Kaiser’s Draft Notes XV: Three Skills Makes a Star

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:

  1. Scoring 3-Point Shots With Efficiency.
  2. Given 3-Point Efficiency, Scoring 3-Point Shots With Volume.
  3. 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.)
  4. The Ability to Get to the Free Throw Line.
  5. 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:

  1. Passing.
  2. 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.
  3. Offensive Rebounding.

Offensive Traits That Take Value Off The Table:

  1. Turnovers.
  2. Low Efficiency.
  3. 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.)
  4.  Tunnel Vision.  Al Thornton types.  Horrible passing can be a big problem, even at low Usage Rates.

Defensive Traits That Bring Major Value:

  1. 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 . . .)
  2. 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.)
  3. Rebounding at a plus level for one’s position.

Defensive Traits That Take Value Off The Table:

  1. 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)
  2. Excessively poor On-ball Defense.
  3. Poor Off-ball Defense.
  4. Excessively poor Off-ball Defense
  5. Poor Rebounding or failure to box out.  (Given the way offenses try to rebound now, this one mainly applies to Bigs.)
  6. Excessive fouling.  (This one is mildly unpredictable when talking about how a college player might project.)
  7. 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.)

Three Skills RPM

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.

Off-the-table: Nothing.

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.

Other Bigs

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.

22 thoughts on “Kaiser’s Draft Notes XV: Three Skills Makes a Star

  1. First of all, I absolutely love these posts and have read pretty much everything you’ve written since your days as rubes on lb. You’re one of my favorite basketball writers. Keep it up!
    Regarding Dunn, you mentioned the idea of him playing off ball. This seems like a great idea to me seeing as it would probably maximize his passing abilities, while minimizing his turnover problem and allowing him to shoot more off the catch. My question is which player you like more as an off ball player, Dunn or Baldwin? I think the combination of maximizing dunns strengths on offense, and his more proven track record on defense make him a better choice. I ask from the perspective of a fellow sixers fan who is assuming they will take Simmons at one. If they trade up high enough to draft Dunn or Baldwin, who do you prefer to play off of Simmons?

    1. Thanks Sam.

      As for Dunn, there’s always going to be the risk of turnovers, even if he tightens his dribble. There’s a rare mix of fantastic vision, risky passing (not so rare when it comes to fantastic vision), and decisions where he just throws it to the other team. I’m pretty sure the turnovers aren’t going away at PG, at least not without an a somewhat diminished return on investment if you don’t let him do very much, but there’s no guarantee off-the-ball either. You’d be putting him off-the-ball so that you had a second player who could penetrate and pass the ball, and it’s passing that sometimes gets him into trouble in the first place.

      There’s also no guarantee that Dunn’s shot preparation will improve. He’s been able to hit threes at a pretty decent rate, but he currently doesn’t have consistent mechanics. He takes shots sometimes without getting his feet under him for instance, or when he’s off balance, and that happens off-the-catch AND off the dribble. And it’s going to need a lot of work and repetition. Which is to say, there’s still a lot of risk with Dunn and a lot of upside. He should be at least an average value wherever he plays because he’ll defend and parts of his game will play, but some average players are worse than others. (I know that doesn’t make sense on the face of it, but what it means is this. The metrics find a lot of players to be of average value. The ones who use lots of possessions and still are only average are actually team killers. You can’t build around them as starters. And you aren’t drafting Dunn not to have him use possessions.)

      As for Baldwin, I think his current skills already fit off the ball. He can knock down an open three, has good mechanics which should improve, can attack a close out (which would also probably help his finishing at the rim), can pass the ball to the open man and see which player is open. And it seems there’s a very good chance Baldwin will be better than Dunn is right now by the time he’s 22. Since he’s not going to stop improving, unless he stops working. (Information we don’t have.) I just think he’s a better draft pick, and the reason he’s rated so much lower is that we very selectively use the youth card. (How is Onuaku not rated in the first round for instance? And what does Davis do that is so much better besides having been a McDonald’s All-American? Certainly not rebound or pass the ball.) So I like Baldwin better off-the-ball and I like Baldwin better on-the-ball. We don’t know if he’ll develop his handle enough to succeed there in the future. But I think it’s a possibility. And both players carry risk.

      Dunn is almost certainly the better bet on defense, but Baldwin’s size (jesus). May not be done growing either, since it’s a decent amount of growth since his last measurement. You also don’t have to trade up to 3 potentially to draft Baldwin, whereas to get Dunn, you might have to sell-out. Though if the Sixers can get a huge package for Okafor from Boston (This is a trade you don’t let Danny Ainge win, and Danny Ainge wins all trades, perhaps even moreso than Hinkie) there’s a possibility for both Dunn and Baldwin. I’d much rather bet on 1 out of the 2 players panning out reasonably well than bet on my ability to evaluate anyone, at least if we’re not talking about Simmons vs. Ingram or anyone else. (I think Minnesota’s Strategy in 2009 was right. They just picked and traded the wrong player. If they drafted Rubio-Curry-Lawson and kept them all, those teams with Love might have had some shot. It’s also similar to what the Eagles did when they drafted Sheppard and Brown in rounds 1 and 2. Guys who can shoot off the catch, dribble, pass and defend can play with anyone, and it’s easy to stagger minutes anyway. Beyond that, it’s advisable.)

      Also, if you get 3 and you think Bender is a potential superstar the way Porzingis is (and some are saying he’s that good) Bender still has to be on the table as a pick. There’s also a couple of young players I’d be interested in trading for in Oladipo, Schroder, KCP and Otto Porter. It will require a lot, especially for the first three (I doubt Oladipo is actually gettable), but these players could all be on the verge of big improvement. Probably at least one of them will get there. Otto Porter seems destined to be a 39-42% plus shooter from three, and in the right offense, with volume.

  2. I’ve been really curious about your thoughts on Domantis Sabonis and was glad to see you comment on him here. I haven’t watched him at all yet, but noticed that he was top 10 in defensive win shares and top 20 in offensive win shares as per sports reference.

    I’m struggling to interpret the relevance of that stat (especially the defensive win shares) in the context of how it should inform our analysis of how he will translate at the next level and was curious to get your input. I was surprised to see him rank so highly and figure I’m missing some key point of interpretation. My first thought was that he may have been a good player on a very bad team, but then I read that win shares factors in league wide production to discount that possibility. I went and looked at his DRating from the earlier piece you did and didn’t gain much clarity.

    I really like the work you’ve done on biases and the draft, but I went and re-read your article on unassisted offense last night and it’s probably my favorite from the work you have posted here. It’s criminal that you’re not paid for it.

    1. Defensive Win Shares, Defensive Box Plus Minus both are Team Stats AND Individual ones. Not one or the other. You have to look at the team’s DRtg, DRb, BLK and Steals to parse why the player scores well. In Sabonis’s case, it’s because he played on an excellent defense and because he rebounds really well.

      There’s supposedly some evidence that Win Shares is the most predictive all-in-one metric in terms of predicting the success of future draft picks. If that’s true, my guess would be it’s because the Team Defense Component of the Defensive Win Shares does the best, at least of the value metrics for college players, of actually including the individual player’s defensive ability in its evaluation. (Ie. that it does some of the cognitive work of comparing Individual DRtg vs. Team DRtg.)

