Archive for the ‘Draft’ Category

NBA Draft Preview Part 2– My Top-20

Posted: 06/21/2018 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

Here is my top-20 list of draft prospects heading into the draft tonight, sorted into tiers:

— Tier 1 —
1. Luka Doncic: A few months ago, I thought of Doncic and DeAndre Ayton as 1a and 1b. But as I’ve thought about it more — and as I’ve begun to watch more of Doncic’s Europe footage — I’ve become convinced that Luka is a cut above. He’s by no means a sure thing, as his subpar three point percentage and lack of elite athleticism are certainly concerns. But keep in mind that he just won EuroLeague MVP at 19-years-old and that he’s produced at an unheard of level in a league that normally shuns young players. I also know that a lot of his skills are going to translate, including his court vision, basketball IQ, pick-and-roll savvy, and his off-the-dribble creation. All of that is enough to convince me that Doncic is easily the best prospect in the draft.

— Tier 2 —
2. DeAndre Ayton: Everything I said about Ayton here remains true. I’m awed by his physical ability and potential. He’s big and strong, but he’s also nimble and fleet. And he’s also a solid (if not knockdown) shooter, one who can hurt you from midrange and sometimes from three. Given all of that and his unstoppable finishing at the rim, it seems likely that Ayton will be an offensive superstar. But his lack of defensive awareness, low (2.3 per 40 minutes) block rate, and questionable decision-making are all worrying. He has true superstar potential, but also maybe a little higher bust potential than we’d like to admit.

3. Jaren Jackson Jr.: The bad news is that Jackson played just 21.8 minutes per game for Michigan State last year and often disappeared even when he was on the court. The good news is that he was playing in circumstances — next to both a plodding center and another lottery prospect (Miles Bridges) who’s also probably best suited as a power forward — that won’t be replicated in the NBA. Jackson’s never going to be an offensive superstar, but his college production and measurables (6’11 with a 7’5 wingspan) suggest that he’s sure to be an excellent supporting player. He averaged 5.5 blocks per 40 minutes and shot 60% from two point range and 40% from three at Michigan State. He profiles as an excellent rim protector who can also switch onto smaller players, which is a very handy skillset indeed. He has deep three point range and DPOY potential, which is about all you can ask for. And he’d fit basically anywhere.

4. Trae Young: Look, I know Young is small, and I know he’s always going to be a defensive liability. But guess what? Most of the best point guards in the NBA are defensive liabilities for two reasons: they’re small, and they carry a huge amount of the offensive load and thus can’t be asked to expend as much energy on defense. The question, then, becomes: can Young become an offensive superstar? And I think the answer is yes. We all saw how good he could be early on in his lone season at Oklahoma. Then, defenses realized that he was the only true threat on a team without much other scoring talent, and his production suffered. Given more space at the next level, I think Young could again begin looking like the guy who took the NCAA by storm. Given the degree of difficulty on most of his threes, the fact that he shot 36% from beyond the arc is actually quite impressive. He was far better than that on catch-and-shoot threes and 86% from the line, and I think it’s pretty clear that he’s a great shooter. He’s also a fantastic passer with a great basketball IQ, at least offensively. He knows how to run an offense, and his shooting also makes him a dangerous off-ball threat. I wouldn’t sleep on Trae Young.

— Tier 3 —
5. Wendell Carter Jr.: Carter is just rock solid on both ends. He’s a smart player who’s sure to be a great complementary player. He’s a better shooter and a better shot-blocker than his Duke teammate Marvin Bagley, who got almost all the attention last season but arguably has a game that’s outdated in the NBA. No, he’s not as talented as Bagley, but I think he’s more likely to help a team win than his flasher Duke teammate is. He’s also a great rebounder and provides the passing and floor-spacing to more than make up for his relative lack of athleticism.

