Archive for the ‘Draft’ Category

Lonzo Ball or De’Aaron Fox?

Posted: 05/26/2017 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

We’ve established that Markelle Fultz is the no-doubt #1 guard (and overall) prospect in the draft. That’s good for the Celtics, who don’t have to worry about any of this. But for everyone else… who’s the second best PG prospect in the draft? How do Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith, and Frank Ntilikina compare? Let’s find out.

I think that the Fultz vs. Ball debate of the college season has become more of a Ball vs. Fox debate in the aftermath of Fox’s annihilation of Ball in the Sweet 16. That was the game that propelled Fox into the top-five discussion. He scored 39 points on 20 shots, going 13-15 from the line and holding a seemingly timid Ball to just 10 points. To make matters worse for Lonzo, the Bruin declared for the NBA draft in the postgame interview and seemed rather unbothered about the loss. This doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, but juxtapose it with Fox’s reaction to UK’s loss in the Elite Eight, and, well, it’s obvious who you’d rather have fight for you on the basketball court.

So that was the beginning of the debate between Fox and Ball. Then came the reports that the Lakers were working out Fox and the news that they’d pick second in the draft, setting up a clear choice between Ball — the guy everyone has expected them to take all along — and Fox — the up-and-comer.

I’ll say right away that I understand that some fans don’t want to have to deal with LaVar Ball — Lonzo’s, er, eccentric father. But I really only think that the LaVar thing will be an issue in the NBA if Lonzo underperforms expectations and struggles. If Lonzo’s a star player, he’s going to be at the center of attention, and nothing I’ve seen him say or do has led me to believe that he’s anything but an even-keeled player. In fact, as a player he’s the polar opposite of what you’d expect from LaVar Ball’s son. His greatest strength is his brain. I cannot overstate how smart Ball is and how high his basketball IQ is. His passing is obviously Exhibit A. He averaged 7.6 assists and just 2.5 turnovers per game, darn good numbers for a freshman point guard. But beyond the numbers, he also transformed the UCLA Bruins, serving as the straw that stirred the drink for a team that won 31 games, more than twice as many as it did the year before, when coach Steve Alford was seemingly on his way out.

One reason that Ball has become so tantalizing as a prospect is that he’s a flashy passer. Another is that he’s a brilliant transition player, showing the rare ability to grab a rebound (he’s 6’6″ and has a 6’9″ wingspan, which along with his instincts allowed him to average six boards a game, obviously an elite number for a point guard) and immediately push the pace. UCLA didn’t just beat teams last year — they obliterated them, giving them a knockout punch in the form of a quick 10-0 or 18-4 run. They broke 100 points nine times and finished second in the country in points per game and first in assists. Not all of that was because of Ball. I mentioned this in my effort to laud Fultz, but I think it bears repeating: Ball had an embarrassment of riches around him, especially offensively. Fellow freshman one-and-done T.J. Leaf is set to be a first round pick because he’s a terrific scorer. Ball was joined in the backcourt by senior sharpshooter Bryce Alford, Aaron Holiday, and Isaac Hamilton, all of whom averaged more than 12 points per game. And for long stretches it seemed as if Thomas Welsh could not miss a midrange shot. But there’s no denying the fact that Ball was the driving force behind all of this.

A third, and probably most important, reason that Ball is a tantalizing prospect is that he seems to fit so perfectly into the modern NBA. He made only 12 shots all season that were neither layups/dunks nor three pointers. A lot of people are painting that as a good thing, and there’s probably good reason for that. I don’t see the NBA moving away from the trend towards threes and layups anytime soon. But the 12 shot stat actually worries me more than it pleases me. The biggest reason I’m not sold on Ball as the #2 pick is that I’m not sold on his scoring potential. It used to be that the best point guards weren’t putting the ball in the bucket as much as the elite players at other positions. Look at Jason Kidd, perhaps Ball’s best case scenario. In his greatest statistical season, Kidd put up 19-6-9, making his fourth straight All-Star game. Kidd ended up making 10 All-Star games, and he’s now thought of as one of the best point guards ever. But guess what? Last year, every All-Star guard averaged better than 20 points per game. 12 point guards averaged 20+ per contest. There’s no Kidd in today’s NBA, and of course a Jason Kidd would be hugely valuable in any era. But teams are looking for their lead guards — and especially their #2 picks — to blossom into guys who can score 22 or 23 points per night… at least. Here are a number of reasons that I don’t expect Ball to ever reach those heights:

