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.
This is my big board using the results of my retrodiction system I built this year. The three parts that go into a player doing well:
– The most important part is per 40 minute stats compared to the median recent all-stars at their position. Players do well when they have a complete statline including numbers like assists, steals, blocks, rebounding and scored early in their college career, as I determined older scoring rates are often inflated.
– Part adjustment using a stat called Eff/40 I took from Draftexpress, which which is a value stat playing the same role as WS/48 or BPM but served slightly better results and goes back farther than the latter.
– Adjusted for talent but only in areas that can be quantified: For example wingspan, strength and height can be compared to average at their position to help separate players physical tools a little more. 3P%, 3PA, FT% can be used to evaluate shooting. Note that there isn’t a direct adjustment for athleticism. I preferred to avoid that subjective route and the thought would be it shows up in their statistical production in other ways, but nonetheless if two players are very close I may rate the more athletic one higher.
– For International players my attempt is a lot more simplistic based on giving them a label of elite, great, good, average, etc. statistical production based on their age and conference and the categories they were great at compared to teammates. I didn’t try to create a more sophisticated system comparing each league in value to each other. It overall wasn’t that hard to create tiers of who was the most impressive International performer. The stat PER is surprisingly useful when looked at what stat recent successful international picks did well in.
– For small conference players even after some adjustments, many show up higher on the list than I’m necessarily comfortable with. The problem is my retrodiction is based on former top 60 draft picks, so I don’t have the data points for players who have 0 draft buzz such as productive players like Thomas Walkup and Jameel Warney this year. Note that punishing all small conference players isn’t necessarily the answer either, as it would have hurt the predictions of players like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Paul George, C.J. McCollum at the time, who’s stats were otherwise great. So when it comes to Walkup and Warney types I kind of just dropped them as much as felt right. Overall I gave some flexibility to go slightly outside of the model if I thought justified.
The number beside the name refers to their score, along with ranking in my model only among NCAA players. Note this means the more international prospects that are ahead of a player on the big board, the farther away their big board rank will be from their expected NCAA ranking because they are rated below the internationals on the former but not the latter.
I know these rankings are off the beaten path but there is room for improvement in the draft and there’s no harm in trying a new method. If you hate my rankings and think these are the ramblings of a crazy person, then if you’re right I’ll be wrong and sad about it in a few years. And yes, I have been wrong in the past, but what I learned recently is that philosophy which I leaned on before has never predicted as well as data. With a retrodiction system this time it’s about the data.
1. PF Ben Simmons (20.18, 2nd)
2. PG Kris Dunn (21.04, 1st)
Dunn came out with the highest rating but I figured it’s close enough to go with the youth and offensive pedigree of Simmons who in addition to his indicators like steals, assists, rebounding, scoring, had a generational season in not one but two stats for a PF prospect in assists and FT/FGA. Based on that I expect he has the upside to be no less than the best passing and slashing PF in the game. Dunn may be the best defensive PG prospect of this generation all things considered, which brings the concern that PG is an offensive position (eg. There are 10 ORPMs rate higher than Chris Paul’s position leading DRPM), but nevertheless with elite explosiveness and size, great passing and manageable shooting he has all-star offensive upside too.
3. PG/SG Isaiah Whitehead (19.1, 4th)
The new it skill for guards is creating your own 3 point shot off the dribble and Whitehead is the signature creating jumpers off the dribble guard in this class helped reflected by his elite FGA and 3PA rates and hitting 36% 3P. His TS% and turnover rate makes his overall production by Eff/40 below average, but he makes up for it in strengths between the shooting, a great assist rate and plus defensive projection as a combo guard with a 6’9 wingspan, 210 pounds and being a high steal and especially block player. A little risky based on less than elite overall value in college, but has potential to be a volume 3 point shooter who can pass and defend, a combination that’s a premium going forward.
4. PG/SG Wade Baldwin (17.05, 6th)
Ridiculous measurements for a PG, with the length of a SF (6’11) and weight of a SG (200 pounds) which makes him as long and big for his position as Kawhi Leonard was for a SF. Has a solid 3 point shot and put up a great assist and free throw drawing rate and steal and block, meaning there’s a world where he can play elite D, drive to the line, shoot and pass. Could end up pushed to an off ball SG role if his ball handling doesn’t translate but even then has high 3 and D potential.
