This is what my model is saying about the 2017 class right now. I mostly kept it to projected 1st rounders and others I thought might perform well in it, so I may have missed a numbers friendly sleeper or two that I’ll pick up later in the year.
- PG Markelle Fultz (model rating: 21.24)
- PG Lonzo Ball (21.65)
- SF Dedric Lawson (21.6)
Since it’s effectively a tie in my model I won’t stick to it to the letter. I rated Lawson 3rd because he has athletic concerns leading him to be nowhere to be seen on conventional scout draft boards. With that said he has the highest BPM of the three which is not something directly in my model, but a good sign. While Fultz and Ball is a toss-up, I side against Ball because he thrives in transition and has an unorthadox jumpshot both of which could have a more difficult time translating to the next level than Fultz’s NBA made game.
- PG Dennis Smith, Jr. (19.89)
- SF Jonathan Isaac (19.81)
- PF T.J. Leaf (19.4)
I don’t have a problem with someone calling Smith the best prospect in the class, my model only measures athleticism if it shows up in the numbers so it could be underestimating his advantage in that area. He also projects as the best shooter of him, Fultz and Ball which is a potent combination with his physical tools but for now his overall productivity still trails the other two. Isaac rates as a better prospect than Brandon Ingram was last year by projecting as a stronger defender and shooter and Leaf is a great offensive freshman with his scoring, passing, shooting.
- PG Jawun Evans (18.06)
- C Robert Williams (17.55)
- SF Jayson Tatum (16.93)
- C Anzejs Pasceniks (Intl.)
Evans would have rated top 5 on my board last year if he came as a great combination of athleticism, shooting and passing for a PG and players like Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker have shown you can be undersized and great on offense at the position. Williams is a great shotblocking big with a solid FT% and shooting potential. Tatum has physical tools and shooting potential and is having a solid rookie campaign deserving of a lotto pick. The last spot goes to my highest rated international in Anzejs Pasceniks who is a mobile 7 footer with some shooting potential who impressively leads his ACB team in PER.
SG Malik Monk (15.84): Monk is a crazy scorer but his productivity is below average everywhere else and models like mine are built to be bearish on NCAA scoring as a predictor as bullish on doing everything else. With that said, when a player is scoring 30 points per 40 minutes on .63 TS% as an 18 year old and projects as the best shooter in the class, it’s not like he should be counted out either and he’s not that far off from top ten in the model.
SF Josh Jackson (13.0): He puts up some fantastic numbers like his steals, blocks, assists, rebounds but the thing that really hurts him is the shooting projection where is below the Mendoza line of sorts. It’s very difficult to be Elfrid Payton or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the NBA right now. With that said he probably still has star potential. But I can’t put him in my top 10 when my model has him not even close.
PF Harry Giles (9.5): While it’s early and he’s coming back from injury so far his numbers are as bust-like as it gets
PG Frank Ntilikina (Intl.): My M.O. with international prospects is numbers first. I generally look for players who are the most productive on their international teams. Frank has great physical tools but he ranks last on his French Pro A team in PER. I wouldn’t touch him in the 1st round.
After signing for 3 years, 50 million last summer Greg Monroe may soon find himself out of the Bucks plans. With bigs like Enes Kanter and Jahlil Okafor, Monroe is a face of a style of big rapidly falling out of style, as post scorers who don’t provide defense or spacing. Call it the reverse Draymond Green effect. It’s a bigger issue on a team hoping for Giannis Antetokounmpo to be the franchise player, where switchability, speed and spacing would be an asset. With Giannis and Khris Middleton the low usage energy of Miles Plumlee and John Henson fits the starting lineup more than Monroe.
He didn’t have a bad statistical season last year. His final season in Detroit he had 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game, .549 TS%, .153 WS/48, 1.9 BPM. In Milwaukee 15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, .562 TS%, 21.8 PER, .155 WS/48, 1.5 BPM. He was 1st on the Bucks in WS/48 and 3rd in BPM. The quality BPM distinguishes him from bigs like Kanter and Okafor for example. The Bucks were even better with him on the court (+4.2).
Rather than dump his salary it could be worth considering if there’s a way to make him valuable. For 12 games in February and March he came off the bench. The new expensive contract the Bucks gave to Miles Plumlee could signify plans to start him. With the less talented players on the bench, a 6th man Monroe’s ability to put up points while not getting in the way of Giannis could be useful.
Oklahoma City already went this route with Kanter last year, although by playing PF and C Monroe could come closer to starter’s caliber minutes than that. This is also an option for the 76ers dilemma in their frontcourt, seeing Okafor as a scorer off the bench going forward rather than a starter.
Jamal Crawford becoming a full time 6th man in Atlanta and L.A. is arguably the best thing that happened to his career, winning him 3 Sixth Man awards in the process and rebranding him as a contributor on a winner, not a points per game on a lottery team guy. Jason Terry also embraced a 6th man role halfway through his career. He’s younger than they were but targeting a career as the PF/C version of Crawford or Terry as a route to contributing to playoff teams could be worth considering for Monroe, whether for the Bucks or someone else. It could restore his reputation and he he could find himself with Sixth Man of the Year hardware if it works out. With how long those players careers have lasted, in the long run this could pay off for Monroe.
