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SMILODON Notes: On a Wing and a Prayer

Four wings the Wolves might draft.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

If the past couple weeks have taught us anything, it is the importance of wing depth. With the Wolves holding a pick likely to fall in the 16-25 range, top prospects Mikal Bridges & Miles Bridges (no relation) are unlikely to be available, but there are several interesting forwards the Wolves could still pick. I have briefly evaluated four of them based on some limited scouting and SMILODON, my simple statistical projection system. As the season is still ongoing and my scouting remains incomplete, all opinions herein subject to change before June.

Troy Brown, Kevin Knox, Keita Bates-Diop, DeAndre Hunter

Troy Brown

Brown has the best SMILODON projection of any of these players, and should, at the least, have a long career as a role player. His biggest weaknesses are shooting - under 30% from three this year - and a lack of explosive athleticism. Based on his performance and lack of explosion around the rim, I would be very surprised if Brown becomes a go-to scorer in the NBA. That said, he’s very young, can handle, drive, pass, and play the passing lanes. Even as an “acceptable” shooter, made likely by his youth and solid (.767) free throw shooting, he can bring a lot of value in a league where every team needs more wings.

Troy Brown Comparable Players

From this list, only Winslow and Ingram declared for the draft after the year shown. Porter improved his shooting, passing, and defense the next year, Dekker improved his driving but actually saw his shooting regress when he declared for the draft as a junior, and Osman had a very similar projection after his next year. Most of these players would be a welcome addition to the Wolves bench, and a good pick in the late teens, even if the list doesn’t scream “future star.”

That asterisk (*) means that I don’t have play by play data for the player, so I am using free throw rate as a proxy for driving ability, along with a few other fudges. This will be true for any international players or NCAA players before the 2011-12 season.

Kevin Knox

Knox is in the Harrison Barnes mold of “young, athletic forward tweener who isn’t really great at anything.” Knox is not as athletic as Barnes, but is a little bigger. Other than decent shooting, he has not shown the type of ancillary skills you would like to see from a productive wing. He has also been consistently mocked in the late lottery, but it is not a stretch to imagine that he could fall to the mid to late teens. The ambivalence I feel about Knox can be understood by looking at his comps, who are all NBA players, but were all better than him in college.

Kevin Knox Comparable Players

Do I think Knox will be a fine NBA player, despite his multiple red flags? Probably. Players with his size, athleticism, and shooting ability at a young age are pretty rare. Is he the player I want to bet on exceeding his draft slot and contributing for a winning team? Not really.

Keita Bates-Diop

KBD has become a real first round prospect this year, after averaging 20 and 9 with nearly two blocks per game on the wing. He was a deep bench player his freshman year, had a solid but unspectacular sophomore year, then missed nearly his entire junior year with an injury. Here are his SMILODON projections over his entire career.

Keita Bates-Diop Career

He has become a better shooter and looks like as good a bet as anyone outside the lottery to become that most valuable of players, a 3&D wing. I’m generally suspicious of players who wait until their senior seasons to become NBA prospects, so I would still rank him a little lower than his SMILODON might suggest. Here is how Bates-Diop compares to a few other older 3&D wings.

Keita Bates-Diop Comparable Players

As you can see, KBD has an all-around game equal to anyone on the list, but his defensive numbers aren’t as impressive as Crowder or Covington, the two most successful players on this list. The “defense” category seems to be especially important for judging wings, as a proxy for their strength, athleticism, and awareness. Bates-Diop should stick in the league due to positional scarcity - even inferior rookies like Dwayne Bacon and Semi Ojeleye have received plenty of playing time this year - and might turn into a nice role player, but I wouldn’t expect a star in disguise.

DeAndre Hunter

DeAndre Hunter, unlike Brown, Knox and even Bates-Diop, has come out of nowhere to be considered a legitimate draft prospect over the past month. He is strong, athletic, can shoot a little, get to the basket, and plays a key role for the number one team - and number one defense - in the country. His defense numbers aren’t overwhelming, but Virginia plays a famously conservative scheme that limits their players’ steal and block totals.

Hunter has a power game. He’s not very springy and while he has a good feel for the game, he’s not very slinky or elusive with the ball. I think he would be best as a smallball power forward, after watching him take Marvin Bagley off the dribble on one end and battle him on the other during Virginia’s win at Duke, but he faces, by my eye test, the Justise Winslow problem of being slightly too short to always make that work. For this reason, I will be very interested to see how he measures at the combine.

There are a couple other reasons for concern. Even though this is his first year of NCAA ball, he is already 20 and he plays limited minutes off the bench for Virginia, a situation which makes it easier to post good per-minute numbers. Though, for what it’s worth, Virginia is better (by plus-minus) when he is on the court and worse when any other bench player comes into the game, so he is definitely doing something right.

In summary, I think Hunter is an intriguing talent, but I want to see more. You can, however, read a much longer, much more optimistic take here if you wish. Hunter doesn’t have very close comparable players in recent drafts, but here is how he looks compared to another Virginian wing, another subjectively similar player, and the patron saint of this player type.

DeAndre Hunter Comparable Players

It’s worth noting that Kawhi Leonard scores at the very top of his bands for both shooting and passing, so this slightly undersells him as a prospect. Even so, he is still the best prospect from this group, though Hunter has an argument to be #2 when considering the effect of Virginia’s scheme on defensive numbers. There is a good possibility he will return next year. If he does, it will be interesting to see how he performs in a bigger role. Of course, should he excel, he might not be available by the time the Wolves are picking over the next few years.