5. C Chinanu Onuaku (16.55, 8th)
Has a chance to be a great defensive big based on his size, mobility and success in block, steal, rebound, but his best category vs centers in his conference is assists. Expected to be a limited scorer, but could be the next Noah or Bogut type of center.
6. C Ante Zizic (Statistical estimate: Elite)
The most impressive statistical international in the class to me with a top 6 PER in the Adriatic league at 19 and elite rebound, block, FTA, TS% rates. Note the international Cs lately who were the numbers friendly guys in their draft: Jokic, Nurkic, Capela, Gobert, Valanciunas. Zizic is that guy in this draft, with solid but unspectacular size and athleticism and touch at the rim and 70 FT% but lacking range. He’s known as having an elite motor too which is likely to at least make him a rebounding role player.
7. PF/C Zhou Qi (Statistical estimate: ???)
It’s hard to put Zhou Qi’s CBA stats in context considering both the lack of data points from that league and how he could be mysteriously old. He is one of the 15 or 20 best players there, easily 1st in blocks/40 and 1st in TS%, for whatever it’s worth and his shotblocking combined with 7’8 wingspan is a powerful combination. He has a perimeter jumpshot going 9 for 15 from 3 and 76% from the FT line which gives him the rare defensive anchor who shoots 3s upside. Ultimately there is bust risk here but at some point the upside is too special an asset to pass up.
8. PF Brice Johnson (16.6, 7th)
His combination of steals, blocks, rebounds, assists, scoring lines up excellently with recent all-star PFs, although many were younger at the time. Has the chance to be a high volume scorer using his athleticism and midrange potential (78%) FT but undersized defensively. He could be a player who isn’t an asset either defending or spacing the floor. What does drafting David Lee really get you nowadays? Not that he can’t be better. For the importance of tools on defense when undersized players like Chris Paul and Joakim Noah became the best defenders at their position, it can’t be ruled out for anyone who’s measurements are light.
9. SF Taurean Prince (16.2, 11th)
Prince has a defensive body and a 3 point shot giving him 3 and D potential, but with his height at SF, history of FGA creation and passing, may have underrated volume scoring potential too. His defensive stats are solid but not great and I don’t love that they came in a zone, but overall he seems like a solid pick on both ends with the chance to shoot, defend and pass.
10. PF Dragan Bender (Statistical estimate: meh)
Not too many positive signs in his statistical profile, but he just turned 18 in November and is a year behind Porzingis in his draft year for example. Overall a very talented player considering his perimeter range, lateral mobility and shooting potential for a four. I’m not seeing much in his scoring game outside of hitting open 3s, one difference between him and 18 year old Porzingis is the latter had a great FGA creation rate for his age while Bender is the opposite. For his passing reputation Bender’s Assist % is poor compared to his teammates and while he’s the best shotblocker on the team, blocks are a stat that traditionally long armed projects can still get even if they don’t have it mentally on D or struggle in other areas like rebounds or steals. Still though, like Zhou the upside is a special asset – an elite defensive anchor who shoots 3s and that’s worth the risk.
11. C Georgios Papagiannis (Statistical estimate: great)
12. C Ivica Zubac (Statistical estimate: great)
These are two prospects who find themselves the XXL T-shirt rack in a league increasingly moving towards spandex. Both very large humans, Papagiannis at 7’2 but reasonably slender and mobile for his size, while Zubac is 7’1 but a Pekovic like monster in frame. Both are productive in limited minutes in the Greek league and Adriatic league respectively by scoring a lot and blocking shots. Ultimately there is still room for freakish size combined with skill and productivity and both are young players at 18 for Papagiannis and barely 19 for Zubac.