The Raptors have completed 20 seasons and are in better shape than ever. I thought for fun I’d pick my top 5 players in their history:
1. SF Vince Carter
Carter may end up relinquishing his spot as the franchise’s signature star sooner than later but for now it’s still his. He has the best individual season in franchise history in 2000-2001 where he had the highest ever Raptors mark in BPM, WS and tied for highest in PER and putting up 27.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, the most eye popping in raw stats. He rated 2nd in the league in BPM and PER and 8th in WS/48. He had a solid playoffs statistically compared to Lowry’s recent playoff run, including a 50 point game and helped the Raptors make the 2nd round with mediocre supporting talent. He also put up superstar numbers in 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 and all-star numbers his last few years in Toronto. He played 6 and a quarter seasons compared to 7 for Bosh and 4 for Lowry. Of the three Carter best combines an elite peak with longevity.
2. PG Kyle Lowry
Lowry rated as an analytical superstar last year finishing 7th in BPM and 13th in WS/48 as he not only put up solid offensive stats at 21.2 points, 6.4 assists but being one of the best rebounding and defensive PGs in the league. However his stats 2 years ago in 2013-2014 are surprisingly almost as good at 7th in BPM again and 10th in WS/48. His 2014-2015 would have been as strong if not for injury in the second half of the season. Lowry is the leader of the most successful era in Raptors history including an Eastern Conference Finals and he is a greater leader than either Carter or Bosh were as he is the heart of the team’s hard work and intensity night to night. For his inconsistency in the playoffs he managed to have some huge games and shots along the way including one of the franchise’s most important performances in Game 7 against Miami. The main thing keeping him from number 1 is longevity.
3. PF Chris Bosh
Bosh is the third of the three franchise players for the Raptors, with an excellent 7 year run. Bosh does not do as well in advanced stats as Carter and Lowry, as he never rated top 20 in BPM, peaking at 21st in BPM in 2007-2008 where he also rated 11th in WS/48. In 2009-2010 he did post an excellent 24 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Bosh helped the Raptors make the playoffs twice in an era for the franchise known for weaker defensive teams. Bosh’s elite first step and handles allowed him to get to the line and post efficient scoring seasons and his ability to hit the pick and pop helped the job of the PGs running it with him easy. He goes down as easily the most talented big man the franchise has had and its signature big man.
4. PF/C Amir Johnson
Amir didn’t get the attention points per game players do, but he was analytical stud in Toronto, peaking at 20th in BPM and 39th in WS/48 in 2012-2013 and posting several other excellent seasons while becoming a +/- favorite. Along with Vince, Bosh, Lowry and the franchise’s earliest star Damon Stoudamire, Amir is one of the few who can boast he was a “best player” on the team. After Bosh left in 2010, the best player wasn’t the very flawed Bargnani, Derozan or Calderon at the time. It was Amir Johnson – who’s defense, rebounding and elite efficiency allowed him to make winning plays in all the ways those guys lacked it. This appears to be true in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, while in 2012-2013 Lowry joins the team but as Amir had his best statistical season and Lowry had his weakest with the Raptors, it’s at least a toss-up that year. In total Amir plays 6 seasons and his resume spans both the years as the best player on a bad team and one of the next best players after Lowry on two playoff teams in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, in addition to one of the next best players after Bosh on a 40 W 2009-2010 team.
5. SG DeMar Derozan
The soon to be franchise record holder in a litany of records, Derozan has made two all-star teams after putting up 22.7 points per game in 2013-2014 and 23.5 points per game along with 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 2015-2016. Due to lack of shooting, average efficiency and other elements to his game he is not as loved by analytics, peaking at 66th in BPM last season, although a better 26th in WS/48. The rest of his seasons are nothing to write home about analytically to say the least. There’s something to be said for not totally abandoning traditional statistical measures leading to those all-star teams and his longevity is excellent at 7 seasons. He’s made the playoffs three times and for his nightmare shooting performances along the way also was there for the wins and the times he came through in the Eastern Conference Finals playoff run. If only by presence alone, he’s been too big a part of Raptors history to leave too far down the list. The alternatives such as Jose Calderon, Doug Christie, Damon Stoudamire, Antonio Davis, Jonas Valanciunas, Morris Peterson all have weaknesses one way or the other as well.
The best regular season team in the league just added an MVP caliber player. Kevin Durant to Golden State could be one of the most seismic signings in NBA history.
Looking at it from the angle of each party:
The Warriors loss to Cleveland and struggle with Oklahoma City showed “don’t fix what’s not broken” wasn’t a viable argument here. From an analytics perspective Durant to Golden State is terrifying. Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes combined for 10.3 WS last year, Durant and Zaza Pachulia combine for 20.5. Bogut and Barnes combine for 3.3 VORP last year to Durant and Pachulia’s 8.1. Multiplying VORP by 2.7 is meant to reflects wins above replacement, which gives 8.9 wins for Barnes and Bogut to 21.87 for Durant and Pachulia. These stats suggest the Warriors added upwards of 10 wins. While they went 73-9, they did finish with a Pythagorean wins of 65-17 which makes it less impossible that they could add the amount of wins WS or VORP reflect.
There’s the question of diminishing returns. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson took 37 shots per game last year and scored over 52 points per game. With Durant on their team the need to take less shots could affect their value and vice versa.
However in addition to the value of taking more open, efficient shots, a trend of stars playing together has been helping them save their energy for defense. Durant could be the biggest beneficiary of this, always having freakish length but tasked to heavily exert himself on offense. The Western Conference Finals was the best defensive stretch of his career. Part of Jerry West’s pitch was he could show other parts of his game in Golden State. Durant could use his length, mobility and intelligence to become a force on the defensive end now that he doesn’t have to score as often. Klay Thompson could find himself only a 17 or 18 points per game player based on the recent history of Chris Bosh and Kevin Love when pushed to 3rd option status. He could however recommit himself to becoming one of the best defensive SGs in the game and a perfect 3 and D SG. Stephen Curry is also a great defensive PG and could have the best all around seasons of his career from that, rebounding and passing. Draymond Green was already an elite defender but could continue to focus on his excellence there and passing.