      Defense is the factor that is currently left out of all statistical evaluation’s and Sabonis grades very well as a college player. And he’s smart, a hard worker and very physical. All good qualities. It’s just difficult to see a player with his Frame continuing to be so effective on the next level. The responsibilities of a Center are really to be the last line of defense, and if you have a Center who can’t do that, I don’t know exactly what you have. If it were different, I’d grade him much higher. I do expect the offense and rebounding to play. He even looks good and very comfortable when he shoots college three-pointers. If I wanted a safe pick that had some avenues to potentially be a lot better than his draft spot, he might be one. I just don’t know where he plays on defense and have some legitimate doubts about how he’ll do at the responsibilities which I find to be most important for his future position.

      The unassisted offense thing (building off the work of Dean Demakis, just extending it) is probably the bes

    2. As for the piece on Unassisted offense, thank you. (I agree it’s probably the best one.) Though it’s just extending the work Dean Demakis did on player’s who succeed at driving to the basket. After the foundation was set, it was easy to start building the rest of the structure, and anyone could have done it. Though I wish I had access Synergy Stats for college. It would have improved that piece considerably. And also the piece on defense.

      The NBA teams have easy access to a lot more information than most of us. Of course, since they are willing to pay for it.

      The problem with the insights about jump shooting and unassisted offense and this draft is of course that most of the players who do well at jump shooting have holes in the rest of their games, and most of the players who don’t have holes in the rest of their games have holes in their jump shooting profiles. And if almost every good offensive player in the NBA, at least the ones on the perimeter, do well at jump shooting in college, at least during one season, we then of course have a major problem when it comes to prospects in this draft. Or perhaps we are at a major advantage in picking out prospects. As there’s only a handful of players in this draft who score well in jump shooting AND have skills beyond jump shooting. (With the major caveat that Freshman are just very unpredictable.)

      Will be interested to see your rankings when you finish.

  3. It’s been an exercise in humility to try to transition from someone who was exclusively empirical, in the sense of relying only on watching games to evaluate prospects, to incorporating insight provided by quantitative analysis. It’s why I’ve found your work on biases to be so useful. Historically, I’ve relied far too much on heuristics to guide my decision making. Overvaluing raw athleticism, underrating potential in older players, failing to properly weigh defensive ability, etc…

    The ironic part is that most of the value I imagine I could provide exists within that empirical framework. Trying to incorporate a statistical understanding has me operating like a bird trying to understand the mechanics of flight instead of flying.

    I wish that I’d started much earlier with my analysis of this year’s draft because I don’t want to be influenced by any of the groupthink that plays a factor as the media attention ramps up. Last year the Raptors were picking 20th and I wanted Looney. I thought I’d found underrated value and realized too late that he was available only because of the injury concerns that weren’t publicly disclosed until right before the draft.

    My second pick was Rashad Vaughn, who I probably wouldn’t have wanted in retrospect if I’d read your thoughts on the problems associated with undersized SGs without plus passing or defense. I felt like I got Vaughn “right” because DX had him in the late first for most of the lead up and he ended up going 17, but I’m not so sure after the season he’s had. I find it frustrating that it can take years to get feedback on whether your analysis was correct on a lot of lower ranked prospects and suspect I repeat mistakes that I’d otherwise be able to correct as a result.

    Your explanation about the issues involved in interpreting the meaning of defensive stats is very helpful and appreciated.

    1. There’s a decent chance you were right on Looney, even with the injury issues. If a potential lottery talent drops for any reason, that player is a decent bet at pick 20, let alone pick 30 where Looney was finally drafted. It’s the same thing with Wright (forget his age for a second, he could dribble, pass, defend, make good decisions with the ball in his hands, and even had shooting numbers that were promising should he have to move off the ball. It’s a good gamble.) Other players that were good gambles at that point were Rondae-Hollis Jefferson (basically had everything but shooting, and we can see how valuable this kind of package can be in a player like Andre Roberson, even if they don’t iron out the warts), and Chris McCollough. (Another injury guy with athleticism. Actually a good deal more than Looney, but probably without quite the head. Looney was an pretty good passer for a team that didn’t like passing very much.)

      It still seems far from conclusive that Toronto was wrong to take Wright. He may be a point guard or he may be an off guard who can dribble, pass, run a secondary pick and roll and shoot on catch and shoots. (Last year, if you looked at his hoop-math numbers, you could see that he was one prospect whose shooting numbers were probably heavily weighed down by his on-ball burden, in the way that Kris Dunn, Kay Felder or Demetrius Jackson’s might be this year, just to name a few. And he shot very respectably from NBA distance this year, albeit in the D-League. He also guarded well and made some plays. He just didn’t get playing team at the NBA level. Not getting a chance to succeed is way different from failing. If Toronto wanted to sell low, I’d buy. Figuring at the very least Wright gives you some versatility on both sides of the ball, a guy who can probably guard both one and two, maybe at a plus level, and a guy with skills that very likely play at the two and possibly even the one.)

      Yeah, I didn’t like Vaughn very much. Though I’m not always right, and he was a Freshman playing for a terrible Coach, making his development inherently unpredictable, as all Freshman really are unpredictable. One good thing about the Freshman is that most of them that get drafted have an inherent baseline of NBA player. They belong in the league. Though I think that fools a lot of the statistical formulas into thinking they are intrinsically the best prospects. But there’s a big difference between NBA player of some kind and one worth drafting.

      Regarding Vaughn, he has some athletic talent and scoring ability, but for me he’s basically a do-not-draft. Just was totally a me-first player at UNLV, at least when I saw him. And I tend to hate these guys as players, even when they succeed. Jeremy Lin for instance is a totally decent basketball player and definitely an NBA player, but his game is pretty much only about him. I’ll pass on guys like that, even if they have some value. Same with a guy like J. Clarkson. It’s what I thought Norman Powell was, but he’s proved to be more the player he was a junior, playing next to Anderson and Adams, than the one he became as a senior. So I was totally wrong there. The other guys are an easy pass for me. The best teams play for each other. It’s what San Antonio does. It’s what Golden State does with their roster full of Point Guards and Point Forwards: Curry, Livingston, Green, Iguodola, Barbosa, and even Klay Thompson ran the position a little in college. Then you add Bogut. And it’s what Cleveland does with a similar roster: Lebron, Kyrie, Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert were all college Points, well, if they went to college, and Kevin Love is one of the best passing big men. Even the worst passing among them is better than most guys who play a perimeter position. That’s one of the reasons they get open shots. They have players that can finish the natural progressions that Lebron and Kyrie start, and occasionally improvise their own. That’s what teams should be trying to build.

      And funnily enough, we see it from time to time in Toronto, in these line-ups that play Lowry and Joseph together. Occasionally they really whip the ball around, which almost always ends up in a good shot. (The Raptors just happened to miss a lot of them last night.)

  4. I noticed that you listed Marquese Chriss as a 3 & D PF, but I suspect that his recent uptick in draft stock might be an indicator that teams are viewing him as a bigger SF in the league. I know you listed him as a player with the potential to make that transition in an earlier article and wanted to get your insight on how you view his potential in that role. I think teams might be seeing some Paul George in him. The guy who does video analysis for DX tweeted yesterday that he thinks Chriss could end up a top 5 pick and I’m curious if his workouts are taking on too much value in his ranking.

    His defensive rebounding and awareness issues might not be as significant if he’s on the wing more. I still can’t get over how much he fouls. You pointed out the limited sample of three point shots, but I’m guessing we can infer based on the hype that he’s shooting well in workouts and his form in the games I saw looked good.

    I think there’s a danger in factoring the workout hype too significantly, and at the same time I’m assuming some degree of efficiency in the market and using that feedback as a clue to where I might be missing something. This is where I get into dangerous territory with groupthink.

