2017 NBA Draft Analysis

I’m going to take on a bit of a bold task here: doing a quick, first impression analysis of every move made during the 2017 NBA Draft – including both picks and trades (in chronological order) – and giving a grade to each one. I’ll be doing this as the draft progresses in real time, so these scores I assign each transaction (letter grades) will be after fairly brief amounts of research; instead of being based on my previous prospect rankings and the draftees’ fits on their selecting teams.

 

  1. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers

The right pick according to my prospect rankings, Fultz is a gifted all-around point guard prospect. The idea of him playing alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid for the years to come is scary.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers

Again sticking by my prospect rankings, Ball is another tantalizing point guard prospect due to his speed and vision. The Lakers made the right call here, and they have their point guard of the future to pair with a young, budding coach and a growing roster.

Grade: A+

 

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

 

Proposed Trade #1: Chicago Bulls trade Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 Pick (Justin Patton), Minnesota Timberwolves trade Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 Pick (Lauri Markkanen).

It looks like the Timberwolves are giving up a ton here to get Jimmy Butler, but the move could push them over the hump and into playoff contention. A starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Gorgui Dieng/Justin Patton is an incredibly dangerous group. These guys are going to be really, really good, and soon.

Timberwolves’ grade: A

For the Bulls, meanwhile, this is a good way to begin the rebuild. Taking the long-term view, the Bulls added 3 young, talented pieces to a roster that was devoid of that beyond Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine. Zach Lavine has star potential if he can recover from his knee injury, Markkanen should develop into at least a decent starter due to his shooting, and Dunn didn’t have a great year but is just one season removed from being a top point guard prospect – he can still defend and distribute at a high level. In the short-term, they’ll suffer; but if those five guys can mesh and the front office can add a few more pieces, this could be a strong team in a few years.

Bulls’ grade: A-

 

  1. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

I’m not a huge fan of what Boston did here. Not because Tatum lacks skill as a prospect (on the contrary, he has the potential to blossom into a great scorer), but because Josh Jackson was still on the board. Jackson is less offensively polished right now than Tatum but offers much more long-term two-way potential.

Grade: B

 

  1. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns

Great pick and great value for the Suns at fourth overall. Jackson has a lot of upside as a high-motor, athletic two-way player. Pairing him with long-term prospects Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender along with established players Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, and TJ Warren gives this team the potential to be really good in the future.

Grade: A+

 

  1. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

I’m not as high on Fox as some other analysts, but that doesn’t mean I think he can’t play. He’s incredibly fast and has a massive upside if he can develop a jump shot. The Kings needed a long-term point guard, so I think this pick could end up paying dividends for them. I’d rather have Ntilikina or Smith, but Fox will also be a very good player.

Grade: A-

 

  1. Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic

A great pick for the Magic, Isaac was ranked 5th on my prospect rankings and offers a lot of upside at 6’11” with the skill-set of a guard. He should fit very well going forward in the Magic’s lineup, as starting him at the 3 will allow them to play Aaron Gordon at his natural power forward spot.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (due to Proposed Trade #1)

This seems like a reach to me. In my eyes, Markkanen is not a Top 10 prospect this year as he’s very one-dimensional. He’s a great shooter, which gives him a high floor, but a higher upside big man with a jumper would’ve been Zach Collins.

Grade: C

 

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Photo Credits: Unknown

 

  1. Frank Ntilikina, New York Knicks

I’m so rarely happy as a Knicks fan, so let me have this win. Ntilikina is exactly what they need – a stable ball-handler that can distribute the ball and shoot. I had Dennis Smith ranked higher in my rankings, but Ntilikina is a better fit for a team in such disarray.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Dennis Smith, Dallas Mavericks

Great pick. By my prospect rankings (Smith is 6th) this is a steal. Smith has a massive upside due to his incredible athleticism. He should fit next to Yogi Ferrell, Wesley Matthews, or Seth Curry in the Mavs’ backcourt.

Grade: A+

 

Proposed Trade #2: Portland Trail Blazers trade No. 15 (Justin Jackson) and No. 20 (Harry Giles) Picks, Sacramento Kings trade No. 10 Pick (Zach Collins)

This was a good deal for the Trail Blazers, but not a great one. They possessed many picks in this year’s draft so they could afford to move up and snag a top prospect in Collins. The Gonzaga big was a fairly safe choice with a huge ceiling, so giving up picks to acquire him is understandable. However, through no fault of their own, one of the picks they gave away was used to select a player that is arguably a better prospect (health permitting) than Collins in Harry Giles. That being said, Collins should fit great next to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

Trail Blazers’ grade: B+

Meanwhile, the Kings pulled off an absolute winner here. They not only were able to acquire Giles, an absolute prize, at a later point in the draft (meaning they’ll be able to give him a cheaper contract), but they picked up Justin Jackson (a possible future starter) along the way to go with the already-selected De’Aaron Fox. Wow. What a haul.

Kings’ grade: A+

 

 

  1. Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers (due to Proposed Trade #2)

A good pick for the Blazers. Collins offers a lot of upside as a rim-protecting, shooting, and post player. He’s less of a risk than Harry Giles here, which makes sense for a Portland team trying to contend for the playoffs now.

Grade: A

 

  1. Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets

A great value at 11th overall, Monk is a great scorer and a spectacular athlete. He and Kemba Walker can form a special backcourt in the near future, as both can flat-out put the ball in the hoop.

Grade: A+

 

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

  1. Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons

A reach. I think he could thrive as a role player due to his incredible shooting, but he’s far too one-dimensional for my taste. He might do well playing behind Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope because he won’t be asked to do too much besides shoot, but Detroit could have selected other more complete prospects.

Grade: C

 

Proposed Trade #3: Utah Jazz trade Trey Lyles and No. 24 Pick (Tyler Lydon), Denver Nuggets trade No. 13 Pick (Donovan Mitchell)

This is a great deal for the Jazz, who were able to clear out a crowded frontcourt and replace it with a top guard prospect. Mitchell is a great athlete and will more than make up for the loss of Lyles. Trading the 24th overall pick was a debatable move, but given who was taken, if I were a Jazz fan I’d be happy that I had Mitchell rather than another rotation-level forward.

Jazz’s grade: A

For the Nuggets, though, I don’t quite see how this trade made sense. They have so many young assets already and adding two more players that will barely see the court (due to such a full rotation) doesn’t seem like the desirable option as compared to selecting Donovan Mitchell.

Grade: C-

 

  1. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (due to Proposed Trade #3)

Utah already has a very good team, and adding Mitchell to that equation is only going to make it even better. He’s an extremely athletic guard that should thrive as a defensive presence in their backcourt, a scary idea for a team that sports Rudy Gobert around the rim.

Grade: A

 

  1. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

I don’t like this pick for the Heat. Bam was ranked several spots lower on my prospect rankings, and he’s not a good fit next to Hassan Whiteside. There were several other big man options that wouldn’t clog Whiteside’s paint as much, such as TJ Leaf, John Collins, or even Harry Giles.

Grade: C-

 

  1. Justin Jackson, Sacramento Kings (due to Proposed Trade #2)

I like Jackson as a prospect, but this seems like a bit of a reach here. However, he’s a shooter with good athleticism, which is a good fit next to newly-picked De’Aaron Fox (a great perimeter defender who can make up for Jackson’s shortcomings).

Grade: B

 

  1. Justin Patton, Minnesota Timberwolves (due to Proposed Trade #1)

Similarly to Jackson, this seems like a bit of a reach, especially with Harry Giles and OG Anunoby still on the board. However, he plays a different game than Gorgui Dieng (Patton is more of an athletic rim-runner that can stretch the floor) and can give the new-look Timberwolves good depth when Dieng and/or Towns sit.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: NCAA.com

 

  1. D.J. Wilson, Milwaukee Bucks

He may be a slight reach given who is still available, but Wilson fits the identity of this Bucks team: long and athletic with a very high upside. Wilson’s range could also give the Bucks another way to space the floor, as stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker both aren’t known for their jumpers.

Grade: B+

 

  1. T.J. Leaf, Indiana Pacers

A good pick at 18th overall. Leaf has the potential to be an offensive superstar and can be a great fit next to Myles Turner (who can make up for Leaf’s defense). The only thing holding this back from being an even higher grade is that Harry Giles is still on the board.

Grade: A-

 

  1. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

A very good pick for the Hawks, who will need Collins’ strong rebounding now that Dwight Howard has been traded. Collins also has a decent jump shot and is an impressive athlete – and of course, he put up incredible numbers last year at Wake Forest. Of course, though, Harry Giles is still available.

Grade: A-

 

  1. Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings (due to Proposed Trade #2)

A great, high-upside pick for the Kings. Giles, of course, has had a great deal of knee problems that robbed him of significant production last year. However, when healthy, there are few prospects that possess his talent. The Kings can also afford to take a risk here after already selecting Fox and Jackson. Great pick.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Terrance Ferguson, Oklahoma City Thunder

A very good pick for the Thunder, as Ferguson can be a great change of pace from Andre Roberson – a spectacular defender who can’t shoot. Meanwhile, Roberson can help mentor Ferguson on how to use his incredible athleticism to become a lockdown defender. Ferguson might have growing pains, but this is a great spot to take a chance on a guy with great upside.

Grade: A

 

  1. Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets

A good value pick here, Allen can go a long way toward replacing Brook Lopez. While he doesn’t have the offensive capabilities of Lopez, he can develop into a great rim protecting presence should do decently on offense as he develops with D’Angelo Russell passing him the ball.

Grade: A

 

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Photo Credits: Sporting News

 

  1. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors

The only reason that Anunoby fell this far was concerns over his knee; but if that can heal properly, the Raptors have got themselves a massive steal. Anunoby is a lockdown defender with great physical tools, and he’s shown the ability to shoot from deep as well. Anunoby can develop into a top two-way player in the league – but again, that’s all dependent on his knee.

Grade: A

 

  1. Tyler Lydon, Denver Nuggets (due to Proposed Trade #3)

This pick doesn’t really make sense to me. The Nuggets already had a crowded frontcourt with bigs and wings that can shoot before adding Trey Lyles, so adding another guy that fits such a similar mold seems repetitive. Where he’ll even fit in the rotation remains to be seen, and I had him much lower on my prospect rankings than where he was selected. I love the Nuggets’ young, talented roster, but unless they plan to trade Lydon, I don’t see how picking him here was beneficial.

Grade: D

 

  1. Andzejs Pasecniks, Orlando Magic (Update: Now Philadelphia 76ers, due to Proposed Trade #5)

I like Pasecniks, but this seems like a little bit of reach based on my prospect rankings. That being said, there weren’t many available true bigs ahead of him left besides Ike Anigbogu, so I understand the pick if that’s the only direction the Magic wanted to go in. Pasecniks should develop into a solid rotation player or even a starter due to his height, athleticism, and ability to shoot.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: Barstool Sports

 

  1. Caleb Swanigan, Portland Trail Blazers

This draft spot matches exactly where I had Swanigan on my prospect rankings. The guy can flat out rebound, and he’s incredibly strong. The ability to shoot from deep, which he showed off last year, makes him an extremely valuable commodity in today’s league. He should be a good complement to Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins.

Grade: A

 

  1. Kyle Kuzma, Brooklyn Nets

I’m not a fan of this pick. I didn’t rank Kuzma in my Top 50, and I still believe that there are many small forward prospects that Brooklyn would have been better off taking. While I may have underestimated Kuzma, he didn’t deserve to go this high.

Grade: D

 

Proposed Trade #4: Utah Jazz trade No. 30 (Josh Hart) and No. 42 Picks (Thomas Bryant), Los Angeles Lakers trade No. 28 Pick (Tony Bradley).

The Jazz clearly like their rebounding, so for them, obtaining Tony Bradley was a priority. They have plenty of depth already as well so they could afford to give up an extra pick. In theory, this deal should make their frontcourt even more intimidating.

Jazz’s grade: B+

The Lakers, on the other hand, are looking to acquire as many young pieces as possible, and Hart and Bryant both have the potential to turn into solid role players. A smart move by the rebuilding franchise.

Lakers’ grade: A

 

Proposed Trade #5: Orlando Magic trade Andzejs Pasecniks, Philadelphia 76ers trade 2020 1st Round Pick (via Thunder) and 2020 2nd Round Pick.

This seems like a good long term move for the Magic, as Pasecniks probably wouldn’t have gotten much time behind Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo.

Magic’s grade: B+

The 76ers, meanwhile, have finally started trading their picks instead of trading for others. Pasecniks will join a young, growing, and dangerous core and will have a legitimate chance to contribute. If he can use his physical tools to develop, he’ll be another talented player as part of the Philadelphia team that will take the world by storm in the next few years. Hopefully for Philly, by 2020, their picks will be toward the end of their respective rounds instead of towards the beginning.

76ers’ grade: B+

 

  1. Tony Bradley, Utah Jazz (due to Proposed Trade #4)

Bradley is a decent overall prospect that can serve a role in the NBA due to his offensive rebounding skills. He might not be more than a role player, but that’s okay when you’re playing behind the Stifle Tower.

Grade: B

 

  1. Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs

I have White ranked fairly low on my prospect rankings, in part due to his age (22); however, I was impressed watching his film. He has a good jump shot and can distribute the ball well. Of course, he’s now going to the Spurs – meaning he’ll probably be a great value pick and become a productive NBA player.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

  1. Josh Hart, Los Angeles Lakers (due to Proposed Trade #4)

Hart was a great college player at Villanova, and he does a lot of things very well without being elite at one particular thing. He was a little lower than this on my prospect rankings, but he’ll have a chance to develop on a young Lakers team.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Frank Jackson, Charlotte Hornets (Update: Now New Orleans Pelicans due to Proposed Trade #6)

A good value pick here, Jackson is athletic and possesses a good jumper. He’ll likely play behind Malik Monk and Kemba, but he could be a useful role player and backup point guard on a talented Hornets team.

Grade: A

 

Proposed Trade #6: Charlotte Hornets trade No. 31 Pick (Frank Jackson), New Orleans Pelicans trade No. 40 Pick (Dwayne Bacon) and Cash.

Unfortunately, the amount of cash being handed over here is unknown at this time, so it’s impossible to give a complete grade for either team. However, both players have the potential to be solid role players in the league. Jackson most likely will be the better player, but that’s to be expected due to the draft slots that are being traded. Overall, the total benefit of the cash will determine exactly who comes out ahead here, but I would give the benefit of the doubt to the Pelicans.

 

  1. Davon Reed, Phoenix Suns

I didn’t rank Reed in my Top 50 Prospects or in my sleepers to watch for, so I believe there were much better options on the board for the Suns.

Grade: D

 

  1. Wesley Iwundu, Orlando Magic

I did not have Iwundu in either of my lists either, but Iwundu does have a good jumper and a large wingspan. He could pan out, but there were better options on the board.

Grade: C-

 

  1. Frank Mason, Sacramento Kings

Possibly selected to be De’Aaron Fox’s backup, Mason is an incredibly accomplished college player with a great shot. I don’t have him ranked this high in my prospect rankings, but I agree with Jay Bilas’ sentiments; he’s too tough to fail in the league.

Grade: B

 

Proposed Trade #7: Orlando Magic trade No. 35 Pick (Ivan Rabb), Memphis Grizzlies trade Future 2nd Round Pick

It remains to be seen how valuable that future pick will become, but I would swing this trade in favor of the Grizzlies because Rabb is as solid a 2nd round selection as they come; it’s unlikely that the Magic will be able to match his value with a future 2nd rounder.

 

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Photo Credits: Scout.com

 

  1. Ivan Rabb, Memphis Grizzlies

A lot of people forgot about Rabb, but I like the value here. He’s a tough rebounder with a lot of talent and decent touch on his jump shot. It wasn’t long ago he was in first-round consideration – he can surprise some people.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Jonah Bolden, Philadelphia 76ers

These 76ers know how to draft. Bolden is a high-upside prospect; he’s extremely athletic and has a great jump shot. He’ll be able to grow with their young core, and could be a good contributor to a good team.

Grade: A

 

  1. Semi Ojeleye, Boston Celtics

A great pick for the Celtics, Ojeleye is a physical specimen with a great deal of athleticism that can shoot the ball really well. He can grow on this stacked team and become a valuable contributor off the bench.

Grade: A

 

  1. Jordan Bell, Chicago Bulls

A third great pick in a row. Bell is a defensive superstar with great athleticism and a high motor. Anyone that plays as hard as this guy has a shot to be really good, a la Draymond Green.

Grade: A

 

  1. Jawun Evans, Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers can do no wrong. Evans is a great offensive threat, as he can drive, handle, and dish at an extremely high level. He’s only 6’1” – but as a Michigan fan, I was rarely as impressed when facing an opposing point guard (because Derrick Walton Jr. would often shut them down) than I was in the Michigan/Ok. St. matchup.

Grade: A

 

  1. Dwayne Bacon, Charlotte Hornets (due to Proposed Trade #6)

I listed Bacon under my sleepers section; the guy can put the ball in the hoop really nicely. His deep shot isn’t great, but his decent free throw shooting percentage suggests he can improve. If he can also distribute and rebound better in the future, he can stick around as a role player.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: ESPN.com

 

  1. Tyler Dorsey, Atlanta Hawks

Dorsey is a great scorer who stepped up on the biggest stage in March, showing off his great 3-point stroke. He bears some similarities to Tim Hardaway Jr. as a scorer so Hardaway can function as his mentor while Dorsey backs him up.

Grade: A-

 

  1. Thomas Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (due to Proposed Trade #4)

Bryant is a very rebounder who can step out on the perimeter and make a 3 every now and then, a valuable skill for a modern big to have. He has a massive wingspan, so defensively he could have the potential to grow as a rim protector as well.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Isaiah Hartenstein, Houston Rockets

A great selection by the Rockets. Hartenstein could fit very well in the modern NBA, as a smooth, athletic big with the ability to shoot. As Fran Fraschilla stated, he has a lot of talent – if he stayed in the draft for one more year, he might have been a lottery pick. This is a good find.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Damyean Dotson, New York Knicks

Another great pick for the Knicks? What? I know, it’s unsettling, but Dotson is a great shooter and an underrated athlete. Even if Phil Jackson is insistent on running the triangle. Dotson will do very well in the system due to his ability to not only catch and shoot, but also pull up off the dribble.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Dillon Brooks, Houston Rockets

A college superstar, Brooks was long considered the best player on the Oregon Ducks before Tyler Dorsey had a superhuman March. Brooks has succeeded at every level he’s played at, and despite his relatively small height and wingspan, he could potentially develop into a good bench player.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Sterling Brown, Philadelphia 76ers

Brown was another great college player; but in part due to his age, he’s not the same level prospect as Brooks. However, he has a very nice jump shot and ability to both rebound and pass. He’s got a shot to be a decent player.

Grade: B

 

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Photo Credits: Yahoo! Sports

 

Proposed Trade #8: Chicago Bulls trade No. 38 Pick (Jordan Bell), Golden State Warriors trade Financial Considerations

This is a coup for Golden State. I’m not an expert on the Bulls’ finances, but to trade a guy with Bell’s talent for what’s most likely a small amount of financial benefit seems silly. The Warriors just gained another incredible defensive threat (whose motor I compared to Draymond Green’s not 15 minutes ago). It’s just not fair.

 

  1. Ike Anigbogu, Indiana Pacers

Finally. Anigbogu was drafted far after where I had him in my prospect rankings. He’s extremely raw, but he possesses great athleticism and has the innate ability to block shots (in part due to his ridiculous wingspan). Apparently, his medical reports were concerning, which is why he slid in the draft – but if he’s healthy, he can be a great rim protector.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Sindarius Thornwell, Milwaukee Bucks

Thornwell was a college superstar who has the potential to be a great defender along with a decent scorer at the next level. He’s displayed that he can rebound and shoot from deep as well. Overall, he likely only went this low because of (again) his age. He has the potential to be a very good player.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Vlatko Cancar, Denver Nuggets

Cancar is mainly known as a wing shooter with decent length for the small forward position (a 6’11” wingspan). He’ll likely be a draft-and-stash player, which makes sense for a team with as crowded a rotation as the Nuggets do.

Grade: B-

 

  1. Mathias Lessort, Philadelphia 76ers

A solid athletic player with a high motor. Similarly to Cancar, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a draft-and-stash player, as the 76ers have made a great deal of picks tonight and playing overseas would give Lessort an opportunity to grow.

Grade: B

 

  1. Monte Morris, Denver Nuggets

A fantastic pick. Morris is a spectacular distributor who never turns the ball over and also possesses a pretty good jump shot. I ranked him 35th in my prospect rankings; and while he may not get a chance in Denver (I’m a broken record – crowded rotation) to show off what he can do, he’s definitely an NBA point guard.

Grade: A+

 

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

  1. Edmond Sumner, New Orleans Pelicans

A solid pick for the Pelicans. Sumner is a good scorer and distributor who has been dragged down by injuries. If he can stay healthy, he has the chance to make a mark in the NBA.

Grade: A-

 

  1. Kadeem Allen, Boston Celtics

I’m not sure I love this pick. Allen is old for an NBA prospect at 24, and his numbers were solid across the board but nothing special (10-4-3). I have trouble believing that he has a lot more improvement left in him.

Grade: D

 

Proposed Trade #9: Houston Rockets trade No. 45 Pick (Dillon Brooks), Memphis Grizzlies trade Future Second Round Pick

This seems like a wash to me. Brooks has a chance to be a decent player, but he’s pretty average as far as second round picks go. The future second rounder should more or less be a fair value for him. However, the Grizzlies do have to be a little careful here, as this is the second future second rounder that they’ve traded tonight.

 

  1. Alec Peters, Phoenix Suns

A great pick. Peters is a great shooter and rebounder and should be able to thrive as a small-ball 4 at the next level. I had him higher on my top prospects rankings, and I think he has the potential to make an impact for this young Suns team.

Grade: A+

 

  1. Nigel Williams-Goss, Utah Jazz

Williams-Goss did a little bit of everything at Gonzaga – scoring, dishing, and rebounding. If he can improve his shot from deep, he could be able to crack an NBA rotation.

Grade: B+

 

  1. Jabari Bird, Boston Celtics

Bird was a solid scorer at California as well as a good rebounder for a 2-guard. I doubt he cracks the Celtics’ stacked rotation, but he has a shot to play in the league one day if he maximizes his potential.

Grade: B-

 

  1. Aleksandar Vezenkov, Brooklyn Nets

Vezenkov is known mainly for his shooting, but he’s not particularly athletic or strong. I doubt he ever plays in the league.

Grade: D

 

  1. Ognjen Jaramaz, New York Knicks

Another tall point guard picked by the Knicks, Jaramaz will likely be a draft-and-stash player. Again, it’s unlikely he makes any impact in the league.

Grade: D

 

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

 

  1. Jaron Blossomgame, San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs do it again, my gosh. Blossomgame is a very good athlete with strong physical tools. Because they’re the Spurs, they’re probably going to fully extract his defensive potential and turn him into a productive NBA player.

Grade: A+

 

Proposed Trade #10: New Orleans Pelicans trade No. 52 Pick (Edmond Sumner), Indiana Pacers trade Financial Considerations

I like what the Pacers did here, acquiring a guy with more talent than his draft position would suggest, but it’s unlikely that Sumner will make any true impact in the near future. That being said, I still don’t believe that the Pelicans should have traded him for what is likely light financial support. Sumner does have legitimate potential, even if he might not reach it.

 

  1. Alpha Kaba, Atlanta Hawks

Kaba is physically gifted, having measured a 7’5” wingspan at Eurocamp in 2015, and he had a good season rebounding overseas. However, like most Mr. Irrelevants, it’s unlikely that he ever makes an impact in the league. But hey, you never know.

Grade: C

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Basketball Reference, NCAA.com, and NBA.com. Thanks for reading!

Written by Ben Koch

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Vegas Golden Knights Joust Their Way To A Succesful Expansion Draft

This past Wednesday night, the Las Vegas Golden Nights took part in an NHL Expansion Draft, making them the 31st team to enter the NHL. This draft was full of twists and turns, as well as a plethora of surprises, including a number of trades on draft night. Let’s take a statistical look at their very successful draft:

 

James Neal, LW via Nashville Predators

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Photo Credits: NHL.com

In an expansion draft in which teams could either protect 7 forwards and 3 defensemen or 8 skaters, teams were quick to lock up their top-scorers, leaving little options for Vegas’s offense. However, Vegas drafted an absolute stud in James Neal, who is one of the NHL’s top sharp-shooters and most potent offensive scoring threats. Neal has tallied at least 20 goals along with a shooting percentage of at least 10% in each of his 9 seasons in the league, which should provide substance to Vegas’s offense from Day 1.

Neal is a very durable player as well, as he logged over 1000 minutes of ice time in 8 of his 9 seasons thus far. Unlike some other sharp-shooters, Neal is anything but a liability when he is on the ice, as his relative Fenwick % (% team differences in shots+misses when on ice) and relative Corsi % (Fenwick % with blocks as well) have been positive for each of the last 7 seasons. Neal, one of the premiere scorers in the league, is also responsible for 58.5 point shares, which averages out to an impressive 6.5 point shares per season.

 

Marc Methot, D via Ottawa Senators

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Tampa Bay Lightning
Photo Credits: NHL.com

While high-scoring forwards are a very protected asset in an expansion draft, potential first-pair defenders are too, which makes it surprising that Methot was on the chopping block for Ottawa. Methot has consistently proven himself to be a lockdown, first pair defender who is capable of shutting down some of the league’s most prolific scoring threats, just ask Sidney Crosby.

Methot is an absolute tank, as he has logged at least 920 minutes of ice time in each of his 9 seasons in the league, and has recorded at least 90 hits in 8 of the 9 as well. Over the past 3 seasons, Methot hasn’t tallied a plus-minus less than +12, showing that he is very positively contributing to his team while on the ice, despite oftentimes facing the opponents’ top line. Methot is also responsible for 29 point shares, which is somewhat impressive for a defenseman who doesn’t produce offensively.

 

Marc-André Fleury, G via Pittsburgh Penguins

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

In possibly the most anticipated move regarding the Vegas Golden Knights this off-season, the Knights selected Fleury just days after winning his 3rd Stanley Cup. Despite losing his job to Matt Murray earlier this season, Fleury fought hard to gain his job back and was instrumental in the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run, showcasing the amazing goalkeeping talents he still has.

Over his 13 season career, Fleury has a .912 Save % and 2.58 GAA, which easily put him among the league’s top tier of goaltenders. Admittedly, Fleury has aged a bit and is likely more of a middle tier goaltender going forward. However, with Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knight will be getting a seasoned veteran with extensive playoff experience and multiple Stanley Cups under his belt. Fleury is also responsible for 120.3 point shares, which is the good for the 89th most in the history of the league.

 

David Perron, LW via St. Louis Blues

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David Perron, Vegas’s pick from St. Louis, is simply a grinder and embodies the tough-as-nails style of play that Vegas is going to play with. Perron has recorded at least 1000 minutes of ice time in the last 5 of 6 seasons, which is seriously impressive given his aggressive style of play. Over the past 4 years, Perron has made his presence felt by averaging 129 hits per season, which is practically unheard of for a forward.

With that being said, Perron can also produce on the offensive side of the ice as well. In the past 10 seasons, Perron has finished with at least 36 points in 7 of them. Additionally, Perron has a 12% shooting % over the course of his career, which makes him a legitimate scoring threat if he shoots more. As “irrelevant” as some might think he is, Perron is responsible for a solid 42.4 point shares in his career.

 

Alexei Emelin, D via Montreal Canadiens

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Photo Credits: NHL.com

Alexei Emelin, Vegas’s pick from the Montreal Canadiens, bears striking resemblances to David Perron in his style of play. Just as Perron, Emelin is a very physical player, who embodies that grinder and tough-as-nails style on the blueline. Emelin is a very solid, yet physical defender and has recorded 189 hits or more in 5 of the past 6 seasons. What is the lone exception you might ask? It was the 2012-13 season where he only played in 38 games.

Emelin is a trooper as he has recorded 1130 minutes of ice time in 5 of the past 6 seasons, with one again, the lone exception being in 2012-13. Emelin has proven in the past that he can be a lock-down defender with a very physical edge, and should be a valuable edition to the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster. Emelin has recorded 14.5 point shares over the past 5 seasons, which is impressive for a non-producing (offensively speaking) defenseman.

 

Jonathan Marchessault, C via Florida Panthers

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

The Florida Panthers’ logic going into this expansion draft was quite questionable, as they left an absolute young stud in Jonathan Marchessault. Marchessault is a young, rising star with serious goal-scoring potential and should provide an immediate offensive boost for Vegas.

Marchessault recorded 51 points last season via 30 goals and 21 assists, which is a seriously impressive mark for such a young player. Marchessault is also a power play threat, as he tallied 18 power play points via 8 goals and 10 assists. He played 1268 minutes last season, which is quite a large amount for a young player as well, and shows that he can be heavily utilized in Vegas. Marchessault was responsible for 6.2 point shares last season, which is quite notable also.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, Hockey Reference, NHL.com, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: NHL.com

 

Top 50 2017 NBA Draft Prospects

Let’s take a look at the top prospects in this year’s NBA draft. These rankings will examine the best 50 players in my eyes, based on the tape along with the numbers. However, translating college and overseas stats to an NBA equivalent has long been a fruitless task; while I’ve considered the production these players have put up, much of these rankings will also be based on upside, floors, and projections with admittedly little quantitative data to back them up. In his last year at college, Kawhi Leonard put up 15.5 ppg on 29.1% 3-point shooting. This season, along with being arguably the best defensive player in basketball, he averaged 25.5 ppg on 38.1% 3-point scoring. Isaiah Thomas was the last pick in the draft and stands only 5’9”, yet this year he was an All-NBA Second Teamer. Morale of the story? Anything can happen with these players, regardless of what is thought of them in the pre-draft process. With that being said though if I were a GM drafting for my team, this is how I would set up my Top 50.

Note: This is not where I think these players will actually be drafted, but is instead my own personal ranking of them. For example, some people believe De’Aaron Fox might have a shot at being as high as the second pick this year; meanwhile, he is nowhere near that mark on my board.

Listed after each Top 25 player’s description is a comparison to a current or former player. If I couldn’t find just one that worked for a prospect, I listed two that the player could potentially turn into a blend of. The comparisons should be used more as a comparison of play-styles than actual ability. For example, I’ve compared Zach Collins to Kevin Garnett – that does not mean I believe Collins will approach Garnett’s success in the league, but rather that they play a similar game (good shooting for bigs, solid interior games, and great shot blocking skills).

 

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Picture Credits: Yahoo! Sports

 

  1. Markelle Fultz, Washington

Fultz is considered the top overall prospect by nearly every draft analyst, and the tape and numbers both back that up. Fultz is a smooth point guard who makes the game look natural in a similar way that Ben Simmons did last year, and he averaged nearly a 23-6-6 to go with an elite 27.9 PER. He showed he can help his future team out in nearly every way, playing strong defense, handling the ball, driving the basket, and pulling up from 3. Throw in his superb measurements (6’4” with a wingspan about 6’10”) and he’s one of the best point prospects in recent memory. The one knock against him is that his team performed poorly during the season; but similarly to Simmons, it’s foolish to hold that against a guy this good.

NBA Comp: James Harden/D’Angelo Russell

 

  1. Lonzo Ball, UCLA,

While every headline these days seems to be about Lonzo’s father, LaVar, his son really can ball (sorry, I’ll stop now). Lonzo is devastatingly quick offensively and he possesses an amazing blend of speed, height (6’6”), and vision (7.6 APG). He’s got a bit of a funky jump shot that could turn some people off – especially with the new emphasis in the NBA on pull-up jumpers off of a screen – but the results he’s shown are strong (41% from deep last year). If he can add some strength in the future and become a stronger finisher, he has the potential to be a very good player for a long time.

NBA Comp: Jason Kidd/Goran Dragic

 

  1. Josh Jackson, Kansas

Jackson possesses possibly the most potential as a two-way player in this draft class. He averaged roughly 16-7.5-3 offensively with a 24.1 PER, but he’s known more for all-around having a very strong basketball IQ along with incredible athleticism. That combined with his aggressiveness and versatility on the defensive end should allow him to be a premier defender in the league, giving him a very high floor. Offensively, he has a decent jumper to go with good driving and finishing skills. Overall, off-the-court issues aside, Jackson is a pretty good bet to be a strong player in the years to come.

NBA Comp: Andrew Wiggins/In-his-prime Andre Iguodala

 

South Carolina v Duke
Picture Credits: Bleacher Report

 

  1. Jayson Tatum, Duke

Tatum has shown a serious scoring acumen, and while his numbers are solid but not spectacular (17-7-2), he’s shown the ability to create and score off the dribble as well as anyone in this class. Other than his shot creation, he lacks another tool that identifies him as a star, but he doesn’t have any other glaring weaknesses, as he’s a pretty good distributor, rebounder, and defender with above-average (but not spectacular) athletic abilities. His shot from deep also shows the potential to improve as he gets older. In short, he’s another high-floor prospect who should thrive in the NBA.

NBA Comp: Jabari Parker

 

  1. Jonathan Isaac, Florida St.

Isaac is the rawest prospect in the top 5, but his skills have the potential to be devastating in the league. He might have the most upside in this entire class. Isaac stands 6’11” with a 7’1” wingspan, but plays with the skill-set of a guard. His ball-handling is elite for someone his size, and his jump shot has the potential to improve from an already good place (35% from deep). He’s fluid on the court, and he could be a matchup nightmare as he puts on some strength and grows into his body – too fast and skilled for 4s and 5s to cover (even in the modern NBA) and too big for 3s. While he may never meet his full offensive potential as a constant mismatch, he should at least make a great living as someone able to rebound (nearly 8 per game in college) and guard 3 positions effectively.

NBA Comp: Giannis Antetokounmpo/Brandon Ingram

 

  1. Dennis Smith, NC State

Smith has been a little lost in the circus of incredible point guard prospects this year, but he still possesses all the incredible potential that he had coming out of high school. Similarly to Fultz, his team did not perform at a high level this year, so he was criticized due to being the man supposed to lead them far. However, it’s hard to argue that he didn’t do his part, as he averaged about an 18-4.5-6 with a 23.1 PER. He showed that he can hit with a passable 36% 3-point shooting percentage, and his form shows great potential. And of course, he might also be the most explosive athlete in the draft.

NBA Comp: Russell Westbrook/Baron Davis

 

  1. Frank Ntilikina, France

Similarly to Smith, Ntilikina has been flying under the radar in such a stacked class. While his numbers might not be elite, as he is playing in a reserve role on an overseas team, Ntilikina has a lot of raw talent. First of all, he has the best size for the position in this draft class, standing 6’5” with an insane 7’0” wingspan – which might (no hard data on this) be the longest by any point guard in the NBA. He’s an incredibly steady ball handler and a great passer on the offensive end, and his length gives him a very high defensive potential. To go along with that, he’s got a nice shot form and managed to shoot 43% from 3 last season (given a small sample size). He might not “wow” with athleticism like a Dennis Smith, but Ntilikina has all the tools to be a very good point guard in the modern NBA given some time to adjust to the strength of the players.

NBA Comp: Dante Exum

 

Arkansas v Kentucky
Photo Credits: AP Photo

 

  1. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky

Everyone else is a much bigger fan of him than I am, as I don’t really see what would make him a better prospect than Smith or Ntilikina. That being said, he’s extremely quick and has great potential as a ball handling, attacking, and defending guard. His measurables are pretty good, as he’s a 6’3” point guard with a 6’6” wingspan. However, he’s not the passer that Ntilikina is he and doesn’t have quite the same explosiveness as Smith (though he is very, very fast). He also has a jumper that is a work in progress, to say the least. He could very well end up being as good or better than the two guys ranked ahead of him, but I don’t see him as nearly the complete prospect that players like Fultz and Ball are.

NBA Comp: Derrick Rose

 

  1. Malik Monk, Kentucky

I’m a big fan of Monk’s combo of superb athleticism and spectacular shooting. He can create his own shot, and offensively, there are few in this class that can put the ball in the basket better. However, he’s 6’3” and there are serious doubts about him being able to handle being an NBA point guard because his ball handling and passing aren’t spectacular. He should be fine as a 2-guard, but he’ll be undersized.

NBA Comp: Eric Gordon

 

  1. Harry Giles, Duke

Giles didn’t put up great numbers at Duke or bear much of a resemblance to the high school superstar he once was, but he has the talent of a top-3 pick. The only things holding him back here are concerns about his knees. But he’s tall, has a massive wingspan, is relentless on the boards, and has even shown flashes of an outside jumper. He could either be a bust because of medical reasons once he hits the league or be one of the biggest steals of the draft.

NBA Comp: Amar’e Stoudemire

 

  1. Zach Collins, Gonzaga

Collins seems to be a perfect fit for the modern NBA, as he’s a 7-footer that can move well, block shots, and shoot the 3 all at high levels. After not playing much his freshman year at Gonzaga, some worry that he’ll struggle when faced up against NBA bigs; but when he was on the biggest stage in March, Collins shined. He might face some difficulties at first but in the long term, he’s a solid play.

NBA Comp: Kevin Garnett

 

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

 

  1. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

After Collins, the talent takes a bit of a drop-off, but Markkanen remains an extremely useful player. While he doesn’t do much else but shoot, there is certainly a place in the league for 7-footers that can knock down 3s at a 42% clip and rebound at a serviceable level.

NBA Comp: Ryan Anderson

 

  1. OG Anunoby, Indiana

Anunoby, similarly to Giles, would potentially be much higher on this list if not for injury concerns, as OG tore his ACL earlier this year and could potentially miss a good chunk of his rookie season. However, few other prospects have the defensive potential that he does given his massive 7’2” wingspan, strong lateral quickness, and great energy. If he can knock down the 3 with more consistency, he has the potential to be a premier 3-and-D player.

NBA Comp: Jae Crowder

 

  1. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville

Mitchell is a point guard with an interesting blend of skills, as his 6’10” wingspan and good lateral quickness suggest that he’ll be able to handle pro guards well defensively while his huge improvement in his outside shot (and scoring ability) after his freshman year begs the question of how much more he can improve. If he can improve his ability to distribute, he can be a very solid starting-caliber point guard for years to come.

NBA Comp: Avery Bradley

 

  1. TJ Leaf, UCLA

Leaf does a little bit of everything – he can score, shoot from outside, rebound, and pass at extremely high levels for a 6’10” forward. However, his defense might be a concern as he needs to either add on a little more strength to better contend against NBA bigs or improve his lateral quickness to defend out on the perimeter.

NBA Comp: Kevin Love

 

  1. Terrance Ferguson, Australia

Ferguson has made a name for himself as a very good shooter who can jump out of the gym. His ball-handling still isn’t great, and there’s a bit of an element of mystery around how he compares to his 19-year-old counterparts after skipping out on college, but guys that can shoot from deep and possess athleticism can usually find a place for themselves in the league.

NBA Comp: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

 

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

 

  1. Jarrett Allen, Texas

Allen is a long, bouncy center with a great deal of defensive potential as a rim protector. However, his game is extremely raw, and he has yet to prove that he has an offensive presence when facing the basket. Around the rim, though, he has incredible upside due to his length and athleticism, which both give him the ability to score on dunks and with his back to the basket.

NBA Comp: DeAndre Jordan

 

  1. John Collins, Wake Forest

Collins is mainly known as an athletic scorer that gets most of his points around the basket, something that doesn’t quite fit in today’s NBA if other skills are lacking. However, he’s shown that he can hit to some degree from midrange, and he is still young enough that there is plenty of time to develop a more consistent jumper. It’s also hard to argue with his production, as he led the country in PER last year starring at Wake Forest.

NBA Comp: Ed Davis/Cody Zeller

 

  1. Bam Adebayo, Kentucky

Bam is a big, strong prospect who does little but rebound hard and use his strength and athleticism around the rim to slam down. While he offers little else beyond his effort and hustle, what he does do he does very well.

NBA Comp: Dwight Howard

 

  1. DJ Wilson, Michigan

Wilson is extremely long and athletic, with the ability to block shots and move laterally on defense, rebound using his huge wingspan, and shoot from inside and out on offense. If he can establish more of a killer instinct around the rim, he has a massive upside.

NBA Comp: Kristaps Porzingis

 

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

  1. Justin Jackson, UNC

Jackson is a long, athletic, small forward who is surprisingly quick around the perimeter and showed off a much-improved shot from deep this year. His rebounding, defense, and distributing all leave something to be desired, but he could be able to carve out a role as an offensive specialist.

NBA Comp: Jamal Crawford

 

  1. Justin Patton, Creighton

Patton had a very efficient freshman season, where he showed serious potential as an athletic big who can stretch the floor and dive to the rim on offense and protect the rim on defense. However, he needs to add strength if he wants to be able to hang with NBA bigs.

NBA Comp: Myles Turner

 

  1. Luke Kennard, Duke

Kennard is without question the best shooter in the draft, a skill that NBA teams covet. However, he lacks some other traits that are vital to being a high-level player in the league – such as the athleticism necessary to cover pro guards. Most mock drafts have him going in the lottery, which is much higher than I have him ranked here; however, within the right system to capitalize on his biggest strength, he’ll be able to thrive.

NBA Comp: J.J. Redick

 

  1. Jonathan Jeanne, France

Jeanne raised his stock heavily at the combine, with impressive measurements of a 7’6” wingspan to go along with his 7’2” height. He needs to add a lot of strength; but with the ability to shoot from deep and block shots, he has a very high upside.

NBA Comp: Zydrunas Ilgauskas

**Note: These rankings were made before Jeanne’s diagnosis of Marfan Syndrome, which puts his basketball career in jeopardy. We wish him all the best.

 

  1. Ike Anigbogu, UCLA

Anigbogu recorded a ridiculous 7’6” wingspan for his 6’10” height at the draft combine, further supporting the conclusion that he has a ton of upside as an athletic rim protector. He’s one of the youngest players in this draft class and is extremely raw offensively, but he has the potential to grow into a strong defensive presence.

NBA Comp: Rudy Gobert

 

NCAA BASKETBALL: JAN 17 Illinois at Purdue
Photo Credits: STACK

 

  1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
  2. Jordan Bell, Oregon
  3. Frank Jackson, Duke
  4. Isaiah Hartenstein, Germany
  5. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma St.
  6. Ivan Rabb, California
  7. Rodions Kurucs, Latvia
  8. Tony Bradley, UNC
  9. Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan
  10. Monte Morris, Iowa St.
  11. Johnathan Motley, Baylor
  12. Semi Ojeleye, SMU
  13. Andzejs Pasecniks, Latvia
  14. Alec Peters, Valparaiso
  15. Damyean Dotson, Houston
  16. Josh Hart, Villanova
  17. Kostja Mushidi, Belgium
  18. Tyler Lydon, Syracuse
  19. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
  20. Jonah Bolden, Australia
  21. Edmond Sumner, Xavier
  22. Frank Mason, Kansas
  23. Dillon Brooks, Oregon
  24. Derrick White, Colorado
  25. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

 

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

 

Other miscellaneous sleepers, in no particular order:

Marcus Keene, Central Michigan

Peter Jok, Iowa

PJ Dozier, South Carolina

Dwayne Bacon, Florida St.

Eric Mika, BYU

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Chris Boucher, Oregon

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga

VJ Beachem, Notre Dame

Thomas Bryant, Indiana

Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt

NFL Draft Analysis

Winner: New Orleans Saints (2016 Record: 7-9)

Notable Picks: Marshon Lattimore (CB – #11 Overall), Ryan Ramczyk (OT – #32 Overall), Marcus Williams (S – #42 Overall), Alvin Kamara, (RB – #67 Overall), Alex Anzalone (LB – #76 Overall), Trey Hendrickson (DE – #103 Overall)

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Despite having a number of questionable picks in the early rounds in the draft, as they drafted 2 offensive players in the first 3 rounds although they had the worst defense in NFL history just one year ago, the Saints had a very effective draft this year.

At pick #11, the Saints took Marshon Lattimore (a cornerback out of Ohio State) which was a no-brainer, as he is easily the best cover-man in the draft. Lattimore was rated as one of the best players in the draft (top 3 to 5 in nearly every big board), which means he is a great value pick at the 11 spot, and has the ability to vastly improve the worst coverage defense in football. Marcus Williams (a safety out of Utah), the Saints’ selection at #42, only furthered bolstered the defense by adding an athletic, hard-hitting safety who is capable of playing a “center-field” type of role for the defense. Williams, a slightly worse version of Malik Hooker, an all-around, ball-hawk safety out of Ohio State, and Lattimore, the best cover-man in the draft, both make for great value picks that will surely improve the Saints’ defense.

Although it was quite questionable that the Saints spent 2 out of their first 4 picks on players on the offensive side of the ball, it is quite difficult to argue with either of their selections. Ryan Ramczyk (an offensive tackle out of Wisconsin), the Saints’ 2nd first round selection at pick #32, has a very legitimate chance to be a long-term starter in the NFL and was likely the best lineman in this year’s draft, which makes him a good pick as well. Alvin Kamara (a running back out of Tennessee), the Saints’ 3rd round selection at pick #67), provides the Saints with yet another offensive threat, who will manage to contibute both through the air and on the ground, despite a crowded backfield.

 

Winner: Cleveland Browns (2016 Record: 1-15)

Notable Picks: Myles Garrett (DE – #1 Overall), Jabrill Peppers (S – #25 Overall), David Njoku (TE – #29 Overall), DeShone Kizer (QB – #52 Overall), Larry Ogunjobi (DT – #65 Overall)

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

After a number of wise trades that provided the Browns with a plethora of picks in future drafts (which data suggested was smart since more picks are on average more valuable than higher picks), the Browns finally cashed in this year with a very strong draft class.

With the #1 overall pick, the Cleveland Browns took Myles Garrett, a defensive end out of Texas A&M, who was the consensus #1 pick in nearly every mock draft created. Myles Garrett is an athletic beast with game-changing talent on the defensive side of the ball, as he has the ability to single-handedly shut down opposing offenses. Jabrill Peppers, a safety out of Michigan, was the Browns’ 2nd first round pick and is easily one of the most athletic players in the draft, which will allow him to continue his versatile role that he previously played with Michigan. Peppers will be able to handle both the nickle and the safety, which makes him a valuable defensive chess piece for the Browns to play with.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Cleveland Browns reeled in some serious talent by drafting David Njoku with 29th overall pick and DeShone Kizer with the 52nd overall pick. Njoku, a tight end out of Miami, is a very athletic and has a rare combo of size and speed for a tight end. Njoku will be a playmaker for the offense, and will give Kizer, as well as receivers, a much greater chance to shine as he will likely attract double coverage. DeShone Kizer at #52 was easily my favorite pick of the draft, as I thought he should have been the first quarterback off of the board (there were 3 taken before him: Trubisky, Mahomes, Watson). Kizer is a huge quarterback with an even bigger arm, which allows him to crank throws down the field and (successfully) challenge safeties with deep, over-the-top throws. Kizer has elite throwing power and above average accuracy, as well as dual-threat capabilities in the red-zone, which will make him a lethal threat in the NFL in a couple of years from now.

 

Winner: Washington Redskins (2016 Record: 8-7-1)

Notable Picks: Jonathan Allen (DT – #17 Overall), Ryan Anderson (LB – #49 Overall), Fabian Moreau (CB  -#81 Overall), Samaje Perine (RB – #114 Overall)

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Photo Credits: SI

After swinging and missing on a number of supposedly “big-time” prospects over the past couple of years (RG3, David Amerson, Josh Doctson, among more), the Redskins finally seemed to get it right this year, reeling in serious talent over their 4 picks in the draft.

The Redskins went all-in on defense in the early rounds of the draft, picking 3 defensive players with their first 3 picks in the draft. Prior to the draft, it was unimaginable that Jonathan Allen would slip out of the top 7, much less the top 15, but he fell all the way to the Redskins at #17. Allen, a defensive end out of Alabama, is arguably one of the most talented and athletically gifted players in this draft, and was quite possible the best value pick in the draft. Allen’s presence will help to solidify a porous run defense and improve the pass rush as well. The Redskins went back to drafting Alabama alumns in round 2 as well, picking Ryan Anderson, an ex-Alabama linebacker, with pick #49. Although Anderson has limited upside potential as a pass rusher on the NFL level, he is well rounded and solid across the board.

The Redskins further improved their draft class in Rounds 3 and 4, getting amazing value picks on Fabian Moreau, a cornerback out of UCLA, and Samaje Perine, a running back out of Oklahoma. Both had Round 1 potential up until the ends of the junior seasons (Moreau tore his pectoral and Perine had to split carries with Mixon), and likely still possess that Round 1 talent scouts believed they had just a couple of months ago. Moreau is an aggressive playmaker on the outside, who likely would have been an mid to late 1st round pick had he not hurt himself at UCLA’s pro day. Perine is powerful runner out of the backfield, with capabilities both running and catching the ball. Perine is a lethal threat on 3rd down as a power running back with the ability to cut and break away from defenders with speed, and has the ability to be Washington’s starting running back from day 1.

 

Loser: Chicago Bears (2016 Record: 3-13)

Notable Picks: Mitch Trubisky (QB – #2 Overall), Adam Shaheen (TE – #45 Overall)

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Photo Credits: NFL.com

Just as they always do, the Chicago Bears managed to amaze everyone, with yet another silly move that will hurt the future prospects of the team. Analytics would suggest that the Bears had the worst draft of any team (and it’s not even close), which only adds onto the woes that already exist in Chicago.

In the biggest surprise of the night, the Chicago Bears sent picks #3, #67, #111, and a 3rd Round pick in 2018 to the 49ers to move up one spot in the first round (moved from #3 to #2). With the 2nd overall pick, the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky, a quarterback out of North Carolina, who was not on anyone’s draft radar just one year ago. Although Trubisky is a very skilled player, he has just 13 starts and isn’t a sure-fire NFL starter, which makes him a risky pick at #2. Although he might have been gone by pick #3 (via a trade), Trubisky was nowhere near worth the price, given that the Bears just signed Mike Glennon to a huge contract this off-season.

Adam who??? That was pretty much everyone’s reaction after the Bears pulled their second surprising letdown move of the night by drafting Adam Shaheen, a tight end out of Ashland, with the 45th pick. While Shaheen is actually a solid pass-catching target, he is a terrible blocker, which will take him off of the field in most running situations. Shaheen is simply an average tight end and is no where near a deserving 2nd round pick (at earliest Round 3), despite the run on tight ends in the 1st round as well as the Bears’ need for one. The Bears likely could have waited 30-40 picks and still could have been confident that Shaheen would be on the board, thus making this a foolish pick.

 

Loser: New York Giants (2016 Record: 11-5)

Notable Picks: Evan Engram (TE – #23 Overall), Dalvin Tomlinson (DT – #55 Overall), Davis Webb (QB – #87 Overall)

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

Statistically speaking, the Giants really did nothing wrong this draft, they just happened not to do anything right either, despite a number of chances to capitalize on team weaknesses based on the available players at their spots.

In Round 1, the Giants swung for the fences (and brutally missed) by picking Evan Engram, a tight end out of Ole Miss, with the 23rd pick in the draft amid an unprecedented 1st round run on tight ends. Engram is a versatile tight end, who is actually a legitimate receiving threat, but lacks the ability to block well, which will limit his on-field time. Although Engram isn’t that atrocious of a pick by itself (albeit a bad one), it is absolutely horrendous given who was on the board at the time of the Giants pick and how well they filled their needs. If the Giants wanted to pick a tight end, they should have gone with Njoku, who is a more complete player with much higher potential. If the Giants were wise (which they obviously are not), they would have gone with either a linebacker, as Foster, Cunningham, and McMillan were still on the board, or an offensive lineman, as Ramczyk, Robinson, and Lamp were all on the board as well.

The Giants did much the same in Rounds 2 and 3 where they picked Dalvin Tomlinson, a defensive tackle out of Alabama, with the 55th pick and Davis Webb, a quarterback out of Cal, with the 87th pick. Although the Giants needed a defensive tackle, picking Dalvin Tomlinson in the 2nd round was not the right pick for the team, given his limited potential and lack of actual output on the field. Zach Cunningham, a future superstar linebacker out of Vanderbilt, as well as Alvin Kamara, a versatile running back out of Tennessee would have both been much better picks for the Giants given those two’s talents the Giants’ pressing needs at linebacker and running back. You would think that the Giants would have learned their lesson in Rounds 1 and 2 given their massive blunders, but unfortunately for all Giants fans out there you would be wrong. The Giants picked Davis Webb with their 3rd Round pick, which is not a terrible pick by itself, as Webb was in contention for the first overall pick at the end of last season’s mock drafts (for the 2017 draft). However, Nathan Peterman, a very talented and developed quarterback out of Pittsburgh, and Brad Kaaya, the consensus #1 pick until a god awful senior season, were both on the board at the time, and would have been much better picks.

 

Admittedly, the Giants did get a steal in Round 4 when the picked Wayne Gallman, a speedy and versatile running back out of Clemson, with the 140th pick in the draft. Gallman has huge potential and, when it’s all over, might be actually be the best running back in this year’s class, which makes this an amazing value pick.

 

Favorite Picks By Round (1-3):

Round 1: Jamal Adams – S, LSU (Round 1, Pick 6), Malik Hooker – S, OSU (Round 1, Pick 15)

Round 2: DeShone Kizer – QB, Notre Dame (Round 2, Pick 52), Dalvin Cook – RB, Florida State (Round 2, Pick 41)

Round 3: D’Onta Foreman – RB, Texas (Round 3, Pick 89), Fabian Moreau – CB, UCLA (Round 3, Pick 81)

 

Least Favorite Picks By Round (1-3): 

Round 1: Mitch Trubisky – QB, North Carolina (Round 1, Pick 2), Evan Engram – TE, Ole Miss (Round 1, Pick 23)

Round 2: Gerald Everett – TE, Ashland (Round 2, Pick 44), Adam Shaheen – TE, South Alabama (Round 2, Pick 45)

Round 3: ArDarius Stewart – WR, Alabama (Round 3, Pick 79), CJ Beathard – QB, Iowa (Round 3, Pick 104)

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Football Reference, and NFL.com. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

Some Preseason Thoughts: American League

An in-depth look at the favorites to win each division and each wildcard.

So here we are, in the midst of opening week. I’m going to outline the favorites for this season, based on who was truly good last year and who made the best win-now moves this past offseason.

AL East

Favorite: Boston Red Sox

Mookie Betts accumulated 7.8 WAR and Xander Bogaerts had a career-best walk rate and ISO in their age-23 seasons. Andrew Benintendi is healthy and geared up for his first full season in the majors. Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez enjoyed bounce-back campaigns, the former garnering 5.2 WAR and playing 160 games, the latter with a 127 wRC+. Jackie Bradley Jr. proved his 2015 success was no fluke. The acquisition of Chris Sale offsets the injuries to David Price and Drew Pomeranz. They have plenty of rotation depth: Rick Porcello is a solid presence (although, some regression is to be expected) and both Eduardo Rodriquez and Steven Wright offer some sneaky upside.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that last year, although they won 93 games, Baseball Prospectus said that they should have won 103 games (more than anyone else in the AL) based on runs scored and runs allowed, amongst other underlying statistics, and adjusted for strength of schedule. FanGraphs projects them to tie with the Astros for most wins in 2017.

AL Central

Favorite: Cleveland Indians

Carrying over from last year is a solid young core of Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, and Jose Ramirez, backed by consistent veterans Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis. The signing of Edwin Encarnacion and the return Michael Brantley further boosts this offense. As for the pitching, the big three of Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, and Danny Salazar are returning, fully healthy. They are backed by a couple of solid arms in Trevor Bauer (whose excellent stuff still offers upside in his age-26 season) and Josh Tomlin. Furthermore, there are two solid prospects with major league experience: Mike Clevinger struck out more than a batter per inning in Triple-A last year, and Ryan Merritt was a postseason hero. Not to mention, a very strong bullpen composed of Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and the newly signed Boone Logan.

Andrew Miller’s ranks amongst the 133 qualified relievers last year:

K% BB% SIERA ERA FIP xFIP
1st 2nd 1st 2nd 3rd 1st
WAR O-Swing% Z-Swing%
2nd 2nd 1st (Lowest)

AL West

Favorite: Houston Astros

Despite a disappointing season last year, the Astros have an improving young core. Carlos Correa just put up 4.9 WAR in his first full season, which he seemed to be playing injured throughout. And he’s only 22! They’re getting a full season of Alex Bregman, who put up a 112 wRC+ in his first big league action. Jose Altuve, still only 26, had a career year, posting bests in walk rate, ISO, WAR, wRC+, OBP, Slugging, and more. George Springer, still only 27, played a full season for the first time, putting up a 124 wRC+ for the third straight season and garnering 4.5 WAR. The Astros don’t only have youngsters, though; they also improved their catching with the acquisition of veteran Brian McCann, and now have a respectable tandem of McCann and Evan Gattis. They’re set for their first full season of Yulieski Gurriel, the 32-year-old Cuban. They also signed three more solid veterans this offseason: Nori Aoki (career .353 OBP), Carlos Beltran (124 wRC+ last year), and Josh Reddick (career wRC+ of  105 and positive defensive marks).

On the pitching side of things, after struggling with shoulder issues for the last couple of years, Lance McCullers (30.1% K-rate last year) is healthy to begin the year. While Dallas Keuchel disappointed last year, his underlying metrics (3.87 FIP, 3.53 xFIP, 3.77 SIERA) suggest that he suffered from some bad luck. Joe Musgrove provided 62 solid innings in his MLB debut last year, and still has room to grow at age 24. Charlie Morton, the oft-injured veteran, showed much improved velocity last year in a small-sample and topped out at 97 this spring (he sat 91-92 in previous years) with his sinker, so he offers some sneaky upside. Collin McHugh is starting the season on the DL, but he has garnered at least 3 WAR in each of the last three seasons. The ‘Stros have some depth beyond those five: Mike Fiers can be an innings eater with the potential to showcase the swing-and-miss stuff that he showed before last year, Brad Peacock struck out a batter per inning in 117 Triple-A innings last year, and Chris Devenski, bullpen ace, started five games last year, putting up a 2.16 ERA in 108.1 innings (mostly in relief).

The bullpen is loaded. Luke Gregerson led the MLB in swinging strike rate last year, Ken Giles has a career 34% K-rate and an only 8.2% walk-rate, Will Harris and Tony Sipp are two lefties who have struck out more than a batter per inning in their careers, James Hoyt had a 2.96 SIERA last year and Michael Feliz had a 2.45. Not to mention, Chris Devenski.

Beyond the obvious depth on the MLB team, the Astros have a solid farm system. They have 9 top-100 prospects, according to KATOH, the stat-based prospect ranking system on FanGraphs. Among them are familiar names such as outfielder Kyle Tucker (119 wRC+ in A-ball last year, 188 in 69 PAs in High-A), David Paulino (1.83 ERA in 64 Double-A innings last year), Francis Martes (3.33 ERA, 2.73 FIP in 125.1 Double-A innings last year), and A.J. Reed (142 wRC+ in 296 Triple-A PAs last year).

Wildcard

Favorite: Toronto Blue Jays

While they lost Edwin Encarnacion, much firepower remains. Josh Donaldson is still Josh Donaldson. Kevin Pillar is one of the best defenders in baseball, accumulating the most defensive runs saved above average out of every outfielder the last two years. I’m expecting a bounce-back from Jose Bautista, who played through injury last season. Devon Travis, who has 4.8 WAR in only 163 career games, is fully healthy to start the season. Russell Martin provides a steady presence behind the plate. Even though his offense has declined over the last two years, Troy Tulowitzki still provides upside at shortstop and defends well. The signings of Steve Pearce (136 wRC+ last year) and Kendrys Morales (whose homerun power should play up  at Rogers Centre) should help offset the loss of Encarnacion.

Their stellar rotation from last year remains intact. Although J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, and Aaron Sanchez are due for some regression, Marcus Stroman was unlucky last year (his ERA-FIP was the 10th highest amongst qualified pitchers last season). It’s also worth noting that Estrada, with a superb rising fastball, is known to defy his peripherals by inducing popups at a high rate. Sanchez is still young (24), so he can improve his skills before regression catches him. Either way, he led the AL in ERA in his second year in the majors and features an excellent sinker. Francisco Liriano provides some sneaky strikeout upside at the back-end of the rotation.

The bullpen is solid too, headed by Roberto Osuna, Joe Biagini (who I profiled last year), and Jason Grilli (who rebounded nicely last year).

Second Wildcard

Favorite: Seattle Mariners

 The Mariners have some upside (Mike Zunino, Mitch Haniger, and Dan Vogelbach are all former top prospects still under 27 years old), but their aging stars (Nelson Cruz is 36, Hisashi Iwakuma is 35, and Robinson Cano is 34) will have to remain effective in order for them to catch the Blue Jays. The ineffectiveness of Felix Hernandez and the injury to Drew Smyly mean the M’s will have to lean heavily on the injury-prone but high-upside James Paxton for innings.

Pennant

Favorite: Houston Astros

With unmatched depth and a stat-savvy UPenn and Northwestern educated GM in Jeff Lunhow, I pick the ‘Stros over the Red Sox (whose depth is rapidly disappearing under old-school president of baseball operations Dave Dumbrowski) and the defending pennant winners (Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are too injury-prone for my liking, and their depth pales in comparison to the Astros).

About those Yankees:

The young trio of Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge will have to really wow in order to make them a contender :(.

Data from Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs. Picture from wordpress.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

Starlin has Really not Been Sterling

A common misconception amongst casual baseball fans is that Starlin Castro is a solid player. I’m here to debunk that myth.

Twenty-one homers, a career-high by seven. A .270 batting average. Only 118 strikeouts in 610 PAs. So, Starlin Castro is back on the map, right?

Not so fast. Castro did not just experience a sweet power-surge, as some may think. He greatly benefitted from an inflated HR/FB rate. Last year, his 15% rate was way higher than his previous career high (10.1%). Some may dismiss this stat and say that the move to Yankee Stadium helped him out, but in fact, the park factors on FanGraphs list Wrigley (106) as an easier venue for righties to hit homers than Yankee Stadium (105). As was often discussed amongst the Sabermetric community, last year the number of homers skyrocketed all around the MLB (possibly due to the balls being “juiced”), so take that with Castro’s inflated HR/FB rate and the most PAs he saw in a year since 2013, and we have a career-high in homers, even though Castro posted a fly ball rate lower than his career average and a popup rate higher than his career average. All of these homers helped lead to a career-high ISO, at .163. Because I don’t think the home run increase is sustainable, I don’t think the ISO increase is, either. He only hit 29 doubles, tying him for 51st out of the 88 players with at least 600 PAs last year. He also only hit one triple. Further undermining his ISO explosion, the league average ISO also ran up to its highest in ten years, fifth highest all-time, at .162. This was only the second time in Castro’s career that he had bested the league average ISO in a season (and he barely did so in 2016).

graph.jpg

Accompanying this power surge was an erosion of plate discipline. Castro posted the second-worst walk rate of his career, at 3.9%. This was the third-lowest walk rate amongst the 88 hitters with at least 600 PAs last year. To make matters worse, his strikeout rate (19.3%) was the worst of his career. His swinging strike rate ballooned to 11.3%, way higher than his previous career-high (9%), and firmly below average. His chase rate was its worst since 2012, ranking 11th highest in the group of 88. If there is one good thing here, he also swung at pitches in the zone at the highest rate in his career. However, this could just be a function of Castro seeing a career-high number of strikes and him choosing to have a more aggressive approach (career-high overall swing rate as well, ranking 12th in the group of 88). Yet, he still made contact on pitches in the zone at the lowest rate in his career. Either way, Castro’s .300 OBP last year undermined his improvements in the power department, and he ended up with a below-average 94 wRC+. That OBP was the seventh-lowest amongst the 88 hitters with at least 600 PAs.

Noted for his speed as a prospect, Castro never actually posted a positive BsR (base-running runs above average) value in a season. His base stealing days appear to be over, as he only attempted to steal four times last year. Although he wasn’t caught once, he still posted a -1.6 BsR.

Did he at least hit the ball hard? Well, his Hard% was the second highest of his career, but it was still just below league average. His Soft% was a couple percentage points below league average, at least. His line drive rate was the second highest of his career (right around league average). But did his exit velocity improve? Of the 61 hitters with at least 400 batted ball events last year, Castro had the 43rd highest average exit velocity, at 89 MPH. The prior year, he ranked 44/55 amongst the hitters with at least 400 batted ball events, with an 86.5 average exit velocity. While Castro experienced quite a jump there, the average of the first group was 89.9 and the average of the second group was 88.9 MPH, so the entire league experienced a jump, and Castro ended up below average both years.

Starlin Castro is definitely a below average hitter. There are certainly some good things about him, but when he has a down year on defense, like last season, his offense isn’t enough to bank on–he only accumulated 1.1 fWAR in 151 games. This was the 11th worst amongst the 88 hitters with at least 600 PAs, and the worst amongst the second basemen in that group. Despite an uptick in homers, I don’t see enough of a skills improvement for Castro to maintain a 20-per season pace. I would expect something more along the lines of 15-per season, with his increased aggressiveness giving him more shots to lift the ball out of the park. This aggressiveness, however, can be his downfall: he doesn’t walk often and he doesn’t hit the ball hard, so some bad luck on balls in play could lead to a horrific OBP.

Data from FanGraphs and Baseball Savant. Graph made courtesy of https://nces.ed.gov/. Picture: USA TODAY NETWORK/USA TODAY NETWORK/SIPA USA–via nydailynews.com

Thanks for reading!

A Guide To March: Under-The-Radar Favorites and Upset Picks

As the name would suggest, March Madness is the most chaotic event in sports. Whether it be Kris Jenkins’ game-winning, buzzer-beating shot in the National Championship game or Middle Tennessee’s shocking win in the opening round over Michigan State, the month of March (for college basketball at least) is simply filled with madness. Nothing that happened during the regular season matters anymore, as the only thing that counts is that you are in the tournament right now. Although March Madness seems like it is just a flurry of luck, momentum, and chance (which to a great extent it is), taking a structured, statistical based approach to evaluating match-ups will allow March to make much more sense. Additionally, filling out your brackets in this statistical-backed approach will dramatically increase your odds of winning your pool, so read these helpful tips to feel a little less “mad” this March when your brackets aren’t busted after Day 1.

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Photo Credits: Sporting News

Under-The-Radar Favorites:

Look for these characteristics when picking teams to go far:

  • Good on both ends of the court
    • Both offensively and defensively efficient
  • Have one “unstoppable” aspect
    • Ex: West Virginia’s press or UCLA’s shooting
  • Make the most out of their possessions
    • High Floor % (% of possessions ended with points)
  • Don’t turn the ball over
    • Low turnover %

Unexpected Teams Poised To Make Big Runs: Southern Methodist (SMU), Notre Dame, Michigan, Iowa State

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Southern Methodist: Winners of 15 straight and 24 of their last 25, SMU comes into the tournament as possibly the hottest team in the field. Although they pack one of the least deep rosters in the country, SMU’s athletic starting 5 more than make up for that through their ability to score and rebound. SMU has great shooting ability, especially from deep, as they shoot 40.6% from beyond the arc, which is the 5th best mark in Division I. Their shooting ability from deep, paired with big men who grab an offensive rebound on 36.8% of their shots (6th in the country), makes a combo that will be awfully hard to stop. Additionally, SMU plays at the 4th slowest pace in the country, averaging only 65.2 possessions per game, which allows for great volatility in the outcomes of their games. Pair this with their efficient play on both sides of the ball (6th in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency), and you have a team that could readily take down major contenders such as Baylor, Duke, and Villanova, Florida, or Virginia. On top of that, advanced metrics show that SMU is very underrated as a 6 seed, as they are ranked #11 by Kenpom, which is ahead of every team in their region besides Villanova, Florida, and Virginia.

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

Michigan: Coming off upset wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue to win the Big 10 championship, Michigan is riding a huge wave of momentum that should carry over into the tournament. After a rough start to the season, Michigan has turned it around as of recently, and this version of the Michigan basketball team is a force to be reckoned with. With a defense that is just alright, even below average by advanced metrics such as defensive efficiency, Michigan’s offense is what has carried them so far. Michigan possesses a lethal combo of slow pace and efficiency, which allows them to capitalize on the few possessions that they have. Averaging just 65.5 possessions per game, Michigan has the 5th slowest pace in all of college basketball, which (just like SMU) gives greater volatility in the outcome of their games. As mentioned above, Michigan’s offense is quite effective and efficient as well, as they are 6th in offensive efficiency and 8th in effective field goal %. Michigan’s patient, efficient style of play, along with their great ability to hold onto the ball (6th lowest turnover %), is quite taxing on opposing defenses, which has led to diminished offensive production for opponents as well. If Michigan can defend the deep ball better than they have recently, don’t be surprised if you see them take down powerhouses such as Louisville, Oregon, and Kansas, Iowa State, or Purdue.

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Notre Dame: Unlike SMU or Michigan, Notre Dame does not come into the tournament red-hot, as they have only won 8 of their last 12 and are fresh off a devastating loss to Duke in the ACC Championship game. Notre Dame boasts a potent offense, the 15th most efficient in the country, that is extremely hard to stop when Bonzie Colson is at his best. Unfortunately for everyone else in the tournament, Colson has been doing exactly that as of recently; in his past 10 games, he has scored at least 20 points in all but 2 of them, and has posted 5 double-doubles over that span as well. On top of that, Notre Dame shoots 38.6% from behind the arc (32nd in the country), but more importantly, their 4 main players (Colson, Vasturia, Beachum, Farrell) all are legitimate 3-point shooting threats, as they all shoot at least 36.1% from deep. One of Notre Dame’s most lethal qualities is that they are not going to beat themselves up; Notre Dame shoots 79.9% from the free-throw line and commit turnovers on only 13.6% of possessions, both of which are tops in the country. On top of that, Notre Dame’s match-ups after the first round (likely West Virginia then Gonzaga) are good fits for them. West Virginia’s full-court press was rendered useless against other teams that didn’t turn the ball over (Iowa State), and that should be no different against Notre Dame. Against Gonzaga, Beachum and Vasturia should be able to handle Karnowski, and Colson will give him plenty of trouble on the defensive end. In conclusion, Notre Dame has an experienced, disciplined roster that matches up well with potential opponents and should last well into March.

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Photo Credits: SB Nation

Iowa State: Although they are not quite as hot as Michigan or SMU, Iowa State has also been on a tear recently, coming fresh off a win over ‘Press Virginia’ to win the Big 12 Championship. In most regards, Iowa State is a very similar team to Notre Dame; both are offensively oriented, live off of the deep ball, hardly turn the ball over, and sport experienced rosters. Iowa State thrives off of how they shoot from beyond the arc, as they shoot 24.8 of them per game, which is the 36th most in the country. Fortunately for Iowa State, they are pretty good at doing so, as they make 40.2% from beyond the arc, which is the 11th best mark in the country, and average 10 made 3-pointers per game, which comes out to 8th. Iowa State’s stay in the tournament will be completely dependent on how they shoot the 3 ball. With that being said, Iowa State does have a number of other attractive characteristics as well. Iowa State’s potent offense, which averages 80.9 points per game (24th in the country), is also among the most efficient, as they rank 25th in offensive efficiency. Iowa State can also handle the ball well, as they turn the ball over on only 13.8% of possessions, which is the 2nd lowest rate in the country. Good match-ups against Purdue (big roster is to slow to keep up with quick Iowa State guards) and Kansas (who Iowa State has beaten in Lawrence), as well as an experienced starting roster made up of 4 seniors, give Iowa State the potential to make a huge run in the tourney this year.

 

 

Sleepers:

Characteristics of teams that pull off upsets:

  • Forces lots of turnovers
    • High opponent turnover %
  • Strong offensive rebounding
    • High offensive rebounding %
  • Good all-around shooting
    • High effective shooting %
  • Slow pace
    • Low number of possessions per game
  • Very strong offensively or defensively
    • Either offensively of defensively efficient

Sleepers: St. Mary’s, UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Vermont

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

St. Mary’s: After losing to Gonzaga for the 3rd time in the West Coast Conference championship, St. Mary’s dropped off of almost everyone’s radar, but advanced metrics show us that is not a wise move. St. Mary’s is ranked #14 on Kenpom and are actually 6 spots ahead of Arizona (#20), meaning that advanced metrics favor St. Mary’s over Arizona in a potential Round of 32 match-up. St. Mary’s only averages 62 possessions per game, which is the slowest pace in the country, and as we talked about earlier, this low number of possessions allows for greater volatility, thus dramatically increasing the chances of an upset. St. Mary’s also has one of the most potent, efficient offenses in the country, as they rank 3rd in offensive efficiency and rebound 31.8% of their own shots (51st in the country). St. Mary’s also is a very good shooting team, as they have an effective field goal percentage of 57.9%, which ranks 5th in the country, and shoot 39.9% from beyond the arc, which ranks 14th. On top of that, St. Mary’s has a very stingy defense that only gives up 56.5 points per game and ranks 10th in defensive efficiency, and commits the 3rd least fouls per game in the country. This lethal combo of an slow, efficient offense that has elite shooting paired with a stingy and efficient defense has upset spelled all over it.

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Photo Credits: SB Nation

UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks return a number of their starters that gave Duke quite the scare last year where them took them down to the very end last year, nearly pulling off a highly improbable upset. This alone justifies UNC Wilmington as a very legitimate upset contender, they also have a number of other credentials that make them a quality upset pick for this year’s tournament. Although their defense can at best be described as average, their offense more than makes up for this lack of star power on the defensive end. UNC Wilmington has one of the most potent offenses in the country that exhibits lots of variety, which makes them particularly hard to stop. The Seahawks’ offense is quite efficient, as the rank 5th in offensive efficiency, just behind the likes of UCLA, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and Villanova, all of whom are considered quite legitimate threats in the tournament. UNC Wilmington’s ability to shoot from deep (they make 9.5 from beyond the arc per game, which is 20th in the country) makes them a serious threat to dethrone higher seeds. Their offense also has an effective field goal percentage of 55.2% (25th in the country), which showcases their elite shooting talent as well. UNC Wilmington’s high powered, potent offense has the ability to potentially take them deep into March.

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Princeton: The Tigers, fresh off an Ivy League championship, come into the tournament as possibly the hottest team, as they have won their past 19 straight and haven’t lost in almost 3 full calendar months. Princeton is quite talented on both sides of the ball, and their unique credentials give them a legitimate chance of pulling off an upset in the Round of 64 (Bonzie Colson and the Irish might think otherwise). Princeton runs one of the slowest offenses in the country, as they only average 66.2 possessions per game, which is the 11th slowest pace in Division I. As we talked about earlier, this slower pace allows for greater volatility in the outcome of their games, which essentially increases their chances of pulling off an upset. Princeton’s offense also has a number of other dynamic elements, as they can shoot quite well (46th in effective shooting %), especially from beyond the arc, where they average 9.9 3-pointers made per game (15th in country). On top of that, Princeton’s offense hardly ever turns the ball over on 14.9% of their possessions, which is the 11th lowest rate in the country. Princeton also has quite a solid defense that has given their opponents trouble so far this season. The Tigers’ defense is quite efficient (29th in defensive efficiency), which is especially important given their slow pace (meaning that they need to capitalize on all possessions since there are so few). They also force a turnover on 20.2% of opponent possessions (50th in country) and don’t foul very much either (29th least fouls per game in country), which makes them a formidable opponent. Their combination of slow pace and efficient play will make them hard to stop this March.

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Photo Credits: Burlington Press

Vermont: If the Tigers are hot, then the Vermont Catamounts are on fire, as they are fresh off of an American East Championship and hold the longest current win streak in the country at 21 games. While Vermont is nowhere near a household team, their name might be coming up a lot more in conversation over the next couple of days if they pull off some upsets that they are potentially capable of doing (over Purdue and Iowa State). Vermont thrives off of an efficient, yet slow offense, which is a lethal combo that we have already discussed earlier (with Princeton, St. Mary’s, and Michigan) that makes their opponents susceptible to upsets. Vermont plays at a very slow pace, averaging only 66.6 possessions per game (15th slowest pace in the country) and boasts the 24th most efficient offense in Division I. Vermont is also a very talented shooting team, as they have an effective field goal percentage of 55.4%, which is 16th in the country. Additionally, Vermont ranks very high in floor percentage (which measures the percentage of possessions that end in points) as Vermont scores on 52.8%, which is 14th in the country. On top of that, Vermont has a stellar defense that is very capable of shutting down higher octane offenses they might face in potential opponents. Vermont has the 38th most efficient defense in the country, which is quite lethal when paired with their slow pace. In addition, Vermont is not gonna do the opposing team any favors, as they commit only 16.1 fouls per game, which is the 21st lowest rate in the country. Vermont’s combination of slow pace and efficient play both on offense and defense make them a legitimate upset threat.

 

 

Why the Top 8 Seeds won’t win the tournament:

Villanova: On top of not even being the favorite in their own region (Duke), Nova faces stiff potential competition against SMU, Duke, Virginia, Florida, and Wisconsin, all of whom rank well by advanced metrics. Also, Nova plays at an extremely slow pace (23rd slowest in country at 67.2 possessions per game), which makes them vulnerable to an upset.

Kansas: Advanced metrics show that Kansas is highly overrated, coming in at 10th on the Kenpom scale, despite being a 1 seed, which highlights potential weakness. Kansas has not performed well in the tournament in year’s past, and face stiff potential competition from red-hot opponents, such as Iowa State (who beat Kansas in Lawrence), Michigan, Purdue, and Louisville.

North Carolina: Lacking backcourt depth, North Carolina lives or dies off the success of Joel Berry II, which is awfully risky for a long tournament. North Carolina has been somewhat inconsistent at times, and is easily the least hot team coming into the tournament as a top seed. Potent talent on the other side of the bracket (UCLA, Kentucky, Wichita State) might also prevent North Carolina from returning to the Final 4.

Gonzaga: Despite being the top dog on the Kenpom scale, the ‘Zags have yet to play enough serious competition for them to be considered legitimate. They have played underwhelmingly bad in the tournament in years past. Elite talent and unique playing styles from West Virginia (full court press) and Notre Dame (Bonzie Colson and ability to guard Karnowski) might force the ‘Zags to change up their style and be overmatched.

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Photo Credits: Getty Images

Arizona: While stats don’t mean everything, advanced metrics such as Kenpom are not too high on Arizona, who sits at #20 in their rankings, even though they are a #2 seed. Additionally, they face legitimate competition from pretty early on, facing St. Mary’s (who is wildly underrated according to Kenpom), Florida State (who’s big men might be too much to handle), and Gonzaga, West Virginia, or Notre Dame.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are one of, if not the most inexperienced team in the country, which is something that will largely work to their detriment in the tourney. Additionally, Kentucky got by far the worst draw of any 2 seed, as they are lined up to play the #10 seed Wichita State (who is ranked #8 on Kenpom!) and UCLA, who easily has the most potent offense in the country.

Louisville: The Cards received one of the toughest draws in the tournament, facing either Michigan or Oklahoma State in the second round, both of whom are red-hot. Their fantastic reward for beating Michigan or Oklahoma State: playing Oregon next and then either Kansas, Iowa State, or Purdue. Also, although it hasn’t been an issue yet, Louisville is atrocious at shooting free throws (236th in country), which might catch up to them.

Duke: Although Duke has a number of skilled big men, they lack an interior presence on the defensive end, which could come back to haunt them later in the tournament, where they might play bigger teams such as Baylor. Duke is either going to play South Carolina (stingy defense) or Marquette (best 3-point % in country) in the second round, which is much harder than the average 7 or 10 seed they could have drawn.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, TeamRankings, Kenpom, and Basketball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo