It's time to assess the talent, to separate the wheat from the chaff, and draw some lines in the sand. Before the delicious platter of red meat, I give you a beet salad of observations.
This draft sucks. People say this every year, largely because, as with any draft, the talent is unproven. So I assumed it wasn't really true. But I've been paying close attention to the draft for several seasons now, and it has never been less fun. We know there isn't a lot of star power, but there also aren't any Kenneth Farieds or Ty Lawsons. You know it's a lame draft when you find yourself cursing the fates Doug McDermott is returning to school.
Steals and rebounds are outstanding predictors of NBA success at any position. Players seldom suddenly discover how to shoot free throws, for example, but they are an excellent marker of a player's athleticism, and they tend to be reliable regardless of the level of competition.
Measurements are lousy predictors of NBA success. If they are extraordinary in some way (if a player is 7'2 or 5'11) they are hard to ignore, and they are helpful in determining whether a borderline shooter will succeed. But you don't want to draft a dude who can't hang in the ACC just because he's lengthy.
Hype is a worthless predictor of NBA success. Just ask Austin Rivers.
There is more room to get creative... In a deep draft, picking up a player on a lark is a profoundly bad idea. Passing up known quantities to take fliers on projects seldom works out, and the San Antonio Spurs thank you kindly for your propensity to gamble. However, every year there are 15 or so impact players. As such, you are better off taking a player who has a one in five chance of being one of those players than a player who is guaranteed to be 22nd best.
...But ball don't lie. Yes, on occasion some dude who biffed it in college turns it around and has a very productive career. But if you spend lottery picks on what-ifs, well, you'll have plenty of chances to do so in the future.
Enough of that. Here it is. Rankings!
1. Victor Oladipo
Oladipo does virtually everything well. He shoots accurately, and with range. His rebounding and steals indicate elite athleticism. His defensive prowess is unquestioned. The fear, especially for those drafting him No. 1, is that he regresses to his freshman or sophomore level of performance in certain areas.
In a draft where every player has a question mark, that's a pretty small one. He might not be the most popular player to come out of the draft, but there is a good chance he will be the best, a player who brings elite efficiency at both ends of the court.
2. Otto Porter
The player with the most "superstar" potential, Porter has the height, speed and athleticism to be an outstanding small forward. Simply put, 8.8 r/40 and 40%+ from three is a rare combination for a wing. A couple concerns knock him out of the top slot. The first is that he is skinny, which will hurt him on the defensive end.
Second, a lot of his rebounds came while playing PF, where his rebounding rate would be considered unremarkable. Add to that Georgetown plays a somewhat unorthodox style (deflating, for example, Greg Monroe's rebounding numbers) and it's possible he's not quite the specimen he seems.
3. Ben McLemore
The Ray Allen comparisons seem reasonable. McLemore's shooting stroke is unmatched in this year's draft class. His lights out free throw shooting should assuage any questions about whether his three point percentage is a fluke. He can also run the break, and should be able to use his range to open up the lane for dribble drives.
The primary knock on McLemore, that he isn't assertive enough, is just silly. Would anyone really prefer he miss a bunch of shots just so he can say he has a killer instinct or whatever? The more glaring concern is his athletic stats, which are a notch below Ray Allen. Given that he isn't particularly tall, there is a fair question as to whether he'll be able to get his shot off as well as he would like.
4. Nerlens Noel
Let's get this out of the way. Noel has a chance to be a once-in-a-decade defensive talent. His blocking and steals numbers are unmatched by any freshmen in recent memory. Now onto the red flags.
Here's the thing about the knee: I'm certain it will be just fine in the long run, but bad knees tend to come in pairs. Any team drafting him will have to deal with his injury this season, and very likely a similar injury the following season. Factor in his limited experience, and it might be season four before he gives you the all-NBA defense you drafted him for, at which point you will be making market price (or more) for his services.
The other concern is his rebounding. For someone who seems to have a knack for being at the right place at the right time, it's curious he would rate only 12th among prospects in rebounds per 40. Freshmen with his skill level tend to improve in that category, but given his lack of offensive contributions, it's a valid concern.
5. Trey Burke
Of the "Big 5", I have Burke at the end. Why? I am somewhat concerned about his shooting. He was efficient, hitting 38% from three and posting a 57% TS, but he wasn't Ty Lawson good.
That said, what I like about Burke is that he takes seriously the role of a point guard as a decision maker on offense. Note, that is not the same as saying he is a pass-first guard. Rather, he looks to find the most efficient shot, even if it's his own. For that reason, I think his transition to the NBA will be a bit faster than most point guards, whose development can be interminable.
6. CJ McCollum
The knock on McCollum seems to be that he is a combo guard. He strikes me as a prototypical shooting guard, and his statistical profile bodes well for his success at the position. He was an efficient and prolific scorer at Lehigh, but also boasted a solid rebounding rate, which quells my fears about his size.
His three point shooting was all over the map. A 42% shooter as a freshman, he dipped to 32% and 34% his sophomore and junior year respectively, before bouncing back to a flukey-looking 52% in his injury-shortened senior campaign. The biggest risk here is that weak competition inflated his stats. Even so, he looks like the best of the rest to me.
7. Kelly Olynyk
As much as I hate big men who don't rebound very well, there isn't a lot of precedent for someone with Olynyk's skills. The most efficient scorer in the NCAA, and a prolific one at that, Olynyk nonetheless seems to play like a wing. However, he also has the post skills of a big man and is tall enough to get his shot when he wants it. Considering the frequency with which he made that shot, it's hard not to be interested. His profile is similar to Rik Smits, but with less shot blocking, and Canadian as opposed to Dutch.
8. Jamaal Franklin
If you are looking for this year's Kawhi Leonard, look no further. Franklin demonstrated his athleticism by averaging 11 reb/40 while adding a healthy number of steals. The biggest problem? He can't shoot. That's trouble, if you are a shooting guard.
That said, in an NBA offense, and with less of a need to be the leading source of audience, Franklin should find a way to be very effective in the NBA. Leonard wasn't an efficient shooter either, for what that's worth.
9. Sergey Karasev
A Euro? This high? I think so. Karasev was an outstanding shooter for a wing, hitting around 40% of his threes for whatever a Triumph Moscow is. His 83% free throw shooting and ability to create off of penetration suggest a highly developed game. Oh, and he's 19, which means he will have plenty of time to develop.
On the downside, he's pretty much going to suck at defense.
10. Anthony Bennett
His statistical profile might merit him being a little higher. Bennett was a solid rebounder, who scored at a good clip with 60% TS. However, his numbers are unremarkable for a power forward, and so you have to hope he can play the wing. His conditioning may well keep him from being able to defend the position.
There are scouts saying he's the most athletic player in the draft, so maybe there is more than meets the eye there, and he clearly merits a lottery pick based on his age and output. I just wouldn't get too excited.
11. Tony Mitchell
A roll of the dice? You bet. One of the most intriguing prospects in the country after a stellar freshman campaign, Mitchell struggled in every aspect of his game last year. So what do you believe? Did he regress or was it something else?
I'm inclined to chalk it up to an immature player (he lost a season of eligibility to academic issues) dealing poorly with a coaching change. That is, in and of itself, a genuine concern, but Mitchell has also shown that he can be a top five talent. I would have had him at this spot last year in a much deeper draft. Given the available options, I'll give him a mulligan, but he's the biggest boom or bust pick in the draft.
12. Reggie Bullock
It seems like people are finally coming around to Bullock. An outstanding shooter, Bullock also has solid athletic stats, belying the criticism he is one-dimensional. He doesn't get to the line a lot, and if his shot suffers in transition to the NBA, he could be a bust, but I'll take established skill over the, um, nothing that a lot of first rounders are offering.
13. Shane Larkin
There's a lot to like about Larkin. He's an outstanding shooter, reasonably efficient in terms of assists and turnovers, and thrives in the pick and roll. So why is he here and Trey Burke is up there? Whereas Burke has an unearned reputation for being too small to play the point, Larkin is one of the smallest players in terms of all-around measurements we've seen in years. His A/TO ratio is impressive, but mostly because he plays it close to the vest, and not because he is a prolific passer. Will someone his size have that opportunity at the NBA level?
14. Cody Zeller
A slightly less efficient version of Kelly Olynyk, and all the same caveats apply. He is a skilled offensive player who isn't going to give you much in terms of rebounding and blocks. The key to his game will be maintaining a very high level of efficiency to compensate for the fact he won't be great at big men stuff. There's a good chance he does that, and he's young, so there is some chance he grows in those areas as well.
15. Rudy Gobert
Ordinarily, I don't like players who are a couple of years away from being real, actual pros. However, Gobert gives you a lot of raw material. He's 7'2 and doesn't have a bone disease, so there's that. Further, he shot over 70% from the field. Were those catch and shoot situations close to the basket? Of course, but that's exactly where I want a 7'2 guy to play. I call that good shot selection.
16. Mike Muscala
This year's Kyle O'Quinn, a solid big who will get no love because he is a senior and went to a school fans have not heard of. Muscala's numbers aren't quite as impressive as O'Quinn's, but he was one of the best rebounders in the country.
His offense is a big question mark. No way he gets to the line once every five minutes in the NBA, but I think you've got a bankable skill here, and he should be productive right away.
With a name like the stodgy old dean in an 1980s movie, K-Pope fits the profile of a dude who could wind up anywhere from 7th to 30th on draft night. I think he should be somewhere in the middle. His athletic numbers are good, especially his steals/40. I am concerned about his two-point field goal percentage, especially given his borderline three point shooting. If the NBA three point line proves beyond his ken, he could be hurting for offense. That puts him firmly in the second tier of wings for me.
18. Glen Rice Jr.
An interesting test of the projectability of NBDL numbers. Rice was pretty well dominant in his season at Rio Grande Valley, posting a 60% TS and averaging 10 reb/40 from the small forward position. The shooting improvement is notable, but is it meaningful? Rice is still only 22, so it isn't as though an uptick was out of the question. It's a risk, but I think you take it if you are in the latter half of the first round.
19. Arsalan Kazemi
Kazemi made an interesting move to get the attention of the NBA, transferring to Oregon for his senior year, and making a presumably overstated charge of racism to avert the one year transfer window. Theoretically, it paid off. He kept up his stellar rebounding (7th among prospects in reb/40) and efficient shooting (8th in TS%), and demonstrated he can defend against top-tier competition.
Players who transfer tend to be overlooked by scouts, but screw scouts. This guy has a chance to be good.
20. Mouhammadou Jaiteh
In Europe and in workouts Jaiteh has been rebounding and dominating like an NBA center. He averaged over 14 reb/40 in Euroball, while scoring tons of points on very efficient shooting. Then again, that was in France Pro B. Not like he had to go toe to toe with Sean May in Pro A or anything. I'd definitely want to see more in workouts, but he looks like the real deal to me.
21. Pierre Jackson
Jackson has been lost a bit in the point guard hype shuffle, but was quite effective running the point for Baylor. Very similar to Larkin, but less efficient from long range, Pierre Jackson is right there among the second tier in pure point rating, with a 58% TS to boot. All the size questions about Larkin are present here, but again, they haven't stopped him from being effective to date.
22. Carrick Felix
A very similar profile to K-Pope, who gets the nod here on account of age. Felix does a bit of everything, with solid rebounding, shooting and defensive stats. He has the profile of a successful wing, but also has a number of weird transcript issues. His 66% free throw shooting also has me wondering whether his senior year three point shooting (37% vs. no higher than 31% prior years) is illusory. Still worth a look as we head to the home stretch of the first round.
