With the Cavaliers shellacking the Raptors a popular takeaway is “Wow, teams without a superstar don’t have a chance”. Lowry is a knife in Lebron, Curry and Durant/Westbrook’s gunfight. A knife needing to be sharpened after hacking through two tough series.
But it’s not the only problem. The team struggles to pass the ball and finished out of the top 10 in defense. If a team is going to win a title without a superstar, that’s not the way.
When bringing up the alternatives to superstar championship teams the 2004 Pistons are listed as the lone example. In other words you need an aberration. I’m not as convinced. First, here are the 6 champions in the 2010s:
2015 – Golden State Warriors
2014 – San Antonio Spurs
2013 – Miami Heat
2012 – Miami Heat
2011 – Dallas Mavericks
2010 – Los Angeles Lakers
The list has Curry, Lebron, Dirk and Kobe. But the 2014 Spurs had nobody finish higher than 12th in MVP voting in Parker and Duncan’s tie. Duncan was a former superstar and Kawhi a future one but that season neither them or Parker was any more a superstar than the 04 Pistons had.
Now consider the 2013 Spurs who had a 5 point lead with 30 seconds left and a 99%+ chance at the title after Lebron’s shot missed. From the Raptors perspective, why is this less useful an example than the Heat’s win? They were equally title caliber. Parker and Duncan finished 6th and 7th in MVP this season, while excellent seasons, they weren’t a level two Raptors like Lowry and Valanciunas couldn’t get to one day.
While they didn’t come as close as the Spurs, the 2010 Celtics had a 3-2 series lead and were up 13 midway through the 3rd quarter of Game 7 and up 4 with 9 minutes left in the 4th. That’s probably close enough to call them title caliber. If they were good enough to beat the Lakers 3 other games and build that lead they were good enough to outplay them for one more half game or quarter. The Celtics didn’t get an MVP vote this year as Garnett, Allen, Pierce had aged from 08 and Rondo was still emerging.
3 title caliber teams since 2010 is manageable enough odds for the Raptors to have hope. One could add the the 2011 and 2014 Heat, 2012 Thunder and 2015 Cavaliers as title caliber teams with superstars, but even after that the ratio isn’t that bad for the superstar-less teams.
In the decade before, champions with Shaq, Duncan, Wade, Garnett, Kobe dwarf the lone 2004 Pistons. But the 2005 Pistons went 7 and were up by 6 with about 16 minutes left, not to mention had a great chance to close the series in 6 if not for Robert Horry’s heroics in Game 5. The 2000 Blazers were good enough to beat the Lakers in the conference finals before their collapse, which would have guaranteed a superstar-less champion in them or the Pacers.
Furthermore the more you go back the less recognizable the league is or usable as a test case. The CBA has evolved, the talent pool is different, the talent in front offices is a different level, the style of play has gone from post-ups to a slash and kick 3pt game that would have seemed foreign to that era. Players today live in a radically different, social media-infused world emotionally. The game on and off the court has gone from SNES to X-Box, from serve and volley to baseline groundstrokes with topspin. Just because for 50 years only superstars won titles doesn’t mean it will be that way from now on. A sample size like the last 5 or 6 years may be a more reasonable comparison for the challenge the Raptors face now.
If the Raptors want to beat Lebron James, it’s not about being in awe of his talent but looking at what the 2015 Warriors, 2013 and 2014 Spurs, 2011 Mavericks and 2010 Celtics had that they didn’t. They defeated a King by passing the ball, spacing the floor and playing elite defense. Five men have always had the capability to beat one. That’s the formula to follow for superstar-less teams.
Simmons vs Ingram is considered a dead heat. The Lakers are co-winners cause they get to just sit back and grab whoever’s left.
Or is it? I enjoyed this Libertyballers post “Just Fucking Take Simmons”. I see evidence for Simmons as the guy also.
For me it’s all about production. Here is their per 40 stats:
Simmons: 22.2 pts, .60 TS%, 13.5 reb, 5.5 ast, 2.3 stl, 0.9 blk, 3.6 TOV, 27.2 PER
Ingram: 20.0 pts, .55 TS%, 7.8 reb, 2.3 ast, 1.3 stl, 1.6 blk, 2.3 TOV, 21.1 PER
Simmons is 1st in the SEC in PER, 3rd in reb/40, 5th in stl/40, 10th in ast/40. Ingram is 20th in the ACC PER, his best stats are 13th in pts/40 and 16th in blks/40, not coming near Simmons rebounding, steals or assists dominance compared to PFs. He had a quality season but in the same way Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal did in college.
When you consider how great his Ast/40 is for a PF, it’s fair to call Simmons a sure thing to pass at a standout level for his position. When you consider his elite Reb/40 and his size and athleticism, that’s likely in the bag. When you consider his athleticism, strength and ranking 1st in the SEC in FTA/40, attacking the basket is a likely near guaranteed skill too.
Without the same top 10 statistical performances, Ingram doesn’t have this. His closest guaranteed skill may be taking shots. He’s in 8th in the ACC in FGA/40 in addition to the 13th in Pts/40. He has the tools for this with the length to shoot over anyone.
But the days of valuing 20 point a game scorers who create their own midrange are dwindling. The priority is now shots at the rim, 3s, passing and defense.
The pro-Ingram take is normally his 3s and defense make him that modern player. He is ranked 9th in the ACC for 3pt shooters attempting more than 1 per game (41%), 23rd in 3PA/40 (6.3) and 62nd in FT (68.2%). In those stats Durant rated 19th, 14th and 8th respectively his draft year.