6. Mikal Bridges: Bridges has very little superstar potential, but he’s very likely to become a good 3-and-D role player. And in today’s NBA, that’s very valuable. At 6’7″ with a 7’2″ wingspan, he has ideal length for a small forward, and he made it count in his final season in college, when he was the best player (or at least the best pro prospect) on Villanova’s dominant team. He made steady progress throughout his college career, going from a guy who looked clueless on both ends to a player who was Villanova’s defensive stopper and also shot 44% from three. Bridges knows who he is: 31% of his shots came from spot-up opportunities, and he averaged 1.34 points per shot on those shots. That’s elite. He’s already nearly 22-years-old and is unlikely to ever be a primary creator, but he has a high floor as both a strong shooter and a good wing defender.

7. Marvin Bagley III: Bagley is going to produce big-time immediately. He’s probably the most likely Rookie of the Year winner simply because he can probably put up 20 points and 10 rebounds per game right off the bat. He’s a great athlete, a tremendous finisher, and a hard worker. But he has serious issues, and I’m not sure how easy they’ll be to correct. How does he fit in defensively? He’s neither good enough to be a rim protector (just one block per 40 minutes, thanks in part to a lackluster 7’0″ wingspan) nor quick enough laterally to guard wings. His defensive struggles were likely one of the factors that led Coach K. to switch to a zone. I’m also not convinced that he’ll be a good shooter at the next level, as he shot just 63% from the line. All of that means you have a player who looks the part but may not help a team win.

8. Kevin Knox: I know Knox didn’t always produce at Kentucky, but every time I watched the Wildcats play, I came away being impressed by Knox. First, the negatives: Knox made no defensive impact at Kentucky, he’s not a true playmaker, and he’s kind of a tweener (not quick enough to guard wings, not strong enough to guard bigs). With all of that said, he’s very young, has a beautiful stroke, and has a huge amount of offensive upside. He’s not as good right now as most of the other guys I have ranked around here, so he’s certainly a risk, but Knox has all the tools to become an impact player.

9. Mohamed Bamba: Bamba has tantalizing upside, thanks most obviously to the record-breaking 7’10” wingspan that makes him nearly impossible to score over when his positioning is good. Indeed, he averaged 4.8 blocks per 40 minutes at Texas and has the potential to be a Rudy Gobert-level rim protector on defense. But for Bamba to live up to his billing as a near-consensus top-five prospect, he’s also going to have to improve a ton on offense. You wouldn’t know it from his pre-draft workouts or the way people have been talking about him, but Bamba shot just 28% from three and 68% from the line in college. He also disappeared far too often for a guy with his physical tools and has an injury history (albeit not a particularly expansive one). Of course some team will fall in love with his physical tools, and I think his defensive ability along with his finishing at the rim and overall offensive potential makes him a worthy top-10 pick. But Bamba is far from a sure thing.

10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: SGA was not the most highly-rated recruit on Kentucky’s team last year. He also wasn’t second, third, fourth, or fifth. He was a (gasp) four-star recruit, which would seem pretty good on both college teams but downright pitiful on John Calipari’s Wildcats. That didn’t stop him from becoming Kentucky’s bonafide leader down the stretch. Down the stretch (last 10 games), he averaged 19 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists for the Wildcats, which is pretty good for a guy who spent almost the entire first half of the season coming off the bench. There are a few things I really love about him. He’s a really smooth ball-handler who always seems to make the right play when he has the ball in his hands. He has a super high basketball IQ. He got to the line seemingly at will in college, and hit free throws at a strong rate (82%) when he got there. And at 6’6″ with a 6’11” wingspan, he has great size for a point guard, which makes him a pest on defense and a threat to constantly clog passing lanes. If you’re looking for a volume scorer at point guard, SGA isn’t your guy, at least not yet. While he shot 40% from three, that came on just 1.5 attempts per contest from beyond the arc. But I love his competitiveness and drive and think he’s a great creator out of the pick-and-roll.

