After several years of relatively conservative projections by SMILODON, my skills based draft projection system, we finally get a draft with a plethora of prospects with green flags. The draft even featured a surprising number of blue flags among the less heralded prospects. It is still too early to fully judge this draft - two years after the 2013 draft, Otto Porter and C.J. McCollum had posted disappointing rookie seasons and mediocre sophomore efforts. Meanwhile, Michael Carter-Williams had won rookie of the year and been traded for what was likely to be a top 5 pick.
If a prospect is flagged as a “steal”, that means that they have either a blue flag, multiple green flags, or all of their skills save one are at least at the level of a yellow flag. A prospect flagged as a “bust” will usually have multiple red flags without the corresponding green flags for balance.
Some flags are more important than others. Age is crucial; a player with a red flag for age needs proficiency in at least two of the three “s” categories: size, shooting, and shot blocking to be taken seriously as a prospect. Undersized 22 year old seniors posting good numbers should be heavily, heavily discounted. Shooting is also crucial for perimeter players. Guards who can’t shoot need to be All-NBA defenders to be worth a first round pick. Point forwards who can’t shoot are also likely to be far less valuable in the NBA.
As in the last article, I sorted players by Draft Express’ mock draft to lessen hindsight bias and provide an accurate basis of comparison for pre-draft projections.
In the debate between Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor for the #1 pick, there was no contest. KAT’s poor awareness score, driven by a high foul rate, is concerning, but excusable for a freshman big. Big men who have a green flags for rim protection and shooting are very rare, and young, athletic bigs who do so are even rarer and worth top five picks whenever they appear.
Jahlil Okafor looks like a sure bust by this model. D’Angelo Russell has the combination of green flags for shooting and age that denote a good prospect, but doesn’t look like a future star. Justise Winslow, with three green flags, is probably the second best prospect in this group, but a red flag for shooting is the most worrying red flag to receive. Winslow receives this red flag despite shooting over 40% on threes thanks to a 27% mark on two point jumpers and a 64% mark from the line.
Stanley Johnson was young and on the edge of a green flag for defense, but his ball skills were very worrying by this measure. He looked to have a decent probability to become a 3&D wing, but I’d be surprised if he became anything more. Frank Kaminsky looked like a good value between 5-10, but his shooting has not translated in the way that his team would hope. Cameron Payne looks like a lottery selection by this method, but his profile is worrying similar to Trey Burke’s as a small point guard with issues getting to the rim. Among this group of NCAA players, I would advocate the selection of Justise Winslow after Karl-Anthony Towns, but the second best NCAA prospect by SMILODON is actually in the next group of players..
Myles Turner looks fantastic by this measure. Three green flags from a big is almost unprecedented, and he is the only other first round big, besides KAT, over the past six years to earn the double green shooting and rim protection combo. Based on SMILODON and scouting rep, my top 3 NCAA players would likely be 1. KAT; 2. Turner; 3. Winslow. D’Angelo Russell would likely be 4th.
Devin Booker has green flags for age and shooting, though the rest of his profile is a disaster. Booker, D’Angelo Russell, Zach LaVine, Malik Monk, and Jamal Murray all look fairly similar by SMILODON, though Murray, Monk, and Russell had at least shown a semblance of an off the dribble game (Russell’s POOR driving rating is based off a higher baseline for point guards than for shooting guards). Willie Cauley-Stein was a good one way prospect on the other end of the court. Late lottery is probably the right spot to take a defensive specialist big who does not have Gobert-level rim protection potential.
Tyus Jones is an intriguing prospect based on three green flags, including for shooting, but again fits into the Trey Burke archetype of a small point guard who can’t get to the rim. Until I see a player for whom I have that NCAA data become a star, I will keep subjectively discounting those projections. Trey Lyles, Kelly Oubre, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Bobby Portis, Jerian Grant, and Sam Dekker all look like mediocre prospects by this measure.
By SMILODON’s criteria, there are four superficially intriguing prospects in this group. While I don’t normally advocate drafting older players in the 1st round, Delon Wright has a very promising profile. Unfortunately, he has been stuck behind Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, preventing him from seeing much playing time over his first two years. R.J. Hunter profiles as a good 3&D prospect. Georgia State did play a zone that allowed Hunter to constantly and aggressively freelance, which likely over-inflated his defensive stats to Syracuse levels.
Kevon Looney had the same combination of flags as Aaron Gordon. Like Delon Wright, he went to a good team with an All-Star who has blocked his path to playing time. McCullough’s impressive profile is based off a high steal rate in a very small sample at Syracuse. I would definitely rate him behind Wright and Looney because of those caveats.
There are three players with ELITE flags, but none of them look particularly attractive. Tokoto’s lack of scoring skills are very evident, Young is a good shooter, but is old and undersized, and Upshaw could block shots, but not much else. Upshaw might be the most promising of those three, based on the idea that he could have a Hassan Whiteside like career arc.
Josh Richardson looks like a solid bench wing without any real weaknesses. Jordan Mickey and Richaun Holmes could both block shots, but Holmes had a better chance of becoming a useful offensive player, and looks like the best player in this group through their first two seasons.
There are quite a few players in this group with a chance to become useful NBA players. Christian Wood, Larry Nance, and Aaron White stand out among the big men. Wood was SMILODON’s pick for the best prospect in this tier of players, and could still develop into a good player if he develops the awareness necessary to stay on a NBA floor. Nance had unusual athleticism for an older prospect, allowing him to succeed despite the weakest SMILODON profile of the three. White had a similar profile to Draymond Green, but unlike Green, his ELITE awareness was based off avoiding negative events (turnovers and fouls) rather than accomplishing positive events (assists). White averaged 1.8 assists per 40 to 1.5 turnovers, while Draymond Green averaged 4.6 assists to 3.6 turnovers. Despite his “lesser” ELITE score, White was still a good second round selection by SMILODON based on his offensive potential.
Tyler Harvey could shoot. He had a similar profile to Ian Clark, who has become a useful bench contributor. Norman Powell and Olivier Hanlan could both get to the basket. Powell lacked any red flags, had a very long wingspan, and has become a very useful player, maybe the best in this group. Using SMILODON, I would not advocate the drafting of Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Michael Frazier, or Cady Lalanne.
There are quite a few prospects flagged by SMILODON in this group. Briante Weber and Sir’Dominic Pointer had great defensive and passing numbers, but were old, undersized, and couldn’t shoot. Darrun Hilliard had the same exact flags as R.J. Hunter. Other older wings (20+) that were flagged as good (or elite) shooters and defenders without the ability to get to the basket include Jarrod Uthoff, P.J. Hairston, James Southerland, Robert Covington, and Terrence Ross. It’s a mixed bag, but the ability to show 3&D skills in the NCAA does not guarantee the ability to show those skills in the NBA. Without the benefit of hindsight, Hilliard would probably be my pick for the best prospect in this range.
Marcus Thornton (of William & Mary) had a great scoring profile, but his difficulties running an offense and playing defense have exiled him to Europe. Quinn Cook is a 6’2 shooting specialist. TJ McConnell is yet another undersized point guard who can’t get to the rim, but profiled as a Derek Fisher type. Delon Wright and Lonzo Ball are the only other point guards in the past six years to receive green flags for both passing and defensive events and at least a yellow flag for shooting. Of course, Ball was a much better prospect due to age, and Wright was superior at getting to the rim. Undersized center Alan Williams had the best profile of the undrafted bigs.
Next time, I will look at the 2016 draft class through the prism of SMILODON before moving on to the articles everyone really cares about - the 2017 class and the introduction of SMILODON comparables.