I value volume and FT% to project shooters because the NCAA season is a small sample size. Take the difference between Ingram’s 41% and Malachi Richardson’s 35% who is not considered in his class as a shooter. Richardson shoots a higher volume (7.0 3PA/40) and FT% (72.0%). Ingram went 80 for 195 from 3, Richardson went 79 for 224. The swing between their 3P% comes down to about 11 or 12 made 3s. If Ingram went 75 for 195 and Richardson went 86 for 224 their 3P% is both 38.4%. Not only could the difference between their 35% and 41% be liable to variance, but context. What if one player had to force end of shot clock prayers more often? Or one player especially benefitted from teammates getting him open shots? Using FT% both adds more information and is free of contextual effect of teammates/situation. I still value Ingram’s 3P% but my compromise is to call him a 6 or 7 out of 10 talent in the skill. Good but not a guaranteed lights out guy. More Barnes than Durant.
As for his defense. Ingram has an elite wingspan. But I see defense as a combination of length, frame, athleticism, positional IQ, motor, toughness. Ingram’s case outside of his length isn’t as strong. Here is Draftexpress on him:
“Defensively is where Ingram surprised many this year with his underrated combination of toughness and competiveness. While his fundamentals need work, his size, length and reach gives him great versatility when paired with his willingness to get stops. He showed the ability to switch out onto guards effectively at times out of pick and rolls from the power forward position, sagging off and staying in front, while still getting a hand up to contest thanks to his 7’3 wingspan.
With that said, Ingram still has a ways to go to become a more consistent defender, something that clearly didn’t become a priority for him until arriving in college. He can get a little sleepy at times and lose his focus, closing out lackadaisically, standing around off the ball and looking hunched over in his stance guarding the perimeter. Duke had one of the smallest rotations in high major college basketball and couldn’t afford for Ingram to get in foul trouble, which didn’t always lead to him operating with the highest intensity at all times. Once again, getting stronger will help, as he tends to get caught up on screens quite a bit on the perimeter and can get pushed around inside the paint.“
Upside and Motor wrote this:
“His defensive potential is really confusing. There are times when Ingram looks like an elite defender, something that he is capable of being due to his length. There are other times, however, where he is undisciplined and confused. He too often leaves his feet to contest jump shots and chase blocks. Here, he unnecessarily helps down, probably chasing a come-from-behind block, and leaves his man wide open.”
“Ingram’s length can help him make up for it at times, but for the most part the motor and consistency isn’t there. He doesn’t have the type of elite athleticism to help him get away with this all the time. He’s not particularly fast on his feet and he doesn’t get in his stance often enough. For a player with exceptionally long legs, standing straight up can be the kiss of death. He switches out on to a guard here but gets off balance and can’t recover on the step back jumper when he stands up.”
“There are times where Ingram looks like a monster on that end, especially when he is locked in. This makes it even more frustrating when he gets scored on because he isn’t sitting in a stance or he is biting on a shot fake. If he wants to improve on that end, he needs to stay dialed in every possession.”
Both recognize his potential but do not rave about his current ability. While he could translate his length into great D he could also end up bullied due to his body, caught upright and flat footed and just not smart or tough enough.
Ingram’s 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks per 40 is solid but unspectacular and also reflective of a non-elite defender in college.
He has promise on that end but this is not a guaranteed skill. And that’s where I see the difference between him and Simmons. Simmons has not only tools but the elite track record in NCAA in areas like attacking the rim, passing, rebounding, stealing. Outside of possibly taking creating his own FGA, Ingram does not have both this track record of excellence in addition to the tools, when considering his 3pt is less a closed case than it looks. Sure, if everything goes perfectly, Ingram has a non-zero chance of being Durant. But max upside is not something he has to hold over Simmons, who it’s not inconceivable could be Lebron or Magic. May as well just take Simmons.
The Warriors picking Draymond Green 35th changed their franchise, changed the balance of power in the league, changed a position. Now teams will look at passing on Green and do their best to rectify the mistakes next time.
Here’s an attempt:
Defense is a big reason teams missed on Green. Here is Draftexpress on his defense in December 2011:
Here is Chad Ford in June 2012:
Green was supposed to not have a defensive position in the pros as short for a PF at 6’7 and too slow to guard SFs. He’s gone on to be a top 2 defender in the NBA.
There are signs he was a better defensive prospect at the time. First off while Green is short at 6’7, a 7’1 wingspan is above average. He adds that to an excellent frame/strength. So Green’s length and strength combined was actually above average for a PF.
The next sign were results. Green averaged a quality 1.8 steals, 1.2 blocks, 10.3 defensive rebounds per 40 and had the highest defensive win shares on an elite Spartans D. For this he was voted to the Big Ten’s All-Defense team. The season before he averaged more steals and blocks at 2.2 and 1.5 per 40.
Having a plus defensive body and a statistical and recognition track record of playing defense is a great place to start for projecting on that end, especially when you add in grade A basketball IQ and motor raves. While you can’t blame scouts too much for misreading his athleticism at the time, one can guess he would have looked better moving side to side than vertically.
Draymond’s skillset was one of the most unique among college bigs this generation. A stretch big at 39% on 4.4 attempts/40 doesn’t happen too often on its own, but that combined with 4.6 assists/40 is what made him one of a kind, peaking at 5.7 assists/40 as a junior. Green’s unique shooting and passing skills in the NBA far from came out of nowhere. His scoring rate of 19.6 pts/40 on .54 TS% as a senior was not spectacular, but solid.
Ron Baker’s Draymond Green credentials
A prospect with some Green in his profile is Wichita State’s Ron Baker.
