2021 Draft Theory: A Review of a Few

For various reasons, I did not watch nearly as much college basketball this year as I have in previous years and have not spent as much time tape scouting as I have in past years. I am a big believer that if you have not sat down and done the tape work yourself, you shouldn’t be putting strong opinions out. Therefore, I am not doing a full big board this year.

However, based on both positional value, NBA trends, and long term draft trends, there are a few players that I believe are particularly undervalued or overvalued by consensus that I’d like to talk about a bit. If you’re looking for super deep analysis of on-court play, this isn’t it. This is looking at players from an entirely different but no less important angle – their chance of generating value for the team that drafts them.


Cameron Thomas

What…what am I missing here? He’s Oak Hill Academy’s all time leading scorer. He scored 23 points per game in a major conference while shooting 7.2 3s a game and 7.6 FTs a game as a 19 year old. Every team needs a guy who can score like this. This is one of those situations where the difference between the college game and pro game is glaringly obvious. Whether it’s as the primary on-ball guy running pick and roll or the secondary scorer, it’s hard to see Thomas not being an extremely successful pro player. It seems like he would be a top 5 lock in most drafts, and while I haven’t done a deep dive on this draft, I feel fairly confident he belongs there here as well.

Ayo Dosunmu

Dosunmu has been on the draft radar since his freshman season, so I have become familiar with him over previous years. Watching him, my first thought was always “man, he’ll be really good when there’s no center camped in the paint”. His dribble drive and pull up game is perfectly suited for NBA play even though it did not always shine in college. He’s already 21, which means he’s more ready to make an impact than a lot of other players in the draft. While I don’t necessarily think he’ll reach star level, I think he has a good chance to be a useful piece fairly early in his career, which indicates he should be going somewhere in the 10-15 range rather than his current projected range.

Joe Wieskamp

I can find no more perfect example of “secondary skills don’t matter” than Joe Wieskamp. Wieskamp appears to be an elite shooter who brings very little else to the table beyond some above average rebounding skills. In the NBA, he will play the “stand around and shoot” position, and a quick tape review shows that he is very, very good at playing that role. He could stand to speed up his shot release a little, but Wieskamp should be an easy post-lottery first who can come off the bench from day 1 with future starting potential.


Evan Mobley

Two years ago, I put Zion Williamson and Bol Bol in my top tier. That was wrong. No matter how good they are or will be, they will never be good enough to be impact players in the playoffs barring some major rule changes. Evan Mobley is ranked too high for the same reason. No matter how talented he is, he’s still a 7 foot big, and for the teams at the top of the draft, he’s simply not going to be the guy to take you where you want to go. Fade him to the late lottery at the earliest, but I’d say late teens at the earliest. I just want no part of a highly drafted 7 footer. They just don’t matter in the games that matter.

Kai Jones, Alperen Sengun, Isaiah Jackson, and any other first round center

Again, centers still don’t matter. Drafting a first round center is like drafting a first round running back in the NFL: no matter how good they are, it was still a bad pick because you’re not getting value. Young centers are especially bad value. Stop taking first round centers, especially young ones. These guys are all fine picks in the early-mid second, but no earlier. There’s just no value to be had.

Davion Mitchell

One of the first things I look at for any player is their measured combine height. Here’s the list of successful players his height drafted in the past 10 years: Trae Young, Collin Sexton, and Devonte Graham. That’s it. Trae Young and Collin Sexton were both massively better as freshmen than Mitchell was as a senior. That leaves Graham as the lone comp, and even in college Graham was a significantly more dynamic offensive player by a decent margin. Mitchell just isn’t a good bet. On very rare occasion, a guy with no positive NBA comp still manages to hit, so I wouldn’t write him off entirely, but I also wouldn’t draft him until the late first at the earliest. More likely he follows the path of Shabazz Napier, another undersized guard who rode a wave of positive momentum from the tournament into an uneventful career.

Enjoy the draft, everyone!

2021 Draft Theory: The March Madness Theory of Player Projection

Big boards look far, far, far too much alike, with way too much consensus from top to bottom. In NFL Draft circles, it’s not uncommon for differences of opinions spanning multiple rounds. That is what would be expected – projecting the career paths of young players who have never played professional sports is extremely inexact.

The NBA Draft is unpredictable. How unpredictable? You can measure that in a number of ways.

First, let’s look at the top 10 in BPM in 2021. This isn’t a perfect list of the 10 best players, but it’s illustrative enough for this purpose:

Nikola Jokic41stJoel Embiid3rd
Giannis Antetokounmpo15thJames Harden3rd
Stephen Curry7thLuka Doncic3rd
Jimmy Butler30thKawhi Leonard15th
LeBron James1stDamien Lillard6th

If you keep going down the list, you’ll continue getting a mix that looks like this – the next tier includes a number of 1st overall players, a number of mid-late lottery players, and a handful of later picks. In short, players drafted at the top tend to have better outcomes than players drafted later, but it’s far from a guarantee, and not at a level of certainty that would warrant the level of consensus seen on draft boards.

Second, let’s look at recent NBA Champions, looking at players who played 50+ MP in the Finals:

TeamTop 56-14 (Lottery)15-30 (First Round)
2017 Warriors231
2018 Warriors221
2019 Raptors004
2020 Lakers322
2021 Bucks014

Much like the BPM method, this isn’t perfect. It counts low minute role players like 2017-18 Shaun Livingston and 2020 Dwight Howard as Top 5 picks, but it’s illustrative of the overall point. Championships are always won by elite players, elite players are not always drafted highly. The 2021 Bucks’ lone lottery pick was Brook Lopez. The 2019 Raptors didn’t have a single lottery pick on their roster and only one player drafted in the top 20. The 2020 Lakers had 3 #1 overall picks.

No matter how you slice it, the fact is that the best players, while typically weighted towards the top, are found throughout the draft. Draft projection should reflect that: while there should be some consensus among top prospects, there should be far, far less than there currently is. The fact that there isn’t is a good indication that draft projection is poor, and the results we see on the court confirms that.

And so I present “The March Madness Theory of Player Projection”.

60 NBA players are drafted each year, there are 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament each year. Every year, people try to predict every game. Every year, nobody gets everything correct, and most years, nobody is even close. You enter a bracket pool, and while there are definitely strong consensus picks, even the best teams have their doubters and even the worst have their believers. The 1 seeds (the top 4 picks) generally produce the winner (5 of the last 7), but which of those top 4 is going to be the actual best is much harder to predict. Most years, the Final Four (four best players) are a mix of a 1 seed (top player), two other 1-3 seeds (lottery picks), and a lower seed (post-lottery player).

The key is that, before the tournament? It’s really hard to predict which of those teams are actually going to be the successful ones. The top seeds/prospects are more likely to hit and likely are at least functional, but they don’t hit their expected potential nearly as often as their consensus would indicate. The next set of seeds/prospects are less likely than the previous set but there’s still a pretty good chance that one hits. There’s also another large group of seeds/prospects that are likely to produce surprises, but it’s harder to find them.

If you look back on my big boards, I have always sought to balance the chance of hitting a middle outcome with the ability to hit the high end outcome. Like in the NCAA Tournament, we know that some lower consensus-ranked prospects will become better players than higher ones. And yet anybody who dares to do the equivalent of saying “I think a 12 will beat a 5” or “a 7 seed or lower will make the Final Four”, things which happen practically every year, are considered wild or unreliable (or worse).

So when you head into this draft, or any other draft, remember: it’s the NCAA Tournament. There will be upsets. There will be surprises. There will be busts. There will be prospects who come on strong, and prospects who fade against better competition. None of this should be surprising, because it is normal. The consensus is easy enough to find. Anybody can parrot it and make minor changes. What makes a draft forecaster good is being able to project which players will be those surprises, which will be those busts, which will be the Cinderellas.