    When you mentioned why you felt you got Powell wrong, I wondered whether you’ve given thought to doing a piece that focused on players you feel you were wrong on and why. It would be interesting to look at the factors that influenced missing on players, given your consciousness of biases. I’m thinking of stuff like thorough medical profiles, psychological factors, the problems associated with extrapolating international league stats, lack of access to advanced defensive stats, etc…

    1. I don’t know. Chriss is probably more valuable as a 3&D PF than he ever would be as an SF. And he’s tall enough that he could be a small-ball C if he’s strong, where his three-point shooting could really be valuable. Kevin Love, Channing Frye, Marvin Williams, Draymond Green, these players shooting from distance is just immensely valuable. And two of these players, in Frye and Williams, don’t even do much else besides finish plays.

      As a Wing though, you have to do other things besides finish plays. You have to have passing skills, and Chriss hasn’t shown much aptitude here, as he commits over 2 turnovers for every assist and has an assist percentage of only 6.3% against a Usage% of 24.1%. These are terrible numbers, even for a PF. For a Wing, we’re talking about a a guy who limits what the offense can do. (There are drawbacks to players like Robert Covington, even when they turn out well.) And Chriss just doesn’t seem as likely to be as valuable a defender at Wing as he could be at PF, since his single best feature as a player is that he’s potentially a player who can protect the rim and shoot threes. If Chriss doesn’t improve, the rebounds are going to problems at any position, as the best SF also rebound the ball, and did so in college (or high school.) Think Kawhi, Lebron, Durant or even G. Wallace. But at PF, if he rebounds and learns how to play (including not fouling), he could be a legitimate two-way player.

      The good news for Chriss is that rebounding is a place where a young player can improve, and also that there are a few athletic players who’ve improved a lot as passers, though this is still more rare. The bad news, if we consider Chriss a Wing, is that the NBA players he compares to are few and far between. The guys I could find who didn’t rebound defensively, didn’t pass well and shot okay: Harrison Barnes, TJ Warren, Hollis Thompson, John Jenkins and around 400 other players. (Just searching the database since 2009.) And if you add in turnovers per game as a search factor, he’s really the only NBA player with such numbers. And Chriss didn’t play a lot of minutes, meaning he turns the ball over a shitload for a player who doesn’t pass.

      Lowering the shooting thresholds, you pick up a couple other NBA players in Xavier Henry and Jarrell Martin. These are Chriss’s best comparables (as far as NBA guys), at least for what he’s done on a basketball court. And of them, only Jarrell Martin really resembles Chriss at all as a player. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it doesn’t seem good to me. I’d bet he’s shooting up draft boards for the reason you postulated, that he’s making lots of threes in practice. Probably interviewing ok. And because the athleticism and height give him real upside. If he rebounds well and plays defense, such a player could be a +5 or +6 guy, even if he only shoots on offense. You really don’t have to iron out all the offensive kinks at PF. (The NBA has been historically bad at ironing out the offensive kinks of young perimeter players who don’t know how to play, no matter how athletic. Bigs are a different story.)

      So if you believe his rebounding will improve, which is possible and does sometimes happen for Freshmen, occasionally in dramatic fashion, you could have a really valuable player without much deficit. Whereas the other players being considered after 3 either have holes which are very unlikely to improve (Kris Dunn and turnovers), have pretty low upsides for 10 picks (Hield, Murray if you don’t believe he’s a PG), or not only have potential but lots of kinks they’ll have to iron out (J. Brown.) Compared to these guys, I can easily see why Chriss would be the most attractive option. I have him ranked with or significantly ahead of most of them as well. I’ve argued that Derrick Jones is the most likely player to fit into the D. Jordan/A. Drummond category, but M. Chriss would fit into that category as well. If upside were the only concern, he’s easily a top 10 player. And a legitimate argument can be made for him there. Top 5 still seems a little rich. But who knows? After 3 or 4, if there’s a real star player in this draft, it’s going to be because there’s some unexpected late career improvement. And Chriss is a better candidate than most from this angle.

      As for players, I got wrong, I generally sell on players who only score. So players like Devin Booker I could have gotten wrong, since he seems to have skills beyond just scoring on offense. (I’m wholly not surprised that Devin Booker is a 40%+ three-point shooter who looks like he knows how to play the game. I am very surprised that he’s already showing some ability to create for others as a passer.) Same deal with Rodney Hood. Unfortunately for both players, neither looks like they play defense or ever will, so I don’t feel particularly bad about missing on them. We’ll see when Allen Crabbe hits the open market that such players are generally vastly overpaid and don’t find themselves in winning situations, since their very contracts prevent their teams from surrounding them with talent. Players who are between -2 and -5 point defenders really have trouble making up the difference on offense, unless they are close to the best player in the league on offense.

      The problem with such a piece is that I’m rating prospects differently than I would have in the past. I used to think finding the 10th or 12 best player in the draft was much more valuable than it actually is. Even as throw-ins in trades, these players aren’t generally all that valuable. So the players I’ve missed on in the past are going to be different than the players I’d miss on now. And they are the guys everyone missed on. (For instance, I liked Draymond Green much better than the NBA did. However, I didn’t like Draymond Green nearly as much as I should have. Not having a prospect like Draymond Green in the Top 5 or at worst the Top 10 is pretty unforgivable, considering how good he was as a player in college and how unique the profile is.)

      The worst problems we have in judging players is when there’s a deficit of information for some reason. Either because of youth (one season is not a lot to go on), because of injury, because the player will be switching positions in the future, because of psychological factors which interviews and background checks could perhaps detect, because of medical conditions (though I’d be willing to pick an injured player if the player could legitimately change the fortunes of the franchise), and the other factors you point out. These are all places where we lack information. The more guesswork we’re doing the more difficult the job becomes. And we tend to label those drafts as bad where there’s lots of guesswork to be done.

      2013 was like this, due to all the international prospects, to the fact that Noel was injured, and to the fact that some of the best players (KCP, Robert Covington) played on bad teams (which always drives scouts crazy.) This draft is also particularly notable for that reason. Even moreso. The best player in the draft played on a bad team. Then there’s Euros with talent and without statistics. You can even find NCAA players with some legitimate Top 25 potential well into the rankings. And you can even find a number of guys with some Top 12 potential, like Chriss or J. Brown or D. Murray or W. Baldwin, even if quite a lot has to go right. (This doesn’t always happen.) But with all of them, we’re making big guesses as to which flaws can be improved. Whereas 2014, which was deemed a great draft (and which, if Embiid doesn’t get healthy, would look to be much, much worse than 2013 in retrospect, were it not for a player picked 41st overall) because there were a number of young players who showed decently well in the NCAA. Even if a number of them (J.Parker, J. Randle, N. Stauskas for example) lacked most of the upside that guys like Chriss, Brown, Baldwin have.

      I don’t know what I was trying to say exactly. Just that when we miss, sometimes it’s not because we’ve identified the wrong information as being important. Sometimes, it’s just because there’s not enough of it. Which is one of at least three reasons the NBA wants to restrict Freshman from the draft. Sophomores are much more predictable.

  5. I’m fascinated by the macro observations you’re able to make about the draft; I’m typically trying to go deep on a lesser number of prospects and lose the forest for the trees as a result.

    I’m convinced you’re correct about Chriss’ future being at PF. It’s turning into a good example for me of the dangers of making inferences based on a player’s stock rising. I assume they are answering questions about the weaknesses in their game through workouts as though the relevant data isn’t available in their game performance all of a sudden and projecting like they are a rorschach test. It became clearer to me how he could be rising when you compared his flaws to the other guys in the top 8. It also seems to fit with your decision to change your methodology to focus on potential stars even if it entails increased risk.