13. SF Brandon Ingram (13.17, 25th)
If I followed the letter of the law with my model he would rate lower, but I decided to give him some benefit of the doubt for being 18 and a strong talent with his length, agility and feel. Plus one of the biggest reasons I rate him as overrated is after his 68% FT throws water on his 41% 3P and supposed elite shooting upside, but with that said his FT shooting wasn’t on the biggest sample size, so there’s a chance it could have been an anomaly. Ultimately the main problem for Ingram is he didn’t have that great of a season, at 20 pts/40 on .55 TS%, slightly above average shotblocking, low turnovers and no other standouts stats for his position isn’t really all that outside of the hyped up volume scoring stat. Ingram didn’t have a top 30 season in any of BPM, WS/48 or Eff/40 among the 70 or so NCAA prospects I had in consideration for this list. Among peripherals he doesn’t do much better as steal and assist rate two of his weakest categories compared to recent all-star SFs, and could be the two most important for prospects. The main thing Ingram did in college was have the skills to take a lot of FGAs at a respectable efficiency. Creating your own shot is valuable but it’s never been as valuable as its biggest proponents think and especially not in the modern game when the midrange shot is being weeded out. When downgrading him to a decent and not elite 3pt shooter, as for example he is around 10th in the ACC in 3P% among real shooters, but 62nd in the just as important FT%, he projects more like Harrison Barnes than Kevin Durant to me. With that said if he became an elite shooter that combined with his height and FGA creation track record could make him a dangerous threat taking a high volume of 3s.
14. SG Ron Baker (14.93, 14th)
15. SG Patrick McCaw (14.86, 15th)
Two of the best defensive wing profiles in the class due to length, frame in Baker’s case, lateral mobility and steal and block rate. While not volume scorers, they have the potential to hit 3s, handle and pass making them great complimentary fits in offense.
16. SF/PF Juan Hernangomez (Statistical estimate: Good)
Playing an over 20 minutes and important role for an ACB team, which for his age is a great sign for a European prospect. He doesn’t have great tools on the defensive end, but has a 3 point shot which could make him a stretch PF in the NBA following in the footsteps of Mirotic and Bjelica.
17. PG/SG Alex Caruso (16.5, 9th)
Had a superb defensive season statistically, is a reasonable 3 point shooter and had a great passing year for a combo guard. The biggest problem is that considering how brutally low his FGA creation was for a senior, it likely limits him to role player upside and PG isn’t really the best position for a defense first role player.
18. C Daniel Ochefu (14.98, 13th)
A solid big man who’s an excellent passer with a high IQ and some ability to add shooting range with his high 60s FT%. Had a solid defensive season but average tools. Doesn’t SEEM that exciting a player, but beating the “doesn’t seem that exciting” bias is supposed to be what systems like this is all about.
19. C Jakob Poeltl (14.53, 17th)
Rates best in the overall production stats like Eff/40, due to his high scoring efficiency. Overall he projects fairly average on defense due to his middling block and steal rate combined with below average frame, but has offensive potential as he was elite at getting to the line and is a solid passer with shooting potential (69.4% FT).
20. SG Thomas Walkup (19.4, 3rd)
21. PF/C Jameel Warney (17.4, 5th)
I’ll put these small school wonders here. Of the two while Walkup has the better stats I prefer how Warney’s game fits, as despite athletic and shooting concerns, looks to have a big body who can bang and can be an intelligent finisher around the rim. Walkup has reasonable length and frame if he plays SG, but athletic concerns and no 3 point shot. His main asset will be passing ability.
22. SG Denzel Valentine (16.2, 12th)
Valentine is one of the two best shooters in the class with Hield, has above average size for a 2 and has an elite IQ which led to high rebounds and assists. My biggest concern is that due to his low steal, block and being a late bloomer as a scorer, he rated poorly compared to recent all-star SGs, his ranking is salvaged by just how good a player he was in Eff/40, or stats like BPM and WS/48. There haven’t been that many data points in previous drafts of players with poor other stats but who’s overall production saved them, but nevertheless his potential to be a shooter and passer, some defensive potential with size and IQ and frankly the possibility he is just damn good at basketball, is hard to pass up too many times.
23. PF/C Robert Carter (13.32, 22nd)
An interesting skillset in the modern game as he can shoot from the perimeter, handle and pass having having a center’s frame and wingspan. While having overall middling production, I don’t mind the “hoping an overweight guy was better than he looked” logic and it seems like playing beside Diamond Stone who was a big post player who never passed didn’t play well to Carter’s numbers.