To start look at the similarities in Baker’s defensive profile. Defense is one of his biggest strengths in college. He made the MVC All-Defensive team and ranked 1st in Defensive Win Shares on Wichita State’s elite D. His 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 5.5 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes is a strong combination compared to SGs.
Baker is small in height at 6’4, but his 6’9.5 wingspan is above average. He has a big frame. He is known most for his basketball IQ and high intensity allowing him to pressure opposing players and pick off passes.
So much like Green he has the defensive track record of production, the plus body and the IQ and motor. Athleticism is what scouts worry about most on that end. This is fair enough, although it appears to his ability to move side to side is more impressive than his jumping ability. If Green and Baker were such bad athletes, perhaps they wouldn’t have been good defenders in college.
On offense is where Baker loses the comparison to Green a bit more. He averages 4.1 assists per 40 and has the ball handling to run pick and rolls at the next level. He shot 34.8% from 3, after over 37% as a sophomore and junior. With a quality 78% FT his shooting projection is solid. His 17.4 pts/40 on .55 TS% as a senior isn’t amazing, but you can do worse.
All of this doesn’t compare too badly to Green, but the difference is position. Over 4 assists per 40 is good at SG, but once or twice a generation levels of rarity at PF. Being a 3 point shooter and floor spacer at PF is a whole different animal than SG. It doesn’t mean Baker can’t find a role with shooting, passing and basketball IQ at the next level, it’s just not as obviously rare from the outset as Green’s skillset.
I don’t expect Ron Baker to be a star like Green. I’d estimate the “median outcome” is probably more like Courtney Lee and to be a star would require hitting some high bell curve outcome. But if looking for a Green-like 2nd round older prospect with defensive production, body, IQ, motor make him underrated on that end and has shooting and passing tools on the other, he seems to check a lot of boxes.
The struggles of DeMar Derozan has been an ongoing playoff storyline, scoring only 17.7 points on .395 TS% through 11 games after a career year in the regular season. The worry for Toronto is this isn’t just missing open shots. His unreliable 3 point shot has allowed teams to go under pick and rolls to prevent this driving game and leave him to take inefficient midrange jumpers.
Toronto’s price to keep Derozan will likely be a max contract no matter how he plays the rest of these playoffs. The Lakers have been itching to prove they are a marquee free agent destination and the new TV deal will afford many other teams the capspace to make a run at the 2 time all-star in his prime.
There’s arguments for and against Toronto paying Derozan:
– Like the Raptors Derozan is not a finished product. His .338 3P% and 0.6 3pt makes per game were career highs and with his work ethic he could continue to improve his 3 point shooting to manageable levels in addition to clearing up other weaknesses. His teammate Kyle Lowry is proof players can continue to push their game to new heights after the age Derozan is now.
– Lowry has struggled to stay healthy by the playoffs the last two seasons in addition to a track record in Houston of getting banged up. Derozan taking the defensive pressure he does off Lowry could be important to keeping him healthy going forward.
– With the Nuggets Masai Ujiri resigned Nene to a hefty 5 year deal, then traded him to Washington half a season later. Even if the Raptors don’t love Derozan’s max contract, signing him and then seeing what trade offers are out there half a season or a year afterwards could be the best way to maximize value out of the situation.
– The regular season matters. Being the 2nd seed is just about the best thing the Raptors have going for them. It gave them home court and a beatable opponent in Indiana in Round 1 and home court against Miami in Round 2 instead of playing Cleveland. If Derozan helps them repeat as a top 2 seed next year this is worth it.
Let him go
– The Raptors offensive success is despite finishing 30th in Assist % on 2 point field goals this year, 9th on 3s. They have been a poor passing team throughout the Lowry and Derozan era. Letting Derozan go may be the best way to transition towards the ball and player movement teams needed to contend.
– The Raptors have young talent that could break out without him. Jonas Valanciunas is showing all the signs of an all-star in the East if you run the offense through him. Terrence Ross could take the next step especially playing SG full time. Norman Powell has shown flashes of brilliance and the Raptors have the 9th and 27th picks to add more talent. Add in DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph’s minutes at SG and the team would not be left to dry for wing talent.
– Including draft picks but not including Derozan or Biyombo, Toronto has about 73 million on the books next year. That’s not enough to sign a max player like Al Horford or Nic Batum but if a player of that level wanted to sign there, they would could be a cap clearing move away like trading Ross or Carroll. All the teams with capspace this summer makes it perfect conditions to move an existing salary if necessary. The best argument against resigning Derozan may be if the Raptors need the money for someone else.
These come from my statistical retrodiction system, adjusting for talent with the philosophy of 1/3s physical tools and 2/3s skill and basketball IQ and accounting for any mental make-up flags if necessary:
1. SF/PF Ben Simmons
2. PG Kris Dunn
3. C Chinanu Onuaku
4. SF Brandon Ingram
5. PG Wade Baldwin IV
To avoid just posting the same thing over and over again, my post in April went into greater detail of these players stats and talent:
To recap some points:
– I am lower on Ingram’s talent than most due to using a statistical approach to shooting instead of scouts, who I rely on for other attributes. Ingram is rated a top notch shooter by scouts but because he hits 68% from the FT line only rates as a decent perimeter shooter for me. That added to average ball-handling and passing skill puts his overall skill level in question for me. If he had Kevin Durant level shooting I would rate him as an elite talent and in consideration for first or second. With that said he’s still plenty talented due to his length, agility, feel and decent shooting.
