The NBA draft is the second best draft to analyze, predict, watch, and ultimately, like all drafts, celebrate or forget. Combines have become the go to test to rank players and determine if they will be stars, busts, or role players. They measure teenagers’ wingspan and determine their power by their “vertical and max leap.” There’s also a whole lot of “huck n’ push” such as the “Lane Agility Drill (measures how fast a player moves laterally around the key)” and “Reactive Shuttle Run (where players start in the middle of the key and run to each side before returning to the center).” It’s supposed to tell us something, but it would tell us a lot more if they had to play against the likes of Ish Smith and Bismack Biyombo.
Kenny Gregory set a record at the combine 16 years ago with a max vertical leap of 45.5 inches. He went on to play in the D-League, while Isaiah Thomas had a max vertical of 40 inches. Kevin Durant was laughed off the bench press when he couldn’t raise 185 pounds, but later said he knew that NO ONE could guard him “one on one,” and the rest is history.
But the Combiners can’t measure a player’s work ethic, practice habits, and if they’ll avoid guns and speeding. Scouts and GMs use terms like “ceilings” and “floors” as they try to determine if a player will grow into a star, be traded 7 times in 10 years, play in Israel in 3 years, or win a ring. But so much depends on intangibles, what even the most honest of GMs or coaches must admit was a hunch, luck, and fit. They can prepare all they want, create a million and 1 metrics, but their hearts are pumping and they’re second guessing themselves all the time. So what are they supposed to do? Ask the 8 Ball.
15. Star – Jonathan Issac
The knocks against Issac is that he was (1) inconsistent, (2) he’s barely 200 pounds, and (3) FSU couldn’t beat Xavier in the second round. Well, those concerns are easily addressed. (1) Inconsistent for a freshman? Duh, he’s a freshman! Still, he was a beast vs. Notre Dame, UNC, Louisville, and other top schools. That speaks about his upside. (2) He’s skinny, but he’s 6’11 and a FRESHMAN. Does any NBA player look like they did as a rookie? (3) Teams get upset in the tourney, that’s what makes it special, but Xavier went on to beat a 2 seed in Arizona too. Issac’s upside is HUGE. He can shoot from anywhere on the floor, finishes, and is incredibly quick and athletic. Issac sees the floor and makes intuitive decisions and plays defense.
14. Bust – O.G. Anunoby
There’s a lot to like about the 6’8″, 235-pound forward from Indiana University. As part of the Big 10, he played tough competition and his game rose against top schools like the Tar Heels and Kansas. He is a very good shooter below the arc, attacking the rim, and is a solid defender. Furthermore, teams love athletic forwards and many believe he could go in the second half of the first round. However, that is a round too early because there are too many warnings. I don’t like guys who leave school early, but most importantly guys who had a serious ACL injury which helped lead to that decision.
Something’s up. His 3 point shot and free throw shooting are below average and he doesn’t have a go to move or skill to really stand out. He’ll be one of those guys that teams will trade for every two or three years to play a role, but the NBA is full of guys like this, and there are better prospects out there.
13. Star -Moritz Wagner
I’ve seen Wagner projected to go anywhere from the end of the first round to not even being drafted. HUGE mistake. Like all young players, he’s had disastrous and awesome games. But he’s a 7 footer with a great outside scoring touch and he fearlessly drives the lane with a ferocious purpose. In the Big Ten and NCAA tourney, he averaged 12 points per game but his shooting percentage was 56%, almost 40% from beyond the arc, and he owned the lane. He’s also a good rebounder and throws an outlet pass like Tom Brady. NBA teams are going to pass on him and pray he’ll still be on the board with a later pick, but this super intense competitor should be gone in the teens. He can play and has the attitude for the modern NBA.
12. Bust- Harry Giles
Many NBA people consider Giles a top 20 pick and have labelled him as the steal of the draft. He’s big and has a huge wingspan, and many believe if he wasn’t injured, he’d be a top 5 pick. But the point is he was injured, and severely, and these players have the most difficulty. He was great at the NBA Combine, but it was primarily based on his measurements. A team is going to fall in love with him and be patient, but with strong, young guys turning pro every year, GMs will slowly realize that time, patience, and promises start to fade when the next crop of players enter the draft. There’s nothing worse than an injury, but he hasn’t performed well ever since.
11. Star – Markelle Fultz
He is the consensus #1 pick and by almost all accounts the best player in the draft. He’s got the size (6’4″), the wingspan, scoring, play making ability, and athleticism GMs love. His college numbers were off the charts and his skills seem more developed and polished than anyone in the draft. He can also read defenses, find mismatches, and drive to the net to score or dish for an easy bucket. But there are concerns as well, in my book. His numbers came against a mediocre Pac-12, and when he played against top schools his numbers and game clearly suffered. He is also not ready as a defender, and he’s leaving school too early where he could’ve learned.
10. Bust – Terrance Ferguson
Just a few years ago, Ferguson was one of the most sought after recruits in the country. But instead of going to college and learning the game, being groomed, and seeing how he stacked up against future competition, he jetted over seas to play in Australia for the Adelaide 36ers. So why did he do it? First, he got paid, and I buy that. Second, he also wanted to play against “professional” competition. I don’t buy that at all. Getting paid is nice, but better competition? And how did he do against that competition? He averaged 4.6 points. All the hype is coming from his raw athletic ability and he is a good shooter. But please. When he goes up against these “professionals” in the NBA, he’ll be back in Europe within four years.
I love kids that stay in school at least two years to grow, work on their game, and learn to be coached. Though expected to go at the end of the 1st round to mid 2nd, I bet he has a better career than half of the guys selected in the first. He’s got an awesome, 7’4 wingspan, great agility, and each year he’s getting better. Unlike freshman who jump right into the NBA and don’t improve, Motley is getting better and better. He’s an excellent rebounder, can play above the rim, and in the paint. Though his shooting and passing needs work, he’s shown he’ll put in the time, making him an NBA player. His patience in staying at school an extra year is going to pay off.
8. Bust – Lauri Markkanen
The hype surrounding Markkanen has got him going in the top 10 but he will get CRUSHED in the NBA. Markkanen has great size n and in college he nailed 3 pointers, BUT, he can only hit shots when he is wide open. He can’t shoot off the dribble and has no moves with the ball. He can’t move through or down the lane or put the ball on the floor. He is far from athletic and a disaster on defense. He can’t guard anyone one on one, is beat in the lane, and is often flailing for a block. Easily beaten on lobs and muscled, literally, off the floor he often gets caught up in movement and misses rebounding opportunities. I’m sure he’s a great guy, after all he is a Finn, but he doesn’t have Wagner’s bravado and will get eaten alive.
7. Star – Jayson Tatum
Tatum is 6’8″ and has above average skills. He’s tough in one on one battles and uses his size and quickness to get open looks and mismatches. He can play shooting guard or power forward, and is the complete opposite of Markkanen. He can shoot off the dribble, he can burn defenders one on one, and he’s got a lot of offensive tools. He can pull up and nail fade-aways, is a terrific dribbler, and goes hard to the basket. He’s also physical, which he should be with his size and skill. Perhaps most impressive is he can take over games. Most of his weaknesses are on the defensive side of the ball, but most young players have to learn how to defend in the NBA.
6. Bust – Frank Ntilikina
I keep hearing Ntilikina, a point guard, popping up around #10 and don’t see it at all. He played in France’s Pro A division and though he’s 6-foot-5, he isn’t all that impressive. Though his shooting has improved, he’s terribly streaky, and when he is off, he is way OFF. We’re talking bricks. He actually appears to push his shots as he shoots from his chest. Also, he telegraphs his passes and turns the ball over.
He also is not a very good dribbler and often dribbles off his foot or loses the handle. He’s hesitant to make a move, seems to just toss the ball against the back board, is easily stripped, and lost when under pressure. If he’s in the top 10, that team will be severely disappointed come next season.
5. Star – De’Aaron Fox
Straight up, Fox’s shooting needs to improve. It’s just that simple. However, if it does, he could have the most immediate and drastic impact right away. He’s tall and long and has so much speed and quickness he was a terror for college defenses to contain. He’s also incredibly athletic and gets in the paint and to the rim. He’s so elusive that he was able to average almost 17 points and 5 assists while struggling at mid and long range shots. He’s got great- vision, passing, dribbling, defense, and is tough as nails. He’s as quick and fast as any point guard in the draft and can flat out fly in the open court. He is probably the most well rounded point guard in the draft and be an NBA player from the very beginning. But if he works on his shot, watch out.
4. Bust – Lonzo Ball
Lonzo Ball is another guy predicted to be a lottery pick that I just don’t get. Sure, he’s a great college player but his skill level really doesn’t transfer to be a starter or key player in the NBA. First, he’s not a very good dribbler and when he moves side to side two problems occur: he’ll dribble off his feet (almost 10 x this season) and college guards predicted his timing and created steals. At the pro level, he’ll be a turnover machine.
What worries me most is his lack of physicality. When he does have a clear lane he is easily guided away from the net and the wild shots and turnovers begin. Some guys are just great college players who don’t thrive in the NBA.
3. Star – Malik Monk
Though many feel his size at 6″3″ could hamper him, if you watch his explosiveness, leaping ability, and courage, you might think he’s 6’7″. He flies down the court and drives with such power and confidence no one gets in his way. He could care less who is below the rim or in the middle is just fearless. He scored 30 points 4 times, 40 points once, he’s dangerous from behind the arc, and he can pull up in the lane or finish above the rim. Defensively, he’s got some things to learn, but that’s with almost any player. I think he’s the best player in the draft and should go to the first team that needs a point. I know it’s way to early, but he’s made for today’s game and reminds me of Steph Curry.
2. Bust – Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith Jr., more than any other player in the draft, should’ve stayed in school. He’s as athletic as anyone but he lacks urgency and hustle. If college players can exploit his flaws, the pros will take him to school. And this is one reason college is so important because it takes a kid whose been one of the best at every level and humbles him. Under pressure, Smith seems to make sloppy decisions and doesn’t hustle back. He’s so focused on the rim, he doesn’t see open players and takes selfish shots from other area codes. Defensively, he jumps at the first move and is often just standing around. Just as detrimental, he doesn’t get his teammates involved even when their waving their arms and wide open.
1. Star – Derrick White
I am going way off the charts here but some guys deserve it. He started at D II, moved on to first team All-Pac 12 honors, and is graduating from the University of Colorado to the NBA. His game improved at every level, he grew, gained weight, experience, and this season was 1 of 4 players to average 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists per game from power conferences. He’s got great size and energy and LEARNED to pass and shoot off the dribble. He can shoot from anywhere, including 40% from beyond the arc. He’s also creative, has touch, and can read defenses. He’s not the most athletic guard in the draft, but the most dedicated to learning, the most emotionally and physically prepared, and when 90% of these kids are out of the league in five years, he’ll be a solid contributor.
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