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NBA Draft top 30 prospects – 2017

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I am using a slightly modified system compared to last year. My 3 steps to evaluate players skills in different areas are:

  • Overall statistical rating: This favors players with all around stats, such as steals, blocks, assists, etc. The results are fairly typical compared to virtually every other draft analytics blogger. For international players I find PER to have had useful results in recent drafts.
  • What categories the player excelled in vs his college conference or international competition
  • Whether they have NBA caliber tools in that category

The rare perfect skill hits all 3. For example last year Ben Simmons was in my top 5 overall statistical performers, dominated assists and free throw attempts at a generational level for a PF prospect and had the athletic, height, ballhandling, etc. tools to back up his passing and free throw line drawing success at the college level. In the past the same would’ve been true of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s shooting.

Unfortunately the vast majority of skills do not reach that perfection, so it’s varying degrees of flawed from there. Hitting 2 of 3 at an “A” level and one at a “B” level makes them elite in the category, being A level in one but B level in the other two would be great in the category but not elite, and so forth. Using this I then look at the players overall skillset and make a determination of how they rank. I adjust for how offense is more valuable at smaller positions and defense at bigger positions, using ORPM and DRPM as a guide.

1. SF/PF Josh Jackson

Jackson rates as an elite defensive prospect at a big wing or smallball four position where defense can be quite valuable as seen by the last two DPOYs won by Kawhi Leonard. His athleticism, intensity and steal, rebound and block rates contribute to this. Offensively he is not perfect but is still a quality prospect. His passing numbers were strong for a wing and rates as one of the most high volume shot creators in the class for his age. He got to the line enough that combined with his explosiveness is a great slashing prospect. Jackson’s main problem is his 3pt shooting which with a 57% FT has potential to be terrible 3pt shooter in the NBA, even though he hit 38% 3pt. If Jackson is a poor enough shooter it could force him to he PF spot. Although Jackson is a good not great offensive prospect when added to a baseline of potentially elite defensive value it was enough for him to get the #1 spot for me. 

2. C Anzejs Pasecniks

I rate Pasecniks as being an over 20 PER rotation player in the ACB as more impressive than any production feat an NCAA prospect has right now. At a closer level to the pros, he’s already shown he can be a good player. Pasecniks follows in the footsteps in numbers-friendly European center prospects lately such as Jokic, Gobert, Nurkic, Capela, Porzingis, Valanciunas. His best skill rates as defense to me, as he is the 3rd best shotblocker per minute in the ACB, although he struggles a little with rebounding and physicality. He has a reported 7’6 wingspan and great lateral mobility. He is not quite a Gobert level defensive prospect, but considering position rates as the best defensive prospect in the draft for me. Offensively he doesn’t have an elite skill, but has quality driving ability shown by his free throw rate and athleticism, and has the potential to develop a perimeter shooting game. Passing is one of his biggest flaws.

3. PG Jawun Evans

Evans is a complete offensive prospect. His best category rates as passing for me, where he averaged Ball-like Ast/40 although with less height and taking more shots to do it. Evans projects as a strong 3pt shooter, got to the line at an above average rate, was one of the highest volume shot takers in the class (His Pts/40 is Fultz-like) and was a ball thief. While he is a good not great athlete I project him as an above average slasher. Two of his biggest questions are finishing at the rim and defense as is typical for undersized PGs, but in the modern game and success of players smaller than him like Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker, there’s no need to overreact anymore to small PGs not being able to play. He should be a great fit in the modern pick and roll game with his ability to pass, shoot and drive.

4. PF Lonzo Ball

Ball is somewhat complicated to rate. His passing and decision rates as the best skills in the draft to me. If you had to pick anyone to be historically good at something in this draft, it would be Ball at passing. He is a good rebounder, then the rest of his game is pretty meh. His FT% and weird jumpshot brings some concern about 3pt shooting at next level, he didn’t get to the line or create his own shot the best in college and his defense projects as solid but not above average. I’m also slightly concerned about putting up stats in a transition heavy system. Not because of inflation but because the NBA is a halfcourt game, you can’t build around Ball’s transition play. If he failed Ball would be kind of the NBA’s Manziel or Tebow who played non-pro college football systems, while his halfcourt weaknesses exposed in the NBA would be like theirs as pocket passers. That’s before mentioning his father.