Like the NCAA Tournament, nobody will ever be perfect, and only in a very chalk year will ever really be anywhere close. Don’t focus on individual hits and misses – everybody, including NBA teams, professional scouts, journalists, and fans, misses far more than they hit. Finding the projectors who hit just a little more than everybody else, finding the ones who miss just a little less, is really what draft projection is all about.

2021 Draft Theory: How Fast Things Change

I spend a lot of my time reviewing the draft analyzing league trends, previous drafts, projections of previous drafts from myself and others, and just generally trying to ensure that the theory behind the projection matches up with what is going on in the league.

I started doing player projection and did my first theory articles in 2015. I have always noted that one of the difficulties in draft projection is that the league changes so quickly, so what may be true now may not be true a few years in the future when those players are starting to hit their stride. The NBA has now reached a point where it is changing so fast that it has become almost impossible to do quality player projection because the way the game shifts completely changes the value of players.

When I look back at my 2019 board, it looks completely alien. I don’t say that because I missed badly – my rankings are pretty solid, the guys I appear to have been too low/high on have pretty dead-on explanations. It’s too early to make any judgments as to which players are bad, average, good, or great, and I wouldn’t move anybody around based on that. Rather, the value of positions is just way, way off. And the thing is – they may have been accurate in 2019! That’s just how fast things are changing. The biggest change is how refs are calling defensive fouls and how offensive players are adjusting to it. If anybody has watched the Olympics, the difference in how the game is called is stark. Specifically, handchecking is allowed in defending pick and roll and much more bump and run is allowed when defending drives.

And when defenses simply are not allowed to defend the point of attack on the pick and roll, offense becomes very, very easy. Set a pick, use the pick, then take the open option (pull up 3, drive to the rim, kick to the help defender’s man). Pretty much the only other play used often is the straight up iso, when the defensive player is outmatched and not allowed to be physical and the offensive player doesn’t need a pick because they’ll get open or fouled even without the pick.

This has distorted the game very quickly, in a way that fans are generally unhappy about. Teams no longer need well-rounded players with a variety of skills. In fact, well-rounded non-specialists have no real use. You’re either the primary ball handler, the pick setter, or one of three guys standing around the arc. You’re either one of the two defenders against the pick and roll or standing next to a guy around the arc. That’s a bit of a simplification, and any breakdown of the US Olympic Team’s struggles would probably start with a breakdown of all the little things those “standing around” guys do that distinguish them, but a deep dive into creating passing angles by taking two shuffle steps along the perimeter is not the purpose of this article, so let’s move on.

In Naming and Necessity (2016), I did a deep dive into the various skills needed by NBA players and how that translated to NBA position. In 2016, that was an accurate summary. Much of my positional value projection over the following years were evolutions of that article. That article is now completely outdated. None of that exists anymore, nor does it have any relation to it anymore. Players drafted in 2016 are just starting to hit their prime now, and everything they were drafted to do has changed. It’s only been 5 years!

On offense, you need to be able to do one of the following:

  • Handle the ball in pick and roll, shoot the 3 off the bounce, and make kick passes
  • Hit spot up 3s with a decent release speed and accuracy
  • Set strong picks and either roll or pop

That’s it. That’s every good NBA offense. We just watched two straight teams make “surprise” NBA Finals appearances by simply running this very basic offense efficiently and effectively.

On defense, you need to be able to switch on to any player and offer at least a little bit of resistance and you need to be able to help and recover. That’s pretty much it. Because most defense gets whistled, most defense is now help and recover and stopping the ball by simply bringing an extra defender over. Slower players and smaller players are finding it more and more difficult to defend quality offensive teams because they’re hunted and exploited.

The difficult thing is that in 5 years? All this will probably be different. The NBA is already making a lot of noise about cracking down on some of the most common foul drawing techniques. If they take steps to limit the effectiveness of pick and roll, everything here will be wrong and a new paradigm will emerge. What will that game look like? The best projection I can make at this time will be teams putting five 3 point shooters on the floor, spreading the floor even further, and trying to exploit whatever the best individual matchup is. That points to the return of the multi-tool wing, the further rise of the rangeless 3 point shooter, and the continued slow death of the center. But any number of rule changes could make the future look very different.

Projecting the draft includes looking at current positions and positional value, projecting how the NBA will evolve, and what rules and enforcement will change. It adds an extremely difficult layer to the draft projection process. That process is the subject of the next article.

2021 Draft Theory: Three Different Sports

In Everything’s Different in the Adult World (2016), I wrote about the difference between college basketball and the NBA and why those differences made it so difficult to scout players and project how they will transition to the NBA. Five years later, college basketball has changed little, while the NBA has continued to push deeper into the space and shoot era.

College basketball and NBA basketball are so divergent at this point that they are barely the same sport. The shorter 3P line and no 3 second violation means that there is no space to operate inside, and most teams simply do not have enough shooters to create the space. None of the schemes that work in the NBA work in the NCAA and vice versa, and players are asked to do wildly different things.

I watched very little college basketball this year, and it was not pandemic related. College basketball simply did not resemble NBA basketball. Because of the lack of defensive three seconds, both offensive and defensive schemes were wildly different from NBA schemes. I found the average game to be full of slow pace, poor shooting, and a showcase of skills I was not interested in, either for enjoyment or scouting purposes.

Additionally, more and more players are leaving early or not even going to college to begin with the rise of G-League Ignite, meaning there is less talent and the talent is less consistent and ready. All this is to say that I believe scouting college basketball for future NBA talent is going to become more and more difficult, and there’s going to be a lot more guessing and projection involved, as all the roles are different and players develop at different rates, if at all.

But a second rift has formed and has been widening even quicker: the difference between regular season NBA basketball and postseason NBA basketball. There’s a lot of adages and conventional wisdom regarding what happens in the playoffs, but many don’t hold true anymore. The referees do not allow more contact. The game slows down a bit, but not a huge amount.

The real change is just how much teams can gameplan and adjust to specific opponents, tendencies, and plays. In the regular season, every team has its standard offensive and defensive schemes. Usually it’s a few base schemes and a few wrinkles, useful against whatever team happens to be the opponent that night, simple to execute consistently. However, come playoff time, teams can make major adjustments on both ends.

One of the best examples of this was game 6 between the Clippers and the Jazz in this year’s playoffs. If you were to design a terrible, inefficient offense, it would look a lot like what the Clippers were running. A player would iso at the top of the key or the wing and, with no screen, drive ineffectively towards the basket. Against most teams, this offense would be an ugly failure. But something weird happened:

Clippers vs. Jazz, game 6 highlights

No matter how well the initial penetration was stopped or defended, Rudy Gobert would inevitably wander away from his man, giving up wide open 3 after wide open 3 for absolutely no reason. This turned the offense into an unstoppable juggernaut, keying a 25 point comeback.

Similar examples dotted the playoffs. Teams exploited switching defenses to get the same favorable matchup on every possession. Weak defenders were isolated until they were forced off the floor – Bryn Forbes went from 6th on the Bucks in minutes in round 1 to barely playing in the Finals because of this. Offensively limited players go from mildly problematic in the regular season to offense killers in the playoffs.

Over the course of an 82 game season, it is neither feasible nor reasonable to laser in on targets. There is not enough time to implement major changes, and spending practice time to focus on one opponent instead of refining and perfecting your own schemes is time poorly spent. There are minor adjustments made for individual opponents, but that is the extent of game to game changes typically seen.

Another huge difference is the effort level. There’s just too many games in too short a period of time to give maximum effort at all times. Most players and teams give enough effort for the first 3.5 quarters and then turn it on at the end of the game. In the playoffs, the effort level is far higher for far more of every game. Some defensive schemes require max effort level to work consistently, and offenses that could work against a normal defense suddenly get completely stuffed.

As a result of the major differences between the regular season and the postseason, centers go from the most important players in the regular season to the least important in the postseason. This twitter thread succinctly summarizes it. If you want to win in the playoffs, your center should be a roleplayer who is defensively sound, sets strong picks, and rebounds well, but who you can easily pull off the floor for another wing.