  • I find it hard to believe that Ball, with his wonky shot mechanics, is going to be a 41% three point shooter in the NBA. That’s what he was in college, and I have to admit that at some point you just have to ignore the way the shot looks and just accept that the guy’s a good three point shooter. But I’m not at that point yet, especially since Lonzo shot just 67% from the free throw line. I do believe Ball has a high floor as a shooter — maybe 33 or 34%, which is just fine — but I think 38 or 39% might be his upper range. And yes, his low release point does continue to worry me, results be damned.
  • He doesn’t draw fouls. Free throw attempts are fairly translatable from college to the NBA, and Ball attempted just 2.7 free throws per contest. That’s because he almost always chose to pass the ball rather than taking a tough shot off the dribble.
  • In the pick-and-roll, where a lot of guards score a lot of their points, Ball almost always passes. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but we’re nitpicking. I think now we’re starting to see why Fultz should be the consensus #1.
  • He’s not athletic or quick enough to blow by people. He’s not slow or stiff, but his first step is much slower than, say, De’Aaron Fox’s. That’s not a fair comparison, because Fox relies heavily upon his speed and athleticism, but even if you compare Ball’s first step to Stephen Curry’s, you can see that Ball’s going to be rather limited in terms of his ability to create easy looks for himself.

And yet, Ball remains an immensely desirable offensive talent. Unlike many pass-first guards (I’m looking at you, Rajon Rondo), Ball is a very useful player to have off the ball. Because he played on such a talented UCLA team, we got to see him off the ball quite a bit, and he is always moving, cutting, and trying to get open:

He was also a knockdown shooter in catch-and-shoot situations from everywhere on the court. I’m very confident that Ball will find a way to be valuable offensively even when he doesn’t have the ball. That’s why he could prove appealing for a team that already has a primary ballhandler — say, the Sixers with Ben Simmons. Let’s just say that adding a high IQ guard who can shoot and always makes the right pass is never a bad thing for a struggling offense.

That was long, but I felt like all of it needed to be said, because Ball is the most divisive top prospect in the draft (largely because of his father, but still). There’s much more of a consensus about Ball’s defense. It’s what you’d expect: he has the instincts to cause havoc and the size to play decent defense, but he’s not quick or bursty enough to profile as a great defender. In other words, he’s perfectly suitable as the guy covering the less potent guard threat.

If you watched the video I posted above and/or DeAaron Fox’s performance against UCLA, there’s no way you don’t love him. If you watched his quiet, foul-plagued, frustrating performance against North Carolina, you’re probably a bit puzzled about why Fox has catapulted into the top five of most mock drafts. That’s Fox: enigmatic, brilliant, and overflowing with potential. The John Wall comparisons are lazy — yes, we all know they’re both fast, they both went to Kentucky, and neither had a lick of a three point shot coming out of college. Heck, they’re even the same height (6’4″). But Wall was much stouter coming out of college (at least 25 pounds heavier than Fox’s 171) and his wingspan is three inches longer. Fox is a great athlete, but he’s not the physical specimen that Wall has been since he was the consensus #1 pick in 2010. Fox is also left-handed, and it’s hard to compare a lefty to a righty. But the fact is that speed is such a central part of both Fox’s game and Wall’s game that the comparisons are unavoidable. I think the comparisons are lazy, but I also think that Fox could turn out to be as good as Wall is. But he has a long way to go.

I think he has the potential to be a more complete scorer than Ball is. He already excels at many of the things Ball struggles to do. I mentioned that he went 13-15 from the line against UCLA. Fox averaged 5.9 free throw attempts per game in 29.6 minutes per contest. He used his quick, spindly frame to free himself for open midrange look after open midrange look (part of that, of course, is that other teams were daring him to shoot those shots. More on that in a second). He used his sneaky strength and his athleticism to finish tough shots at the rim, although more consistency would be ideal. He only shot 36% from midrange jumpers, but he at least showed that he can vary his offensive game, which could allow him to explode if he fixes his shot. And he’s obviously a great transition player, thanks largely to his speed. More than 35% of his points came on the fastbreak.