11. Michael Porter Jr.: Were it not for his back injury, MPJ would probably be higher on my board. But guess what? Back injuries are scary, and I’m not at all convinced that he’s going to be able to instantly move past his and have a long, healthy NBA career. At the very least, Porter’s health is concerning. At most, it’s disqualifying, which I bet is the case for some NBA teams. If anything, I was tempted to move Porter further down the list. But the next tier of prospects clearly don’t have the potential Porter has to be a go-to scorer down the road. When he’s healthy, Porter’s a great scorer, with the explosiveness to dunk over people and the ability to drain threes off the dribble. But along with his health, Porter’s defense is also concerning. In the few games he played for Missouri, he looked disinterested on the defensive end and often lost his man. He’s a very confident guy, but hopefully he recognizes how far he needs to come on the defensive end.

— Tier 4 —
12. Miles Bridges: I’m relatively low on Michigan State’s Bridges, simply because I think he’s a tweener who profiles as a role-player who just doesn’t fit as seamlessly as Villanova’s Bridges. There’s something to be said for drafting a wing who can finish at the rim and shoot from beyond the arc, as Bridges can. But at 6’6″ with a 6’9″ wingspan and without much lateral quickness, how does Miles Bridges fit in defensively? As I’ve seen it described before, he has the length of a wing but the skill set and athleticism of a big. That can be a good thing, too, as it may mean that Bridges has the versatility to guard both types of players. But I fear it could mean he can guard neither. He’s also not a great creator off the dribble. The single stat that concerns me most? His free throw rate. He took just 23.8 free throws per 100 field goals, an incredibly low number for a top college prospect. That may not seem too concerning by itself, but it reinforces my belief that Bridges isn’t quite explosive enough to create for himself off the dribble, and he doesn’t create well enough for others to make up for it. That likely means he’ll be a useful role-player, and perhaps even a starter, but not more than that.

13. Robert Williams: We’ve seen Robert Williams before. To me, he’s the easiest player in the draft to compare to current NBA players. He’s a physically imposing, rim-running center who gobbles down rebounds and is an elite finisher of lobs and putbacks. Sound familiar? I’m thinking of DeAndre Jordan and of Clint Capela. Give him the ball in transition and on cuts, and let him find it after missed shots. Other than that, he doesn’t have much offensively utility. He averaged just 2.2 assists per 40 minutes this season and shot an abysmal 47% from the line. He has no potential as a three point shooter (well, I guess everyone has some potential to learn how to shoot, but he’s at the bottom end of that range). Defensively, I think he has the potential to be not just a great rim protector (7’4″ wingspan, 3.9 blocks per 40 minutes in college) but also a good (for a big) switcher onto guards thanks to his athleticism and length. Williams is a projectable big man without any real offensive upside, so this feels like the perfect place to put him.

14. Zhaire Smith: Is the shot real? Smith shot 45% from three in his single year in college, but on just 1.1 attempts. He also shot just 72% from the line, indicating that he’s more likely to be a low-mid-30s three point shooter than a high-30s one. And if that’s the case, it’s unclear exactly how he’ll fit in. In college, the 6’5″ Smith primarily played power forward for Texas. That’s surely not going to be the case in the NBA (he’ll be a wing), and I’ve reflected that in ranking Smith 14th. Smith is obviously extraordinarily athletic, as evidenced by gravity-defying dunks like this one. He’s a great finisher at the rim, and a great all-around defender. If I were more confident in his shot, I’d move him into the top-10. But I do still worry about where he’ll fit offensively.

— Tier 5 —
15. Keita Bates-Diop: KBD is another long wing (7’2″ wingspan) who’s as likely as anyone in this draft to be a lockdown defender. That’s why I have him ranked higher than most. He’s lower than Mikal Bridges, though, because his shot is significantly shakier and it remains to be seen how he’ll fit in an offense in which he’s not the focal point (as he was at Ohio State). Still, KBD was extremely impressive for a surprisingly good OSU team last year and did nothing but help his draft stock.

16. Lonnie Walker IV: Walker is a long, supremely athletic guard with the potential to be a go-to scorer. His ceiling is very high for a guy who’s likely to go in the middle of the first round. But he’s likely to be available at the end of the lottery for a reason: he didn’t impress at all at Miami and is a very raw player who’ll probably never figure things out. I hate to put it that way, but it’s a fact. I think Walker could definitely have used another year in college. If I were a team picking in the middle of the first round, though, I’d still be happy to draft Walker simply because he does have the tools to be an elite two-way player.

