This piece will be a somewhat simplistic look at one quality that every star NBA player has, the fact that they are all multi-skilled.
The title reads “Three Skills Makes a Star.” But it should really read, “At Least Three Skills Makes a Star”. Even then, it would not be wholly accurate, as the skills must be plus in value, and it’s only three skills if the player doesn’t take anything off the table. If for instance, the player is a negative defender like James Harden or Damian Lillard, they are going to need to do more than three things well.
One more addendum. Just having three defensive skills is not enough. Every Star player needs to have at least one plus offensive skill. And you see that even with Defensive Centers. Generally we find that they rebound the offensive glass and score efficiently at the rim. Sometimes, in rare cases, we find that they pass very well.
An All-Too-Simple Conceptual Framework For Thinking About Skills
There are lots of NBA skills and even micro-skills that can add value to an NBA team. For example, passing on the ball is not the same as passing off-the-ball. Still, in order to make this task of identifying skills as less confusing, I am going to lump the skills into broad categories. And I’m also not going to consider the value of an Incredible Screener (hugely valuable) or even the spacing effects of having a perimeter player who can’t shoot from distance (since there are workarounds, even if you need a special mix of players to perform them. Or in the case of Dwayne Wade or Russell Westbrook, to be that player.)
Scoring Traits That Bring Major Value:
- Scoring 3-Point Shots With Efficiency.
- Given 3-Point Efficiency, Scoring 3-Point Shots With Volume.
- The Ability to Get To The Rim And Score With Good to Excellent Efficiency and volume. (This includes drives, post-ups, cuts to the basket, fast breaks, and O-Rebound opportunities.)
- The Ability to Get to the Free Throw Line.
- The Ability to Hit Mid-Range Jump Shots With Amazing Frequency and Efficiency. (You wouldn’t project this for hardly any college player. But it’s possible some will have this skill. Garnett, Bosh, Aldridge, Leonard, Wade, Westbrook, and even Otto Porter Jr. are some examples of players whose mid-range game helps half-court offensive efficiency.)
Other Offensive Traits That Bring Major Value:
- Elite Points, like Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook or Lebron James, should probably get credit for passing twice. Especially, if like Chris Paul, they can do it without turnovers.
- Offensive Rebounding.
Offensive Traits That Take Value Off The Table:
- Low Efficiency.
- High Opportunity Cost-Low Creation. (Which is to say, High Usage-Low Assist Percentage Players. They take a level of offensive efficiency off-the-table. If you aren’t making other players better, you are making them worse.)
- Tunnel Vision. Al Thornton types. Horrible passing can be a big problem, even at low Usage Rates.
Defensive Traits That Bring Major Value:
- Man-On defense. (This includes guarding an individual, either when he has the ball or in another aspect, lock-and-trail or post-denial, etc . . .)
- Man-Off defense and/or Event Creation. (By event creation, I mean Steals and Blocks. Most likely to happen from an off-ball scenario. But they happen on-ball as well.)
- Rebounding at a plus level for one’s position.
Defensive Traits That Take Value Off The Table:
- Poor On-ball Defense. (If I use the term “On-ball defense” throughout this piece, it’s actually meant to mean when a player has man responsibilities)
- Excessively poor On-ball Defense.
- Poor Off-ball Defense.
- Excessively poor Off-ball Defense
- Poor Rebounding or failure to box out. (Given the way offenses try to rebound now, this one mainly applies to Bigs.)
- Excessive fouling. (This one is mildly unpredictable when talking about how a college player might project.)
- Lack of effort in transition. (A specific example of poor space defending, one that is most damaging.)
Now, this is somewhat simplistic and doesn’t in every case adequately deal with the problem of “Elite” skills, like Draymond Green’s On-ball defense and Off-ball defense. It also doesn’t take into account when a skill is better than average but not quite plus enough to be worth noting.
However, what we’re going to do is try to ball-park a best case scenario for each of the 2016 NCAA prospects, by asking in just what facets of the game might they super-successful and in just facets of the game are they likely to be detriments.
An Example Of How It Works
First, let’s go back to our ESPN RPM board. We could use any metric and come to similar conclusions, but I’ll use RPM Leaderboard because I’ve been using it. And also because, with some exceptions, the defensive scores seem mostly to be plausible. (Here I’ve defined +3 Points as being a Star, which in most years is basically a Top 30 player. Though you’ll notice the biggest difference makers are all at least +6 by this metric.)
1) The first thing I want to mention is that sometimes a highly positive RPM score says as much about the player’s coach as it does the player. For players can do much better in RPM if they only tend to play in advantageous situations. The most obvious example of this is with the low MPG Boston Bigs. Anyone who watched Boston quickly observed that Brad Stevens’ rotations were regularly changing and seemingly inconsistent, with the possible exceptions of Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas. What Stevens was doing was putting his players in positions to succeed, which is perhaps one reason why we see the players that Stevens coaches perform better than expectations.
He’s good at noticing their strengths and playing to them. (Also, some of these players might just be better than the league perception, though that’s another story.)
2) The easiest test for this is just to look at the MPG number. And to be somewhat skeptical of any player who plays low MPG. Another good test is to ask which players are starters and which come off the bench. Neither will work in every scenario. Manu Ginobili as an example. We must take that into consideration too. Still, this knowledge should at least allow us to at least us guess which players numbers are more dependent on their Team Context and Role.
3) Now an example using Steph Curry.
Skills: Three-Point Shooting With Efficiency, Three-Point Shooting With Volume, Scoring at the Rim, Scoring at the Free Throw Line, Passing, Point Guard Passing, and even some amount of on-ball defense, off-ball defense and defensive rebounding.
What does he take off the table? Nothing.
This is what a +9 player looks like.
4) Or using Draymond Green.
Skills: Three-Point Shooting With Efficiency, Scoring at the Rim, Point-Guard Level Passing from a Power Position, Elite On-Ball defense, Elite Off-Ball Defense in terms of turnover creation and rim protection, rebounding.
What does he take off the table: Turnovers.
Again is what a +8 or +9 player looks like.
5) Now let’s take an example of player who has some flaws in 2015-2016 James Harden.
Skills: Three-Point Shooting with Efficiency (only moderately above average), Three-Point Shooting with Volume, Scoring at the rim, Scoring at the Free Throw Line, Passing, Rebounding, Steal creation (or off-ball defense is OK in this one aspect.)
What does he take off the table: On-ball defense, Off-ball defense besides steal creation, turnovers.
This is what a +4 to +6 player looks like. Or least one way to get there. Good to excellent at a lot of things. Bad at more than a few.
A player with deficiencies can get around this fare if a few of the strengths are absolutely elite, as Harden’s Free-Throw Scoring is. For instance, if his Three-Point Shooting were there as well, he could be better than the +5 or +6 player he was this year. That’s part of the reason he was better in 2014-2015. Think his passing, especially in terms of willingness to trust his teammates, was also better that year.
6) Now to look at some players lower on the totem pole. Let’s look at Butler, Middleton, Crowder, Danny Green, and Steven Adams to get the sense of what a good Center might look like. Though let’s start with Butler.