As a playmaker, Fox is hit-or-miss, certainly not on Ball’s level. As he became more aggressive late in the season, his assist numbers trended down, and he ended up averaging just 4.6 assists per game (Wall averaged 6.5 in his lone season at Kentucky, by the way). He made some outstanding reads and passes, setting up a lot of easy Bam Adebayo dunks. But he’s nowhere near where he needs to be as a floor general. He’s also only 19, and that’s something that will surely improve with experience. If your major worry about Fox is his distribution, you should take him in a heartbeat. I think he’ll end up being a good facilitator, albeit probably not on Wall’s (or Ball’s) level. But nobody’s biggest concern is Fox’s distribution…

It’s his shot. Fox’s shot doesn’t look bad, but it is horrendous. He shot 24.6% from three point range, and not much better from midrange. He hit two threes in the Elite Eight against North Carolina, but that was atypical. He only had two other games with 2+ three pointers made all season. And if we’ve learned nothing else from the last few years, we’ve learned that ball-dominant point guards who can’t shoot are huge liabilities offensively. Just look at Elfrid Payton, a lottery pick who was set to be a steal “as long as he could figure out how to shoot.” He never has, and some guys never do. In order to consider Fox a top three pick, you must think that Fox will develop some semblance of a jump shot. He at least has to hit on his midrange shots and keep opponents honest from three. Best case scenario is a Wall-like progression from three — Wall went from shooting sub-30% in his first three years to about 35%, also known as good enough. Fox can return top-10 value without figuring out how to shoot much, because he’s a more dynamic player than Payton. He’s also a great defensive player. Fox is tenacious, laterally quick, and can disrupt passing lanes with his long arms or opposing guards with his quick hands. He still needs to get stronger, but he could easily be an elite defensive point guard. I hate to be so simplistic, but it really all hinges on the shot. If it becomes average, Fox is an All-Star. If it’s 24.6%, he’s a role player. If it’s in between, he’s probably a solid starter.

I went into this thinking I would prefer Fox to Ball, largely because that’s what I was thinking after that Sweet 16 game. And I do believe that Fox has the higher overall upside. But I’m just so scared of his shot, and I know that I’m going to get a valuable offensive contributor in Lonzo. I think it’s fairly close, but I think Ball’s a better prospect than Fox is.

Markelle Fultz is a Slam Dunk

Posted: 05/21/2017 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

We’ve been hearing for years (years!) that the 2017 NBA Draft featured a bumper crop of point guards. 247 Sports’s composite rankings for the HS Class of 2016 had five point guards in its top seven: Lonzo Ball (second), Markelle Fultz (fourth), Frank Jackson (fifth), De’Aaron Fox (sixth), and Dennis Smith Jr. (seventh). Throw in Belgian point guard Frank Ntilikina, who’s been ranked in or around the top ten of mock drafts all year, and things were looking very good for point guard needy teams. One year later? As is often the case, things look about the same. Jackson has fallen out of the conversation, and will now probably be a late first round or second round pick, but the other five remain locked in the lottery of every prospect ranking in the country, and Fultz and Ball are pretty much the consensus #1 and #2 players (you’ll soon find out that I don’t fully agree with that consensus). I’ll be writing about Ball, Fultz, Fox, Smith, and (to an extent) Ntilikina in the upcoming days. Let’s start with the guy who is easily the best player in this draft class.

Every so often, there are top draft prospects who are most noteworthy not for any one or two specific skills but rather for their lack of weaknesses. Karl-Anthony Towns was one. There haven’t been many. Just look at the rest of the top of this year’s draft class: Ball (can’t create for himself, limited defensive upside), Jackson (can’t shoot), Fox (can’t shoot), Jonathan Isaac (can’t create for himself), Jayson Tatum (one-dimensional scorer), Malik Monk (one-dimensional shooter)… the fact is that most players, and even most good players, have a glaring weakness. Markelle Fultz doesn’t. The guy just has it all. He hasn’t yet turned 19-years-old, making him one of the youngest players in the class. He’s 6’4″ with a near-6’10” wingspan. He’s super athletic, can jump out of a gym, and is the smoothest player in the class. The measurables and athleticism are all there… but most of all, Fultz can flat out ball. I didn’t watch many Washington games, both because of my East Coast bias and because Washington was a terrible basketball team, but whenever I did (the one game I remember most distinctly is a Washington-Arizona game. Fultz put up 26 points on 16 shots, and the Huskies lost handily. In other words, a typical performance), I was stunned by just how well-rounded he was offensively. He shot 41% from three point range and has a sweet looking jump shot (although I don’t know what was going on with his feet on the last few in this video).