    I was critical of Hinkie for his decision to take catastrophic risk when taking a player like Embiid, when in retrospect it sounds like he was making a sound choice based on your comments about willing to take on injury risk if the upside potential is extraordinary.

    I’m curious how significantly you factor experience for someone like Chriss or maybe even Skal, who doesn’t have the # of hours that some of the more seasoned prospects do. I’ve typically viewed that reason for potential future upside as being overrated, historically. I know it was cited as supporting evidence for Embiid’s upside back in his draft and I think Caboclo was viewed as having additional upside for the same reason.

    I know one area where you feel there is something of a blindspot is in the legacy effect of older rankings and the way they can prevent more recent results from being properly weighed; whether it’s in allowing a previously highly ranked player to continue to be highly ranked beyond the point where flaws in their game have been exposed, or a player that has broken out in a new role not being valued as highly as they should be.

    I think of Labissiere in the former category and wonder how much you feel a player’s HS career should be considered in the context of a poor freshman year due to the limited sample size in college as a kind of counterpoint to the phenomenon you’re observing. I mention it because my perception in the past has been that if you factored their high school production more significantly, guys like Drummond or Jrue Holiday may have gone higher than they ended up going. Labissiere might be a poor example because his previous high ranking was due to a lack of information due to his back injury and an overvaluing of a limited sample at the Hoops Summit.

    1. This actually relates to a piece I started to think about last night, probably because of your last reply. I’m writing pieces about Bembry and Valentine write now, but after that I wanted to examine Chriss in relationship to other Freshman PF to see if anyone who was as bad as him at rebounding managed to improve during their college and/or NBA career. And if they were able to become good defensive players. So I’ll include Skal in that mix. (And I’ll examine everything. Labissiere is particularly on the not understanding the game of basketball front. On a basketball court, he makes Zimmerman, Chriss, Murray and Brown look like Ramanujan, but he’s also decent enough some areas that could be key late on-blocked shots, deep two point Js which could become threes, and his defensive rebounding is better than that of Chriss-that I really should be looking at him. Though it’s always difficult for me to be wholly rational about total me-first guys who don’t understand what teammates are for. This is one of my biases. Even if I have to admit, you can get away with such players at Big positions, especially at Center, which is what Skal should be ultimately.)

      For me, I don’t really think about what Skal did in high school. A 7’0″ tall NBA athlete should dominate high school kids.) But the higher the level, the more important the understanding of team basketball. And Skal doesn’t get it. At least not yet. Plus, he’s decently athletic, but not freakish.

      I’m not wholly convinced yet on Chriss, but he and Jones Jr. both tick a lot of the Drummond/Jordan boxes of super athletic Freshman who didn’t perform as well as they could have. And these are also the boxes ticked by Giannis, Porzingis and Gobert. Not that Gobert is super athletic, but players who have either upper echelon or at least very, very unique athletic profiles for their size have been really good in recent years. (It’s also potentially a lesson for Zhou Qi, Dragan Bender as far as foreign prospects go.) It’s been one of the major market inefficiencies of the draft in recent years. And probably going back before that.

      I’m curious to what this comparison will turn up and which players I can find. So far I can only find one NBA guy who was almost as bad at defensive rebounding as Chriss in Brendan Wright. Wright actually became a decent NBA defender, especially against back-up Cs, and an excellent offensive player on screen-and-dive plays. More often than not, Chriss compares to guys like Rudy Gay. But we’ll see. Some guys like Marcus Camby and Joakim Noah were able to improve at rebounding a lot from when they were Freshmen. And Chriss is on that upper level continuum athletically. He’s a player I could definitely see ranking higher, as with a number of the Freshmen, who are semi-long shots to put it altogether but have basic skills and athleticism around which real NBA games can be built. I’d much rather miss on them, then hit on a player I know will top out as a good rotation player.

  6. I saw Ford has bumped Dejounte Murray up his draft board and decided to take a look at him and was impressed. I’m curious whether the kind of volatility we’re seeing with guys like Murray being rated #35 by DX while being #9 according to Ford is atypical. This is an example of the kind of macro awareness that I’ve historically lacked by focusing on players in a more limited range (ie: where the Raptors are picking). My first instinct is to think it’s unusual. Malaki Richardson is another player that seems to have moved from the second round into the mid-first on the back of strong workouts over the last week.

    I was surprised by how impressed I was with Murray. He reminds me a little of a cross between Rondo and Jamal Crawford. He seems to have good instincts and hands going for steals and is scrappy despite his slight frame and willing to get on the glass. He moves well laterally, although I’m not sold on his ability to guard the ball and his ability to get over screens will be a problem with his lack of strength (170lbs.) and 6’5″. He doesn’t shy from contact as much as your typical skinny player.

    He’s good attacking in the open floor, is able to get into the lane at the point of attack in the half court with his quickness and shows some wiggle, despite having a high dribble and not being overly comfortable going left. I don’t have a great sense for his vision or decision making yet as he is often playing off the ball for Washington in the little I’ve seen. It looks like there’s some potential there, though. He takes too many floaters and turns it over because of his weak frame and aggression.

    He’s not an elite athlete, but he looks like he has good length and good feet. I read a comment by a scout that said that he probably looks better than did at 19, and wondered how to interpret that statement in the context of the uncertainty of future improvement. I was curious whether you’ve watched much of him and saw you commented on him here.

    1. I thought Murray had a very good handle when I saw him. Has good athleticism. But has terrible decision making, at least in the games I saw, which you can see especially by how often he shoots mid-range shots. His vision is okay, but nothing special. Which is perhaps to say his willingness to pass for a PG is subpar, which can go either direction. Though if he’s going to the NBA straight out of college, I think it’s probably unlikely to improve. (I can’t think of such a shot-happy player who has, except perhaps a player like DeRozan, and even then DeRozan’s more decent as a passer than anything special.)

      I don’t see much Rondo as Rondo was all arms and speed (he was an A++ athlete coming into the league in and A+ frame) plus he had excellent decision making his first four to six years in the league. Jamal Crawford (or Dion Waiters) on offense seems the most likely path, though he clearly has the tools to improve as a PG and be better than that. I just can’t remember the last player like him who did. His shot is probably more likely to improve than the typical 47% True Shooting player. His percentage from mid-range isn’t that bad. He just shoots way too many of them.

      If I’m close to being right about the offense, which is to say not an elite offensive player but potentially a guy like Crawford or Vinnie Johnson whose +2 or even approaching +3 in his best seasons, it’ll very possibly be Murray’s defense which determines how valuable he is. His frame and athleticism give him potential there too, but he’s not good right now. (For the reasons you say.) So it’s hard to bank on improvement. 19 year old freshman do often improve their games in both predictable and unpredictable ways.

      Murray looks like he’s probably an NBA player, but probably one who changes teams multiple times, and probably one who plays more for himself than for the team. Though, there’s definite upside there, even if I think it’ll probably be unrealized. Which is why I currently have him bunched in the mid-1st with other players whose games I didn’t much like as Freshman (Chriss, Brown) and who I wouldn’t bet terribly highly on success, but who are young enough that there’s no real way of knowing. I wouldn’t pick him 9th, but 35th is probably also too low. Considering it’s pretty hard to find any players with this kind of upside at 35.

      But I have to admit I don’t really understand the criteria for draft rankings when Buddy Hield is in the Top 7 and also Jaylen Brown. These are polar opposite candidates. One without upside. And one whose very unlikely to reach the upside he has.