The more you are built around a center, the less likely you are to win, for all the reasons above. On offense, centers can’t bring the ball up the floor, and teams scheme to limit where centers touch the ball. The extra effort also means that the help is always a little bit quicker, the recoveries a little bit cleaner. It’s just harder for a center to generate efficient offense. On defense, the high quality teams will make rim protection meaningless by dragging the center away from the basket or bombing from deep if the center stays close.

Basically, in the regular season, you want Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, and Nikola Jokic. But in the postseason, you want an old vet on a small contract who knows every trick in the book to stop opposing centers and won’t affect the rest of the team if they’re pulled.

As we head into the draft, keep in mind the differences between the three versions of basketball. Ultimately, the goal is to win a championship. That means that the most valuable players are efficient ball-dominant creators and quality 3-and-D wings. Every other player should be significantly devalued accordingly.

2021 Draft Theory: Introduction

This year’s draft series is going to be a little different than in the past for one simple reason: I am not ranking the prospects this year. If you are the type of draftnik who is only interested in lists of players, this is not the draft series for you. 

I have now been doing draft projection since 2014 and my draft series articles since 2015. They continue to build on each other, and so throughout this year’s, there will be many links to previous articles. It is good to read these articles (or re-read, if you have been following my work), as I try not to simply repeat things I have previously written, yet they often remain just as important as they were when written. Sometimes they link to other articles. Everything is linked for a reason.

I’d like to highlight some of those older articles specifically that I will not be covering elsewhere in this draft series but which are still as important now as when they were written:

The Four Horseman of the Argument-pocalypse (2016)

The first article I ever wrote on my own website, this article is as true and relevant as the day it was written. If you find yourself making any of these arguments, consider this a renewed plea to stop and reconsider and to participate in more productive, relevant, and useful discussion.

It’s All About the Game, And How You Play It (2016)

The draft is not just about finding the most talent, but maximizing the value of draft picks. The value of a draft pick goes far beyond merely the talent of the player drafted when they hit their prime. I believe every concept in this article has been expanded on by future articles I’ve written, which is a good indicator of how relevant I consider everything in here to be.

Reference Series: Defense (2017)

Much of the offense that is romanticized today was only efficient in a long-gone era. If you are not aware just how much both offense and defense changed as a result of the massive rule changes made at the turn of the millennium, make sure to read this. This one could probably use an update regarding how offensive and defensive schemes have continued to evolve, but the general principles generally remain the same.

Draft Theory: On Age, Development, and Value (2019)

Expanding on Reference Series: Age (2017), it’s always good to remember that age is a massive factor in projection and readiness and is a much more consistent indicator than college year. It’s equally good to remember that drafting teenagers outside the top 5 almost always fails because even if they turn into the player you think they will turn into, they almost never generate value for the team that drafts them. Why do NBA teams keep doing it? I honestly have no idea.

Draft Theory: Leftover Food for Thought (2019)

This is a hodgepodge of ideas that did not merit a full article. Just a lot of really good, useful, important stuff in here. One of the quick hits in this article will be getting expanded into a full article in this series.

2020 NBA Draft: The Samepocalypse Has Arrived (2020)

A primer on where the NBA was a decade ago compared to today. 3PA and 3PAr both rose again from last season to this season. Two of the articles later in this series are direct follow-ups to this one, looking at how games played out this year and digging deeper into just what this means for players going forward.

And with those highlights out of the way, let’s take a look at some new and updated concepts as we head into the 2021 Draft!

2020 NBA Draft: The Big Board

Three notes:

  • I only scouted and projected players who played NCAA D1 Basketball in the 2019-2020 season. The top of this draft has many players who did not play NCAA Basketball. They are omitted only because I did not scout them, and I have no opinion on them.
  • Major conference prospects in bold, mid-major prospects in italics, low major prospects in plain text. Mid-major and low major prospects have a wider range of outcomes and less certainty regarding those outcomes.  
  • The sections are not ordered within tiers and the players are not ordered within sections.

For more information on the theory behind my big board, I covered it in my 2019 NBA Draft Series:

The Past, The Present, The Future
On Age, Development, and Value
On Patience and Probability
There Are Levels To This Game
Leftover Food for Thought

And my 2020 Supplement: The Samepocalypse Has Arrived

Tier 1: The Elite Prospects – High chance of being a star, chance of being a superstar


Tier 2: The High Quality Prospects – High chance of being a starter, chance of being a star


Tier 3: The Potential Stars – Chance of being a star, but high risk on multiple levels

Anthony EdwardsOnyeka Okongwu

Yes, not a single college player in this draft received a top 2 tier grade from me. Typically Tier 3 prospects get drafted in the mid-lottery.

Anthony Edwards is an incredibly difficult prospect to project. He shot 29.4% from 3 and had more turnovers than assists in conference play. Typically a profile like that wouldn’t even make it on to my board. Put on the tape, and you may not even be able to figure out who or where he is on court 80% of the time. But that other 20%? That other 20% is “top 10 player in the NBA” level. He has elite NBA physical tools. He flashes all the skills. Will he put it all together? Who knows. If he doesn’t, he’s probably still a fine backup, but it’s hard to see him landing anywhere between “star” and “backup”.

Onyeka Okongwu is raw. Very, very raw. He should probably spend the next two years (at least) in the G-League. However, his upside is that of a perfect modern center. He has the footspeed to stick with smaller players on the perimeter, he shows a nice shooting stroke, he makes some fantastic passes. He’s just not consistent with anything, which is to be expected of most young bigs. If he never puts it all together, he’s not much of a player, but the upside is quite high. The other risk is that the NBA starts to go even smaller at center and he is too big for whatever it ends up settling at, though I think he has the physical tools to make it work.

Tier 3: The Glue Guys – No real star upside, likely to be rotation players or quality starters within three years, fail chance is lack of single elite quality

Cole Anthony

Some teams don’t need to swing for a star, they need to get somebody who will be able to supplement the stars they already have. These are those guys. There is a bust chance, but not nearly as high as The Potential Stars.

Cole Anthony’s draft stock fell down the board throughout the year, but it’s not clear why. UNC suffered from an extreme lack of spacing and just overall talent, which led Anthony to try to play heroball in extremely unfavorable circumstances. As a player, he is good both on the ball and off the ball, both on offense and defense. He lacks a single standout anything, which makes it difficult . What is his role at the next level? Ultimately, he will likely be at his best as a Robin to an elite Batman.

Tier 4: The Roleplayers – Starters or backups, these players can overcome minor flaws as long as their 3 point shot translates to the next level.

Tyrese HaliburtonTyler BeySaddiq BeyDevin VassellKira Lewis
Desmond BaneTre JonesAaron NesmithJordan NworaTy-Shon Alexander
Mason JonesRobert Woodard IIImmanuel Quickley

None of these players project to be stars at the next level, but all of them could become useful roleplayers as long as their 3 point shot falls.

Tyrese Haliburton is painfully unathletic. He is a very good basketball player, but he is going to be bottom 10% athletically among NBA wings. He will be best utilized as an off-ball mover and facilitator, as he simply doesn’t have any off-the-bounce game that will work at the next level.

Tyler Bey played center for Colorado this season and that might be his best position at the next level should he go to a team that realizes it. His 8’9.5″ standing reach + 43.5″ max leap gives him more than enough size and height, and watching him sky for rebounds is really incredible. If forced to be a more traditional wing, he can probably still succeed, but it would be a waste of a special talent, and it wouldn’t be ideal for his skillset.

Saddiq Bey is an aggressive and accurate shooter who fails to get the most out of his physical tools due to some weird issues with physical movements that are more commonly seen in football RBs. A good team will get a coach specifically to iron those out and could end up with a steal. Otherwise, he is too stiff in his movements to be a quality defender.

Devin Vassell is a traditional 3-and-D wing. He doesn’t have the elite athleticism necessary to be a true point-of-attack stopper, and he doesn’t have the handle to be much of a threat off the bounce, but he should be fine as a 4th or 5th guy on the floor.