Offensively Durant can’t be a better fit. He’s the best version of Harrison Barnes ever, far better at hitting open shots and likely having the ability to shift to the 4 in what is now the real Death Lineup. The Warriors off ball actions will be a perfect fit with his shooting game. The Warriors finished 25th in FT/FGA last year which proved a big weakness in the Finals when they needed easy points to stem Cleveland. Durant had 6.9 FTA a game last year and has had multiple seasons over 9 a game in the past.
The loss of Andrew Bogut is felt as a team who already regressed on defense last year and in some advanced stats like BPM Bogut still rates as one of the best per minute Warriors. But picking up Zaza for cheap at least gives them a dependable option at C.
It’s hard to deny it – the Warriors are looking at one of the best teams of all time.
The Thunder lost the rock of their franchise. For Russell Westbrook’s electricity and emotion, Durant was the stabilizing, dependable force.
They lost Durant because by 2016, the Warriors had more powerful teammates for him to play with. Where did it go wrong? It’s hard not to look at 2012. The team had Durant, Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson all in their early 20s – and they had just made the Finals vanquishing the old kings in the Spurs in the process. The conference’s crown was being fashioned for them. The Harden trade is the move. The owners decided not to pay the luxury tax bill and given the task of staying under the tax. Even if given the task of staying under the tax, surely there had to be better options than trading Harden. Trading Ibaka instead and hoping 3 star talents figure it out was one route that could have turned out better. Say they traded Ibaka for a draft pick in 2012 and took a young big like Thomas Robinson, Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard, John Henson. Disregarding how these players turned out such as if they took Robinson and he busted, at the time making the bet they could find another Ibaka level frontcourt anchor on a rookie contract could have been a worthwhile gamble, especially for one of the best drafting teams in the league. Or even if keeping both Harden and Ibaka, attach whatever picks it takes to dump Kendrick Perkins to give some financial breathing room. It’s hard not to think the Thunder just misjudged how good Harden was. Trading Westbrook was considered unthinkable at the time as the team’s 2nd star. But Harden already rated 2nd on the team by some measures like WS/48 and BPM. He was already a star. Furthermore as he was a year away from his deal kicking in, if the Thunder had suspicion he may be a superstar, they could have played him half a season more and then dealt him at the trade deadline. Either way, after the Harden trade the Thunder just became a little less special. They went from a 3 star team to a 2 star one. They no longer towered over the rest of the league in talent. They were caught by the peloton. That’s not to say they couldn’t have won the title, as they had bad luck with injury in multiple seasons. By 2016 with Westbrook and Durant in their absolute primes age wise, they only finished with the 5th best record in the league. They came close but were beat by the Warriors. Perhaps one of their best chances at a title in 2014 when some claim their WCF lost to the Spurs was tainted by Serge Ibaka’s injury. But after tying it 2-2 the Thunder got blown out in Game 5 and then had the Spurs beat them in Oklahoma City, despite not even being healthy themselves with Tony Parker’s injury. It’s fair to suggest in Games 5 and 6 the Spurs proved as much as you could expect, they were better than a Thunder team with Ibaka.
The painful part for the Thunder is Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson are young and if trusting advanced stats could be on the way to being fantastic players. With Westbrook and Durant the team was there to be great. Not to mention if Durant had committed now it would appear the Thunder had confidence they could get Al Horford, the ideal 3rd option for the team. A Thunder with Horford could have been as terrifying as the Warriors going forward. Without Durant, a team with an MVP caliber star Westbrook and those other quality pieces on the Thunder could be be top 5 in the West next year and only go up from there. The Thunder have proven time and time again how good they are at drafting and within a few years Sam Presti could find more gems.
But after Westbrook shot down attempts to renegotiate and extend, their hand may be forced to trade him or lose him for nothing. Getting a star of Westbrook’s caliber is so hard that even the chance of him resigning after next year could be worth it. But considering the Thunder’s history of getting value for players when they have the chance and replenishing the asset base, it would fit their profile if they turned around and moved Westbrook now for assets. The ideal partner may be the Celtics who have been collecting the assets for years for the next star to hit the market. A package like Isaiah Thomas and Jaylen Brown for example would replace Westbrook and Durant’s positions with an all-star PG and a young freakishly athletic SF.
The polarizing figure in this is Durant with some considering him to be spineless by taking the easy road to a title instead of trying to win his own in Oklahoma City. In 2010, Lebron left a Cavaliers team who’s best players around him had been guys like Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams. The Heat represented high end talent he’d never had. Durant both joins a team more stacked than the Heat would have been without Lebron and he leaves a far better alternative for talent in the Thunder. Not only is the Thunder’s core with a superstar in Westbrook and others like Adams and Oladipo a great team, but the potential to add Horford could have been made them a juggernaut. Staying with the Thunder and attempting to slay the beast in the Warriors would have been a just fine decision. With that said one of the problems with this plan is where Westbrook’s at. This is speculation, but say Westbrook had one foot out the door of Oklahoma City this whole time. This would have made it difficult for Durant to make the long term instead of 1+1 commitment needed to sell Horford on signing.
In Golden State he gets to potentially be a part of history. The max upside of the Warriors is now one of the great dynasties of all time with the Russell Celtics and Jordan Bulls. More-so playing with the Warriors could have just seemed like more fun. They play beautiful passing and up tempo basketball. They’ll make the game easy for him. They’ll be unselfish. The Warriors seem like a fantastic group of guys in the locker room. After reports of Serge Ibaka’s unhappiness last year it’s possible playing for the Thunder wasn’t so fun on a human level recently. Durant also joins two of the other most devout players in the league in Curry and Andre Iguodala.
