Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Previewing The 2017 NBA Draft

There are a lot of skilled big man in this draft, including Gonzaga's Zach Collins

There are a lot of problems with directly comping one draft pick to another. Some are obvious, such as that they tend to be lazy, based on skin color and handedness. Lonzo Ball gets comped to Jason Kidd even though Kidd made only 24 three-pointers as a college freshman at a 29% clip, simply because their faces look very similar. So one-on-one comps are not particularly accurate or useful. But an underrated problem with draft comps is pretending that draft picks are deterministic.

To give an example, let's say that you think a 2016-17 college player is identical to 2008-09 Steph Curry. Where do you draft him? Better question: If you could go back in a time machine to the 2009 NBA Draft and you were running an NBA team, where would you draft Steph Curry? First, right? He ended up the best player in the draft, after all. The problem is, assuming that in every parallel universe, 2009 Steph Curry turns into 2017 Steph Curry is to assume a purely deterministic world where player development and health are guaranteed.

Think about it another way: Every time a player gets missed in the draft, because Steph Curry only goes #7 or Draymond Green goes #35, what do we all say? "Oh, we should have known he'd be a good pick, because [/reason]". We believe that we learned something and that we will be better at finding diamonds in the rough next time. But are we?

Nope. Study after study shows that nobody is really significantly better than random chance at drafting, and drafting skill has not improved over decades. In other words, we don't really know anything, and we aren't really learning anything. If the Golden State Warriors really had a brilliant process to find Steph Curry and Draymond Green then they'd likely find another superstar or two in their drafts over the next few years... but I bet that they won't. The null hypothesis is that they fell ass backwards into a few lucky drafts and that they aren't any more likely than, say, the Pacers to hit on their next few draft picks.

So after all of that I bet you're asking "Why is Jeff pretending that he knows anything about draft picks?" And I don't have a good answer for you. But, hey, I do this every year. As always, I'm only going to talk about Division I college players. Let's do this:

Green Room Guys:


Zach Collins - This draft is just chock full of skilled big men. It's the trend these days, after all. And Collins isn't as underrated as he was back in February, since the Gonzaga run in the NCAA Tournament brought him to the attention of the general public. But Collins is already a good outside shooter, he's an elite weak-side shot blocker, and he's an efficient scorer in the post who knows how to draw contact. He's got the skills that you need for a potential NBA All-Star. In the "tall white guy" comparison, Lauri Markkanen is a better shooter, and I do like Markkanen a lot, but Markkanen is much more of a pure jump shooter and he lacks the defensive skills of Collins, so Markkanen doesn't really have the super high ceiling in the NBA that Collins has.

Jonathan Isaac - On the list of skilled big men in this draft, Jonathan Isaac might be the most athletic. He's a really strong all-around defender who has the potential to be a good defender both on the perimeter and in the paint. Also, if you're looking for a big man who has a chance to develop a three-point stroke in the NBA, look at Isaac's 81% free throw shooting in ACC play, which portends good three-point shooting down the road (think: Kawhi Leonard).


Lonzo Ball - It feels like a perfect sports media narrative setup with Ball. He's been anointed the next Steph Curry and a sure thing superstar, and if it doesn't work out then everybody can blame his attention-starved father. I don't care about any of that. But here's the thing: Ball is a good shooter, but he was only a 41% three-point shooter in college, and his poor free throw shooting is a concern for future improvement (elite NBA three-point shooters are rarely not elite free throw shooters). He was an effective scorer around the rim, but it remains to be seen if he can keep that up against NBA-sized defenders. UCLA was a good team this season, but Ball hardly did this on his own - the UCLA roster has four other players likely to make the NBA (TJ Leaf, Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welch, and Ike Anigbogu), as well as an established NCAA veteran star in Bryce Alford. Ball is a good player, but he is very far from a sure thing in the NBA.

Malik Monk - The problem with Malik Monk as an NBA star is that it's unclear what his role would be. He was a 40% three-point shooter in college, but there aren't a lot of 6'3" guys in the NBA who survive entirely on standing in the corner and hitting threes. Monk is not yet a good scorer off the dribble, and he was hardly an elite defender. It's just not a profile that historically has led to NBA stardom.

Late 1st/Early 2nd Round Guys:


Jawun Evans - Jawun Evans' national stock wasn't helped by the fact that Oklahoma State was itself badly underrated this season, and because they went one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament after running into the Michigan buzzsaw. But the fact is that Evans improved dramatically year over year, and carried Oklahoma State all season long. His 6'1" size is a concern, and it's why I'd avoid taking him in the Top 10 of the Draft, but he's a spark plug offensively who would be an ideal ball handler right now to lead the second team offense for an NBA team.

Jordan Bell - Bell has always been a really good all-around defender, but what I like about him as a late first round sleeper is the fact that his offensive game has evolved and improved significantly over his three years at Oregon. He's gone from almost non-existent offensively as a freshman (and an ugly 50% at the free throw line) to a solid complementary scorer (and 69% at the free throw line). If he can continue that improvement, he could be a really nice role player for the type of good NBA team that will likely be drafting him late in the first round.


Harry Giles - The injury concerns are real, of course. But in addition, his skill set is just not one particularly well suited to the modern NBA. He's tall, but he's not particularly quick, and he lacks a jump shot. And despite his height and length, he wasn't a particularly good shot blocker either. If you're drafting Giles, you are counting both on him staying healthy and on him clicking with a shooting coach and developing a jump shot.

Kyle Kuzma - Kuzma's draft stock seems to be all over the place, from a lottery pick to early second round, but most have him as a first rounder, and that's just mystifying based on his profile. He's a junior who hasn't shown significant improvement, and doesn't have an elite carrying skill. Kuzma is an athletic 6'9" player, but you're counting on him to develop a significantly better jump shot if you think he's going to be an NBA starter.

Everybody Else:


Sindarius Thornwell - Thornwell is likely not going to go until at least halfway through the second round, which is the part of the draft where a bunch of players will get drafted who won't even make it to the NBA. Why not take a shot on the guy who single-handedly dragged South Carolina to the Final Four and was one of the most efficient players in the nation this past season, on both sides of the ball. Also, despite being a senior, Thornwell showed significant improvement year over year at South Carolina, which suggests he might just be a late developer. That's got to be worth a mid-second round flyer.

Chris Boucher - Boucher is one of the most talented shot blockers I've ever seen, and he's a decent offensive player as well. I'm not sure if he'll ever develop the offensive game to be an NBA starter, but his defensive arsenal makes him a bench weapon immediately. 


PJ Dozier - Scouts love the idea of a 6'7" point guard, but Dozier is a project who almost certainly is going to need significant time in the D-League. He's a poor shooter and not a particularly good passer - he was basically the point guard by default for South Carolina because there were no other options. Dozier could potentially become a good player five years from now, but he's a lottery ticket at best.

VJ Beachem - It's hard to see where the upside is on Beachem, who was a good college player but is a 6'8" player who is not particularly athletic or a particularly good shooter. Just a classic NCAA basketball star destined for a long EuroLeague career.