Butler’s Skills: Scoring at the Rim, Scoring at the Free Throw Line, Passing for his position with low turnovers, On-ball defense, off-ball defense.
What does he take off the table? Nothing.
This is a +4 or +5 point player.
7) Khris Middleton.
Khris Middleton’s skills: Three point-shooting with efficiency, passing for his position, scoring at the rim and free throw line with efficiency but not with volume, Off-ball defense in terms of close out, recovery and creating steals.
What does he take off the table? Perhaps on-ball defense vs. more athletic wings. But he’s probably still average there.
This is a +3 to +5 point player, or even more if you believe him to be the truly elite man-off defender the numbers suggest. In that case and vs. certain teams, he could be more valuable.
8) Jae Crowder.
Jae Crowder’s plus skills: Scoring at the rim, on-ball defense, off-ball defense, rebounding.
What does he take off the table? Nothing. Decent at everything.
This is a +3 player with the potential to be a +5 player if he can ever master shooting an NBA three. Plus 6, if the passing he displayed in college ever shows up to the same degree. Though that’s very unlikely.
9) Danny Green.
Danny Green’s skills: In most years, Three-Point Shooting with Efficiency, Three-Point Shooting with Volume, Man-On defense, Man-Off defense, Rebounding for position.
What does he take off the table? Nothing.
This is why Green is one of the few 3&D players with a +5 ceiling. He does a number of things very well (in most years) and he’s a true impact defender in just about every way such a player can be.
It’s not a reasonable projection for most guys we project as 3&D players, since most of them are lacking either efficiency and volume on offense, and not plus in one or more of the areas on defense.
It’s also why so many of the best 3&D defenders come out of the ranks of players who at least spent some time at PF in college. If these players can stick on-ball, their height allows them added opportunity to bring value in terms of space defending and rebounding. If you like Taurean Prince or Jaylen Brown, it’s their potential on defense that’s allowing you to make that projection. It’s also the reason why I like Derrick Jones. He’s potentially not going to have to do all that much on offense to be hugely valuable overall.
10) Steven Adams.
Steven Adams Skills: Efficiency at the rim, Offensive Rebounding, Man-On defense, Help defense and recovery, defensive rebounding.
What does Adams take off the table? For a center, nothing.
What we see with Centers is that there’s a very high-threshold on just how good they need to be at their skills to add lots and lots of value. This is not a knock on the Center himself. It’s suggestive of just how the baseline is for Players at this position. And there’s a decent argument that the One-Size Fits All Metrics don’t really know how to appropriately denote their value on both sides of the ball. But let’s take Adams as a baseline to suggest, Centers probably need more than three skills to be a star. They probably need ALL of the defensive skills, plus at least a few on offense. (Efficiency at the rim in most cases, but in the case of a player like Ben Wallace, super elite offensive rebounding).
11) If you’ve noticed a trend on this list, it’s that the less talented players (and thus less valuable) on this list seldom take anything off the table. They don’t necessarily add value above an average player in lots of areas of the game, but they are good everywhere and really good or excellent in a few places.
That’s why it’s so important not to draft a negative defensive player. There are only a few players in the NBA who are talented enough to overcome a deficit in their game and achieve stardom. It does happen, but it’s a rare occurrence. And it pretty much only happens with players that initiate offense. Which is why I like Jaylen Brown and Dejounte Murray much more than I like Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield. It might be easier to project Murray or Hield to being average or slightly better than average players, but it’s way more difficult to project them to any kind of stardom.
12) Now this is an overly simplistic test. Make no bones about that.
Beyond this fact, having three skills doesn’t guarantee anything. For instance, take Harrison Barnes.
Harrison Barnes skills: Three-Point Shooting with efficiency, Scoring at the rim, On-ball defense and Rotation defense are good enough to be part of the NBA’s best. Not a great rebounder for position, but not bad.
Is Harrison Barnes a star? He hasn’t been so far. Perhaps if he switches teams, he might get that chance, but what we’ve seen so far is a Top 50 or Top 60 Rotation piece, with some on-ball talent on offense that most such players don’t possess.
13) Still, this test is a good simple base-line. Three plus skills doesn’t guarantee a star. But without Three Plus skills, it’s very difficult to become one. It’s even more difficult if the player takes something off the table, usually in terms of defensive ability or turnovers.
So now let’s go through this year’s list of potential draftees and try to construct possible futures in which they might become stars. (You could easily do the same test for international prospects, but I’m only going to go through the NCAA guys.)
This means we are quite often going to take very optimistic looks at these players skill development down the line, and that’s for everyone, save perhaps Ben Simmons. When I list the skills below, it doesn’t mean that the player will become plus in all these areas. It means there is some foreseeable pathway by which the player could become so. If we go back to a player like Jae Crowder for instance, he showed many more potential plus skills than he’s demonstrated in the NBA, which is as it should be. Only for the rarest of players have all, or even most, of their potential skills translate.
Now let’s get happy.
Skills Test For the 2016 Prospects
What follows is not a Big Board. So don’t pay much heed to the numbers. Though we’ll start off with the 14 players I like best.
1) Ben Simmons
Potential Skills: Scoring at the rim, Scoring from the free throw line, Point Guard passing from a Power Position, potentially offensive rebounding, the potential to excel in all three phases of defense. And even improvement in terms of three-point shooting would not be terribly surprising.
Off The Table: If he turns out well, nothing. If he turns out somewhat poorly, in which case he still might be the best player in this draft, it’ll be because of a combination of turnovers, and a lack of defensive success.
Conclusion: Potential +6 to +8 player even if his jumper only develops out to the mid-range. If he develops a three-point jumper, it’s over. Also enough plus skills (or even elite for position and size) that if one or two or three don’t pan out, Simmons is still likely a very valuable player.
2) Brandon Ingram
Potential Skills: Three Point Shooting with efficiency. Three Point Shooting with volume. Optimistic projections will have him developing his scoring ability at the rim, the free throw line and as a passer. More moderate projections will have Ingram primarily as a Three Point-Shooter.
Optimistic projections will also project Ingram to be a plus in all three phases of the defensive game. More moderate projections will see him something like Harrison Barnes.
Off The Table: More negative projections will see Ingram as a bigger CJ Miles on defense, which is still a decent player, since Miles would be much better with size, but hardly a great one. Ingram’s going to need to improve his defensive foot quickness and anticipation to be an even or plus defender. And being a negative defender is definitely still on the table, though probably not a significant negative even in that case.
Conclusion: If his defense plays, he could be a +4 or +5 player, even if he only develops as a Three-Point Shooter. But the fact that he won’t be Kawhi on defense is going to make it more difficult for Ingram to become a truly upper echelon player in the league.
We’re not just talking about skill development with Ingram, we’re also talking about potential athletic development which might be necessary for him to become a difference maker. As another question to ask, if Paul George is a +2 defender with spectacular lateral quickness, how likely is it for Ingram to get there if he doesn’t improve in that department?