24. PF/C Gracin Bakumanya (Statistical estimate: ???)
25. PF/C Thon Maker (Statistical estimate: ???)
I’m not going to pretend I know much about either but they are tall, athletic with shooting potential and the value here is basically the mystery box. For most other prospects available at this range the numbers suggest they probably won’t be stars. With these guys we don’t know anything, so maybe that means their chance of being a top ten player in the class is higher.
26. PF/C Domantas Sabonis (13.31, 23rd)
Sabonis has some things I like offensively such as his passing, rebounding, efficiency and could be a better shooter than he showed in college. However his defensive projection is quite poor with the wingspan of a SF and weak steal and block numbers.
27. PG/SG Jamal Murray (9.80, 48th)
My system projects him to be a bust, but after Devin Booker last year who would have rated nearly as bad, I got a little bit worried about the “Kentucky effect” – when playing with other high pedigree recruits, pushes a player’s style of play away from their strengths, such as how Booker was used as a spot up shooter only when he secretly had ball handling skills. In Murray’s case if not playing with Tyler Ulis he may have had played PG and had a different season. With that said a lot of his profile is brutal. He has a very low assist, steal, block combination which combined with an undersized wingspan makes him project as a defensive liability. Offensively he shot a high volume of 3s but they were nearly all assisted and he couldn’t get to the line. Overall there just isn’t a ton of exciting offensive skills other than getting 3s off and he projects poorly on defense.
28. SG Buddy Hield (12.12, 31st)
Like Murray his stats point towards a poor lottery pick, as a scorer who only blew up at a late age and not special at any other stats. Hield’s saving grace is the comparison points for amazing shooting seasons is small. It’s not just that he hit 46% from 3, but he did it on a spectacular 9.8 3PA/40 and 88% FT. His 3P%, 3PA, FT% combination was arguably as good as good as Curry and Klay ever had. The case for Hield is he’s like the shooting equivalent of a freak athlete, meaning like taking Andre Drummond even in spite of poor stats cause he’s that much of a monster physically. He also has solid defensive size.
29. SG Terry Tarpey (16.44, 10th)
Another solid small conference prospect. Looks to have defensive potential due to his solid length and steal and block rate in college, while he can pass the ball and has solid athleticism driving to the rim. His biggest weakness is a lack of a 3 point shot although a quality FT% could indicate potential in that area.
30. SF Jaylen Brown (11.32, 37th)
31. PF Marquese Chriss (10.44, 42nd)
32. SF Derrick Jones, Jr. (10.82, 40th)
None of these players seasons project as that great, but at some point taking a young and freakishly athletic player and hoping for the best is a reasonable idea considering the alternatives aren’t more than longshot chances to be anything anyways.
33. SG Furkan Korkmaz (Statistical estimate: Weak so far)
Almost nothing about his statistical profile is positive right now and he overall projects poorly on defense considering his minimal defensive stats and frame. However he’s a high variance player who may be able to shoot and get his shot off and is a solid athlete.
34. C A.J. Hammons (14.15, 19th)
35. PG/SG Gary Payton II (13.41, 21st)
36. PG Kahlil Felder (13.91, 20th)
The argument for these players is the complete opposite of Brown, Chriss and Jones. They are older and have holes in their game or numbers, but just going by Eff/40, they were 3 of the best players in the class compared to their position and being really good in college can mean something. Hammond has elite size, Payton is showing signs of being a great PG defender and Felder created his own FGA the most of anyone in this class.
37. PF Guerschon Yabusele (Statistical estimate: Solid)
38. PG Nikola Ivanovic (Statistical estimate: Good)
39. PF Paul Zipser (Statistical estimate: Good)
Like but don’t love Euro picks. Yabusele is a beefy stretch 4, Zipser is a solid production driven role playing wing pick. Ivanovic is the most under the radar but as the PG on Luwawu’s team he’s one of the best assist to turnover PGs in the Adriatic and has a respectable jumpshot giving him a chance to be a Calderon or Blake type game manager.
40. C Diamond Stone (13.19, 23rd)
Stone has some weaknesses like lack of passing and average rebounding, but he scored at an elite volume and efficiency for his age, has defensive size and blocked shots and has some spacing potential.
41. PF Pascal Siakam (14.4, 18th)
42. C Deyonta Davis (12.5, 27th)
43. C Cheick Diallo (10.0, 45th)
Both these players could struggle on offense, but have rim protection potential. Siakam had the best numbers, but against worse competition. Diallo had the worst, but is more high variance since he barely played.
44. SF/PF Jordan Fouse (14.8, 16th)
Puts up some great stats like rebounding, steals, assists, but his overall production as judged by Eff/40 is a little disappointing due to his TS% and has some positional concerns. Still, has defensive and passing potential and a not broken jumpshot.
45. PF/C Henry Ellenson (12.13, 30th)
46. PG DeJounte Murray (12.19, 29th)
They have some interesting talents such as Ellenson’s size, shooting and passing ability and DeJounte’s elite length for a PG, but their efficiency for their position was awful making them ineffective players overall, and just didn’t do enough in other stats to make me think they will be good.
47. SG Caris LeVert (12.31, 28th)
48. PF Stefan Jankovic (12.55, 26th)
49. PF Petr Cornelie (Statistical estimate: Meh)
50. SG Malcolm Brogdon (11.64, 34th)
51. SF Damion Lee (10.88, 38th)
52. SF Jarrod Uthoff (9.71, 51st)
53. SG Malik Beasley (7.83, 54th)
54. SG A.J. English (12.74, 26th)
This group is all about the shooting. Jankovic and Cornelie have stretch 4 potential while other than Hield and Valentine, LeVert, Brogdon, Lee, Uthoff, Beasley, English are five of the next best shooters in the class using a combination of 3P%, 3PA and FT% to project them. Ultimately my system uses peripherals like steals, assists, etc. to even predict shooting too which is a problem for them, but shooting is a valuable tool in the modern game to give them potential and at least they have it. Beasley has the weakest stats, but is also young.
55. SF Troy Williams (11.60, 35th)
56. SF Timothe Luwawu (Statistical estimate: Poor)
57. PG Demetrius Jackson (10.84, 39th)
Like the Brown, Chriss, Jones group earlier, there’s value in just having great athleticism. The difference with Williams, Luwawu and Jackson is they’re old too. Luwawu has some high draft buzz right now, my issue is his stats impressed me the least of any international in this class considering he is a 21 year old Adriatic League and only an ok player at 16.5 PER and shooting less than 40% from the field. I see his production as more analogous like NCAA athletes who didn’t put it all together like Troy Williams and Alex Poythress.
58. SG Deandre Bembry’ (12.09, 32nd)
59. PG Fred VanVleet (11.97, 33rd)
60. PG Tyler Ulis (10.72, 41st)
Smart players and VanVleet and Ulis have solid 3 point shots, while Bembry is a superb passer for a wing. Ultimately they just didn’t stand out enough in either stats or tools. Michael Gbinije and Dorian Fnney-Smith would’ve been 61st and 62nd and fit into the above group as solid role players.
Players outside of top 62 include Skal Labissiere, Malachi Richardson, Damian Jones, Stephen Zimmerman. All have some interesting athletic tools but just aren’t good enough of NCAA players for me to believe in them. Yes there is a chance they beat the odds and become NBA players and they were have the advantage of a long leash and D League time to figure it out, but overall my system isn’t made to account for teams believing more in players. Isaia Cordinier and Rade Zagorac are some internationals who missed the cut getting some buzz. Cordinier has some exciting athleticism and 3 point shooting but his productivity is just too big a problem for only playing in French Pro B. For soon to be 21 in the Adriatic League Zagorac doesn’t have standout enough skills or production.
The Warriors will face an obstacle to keeping their possible two time champion team together when Harrison Barnes becomes a restricted free agent. Barnes has youth, size and a 3 point shot which is a combination teams are coveting and this summer there could be too much surplus capspace for him to not get a max deal. Not only is there hundreds of hundreds of millions of yearly salary to dish out after the established all-stars like Kevin Durant, Al Horford, DeMar Derozan are gone, but the market favors younger players over win now veterans because many win now teams like Cleveland, San Antonio, Oklahoma City if they resign Durant, Toronto if they resign Derozan will be the few teams without capspace. This could make under 25 starters like Barnes or Bismack Biyombo the real second tier instead of veterans like Luol Deng and Dwight Howard.
