Archive for June, 2016

My Overall NBA Draft Prospect Rankings

Posted: 06/23/2016 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

Four days after the season ended, the NBA Draft is here. Going straight from the intense Game Seven to the NBA Draft is kind of bizarre, and I think there should be a little more time between the end of the season and the Draft, but I’ve been writing about prospects for a month now anyway, so I’m certainly ready for the draft. I’ve ranked players in small groupings of two, three, or four, and now it’s time to compile one list with all of the guys I’ve written about. This isn’t a mock draft and has nothing to do with where these prospects will be drafted. Rather, this is my personal list of the players, from best NBA future to worst. At some future date, I’ll revisit this list and see how I did. I’m also going to color code the players in terms of guys I’m a bit higher on than most people and players I’m a bit lower on (by a bit, I mean at least a few spots). My personal favorites will be in green, and the guys I don’t like as much will be in red.

1. Ben Simmons – 6’10” PF from LSU. I wrote about Simmons here.
2. Brandon Ingram – 6’9″ SF from Duke. I wrote about Ingram here.
3. Dragan Bender – 7’1″ PF from Maccabi Tel Aviv. I wrote about Bender here.
4. Kris Dunn – 6’4″ PG from Providence. I wrote about Dunn here.
5. Jaylen Brown – 6’7″ SF from California. I wrote about Brown here.
6. Denzel Valentine – 6’6″ SG from Michigan State. I wrote about Valentine here
7. Deyonta Davis – 6’11” PF/C from Michigan State. I wrote about Davis here
8. Demetrius Jackson
– 6’2″ PG from Notre Dame. I wrote about Jackson here
9. Wade Baldwin –
6’4″ PG from Vanderbilt. I wrote about Baldwin here
10. Jamal Murray
– 6’5″ PG/SG from Kentucky. I wrote about Murray here
11. DeAndre Bembry
– 6’6″ SF from Saint Joseph’s. I wrote about Bembry here.
12. Taurean Prince
– 6’8″ SF from Baylor. I wrote about Prince here.
13. Buddy Hield
– 6’5″ SG from Oklahoma. I wrote about Hield here.
14. Jakob Poeltl
– 7’1″ C from Utah. I wrote about Poeltl here.
15. Henry Ellenson
– 6’11” PF from Marquette. I wrote about Ellenson here.
16. Marquese Chriss
– 6’10” PF from Washington. I wrote about Chriss here.
17. Furkan Korkmaz
– 6’7″ SG from Anadolu Efes. I wrote about Korkmaz here.
18. Ante Zizic
– 7’0″ C from Cibona Zagreb. I wrote about Zizic here.
19. Timothe Luwawu
– 6’7″ SG/SF from Mega Leks. I wrote about Luwawu here.
20. Domantas Sabonis
– 6’10” PF/C from Gonzaga. I wrote about Sabonis here.
21. Malik Beasley – 6’5″ SG from Florida State. I wrote about Beasley here.

22. Cheick Diallo
– 6’9″ PF/C from Kansas. I wrote about Diallo here.
23. Skal Labissiere
– 7’0″ PF/C from Kentucky. I wrote about Labissiere here.
24. Caris LeVert
– 6’7″ PG/SG from Michigan. I wrote about LeVert here.
25. Tyler Ulis
– 5’10” PG from Kentucky. I wrote about Ulis here.
26. Pat McCaw
– 6’7″ SG from UNLV. I wrote about McCaw here.
27. Ivica Zubac
– 7’1″ C from Mega Leks. I wrote about Zubac here.
28. Dejounte Murray
– 6’5″ PG/SG from Washington. I wrote about Murray here.
29. Guerschon Yabusele
– 6’8″ PF from Rouen. I (kind of) wrote about Yabusele here.
30. Juan Hernangomez
– 6’9″ SF/PF from Estudiantes. I (kind of) wrote about Hernangomez here.
31. Malachi Richardson
– 6’6″ SG/SF from Syracuse. I wrote about Richardson here.
32. Thon Maker
– 7’1″ PF HS Senior. I wrote about Maker here.
33. Damian Jones
– 7’0″ C from Vanderbilt. I wrote about Jones here.
34. Isaiah Whitehead
– 6’5″ SG from Seton Hall. I wrote about Whitehead here.

Of course, I didn’t talk about some players who could well be drafted in the first round. Those players include: Diamond Stone, Brice Johnson, Isaia Cordinier, and Robert Carter, and a host of others. But I’m not going to rank those guys, simply because I didn’t write about or research them. So this is my list.

The NBA likes it when there’s intrigue leading up to the draft and especially to the #1 pick. The league and teams like to always at least pretend that there’s a debate as to which player will get drafted #1. With that in mind, I’m sure the league wasn’t thrilled when the Sixers’ promise to Ben Simmons that he would be drafted with the first pick was leaked to the public. I think most people expected the Sixers to draft Simmons anyway, but now there’s no question that he, and not Brandon Ingram, will be the first pick in the draft. But should he be the first pick? Or should his issues — a lack of shooting and some perceived attitude issues — be enough to boost Brandon Ingram over the Australian?