– Baldwin’s size is not just good but special. A 6’10 wingspan for a PG is like an Ingram-esque 7’2-7’3 wingspan for a SF. He adds that to a strong frame. If he sticks at PG, that’s one of the best bodies of any PG prospect this generation. In addition to his other talents like shooting.
– Onuaku’s talent comes the closest to being a weak link of this group. But while he isn’t a go-to scorer in the post or a shooter, with only a 58% FT, he has other valuable traits for a center. Especially in the modern game where teams prefer to run their offense through perimeter stars, protecting the basket, rebounding, finishing offensive plays and passing is a lot of what you could ask for from a starting level center. He has the athleticism, size and passing skill to do that.
6. PF/C Zhou Qi
I struggled with how to apply my per category system to international players, but in the end I decided just to look at players who excel for their league compared to their teammates and the rest of the league. A lot of recent international bigs like Kristaps Porzingis, Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, Nikoa Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic can say they were productive per minute in their leagues, with PER as a solid stat to capture this.
Zhou’s 22.1 PER ranks 18th in the CBA and 2nd on his team, he is easily the best shotblocker in the CBA at 3.7/40 and has the highest TS% at .672. He is 22nd in rebs/40 and 41st in pts/40, the latter in a league full of individual shot jackers. His stats are about as impressive for his league as Gobert’s were in French A. The question is how much to trust the CBA’s stats to European leagues. The consensus is most European leagues are far better competition than the CBA, but that’s because they put a greater emphasis on coaching, fundamentals and team play. The CBA is more like the D League full of stat-stuffing individuals.
But if Zhou plays in a league full of individual stat stuffers, does that mean being one of the 20 best players in the league statistically is any less impressive? It’s fair to suggest there’s nothing wrong with the CBA’s talent level as it’s is littered with former NBA castoffs who either have put up stats in mid level European leagues, or presumably would be. A quick look for players who’ve played in the CBA and European leagues suggests this is the case. While their per minute stats are inflated in the CBA, their rank in PER compared to the rest of the league isn’t necessarily inflated, since everyone else’s numbers in the CBA are inflated too.
Therefore while coming with some skepticism, I’m inclined to think Zhou’s numbers are a positive. He adds that to a compelling skillset. While having a painfully thin frame, he would be one of the longest bigs in the league and mobile on both ends. He shot 9 for 15 from 3 this year and 75% from the FT line. He has a chance to be a mobile, shotblocking big who shoots 3s, which is the type of commodity teams are dying for right now. The frame is a major weakness but like when a prospect is a few inches short, I don’t think it throws everything positive about his talent set out. Rebounding well despite his frame is also a positive sign.
7. SF Dedric Lawson
Outside of efficiency, Lawson has an excellent statistical profile for a freshman DX has listed as SF, with 1.5 stl/40, 2.1 blk/40, 11.6 reb/40, 3.2 ast/40, 19.6 pts/40 and .49 TS%.
As a talent he is not perfect as he is an average athlete. However he does have excellent size if he plays SF with a 7’1 wingspan and a big frame. He has a high feel for the game and passed the ball well this year. His high volume of scoring this year could indicate shot creating ability long term. The key swing stat is shooting where he put up 35% from 3 on 70.9% FT. This only OK and it would be nice to see the FT% higher especially. However with a 3 point shot he has an interesting combination of size, shooting and feel.
8. SG Ron Baker
9. SG Patrick McCaw
These are two SGs with relatively comparable statistical profiles:
Baker: 1.9 stl/40, 0.7 blk/40, 6.1 reb/40, 4.1 ast/40, in addition to 13.4 pts/40 on .59 TS% as a freshman, eventually 17.4 pts/40 on .55 TS% as a senior.
McCaw: 2.8 stl/40, 0.5 blk/40, 6.1 reb/40, 4.5 ast/40, in addition to 13.4 pts/40 on .59 TS% as a freshman, eventually 17.4 pts/40 on .55 TS% as a sophomore.
Baker is not an impressive athlete, but has good length, frame, ballhandling, passing and feel for the game for his position. McCaw is more agile, but has a skinny frame and worse ballhandling skills.
The body and track record is there for both to defend in the NBA, finding a place offensively could lean on their shooting. Baker shot 34.8% from 3 on 78.4% FT, with a higher 3pt in previous seasons. McCaw shot 35.2% 3pt on 76.9% FT. For both this is just good enough to have potential at the next level, but just average enough to not be a guarantee.
For Lawson, Baker, McCaw, projecting as can defend and shoot a little feels role player-y, but it bears mentioning sometimes all-stars were the ones projected to just be role players at first, like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green. High IQ, passing and having size can mean more than freak athleticism for all-star potential.
10. C Diamond Stone
11. C Jakob Poeltl
Of these two I prefer Poeltl’s skillset but Stone’s numbers come out higher. The margin isn’t huge in either case. Their profiles are:
Stone: 0.9 stl/40, 2.8 blk/40, 9.7 reb/40, 0.7 ast/40, 21.8 pts/40, .61 TS%
Poeltl: 0.8 stl/40, 2.0 blk/40, 12.0 reb/40, 2.5 ast/40, 15.7 pts/40, .63 TS% as a freshman, 22.6 pts/40, .66 TS% as a sophomore
Stone has a superb combination of scoring and shotblocking for a freshman big. He has a strong body that can be a bully down low, allowing him to back down and finish offensive plays. By hitting 75% this could indicate some shooting potential going forward. His basketball IQ is in question however.
