, but what made those guys so special was their longevity. Peak-wise, Trout is as good as anyone. He has again proved that this year, as he’s putting up astronomical counting stats that we haven’t seen in years. But Trout’s also been injured this year, showing how fragile all of this is and how much has to go right to be an all-timer. Trout’s a future Hall of Famer and will be one of the best centerfielders of all-time when he retires, barring catastrophic injury. Whether or not he possesses that supernatural longevity will determine how high up the list he can get.

I’m going to be away for the next month, so I thought it would be fun to predict the headlines that I’ll be unable to write about. Hopefully sports aren’t as hard to predict as everybody thinks…

After All That, Fultz-Ball-Jackson go 1-2-3: It’s NBA Draft rumor season, which means that all kinds of rumors are being leaked by teams and bandied about by the media. Are the Celtics going to take Josh Jackson #1? Have the Lakers cooled on Lonzo Ball? Will the Kings trade up to draft De’Aaron Fox? Do the Sixers love Malik Monk’s fit enough to draft him #3? In the end, I think the top of the draft will go just as most thought it would a month ago. Fultz should be the slam dunk #1 pick, Ball should go #2, and Jackson should go #3.

Mike Trout Returns Ahead of Schedule: Trout underwent surgery on May 31st to repair a torn UCL in his left thumb and was given a 6-8 week timetable that all but guaranteed that he’d be out through the All-Star break. But because he’s Mike Trout, he’ll return before the break and reinsert himself into the AL MVP conversation (sorry, Aaron Judge). Maybe I’m just trying to will this into existence, because baseball without Mike Trout is nowhere near as fun as baseball with Mike Trout. The guy was hitting .337/.461/.742 with 16 homers and 10 steals in 206 plate appearances before he went down.

Aaron Judge Slumps: Speaking of AL MVP candidates, this has to happen at some point, doesn’t it? Judge has been nothing short of spectacular in his first full season. He’s hitting .335/.441/.692 with 22 homers and currently is lapping the field (excluding Trout, of course) with a 196 wRC+ (96% better than the average hitter). But he strikes out a ton, and his BABIP is an absurd .425 right now. That number’s going to come way down, and I think Judge will hit around .270 going forward, although he’ll still provide great value through his walks and homers. But I think a slump sometime over the next month is inevitable.

Devils take Nolan Patrick, Flyers take Nico Hischier: There have been reports that the Devils might look past the clear top two prospects in the draft and draft a defenseman instead, but those reports are clearly bogus (sorry in advance if they turn out to be true). It’s between Patrick and Hischier for the Devils, with the Flyers picking the leftover center. I happen to think that the Devils are going to take Patrick first, because he’s the bigger player with more two-way upside. But they can’t go wrong (as long as they take one of those two!).

Vegas takes Marc-Andre Fleury in Expansion Draft, Then Trades Him: The first part is a slam dunk. Since the Pittsburgh Penguins have to protect stud young netminder Matt Murray in the expansion draft, they’ll leave Fleury unprotected. Fleury dropped the no-movement clause that would have prevented the Penguins from protecting him, and since he’ll be the best goalie on the market at a good price, he’ll be going to Vegas. But then I think the Vegas Golden Knights (terrible name, by the way) will trade Fleury to a goalie-needy for picks. In fact, I think we’re going to see a lot of picks flowing to Vegas as they look to build for the future.

Gordon Hayward Returns to the Jazz: Hayward, probably the best player on the market right now, has been linked to Boston for years. It makes sense. The Celtics’ coach is Brad Stevens, who recruited and coached Hayward at Butler. And Boston has the advantage of being in the Eastern Conference, which would give Hayward a better shot at the NBA Finals (no facing the Warriors until the Finals). There’s no doubt that he would fit exceptionally well in Boston. Now there are reports coming out that the Heat will join the Celtics in the pursuit of Hayward, and Miami should always be taken seriously in free agency. But in the end, the Jazz can offer more money to Hayward than anything else, and they also offer continuity and a pretty good young team. Generally, I like to bet on guys re-signing unless there’s clearly a superior alternative.

Red Sox Take AL East Lead: I guess this kind of goes hand-in-hand with my Judge prediction, but I think that the Red Sox will make up their two game deficit and have a better record than the Yankees heading into the All-Star break. With the exceptions of Chris Sale, Mitch Moreland, and Craig Kimbrel, their team has been underperforming. Their studs haven’t been horrible (Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez are all putting up solid stats), but none of them has exploded yet. That should change over the next month as the Red Sox capitalize on a soft schedule (after their three game series in Houston, of course) and enter the break on a hot streak despite closing the first half of the season on a 10-game road trip.

Rafa Knocked Out of Wimbledon Early, While Murray Retains Title: Rafael Nadal will be heading into Wimbledon on a high, having just won his record 10th French Open. And he shouldn’t be counted out at Wimbledon, as he has won it twice. But he hasn’t made it out of the fourth round since 2011, and while he’s playing better tennis now than he has at any point in the last three years, I expect him to be knocked out in the first few rounds. Meanwhile, Andy Murray always excels on the grass, making at least the quarterfinals nine times in a row. I think he’s the clear favorite to win his second consecutive Wimbledon title, although Roger Federer is of course worthy competition on the grass. I’m hoping that we get a Murray-Federer championship. It happened in 2012, when Federer won in four sets.

Raimel Tapia Earns Everyday Role, Helps Rockies Stay Hot: The Colorado Rockies shockingly have the best record in the National League at 43-26. They’ve gotten tremendous performances from Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado, but their hitting hasn’t actually been as good as in recent years. The reason they’ve been so good is that they’ve gotten tremendous performances from young pitchers. Jeff Hoffman has a 2.25 ERA through five starts, Antonio Senzatela has a 3.84 ERA in his rookie year (super impressive at Coors Field), and rookie Kyle Freeland has a 3.57 ERA. Given that they’re about to get Jon Gray back from injury, they have to be more bullish about their rotation now than they have been in recent memory. With that being said, they need more production out of their offense. They’re being very careful with top prospect Brendan Rodgers, holding him in high-A ball even though he’s hitting .404 and is clearly ready for AA or even AAA. More likely to get more playing time is Raimel Tapia, who has already gotten the call-up and who has played 15 games for the Rockies and generally impressed. Tapia hit .359 in AAA, and he’s starting to take playing time from Carlos Gonzalez, who’s been one of the worst players in baseball this year. I expect Tapia to continue to earn playing time and to help offset any potential drop-off from the starting pitching.

Chris Paul Courts Other Suitors, Then Stays With LA: Basically the same thing as Hayward. Paul would be leaving a LOT of money on the table if he were to leave LA, and I don’t see that happening, especially since he helped negotiate the CBA that allowed him to receive so much money to stay. I think he’ll court the Spurs and the Rockets but eventually return to the Clippers for a max contract.

2017 NBA Draft Big Board

Posted: 06/16/2017 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

Before I get to my big board, here’re links to my posts about each of the prospects I’m ranking:

I wrote about Jonathan Isaac, Justin Jackson, and OG Anunoby here
I wrote about Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum here
I wrote about Markelle Fultz here
I wrote about Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox here
I wrote about Dennis Smith and Frank Ntilikina here
I wrote about Malik Monk, Lauri Markkanen, Luke Kennard, and Tyler Lydon here
I wrote about Justin Patton, Jarrett Allen, and Zach Collins here
I wrote about TJ Leaf, Ivan Rabb, and John Collins here
I wrote about Bam Adebayo, Harry Giles, and Ike Anigbogu here
I wrote about Josh Hart, Derrick White, and Frank Mason here
I wrote about Donovan Mitchell, Jawun Evans, Jonah Bolden, Andejs Pasecniks, and Terrance Ferguson here
I wrote about DJ Wilson, Caleb Swanigan, and Semi Ojeleye here
I wrote about Jordan Bell, Alec Peters, Frank Jackson, and Wes Iwundu here

That’s 38 prospects in all. It obviously isn’t all of the relevant ones, and I might even be missing a few that will go in the first round. But since these are the 38 that I researched and wrote about, they’re the ones that will make up my big board. As I did last year, the players I like more than the consensus are in green while the ones I like less are in red. This year, I’ll also be tiering the players, because I think viewing the players in tiers is the best way to get a sense of the value of the draft. Obviously, these rankings are made in a vacuum and don’t consider fit for any particular team.

— Tier 1: Future Superstar —
1. Markelle Fultz
— 6’4″ PG from Washington
— Tier 2: Sky’s the Limit, but with Risks —
2. Josh Jackson  — 6’8″ SF from Kansas
3. Lonzo Ball — 6’6″ PG from UCLA
4. Dennis Smith Jr— 6’3″ PG from NC State
5. Jonathan Isaac — 6’11” SF/PF from Florida State
6. De’Aaron Fox — 6’4″ PG from Kentucky
— Tier 3: High Floor, Potential All-Stars —
7. Jayson Tatum — 6’8″ SF from Duke
8. Malik Monk — 6’4″ SG from Kentucky
— Tier 4: Future Starters —
9. Donovan Mitchell — 6’3″ PG/SG from Louisville
10. Frank Ntilikina — 6’5″ PG from Strasbourg IG
11. T.J. Leaf — 6’10” PF from UCLA
12. John Collins — 6’10” PF from Wake Forest
13. Lauri Markkanen — 7’0″ PF from Arizona
— Tier 5: Ceiling of Elite Role Players —
14. Justin Patton — 7’0″ C from Creighton
15. Luke Kennard — 6’6″ SG from Duke
16. Josh Hart — 6’6″ SG from Villanova
17. Ike Anigbogu — 6’10” C from UCLA
18. Justin Jackson — 6’8″ SF from UNC
19. Jarrett Allen — 6’11” C from Texas
20. DJ Wilson — 6’10” PF from Michigan
— Tier 6: Low Floor, High Upside —
21. OG Anunoby — 6’8″ SF from Indiana
22. Harry Giles — 6’11” C from Duke
— Tier 7: Role Players With Definite NBA Futures —
23. Zach Collins
— 7’0″ C from Gonzaga
24. Terrance Ferguson — 6’7″ SG from Adelaide 36ers
25. Derrick White  6’5″ PG/SG from Colorado
26. Jawun Evans
— 6’0″ PG from Oklahoma State
27. Jordan Bell — 6’9″ PF from Oregon
— Tier 8: One Plus Skill —
28. Andejs Pasecniks — 7’2″ C from Gran Canaria
29. Tyler Lydon — 6’10” PF from Syracuse
30. Alec Peters 
— 6’9″ PF from Valparaiso
31. Semi Ojeleye —  6’7″ SF/PF from SMU
32. Frank Jackson — 6’4″ PG/SG from Duke
— Tier 9: Clear Second Rounders —
33. Ivan Rabb — 6’10” PF/C from Cal
34. Caleb Swanigan — 6’9″ PF/C from Purdue
35. Bam Adebayo — 6’10” C from Kentucky
36. Jonah Bolden — 6’10” PF from Radnicki Basket
37. Wesley Iwundu — 6’7″ SG/SF from Kansas State
38. Frank Mason
— 5’11” PG from Kansas

This is my last post on 2017 draft prospects. Although I’ve covered every single surefire first round pick (I think there are around 20 of those), there are still plenty of intriguing potential draftees left to discuss. It’d be impossible for me to go deep enough into the weeds to profile every single potential draftees, so today I’m cherrypicking four of the ones I most want to write about, for very different reasons. I want to write about Jordan Bell because he’s a fun player who was incredibly exciting to watch as he dominated the NCAA Tournament. Wes Iwundu intrigues me because of his 3-and-D potential. I’m writing about Frank Jackson because he was a five-star recruit who showed some flashes at Duke. And I’m writing about Alec Peters because nobody ever writes about Alec Peters, who had one heck of a career at Valparaiso. I’ll start with the biggest household name of the four, which is…

Had Chris Boucher not torn his ACL before the NCAA Tournament, I’m pretty sure Jordan Bell would be getting set to return to Oregon for his senior year right now. He had an efficient but quiet regular season, averaging 10.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.3 blocks per contest while averaging 28.9 minutes per game. But the 6’10” Boucher went down, allowing Bell to showcase his potential as a big surrounded exclusively by perimeter-oriented players. He didn’t disappoint. In five games, he put up 12.6/13.2/3.2 blocks on 73% shooting from the field. He ended his Oregon career on the sourest of notes — he twice was unable to box out Kennedy Meeks after missed free throws — but there’s no doubt that he was one of the rising stars of the tourney. His best game came against Kansas in the Elite 8, when he blocked eight shots and totally destroyed KU’s dominant offense. If anyone ever asks you if rim protection matters, just direct them to that game. In addition to the eight shots he blocked, he altered many others by virtue of his tremendous verticality and countless more because he was inside the heads of Frank Mason (8-20), Devonte Graham (0-7), and Josh Jackson (3-8), three of the most explosive guards in the country. Bell was the backbone of Oregon’s defense, so the fact that the Ducks held Michigan and Kansas, perhaps the two hottest teams in the country at the time, to 68 and 60 points is very impressive and really boosts Bell’s stock.

Bell profiles as an elite defender. He makes up for his lack of size (6’9″) and length (6’11” wingspan) with great defensive instincts and unbelievable athleticism. He blocks shots when he’s on the ball and when he’s the weak side help. His 1.3 steals per game also indicate that he has quick hands. He also has the lateral speed to switch out onto guards on the perimeter and not embarrass himself. And while his lack of size might have kept him from being drafted five years ago, he’s very playable at center nowadays, especially if he puts on a little weight. I could see Bell being one of the best defensive centers in the league, although a few more inches would definitely be nice. It remains to be seen if he can guard big centers, but he can switch out on guards and provide elite rim protection, a very desirable combination. When he adds a little weight, he’ll be an even better rebounder.

Offensively, Bell is obviously more limited. But he makes things happen just by virtue of his effort and instincts. He’s a great offensive rebounder, can dunk over people, and can use his athleticism to finish at the rim fairly efficiently. He also shot 70% from the line this season, which is pretty good for someone with his offensive toolbox. I don’t think Bell will ever be able to stretch defenses out to three point range or provide a threat off the dribble, but he’s a scrappy player who can keep plays alive and contribute without a high usage rate. Pair that with his defense and you have a fringe first round pick. His lack of size and offensive versatility will keep him from going much higher than the late 20s.

Wesley Iwundu seems like a very familiar prospect. He has two things going for him: his physical tools, and his potential to be a 3-and-D wing. He’s 6’7″ with a 7’1″ wingspan, and he has nice athleticism and leaping ability and is a versatile player. As a senior for Kansas State, he had the ball in his hands a lot more than I would have expected. Only 16% of his usage came from spot-up situations, an absurdly low rate for a wing. More often, Iwundu would initiate a pick-and-roll, try to get his teammates involved, and then penetrate the defense. He played for a really dull and low-octane Kansas State offense, but he still managed to average 13/6.3/3.5 on 48/38/77 shooting as a senior. With that being said, he’s probably going to have to evolve a lot more in order to be an NBA-caliber wing. He’d better get more comfortable shooting off the catch, because he isn’t good enough to be a primary offense initiator in the NBA. In order to reach his potential, he’s going to need to become a good spot-up three point shooter, and he’s not close to being there yet. He shot 38% from three, but his stroke was inconsistent and he didn’t look comfortable with it. It has clearly improved over the last four years, but Iwundu is going to have to be more aggressive off the ball in order to free himself for the open looks that he’s comfortable taking. Given that he’s already 22-years-old, it’s more difficult to imagine him becoming a reliable threat from downtown than it would be to imagine the same of, say, Terrance Ferguson (the guy who played in Australia this past year). We also shouldn’t neglect Iwundu’s playmaking ability — he definitely flashed some of that at K-State, where his teammates weren’t the greatest. His 3.5:2.3 assist:turnover ratio isn’t great, but it’s not bad for a wing.

Iwundu isn’t an elite defender, largely because he looked tentative against the best wings he guarded, but he has the potential to be a versatile one, with the ability to guard small forwards and power forwards. He has length and athleticism, but I wish he were a more intuitive defender. With that being said, he has the size to eat up opposing wings and the athleticism to defend and rebound over bigger wings. I’m concerned that he will struggle with the physicality of the NBA, but he should be a good defender. Overall, I’m not convinced that Iwundu has the ability to be a consistent part of an NBA rotation. I like him, but I’ve seen a lot of similar prospects who have failed to make a difference in the NBA. The fact that he’s already 22 doesn’t help. His physical profile and versatility should ensure that he gets drafted, though.

Frank Jackson’s lone season at Duke can only be described as a disappointment. It was never going to be easy for him to seize the starting point guard role, but Jackson was actually given opportunities to seize the job when Allen was suspended. He never really impressed, and Duke was without a true pass-first point guard all season, one of the reasons they were knocked out by South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to say that Jackson didn’t play a lot, because he did. He was part of what was basically a six and a half man rotation (Harry Giles being the half), and he averaged 24.9 minutes per game. Jackson’s biggest strength is his overall scoring ability. He put up 11 points per game and was one of the most efficient freshmen guards in the country. He shot 47% from the floor, 40% from three, and 76% from the line. He’s a strong slasher and shot 57% around the rim, using his strength (he’s just 6’3″ but weighs in at 205 pounds) and athleticism to finish over and around bigger defenders. And he’s a great shooter, especially when he’s given time to set up and shoot. Athleticism, finishing ability, and shooting is a pretty good place to start.

My concern is that Jackson is more of a pure shooting guard than a combo guard or certainly a point guard. He hasn’t showcased any real ability to make plays for others, as he only averaged 1.7 assists per game for a Duke team that was overflowing with talent. He barely had an AST:TO ratio above one, and that makes him less versatile than I would like. Still, his shooting and athleticism give him the opportunity to eventually be a nice scoring option off the bench.

Defensively, Jackson’s helped by his 6’7″ wingspan and the effort he always gives when he’s on the floor. He’s definitely not a bad defender, but his defensive upside is limited by his lack of lateral quickness and his poor rebounding (2.5 per game). He’ll compete and scrap, but he won’t add much value defensively. All of this means that he’s a one-dimensional prospect. He can score, but he can’t really do anything else at the next level. He’ll have to become a better distributor in order to become a valuable role player, but he definitely has the potential to be a nice scorer off the bench.

Alec Peters is Valparaiso’s career leading scorer and rebounder. He set both records in January, about a month before he suffered a stress fracture in his leg, which robbed us of the likely pleasure of watching him play in the NCAA Tournament again. After starting the Horizon League slate 13-2 with Peters, Valpo closed out the season 1-2 without him, including a 43-41 loss in the first round of the conference tournament. Then, they bowed out in the first round of the NIT, losing to Illinois by 25. It was a disappointing end to what was a brilliant college career for Peters.

He wasn’t on my radar when I posted about the best three point shooters in the draft, but now I think he should have been. Peters’s average shooting this season (36% from three) masks what is an aesthetically pleasing (and productive) shot. Just watch his release:

Peters shot 44% from three as a junior and 47% as a sophomore. He shot 89% from the line this year. He has tremendous range, and profiles as an elite NBA shooter. That’s his calling card, and will continue to be at the next level. The question is whether Peters can find other ways to contribute. He certainly did at Valpo, where he averaged 23 points per game as a senior. He averaged 6.7 free throw attempts per game, and 44% of his shots came on post-ups or shots around the basket (per DraftExpress). He converted those shots at a 56% rate. Of course, that came against lackluster Horizon League defense, and I don’t think it’ll translate particularly smoothly to the NBA. I think he’ll end up being a pretty good post player, which gives him versatility that some other gunners don’t have. Another thing I like about Peters is his high basketball IQ and terrific instincts. He’s not just out there to gun three pointers. He can fit in well to any type of offense, and he developed into a good passer at his time at Valpo. If he can find a way to stay on the court defensively, I’m confident that he’ll be a good offensive player.

The defense is a different story. Peters holds his own on the boards and can play physically, but I don’t think there’s any question that he’s going to struggle defensively. He’s just 6’9″ with a 6’11” wingspan, hardly ideal size for a power forward. And he’s not really an NBA-level athlete. As an on-ball defender, he’s really going to struggle. I have confidence that he’ll able to play team defense pretty well thanks to his basketball IQ and competitiveness, but teams are going to attack him relentlessly, putting him in pick-and-rolls and forcing him to guard both bigger players and more explosive ones. It’s the Ryan Anderson conundrum. Anderson is a tremendous three point shooter and a horrific on-ball defensive player. The Rockets thought the offense he provided was worth the defensive sacrifice, playing him 31 minutes per game in the playoffs (29 in the regular season). Of course, that didn’t work out well for them, as Anderson was bad on both sides of the ball. But if Peters can become an Anderson-level player, someone who’s such a valuable offensive player that he can play in the playoffs, we’ll know that he’ll have been a steal in the 30-40 range or wherever he ends up going.

Here’s how I’d rank these four:
Bell
Peters
Jackson
Iwundu

Full big board coming tomorrow.

The three players I’m writing about today all had huge performances in the NCAA Tournament last season. None of them are freshmen, they’re all probably power forwards or small-ball centers at the next level, and they’re all between 6’7″ and 6’10” and between 235 and 250 pounds. But the similarities end there. I’m going to start with the guy who clearly had the best season of the three but is probably the worst NBA prospect.

Everyone knows Caleb Swanigan’s story at this point. About how he was an obese teenager (over 350 pounds in eighth grade) who had to deal with the death of his father and loss of his home before he picked up basketball and got laughed off the court. About how he slowly transformed his game and his body, eventually earning a scholarship from Purdue. About how he put up 10 and 8 in his freshman year. And, of course, about how he exploded for 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, set a bajillion Purdue and Big 10 records, and was a consensus first team All-American. Not only was the 250-pounder a handful to deal with in the post, but he also shot 45% from three (on about two and a half threes per game) and 78% from the line. He was the biggest mismatch in college basketball, too big for almost anyone to deal with and too skilled for everyone else. His shot is what makes him an NBA prospect. It’s kind of flat and surprises me whenever it goes in, but he looks comfortable with it, he shot it super well at a relatively high volume, and he was also a good free throw shooter. If the shot is legit (obviously not 45% legit, but close to 40%), he’ll likely find his niche in the NBA. His rebounding is also obviously a strength (I mean, the guy did have 29 double-doubles last season). He has a super high basketball IQ, is a pretty good passer (3.1 assists per game), and can facilitate really well from the post. But there are a few problems. I’m unsure who Swanigan can guard. He’s 6’9″, and although his 7’3″ wingspan helps, I don’t know if he’s big enough to guard most centers. And it’s going to be a disaster when he gets switched onto guards, because his feet are pretty slow and because he’s relatively unathletic. He’s going to be a defensive liability, especially in the pick-and-roll. He’s also an abysmal rim protector, with just .8 blocks per game, a number that’s sure to go down at the next level. Overall, Swanigan just doesn’t add much defensively and doesn’t have much upside because of his lack of foot speed and athleticism. Offensively, Swanigan’s shot helps, but there are still some issues. He averaged 3.4 turnovers per game, looked unsure with the ball on the perimeter, and was a really bad shooter off the dribble. I could see him being a plus on offense and certainly on the boards when he’s on the court, but his defense is going to keep him from being any more than a role player and should keep him from going early in the draft.

I didn’t know much about D.J. Wilson until I watched him tear up Oklahoma State and then Louisville. Given that I had Michigan bowing out in the first round to the Cowboys in my brackets, Wilson wasn’t my favorite player this March. But with the benefit of three months of distance, I can appreciate that he’s a really skilled player. After barely playing in his first two years for the Wolverines, Wilson played 30 minutes per contest this season as a redshirt sophomore. The numbers he put up were just respectable (11 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.5 blocks, 54/37/83), and it’s true that I didn’t pay attention to him for most of the season, but from what I did see it seemed obvious that this would be an NBA player with the potential to grow into a good one. First of all, he has the size to be an NBA player. He’s 6’10” and has a 7’3″ wingspan, and he’s very athletic and rangy. He has really quick feet and has super high defensive upside. He developed into a really good rim protector in his time at Michigan, blocking 1.5 shots per contest and swatting nine shots in three tournament games. He also has the speed and athleticism to guard out on the perimeter, and should have no problem switching on pick-and-rolls. The late bloomer is nowhere near a finished product defensively, as he often got lost in the shuffle or fell asleep off the ball. But the potential is there.

Offensively, Wilson is a big man with a perimeter player’s game, which is obviously very desirable in today’s NBA. He has a decent handle, can drive and finish at the rim (73% shooter at the rim), and, of course, shoot. He shot 37%, and there’s potential for even better shooting as he adds strength. He has a nice looking stroke and shot 83% from the line. Wilson has to improve as a passer (just 1.3 assists per game), but he also committed just 1.1 turnovers per game. He’s never going to be a primary or even secondary creator, but he’s not just a spot-up player. The biggest thing he needs to work on is his strength. He had a hard time finishing through contact, and in fact generally tended to shy from contact, instead pulling up for tough midrange jumpers. That won’t cut it in the NBA, so he’ll have to add a lot of strength, especially if he wants to slot in as a stretch-five. He was also a really poor rebounder, which is probably due to a combination of lackluster effort and lack of strength.

At 21-years-old, Wilson is far from a finished product. But I’m a big fan, and I think that he’ll be a really valuable role player if he can come close to reaching that potential. I’d like to see a little bit more polish or upside out of a lottery pick, but Wilson shouldn’t be drafted too far outside the lottery.

Although he’s just a junior, Semi Ojeleye is one of the oldest players likely to be drafted (he turns 23 in December). That’s because he transferred from Duke to SMU after two quiet years with the Blue Devils and had to sit out the 2015-16 season. Needless to say, Ojeleye’s decision to transfer paid off and then some, even though SMU coach Larry Brown unexpectedly stepped down before last season. Ojeleye broke out for a really good SMU team, averaging 19 points and seven rebounds per game while playing 34 minutes per contest. He’s a chiseled 235 pounds, and he’s rising up draft boards thanks to the impressive splits he put up at the combine and because by all reports he’s been terrific in his workouts. If Wilson skirts contact, Ojeleye embraces it. He averaged 6.3 free throws per game, hitting on 79% of his shots from the charity stripe. He’s also a very good all-around offensive prospect, showing the ability to create off the dribble, finish through contact, and use his explosiveness to finish over defenders. He can also shoot, and did so at an elite clip last season, nailing 42% from beyond the arc on five threes per game. This is a guy who’s always wanted to shoot threes — in his two years at Duke, he took 32 shots, and 23 of them were threes. Now he can shoot threes, but he can also do enough off the dribble to keep defenders honest. He’s far from a great creator, and I think he’ll have to improve a lot to keep himself from being a black hole on offense. He’s also a much better fit as a power forward (where he played for SMU) than as a small forward, because he’s not a great ball-handler and because he benefits from having more playmakers around him. It may take a specific type of team to unlock his full offensive potential, but at his best he could be a deadeye shooter who can also create for himself off the dribble and serve as a true three level scorer (rim, midrange, three).

Defensively, I worry that Ojeleye is a tweener. He’s 6’7″ with a 6’10” wingspan, which makes it iffy that he’ll ever be able to guard most power forwards. And he doesn’t have much experience chasing wings around, but I can’t imagine that will end very well for him, because while he’s explosive in a straight line, he’s not laterally quick enough to stay with quick wings. If he’s a power forward, he’ll also have to improve his rebounding.

Ojeleye isn’t a super creative offensive player, but he knows how to put the ball in the bucket. He’s hopefully big enough to play passable defense against power forwards, and I expect him to improve his rebounding and passing. The fact that he’s already 22 isn’t great in regards to his potential, but he could be a good fit for a good team picking late in the first round that wants someone who can immediately provide scoring punch off the bench.

Here’s how I’d rank the three:
Wilson (he’s the rawest of the three but has the highest upside)
Ojeleye
Swanigan

We’re getting close to draft day now, and I’ll have to have all of my draft preview done by Friday before I go off the grid for about a month. Here’s how I plan on culminating my draft preview: Jawun Evans and Donovan Mitchell today, along with the top international prospects; Caleb Swanigan, Semi Ojeleye, and D.J. Wilson tomorrow; Jordan Bell, Alec Peters, Frank Jackson, and Wesley Iwundu on Thursday; my overall big board on Friday. I’ll start with a guy who could go as high as the late lottery or as low as the mid-20s.

Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is one of the more divisive prospects in this year’s draft. I’ve seen him ranked as high as 10th and as low as 25th on big boards. And based on his statistical and athletic profile, the fact that there are disparate opinions makes sense. The proponents of Mitchell see a longer Avery Bradley, an enormously valuable player. They see his 6’10” wingspan and his tremendous physical tools. They saw his ability to wreak havoc defensively for Rick Pitino — he racked up 2.1 steals per game. They think he’ll be able to lock up points guards, shooting guards, and small forwards in the NBA by using his length, his strong frame (he’s 6’3″ but a sturdy 210 pounds), and his lightning-quick feet. They see his terrific defensive effort and competitiveness and think he’ll be able to take on an opponent’s best scorer. On the other end of the court, they point to the improvements Mitchell made with his shot between his freshman and sophomore years — his three point shooting improved from 25% to 35%, while his free throws improved from 75% to 81%. They salivate when he hits contested threes, think his cold streaks will get fewer and farther between, and believe he will eventually be a good playmaker in the half court. They point to his rebounds (4.9 per game) as evidence that he can impact the game in a variety of ways. They think NBA teams need as many guards who can shoot and play defense as they can get their hands on and believe that Mitchell can be that and more. He’s super long and athletic, he has a nice looking stroke with some evidence to prove it, and he’s a hard worker with all signs pointing to having a great character. What’s not to like?

Then there are the people who have Mitchell in the 20-somethings. They can’t believe a team would take such an unrefined player so early. They point to his failure to get to the paint, score when he gets there (46% on two point field goals, a weak 56% at the rim), or get to the line (3.2 free throw attempts per game). They scoff at his inability to go right, especially out of a pick-and-roll. He did shoot 1-of-14 from the floor after going right on a pick-and-roll, after all. Small sample size, but the eye test certainly backs it up. They are puzzled by his shot selection and think he’s never going to be more than a mediocre shooter. They concede that he’s a dogged defender, but they think his highlight plays mask some defensive deficiencies, notably his tendency to stray out of position or commit stupid fouls. Will he be a useful defender? Sure, they say, but he’s nothing like Bradley.

I fall squarely in the first camp. I don’t think he’ll be quite as great defensively as Bradley is, but that’s not saying very much. He has the lateral quickness, instincts, and length to more than make up for his lack of size. There just aren’t that many defensive holes I can poke, which means Mitchell’s floor is a lot higher than the floor of most mid-first round picks. Offensively, Mitchell has a lower floor because of his inability to finish at the rim or through contact at Louisville. But he also has a high ceiling, with the athleticism and first step to make things easier for himself in the half-court offense. And I know he only shot 35% from three, but I really do think he’s going to be a Bradley-level shooter (39% this season, 37% career). A lot of the threes he took in Louisville were high-difficulty, largely because the Cardinal didn’t have many players who could create off the bounce (see how Louisville’s offense nosedived when Mitchell went cold). There were a few too many cold streaks for my liking, but Mitchell has a pure stroke, shot 81% from the line, and made a huge improvement between his first and second seasons. That’s enough to convince me that he should be a lottery pick.

Because Jawun Evans is a smidge under 6’0″, he’ll likely struggle with some of the same things that Frank Mason (about whom I wrote yesterday) will struggle with. It’s going to be tough for him to be anything but a liability defensively, especially since he’s not a particularly good or fast-twitch athlete. Even if he does become decent defensively (a huge 6’5″ wingspan should help), it’ll only be against opposing point guards, which is a big problem in a switch-obsessed NBA. And he’s also going to have trouble finishing against length, something we saw big time in his sophomore year. Evans shot just 45% on two point shots and less than 50% around the rim, both really bad numbers for a star college point guard. It’ll only get tougher for him close to the basket at the next level, and he’s really going to have to develop his touch and array of finishes, because he’s not explosive enough to finish over defenders. Bad defense, bad finishing, and a lack of versatility seems like it should be the death knell for a point guard prospect. And yet…

I watched a lot of Oklahoma State basketball games last year, and I fell in love with Jawun Evans. The Cowboys were really fun to watch, playing a fast paced game and leading the country in offensive efficiency (126 points per 100 possession adjusted for opponent, per Kenpom). A lot of that had to do with Evans, who was their leading scorer (19.2 points per game) and offensive catalyst. Evans is an excellent floor general, a skill that’s been somewhat devalued of late but that is still extremely valuable, especially for a backup point guard. He averaged 6.4 assists (tops in the Big 12) and was a key reason that it seemed like a different Cowboy went off every game. If you’re looking for a reason to draft this guy, the team’s success around him is a pretty good one. Other reasons: he’s super fast, he’s shown potential to be deadly from midrange (thanks to a potent floater), and he shot 41% from three and 82% from the line in college. He’ll never be an efficient scorer inside the arc, which really limits his upside, but his passing and long range shooting are both good enough to make him a net positive offensively, at least in small doses.

If nothing else, I think Evans will find his niche in the NBA. He’s too good as a distributor and shooter not to. He doesn’t have star potential, but he’ll fit in well as a backup point guard on a good team and be a solid pro.


It’s a weak international draft, especially now that Rodions Kurucs has withdrawn his name from the draft and now that Jonathan Jeanne has been diagnosed with a potentially career-ending heart problem. There’s definitely no Kristaps Porzingis or Luka Doncic (potential #1 pick in 2018) in this draft. With that being said, there are plenty of interesting international players outside of Frank Ntilikina. I was going to dedicate a whole post to this, but realized that I’ve never seen any of these guys play in a live basketball game and don’t really know what I’m talking about so will keep it brief.

I’m starting with Jonah Bolden since I know a little bit about him from his time at UCLA. After redshirting his freshman year, he averaged 22 minutes per game for the Bruins in the 2015-16 season but failed to impress, putting up just 4.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, .7 steals, and .9 blocks per game on 42% shooting. Then, the 6’10” big man went to play in the Adriatic League, where he promptly won the MVP and rocketed onto draft boards. The Adriatic League is pretty strong, so Bolden’s 13/7/1 steal/1 block line is worth noting. So is the fact that he shot a sterling 42% from three. Bolden’s a unique prospect, a power forward who can shoot, handle the ball, and make brilliant passes. But he’s still somewhat of a mystery. Can he really shoot? I don’t know, but the fact that he shot 59% from the line isn’t promising. In searching for youtube videos, I learned that Bolden can dunk:

And… That’s about it. Now you see why I have to rely so heavily upon his ABA stats. Bolden has always had a lot of skill, but he’s also always had trouble fitting into a team. He’s a perfect second round pick.

Andejs Pasecniks has apparently been impressing teams in workouts. That makes sense, because 7’2″ centers with the fluidity and three point shooting that this guy reportedly brings (or could in the future bring) to the table don’t come around too often. He’s been compared to Kristaps Porzingis, but that’s just an extraordinarily lazy comparison to another Latvian. Pasecniks isn’t nearly the well-rounded offensive prospect that Porzingis has always been, and he’s also not nearly the shooter Zinger was and is. He apparently has a nice stroke, but his 62% shooting from the line indicates that he has a lot of work to do. He also is almost as old as Porzingis is now, which means that he probably has a lower ceiling than you might expect. And as you might expect for a rail-thin center, Pasecniks gets pushed around on defense and is a horrendous rebounder. Those are the types of things that usually spell “bust” for big man prospects, but Pasecniks at least has high potential thanks to his size and skill and potential to be a stretch-five who can protect the rim in the long run.

Terrance Ferguson is an American who decided to play in Australia rather than going to college. He’s very raw, but his main selling point is his potential as a 3-and-D wing. He has good size for a wing (6’7″), although his wingspan isn’t as long as I would like (6’9″). After slumping down the stretch, he ended the season shooting just 31% from three, but there’s room for him to grow into a solid three point shooter. He’s not a great slasher or ball-handler, so at least early on in his career his primary offensive responsibility will be catch-and-shoot three pointers, so he’s going to have to get better than 31% in a hurry. It’s hard to know how good he is defensively, because it’s almost impossible for an 18-year-old to shine defensively in a grown man’s league. But he’s laterally quick and he’s a dogged defender, and he should make defense his calling card in the NBA. This was an ex-top 20 recruit who played pretty well in Australia given his age, so his NBA upside should not be underestimated. He’s only 184 pounds, so there’s obviously a lot of work to do, but there’s potential here.

Here’s how I’d rank the non-college guys, thrown in with Mitchell and Evans:
Mitchell
Ferguson
Evans
Pasecniks
Bolden