Golden State keeping Barnes is likely to require matching a max contract. On one hand his role on the team is expendable. On a roster full of elite defenders and passers advancing basketball past old school fascinating with points per game his attributes are closer to the latter. Hitting 38% of wide open 3s could be not too hard to replicate. In the 25 games he started due to Barnes injury, Brandon Rush hit 49% of his 3s.
On the other hand when going 73-9 and possibly winning back to back titles, there’s an argument for not fixing what’s not broken. When a five man unit nicknamed “The Lineup of Death” exists the team may want to keep it together. Sure Barnes is the second guitarist of the lineup, but a 3 point shooting SF with the weight to guard PFs in the post still is important part of its matchup nightmare. While the Warriors have left Yay Points 2 point jumpshot creating-favoring teams in their dust, every once in a while Barnes height and ability to get a few buckets that way helps them and adds one more backup plan to their offense. Barnes gives them one more talented player.
An argument against Barnes is opportunity cost. A year from now the hiking cap combined with Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Jason Thompson’s buyout coming off means without the Warriors could be in a great free agency position if they’re not paying 40 million combined to Barnes and Festus Ezeli. However more likely than not if they need to trade Barnes’ contract a year from now as a 25 year old with the same strengths there will be takers out there. Furthermore the goal is to play the cards in front of them and go for the three peat if they win this year. The rest can be dealt with later.
Whether it’s worth resigning him may come down to the Warriors pockets next season. Keeping all of Barnes, Ezeli, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa could mean paying Dan Gilbert levels of luxury tax. If the cost of resigning Barnes is losing Ezeli for example, a strong argument could be made to let him go. But if the Warriors owners are willing to pay whatever cost it takes, keeping the whole roster from a 73-9 team could make sense.
After being ranked #1 over Ben Simmons by Draftexpress before the season, Skal’s season went as badly as it could but based on his athleticism, length and potential to shoot has maintained enough pedigree to be projected as a fringe top 10 pick.
While everyone should agree there’s a chance Skal is out of the league in 3 or 4 years, the thought is the way to win is to draft stars so the risk is worth it especially in a league increasingly moving towards defensive anchors who shoot 3s.
I’m not buying it.
To start with the statistical warning signs, here’s a sample of the best PFs of this generation: Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Lamarcus Aldridge, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap, Carlos Boozer, David West. In their draft year the lowest steal rate of the group is Love’s 0.9 per 40 minutes. Skal had 0.6. The lowest rebound of the group is Aldridge’s 10.9 per 40. Skal did 8.0. The lowest assist rate is Aldridge’s 0.6, an anomaly considering 2nd lowest is Boozer’s 1.2. Skal did 0.8. The lowest TS% of the group is Green’s .54, with nobody else below .59. Skal did .54. Skal was ranked 7th in WS on his own team. Every one of those PFs were 1st on their team.
For Skal to become a star he has to become a statistical anomaly compared to recent PFs by having the lowest steal and rebound bar none of the group, tying for the lowest TS% and having an assist rate far below everyone but one player. In addition to being the worst player of the group in college by miles and away.
Can Skal become a star – Sure. A sample size of 9 PFs doesn’t mean that the 10th can’t follow a pathway totally unique to them and aberrations happen. Andre Drummond is the best parable for Skal as a player considered a soft under performer and risky at the time. Compared to DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford, Brook Lopez, Deandre Jordan, Karl-Anthony Towns, Joakim Noah, UConn Drummond has the lowest assist, points and TS% rate. To use an example at another position, if compared to a list of James Harden, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, C.J. McCollum, Wesley Matthews, Kevin Martin, Brandon Roy, DeMar Derozan at USC would have the lowest steal and assist rate of the group outright and tied for the lowest blocks. Both showed sometimes taking an athletic project works out. Zach LaVine was 6th on his team in Win Shares, and would ranked last on that SG list in rebounds and blocks. While not a star yet, Minnesota is happy with their pick so far.