In the end you can’t blame someone too much for wanting to win multiple championships and be a part of something special. I have more respect Durant for leaving to win more than I do stars who leave just to play in a big market.
The rest of the league
Barring health, winning the title over the Warriors is now a prayer. The Cavaliers still have Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and the potential to outspend everyone. The Spurs had a top 10 regular season of all time last year.
With that said, even if they ended up losing to the Bulls, fans of teams like the 90s Jazz, Supersonics, Suns, Knicks still won something in their hearts, or likewise for a team like the Kings or Suns in the 2000s who didn’t pull it off. They were memorable, great years for those franchises. The NBA has increasingly become about “ring culture” as seen by stars changing teams at the top and teams tanking at the lottery, but it’s never been just championship or bust. Even if the Warriors roll, there’s plenty to fight and build for in fans of other franchises. Not to mention no reign lasts forever. Curry is 28, Durant is 27, Thompson and Green are 26. When the Heat got to together Lebron was 25, Wade was 28 and Bosh was 26. After four seasons they looked spent. If the door shuts on the rest of the league, it may only be for a few years before opening again.
Using this Basketball-reference.com chart of expected win shares by pick, I compared what teams got compared to the expected value of their draft position. For example using the BBR chart, the 15th pick is expected to have 26.0 Win Shares. If the player picked there was 5th on my big board, since the 5th pick has expected 46.6 Win Shares, the pick would have been rated +20.6. I did this for all a team’s picks to get a net value. Players who are unranked on my board are given a 0 in expected Win Shares value. (A minor quibble, since pick 60 has expected -0.1, I changed that to 0). Undrafted free agent signings are not included as part of the team’s haul.
1. Houston Rockets: +71.7
2. Brooklyn Nets: +33.5
3. Minnesota Timberwolves: +17.3
4. Los Angeles Clippers: +13.4
5. Memphis Grizzlies: +11.1
The Rockets were the obvious winner using my model, as with two 2nd round picks they took the 5th (Chinanu Onuaku) and 7th (Zhou Qi) ranked players. This doesn’t even include how they went on to sign the 35th (Gary Payton II) after he got undrafted. The Rockets got possibly the two best defensive big prospects in the class and the best defensive guard in college last year. With Clint Capela their frontcourt could be block city. The Nets were big winners after starting with no higher than the 55th pick, grabbing who my model rated as the 3rd best prospect in Isaiah Whitehead who’s creation ability could make him an all-star. While I’m not enamoured with the LeVert pick even before considering health his shooting makes him draftable. The Timberwolves took a top 2 rated prospect in Dunn 5th which represents a key leap in value. Dunn has a chance to be Towns’ real 2nd star and the two could be a perfect fit to combat the Warriors stranglehold on the West. Dunn could be a top defensive guard in the league and Curry’s personal Freddie Krueger, while Towns has the mobility to step out against Draymond but size to push him down low. The Clippers got one of the most dominant players in college in Brice Johnson who’s athleticism could help his scoring and rebounding translate. David Michineau looks like the worst prospect drafted to me with only a 12 PER at 22 in the French Pro A, but Diamond Stone has size and scored and blocked well enough in college to be worth his pick. They could finally add the big men depth the Clippers have needed for years. The Grizzlies got a top 5 rated prospect in Wade Baldwin who’s two way potential could make him a star in the Grindhouse although the rest of their draft including Deyonta Davis and Rade Zagorac with picks like Onuaku, Zhou, Patrick McCaw available was a missed opportunity.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers: +7.6
7. Dallas Mavericks: +5.7
8. Golden State Warriors: +4.5
I’m baffled that a relatively young player with McCaw’s athleticism, length, defensive hands, shooting and handling potential went as low as he did. The Warriors picked a player I didn’t have in my top 60 in Damian Jones 30th to hurt their value, but their overall night was better than this score says as they went on to sign a top 30 ranked player in Robert Carter and invite another in Thomas Walkup to summer league. The Cavaliers and Mavericks did well for themselves taking two of the most productive players in college last year in Kay Felder and A.J. Hammons. The Mavs also signed Jameel Warney to summer league who rated top 30.
T-9. Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Washington Wizards: N/A
13. Indiana Pacers: -3.4
14. Utah Jazz: -4.2
15. Portland Trail Blazers: -4.5
16. Chicago Bulls: -4.6
17. Orlando Magic: -7.1
18. San Antonio Spurs: -8.7
19. Los Angeles Lakers: -16.5
20. Oklahoma City Thunder: -17.4
21. Atlanta Hawks: -19.5
22. Philadelphia 76ers: -20.4
23. Detroit Pistons: -21.0
24. Toronto Raptors: -21.9
25. Milwaukee Bucks: -23.3
The 76ers are winners in reality just by getting Simmons though rate as having missed an opportunity with two 20s picks as Luwawu’s age and production in the Adriatic makes him rate as late 2nd round caliber, while Korkmaz was a respectable high variance pick in the 20s. The Lakers took the 13th rated player on my board in Ingram 2nd, but the 12th rated player in Zubac 32nd. While two starting talents is nothing to lift your nose at, the expected value of the 2nd pick is still high for them to come out below average. The Raptors came out a little disappointing for their potential here, though Poeltl and Siakam were both great players in college and Siakam would have rated higher if not for being conservative with rankings for such weak conference competition players such as him, Walkup and Warney. In addition to a questionable Thon Maker pick, I didn’t love how the Bucks started with 36 and 38 and ended up with Malcolm Brogdon at one and sold the other, when players like Onuaku, McCaw, Zhou were available for them. While they didn’t make a pick the Knicks signed Ron Baker who rated 14th on my big board and has a chance to be a great 3 and D role player and the Wizards signed Daniel Ochefu who rated 18th and has a chance to be a solid C on both ends.