But if he’s transcendent at the one thing he’s good at it, it could make him a better pick than players who are good to great at more things. So I guess he goes here.

5. PG Dennis Smith, Jr.

Smith has dynamic strengths. His ability to get to the line combined with being arguably the most explosive athlete in the draft makes him a high upside slasher. He has one of the best assist rates after Ball and Evans and projects to be an above average 3pt shooter. However there are concerns about his defensive effort, basketball IQ and overall intangibles. That has been dangerous warning signs in the past, but in this case the speed and skill is so great that one has to take the chance to get star potential.

6. PF/C Cameron Oliver

Oliver has the combination every team is looking for nowadays, he’s a big man with 3pt range who had one of the best block rates of all these prospects. In addition to his shooting and defense, his shot creation volume rated well for a sophomore. His ability to get to the line was worryingly poor, he wasn’t a great passer and there are concerns about his intangibles. Nonetheless an athletic big with his floor spacing and defensive potential is a valuable pick. Unlike a lot of other numbers sleepers who come with the caveat of being seniors, this guy is only 20. (Well, he turns 21 on July 11th)

7. PF/C Mathias Lessort

Like Pasecniks, Lessort following in the successful footsteps of highly productive European big prospect is a good sign. Specifically Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela. In their draft years in French Pro A, Gobert had 21.7 PER and Capela 23.9, while Lessort has 21.8. Compared to them Lessort isn’t as much as a shotblocking threat and has more of a Tristan Thompson like game and body. Offensive rebounding is his biggest strength, while he has the athleticism and track record getting to the line to project well attacking the basket. Defensively he has potential as a lateral mobility driven defender.

8. SG Donovan Mitchell

Mitchell is one of the best 3 and D prospects in the draft. He is one of the best wing defenders based on his college play and physical tools, while his 35% 3pt/80% FT makes him a good outside shooting prospect. He is not a great shot creating prospect, I question whether his qualty passing numbers can translate if he’s not dribbling in the NBA, and his basketball IQ is reportedly a concern, but the defensive and shooting combination is highly interesting in the modern game and gives him “role player star” upside.

9. PG/SG Markelle Fultz

The one area of the game Fultz rated as elite for me was shot creation volume for his age. Even when you take into account having no talent as teammates, the amount of shots he took for a freshman was pretty ungodly. His shooting is good not great when taking into account his FT%, likewise his passing is solid but not elite. Intensity is a question when it comes to defense and when it comes to getting to the line, without being an elite athlete I can’t rate him as elite there. Last year I thought Ingram was a player who didn’t do anything exceptional in college except shoot a high volume of shots. Fultz is a better prospect than him, but I have similar concern. I will say that if he does come in on the high end as a shooter or driver, that combined with his shot creation skills could give him a quality combination of offensive weapons. I still think Fultz can have a quality career, but I would bet on him becoming a Rudy Gay/Andrew Wiggins/Harrison Barnes of guards (20 point ability, well paid career, impact doesn’t come together) before I would a superstar.

10. SF Jayson Tatum

Tatum’s profile is somewhat similar to Fultz. His one elite skill is shot creation, while the rest of his projection is somewhat middling. He he is a good but not great passer, and is a decent enough at getting to the line but a non elite athlete when it comes to NBA slashing. He appears to be a decent decision maker and is an average defensive prospect. I’m going to give Tatum a little benefit of the doubt and rank him higher than I would have, for coming back from injury. If he played the whole season healthy his stats may have been higher.

11. PG De’Aaron Fox

Fox has great athleticism and got to the FT line at a great rate, showing his upside as a driver in the NBA. He is also a shot creator. Fox is a worrying non shooting PG in the modern game and was not a great passer. However I see upside because with his 73.6% FT there’s at least a chance he surprises as a shooter which would clear up the biggest problems in his game. With Fox’s athletic tools if he can improve as a skill player there is a lot of upside there so I didn’t want to rank him too low.