Kira Lewis projects to be an average primary ballhandler. The bar to being a good starter at PG is really high, and he just lacks the creation or passing skills necessary to be at that level. He’s more of a backend starter or backup unless he significantly improves his passing.

Desmond Bane is just a guy. He’s ready to step in and play right away, but he will never provide more than 2nd or 3rd wing quality 3-and-D play.

Tre Jones can run an offense, but he can’t elevate one. He simply doesn’t have the physical tools to create offense or the passing to unlock a defense . If a team needs a backup PG who can initiate the offense and shoot the 3 if he’s left open, Jones can do it.

Aaron Nesmith made waves with his 52.2% 3P shooting, but he only played one game against major competition, and they relentlessly attacked him successfully on defense. But if he can shoot even 42% from 3 at the next level, teams will find a way to hide him on defense.

Jordan Nwora will probably be a better player in the NBA than he was in college. He can get his 3 point shot off quickly and accurately from many different balance points. He will greatly benefit from receiving less attention from defenses.

Ty-Shon Alexander is a little smaller than ideal, but other than that, he’s another traditional 3-and-D wing. His large wingspan makes up for his lack of height, and he does a good job keeping his hands active on defense.

Mason Jones led the entire NCAA in FTA (271, 9.1/game), and he made them at an 82% clip. He only shot the 3 at 35.3%, but if he can do that at the pro level, he is one of very few true secondary ballhandlers available in this draft.

Robert Woodard II has ideal physical tools for a wing, able to defend the entire spectrum of wings. He shot 42.9% on 70 attempts from 3, so if he can stick anywhere near that on more attempts, he could help a lot of teams as a 3-and-D guy with the size to guard big wings.

Immanuel Quickley has gotten much less attention than Tyrese Maxey, but he shot 42.8% from 3 and 92.3% from the FT line. He won SEC Player of the Year. He’s a little undersized but does a good job defending other players his size. Feels like a guy who will fall and people will try to figure out why in a few years.

Tier 5: The potentially passable bigs – Because sometimes you really just do need a guy who can rebound

Vernon CareyDaniel OturuUdoka AzubuikeJalen SmithObi Toppin

As I wrote here, traditional big men are getting completely played off the floor. None of these players have any chance of sticking to guards if switched on pick and roll. But if you’re going to force a center on to the floor anyway, these guys may be worth a look.

Vernon Carey is a very traditional big who showed a well rounded offensive game. If he can develop his game passing from the post, he’d make a very nice bench/change-of-pace option.

Daniel Oturu is quick and bouncy and has a chance to develop into a true 3-and-rim protection center. Would make sense for Western Conference teams who need players to stick with the better centers of that Conference.

Udoka Azubuike shot 74.8% from the field this year, including 50.7% on 2 point jumpers. He had a fantastic combine. His 44% FT is a problem and he’s not a good enough passer, but he’s still worth a look on a bench.

Jalen Smith showed a developing 3P game, but he showed little ability to defend when forced outside the paint in Maryland’s zone scheme. Might be worth trying to develop still.

Obi Toppin cannot defend anybody anywhere on the court. I also question how well his offense will translate to the next level. He might be interesting as a bench scorer for a team that thinks they can hide his defense, but he will have to be extremely efficient on offense to be worth playing even in that limited role.

Tier 5: Vaguely Interesting Young’uns – These guys might be decent NBA players…at some point.

Tyrell TerryIsaiah JoeJosh GreenNico MannionCassius Stanley
Isaac OkoroJahmi’us RamseyCJ EllebyTyrese Maxey

This is the group of players most subject to the issue of value. If this big board was just a matter of who will have the best career, some of these players would be ranked higher. But they are unlikely to generate value on their rookie contract and if they pan out, they are unlikely to re-sign on a good contract for the team that drafts them. This makes it difficult to justify drafting them as high as their potential would otherwise dictate.

Tyrell Terry is a great shooter, but he doesn’t have the ball-handling or passing skills to play lead guard. At 6’1.5 with a small wingspan, he got completely swallowed up by bigger defenders and struggled to defend anybody with NBA size. But shooting is shooting, so maybe the ballhandling and passing gets developed down the road.

Isaiah Joe knows his role. 76% of his shots this year were 3 pointers. The issue is that he only made 34.4% of them, and his defense is not good enough if he is merely a league average shooter. But if that shot gets more consistent, he can be a threat.

Josh Green did not shoot many 3s or make them at a high clip. But the rest of his game is decent, so he probably just needs some time to develop into the 3-and-D player he’s set to be.

Nico Mannion is not a finished product, and the finished product version of him may still not be good enough. His poor wingspan and lack of burst makes it difficult to project him as a true impact player on either end of the floor, but PGs are typically the slowest position to develop. Check back in on him in 6 years.

Cassius Stanley may have the highest upside of this group. He is the best player in this draft in transition offense with his combination of speed and hops. A team willing to develop his half-court game may find a player with all the tools to be a bonafide 2-way starter.

Isaac Okoro has generated a ton of buzz, but it’s difficult to figure out why. His offensive game could improve by leaps and bounds and still fall short of NBA-quality. His defense is good but not quite elite, and even if it was, his lack of offensive game is so glaring that you can’t put him on the floor. Give him a few years to see if that shot develops at all.

Jahmi’us Ramsey had a good 3P%, but he could not put the ball in the basket consistently from anywhere else. His small size meant he was easily pushed around. A few years of NBA body work should get him to where he needs to be as a backup scorer.

CJ Elleby was miscast as a primary ballhandler for a Wazzu team that was lacking in talent. Being moved off the ball should help, though he still needs to work on consistency on both ends of the floor. He may still be able to develop into a secondary initiator.

Tyrese Maxey wasn’t good at anything this year, but who am I to doubt young Kentucky guards?

Again, some of these players could be ranked higher, but their young age and unrefined games just make them questionable players to draft. I can’t say more about them because there’s not more to say yet – you’re drafting an incomplete bag of parts.

Tier 6: Worth a look in the second round, but don’t expect anything – A bunch of young bigs and a few iffy wings

Emmitt WilliamsReggie PerryZeke NnajiIsaiah StewartPrecious Achiuwa
Jaden McDanielsPatrick WilliamsJames WisemanMalik FittsSam Merrill

Not much to say about most of this group. Williams, Perry, Nnaji, Stewart, and Achiuwa are all bigs who don’t have the footspeed to stick on the perimeter or the shot to stick on the outside. Even if they develop, it’s hard to see what they bring to the table.

Jaden McDaniels is long and lanky but bad at basketball. He’s a better lottery ticket than some others, but stash him in the G-League for 3 years and check back in later.

Patrick Williams is a future center who doesn’t do anything well. On offense, he’s a poor shooter and created nothing. On defense, he doesn’t have the footspeed to stick on the perimeter, and most of his defensive stats came from a zone scheme where he could range far from his responsibility. He didn’t crack the starting lineup in college because he wasn’t good enough, and his potential is as an undersized bouncy center, but there are already too many of those for him to be particularly interesting.

James Wiseman is bad at basketball. While he only played two games, he showed terrible hands and no basketball skills. He’s a future rim runner/rim protector, and if and when he reaches a point where he belongs on an NBA floor, the NBA is likely to have already reached a point where that role doesn’t exist anymore. Draft him hoping that rule changes curtail 3P shooting?

Malik Fitts and Sam Merrill are mildly interesting shooters from mid-majors. It’s not clear either has the athleticism or strength necessary to stick at the next level, but they’re worth a look in the second round just in case.

Tier 7: So you still have draft picks leftover…

Cassius WinstonDevon DotsonGrant RillerMalachi Flynn
Payton PritchardSkylar MaysJordan FordPaul Reed
Xavier TillmanYoeli ChildsLamine DianeOsasumwen Osaghae

Everybody in this group is talented, but talent isn’t enough. The guards are all too small and/or lack the athleticism required to succeed in the NBA. They may be able to stick as 2nd or 3rd stringers, but the game is moving away from small PGs. The bigs were all super productive college players who haven’t shown a consistent 3 point shot and are likely limited to being small centers at the next level.

Tier 8: Unlisted Players

There are a lot of draft eligible players. By sheer quantity, a few players not listed here will get drafted and given enough opportunities to eventually earn a job, or will go undrafted and eventually work their way onto NBA rosters. One of them may even be really good. I could keep listing guys in Tier 8, Tier 9, Tier 10, but the difference between Tier 7 and Tier 8 is already tiny, and the distinctions just get tinier with each passing tier. Again, a few unlisted prospects will pan out by sheer quantity, so if a prospect you like did not make this board, they could still be good! I just don’t think they will be.

2020 NBA Draft: The Samepocalypse Has Arrived

For over a decade, analysts and journalists have fretted over the possibility that all basketball teams will start to play the exact same style, making a completely homogeneous game in which every game plays out the same way.

That possibility is now a reality.

In the 2010-2011 season, teams averaged 18.0 3PA/game, a .222 3PA rate. Both of those numbers have gone up every season, up to 34.1 3PA/game and a .384 3PA rate in 2019-2020, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. In the 2020 playoffs? That jumped up to 36.3 3PA/game and a .427 3PA rate. The lowest volume 3 point shooting team this past season, the Pacers, finished at 28.0 3PA/game and a .317 3PAr. That would’ve been 2nd and 6th in the league respectively in 2014-15. 

It cannot be overstated how massive of a change this has been in such a short period of time. Every team creates space with 3 point shooters, uses that space to get to the basket, and then either finishes at the rim or kicks out for 3. Just look at these team shot charts. Every year, I write about the importance of adjusting player value to fit the current NBA rather than an NBA that no longer exists, but it’s time to take it further.

Moving forward, all players need to be judged on how they fit into the very specific roles that exist in an NBA where teams will likely be averaging 40+ 3PA/game. How they fit into this year’s NBA is irrelevant. By the time they get off their rookie contract, the NBA game will be so different, so much further pushed in this direction. And this creates two major problems:

  1. The college game has absolutely no relation to the NBA game anymore, meaning very very few players get to show any of the skills that are actually relevant to the NBA game.
  2. 3P% is the single most important stat for success at the next level, but it is also the single most difficult to project and often does not stabilize until a player hits 25 or 26 years old.

Being good no longer matters. The criteria I used to judge players in 2014 when I first started doing this are irrelevant. The criteria I used to judge players in 2018 are irrelevant.

What is relevant?

Turn on any NBA game and you will see the same thing. A player stands in each corner. A player stands on the wing. A player stands at the top of the key with the ball. The last player is either a big ready to set a pick or a player on the other wing. Then, the player with the ball either jacks up a 25 foot 3 or takes the ball to the rim and gets fouled or kicks it out if help comes for an open 3. That’s it. Occasionally, a team will throw the ball to the player inside, who isos closer to the basket, but the most successful offensive teams don’t do that.

So, what you’re left with are very few positions: 

  • Primary ballhandler, who must be able to shoot the 3 at a high percentage off the bounce and must be able to find the open man to kick to when driving.
  • Shooter, who must be able to hit catch and shoot 3s

That’s it. Those are all of the modern NBA positions. To succeed at the highest level, you usually need a Shooter on the court who can act as a secondary passer/creator, and a Shooter who can act as the Point of Attack defender, but they’re not separate positions as much as useful secondary skills. If you cannot fill one of these roles, you are not a useful offensive player, and if you cannot defend one of these roles, you are not a useful defensive player.

Which means, yes, traditional centers are no longer useful. Take a look at the DRtgs from this year’s playoffs. The worst teams? Dallas (Porzingis), Brooklyn (Allen), Utah (Gobert), Philly (Embiid), Denver (Jokic), Indiana (Turner), a group of fantastic rim protectors (and Jokic). The best teams? Toronto (Siakam), Boston (Theis), and Houston (Tucker), a group of Power Forwards who can stand their ground in the post but are far from the traditional center. Rim protection doesn’t matter if you are always 20+ feet from the basket, and in the playoffs, teams put traditional rim protectors in pick and roll over and over, generating either wide open 3s or wide open paths to the basket.

It also means that what makes a defender good has completely changed. Defense now requires the ability to provide some resistance if switched on to the primary ballhandler, a basic understanding of a few key defensive principles, and…that’s about it. Players who can’t defend at all can sometimes even stick on the floor by defending somebody in a corner, chasing them around, and scheming to avoid them getting pulled into the primary action, as the Heat did with both Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.

This is all to say that scouting for the draft now is so very different than it was just a few years ago. Instead of 3P shooting being one of a few significant factors, it is now the only significant factor. If a player does not project to be able to shoot the 3 at a league average level, they don’t even belong on a draft board, because it is a required skill. I only have a first round grade on three players with a 3P% under 35% this season and two of them are centers who project to be able to add it to their game with time.

And being honest, it’s a lot less fun to do draft analysis when all that really needs to be written is “Can shoot and defend a little”. You can write thousand word pieces on these guys. You can do 10 minute video breakdowns. But all that really needs to be written is “projects to be a good catch and shooter who can hold his own on defense” for Shooters and “projects to be a good off the bounce shooter who can create for himself and teammates” for Primary Ballhandlers, with just another sentence or two of notes for all the secondary skills.

But hey, that’s where the NBA is at. So let’s just do the Big Board, eh?

The 2020 Big Board

The 2019 NBA Draft Big Board

Introduction to the 2019 Big Board

Four notes:

  • I only scouted and projected players who played at least one season in college. I have no opinion on Doumbouya, Bitadze, Samanic, Bazley, and other players who did not play in college.
  • Major conference prospects in bold, mid-major prospects in italics, low major prospects in plain text. Mid-major and low major prospects have a wider range of outcomes and less certainty regarding those outcomes.
  • The sections are not ordered within tiers and the players are not ordered within sections. The tier numbers are used to compare sections and do not map on to tiers from my previous years’ big boards.
  • Many of the concepts here were covered in previous Draft Theory articles. The answers to many questions can be found there:

Tier 1: The Elite Prospects – High chance of being a star, chance of being a superstar

Zion Williamson Bol Bol

These should be the first two players off the board.

Zion’s game needs refinement in practically every area. He’s 6’6″ 285, which is insane. It’s not clear what his NBA position is. And none of that matters. Zion is a complete freak. He just put up one of the greatest college seasons of all time. He will likely be a two-way force on day one in the NBA. Figure it out as you go along.

I did a full write-up on Bol Bol already. He is the most skilled offensive player in the draft by a mile. The injury concerns are overblown. Draft him, develop him for 2-3 years, be rewarded with a stud. Pretty simple.

Tier 2: The High Quality Prospects – High chance of being a starter, chance of being a star

Ja Morant Brandon Clarke Matisse Thybulle

These three prospects are all uniquely talented in their own way and placed above the rest below them.

Ja Morant is a great distributor. I feel very confident saying that. He is a good enough distributor that he will be a starter based on that skill alone. The rest of his game is much more difficult to project due to the lack of quality opponents. I am concerned about his ability to get to the rim and finish against legitimate NBA rim protectors. I am very concerned about both his defensive ability and his defensive effort. Still, his passing ability and vision is top notch, and that’s where it starts for a PG.

I really urge people to watch a full game or two of Matisse Thybulle just playing defense. His defensive metrics literally break the scale – as in, there is nobody in NBA or NCAA history who has ever put up the numbers he did over a full season. I’ve seen allegations that his numbers are inflated due to the system. He is the system. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a player play defense like him. He will be in the league for over a decade just on the strength of his D alone. If he can hit a corner 3 at 35-37%, he’s an ideal #3 guy.

I have done a full write-up on Brandon Clarke already. He is an elite help-side defender at PF and his shot form is so nice and so consistent that it’s hard to see him not developing a passable 3 pointer within a year or two.