26. Sacramento Kings: -30.2
27. New Orleans Pelicans: -33.9
28. Boston Celtics: -41.8
29. Denver Nuggets: -44.4
30. Phoenix Suns: -53.3
The Suns had a tough night especially considering they gave up a 1st and Bogdon Bogdanovic to move up from 13 to 8. The history of project bigs is littered with bones and dried tears and the Suns went all in on the concept with Bender and Chriss and took a PG who could struggle on defense or creating shots in Ulis in the 30s. Their trade partner the Kings made a reasonable pick in Papagiannis in the lotto but used their late 1sts on two projects in Malachi and Skal both of who rated out of my top 60. I will say it wouldn’t shock me if Malachi had Nick Young’s career just based on the “eye test” perspective of agreeing that he does do unique creating his own shot things. A better prospect than either may be their undrafted signing Derrick Jones, Jr. who rated fringe top 30 on my board for his freakish athleticism, youth and productivity. The Pelicans potentially fell into the trap of taking a “safe” pick in Buddy Hield in the top 10, except the old, non-analytically friendly prospects who get called safe, sometimes are the busts. Diallo would’ve have been a respectable pick with one of their two 2nds, but doesn’t rate worth using them both to move up for. The Celtics draft is all over the place by getting one of the best international prospects in the draft in Ante Zizic, but taking a project in Jaylen Brown with the highly valuable 3rd pick rates as one of the worst picks in the draft, and Guerschon Yabusele for interesting tools didn’t quite have his production match up. I didn’t love their 2nd round with two old, ok players in Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil, and moving both 31 and 35 for a future pick when there were nice players there. The Nuggets got a lot of shooting skill in Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Juan Henangomez, Petr Cornelie, but that’s all those players represent, as that group severely lacks defense, or versatility in other offensive areas beyond 3s. Of the group Hernangomez rates as the most reasonable pick based on his production in the ACB.
I posted my draft board last week, but in the NBA teams would never veer so far off the consensus opinion even if they believed those rankings. GMs tend to be conservative with “reaching” on prospects. However the pool of players that aren’t reaches increasingly grows the farther down the draft. For example if the 76ers took anyone but Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, even if it was a player projected top 5 like Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray, it would still be denigrated as a reach. However by the time of the 2nd round, if player is picked in the 30s that people didn’t expect to go to the 50s, it’s no longer considered a reach or much to bat an eye about by many.
Therefore for fun I decided to draft teams prospects according to my draft rankings, but using this rule: The pool of available players is ones at 2 times the player’s draft position of the big board on ESPN (Chad Ford) or Draftexpress. Meaning for a player to be an option at the 1st pick, he has to be ranked top 2 on one of those sites. For a player to be an option at the 10th pick, he has to be rated at least top 20 on one of those two sites. For a player to be an option for the 30th pick, he has to be in the top 60. And so on. Any prospect ranked out of the top 100 on either ESPN or DX is given a score of 101, meaning for picks 51 to 60 there is no limits on who is available. I take team needs into account if multiple players are close together in ranking and factors such as how teams with many picks such as the Celtics who have 8 picks will need to use international stashes on picks even when it’s not taking the best player available. The intended result is to create a recommended draft using my model, that is also plausible enough picks.
1. Philadelphia 76ers: PF Ben Simmons (ESPN: 1, DX: 2, my board: 1)
The top rated player on my board, Simmons gives them the Sixers a possible franchise player on offense. While they have other bigs, he fills their need for a playmaker. The glut at center was going to be there without Simmons too.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: PG/SG Kris Dunn (ESPN: 3, DX: 4, my board: 2)
While Dunn isn’t an amazing fit for a team with D’Angelo Russell he and Simmons rate as the outright best players in my model. He and Russell both have the size to guard 2s allowing them to play together on that end which is most of what matters. Russell would play off the ball more, Dunn on the ball and guard the toughest assignment. The Lakers need a new star and Dunn has a chance to be that.
3. Boston Celtics: PF/C Dragan Bender (ESPN: 6, DX: 3, my board: 10)
Bender is a great fit for the Celtics system as he can be both a needed defensive anchor in the frontcourt with his elite lateral mobility a great fit for the switching game on that end, who can space the floor for their guards with 3 point potential. He is an upside pick which is what the star-desiring Celtics are looking for.
4. Phoenix Suns: SF Brandon Ingram (ESPN: 2, DX: 1, my board: 13)
With a glut of guards the Suns could use some more frontcourt talent. Ingram gives them a high volume scoring wing who along with Booker can be the start of a modern, 3 point shooting and floor spacing friendly core while having the length to have defensive potential.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves: PF Domantas Sabonis (ESPN: 10, DX: 18, my board: 26)
The need to take a player projected in the top ten on ESPN or DX boxes me into reaching way down my big board here. The real highest rated player on my board in play is Poeltl, but drafting a C on the Karl-Anthony Towns team isn’t a fit, while a core PF is what they need. Sabonis is a good rebounder and passer and some believe he has more outside shooting potential than he showed at Gonzaga which would be a nice fit beside Towns.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: C Jakob Poeltl (ESPN: 12, DX: 9, my board: 19)
Unlike the Timberwolves, Poeltl is a much better fit here as drafting a C of the future helps protect Anthony Davis physically, who would be the rim protector to help make up for Poeltl’s average defense. Poeltl is a skilled finisher who was elite at getting to the line, with some shooting and passing potential which could make him a nice offensive big.