He averaged nearly six rebounds and six assists per game. His 36% assist percentage (percentage of baskets assisted by a player when he’s on the court, excluding his own baskets) was second-best in the draft class behind Jawun Evans. Lonzo Ball’s the guy who gets all the plaudits for his passing ability, and Ball does indeed make some incredible passes, but I’d argue that Fultz is nearly as good of a passer, something that will be evident when the talent around him resembles what Lonzo played with at UCLA. His court vision and unselfishness make him an ideal point guard. Ignore the French — this is a really good video.

He can also get a bucket for himself whenever he wants, either at the rim or from midrange. That’s important, because I think teams that totally abandon midrange shots (a la Houston) are failing to realize that your offense needs alternatives when it struggles, especially in the playoffs when everyone knows what to expect. Look at the Warriors, who can get a barrage of threes but can also give the ball to Kevin Durant and let him drain 18-footers and who have role players like Shaun Livingston and David West who excel at hitting midrange shots. Fultz can elevate and drain those shots — his pull-up jumper has the potential to be lethal in the NBA. Another thing he can do? Play off the ball, serving as a secondary ball-handler. This is another key skill for a player on a championship-caliber team, because most great teams have multiple guys who need the ball in their hands. Fultz shot 38% on catch-and-shoot jumpers, a percentage I expect to go up when his shot mechanics are even better and when there’s more spacing.

It’s pretty hard to imagine a better pick-and-roll prospect. Fultz has the ability to dribble in tight spaces, find passes, shoot off the dribble, drive to the rim, or step back for a three. Watch this and remember that Fultz is still 18!

And this:

That’s just so rare.

Fultz can obviously improve offensively. He shot just 65% from the line, which could hint to some real shooting struggles early in his NBA career. I’m not as worried about his shot as I am about Jackson’s, because Fultz shot better in college and because his jump shot is clearly smoother and more consistent. He’s not turnover-prone (3.2 turnovers per game in 35.7 minutes isn’t bad for a player who always had the ball in his hands), but he can sometimes get lazy and force bad passes or get stripped. Other than that? I’ve got nothing. In all the areas where most young players struggle — shooting off the dribble, finishing with the off hand, distributing, attacking a pick-and-roll, balancing an individual offensive game with the need to get teammates going — Fultz is terrific.

Defensively, Fultz isn’t nearly as polished as he is offensively. He obviously has the size and athleticism to be a very good defensive player, and his work ethic off the court is clearly very good. But his defensive focus and intensity isn’t where it needs to be at this point. The reason I’m not at all worried about this, and the reason I don’t expect Fultz to ever consistently be a lockdown defender, is that point guards are being relied on more and more offensively and less and less defensively. I think a very fair comparison for Fultz would be a righty James Harden who’s not quite as much of a liability on the defensive end. If Harden really wanted to expend energy and effort on the defensive end of the ball, he could be a good defensive player. He just chooses not too — and his coach fully concurs with that choice. I think Fultz could easily be that type of player.

I’m not one of the people who worries a whole lot about a player’s college success. As we’ve seen time after time, it’s impossible for one player (let alone one freshman) to transcend a crappy team with a crappy coach. The Huskies went 9-22, but Fultz was so obviously not the problem that I think people are feeling uncomfortable with how not the problem he was and are thus calling him part of the problem (if that makes any sense). Fultz reminds me of a guard version of Towns, who I mentioned earlier. His floor is very high, and his ceiling is very high. The worst-case scenario, I think, is Harden-lite, a player who fills it up offensively and takes a lot of plays off defensively but who doesn’t quite have Harden’s ability to carry an offense. That’s pretty darn good! The best-case scenario is that Fultz proves to have a super high motor, allowing him to use his size and speed compete on the defensive end while providing Harden-level production offensively. That’s one of the best players in the NBA! It might be tough to judge how good Fultz is right away, because unlike Towns and almost every #1 overall pick he’s going to be playing for a contending team (barring a trade or a surprise). I think it’ll be tough for Boston to keep Fultz off the court, but the Celtics do already have a lot of pretty good guards, including one of the NBA’s top scorers. It’ll be interesting to see how the minutes are allotted in Boston next year if Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier, and Fultz are all on the team. One thing’s for sure: Markelle Fultz is one of the best guard prospects in the 21st century and is the no-doubt best player in this draft.

Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum

Posted: 05/16/2017 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

It’s a big night in the NBA, with Game 2 of the Warriors-Spurs series and, more importantly, the NBA draft lottery. I’m not going to preview the NBA Conference Finals, because both matchups lack intrigue, especially now that Kawhi Leonard is injured. Here’s my quick prediction: neither the Cavs nor the Warriors will enter the Finals undefeated, but neither will have more than two losses. In other words, both Golden State and Cleveland will win in five or six games and roll into the Finals, which, I would argue, is where the playoffs really start (because this Finals matchup has been a foregone conclusion for so long). And while I know a lot of people/websites are doing it, I’m not going to predict what’s going to happen in the lottery tonight, because come on. Instead of writing about the playoffs or the lottery, I’m going to focus on the players that conventional wisdom says are the premier wings in the draft: Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum.

Let me say this right away: I’m not going to speculate about Josh Jackson’s off-court issues, because I know nothing about them. The misdemeanor property charge is definitely something teams will have to look into, but I’m going to ignore it for the sake of this post, not because I don’t think it’s an important consideration. I love Josh Jackson as a player, because he’s the one guy in the draft who left an obvious imprint on every game he played in. It’s rare that a college player, and especially a college freshman, can find a way to positively impact a game when he’s not scoring. Jackson’s top selling point is that he can do that. There are a few types of intriguing defensive prospects. There are raw, long, athletic, high-potential players who often disappeared in college games. There are scrappy, high-effort players who generally find their niches in the NBA. And then, very rarely, there are athletic, active, high-potential, high-effort guys. Josh Jackson is one of those guys. Jackson’s a 6’8″ wing with a 6’10” wingspan. He is always active on the defensive end, and he averaged 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game in 31 minutes per contest. He’s very laterally quick, and he makes up for his relative lack of length with outstanding anticipation skills and a great basketball IQ. He’s strong enough to guard power forwards and quick enough to guard point guards. In my last post, I wrote about the importance of wings switching on screens in the NBA. Based solely on his physical skills, Jackson is the prototypical NBA wing defender. Just as important, though, is the fact that Jackson clearly enjoys playing defense and takes pride in his ability to shut down a star player. A lot of players should be defense-first; few actually embrace that role.

Offensively, Jackson usually found a way to impact Kansas’s games. He scored in single figures just three times all year despite averaging just 12.3 shots per game as Kansas’s second or third option. He’s quietly a very unselfish, smart, and good passer, as he averaged three assists per game and excelled at making the extra pass to turn a decent look into a great one, a skill that’s very important to have in the NBA, where spacing is king. He’s a menace in fastbreak situations, with the athleticism and body control to finish at the rim. He’s not as good in the halfcourt offense, but few guys are coming out of college. The real question, of course is his shot. On the surface, there’s nothing to worry about: Jackson shot 38% from three in his lone season at Kansas. He finished the season on a 25-for-52 tear from beyond the arc. But he shot just 57% from the line, and he has a really funky release. Watch this clip and tell me you think Jackson will be a good tree point shooter at the next level:

If he’s going to be a legit 37% three point shooter in the NBA, Jackson should be at least the #2 pick in the draft, because everything else is the real deal. On a team with Frank Mason, the Naismith Player of the Year, Jackson was clearly the team’s most important player — they lost to TCU in the lone game he missed. I find it hard to believe that Jackson will never become at least a suitable shooter, which is why I like him so much as a prospect. But even if he’s a 30% three point shooter, he’ll find ways to score the ball and to be a key contributor at the next level. The sky is the limit for Jackson, but I don’t think his floor is as low as some have made it out to be, thanks to his selflessness, his competitiveness, his defensive ability, and his basketball IQ.

Offensively, Jayson Tatum is the most polished player in the draft. I hate to use that word, because it’s the one everyone uses to describe Tatum’s offensive game, but it really is apt. Give Tatum the ball in the post, and he’ll outmuscle smaller players or deke past big men (1.303 points per possession in the post, 99th percentile). Give it to him on the wing and clear out, because he can take a slow defender to the hoop or pull up from midrange against a smaller player. Tatum’s a great isolation player, because he’s both big (6’8 with a 6’11” wingspan and a wide frame that should make him a force to be reckoned with as he fills out) and fluid. He has a whole bag of tricks, from crossovers to hesitation dribbles to fadeaways. If you want a guy who can find his own midrange shot, Tatum’s your guy. The problem is that the NBA is quickly moving away from isolation ball and midrange shots. The Raptors flamed out against the Cavs in the second round, partly because they didn’t have LeBron James but also because their offensive gameplan — which was predicated on a lot of isolation ball and midrange shots — was no match for Cleveland’s barrage of three pointers. Tatum shot just 34% from three at Duke, largely because he has a slow release that makes it difficult to get an open look unless he’s wide open. To be a great offensive weapon on the wing in this day and age, you pretty much have to shoot threes. DeMar DeRozan put up a lot of points this season, but when push came to shove he was pretty easy to slow down in the playoffs, because opponents could sag off of him, forcing him to give the ball up or take a three. Tatum did show some passing upside, and I’m confident that he could fit in a more free-flowing offense, just as I’m just DeRozan could do the same. But if Tatum’s really an offense-only player, his offensive game is not good enough to justify a top-five selection.