3) Wade Baldwin
Potential Skills: Three-Point Shooting With efficiency, Three-Point Shooting with volume, Scoring from the free throw line, Point Guard Passing, Potential plus defender in all three phases of defense. Optimistic projections (which this is) could also see Baldwin becoming much better at scoring at the rim. In that case, he’s going to be way better than anyone is giving him credit for, and there have been players historically who have improved the areas of the game in which Baldwin has deficits. (Baldwin only just went through his Age 19 season.)
Off The Table: Possibly turnovers. Possibly defense. He has the tools and some great success, but lacks consistency right now.
Conclusion: He’s a very wide variance player in terms of potential outcomes. It might be easier to draw a line to super stardom for Baldwin than for Ingram, but when we’re talking about Top 5 players, we’re probably not talking about either guy.
It’s difficult to imagine Baldwin at Age 22 not being significantly better than Kris Dunn.
4) Kris Dunn
Potential Skills: Three Point Shooting With Efficiency, Scoring at Rim, Scoring From the Free Throw Line, Point Guard passing, Potential plus defender in all three phases.
Off The Table: At Point Guard, definitely turnovers. At off-guard. Maybe nothing. And playing off-ball should give Dunn a much better chance to shoot from distance.
Conclusion: There’s no guarantee he will shoot, but I think he’s an excellent shooting guard prospect on offense and a decent point guard prospect, since he has some real deficits on-ball that won’t play off-ball. Off-ball, there’s still a chance, he’s a top 10 player in the best case scenario that his three-point shooting improves with more opportunities off the catch. It would also allow Dunn to spend more effort on defense, while allowing the offense to have multiple outlets in late clock scenarios. (This is one reason why Cleveland, San Antonio, LAC, OKC and Golden State are always the best offenses.)
One more way to look at a reason to transition Dunn to off-guard on offense: At PG, you have Curry, Westbrook, Paul (for a few more years), Kyle Lowry (for a few more years), John Wall (who will exponentially improve if he ever consolidates a jumper), Mike Conley, Damian Lillard, Dennis Schroder, Eric Bledsoe, maybe Marcus Smart if he develops a J (which will create avenues for a dribble-drive-kick game), maybe Wade Baldwin (if he develops a handle) and then whoever comes into the league in 2017, 2018.
How is Dunn going to surpass those guys if he plays on-the-ball? Defense is not going to be enough if he’s turning the ball over at critical times on offense. However, off-the-ball on offense, you have a player who can attack close-outs, a potentially elite passer, a potentially much improved jump shooter (since the jumpers are now coming off the catch) and a player with significantly reduced turnover issues. Plus Dunn is a very good cutter and can finish around the rim. Imagine George Hill with more athleticism and better vision.
5) Gary Payton II
Potential Skills: Scoring at the rim, scoring from the free throw line with efficiency but perhaps not with volume, passing, potential plus defense in all three areas.
Passing is the swing skill here, the thing Payton II would have as an off-ball player that almost no one has. It’s what separates him from a guy like Tony Allen or even Jae Crowder (whose quite good and only a low 30s three-point shooter.) Even if he doesn’t shoot. An optimistic projection will see spot shooting from distance as a real possibility.
Off The Table: Nothing. (Though of course the lack of spacing that a bad three-point shooter brings could hurt many offenses in the league.)
Conclusion: This is the kind of profile we often see from guys with a decent chance to end up as the 10th to 60th best player in the league. Sometimes these guys need to find themselves in right situation. Context will matter for Payton II. A jump shot completely changes the projection. With a jumper off the catch, he’s another player who could be a more athletic version of the player George Hill is in his best seasons.
6) Chinanu Onuaku
Potential Skills: Onuaku potentially has all the skills Steven Adams has plus passing ability. There’s still some chance that a jumper develops as well.
Off The Table: He still needs to get better as a space defender covering screens. But if he does that, nothing.
Conclusion: He has all the tools to be at least a plus 3 center. Though there’s some chance he’s a bit better than that, since his passing ability is rare for a Center, especially a 19 year old.
7) Brice Johnson
Potential Skills: Rebounding, on-ball defense, space defense. Finishing at the rim. Scoring from the Free Throw line. With an optimistic projection, either elite scoring from the mid-range or good scoring from the free-throw line, though each would take some late unexpected late career improvement.
Off the table: Probably nothing. Not a good passer, but not tunnel vision either.
Conclusion: With Johnson, the question is just how well the skills translate. Could just be at average rates in which case he’s very much a role player. But if his movement ability and rebounding ability translate on D, he’ll have a chance to be decent enough on offense to be a significant player. Again, context may matter quite a bit.
8) Derrick Jones
Potential Skills: Rebounding, on-ball defense, space defense. Finishing at the rim. Scoring from the free throw line. An optimistic projection will see him as a good three-point shooter in terms of efficiency, and if he develops as well as some of the other players of his athletic profile, even with volume. Though both of those projections are best case scenarios.
Off the table: We don’t have enough information to know one way or the other, but it’s possible there could be some tunnel vision here. The passing numbers aren’t good, but he’s young and was asked mainly to finish possessions.
Conclusion: One of the players with some definite avenues to stardom or even super stardom, depending on how good he becomes defensively. Also, would be easy to see him out of the league in five years. But if he plays defense and rebounds, as it looks like he might, he won’t need to be that good on offense to be a really valuable player. He’ll basically just need to shoot with efficiency. A question mark, but it’s pretty easy to find players who improved their three-point J, even late in their careers.
9) Henry Ellenson
Potential Skills: Scoring from Three with efficiency, Scoring from three with volume, Scoring at rim, Scoring at Free Throw Line, Passing for his position, Rebounding. Very optimistically, on-ball and off-ball defense.
Off the table: Ellenson’s height and wingspan gives him plus defensive potential, but his current aptitude suggests it’s unlikely he’ll develop there. There’s almost nothing worse than a big who lacks in Man-On and Space defending capacities, and that’s a real possibility for Ellenson.
Conclusion: If he went to a place like Minnesota or Denver, serious defensive minded coaching might be good for his career. He wasn’t as good as Love as a Freshman (because he’s probably not as good as Love), but he’s got all of the skills Kevin Love had and his Frame gives him defensive potential where Love had almost none. Ellenson is likely the kind of player that would have destroyed college basketball as a sophomore and been in contention for a Top 5 pick, even in a deep year as next year is supposed to be.
10) Deyonta Davis.
Potential Skills: Scoring at rim, Scoring from three (very optimistic), offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, man-on defense, space-defense.
Off the table: Not a good passer. Possible tunnel vision type player, which isn’t as bad for a Center as it is for other positions, but does hurt the offense.
Conclusion: Even 10 might be underrating Davis. Looks a lot like Tristan Thompson at UT, but bigger and with an offensive skill in a jump shot Thompson still doesn’t have. Don’t think there’s likely HUGE upside. But if you were betting on a player who was a good bet to turn out above average and also had a chance to be somewhere between the 25th and 40th best player in the league at his apex, Davis would be a solid bet. A traditional draft ranking should probably have him pretty firmly in the top 6 or 7, depending on foreign players, some of which seem to be quite decent prospects from what little I know.
11) DeAndre Bembry.