Poeltl puts up better assist and rebound numbers than Stone, while having an appealing skillset. He has a quality combination of athleticism and frame, with post and passing skills and feel for the game. Hitting 69% of his FTs is solid and gives him a chance to improve his range. Post players who aren’t known for spacing the floor or protecting the rim is less in vogue these days, but if you can do it well, there’s still value there. And if a player does it as well as Pau Gasol did, they can still be superstar playing that way. Not to mention that Poeltl has some chance to either expand his range or become a good defender.
Overall while neither prospect seems spectacular to me, they are both solid, skilled big men.
12. SF Derrick Jones, Jr.
Jones is a superb wing statistically with 1.3 stl/40, 2.5 blk/40, 8.1 reb/40, 1.5 ast/40 and 20.4 pts/40 on .61 TS%. I’d take his statistical profile over more hyped up freshman wings like Ingram and Brown.
Despite being one of the best athletes in the draft, his skill game is too raw for me to love his talent level. It’s just hard to be a wing who can’t shoot or create off the dribble in the modern game. But he has a lot of defensive potential with his production and tools, and his youth and current scoring rate, would suggest not to totally write him off as an offensive player. A Jones who learns to shoot at an acceptable level would be an excellent prospect considering his athleticism and numbers. Jones is toolsy with upside and even on the downside, may make it for athleticism and defensive production anyways.
13. C Ante Zizic
Of all the international players in this draft, Zizic’s stats for his age impress me the most. At 19 he is 6th in PER (24.2) in the Adriatic league and 3rd (25.8) in the Croation league this year. In the Adriatic league he is 2nd in rebounds per 40 (12.3), 2nd in blocks (2.1), 9th in points (20.3), and 2nd in TS% (.673). This is the type of stat stuffing you want to see from a young international big and follows in the footsteps of the production of players like Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert, Jonas Valanciunas.
The knock is that as a talent he has some flaws. He is considered a decent athlete with good size but his skill game is restricted to scoring around the rim, although hitting a solid 70% FT gives him some hope to expand his range. His basketball IQ is considered average. His game to start his career will likely be to get rebounds and finish plays around the basket. But the size, athleticism, touch around the rim and numbers alone is enough to make me interested in his chance to be a starting center or more.
14. PF Deyonta Davis
Davis is an excellent shotblocker for a freshman big at 3.9 blks/40 and scored well at 16.1 pts/40 on .60 TS% and is a solid rebounder at 11.8 reb/40, although is average at some other stats like 1.6 ast/40 and 0.6 stl/40.
He has a solid combination of length and lateral mobility which should help him on the defensive end and although his skill game is raw, scoring at a solid rate may be a decent side. His frame is skinny and weakness.
I don’t love the upside of Davis to be more than a finisher at the basket at block shots, but that may do just fine.
15. PF Brice Johnson
Brice is one of the most complete statistical prospects in the draft with 1.5 stls/40, 2.1 blk/40, 15.0 reb/40, 2.1 ast/40, and 19.8 pts/40 on .50 TS% as a freshman, later 24.2 pts/40 on .65 TS% as a senior. As a talent he has great athleticism but questionable length and frame for a big man and his skill game is largely around the rim, although he improved his range a little this year and hit 78.3% of his FTs. Still, his skills and his size puts some caps on his talent.
His numbers and athleticism would be enough for him to be top 10, except I also have him flagged for mental make-up as he has the reputation as immature or a hothead. I don’t have a big enough sample size of hotheads to say with confidence what this measn for his career, but it’s enough to rate him below some prospects who were rating close to enough to him.
16. SG James Blackmon
17. SF Taurean Prince
18. PG Demetrius Jackson
19. SF/PF Juancho Hernangomez
20. C Ivica Zubac
21. PF Petr Cornelie
22. SF Jaylen Brown
Brown’s stats are no worse than average, with a low rate of 1.2 stls/40 and 0.9 blks/40 for his position, but a solid 2.9 ast/40, 7.8 reb/40 and 21.2 pts/40 on .52 TS% against hard competition. The thing keeping him out of the top ten, is that my philosophy of 2/3s of talent being skill and IQ does not play well on Brown at all, as he is an average shooter at 29.4% 3 and 65.4% FT, is not a great ballhandler, and is known for average at best basketball IQ. It also bears mentioning that while his statistical profile comes out as OK, I don’t take into account one of his worst categories like TOVs, and his whole profile from the high volume inefficient scoring, high assists and high turnovers, screams someone who just used a lot of possessions regardless of whether it was the right move. Therefore Brown forcing his way into some of these stats is plausible and wouldn’t be a great sign.
23. PF Dragan Bender
Bender rates as an impressive talent to me due to his athleticism, length, potential to shoot 3s and basketball IQ, I just don’t favor his season in Europe. In the Israeli league where he got most of his minutes he was about 9th on his team in PER, and being around his team’s 9th man reflects the rest of his season where the coach treated him as a fringe rotation player. In his limited minutes in the Euroleague he was the team’s least productive per minute player. There have been European prospects who weren’t trusted with a lot of minutes, but when they did, filled up the per minute stats compared to teammates. Bender is not one of them. While he blocked shots and scored at a decent TS% in a small sample size, but put up poor rebounding numbers, a low steal rate compared to the rest of his team and was an average scorer in volume and passer. His numbers suggest he got the minutes he deserved.
I see the team who drafts Bender as believing they can get a defensive anchor, shooter and playmaker from the 4 spot, a holy grail trinity of skillsets. It’s the Draymond Green package. But the problem is that there’s likely a reason why there’s only one Draymond Green in the league, and almost never another in NBA history: Because playing like him is really hard, and relies on stuff like Green’s incredible combination of basketball IQ, skills, strength and toughness. It’s sort of like how Shawn Marion used to be a popular prospect comparison in the draft because every year there’s a long armed, athletic wing who likes to score in transition. But with so many athletes at SF in the NBA and only one Marion, it’s clear there was a lot more to it than that. Bender could end up a great defensive anchor who shoots and is his team’s playmaker, or he could just be a long armed project.