7. Denver Nuggets: PG/SG Wade Baldwin (ESPN: 17, DX: 14, my board: 4)
While Baldwin isn’t the best fit for a team with promising prospects in Mudiay and Harris, he is the outright best player on my board of the pool of players here with great defensive potential, shooting and his ability to get to the line and pass in college. His ability to create his own offense is a little raw so Denver can bring him along slowly behind their other guards, but could be a star which is the key step to the Nuggets rebuild.
8. Sacramento Kings: SF/PF Juan Hernangomez (ESPN: 18, DX: 15, my board: 16)
Ivica Zubac rates slightly higher on my board among players available, but a gigantic low post center doesn’t work with Cousins nearly as well as a stretch power forward like Hernangomez. I see Hernangomez as one of the safest bets to be a contributor in the NBA since despite his age he is already a top 5 player on an ACB team putting him closer in proximity to the NBA than NCAA play and there’s a high demand for 3 point shooting PFs. He makes a nice fit with Cousins’ offensive game and this is a team where a higher floor player is a nice fit considering the all out busts they’ve had.
9. Toronto Raptors: C Ivica Zubac (ESPN: 25, DX: 16, my board: 12)
While he would have to project behind Valanciunas going forward, the other options available in my pool weren’t great here, so I went with best player available. He gives them a high upside player who could fill Bismack Biyombo’s backup C minutes. With the Raptors already having a lot of young players like Norman Powell, Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, Bebe Nogueira and the 27th pick, stashing Zubac until they’re more ready and maintaining his value as a trade asset is also not a bad fit for them.
10. Milwaukee Bucks: SF Taurean Prince (ESPN: 34, DX: 19, my board: 9)
Prince is a nice fit for the Bucks who need shooters, while his size gives him the defensive size and athleticism will help him switch which will be a key to the Bucks defense going forward if Giannis will be the team’s offensive PG. His ability to drive, pass is not bad either and has the height to get his shot off.
11. Orlando Magic: C Ante Zizic (ESPN: 23, DX: 22, my board: 6)
Zizic gives them a presence inside on the boards, defensive upside and the ability to roll to the basket and get to the FT line. He could be their backup C for now and possibly their future in a post Nik Vucevic world, complimenting the rest of the core including Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon.
12. Atlanta Hawks: PF/C Thon Maker (ESPN: 19, DX: 41, my board: 25)
Denzel Valentine rated slightly higher on my board but has reported knee issues so I took it as reason to pass. I’m far from a Maker expert but his value is high variance. Sure he could be a total bust, but other prospects have stats saying they’re not going to be a star, so by not having stats maybe Thon has a higher chance of being one. It looks like his defensive mobility is a nice fit in the modern game and he has shooting potential.
13. Phoenix Suns: PF Marquese Chriss (ESPN: 5, DX: 6, my board: 31)
With the Suns new core of Booker and Ingram they have incentive to look for other positions instead of another SG or SF like Murray, Hield, Brown, all rating marginally higher on my board, in addition to Valentine who along with position has injury reasons to be less appealing. The Suns could use a PF of the future and Chriss gives them a freak athlete with floor spacing potential.
14. Chicago Bulls: SG/SF Denzel Valentine (ESPN: 22, DX: 25, my board: 22)
The Bulls already have a non defending shooter in McDermott, but you can’t let a player like that affect a draft pick. Valentine has a great jumpshot, passing skill, rebounding, IQ and was increasingly productive as a senior, but could struggle to defend and drive. Going forward he could play beside Butler and he could replace his spot in the lineup if they trade him and rebuild.
15. Denver Nuggets: PF Brice Johnson (ESPN: 29, DX: 34, my board: 8)
The Nuggets get terrific value here in Brice, who also fits their core as a PF of the future alongside perimeter players like Mudiay, Harris, Baldwin, Gallinari and centres in Jokic, Nurkic. Brice has the chance to be a volume scorer and a great rebounder.
16. Boston Celtics: SG Patrick McCaw (ESPN: 32, DX: 29, my board: 15)
After drafting a big men with their first pick, the Celtics add to their perimeter depth with a defender and shooter with ball handling and passing potential in McCaw. Boston has a lot of other 3 and D type players, but there’s no harm in getting another one.
17. Memphis Grizzlies: SG Jamal Murray (ESPN: 4, DX: 7, my board: 27)
The Grizzlies have long needed a shooter on the perimeter and Murray has that skill, while they have the defensive core to help cover some of his weaknesses. Murray has scored a ton of points everywhere and when it comes to other weaknesses like his passing, there’s a chance Kentucky’s talent pushing him into a spot up shooter role kept him away from that.
18. Detroit Pistons: PF/C Zhou Qi (ESPN: 47, DX: 36, my board: 7)
The Pistons get a steal here with a prospect who has one of the highest upsides in the class. Zhou’s potential to be an elite shotblocker who spaces the floor could be a great compliment to Andre Drummond’s interior play and Reggie Jackson’s driving.
19. Denver Nuggets: C Chinanu Onuaku (ESPN: 37, DX: 38, my board: 5)
While he doesn’t fit the Nuggets lineup at all who already have core centers in Jokic and Nurkic, getting a top 5 rated prospect on my board is impossible to pass up here and after the Baldwin and Johnson picks it’s not like the Nuggets have many free positions anyways. Onuaku has a chance to be an elite defending and passing center.
