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SMILODON: The Middle of the First

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kansas State vs Kentucky Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After our look at the top ten last week, it is time to examine, in less depth, some of the players the Wolves have a slightly better chance of drafting. On Thursday, I will release one more article, looking at some of the players I think are long shots to be quality NBA players, along with my final rankings. These may change between now and Thursday as I complete more player comparisons and reconsider some of my earlier opinions.

Most of the SMILODON comparisons made in this article only date back to the 2012 draft, rendering them of somewhat questionable usefulness. That being said, I believe this method of comparing players can help us more than the typical method, which is comparing every player to a superficially similar player who outperformed his draft slot.

Our first player today is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Comparables

Delon Wright has been a common comparison for Gilgeous-Alexander as another tall, lanky, defensive-minded guard. Shai is three years younger than Wright was when he was drafted, leading me to think he has more potential. Tyler Ennis looks close superficially, but Syracuse tends to inflate stats, while Kentucky, if anything, depresses a player’s numbers. SGA’s lack of shooting volume this year - 23 made threes on the season - worries me, but he’s big enough and smart enough to stick as a useful wing even if his shooting never comes around.

The player with the widest range of outcomes in this range might be Dzanan Musa.

Dzanan Musa Comparables

Musa has questions surrounding his defense and athleticism, putting him in the 20s on most draft boards. I have less confidence in my Euro numbers than the NCAA projection, and Musa could very well bust out. However, I would be content with the Wolves taking him at #20, as his combination of height, shooting indicators, handle, and vision is very rare at his age. If he bulks up and is able to make the athletic adjustment, he could very easily be one of the five most valuable offensive players taken in this draft.

De’Anthony Melton was screwed by NCAA rules, so we have to rely on his stats from a year ago and the eye test from the NBA combine.

De’Anthony Melton Comparables

On the one hand, players with offensive games as limited as Melton’s usually don’t declare for the NBA draft. On the other hand, NBA caliber athletes as young as Melton just don’t put up the “do-shit” stats he did as an 18 year old freshman. As with Musa, I’m comfortable betting that the rarity of Melton’s profile is an indication of untapped upside. Even if his offensive game never comes around, Melton should have value as a defender and high BBIQ role player off the bench, making him an acceptable risk in the mid-first.

The last big man I would definitely take in the first round is Robert Williams. I make no apologies for what follows.

Robert Williams Comparables

Stephen A: Skip I want to ADDRESS this issue.

[Bayless nods]

Stephen A: You KNOW I understand how undersized centers who can’t shoot ARE a dime a dozen!

Bayless: Absolutely

Stephen A: BUT! When they can move in space, see the court, and protect the rim, you HAVE to take them! You HAVE to do it!

Robert Williams Career

Look, you write enough player profiles and things get weird. Anyway, on the opposite end of the athleticism spectrum is Troy Brown.

Troy Brown Comparables

Brown is a 6’7 former point guard who has an advanced skill level despite being one of the youngest players in high major college basketball. Despite a solid mark from the line, he struggled from three this year and is more of a crafty athlete than an explosive one. He has drawn comparisons to Evan Turner as a wing sized initiator with questionable shooting, but if he does shoot, he could be much better.

One of the stars of the NBA combine was Josh Okogie, who excelled in the athletic tests and played well in the scrimmages.

Josh Okogie Comparables

Okogie’s SMILODON looks less impressive than many of the others in this range, but I think it is partly due to circumstance. He missed the first month and a half of the season due to injury before returning in mid-December. The portion of the season that Okogie missed is when the other players in this list were fattening their stats against cupcakes. He then returned just in time for the ACC schedule to start. Had he played the entire season, I would expect his driving and defense scores to have been bumped to “decent” and “good”, respectively.

Josh Okogie Career

Okogie profiles as a 3&D wing with a questionable shot. He was forced into a larger role at Georgia Tech, creating far too many of his shots off the dribble for his skill level. He was a fine shooter, albeit on a low sample, off the catch, and has posted very promising defensive stats at a young age. He has the tools to be a very good defender, as he’s strong, has long arms, and is very slithery when navigating screens.

The other athletic young guard with a questionable shot - a very common player type in the middle of this year’s draft - in this range, on my board, is Zhaire Smith.

Zhaire Smith Comparables

The good news is that it’s possible to find players with similar profiles as freshmen who became really good. The bad news is that those players improved at historic rates. Smith is very athletic and will probably stick in the league, but needs to make massive improvements to his handle, skill level, and three point shot, having only made 17 on the year for the Red Raiders. Around the Wolves pick would be an appropriate time to take the gamble that his offense develops to the point that he can start for a quality team.

By now, you may be asking, “Where is Collin Sexton?”

Collin Sexton Comparables

The Alabama point guard has all the tools to score in the NBA: a projectable jump shot and the ability to get to the rim. The rest of his game is lacking, and his low steal rate raises concerns about his athleticism and awareness. The fact that his jump shot is merely “projectable” rather than “good” or “elite” means that he will likely be an inefficient scorer for at least the first several years of his career, and “undersized, inefficient” lead guard is not a very desirable player type.

A more desirable player type is the 3&D forward, represented in this case by Keita Bates-Diop. KBD lacks the upside of Sexton, but may be more likely to contribute to winning basketball.

Keita Bates-Diop Comparables

KBD wasn’t really a prospect until this year, but has legitimate power forward size, is a pretty good shooter, and can block shots and rebound. He has acceptable athleticism and is the type of combo forward that every team could use off the bench.

Keita Bates-Diop Career

Another senior who projects as a very useful bench player is West Virginia point guard/wolverine hybrid Jevon Carter.

Jevon Carter Comparables

Carter plays a ferocious, attacking style of defense that has prompted ubiquitous Patrick Beverley comparisons. He doesn’t have the skill or burst to break defenders down off the dribble and create his own shot, which keeps him out of my top ten. However, he projects as a nearly perfect 3&D backup point guard, and I would not be surprised if he carves out a Derek Fisher like career on a series of contending teams next to star wing initiators.

Jevon Carter Career

As opposed to Carter and Bates-Diop, who each have too much game film for an amateur to properly review, Mitchell Robinson is one of this draft’s mystery men. We know that he’s very athletic and blocked a lot of shots in high school. We don’t know if he has any offensive skill and the circumstances behind his decision to sit out the entire school year are pretty murky.

Wrapping up our coverage of these prospects are two very young prospects who are rated higher on most draft boards than mine. The first is Kentucky forward Kevin Knox.

Kevin Knox Comparables

Knox has two positives in his profile. He was very young this year, and he is a promising shooter. Other than that, he looks like your classic overrated-based-on-high-school-hype-wing-who-can-score-but-not-help-you-win. (Trademarked by Eggplant, 2018.) I put him at this point in the draft because, like Collin Sexton, the end of the first round seems to be the point where his slim, but real, upside is worth a roll of the dice.

Lonnie Walker is more athletic than Knox and has a pretty looking shot. He is also shorter and was relatively unproductive as a freshman.

Lonnie Walker Comparables

I could see Walker becoming a LaVine level scorer, but without an all around game, I’m not sure how valuable that really is. As with Knox, the end of the first round seems like the appropriate place to take that gamble. In real life, that means both of those players would be long gone at the spot I would be willing to draft them.