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Early Thoughts on the NBA Draft

As much as I have to fake interest in the draft, I thought it was time we dedicated a thread to it. Mostly because vjl110 just linked to some new spreadsheets.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the good old days, when Stop-n-Pop ran this joint, his bit about the draft was that having good players on rookie contracts was about the most valuable thing to have in the NBA.  He was absolutely right, of course, and to that end he came up with the Hoopus Score, the formula for which did not pass to me.

Back then, when I was merely (one of) the cranky bastard in the comments, I used to rant that I hated the draft, that we overvalued draft picks, and the Wolves almost never came up with any useful non-lottery picks (and blew plenty of lottery picks too).

Now that I'm in some sort of charge here, though, I guess I have to write something about it. The truth remains, however, that a) I never watch college basketball, b) I still think we need to keep our expectations low as to what sort of help we can expect out of the draft, especially in the first year, and c) I'm not nearly smart enough to figure out how to rate these guys by the numbers.

Which means I thank the FSM for vjl110, currently in Namibia on some sort of shady business.  Last year, he wrote a bunch of articles for us breaking down the draft using his models to determine the most likely successes from the college ranks, as well as breaking it down by position and providing expected wins, best comparisons, and other goodies.

Now that he is a Doctor, however, he can't be bothered to write articles for us.  However, he has made his data available so that I can copy it and pretend to look smart.

In all seriousness, most of the following comes from vjl's terrific data, which he makes available to anyone, and I cannot thank him enough for the work he puts in to studying the draft, while he was also, by the way, finishing his doctorate. Congratulations vjl110.  The data is his, and he deserves all credit. Any mistakes or misinterpretations are mine, and I deserve the blame.

Before moving on to this year, a remark about last year:

By my count, the Wolves have made 41 non-lottery selections in their history. In terms of direct value to the team on the court (in other words, excluding guys who were traded on draft night like, say, Ty Lawson), Gorgui Dieng might already be 3rd on that list. It's arguable. He's only clearly behind Nikola Pekovic and Rasho Nesterovic.

That said, it's a crappy list, and the Wolves still messed up last year's draft, even if they tripped over a guy who might be a good player.

But this year's class is somewhat better.  Perhaps not as great as many hoped/expected eight months ago, but clearly better than last year's remarkably uninspired group.

The Wolves actually have four picks in this draft: #13 (presumably), then #40, #44, and #53.  Given that they currently have 12 guaranteed contracts on the books for next year, (everyone who finished the year with the team except Dante Cunningham, Robbie Hummel, and Othyus Jeffers), it is unlikely that they will keep both their first rounder and even one second rounder on the roster next year. That means the 2nds will likely be sold/traded/used for Eurostashes.

Let's get on to it. Here are vjl's top 30 college eligible players sorted by expected peak wins. (Link to vjl's spreadsheets with all his data)

Name School Pos EWP HUM
Joel Embiid KANSAS 5 14.4 15.7
Kyle Anderson UCLA 3 13.8 9.3
Jordan Adams UCLA 2 12.2 8.3
Jabari Parker DUKE 3.5 11.5 12.6
Elfrid Payton ULALA 1 11 8.2
Marcus Smart OKSTATE 1 10.7 11.3
Tyler Ennis SYRACUSE 1 10.1 9.9
Noah Vonleh INDIANA 4.5 9.8 10.9
Aaron Gordon ARIZONA 4 9.7 9.9
Andrew Wiggins KANSAS 3 7.8 12.4
Mitch McGary MICHIGAN 5 7.7 7.2
Julius Randle KENTUCKY 4 7.6 10
Gary Harris MICHIGANST 2 7.5 8
T.J. Warren NCSTATE 3.5 7.2 5.9
Javon McCrea BUFFALOST 4 7.2 4.5
Jarnell Stokes TENNESSEE 4 6.9 5.3
Khem Birch UNLV 4.5 6.6 4.5
Kendrick Perry YOUNGSTOWN 1 6.3 5.4
Spencer Dinwiddie COLORADO 2 6.2 5.3
K.J. McDaniels CLEMSON 3 6.1 5.7
Sim Bhullar NMSTATE 5 5.8 3.8
Troy Huff NDAKOTA 2 5.4 4.4
Shabazz Napier UCONN 1 5.1 5.2
Shawn Long ULALA 5 5 2
Isaiah Austin BAYLOR 5 4.9 2.3
Zach LaVine UCLA 2 4.6 5
Glenn Robinson '14 MICHIGAN 3 4.6 3.5
T.J. Bray PRINCETON 3 4.6 4.1
Markus Kennedy SMETHODIST 4 4.6 3.8
Juvonte Reddic VCU 4 4.6 3.3

As we can see, it's a better group then last season. This is the 2013 top 30:

Nerlens Noel KENTUCKY 5 19 17
Otto Porter GEORGETOWN 3 13.1 15.1
Cody Zeller INDIANA 4.5 12.3 12.9
Michael Carter-Williams SYRACUSE 1 10.3 10.2
Trey Burke MICHIGAN 1 8.9 8.6
Andre Roberson COLORADO 4 8.7 7.8
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope GEORGIA 2 8.5 9.9
Steven Adams PITT 5 8.4 8.4
Victor Oladipo INDIANA 2 7.6 12.9
Mike Muscala BUCKNELL 5 7.6 5.3
Kelly Olynyk GONZAGA 5 7.5 6.9
Shane Larkin MIAMIFL 1 7.3 7.4
Nate Wolters SDAKOTAST 1 6.8 5.9
Arsalan Kazemi OREGON 4 6.4 6.7
Pierre Jackson BAYLOR 1 6.1 4.8
C.J. McCollum LEHIGH 1.5 5.9 8.2
Jack Cooley NOTREDAME 5 5.4 3.5
Jeff Withey KANSAS 5 5.2 3.4
Anthony Bennett UNLV 4 5.1 10.9
Ben McLemore KANSAS 2 5.1 8
Jamaal Franklin SANDIEGOST 2 5 4.6
Lorenzo Brown NCSTATE 1 4.9 4.3
Alex Len MARYLAND 5 4.9 8.3
Gorgui Dieng LOUISVILLE 5 4.5 5.4
Mason Plumlee DUKE 5 4.2 4.6
Taylor Smith SFAUSTIN 4 4.2 3.3
Archie Goodwin KENTUCKY 2 4.1 3.7
Zeke Marshall AKRON 5 4.1 2.6
B.J. Young ARKANSAS 2 4.1 2.3
Maurice Kemp ECAROLINA 3 4 3.3