      If I were looking at the Finals and making a list of NCAA guys who might belong on either the Cavs or Warriors, or even the Thunder, it would probably be limited to Simmons, Ingram, Baldwin, Deyonta Davis, Dunn, Payton II, Brice Johnson (if you trust his ability to improve his jumper), Bembry, Derrick Jones Jr. and maybe Patrick McCaw. With Henry Ellenson most likely filling the Kevin Love role where the team is ultimately better without him. And Onuaku being limited minutes wise because he can’t necessarily hang on the perimeter. (Though I think he’s a real player in the league, and I might be underselling how much he’ll ultimately improve. As he’s already quite good as a 19 year old. Onuaku’s is ideally suited to play a team like OKC.)

      Denzel Valentine probably wouldn’t be able to hang defensively in a series like this one. (Though I think he’ll be a very good regular season player in the right situation. It’s just there’s nowhere to hide him in this series.) Neither team employs any non Center that is a total non-passer like Chriss. Neither team employs a shot chucker like Brown or Murray, at least not in a primary role, so both of those guys will likely have to change the way they play a lot in order to succeed.

      Not that these players I’ve mentioned won’t need to improve as well. It’s just difficult to see most of the players in the draft, even the ones who end up decent, really contending for a championship a team that plays Curry, Thompson, Iguodola, Green, Barnes, Bogut, Livingston, Ezeli as its top 8 or one that plays Lebron, Kyrie, Smith, Thompson, Jefferson, Love, Frye, Shumpert, Dellavedova as its top 9. At least not as a primary difference maker. Almost every perimeter player on these teams can shoot from at least 15 feet, dribble, pass and defend. Which means they all have some modicum of size, athleticism, intelligence and skill.

      There’s a couple of others later. Taurean Prince perhaps. Malcolm Brogdon. Terry Tarpey, etc . . . Certaintly, you could make arguments for these guys. Or in Murray, if you believed more than I do in his likelihood to be coached up. Though I definitely don’t like Malachi Richardson as player. I never much liked what I saw on the court and stats correspond to that. One skill shooter (albeit one who mostly didn’t shoot) with good size but without super athleticism or will to defend.

  7. I watched Murray against Gonzaga and his shot selection and decision making looked okay, but have since watched him late in the season against San Diego State and it would be hard to imagine him looking worse. Missed maybe his first 6 shots near the rim off the drive, bad turnovers off the drive, poor shot selection in the midrange, you name it. Very shot happy, as you mentioned. I didn’t get the impression of selfishness against Gonzaga, but it’s a good example of the need for sample size.

    You mentioned the mystery of draft rankings with guys like Hield and Brown and I’m really curious about your perceptions on that. I’m guilty of assuming some efficiency in the market and end up rationalizing their valuations on that basis under the assumption I must be missing something. Chriss is an example of someone I was struggling to understand could be ranked as highly, but after your explanation and watching more of him, it makes more sense.

    I’m constantly worried about confirmation bias when looking at players because they’re moving up the mocks and see a lot of value in your having completed your research prior to the workout phase. It’s also why I questioned whether this draft has higher volatility because I don’t remember as many players jumping up the mocks as dramatically in the past.

    I like your thought of experiment of trying to visualize which players could conceivably fit on the finals teams or even OKC/Spurs. I didn’t appreciate the value of having passers at non-center positions. It also reinforces the importance of 3 point shooting, although I shouldn’t need any more evidence for the importance of that by now.

    Taurean Prince is another player that some folks have rising. Steve Kyler thinks the Raps like him at 9 and that he could conceivably go as high as 6. He think Bender could slide a bit. He also thinks your guy Baldwin has a promise and faked his concussion claim as a result. It certainly is the funny season when it comes to disinformation and media hype.

    1. Prince is a guy who checks all the boxes athletically and also when you look down and mark which potential skills he has, which is to say it looks like should be able to shoot threes, rebound, and defend in space. And while his man defense is somewhat questionable, he also didn’t get lots of chances to play it at Baylor and he’s very athletic, so it’s easy to project him being at least okay. That being said, it’s a question of just how good those skills will be, and it’s much more likely he’s a 35% or 36% or 37% three-point shooter than someone veering towards elite 40%+ status, especially not with volume. And he’s certainly not a player you want to rely on to make decisions. Which would place him somewhere in the DeMarre Carroll boat as a 3&D player whose probably not good enough anywhere to make a real impact on the playoff success of the team. Which is not to say, he’s not good. Cleveland could certainly use DeMarre Carroll on their team, and would almost certainly be better off paying him 15 million per season than Kevin Love. But Cleveland also has Lebron.

      Malcolm Brogdon is another player in this boat, except he looks like a potentially elite three-point shooter in terms of efficiency. Though probably not for volume, since his success is probably more likely to come off the catch than on movement. He will be able to attack close-outs and make good decisions though. Excellent dribbler for any position. And there is some chance he’s really good defensively, despite not being a super athlete, because he tries hard, has good reaction and anticipation ability and almost never makes technical mistakes. (That’s very similar to the skillset Klay Thompson displays when guarding PG and chasing them around the court, at least making them work.)

      I don’t know if this draft has higher volatility than most. Definitely not than 2013, where Noel went 6th and Bennett went 1st. And even in 2014 you have a guy like Kyle Anderson going 30th and Embiid falling from 1 to 3 a day or two before the draft. Plus Gordon going 4 (very good choice.) Etc . . . So there seems to be a decent amount of movement most years.

      And I haven’t completed all my research, at least not yet. Though one thing that makes it easier for me is that the NBA values one-skilled shooters, at least in the draft, much more highly than I do. Players like Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield, or even Malik Beasley might be worth ranking, somewhere in the mid-teens or 20s or 30s of NCAA players (because of lower upside projections despite one potentially elite skill), but there’s really no reason for me to rank them, when I’d much rather spend draft capitol on any number of players that are currently being valued in the late-1st to mid 2nd, or even later in the case of Derrick Jones Jr. And so, if I were making a decision, for players like Murray and Hield, it would really only be valuable for me to understand how other teams perceive them, since it’s likely worth far more trading out of the spot that picks them than picking them.

      A lot of these thoughts are going to go in the piece I’m trying to get done by tonight about some realizations from last night’s game. But basically it boils down to the fact that we’re mostly moving past a league where One-Way players can play for a championship team. OKC almost got past Golden State with Roberson in tow, but even if so, they likely would have succumbed to Cleveland. And it’s pretty clear Cleveland has major issues with Love going forward and Kyrie if he doesn’t give the effort he gave last night on the defensive end and in terms of passing the basketball, which was significant to the outcome. (Some of it was luck in terms of Golden State not hitting open shots. But it certainly wasn’t all luck. Or anywhere close.)

      And I think we’re also moving past a league where the best teams can play guys who don’t participate in advancing the offense. It’s just very hard to win one-on-one, which is one of the reasons Cleveland’s defense was more effective last night. Putting Jefferson and Lebron on Green made it much more difficult for Golden State to get action off of that screen, and that greatly reduced the Warriors passing effectiveness. (They still had some success.) And even though Frye got beat vs. Barnes and Iguodola, those are one-on-one plays which ultimately lead to a stagnant offense.

      That’s OKC’s problem too. Again, they almost won with multiple players who don’t really advance possessions playing (Roberson, Ibaka, anyone that isn’t Durant or Westbrook) but Durant and Westbrook are pretty unique, and ultimately they didn’t win, in large part because their offense became stagnant over the course of a game.

      Which leads to a pretty small group of players who could potentially play in such series. Simmons, Ingram, Baldwin, Deyonta Davis, Dunn Gary Payton II, DeAndre Bembry, Patrick McCaw, Brice Johnson if he can develop a jumper out to three (since he’ll bring value defensively), Derrick Jones Jr would be my main guys in some order. Denzel Valentine is going to have to be amazing offensively to get on the floor for such a series. (Possible.) Chinanu Onuaku is like a smaller Bogut and as such would likely have a greatly reduced role in such a series. At least vs. Golden State. Not necessarily vs. Cleveland or OKC. Ellenson is probably a lot like a poor man’s Kevin Love ultimately, even if his size gives him some other options.