20. Indiana Pacers: SG Buddy Hield (ESPN: 8, DX: 8, my board: 28)
Hield had one of the best college shooting seasons of his generation which could be a nice skillset to put beside Teague and George. While he has some weaknesses in his game passing, defending and driving, in a game where shooting is so important his shooting track record alone could lead him to success.
21. Atlanta Hawks: SF Jaylen Brown (ESPN: 7, DX: 5, my board: 30)
Brown has bust risk due to his weak shooting and decision making, but his elite athleticism, frame and ball handling combination doesn’t come around often and he got to the line at one of the best rates in the class. With Schroeder taking over the PG position and the Maker pick, the Hawks move in a young and fast direction.
22. Charlotte Hornets: PF/C Robert Carter (ESPN: 54, DX: 44, my board: 23)
Carter has some shooting, handling and passing potential which makes him an interesting option in the frontcourt. The Hornets drafted Frank Kaminsky last year, but at this point in the draft just taking a future NBA player is the goal.
23. Boston Celtics: C Georgios Papagiannis (ESPN: 46, DX: 50, my board: 11)
The Celtics get a steal here with a productive 18 year old, 7’2 C who with Bender adds to their frontcourt talent. He becomes an obvious stash candidate for the Celtics which works because his trade value can stay stable while they wait for a star to become available in a deal.
24. Philadelphia 76ers: SG Furkan Korkmaz (ESPN: 13, DX: 20, my board: 33)
After drafting Ben Simmons the Sixers are looking for long term shooters and Korkmaz has a lot of upside in that area. Since they’re already adding Simmons, Embiid, Saric and have the 26th pick, they can also afford to stash one of their picks.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: PG/SG Gary Payton II (ESPN: 56, DX: 48, my board: 35)
Payton was one of the best defensive guards in college in some time, while an offensive player he could be an off ball player who can’t shoot, with the amount of offensive talent the Clippers have they can afford to have a defense first player.
26. Philadelphia 76ers: PG/SG Isaiah Whitehead (ESPN: 52, DX: 57, my board: 3)
The Sixers get the steal of the draft in Whitehead. While his efficiency is worrying, he has the potential to create his own shot at a high volume as a 3 point bomber, pass and defend and could emerge as the man in the backcourt quickly in Philadelphia.
27. Toronto Raptors: PF Guerschon Yabusele (ESPN: 30, DX: 32, my board: 37)
The Raptors could use some PF talent and Yabusele fits well as a stretch big. Along with Zubac he is also a stash option to free up minutes on their current roster and capspace, though I suppose one of the two could come over immediately.
28. Phoenix Suns: PG Kahlil Felder (ESPN: 58, DX: 56, my board: 36)
I have Felder and A.J. Hammons about tied, since it looks like Felder has a better personality I like him more for a Suns who’ve been a shaky chemistry team. Felder’s speed and passing could make him a rotation player for the Suns, as they sort out their backcourt and guards like Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Archie Goodwin.
29. San Antonio Spurs: SF Paul Zipser (ESPN: 57, DX: 26, my board: 39)
I chose Zipser over the slightly higher rating Hammons due to giving the Spurs option to stash him, along with how Hammons would replicate Boban. Zipser’s basketball IQ and 3 point shooting would fit the Spurs profile.
30. Golden State Warriors: C A.J. Hammons (ESPN: 45, DX: 43, my board: 34)
With Ezeli possibly exiting and Bogut’s health and age the Warriors could use another C prospect, Hammond is a beefy post player who is the opposite of the style of play they’ve mastered, but perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing. Having a big post player would give them versatility in the looks they throw out against teams like the Cavs and Thunder.
31. Boston Celtics: SG Ron Baker (ESPN: 78, DX: 61, my board: 14)
32. Los Angeles Lakers: C Diamond Stone (ESPN: 33, DX: 31, my board: 40)
33. Los Angeles Clippers: PF Pascal Siakam (ESPN: 43, DX: 52, my board: 41)
34. Phoenix Suns: PF/C Gracin Bakumanya (ESPN: 68, DX: 88, my board: 24)
35. Boston Celtics: PF Petr Cornelie (ESPN: 51, DX: 37, my board: 49)
36. Milwaukee Bucks: SF Derrick Jones, Jr. (ESPN: 86, DX: 70, my board: 32)
37. Houston Rockets: PF/C Deyonta Davis (ESPN: 16, DX: 11, my board: 42)
38. Milwaukee Bucks: C Cheick Diallo (ESPN: 24, DX: 24, my board: 43
39. New Orleans Pelicans: PF/C Jameel Warney (ESPN: 78, DX: 100, my board: 21)
40. New Orleans Pelicans: PG/SG DeJounte Murray (ESPN: 9, DX: 30, my board: 46)
41. Orlando Magic: SG Malcolm Brogdon (ESPN: 39, DX: 42, my board: 50)
42. Utah Jazz: PG/SG Alex Caruso (ESPN: unranked, DX: 84, my board: 17)
43. Houston Rockets: PF/C Henry Ellenson (ESPN: 11, DX: 13, my board: 45)
44. Atlanta Hawks: SF Damion Lee (ESPN: 95, DX: 61, my board: 51)
45. Boston Celtics: SF Timothe Luwawu (ESPN: 26, DX: 12, my board: 56)
46. Dallas Mavericks: PF Stefan Jankovic (ESPN: unranked, DX: 91, my board: 48)
47. Orlando Magic: SF Jarrod Uthoff (ESPN: 38, DX: 59, my board: 52)
48. Chicago Bulls: SG Malik Beasley (ESPN: 21, DX: 23, my board: 53)
49. Detroit Pistons: SG Thomas Walkup (ESPN: unranked, DX: 98, my board: 20)
50. Indiana Pacers: SG A.J. English (ESPN: 65, DX: unranked, my board: 54)
51. Boston Celtics: C Daniel Ochefu (ESPN: unranked, DX: unranked, my board: 18)
52. Utah Jazz: PG Nikola Ivanovic (ESPN: unranked, DX: unranked, my board: 38)
53. Denver Nuggets: SF Rade Zagorac (ESPN: 49, DX: 33, my board: unranked)
54. Atlanta Hawks: SG Terry Tarpey (ESPN: unranked, DX: unranked, my board: 29)