Potential Skills: Passing, Jump Shooting from three with efficiency (optimistic but if you’re betting on Bembry, you are betting you can teach him to shoot), rebounding, man-on defense, space defense.
Off the table: In the situation he succeeds at shooting, nothing.
Conclusion: Bembry’s success depends on how good he is on defense (there’s a difference between average and plus), his rebounding and the development of his jumper. With a jumper, his dribbling, passing and intelligence should play very well for an off-ball player. Without a jumper, he’s at best a Ronnie Brewer type who floats from team to team, and Ronnie Brewer was more sudden athletically, slightly taller and slightly longer.
I like Bembry’s chances better than Brown’s, but here’s where the already somewhat strong argument for Jaylen Brown becomes very loud. There’s no safety in picking Brown in that he could be a team killer, even if he becomes pretty good, but almost no prospect has more potential avenues towards success, or as wide a gap between his physical talent and his display of skill on the court. There is always potential to build a game around Brown’s two-plus skills (Driving to the rim and getting to the free throw line.) A reason why Dejounte Murray has a legit argument as well. D. Murray has some BBIQ issues, but his frame, athleticism and passing ability place a lot of plus skills potentially on the table. (Of the course, the same could also have been said about Jamal Crawford when he came out of Michigan.)
12) Patrick McCaw.
Potential Skills: Shooting from three with efficiency. Man-on defense. Man-off defense. Very optimistic projections will believe that his passing will play, that he’ll be a good defender, that he’ll not only be a plus defender, but an elite one, and that he’ll rebound. Also, that his shot will improve and he’ll shoot for volume from distance, which almost no one does.
Off the table: Potentially nothing.
Conclusion: I’m not super high on the translation of McCaw’s offensive game. His shooting numbers are okay, not great. Passing for an off-ball player, unless its an elite skill, is often heavily tied to a dribbling and driving skill, which McCaw so far lacks. But McCaw is also very young, athletic, has amazing hands and plays hard. And it’s highly possible I’m underselling the likelihood of his growth. But even in a fairly average growth projection where McCaw defends on-ball, creates steals and transition opportunities, and makes threes in the half court at 35-38%, he ends up a pretty valuable player, and possibly one you sign to a second contract. There’s probably more safety with McCaw than with Bembry, but Bembry’s vision gives him the nod for me, at least right now. I don’t see that much difference in their valuations though. Probably after the first 3, and definitely after the first 6, a number of NCAA guys are really close.)
13) Denzel Valentine
Potential Skills: Shooting from three with efficiency. Shooting from three with volume. Passing. Potential point guard passing at a wing position, though the carry-over of passing skills is often tied to athleticism. (ie. Valentine will be a good passer at the next level. Just how good is a big mystery.) Defensive rebounding, possibly space defense.
Off the table: Man-on defense. Possible his off-ball defense isn’t that good either, despite being a heady player. Since he’s neither super tall or super long.
Conclusion: With Denzel Valentine, all of our questions are athletic. Because of his lack of athleticism, will his offense translate? Will he be a total sieve on defense? I’m rooting Boston drafts him. I have no doubt that Stevens will put Valentine in situations to succeed on both sides of the ball, and make being picked 16th look entirely too low. People will of course forget in such a scenario that a player’s initial fit matters and not every coach would have gotten as much out of him.
(For instance, look at how much better Rip Hamilton got after being traded to the Pistons. Being asked to run off of screens saved his career. He wasn’t nearly as good at generating offense from the Point of Attack, even though he excelled in college at basically anything he was asked to do. And yes, running Valentine off of screens at the next level might be a very good way to get him space to shoot and to attack the basket off the dribble. Worst case scenario on offense is probably a player like Dellavedova.)
With that in mind, Valentine’s passing success is likely to be good but greatly reduced. And most of Valentine’s offensive projection will fall on if he can hit threes with efficiency and volume. One of the few guys with some possibility of being a +4 or +5 guy on offense if everything translates perfectly, which it most likely won’t, probably leaving him a +1 to +3 guy on offense.
14) Jaylen Brown
Potential Skills: Scoring at the rim, Scoring from the free throw line, On-ball defense. Now we haven’t yet seen great off-ball defense or rebounding, but they have to be on the table as well for a guy this athletic. Passing is on the table for a guy this athletic, even if he hasn’t shown an aptitude. His athleticism will provide opportunity for improvement, as it has for guys like Durant, Butler and DeRozan. And shooting from three, at least with efficiency, is on the table, because young players are very unpredictable.
Off the table: I think the odds are overwhelmingly that he remains a high turnover player. For instance, there are two successful NBA players to average over 3 turnovers per game and less than three assists per game as Freshman. Eric Bledsoe and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. In the entire searchable database, those are the only two I could find.
Jaylen Brown does have that Bledsoe athleticism, but he doesn’t have the Bledsoe excuse of playing for an absolutely loaded team. His handle isn’t that fluid. And he really doesn’t see the floor all that well.
The other aspect Brown could take off the table is being a high Usage guy with poor creation skills for others. If you look at the NBA historically, these guys don’t win championships, especially if they are perimeter players.
Conclusion: People are too down on Brown. His athleticism will play to a good degree. He’ll be a good on-ball defender, at least an average rebounder for position. He’ll get to the lane. He’ll get to the free throw line, but he also has some flaws that will be difficult to correct. He’s like Hield or Murray. It’s relatively easy to see an avenue where he becomes a league average player or slightly better. (Though a league average player that will be difficult to build around, because of the possessions he’ll require.)
Unlike Hield and Murray, there are avenues by which Jaylen Brown could become a better player than Brandon Ingram, even if Ingram reaches his ceiling. And yes, the fact that Brown is a Freshman makes him very difficult to evaluate. You can find players who as Freshman had his flaws, fixed them and became Top Order Stars. (Almost all of them stayed in college, but that’s besides the point. If NBA coaches really are the best teachers of the game, as we so often hear, it should be possible in the Pros as well.)
Brandon Roy for instance had basically all of Brown’s problems with none of his athleticism. Chauncey Billups had turnover issues. Numerous guys couldn’t shoot from three and/or the free-throw line and learned how. Ditto on guys who were 19 and learned how to dribble better. Sometimes substantially. It’s a lot to fix. But athleticism does provide opportunity. And Brown’s athleticism will also give him value in future trades, no matter when he’s drafted.
No one besides Simmons and the three athletic Point Guard/Combo Guards has as many potential plus skills as Brown. (Perhaps Derrick Jones Jr. too.)
Three and D Continuum Players
Next we’ll move onto 3&D Continuum Players. Specifically, perimeter guys. What will quickly become obvious is that some other plus skill besides shooting in necessary if the player is going to become a star, and if that skill isn’t related to defense, they might need more than just one. (Why defense is so important in the evaluation of prospects. Also why perimeter players who bring significant plus value and don’t play defense almost always have initiation skills.)
The best of these players often resemble a guy like Robert Covington. (Height, release, Big-Time College shooting success, Rebounding success, Defensive success.) 2016 doesn’t have a player like that. Taurean Prince, Jarrod Uthoff and Dorian Finney-Smith would be the closest. None were as good at shooting the basketball as Covington. None of them have his Frame. Taurean Prince is more athletic and a better dribbler, for what that’s worth.