Defensively, Tatum’s probably better than he’s given credit for. He’s not a flashy athlete, but he’s versatile enough to guard both forward positions pretty well. He’s a good defensive rebounder, and he averaged 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per contest. There’s no reason to expect him to be a premier defender, and I certainly wouldn’t want him guarding Kevin Durant, but there’s also no reason to believe he won’t fit in well in a good defensive scheme that provides plenty of support for a wing defender. It’s hard to get excited about his defensive upside when he’s compared to Josh Jackson, but I could easily see him defending as well as Justin Jackson, a guy who got a lot of plaudits for his defensive performances in the NCAA tournament. I think Tatum will be solid defensively, and if he’s solid defensively, he has a really high floor as a skilled role player who provides a lot of offense in 25-30 minutes per game. I’m not sure how high his ceiling is, and I’d disagree with the people who say he’s a future 27-30 points per game scorer, because I don’t think he’s athletic enough or a good enough shooter to consistently score that much. But Tatum’s definitely a guy I’d like to have on my team.

If it wasn’t clear before this, I prefer Jackson to Tatum, because I’m more confident in his ability to always positively impact a game and because I think he fits in better in the modern NBA. Jackson’s my #2 prospect in this draft class. But Tatum’s a darn good prospect in his own right and someone I’ll probably have in the 5-7 range of my final big board.

The NBA Draft Lottery is next week, which means that the draft itself is not too far away. It’s time to start taking a deep dive into the prospects. For years, this draft class has been deemed the best in recent memory, lauded as perhaps being level talent-wise with the amazing 2003 draft (LeBron, Melo, Wade, Bosh, a ton of good role players). I don’t think it’s that great at the top, but I do agree that it’s deeper than recent drafts have been. Guys who will probably be late lottery picks this year might have gone in the top-10 last year. In particular, I’m thinking about three wings: OG Anunoby, Jonathan Isaac, and Justin Jackson. I was going to start off my draft preview by breaking down the loaded crop of point guards (five point guards will almost certainly go in the lottery, and maybe in the top-10). Instead, I’m going to take a look at the three guys I just mentioned. Not only are they evidence of the depth of this draft class, but Anunoby, Isaac, and Jackson also play at a position that’s quickly become the most coveted and toughest to find — small forward or, more accurately, wing. If you’ve been watching the NBA playoffs, you know how much wings are tasked with. If they’re good enough defensively, they have to guard the opponent’s best player from the outset, because they are the position which generally best combines size and speed, both of which are needed in spades to have any hope of slowing down LeBron, Harden, Kawhi, or Durant, to name a few. And even if they aren’t defensive stoppers, wings regularly find themselves in difficult positions because they’re the guys who do most of the switching. I can imagine how tough it would be to be a wing defender against the Warriors or Cavs. Not only do you have to play impeccable on-ball defense, but you’re also put through endless screens and switches, endless cuts, and endless off-ball screens. And even if you do everything right, there’s still a 50-50 chance you’ll get called for a ticky-tack foul. That’s just the defensive side of the ball.

The hottest commodity in the NBA right now — besides superstar players, because duh — is 3-and-D wings. The “D” part is obvious — I just outlined how much wings have to do on the defensive end of the ball because they’re usually the most malleable players on the court. Offensively, most of the onus has been placed on point guards, who generally slack off on the defensive end of the ball. All wings have to do is hit threes to be considered valuable offensive contributors. The name of the modern game is floor spacing, and the more potent three point threats a team has, the easier it is to drive-and-kick or just drive-and-finish. Just watch the Rockets play. Of course, it’s a huge bonus for wings to be able to do more than just shoot the three and play defense. That’s how you go from being a valuable starter to being Jimmy Butler, Paul George, or Gordon Hayward, all of whom are just a notch below the league’s elite wings. But guys like Robert Covington are enormously valuable, because it’s surprisingly hard to find 3-and-D players. So which of Isaac, Anunoby, and Jackson has the best chance of being a 3-and-D guy? Which of the three has the best chance to grow into an offensive fulcrum? Let’s find out.

