2016: Applying the Theory to This Year’s Prospects

(This article initially appeared at DEEPishThoughts and is reproduced here for completeness only.)

With less than two weeks until the 2016 draft, I guess I should start talking about the prospects in the 2016 draft.  I will try to link back to relevant articles where appropriate, but the two most important are probably Naming and Necessity and The FP System.  My big board (coming next week) is short on detail for individual players because the ranking is my primary concern, so this is where I will give deeper(ish) thoughts on some prospects that stand out to me as underrated, overrated, or just plain intriguing.  If you’re looking for analysis of Simmons or Ingram, I’ve already written a full article on them. Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Denzel Valentine

Valentine will be underdrafted.  What continues to amaze me is how NBA teams make the same mistakes year after year after year after year.  I get it – Valentine is older and not a particularly good athlete.  As I wrote last week, age should be only the most minor of factors in prospect analysis – players drafted at all ages succeed, and older players succeed just as much or more than younger players.  While lack of athleticism is a minor problem, it means he’s never going to be a superstar, but there are plenty of players who succeed without elite athleticism.  Denzel Valentine is simply too good at too many things to completely bust – he can shoot, he can pass, he can rebound, and even his DBPM indicates that he can be a passable if unspectacular defender.  From 2010-2016 (as far back as cbb-ref goes), his season this year was 4th in BPM behind just Anthony Davis, Karl Towns, and Victor Oladipo, and a quick scan of the leaderboard shows other highly undervalued players like Jae Crowder and Draymond Green near the top.  Overall, Valentine isn’t the player you build around, but the guy you want around the players you are.  He just does everything.

Kay Felder and Tyler Ulis

Felder and Ulis are extremely similar players – both are 5’10 PGs who played a ton of minutes as true team leaders.  They put up similar stats.  So what’s the difference between them? Well, Felder did more of everything – a lot more.  Felder led the country with a truly ridiculous 46.8 FPg, the highest number I’ve ever seen.  Ulis put up a fine 35.1 – certainly nothing wrong with that, but considering they played the same amount of games and the same amount of minutes (seriously, they played within 2 minutes of each other, which is basically just rounding error), that’s a pretty huge difference.  Now, Felder played in an easier conference and is a year older, but quite frankly, when somebody does something nobody else has done, you need a helluva lotta qualifiers to make it not impressive.

The other massive difference comes in projecting their success at the next level.  Felder is bigger (by about 30 pounds) and far, far more athletic.  His 44” vert at the Combine (I know the measurements were off for some people this year, so I’ll let you be the judge) is one of the few highest ever recorded.  He got to the line close to 100 times more than Ulis and is a better finisher at and around the rim.  Both of them project as backup PGs.  The big difference is that Felder has significantly more upside – he’s simply bigger, more athletic, and more talented.  Felder could be a true star PG at the next level in the mold of Isaiah Thomas.  Ulis simply doesn’t have that upside.

Jarrod Uthoff

So, you want Brandon Ingram, but you don’t want to wait for him to develop from what he is into what he likely will be.  Why not Uthoff?  Uthoff won’t be a superstar, but that can be said for all but the top prospects (which in this draft is limited pretty much to Simmons).  So what is Uthoff then?  He’s a spot up shooter on offense with enough ball skills to take it to the hole and who won’t try to do too much or be the hero. There’s little question about his ability to shoot – 3 years of good college shooting and over 80% from the FT line leaves little doubt that he can expand out to the NBA 3 point line.  He gets steals and blocks.  He doesn’t turn it over.  He rebounds. He works equally comfortably on and off the ball.  He lacks the athleticism to really be a star, but everybody needs really quality roleplayers, and Uthoff looks to fill that role perfectly.

Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray

There’s simply no riskier prospect than the “all-shoot” guard.  First of all, if all NBA teams are looking for are guys who can hit the 3, they can just go here and pick out guys who are shooting great from NBA 3 – sure, some of them are already tied to teams, but many of them aren’t (and many were picked up mid-season).  It takes more to be an NBA player than to be able to hit the 3 – just ask the guy who led the league in 3P% this year (go look – you may vaguely remember him for making an impact in a playoff game a few years ago).  So, what’s going to stop Hield and Murray from joining recent top shooting draft picks such as McLemore, McDermott, Booker, Stauskas, and Vaughn? Um…well…

And that’s the problem.  When shooters turn out well, they’re hugely useful.  When they don’t, they’re massive negatives who don’t belong in the NBA.  As I always say, you need to look for good players who can shoot, not just shooters.  Notice how Bryn Forbes isn’t getting any draft buzz even though he’s probably a better shooter than either of them?  These guys are more likely than not to bust – they really haven’t shown the secondary skills necessary to survive.  But their upside makes them worth a look anyway.