24. PF Nigel Hayes
25. PG Melo Trimble
26. C Daniel Ochefu
27. PG/SG Jamal Murray
Murray is a talented player as one of the top 5 shooters in the draft, the rare strong ball-handling/shooting combination and a strong feel for the game, making up for mediocre size and athleticism for his position.
He just doesn’t come out well enough in my numbers. 1.1 stl/40 and 0.3 blk/40 is a low rate when most star perimeter players are over 2 stls and blks combined and 2.5 ast/40 is unimpressive. His 22.7 pts/40 on .59 TS% and 5.9 reb/40 are good numbers though.
28. PG/SG Alex Caruso
29. PF Henry Ellenson
30. SG Furkan Korkmaz
Notes on players out of the top 30:
Buddy Hield, Denzel Valentine, Malcolm Brogdon – From a talent perspective all of them rate highly as 3 of the best shooters in the draft, a high feel for the game, passing skill and size attributes. This is just all about the statistical indicators as old prospects with low numbers in categories like steals and blocks and who didn’t score at a high rate until they were older than the competition.
Domantas Sabonis – just missing the top 30, his profile outside of rebounding is somewhat average, especially in steals and blocks. More than that I struggled with his talent level as an athlete average with a below average wingspan at PF and not a great shooter.
Timothe Luwawu – Of the 1st round international prospects in this class, his numbers come off the worst to me. He is 21 next week and played in the Adriatic league and wasn’t all that impressive, shooting under 40% from the field and having about the 30th highest PER In the league. He was even less impressive if we went back a year ago when he couldn’t stand out in the French Pro B. Nemanja Nedovic in his draft year was a great athlete for his position, but old and putting up weak numbers in the Adriatic league. The concern for Luwawu is his profile points towards being the SG/SF version of that pick.
Gary Payton II – he is a high ranking on a lot of statistical boards right now. Rebounding is not rated as important in my system as it for others which hurts his performance a little and leaves his outstanding performing to largely the steals category. He also gets burned on the talent side of things as despite a great athlete, he is a non-shooting guard who struggles to handle and is considered to have an average feel.
Skal Labissiere – not saying anything surprising here, but yeah, his numbers are bad.
Mike Woodson will be one of the Kings first interviews for their vacant coaching position. Woodson isn’t as hot a name as hires like Tom Thibodeau or Scott Brooks, or Luke Walton if he hits the market. In a league where everyone dreams of being the 73-9 Warriors who built a masterpiece of ball movement and pace, Woodson is a coach known for playing slow and isolating.
But coaching is weird. Last year the Pelicans strategy under Monty Williams seemed slow and antiquated, but nothing was wrong with the results. They won 45 games despite a bundle of injuries. The Pelicans thought hiring Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry would unlock the potential of their roster, but it backfired. Randy Wittman tried to make the Wizards faster and smaller to match John Wall’s strengths and it cost him the job. The Thunder finally replacing Scott Brooks with Billy Donovan didn’t lead to the team taking off.
With Mike Woodson, you can’t knock the results too badly. After the early rebuilding seasons in Hawks, he went on to average 45.6 wins his next five full seasons as coach, not counting the half season taking over for Mike D’Antoni in New York. He’s coached five playoff teams and made the 2nd round three times. With the Hawks he once won 53 games led by Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jamal Crawford. In New York they won 54 led by Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith. Not that these teams weren’t talented, but it looks to me they won as much as you could ask of either roster. It’s not all sunshine and roses as Woodson was fired by the Knicks for a reason after they collapsed to 37 Ws, but the Knicks have only played worse in the two seasons since.
He also may fit the team. A team with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay leading the way was never going to move the ball like the the Warriors or Spurs. The same strategy that led to success on teams with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford or Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith taking the most shots, may be the right fit for their strengths and weaknesses.
Mike Woodson is probably not the coaching hire that wins you a title, but after the last decade and the clock ticking until Cousins free agency, the Kings would kill for a nice, 45 W season right now. There’s a case he’s the best man for that job.
This rankings are based on my statistical system comparing players in steals, blocks, rebounds, assists, and points and TS% (adjusted for age and competition) to a list of recent future all-stars at their position. The statistical conclusions are then run through my talent adjustment system crediting players for physical tools, skill and basketball IQ.
1. PF Ben Simmons
Simmons is arguably the top statistical player in the draft. He has one of the best single categories in his 5.5 asts/40 compared to PFs. His 2.3 stls/40 is also elite for the position and has other strong numbers like 13.7 reb/40 and 22.6 pts/40 on .60 TS%. His weakest number in 0.9 blks/40 is partly explained by playing on the perimeter so much, thus a higher steal rate instead.
Scouts consider him a top 2 talent in the draft with Brandon Ingram. He has a great combination of athleticism and ballhandling that helped him get over 10 FTA/40. His passing and court vision is considered special. While his shooting is his weakness a 67% FT is not so bad for a big and could be encouraging for his mechanics going forward.
The mental make-up is the big concern. One of the most interesting things Gregg Popovich has said about the Spurs philosophy is they look for players who are “over themselves”. This is one of the best ways to describe that nagging feeling about Simmons you can’t put your finger on. He doesn’t look like he’s over himself.