Here’s the problem: Skal having some fractional chance of breaking the statistical odds to become a star doesn’t separate him from the alternatives at his pick as much as it seems. Picks like Skal get made as if it’s a league where half the stars in the league were Derozan and Drummond athletic projects, while every team who takes an old polished prospect pays the price of never getting one. That just isn’t the case. The list of college projects who became all-stars almost ends at Derozan and Drummond (who aren’t even THAT amazing, by the way). Meanwhile take a look at the top 10 in MVP voting this year:
Stephen Curry – 7th pick in a then considered weak draft. Older but productive prospect with average physical tools.
Kawhi Leonard – 15th pick in a then considered weak draft, expected to be a defensive role player due to lack of shooting and creating ability
Lebron James – 1st overall, Expected to be the heir of the league since high school
Russell Westbrook – 4th pick in a great draft, success story for the raw athletic tools pick.
Kevin Durant – 2nd pick, expected superstar after all time freshman season
Chris Paul – 4th pick, size and personality scared some teams off but in contention for 1st pick and not a surprise he became a star
Draymond Green – 35th pick, great college season but old and considered low upside due to physical tools
Damian Lillard – 6th pick, older prospect from a small conference, although picked to have all-star upside at the time
James Harden – 3rd pick in a weak draft at the time, with considered average athleticism, not expected to have the upside he’s on on to have
Kyle Lowry – 24th pick, expected to be a defense first player
Some of the top rated stars in the league who didn’t finish top 10:
Anthony Davis – 1st overall pick, expected superstar
Klay Thompson – 11th pick in a rated weak draft, older prospect expected to shoot and defend but has beaten expectations
Jimmy Butler – 30th pick, old polished wing not expected to be elite on either end
Paul George – 10th pick, toolsy athletic shooting and defender, although productive on his small conference team
DeMarcus Cousins – 5th pick, considered a superstar talent but mental loose cannon
Blake Griffin – 1st pick, considered star upside
None of those players were the type of ultra project that Skal or LaVine were. Westbrook and George are two nice examples of toolsy upside picks that worked, but didn’t reach Skal’s statistical nadirs.
But even when counting them, they’re outnumbered by low upside draftees that became stars: Curry, Kawhi, Draymond, Klay, Lowry, etc.
What this suggests it that sure Skal may be the next Derozan or Drummond, but does he have a better chance at that then Taurean Prince, older defensive with with multiple solid offensive skills but no elite one, being the next Jimmy Butler who fell to 30th for the same reasons? Would Wade Baldwin being a star be more surprising than Kawhi was at the time? Baldwin has the length of a SF (6’11 wingspan) and weight of a SG (202 pounds) and has some holes in his offensive game, while Kawhi had the length of a center (7’3 wingspan) and weight of a PF (227 pounds) and had some holes.
You can do this for most prospects in the 1st round. What it reveals is that the idea that only Skal has all-star upside and everyone else is capped out a role player is a house of cards. The evidence against it is simply comparing the lengthy list of all-stars who started out in the shoes of mid-late 1sts like Baldwin, Prince, Domantas Sabonis, etc. with productive college careers but rated by scouts as having middling upside, vs the amount who started out in the shoes of Skal of weak production that went on to do become a star. There’s been too many breakout stars from the former type of group compared to the latter, to act like Skal is the only one who has a pathway to stardom in front of them. The opposite is closer to being true. Based on the statistical record, while it could happen, a project of Skal’s status becoming a star would be more unique and more of an aberration than a player like Baldwin. There’s a reason why Skal’s Win Shares rank compared to his team, steals, rebounds, assists, TS% looks so bad compared to Davis, Griffin, Bosh, Green, Love, Aldridge, Favors, Millsap, Boozer, West. Because of none of those PFs were a project like him in college. That shows why Skal would be following a rare pathway to being a star PF.
Despite a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love the Cavaliers Finals is going worse than without them last year. There’s a lot of reasons for this beyond them. The Warriors are a different team with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green taking their games to new heights this year and having none of the first Finals nerves they had the first three games last year. The Cavs are all without perhaps their 2nd most important player last Finals in Timofey Mozgov who helped them control the interior.
