A Couple of Dynamic Guards and the Top International Prospects Not Named Frank

Posted: 06/14/2017 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

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:


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