In my attempts to retrodict previous drafts, a number of players flagged for mental make-up before the draft underperformed including Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, Rudy Gay, Terrence Williams, Derrick Williams, along with the Royce White disaster. This flags ranged to things as little as Gay’s motor getting questioned to Evans not playing with teammates well to Terrence Williams getting called immature. But this is a small sample size of players to take a trend from. And at the same time there’s successes like DeMarcus Cousins who went on to be a star and Andre Drummond who got called soft in college. Furthermore while it wasn’t picked up on in college, I consider a number of NBA stars to be at semi-enigmatic like Carmelo Anthony, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. If Simmons has the personality of Anthony or Irving, so long as he’s as good as them, picking him #1 will work out fine.
Nevertheless, is it something to worry about? Yes. But if not for that he would otherwise be a rare shoo-in to be an NBA all-star. There’s no Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns in this draft to rate over him, the next best alternatives have either talent or numbers deficiencies. So he will have to do.
2. PG Kris Dunn
Dunn’s numbers are also terrific. His combination of 3.0 stls/40, 0.6 blks/40, 6.5 reb/40 and 7.6 ast/40 is elite at PG. His scoring numbers are less impressive, starting as a 8.4 pts/40 .47 TS% freshman and eventually ending at 19.9 pts/40 on .54 TS% as a senior.
He fits the profile of an all-star guard. Having a great combination of athleticism, ballhandling and size for a PG could make him elite attacking the basket. While PG isn’t the most individual defense friendly position, he’s as good a defensive prospect as it gets there for what it’s worth.
Dunn’s shooting is also considered his weakness. Although he hit 37% from 3 it was on an average volume and he shot a mediocre 69% from the FT line. Still, this is better than the range of “broken” shooting prospects like Elfrid Payton and Tony Wroten. Dunn hitting 3s in the NBA regularly to complete his offensive game wouldn’t be that surprising.
Dunn is a skilled passer but his decision making is questioned. When added to his shooting, in worst case he could be throwing up a lot of bad jumpers. But overall he has the numbers and he has the physical potential to be an all-star.
3. C Chinanu Onuaku
This rating is statistically driven. As a 19 year old center he put up 3.3 blks/40, 1.3 stls/40, 13.8 reb/40, 2.7 ast/40, as impressive a combination as Simmons and Dunn. His scoring career wasn’t stellar with 6.7 pts/40 as a freshman and 16.1 pts/40 as as sophomore, albeit efficient at .60 TS% and .62 TS% respectively.
Onuaku doesn’t have the scouts blessing as he is projected 2nd round. Despite having athleticism, length and frame to his credit along with youth, he is considered a raw skill player in the post or shooting. Only hitting 58.9% FT helps back this up. To his credit he does appear to have passing skill.
But at center there’s a lot of value to defending the rim while finishing lobs on the other end and Onuaku has a good chance of being that player. Not to mention he can pass the ball and still has time to develop a little shooting game. While not as obvious an all-star talent as the top two prospects, his numbers and physical tools are too strong to ignore.
4. PG Wade Baldwin IV
Baldwin’s numbers are good but not as dominant as the above players. He has 6.9 ast/40, 5.3 reb/40, 1.6 stl/40 and 0.4 blk/40. He scored 12.8 pts/40 on .59 TS% as a freshman and 18.4 pts/40 on .57 TS% as a sopohomore.
But I otherwise love the skillset. He is a 40% 3pt shooter and 80% FT shooter with plus passing skill for his position who has excellent defensive measurables. His 6’10 wingspan is near SF-like and one of the longest for his position in the draft, along with a big frame and big hands. Getting shooters who can defend is now a high value play in the NBA.
For scouts his big weakness is average athleticism and ballhandling, leading to a lack of slashing game in the pros. One thing compelling about this is he’s one of the best at getting to the FT line in the class at 7.7 FTA/40 and at .61 has a higher FT/FGA than James Harden had in college. This doesn’t mean it’ll translate, as for example Adam Morrison averaged over 10 FTA/40 his last college year. But when Harden was in college despite his FT drawing success scouts predicted he would be a skilled but perimeter orientated pro, due to average athleticism. In the end Harden translated his slashing game to the pros and it completed his game and made him a star. If Baldwin learned to drive in the pros like he did in college, when added to his size, shooting and passing ability, it makes him a perfect guard.
5. SF Brandon Ingram
Ingram has good but not great numbers. His 1.6 blks/40 for a SF is a highlight and his 20 pts/40 on .55 TS% is very good for his age and conference. His 7.9 reb/40 and 1.3 stls/40 would be the lowest among recent all-star SFs which is a concern for his length. His 2.3 ast/40 is average but he wasn’t a ball dominant player.
There’s a lot to love as a talent. He has a center’s length in a wing’s body, great agility and a natural feel for the game. I’m a little lower on his shooting than conventional scouts. While he shot 41% from 3 on a high volume, he only hit 68.2% of FTs. He still has a chance to be a great shooter, but as a prospect I rate him as more like a 6 out of 10 as a shooter, not a 9 out of 10 like say college Kevin Durant. If I had him rated as an elite and not just decent shooting prospect, it probably would have been enough for me to rate him 2nd or 3rd in this class.
In the end Ingram has the talent and enough numbers to be an all-star, but I don’t consider him a home run prospect. This is partly from statistical reasons like his low steal and rebounds, and partly from a more lukewarm opinion of his shooting along with other weaknesses like a skinny frame and average ballhandling.
6. PF Dragan Bender
My statistical system is not built to rate international players, so this is about as high as a prospect can get on my list without having any numbers backing them up. With that said Bender barely getting onto the floor on a struggling team, also makes me give him less production benefit of the doubt than I would have for say Porzingis last year.
As a talent though he is one of the more interesting in the class. He has the length and mobility to be a defensive big, while shooting 3s and passing the ball. The team that drafts him may have eyes on “European Draymond Green”, or if Andrei Kirilenko came out now and played exclusively as a smallball PF. But he has to be actually good at that role for it to worth it, a player can have Draymond Green’s style of play but just Ersan Ilyasova’s level of effectiveness, or worse.
7. PG/SG Jamal Murray
Murray was a strong scorer for a freshman guard at 22.9 pts/40 on .59 TS%, against good competition. His 1.1 stls/40, 0.3 blks/40, 5.9 reb/40, 2.5 ast/40 is a mediocre remainder of his profile though. A scary comparison? This makes Murray’s year for SGs the equivalent of Anthony Bennett’s for PF at UNLV, who had a strong year in pts/40 and TS%, but was below average at everything else.
His talent is appealing though. While his 78% FT is good not great, his 41% from 3 on a massive 8.7 3PA/40 was enough to rate him as a top 5 shooter in the draft for me. His ability to both dribble and shoot at a high level is compelling. There aren’t that many in the NBA who succeed at both, compared to spot up shooters who don’t dribble or big slashing wings who don’t shoot. Many who succeed at both are great players like Steph Curry, James Harden, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jamal Crawford. Murray adds that to what appears to be a natural feel for the game. Also to his credit, his season may have been affected by playing beside Tyler Ulis. If given the car keys at PG for a team, he may have helped his statistical profile more by putting up assists. Playing PG would also make his size more acceptable.
Overall, Murray is a risk with between his stats and being a guard with mediocre size and athleticism. But his shooting, dribbling and feel for the game has a lot of appeal and his numbers are more like the median for draft prospects in this class, while a prospect like Nik Stauskas for example had bad, not mediocre in his year. I value Murray’s statistical information about as valuable as much as Bender having no stats, for both it is better than having bad stats. In the case of both, that combined with appealing talent sets looks good enough for these spots once outside the top 5.
8. PF Brice Johnson
Brice has some impressive numbers including 15.0 reb/40, 2.1 ast/40, 1.5 stl/40 and 2.1 blk/40. As a scorer he’s been a high volume player from the start at 19.8 pts/40 as a freshman building to 23.7 pts/40 as a senior, but with efficiency improving from .50 TS% as a freshman to .65 TS% as a senior.
Johnson is an impressive athlete although with poor length and frame for his position. He has improved his skill level and hit 78% from the FT line this year showing shooting potential, but is most known for points around the rim. Johnson’s most likely future may be a Kenneth Faried style energy big, but he has the chance to develop a skill game.
I would have rated him 2 or 3 spots higher than this but he is tagged with immaturity and hothead issues. I don’t have the sample size of how much this effects a career and at least one hothead recently became a star in DeMarcus Cousins, but with prospects close to as appealing as him, it’s worth watching out for enough to drop him a few spots.
9. C Jakob Poeltl
Poeltl isn’t amazing anywhere statistically but has no bad categories either, with 0.8 stls/40, 2.0 blks/40, 12.0 reb/40, 2.5 ast/40 and a good scoring career with 15.7 pts/40 on .63 TS% as a freshman and 22.6 pts/40 on .66 TS% as a sophomore. Likewise as a talent he is well rounded with solid athleticism, good size, post skill and IQ. This is enough for scouts to project him as a top 10 pick. There are prospects with better numbers and prospects who rate higher as talents to me, but Poeltl’s appeal is being at least decent at both.
10. SG Ron Baker
Baker has impressive all around numbers of 1.9 stls/40, 0.7 blks/40, 6.1 reb/40 and 4.1 ast/40 for a guard. His scoring career has been average with 13.4 pts/40 on .59 TS% as a freshman and 17.4 pts/40 on .55 TS% as a senior. Both competition and age are adjusted for in scoring categories for me, so Baker only scoring that well as an old senior for Wichita State is definitely concerning.
Baker is barely projected to be drafted, so scouts aren’t a believer in him. I’m higher on his talent. First off he has good defensive measurables for a SG at 6’9.5 wingspan and 210 pounds. Athletically he may not be stunning, but he can move laterally which helped him put up steals and blocks and he got to the line at a respectable rate. The numbers suggest an average instead of bad athlete and so does my eye test.
He is a good but not great shooter with his 3pt dipping to 35% this year with a solid 78% FT. He is also a ball-handler and passer giving him some pick and roll potential. He is known for a high feel and motor. I don’t think Baker is the most talented player in the class but having length, strength, lateral mobility, 3pt shooting ability and feel is talent. Baker may not have star potential and there’s a chance scouts are right and he doesn’t make it, but at the 10th pick in a below average draft, a prospect doesn’t have to be amazing at this range. It wouldn’t surprise me if he carved out a Courtney Lee to Wes Matthews level career.
Current rankings from 11 to 30:
11. PF Ivan Rabb
12. PF Deyonta Davis
13. PF Domantas Sabonis
14. C Daniel Ochefu
15. SF Jaylen Brown
16. SF Timothe Luwawu
17. PF Thon Maker
18. SG Furkan Korkmaz
19. PF Zhou Qi
20. SF Taurean Prince
21. SG Buddy Hield
22. SG/SF Denzel Valentine
23. PF Nigel Hayes
24. C Diamond Stone
25. PG Gary Payton II
26. PF Henry Ellenson
27. SG Patrick McCaw
28. PF Marquese Chriss
29. PG Melo Trimble
30. C A.J. Hammons