Like a white truffle infused olive oil comes that most common of things, a NBA draft big board, influenced by that rarest of delicacies, the SMILODON draft projection system. The full list of players can be found here. These rankings are not purely following the projection system - otherwise Ty Jerome would have ended up in the top ten - but I tried to only deviate from the projections when I had a good reason to do so. Because trying to split hairs becomes impossible after a while, I kept this to a top 25 (+1). Your favorite sleeper is 27th, I promise.
1.) Zion Williamson
Zion is unique. He’s an amazing defender, finisher, a good passer, and a promising ballhandler. He even has a chance to eventually make spot up threes. He’s the best prospect since, well, Luka, but the last prospect before that who was obviously better was probably Anthony Davis. Here’s an attempt at comps, despite the aforementioned uniqueness.
2.) Ja Morant
Morant is pretty clearly the second best prospect on my board. He was fantastic at getting to the rim, a great indicator for point guards, and is an even better passer. The fact he played a weaker schedule is somewhat worrisome, but he was good enough against top competition that I am not too concerned. He is skinny, lacking NBA strength, and point guards have a steep learning curve, so I would expect him to take a couple years to start reaching his potential.
3.) Jarrett Culver
I see a fairly massive dropoff from #2 to #3 in this draft. Culver is a statistically unique wing who can pass, defend, and has a preternatural gift for slithering his way to the rim. His shooting is iffy, meaning you probably don’t want him leading an offense, but if he stabilizes as an even slightly below average shooter, Culver should become a very productive long term starter. In my evaluation, everyone from #3 down in this draft is facing long odds to become an All-Star caliber player.
4.) Coby White
This ranking is all about managing expectations. White is young, fast, a good shooter, and has good size for his position. There are very few 18 year olds in the past couple decades that have had all of those traits and could play the point competently. White is flawed; he’s not a good defender, he’s not a great passer, and he wasn’t as efficient this year as you’d hope, especially off the dribble. Still, there are very few point guards as good and athletic at that age who didn’t become starting caliber players. (I included Darius Garland in this table because both players have very similar comps.)
5.) R.J. Barrett
Barrett is a weird prospect. He is very young and his counting stats were amazing. However, he did so despite shooting poorly and posting very troubling defensive stats. It is nearly impossible to find wings who became very good NBA players despite failing to meet basic benchmarks in 3 point percentage, free throw percentage, steals, and blocks. DeMar DeRozan is usually cited as an example, but he was a below average player for the first four years of his career before improving in his next several years more than over 90% of all NBA players ever (estimated). Barrett isn’t the most explosive athlete, but he is very strong, especially for his age. The most likely scenario to me is that Barrett becomes a big scorer on bad teams, but the upside of a player who averaged nearly 26/9/5 per 40 as a freshman has to keep him in the top ten of a week draft.
6.) Darius Garland
I feel very uncertain about this ranking. Consider this an example of cautious skepticism. Garland is young, seems to have a good handle, and can shoot. Most importantly, the rest of the draft is underwhelming. However, Garland’s numbers weren’t great against fairly mediocre competition before he got injured. I’d rather have White, who is bigger and put up better numbers against better teams. Still, the promise of a possibly elite shooting combo guard - a C.J. McCollum type - seems reasonable value here.
7.) Chuma Okeke
Unfortunately, Okeke tore his ACL. However, he should return by next February and that is no longer considered a career threatening injury. Okeke is a passable shooter and passer, but more importantly profiles as an excellent defensive minded combo forward with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. I like 3&D wings and I like players who do the little things right and Okeke fits both categories. As a way of defending the placement of Okeke at #7, I’ll note that his age 20 season was nearly identical to the average of Jae Crowder’s age 20 & 21 seasons. Crowder has been the 6th most productive player (by VORP) from his draft class (8th by Win Shares). I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect Okeke to be a top ten player in his class.
8.) Nickeil Alexander-Walker
The prospect known as NAW is a good standstill shooter, an opportunistic defender, a slithery driver, and a smart player. He has one weakness - creating a shot against a set defense. When he’s facing a set defense late in the shot clock, things can get ugly. Still, he’s long, has a family member who is succeeding in the NBA, and SMILODON likes his chances. Even if he’s a 4th option as an off-guard, he could still easily end up as one of the most productive players from this class in that role if his defense and shooting hold up.
9.) Brandon Clarke
This draft is filled with unique players. Clarke is a Larry Nance type (though their SMILODONs don’t agree): an undersized athletic big who can finish, block shots, and drive in a straight line against other bigs. Clarke’s career will come down to a few factors - whether he can continue to improve his shot, continue to improve his handle, and competently defend heavier players. If the answer to at least two of those questions is yes, he becomes a very intriguing, likely very efficient player. And, fair warning, like Clarke, his comps are weird. I’m not quite sure what to make of them.
10.) DeAndre Hunter
Hunter has maybe the most conflicting indicators in his profile of any player. He’s really old for his year, which is bad. However, he has the reputation of an intelligent player, which is good. But his steal and block rates are bad. Although, Virginia’s defense suppresses those stats. But, that much? Also, his man defense is excellent. Yet, his rebounding rate is below average for a big forward, which you wouldn’t expect from a conservative defender. But his wingspan is good. And his shooting percentages are good. But his 3 point volume isn’t. I’m betting that these contra-indicators mostly balance and he ends up as a fine, if unspectacular rotation player. Which is worth a late lottery pick.
11.) Sekou Doumbouya
Doumbouya is very young - the youngest player in this draft - and has a promising shot and stocks. His awareness and ball skills are less promising. If I had to compare him to a recent college player, it would be Jonathan Isaac with worse rebounding or maybe Bobby Portis. That outcome plus the small possibility that his age gives him extra upside makes him worth it here.
12.) Goga Bitadze
13.) Jaxson Hayes
I would expect both players to have more productive careers than several of the players in front of them, but it is so easy to find good centers right now that positional scarcity pushes them down the board. For the Wolves, these players would be even lower. 15 minutes of a backup center just isn’t that valuable.
14.) Cam Reddish
Reddish had a rough season, but he is a power forward sized player who made a lot of threes and showed switchability and ballhawking on defense. That’s almost enough to ignore the lack of rebounding (though RJ was board hungry), the bad turnovers, and the comically horrible finishing. I don’t know the last top perimeter prospect I’ve seen that has just lost the ball when faced with minimal pressure. Marvin Williams is an optimistic comparison. Just for fun, here are some SMILODON comps.
15.) Grant Williams
Just based on the numbers, he should be higher. However, his scoring ratings are based off the low post play of a slow 6’7 player whose range doesn’t quite stretch to the three point line. Without further development, he could top out as Chuck Hayes with an 18 footer. There are scenarios in which Williams, one of the smartest players in the draft, extends his range to three, improves his lateral quickness so that he can defend outside the paint, and becomes an excellent role player. As quite a bit has to go right, it’s a bit of a gamble before the late first.
16.) Bol Bol
The biggest risk in the draft. A very skinny, tall human being with a history of foot problems, no defensive mobility, and a great shooting stroke. He could end up as Sudanese Zhou Qi or healthier Porzingis. The first is more likely, but who knows. SMILODON loves him, though most of those games were against substandard competition and Oregon wasn’t noticeably better when he played.
17.) Cameron Johnson
He’s old, his numbers aren’t great, and he’s not that athletic. On the other hand, he’s a tall wing who has a quick, beautiful shot off the catch or the dribble. I think he could be a very useful reserve.
18.) P.J. Washington
Everything about Washington’s profile screams “fungible PF.” That’s not a bad thing to have on a rookie deal and maybe his shooting continues to improve.
19.) Tyler Herro
Very good shooter, not very good anything else. Still, shooting is important. Tallish, youngish shooters tend to exceed my expectations, too.
20.) Nassir Little
He’s young, strong, a good rebounder, and had a good free throw percentage for an undersized four. Trying to stay optimistic.
21.) Alen Smailagic
Intriguing stats in the G-League & extreme youth. An interesting second round option.
22.) Bruno Fernando
Athletic center with good numbers. Centers have to be really good to be difference makers.
23.) Mfiondu Kabengele
A unicorn! Though, at his age, I wish he was appreciably better than say, Vanderbilt-era Luke Kornet, at either shooting or protecting the rim. He is more athletic, thankfully. Same caveats as the rest of the centers.
24.) Ty Jerome
Has a similar statistical profile to Monte Morris, though I think not as athletic.
25.) Shamorie Ponds
Great numbers, but undersized and ball dominant. I’m optimistic he’ll stick in a microwave role. It might not be with his first team.
26.) Dylan Windler
Mid major Cam Johnson.