      Brown, Chriss, DMurray, Zimmerman are probably low BBIQ guys. And then you have support players: Malcolm Brogdon, Taurean Prince, the guys I haven’t seen play in Terry Tarpey and John Brown, to some extent maybe a guy like Fred Van Vleet as a backup PG. And you have the types who might be good enough offensively that their defense doesn’t matter 100% in a guy like Caris LeVert (if healthy of course), or in a different manner, guys like Kyle Collinsworth or Thomas Walkup. (Walkup is like a smaller Jared Dudley who makes plays on defense that shouldn’t be possible for a guy of his size and his athleticism. Just super intuitive.) And the guys who will likely never shoot the ball for shit like Shaq Harrison or Armani Moore or Jonathon Holton. And lastly the players who are back-ups at best in a series like this but could be really good starters on lesser playoff teams. A guy like Kahlil Felder if he has a perfect outcome.

      The interesting thing last night is that both teams will be credited with going small, but that only tells part of the story. Besides Irving and Curry, almost everyone on the court for most of the game was between 6’5″ and 6’9″. As Golden State only played their four Big C a combined 33 minutes and Cleveland only played Frye a total of 12. Mozgov got some minutes, but mostly after the game was decided. And with the way a guy like Bembry or McCaw or Derrick Jones Jr. is being valued, I don’t think the NBA is being valued.

      I do think the Cavaliers finally figured out the best way to guard the Curry-Green screen and roll and to try to force Curry to drive and finish plays, which is to guard Green with a very athletic small forward and to guard Curry with a big player. (Durant-Roberson would be ideal, or Danny Green-Kawhi Leonard.) It’s too easy allowing Curry to make that pass. And it’s also too easy switching most Bigs onto him.

    2. Is it Phoenix that supposedly promised Baldwin? Would be interesting. When was this concussion “faked”? I must be out of the loop.

  8. I’m not sure who it is that has supposedly promised Baldwin. I’d take it with a grain of salt because Steve Kyler seems to be tweeting a lot of conjecture this draft season. He’s saying there’s a team that has Bender ranked 21 on their big board. He thinks Jaylen Brown is Boston’s preference at 3. It looks like Sabonis is expecting to be in the later part of the lottery based on how he’s handling his workouts. There’s a good article on NBA.com about Baldwin today that goes into some of his background that you might find useful as added context.

    Your reasoning about the overvaluation of the one-way shooters like Hield and Murray is one of the big blind spots I had coming into the draft this year. It can be deceptive because shooting is obviously very important, but your observation about what you’re learning from the finals about the ability to advance the offense seems to be overlooked. I think you’re onto something significant there.

    I get the feeling Murray has been very conscious of the negative effect it could have on his value if teams don’t see him having a passing game based on his comments in the media. I know you don’t delve into the international players, but I’ve been trying to get a sense of how Furkan Korkmaz compares to guys like Hield and Murray.

    1. If Stevens drafts Brown, I’d like Brown’s chances to eventually become a good player. Brad Stevens has a huge amount of buy-in despite fucking with his players minutes on a regular basis, doing so for the best of the team. And that was the same at Baylor. He’s also consistently been able to get good to great play out of players that were passed over or forgotten or underestimated. Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack in college, neither of who was predicted to be an NBA guy. And Hayward is a significant player in the NBA. But also Jae Crowder, who was a guy who seemed destined to be good from his junior year in college, but who the league also had given up upon. And Jared Sulligner and Kelly Olynyk. and Evan Turner. He sees these players strengths and not only does he put them into positions where they can accentuate their strengths as players but he also must be able to communicate effectively to these players just who they are as players and what they can do to be highly successful.

      It’s a major skill as a coach, and so the players Boston drafts while he’s there should never be underestimated. Brown has athletic ability and skills in driving and defense that an all-star game can be built upon. And if a coach can get him to accept which they are and to play within himself, he’s already half way there. (Brown is supposedly very smart, so that should help, as long as he’s not equally stubborn. Two qualities that often go hand in hand.)

      This is one of the reasons why third parties ranking prospects before the drafts is silly. The context a player is drafted into, for most prospects matters quite a bit. Draymond Green develops into a good player but not a star if Golden State doesn’t move him to Power Forward full time and start using him to set screens. Jae Crowder doesn’t develop into an all-star level of player if he gets stuck in Dallas. Evan Turner in Boston is much better than Evan Turner in Indiana. What happens to Khris Middleton if he’s not a throw-in in a trade for Brandon Jennings? (Hint: Right now, we probably don’t even think of him as highly Tyler Johnson, Solomon Hill or Langston Galloway.) And the list goes on and on and on. The situation a prospect finds himself in does to some extent determine the shape of their career. And it’s possible the NBA gives up on some players too early. (This could have easily happened with Crowder. It almost did happen with Billups.)

      About passing being important. It’s not something I’m learning now. Rather, it’s something that’s seemed evident for a while, but also an aspect of the game that has really been of exaggerated importance the last three years, since the two best teams in this time period (The Warriors and The Spurs) are light years ahead of everyone else when it comes to moving the ball. (And also defense.) And it’s such a big advantage. OKC beat the Spurs with athleticism, and profound one-on-one play, so it can be done. But it’s very hard.

      It’s why one of the most surprising teams ever to me was that Mavericks team won 67 games. I’ve never seen a team that was so hell-bent on creating one-on-one mismatches and exploiting them be so successful. They almost never screened to pass, but to get a switch and a mismatch and then everything else was basically ISO. ISO for Dirk or Howard or Terry for whoever. If a team is talented enough that can work, but I’ll take the team that can pass.

      And it’s amazing to me that after everything Cleveland did in Game 3 to turn Golden State more into a one-on-one team (which now seems as if it was mostly by accident) they went back to trapping, and playing a style that encouraged Golden State’s main strength, which is their team play. People will say that Love was one of the only players on Cleveland that was a plus in the first half, but it’s not seeing the overall effect of playing Love. After Cleveland placed Love in the game, their defense fell apart, since they fell back into all their old bad habits (which led to many open jumpers and shots at the rim that were just missed when Love was in the game in the first half, not to mention those three or four possessions where Vaerjao got to every loose ball and Love, whose only defensive strength is rebounding, did nothing, also failing to stick his man after the rebound occurred, which led to a wide open Barnes three, these are the possessions that broke Cleveland) and those bad habits persisted even when Love wasn’t in the game. The spacing of the offense died as well. And the ball movement became a thing of the past.

      Which is to say, Cleveland turned themselves into a one-on-one team. And that should be the focus of their defense vs. Golden State. Curry is going to be brilliant regardless. But all those non-Curry three pointers (and even a lot of Curry’s) come off clean looks and easy passes when the team overplayed its hand. And a lot of those looks were cancelled out in Game 3, by playing Jefferson (who did foul out at the end) and greatly shortcutting the Curry-Green screen. This is also what was happening in the first half and early 3rd quarter with Tristan Thompson on Curry. Iguodola, Barnes, Green, even Klay Thompson, these players are not going to hit three pointers consistently off of man defense. That’s 30 very efficient points scored last night, many of which should have required something more spectacular. It’s not that Golden State isn’t amazing. It’s precisely because they are amazing that Cleveland should go back to pick-up defensive principles, except with switching on screens. If there’s a pass to be made, the Warriors are generally going to find it and ultimately they are going to capitalize. It’s the easy looks set up by Cleveland’s bad shots and trapping, lack of discipline (why is Frye not defending Curry and making him drive past him), and bad shots from 1-on-5 possessions (these bad shots often led to fast breaks, thus functioning as turnovers) that lost Cleveland the game. Well that, and not making their Free-Throws. (Which is one reason why the presence of Love as a positive was being overstated. It’s not like Tristan Thompson missed 5 free throws or Lebron and Jefferson missed free throws because Love was or wasn’t in the game.)

      If Jamal Murray passes, he could be much better than I’m predicting. Also, if he puts real and consistent effort in on D. Off-man defense is as much about effort as it is about talent. The latter being important as well. As for Korkmaz, I don’t know that much. He seems to have more talent and a better frame than Murray or Hield from a defensive standpoint and also from a passing standpoint (because he’s slightly more athletic), but I don’t think there’s been that much aptitude there. I’d rather Murray than Hield and probably rather Murray than Korkmaz. Though that’s a tougher call. I’d pick any number of players over them, especially if I were allowed to trade off of them.

  9. I’ve been thinking about your observation of the futility of third party rankings before the draft a lot the last couple of days. I’ve long believed that the idea that teams take the BPA is mostly a myth. I think the top 5 is probably decided on BPA criteria, but not really as much after that. I watched my Raptors pass on Iguodala for Raphael Araujo because of having Vince and more recently passing on Drummond for Terrence Ross because of having Valanciunas.

    Context factors significantly in how players do in the pros, but also how they’re perceived based on their college performance, especially for freshmen.

    I’ve noticed this last week that the Washington players are being hyped on the basis that if they had gone to a school like Kentucky or Duke, they’d be higher rated. Ford quoted a scout that suggested that if Dejounte had been at a higher profile school, he’d be a top five pick. In a chat yesterday Ford was asked by Bill Simmons whether Chriss would have been taken 2nd if he’d gone to Duke and Ingram had been at Washington, to which Ford responded “maybe.”

    Skal signed to play for Kentucky before his junior year (I believe), and I’ve been wondering whether he would have done better if he’d gone to a smaller school that would have given him a longer leash. I’m sure he would have struggled with his lack of strength wherever he’d been, but I don’t think going to a program as deep and talented as Kentucky did him any favors if you buy the notion that he was at an experience deficit.

    I came across a statement by Houston GM Morey that surprised me a bit that I thought I’d run by you. He mentions that 2/3 of teams picking in the first round don’t want to keep their pick in his estimation. With the value of picks in the exploding cap market, I was surprised to read that and wasn’t sure what the motivation is that has teams wanting to unload them. Is it a lack of patience in developing players, or do you think it says something unique about this particular draft?

    “Woj: Talking to a couple of GMs, this will move fast when the big guys come off the board (during free agency) but part of your prep has to be, you’ll have to make quick decisions on money & players. This guy is off the board & now this guy is available. I guess a lot of your prep is looking at every scenario so when the moment of truth comes, you’ve already debated it and can move quickly vs. trying to do it on July 5th/6th when those conversations may cost you.

    Morey: If you haven’t done the conversations ahead, you’re dead. You need to make snap decisions. Same for the draft. You need to prepare for all ranges. This year’s draft is unique as well. I have about 2/3rds of the picks in the first round I think teams would rather trade the pick than keep the pick. That’s like 20 of the 30 picks that teams don’t want to pick. That’ll create an interesting dynamic. There will be opportunities to move into the first round at all levels. You have to prepare. Before it was, “Okay, I’m picking 8th so I gotta look at these 5 guys who will be around 8.” Now you have to be prepared 1-60 at a very detailed level.”

    I like your analysis of game 4. I’ve been so deep into trying to get ready for the draft that I haven’t been paying as much attention to your analysis of the finals, but will try to follow along more. I agree with your comments on Cleveland needing to force GSW to play one-on-one.

    1. If Morey believes that, it’s a major opportunity for some team to make bread. The draft is the best place to save money and it’s the only opportunity for most teams to find significant star level players. You don’t pass on that because it’s unlikely. It was always unlikely after the first pick anyway. And especially unlikely after the 7th. That’s never going to change. What has changed is that the NBA has gotten a lot worse at identifying the star players. For every Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard, there’s at least one Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antekounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Klay Thompson, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, Nikola Jokic. Teams have not been very good in recent years at picking the best players first.

      So I could care less if teams think this is a weak draft. It’s a draft without much of sense of definition and fate. But some of the best drafts in recent memory were dubbed weak before the draft because any number of the best prospects were relatively far away from their upper-level ceilings as players. (Kawhi Leonard is one example because of his jump shot. Though Kawhi without a three-point jump shot is still maybe a top 10 player, since he can get to the rim, pass the ball when his drive is cut off, doesn’t make bad decisions and never turns it over.) So yes, the NBA is impatient, and most executives have very little imagination.

      Which is why a player like Aminu gets signed for only 4 years and 28 million, despite basically doing everything to some degree, having the versatility to guard 2 or 3 positions and especially to be a three-point shooting PF who can switch all screens. It’s why Crowder or Middleton get dumped into trades as supposedly their 3rd or fourth or fifth best pieces when they are the prize. As Kafka said, “There are two main human sins, from which all the others derive: impatience and indolence. It was because of impatience that they were expelled from paradise; it is because of indolence that they do not return. Yet perhaps there is only one major sin: impatience. Because of impatience they were expelled, because of impatience they do not return.”

      But there’s no way to get there for most teams without patience. Which is why Danny Ainge perpetually takes advantage of everyone. And he might be on the doorstep again. Everyone keeps connecting Boston to Okafor or perhaps to DeMarcus Cousins. But the most Celtics trade out there is to keep Smart, Bradley, Crowder, A. Johnson (because his contract is non-guaranteed, it allows free agent flexibility), Sullinger (as an RFA) Mickey and/or Rozier as a core and to trade Isaiah Thomas, a majority of their draft capitol (all the first round picks in this draft, their swappable first in the next, maybe with a small protection, and at least one 2018 pick), Kelly Olynyk, Jerebko, RJ Hunter, James Young to the Clippers for Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Paul Pierce and maybe JJ Redick. Which would allow the Clips to start over from scratch, to have the best chance of #1 overall in 2017 after they trade Griffin and Thomas, while giving Boston Chris Paul, Avery Bradley, JJ Redick, Jae Crowder, DeAndre Jordan, Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, and Amir Johnson, who they can cut if the chance to sign Lebron or Kevin Durant arises in free agency.)

      As for the draft and free agency, I assume what Morey is actually talking about is mostly about getting everyone on the same page. Inter-office communication so no one is offended. When ranking individual prospects, there’s no reason for a team not to go at least 100 or even 120 deep, but most years, I have top 20 players (who end up good), available in the late 30s or early 40s. So it shouldn’t be that hard to pull the trigger on those kinds of prospects as you get later in the draft. And if you haven’t had the contract beforehand, it’s impossible to predict what someone will offer in a trade. Though every team should be trying to predict who everyone else will pick and the range that certain draft prospects are likely to go.

      For me, if I didn’t pick first, or maybe 2nd/3rd (I have no idea about Bender and don’t know how much I’d value Ingram, since there’s a decent chance he’s very similar to Harrison Barnes), and I can get a significant offer to move down from the Celtics, Suns or Nuggets, all of who have lots of draft capitol, I do it. But I’m also pretty sure that any number of players I like in my 4-13 range will be available at different levels of the draft, with several still there from 7-14, and many others still available from 15 until even the late 2nd. And while I don’t wholly trust my evaluation on many individual players, besides perhaps the top two guys, Onuaku, Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Derrick Jones Jr. since we are quite bad at this, I do trust that I’ll find a couple of stars late if I give myself enough chances over enough drafts. Especially because the NBA and their draft models overrate certain aspects of the equation Youth + Skill/Production + Athleticism + Intelligence + On-Court Effort + Off-Court Work Ethic equals Superstar. When a prospect needs them all to be considered an elite prospect. And most of them to be very good. (I’ll probably right about this equation soon.)

      Looking for youth when it’s not paired with the right skills (passing/defense as a baseline) or with athleticism or with intelligence (which is the one that is just chucked aside) is really just looking for a prospect that’s never going to be as good as the team expects them to be. (Chriss, JMurray, JBrown, etc . . .) And you could apply the same analysis when looking at one-dimensional shooters like Buddy Hield, who don’t check the youth, skill, athleticism or on court production boxes but definitely checks the on-court effort and off-court work ethic boxes.

      This is perhaps why the “If this prospect went to Duke” Test is so stupid. You could say exactly the same thing for Derrick Jones Jr. whose shown as much as either of those players in terms of being projectable going forward. And if you extend the analysis to all grades and levels, you could probably say the same thing for Kris Dunn, Wade Baldwin, Chinanu Onuaku, DeAndre Bembry, Patrick McCaw et al about their draft stock being improved. Except in most cases (the UNLV kids and Bembry perhaps being exceptions) it’s just simply not true. For example, Grayson Allen had a great season at Duke, is reasonably young, and no one gives a fuck about Grayson Allen not being in the draft.

      Which is to say, the scouts can mostly see through the situations these kids are in. If anything, Chriss and Murray are getting tons and tons of extra credit for being on a semi-dysfunctional basketball team. And they are getting none of the blame for that dysfunction. That’s not hindering their draft stock. It’s helping it.

  10. I always assumed in the past that talent in the draft was distributed in a linear and efficient manner; that there was near uniformity of opinion about player rankings between teams, with the different needs and time horizons explaining the differences in respective rankings. It’s only this year that I’ve begun to question that assumption.

    I would love to know how different teams’ big boards are 1-60 because I am guessing there would be greater divergence than I’ve historically assumed, especially once you get outside the top 10 and differences between players become smaller.

    Is it simply a problem of impatience? The institutional pressure from ownership to produce immediate results, thus taking investment away from long-term growth? I’m struggling to understand the source of the inefficiency. I’m reminded of your article on the potential value of having multiple picks (especially now with the dleague) and the baseball analogy of assuming that you’re going to miss. My perception is that teams don’t miss because of lack of preparation or willingness to be patient, but rather that the nature of predicting development is inherently difficult.

    It’s your observation that your preferred players are available at different spots in the draft that has caused me to re-evaluate my assumptions about market efficiency. At the same time, if you believe you can beat the market, I would expect to see more trades like the George Hill for Kawhi trade from a few years back.

    I’ve been hoping that my Raptors would trade down from their 9th spot with a team like the Nuggets or Celtics for the same reason you suggest you would seek out such a deal. I guess the key is a belief that you are able to find inefficiencies in the market.

    I didn’t appreciate just how good Ainge has been in Boston until reading your work.

    1. I tend to like players who can pass a lot more than many NBA teams do, players who play for the team. So I liked players like Draymond Green and Chandler Parsons better than (I’m assuming many NBA teams did.) Though perhaps not enough to pick them where they should have been picked. With this also comes a like for players like Derrick Byars who don’t quite have the athleticism to succeed without a jump a shot. So there are always hits and misses and everyone has their own particular biases.

      Mine, I tend to rank players highly that seem like they play the game with intelligence. Especially when it is accompanied by some level of skill and athleticism. And you can run through the players pretty quickly in almost any draft that have intelligence, athleticism and some kind of unique, mostly unlearnable skill.

      As for the George Hill, Kawhi deal, this came from a team that has been beating the market picking at the end of the first and 2nd round for years. Tony Parker was picked bottom five in the first round, as was George Hill. Manu Ginobili was picked bottom five in the second round. Kyle Anderson was picked 30th. They drafted Scola in the 2nd round and traded him. And they picked Danny Green (who became a top 12-30 player as a 3&D guy-by far the best one by besides Battier and Leonard, who is now something quite different.) So the Spurs have been quite successful finding talent in the draft and in other markets without surrendering significant talent. And George Hill is significant talent. If he had a better back-up in 2013, it’s wholly possible we’re talking about the Pacers as a past NBA champion.

      So I’d bet teams Big Boards are considerably different. If the Spurs were willing to trade George Hill for Kawhi, they must have rated Kawhi as a very significant prospect, likely in their top 3 or 4. And we’ve recently heard that they tried to trade up instead for Klay Thompson, and were fortunate to be shot down. Not that Thompson isn’t great, but he’s not Kawhi. So we can possibly assume that Kyrie, Thompson, and Leonard were the Spurs top 3, or at least all in the Top 5. Otherwise, why give up such a good player?

      I think a large part of the inefficiency is impatience, but some of it is also a lack of imagination. And some of it is misidentifying which skills are likely to be developed later on. These both come to play with a prospect like Kawhi, who was not only changing positions (he played a decent amount of PF in college), but lacking a jump shot (and the statistics are really not pretty from that perspective, the only thing that mitigates how bad they look is understanding how often Leonard was generating his own offense).

      And I think it’s hard for certain teams to trust that the jump shot, at least off the catch, is one of the most likely places that a player can improve, perhaps after diet, strength and conditioning and finishing at the rim. Since there’s uncertainty there. Just because it’s the place that prospects are most likely to improve does not mean that all will improve. And a player who doesn’t improve his jump shot may end up out of the league (which would lead to him possibly being out of the league in four or five years) whereas a player who can shoot coming into the league seems like he has a better chance to stick on some team for a while, at least as an Anthony Morrow type. Of course, seems is the operative word because there’s a CJ Wilcox or Joe Harris (who I liked coming out of college) for every Anthony Morrow.

      And there’s a lot of wishful thinking that goes on. Wishful thinking with athletic players suddenly trying on defense. Wishful thinking with players who’ve never passed suddenly learning how. In my experience, the wishful thinking prospects don’t turn out too well all that often. Though Bigs, who have to develop less skills ultimately to be successful (like Andre Drummond), have much better chances for positive outcomes than perimeter players who really need to be decently smart, talented skillwise and very often athletic to be hugely successful.

      One of the major inefficiencies in the draft is the perception of a safe pick and the fact that teams pick players they know have less upside. ESPN’s SPM projections are one ridiculous example of this one. Where they have Poeltl rated ahead of Simmons despite the fact that they give him less than half the likelihood of ending up an all-star. Even were he to become a league average player, how much bread does that really win a team? So there’s an incredibly flawed assumption that being a league average or below team and drafting such a player, who even by their rating has only marginal upside compared to some others, is really of some benefit.

      The piece I wrote about bias can largely be read as a piece about potential market inefficiencies in regards to the NBA draft. The piece I wrote prior to that one about the fear of failure as well. Nik Stauskas as a classic fear of failure pick. Doug McDermott as another. (Both are also examples of the inefficiency that comes of not paying attention to the types of prospects that end up being successful.) And it’s these types of picks that allowed Saric, Capela, Kyle Anderson, McDaniels, Grant, Jokic to fall to areas of the draft where they should have long been off the table.

      This happens almost every year. A year that the NBA has deemed weak and has a number of players who belong to flawed player types in top 14 seems a pretty good bet for it to happen again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *