I like the NBA draft a lot. Too much, maybe. Years ago I sat down to write looong reviews on the majority of players who were in the Draft Express mock draft (at least in the first round) and my thoughts on their chance of success in the NBA. Since 2012 I haven't been able to commit the mammoth amount of time necessary to doing those posts, but this year things are finally looking good again.
Before I dive into that, I thought it would be a good idea to first look back on my past guesses and see if there are any lessons to be learned. I'll go from oldest to newest, focusing largely on players whose chances I especially liked, and especially didn't like ("liked" being relative to their expected draft position). I put in bold the players who I wrote a quick thought about.
But if you want to just jump back and laugh at all the things I got wrong, or stare dumbfounded in amazement at the couple things I think I got right here are the old posts:
CLICK HERE for my 2010 draft breakdown.
CLICK HERE for my 2011 draft breakdown.
CLICK HERE for my 2012 draft breakdown.
Reviewing my review of the 2010 NBA Draft
Players I liked:
Evan Turner, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Hassan Whiteside, Gordon Hayward, Cole Aldrich, Damion James, Quincy Pondexter, James Anderson, Trevor Booker, Jarvis Varnado, Marqus Blakely.
Players I didn't like:
John Wall, Wes Johnson, Greg Monroe, Ekpe Udoh, Patrick Patterson, Avery Bradley, Eric Bledsoe, Lance Stephenson.
WHAT I GOT WRONG:
Evan Turner. Looking back I still find it remarkable how dominant he was in college compared to how mediocre he's been as a pro. Per40 pace adjusted, how does this line sound: 23pts/10rebs/7asts/2stls with a 58 TS%? Check out Turner's college stats (HERE) vs D Wade's (HERE) and you'll see a player who I thought was going to be the next superstar guard. IMHE, this is one of the basic lessons in the NBA draft -- even virtually "perfect" players sometimes don't work out.
DeMarcus Cousins. He's been a good NBA player and yet also a massive disappointment compared to how productive I thought he would be. His statistical profile coming out of college (HERE) showed a player with remarkably few weaknesses. And yet minor weaknesses in college became major holes in his game in the NBA - namely, a tendency towards inefficiency when not drawing fouls, turnover prone, and (arguably most destructive) being overly emotional and erratic on the court. He seems to be trending in the right direction, but definitely is still far short of where I thought he'd be.
Cole Aldrich. Another impressively productive college player, easily checking all statistical boxes. He's actually been fairly solid statistically as a pro, but just can't find major minutes - perhaps because of inconsistent scoring efficiency and because he looks goofy and uncoordinated, both of which NBA coaches don't like.
Greg Monroe. He really surprised me in Detroit, his college stats were unusual but didn't scream out that he'd be an effective pro. His quick success as a pro was one of the first indicators to me that I should put a much heavier emphasis on age, as he was solid even as a young freshman in college. Though I wonder if my final line on Monroe will become prescient: "My guess is he'll have a long career, with a decent chance of landing an oversized contract, which eventually turns into an albatross"
Eric Bledsoe/Lance Stephenson. Both were abysmal in college. That each have not only lasted in the league, but become solid players is vexing when coming from a stats oriented POV (though obviously Stephenson has fallen off recently). Both are a good lesson in how very young players with elite athleticism/size can make huge improvements, and also how a prospects role in college can potentially suppress their stats.
WHAT I GOT RIGHT:
Paul George. His trajectory shows why with young players high "athletic marker" stats like rebounds and steals from the wing positions are usually very good news. While some offensive skills are innate, many can be developed, so players with NBA level athleticism (especially if it's both lateral speed/quickness and vertical explosiveness) actually have a fairly clear cut path towards becoming productive players. Get better at shooting and dribbling.
Gordon Hayward. Scoring ability made him a good bet, in particular the combination of a high usage rate and very high 2pt FG% and FT%. Together that suggested both shooting ability and creativity finishing inside. As a pro he's never approached the same level of inside scoring efficiency, but the jump shot has translated, and arguably the broadness of his offensive skill-set in college has manifested in greatly improving his assist rate in the NBA.
Trevor Booker. Pretty straight forward. A PF who rebounds a lot and scores often and efficiently inside is always useful. And every year there's at least one who gets picked in the late 1st or early 2nd round and then has a solid NBA career.
Hassan Whiteside. His career has been a weird, historical anomaly, largely due to him seemingly being a weird dude. But putting that aside, his breakout was right in line with what his college stats indicated he should be capable of - dominant shot blocking and rebounding from a young player are rare. Barring injury/craziness, if you find a player with Whiteside's mix of size/athleticism and productivity, there's a good chance they will be a productive pro.
Wesley Johnson/Ekpe Udoh: Nailed my two big bust picks. Being an older prospect is usually not great, but it's an especially big red flag if a player doesn't show signs of NBA caliber skill until they're older than their peers.
Reviewing my review of the 2011 NBA Draft
Players I liked:
Kyrie Irving, Jonas Valanciunas, Kawhi Lenoard, Marcus Morris, Markief Morris, Jimmer Fredette, Marshon Brooks, Alec Burks, Kenneth Faried, Tyler Honeycutt, Chandler Parsons, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler (picked both as potential 2nd round sleepers), Norris Cole.
Players I didn't like:
Derrick Williams, Brandon Knight, Klay Thompson, Chris Singleton, Tristan Thompson, Donuts, Tobias Harris, Justin Harper.
WHAT I GOT WRONG:
Jimmer. Four year player without a skill set to match his (lack of) size. J.J. Redick survived and eventually thrived in the league with similar athletic profile and shooting ability, except he's 6'4"/6'5" rather than 6'1".
Alec Burks. He's been decent, and got paid a decent amount, but hasn't been nearly as productive as I expected. A lesser version of the Evan Turner issue - where a prospect with all around strong numbers just isn't as good in the NBA as his college stats suggested he'd be. Not a bad player, but just a solid pro to this point.
Klay Thompson. While I think he's a little overrated as a pro, he's still been unbelievably more productive in the NBA than I predicted. The lesson with him IME is simple - his size to quickness ratio combined with his shooting ability, which he'd clearly shown in college from the start, made him a much more versatile player than I'd thought.
Tristan Thompson. Not sure how much there is to learn here, he hasn't really improved his skills greatly (other than defensive rebounding), he's still not much of a shot blocker. But the offensive rebounding and aggressiveness have carried over from college in a big way. I preferred Faried overall and while he's probably been a better pro to this point, Thompson is younger and because of his superior size is probably likely to remain effective longer. Though the counter to that is it took 4 seasons for Thompson to become an above average NBA player, while Faried was a beast from day one. So another lesson - many young bigs take (a lot of) time.
WHAT I GOT RIGHT:
Kawhi Leonard. Pretty proud of this one. Took the lesson from my miss on Monroe and applied it here. Leonard was a stud at the age of 18 in college. There were clearly a few holes in his game, which made him drop on draft boards. But even NBA superstars can have holes in their game. The key was that he'd found a way to apply his physical gifts to the basketball court from a very young age, which indicated the bball IQ that has led to him being one of the best in the league.
Marcus/Markieff Morris. Both were versatile and productive and destined to be picked way behind Derrick Williams, who looked roughly the same statistically, but with an additional red flag or two.
Derrick Williams. Speaking of... Williams is a good example of a player type that often disappoints. The big dude who can shoot. And that's it. He actually hasn't been as terrible as most people think (so not a total bust like similar prospect Anthony Bennett), just nothing special.
Kenneth Faried. He was hugely productive from the day he stepped foot on a college campus. One of the absolute easiest "sleepers" to spot that I can remember.
Reggie Jackson. He's had the issue with defensive effort since college, but players with his size and package of skills are pretty rare (even though he didn't combine all those skills in a single college season) and often make an impact.
Jimmy Butler. Also nailed this one (except for the Landry Fields reference - at the time he'd been a major surprise contributor to a solid Knicks team). Good as a freshman, plus well rounded game, plus effort/intangibles made him a strong candidate to greatly outperform his draft position.
Reviewing my review of the 2012 NBA Draft
Players I liked:
Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, John Henson, Jared Sullinger, Royce White, Draymond Green, Will Barton, John Jenkins, Drew Gordon, Jae Crowder.
Players I didn't like:
Thomas Robinson, Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, Austin Rivers, Perry Jones, Terrence Jones, Kendall Marshall, Marquis Teague.
WHAT I GOT WRONG:
Harrison Barnes. Similar to Klay Thompson, so there's the possibility that playing with Curry is elevating both of them somewhat. But Barnes has surprised me regardless, and I think the lesson is similar to the one with Klay - a great size to speed (and with Barnes add strength) ratio, plus shooting ability is very valuable in the modern game.
Damian Lillard. I guessed he'd stick in the league because of the knock-down three point ability, but he's exceeded expectations big time. He was thought of as an out of nowhere, big senior season guy, but he'd put up huge usage numbers with good efficiency since his sophomore season. I wonder if there was something similar going on to Steph Curry in college, where because he was by far the most talented player on his college team, while it gave him the opportunity to have full control of the offense it also somewhat suppressed his stats from indicating the extent of his upside because opponents were so focused on stopping him.
Bradley Beal. I'll say half-wrong with Beal, he's been a little less productive than I guessed, but he wasn't a surefire star, more a high-floor type. The lack of elite size mixed with any highly above average skill has translated into a player that's solid and can score well enough, but is likely to be overpaid because of PPG's.
Royce White. The unfortunate lesson that sometimes talented players can fail for off the court reasons.
WHAT I GOT RIGHT:
That the 2012 draft would be underwhelming. I didn't see a lot of sleepers like in 2011, and that basically proved true (with one major exception, which I did get right).
Anthony Davis/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Both were very good as freshman. Both are good as pros. Yep.
Draymond Green. He was highly productive and versatile throughout his college career (even as a freshman in limited minutes). That he continued to add new layers to his offensive game while maintaining the ability/desire to get rebounds, blocks and steals I took as a sign that he was intelligent and would/could continue to improve.
Thomas Robinson. Another unhappy player type - a cousin of the Derrick Williams "big guy who can just shoot," Robinson is the quintessential "not quite big enough guy who can't shoot." Robinson could rebound like crazy, and actually still can, his rebound rate in the NBA has been great for a PF. But the dual warning signs out of college of low 2 pt FG% and block rate have doomed him to a journeyman career. Bigs who can't protect the rim on defense and aren't explosive around the basket on offense need to have a wide range of skills to make an impact, and unfortunately Robinson hasn't developed them.
Jae Crowder. Similar to Faried, except at SF. Well rounded game right off the bat at the D1 level. Then flashes a great steal rate as a senior. Still confuses me how he goes in the 2nd round.
Austin Rivers. The opposite lesson from Bledsoe/Stephenson. Sometimes young players who are given a bunch of chances don't improve.
Kendall Marshall. Rebounds, steals, scoring efficiency with some frequency. Guards who can't at least somewhat manage those three things in college, no matter what else they bring to the table are going to have a hard time surviving in the NBA athletically.
Overall Lessons Learned
1. The importance of youth.
Digging back through these three drafts has reinforced how crucial a players age is relative to their production and their peers. All things being equal, a younger prospect has a higher chance to succeed in the NBA (at least eventually) than an older one. With a handful of young prospects, even if they were terrible in college, they still ended up better pros than older guys who on paper looked like better players. It's not fair, but it does seem to be the truth.
The happy side note to that is players can improve and that improvement actually does matter - it's not as if a prospect is destined to flop even if they don't totally set the world on fire from day one. But the younger a player is when they flash NBA caliber skill and productivity the better, and if a prospect hasn't shown those skills until they are older than their peers that should serve as a significant red flag.
2. The importance of versatility and basketball skill.
This seemed to come up with quite a few sleepers. Draymond, Jimmy Butler, Reggie Jackson. Prospects who can do a bunch of different things well on the basketball court, even if they lack eye popping athleticism or size, those guys tend to be good bets to outperform their draft position.
3. The importance of size and athleticism.
I'm combining speed/quickness/vertical explosiveness into "athleticism" and height/length/strength into "size." There are examples of players from basically every position group who surprised me and outplayed what their college stats suggested they would produce, and did so largely based on elite size/athleticism.
This goes hand in hand with youth and is obviously something that can be scouted pretty effectively. IME, this is why back when players could go straight from high school to the NBA, the overall success rate for those players was surprisingly high (though of course it often took a while). Basketball skills can be learned, sadly there is not yet a way to learn how to have a 9'5" standing reach like Hassan Whiteside.
4. The importance of stats.
At this point there's not much of a secret about which stats are most important for prospects. Steals for a guard, blocks for a big. A high 2pt FG% for any position. Scoring efficiency with at least moderate usage. Rebounds for any position, but especially offensive rebounds. Assists from any position outside PG are a nice bonus. FT% as the best indicator of a players inherent shooting ability.
Even after granting the point that straight out of high school players had a high rate of success in the league, which suggests the crucial importance of scouting and "measurable's" I still think with the one and done rule remaining in effect a stats oriented approach gives the highest possible chance of hitting on a pick, particularly later in the draft.
5. The importance of luck.
In many ways, the most important thing to keep in mind. Players with seemingly otherworldly athleticism and towering size can look lumbering and amateurish against players with NBA caliber skills (take a bow, Darko). And just the same, seasoned college players with diverse skills and dominant stats can look ordinary when matched up against the size and athleticism common in the NBA. Not to mention, things like injuries and other forms of bad luck.
From looking back on what I wrote I'd like to think my guesses got a little more educated, and I think that's born out in a handful of the players I highlighted as sleepers. But there's not a magic formula and of course never will be.