Bigs from Egidjius Mockevicius to Domantas Sabonis and Everyone In Between

I currently have 16 non-3-point-shooting bigs (PF/C) ranked as first round talents.  The problem with this is that teams really don’t need non-3-point-shooting bigs.  Is Brice Johnson more or less valuable than Deyonta Davis?  Is A.J. Hammons more or less valuable than Stephen Zimmerman, Jr.  Honestly, I haven’t the foggiest idea.  Should you draft one of these guys over guys from Europe? Judging by recent results, probably not!

So what to do about this clump?  I’ve separated them out of the normal tiering.  Honestly, I wouldn’t take any of these guys until the mid-late first, and you can probably get some of these guys in the second round or even undrafted.  I just can’t get excited about these players – the supply just so far outpaces demand that I see no reason to go crazy over them.  I have guys from past years who ranked in the same tier who are in the D-League or Europe.  There’s no difference.  Guys are available.  It’s much harder to find guards and wings, so they should get preference, that simple.

Dejounte Murray

I will be wrong about Dejounte Murray.  He is the classic player I struggle to project.  Back in 2014, when I first introduced the FP system, I even made a separate exception just for guys like him.  He is a PG who played at a school where there was already another point guard (Andrew Andrews, another prospect I like), and his assists were likely far lower than they would have been otherwise because of it.

Except…Murray did average over 30 FP/g and over 0.9 FP/m.  He shows every sign of being at least a decent player at the next level.  But he’s also a PG who can’t shoot and who had a poor A:TO for a PG.  I don’t know.  I’m going to rank him somewhere, and some people will think it’s too low, and some will think it’s too high, and I think there are arguments both ways.  I’ve been too harsh on Murray this season, but maybe I wasn’t.  Have I mentioned how hard this is?

Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown represents the prospect that NBA teams miss on year after year after year yet still draft in the top 5 because…reasons?  Now, this is where the way you judge NBA players comes into play.  If you like guys who can score and get to the line but who can’t shoot or defend (Andrew Wiggins comes to mind as a comp, although Wiggins projected better for numerous reasons), you’ll like Brown.  The problem is that you have to be pretty damn elite at scoring (think DeRozan) to be more than mediocre, and even then, it’s not clear that you’re helping your team too much (the Raptors were much better in both the regular season and postseason with him on the bench, for example).

Now, the thing is that Brown isn’t even a good prospect.  He has literally one notable skill: getting to the line.  He can’t shoot, he can’t pass, it’s not even clear he can dribble without turning the ball over.  He can’t defend.  He fouls at an incredible rate for a wing player (he fouled out 5 times, 4 of which were 20 minutes or less).  He was incredibly inconsistent and finished the season horrifically.  Brown is the type of player you expect to go undrafted and play in the D-League for a few years before maybe getting a look in Europe.  I truly cannot figure out why he’s ranked anywhere in the top 10, because I can’t figure out what makes him draftable.

Malachi Richardson

So, if I think Jaylen Brown belongs in the D-League, I think Malachi Richardson belongs in…some level lower than that.  No, really.  I’m going to make this simple: Malachi Richardson averaged 0.64 FPm.  No NBA player of any note or value has ever had an FPm in their final college season even remotely that low.  It’s not like he can use age as an excuse (he’s already 20).  It’s not like he can use system as an excuse (Syracuse tends to inflate FPm because of their turnover-generating zone).  He simply sucked.  There’s not a single thing I can point to that he does well, and only a few things that he even does at an average level.  He would be a worse top 10 pick than Joe Alexander or Yi Jianlian, because not only does he have only a remote chance of becoming even a bad NBA player, he doesn’t have anything in his history suggesting he’d be anything other than terrible.

I don’t get it.  I really don’t.

The Rest

I could write something on 100 guys, but quite frankly, I don’t have particularly interesting things to say about most other guys that can’t be summarized in a sentence or two which will be in the big board.  If you’re interested in my take on any particular prospect, ask me in the comments or on reddit (/u/TheDuckyNinja) or Twitter (@BusterDucks).  Next week, my full big board.  Honestly, it’s less interesting than all of these other articles, at least in my opinion.  But I give the people what they want, so it’s coming. See ya next week!