Tier 3: The Potential Stars – Chance of being a star, but high risk on multiple levels

RJ Barrett Cam Reddish Darius Garland Jontay Porter

This group of players all have star upside, but come with multiple risks. If you need a star, these are the guys to look at, but be aware of both the patience necessary and probability involved.

RJ Barrett’s path to being a star is obvious. He’s a tall wing with ball-handling and creation ability for both himself and others. He just turned 19, so he was one of the youngest players in college basketball this year. Given five years of development, it is very reasonable to expect that his efficiency, decision-making, and shooting will all improve. The two massive red flags here are his defense and his offensive ceiling. He was a poor defender (sub 1.5% STL) who struggled in every facet of defense. That really limits his overall upside. On offense, he is the classic volume scorer. If he can’t boost his efficiency massively, those players are team killers. Approach with caution.

Cam Reddish needs to answer one question: can he shoot? He was a quality defender who has the total package to be a high quality defender at the next level. He shot 33.3% on over seven 3PA and 77.2% from the line, which are decent indicators. He shot a mind-numbingly bad 39.4% from two. He was a poor finisher at the rim. He was abysmal on mid-range jumpers. Those are awful indicators. His shot form looks fine, but the results obviously weren’t there. There is a universe where Reddish’s shot improves as he gets older and he turns into an elite 3-and-D wing. There is also a universe where it doesn’t, and he’s pretty much useless. Anybody who says they know which outcome it will be is lying. Check back in on him in four years.

Darius Garland played four games in his college career and only one against a major conference team. That’s not much of a sample. Here’s what we know about Garland. He has the best shot release in the draft, especially off the bounce. He also lacks pretty much every other skill. Drafting Garland is committing to 4-6 years of developing a super raw player who looks to have the single most important offensive skill in basketball and not much else to go with it. This is not a short term project, and results are not guaranteed.

Jontay Porter requires a voracious appetite for risk. He is a unicorn, a 3-and-D center with athleticism and everything needed to be a star. Except health. “Injury risk” is thrown around far too much, but Porter is the type of guy the label should be reserved for. His brother can’t get healthy. His sisters both retired because they couldn’t get healthy. If his health wasn’t such an issue, he’d probably be in the Elite Prospects tier. But it is. He will probably never play, and if he does, he will probably get injured. He arguably belongs down a tier or two because of that. But man, if he can stay healthy…

Tier 3: The Glue Guys – No real star upside, likely to be rotation players or quality starters within three years, fail chance is lack of single elite quality

PJ Washington Chuma Okeke Jarrett Culver
Coby White Nickeil Alexander-Walker Jaxson Hayes

Some teams don’t need to swing for a star, they need to get somebody who will be able to supplement the stars they already have. These are those guys. There is a bust chance, but not nearly as high as The Potential Stars.

PJ Washington and Chuma Okeke are the same player for all intents and purposes. They are both do-it-all 4s who do everything well on both ends. Neither has any stand-out skill, but they also don’t do anything poorly. Okeke is a little safer assuming full recovery from the ACL tear because he’s a little better defensively, but Washington showed a little more scoring chops. Can’t really go wrong with either.

Jarrett Culver, Coby White, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are all well-rounded combo guards. I’ve already done a full write-up on Alexander-Walker. Jarrett Culver can do everything but shoot. Which is kinda a big deal. Despite rebuilding his shot between his freshman and sophomore seasons, it still appears broken. He may have to transition to point guard eventually if the shot never develops, but his floor appears to be good backup point guard because of his quality in all other facets. Coby White is a little further away, but has the best offensive game of the group. He turned 19 in February. If he can develop the point guard aspects of his game over the next 4-6 years, he could be a quality starter, but his floor appears to be shooting combo guard. Not a bad fall-back.

Jaxson Hayes…doesn’t really fit in this category, but I’m not sure what category to put him in, so here he is! Hayes is tall, long, athletic, and really raw. Still, within a few years, his athletic gifts should allow him to at least provide rim protection and pick-and-roll offense off the bench. He really needs to put on weight and improve his rebounding, but those are the types of things that are typically addressed over time. I don’t really know how much a non-stretch big can be a star anymore, but he has all the tools necessary to be a good starter.

Tier 4: The Limited Roleplayers – Starters or backups, these players could be good as long as they are put in a specific position to succeed, but they may just not be good enough regardless

Rui Hachimura Tyler Herro Daniel Gafford Bruno Fernando Nic Claxton

Each of these players has one or more major limitations that ultimately cap them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help.

Rui Hachimura is a gifted scorer. Nobody will be able to take that from him. He doesn’t have a three point shot yet, but there’s no reason to believe it won’t come along within the next few years. But he can’t defend anybody, and his awareness on both ends is lacking. Still, as a backup power forward used to help carry bench units while the primary scorer is on the bench, Hachimura could bring a ton of value. Every team needs a 6th man scorer, and Hachimura could fill that role nicely.

Tyler Herro is a shooter. That is what he does. I have already done a full write-up.

Gafford, Fernando, and Claxton are all just guys. Every team needs at least two centers. These guys all project to be backend starters or decent backups. It’s just hard to point to a notable thing any of them do. They’re decent offensive players, decent rim protectors, but they just don’t bring anything special to the table. Those players have value, but there’s just a lot of them out there.

Tier 4: The Oddities – These guys lack…something. If they can overcome it, they could be real steals as early as their first season

Ty Jerome Grant Williams Dedric Lawson
Mfiondu Kabengele Jeremiah Martin Shamorie Ponds

I’ve already done a full write-up on Jerome. Why is he in this category instead of with The Glue Guys? After I did the write-up, the combine happened and his measurements were worse than I expected. I also watched more tape, and I think I was a little too dismissive of his athletic limitations. I still think he can succeed, but I think he will need to be on a team that can help him contain dribble penetration, because I don’t think he can do it on his own. His team defense is great. His man defense will determine whether he can stick.

Grant Williams was one of the top 5 most productive players in college basketball this season in my database. He has good feet and bull strength. He is a good passer, good handler, finishes at the rim, finishes at the midrange, and even hit a few open threes. On defense, he has good hands and doesn’t give up position easily. What’s his problem? He measured in at just 6’5.75″ w/o shoes. It’s hard to find successful players at that height. And going to the tape against Okeke and PJ Washington, what you see is a player that taller guys just shoot over. It also limits his rim protection ability on help defense. I have major concerns about his ability to both defend and get his shot off at the next level, but if he can answer those concerns, he could be a very good starter.

Dedric Lawson was a top 10 player on my board after his sophomore season at Memphis. He transferred to Kansas rather than enter the draft, and he was the best player on the team. He shot well and put up 20 points on 47/48/90 shooting in the second half of the season. He was a board monster, defended well, and looks like everything you want out of a power forward. What does he lack? Base level athleticism. He was near the bottom in pretty much every agility and jumping test. He makes up for it with a huge wingspan and the second longest hands in the draft behind Tacko Fall, but will it be enough? He played Washington to a stalemate, outplayed Okeke and Williams, and seriously outplayed Paschall. He could easily be with the Glue Guys up a tier. Some team is likely to get a real steal on him late, but he still needs to prove he can hang at the next level.

Mfiondu Kabengele played center, had a BLK% over 8, and shot 37% from three. 3-and-D center, high upside, buy buy buy! Well, not quite. He was a backup for a reason. He’s not really tall enough to play center at the next level and doesn’t really have the ability to defend away from the rim, so it’s not clear that he has the ability to play either at the next level. On offense, he is a black hole. When the ball hits his hands, it’s his ball. While he was a very efficient scorer at the college level, if that efficiency drops at the next level, it’s bad news. Still, he was highly productive as a backup scorer and shot-blocker, and he can very much succeed in that role at the next level as long as his team keeps it simple for him.

Jeremiah Martin is my highest rated unknown player, which means that he probably won’t get much of a chance to prove he belongs, but that won’t stop me from saying he deserves one. What is Martin’s big flaw? Getting stuck at the wrong school at the wrong time. Three coaches in four years led to a complete collapse of the talent around him and being forced to play out of position, plus just a lack of consistent coaching. Martin is a PG. He measured at 6’1.5″ at the Portsmouth combine. He was the third tallest player in the starting lineup and played SF, where he survived thanks to his 6’ 9″ wingspan. Martin was elite at getting to the line in his junior and senior seasons, and his shooting really came on in the second half of his senior year. He generates a ton of steals, can operate on or off the ball, and does everything you want. Can he make the jump to the higher talent level? Will he get a chance to? We’ll see.

Shamorie Ponds is your classic quality veteran PG. Good shooter, good passer, good defender against smaller guys, struggles against bigger guys. He measured in at 5’11.5″ w/o shoes and tested as an average athlete for a guard. I don’t have much to say about Ponds – he’s probably too small to be a starter at the next level, but he has the skills to play backup PG as long as he can make it work at his size.

Tier 4: The Longshots – So you’re saying there’s a chance…

De’Andre Hunter Kevin Porter Jr. Moses Brown

The chances of these players hitting a middle outcome is low. The chances of these players hitting a great outcome is low. The chances of these players floundering for some number of years and washing out unmemorably is high. But hey, people play the lottery, right? Here are some tickets.

I think many people will be shocked to see De’Andre Hunter listed as one of the least safe players in the draft. It basically comes down to how you feel about his defense. Hunter is routinely listed as an elite defender, and he in fact won ACC Defender of the Year. But on tape, he’s just brutally bad. His 1.2% STL this year puts him in the Devin Booker range as a defender. His off-ball defense alternates between lazy and lost. His sense of spacing and angles is pretty much non-existent. His on-ball defense was okay but was largely helped by Virginia’s pack line. I just don’t see it. Maybe he’s the elite defender everybody seems to think he is, and if he is, he’s a valuable player. His offense is rudimentary but more than functional for a defensive specialist. But it’s nowhere near good enough if his defense is as bad as the stats and tape look. I think betting on Hunter to become the first player in recent memory to be an above average defender with a STL% that low is a bad bet.

Kevin Porter Jr. needs far less explanation. He missed a bunch of games due to injury and another set of games due to a “personal reasons” suspension. He couldn’t crack the starting lineup for a team that finished 16-17. But his numbers were actually not terrible other than his FT% and midrange FG%. He played offense, he played defense, he rebounded, he has NBA athleticism. He was 18 all season, not turning 19 until May. Most likely, whatever team takes Porter will still be trying to figure out what they have with him after his rookie contract. But maybe he puts it all together, and if he does, he has legitimate star upside. For many teams, the risk and opportunity cost will outweigh the reward, but at some point, it’ll be worth taking a shot and seeing what happens.

Let’s not bury the lede: Moses Brown is so raw Gordon Ramsay is cursing just looking at him. Anybody who watched him this year probably went, “Him? NBA player? Lol,” and moved on. Look, Brown shouldn’t see an NBA minute until the third year of his contract. At the earliest. But once you move past that, what you’re left with is a legit 7’1″ reasonably athletic center who already showed an ability to score, rebound, and block shots despite having no idea how to actually do those things. It may take him six years to get there, but there’s a history of guys like him struggling to figure it out and then just having a light come on in the mid-20s. For a team at the beginning of a rebuild, he’s at least an intriguing piece to stash away just to see what he becomes.

Tier 5: Better Than G-League? – I would bet that 1-3 of these guys end up being productive NBA players. Which ones? Your guess is as good as mine

Cam Johnson Robert Franks Chris Silva Ky Bowman Jaylen Hands
Zach Norvell Jr. Dylan Windler John Konchar Mike Daum

Cam Johnson was a 5th year, 23 year old senior. He wasn’t draftable as a 22 year old senior. He wasn’t draftable as a 21 year old junior when he left Pitt. You would expect a 23 year old to absolutely dominate college, but Johnson didn’t. He was a relatively low usage role-player who contributed very little outside of shooting. It’s really hard to find something he does better than a G-Leaguer such as BJ Johnson, Marcus Derrickson, or Cam Reynolds. Now, all of those guys each got a cup of coffee in the NBA this year, but they’re just nothing more than backups at best, and there’s guys like that available every year. Johnson might be a fine bench player, but that’s his upside.

Robert Franks is a perfect example why. Quite frankly (pun intended), Franks is already a better shooter than Cam Johnson despite being nine months younger. He’s a better rebounder. He’s a better passer. He was much higher usage. Johnson can play SF while Franks is limited to PF. And just like with Johnson, Franks is very much the type of guy who stands out in the G-League but struggles to find his way in the NBA. Again, has the chance to be a nice bench player, but that’s it. Maybe it’s just that Johnson got to play for a better team, but it’s just really hard to explain why Johnson is considered a first round pick and Franks couldn’t even get a combine invite when they’re cut from such similar cloth.

Chris Silva is a potential 3-and-D PF. He was one of the best players in the SEC two years running. If I had more confidence in his shot translating, he’d be up a Tier, but it’s a real limiting factor. Other than that, there’s not much to say here – he’s a quality player who probably just has the exact wrong limitation. For teams with a stretch 5, he’s worth a look for sure.

For teams looking to find an undervalued ready-now backup PG in the second round, they could do worse than giving Bowman a look. Despite standing 6’1″, Bowman rebounded at the level of a SF. He hit over 37% of 3s despite shooting around 60% of them unassisted. He played decent defense. If he can distribute at an NBA level, he’ll be a steal in the second round. Unfortunately, playing at Boston College, he didn’t get to demonstrate whether that’s the case or not.

Jaylen Hands is one of the best athletes in the draft. He’s a good distributor, though his overall decision-making could use work. His athleticism didn’t always translate to his defense as much as you’d like to see. Still, he was already good as an 18 and 19 year old in college and just turned 20 in February. Point guards who are as good as he was at his age tend to develop well. He lacks the type of elite skills needed to establish yourself as a starting PG in the NBA, but he could have a very long career as a stabilizing force for teams that need it.

Zach Norvell has a full write-up. His truly poor athleticism may prove too much of a limiting factor for him to overcome, even if his skill level is there.

The three low majors are harder to project, just because of the competition gap.

One of the hardest things to judge at the low major level is whether a player is athletic compared to low major players or is just athletic. Dylan Windler answered that question about as strong as you can at the combine. He struggled against high major competition in his senior year, but sometimes it’s hard to adjust in just one game. If he can adjust to NBA level competition, his mix of shooting and rebounding could get him 20 minutes a game for a long time.

John Konchar is one of the most interesting prospects in the draft. Measuring in at a legit 6’4″, he can shoot, he can rebound, he can pass, he can defend, and his play against high major competition didn’t seem to suffer at all. He is sneaky athletic (read: he is an average athlete but he’s white so it’s sneaky instead of average, and I can say it because even he called himself sneaky athletic). He is the only player in NCAA history to hit 2000 points, 1000 rebounds, 500 assists, and 200 steals in a career. He was more efficient this season than Ja Morant and Ty Jerome. He could easily be up a tier. This is where the uncertainty of low major prospects comes in. Some team should give him a chance though.

Mike Daum has been a South Dakota State stud for three years. He can score. He can rebound. He can’t defend. He probably even more can’t defend at the next level. But hey, sometimes there’s room at the back of the bench for a PF who can make a second unit interesting, and backup PF might have the lowest defensive bar in the NBA.

Tier 5: Vaguely Interesting Young’uns – These guys might be decent NBA players, just not for the team that drafts them

Nassir Little Talen Horton-Tucker Romeo Langford Luguentz Dort Jaylen Nowell

If you’ve followed my draft series, this is the group of players most subject to the issue of value. If this big board was just a matter of who will have the best career, many of these players would be ranked higher. But the fact that they are unlikely to generate value on their rookie contract and unlikely to re-sign on a good contract for the team that drafts them means it’s difficult to justify drafting them as high as their overall potential would otherwise dictate.

Nassir Little was a good rebounder. The rest of his game sucked. But he’s a fantastic athlete with a highly ranked pedigree, so he’ll get plenty of chances to stick as a classic SF.

Talen Horton-Tucker was a good defender and showed potential but is super young and super raw.

It’s actually hard to point to anything Romeo Langford did particularly well, but he was apparently playing with an injury and has a highly ranked pedigree like Little, so he’ll get every opportunity to succeed.

Lu Dort has a very good chance of becoming a nice 3-and-D guard down the road. Needs some time to get the shot going, that’s really it.

Jaylen Nowell is a good scorer who should also make a nice SG down the road, but remains a few years away from being able to play regularly.

Again, some of these players could be ranked higher, but their young age and unrefined games just make them questionable players to draft. I can’t say more about them because there’s not more to say yet – you’re drafting a bag of parts, assembly required.

Tier 5: The Low Upside Oddities – They’re like the Tier 4 Oddities, but they have lower upside and more flaws

Carsen Edwards Sagaba Konate Nick Ward

Carsen Edwards is the dreaded high volume, questionable efficiency scorer, and it’s hard to see that efficiency getting better against better competition. Coming in under 5’11″ and without elite athleticism, it’s just hard to see Edwards succeeding at the next level. Maybe if he develops his PG skills, he could survive as a backup PG, but right now he’s a SG, so even that isn’t going for him. His path to success is his offense translating to the next level enough to overcome his other limitations.

Sagaba Konate is a weird story. After a very promising sophomore season, he returned to school, developed a mysterious knee injury, and then shut it down under shady circumstances. Another good season could have had Konate in the top 40 conversation. Instead, we’re left to wonder what to make of him. He’s a shot-blocking PF who showed off a three point shot in his limited time this season. If he’s physically and mentally healthy, he’s worth taking a look at in a backup role. But when the local beat writers are writing, “Sagaba Konate is headed for a cliff and all we can do is sit back and wait for him to plunge into the abyss below,” …Yeah.

Nick Ward is a max effort, very undersized center who could never play major minutes due to foul trouble and play style. If teams start carrying a small backup center and a big backup center to deploy in different match-ups, he could find a home. I don’t think he can stick at PF, so his only real chance of success is as a center against smaller centers. Given the current NBA trends, he could be entering the NBA at just the right time.

Tier 6: The Rest – We’ve reached the point where separating these guys into their separate sections is unnecessary – these guys are unlikely to be more than deep bench guys at best, but 60 guys get drafted, so here we are

Ignas Brazdeikis Keldon Johnson Naz Reid Tremont Waters
Jessie Govan Tacko Fall CJ Massinburg Nick Mayo

Iggy Brazdeikis turned 20 in January despite being a freshman. His shooting is good, but he just brings so little else to the table that he really isn’t better than any number of G-League shooters, and I don’t see where the upside is.

Like Brazdeikis, Keldon Johnson is a good shooter. He also lacks secondary skills, and he’s far away from being anything if he ever becomes anything. Let him earn his way to the big leagues in a few years if he can.

Naz Reid isn’t a good enough defender or shot-blocker to be a center and doesn’t have the footspeed or shooting to survive as a PF. I don’t know how he’ll develop, but drafting him without knowing what his NBA role will be or when he’ll be good enough to execute it is too big an issue to overlook.

Tremont Waters is 5’9.5″. He’s not an insane enough athlete to have a chance of overcoming that. Good distributor, but more likely to find success somewhere in the world where his height will not be as much of an issue.

Jessie Govan is a center who shot 41% from three. His numbers all ticked down from his junior to senior season, though there’s no clear reason why. He’s probably just not good enough, but a stretch center is enough to get a nod from me here.

Tacko Fall is a massive individual who looks like he belongs on a basketball court, which is an impressive feat. As mentioned with Ward, the NBA may be moving in a direction where teams carry two different backup centers for match-up purposes. Fall could punish teams who play undersized non-stretch centers, I guess.

CJ Massinburg was the leader of the 32-4 Buffalo Bulls. I was concerned about his size, but he’s got passable height for a SG. It’s a big jump from a mid-major to the NBA, and I don’t think he can make it, but maybe he can stick as a bench microwave.

Nick Mayo is a stretch 4 who was a really good player for Eastern Kentucky. Almost definitely not good enough in many ways, but will probably get a chance to earn his way up from the G-League.

Tier 7: Unlisted Players

There are a lot of draft eligible players. By sheer quantity, a few players not listed here will get drafted and given enough opportunities to eventually earn a job, or will go undrafted and eventually work their way onto NBA rosters. One of them may even be really good. I could keep listing guys in Tier 7, Tier 8, Tier 9, but the difference between Tier 6 and Tier 7 is already tiny, and the distinctions just get tinier with each passing tier. Again, a few unlisted prospects will pan out by sheer quantity, so if a prospect you like did not make this board, they could still be good! I just don’t think they will be.

Introduction to the 2019 Big Board

King Arthur had the Holy Grail. Ahab had his white whale.

I have the Perfect Big Board.

Now, to most people, the Perfect Big Board would be getting every prospect correct in the right order. That is an impossible dream. No, the Perfect Big Board is one that accurately conveys all the information it seeks to convey. The current model of Big Boards don’t come close to doing that.

What do I mean?

Big Boards right now are just lists of prospects. Sometimes they’re split into tiers, sometimes they’re not. But they’re just lists. It’s easy to make a list of “best players right now.” It’s easy to make a list of “who will be the best in five years.” There will certainly be disagreement, but at least every player is being judged on the same criteria, and all people judging know what they’re judging.

But what happens when the list is supposed to reflect who is the best right now, who will be the best in five years, the floor, the ceiling, the probability of each possible outcome, and everything else that goes into a prospect’s value, all at the same time?

An incomprehensible mess that doesn’t reflect anything well, is impossible to judge in the moment, and is impossible to judge looking back.

“In metric, one milliliter of water occupies one cubic centimeter, weighs one gram, and requires one calorie of energy to heat up by one degree centigrade—which is 1 percent of the difference between its freezing point and its boiling point. An amount of hydrogen weighing the same amount has exactly one mole of atoms in it. Whereas in the American system, the answer to ‘How much energy does it take to boil a room-temperature gallon of water?’ is ‘Go f*** yourself,’ because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities.” – Josh Bazell, Wild Thing

The way current big boards are done is the American system. How does a list accurately order a boom/bust freshman, a safe freshman who won’t be good for five years, a ready-now older rotation player, and an athletically-limited sharpshooting wing? The answer is go f*** yourself because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities. See the problem?

A New Style of Big Board

Back in 2016, I took my first attempt at a different style big board. Looking back on it, I just ended up creating something that was unapproachable from any angle. So for the past two years, I went back to the classic tier list system. It’s easy to say something should be replaced. It’s not easy to replace it with something better.

Right now, there’s no good way to reflect “this prospect is undraftable but will be good in 5 years”. There’s no good way to reflect “two of these ten players will be good but there’s no way to know which two”. A good big board needs to reflect the uncertainty inherent in projection, even if people want certainty.

This year, I have developed a completely different style of big board. If you are looking for just a list of prospects, this is not the big board for you. Rather, this seeks to break down the draft into comparable quantities. Once you get past the absolute top prospects, the draft becomes much more a matter of what you are looking for in a prospect.

A good big board also needs to have built-in context. We often talk about players as “top 5 pick” or “lottery pick” or “second rounder,” but what those terms mean will change wildly from draft to draft. Trying to keep tiers objectively the same from year to year is basically impossible, especially given how they can be filled with completely different quantities.

Finally, a good big board also needs to be understandable. My 2016 big board failed that test miserably. And going into this year, that is again my biggest concern. Doing something a certain way for the first time is always going to engender some level of confusion. My hope is that six months down the line, it still makes sense and doesn’t devolve into the incomprehensible mess I seek to avoid.

With no further introduction, I present:

The 2019 Big Board