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You, you merely adopted the status of a draft sleeper. I was born in it, molded by it.
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The Muddled Middle: A SMILODON take on 11-20 of the NBA draft

Who should the Wolves target at #16?

Greetings from an NBA draft bunker buried underneath an undisclosed location on the west coast of the United States! Given the massive disruption to the season and the draft process in flux, this year’s draft promises to be more chaotic than ever. Now, with Minnesota’s second pick in the first round, possibly 16th overall, I would hope the Wolves take one of the players from my first article on this year’s draft. Of the players likely to be available at this early stage, Aleksej Pokusevski has the tantalizing upside, while Saddiq Bey has the skill to provide the Wolves with a 3&D combo forward. That being said, there are some other prospects who are worth scouting, so here are the SMILODON reports on the players I currently have rated 11-20.

Tier 3 (&D), continued...

11. Aaron Nesmith

Aaron Nesmith Comparables

Nesmith has a simple skill set and a complicated evaluation. To do this, I’m going to depart from the usual paragraph format and make a “Pro” and “Con” list.

  • Pro: He shot 52% from 3 on over 8 attempts a game.
  • Con: He only played 14 games this season.
  • Pro: He’s 6’6 with NBA athleticism.
  • Con: He’s coming off a leg injury.
  • Pro: He scored 23 points a game, shooting the lights out in a variety of scenarios.
  • Con: He never passes.
  • Pro: Have you seen his teammates? Vanderbilt went 8-6 with him and 3-15 without him.
  • Con: Most of his games were against non-conference competition.

The bottom line is that Nesmith has the possibility to be a special shooter. He’s younger, more athletic, and taller than most of the elite shooters who haven’t put together decent NBA careers. If you watch the very long highlight video below, you’ll notice the increasing desperation with which teams begin closing out on him. By the time of the SMU game, it’s comical. The last college wing I remember receiving that treatment was Buddy Hield and Nesmith is roughly a dozen years younger than Hield during his final season at Oklahoma.

12. Theo Maledon

Theo Maledon Comparables

Maledon’s profile screams, or at least quietly suggests, “solid point guard.” He’s not a great athlete, but he’s definitely an NBA caliber guard. His shooting indicators are not elite, but they’re promising. His turnovers are high, but so are his assists. He gets to the line a reasonable amount. And he’s one of the younger prospects in the draft. He doesn’t have the defensive stats or gaudy assists of Killian Hayes, LaMelo Ball, or Tyrese Haliburton, the raw power of Anthony Edwards, or the blinding speed of Kira Lewis. But, you know, he’ll probably be solid.

13. Cole Anthony

Cole Anthony Comparables

Like Maledon, Cole Anthony projects as a solid guard without exciting upside. Unlike Maledon, he entered the season projected as a top five pick, so that statement will be seen as far more critical than I intended. To start with the positives, he’s relatively young, showed off the dribble shooting potential (only 34% on jumpers, but nearly half of his threes were unassisted), and didn’t have a lot of spacing around him.

While it has been pointed out again and again that Anthony didn’t have a great team around him, he didn’t noticeably raise their level of play. North Carolina was 10-12 with him and 4-7 without him. Removing games against mid-majors changes those records to 7-12 and 3-6, respectively. He was a fine player, but not a spectacular player. Anthony also looked less explosive in the NCAA than his high school reputation suggested. There are a couple explanations for this to my mind, given that I’m not a scout.

The first explanation is that he was dealing with injuries and he’ll recover that athleticism with an NBA training staff. The second is to note that Anthony was relatively old for a freshman, a status that is often correlated with disappointing college and NBA careers. Did he look less athletic in college because the younger players in his class started to catch up to him? I think it’s very possible. Either way, this is far too many words to summarize that Anthony is a serviceable prospect - a guard who will probably shoot decently but faces questions around his distribution and finishing.

Tier 4 - Tantalizing Potential, Glaring Flaws

14. Patrick Williams

Patrick Williams Comparables

The conundrum over how to rank these next several players was more difficult than the ordering of my top ten. I suppose that makes sense. The talent distribution should flatten as we traverse down the draft order. I could see any of these players becoming one of the best in the draft, but they would each to have beat the odds created by the weaknesses in their profiles.

Patrick Williams’ paths to NBA relevance are laid out in his comparables. His offensive potential is defined by his shooting ability, for which his 84% free throw percentage provides hope. However, he was reluctant to actually shoot threes and that free throw percentage was on a low number of attempts. If he’s not a good shooter, his lack of playmaking may doom his offensive game. A “poor” point skills score can sometimes be a problem even for combo wings, Stanley Johnson and K.J. McDaniels being prominent recent examples, as it can demonstrate an inability to process the game quickly enough to succeed in a higher profile offensive role.

On the other side of the ball, while he certainly has the tools and anticipation to be a good defender, I don’t know if he has the reach, athleticism, and feel for the game to be a defensive difference maker like Isaac. If I had to guess, a career like that of Mo Harkless feels like a reasonable expectation, but there is substantial uncertainty in that projection.

15. Obi Toppin

Obi Toppin Comparables

Toppin is a big man who broke out in his age 21 season. That’s not generally a great sign for prospects. 22 year old lottery picks tend to be the most disappointing lottery picks. Unlike the similar Brandon Clarke (#9 on my board last year), he’s also not known for his defensive potential - another strike against him and one keeping him out of my top ten. He’s billed as a shooter, but only hit 71% of his free throws across two seasons, with a lower percentage this year.