1) Jamal Murray
Potential Skills: Shooting with efficiency from three, Shooting with volume.
Off the table: Potentially man-on and space defense.
Wishful Thinking for Murray: Pretty much any hugely positive projection for Murray either depends on wishful thinking or insider knowledge. Which is to say, from a layman’s vantage point, he’s a potential two-skill player who’s also a potential net negative player on defense. These kinds of players are never stars, no matter how good they are at shooting the basketball.
Therefore, any projection of Murray as a star basically requires him to gain skills at getting to the rim it doesn’t appear he has (Watch the IU tape once Anunoby starts defending him and then be honest about how you’ll feel he does against guys like Leonard, Roberson, James, Shumpert, etc . . .) and passing skills he’s never displayed in college, at least not unaccompanied by loads of turnovers.
Also question the comments when he says that he’s always been a PG and that he was only doing what Kentucky needed him to do to win. Great off-the-ball players still pass it. It’s a very natural aspect of their games. Which is to say, perhaps it’s possible that Murray has more game that he’s kept in the bag, it’s just very unlikely. I like him better than Hield because his youth and because there might be some reason people are adding skills onto his game he really hasn’t shown. But I’m not a big believer. Give me Baldwin, even as a Wing, any day.
That being said, a 10 to fifteen year career with success as a shooter would not surprise me.
2) Buddy Hield and Malik Beasley, etc . . .
Hield’s projection is pretty close to Murray’s. He’s just older and has a basically zero chance to develop a passing skill. (Malik Beasley, because he’s young and athletic, slightly better than zero.) Potentially plus shooting from three with efficiency and volume, and probably not much value above average anywhere else. These types of players have to turn out perfectly as a shooter and better than anyone would reasonably expect on defense to be a star. It’s possible in the right situation, like Minnesota, but very unlikely outside of it.
3) Taurean Prince
Potential Skills: Three-point shooting with efficiency, three-point shooting with volume, on-ball defense, off-ball defense, rebounding.
Off the table: Nothing.
Conclusion: DeMarre Carroll is basically what happens when this kind of player turns out perfectly. (And Carroll was not on the team that drafted him when this happened.) If you are very, very lucky, you get a pre-achilles Wesley Matthews. (Also a multi-team guy, and I believe both spent time on Utah.)
4) Ron Baker types. (Josh Hart would qualify were he still in the draft.)
Potential Skills: Shooting from three with efficiency, shooting from three with volume, man-on defense.
Conclusion: These kinds of players are just very unlikely to be stars, even if they can have very long NBA careers (Kirk Hinrich, Steve Blake, Mario Chalmers types). Absolutely everything has to go right for them. I’d draft Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley over these guys. But all of them are probably players we shouldn’t be talking about in the lottery. Save for the fact that they might have significant trade value two or three years from now. (The caveat that Jamal Murray might actually be a PG definitely applies.)
5) John Brown, Jonathon Holton, Armani Moore, etc . . .
Potential Plus Skills: On-ball defense, Off-ball defense, rebounding, Three-Point shooting with efficiency, Scoring at the rim with efficiency but not with volume.
Off-the-table: In the event they learn how to shoot. Sub-standard play-making, passing and tunnel vision is always a potential problem for any College Big transitioning to NBA Wing Player.
Conclusion: These players don’t always succeed, or even often, since they don’t always learn how to shoot at acceptable levels. However, when they learn how to shoot, they often become above average NBA players, sometimes significantly so. The reason being is that their athleticism and frame size allows them to perform in every phase of a defensive possession, including finishing possessions with rebounds.
There’s a long list of players like this who have succeeded in the NBA. There’s an even longer list of failures. But there are few players that a team can acquire so cheaply who have so much potential to impact the game. Just look at Andre Roberson, a guy who can’t even shoot, as one example of a player like this wreaking next-level havoc.
6) Dorian Finney-Smith and Jarrod Uthoff, etc . . . Converted College PF with reasonable jumpers.
Potential Skills: Three-Point Shooting with efficiency, Three point-shooting with volume. On-ball defense. off-ball defense. In the case of Dorian-Finney Smith, rebounding.
Off the table: These players could both be plus defenders, they could both be somewhat negative. Both could be poor rebounders for position if he’s at PF. Both should be more than sufficient at Wing.
Conclusion: Uthoff is the far better shooter right now and the far better bet to shoot well into the future. Finney-Smith the better rebounder. Both have defensive strengths and weaknesses. They are college PF types like Brown and Holton possibly transitioning to the smaller position. That’s potentially good. They are also both better jump shooters than Brown and Holton and more likely to stick in the league. What’s slightly less good is that neither has the impact athletic ability or results of Brown (even at a small school) and Holton. And so, even if they are plus on defense, it’s probably not likely to be significant.
Both are pretty interesting players because of their potential versatility. And potentially great fits in small-ball line-ups, at least if the team has a Center like Karl Towns who can pay the bills for both Big positions in terms of rebounding and help defense. This draft has a lot of interesting players like this. It’s why it’s still crazy that some think this draft is thin. It isn’t. It isn’t even thin with players who could be super significant at some point in their careers. And it’s definitely not thin in terms of this type of role player, who may find themselves in an ideal situation in the NBA and thrive. Though even then, we’re probably talking about +1 or +2 players at their apex.
Aside: I never talk about Jake Layman, but he would probably fit here. He’s been compared to Chandler Parsons because they are both 6’9″ or 6’10”, white, move okay and project to Wing. But he has none of the play-making ability that made Parsons potentially a special and unique player (and more likely to succeed). Still, Layman could be pretty decent on the next level, as he’s tall, moves ok, can shoot off the catch, tries hard and rebounds decently. Not a star, and not a defensive impact player by any means, but a player who provides your team some options on offense and defense. But he’s not Chandler Parsons.
On offense, LeVert is more similar to Chandler Parsons, while Layman is more similar to Landry Fields. (Though not nearly the defensive rebounder.)
)7) Malcolm Brogdon and Terry Tarpey
Potential Plus Skills: Three-Point Shooting with efficiency, passing for a wing. On-ball defense, off-ball defense. In Tarpey’s case, rebounding.
Off The Table: In the event they turn out well, nothing.
Conclusion: Terry Tarpey probably has the best statistical profile of any 3&D Wing as well as some of the best length measurements for a 6’5″ guy. He also looks reasonably athletic, though I can’t say if it’s enough without seeing game tape.
Brogdon has pluses where Tarpey has question marks. Is he going to shoot threes as a pro? Probably as he’s a 40% shooter from there in college with a near 90% Free Throw Percentage. Can he dribble? Yes, he has a very strong handle and Virginia often went to him to close out games? Will he be able to attack a closeout? Almost certainly.
And like Tarpey, his vision is better than most college Wings. Where Brogdon also has question marks is in his defense. Will he be okay? Yes, I’d guess he’d be at least average. But will he be a significant plus anywhere? That’s much more difficult to figure out. Which is why Tarpey might have higher upside, despite a more currently limited offensive game. (And a team probably doesn’t have to draft him to acquire his services. They should be able to ascertain his lateral ability much better than I can, which is impossible from highlights.)