I watched a lot of Florida State basketball last year, and sometimes I forgot that Jonathan Isaac was even on the court. I’ll say this right away: if you want a wing who can consistently get his own bucket, you’ll fall in love with Jayson Tatum (who I’ll write about in a different post). You won’t like Isaac. I do like Isaac, and I’m liking him more after watching playoff basketball and seeing the direction that the league is going in. Isaac is 6’11” and has a 7’1″ wingspan. He’s really thin right now, but in a few years I can absolutely see him being a small-ball center. He’s also a really fluid athlete who eats up opposing wings. A lot of big, athletic wings are said to have huge defensive potential, but few of them ever pan out. The biggest reason for that is a lack of foot speed that keeps wings from keeping up laterally with quick perimeter players. Isaac does not have this problem. His foot speed is probably his biggest selling point. It is unbelievably valuable to have a guy who can easily guard four positions, switch ball screens, and disrupt pick-and-rolls. I think Isaac can be one of the league’s premier wing defenders, a rare 6’11” forward who is quick enough to guard wings. A lot of this is based on his tools, but Isaac also produced really good defensive numbers last year. Playing 26.2 minutes per game, Isaac averaged 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He was the best defensive player on an overachieving Florida State defense. He also showed a willingness and ability to sky for rebounds despite his lack of brawn — he gobbled up 25% of available defensive rebounds when on the court, a good rate for a power forward, let alone a small forward. He’s going to be a solid NBA defender right away. His defensive potential is through the roof.

Offensively, Isaac’s potential is a lot lower. He’s not exactly a ball-stopper, but he’s pretty uncreative with the ball in his hands. He averaged more turnovers than assists, and he doesn’t have the bucket-making ability to fully make up for that, as he pulls up from midrange way more often than he takes it to the hoop. This can all be corrected, but he dribbles too much sometimes and often doesn’t look like he knows what he’s doing on the offensive side. The one thing Isaac really has going for him is his shooting stroke. He was inconsistent from three in his lone year at Florida State, and ended up shooting just 35% from three. But he’s got good shot mechanics and hit 78% of his free throws, which probably means he’ll grow into a better NBA three point shooter. College three point percentages don’t mean everything. Josh Jackson (easily my favorite wing in the draft, but that’s another post) shot 38% from three, but Isaac’s a much better bet to hit on his long range shots in the NBA.

Is Isaac ever going to be a first or second offensive option? Probably not, no. He can definitely get more polished offensively, but it’s rare that this type of player blossoms into a go-to scorer. Of course, this is why he’s not in consideration for the #1 pick. At his best, Isaac could be the ultimate 3-and-D guy, a 38% three point shooter who regularly destroys opponents’ sets. Some team’s going to see that and take him in the lottery. I think he’s worth a top-7 pick, simply because his floor is so much higher than, say, Dennis Smith’s.

OG Anunoby has a different body type than Jonathan Isaac, but he has the same type of game and upside. He’s a young sophomore, as he’s not yet 20-years-old and is just a few months older than Isaac. He also tore his ACL in January and played just 13.7 minutes per game as a freshman. Development-wise, it’s safe to treat him as a freshman. Whereas Isaac is a spindly 6’11”, 205 pounds, Anunoby is a stout 6’8″, 215. His wingspan is a reported 7’6″. He looks like the prototypical lockdown wing defender, and he plays like it too. Indiana was solid defensively when Anunoby was on the court, which is how they were able to win games against North Carolina and Kansas. They were horrific after he got injured, which is why they finished 18-16 (5-9 in his absence) and got nowhere near the NCAA tournament. Even last year, Anunoby showed an ability to quiet NBA-caliber wings. He shut down Jamal Murray in the NCAA tournament, holding him to 16 points on 18 shots and spurring Indiana’s win over Kentucky. We’ve seen this type of defensive prospect before. When he’s dialed in, he’s the prototypical defensive stopper. Unfortunately, he takes more plays off than you would like from someone who should be bringing toughness and scrappiness to the table. That may seem correctable, but I’ve been burned in the past for assuming that a player’s focus will automatically be improved in the NBA. For a player with so little offensive upside, the lack of consistent defensive effort is a red flag.