Mostly this is just a bad matchup for Cleveland. The three series the Warriors have struggled in the most the last two years in Memphis, Cleveland last year and Oklahoma City all had the same story. They used a big frontcourt to control the boards and limit Golden State’s transition game and ability to go small. They turned the series into a fight when the Warriors are most comfortable dancing. In this finals so far the Warriors are dancing. Last year Dellavedova, Thompson and Mozgov playing together gave the Cavaliers the physical edge to mess up the Warriors rhythm.
If this series continue this direction the Cavaliers could be pertinent to move on from the Lebron, Irving and Love era now. The matchup against the Warriors won’t get better next year if they play again. If they luck out and avoid the Warriors, having Irving and Love trying to defend the most athletic team in the league in the Thunder and most athletic player in Westbrook may not turn out better. With a limited supply of prime Lebron James years left the Cavs can’t waste many more opportunities.
Two popular trade rumors are Kyrie Irving for Chris Paul and Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony. The former would work beautifully for the Cavaliers but it’s unclear if the Clippers want to downgrade at PG especially after watching Irving’s flaws in these finals. Paul’s skill and IQ should allow him to age gracefully and if he declines by his mid 30s, it may only be to the level of effectiveness Irving is right now. Love works on the Knicks, but the Cavs getting more perimeter orientated, worse at rebounding and not any better on defense could be playing into the Warriors hands.
The trade I like is Kyrie Irving for DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings are currently under the gun with Cousins having 2 years left on his contract, but the history of stars in his position like Carmelo, Deron, Love, Dwight has been the star getting traded before the end of his deal, meaning they likely have to prove themselves by the end of this season and there’s not a great deal of reason to be optimistic about the Kings contending for the playoffs next season. If they do end up trading Cousins one day, trading him for a high draft pick and rebuilding is a hard path for the Kings to stomach due to their draft pick obligations including an unprotected 1st in 2019 to the Sixers. They are also moving into a new stadium making bottoming out less appealing.
Kyrie has three seasons left before he can opt out, giving them a key extra year of breathing room. Since the cap is shooting to the moon, I believe if the Kings are 30 million+ under the salary cap they can also use the sparsely seen contract renegotiation tool to lock him up early one of the next two summers.
He would represent a fresh start for the Kings on and off the court. They would build a modern offensive team with Kyrie as their Curry or Lillard while developing young pieces like Willie Cauley-Stein, Ben McLemore and their top 8 pick this year. At 24 Kyrie is young enough to break out to new heights statistically on his own team and gives them a popular star to launch the new stadium with. The deal stabilizes the feet under the Kings.
For the Cavs, no other player would move them more towards the big ball style that has frustrated the Warriors than Cousins. The Thompson and Cousins frontcourt play as a mega version of the 2015 playoffs Thompson and Mozgov by dominating the glass and force the Warriors smallball lineup off the court when Cousins proved too big for Draymond to guard. While Cousins isn’t known of his defense the Kings have been much better with him on the court on that end, he is one of the biggest and longest players in the league and always leads the league in charges. There’s a chance that like Chris Bosh when he went from Toronto to Miami, when relieved of the energy of carrying the offense he uses his physical tools to become a great defender. This didn’t happen for Kevin Love because his physical tools limited him.
While the Cavaliers would be lacking in offensive guard talent, on a team where Lebron is the real PG, Dellavedova’s defense, passing and shooting may be all the Cavs need at starting PG. Furthermore if they want to they can still trade Love to balance their roster. While they could keep Love to be stretch big and 3rd option beside Lebron and Cousins, a deal like Love for Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson would give the Cavs a badly needed 3 and D player in Crowder, a big man who excels in guarding pick and rolls in Amir while keeping a stretch big to play Love’s in Olynyk. All three players are known for high basketball IQ increasing the chance the Cavs get to a high level of defensive and passing intelligence to match up with the Warriors.
Sure, Cousins is a chemistry risk as he brings chaos wherever he goes. But this is not the time for the Cavs to play it safe. Play to win or go home. Cousins cares too much more than he cares too little and that fire could be tapped into on a winning team.