Most guys who seem like “safe” picks fail. But Brogdon just looks like an NBA player. And if he is better defensively than I’m currently guessing (I’d bet he’s average to a slight plus overall), he could be a lot better. He’s a guy who I wish I could see in private workouts. If he’s taking names defensively, he becomes a much more attractive pick. And I’d be surprised if he makes it out of the late 1st. If he doesn’t kill guys in one-on-one matchups (with his defense, not with his O), that’s when he ends up deeper in the 2nd. For this reason, I’d bet Brogdon is a guy whose draft stock will be a somewhat accurate gauge of his future pro potential, even if teams don’t always get it right.
Three & D Continuum Bigs
1) Marquese Chriss
Potential Plus Skills: Three-Point Shooting With Efficiency, Three-Point Shooting With Volume, On-ball defense, Off-ball defense, and if he has any chance of being good, rebounding.
Off the table: Right now, rebounding, tunnel vision, on-ball defense and off-ball defense (though he’s occasionally spectacular), but you are betting on athleticism here and you are betting that young, athletic guys sometimes improve a lot in terms of rebounding, and you’d be right.
Conclusion: Boom or bust guys don’t generally exist all that often, at least not as success stories. But Chriss is a boom or bust guy. The fact that he’s late-to-organized basketball might play in his favor. I understand the hype. I’d take him over most other NCAA Bigs and players. But I’ll still be a little surprised if he’s massively successful. Don’t really understand the love for Chriss and the skepticism about Chris McCollough, considering how much better McCollough was defensively as a Freshman. Chriss shot 35% from three, but he only made 21 shots. We know 3-pt makes are pretty high variance. Are people still excited abotu Chriss if he was 17 out 60 from three?
2) Robert Carter Jr.
Potential Skills: Shooting from three with efficiency, shooting from three with volume. Passing. Scoring at the rim with efficiency but not with huge volume. Rebounding. Frame puts on-ball defense and off-ball defense on the table.
Off the table: Right now you wouldn’t project Carter Jr. to be a plus on the ball or off it and indeed he could take quite a lot off the table. For a PF, that’s pretty much an unforgivable sin. It’ll be interesting to see with Carter Jr, especially if he gets into shape. I get the feeling there’s some sneaky defense potential we probably aren’t going to see actualized.
Conclusion: I think he’s pretty likely to be an NBA player of some kind for a while. How much he cares about conditioning and playing defense will go a long way to determining just how good. The Wishful Thinking here is that once the Freedom of Movement Rules are removed, he’ll become more physical, though I don’t know if that’s in his nature. Also, that he’ll get into legit shape.
3) James Webb III
Potential Skills: Shooting from three with efficiency, shooting from three with volume. Scoring at the rim with efficiency but not with huge volume. Rebounding. On-ball defense. Off-ball defense in terms of switching the perimeter and legitimately being able to handle smaller positions.
Off the table: Probably rim protection. Maybe some tunnel vision.
Conclusion: James Webb III and Robert Carter Jr. are interesting prospects to look at together. Carter Jr. is much more likely to be an NBA player, since you’d bank much more on Carter Jr.’s future shooting prowess and his passing, but Webb III probably an easier pathway to becoming star, even if still minimal, because he’s going to have a much easier time playing on defense and affecting the other team.
Webb III didn’t shoot well this year and has some flaws in his jump shot, but if a team thinks the flaws are correctable, Webb III could be one of the better picks in the draft. Though he could also be the next Adreian Payne.
4) Kyle Wiltjer
Potential Skills: Three Point Shooting With Efficiency, Three Point Shooting With Volume. Scoring with elite-efficiency from the rim, free throw line, mid-range but not with volume.
Off the table: Potentially Off-the-ball on D, On-the-ball on D, rebounding.
Conclusion: Kyle Wiltjer will play a Power Position, so his scoring could be worth +3 or +4 if everything goes perfectly, but the questions are and will always be on defense. The one thing that many forget or choose to ignore than Wiltjer did function on an elite college defense the last two years. On the Steve Novak-Ryan Anderson continuum.
Aside: Playing a Power position and shooting from three gives anyone a back-door way to top 30 status. But this player has to be at least average at everything on defense. Man, Off-man, rebounding, and that’s where it gets difficult in this draft. No one currently does everything, and very few are even projectable, even with some wishful thinking. With Wishful Thinking you get this list from the NCAA guys: Henry Ellenson, Brice Johnson, Deyonta Davis, Marquese Chriss, Stephen Zimmerman, James Webb III, Robert Carter Jr., Pascal Siakam, and maybe a couple of others who could potentially use this back door to significant offensive value within the next 5 years AND could maybe play defense.
Speaking of other Power Players who won’t play defense:
5) Ben Bentil
Potential Skills: Three Point Shooting With Efficiency, Three Point Shooting With Volume.
Off the table: Like Wiltjer, he gives you nothing on defense. The difference he was far worse than Wiltjer in college at off-ball D, on-ball D and defensive rebounding. Potentially tunnel vision or high usage and low creation.
Conclusion: His only chance to stardom is that he gets much better at shooting from distance (where he is clearly comfortable) and he plays average defense at a Power Position (which seems impossible). Even were he athletic enough to play some Wing, you are still talking about a guy you stash. And he’s not young.
I don’t really know what separates Bentil from Wiltjer, except the fact that Wiltjer can shoot. Both players are going to fatally compromise your defense, even if they turn out. Both could compromise your offense if they aren’t absolutely elite at hitting threes, since the only thing they can do is end possessions.
Aside: Shawn Long is the Center version of Ben Bentil. Others in this continuum.
6) Stephen Zimmerman
Potential Skills: Scoring at the rim, scoring from three with efficiency, scoring from three with volume. Man-on defense, space defense, rebounding.
Off the table: Potentially everywhere. Name a place where a player can take value off the table and then pin the tail on the donkey. That’s the truth right now.
Conclusion: Lost little puppies rarely become good players. But the things Zimmerman wants to do on offense fit well with what the NBA wants a Center to do. And defensively it’s impossible to ignore that there’s legitimate potential in all three phases. I wouldn’t want to be the team drafting Zimmerman, but he also has undeniable avenues to stardom.
Others Potentially of Interest: Shawn Long.
1) Pascal Siakam
Potential Plus Skills: Finishing at the rim, offensive rebounding, a decent passer for a big, on-ball defense, off-ball defense, rebounding.
Off the table: Maybe nothing.
Conclusion: He’s my favorite Bigs of the guys I haven’t spoken about a lot, especially with his measurements in the combine. We see how well Biyombo is doing as a 6’9″ Center with long arms. Of course, Biyombo is only a year or so older than Siakam and been in the league for half a decade, but it’s not Siakam’s fault that he was late to basketball. And it provides a reasonable argument, he has more room to grow than most. Very athletic. Very strong. Very active. And a pretty decent frame.
Context will matter. I don’t think we’ll see great results if a team decides to use Siakam as a PF, unless there’s some unexpected late career improvement with his jumper. (Stranger things have happened.)