12. SF/PF OG Anunoby

Anunoby rates as a defense only prospect for me, but on that end he is one of the best in the draft. He had great steal and block rates and has the length and lateral mobility to be a great defensive PF in the modern game, which it helps is a high value defensive position. He was a decent passer for his role. His shooting is a major concern along with shot creation.

13. PF Jordan Bell

While Bell is somewhat stuck between positions defensively, his great block and steal rates combined with athleticism make him a quality prospect on that end. For a low volume scorer his passing rate was very good, while he has potential to attack the basket with his physical tools.

14. PF T.J. Leaf

Leaf’s offensive resume is strong. His shooting, passing, decision making and shot creation all rated fairly highly for me based on his UCLA numbers and he was a solid rebounder, while his ability to get to the line and defense as major concerns. Like Ball there’s some concern about whether his game fits a transition system more than halfcourt but his skill level has a likely place in the game.

15. SG Sindarious Thornwell

Thornwell isn’t an elite prospect in any area but his defense, shooting and decision making is all well above average, while his passing and ability to drive is decent. He is an average shot creation talent and isn’t quite guaranteed to do anything, but overall is a solid 3 and D potential at the next level.

16. C Thomas Bryant

Bryant has both the size and shotblocking to have defensive potential and 3pt shooting potential. However he is decent, not great in both areas and isn’t a guarantee. Still, the upside he can put both skills together is an appealing upside.

17. SF/PF Jonathan Isaac

Isaac is a great defensive wing going by his steal and block rates and physical tools, however his offense does not project as all that impressive for me. He is a non shot creation wing and his shooting, slashing and passing only rates as average. Still, the 3 and D upside is quite solid.

18. SG Jajuan Johnson

Johnson was a great 3pt shooter in college who has the length to be a good defender. He does not rate as a strong shot creator and while he passed at a high level (over 4 assists per 40) whether he has the ball enough to take advantage of it is unclear. He is also 23 and being older than seniors is unpredictable. Nevertheless with value is thin at this stage of the draft, his shooting, passing and defense makes him a plausible enough 3 and D threat at the next level.

19. PG Monte Morris

Morris projects as having a great basketball IQ and passing ability, along with above average shooting. He is a mediocre defensive prospect, below average shot creator and got to the line a worryingly little amount of time in college. Nevertheless his skill level and IQ could give him a spot.

20. PF Aleksander Vezenkov

Vezenkov is this year’s Juan Hernangomez, he is producing in the ACB and is a great 3pt shooting prospect which could give him value as a stretch shooter in the modern game. Although he’s pretty one dimensonal on offense and rates as a below average defender. At this stage being great at one thing means more than being 6 out of 10 at everything.

21. PF Tyler Lydon

Like Vezenkov, Lydon’s pro game is built around being a 3pt shooter and high IQ player. He is not as strong a 3pt shooter, but could be a decent defender. His ability to get to the line and shot creation is an issue.

22. PF/C Zach Collins

Collins rates as a quality offensive big with his ability to get to the FT line, shooting potential and decision making. He is a strong rebounder. His passing is worrying and his defense could be only ok due to physical tools, but the offense makes him worth it.

23. PF/C Ivan Rabb

Rabb was one of the best in the draft in one statistical category, his free throw rate compared to field goals attempted. That combined with a strong offensive rebound rate could show he’s a player who can attack the basket. The rest of his game is fairly vanilla as neither a dominant physical player or a perimeter shooter, but at this stage doing one thing at an elite level is enough to get my attention. Rabb could potentially be a decent defensive player as well with his lateral mobility and size.

24. SG Malik Monk

My model said to rank Monk out of the top 30, but I’ll put him this high out of fear of the “Devin Booker” effect. Booker at Kentucky didn’t get to use his full arsenel of dribble drive and passing skills, likewise it’s possible that playing as off ball SG beside Fox limited what Monk could show.