So, why do I have him even this high? Toppin does two things extremely well for a big - pass and destroy the rim. He averaged 2.8 assists per 40, which is very good for a big not in a gimmicky (cough Wisconsin cough) offense. Even more impressively, he shot 81% at the rim in the half court on quite a few attempts. An athletic big with those two skills certainly has a place in the league. It’s just that, given his age and lack of defense, it may be as a 6th man in the mold of Larry Nance rather than as a star.

16. Isaac Okoro

Isaac Okoro Comparables

Okoro’s future in the NBA comes down to his jump shot. He only hit 25% of his jump shots this year and made less than one three pointer per 40. Paired with a subpar 67% free throw percentage, that means that Okoro would be one of the worst college shooters in recent memory to become a good NBA three point shooter should he make that improvement. (His shooting profile is a bit worse than those of both Jaylen Brown and Kawhi Leonard, in my opinion.)

That’s a shame, as Okoro is a strong wing who can defend 1-4 and does all of the little things that help a team win. That type of player is very valuable, and if he beats the odds, he will be one of the best players in the draft. It’s just far more likely that he will continue to struggle from three and end up with a career that parallels that of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - players that are increasingly hard to find time for in the modern NBA. Finally, it is worth noting that while Okoro’s defense is good on tape, he has not posted the prodigious rebounds, steals, or blocks that pointed to great potential in prospects like Kawhi Leonard, Ben Simmons, or Victor Oladipo.

17. R.J. Hampton

R.J. Hampton Comparables

I don’t have as much insight into Hampton’s game as that of some of these other players, but here’s what I do know. Hampton fits a classic prospect archetype. He’s a 6’5” shooting guard with good athleticism. He can pass a little bit, score a little, and he put up decent defensive numbers against professionals. However, looking at his profile, it seems that something is lacking.

First of all, he played only 17 games in Oceania this year because of injury, so I’m not completely sold on his numbers, including that good steal rate. Now, outside of his steals and blocks, he wasn’t actually a good defender. (According to this article, his already bad New Zealand team was over 7 points worse per 100 possessions when he played.) More importantly, his time in the land down under demonstrated his limitations as a shooter and driver. It’s not that he was unforgivably bad at either; he was mediocre. But, as a 188 pound shooting guard, he really needed to hang his hat on a stronger offensive skill to cement his status as a top ten pick.

18. Tyrese Maxey

Tyrese Maxey Comparables

This may seem very low for a Kentucky star, especially one who some analysts have placed in their top five, but Maxey’s numbers were just really bad. He hit less than a third of his jumpers despite taking most of his threes off the catch, he posted less than four assists per 40, and his athleticism indicators - steals, blocks, and offensive rebounds - ranged from merely OK to poor.

There are previous guards who have excelled despite underwhelming in SMILODON - Kentucky product Devin Booker comes to mind - but many of those young players were still very efficient, just overshadowed by higher usage teammates. To judge whether Maxey’s lack of efficiency should be held against him, I compared his true shooting to that of the other Kentucky first round guards of the SMILODON era. Here is what I found:

  • Devin Booker - .600 True Shooting
  • Jamal Murray - .590
  • Malik Monk - .586
  • Tyler Herro - .580
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - .578
  • De’Aaron Fox - .549
  • James Young - .536
  • Tyrese Maxey - .531
  • Ashton Hagans - .519
  • Archie Goodwin - .509
  • Marquis Teague - .491

It’s not a promising position on the list. Ultimately, I have to trust the numbers here. They could be wrong, and Calipari might have placed Maxey in a more difficult position than I appreciate, but I don’t see the evidence for it. At least Booker and Herro (of whom I still harbor doubts) had the efficiency and shooting in college. Maxey doesn’t have anything but highlights. Of course, there are always exceptions. A similar profile worked out for one of Maxey’s comps, Zach LaVine, but it’s not a good percentage play.

19. Desmond Bane

Desmond Bane Comparables

Bane is the opposite of Maxey, in that he’s a player who was not a highly regarded recruit but has worked his way into NBA draft discussion through impressive production. The 6’5” (or 6’6”) wing has hit 43% of his college threes and 80% of his free throws over four years, including a 44% mark this past year on good volume (30% unassisted!). His combination of shooting, BBIQ, and defensive playmaking makes Bane the practically perfect role player.

So what’s the downside? Bane is an older player who is already 21. That’s somewhat young for a senior - being young for his class is actually a good indicator - but obviously gives him less space to develop than the 18 and 19 year olds ahead of him on this list. His athleticism is also less than elite. He barely got to the line this year and he doesn’t have the first step of a player you’d expect to create offense in the NBA. Finally, he isn’t ideal wing size like Saddiq Bey, who has a similar set of strength and weaknesses. Still, wing sized players who can shoot the crap out of the ball and play intelligently are valuable, and the chance that Bane becomes that in the NBA makes him a good pick here - or at the top of the second round should he remain available.

20. Deni Avdija

Deni Avdija Comparables

I have Avdija on my board because I’m a sucker for big wings who can pass. That being said, he’s not the most explosive guy, and the track record of less than athletic ballhandlers who also can’t shoot is not the best. There is also this:

Deni had a hot streak this winter that apparently convinced many talent evaluators that he should be a top five pick. I don’t really buy it and the free throw percentage is a big reason why. Still, with his skill, vision, and versatility, I could see him becoming a nice bench piece if the shooting improves even to mediocre.

Next time, I’ll reveal my Tier 5! The sleepers that I hope the Wolves target in the second round, which I know is what the real draft heads get excited for! Killian Tillie! Tyler Bey! Leandro Bolmaro! Tyrell Terry! Xavier Tillman!? Payton Pritchard? Malachi Flynn?? And maybe more???

Tune in at the same wolf time, same wolf channel!