17. Kevin Huerter: The appeal to Huerter is blatantly obvious: he’s a knockdown shooter. He shot 42% last season at Maryland, and many of those shots came from way beyond the arc and/or were off-balance efforts. He’s also a 6’7″ guard who has good instincts, so I think he has hidden defensive potential too. For now, though, he’s pretty much a one-trick pony. It just so happens that said trick is a rather important skill to have in basketball.

18. Donte DiVincenzo: DiVincenzo’s draft stock has risen meteorically over the last three months, starting with his exceptional all-around NCAA Tournament performance (and especially in the Championship Game against Michigan, when he scored 31 points on 15 shots) and continuing with his combine performance and apparently great workouts in front of teams. I don’t think he’ll be a deadeye shooter (he shot 40% from three but just 71% from the line this season), and his lack of size will keep him from being super versatile defensively, but he’s one of the most athletic players in the draft and has proven that he can create for himself and his teammates. He always rose to the occasion at the biggest moments in college, and I see no reason to believe he won’t become a solid NBA role player with the intense personality and competitiveness to be a great glue guy too.

19. Jacob Evans III: Another 3-and-D player. Evans was one of the keys to Mick Cronin’s best Cincinnati teams. He has the defensive versatility and toughness to be a true Cronin player, and he projects as a reliable mid-30s shooter from beyond in the NBA. Like Miles Bridges, he struggled to get to the line in college, and he shouldn’t be expected to create much in the NBA. But when you’re picking in the back half of the first round, you should be thrilled to get a guy like Evans.

20. Collin Sexton: As you can see, I’m lower on Sexton than most, simply because to me he just looks like another point guard who lacks size (6’1″) and is a shaky long-range shooter. Now, like a lot of those point guards, he has the competitiveness, length, and athleticism to largely make up for those major deficiencies. Sexton is a fearless player and was the linchpin (scoring 40 points) of the most exceptional performance of the year in college basketball, which was Alabama’s near-comeback against Minnesota despite playing 3-on-5 for 10 minutes. He’s definitely going to be a great teammate and has a future in the NBA, but I don’t think it’s very likely that he’ll be a starting point guard, which is why I have him down at 20th. I still like him a lot, but in a deep draft some guys have to drop, right?


NBA Draft Preview Part 1

Posted: 06/20/2018 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

Since before last season’s draft, this draft has been hyped up. That’s true to a certain extent about a lot of drafts, sure (although not next year’s, which is being called weak even a year+ in advance), but was especially so about this one. It was supposed to be stronger than last season’s draft. With the benefit of hindsight, that may no longer be the case, with the emergence of Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell (among others) taking people by surprise. But the fact remains that this draft is thought to be both strong at the top and very deep. I’m going to say right off the bat that I just don’t see it, at least when it comes to the star power at the top. To me, there’s a one-man top tier. And while I wrote a glowing review of DeAndre Ayton a little more than three months ago, he’s not that man. I still think Ayton’s going to be very good, but the more I think about it, the more worried I get that Ayton’s big weaknesses — decision-making, defensive awareness — are uncorrectable and will keep him from being a true superstar. No, the guy at the top of my board is not Ayton but Luka Doncic, the 19-year-old who took over Real Madrid and Europe. I’ll get more into the strength and weaknesses of the individual prospects (and how I rank them) tomorrow, but today I wanted to describe in more general terms the makeup of this year’s draft. More than anything, this draft is defined by…