Otherwise his numbers are scary. He has poor defensive stats and tools and brutal rebounding, below average at getting to the line for his shot volume, and was not much of a passer. He had a great shooting season but there’s been countless great NCAA shooters over the years and only so many of them have good NBA careers for a reason, because predicting shooting to the pros like all skills is an indirect translation.

25. PF John Collins

Collins was an exceptional rebounder and got to the FT line at an elite rate, however neither his passing, defensive stats or shooting numbers were impressive and physically he appears to be stuck between PF and C a bit. Like Rabb the ability to get to the line and offensive glass may be a foundation of his game.

26. C Justin Patton

Patton has a quality combination of size, athleticism and blocked shots which should give him potential on the defensive end. Offensively he has a lot to improve skill wise but a young big with physical tools looks fine here.

27. SF/PF Deonte Burton

Burton has a great combination of power and athleticism. While he’s not that long, strong steal and block rates should give him defensive potential and he has 3pt range, which could make him a mismatch at PF. Being 23 hurts him, if not for the extra unpredictability factor of how few prospects have been older than 22 as prospects, he would’ve rated in my 15.

28. SG Wesley Iwundu

Iwundu is a long armed athlete who can shoot 3s and has solid passing ability. His steal and block rates and 3pt shooting are both good more than great, but he still projects as having 3 and D upside.

29. SG L.J. Peak

Peak’s biggest strength in college was getting to the FT line, while not a hugely explosive athlete he may be able to drive in the pros. He showed the ability to pass for a shooting guard prospect. His FT% being just under 80% shows some shooting potential as well. Peak has bigger strengths as an on ball than off ball player when it may be preferable to be an off ball player as a supporting player, but nevertheless he is a solid all around wing.

30. SF Justin Jackson

Projects as high IQ professional who can pass and have a chance (But isn’t a guarantee) to be a good 3pt shooter. Defense and shot creation is a concern. My #31 is Josh Hart, who more or less has the same projection.

Notable players not in top 30:

Jacob Wiley: The closest omission after Hart, Wiley dominated against mid major competition, he had great defensive stats but it’s unclear whether those will translate for physical tools reasons. One of his biggest assets is potential to shoot from a big man position.

Lauri Markkanen, Luke Kennard: Both players bomb the “overall statistical” rating part of my model due to poor defensive stats or passing combination so they got off on the wrong foot. Because of that they only rate as decent shooting prospects overall (as mentioned for Monk there’s a reason there are many more 40% 3pt shooters in college than NBA) and mediocre to awful at everything else.

Bam Adebayo, Ike Anigbogu: Both do one thing exceptionally well in college, Bam getting to the FT line and Anigbogu blocking shots. But like Markkanen and Kennard players who start with a poor overall statistical rating, even if they’re otherwise exceptional in a skill like shooting, blocks or getting to the line, end up projecting as only decent in the area for me and they lack the other versatility to rank as top 30 players.

Frank Ntilikina, Terrance Ferguson, Isaiah Hartenstein: For the same reason numbers driven reasons I’m high on prospects like Pasecniks or Lessort I’m low on these internationals. Ntilikina has an 11.9 PER on his French Pro A team which ranks 9th among his teammates, while he plays a different position this greatly trails the productivity of successful players like Gobert and Capela from that league recently. I just need to see more excellence at a lower level than that based on the recent internationals who’ve succeeded, even if Frank has quality size and shooting potential. Harteinstein is also 8th on his team in PER (17.5) in the LKL which a recent prospect in Valanciunas dominated and his style of big center who plays near the basket is going out of fashion nowadays and his game appears to be somewhat limited outside of size. Ferguson however is the king of 1st round projected internationals with bad stats. He has 5.4 PER in the Australian league and doesn’t appear to be good at anything.

Harry Giles: I understand Giles was recovering from injury, but with numbers being the starting point for my board, he just didn’t do much outside of rebounding and I’ve yet to see the great evidence for his supposed star talent.

Written by jr.

June 21, 2017 at 4:17 pm