2) Jakob Poeltl
Potential Skills: Scoring at the rim, passing, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, man-on defense, off-ball defense.
Off the table: Potentially a below average defender for a Center in both phases.
Conclusion: Was a much better prospect as a Freshman than a Sophomore despite being a better college player as a Sophomore. Will need a coach that asks him to focus on defense, even if it’s at the expense of money long-term (NBA still pays for offense over defense, even at Power Positions). Even then, Poeltl looked soft in several match-ups this year, especially vs. Domantas Sabonis. And one thing a Center can’t be is soft. A center can have finesse, but at the end of the day you have to stand up to guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Steven Adams, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrew Bogut, Bismack Biyombo, etc . . . .
I don’t have much belief in him becoming a better than average Center, but I would have thought it highly possible his Freshman year. I’d rather go with Onuaku and Davis. I’d almost certainly rather any of the European prospects at the position as well. Which would put him as a the 6th best center in this draft at the highest. Given the exception of a very tight grouping of talent, I’m probably not drafting the 6th best Center in a draft when you can sign Ed Davis for nothing on the open market or trade a late 1st rounder for a guy like Mason Plumlee.
3) Domantas Sabonis
Potential Skills: Scoring at the rim, passing, three-point shooting with efficiency, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, man-on defense.
Off the table: Probably man-on defense vs. some match-ups and very likely help and recovery defense, which is a huge problem for a PF/C.
Conclusion: I have no doubts Sabonis is an NBA player. He looks like a 10-15 year guy. A solid starter or super-sub and more than that if he develops out to three. Then he’s a poor man’s Kevin Love. It’s just impossible to find a player with Sabonis’s measurements and athleticism that was great on defense in all the ways a Big needs to be great. Bigs who don’t play help defense ultimately hurt the team against the best competition, no matter how good they are at rebounding. Which is to say, what Sabonis is likely to take off the table is very important, and unlike Ellenson, there’s no projectability in terms of height and length. In some ways the safer pick though.
4) AJ Hammons, Daniel Ochefu, Jameel Warney, etc . . .
These are centers without much star potential, unless AJ Hammons perfects his Three-Point Shot. Neither the offensive game nor the overall defensive impact, due to athleticism and/or size issues. Wouldn’t surprise me if all of them are reasonably positive NBA players at some point in their career, given a chance.
Combo Guards, Short PG and No-Defense PG
1) Dejounte Murray
Potential Skills: Three Point Shooting With Efficiency, Three Point Shooting With Volume, Scoring at the Rim, Scoring from the Free Throw Line, Passing, On-ball defense, off-ball defense, rebounding for position.
Off the table: Turnovers. Every bit as likely to take value off the table on defense as to add it, though his size and athleticism give that possibility. Could be a low efficiency chucker, especially from the mid-range, (Low BBIQ results in bad jumpers when he can’t get to his spots. Better than a turnover, but not nearly as good as progressing the possession with a pass.)
Conclusion: Definitely avenues to star potential. It’s undeniable, and you can’t say it for many players. Of course shooting the ball with efficiency, besides perhaps at the rim, is very much Wishful Thinking. It happens for young players sometimes, but Dejounte Murray, on the whole, has very few positive indicators. Though he did have a good stretches during the season. Also, not much of a PG for a player who might need the ball in his hands to add value. And I might put defense into the Wishful Thinking category as well, though it’s on the table. But Freshman are unpredictable.
Aside: If you like Murray, you do everything in your power to pick him in the 1st. That extra year to make a decision will likely be pivotal, even if he becomes a good player. Same with Chriss and all faraway Freshman. There’s much more potential value with the 30th pick for this kind of player than the 31st.
2) Kyle Collinsworth
Potential Skills: Point-guard passing, potentially elite mid-range shooting, scoring at the rim, rebounding, off-ball defense. Any case at Collinsworth becoming a star also would require him to become a proficient three-point shooter, which is unlikely.
Off-the-table: Maybe a little in on-ball defense, which is solvable from the perimeter. Offensive Spacing, as with a Wishful Thinking jump shot. Though his mid-range game and passing would require teams to guard Collinsworth, as they must guard Shaun Livingston.
Conclusion: I think he’s an NBA guy, given a legit chance. An unlikely star, but as you can count 50-100 players in the past who have gone from without a jump shot from Age 22 to with a decent one by Age 28 or 29, or even 30, you can’t count anything out. The fact that Collinsworth can indeed make pull-ups from 15 feet with consistency does lend some hope to prospect. Though it’s a small one.
It’s almost impossible to find 6’7″ players (or taller) who understand the game like he does. The list starts with Lebron James, and includes guys like Shaun Livingston and Kyle Anderson. And you can also look at the success of a guy like Andre Miller and see that there are many avenues for a player like this if team’s aren’t totally frightened by his age.
3) Josh Adams, Kay Felder, Demetrius Jackson, Anthony Barber, Tyler Ulis, Nic Moore, Stefan Moody, Fred Van Vleet et al
Potential Plus Skills: Passing, for some potential plus passing even for a point guard, shooting from three with efficiency, shooting from three with volume, for some of them scoring at the rim with efficiency, for Adams rebounding.
Off the table: These players probably all take defense off the table in some facet.
Conclusion: These players are all on a continuum of likely poor defense and point guard offensive skills, which means if everything breaks right, any of them could bring a lot of value on offense. My bets would probably be on Felder, Adams and Jackson and probably in that order. (Though a team probably doesn’t have to spend a draft pick to acquire Adams.) I’m not betting on Ulis or Moore. I’d actually prefer Moody over them. A 5’8″ PG who doesn’t project as a scorer probably doesn’t project as a high value player.
Van Vleet reminds me a lot of TJ McConnell. A lot of the same strengths and weaknesses. A more comfortable three-point shooter. Definitely knows how to play. Given any sort of legitimate chance, he likely makes an NBA team next year and performs reasonably well.
4) Shaq Harrison
Potential Plus Skills: On-ball defense, off-ball defense, rebounding, three-point shooting with efficiency (of course unlikely), scoring at the rim.
Off the table: If successful, probably nothing.
Conclusion: Harrison is actually on the 3&D continuum, but he’s potentially a better driver, and thus a better passer, than a lot of those players. You can’t teach athleticism and he has it. Definitely an off-ball player. A smaller Shumpert, which is why Harrison could be out of the league. Shumpert’s size aids greatly in his defensive success.
5) Caris LeVert
Potential Plus Skills: Three-point shooting with efficiency, three-point shooting with volume, passing.
Off the table: Potentially on-ball defense and off-ball defense.
Conclusion: If he ends up healthy, he’ll be a better, more versatile Allen Crabbe on offense, and Allen Crabbe is going to make a lot of money this summer. People say Allen Crabbe is a good defender. I don’t know why that is. The reason Portland has legitimately no chance in the playoffs is because their Top 3 perimeter players all can’t guard anyone, and teams can only stash one guy at most at a time. (This is an argument against guys like Denzel Valentine. They make it much more difficult to construct your roster. What if you have to stash your PG, as many teams do, and you have Valentine on your roster? You’re fucked.)
Which is a very long-winded way of saying, I’m guessing LeVert will be a negative defender in the NBA. With discipline and attention-to-detail, which Crabbe sorely lacks, he might be average. With discipline, attention-to-detail and rebounding, he might be slightly better than average. But regardless, if he’s healthy, the offensive things that LeVert does well will play in the NBA. They’ll play really well and people will forgive him for his crappy defense and give him a 15 million dollar contract.
6) Alex Hamilton
Potential Plus Skills: Scoring at the rim, on-ball defense, off-ball defense, and if he develops three-point shooting with efficiency.
Off the table: I don’t know. As discussed in a previous post, I can’t meaningfully talk about Hamilton. But he has an interesting scoring profile and interesting size. Could take quite a lot off the table.
Conclusion: You wouldn’t bet on him learning to shoot, but I can name you about 50 guys that was true for, who became 40% guys from three at some point in their career. I don’t know much about him. I’d be surprised if he’s picked before 45. Will be interesting to see him in summer league. A better chance the league gives him a shot than Tarpey, Holton or Brown.
To Sum Up
1) I’m not betting on anyone in particular to improve their jump-shooting ability. It’s just an area of the game where players bring a lot of value and improvement is possible. Even unexpected late career improvement. (I can point you to at least 40 or 50 historical NBA players for whom this is true, and quite possibly more.) Which is why it’s a potential avenue for plus success for just about every player.
That doesn’t make it likely to happen. Everyone does not improve. And very few players shoot at the minimum thresholds in terms of volume or efficiency to bring significant plus value with their shooting.
And that’s true of all the potential avenues for success. For most players, most of the areas where they have plus potential won’t translate. Which is why players with more potential avenues for success are often better bets. And why it’s impossible to completely discount a player like Jaylen Brown, despite the fact that he wasn’t all that good this year. The margin of error this type of player has is just so much greater than most.
2) I’m also not saying that these players will take nothing off the table. It’s a conceptual exercise where I am making an optimistic stab at a best case scenario and what could be potential prat-falls.
3) The NCAA prospects with the most potential pluses to their games are the guys who we would expect. Offensive perimeter players who have the potential to rebound and play defense: Simmons, Ingram, Baldwin, Dunn, JBrown, Derrick Jones Jr., Payton II, Dejounte Murray.
These guys have more wiggle room for success than most of the other players in the draft, in that they could fail in several facets of their game and still be significant plus players. And if history is our guide, almost all of them will fail to develop or transition in multiple facets of their games.
4) The Bigs with the most potential pluses are Henry Ellenson, Chinanu Onuaku, Deyonta Davis, Brice Johnson and Marquese Chriss.
5) After them we have players with much less room for error. The players who have some plus potential in about five areas of the game without taking something off the table, or more than five areas while taking something significant off the table, like defense: DeAndre Bembry, Patrick McCaw, Denzel Valentine, Pascal Siakam, Stephen Zimmerman, Taurean Prince, Josh Adams, Kay Felder, Demetrius Jackson, Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Carter Jr., James Webb III, Kyle Collinsworth, Jarrod Uthoff, Dorian Finney-Smith, Shaq Harrison and the real 3&D long shots since most of them can’t shoot and almost none of them will get a legit opportunity: John Brown, Terry Tarpey, Jonathon Holton, Armani Moore.
6) That’s a pretty decent list of 30-35 NCAA players it might make sense to target at different levels of the draft or as priority free agents. Your draft & stash guys.
Which would work better if the NBA ever institutes the NBADL as a true minor-league. My proposal: 3-5 developmental slots per team. A player can fill one of them for two or three years without starting his service clock. And he can practice with his proprietary NBA team and with their coaches should they wish. Pay them the rookie minimum and give them half a year of service time towards an NBA pension for every full year they spend in the NBADL.
Last rule, if an opposing team wants to sign another team’s developmental player, they have to surrender a lottery protected 1st rounder. (As these players should be allowed access to the league if they are ready.) And in such a scenario, the team that holds the player’s developmental rights gets the right of first refusal.
Such a rule might ultimately change the nature of the draft, since the guys who are long-shots to develop the one skill they need to stick might then become much better long-term buys.
7) I’m not wholly against Hield, Murray, Poeltl, Sabonis as players or even as draft picks, especially if they are drafted into an ideal situation (or once you get out of the lottery), but if they take defense off the table, it becomes difficult to see where they’ll make it back in terms of becoming stars. The possible exception being if Murray does indeed have PG skills. This is true of most players, even when defense is on the table, since most plus defenders aren’t significantly enough above average to really have it make a difference one or the other. How good the skill is does matter.
8) Of course, to restate, this is an overly simplistic test (since we aren’t even tracking how good the players are in each of these categories, which is kind of REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT), but still it’s conceptually a useful exercise. If you can add up the areas of the game in which the player adds significant plus value and subtract from them the areas in which they take something notable off the table, and you can get a score of +3 or greater, you could be looking at a star. Without a +3 score, you are almost certainly looking at a role player.
Though some players with a lesser score will of course end up better players in the long run. (Put in the right situation, Buddy Hield will likely end up a better player than many of the players with more risk I’d draft over him.)
It’s important to remember, that most NCAA guys won’t have all their skills transition. Jae Crowder, for instance, in college scored at the rim, reasonably enough from three and mid-range that there was some legit projectability as a jump shooter, rebounded well, passed the ball well for his position without turnovers, played on-ball defense and played off-ball defense in terms of both creating steals and providing some rim protection, and while he’s become very good at the NBA level, he’s closer to a +3 player than to the +6 player he would be if everything translated perfectly.
The NBA is difficult. Most skills aren’t going to translate. Which is also why this draft game is difficult. Since it’s impossible to predict what will stick and how these players will grow.
We can measure the player’s frame and athletic abilities, to some degree we can measure the player’s on court intelligence (very important), and we can try to make a guess at their effort level (also key) and their willingness to put in work off the court. (This last one being as important as anything.) But at the end of the day, there’s still a lot we can’t know. And that’s especially true of layman like me. It’s all best guess.
9) The last thing to consider, as we should always keep in mind, is that there are probably at most one or two great players in any draft, sometimes not even that, and maybe two or three more players with legitimate star careers ahead of them. Maybe. I suppose in 1984, we had four or five legitimately great players and two more legit all-stars, but that’s not happening very often. So after you get to the 9th or 10th NCAA guy, the chances of stardom are probably pretty low. In the case of my rankings, these are players like Bembry, Valentine, McCaw, for whom a number of things need to go exceedingly well, or they are young guys with low BBIQ who are very far away but potential pluses in many different areas (Brown, DMurray, Chriss).
I’m never going to say stardom is likely for anyone in this draft besides Ben Simmons. But it gets especially more unlikely as you move further down the list. Perhaps this is why NBA teams go for the guys that seem to have the most safety in their projection, year in, year out (Julius Randle is not much different as a prospect than Jamal Murray or Jakob Poeltl), even if most of these guys fail to make a huge impact on the league. Or in a best case scenario, if the ones that succeed are often only developed for the benefit of another team.