While nobody this year is projected as high as Nerlens Noel was last year (19 EWP), the depth of talent is significantly higher.  There were only four players last season with EWP of 10 or higher, this year there are seven. The 13th spot last year was occupied by the vastly underrated Nate Wolters, who had a 6.8 EWP, this year it's Gary Harris of Michigan State, with a 7.5.  This continues throughout the draft, where the talent is consistently better then it was last year.

As usual, vjl's rankings differ significantly from what appears to be the conventional wisdom at this point, which is good for the Wolves, or it could be if Flip Saunders makes the right decisions. The Wolves' primary needs are improved wing play (been saying that for a decade), a quality back up point guard, and perhaps a back up four.  It's clear that there will be an opportunity to draft someone with a good chance of helping.

The obvious ones are the UCLA guys--Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams. Anderson is a rather unusual player, in that he played point guard this season at 6'8".  It isn't a position he will be able to play in the NBA, because there is no way he can guard that spot.  He's a playmaking small forward with good passing chops (7.4 assists/pace adjusted 40), and pretty good rebounding skills for his position (10/PA40).  His ability to shoot the ball is in question, despite making 48% of his threes this year; the sample size was small and he was much, much worse as a freshman. In addition, he is a relatively poor free throw shooter (73%).  It might be difficult getting the most out of him with Ricky Rubio manning the point.

All of the Draft Express scouting videos can be found here at their Youtube channel.

Potentially more interesting for the Wolves is shooting guard Jordan Adams. Currently projected as a mid-20s pick by Draft Express, Adams changed his mind at the last minute and decided to declare for the draft. Young for a sophmore, he will still be 19 on draft night.  Adams stuffed the box score this season, generating steals, rebounds, and free throws at excellent rates for his position. There is some question about his three point shooting as well, but he shot 55% from two and 83% from the line this season.  If I was making the 13th pick today (and thank god I'm not), he would probably be my choice. vjl sees him as the 8th best shooting guard prospect in the last three decades.

Another player who might help at the wing is Gary Harris of Michigan State, who DX currently projects for the Wolves. Also a young sophmore, he might be a better long range shooter then Adams, having been strong his freshman year prior to falling off this year, but doesn't have the do-shit numbers that Adams does.  He certainly will be in the mix, and likely the favorite if available if Flip Saunders is able to talk Tom Izzo into taking the coaching job.

All three of the above wing players, with the possible exception of Harris who might go earlier, should be available to Flip at the 13th pick, and any of them would be reasonable, intelligent picks for help at that spot. Unfortunately, there are guys who will also be available who would not be smart picks there. One name that's been thrown around a lot is James Young, the Kentucky freshman small forward, who didn't do much of anything other then be very young.  vjl has him as an early 2nd rounder, and the same for another player who's been mentioned, Nik Stauskas from Michigan, who can shoot it but seems to lack any other skills. DX projects these two at 14 and 15, and another scary prospect, Rodney Hood, the Duke small forward at 22.  vjl's model wouldn't draft him at all.

In other words, there is enough depth at the wing in this draft that a good prospect can be had at 13. As always, though, there are plenty of not so good prospects available as well. I can't say I'm confident that Flip will make the right decision, at least there are some appealing options.  Hopefully he won't choose one of the unappealing ones.

There is also the possibility that the Wolves could find a quality point guard at their spot. Among the guys available should be Elfrid Payton from UL-Lafayette, who EWP sees as the 5th best prospect in the entire draft. He's big and athletic for the position, and has a good defensive reputation, though his competition was obviously not high caliber. He also cannot shoot the ball, which is a drawback. Still, someone will probably get him in the late first round and wind up with a quality player.

Others to keep in mind include Tyler Ennis, the Syracuse point guard who might be gone by the time the Wolves pick, but vjl's model loves him too. Finally, there is Shabazz Napier, who both vjl and DX sees as a late first rounder, but who might see his stock rise after leading his team to a national championship.

I was going to include a section on the international players who might be available to the Wolves, but this has gotten long already, and I know almost nothing about them. I'll leave that to others (Hey RBE--feel free).

The Wolves need help. They need talent, and the draft is the cheapest place to get it. We can see the results of their poor drafting in the current roster: seven guys under contract next year at between $3.3M (Shved) and $6.8M (Martin). Barea. Budinger. Brewer. Mbah a Moute. They wind up paying full freight for marginal guys because they have been unable to consistently draft and develop that talent. Meanwhile, Chandler Parsons makes less than $1 million a year.

The clock is ticking on the Love contract, and while a draft pick this year might not help keep him around, the need to be in the strongest possible position whether he stays or goes remains.  You do that by gathering as much talent, particularly inexpensive talent, as you can.  Gorgui Dieng was not a bad start. They need to follow that up with a smart draft this year.

We'll have a lot more on the draft as we get to the Combine (May 14th-18th), then the lottery on May 20th, and of course the dreaded individual workouts. The draft itself is June 26th this year.

How do you see the draft?