55. Brooklyn Nets: SF/PF Jordan Fouse (ESPN: unranked, DX: unranked, my board: 44)
56. Denver Nuggets: PG/SG Isaia Cordinier (ESPN: 44, DX: 49, my board: unranked)
57. Memphis Grizzlies: SF Troy Williams (ESPN: 75, DX: 73, my board: 55)
58. Boston Celtics: PF Emmanuel Malu (ESPN: unranked, DX: 89, my board: unranked)
59. Sacramento Kings: PG Demetrius Jackson (ESPN: 31, DX: 17, my board: 57)
60. Utah Jazz: C Andrey Desyatnikov (ESPN: unranked, DX: 54, my board: unranked)
In the 2015 Finals the Cavs put up a great fight but the loss of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love against a fresh, healthy Warriors proved too much. By putting themselves in position by making the Finals again they had better fortune this time. The Warriors lost Andrew Bogut in Game 5, Andre Iguodala was hampered by a bad back, Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 and Stephen Curry has never looked fully like himself since he came back in Round 2. Whether it’s for the pressure of completing a 73-9 season or their upcoming free agencies two quality pros in Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli went in the tank. In the end it made them just beatable enough in Game 7 by a game Cavaliers with a legend at the peak of his powers.
The Finals starts at 0-0 but season before can be important. Despite Kyrie Irving’s injury the Cavs had the talent, depth and coaching to comfortable sit in 1st in the East all season. The 1st seed allowed them to start 10-0 and make the Finals without pushing themselves too far. By the Finals Lebron had conserved enough energy to pull off this all time great finals. Irving got to take his time coming back and play 31 minutes per game after enough to peak in the playoffs. Along with his quality Game 7 Love’s value was vindicated not so much in in his Finals play but helping the Cavs roll through the Eastern Conference regular season and playoffs as easily as possible.
At the same time the Warriors 24-0 start and run to 73-9 made them face the other team’s best shot every game. They pushed themselves to playoff intensity to pull out games that kept their season starting streak and the Bulls record alive. Curry’s injury in the first two rounds pushed the other Warriors to step up to win without him and they played a brutally physical 7 game series against the Thunder. Playing more games made Draymond’s flagrant foul count go up. In the end they weren’t at their peak in the Finals. The Cavs only goal all season was to win the title. The Warriors goal was to both finish 73-9 and win the title. This split goal may have cost them.
Where else to start about this Finals? I once foolishly decided Kyrie Irving was destined to just be a best scorer on playoff knockout or worse, the Carmelo Anthony of PGs. But we don’t know who these players are inside. He proved he’s a gamer and his talent shined. Playing beside a brilliant passer in Lebron helped cover his weaknesses and put him in a position to succeed. Tristan Thompson proved indispensable to the Cavs with his ability to defend the perimeter a perfect fit for the modern game and his elite offensive rebounding and passion changed the emotional fabric of some of these games such as helping the Cavs energy overpower teams in home games. Having a bomber in J.R. Smith proved perfect beside Lebron and Irving. One of the reasons offensive stars are so valuable is playing a Iman Shumpert for the defensive value alone becomes manageable.
The Warriors ended up not as perfect as advertised. Perhaps it’s unfair and judging them too much in their injury prone and healthy state, but this is a team who 25th in the league in free throw rate, 19th in offensive rebounding and had minimal post options. Their top four scorers in Curry, Klay, Draymond and Barnes all have the same best way to score, the 3. Having fallback offensive strategies such as slashing, offensive rebounding or post play could have both allowed them to try something new in dry spots such as the road games they didn’t have the legs in, and opened up the 3 point game by keeping the Cavs defense honest. The Warriors defense fell from 1st last year to 5th, finally showing the price of playing a fast paced, offensive system despite having the most defensive talent in the league. Going forward the aging of two of their most gifted defenders in Iguodala and Bogut give them work to do to be as good on defense as their championship season. They were a historic regular season team but not a greatest of all time contender by the playoffs, whether it’s because of cracks in the armor or fatigue and injury. Even after the Draymond suspension the Warriors were in a golden position to win the title. A true superior team could have gone into Game 6 in Cleveland and wrapped it up just like how Cleveland went into Toronto in Game 6 and put aside any doubts about who was better, or Golden State closed the series in 6 last year. The history of Game 7s in any round but let alone the Finals greatly favors the home team. When looking at how Cleveland beat Golden State by 14 in a Game 6 that never felt competitive then beat them in Game 7 it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than the Cavs being the better team after Draymond’s suspension. The Warriors are a young team however, won’t be chasing records next year and will be both humbled and hungrier next season. Most multiple champion cores have had heartbreaking losses including ones like the Magic Lakers, Bird Celtics and Duncan Spurs. There’s more than enough room for them to learn from this and have a historic run. For now Lebron and the Cavaliers deserved their moment.