Isaac is a better offensive prospect than OG, whose shot is a mess. He shot 31% from three and 56% from the line this year, and he’s really bad when his shot is contested. His shot doesn’t look Andre Roberson-bad, but it’s bad enough at this point that defenses will readily sag off of him. The shot, of course, is the X-factor, as it so often is. We know how important it is to have wings who can at least shoot enough to draw a defender out of the paint. Anunoby’s threes don’t look pretty (they’re line drives), but I don’t think it’s completely broken, so there’s room for growth there. He’d better become an average three point shooter, because he doesn’t have much else to offer offensively. On a fastbreak, when Anunoby is running at a defender with a head of steam, OG is tough to stop. When the defense falls asleep and OG glides in for a dunk, he’s tough to stop. In all other situations, he’s not a very good offensive player. His handle is much worse than Isaac’s, as is his midrange game. He’s even rawer offensively than Isaac, and his shot is years behind.

We’ve seen this type of prospect so many times. Oodles of defensive potential. No off-the-dribble game. A shaky shot. This type of prospect so rarely pans out, so I’d be hesitant to draft Anunoby. I think the most likely scenario is that he’s a bench player who contributes a valuable 15-20 minutes as a defensive stopper (think Jerami Grant). OG fans will bring up Kawhi Leonard, and I can see why: they are similar physically and have the same type of defensive ability. But Leonard’s transformation from a bad college offensive player to an MVP-caliber finisher and creator is very, very rare.

Justin Jackson is the guy everyone’s most familiar with of the three, for obvious reasons. He was a three year starter for a team that made two straight title games, winning this year. He was a first team All-American and the ACC Player of the Year. You probably know him for his feathery floater, which always seems to go in. He turned into a plus (37%) three point shooter this year, and he was a high volume three point shooter (7.1 attempts per game). Jackson has a super quick release and transformed his shot mechanics during his time at Chapel Hill. Just as importantly, he also has great offensive instincts, which is what truly differentiates him from Anunoby and Isaac. He became a facilitator in the NCAA tournament, averaging 3.7 assists per game as he had the ball in his hands more and more often with point guard Joel Berry hobbled. With all of that said, Jackson still certainly has offensive warts. I hate it when people criticize a player for not being able to score as well against size and length, because I feel like that’s true of every single player. But it’s definitely a more pronounced difference for some, and I think Jackson is one of those guys. His worst games of the year came when the opponent was able to get physical, which makes sense given that Jackson is not off-the-charts athletically and is a very skinny 6’8″ (193 pounds). He’s not an explosive player, which will probably keep him from ever being a go-to threat at the next level. It’s also worth noting that Jackson is probably getting a little overhyped because of the team he was on. His stats this year (18 points per game on 44/37/75% shooting) were good, but it’s not like he was putting up 25 points per game or consistently finishing in traffic. The fact that he’s already 22-years-old also doesn’t help. But make no mistake about it: Jackson has the chance to be a very good secondary creator, with the ability to shoot from three or put home that beautiful floater and the court vision to find the open man.

I was really impressed with Jackson’s defense in North Carolina’s final three tournament games. I didn’t focus much on Jackson’s defense before the tournament, so I can’t say if he was doing this all year, but he shut down Malik Monk (12 points) and Tyler Dorsey (3-11 from the field) and was instrumental in holding Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss to a 5-17 shooting performance. In those three games, Jackson looked like a shutdown defender. This should all be taken with a grain of salt. Jackson has a 6’11” wingspan and is way bigger than Monk (6’4″, 6’3.5″ wingspan), Dorsey (6’4″, 6’3″), and Williams-Goss (6’4″, 6’6″). He should be shutting down those guys. But I was impressed by Jackson’s lateral quickness and his defensive fluidity. In the NBA, I don’t think he’ll be strong enough to bang with power forwards or quick enough to slow down the league’s great wings. But I had assumed he’d be a total defensive liability, and now I think there’s a chance he’s a solid defender in the NBA.

Jackson certainly has the intangibles going for him. He’s a smart, unselfish player who rarely makes rushed or bad decisions. That alone makes Jackson an easy fit in the NBA. But intangibles alone don’t get you drafted in the lottery. The reason the draft’s second best J. Jackson deserves to go in the lottery is that he’s a really solid all-around player. I think he’s a really projectable player, a guy who’ll probably be best suited to be a sparkplug off the bench. He’s not a good pick for a team looking to hit a grand slam, but he fits in relatively well to the evolving NBA and will slot in as a valuable piece for the team that drafts him in the middle of the first round.

Here’s how I’d rank the three:

Jonathan Isaac
Justin Jackson
OG Anunoby

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)!