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NBA Draft: SMILODON Steals & Big Board

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Which players have the best chance to beat expectations?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Oregon vs Iona Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After a top ten that mostly seems to live up to its hype by SMILODON, it’s time to look at the rest of the draft. Are there a plethora of projected steals in the late first and second round, or do the stats mostly align with the scouting consensus this year? Surprisingly, at least compared with previous years, the latter seems to better describe this year’s crop, with a few exceptions. For a more holistic look at the draft, skip ahead to the end, where I outline a big board based on SMILODON and some more subjective opinions.

For those new to this series, SMILODON is a skills based draft projection system that attempts to translate college production into statements about player skills. If a prospect is flagged as a “steal”, that means that he has either a blue flag, multiple green flags, or all of his 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. The general profile for a successful older perimeter player is that of a player with good size for his position who can shoot and shows another advanced skill. Robert Covington, a small forward with a nearly 7’2 wingspan and elite defensive numbers, and Malcolm Brogdon, a shooting guard with a nearly 6’11 wingspan and excellent passing, are two examples. 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 than their projections might suggest.

As in every article, I sorted players by Draft Express’ mock draft (as of Tuesday, I believe) to lessen hindsight bias and provide an accurate basis of comparison for pre-draft projections over different years.

2017: 11-20

After a top ten that was greener than a park on a spring day, we get an almost equally red middle of the first round. Donovan Mitchell is the most promising of this group of NCAA players and should almost certainly be taken in the top twelve. Luke Kennard has the same flags as Nik Stauskas and Rodney Hood, with a physical profile closer to the former than the latter. Justin Jackson has a profile that suggests he does not have the physical tools to succeed in the NBA.

T.J. Leaf has an interesting offensive profile. His good awareness is driven by an excellent assist to turnover ratio, especially by the standards of a freshman big, but it is unclear if he can provide enough value to offset his defensive weaknesses. If his shooting indicators were better, I would feel better about ranking him higher. None of the other five backup centers in this range stand out as prospects. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them as competent rotation bigs, but those players are nearly free on the NBA market.

2017: 21-30

This group of prospects is more interesting. O.G. Anunoby has a similar, but slightly superior, profile to Andre Roberson. Derrick White is an older prospect, but he’s big for a point guard, can shoot, and can handle a bit. Even if he doesn’t stick at point guard, he is big enough to be a competent shooting guard, with a relatively high skill level for the position. Ike Anigbogu is more intriguing than the centers from the previous grouping with his combination of youth and shotblocking. He is very raw, however, and probably will not contribute for a few years.

D.J. Wilson and Tyler Lydon both project as solid stretch bigs. I am a bit concerned about each. Both prospects carried very low usages in college, possibly indicating that they will be better suited to roles off the bench in the NBA. Each player also played in a very favorable school context. Michigan plays a spread offense, while the Syracuse zone probably inflated Lydon’s defensive stats. Ivan Rabb and Semi Ojeleye both have too many red flags to justify a first round pick.

2017: 31-45

There are two NCAA players in this group who stand out as potential steals: Dillon Brooks and Jawun Evans. Brooks has alligator arms, but should be tall and strong enough to stick at small forward, where he provides plus shooting, driving, and passing, with enough defensive numbers that I buy his athleticism. My only concern is that the Oregon team context inflated his numbers. Jawun Evans is an example of a player type I am growing to distrust - small point guards - but his driving ability is very impressive, and makes me think he could contribute to a team.

Jordan Bell and Josh Hart are two analytical favorites that don’t stand out as much as I had anticipated by SMILODON. Bell has unique skills, but old and undersized is a bad combination. Still, he may find a way to be useful on defense. Hart’s shooting profile is nothing special after accounting for his free throw percentage and his other skills look solid, but unspectacular. That’s not especially encouraging for a prospect who turned 22 at the end of the season. Kyle Kuzma and Sterling Brown are other players who look worse because of SMILODON’s emphasis on free throw percentage and shooting volume, respectively. Alec Peters CAN shoot, but not much else.

2017: 46-60

Subjectively, there’s no one here with an unmissable profile. Monte Morris has the only ELITE skill of the group, but ELITE passing from an unathletic point guard with problems getting to the rim may be the ELITE skill least likely to translate to the NBA. Cam Oliver has the same profile as a slightly smaller Richaun Holmes, so we’ll see if he can also beat his shooting projection. Wesley Iwundu has two green flags, but I’m very skeptical of his shooting, and older point forwards who can’t shoot have had a habit of disappointing recently.

Nigel Williams-Goss might be a solid undrafted freee agent target, as a bigger point guard with a chance to shoot and drive. He’ll probably top out as a good reserve, but that’s useful at this point in the draft. Sindarius Thornwell is another player with good counting stats whose shot I distrust maybe more than even SMILODON indicates.

2017: Undrafted Free Agents

All aboard the Jake Wiley train! Wiley is a very athletic, very raw undersized power forward. He did not shoot many threes this year, but was over 80% from the line and over 50% on shots classified as “two point jumpers” by Hoop-Math. There is an imaginable path for Wiley to become a multi-positional defender who can hit outside shots and finish inside. His lofty turnover rate means you don’t want him creating offense, but you’re not getting that by this point of the draft anyway.

Deonte Burton can play defense but not shoot, while Peter Jok can shoot but not play defense. I wouldn’t be shocked to see either stick on a NBA roster, but would be shocked to see either starting. By SMILODON, any other player from this list would be a long shot to contribute much more than a minimum salaried free agent.

Eggplant’s SMILODON Influenced Big Board

  1. Markelle Fultz - I don’t think he’s a great prospect, but he’ll be a good scorer and distributor. Good lead guards are valuable.
  2. Jayson Tatum - Big wings who can handle and shoot at a high level are in short supply. Tatum’s a good one.
  3. Josh Jackson - I will continue to be burned by non-shooting wings who can pass, drive, and defend, probably forever.
  4. Jonathan Isaac - Multi-positional goodness on defense, effective finishing on offense. May have All-Defense potential.
  5. Lonzo Ball - I love players who can pass like Ball, but his lack of driving ability is very concerning.
  6. Zach Collins - The only big in this class with a decent chance at anchoring a good defense and shooting well from the outside.
  7. Dennis Smith Jr. - Driving ability combined with the possibility that he will show more athleticism as he continues to recover from his ACL injury makes him an intriguing gamble.
  8. Malik Monk - Young, highly touted players who can shoot are usually useful at least on offense.
  9. De’Aaron Fox - I don’t think his defense and passing are good enough to make up for his lack of shooting. But if his shooting comes around - watch out.
  10. Donovan Mitchell - Really good defensive profile with good enough offense to start at the two.
  11. Lauri Markkanen - I think he can survive defensively. I don’t think he can be a primary option on offense.
  12. Frank Ntilikina - First European player fits into the biggest drop-off in the draft.
  13. Dillon Brooks - Skilled, versatile wings are my thing.
  14. O.G. Anunoby - This is around where I would take Andre Roberson, maybe a little higher.
  15. Derrick White - Good 3rd guards are more difficult find than good 3rd bigs.
  16. Jawun Evans - On the chance his driving ability translates.
  17. T.J. Leaf - On the chance he can shoot and survive on defense.
  18. Ike Anigbogu - He’s probably Biyombo, but by this point, it’s not such a bad outcome.
  19. Isaiah Hartenstein - Very uncertain he can actually play, but he projects as a big who might be able to shoot, handle, and force turnovers.
  20. D.J. Wilson - He has the physical profile, and SMILODON approves.

Late Second Round & Undrafted Candidates

  1. Jake Wiley - At this point, uncertainty is good. So are athleticism and shooting potential.
  2. Cameron Oliver - Bigs who can shoot and protect the rim are valuable. Oliver may be one.
  3. Nigel Williams-Goss - The most promising guard at the bottom of the draft.
  4. Wesley Iwundu - On the chance he can shoot.
  5. Monte Morris - On the chance he can do something besides pass.
  6. Peter Jok - He’s taller than most other failed one-dimensional older shooters. That’s encouraging!