23. Jeff Withey
Not letting the best shot blocker in the draft fall out of the first round. That said, his steal and rebounding numbers project poorly in terms of his overall defensive game. His efficient scoring (62% TS) and very reasonable foul rate tell me he knows how to pick his moments, and I think a good team will find the way to make the most of his limited athleticism.
24. Elias Harris
I don't see a wide gulf between Harris and Bennett. Both are undersized for the power forward position, so-so rebounders and efficient scorers. Harris is older, of course, but it's passing strange people would whisper about Bennett in the top three while Harris goes undrafted. I think an experienced team looking for an extra big could do much worse.
25. Michael Carter-Williams
Let's be clear. MCW cannot shoot. He doesn't need to add to his arsenal, or hone his jumper, or tweak this or that. When it comes to putting ball in basket, he is really, really bad. Of all the NBA players who are fantasy-eligible at the point guard position, none could match his 49% TS in college. The inability to put ball in basket has foiled many a great NCAA point guard (we love you Mateen).
Also, he stole a bathrobe, which is just so weird. Booze, I can understand, but a bathrobe? Anyone who needs a bathrobe that badly probably belongs to a cult.
To be clear, MCW is pretty good at the point-guardy things. Not so good that I would drop everything, ignore glaring red flags, and spend a top ten pick on him. A late first-rounder in a lousy draft in the hope he figures out how to score? Sure.
26. Trevor Mbakwe
Mbakwe started his NCAA career during the Bush administration, so there isn't a lot of upside. That said, a contending team looking to add some rebounding and efficient scoring off the bench should probably pick him up. Mbakwe was one of the best rebounders in the NCAA last year, and that skill is likely to transfer to the NBA, even if nothing else does. Teams may shy away because of his personal issues, but they shouldn't hold out for very long.
27. Jack Cooley
Seems destined to go undrafted and wind up being a conference finals unsung hero. Like Mbakwe, but with a little less defense and a little less violence, Cooley seems like a good bet to be a solid rebounder in the NBA and not break things on the offensive end. He might be limited to that, as he has extremely limited range, and won't be getting bunnies at the NBA level, but things are going to get pretty dicey at this point in the draft, so I'll take the bankable skill.
28. Dennis Schroeder
Something of a sensation because of his sexy scouting videos, but I am not convinced. His outside shooting is good (if not erratic), but his A/TO ratio pales in comparison to other prospects. He plays like an SG, and is very undersized for that endeavor. One thing I do like is that he limits his game to three pointers and shots close to the rim. An adherent to the James Harden philosophy interests me, even if the talent level isn't quite as high. Definitely worth a stab, but I think he'll be picked too high.
29. Nate Wolters
From the "can you believe the numbers" case files, I present to you Nate Wolters. You know the drill. Prolific, efficient scoring against a bunch of dudes who will be English Teachers and engineers in a couple of years. Here's what I like about him. He's 6'5, doesn't turn the ball over or foul (while doing a lot on both ends of the court) and he played 38.5 minutes per game last season. How many prospects put themselves on the line like that?
30. Shabazz Muhammed
Shamu was enormously disappointing at UCLA. His father is a lunatic. He lied about his age, which calls into question his dominating high school performances. My initial reaction was that maybe all the heat surrounding his NBA destiny had become such a distraction, and his coaching situation so miserable, that he simply couldn't perform well.
That said, dudes who shoot as much as Muhammed really control their own fate. This isn't like Andre Drummond, who watched helplessly while Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier chucked long threes early in the shot clock as an interim coach gazed at cheerleaders. I think it's just very likely Muhammed is a decent player who happens to be overhyped.
Stay tuned for Round 2. Or, as I call it, the Jamal Olasewere show!