As of the 4th of July, the NBA sits 52 days away from the NBA Lottery (August 25th) and an additional 52 days away from the actual NBA Draft (October 16th). 104 days until the Minnesota Timberwolves and the rest of the league are on the clock. If we take the lottery to be halftime of the game that is NBA Draft Season, The 4th serve as this bizarre year’s tip-off. With that, it is time for a Big Board.
My friend and assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of St. Thomas, Will DeBerg, has been joining me on the pod over the course of the NBA shutdown to dig into the film of the prospects from this class. We’ve consumed the majority of the film on the majority of the first round prospects, and this felt like the right time to rank ‘em.
(If you can’t access the Spotify player, click here to listen to the latest episode.)
I’ll save writing out my board for another, more complete article. But I wanted to share a few observations about this class and the process of ranking a group of players flush with role-player-but-not-necessarily-star potential.
- This was hard. Particularly in a draft with no “free squares” — like Zion Williamson, Ben Simmons or Anthony Davis — the process of putting together each player’s value proposition is a bit of a battle with subjectivity. It’s only natural to want to seek out “upside potential” or “ceiling” when looking at an NBA prospect. But the film of these top prospects make a strong argument that even those “90th percentile outcomes” are not a far cry from the high-end outcomes for some of the prospects in this class that have been molded to fit a specific role. Still, it was hard for me to not bet on the guys with a higher ceiling — and that may prove to be a fatal flaw in my assessment.
- There’s no consensus top pick. While LaMelo Ball seems to be catching steam lately, consensus rankings still vary wildly amidst some of the most prolific draft analysts writing for national platforms. All three of The Ringer, The Athletic and ESPN have a different top prospect in this class.
As an example, these are the 12 different players who show up on the big boards from those three publications:
- Projecting where the modern NBA is going. This is a tricky wrinkle that both feels necessary and distracting. When putting together my board, I often thought about how it might look different if these prospects were entering the league in, say, 2010 versus 2020. Would a big body center like James Wiseman have been the clear-cut top option? Would some of the efficiency concerns about a physical, volume scorer like Anthony Edwards be less glaring? Or conversely, are LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okongwu receiving artificial boosts because they seem to represent where the league is going? Ball being a lead guard who projects to fit into the well-spread, pick and roll-heavy offensive schemes that pepper the league these days. Okongwu being the uber-versatile defensive big who should have little problem switching onto those guards combing for mismatches through switches off of screens.
I thought of this concept of modernity as it pertains to role players, too. In today’s NBA, does it make sense to just take a player who projects to be a player that seems likely to be able to fill a fifth starter role even if it’s tough to see them ever becoming more than that? These are important questions to not only analyze but prioritize. Focus on a bubble that might burst five years from now and you could have made the “right” pick at the time while never realizing a profit on your investment.
- There’s so much film to be watched. I’ve always been wary of the notion that these “draft experts” had watched every second of all of these prospects. And now, as someone trying to be a film-watcher of all these dudes, I’ve come to the realization that there is NO WAY to actually consume all of the available film while maintaining sanity.
Related: I think this is why we should be open to the idea of using Big Boards as rough drafts. With more time comes the ability to fine tune opinions based on, well, watching more film. What a concept! It’s OK to have ranked a player one place four months before the draft and in a new place three months later. Honestly, I’ll be circumspect of anyone who didn’t adjust their board over the course of this summer.
Anyway, that’s my way of saying that this isn’t my final analysis on the draft, and that this certainly won’t be my final board. But let me know what you disagree with. I’ll do my best to take notes and go back to give the issues you note a second look.
It’s draft season. Tip-off time. Embrace the chaos.