A few things about this debate, which has been raging since the middle of the NCAA season, irk me. It seems to me like Simmons’s weaknesses and Ingram’s strengths are both accentuated in order to manufacture a true debate over who should go #1. Ingram’s going to be a good player, but people need to stop comparing him to Kevin Durant. At first, I was enamored of Ingram, his play at Duke, and his potential to be the next Durant. They do have similarly special bodies for small forwards. Durant’s an inch taller (6’10” vs. 6’9″) and has a wingspan an inch longer (7’4″ vs. 7’3″), but both he and Ingram are on a very short list when it comes to the tallest, longest, and skinniest wing players. It’s worth noticing, however, that even the notoriously skinny Durant, who couldn’t bench press 185 pounds coming out of college, was 215 pounds when he left Texas, which means that he had nearly 20 pounds on Ingram, who weighs 196. And while both players are good shooters, there’s really no comparison to be had between their overall abilities. Durant’s strength has always been his explosiveness. Even at Texas, he excelled in one-on-one situations, with great crossovers, blinding quickness, and a unique ability to change gears seamlessly. Ingram is fine in those situations, but he has no chance of becoming Durant-esque, simply because he’s not the explosive athlete that Durant has always been. Durant’s offensive game was also way way way more advanced than Ingram’s even in his lone year in college. There’s a reason that Durant averaged 26 points per game for Texas, while Ingram put up “just” 17 points per contest for Duke. Ingram generated a lot of his offense from catch-and-shoot threes and from put-backs generated against slower and smaller opposition. Meanwhile, Durant was an amazing post player in college, with an unstoppable turnaround jumper. I can count on one hand the number of times I remember Ingram going to the post for Duke. Finally, Durant has always had a scoring mentality that Ingram doesn’t have. People criticize Simmons for not wanting to score down the stretch, but Ingram also often differed down the stretch, usually to point guard Grayson Allen. His mentality might change, but by that logic one of the big criticisms of Simmons could also disappear.

So Ingram isn’t Durant, and he’ll never be Durant. I needed to say that, if only for peace of mind. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a phenomenal prospect. He was a great college three point shooter, hitting 41% of his threes, although it’s very illuminating that 76 of his 80 triples came off of an assist, a stat that shows his shot’s reliance on his teammates. Am I worried about Ingram’s 68% free throw shooting, given that college free throw shooting is often a better indicator of NBA long range success than college three point shooting? No, not really, just because his stroke looks so sweet and natural. Make no mistake about it: Ingram’s going to be able to shoot in the NBA. But it takes more than a long range shot to be seriously considered for the #1 pick, and Ingram has dutifully improved his game massively in other areas. While he’s no Durant off the dribble, Ingram seems likely to become a good (not great) isolation scorer, with the ability to create for himself off the bounce. Ingram’s also a decent and certainly a willing passer. And he has potential to become a player who can play above-average defense at three positions (SG, SF, PF), with speed, long arms, and a nifty toughness that he exhibited at Duke. But he’s also got a long way to go on defense, as he was sometimes caught sleeping and/or was too hesitant on defense. And there are offensive worries, too. Especially compared to Simmons, Ingram struggled both to finish inside (48% shooting inside the paint) and to get to the line (4.7 free throw attempts per game). All of this sounds very familiar. Ingram’s another skinny, pretty raw prospect who has a lot of potential but has a long way to go. He’s obviously more advanced and has a brighter future than the Pat McCaw’s of the world, but he’s not necessarily the polished player that #1 picks often are and that Ben Simmons certainly is.

It helps Ingram that his two biggest strengths — shooting and his motor and competitiveness — are the two biggest complaints people have about Simmons. So for the people who value shooting over everything else and for the people who value effort over everything else, Ingram is the likely favorite. And guess what? A lot of NBA fans fall into those two very separate groups. A lot of new-school fans doubt that a player can be that helpful without a three point shot, and a lot of old-school fans think that the biggest problem for bad teams is a lack of effort. I’m guessing those two larges niches of NBA fans are the main reasons that this debate is an actual debate, because otherwise Simmons is a pretty foolproof prospect.

People always qualify a Simmons criticism with “He was good at LSU, but…” but I don’t think they realize how good he was at LSU. A year ago, when Simmons was the top recruit in the country, had I told you that he would average 19/12/5 in his lone year of college, is there anything barring LeBron James re-enlisting in the draft that would have persuaded you that Simmons wouldn’t be the clear-cut top pick in the draft? The guy was incredible. Chief among his strengths is his ability to grab a rebound and immediately start a fast break. Think Draymond Green, but with better ball-handling and playmaking ability. Simmons is going to be one of the best transition players in the NBA right away. In the half-court, he’s less insane but still pretty darn good. He was often made to look bad because his team had neither good coaching nor good spacing on the court, but his passing ability and slashing are both extraordinary. He’s also already pretty good in the post and went to the line nine times per game, although he shot just 67% when he got there. Simmons isn’t an elite finisher at the rim, which may be because he shies away from contact and because his wingspan (7’0″) isn’t elite for a 6’10” player, but he’s already developed a boatload of ways to finish, with the ability to score off either foot and with either hand. Of course, his biggest offensive weakness is his shooting. He rarely took jump shots in college, and he’s going to need to become at least a decent shooter from midrange and beyond if he wants to maximize his potential. Simmons will undoubtedly be best on a roster with a bunch of shooters, as he’s able to facilitate for himself and for his teammates when the floor opens up.

The effort questions mainly crop up on the defensive side of the ball, and they’re real. For an athlete like Simmons with his basketball IQ and ability to anticipate offenses (2 steals per game), it’s very worrisome when opposing forwards are able to just drive by him for easy points. That has to be attributed to a lack of effort. It’s also true that Simmons wasn’t able to lift a 19-14 LSU team out of mediocrity. Whether that’s a small concern (Simmons was on a badly-coached team with a bunch of pieces that didn’t fit well together, none of which is is fault) or a big concern (#1 overall picks should be able to transcend the players around him more than Simmons did) remains up for debate, but it’s certainly a concern. There’s no question that Simmons is better when his teammates are better. It’s easier to facilitate good teammates than it is to facilitate bad teammates. To me, though, that’s a good sign. There are a boatload of players in the NBA who can only be stars on bad teams. Kevin Love is a recent example of that. If Simmons is the opposite, a player who can only be a star on a good team, I’ll be ok with that, because you need more than one star to win a championship anyway.

It’s undoubtable that both Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons are great prospects who will likely be longterm starters at the very least. But Simmons is clearly the better prospect in my mind, as he has both the higher floor and the higher ceiling. Even if the shot remains bad and attitude doesn’t round into shape, Simmons will have unique traits that will help a team win. At his best, Simmons could be the best player on a championship team. I don’t think that’s the case for Ingram, a guy who might put up 20-25 points per game in the NBA but will almost certainly always be better off in a supporting role. So yeah, while I’d be happy to draft either one, I’d be much happier to have Simmons, baggage and all.

The draft’s in two days, and I’m stoked. I’ll be writing about the draft for each of the next three days, with five players left to talk about and then a final ranking of the prospects on Thursday before the draft. I’m not doing a mock draft, because I don’t see the point in that, but I think it’ll be interesting to see how my value of players compares to that of NBA teams. Anyway, on to the breakdowns of three “miscellaneous” prospects. These are three guys who I didn’t think fit in any of my previous groupings of previews, but they are possible/probable first round picks nonetheless, so I’m going to write about them today.

Patrick McCaw of UNLV is 6’7″ and weighs a robust 181 pounds. Yeah, he’s super skinny. And, right off the bat, I think his rail-thin frame — and all of the problems that come from it — is going to turn a lot of teams off of his scent. Another thing that will throw teams off of the 20 year old sophomore’s scent? The fact that he played for UNLV, a super talented but also very dysfunctional team that had no offensive organization and fired the coach that recruited McCaw, Dave Rice, mid-season. In the end, the once-dominant Runnin’ Rebels finished 18-15 and just 8-10 in the mediocre Mountain West Conference. So super skinny frame + terrible team = relative anonymity for McCaw. But anyone who looks past all of that might be able to find a diamond in the rough of the late first round or even early second round. McCaw’s lack of strength hurts him in the half court both offensively and defensively, but I assume that he’ll begin to fill out at some point, and when he does, I think he has a lot of talent and potential to unlock. The majority of his value comes from his defense. For whatever it’s worth, he made the Mountain West’s All Defensive Team. He has a 6’10” wingspan, great for a shooting guard, and he’s quick and has great anticipation on the defensive end, hence his 2.4 steals per game last year. Of course, he’s nowhere near a finished product on defense, both because he’s weak and because he was often unfocused and/or overaggressive on defense. But he’s shown a lot of potential on that side of the ball thanks to his quick hands and feet. Here’s an entertaining, albeit repetitive, video of some Pat McCaw steals:

On offense, McCaw profiles as a decent shooter (35% from three, 77% from the line last year) with the secondary ability to get teammates involved (3.9 assists per game). Unless you’re an absolute knockdown shooter, it’s vital to have more than one offensive skill, so McCaw’s unselfishness and passing ability are important. He’s still very raw in terms of creating for himself, so it’s going to be a while before he’s a good offensive player (if he ever becomes one). But McCaw at least shows the potential to be an adequate 3-and-D player in the next few years. Unfortunately, I think there are a bunch of players in this draft who are set to be better three point shooters than McCaw (who doesn’t have a consistent stroke) and who can also offer the same or similar defensive potential (examples: Timothe Luwawu, Wade Baldwin, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert). The guy has a lot of potential, but it’s going to take a very patient team to unlock it. If the wrong team drafts him, he could be out of the league really quickly.

Vanderbilt’s junior center Damian Jones is one of the few players in the draft who are clearly and easily comparable to an NBA player. Jones reminds me of another former Vanderbilt center: Festus Ezeli. Like Ezeli, Jones is thought of as being very intelligent off the court. They’re both also late bloomers (Ezeli because he came from Nigeria). They’re both between 6’11” and seven feet, and they both have extremely long arms, with wingspans of 7’4″ (Jones) and 7’6″ (Ezeli). And they also play very similarly, with very limited range, very poor free throw shooting (Jones shot 54% from the line last year, and anyone who has watched the Warriors knows how bad Ezeli is from the line), and great rebounding and rim-protecting ability thanks to supreme size and above-average athleticism. So yeah, Jones is very similar to Ezeli, although he is slightly better offensively than Festus is. And getting Festus Ezeli at the end of the first round wouldn’t be a bad value. Jones still has a lot of defensive work to do to become Ezeli, as he’s often in the wrong place on defense and doesn’t rebound as well as a guy his size should. And the fact that he didn’t really improve offensively in his three years at Vanderbilt tells me that he’s unlikely to ever improve that much on the offensive end of the ball. But if you want a big, athletic guy who could be a very nice rim-protector (maybe in the Roy Hibbert mold) at a good value (definitely outside of the lottery), Jones might be your guy. He’s not my cup of tea, because he’s not very versatile and because he is neither polished nor a potential star. But some team is going to fall in love with his physical profile, which is why he’ll probably go in the fist round.

Malik Beasley may have flown under the radar in high school, but he certainly began to get some attention in his lone year at Florida State. Beasley, who was expected to stay at FSU for at least a few years, played well enough to go one-and-done. At 6’5″ and with a 6’7″ wingspan, he doesn’t have the length of McCaw. But he more than makes up for that with his terrific all-around offensive game. I was surprised to see how efficient Beasley was this year. He averaged 16 points per game on 47% shooting from the field, 39% from three, and 81% from the line. You don’t normally see that type of efficiency from anyone, let alone a freshman playing for an average team in the ACC. His best attribute is probably his catch-and-shoot prowess, but he’s also great in transition and in midrange. He’s not a great shot-creator, which is why he’ll have to play off-ball in the NBA, but I’m going to take Beasley in the teens if I’m a team that wants an efficient bench scorer. When a guy scores that efficiently in his lone season in the ACC, it’s pretty likely that he’s going to be good at scoring in the NBA, even if he’s not tall or supremely athletic for an NBA shooting guard. Of course, that lack of size and athleticism certainly hurts Beasley more on the defensive end. The Seminoles were far better on offense than on defense, and that’s in large part because of Beasley’s ability to create on offense while shirking defensive responsibility. Beasley isn’t strong enough to consistently stick shooting guards (even at the college level), which makes it more likely that he’ll guard point guards. And while he often did a fine job on point guards, he was often overly aggressive and thus taken out of plays. But I’m optimistic that he can be a good defender simply because he tries so hard. I didn’t watch a lot of Florida State basketball this year, but I saw them play against Duke, North Carolina, and Notre Dame, and every time I watched Beasley, I noticed that his energy level was much higher than that of his teammates’.

I really like Beasley, and I think teams might have an opportunity to get him at a discount since he didn’t finish the season exceptionally well. After scoring in double figures in his first 24 games, he failed to reach 10 points four times in his last 10 games. But I attribute that more to the fact that he was a freshman and at the end of a grueling season and less to some theory that teams figured his offense out. What Beasley does offensively (shooting off catch-and-shoots, using pump fakes to get defenders out of position, finishing in transition) are things that should carry over to the NBA. He probably will take a couple of years to unleash his entire offensive arsenal, and the fact that he tired in his lone year of college may indicate that he’s going to do the same in his rookie year, but I think he’s going to be a good scorer off the bench with an infectious energy level.

Ranking of the three:
Beasley – his offensive production puts him ahead of the potential of the other two, and he’s also only a freshman
McCaw – I prefer his versatility and two-way potential to Jones’s size
Jones – He’s just a bit too one-dimensional for me. And, with the way Festus Ezeli played in the playoffs, I don’t really want another Festus on my team right now. No offense, Damian (or Festus)!

Keys to Game Seven

Posted: 06/19/2016 by levcohen in Basketball

Tonight feels monumental. Like, biggest game of the century monumental. It’s the 73-win Warriors, who are trying to finally put a bow on their incredible season while avoiding a historic collapse (no team has come back from down 3-1 to win the NBA Finals), against LeBron James, who’s trying to snap his personal Finals skid while finally making Cleveland fans happy. There are other reasons that this game feels like it’s going to be special. Not among those reasons is the fact that the series has generally been uncompetitive. Only one of the six games has been decided by single digits, and that was Golden State’s nine point win in Cleveland in Game Four. I think (hope) that we’ll finally get a bonafide classic tonight. There are all kinds of storylines. There’s Steph Curry and his mouthguard, which made forceful contact with the son of a Cavs minority owner. There’s Draymond Green and his suspension and overall temper. There’s Kevin Love and his bizarre development into a completely ineffective role player. There’s Steve Kerr and the fact that he’s never lost three straight games as a coach. I can go on and on. Instead, I’m going to talk about what I think really matters. Here are the biggest keys to Game Seven aside from the obvious:

  • Andre Iguodala’s back. Iggy’s Golden State’s primary defender on LeBron, and while he won’t shut James down, he’ll do a much better job than anyone else on the team. Unfortunately, his back is hurt, and back injuries don’t usually go away in a couple of days. It’ll be an issue, but the Warriors could be ok if it is only a minor issue. If it tightens up early and Iggy is ineffective, Golden State is going to have to come up with another plan quickly or face a third straight loss.
  • Harrison Barnes. He’s been absolutely horrific recently, and he played only 16 minutes in a scoreless Game Six. For a guy who seems bereft of confidence sometimes, 2-22 in two games isn’t great. But while people have been calling for someone else to play instead of him, I think that Kerr and the Warriors need an effective Barnes to be able to win. Why? Because, in their small-ball lineups, Barnes is the only guy on the roster who can defend power forwards while providing spacing on the opposite end of the court. And since Andrew Bogut is injured, they’re going to need to go to the small-ball lineups early and often. If Barnes isn’t a part of those lineups, the Warriors are going to get torn up on defense.
  • Kyrie Irving’s mindset. You know what might be a great sign for the Warriors? Kyrie Irving hitting a shot early on. It sounds crazy, but that might be all it will take for Irving to go into iso mode. That didn’t work well for the Warriors in Game Five, when Irving hit 17 of his 24 shots, but that’s not going to happen again, and any possession in which LeBron James isn’t orchestrating things is a good defensive possession for the Warriors.
  • Draymond’s offense. In the first two games of the series, Draymond Green put up 44 points. Since Cleveland stuck LeBron on Draymond, he’s scored 23 points in three games. In an elimination game, can he step up? The answer had better be yes, because Steph and Klay will need help even if they’re hot.

The Warriors are favored by 4.5 points, which basically means that this would be a tossup on a neutral court. That sounds about right, although I’d be very tempted to bet on LeBron and the Cavs. Curry, Thompson, and James are all going to get their points, so the game will depend on how the other guys do. If Irving plays efficiently and under control, the Cavaliers have a great chance of winning. If Iggy’s back holds up and Draymond and Barnes contribute, the Warriors should repeat. If both teams are playing their absolute best, the Warriors will win this game, because they’re still the better team. But they haven’t played a true Warriors game this series, and they’re going to need one tonight. I have no idea if they’re going to get one, but we’ll find out in four hours!

My pick: Warriors win 108-101.

The NBA Draft is on Thursday, and I’m close to finishing up my pre-draft analysis of the players who will likely be drafted in the first round. Still to come are the top two players in the draft and a miscellaneous post with three other probable first rounders, but today I’m focusing on Jaylen Brown, a guy ranked between fourth and eighth on most prospect rankings.

Jaylen Brown is the classic raw top recruit who doesn’t play great in college but has enough flashes and evident potential to be worth a high lottery pick. Last year’s version of that guy was Stanley Johnson, a freshman small forward out of Arizona. At Arizona, Stanley Johnson averaged 14 points per game in 28 minutes per contest. He shot 45% from the field, 37% from three, and 74% from the line while adding 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He showed the potential to become a great two-way player but never put everything together. In his final college game, in the NCAA tournament, he fouled out. A few months later, he was drafted eighth in the NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. Johnson’s rookie year was about as good as the Pistons could have reasonably hoped for. He was an immediate contributor, playing 23 minutes per game even though he didn’t turn 20 until after the season. His shooting wasn’t great, but he was a good defender who wasn’t totally useless on the offensive end.

Why is all of this relevant? Because, in a lot of ways, Jaylen Brown reminds me of Stanley Johnson. First of all, they look pretty similar:

stanley-johnson-312920x920

And their similarities don’t end with the hair. Brown averaged 15 points per game on 28 minutes per contest in his lone season at Cal. He shot 43% from the field, 29% from three, and 65% from the line while adding 5.4 rebounds, 2 assists, and .8 steals per game.He showed the potential to become a great two-way player at Cal but never put everything together. In his final college game, in the NCAA tournament, Brown also fouled out. But wait… there’s more! Brown and Johnson are both 6’7″ with ~7’0 wingspans. Johnson won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award last year; Brown won it this year. Each made the All-Pac 12 team in his only college season. The similarities are eerie.

I’m pretty confident that Johnson was a slightly better prospect last year than Brown is this year for a number of reasons. First of all, Brown has all of the defensive tools but fewer results than Johnson attained at Arizona. Can Brown be a defensive stud? He absolutely has the tools to do so, but I think it will take a while if it happens at all. The frequent fouls (3.2 per game, 20% more than Johnson in his year at Arizona) are a telltale sign of a guy who reaches in too much and isn’t always in the right place on defense. The shooting numbers are also very worrisome. As a featured player for the Golden Bears, he didn’t necessarily have the open looks that Johnson got, and it showed. The 29% mark from beyond the arc is horrific, and Brown’s jump shot will probably never be all that great. That’s a big worry for a guy who, at a slight 223 pounds, is a small forward who’s closer to being a shooting guard than a power forward (the opposite is true of Johnson, who is 20 pounds heavier and slotted in terrifically at power forward last season). And the 65% shooting from the line is well below-average for a wing player. But even if the shot’s never great, there’s sooo much potential elsewhere. Brown’s a great athlete, but he also has great scoring instincts. People talk all the time about how Player X or Player Y doesn’t have the head or the heart to demand the ball down the stretch; in fact, that was the main criticism of LeBron James for a long time (not anymore). I’m generally very wary of that criticism, and it’s not one that can be made about Brown, who made plays for Cal down the stretch time after time. He’s a good scorer at the rim and has a developing midrange shot, so he’s not a total zero offensively and could become a terrific slasher. Of course, he also turned the ball over 3.1 times per game, so there’s a lot of work to be done. The one thing I’ll say in Brown’s defense besides the fact that he’s 19 is that he played on a team that was ill-suited to fit his style of play. Cal had one starter who could shoot, and that was shooting guard Jordan Mathews. The point guard, Tyrone Wallace, couldn’t shoot. Ivan Rabb, a very talented power forward who would probably have been a lottery pick had he declared this season, is an interior talent who rarely shoots from outside the post. And center Kameron Rooks was a total offensive non-factor. All of this led to a congested paint, contested shots, and tough defensive matchups for Brown. As I mentioned in my last post, Kris Dunn was faced with a lot of the same problems, but Kris Dunn is a lot better than Jaylen Brown at this juncture, so it affected Brown’s offensive performance much more.

One thing I love about Brown is that he improved massively over the course of the season as he went from being a colossal disappointment to a very valuable contributor for Cal. And as Brown improved, so did his team, which won nine out of 10 games down the stretch and earned a #4 seed. He’s nowhere near a finished product, but you can see the potential. He’s already a great transition player, as he averaged 1.13 points per transition possession thanks to his speed and superior athletic ability. His half court offense has a long way to go, but there’s no reason to think that he can’t eventually be proficient there too, especially given the reports that he’s a very dedicated and determined player. There aren’t that many guys who have the height and ability to grab a contested rebound and explode the other way. Almost universally, though, those guys are on good teams. Brown is very unpolished on both ends of the court and wouldn’t be one of the first 20 guys in this draft I’d pick to be on my team for one game tomorrow, but few players in this or any draft have the body and skills to be impactful in the ways that Brown could be. The sure thing vs. potential debate is the central one in any draft, and taking Brown is certainly a risk, but it may well be a risk worth taking.

The Pistons lucked into Johnson with the eighth pick of last year’s draft, but I don’t think Brown should or will be available at the same juncture of this year’s weaker draft. He’ll be my fifth ranked player. Just don’t expect too much from him straight away.

P.S. Look out for a Game Seven preview tomorrow. This game is way too important and interesting not to preview.

Everyone agrees that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are the top two players in the draft in some order. Most people who don’t automatically hate all European players believe that Dragan Bender is the third best player, besides some insane Marquese Chriss fans. After that, things get interesting. And while I’ve talked about most of the players likely to go in the first round in the draft, I haven’t talked about any of the three players many people think will go in the 4-6 range. Those three players are Kris Dunn, Jamal Murray, and Jaylen Brown. I’m knocking the first two of those three out today, simply because there’s a natural comparison to be had between the two point guards. I’ll talk about Brown later, probably in a miscellaneous post with some players I overlooked.

The Kris Dunn vs. Jamal Murray debate is such an interesting one because everyone seems to think that the answer to the “Who’s better?” question is obvious. That’s probably because the two are pretty much polar opposites. Dunn is a 22 year old junior point guard who played college basketball for Providence, a fine program but certainly not a blue chip one. In the best case scenario, he’s the prototypical old-school point guard. Murray is a 19 year old freshman combo guard who played college basketball for Kentucky, a basketball program you might have heard of. In the best case scenario, he’s the prototypical new-school point guard. So you would think this debate would be argued in a pretty familiar fashion, with old-school fans supporting Dunn and new-school fans supporting Murray. And to some extent, it has shaken out that way. And in old-school vs. new-school debates, I generally side with the latter. But should Murray vs. Dunn be fought over those familiar battle lines, or is one player clearly better? Let’s get into it.

Kris Dunn is probably as close to a sure thing as can be. He’s not one of the numerous prospects (cough cough Chriss cough cough) of whom you have to be convinced can play in the NBA. Just watch him play for a minute and you’ll get it. He’s 6’4″ with a 6’9″ wingspan, both very good for a pure point guard. More importantly, he’s really fast and athletic and has the jumping ability to do stuff like this. But Dunn isn’t only an athletic marvel. He’s also a very polished all-around point guard. His biggest strength is his defense. With Dunn’s athletic profile, you’d expect a lockdown defender, and the Big East Player of the Year does in fact have the potential to be the best perimeter defender in the draft. He already has the awareness to pile up steals, as he averaged 2.5 swipes per game last year. When he’s dialed in, he’s a tremendous defender. And the good thing about Dunn is that he has the mindset and motor to be dialed in pretty often. The one defensive concern for Dunn is that he gets into foul trouble quite often (I remember him picking up early fouls in the NCAA tournament) because he needlessly reaches in for steals. That’s an easy fix, though.

And that’s really what I love about Dunn. His warts, and he has some, seem fairly easy to fix. Offensively, Dunn’s jump shot is suspect. He shot a decent 37% from three but was just 70% from the line and was very inconsistent from beyond the arc, and the fact that he attempted only 3.4 threes per game despite having the ball in his hands so much means that he probably isn’t comfortable with his long range shot just yet. But again, that’s a pretty easy fix. His shot isn’t broken, it just needs a little tune-up. And he’ll get much better looks from beyond the arc with better shooters around him. Dunn’s other big offensive bugaboo? Turnovers. He averaged 3.5 per game. But to me, that says more about Dunn’s Providence teammates than it does about him. Aside from Ben Bentil, another prospect in this year’s draft, there was nobody who could really open things up for Dunn, who also couldn’t really open things up for himself with three point shooting. So Dunn was left to drive into a crowded paint, and while he’s really good at getting to the rim, it’s also easy to turn the ball over in a crowded paint. He might always turn the ball over at a pretty high clip, but it won’t be the huge concern people are saying it is. And Dunn makes up for the turnovers with his explosiveness in the open court and his passing ability (6.2 assists per game). His crossover is really sweet, opening up some juicy midrange shots. This might be the most illuminating stat of all: in the 2012-13 season, Providence was 19-15 and made the NIT. The next year, they were 23-12 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in a year in which Dunn played only four games and was given a medical redshirt. The next year, they were 22-12 and a #6 seed in the tournament. And this year, they were 24-11 and a #9 seed. Before Dunn arrived, Providence hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since the ’03 season and had consistently been sub-.500. While he was there, they were a force in the Big East and regular in the tournament. Now that he’s gone, they’re expected to be bad again. Isn’t that the definition of a good point guard?

Also, this video pretty much sums things up:

Is it possible that Jamal Murray is the Brandon Ingram to Kris Dunn’s Ben Simmons? No, I guess not really, but what I mean is that Murray’s best strength (shooting) is Dunn’s biggest weakness, just as Ingram’s biggest strength (shooting) is Simmons’s largest weakness. Murray’s a tremendous shooter. He shot 41% from beyond the arc this season and made 3.1 threes per game, many of them fairly difficult. And great shooters are in very high demand in the NBA, which gives Murray and immediate advantage. The problem is that I’m not sure Murray’s going to be as efficient against better, longer, faster, more athletic defenders. Or rather, the drop-off for Murray is going to be greater than the drop-off for other players. I think we already began to see that in college. In two games against Texas A&M, a solid defensive team with lengthy wings, Murray was 11-30 from the floor and 7-20 from three point range. Against Kansas, Murray scored just 15 points on 2-7 shooting from beyond the arc even though the game went to overtime. And in the game that eliminated Kentucky, Murray looked terrible against a really talented Indiana team, shooting 7-18 from the floor and 1-9 from three and pretty much shooting Kentucky out of the game. It’s games like those that make me really worry about Murray, because when he’s not shooting well, he can’t really do much. Now, I know everyone has off nights, but the fact that Murray’s off nights came against the best opposition is what makes me nervous. Everyone will have defensive players like Indiana’s OG Anunoby in the NBA.

Murray’s lack of athleticism also make him a questionable defender, and his 2.2 assists per game lead me to believe that he’s more of a combo guard than a true point guard. So the shooting really has to be there for Murray to be worth a top-three pick. Now, I don’t think many people argue that Murray is better than Dunn right now. He’s three full years younger, and he’s clearly the worse player right now. No, the people who love Murray love him because he has tremendous offensive upside thanks to his instincts, basketball IQ, and shooting ability. The people who love Murray love him because of performances like the one in his draft workout for the Celtics, when he drained 79 out of 100 (open) threes. But while I acknowledge that Murray has a high upside, I think Dunn also has great potential with the benefit of having a much higher floor. So if I had a choice between the two point guards, I’d take Dunn without really thinking twice.

Much of what I know about many of the top NBA draft prospects comes from what I’ve seen from them in their time playing college basketball. Particularly for the players who played deep into the NCAA tournament, my opinion is largely (rightly or wrongly) based upon how they performed in college. Unfortunately, some of the players who will become first round draft picks did not play in college. I’m referring to Thon Maker, who due to his unique situation was able to make the jump from high school to the draft, and I’m referring to foreign players who have been playing in the pros in Europe instead of in college in the US. I’ve already discussed Dragan Bender, who’s clearly the cream of the crop this year. Today, I’m going to look into the next four best foreign prospects. Because I know absolutely nothing about these guys going in, I’m just going to watch some youtube videos (along with stats) and try to make some deductions about these guys.

Timothe Luwawu is a 21 year old French wing who played for Mega Leks (in Belgrade) in the Adriatic League. Now, there’s no reason you should know anything about an Adriatic League club, but if you were to know anything about any of them, it would probably be Mega Leks. This is a team that had three players drafted in 2014, including stud big Nikola Jokic. It’s also a team that’s very devoted to developing young players, which explains why Luwawu played 31 minutes per game this past season while Bender played just 11 per contest. And it’s a team that plays at a very fast pace, which is certainly something to keep in mind. First, here are Luwawu’s stats from last season in those 31 minutes per game: 14.6 points on 40% shooting, 2.1 made threes on 37% shooting from beyond the arc, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.9 turnovers, and 1.7 steals. It’s dangerous to extrapolate too much from these stats, but I think it’s fair to say that he’s at least a decent three point shooter who’s active on defense but who isn’t the best playmaker. After watching some Youtube of Luwawu, though, I’m confident that I know a lot more about him.

  • This might just be in comparison to players who play in the Adriatic League, but Luwawu seems fast and explosive. His ability to change speeds often gives him easy lanes to the hoop, and he’s put a lot of Serbs on posters this year. He’s also very long (6’7″ with a 6’11” wingspan), and that’s very evident in the videos. Basically, his athletic ability and size could make him the prototypical two-way wing.
  • His shot mechanics are good but might be a little slow. I don’t think Luwawu is going to be a knockdown shooter in the NBA, at least in the early going. Almost all of his threes seem to come on catch-and-shoot plays and/or total blown coverages, so don’t expect him to make a lot of super tough threes.
  • He’s not great at finishing tough shots at the rim, and that will certainly be an issue against bigger and better defenders.
  • It’s hard to find much defense in highlights, but Luwawu seems like a defender who has the potential to be very good. He has quick feet and long arms and is pretty active on the defensive end. On the other hand, he often loses his man on defense. Whether that is a byproduct of just being raw or something deeper and more troubling (like a lack of effort or attitude problem) is yet to be determined.

If you want a long, rangy wing who has the potential to develop into a nice role player, Luwawu is your guy. He’s not great on either end just yet, but he probably has the upside to be a Danny Green-esque 3-and-D guy. In fact, Green might be an accurate best-case scenario for Luwawu. It is fair to note that, at 21, Luwawu is a couple of years older than some of these other guys.

Ivica Zubac, a 19 year old 7’1″ center, is Luwawu’s teammate with Mega Leks. Because he transferred from Cibona Zagreb (more on them later on) to Mega Leks, he missed four months and is only now getting into the swing of things with his new team. He’s thus barely played at all this year, which makes what few stats he’s generated rather worthless. To Youtube we go!

  • Zubac is big. He’s listed at 265 pounds, and he uses every last one of those pounds to set strong screens. He’ll be a good screener in the NBA. He also has a 7’4″ wingspan, which gives him the potential to be a rim protector down the line.
  • He’s got great hands, good footwork, and some nifty post moves. He made some really difficult and contested catches in the highlights I was watching and was also able to execute in the post even with the shot clock running down. The guy’s much more polished than I expected.
  • He gets caught ball-watching on defense all the time. That speaks to a lack of defensive instincts. And while he’s an adequate athlete, he’s nowhere near good enough to cover up for the lapses he makes. If he doesn’t stay attached to the guy he’s guarding, he’s going to give up a lot of easy buckets.
  • He’s a sub-60% free throw shooter and doesn’t shoot outside of 5 feet, and I don’t think he’ll ever develop a real shot in the NBA. That doesn’t make him unusable, but it limits his upside.
  • I think it’s fair to say that Zubac is mobile but not explosive. He’s not going to posterize people in the NBA, but he runs the floor pretty well for a big man.

I don’t think Zubac has very high upside due to his defensive limitations and inability to stretch the floor. But his post moves are solid and he’s been pretty efficient, and his youth could lead a team to draft him and then stash him overseas while he continues to develop.

Ante Zizic played against Luwawu and Zubac in the Adriatic League and for Cibona Zagreb. He’s a 6’11” Croatian center who is just 19 years old and still managed to play 26 minutes per game for Cibona. He averaged 13.4 points per contest on 64% shooting and also managed to connect on 70% of his shots from the line. Zizic added eight rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game but also turned the ball over six times more often than he got assists. After watching the limit Zizic film that exists on Youtube, here’s what I know:

  • He’s very good in pick-and-roll situations. In fact, it seems as if the vast majority of his points have come when he’s been the roll man in a pick-and-roll. He’s got quick feet and a big frame, which should help him in the pick-and-roll at the next level.
  • He’s physical and draws a lot of fouls. If you’re tired of seeing big men who are scared of being fouled and sent to the free throw line, Zizic might be the guy for you. He took 5.7 free throw attempts in just 25.7 minutes per game. And his solid 70% free throw shooting may mean that he has room to grow as a shooter moving forward. As of now, he never shoots from outside the paint, but he could develop a 16 or 18-footer.
  • He’s got decent enough athleticism, probably good enough that he can be a solid defender in the NBA but certainly not strong enough for him to be a defensive anchor. He’s also not mobile enough to play power forward under any circumstances, so he’ll be locked in at center.
  • Zizic is very, very, very unpolished offensively. The terrible assist-to-turnover ratio may have told you that, as may the fact that almost all of his points come on dunks off of pick-and-rolls. He doesn’t seem to have any post moves. Then again, he’s only 19, so none of this is very surprising.

Given the recent success of big men from the Adriatic League (Nikola Pekovic, Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic), Zizic is a very interesting prospect. He’s not very versatile, but he has been very efficient this year despite being just 19. He’s a strong enough defender to be considered more of a potential asset than liability in the long run and is a good enough free throw shooter to make it plausible that he will develop a midrange shot. You could do worse with a draft-and-stash in the middle of the first round.

Furkan Korkmaz is a 6’7″, 185 pound Turkish shooting guard who won’t celebrate his 19th birthday until a month after the draft. He plays for Anadolu Efes (in Istanbul) in the BSL (Basketball Super League) and Euro League, so we’re finally moving away from the Adriatic League. The Euro League and BSL are both competitive, so the fact that Korkmaz played just 8.8 minutes per game as an 18 year old in Euro League play and 14.4 in the BSL is understandable. Given his lack of playing time, most of the stats are again rather worthless. But it is worth noting that Korkmaz shoots well over 40% from three point range.

  • The first thing I noticed in my Youtube deep dive is that Korkmaz won the BSL slam dunk contest. I don’t know how much that’s worth, but I think it’s fair to say that Korkmaz has good bounce and athleticism. When you pair that with his 6’7″ frame, it’s easy to imagine him becoming an explosive shooting guard.
  • That shooting percentage is legit. He’s got a great looking shot and can hit when open or guarded. He has a much better chance than Luwawu of becoming a knockdown shooter.
  • I was surprised to see the number of times Korkmaz deferred to his teammates. He’s a very unselfish player, which can be taken positively or negatively. I’m going to take it positively and assume that he will make the correct extra pass in the NBA, something that not many players can do.
  • He’s so so so so skinny, and it hurts him on both sides of the floor. His defense is his weakness at this point and is probably the reason that he rarely got on the court for Anadolu Efes, but his lack of size also hurt him on the offensive end, keeping him from finishing through contact. If he can put on weight, I could see him becoming a very good offensive creator and a decent defender.

Every year, there seems to be a European guy who can just shoot the lights out. This year, Korkmaz is that guy. He’s very skinny and probably needs to be stashed overseas for a few years, but he has the potential of becoming a great offensive creator in the long run. If you want a guy who can contribute immediately, though, Luwawu is probably the better pick.

Also considered:
Juan Hernangomez- the brother of Guillermo Hernangomez, who was drafted with the 35th pick last year, Juan is having a good year in Spain. He’s a 6’9″ power forward who’s fast and has good range but has very limited offensive skill.
Guerschon Yabusele- his name is hard to spell, but Yabusele is a very good athlete who could be a prototypical stretch-4 with a lot of work. I wanted to write more about him, but he’s very raw and I’m not convinced he’ll be drafted in the first round.

Ranking of the international prospects:
Bender
Korkmaz
Zizic
Luwawu
Zubac
Yabusele
Hernangomez