Big men at the top: Given the direction basketball seems to be going in, you would expect the top draft prospects to be long, versatile wings who project as plus players on both ends of the court and who can fit on any team. In short, 3-and-D wings, the most valuable role players in the game. This year, that means guys like Mikal Bridges, Jacob Evans, Khyri Thomas, Shake Milton, Keita Bates-Diop, Zhaire Smith, and Josh Okogie. But while all of those guys are (to varying degrees) good prospects with NBA futures, none of them rank near the top of most draft boards (Bridges is closest, around 10th on most boards). Instead, the guys going at the top of the draft are big men, also known as the players who regularly get played off the court by the best teams in the NBA. Now, it’s not like teams are ignoring more talented guards and wings and instead taking talentless bigs; it just so happens that there are a lot of talented big men in this draft. But none of them are Anthony Davis-level sure-thing prospects, and I think only Ayton is close to the type of prospect that Karl-Anthony Towns was. I’m talking, of course, about Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, Mo Bamba, and Wendell Carter, who are likely to be five of the first eight or nine picks (and maybe four of the first five). Of those five, Jackson is the only purely modern center in that he’s supposedly a good shooter who can defend bigs and switch onto guards. That would make him, to an even greater extent than the 3-and-D wings of the world, the ultimate role player and the hardest type of guy to find. Bamba is probably next on the list in that sense, although I have a lot of questions about his future (more on that tomorrow). Carter, meanwhile, has obvious limitations but also maybe the highest floor. We know he’s going to be a good center.

As for Ayton and Bagley? Well, they’re the headliners, the reason this big men at the top thing is even a talking point. They’re likely to go one-two, despite their obvious limitations. Why? Because right or wrong, teams at the top of the draft don’t want players who profile as even elite role players (a la Jackson). They want superstars, and the Suns and Kings at least seem to think that Ayton and Bagley have the highest potential in the draft. That’s why it’s useful to judge the prospects in the draft — any draft, really — not just by where you think they’re most likely to end up but also by how likely you think they are to, say, become a superstar, become an all-star, become a good role player, or become a bust. Mikal Bridges may have the highest role player+ potential in the draft, but he certainly doesn’t have the highest superstar potential. And it’s that superstar potential that’s enabling teams to look past clear NBA trends — teams are going smaller and faster — and pick the players with the most obvious potential.

Uncertainty: Last year by this time, we had a pretty good idea about how things were going to go. We knew that Markelle Fultz would go #1, Lonzo Ball #2, Jayson Tatum #3, and Josh Jackson #4. Beyond that, things still went pretty much as planned. Jonathan Givony’s (then of DraftExpress, now of ESPN) mock draft got the first 10 picks correct, then had Charlotte taking Donovan Mitchell (they took Malik Monk) before nailing #12 (Luke Kennard to Detroit). So last year was shockingly predictable. This year, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We know who’s going #1, but the first monkey wrench comes at #2 with the Kings. We think they’ll take Marvin Bagley, but maybe that was a smokescreen and they wanted Luka Doncic all along. We think Ayton, Bagley, Doncic, and Jaren Jackson will go 1-4 in some order. After that? We don’t really have any idea. Who do the Mavs like? Do the Magic want Trae Young… or do they want Mo Bamba? Are the Bulls set on Michael Porter Jr., or is it Wendell Carter they’re after? Also: it seems likely that trades will happen. The Grizzlies (4th), Bulls (7th), and Clippers (12th and 13th) have been the teams most heavily linked to trades but far from the only ones. Could Kawhi Leonard move on draft night? Will the Raptors move into the first half of the first round for Canadian prodigal son Shai Gilgeous-Alexander? Do the Cavs move their pick in a last gasp effort to keep LeBron James? All these questions (and many more) loom over the draft.

Depth: While I don’t think there’s an abundance of high-end players at the top of the draft, I do share the belief that there is a lot of depth at the back end of the first round and early in the second, specifically at shooting guard (or, more to the point, shorter player who isn’t a good enough ball-handler and/or passer to be a point guard). I’m talking about Donte DiVincenzo, Grayson Allen, Kevin Huerter, Elie Okobo, DeAnthony Melton, Justin Jackson, Landry Shamet, and the non-Bridges and Smith 3-and-D guys mentioned above (because those two will probably go in the top-15). That’s a lot of talent to be had in the 20-40 range, and I think a lot of those guys will become good role players. That’s bad news for teams hoping to catch up to the Warriors (namely: everyone), who own the 28th pick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 NBA Draft Big Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how I’d rank these four:

Full big board coming tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: